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Page 9 of 9
A short story by

James Waugh

After bandaging his hand, Virgil put the tooth around his neck and walked to the front door. He knew that he should have left it, that no farmer heading to Shiloh had a zergling tooth for a necklace, but it was something he just couldn't throw away. He made sure it was underneath his shirt's collar so no one would see it. But he knew it was there.

The streets were alive with panicked citizens rushing to who knew where. A holocast reporter, 20 meters high, was broadcasting the events that were taking place throughout the system. Graphics showed the Swarm's interplanetary assault spreading from world to world. Virgil tried not to look; he tried hard to keep his head forward, focused.

As he turned the corner he saw a group of men and women huddled around a Dominion recruiting office. There were two lines forming. One read NEW RECRUITS; the other, RECALL SOLDIERS. A war was on, and soldiers were signing up to fight.

Virgil hastened his steps, trying not to look at the men and women who were signing back up, doing their duty.

He reached the transpo pickup station and sat down on the bench, waiting for the next ride to Kurtz Starport. The display showed the bus was inbound. It would only be moments now.

Across the way he could see a UNN broadcast on one of the monitors. He could see Emperor Mengsk at a podium next to General Warfield, a legend of a commander. A ticker tape of updates screamed across the lower half of the screen, body counts rising.

Sitting there in silence, Virgil was certain he could hear the chittering. He could have sworn that he heard a zergling's high-pitched squeal and a hail of gunfire blending into the sound of an explosion. He closed his eyes only to see the rush of movement from a hundred zerglings clawing toward him like the ones that got Birch, and Dave, and Irmscher, and so many other fallen comrades-in-arms. It was all in his head. It would always be. There was no escape from it. Opening his eyes, he knew that now.

A loud screech came around the corner, and with it the transpo, hovering a meter above the ground. A wave of warmth from its engines hit Virgil in the face. He looked up. The transpo driver opened the door to let him in. Virgil just sat there, listening to the bus's engine purr. It reminded him of the sound a vulture bike made while whirring its way into a combat zone.

"Hey, buddy, you gonna sit there all day, or you gonna hop in?"

Virgil stared at the man for a long moment. Finally, he stood up. "No, sir… I'm sorry. I was just… just resting my legs."

"Oh, screw you, then, buddy! Rest your stupid legs on a bench that's not a pickup station… Idiot!" The driver sped off.

Virgil walked back down the block.

As he got closer to the Dominion recruiting office, he stopped at a street garbage can. There, he pulled the forged digi-ID from his pocket. It was the key to a different life, one far away from zerglings and combat. For a moment, images of Rufi and him splashed into his thoughts. They were farming the lands of Shiloh, gorgeous children running after them, giggling; their laughter was musical like their mother's. They were projections of a life that could have been, a life foreign to a marine sergeant with a war on.

He tossed the fake ID into the garbage can, reached under his collar, and lifted the chipped zergling tooth from beneath the fabric, letting it proudly be displayed for all to see: a badge of honor, his favorite medal.

Moments later, Virgil was in line at the Dominion recruiting building with the rest of the old marines who had come face to face with the zerg, men who understood what he'd seen, what he'd been through, and how he would never be the same as those who hadn't.

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