The assembled members of the scientific staff each had a visible Strepsipterid protruding or pulsating beneath their clothing, and their faces all wore the same beatific expression. Motile scurrying larval planidia, each the size of silver dollars, crawled over the floor and the bodies of the people in their thrall, while butterfly-sized males flitted from perch to perch about the larviform female parasites.

“They are peaceful parasites, it is true, but that does not mean they do not know a modicum of defense.” Dr. Warren said, her voice a serene monotone. “The others are dead; having refused the gift, we were forced to act in the name of the greater good.”

It was only then that Gracie noticed the soldiers in the wings, their rifles limber and deadly, their own Streptisterid parasites alive with pulsations.

“Surely you must concede, Dr. Warren,” Gracie said, trying to appeal to what might be left of her colleague’s logic, “that one can refuse the gift but not wish those who have accepted it harm. Isn’t that the kind of ‘if you’re not with us, you’re against us’ thinking that your peace seeks to defeat?”

“You are proceeding from a false assumption,” Warren replied coldly. “Could the creatures of the Precambrian who could not to adapt to an oxygen-rich atmosphere from one that was purely nitrogen persist? Of course not. The gift is oxygen; to refuse is by definition to die.”

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