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A short story by

Matthew Maxwell

By the time she'd reached the hydralisk pens, she'd almost convinced herself that things were still under control.

Dennis shuffled out at the sound of the pen door opening. He made a low noise, somewhere between a snort and a purring growl. It echoed off of the bare walls.

Dennis looked at her with an air of expectation and made another sound, this one more questioning. It seemed like the only time anyone had said please to her all day.

Her console chirped. With curiosity, she brought it up and swung the face toward her. Several incandescent blue pulses tracked across the screen, monitoring the mental activity of the captive and tamed zerg. There had been a brief flurry of activity, a spike that the hardware and filtering couldn't account for.

She held out an arm. "Stay, Dennis."

The hydralisk regarded her warily as she peered into the screen. Loew requested a brief diagnostic from the monitoring system. PPO lobes were all online and functioning normally.

Dennis sat motionless for the next ten minutes as she ran logs from the last week of feeds. Nothing at all like the spike. Loew was going to have to put pressure on Bayma and the rest of the signals crew to make sure that this was a transcription error and not something originating from the lobes themselves. Loew needed more bandwidth on monitoring processes, but with the emperor picking up the bill, that wouldn't be a problem.

"Okay. Dinnertime," she said after swiping out the last command, confident that the anomaly was nothing that needed immediate attention. Besides, there were much larger fish to fry.

She entered a code on the wall plate, and a door slid open. There was a platter of cubed meat, vat grown, marbled with fat. She put it down an arm's length from her.

"Wait," she said firmly.

Dennis crouched, eyes fixed on a spot between her and the food so that he could keep his vision on both. He trembled faintly, wanting to lunge but holding back.

"Good boy!" she said with more excitement than necessary.

Dennis fell upon the metal platter, scraping it across the concrete floor as he gulped deliberately, without hurry. Teeth clicked together, percussive over the grinding sound.

At least here the relationship was simple, direct. Dennis might not have any affection for her, but he understood who was boss. If only everything else were that easy. Dennis had surpassed everyone's expectations. Everyone's but hers. She'd known exactly how he'd perform. She could do this. In truth, she'd already done it.

Everything would be fine.

The scraping stopped and Dennis stared at the platter. He prodded it with his jaw, and it rang emptily. Remaining in his crouched stance, he glanced up at Dr. Loew with a gleaming red eye.

She returned the look and smiled. "Oh, you greedy little creature." She gently patted him on the head. "No, that's enough."

Dennis chuffle-whined at her once.

"No. Enough." But she was still smiling as she spoke.

Dennis blinked with eyelids that could repel a bullet at point-blank range.

"Okay, okay. Just one more. You did very well today."

She turned to refill the platter, and the hydralisk followed her with his stare.

"But only because I say so. You remember who the boss is here."

Dennis ate the second platter with leisure while she waited.

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