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A short story by

James Waugh

The zerglings got Albee in the Long Shadow canyons of Asteria during one of its famed saffron-hued sunsets.

Albee was a resoc, big and dim, with the blissful grin that only manifested in those who'd had their memories replaced and revised. But that didn't bother Virgil or Birch or Dave or the rest of Rho Squadron. For a resoc, he wasn't so bad. He was a helluva soldier and as lucky as a man could get. Like most resocs, he was part of the front line, flung forward into the throngs of zerg to face down their initial assault. He'd seen and survived more action in his four years, first in the Confederate Corps, then the Dominion Corps, than most soldiers saw in a lifetime… and somehow, he always made it out of the front lines, ichor splattered across his CMC, wearing that big silly grin on his face.

During downtime, Albee would talk about growing up out in the countryside of Halcyon on the prime continent. He reminisced about the beautiful green hills covered in high grass that rolled on for what seemed like an eternity beneath blue skies and little fluffy clouds. He talked about the litter of puppies that followed him everywhere he'd go, tails wagging, and how much he loved their warm, wet licks sandpapering his face on lazy afternoons, nestled up under the shade of a banyan tree. It was an idyllic childhood, and one he missed. It was what he was fighting for, so that others could enjoy moments like he remembered, so that mankind would endure against the zerg and protoss and anyone else who stood in its way.

Of course, they were fake memories, implanted in a resoc chamber on Norris VI. Everyone in Rho Squad knew it and had heard the same exact forged memories from other resocs. But no one in Rho would ever say a bad word about the gentle giant or his illusion of a past. On R&R at Bacchus Moon in the Cat House Bar, one of the privates from Alpha Squad who'd had too many Umojan zippers tried to point out these fake memories to Albee. He was quickly met with a gut punch from Virgil that resulted in a barroom brawl between marines. Virgil wanted Albee's memories to be his own, fake or not: to be the one respite the brute had from the horrors faced day in and day out on the battlefield. No one was going to discredit them.

In the streets of Nephor II, Caine and Albee encountered a woman who, upon seeing the big resoc, began screaming and pointing at him. "The Butcher! My god, he's the Butcher of Pridewater! Here?! Stop him! Someone has to stop him!" She was immediately escorted away by local authorities. Neither Caine nor Albee knew what had caused it.

Weeks later, with the incident gnawing away in the back of Caine's mind, he did some research on his lucky front-line soldier. It was then that Caine learned some things were best left unknown when it came to resocialized marines. Albee, who talked about the joy of puppies and the beauty of hills that went on forever, was also known as "The Butcher of Pridewater" for a string of murders that spanned over ten years in the slums of the capital city. He had been known to torture his victims, to enjoy the sound of their pained screams, keeping them alive for days. The images that accompanied the data were horrific, and Caine now understood where the savagery he had seen take hold of Albee on the battlefield came from. But still, every time Albee's eyes would glaze over in bliss as he talked about the smooth beige fur of the tiny puppies, their nipping baby teeth caressing his arms, wet noses sending his skin into goose bumps, Caine could only think about what a success the resoc program actually was—redeeming even the worst among us.

When the zerglings got Albee, he was knee deep in thick purple creep. Rho Squadron had marched into the Long Shadow canyons with a contingent of firebats and backed by the heavy bombardment of siege tanks and goliaths. They had come in to "mop up," as Caine put it. The zerg infestation had been pushed back deep into the canyons to a hive cluster tucked within. As long as a hive survived on Asteria, the zerg would never stop attacking. The strike was a roaring success. Charred hydralisk corpses had sunk into the creep, and spawning pools oozed larvae carcasses. Hatcheries and other structures crumbled in bioplasmic splashes.

The thundering boom from siege tank fire rattled Albee's CMC suit. As always he was leading the charge, at the forefront of the battle and pushing deeper into the hive cluster. It didn't seem as if there were many zerg left, most chopped down in a hail of goliath autocannon fire. Albee didn't think there was much to be concerned about when he lowered his gauss rifle to take in the carnage he and his boys had wrought. It was a glorious sight for a terran. The living entities that were zerg structures were now ripped apart and had splattered onto one another, throbbing and pulsing veins jutting out, spraying the ground with a thick bloody miasma. This was victory. Albee felt a sense of pride.

The zerglings burst from a nearby spawning pool with a cacophony of rabid and mostly unheard screams. Albee didn't see them; no one did. The golden light of the famed canyon sunsets had cast everything in muted sepia, and the infamous long shadows had cut swaths of dark over the creep. The moment must have hit home with the lucky private. It was as if the dust particles dancing in the light reminded him of spring leaves drifting in the country breeze of his fake youth.

He had no idea what had hit him as he collapsed face first into the creep. Zerglings poured on top of him, jabbing and cutting, slashing and ripping, like wild animals come to feed, fighting over position as if they took joy in making sure each one of the pack got to pound its talons deep into the mess below them.

When the battle was over, there was nothing left of the Butcher of Pridewater. He was little more than a scattered Rorschach stain on violet creep, nothing more than a memory etched permanently into the minds of those who had served with him.

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