Metarhizium Anisopliae
by S Shane Thomas

Dr. Henry Foster straightened his back and stretched tired arms overhead. Henry and all the other biologists aboard the colonial starship shared an incredible view of the Earth Habitat. He gazed at the familiar rain forest he had spent so many afternoons tending to while doing his undergrad and doctoral studies in the ship’s university. Now, as a professor and researcher, Foster found only rare occasions to tramp through the habitats. The man rolled his head from shoulder to shoulder before resuming his observations.

On his desk sat a termite colony wedged into glass. Dr. Foster had taken note that one particular termite nest had succumbed to a fungal invasion from metarhizium anisopliae and despite all the data suggesting larger forms of life enjoyed immunity to its fatal effects, he found a dead woodpecker nearby, eaten from the inside out by the fungus. The mutated strand had been painstakingly isolated, and its presence in the Earth Habitat eliminated. The original termite colony now cried its death pangs, only three members still thrived under the fungal onslaught. Perhaps he experienced a temporary lapse in judgement, Dr. Henry Foster would later recollect, or perhaps the very mutation the woodpecker encountered persuaded. The doctor broke the seal and ate one of the dead termites, riddled from within by metarhizium anisopliae. Investigators have only surveillance footage of the ill-fated moment to base speculation upon.

Dr. Foster continued his day to day activities until lunch break two days after the incident. Investigators would later reflect on the colony’s fortune that Dr. Foster took lunch in a small cafeteria an hour after the lunch rush. On a starship with a half million residents, only three were present as Foster began to die.

Janice, the cook and cashier looked up from her duties to the sound of Dr. Foster’s violent coughs. A pair of research assistants dining nearby also heard and rushed to his side.

“Henry, are you okay?” Janice shook his shoulder vigorously hoping the man would dislodge the bite she believed him to be choking on.

Dr. Foster could only gurgle and make the hand gestures for choking. Janice motioned for the two research assistants to help stand him up, then she got behind the dying man and clasped both fists around his middle, pushing into his diaphragm. Green fuzz wretched forth, coating the table and a cloud of spores floated into the air.

The dying man had one final moment of sober thought, “Quarantine order Alpha, passcode six, two, beta, niner, omega.”

Doors slid shut, air vents ceased their flow. Echoes of chambers further out sealing for decontamination reverberated in the silent cafeteria. The research assistant pounded on the doors, calling out for help.

“Quarantine zone, must be purified prior to your departure.” An automated voice stated, “Medical assistance is on the way, please stand by.”

Janice leaned over the dying biologist, staring in horror at the powder green dust creeping out his eyes, mouth, and nostrils. She saw it coming out of his shirt collar and out the cuffs of his sleeves. While the other two victims continued to plead with the automated voice, Janice bent low over the corpse.

Long minutes of pleading passed before the research assistants noticed the cafeteria cook’s strange behavior. One place a hand on her shoulder and as she gazed up at him with a blank glassy eyed stare, both youths shrieked in horror. Green fungus and human remains dripped from her slack jaw. Janis’s mouth worked like she made an excuse, but no words came. Foster’s corpse lay in ruin his abdomen torn open to reveal intestines overrun by the fungus.

Faces aghast with shock and panic, the pair began pummeling Janice with lunch trays until she collapsed in a crumpled heap near Foster’s remains. It wasn’t long before the mutated metarhizium anisopliae had infected their minds too.

When the crew entered the confines of quarantine hours later, three corpses lay engorged on the remains of Dr. Foster and his fungus.

Back in Foster’s laboratory, hours before investigators thought to sterilize, a janitor developed a strange fixation for the bits of green fuzzy stuff covering some dead bugs under glass.

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