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A short story by

Robert Brooks

PFC Shane wasn't merely remembering it; he was reliving it. Shane's anticipation was his anticipation. Shane's pleasure was his pleasure. It was more horrific than he could have ever imagined.

No more. PFC Shane knew what was coming. He tried to turn away. He tried to stop watching. He called out in his mind for help. None of it worked. He couldn't blink unless eighteen-year-old Shane blinked. He couldn't turn away unless Shane did.

"Let us help," PFC Shane heard a voice say.

Shane had watched her chest rise and fall for a long time. He had lifted one of her eyelids and stared into the dilated pupil. She hadn't stirred, and Shane had been mesmerized. Then he had set the fire. She had finally woken up and her eyes had gone wide, showing pale white circles in the suddenly orange light.

He had stayed close as the flames had spread. Her screams had sung in his ears. His eyes had danced over the sight of her thrashing form.

PFC Shane tried to wake up. He struggled for the surface but felt his mind collide with a ceiling. The zerg were keeping him under.

"Let us help," a voice said.

Shane's skin had blistered and cracked as he had leaned in close. He had breathed deep. He had craved the aroma. There was nothing like it in the universe. It was always so fresh, the smell of a living, breathing creature roasting in its own juices.

He had drunk in the sweet, sweet scent, making PFC Shane drink with him. And it was sweet. It was the smell of sugar caramelizing. Always a bit different but always the same.

PFC Shane rebounded off the ceiling again and again. It hurt each time, but he no longer cared.

"Let us help," a voice said.

Her screams had choked off but her weak struggling had continued. A sharp new smell had filled the room. The flames had roared with renewed vigor, and Shane had smiled. Joy and glee invaded PFC Shane's mind. He tried to push it all away. He tried to hate it.

He was lying to himself and he knew it. He loved it. He always would.

"Let us help," a voice said.

A marine in a fully armored combat suit appeared before eighteen-year-old Geoff Shane, backlit by the growing inferno. Shane looked deeply into the figure's glowing eyes. And blinked.

* * *

Two structures still burned about half a kilometer in the distance, but the last screams had long since died away. In the sky and on the ground, the Swarm moved through the wreckage of the terran outpost. The thick mass of creep spread relentlessly, already licking at the bodies of fallen enemies, eager to envelop and claim them for its own.

In the shadow of the floating overlords, one member of the Swarm sank to its knees. The creature wore the armor of the Dominion Marines, the plated steel barely fitting over the warped humanoid shape. Tendrils and giant fleshy growths squeezed through the gaps.

Two glowing eyes peered out from under the creature's helmet. Its breath was steady but heavy. Smoke coiled around it. The creature sniffed and snorted. The smell wasn't very sweet.

Nearby, a zergling bounded over the smoldering remains of a Dominion Wraith and skittered to a halt. The smaller four-legged creature looked up at the taller being, scythelike jaws clacking together happily in front of its wide fanged grin.

The larger two-legged creature looked down and huffed deep breaths of satisfaction. The Swarm was victorious. It was done.

Its glowing eyes blinked.

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