Unknown to you, you’ve been given a drug your entire life that distorts your perception of reality. When taken off it you think your’e going crazy when really you’re experiencing the real world for the first time.

“Sarge, I don’t feel so good.”

They were holed up under one of the atmospheric processing stations, a giant steel and plasticrete dome that sucked in CO2 and churned our breathable air. The Chi had fallen back. Their last attack had left three more dead, the burned corpses unrecognisable were it not for the holotags around their necks.

“What is it Dante?”

The Sarge was a good man, he kept them fighting, knew how hard to push his squad and, more importantly, when to ease off. They’d fought together in a dozen wars on a dozen worlds, and Dante had never complained before.

“My feed. Something’s wrong.”

Sarge hooked up his HUD to Dante’s external data port. Each squaddie was running a complete, self-contained bio-suit, capable of providing everything needed in the field. Fresh O2, nutrient feed, even the catheter to remove waste. They practically lived in them, even between ops.

The diagnostic came back green across the board. Nearly.

“Shit. Your anti-chem meds.”

“Low?”

“Empty. Sac must have been punctured.”

Sarge squeezed Dante’s shoulder, their eyes meeting through the mirrored visors of each mans mask, as the shared realisation passed between them.

“Fucking Chi,” Dante spat.

“I’m gonna get you a fresh one.”

“No, Sir. Thank you.”

“It’s only been a few hours. We seal you up, get you to the Falcon, you get to go home and spend some quality RnR on Gibraltar.”

Dante lifted a trembling hand and grabbed the Sarge’s wrist, pulling the hand off of his shoulder.

“You know op-sec Sir. I’m compromised. First law of the Corps, no man is more important than the mission. I can’t risk infecting anyone else.”

The blue flash of a cold beam sliced through the air above them. One of the men cried out as the beam cut through the top of his helmet. The Sarge turned to help, but Dante held on to his arm.

“Give me a puck. I’ll hold them off.”

Sarge smiled. He’d give anything to stay and die, but he had the rest of his men to look out for. Pulling a small black grenade from a drop-pouch, he pressed into Dante’s gauntleted fist.

“For the realm,” he said.

“For the squad,” Dante replied.

Sarge broadcast a general fallback over the com-link, giving one last thumbs up to Dante. And then they were gone. Dante nestled his flechette rifle in the crook of his elbow.

He was sleeping. Dreaming. Horrible nightmares, like the worst comedown of his life. His suit liner was struggling to absorb the sweat. He didn’t notice them at first, dark as they were, like shadows moving over the horizon.

Multi-limbed. Glassy eyes spread across their elongated skull. Any that were caught were burnt on the Marshall’s orders. They carried with them a plague, a virus that killed anyone who didn’t have a constant supply of anti-chem meds.

They approached, circling like vultures, impaling bodies with their bony appendages to be sure of their handiwork. Dante watched the sparks dance as they set fire to his comrades. Payment in kind he guessed.

Two of the monsters appeared before him. One leaned down, extending a chitinous arm, reaching for Dante’s mask. He tried to struggle. He pulled the trigger on the rifle, heard an empty click and realised he didn’t have the strength to disable the safeties. Nearly crying, he tasted the bitter air of a new world for the first time.

“What?” he choked out.

Two men stood above him. Their black uniforms showed an insignia he didn’t recognise. Their own masks hid their faces, the insectile chitter nothing more than electronic noise.

The drugs. They did this. They hid the true form of their enemy. Why? Dante tried to talk, tried to ask, but one of the soldiers saw his hand with the grenade move. Dante died as the cold beams wiped away the part of his humanity that the drugs couldn’t.

Major Kim Li watched the disgusting creature burn beneath his weapon. The Amtrectiles were a constant menace, their hives poisoning every world they spread to.

It was his duty to exterminate them all. After all, they weren’t even human.


Prompt originally posted by temporarilymortal on reddit and received 3 upvotes.

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