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A short story by

James Waugh

The zerglings got Irmscher at the Battle of Lawndale 12, a backwater incursion during the Brood War that no one ever writes about in the history books.

Irmscher was only a kid, right out of upper school, fresh faced and full of piss and vinegar, the type that never lasts long in the Dominion Marine Corps. At 18, with no real prospects, he went door to door selling unregulated fones to make enough money to take girls out and pay rent. One day he knocked on the door of Sergeant Robert Maury, a Dominion marine recruiter who wasn't all that interested in Irm's wares. Three days later he was on a dropship to Turaxis II for boot camp, getting his head filled with stories of heroic combat, legendary R&R trips, and the glory of earning medals. But fighting zerg wasn't exactly the eminent career path he was told it would be. There was nothing glorious about watching men, though more often than not it was watching boys, be shredded alive in front of you, savagely ripped apart by monsters, blood spurting from their mouths and filling their CMC's helmets like a macabre daiquiri blender.

At nights when all of Rho Squadron were huddled together in the dank innards of a quickly set-up barracks, he'd pull up a picture on one of his unregulated fones and show the boys "the girl I'm gonna go and get once this war is over." She was a pretty blonde thing with looping, curly hair worn in the fashion of the Marlowe elite. Her name was Mary Lou, and he'd met her just days before meeting Sgt. Maury.

"Hell… you ain't gonna get any of that, boy. That there is high class," Birch, an older marine, would razz him. "She's more suited for a stud like me."

They'd met at one of the underground stimbars that were supposed to be illegal, unless you were wealthy enough to own one or knew the right people who could get you in. It was a torrid night that he only remembered in adrenaline-filled flashes of memory—dancing, laughing, Scotty Bolger's. He said they kissed. At least, he thought they did. He hoped. He got her contact info after, and they'd shared exorbitantly priced interplanetary messages ever since. As the weeks went on and he spent more and more time on the front lines, a gasp away from death, she slowly became more than a girl to him. She was an idea. An idea of a time when he didn't spend his days in heavy CMC armor, huddled together with a bunch of older marines, more like brothers, teasing him about every little thing that came out of his "naïve" mouth, Irm praying for the days he'd no longer be "the kid." Her image reminded him of a time before he'd heard the sound of a swarm of zerglings charging toward him, before he knew the feeling of certainty that there would be blood and gore and death. That sort of knowledge changed a man.

"You'll see," he'd always say with the dreamer's smile of the ignorant, gazing at her image, getting lost in its potential. "Yep, you, sir, will see."

The day the zerglings got Irmscher wasn't all that different than countless other days in war. Most of them were spent waiting. They were spent sitting around and listening to the wind howl and fade into a dull quiet. It was a pregnant quiet with a dark promise.

Rho Squad had been assigned to hold the line and defend Lawndale 12, a small communications relay on the south peninsula of Anselm. They'd dug deep trenches around the satellite system a week before and set up bunkers and two siege tanks on the perimeter. A base had been established to receive data and beam it out to the fleets deep in the sector. A barracks had been built as well, but Rho Squad never spent time in it. Precious seconds out of the field could mean death in an assault, so the discomfort of dirt-laden trenches became their home.

No one had thought the zerg would ever really attack Lawndale. The strategic value in the grand scheme of the war was minute. So when the alarm ripped through the silence and Virgil Caine, Rho Squadron's sergeant, began barking orders, his marines all scrambled to their feet and prepared for the worst. But it wasn't the worst. It was suicide for the zerglings. There was no real point. The beasts were outnumbered and outclassed. Still the stupid, seemingly mindless xenos came anyway.

You'd hear them way before you'd see them, yards out, the churning buzz of their chittering rattling into your ears.

"Why they coming? What could they possibly want?" Irmscher could see them now, twenty slavering zerglings, teeth bared, talons poised, horrific ooze frothing from their mouths, their strong legs propelling them forward. They looked like rabid and mutated dogs turned loose by some cruel master.

Irmscher would never get answers to his questions. The sound of hypersonic spikes filled the air, and there was no more time to consider. There was only action.

The zerglings were outnumbered, but it didn't matter; it was as if any terran death was worth their own ten times over. Rho Squad quickly realized that command had made a bad decision in ordering the trenches dug. Several zerglings crawled their way into the tight confines, and, given the bulk of the CMC armor the marines wore, many of Rho Squad were trapped in there with them, friendly fire hailing down and crashing into the makeshift dirt walls.

Irmscher screamed when the zerglings got him. He howled as a razor-sharp talon ripped through his visor and pushed deep through his clavicle, followed by another, which tore open his armor as if it were a tin can.

He was still alive when the last of the bastards were killed. He was still wondering why they had assaulted when they had no chance of survival. He was wondering why they'd come just to kill so few, to kill him. As he faded away, stims jutting into his veins, heart slowing to a gentle thump, thump, his CMC suit safeguards trying to seal off torn arteries, Birch cradling his frame while Sgt. Caine watched, Irmscher whispered, "Mary Lou."

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