Maybe sixty metres in, struggling to follow the trail, the lead searcher paused, whatever he had seen was obscured by the fifty centimetre high vegetation but the strange mist indicated that they were close. The man turned, took two paces and fell on his face. Just too quickly to be caught.
Not a promising display.
But at least they had found Paula, the only question whether she was still alive?
Figures spread out a little, almost encircling the spot.
Maybe there was life.
If you could call it that.

Ignoring the warnings that flashed through his mind, Phil rushed to her side, scooping fingers from the ground, grasping her hand tightly. Desperate to hold his gaze focussed on her face, limiting mental damage, he looked into her eyes, searching her soul.
Poor angelic creature.
A feeble cough, no sound, hazy breath that seemed to linger in the warm air.
"Paula, we went back, we missed something."
Gradually her eyes turned, pitiful eyes, weeping from within.
"Does it hurt?"
It took immense courage for her to feebly nod, just once, fighting against obvious pain.
"Jesus, what can we do."
Another cough, the same mist and, somehow, despite the bio-protection suit, even Mark knew what his friend had somehow detected, the stench of death.
The Devil's breath.
It had to be imagination, nothing should have been able to get through.
Instantly Phil pulled back, rising to his feet. Paula's eyes followed, followed without hope. Not everyone had seen her predicament, Phil gestured to hold them back, moving towards them. Six metres away, upwind, he removed his mask.
"One of you will have go back to the others, I need to give her a mask."
"What's the point?" A figure was tending the limp fireman, he had regained consciousness.
"To contain that stuff she's exhaling, she's spreading the disease."
Two other suited figures, unable to restrain curiosity, were edging closer.
"I wouldn't recommenced it."
Paula was alive, she breathed, saw, felt, even heard. It did not seem the purpose of the strange plague to kill, at least initially. By living, breathing, coughing, Paula sprayed the infection into the air, to spread, invisibly across the land.
The sight was almost past description, beyond belief, her actions perhaps driven by chemicals released into her bloodstream by the disease. Not that Phil felt it was a mere infection, no it was far more probably some strange alien life form festering where no eyes could see.
A second faceless onlooker, without looking directly though the visor no suited figure was recognisable, eyes transfixed, withered, legs weakening under subconscious mental control. A body seeing only the sky could not be so tormented.
Paula was beautiful, her friends were all too aware of that, frequently striving to concoct images of passionate embrace. Visible skin had always been alluring, peach soft, now there was no restriction on their gaze, her body now totally naked, clothes scattered around. It would have been understandable for a hand to slide over trousers, concealing obvious excitement, had there been any. Lying amidst the green, flattening out strong stems, the indentation was almost moulded to her exquisite contours, sweeping close to her slender waist. Where her long blond hair touched the ground it radiated out, catching on some stems to form a three dimensional halo. Paula needed a halo, for she belonged to the angels.
Never before revealed before fellow students, outside the sanctity of a secret room, firm breasts rose up almost synthetically from her chest, nipples pointing, erect, at the clear sky, her bosom heaving with each breath. It was almost sensual.
Where the lowest curve of her breasts ended, where the skin was tight on the rib cage, brilliant orange filaments grew from her flesh, thousands of hair like fingers weaving like ivy tendrils into the soil. Taut, like guy ropes, these almost countless strands bound her firmly like Lilliputian ropes, from the small of her back, to the base of her neck. A beautiful neck. Features, delicate features that all three of her friends secretly loved, were a little distorted. Though her eyes, pale, lost eyes, still showed through to her soul, the colour had gone from her complexion and airways were disfigured. That bright orange growth spewed from her lips, hardened so she was unable to close her mouth and encrusted as tiny beads around her nose.
Poor Paula.
Cautious gloved fingers reached out, touching the fibres.
Paula winced, tears forming in her eyes.
Then an outstretched arm delivered the mask, head turned away, gaze shielded from the abhorrence.
"Wear this, for our sake."
Paula blinked, too weary to even object. The restrictive vision set her apart from friendly faces, she could only watch the sky. Acute hearing detected movement, the breaking of stems as figures moved away.
Once back in the field, all walked though a decontamination rig, set up just above Paula's car. Phil watched as a fine film of orange dust pooled around his feet, to be sucked away into a container perhaps he shouldn't have removed his mask, albeit briefly. Once hoods were removed, it was easier to talk. It also enabled Phil to see faces and judge reaction.
"Now you see the problem."
"It's not like anything I've seen before," wheezed the medical officer. "Are you sure it's that contagious?"
"You saw the spores, no doubt caught the stench of death in your nostrils."
"I saw what I saw. This was something you developed in the laboratory I suppose. Damn careless students, you should be locked up indefinitely."
"Don't be a moron. This has been lurking since civilisation began, waiting to be set free." It was hard to admit you were likely to be the downfall of mankind. "Though we were careless enough to release it."
"A granite pyramid, Hell, I don't know, maybe as much as ten thousand years old, we haven't been able to date it. There was an out rush of air, containing the disease, Paula clearly took in a contaminant."
"You're suggesting this bug has been entombed for ten thousand years."
"I'm telling you that it was hermetically sealed, probably by, dare I say it, extra-terrestrials, too far back to tell."
"Utter nonsense."
"Then what is it?" Phil suddenly realised being too frank had been a mistake. But it was too late to retract anything. It was probably the truth and anyway, what did it matter where it came from anyway. It was here, now.
"We'll find that out when we get the woman to hospital."
"Are you brain dead? You can't move her, those tendrils are hypersensitive, the shock would kill her, instantly."
"It'll probably be for the best."
"You try it and you're dead. We don't know whether it's life threatening yet. In fact we don't know anything."
"If it's as contagious as you suggest she has to be quarantined, now."
"Seal the area then, you can erect a tent around her and filter all the air. Don't you see, we have to study this, to find out what we can do about it."
"You need to come up with a rational explanation as to how she caught the disease."
"Simple." Was it? Phil briefly considered his options, what few there were. Lie and maybe delay finding a cure, or tell them what he felt the three of them already knew. After all, he had already said as much. "Not of this planet."
"I'm not buying that. You're trying to shield unauthorised genetic experimentation. I'm going to get a warrant to search your laboratories."
"Fine, we've been studying soil above all else, all you'll find are the samples we brought back from Scotland."
"Come off it, somewhere in your University will be the answer."
"Can't you stop bickering and do something to help Paula?"
"There's a specialist on his way."
The group fragmented, clearly only three people believed the fungus was something ‘out of this world'.
"We might have to work this out ourselves. You two get back, remove the bronze, some of the spores, then get some sleep. We can try and find out more when our minds are back up to speed."
A solitary figure was moving across the grass.
"The top man I suppose, in his field."
"Except that it's Paula's specialty, no one else has a look in."