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A short story by

James M. Waugh

It was always the damned KMs. Here they were in the middle of one of humanity’s darkest hours, with two alien menaces wreaking havoc on the Koprulu sector, and the Kel-Morians were busy threatening the Dominion’s mining interests.

Yep, the KMs were why Walden Briggs found himself on this barren moon-mining colony high above Roxara’s orbit and seemingly light years away from Korhal IV or anything close to what he considered civilization. Or at least that’s what he was thinking as he marched, left foot, then right, with four other marines from Zeta Squad, decked out in heavy CMC-300 power armor toward the mineral-filled caverns some eight miles ahead.

Roxara’s moon was the least scenic place in the galaxy, nothing but dust and rock beneath an endless canvas of winking stars. Well, nothing but dust, rock, stars, and a mother lode of coveted resources.

“Hey, Jenkins,” Hendrix said, his voice hollow through the comm in his helmet. “I got one for ya.”

“Oh, here we go again,” Wynne interrupted, his usual dim chuckle quick to follow.

“This one best actually be funny,” Jenkins said as he scanned the vast plain in front of him. In the distance he could see refining plants and other structures in various stages of construction. It looked like a city of skeletons, unfinished scaffolding: the bare bones of what could be.

“Cut the chatter, kids. This one’s a yellow. May actually be something this time.” Walden knew the reaction he was going to get before he even said it. Nothing about this mission seemed to make sense to any of them, and he knew it.

“Oh, no, Sarge says this one might just be a yeller. Whatever are we to do?” Hendrix laid the sarcasm on thick.

“Shut it, Hendrix,” Walden snapped.

“Come on, ease off, Sarge. Ain’t been a zerg attack in four fekkin’ years; ain’t no one seen them protoss neither; and the Kel-Morian bastards ain’t really much of a threat to us after we been through all of that. I mean, otherwise they’d have sent more than Zeta Squad and the outdated Confederate junk we call weapons and armor here,” Hendrix continued.

“’Outdated junk.’ There’s an understatement. That’s a compliment to the garbage we got. That means one time our stuff was actually usable,” Jenkins added, flashing that prize-winning smile of his.

“What’s an understatement mean again?” Wynne asked, chuckling.

“I don’t know how they let you in the damned military in the first place,” Brody, the enforcer of the group, chimed in. “Now, listen to the sarge and shut your yaps before I shut ’em for ya.” Brody was the most intimidating man in any group he ever found himself a part of, and he knew it.

“It wasn’t that good of a joke anyway,” Hendrix said meekly.

Walden liked having Brody around.

“Those Kel-Morian dirt bags may not be much compared to the zerg, but it doesn’t mean their agents can’t sabotage our mining here,” Walden said. “’Sides, we have our orders, and we’re going to follow them like good little marines; you scan me?”

“Aye aye, sir,” Jenkins responded, a flash of sarcasm flaring in his dark eyes.

The mission was a simple one. Five members of Zeta Squad were to head to the mining cavern at Binion’s Point to make sure there weren’t any Kel-Morian agents wiring nuclear devices to the processors inside. Easy enough, if not an odd use of military personnel. By the time Zeta reached the entrance to the cavern, the last hints of daylight were seeping away. The marines’ long shadows stretched into giants, desperately clinging to the last moments of sunlight before fading into the all-consuming dark.

“Don’t we have scanners for this, boss? I mean, it still don’t make a heck of a lotta sense that we was called all the way out here to do some cave exploration.” Hendrix peered into the cavern below.

“Look, if any of those KM ops are down there, we’re sending a message back to Moria that we ain’t playin’. Sure, it ain’t normal, but I can see the logic,” Brody said sternly.

“I don’t know. Hendrix is right, Brod: this is strange,” Jenkins added.

Walden knew that Hendrix and Jenkins had a point. This was an unusual assignment for a squad of marines pulled out of service from a planet a warp-jump away. But despite that, one thing Walden did have faith in was the Dominion. It was the one thing he stood for, the one thing he knew he could trust. Sure, he knew all about the rabble-rousers who saw Emperor Arcturus Mengsk as some sort of tyrant. He knew all about terrorist scum like Jim Raynor and his “Raiders.” But none of it ever made a lick of sense to him. These were dark times, scary times, times more frightening than any “civil liberty” violation could ever be. These were times that required a tough leader like Mengsk.

When Walden had first heard about Chau Sara all those years ago, his heart felt as if it had fallen into his stomach. He was on Tarsonis. The sky was azure. Perfect. He was in Bennet Park, sitting on a bench and reading an article on his fone. It was a fluff piece about a DJ who had pulled herself from the Gutter of southwest Tarsonis City to become one of the hottest club draws on the planet. He could even remember her name, DJ Atmosphere, and her photo staring up at him, a dark-haired beauty behind overwhelming blue mascara. Then a flashing red scroll snaked across her face: “Chau Sara incinerated by an as-yet-unknown alien race.” He remembered how surreal it had been even as he read the words. “Alien race”? Incinerations?

And then, the gravity of it all had hit him: it felt literal. His knees gave out, and he sank off the park bench onto the cool wet grass. He knew someone who had moved to Chau Sara recently, Rudy Russell, a buddy from his childhood who’d become a satellite mechanic – his buddy who was incinerated.

It hadn’t taken long for the fear to seep in – the anxiety that anywhere could be next and no one was safe. That fear had turned into anger filling his body as if someone had poured a pot of coffee into his veins. Years later he wondered if that headline grabber Jim Raynor ever felt that anger. Dissent from your government was a luxury that could come when people no longer feared the words “zerg” and “protoss.” So, no matter how unusual this mission seemed, Walden wasn’t going to question its rationale.

“Jenkins, you don’t get paid to question. You get paid to kill. You got that? Now let’s go,” Walden said, moving forward.

“Shoot, Sarge, I didn’t even know that the piss-poor amount of credits I get was even considered gettin’ paid.” Jenkins smiled, turning on the lamps affixed to his armor. Brody shoved Jenkins from behind. Jenkins knew better than to retaliate.

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