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By the time Walden had crawled back up the ladder to the main bay of the reactor core, he was exhausted, emotionally and physically. He wasn’t exactly prepared to deal with what he saw. A team of Dominion scientists stood, arms folded, ready to greet him as if they had been waiting there the entire time. Next to the scientists was a full squad of marines decked out in powered combat armor and large gauss rifles. On the ground in an ocean of blood lay Jenkins, dead.
“What the hell’s going on here?” Walden said, trying to assess the situation. “Where’d this squad come from? They ain’t SEC: they’re Corps!”
“Take a deep breath, Sergeant Briggs. You have just done a great service to the Dominion. What you’ve encountered is what we call a zerg ’changeling.’ The Queen of Blades has been busy fine-tuning the capabilities of her disgusting kind.”
“You… you know about these things? What the fekk happened to Jenkins?” Walden had experienced too much in the last few hours to deal out proper decorum to the scientist whose uniform clearly marked him as an officer, a captain.
“Watch your tone, Sarge,” said one of the marines. He had the blissful look of one of the resocialized criminals who had been redeemed for use in military service. Walden had always believed in the resocialization program. The Dominion said it was taking criminals and giving them the gift of hope, a new beginning. But the marines here didn’t look much different from the criminals he’d encountered in the seedy Gutter of Tarsonis before the zerg overran the planet, certainly not now that they were aiming their rifles at him, a marine sergeant who had just been through hell.
“Hand over your pistol, Sergeant; we just want to ask you some questions about your experience,” the scientist said, putting out his hand. “We need to know all we can about these changelings. They can take on the appearance of our soldiers and infiltrate our institutions. They even send out psionic impressions leading our troops to believe that everything is up to snuff. This is a very dangerous enemy, don’t you think? One we need to know all about in order to ensure the Dominion’s safety. Your records indicate extreme loyalty…. It was one of the reasons why you – Zeta Squad – were chosen. Now please, the gun.”
“What happened to Jenkins?” Walden asked again, backing up into the cool metal wall behind him. His sanity was slowly slipping away.
“Corporal Jenkins had to be neutralized. He was resisting a commanding officer. I’m going to ask you one more time, Sergeant: hand over the needler.” The captain extended his hand forcefully.
“No… oh, no.” It was all coming together: the mission that had seemed completely erroneous, Hendrix, the mining cave not being in service during peak time, all of it. “This whole thing… this was some experiment. So you could see how these things work?”
“Well, we couldn’t use the resocs, could we? We needed to see just how adaptable the changelings are. Sergeant, the Dominion needs to make tough choices to protect its people. These are dark times, and extreme measures need to be taken.” His words stung Walden. “Now hand over – ”
It only took one shot to shut him up. One shot to stop the words that sounded like karmic laughter. His whole life, Walden had always seen the universe in blacks and whites; it was much easier that way. The changeling looked just like Hendrix. Like it was one of us. This thought made him smile as his body was pumped with 8mm spikes.
His body was being torn apart as the marines fired, but for some reason the only thing he could think about was the UNN report about Jim Raynor, who’d been crying out against the atrocities of the Dominion all this time. It was only now, when the whole universe was going dark, that Walden realized things aren’t always what they seem. The universe had zerg that looked like men and men who were far worse than zerg.
“The bastard killed the cap!” one of the marines said.
“Hell, that’s a damn shame,” said one of the scientists, ignoring the soldier. “We really could have used some more data out of that one.”
“We’re fine,” said another scientist, wiping the blood spatter from his lab coat. “We’ve got two more changelings in stasis. Tau Squadron’s within travel distance.”
“Make it happen,” said the first scientist, turning to leave. “And clean this mess up.”