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Page 13 of 14
A short story by

Antony Johnston

Deep inside the dead moon of Krakulv, systems hummed to life.

* * *

The line to Dannion had cut out seconds after Illyana heard the screams, and she knew it wasn't because of a bad connection.

She'd seen their tracks as she escaped the wrecked dome of biosphere three. She'd heard their distant movements as she collected jars of vine sap in a box. She'd heard the explosions from other biospheres as she frantically drove the jeep away one-handed, while one of Garrxax's characteristic tropical storms rumbled awake overhead.

Her wounded arm hung limp and useless by her side. And it looked even worse now, as if the acid was somehow spreading. With every movement of the jeep, pain jabbed her chest, even though she was sticking to the dirt track. Was it the acid, or just the pain and exertion of trying to make it back to the base? She didn't know, didn't care.

Five minutes earlier she'd glimpsed a hydralisk in the rear mirror, lurching out of the rainforest, as she rounded a corner. There had been no sign since, so she figured it hadn't noticed her.

Wrong. Trees splintered into fragments as a zergling crashed out of the forest and slammed into the jeep's hood. She yelped involuntarily and tried to swerve, but the heavy rains had turned the dirt track into a mud bath, and the jeep's fender smashed into its bulky, chitinous body. A panel of neosteel came away, sailing overhead to land on the track behind. The vehicle lurched down as one of the front axles buckled under the impact.

It was still moving, though. Still working. Smoke rose from the base's position in the valley, obscuring the base itself. But she'd seen what the zerg did to terran bases and structures plenty of times during the war.

The jeep staggered another hundred meters before something hit the rear with a heavy thump. She had time to glance in the mirror, and see a column of zerglings pursuing her, before the rear end slammed into the ground, dragging steel through the mud and pulling the jeep towards the forest.

She leapt out before it smashed into a tree at the side of the track. She landed on her bad arm, and screamed in pain as what remained of the bones snapped and shattered.

But she forced herself up, and dragged the crate of jars out of the jeep. Many had smashed on impact, but some were intact. She checked the width of the track, figured the distance of the advancing zerg, and reckoned she had enough to make a wall of fire deep enough to hold them back... if the rain didn't extinguish the fire too quickly. If the storm passed, it might even spread into the forest and slow them down enough for her to reach the base.

Or it might fry her to a crisp. But she was going down anyway; that was pretty damn certain. She'd take as many of the bastards with her as possible.

She removed the first jar from the crate... and looked up in surprise at the sound of engines roaring above her. A planet-hopper broke through the cloud layer, starting its descent towards the base. Even marine pilots should be able to find that column of smoke, she thought with a smirk.

The pilot managed to get through on the comm channel, although the line was filled with static. "Garrxax Base... planet-hopper evac... First Lieutenant Treicher. We... visual, please..."

"Evac ship, this is First Security Officer Illyana Jorres! The base is down — I repeat, down! I'm the sole survivor, half a klick away on a dirt track! Look for the goddamn advancing zerg! Do you read me?"

A pause on the line. The zerg drew closer to her position.

"Roger... Officer Lee... breaking up... Scanning now for... Stand by."

Illyana sighed. The pilot had only heard half her message, and name, through the static. But at least he'd heard her. Now all she had to do was survive long enough for them to land...

She threw the jar of sap at the advancing zerg, and fired her P220.

* * *

She watched the rear view on a landing bay monitor as medics strapped Brach to a gurney.

Krakulv trembled, then exploded in a bright flash of nuclear heat. Vaporized.

"Whoa," said one of the medics. "Did... did you do that? That's cutting it damn close."

"We drilled nukes into the core when the base was built. I couldn't risk a countdown that might miss, so I rigged it up to the incendiary alarms. Then all we had to do was wait for the zerg to start a fire."

"Since when do zerg use incendiaries?"

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