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A short story by

Antony Johnston

Life. Yes! The behemoth sensed biological heat clustered below. Instinctively it adjusted its descent path towards the source.

* * *

Brach watched the raven feeds come in, and sent them to Lee. They'd both fought in the First Contact War, and they knew what to expect. Zerglings, mutalisks, hydralisks... but there was something else he didn't recognize.

"Major, what the hell are those?"

Lee left the main console to stand beside Brach and scan the static-worn images on the feed. He pointed to a column of squat multilegged zerg scuttling over a layer of creep. Their wide bodies were heavily armored by a spiked carapace that hid their features from the air, and they moved in unison towards a comms dish installation two klicks from the Krakulv Base walls.

Lee shook her head. "Never seen that unit before. But we know the zerg evolve and mutate quickly. It could be new, or even a unit we've seen before, with better—"

The zerg column came within a quarter klick of the comms dish, and the front row rose up to unleash blasts of lurid green acid from their mouths. As they finished, the row behind them rose up and did the same. Thirty seconds later, the dish installation was a smoking pile of molten neosteel.

"LRC-4 just went offline," shouted one of the tactical staff.

Lee hissed through her teeth. "Roaches."

"Are you sure? I thought they were... smaller?"

"Obviously, they grew. Shit." Lee raced back to the main console and studied the base defense status for the hundredth time. "Our walls are still at a hundred percent, no breaches or serious damage yet. But those things will eat through them in an hour or two."

"'Or two,' is the question. We could all be on a transport by the time they get through."

Lee didn't reply. She looked paralyzed, indecisive. Brach hadn't seen her this nervous since their wedding, and he knew exactly why. His mind drifted to their quarters, and the trophy cabinet he'd insisted they bring with them, to remind them that even though they'd been assigned to a small, unimportant monitoring base, they were still marines who'd served with honor. But the cabinet didn't just hold medals and trophies. They'd also filled it with battlefield souvenirs, reminders of what they'd both been through during the war. He knew what Lee would be thinking of right now. He had to do something.

"I'll lead an aerial squad and buy us some time." Brach saluted and turned to walk out. "Major."

Lee looked up from the console, suddenly alert. "What? No! You know what those things can do, and these are bigger than any I've seen before. What if these ones can attack air units?"

"So why didn't they take out the raven? That heavy armor restricts them so much, they can't look up. All I need is half a dozen banshees and coordinates from the ravens. Easy strike."

"And when was the last time any of you took a banshee out? Six months? A year? You're as rusty as the ships, and I'm not risking more lives without good reason. Nobody goes outside the base walls... including you, Captain. Got it?"

Brach knew Lee was serious when she called him either Captain or by his full name of Brachyan. He hated it, mostly because it made him feel like a child. She was his wife and his superior officer... but that didn't mean she was never wrong. For example, she didn't know that he and a half-dozen other vets took the banshees out for flybys every month during lunar midnight.

"Yes, Major," he said, and left the centcomm.

* * *

"Hey, Illyana. What's up?" Dannion Kortter spoke without looking up from the monitor.

"Not much," she replied as the door closed behind her. "Me, you, nine eggheads, eleven fake ecosystems, and a whole lot of nothing going on. Just the way I like it."

As if on cue, Dannion's entire console lit up, and a scratchy transmission sounded over the comms.

"Raynolds to base. Are we expecting a storm out here?"

Dan opened the channel. "This is base, Raynolds." He scanned the worklog rota. "I've got you in biosphere three, the slug and sap dome under the mountain. What's the problem?"

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