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A short story by

Antony Johnston

The Kerrigan sensed unexpected movement, and through the zerglings' eyes found its source. The slugs they had accidentally killed were twitching. Those only wounded were already moving again, with no sign of damage.

Very useful indeed.

* * *

"Contact from Destroyer transport evac, Major. ETA is sixty minutes."

Lee breathed a sigh of relief. Forty minutes ago, the zerg had completely surrounded Krakulv Base. Now they were pounding the walls with everything they had, including roach acid blasts, while mutalisks flew hit-and-run raids from the air. The walls were holding, and Brach was in command of repelling the mutalisk waves with batteries of anti-air cannons. But Lee knew it was a matter of when, not if, the zerg breached the moon base.

Sixty minutes. If the walls, and the cannons, held for that long, she could get the rest of the marines off-site, with total casualties of less than thirty percent. Far better than her estimate after the first attack.

The mutalisk raids held off for the moment. Lee turned her attention to the exterior feed from the walls, punching it up on the main console. The zerg's relentless battering had damaged many integral wall systems already, and the feed was barely more than static and artifacts. She squinted, trying to discern movement and shape through the fuzz. There were the zerglings; there were the hydralisks and roaches...

She saw something, or thought she did, that made her heart skip a beat. She scanned back thirty seconds and saw it again. Scanned forward to live feed, and there it was again. And again.

She drew breath to relay what she'd seen to Brach, but the captain's voice came over her headset before she could speak.

"Lee, something's happening on the ground! It's hard to make out... Krakulv is negative for seismic activity, right?"

"That's not an earthquake, Brach. I just saw it on the feed."

Lee reached for the red alert signal on the console, then remembered it had been running since dawn. She touched her headset and broadcast to all hands.

"Attention, all units. The roaches are tunneling under the walls. Repeat, roaches aren't just burrowing; now they can move underground, too! All non-gunnery hands to the courtyard, immediately!"

The internal feeds showed marines running from all over the base, making for the courtyards. Then Lee remembered what Brach had seen in the valley.

"Use heaviest weapons only and confirm kill shot. I repeat, be one hundred percent sure of total kill! These bastards heal real fast, so do not settle for injury! If they burrow, grenade them as they go down!"

As the marines poured out into the courtyards, C-14 "Impaler" assault rifles armed and ready, the first roach burrowers broke the cracked moon soil inside the walls. The base lit up with gunfire as Lee's troops took the battle to the zerg. The roaches retaliated with acid blasts, and powerful chitinous limbs that ripped one marine in half while she watched. Another fell as a roach erupted from the ground beneath him. She watched him struggle as it dragged him down, and got only a grim satisfaction when earth and carapace showered out of the hole. The marine had set off a grenade as a last resort.

Ten minutes later, the battle wasn't going well. The roaches were big and well armored, and they regenerated wounds as fast as her marines' Impalers could deal them. She counted five roaches dead, but at the cost of thirty marines and counting. Her men tried to keep their distance, but with roaches literally erupting from the ground beneath them, there was nowhere to hide.

And then the roaches turned around.

Lee hoped they were retreating, preparing to burrow back under the walls, but then she realized getting the roaches inside the base was only stage one. They'd been unable to break through the base walls, reinforced against all but the strongest attacks from outside, backed up by automatic sentry weapons. But here on the inside there were no sentries, no buttresses. Just thick slabs of neosteel, which the roaches now assaulted with concentrated streams of acid blasts, three roaches focusing on each single point of attack. The marines hit them with Impaler volleys, but other roaches moved between them, acting as living shields to protect their fellow zerg.

The mutalisks held off, probably waiting for the roaches to finish their breach. It was what Lee would have done. But that left her with a weapon, and a hard decision to make. She took a deep breath.

"Brach, take the gyro restrictors off the anti-air cannons, and focus fire on the roaches."

"Say again, Major?"

"Point them down, dammit! They're the only guns we have big enough to take them out before they break open the walls!"

"Our guys are still down there!"

"I know!"

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