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A short story by

Michael O'Reilly and Robert Brooks

"My brother never had a chance," Feltz said. The stimpack had worn off. The chemical crash made his voice tremble, but his words retained all their venom. "Not from you. Not from anyone else."

"You're wrong."

"I knew what I was getting into. I was ready. He wasn't." The whine of the reaper's jets suddenly increased in pitch. Feltz was preparing to make his move. "And neither are you. The Grim Reaper has arrived. Time for payback."

"Payback? For what?" Kejora gripped his pistol tightly. "He was going to be executed, Feltz—"

"My name is Staton."

"Your brother was a criminal, Staton, and not a bright one. If he'd had an ounce of your control, he would have only spent a couple weeks locked up for petty theft," Kejora said. "Instead he killed two civilians for the handful of credits in their pockets and didn't even manage to get three blocks before the law caught up with him."

"He was my brother. He deserved better than your personal hellhole."

"My personal hellhole works." Kejora scanned the room, looking for a way out. There were only bad options, exposed paths. "Tell me it doesn't. Tell me that I didn't turn you into one of the most efficient killers the galaxy has ever seen."

"Congrats on a job well done, Warden," Feltz said. The jets in his armor whined impossibly loud in the tight quarters. "Here's a special token of my appreciation."

Kejora closed his eyes. The desk wouldn't protect him against much more sustained gunfire. There was no chance of fleeing without crossing Feltz's fields of fire.

No way out.

The earsplitting sound of a gauss pistol filled the Hub, and the desk's surface rattled and bent under a stream of bullet impacts. A second P-45 opened fire.

Then a third. And a fourth.

What?

The noise died away, and Kejora heard an armored body tumble to the ground.

He remained crouched.

"Warden?"

It was a different voice, a familiar voice. Kejora smiled. "Lords?"

Smoke wafted from the Lisk's two gauss pistols. "Yes, sir."

"Good work, recruit." Kejora stood.

Feltz—not Staton, he would always be Feltz in Kejora's memory—lay on his side, bullet holes punched through the back of his armor. Kejora knelt next to Feltz and carefully removed the recruit's headgear and mask. Bright-red arterial blood foamed with every shallow, gasping breath, each one weaker than the last.

Feltz's eyes showed shock and confusion. He tried to turn his head toward the Lisk, and a wordless question gurgled from his throat.

Kejora patted Feltz on the shoulder. Feltz had, in a way, utterly exceeded all expectations for the program when he defeated the Icehouse's lockdown—despite having his mind addled with drugs during a combat situation, no less. He had located and cornered his target, outsmarting innumerable security systems designed to prevent that very scenario.

It was proof the Icehouse worked with better recruits. If Kejora took the idea directly up the ladder to Emperor Mengsk himself, he could have a higher grade of conscripts by next month. The curriculum would require some adjustments, of course, but that was to be expected.

The other reaper stared down at Feltz, a curious look on his face. "Why did I do that, sir? I think he was my friend."

"You are a reaper, Lords," Kejora said.

The Lisk considered that silently and watched Feltz's eyes cloud over. Finally, he nodded.

"I do what I must."

There is no truth but in victory. All else is dust, easily swept away.
—Icehouse Precept #9
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