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Page 6 of 11
A short story by

Robert Brooks

Shane's eyes went wide. Us. We. Them. The zerg.

The Swarm.

They were already touching his mind. The zerg were here, speaking to him with his own face. Something clicked. He could feel the connection between the marine standing before him and the masses of zerg outside the windows. They were one and the same.

"Bastard." The pain in his head worsened, but Shane didn't care. The holes in reality grew. "Get out of my head. Get OUT!" Shane focused and lashed out without thought, striking in a way he didn't understand. The armored marine disappeared instantly. The figure's eyes left a pair of burning purple shadows in Shane's vision. He looked out the windows and saw that the zerg had vanished as well.

The pressure, however, remained. It grew even worse by the moment. Shane now stood truly alone within the assembly hall.

He dropped to his knees, his fingers digging into his head. His fingernails tore grooves into his scalp, and warm blood trickled down his face.

I'm going to die.

A howling, squalling silence scratched at his eardrums. Shane screamed. His own voice sounded thin and distant to his ears. Some of the holes in reality stretched from floor to ceiling and beyond, still merging and doubling in size with each heartbeat. That final darkness threatened to overwhelm his vision.

Shane didn't doubt the pressure inside his head would tear his mind apart. He feared the alternative more. I won't let them in. I won't.

He held on, keeping his eyes wide open. In a few more moments, the assembly hall would unravel along with the remnants of his sanity. That would be the last thing he would ever see.

His thoughts spun, desperately searching for a way out. The assembly hall is true. He knew that. Everything else about his induction ceremony seemed foggy and insubstantial. He focused on the assembly hall. Only on the assembly hall. That would be his foundation.

The pressure burst free, turning into a roaring river, threatening to carry him into the darkness. Shane let everything else go and clung only to his bedrock. Madness yawned before him.

The current carved canyons in his mind. Shane held on as the chaos peeled something back, exposing a raw and primal and smooth surface.

Shane's memory of his induction ceremony shredded into tatters, and then mist, and then nothing at all.

Emperor Mengsk's speech was gone. The recruits were gone.

The pressure was gone. The lies are gone.

The assembly hall remained.

Shane blinked.

"Herein passes the solemn judgment of the Dominion," said the judge, peering down from his bench. "On count one, premeditated murder: guilty. On count two, torture and sadistic actions leading to the death of the victim: guilty. On count three, arson leading to the death of the victim: guilty."

With each verdict, the murmurs of approval grew louder in the crowded assembly hall. The daylight that flooded through the ceiling-high windows on the east wall spotlighted the newly convicted criminal and the court officers who stood at his side, holding him upright before the judge.

Nineteen-year-old Geoff Shane, soon to be condemned inmate Geoff Shane, hardly paid attention as the judge continued to announce the guilty verdicts. Kidnapping: guilty. Defiling a victim of a violent crime: guilty.

Shane had laughed when his defense counselor had told him he would be charged with more than twenty different crimes. That many? For one junkie? "They need to fill a quota or something?" he had asked.

He scowled at the court officer on his left, who was gripping his elbow, putting constant pressure on Shane's shoulder.

Mutilation: guilty. Use of narcotics in service of an assault leading to the death of the victim: guilty.

"I'll kill you," Shane whispered to the officer. "I'll burn you crispy. You like that?"

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