I moved silently down the  sterile hall, even though the sensor display listed me as the only conscious life form on the floor. Still, I made no noise. Every humanoid I passed, whether lying on the floor or spread over a console, had the same skin discoloration that looked liked suction marks.

The suction marks followed a pattern. Each body had the same marks at the exact same locations on the head and neck. This was either a weird sickness or a creature. My vote was a creature. Either way, the quarantine cells were designed to prevent this. No one should have been able to escape. Well, no one except me.

I opened the exit door and ghosted down the stairs. No way would I trust the lifts today. Only seventy-two floors until I hit the main level. Who decided that the quarantine building at the space dock needed so many floors? At level forty-three I took a swig of the water I had the foresight to grab and took deep breaths while I reviewed the facts.

Yesterday, my cargo ship landed. We unloaded the drill bit quality diamonds, picked up a load of seeds, and should have departed. My navigator coughed at the wrong moment and they stuck us in separate quarantine cells. Then, nothing. No tests, no food, no water. Nothing. This morning I broke out of the room. It should have been impossible, but in a previous life I designed the failsafes for this facility. There’s always a back door.

The scream startled me, and before I realized the stupidity of my actions, my feet moved to level forty-three and my hand opened the door. Intelligence returned when I saw a creature sucking on the face of the humanoid in a medical uniform.

The creature turned to look at me and I ran. Back to the stairs, taking them two at a time, I ran. I was sure the creature saw me but I didn’t know how. Its head (I guess it was a head) turned toward me, but all I saw were suckers around its mouth. No eyes.

I wasn’t sure where I was going but I was going there as fast as I could. I hit the main level and glared at the door. This was an emergency exit and there were no windows. I had no clue what was on the outside.

Glancing back at the stairs, I heard nothing, meaning the creature didn’t follow me. Or perhaps, my pessimistic side offered, the creature flew and made no noise. I grabbed the door and opened it barely an inch, just to look around.

How anticlimactic.

People and creatures, all members of the Cognizant Procreation Alliance, the CPA, moved about their business as if nothing was wrong. As life forms were discovered throughout the universe, someone decided — and others agreed — that a life form was of higher intelligence if the life form could procreate and was self-aware. Only members of the CPA were considered protected by the basic rights given to its members. In my deep space travels, I had observed that those making decisions about the status of new life forms were usually working an angle.

Deciding that this wasn’t the time for a political rant, I opened the door and walked out. No one acknowledged me in any way. It was a bit of a let down that there was no recognition of the danger I had escaped. I headed toward the security check point at the space dock. I would turn this mess over to the military and hopefully go on my merry way. With any luck my crew was already back on board and we could escape what was sure to be a mass killing of some type.

At first the guards didn’t believe me. Only after they pulled up my past military records did they take my report seriously. The commander arrived and told me my ship could depart, since the rest of my crew was already onboard. He knew about the issue and would handle it.

I made my way to my ship confused. Yeah, it was what I had hoped for, but I really hadn’t expected it. I had expected to be conscripted to be part of the battle and spend a few more days in quarantine. Joshua, my navigator, opened the bay doors and welcomed me. I grinned. All was as it should be.

Once we received clearance to leave, I piloted the ship myself, just to feel normal. I set the course for our next job and leaned back in the chair.

“It’s time, Captain,” Joshua said from the hall.

“For what?” I was thinking about bed, not whatever paperwork awaited me.

“To finish the knowledge transfer.”

I turned to see what I thought was my entire crew standing next to one of the suction cup creatures. I stood as the creature attacked. As it attached to my face I heard Joshua say, “We’re the first full crew of the Imitation Replication Syndicate. The IRS shall rule the universe.”

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