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Page 9 of 10
A short story by

Matthew Maxwell

The Lost Wolves had taken defensive positions around their transport, which had been slow to move. Looking at the numbers, Loew knew the Tamed had the advantage, but they weren't yet pressing it.

She tried to stop her tears. Garr was a monster, and he deserved what he got. He wasn't the only monster, though; he just happened to be within reach. Still, she'd been the one to kill him, hadn't she? All had died by her order, her hand tapping out the commands.

"What the hell is going on here?" the Lost Wolves' sergeant asked. "Are you still—"

"Yes, I'm in control," Loew answered. "I told them to attack."

Dennis and the other hydralisks stood at the ready, the yellow stripes on their heads spattered with blood that was drying in the morning heat. They watched but did not move.

She bit back the hot tears. "I couldn't let them take the Tamed. Not if this was how they were going to use them."

The air was filled with nervous scrapes across the stone, weapons being held in anticipation, glinting in the morning light.

The monitor chirped at her. Loew couldn't take her eyes off the zerg as they stood there, ready to do anything for her. She wouldn't watch them kill, but she would make herself watch them die. She owed them that much.

"I'm so sorry, Dennis." She breathed raggedly as her fingers swept the console. "Time for Somnus," she said like a promise.

She triggered Somnus, flicking her hands quickly. Acid boiled in her throat as she set fire to her life's work. Soon. Very soon. They would twitch and die.

The hydralisks continued to stand at the ready, relaxed. No convulsions, no sign of any distress.

The monitor persisted in its chirping, and she finally looked at it. There was that signal peak again. But it wasn't just a brief anomaly now. It was a new pattern, a completely new system, wild and irregular.

Loew's program had been wiped out. All nodes offline. Impossible. She entered the diagnostic sequence. Her heart lurched in her chest, slamming against her ribs, fit to smash its way out.

"My god," she whispered. "They're not… I'm not…"

Survival took over, throttling any idea of devotion or protectiveness; there wasn't any room for that in her heart. Instead, she silently rattled off all the ways that these creatures could kill her in an eyeblink. Just as Garr and the others had died.

"Shoot them! Shoot all of them!" Loew's own voice was alien to her. "They're loose!"

"Suppression! Now!" the sergeant yelled as he raised his rifle and opened up. Loew narrowly avoided having her right foot razored off as she leaped toward cover. The dread bit deeper than her heart, enveloping her and swallowing her whole.

The deception wasn't what made it so awful; it was the question of how long the zerg had been playing along at being tamed. Loew huddled under the landing gear of the transport. Spines whistled through the air and sunk into the ship's lower hull, ruining it. Even if it could get up, going into the outer atmosphere would be a death sentence.

How long? How long have they waited? she asked herself. She couldn't tell. The memory flashed of Dennis waiting patiently to be fed. Even then? When? Had she ever controlled them?

"Run!" Loew shouted. "Get to the refinery!" She was up and off without knowing what she was doing, out of control.

The Wolves were quickly being overrun as the last transport was lifting off, or trying to. Alerted by the sound of the ship's engines, the hydralisks opened fire on the fleeing craft. Barely six meters off the ground, it took heavy damage and then listed. The hydralisks continued to attack, the hisses of their shots drowning out the gunfire. Hundreds of spikes slammed into the hull. The stress of takeoff was too much, and the ship began to crumple. The nose dipped down as smoke poured out of the control cabin.

Engines set to full getaway burn, the craft crashed to the earth, gouging out a trench and scorching the area before going up in flames. There would be no dustoff.

But the explosion lent cover.

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