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A short story by

Antony Johnston

Brach cut the comm link.

Lee waited, powerless and impotent as the roach acid slowly broke down the base walls, molecule by molecule. Section 4D was falling fast.

A deafening barrage of anti-air fire blasted down into the courtyard, tearing into a group of roaches. The impact splash blew three nearby marines back, arcing through the air.

"Everyone fall back! I repeat, keep your distance and do not engage!" Brach's voice cut loud and clear over the all-hands comm as anti-air cannons continued to rip through the courtyard.

Lee scanned the wall status as her staff shouted out reports.

"Section 8C is falling!"

"3B at eighty percent!"

"4D is gone!"

"Loud and clear! Focusing on those areas now!"

More cannon fire blasted the courtyard, concentrating on roaches attacking the weakest spots. Where sections of the wall had already been breached, Brach moved the fire from the courtyard to the hole itself, ripping into zerg as they swarmed through.

Now the mutalisks began attacking again, drawing fire away from the ground as they swooped through the air, unleashing a torrent of wurms at the marines below.

Lee checked her chrono. Forty minutes.

* * *

Illyana and Dan entered comms together. Dan set to work trying to strengthen the signal from Raynolds's vitals monitor, breathing fast as he punched buttons and tweaked configurations.

Illyana called up the Extra-Vehicular Assistant console and activated the warm-up sequence for one of the jungle jeeps. They were modified mohicans, but Dr. Callins — chief project scientist, and head of biomorphology — had called them "jungle jeeps" on the first day. Illyana wasn't sure if this was hilarious to scientists, or they were all just sucking up to Callins, but regardless, the name stuck.

Dan looked up from the console. "What's that noise?"

Illyana turned, trying to pinpoint the sound, before realizing it was coming from her coolsuit pocket. Her alert sensor was vibrating again. "Oh, no..." She checked the status. "Sphere six is compromised."

"That's the nearest one to three, heading west. Was there anyone...?"

"No, only number three was manned today, thank God. What the hell is going on?"

Dr. Callins rushed into the room. "Kortter, did you screw up the signal? My entire monitor bank to sphere six just went offline!"

Callins had the typical short temper of a scientist. Illyana stepped between him and Dannion to defuse the inevitable argument they would have. "It's not our doing, sir. Six has been compromised, just like three."

"Then what the hell are you standing around here for? Get out there and fix it!"

"That's what I'm about to do. If you'd just calm —" Still in her hand, the alert sensor buzzed. "And now we've lost sphere one."

"What?!"

Illyana ignored Callins and called up the outpost map. The biospheres were arranged in a rough circular pattern, each between ten and twenty klicks from the central base. It was close enough to reach them with relative ease, but far and wide enough to ensure a good variety of environments. Sphere three was roughly northwest from their position. Six was west of three. One was southwest of six...

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