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A short story by

Antony Johnston


"We're not going anywhere! Man those cannons!"

Captain Brach Treicher turned from the heavy weapons platform and broke into a run, heading for centcomm. Despite the bulk of his CMC combat suit he took the stairs three at a time, listening to the cannons spit out staccato bursts behind him. The marines had watched medivac after medivac evacuate Krakulv Base over the past hour, and naturally expected they were next. But they were staying.

Krakulv was a secret early warning moon base on the edge of Dominion space, monitoring for zerg incursions. Maybe once, when the base was established following the First Contact War, there had been enough medivacs for everyone. But as time went on, and the base and its population grew — grew complacent, in Brach's opinion — they'd outgrown the medivacs' capacity.

The order to evacuate all non-combat, non-essential survivors after the initial attack had come from the major, and Brach would have done the same, but it left a bitter taste in his mouth. That first wave, before lunar sunrise, had taken them by surprise. It shouldn't have. What use was a watch station that didn't detect an impending attack on itself? But it hadn't, and within ten minutes a quarter of their population was dead. So the survivors had fled, taking all but one medivac, leaving a couple hundred marines to hold off an entire zerg assault until the nearest Destroyer-class ship could reach them...

The blast door to central command hissed open, and Brach strode through. "Do we have an ETA on that Destroyer yet?"

Base commander Major Lee Treicher peered at her status console. "Six hours."

"Six hours! Lee, we can't hold them off that long! Krakulv wasn't built for this kind of siege!"

Most of the centcomm staff had evacuated, but half a dozen had stayed behind to man tactical stations, and now every one of them found something really interesting to read on their consoles.

Lee fixed a cold gaze on Brach, and he sighed. If there was one thing about his wife that bugged him, it was this. She never lost her cool, never raised her voice in anger, even when she had every right to. Sometimes he wanted to shake her just to make her react and lose it once in a while.

"So what should we do instead?" she said in an even tone. "Surrender? You want to wave a white flag, hope the zerg have reformed and found their inner pacifist?"

"Counterattack. We can't just sit here and let them come at us."

"I've got raven spotters out right now, assessing the situation. I'll determine a course of action when they send their report, not before. Now either come here and help me out, or go and shout encouraging yet abusive insults at your men."

Brach hesitated, then stepped up beside Lee. He placed the hand of his combat suit over her gloved fingers and gently squeezed. "Sorry," he whispered.

She gave him a lopsided smile and turned back to the console. "Take a look at these formations here..."

* * *


One hour before high noon, Illyana Jorres closed down her security monitors. She'd finished her remote sweep of the biosphere outposts twenty minutes ago, ahead of schedule, and all was normal. As it should be — Garrxax was a tiny planet in a tiny system, on the edge of terran space and far removed from the hustle and bustle of Dominion life, with no indigenous intelligences above forest vermin.

But that was what she'd requested when she'd joined the company. She'd seen enough action in the war, more than enough for any marine. With no other marketable skills, she had gone into freelance security and wound up here. A planet where the humidity made a trip through the mountainous rainforest unbearable without a coolsuit, and even the oceans that covered most of the globe were hot as an evening shower.

But there was no action, no excitement. Just her, ten scientists, and the heat. It suited Illyana just fine.

* * *

The behemoth groaned, shifting its great mass to ease the pain of battle-born wounds. The protoss fleet had caught it unawares, drifting through space on the sector edge, and the behemoth had paid the price. Now its life was draining, even though the battle was over. Its own life was unimportant, but it carried thousands of other zerg within its cavernous membranes, and they too were in danger if it perished. Moving through space was its natural state, but the act was not without exertion. The old behemoth needed time to recover, to regain energy. It could not do that in the vacuum of space.

The Kerrigan had guided the behemoth to ultimate victory in the battle, at the price of its wounds. Now she looked through its tired eyes, scanning the region for a suitable resting place.

There, in the system ahead. A planet with a nitrous-oxygen atmosphere, and carbon-based life. Life that the behemoth, and the thousands of zerg carried in the cavernous membranes of its body, could consume to survive. To heal. The Kerrigan guided the behemoth towards its destination.

After a time — an hour, a day, a week, a month? Time meant little to one so old — the living ship entered the planet's gravity well. The drifting clouds were thick, obscuring the terrain. When the behemoth broke through, it recognized some features. It had seen other planets like this, with mountains and trees, and green covering the land. It had rested, once, on a planet such as this. There would be rich proteins here, perhaps even mammalian life.

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