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A short story by

Matt Forbeck

"We are not ready for this." Erik Snabb squirmed in his viking's harness as the craft scudded across the ice-blue sky of Braxis. The unwieldy machine handled like a rented mule, and he felt like getting out and beating it like one. Maybe he'd save that treatment for the engineer who'd come up with the idea of putting wings on a war walker and forcing it to fly.

"Speak for yourself, rookie." Major Stortand Varg grunted at Erik over the open comm channel. "You knew what you were in for when you volunteered."

The other members of the flight wing laughed. Erik's cheeks burned in embarrassment. He took some small comfort in the fact that no one could see that.

Then Varg's ugly, battle-battered mug popped up on Erik's screen, glaring down at him. In the past, a hydralisk had slashed open the veteran's face with one of its meter-long claws, and he hadn't bothered with reconstructive surgery until it was too late to do him much good. The scar ran across his mouth, twisting his lips into a permanent sneer and exposing the metallic replacements for the teeth he'd lost in the battle.

To Erik, Varg's face served as a stark reminder of the horrors of war that he'd hoped to leave behind. He'd flown a Wraith for the Dominion for just over a year during that distant tour of duty, and he'd loved every minute of it. Erik had never felt so alive as when he sat behind the controls of a fighter, feeling the power in his hands and keeping the galaxy safe for terrans.

He'd seen it as his obligation to use his talent and skills as a combat pilot where they could do the best good. Fighting for the Dominion against forces that threatened to strangle it in its crib had seemed like the smartest way to help the greatest number of people. The fact that he'd gotten to fly some of the most powerful and deadly machines around hadn't hurt, either.

That had lasted until he'd met Kyrie and fallen in love. Much as he adored flying, he just couldn't stomach leaving her behind. He'd seen the way Kyrie wept for him every time he went off to battle, terrified that she would never see him again, and he knew that he couldn't put her through that forever or, worse yet, leave her to mourn his death.

His superiors hadn't been happy about his wanting to resign, of course. They'd harangued him about how the emperor had invested a fortune in his training and how Erik needed to spend the rest of his life repaying that. In the end, though, as much as part of him agreed with those officers, Erik had left. Once he'd discovered that Kyrie was pregnant, even Emperor Mengsk himself couldn't have convinced him to stay.

As soon as his tour of duty was up, he and Kyrie got married. As his wedding gift to her, he mustered out, packed Kyrie and their sweet young daughter, Sif, onto an interplanetary transport, and took them here, to Braxis.

Lone and icy Braxis sat far enough away from the rest of the Dominion that Erik hoped he wouldn't fall prey to the temptation to re-up. He almost gave in to it a couple of times after watching the news on UNN, but he always came to his senses before finding his way to a starport.

Instead, he'd gone back to his job, flying transports across Braxis's frozen wastes, hauling goods from one settlement to another and precious ore from the mines to the refineries. It paid well, although it kept him away from Kyrie and Sif for days at a time. It also gave him far too many moments alone with his thoughts.

The instant he mentioned leaving the planet, Kyrie knew what he meant. "You can forget it," she said. "We have a good life here. It's safe, far from all the troubles of someone forging an empire for himself, and it's the kind of place our daughter has a real chance of growing up knowing both her mother and father. Why would you want to change that?"

Erik shrugged. "I just don't feel that useful here, is all. History's happening out there somewhere, and we're not even going to witness the footnotes."

Kyrie shook her head. "Tell me that's more important than your marriage. More important than letting your little girl keep her dad. Go ahead and do that, and then I'll consider it."

He wanted to turn away, but she grabbed him by the chin and forced him to look at her. "Come on," she said. "Try."

He couldn't manage it. He took her in his arms and held her until the urge to leave went away. He needed an awfully long time.

So he returned to his work and made the most of it. If that meant being just a truck driver, he meant to be the best damn truck driver around. He did a good job, and he moved up in the organization. His bosses kept him close to home and only sent him on shorter runs, so he got to spend more time with his family.

He'd made his peace. He felt content. Happy, even.

And then the zerg arrived.

All that precious ore Erik had been moving around the planet turned out to be just as valuable to the zerg as to the terrans. The aliens didn't issue a warning when they invaded. They didn't make any demands. They just squirted down to the planet's surface and set to work taking what they wanted and slaughtering anyone who got in their way.

Kyrie was in tears when Erik finally made it home. Sif—sweet little blue-eyed Sif—had done her best to comfort her mother, but she had failed. The girl was so relieved to see her father that she raced up and leaped into his arms the moment he burst through the door. Then, once she felt safe, she allowed herself to weep, too.

Erik had been listening to the UNN reports all the way home. He knew the planet was already lost, at least the Braxis he'd known. It was only a matter of time before the zerg scoured every terran from the face of the planet. Even if the emperor sent a force to stop them, the war between the two sides was sure to rip the settlements to pieces. Erik, Kyrie, and Sif had to leave now and hope there would be something to come back to later.

They were packing their things for the evacuation when the call came. The local recruiter told Erik that the military had concocted a plan to slow down the zerg, at least for a while. With luck, it would hold them off until most of the people on the planet had a chance to escape. But the Dominion needed more combat-ready pilots to help implement that desperate plan, and it needed them now.

Hearing that spurred Kyrie into action. "Go," she said to Erik as she wiped the tears streaking her face. "Do whatever good you can. We'll be waiting for you when you get back."

Erik took just enough time to kiss Kyrie and Sif good-bye before he raced to meet the recruiter.

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