The protective equipment was onerous, to say the least. Polarized glasses that turned everything a mealy shade of monotone. Dull beige plastic that zipped up over everything. The face mask that made most emotions invisible. And of course the noise-canceling headphones, which enabled flawless communication but also broadcast a dulcet, neutral tone that would have been sleep-inducing if not for the caffeine pills.

Thus protected, the GFA agents penetrated the site in twos. As the squad rookie, swept up in the mad dash for more agents even before his program was complete, Mayaguez was paired with Rogette.

“Look at these poor fellas,” Rogette said as he led the two-man recon through what had been an office building. He gestured to the forms of white-collar workers slumped at their desks and in the hallways.

“But they’re not dead,” Mayaguez said, pushing one of them with a gloved mitt. The man grunted and pushed back, his half-lidded eyes fluttering.

“They might as well be,” Rogette grumbled. “Completely lost to the real world, enmeshed in a fantasy so compelling there’s no awakening from it.”

“The Plague of Fantasy,” Mayaguez whispered.

“That’s right. And once we get them quarantined we’re going to make this place so dull, so depressing, that not even a single spark of imagination can gutter to life. It’s the only way.”

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