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A short story by

Robert Brooks

"Hey!" Shane was surprised by the panic in his own voice. "Hey!"

No reaction. The armored marine appeared to be staring at the ground.

"Hey, you!" Shane bellowed. Nothing. No answer at all. Sudden rage surged into Shane's mind. He did this, Shane irrationally knew. That marine. Whatever had happened to the crowd was that marine's fault. It had to be. Shane had never been so certain.

This was supposed to be Shane's special day. His graduation from basic training. The beginning of his glorious service to the Dominion. The rage became an inferno inside Shane's head. He would pry that marine's armor off with his teeth if he had to.

Shane took a deep breath and screamed, "What did you do?"

No response. It was too much.

Shane took off down the center aisle at a dead run between the rows of empty seats, his eyes focused on the lone marine. That marine.

Shane closed the distance in a few seconds and flung himself with a howl at the armored figure, teeth bared. Shane's arms reached out.

The marine hadn't moved, hadn't stirred at all, until Shane had leapt into the air.

Then he looked up.

The inferno froze solid in an instant. Time seemed to stop. The pressure inside Shane's head swelled into agony.

Staring back at nineteen-year-old Geoff Shane was the weary, war-battered face of Geoff Shane. An older Geoff Shane with emotionless, inhuman eyes.

Shane's momentum carried him relentlessly toward the marine. Toward himself. His outstretched fingers brushed the marine's metallic armor. It was very, very cold.

Shane blinked.

"Each and every one of these young men and women volunteered," said the image of Emperor Arcturus Mengsk, "and after months of sacrifice and toil in training, they have earned their place among the noble Dominion Marines. They have joined humanity's vanguard. They have chosen to stand against an unforgiving universe."

Murmurs of approval rippled within the crowded assembly hall. Daylight flooded through the broad windows that reached from floor to ceiling on the east wall, spotlighting the projected hologram of the Dominion leader on the raised stage.

In the bright daylight, the life-sized holovid seemed to shimmer and sparkle. Emperor Mengsk's charisma shone even through the transparent image, towering above the podium and the five long rows of recruits standing at parade rest before it.

Nineteen-year-old Geoff Shane, soon to be Private First Class Geoff Shane, stood rigid with terror.

What just happened?

Murder. Shane had tried to murder someone. You tried to murder yourself, his mind whispered. No. It was a dream. It certainly couldn't have been real.

He had imagined it. He had dreamed that Emperor Arcturus Mengsk had personally visited his basic training graduation; that was all. Irrational things happen in dreams. Shane supposed he should have been happy his pants hadn't disappeared along with all the dreamland bystanders.

Do you often doze off in front of hundreds of people, his mind retorted, while standing upright? Shane fidgeted.

"We still face terrible threats. Two bloodthirsty, savage alien races regard us with envious eyes," Mengsk said. Shane guessed the speech had been prerecorded. How likely was it that the leader of the Dominion had time to schedule his day around a basic training graduation ceremony?

Shane's head was hurting again. Pressure built within his skull as if his mind were holding its breath and beginning to feel the first twinges of air hunger. It was already stronger than any headache he had ever known, and showed no signs of slacking.

Shane swallowed hard and tried to focus on Mengsk's speech. A few moments passed before he realized the emperor had fallen silent. Again.

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