The first thing that Cisneros noticed was the smell.
Despite the heavy presence of anti-septic and bleach in the air, the stench was overpowering. It reminded him of wood-rot and rotten eggs somehow blended together into something worse; a very earthy that stuck to the back of his throat and seemed to slide down and make him want to gag. His stomach lurched and rolled a moment later.
It clearly was showing on his face.
"Yea. Smells like shit doesn't it?"
"I think shit is more appealing."
"Doctor, where did that smell come from?" Dr. Patang, an equal look of disgust twisting his features. "I know it wasn't here when I left to retrieve the Assistant Director."
"Well, that's what happens when you're gone for so long."
Cisneros glanced at Dr. Patang who was quickly turning a deep shade of crimson. The man looked even more fidgety and uncomfortable than before. He had to idly wonder if Dr. Patang wasn't just a brown noser for executives, but for literally anyone higher than him. It sure did seem like he didn't have a spine.
"Either way, you'll find out shortly." Dr. Connel continued. "Let me show you what I was talking about."
She motioned down a long hall set up with a number of observation areas on either side. One side was dominated by the massive monster they had seen earlier. The opposite side had more windows and more monsters.
All of the ones on the left seemed notably smaller than the first creature. Bipedal by nature but just as hideous.
And everywhere, in almost every room, men and women in full hazmat suits worked diligently.
Cisneros kept walking.
"Doctor Connel..." Dr. Patang began.
"I'll explain what you're seeing better once I've shown you their larval and nesting stages first. It'll make more sense starting from bottom to top versus the other way around."
Patang quickly grew quiet again, but Cisneros was not so easily subdued.
"They have multiple life cycles then?" he asked pointedly with a tone that told her he was not to be pushed around like Patang.
"Yes. We initially thought of their life cycles almost like the Spider Wasp from Earth, but quickly realized that comparison just wasn't accurate."
As if on cue, they walked by an observation area that was darker than the others and immediately stood out. Cisneros stared at in in confusion for a split second before he realized that the walls, floors, and even the ceiling and lights were coated in viscera.
"Not even a little accurate." Dr. Connel repeated as she followed their gaze around the bloodied room and quickly began walking again.
"I'm sorry, but humor me. What's a Spider Wasp and how is their life cycle different?"
"A Spider Wasp is an insectoid creature from Earth that immobilizes and lays eggs in the body of a spider; the most common being the tarantula." Dr. Patang quickly chimed in. "The eggs hatch and the larvae eat the paralyzed Tarantula."
"Gruesome." Cisneros observed.
"Very." Dr. Connel agreed. "But, while there are similarities, we were quickly shown that the analogy just wasn't close enough."
Dr. Connel didn't answer. Instead led them around a bend in the hall back towards another large operating theater labeled '2-D'. All the while, the stench grew worse and worse.
For a brief moment, Cisneros believed that this room was similar to the one before. Covered in blood and bits, it had a similar darkened look to it as the overhead lights were mostly covered with gore. However, peering through the haze, he quickly realized this was very different then the remains of violence he'd seen before.
For one, the walls were moving.
A thick, viscous substance covered the walls, floors, and ceiling. It was intermingled with the viscera that he'd noted, but it was definitely different. It had a thick, fleshy appearance that made Cisneros feel like he was staring at the inside of an intestine.
And somewhere in the darkness, he could see something moving.
"Right?" Dr. Connel asked rhetorically. "Took them a matter of hours to set this up. A few of the other nerds have nicknamed it 'The Nest'."
Cisneros leaned against the glass.
"What am I seeing here, Doctor?"
"One of the organisms we brought aboard created this." she stated calmly. "It was one of two that were found alive. We put it in here and, a couple of hours later..."
"What's all the gore? An accident?"
Cisneros looked at her sideways for a moment.
"We reviewed the state of the creature when it entered. Other than being heavily sedated, it was also the most healthy. However, shortly after containment it collapsed and..." she grimaced. "...exploded. The larvae were birthed from there and, shortly after, the drones did the rest."
He looked inside again and focused on the movement in the dark. He could barely make it out, but squinting he could see something that resembled a large and spindly Japanese Spider Crab. Long legs, big claws, and a hard, armored body.
It was working on something unseen.
"Where the hell'd the drone come from? That was inside the creature as well?" Dr. Patang demanded.
"Not exactly. It was birthed from one of the larvae."
"Start at the beginning, Doctor. Neither of us are following your train of thought."
"Fine. Through a...well, let's say through an accident, we quickly found out that exposure to the creatures' blood has very unwanted infectious qualities. Even in death, the microscopic larva will bury into exposed flesh and start quickly having an effect on the patient's neural pathways."
Cisneros arched a brow but said nothing. Something told him there was going to be a lot of paperwork he'd be dealing with in a week.
"Most immediately, they feel hot. The exposure feels almost like a burning and, within minutes, the hosts, for lack of a better term, begin to feel like they are running an intense fever. Funny enough, their core body temperature doesn't raise until later." she observed off hand. "They then quickly develop hallucinations, relative insanity, and then catatonia."
"From there, two alterations happen." she said, holding up two fingers. "One: the parasites begin to infect the host on a genetic level, changing the creature's very DNA. Two: newer, larger parasites begin to grow around and within the primary organs."
"Once the genetic transformation is complete, the host has taken on a completely brand new form. Likewise, the secondary larvae have grown to about a half foot to a foot long. So far we've observed a half dozen or so within a fresh subject."
"And this is when they pop?" Cisneros asked with a grimace.
"Oh no, this is when they try to capture more hosts." Dr. Connel said with just a little bit too much enthusiasm. "We suspect that they don't 'pop', as you put it, unless they are exposed to an environment where a nest or hive is not readily available."
Cisneros rolled the information around in his head before asking.
"We're going to be having a long discussion about missing personnel later, aren't we?"
He clicked his tongue in annoyance, but filed that away for further consideration.
"So, just to confirm what you're saying: these things can infect another creature. I'm going to guess that includes humans based on what you just said. They then transform into something else. If they don't have a nest, one of them explodes and the larvae inside make one...meaning that literally any one of these things could make a nest?"
"But it destroys the host in the process?"
"So all you need is two to create an possibly infectious situation."
Cisneros considered the math for a minute. He felt like he was missing something.
"One could create the nest. But where would your theoretical monsters come from that would do the rest of the work? That would create drones and gather new hosts?"
Dr. Connel smiled that same wicked smile as something hulking and monstrous emerged from the darkness.