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A short story by

Kal-El Bogdanove

The sun poured down on her back as she inched, terrified, up the sheer line of the mesa. I'm toting a weapon sized for a guy half again my size, and I'm missing three of my best fingers, she thought. Perfect for a beginner.

But she climbed.

The clacking and snicking of the mutalisks tearing at Shaw's corpse began to slow. Please, boys, please use the whole buffalo. I really do not want to be caught clinging to the side of this bastard rock like a grape on the vine.

Halfway up, the ground began to swim sickeningly below. Rin felt the bile rising. No point fighting it. She vomited. She knew she was dizzy, dehydrated now, dying in the sun.

But she climbed.

Finally Rin's hand slapped down on the flat, oven-hot stone of the top (Dear God, yes!), and soon her other hand joined it. (Pull. Pull! Up and over, please!) And suddenly she wasn't climbing anymore.

Rin scooted along, belly down, reluctant to stand, petrified of seeing the horizon. She crawled to the edge of the Anvil (Don't look down!) and drew a careful bead with the AGG-12: Anvil to spire, spire to goliath and whatever gooey bones are left in there. (Don't think about it!)

One chance. Don't blow it.

Fighting another wave of nausea, Rin pressed the wound of her finger stumps between her teeth and bit down.

A fresh lance of pain, vision doing the conga. Don't you dare black out! she barked at herself. A big squirt of blood, her own blood, burst into her mouth…

Choking, gasping, caught between laughing and crying, Rin rolled her head off the edge…

… and spat a mist of gore into the wind.

The reaction was shocking, a hundred leathery wings ripping the air with a sound like a maglev passing. The horde formed up around Scar and made a beeline for Rin. She clutched the launcher close…

Not yet…

The borrowed mantis screamer screech of the things tugged at Rin's guts, fifty strong and directed at her now. "Tekeli-li! Tekeli-liiii!" Every nerve ending seemed to beg for her to run.

Not yet!

They were closing the distance! Halfway! Half that again! The swirling cloud of wings was resolving now to a single purpose, for a single target, the great mass of zerg flesh flowing as a single undulating creature…

The mutas had stacked. Stacked into one ugly inkblot in the sky. And as Rin stared into the bulk, one nasty creature pulled to the front of the column—a creature with scars webbing its maw!

Rin took a deep breath, dropped her front sight, and fired her one grenade.

Low.

Too low to hit the bastard.

Too low to even nick the horde…

… but just right to sail (pirouette, really) in a graceful parabola…

… right into the hole in the top of the spire, which the horde was stacked above.

In a split second the entire mass vanished in a gout of corrosive slime from the exploding spire and the sleeping mutas within. Rin heard their cries rattle with death, saw carapaces and wings boiling away in a midair storm of toxic entrails. She smelled the suckers dying.

Nothing kills a stack like splash damage.

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