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A short story by

Alex Irvine

Jouvert headed for the first ledge on the right-hand side. He tested the ledge to see if it had been loosened by the explosion, then stepped out onto it. I could see him running scans in various wavelengths. He was a good scout.

There was a rumble from down in the ravine as rocks settled in the aftermath of the explosion.

Then Jouvert dropped his scanner and ran.

Right behind him came the ultralisk.

We opened up as the ultralisk charged over the lip of the ravine and tore Jouvert to pieces with a back-and-forth double swipe of its blades. While his limbs were still flying, C-14 spikes were hammering into the ultra's head and front legs.

The colonists took advantage of the situation as their four guards decided ultralisk duty was more important than herding them. Crying out, "Great One!", they ran toward it. Toward it. And they died, man.

Right in the middle of it all came the call: "Torch Seven, this is your extraction alert. Rendezvous previous drop point immediately."

"We are under attack," I answered. This was not the same comm officer I'd talked to the last time. I could have argued about why we were getting this call when we'd been told we weren't going to get this call, but those conversations never went anywhere with staff officers. "Will reach drop point ASAP." We were in fact only about a klick from it.

"Torch Seven, what is the nature of the attack?"

"Ultralisk."

"Repeat."

"I said it's a goddamn ultralisk, Scion! The same goddamn one I told you about before! You said Vygoire was clear, but I've got marines in pieces down here!"

The comm officer ignored this. They're professionals at ignoring things. "Status of the lab personnel?"

The ultra had closed the distance and was now among us. I could see that the explosion and rockfall had taken a toll on it. Zerg ichor was leaking from fractures in its carapace, and its left rear leg was clearly broken. "Concentrate fire on that leg!" I ordered.

"What was that, Torch Seven?"

"Wasn't talking to you, Scion." I started shooting at the ultralisk, and after everything that had happened, that was the moment I let it get too close. It reared up over a group of van Rijn's "children," its kaiser blades spread and then lashing down into them. They raised their arms to meet it. Cries of "Great One!" rang over the field and in my head, too. I even heard it in the comm. Some of my marines were saying it even as they shot at the ultralisk. I was covered in bits of van Rijn's people. Vera was at the edge of the field. I remember seeing her standing apart, close enough to the lab complex to make a break for it if necessary but close enough to the battle to see what was happening. She was studying.

Studying the communion.

"Extraction cannot commence with an ultralisk in the area, Torch Seven. We are aborting."

At least he agreed with the last comm guy about that. And I didn't have time to argue about it because a backswing from one of the ultralisk's kaiser blades knocked me down, denting the side of the armor's torso hard enough to crack my ribs. I hit and rolled, the ultralisk's pillar-like foot slamming into the ground next to my head and splattering mud and blood across my faceplate. I thought it was about to stomp my brains out the way it had Twohy's.

Then it charged ahead, over me. As it passed, I jammed my C-14 into the hollow behind its left front leg and ripped off a long burst. Ichor exploded from the wound, splattering all the places on my faceplate that didn't already have mud on them. I was blind, but I could hear it somehow, hear its fury and its pain. The ultra's momentum tore the C-14 from my hands, and it kept going, cutting a trail through the rest of my men on its way to the cultists. I heard them in my mind, dying.

Scrambling to my feet, I swiped the mud and ichor from my faceplate in time to see the ultralisk bear down on its most devoted worshiper. "GREAT ONE!" van Rijn screamed out, loud and long, and I swear his voice was still sounding after the ultralisk scythed his body into eight or ten bloody pieces with an X-pattern sweep of its kaiser blades. They snicked against each other as they passed through van Rijn's torso, with a scraping sound that set my teeth on edge right through the filters in the CMC audio sensors.

The cultists treated the ultralisk like they were teenagers, and it was the latest holo heartthrob. They fell on it, clinging to its sides and throwing themselves under its feet. It was killing them as fast as it could, but the remnants of Torch Seven were still firing. They'd quit caring about the cultists as collateral damage, and they unloaded on the ultra with everything they had left.

All the while the lead dropship pilot was yammering in my ear. "Torch Seven, rendezvous is right now. Repeat, rendezvous is right now. Scion requires status update on the surviving lab personnel."

I got to my feet and got my C-14 back in my hands. It was coated and dripping purple with the ultralisk's blood. I wasn't sure it would fire.

But the ultralisk was dying.

I thought I might be too. Everything seemed washed in a hypercolored aura. My eyes were watering. I looked down at myself and realized I wasn't standing up anymore. The world started to spin, and I felt the consciousness of the ultralisk, dying and striving to live on pure rage alone. I think I was babbling something into the comm, and I know the dropship pilot was still talking. I heard her voice right along with the presence of the ultralisk's... mind isn't exactly the right word. I felt its presence in my head.

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