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A short story by

Valerie Watrous

Zoraya turned from her control panel to address the pair of high templar farther back on the bridge. "I am reading life signatures ahead—dozens of them...." She paused to read the ship's scans. "Confirmed. They are zerg."

Darsiris, the youngest member of the crew, glanced up anxiously from the data console on the rear wall of the bridge. Though he had completed the rigorous instruction required for a zealot, his inexperience still showed in his features and mannerisms. Now his first taste of battle was seconds away, and Darsiris's mind was thick with excitement and fear.

"Prepare for combat," Aldrion ordered. "Defensive only," he added, noting how eagerly Telbrus had moved to the weapons station. Darsiris followed him nervously.

"Brace yourselves," Zoraya warned before the ship plunged into a gut-pinching spiral, looping beneath a large group of writhing monsters. They were difficult to identify when they massed together, but from experience Aldrion guessed they were mutalisks. The creatures paused in their patrol, chittering suspiciously among themselves, and then resumed their course. The dark templar took advantage of the opening to surge upward, negotiating two more groups before reaching another safe point. Aldrion was becoming quite impressed with her skill when a hard stop brought his thoughts back to their predicament.

Another group of mutalisks streamed before them in a flurry of wings and teeth. Zoraya waited intently, her eyes fixed on the viewscreen. Just when their route seemed clear, one of the grotesque creatures spun backward, making contact with the ship's shields. Its mouth gaped as if to emit a single great cry, and suddenly the ship was covered in zerg.

"Fire!" Aldrion commanded, his urgency crackling through the crew members' minds like electricity. Zoraya reacted swiftly, sending the ship ducking and spinning away from the mutalisks' assault, but Telbrus and Darsiris still managed to strike their targets with surgical precision. Their weapons sent eyes, teeth, and delicate leathery wings dissolving into space as the vessel surged forward.

It was then that Aldrion sensed Telbrus's growing agitation. This was the first combat that the Aurigan had seen since Aiur due to his extensive injuries, and he was relishing his chance at vengeance against the zerg. Aldrion reached out to him psionically and winced at the unexpected intensity of his subordinate's emotions. He had never felt such white-hot fury in a protoss's mind before. Aldrion fought against Telbrus's anger, sending thoughts of calm and focus to his crew member. But Telbrus only closed himself off in response, refusing to communicate. His shots rained down through a dozen more targets, leaving a shimmering curtain of blood in their wake.

There was no time to revel in victory. Even as the pulverized remains drifted away, a fresh group of zerg surged toward them, encircling the vessel on all sides and pummeling the shields. They were trapped.

"Zoraya, get us out of here!" Aldrion called.

"Back to Shakuras?"

"No... we have come this far. Identify the safest known coordinates near our destination."

"There is not much time, Commander!" Darsiris interjected.

"I have no data for that vicinity." Zoraya was still trying to steer defensively, but the growing number of enemies limited her options. "Searching the neighboring systems.... If we hold our fire, I can re-route power to the navigation matrix. It may be able to finish the search before the next wave arrives."

"See it done," Aldrion answered, fixing his gaze on Telbrus. The massive high templar pulled himself away from the weapons station angrily enough to startle Darsiris.

Zoraya set to work, dimming the lights to the lowest functional level and minimizing any other energy output. Without warning, the mutalisks altered their strategy and began expelling glave wurms in a concentrated area. The parasites rammed into the ship hard enough to penetrate the last of the shields. The dark templar vessel was well-crafted, but it could not withstand several blows from such a vast force. Another impact sent the ship shuddering as several of the crystal energy systems fell to half power.

"The shields are down." Zoraya was hurrying, but they were taking heavy damage. Darsiris examined the viewscreen. He could see some of the smaller creatures assaulting the vessel's broken metal casing. It was impossible to shoot them now without damaging the ship as well. He caught movement from the corner of his eye and noticed a large dark shape shifting through the mutalisks, hardly visible against the beating wings. Narrowing his eyes, he tried to make out... an overlord?

"How long?" Aldrion demanded.

"Almost complete..."

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