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Synopsis by Matthew Murray (mmurray@wsu.edu)

While a man and a woman meet a docking ship, Sheridan, Ivanova, Garibaldi, and Franklin are celebrating in Earheart's with many other officers Corwin's promotion from lieutenant J.G. to full lieutenant. Garibaldi asks why Marcus wasn't invited, but Ivanova explains that, since Earheart's is for Earth Alliance personnel only, it wasn't appropriate for him to be invited. Sheridan agrees with her, saying it's probably best if he keeps a low profile.

Things are not quite as celebratory, however, in Downbelow, where a lurker is screaming in pain while a strange small creature, resembling a scorpion, burrows itself into his back while the man and the woman who met the incoming ship earlier stand over him, watching expectantly. They go over to him after it has integrated itself into him, but are dismayed because their plan didn't work. Security is on its way, so they quickly take their leave.

In C&C, Sheridan speaks with Ivanova privately about Corwin, and whether or not he should be indoctrinated into their group working against the Earth government. He asks her to meet with Corwin to determine whether or not he would be a good choice.

Marcus runs into a friend of his, Duncan, who works in a bazaar. They speak for a few moments, and though Marcus tries to convince the sickly Duncan to see a physician, he refuses. Marcus promises to see him again soon.

During Dr. Franklin's medical staff meeting, one of the other doctors reports the unexplainable death of a man the previous night. Franklin, wanting to determine the cause, asks that the body be brought to MedLab 1.

Marcus is meeting with some of his informants, one of whom tells him that the Shadows are beginning to gather around sector 800, on the border of Centauri space, and that a package Marcus ordered will arrive within a week. Marcus tells him to learn whatever he can about the Shadow buildup. Marcus speaks with someone else who tells him that one of his primary liaisons is no longer interested in working with him. Marcus goes to pay the man a visit.

Dr. Franklin begins his analysis of the dead body, and while he finds evidence of drugs, he can't find any other possible cause of death. The computer, however, completes its scan, and finds one neural anomaly. Franklin asks to see it, and the computer displays it: it is the creature that entered the man earlier, and it is wrapped around his spinal column. Franklin prepares to open up the patient.

Marcus finds his contact, Samuel, who seems to be in fine health, but has no further interest in working with Marcus, or explaining why he no longer wishes to do so. Marcus is quite suspicious about this, but leaves anyway.

While Franklin completes the autopsy, finding a small, worm-like creature in the dead man, the man and the woman seen earlier, with Samuel, stand over the body of Duncan as yet another creature bores its way into his back.

Franklin finishes studying the biomass, discovering that it is 100% genetically neutral, meaning it can exist in any life form. He begins working to discover if it came from the station itself, or if it was brought there by someone else.

Marcus arrives back at the bazaar, trying to find Duncan, and is quite perplexed when he is unable to do so. He speeks to another merchant, who says that she saw Duncan earlier, but hasn't in a while.

Alone in C&C, Ivanova tells Corwin that, since he has been promoted, it might be a good idea for them to talk and get to know each other better. Though somewhat apprehensive, Corwin agrees, suggesting they meet in the mess hall, but Ivanova suggests a more private venue: her quarters. This startles him further, but he nonetheless agrees.

Marcus tries to explain to Garibaldi that the recent string of disappearances might be a sign of a problem, but since no crime has been committed, Garibaldi says there's nothing he can do. Marcus gets angry at Garibaldi, claiming that he should look beyond protocol and see what might be a serious problem, but this only angers Garibaldi further. Garibaldi tells him that, if they are acting strangely, they should speak to a doctor, but it isn't his jurisdiction. So, Marcus speaks to Dr. Franklin who, at first agitated, eventually agrees to go with him to investigate the problem.

Corwin approaches a flower vendor, and tries to explain his situation, with some difficulty, since he isn't sure himself what the situation is. Coming to the conclusion that he has a date with someone aggressive, the flower vendor gives him a large bouquet of synthetic roses, saying that no woman is ever offended by roses, except by their absence. Corwin agrees, and pays 40 credits for them.

Franklin and Marcus go to Duncan's quarters, but despite their incessant paging, he doesn't answer. Franklin reluctantly uses his medical override to open the door, and Marcus rushes in, finding something troubling inside. Franklin joins him, where they see that a strange substance has eaten through one of the walls. Marcus goes through the hole it created, and Franklin follows. It leads out into a hall, where there is another man on the ground, with another creature absorbing into his back. Franklin rushes to help him, but is stopped and held at gunpoint by a group of those previously affected.

Franklin and Marcus, in a makeshift prison cell, talk about the situation, while Franklin explains the parasitic being he examined. He warns that they could take over the whole station, but Marcus doesn't understand why the creatures would take over the lurkers rather than the crew. Franklin tries to get some of the others to help the fallen man, but they refuse to do anything. He tries to explain that the creatures are controlling them, but they say nothing. Franklin asks if they can understand him, and one of them explains that the man will stay there until they are finished, saying that Franklin's safety may be in jeopardy should he try to interfere. Franklin backs further into the cell, telling Marcus that they need to escape, which might be difficult, since two of their three captors have firearms. Marcus says that all they need to do is to get one of them to leave, which will even up the odds. Franklin doesn't understand this, but knows that, since Marcus told Garibaldi of their plan, he will be there soon. It turns out, however, that Marcus did in fact not inform him. They are on their own.

Corwin arrives in Ivanova's quarters, bearing the bouquet of roses. It's quickly clear she doesn't consider the meeting a date; desperate to not look foolish he claims to have found the flowers lying outside. She says that it is silly to spend money on high-priced synthetics, but that she finds it romantic, and confides in him that she has a weakness for roses. She thanks him for keeping them out of someone else's hands, but definitely wants to find out who brought them to her.

Duncan arrives at Franklin and Marcus's prison, and tries to explain his situation, and how he was helped. He says that he was Duncan, but is now part of another species, the Vindrizi, and warns Marcus that he will hurt Marcus if he interferes. The part of him that was Duncan doesn't want that to happen. Duncan invites them to view the process, but all Franklin understands is that the Vindrizi seem to kill everyone they inhabit. Duncan tells him that only certain humans are suitable for a merger, and that the Vindrizi want only to save lives, and that there is no other way.

Ivanova gives Corwin a cup of real coffee, which she grows in the hydroponic gardens, counter to regulations. She explains that sometimes you have to bend the rules to get what you want, and Corwin agrees saying that, if it doesn't hurt anyone, or is good for Earth, he has no complaints. She asks him what he does if his orders conflict with what is good for Earth. Corwin tells her that everything will fall apart if the chain of command isn't obeyed. He says that, if he saw someone trying to gather officers to act against EarthDome, he would report them, and asks if there is anyone she wants him to watch. She says the question is merely hypothetical, asked only to learn where everyone stands. She thanks him for coming, says good night to him, and he leaves.

Still in their prison, Marcus asks Franklin about Ivanova, and if he has done something to offend her. Franklin assures him that it just takes her time to get to know someone, and that she hasn't adjusted to him yet. Marcus says that he is looking forward to finding out more about her. Franklin finds it funny that they are talking about this in their situation. As Franklin begins to convince Marcus that he isn't her type, several of the Vindrizi-inhabited lurkers arrive and take Franklin away, saying that one of them is ill, and that they need his medical expertise. They take him to a room where a lurker is on the table, dying. Franklin tries to convince them that the only way to save him is to remove the Vindrizi from him, but they will not accept no for an answer saying that, should he not help, he will be directly responsible for the man's death.

Marcus, alone in his prison, notices that the odds are now two against one. With the odds even as he sees it, he convinces one of the guards that a small device sitting on the table is actually a vital medical device that Franklin needs. Marcus instructs him on the use the device, which turns out to be his retracting pole; the guard knocks himself out with it. Marcus is able to defeat the other guard easily, and escapes his cell. He finds Franklin's hand link, and tries to use it, but the computer won't let him, since he isn't Franklin. He grabs his pole and runs off, while Ivanova, who detected the attempted use of Franklin's link, sends security to brown 84 to find the culprit.

Marcus easily defeats a guard patrolling the hallway. He grabs the guard's weapon, and quickly finds Franklin. He grabs Franklin away from the Vindrizi. The Vindrizi try to convince Franklin to continue helping the lurker, but Marcus decides to try to talk to them in order to get away safely. When he tries to threaten the Vindrizi, he is interrupted by Duncan, who begs him not to do what he's doing. Marcus asks what sort of a life Duncan will have if he is forced to remain merged with a creature. Duncan explains that he and the others weren't taken over, but volunteered.

While Garibaldi and other security officers mobilize to search the sector, Duncan explains that the Vindrizi were created over a hundred thousand years ago to be living records of history, bearing evidence of planets, cultures, and civilizations that will exist long after the other races have died and all other knowledge has been destroyed or forgotten. The only way the Vindrizi can survive is to take over the bodies of other races. They choose those near death, so that they may have new life and a purpose, which they may not have had before. Marcus says that he doesn't trust the Duncan he sees now -- only the one he knew. As if by request, the Vindrizi inside Duncan thrusts its way out of him and scurries away. Duncan explains that his life, before the Vindrizi, was destined to be completed in Downbelow, but, when merged, he saw and knew things that he had never dreamed of before. After the explanation, Franklin agrees to help the Vindrizi, but only if he can be assured that he can approve all volunteers, and that they all agree to it beforehand. The Vindrizi agree, and Franklin calls Garibaldi, informing him of his location, and ordering a medical team. Marcus tries to apologize to Duncan, but it does no good. Duncan is sad at all he has lost, but apparently bears no ill will.

Ivanova approaches Sheridan in C&C. Sheridan indicates toward Corwin, without saying a word, as if asking what her analysis of his potential was. She shakes her head, and they both look away sadly.

Marcus catches up with Duncan in the docking bay, just as he is about to leave. Marcus tries to convince him not to, but Duncan insists he must. In the time while he was inhabited by the Vindrizi, he learned that he was special, and he wants to go out and find things that might make him feel that way again. Marcus again apologizes, but Duncan says that he realizes he did what he did only because he cared, and tells Marcus that he realizes that maybe everyone should become special before it's too late. Duncan tells Marcus that maybe, when he finds what he's looking for, he'll return. Duncan boards his ship, leaving Marcus alone.

Back in Earheart's, Franklin explains that so far, everything the Vindrizi told him is the truth. Garibaldi asks what Franklin thinks of Marcus; Franklin says Marcus did a good job, and tells Ivanova that Marcus might appreciate a second chance with her. "That's it," she says to herself. "He must have sent them!" She quickly excuses herself and rushes out.

Bearing the bouquet of synthetic roses, she marches forcefully through the station, finally arriving at a table where Marcus is eating. She thrusts the roses down on the table in front of him, haltingly ordering him to "Keep 'em," before marching away again.

"Thank you," he calls after her. "I will!" He picks up the bouquet admiringly. "Well, I guess there's hope for us after all!"

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Last update: February 22, 1996