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A short story by

James M. Waugh

The screeching from below was almost unbearable. “SKREEEEE, SKREEEEE, SKREEEEE!” It was the sound of a wounded animal desperately looking for some way, any way, out. “SKREEEE!” That was a zerg, alright; Walden had spent enough time in the trenches, fighting those monstrosities, to know.

His bare feet touched the warm metal floor. His toes sizzled as if he were walking on burning coals. Damn fusion processing. He coughed, choking back the steam.

“Zerg ain’t dormant like they say, Sarge. Looks like they walking amongst us now.” Wynne moved forward, needler held up and waiting to blast away at the first chance he got. But his words lingered. Looks like they’re walking amongst us. For some reason it just didn’t seem possible to Walden.

“SKREEEEE!” Was it coming from the left? No, right. Wait! IN FRONT! Charging full bore at Wynne was the creature. It was humanoid in shape, still bearing many of Hendrix’s features, but even through the steam it was clear to see that its body was morphing, changing, part human, part zerg: it looked like a person who had been pushed through a meat grinder and come out partially insectoid. Wynne fired only to be knocked on his back by the creature before it drove its bone blade into his guts with a loud animalistic yell. It stabbed repeatedly, twisting the bone blade over and over.

“Sarge! Oh, fekk, it hurts. Shoot it! Shoot it! Get off me…. Sarge!” Wynne shrieked, the pain unbearable.

Walden was frozen, paralyzed by what he was seeing. This can’t be happening. This can’t be fekking happening! I ordered him here. I could have had him stay behind.

“Ahhhhhhhhhh!” shrieked Wynne.

Then a jolt of rationality hit Walden, and he squeezed the trigger. But he didn’t shoot the zerg. Instead, he put a needle right in Wynne’s head, ending his suffering. He couldn’t allow Wynne to die like that. He pointed the needler at the zerg, which was now slipping away, melding into the steam.

The zerg’s face peered back at him. But it wasn’t Hendrix’s torn face anymore… it was Wynne’s. Wynne’s face glared right at him, eyes burning into Walden’s soul, staring in accusation. Walden couldn’t pull the trigger and kill Wynne twice. No way. All he could hear was Wynne’s god-awful chuckle rattling around his warping mind. And then the creature was gone, vanished in the mist.

His heart felt as if it were trying to kick out his ribs. Shhh, he thought, doing his best to suppress the rapid pants jetting from his now-dry mouth. Shhh. Gotta stay calm. In control. Walden had tucked himself into a ball, holding onto the needler like a safety blanket, as if his life depended on it. And maybe it did. He could feel the large pool of Wynne’s blood, warm and damp, trickling toward him.

It was above him. He knew it. It was sliding on the grates and slithering his way. Where was the security team? The zerg was coming back for him. Bang. Clang. BANG! He could see the jagged light through the grate disappear, then reappear as it moved forward. It was moving fast toward him, as if it knew just as well as he did that they were both trapped and only one of them was going to get out alive. He steeled himself as it came. This was what he had joined the Marine Corps for in the first place: to face up to that which scared him.

He used all of his energy to stand up, spin around, and fire a barrage with the needler into the grates just as they gave way and the zerg, half in Wynne’s form, smashed down on top of him.

Blood was everywhere. Wynne’s face stared right at him before morphing into fleshy protoplasmic matter. Walden pushed it off of him, standing up. Then….

“Sergeant Briggs, you down there?” a voice asked from above.

“That is correct… and I’m the only thing left alive down here.”

Video Changeling
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