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A short story by

James M. Waugh

Walden was down to his boxers and t-shirt, sprawled out on what passed for a bed and watching UNN, the Dominion-run news network, on a holo. It still felt good to be able to stretch out his legs without the cling of neosteel, but he wasn’t calm by any means. UNN reporter Kate Lockwell was doing a story about Jim Raynor’s most recent terrorist act on Halcyon. The bastard had blown up a school, all in the name of defying what he called a “corrupt imperial government that exploits its own citizens.” How could a man live with himself after doing something like that? I’ll take an imperial regime over a terrorist any day of the week…. And to think, some people call him a hero. Raynor’s face was emblazoned across the screen. He looked different from the man who was on Dominion-issue targets at the firing range. He’d grown out his hair, and his face looked as if the wear and tear of years on the run had taken their toll: he looked older, maybe sadder.

A loud scream forced Walden to sit upright. He hadn’t heard a cry like that since the last days of the Brood War. Days he’d prefer to forget. He leaped up from his bed just in time to answer the thumping on his door.

Brody fell on top of him in a heap of red. His stomach was ripped open, and blood was pouring out, blood and literal guts. His face was a pale white, and he clutched desperately at Walden’s shirt until it ripped.

“Oh, fekk, fekk, fekk, fekk. Hang on, Brody! Hang on!” Walden knelt down, cradling the shivering corporal.

“Hendrix,” Brody managed to get out, “Hendrix isn’t Hendrix. He’s… he’s….”

“He’s what, Brody? What?”

“Zerg,” he said in a whisper, eyes staring up, unmoving. “Zerg.” The whisper grew softer, and his terse breathing stopped.

Zerg? Hendrix is a zerg? That didn’t make sense. But then Wynne and Jenkins ran down the hall.

“Sarge… reactor core. That thing is in the reactor core. Come on.” They both had needle-guns and were hell-bent on chasing their prey. Without thinking, Walden ran out, leaving his gun.

“We need to get Brody to the infirmary stat!” Walden ordered.

“It’s too late, Sarge: he ain’t gonna make it,” Jenkins said. “We gotta make sure no one else ends up like that.”

“What the fekk are we chasing?” Walden asked, panting, heart rate accelerating.

“Hendrix ain’t Hendrix. We just finished poker when we caught him down there in the operations room, scanning for security codes.” Jenkins was rambling as he ran at a track star’s pace. “When I asked him what the fekk he was doing, he just turned and smiled and walked away. I grabbed his arm, and he punched me… harder than I ever been hit.” He wasn’t lying about that. Jenkins’ face had a swollen knob over his eye.

“He ran. Brody… Brody, he tackled him,” Wynne spat out. “Then he… oh, fekk… he… Hendrix changed. He was nothing but ooze and guts, like some sort of inside-out person. He… it… its hand turned into a bone… like a blade… and… he stabbed Brody in the gut with it.”

“Brody was able to get a shot off, though, and hit it. Hurt it before it ran,” Jenkins added.

“Where the fekk’s security?” Walden managed to get out.

“Suiting up, Sarge. They hear zerg and it’s all CMCs and gauss after that,” Wynne responded. There wasn’t the slightest hint of a chuckle in his voice this time.

Walden’s head was reeling. How could Hendrix be a zerg? What was he going to tell Brody’s wife? What the fekk were they talking about?

They were following a blood trail scattered across the floor, but that blood sure wasn’t terran, no way. It congealed in thick gobs of purple protoplasmic mess that were sickening to the senses.

“We gotta get this thing before it escapes,” Jenkins said as they rounded a corner, following bio-matter down the metallic hallway toward a blast door.

Wynne hastily opened the door. Inside, lying on the ground in a heap of gore was the fresh corpse of an SCV pilot. His lifeless eyes glared at them. His beard was soaked in his own blood, and his expression was full of shock and regret.

“It went down there,” Wynne said, following the trail of matter toward a hatch.

“Sarge, you stay here and get them SEC down there as soon as they arrive. We’ll go after it,” Jenkins insisted.

“Sorry, marine. Not gonna happen,” Walden commanded, even though every fiber of his being wanted nothing more than just to agree. “Jenkins, this is my responsibility. You fall back and make sure the SEC knows that Wynne and I gave chase into the processing tunnels. Give me your needler.”

“Yes, sir,” Jenkins replied, handing over the weapon.

Walden led the way and began his crawl down the ladder into the dark steamy depths of the reactor core.

Video Changeling
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