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A short story by

Matthew Maxwell

The hydralisk's tongue was smooth and slippery as it ran across her hand. Countless muscles rippled and slid in a wave, working as one. Just like the Swarm, Dr. Loew thought. Countless creatures bound by a single will, turned into a single organism.

The tip wrapped around the chunk of meat held loosely between her pale fingers.

"Steady," she said calmly, in control.

The tongue pulled like a fish caught on a line.

The hydralisk chuffed through the spiracles on his cheeks. He tugged again.

The observation gallery couldn't have been more bored. The pack of scientists and ministers was distracted, thinking of something, anything, other than the spectacle before them. Instead of being in awe at Dr. Loew playing tug of war with a monster, they were making laundry lists of complaints to be voiced later.

"The hydralisk," she recited, "was forcibly evolved by the zerg Overmind from the slothien, according to protoss records we have obtained. Slothien are more commonly known as 'caterpillar cows' and little resemble their fearsome descendants." Discussing this much was safe among scientists and government officials; the public knew only that anything alien was to be feared and reported to Dominion authorities.

"Stay," she commanded.

Loew looked into the creature's red eye, resolute. The thing was huge, towering almost double over Loew's full height. She had only her voice to maintain control, not even a psi collar, which she had needed at the start of training.

She continued, injecting some urgency to combat the audience's growing disinterest. "Armed with razored scythe blades on its forelimbs and protected by an array of armored plates, the hydralisk is a formidable fighter in close quarters."

"Back," she commanded, speaking from her diaphragm.

The tongue relented and flowed away. The monster shifted his weight backward. The hydralisk, more than any other creature, was symbolic of the entire zerg Swarm's power, known and feared even by those who'd never seen one in the flesh. Everyone, apparently, but these spectators, who resented being here.

"The hydralisk is also a threat at a distance," she intoned. "It can launch organic spines at blinding speeds, penetrating neosteel plating at half a kilometer." Not that any civilian would willingly get that close to one, much less close enough to touch it.

Her eyes went from the audience to the hydralisk again. "Hold."

She smiled and finished the lesson, the creature held solely by her voice and intent. "Hydralisks are to be approached only by trained soldiers, preferably with heavy armored support."

She paused and turned her smile to the creature.

"Good boy. Good boy, Dennis. Okay."

She hated being firm with him, but it simply had to be done. Even tamed, he was dangerous due to his sheer size and mass.

Dennis took the meat tenderly, teeth barely grazing her skin, a reminder that they were still there and sharp.

A moment later, Dennis lay relaxed and motionless on a huge steel table at the center of the demonstration theater. Lately, the Dominion's interests had turned away from zerg-control schemes and toward more direct suppression or extermination of residual nests. The sparse attendance suggested that her work had already been written off, no matter how impressive the earlier demonstration had been.

"As you've seen, this full-grown hydralisk is completely pacified without the use of drugs, which require constant administration and precise dosage control."

The creature lay still as surgical fingers unlatched the metal plate on his skull. Spiderlike, a camera probe swung in and focused on the access port. "On your feeds is video of an organic structure that has been grown from the subject's brain mass, a tertiary lobe."

There was only a dry cough in reply. Someone lit a cigar.

"This lobe's purpose is twofold—"

"This… lobe," interrupted a chilly voice from the darkened gallery. "Do you have to operate on every single zerg that receives it?"

She saw a single face illuminated from below by the blue glow of a remote console, the visage square and more than a touch flabby, older, well-fed, and accustomed a little too much to getting whatever it wanted. The ember of his cigar flared a bright orange.

"Excuse me?" Loew furrowed her eyebrows in an expression that mixed anger and astonishment.

"Do you have to sedate every one of the slimy bastards that you want to control? If that's the case, then I'm wasting the emperor's time."

"That… that would be impossible," she said. "There are countless zerg—"

"Then how does it work?" He wasn't angry, acting as if her work didn't even rate that from him.

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