I awoke from my pod in a daze. I remembered little from before my sleep, yet the walls around me seemed familiar. Metal on stone, the flesh and bone intertwining, new inside and out of the old. The two became one for the purpose of growing ever higher. Around me were situated the small forced sedation areas, the pods, the sections of the hive to which we were assigned. And around me, pods were opening, as we had all received the call through the silence. The call from within to descend, to go below, down somewhere I didn’t know, or wasn’t sure of, somewhere below where the stone would end, I knew. The call had come, and the workers marched, the dead minds, the living flesh, the meat that turned the machine. My limbs moved thoughtlessly to the march, and we went down, down the stairs. Only the eyes moved in our heads, our many eyes, (two to a head, but many heads)(one to a body, but many bodies), those eyes went skittering across the walls and to the doors of the rooms where the screaming was, where the smoke and the smell of burning teeth filled the hallways. By the time we’d gone down three floors, I felt a sickness in me, the anxiety not quite crippling as my feet kept shuffling on the smooth stone. Slowly, the twisting line of drones ahead of me dissipated, and my call changed and told me to turn a corner into an unfamiliar room. The door hissed shut and the pipes hissed open, black pipes where a black mist seeped out. If I could shudder, I would have. It hung in the air, like a sickening smoke, nowhere to go in the stale air, no wind to push it along. So we stood, this smoke and I, at a stand still, stale-mated for life, so I thought. But as the minutes turned on hands I could not picture, my breath drew the mist ever closer to my mucus membranes, towards then away, then towards again. We were locked in this dance, this incomparable foreplay, until finally it came, and entered my mouth and my lungs. It was a sweet taste. It was a black taste. And the taste ran through me like honey, slow and sweet and warm and organic. I was no longer battling with the metal call of the compound, the mist was, and I, for the moment, was forgotten. So I did the only thing an ant like me could do: I ran. I wracked my brain for memories of these halls, and these stairs, these signs I couldn’t read. The letters made sense, but the words weren’t words I knew. Above the room I came from was a long string of them that said OPHIOCORDYCEPSMORTALIS. I glanced only for a moment before I went down, the only way I could go, as memories flooded back to me of grand chambers with their grand and guarded entrances. I raced through corridors, stopping only to catch my breath, but my breath wasn’t far behind me, it was syncing with my body, everything was so sharply focused and my head... My head began to tingle. There was an itch beneath the back of my scalp, at the base of my neck. I tried but I couldn’t scratch it. I wanted so bad for the ability to release myself from it, to rip off the skin and air it out, but for some reason I couldn’t. There was a systematic change in me. I could feel the tingle spread, and all my nerves were turning green. Green? I’m not sure how I knew, but I could feel it. The warmth and the tingling lent itself to a lightening of my limbs, or so it felt. What began as the mad scrambling of a rat changed dramatically into a series of fluid movements, my extremities organized without my intervention, I was gliding, I was expanding throughout this space, and my consciousness was growing exponentially; I was simultaneously where I was and in all the places I’d been. I was water, I was filling my vessel, but wait. A twinge. I was the vessel. I thought to stop running but I didn’t. I thought to turn around but I could not. I was the vessel. There had been a fight within me, between the order of the compound and this unknown force, and the force had overtaken it. And now it had taken over me, and without even a fight, I had let it. That was when I came upon the entrance chamber. The chamber filled with guards on patrol, with soldier ants, their heads filled with the beat of unheard drums. I knew then that my body would keep running past all the guards, that my body was not my own. Even with such exertion it wouldn’t break, the tissues were changing, I was like the compound now, the new working its way throughout the old to create something ghastly and unholy. I focused all my will upon the front entrance, the bare unassuming archway. My body didn’t know, but I did, that anything attempting to leave through that arch without authorization would cease to be. It was our oldest, most trusted line of defense. Maybe somewhere inside, the tingle in the back of my brain might understand. Maybe somewhere, it might also fear destruction. And with a loud snap, my arms were thrust in front of me, and I caught myself for one moment in time, in front of a railing overlooking the chamber and the archway. For one second I was mine, though I might wonder did the mist allow this? Was it testing me? If it was then I surely failed, because all I did in that one second was look down at my hands, grasping the rail, and I knew then that there was nothing left to fight for. The fingers were mangled, some bent, some broken, and in the breaks there was a spongy blackness seeping out, expanding and causing the remaining fingers to swell. My skin was too weak to contain it; I knew this somehow. Almost all of my fingernails had become detached, some askew, some hanging off, and some completely gone. From underneath them grew small, black, spongy tendrils, twisting around themselves and giving me the appearance of ferocious claws, when really they were fragile. In that second I could do nothing but scream. That was the last time I felt my limbs. They were taken back from me again, my responsibility was revoked. I watched silently from the small illuminated sections of my brain as my head craned down to see the guards rushing up the stairs after me, and before my old senses could register it, I was gone. There was a divide now, I could tell. Whatever was rotting my limbs and taking up residence in them, whatever had plugged into my brain, it didn’t need me now. I was obsolete. I was simply the previous owner of an incomplete body. I sat here and thought on this while my body raced through the corridors impossibly fast. Images were flashing in my mind, images that it had dug up, images that I was forced to look at. Daydreams, memories. A long line of us, walking through the corridors to some new horror. To be injected, to be put to sleep, to be tortured or cut up, or fed just so that we could be made sick. Every single area of this building flashed through my mind visually and clearly, clearer than I ever thought I could remember. Then we saw doors, but each door only led further in. Then windows, hundreds if not thousands of windows. If I could feel sick, I would have; if I could feel at all, maybe I would have been overwhelmed. Finally it found a purpose, and with all its energy (for there was none of mine left) it sprinted up an old, forgotten stairway, leaving bits of my liquified flesh behind. I could hear the joints bursting and the bones creaking in agony, but I couldn’t feel it. I could only guess. It found the window that it was looking for, old and rusted shut, but with a rare glass pane. One black fist went through it, and came back ripped to shreds, crushed and wet. It didn’t matter, we were through the window. Strangely, my parasite took the time to look down, and for a moment I experienced a familiar scent. It was the smell I had not noticed, that had been drowned out in the familiarity of my new ownership. It was us I smelled down there, and below me was a waste receptacle, filled to the brim with bloated bodies, bursting at the seams with black, spongy tendrils. The longest ones came out of the eyes, and a black mist swirled out of them and around the isolated courtyard. It was showing me this, it was making me watch while I still could. This was a fate we could have had, we could have failed. But we would not, we would climb higher. I would climb higher, I would achieve my purpose. I scaled the building, losing bits and pieces of me, the black sticky substance leaving a trail behind me. I reached the top, a place untouched by the infrastructure of the compound, a bright place, almost calm in its brightness. It didn’t matter. I found a tall exhaust pipe and twisted my remaining body around it. I extended my neck until it cracked, and stared up at the sun until my vision went black, and the tendrils reached up and opened.