The Agent in Black kept his distance. His scientists didn’t know much about the disease—indeed, they were working around the clock to find a cure and to stop the spread—but the one thing they did know was that it appeared to only be spread through direct physical contact. Yes, the Agent knew he was taking a risk being with the man—after all, the virus was still so very new. But the Agent had spent his career taking risks—and also taking care of problems. This was just another problem. Another job. Granted, it was one of his stranger assignments, but he was up for the task.

He said, “Tell me what you know, doctor, and then we’ll talk.”

Any new information helped. And with Stetson being a scientist who’d been contaminated, well, he might be able to offer a new perspective.

The man coughed drily. “You won’t believe me.”

“Try me,” said the Agent evenly. He glanced at his watch. He had places to be—in particular, he had to find the two AWOL LCs. He had his best men working on it.

“Before I was exposed, I found...” began Dr. Stetson, but his raspy voice trailed off.

“You found what?”

Stetson knew he was going insane. His brain just wasn’t working right. No, it was worse than that. Far worse. He was losing his ability to think for himself. Something else seemed to be taking hold, thinking thoughts for him. Perhaps most frightening of all was that Stetson longed to lose control, to give in, to let out that thing which was inside him.

To let it out—and to let it feed. Yes, feed. It was so hungry. No, I’m so hungry. So very, very hungry.

“What did you find, Dr. Stetson?” persisted the Agent.

The scientist dropped back onto his pillow and closed his eyes. “It’s not what we think.”

Except that the man spoke so softly now that the Agent in Black was forced to lean in a little closer. Against his better judgment. The Agent knew to keep his distance. Hell, his every instinct told him to incinerate the room, with Stetson in it. To destroy anyone and everyone infected with the walking plague. Still, the scientist was strapped down to the bed—and seemed so very weak.

“What’s not what we think? What do you mean?”

“It’s...not...what...” But the scientist could not control his words, his tongue, anything. Instead, a soft growl now passed through his cracked lips.

The Agent in Black frowned and leaned closer still. He needed to know what the scientist had found, dammit. Who better to contract the infection than a scientist? The man’s firsthand glimpse into the effects of the infection could prove invaluable to stopping its spread—

But the scientist had closed his eyes, seemed to be having difficulty forming words. In fact, it appeared to the Agent that the man was now...growling?

“Jesus,” said the Agent in Black and had just started to back up when the scientist’s eyes flew open. The man lurched powerfully off the bed. The restraints held him, yes, but the Agent was sure he heard a sickening rending sound. There was a horrible, fleshy pop as the man’s shoulders were obviously yanked out of their sockets—which gave the scientist enough leeway for his head to lash out—and to sink his teeth deep into the Agent’s neck.

The Agent in Black fought the man now clamped onto his neck, never more surprised in all his life. My God, the man’s shoulders had pulled out of their sockets—all to reach him.

The Agent fought and bashed his way loose, but not before Stetson had taken a good chunk from his neck. The Agent in Black stumbled back, crashing into the nearby metal table. He tore off his mask and grabbed paper towels to cover his wound. He was too shocked to do anything but stare in disbelief.

David Stetson was gone. His last fleeting, conscious thought was that he had finally given into the thing that had come over him. What that thing was, he didn’t know. But it had started with the infection. Hell, it was the infection.

No, it was him.

And he felt no pain. Only hunger and rage.

Hunger and rage.

Stetson was gone, yes, but something else was in his place. Using his body as a host, so to speak. Something that was hungry and angry and powerful.

The Agent stumbled, trying to find his feet. His head was spinning. He was losing a lot of blood.

Good Christ! He fucking ate it! He fucking bit off a chunk of my goddamned neck and ate it!

He looked on in horror as the scientist’s jaws snapped over and over. Blood poured down from the man’s mouth. The Agent’s blood.

Good God!

The violent sounds brought the doctor rushing in. He took one look at the Agent in Black—blood running down his neck—and backed off.

“What in Christ’s name happened?”

The Agent in Black took one long, last look at David Stetson and stumbled out of the room, the doctor hurrying after him.

“Sir!” The doctor reached for the Agent in Black’s arm only to have it brushed away. “You have to have that attended to—”

The Agent in Black wheeled around. He shoved the doctor into an empty room and closed the door. “Nobody hears about this. Do you understand? Nobody!”

“Sir, I am obligated to—”

“You’re under my command!” The Agent in Black ripped more paper towels from a dispenser and pressed them hard into his open wound. The bite had missed his jugular by a half-inch. “You will treat me with everything you’ve got.”

The doctor knew what everyone else did. Do not cross this man. “Yes, sir.”

The Agent in Black thought quickly. How to hide this? He surveyed the unoccupied room. “I’ll stay here, for now. You get whatever fucking medication you have. Relocate my assistant to other quarters. Then you will treat me in my office.”

“But sir, you must know that...”

“Of course I know! You think I’m an idiot?”

The Agent in Black swayed a little. Yes, he knew all too well. The infection was passed through direct contact. Taking a chunk out of his neck certainly qualified as direct contact.

The doctor helped him—taking great pains to not touch any blood—to a seat. The doctor tried to remain calm. “I’ll get your medication. What do you want me to say to your assistant?”

“I don’t care what the hell you tell him. No, wait. Tell him I’ve had to go meet with someone and I’ll catch up to him later. Go.”

The doctor drew the curtain for privacy. He reached for the door.

“Lock it,” ordered the Agent in Black.

“Yes, sir.”

The Agent winced as he pressed the paper towels deep into the wound. Already his skin was flaming hot.

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