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A short story by

Matt Burns

The kennel was in a long corridor at the back of the shop, the only entrance to which was a rusty door that led into the facility's belly. The place was reserved for old products that the boss man had never found a buyer for. Shipment crates packed with Guild Wars-era frag grenades and munitions, spare parts, medical supplies, and industrial goods lined the walls. Corrals containing broken-down Avenger fighter craft and transports occupied one whole side of the room. Vik had worked on all of the vehicles at one time or another. He'd given each of them a name. He liked machines, always had. Aside from shoddy engineering or external influence, they performed as intended.

Life-forms, though... he never knew what they'd do next.

After claiming an empty dog pen, the grubs hauled the freezer and zerg inside. Vik agreed to take care of the repairs in the hopes that working on the box would mean he could ignore the aliens until they were out of his life for good. With time on his hands, Serj lounged against the pen's fence and buried his face in a remote console, researching information about the larvae on the hypernet. Hidden military schematics and classified government documents--mostly junk from the days of the Confederacy--were floating around all over the net. If you knew where to look, like Serj did, you could find anything.

Nearby, ten angry hounds yowled, snapping their jaws and hurling their metallic bodies against the chain-link fence of their cage. They must've smelled the zerg. Vik sighed and banged on the fence of his own cage, but the dogs wouldn't shut up. He'd heard that the animals, native to Korhal IV, used to be fluffy, lovable critters. Man's best friend. Then the Confederacy had nuked the rebellious planet with a thousand Apocalypse-class warheads, flash-frying over thirty-five million terrans. Some of the hounds, though, had survived. Warped and irradiated, they'd scattered into the wasteland of slag and desert glass. They ate whatever their mutated digestive system could process. They were true survivors, hardened by their brush with extinction. Ivan liked that about them.

Vik thought they were annoying. He tuned out the yapping as he pulled on a pair of thermal shades and hunkered over the box to assess the damage. His vision resolved into a sea of shifting heat patterns. Cool blue streams snaked out of the container through eight scattered bullet holes. The bullets' impact had also created stress fractures invisible to analog eyes along the freezer's outer casing.

The shell wasn't much to look at, but it was packed with sleek tech. It ran on a thermosonic engine that used high-amplitude sound waves to pump out heat and bring the zerg down to freezing temperatures. Delicate sensors relayed each larva's condition to three small screens attached to the top of the box. A single power cell fueled the whole thing. Fragile stuff. All of it had survived Hutchins's shooting spree against the container's original owner, from what Vik could tell. It would need a bit of patchwork, but that was it. A few days' work.

Vik fired up a plasma torch and began. Every so often he caught audio from Serj's console.

"... larvae are the backbone of the Swarm, the tools necessary to build a zerg army. 'Biological super-cache' is an apt categorization for the creatures. They contain the DNA of the entire alien collective. It's for this reason that they can transform into nearly any zerg subspecies."

"No wonder the lab rat wants these things, huh?" Serj nudged Vik's leg with his boot. "All that info locked inside... must be worth a fortune."

Vik nodded absently to appease his friend, hoping he'd eventually get bored of the vids. He didn't.

A few hours later, Serj ripped the shades off Vik's face and shoved the console in front of him. "Gotta check this out." A collage of vids played across the screen: larvae transforming into mounds of pulsating flesh. The cocoons burst open, and out streamed the monsters Vik had seen on UNN: hydralisks, zerglings, mutalisks, and other grotesque beasts. Creatures of nightmare.

"Zerg overlords issue psionic commands to larvae, initiating their metamorphosis," a dull voice droned over the vid. "The duration of the pupal stage is contingent on the complexity of the final organism."

Vik glanced at the larvae and startled. They'd turned their long, jagged bodies toward him. Their mandibles clicked. Their spindly legs scraped the floor. Goosebumps prickled over Vik's flesh.

"I thought they were just big slugs, y'know?" Serj said. "They're dangerous."

"Haven't changed yet. Don't think they will." Vik looked away from the aliens.

Serj turned the console toward the larvae, replaying the vids of them transforming. "Yeah, well... Maybe they just need to see. They don't know how to do it yet."

"Cut it out." Vik kicked his friend in the leg. "You want them to transform?"

Serj shrugged. "Just seems like a waste. I don't know... They could be more than that."

"Yeah. And then they'd eat us."

"Maybe..." Serj drew the words out, dream-like. He settled back against the cage's fence and thumbed through the vids of the larvae transforming, replaying them over and over again.

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