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A short story by

Antony Johnston

"It's like the lights just went out. But I checked the forecast before I left base, and there was no sign of storms or bad fronts rolling in. Can you double-check?"

"Sure thing, hold on." Dan called up the day's forecast and real-time patterns. "You should be clear and dry. Could it be the mountain shadow? We're closing on two in the afternoon. If the sun's going down on the other side..."

"I'm out here twice a week, for God's sake. I know when it gets dark."

Illyana leaned over Dannion's shoulder. "Raynolds, this is Jorres. Is it definitely clouds?"

"How would I know? I'm in the slug dome, can't see a thing through the geodesic screens. And the light's getting worse in here by the second. I'm heading back to the console room before I need a flashlight to KRZRRZKRZKRZZZKKKK."

The ground shook.

"What the hell was that?" Dan jabbed at the comms, trying to reestablish the connection.

Illyana thought the ground was still shaking, then realized it was her alert sensor, vibrating on her hip. She checked it. "Shit."

Hesken, one of the scientists, ran into the room, panting from the brief exertion. "Earthquake?" he gasped. "I hate earthquakes. Please don't say this planet's unstable."

Illyana pushed past him. "We don't know, but whatever it was compromised biosphere three's integrity. I just got an alert: the seal's broken, and failsafes have kicked in. Kortter, keep working on raising Raynolds."

Data and reports scrolled over the monitors in rapid succession. Dan's eyes flicked from screen to screen, skimming everything, looking for a solution, or at least an explanation. "What about you?"

Illyana stepped through the door without looking back. "I'm going out there."

* * *

Six banshees screamed out of the purple sky, raining backlash rockets down on the zerg. The valley lit up with fire as Brach brought the lead craft around for another pass.

"First strike is deadly, Major," he said into his headset. "Banshees, commence second run."

Back at Krakulv Base, Lee fumed and clenched her fists in silence. She'd known, perhaps only subconsciously, that Brach would disobey her and take the banshees out. She knew all about the practice sorties he organized every month at lunar midnight, when he thought nobody was looking.

If they survived this battle, she might reprimand him. But that was the point — if they survived. When it was life or death, a court martial was the least of a marine's worries.

She let them go, and tasked the centcomm staff to give full tactical support. Now that they were out there, she had little choice.

Brach lined up for his second bombardment pass, arming all systems as he brought the banshee in low and level. For the first strike they'd flown in cloaked all the way from base, swooped out of the low sun, firing at the last second, before the zerg could move an overseer towards their position... and before power to the cloaking systems ran out on these old rustbuckets, which would be any second now. Lee had been right about that, at least.

So now the zerg knew they were coming. Brach had to hope they could press home quickly enough to stop zerg reinforcements from arriving before his men exited the theater.

"Fire!"

Brach swooped over the column of roaches, no longer a solid mass of carapace but broken up, gaps punched in the line by the banshees' missiles, and as more rockets blasted down into the valley, more gaps appeared —

But something wasn't right. He expected to see broken carapaces and zerg guts spread over the ground. Instead, the gaps in the roach column were just that. Gaps, as if the roaches had vanished into thin air.

Or into the ground.

Brach saw roaches burrowing into the ground, letting the dusty, cracked surface of the moon swallow them up, safe from harm. Some were injured; others burrowed as a preemptive defense. The banshees would need something more powerful than stingers to take out these particular zerg.

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