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Bane 4-6

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Bane 4: To Free a Hero

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"Awaken my child, you are recalled to life," the ghostly message drifted through the fog, seeping into the void from the mortal world beyond. "But father, my rest is so peacefulI cannot bear to leave this shining place." The faded voice came again, stronger this time, "Ah, but you must! You are an agent of the swarm, and therefore eternal," Again, he attempted to resist the call from beyond, "Still I cannot, My flesh has failed me, father." It boomed through now, shattering the serenity of the void, "Behold! It will be made anew-faster, stronger and more deadly that you might further aid my will." "What is so dire that you must uproot me from my happiness?" The Overminds voice echoed through the void again, "Although my will is unquestionable, I will tell you. Terrans have come to our home world and threatened my rebirth into the swarm. Even now they wander closer and closer to the place of my essence. You must not allow them to leave here alive!" Slowly, the comforting glow of the void faded into blackness and the harsh senses of the world leaked in....

"Third defense garrison, reporting in," I droned into my headset. I didnt want to join the killing again, but I was drafted into the militia. I had seen enough death on my short adventure with a truly unique hydralisk-I didnt want to be anywhere near a war after that. Whatever Bane did that day on the orbital platform saved our Terran asses. Some of my friends told me about it when I came back to the planet. They said that the orbital platform exploding was visible from the surface. Just as soon as it went up in flames, the zerg crushing our defenses suddenly stopped. The zerglings stopped in mid-charge, just standing there until our meager defenses mopped them up. Overlords and mutalisks dropped out of the sky like someone had hit a switch. It was a mystery to everyone but me. I knew what happened. Bane killed the queen of blades and her forces, without a leader, were scattered and broken. The dominion was positive that is was their stalwart defenders-not Banes brave sacrifice, that stopped the zerg-I knew the truth. But orders are orders, and it was time to get back to business. Resources were running thin on Tarsonis and "this remote ash world may hold some value" as my commanding officer put it. I sighed and waited for our order to move out. We had arrived at the patrol point a half an hour ago and it was getting crampt waiting in the dropship with three marines and two goliaths. Finally, the message crackled into our headsets, "Alright boys, head out and sweep the perimeter for hotiles. Sensors show zerg signals on the planet, so be careful!" I shouldered my gauss rifle and pushed the button to open the cargo door. "Rodger that," i replied as the marines helped back the goliaths out of the dropship. The patrol started plainly enough, trudging along in the ash with the marines in front and the goliaths lumbering along behind. It was getting close to evening and we were finishing our rounds when the little hostile alarm on my arm started bleeping. I reached down to my forearm and hit the button on my power suit to shut the noisy thing off. I looked back to the goliath pilot, "Wada we got, Slick?" i asked into my headset. The goliath pilot rummaged around with the controls a minute before answering, "Comsat identifies one bogey-20 yard radius," "Alright" I said, "Fan out and find this critter so we can get going. Don't go being a hero either-yell when you find something." The marines gave me nods and the goliaths trudged off. It wasn't even a minute into our search when a gargled scream exploded into our headsets. We all came back together at the source of the transmission and found Joe decapitated and crumpled in the dirt. I bent down and picked his dog tag out of the puddle of blood that spread around his body. "Damn!" I said, staring down at the mess. "Slick, radio command and tell em we have a situation in sector three thirty fi-" I never got a chance to finish because the dirt I was standing on showered up around me. The earth heaved up beneath me and sent me sailing head over heels to land flat on my back, knocking the wind out of my lungs and my gun somewhere back behind me. Gasping to regain my breath, I could do nothing but sit and watch the terrible scene unfold before me. Somekind of dirty monster had launched itself out of a burrow and didn't hesitate a second attacking us, slashing with deadly blades. The marines couldn't squeeze off a shot before they were cut down instantly by a flash of synths. The goliaths turned to fire when the beast, it resembled a hydralisk-I wasn't sure because of all the dirt that stuck to it, lunged in and tackled one of the goliaths to the ground and started wrenching its arms off. Slick yelled into his headset and let the twin auto cannons rip. The creature turned with servos and sparking cables hanging from its mouth and synths just as the barrels wound up to speed. Fire blazed from the barrels, lighting the area around us with strobbing flashes. The bullets peppered the hydralisk, bouncing and sparking off its thick carapace. It stumbled back for just a second before snarling and charging in, despite the hail of bullets that chipped and richoced off its carapace. It impaled the goliath and ripped its synths back out through the sides, the metal body of the machine splintering open. I gasped for air and crawled to my gun. The goliaths guns sparked and shorted out and the Hydralisk smashed the cockpit open, devistating the pilot with its synths. I reached my rifle and stood up, blasting the hydralisk with impaler rounds. It dropped the tattered machine to the ground and turned on me. It sidled in faster than I could back up and I stumbled back against a boulder, smashing my head against hard rock. I screamed and fired my rifle for all I was worth. The bullets didn't seem to phase the hydralisk-the shots just bounced off and he kept coming. The terrible beast reached me and swung one synth forward for a stab at me. I tried to move at the last minute, but I was just alittle too slow. The synth caught me in the shoulder, impaling me painfully against the rock wall. I screamed and dropped my gun, my whole arm was pulsing in tight little waves of pain. The snarling hydralisk reared the other synth back and for just a second, our eyes met. I winced and screamed again; grabbing vainly at the thick synth with my good arm as the beast's eyes narrowed-studying my face. I panted, staring back at the monster that was delaying my death. The synth it had reared back to make the deadly blow eased forward again, pressing against the side of my face. He forced my head from one side to the other, staring into my eyes. Despite the pain, I grew silent in cold fear, waiting for it to rip my throat out, until a familiar voice pierced my mind, "Charley?" it asked. "W-W-What?" I managed to stammer. The hydralisk's eyes grew wide and the voice came again, "Is that you, mortal?" I shook my head, not believing what I was seeing or hearing. It couldn't be, Bane was killed on that orbital platform. I winched from a sharp twinge of pain in my wounded shoulder, "Bane?!" I gasped between my clenched teeth. The hydralisk pulled its synth back from my head and it's fierce snarling stopped abruptly, "Oh shit! I didn't know it was you!!" It said to me hastily. "I'm SO sorry about this! I really didn't know it was you-all you Terrans look alike! You might still live, I don't think it broke any bones yet," He slowly started to ease the synth in my shoulder back and my world exploded in spasms of pain. I yelled my lungs out and Bane held very still. My teeth even chattered with the pain, making it hard to talk straight, "God," I hissed between my teeth, "Am I sure glad it's you!" "We gotta get this synth out," he pleaded, "try to hold still-I'll pull it out on the count of three," I nearly started whimpering before he got to three. Then he jerked the synth out so fast my breath caught in my throat, making the world change colors before my eyes with the pain. My voice finally came back and I let the whole planet know how much pain I was in. Bane winched and appologized repeatedly, "I mean it, I truly didn't know it was you! How bad is it? I don't know much about Terran anatomy, except that it's very fragile." I leaned against the rock and let my body slide down the wall. I tore a piece of gauze from my field kit, clumsily wrapping it with one hand. Blood covered my shoulder and ran down my arm onto the ash. The wound was deep and wide, but lukily for me it was just a flesh wound. I still bled like a stuck pig and complained like a baby over the pain. "You will live, won't you?" Bane finally asked. I winced and tightened the guaze around my shoulder with my teeth and my good arm, tying it in a big knot over the wound. I gave one last tug on the gauss and it snapped tight against the gash, bringing a single tear to my eye. Blood started seeping through, so I wrapped the remainder of my guass around it. I finally looked up at the creature that claimed to be Bane. It stood watching me curiously, worry all over its face. "I really didn't mean it," he said again. I looked over at my fallen commrades for the first time, then back up at Bane, "Why?" I asked solemnly. Bane looked at the ground, nearly shrinking from shame, "I couldn't help it, I wasn't in control. I was just following orders!" he stammered. "I'm truly sorry, Charley, if only I had known-" "Don't worry about it," I cut him off, "I didn't know them very well, anyway. I just don't know how I'm going to explain what happened." Banes head drooped more. "Hey!" I said, trying my best to smile and cheer him up, despite the throbbing wound in my arm, "How did you get off that station?" I was curious, afterall. Bane looked up abruptly, apparently glad I wasn't holding a grudge. "I didn't," he reported. "But how..." I started to ask before Bane held up one synth and started the whole story; telling me how he ignored my pleas and continued into the vespene reactor room. He told in detail about his fight with the hunter-killer and then how he sacraficed himself to kill the queen of blades. I sat and listened to his tale in awe. "But if you died in the explosion, how are you here now?" Bane sighed before telling me, "I was reincarnated by the overmind. He told me that terrans were threatening his rebirth and he commanded me to do what I did to your squad.""Why did you obey him?" I asked. Bane shrugged "I don't have a choice. His will booms on and on, never ending until I complete his wishes. Eventually, it's like the overmind takes control of me, I cannot stop myself. I can barely keep control of my own actions and thoughts as it is." "Really?" I said, "what is he telling you to do now?" Bane grimmaced, allowing the madness to flood in for just a second. "It's telling me to slaughter you and finish the job," His answer surprized me, "Wow," I said, "Remind me never to ask his will again." Bane looked down at my shoulder, watching the blood seep through every bandage and strip of guass tape I had. "You need to have that looked at," he told me, "From past experience, I can tell you that synth wounds usually don't stop bleeding." I nodded, "You're right. A medic should heal this. Let's get back to my ship before I get delearious from blood-loss." I got up slowly, using my guass rifle for a cane. As I stood up, I noticed that I was even shorter than Bane than before. I stopped and took a closer look in the fading sunlight. Bane was definately different: he was easily a foot taller and the carapace over his chest cavity and thick arms were bulging and binded with powerful muscles. He noticed my staring and asked, "What?" "Damn, man! What have they been feeding you? You been working out or something?" Bane only looked more confused. "You got bigger, you're built like a tank!" Bane realized what I was talking about and started moving again, "Oh, yeah. The overmind made me more efficient for killing. It's the only advantage I've found that comes with being enslaved to the overmind." I hobbled along beside him, nurturing my bad arm, "How do you know were my ship is?" I asked. He answered me, but kept moving steadily, "I saw you come in." Bane slid easily over the rocky trail I was stumbling on. It was nearly dark before we reached the dropship, having to stop constantly so I could untanlge my senses from the traffic jam of pain pulsing from my shoulder. The dull, boxy shape of the dropship was a welcome sight as we finally approached it. I sighed with relief as I felt the cold steel of the drop ship's hull under my hand. I pressed the button for the cargo ramp and trudged up the steel grate when it came down. I turned and motioned for Bane to follow me. He shook his head, "Are you sure I won't get shot at this time?" He asked. I gasped. I hadn't even thought of what to tell my commanding officer when he asked me why two marines and a pair of goliaths turned up missing under my command. "That's right, we hafta cook up some story or they'll have both our heads," We stood thoughtfully for nearly a half an hour before deciding that we would think better once we were in the air. I eased into the pilots seat and fumbled with the controls. The cargo ramp creaked in protest as Bane heaved his bulky frame into the ship. I heard a sudden dull "Clang!" and turned around to see Bane rubbing his head with one synth. He ducked a little and negotiated the small doorway. I chuckled and started flipping switches, powering the ship up. The engines winded up to speed and the rear cargo door closed with a drone of electric motors and a metalic clang. The thrusters threw ash around the ship in a circle as it slowly heaved off the ground.

It was a short ride back home. As we approached the front line, I could tell something was amiss. The SCV's, marines and siege tanks were gone. All the major production buildings were gone-only a few scattered supply depos and addons remained. Control towers, covert ops, nuclear silos, and machine shops stood alone. The empty bunkers stood silently, somehow still seeming to guard the deserted base. "Looks like everyone packed up and left," I said. "That's good" Bane said, "Now you won't hafta explain anything, I guess." I laughed, "And you won't get shot at, either." I brought the ship to a smooth, hovering stop between a pair of supply depos and an abandoned missile silo. I opened the cargo hatch and walked out behind Bane. I gasped; the base looked like everyone just dropped what they were doing and took off-guass rifles, canister rifles and even a few of the medics Tissue Regeneration Inhibitors were laying around. I walked over to one of the medic's TRI's and picked it up out of the ash, "Just what I need," I said and checked the power supply. 14 points of energy remained-not enough for a full recovery but a bandaid would suffice once this little puppy did it's work. Bane slithered up to see what I found, "Those things," said Bane, remembering the medic that healed him, "Are the only machines I like." I activated the TRI and akwardly pointed it backwards at myself. Its little gamma reactor started and a soft white light strobbed over me. I watched in amazment, no matter how many times I've seen it done, as the wound stopped bleeding and the skin sealed over the wound like magic. "Machines," Bane sighed, "What would you Terrans do without them?" I laughed and pulled the usless guass and tape off my shoulder, "Let's go see what they left us with," I suggested. "Good idea, " Bane said, obviously excited, "I haven't had a decent meal since those things you got me from the other supply depo!" I started walking toward a depo and Bane followed closely behind, "Really? What have you been eating all this time?" Bane shivered with memory, "You don't want to know," "I'll take your word for it," I said as I reached out and turned the latch on the door. "Damn, " I said, "It's locked!" Bane pushed me aside, "Allow me." I smiled and watched Bane test his improved size and strength on the steel structure. He didn't impale it as i expected, instead he just lazily smashed the door off its hinges, taking part of the wall with it. I could have swore that I saw the suppy depo lurch over a few inches with the impact. "If being an agent of the swarm doesn't work out for you, you could definately make a good locksmith," I laughed as I walked past the grinning hydralisk into the supply depo. I flipped a circuit breaker and the lights flickered on. "I don't get it," he said, sidling in behind me. "Nevermind," I said, chuckling again, "Didn't you say you're hungry?" Bane nodded his head vigorously. I got the crate of hamburger patties out of the fusion locker and fired up the photon cooker. It's flat surface started glowing red hot and I picked up the crate of hamburger and turned to Bane, "How many do you want?" I asked. He gave me a bored look and reached out delicately with the point of one synth and tipped the box over in my hands, spilling the whole crate-50 patties-on the photon cooker. "That's enough," he said, studying the pile of frozen hamburger sizzling on the hot plate. I groaned and pulled out the biggest spatula we had. Bane stood, drooling patiently, waiting for the patties to thaw. Doing what I could to flip the giant heap with a flimsy plastic spatula, I confessed something to Bane, "Yaknow," I said, "I never got a chance to thank you," Bane let a big drop of saliva run down his jaw and fall to the floor. "Thank me for what?" He asked. I pried the burger loose from the hotplate before answering, "For everything!-Thank you for fighting for me and defending me all the time. Thank you for springing me from the prison ship, and thanks for being the best friend I've ever had. Seriously, if theres anything I can give to repay you, lemme know." Bane sighed, "That's flattering, really, but what I want is something that is not yours to give." I raised an eyebrow in question. Bane continued, "I wish to be free; free from the mad will of the cerebrates and the overmind, free from the killing and mindless slaughter, freedom from the overmind's blasted covenant. Immortality is not all its cracked up to be." I thought for a moment before saying, "It may not be mine to give you your freedom, but what's to stop me from taking it for you?" Bane shrugged, staring at the burger. "It's starting to burn on that side," he said, stabbing the blob with a synth and turning it over. "Do you think you can handle the cooking?" I asked, "I've got some things to take care of." I didn't wait for an answer and ran out of the room. I moved down the hall and back out the door, toward the abandoned covert ops. Finding the door to this building wasn't locked, I walked inside. I moved to a familiar door and entered my access code into the little number panel next to it. The door slid open with a hiss and I turned on the light. On either side of the room, ghost equipement lined the shelves. I picked up a Cloak Inhibitor, two C-10 canister rifles with laser targeting, a box of C-10 canisters and as many cuncusion grenades as I could carry. I found a pack and jammed the ammo inside. Slinging the rifles and the pack over my shoulder, I left the covert ops and moved to the machine shop. It was shut down too, and it took me awhile to find the right power breaker. When I got the lights on, I fished up the keys to an upgraded vulture someone was souping up in the garage. The hoverbike rumbled to life in the still twilight, scooting down through the base to my last stop: the nuclear silo. According to the access terminal outside, the Nuke was still operational and waiting for launch, despite not being connected to a command center. I checked my supplies one last time and throttled the vulture up, shooting out of the base in the direction my phsycic mind told me that the overmind lay dormant. "This ones for you, Bane," I thought as I gassed the vulture away from the base.

The pinkish brown stuff smelled delicious as Bane turned it over and over on the photon cooker. "That mortal sure has been gone awhile," he thought, chopping the heap into three big chunks. He stabbed the first one and jammed it on his mouth, slobbering drool. Bane was chewing happily, tasting the processed meat, when the overmind finally crashed into his brain. "FOOL!!!" it cried, "YOU HAVE DARED TO DEFY MY WILL?!" "No...." Bane said to the voices, "I won't do it! I won't kill my friend! You almost made me do it last time-I refuse to be fooled again!" The voices took on melevolent tones, shattering Bane's control over his body and mind, "Defiant one, you will slaughter the inferior human before he causes any more damage!!" Bane dropped the second chunk of hamburger, struggling to maintain control. The voices flooded in, saturating his essence; taking control, "You will destroy the Terran that comes now to harm me.....You will destroy him....you will....you will..." The hydralisks eyes glazed over, its mind no longer in control of its body. Bane shifted, snarling uncontrolably. Then, he charged helplessly, smashing the photon cooker over and toppling a freezer. When he reached the wall, he stabbed his synths through and peeled the metal back, forcing his way out. Once outside, he slithered away at top speed, following the scent of the vultures exhaust.

I sped along the gloomy trail following my physicic senses and the radar screen, until I came to a large, rocky hill. I jumped off the vulture and pulled the two canister rifles and my old guass rifle out from the compartment under the seat. Then I clambered my way up the hill and peeked over the edge. There it was, The Overmind's cacoon, right were my mind told me it would be. Lukily for me, it wasn't fully developed and therefore, couldn't control or rebuild the swarms yet-only its cerebrates were under its power. Three cerebrates and a pair of lone sunken colonies guarded the overmind while it regenerated. I picked up one of the canister rifles and proped it up on some rocks, then I bent down and took a peek through the scope. The overmind was centered in the cross hairs so I flipped up the plastic cover in front of the primary trigger and pressed the switch forward. A red laser beamed down and stopped on the overmind, barely visible. In a few seconds, the ajentent from the nuclear silo crackled into my headset: "Nuclear Launch Detected!" I laughed and said, "No shit," under my breath. Just as I turned to leave, I spied Bane sidling into view. I smiled, even though he was about to ruin his own surprise and I waved one arm in salute. My smile ebbed alittle as Bane ignored my gesture and kept up the pace, coming right for me. "Hey!" I called out, thinking that maybe he didn't see me. My smile vanished completely when Bane reached the bottom of the hill. My vulture was between him and the hill and Bane didn't even slow down for it. He Sped up in fact, and brought both synths over his head and brought them down on the vulture, smashing it in half. The vulture exploded in a ball of fire and Bane leapt through it, charging up the hill towards me. "Bane?" I yelled wearily. Something didn't seem right, Bane seemed hollow, almost like he wasn't really there. But he was, and he let me know by stopping halfway up the hill and opening his chest cavity. I still didn't believe what I was seeing until Bane started firing. Needles wizzed by my head and one bounced off a boulder behind me, "Oh Shit!!" I said and whirled around behind the boulder, ducking out of the line of fire. I looked back around, this is what Bane was waiting for, and He fired a spread of needles just in time. Most of them chipped off the rock and bounced away, but one big one hit its mark, goudging into my bad shoulder. I yelled and grabbed the shoulder, the old pain from being impaled coming back all over again. I groaned and bent down, grabbing the gauss rifle, "Alright," I said through gritted teeth, "You want a fight, you got one!" I peeked around the rock and Bane was moving up the hill, coming to finish me off. I flipped around the rock and blasted away with the guass rifle. Bane looked up, as if not expecting the attack, and got pummeled with the spray of bullets that flew down the hill to meet him. The bullets bounced and sparked off his carapace, doing no more than scratching the surface. The shots only hampered Bane alittle as he opened his chest cavity again, blasting more needles up the hill. I ducked just in time and dropped the guass rifle, grabbing the C-10 on my way back up. I yelled over the rock I was hiding behind, "Common, Bane! I don't want to do this!!" He responded by blasting the rock around me with more needles. I stood up abruptly and whipped the Canister rifle up, loaded with high velocity impact grenades. Bane was nearly on top of me when I finally got him in my gun sights. He was only a couple yards away, I could see the twisted expression on his face that it was so close, when I closed my eyes and pulled the trigger. The gun recoiled violently with a resounding "Thwump!" and everything seemed to stop. The grenade flew in an arc just as Bane raised his synths for the deadly blow. The grenade caught him sqaurely in the chest and exploded, ingulfing him in ripping flames. The impact knocked me off my feet and Bane was sent toppling over backwards, snarling and whimpering. The back of my head was bleeding somehow and all I could tell was that I was on my back, leaning against that boulder. I heard a click and the laser on the spotting canister rifle I had proped up snapped out. I was just starting to wonder what happened to my poor friend when he slowly crested my little platform on the hill. He was bleeding all over and smoldering, snarling angrily. He sidled up to me and raised one synth high, ready to end my life when the world blew up. Blinding white light flashed behind me, filling the sky, and a shockwave punished the hill. The last thing I saw was Bane being blown against the ground in the explosion and then everything went black.

I came to and ash was raining down, the nuclear fallout falling just short of me. My vision sharpened and my mind started working again. Bane was leaning against a rock in front of me, his carapace charred and bleeding from the grenade. My head hurt so Bad, I didn't have the energy to move. Bane shifted in front of me and moaned, "....Oh good...you're still alive..I thought I might have killed you by now." "What happened?" I asked him drearily. He sat up a little more against the rock, "It was the overmind....my apologies, Charley,..there was nothing I could do to stop myself." I nodded, "I figured that's what happened," Bane snarled lightly, "Thank you, mortal one," I tried to ease onto my feet but failed and fell back down. "For what?" I said. Bane pulled himself up with his synths before answering, "For freeing me....I didn't even know what freedom feels like...they don't make words to describe it!!" I chuckled, "It was no sweat! A pieca cake, really, compared to what you went through." Bane limped over to me and offered me a synth, "I must also thank you that," "What's that?" I said as I grabbed the blunt edge and he effortlessly hoisted me to my feet, "Thanks for stopping me-if you didn't fight back, you would be long dead by now." I laughed, but then groaned when I moved my bad arm too much, "Then maybe I should shoot you with grenade launchers more often, since you like it so much," The hydralisk smirked, "Don't get used to it, mortal!" We trecked down the hill slowly, taking careful steps as not to jar our wounds. We walked past the devistated vulture and I said, "Man! I liked that bike! Why'd you go and do that for?" Bane kept up a limping pace beside me, "Hey! It's not my fault you parked it right in the way!" I gave Bane a playful shove with my good arm, or really I shoved myself backwards and Bane barely moved. He retaliated by wapping me off my feet with the flat edge of one synth. He turned around, giving me his wicked hydralisk grin, and helped me back up. "Were do we go now?" Bane asked, as we started moving towards base again. "That-" I said proudly, "Is entirely up to you-Today, I set you free!"

To be continued...

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Bane 5: Rebels of Char

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Bane moved silently over the charred ash, nothing more than an uneasy feeling to the Ragnasaur that he stalked. The Ragnasaur hadn't spotted Bane, yet, as he eased closer and closer; hiding behind the remains of Char's scraggly trees and stubby boulders. The Ragnasaur lowered its head again and continued lumbering alone its aimless path, satisfied that all was well. There was a slight crunching of rocks and gravel, causing the Ragnasaur to stop again and look around with its poor vision. Bane held perfectly still, not even breathing. Finally, the Ragnasaur started moving and thats when Bane lunged on his prey...

I frowned at the pile of empty crates stacked up by the photon cooker, and let my mind drift. We still had plenty of supplies to last until someone found us, but it was in our best interest if Bane hunted for himself. He could go through a whole crate of burger patties like it's nobodies business. Waiting for my single burger to cook, I sighed, "This sure is boring," I said to myself, "I hope some rescue shows up soon." The disappearance of the base and all its inhabitants remained a mystery. The lone dropship I had barely had enough fuel cells to leave the ground, much less break orbit. It would be useless and dangerous to try and take off with it, so we had no other alternative than to sit around and wait on some form of rescue. The smell of burnt meat brought me back from my own thoughts. "Damn!" I swore and attempted to pry the broiled burger from the hot plate. Suddenly, I heard clips locking and guns clicking behind me. A cold barrel pressed against my back and an unfamiliar voice said, "Don't even blink!" I slowly lifted my hands up in surrender and shot a look at my canister rifle across the room. Too far, there was no way to reach it and live to tell about it. The hostile voice spoke again, "I thought we had cleaned this base out last time, but I guess we missed you." "What have you done with everyone?" I asked over my shoulder. The assaulter jabbed my back with the barrel of another canister rifle, "I'll ask the questions here!" I could hear other men laughing and snickering behind me. "Were's your zerg buddy?" the voice demanded. "I don't know what you're talking about," I lied. "I think you know more than that, my friend," he said through gritted teeth. "Seriously," I stammered, trying to buy time, "I haven't the slightest idea-" "I'm only gonna ask you one more time, boy!!" he interrupted me and the barrel moved from my back to the back of my head. "Where's the hydralisk?!" I kept still and quiet, refusing to answer his question. After a few seconds, the assassin loosed an exasperated sigh and said, "Damnit! This punk's not talking either! Take him back to base with the others." I heard some one walk up behind me and the barrel moved away. Then someone smashed the back of my head with the stock of a gun and my world went black.

Two marines holstered their rifles and dragged Charley away to the waiting dropship. The leader called to the remaining marines, getting their attention, "Alright, we can still catch him!" he looked to his right, where a ghost stood and listened to his orders, "Blake, you saw him leave here didn't you?" The ghost nodded, his voice sounding muffled behind his mask, "Yessur! Left here an hour ago heading due east." The commander nodded in agreement, "Then its settled! I'll escort the new prisoner back to base and wait for you there. The rest of you will stay here and set up a perimeter." The commander turned to leave, stopped and added, "Remember-Don't kill em! We need him alive or our mission here is shot. Shoot to stun only!" Without so much as another word, the commander gave the marines a quick salute and stepped aboard the dropship.

"Now that," Bane interrupted himself with his own belch, "Is a REAL meal!" Nothing remained of the unlucky Ragnasaur except for a bloody mess where it was killed. Bane got up from his seat, grunting slightly because he was stuffed with Ragnasaur. The hydralisk started his slow slither back to base, thinking to himself, "Not as good as those burger things-Buurp!-but still pretty good." His joints loosened up and he managed a brisker pace. Before long, the lone missile turret on the outskirts of the base came into view. But as Bane got closer and sidled into town, he realized something wasn't right. He reached the supply depo and slithered wearily in the door. "That's strange," Bane said to himself, noticing Charlies canister rifle still on the counter and no Charley to be found, "That mortal never strays far from his machines-somethings wrong!" Getting worried, Bane turned to leave and start a search outside, but he was attacked at the doorway. As soon as he stepped into the door jam, he was riddled with bullets from a squad of 6 marines that had lined up outside. The shots bounced of his carapace but sent him stumbling backwards into the supply depo. He was shot all the way back into the kitchen were he toppled over onto the crates, smashing them to pieces. The marines stopped firing and slowly began to creep inside the depo after Bane, covering each other with their rifles. The one up front waved his gun back and forth and smirked. He turned around to the squad leader and said, "Heh heh, that was easy!" Blake gave him a shove forward, "Were not done yet, cerebrates are not defeated so quickly." The marines paced their way into the kitchen were Bane had disappeared. "But I thought we weren't supposed to kill em," another marine said. Blake moved to inspect the pile of broken crates, "We'll blow his arms off so long as he's still breathing when we haul em back! Now keep your eyes open!" One marine stood next to Blake and looked up to the ceiling, spying a tile that was torn away and missing. "Hey!" he said to his teammates, pointing up to the ceiling, "I think he's in the roof!" he whispered. They all shone their flashlights through the hole, revealing nothing but pipes, rafters and wires with their sweeping lights. The squad leader gestured to everyone else, motioning for them to aim at the ceiling. He whispered a quick "1-2-3!" and they let the rifles rip. The room strobbed with the flaring barrels and the roof tiles showered down in pieces. A bullet struck a cable just right, and sparks spewed down, illuminating the chaos for a few seconds. Soon, the guns stopped one by one as the ammunition ran out. Dust and bits of plaster rained down as the marines reloaded their rifles. "Did we get em?" one marine asked out loud. "No! You missed!" Bane told them as he burst out his hiding spot in cooler behind one marine. Bane lunged with his synths, impaling the closest Marine and lifting him off his feet. The remaining marines turned and opened fire. The bullets sparked and ricocheted off Banes carapace, and he shifted sideways, using the dying marine as a shield. The moaning marine screamed as he was killed by his own teammates. "Hold your fire!!" Blake yelled over the noise and Bane heaved the marine across the room. The marine smashed into his comrades and they all fell like a bunch of bowling pins. "Get off me you moron, he's getting away!!" Blake yelled and shoved his way out of the dog pile of power suits. Bane was already out the door and on his way across the base by the time the group finally reached the door. "He's gone, Boss! We'll never catch him now," one marine said. "Watch and learn, boy," Blake said as he loaded a special round into his canister rifle. He whipped his gun up and propped it on his arm, taking careful aim. With a "thwump!" the canister rifle shot what looked like a giant ball of lint across the battlefield. Just as it reached Bane it blew open, spreading into a net. The thick net wrapped around Bane and he tripped and fell into the ash, fighting the net. "We'll never catch him now, Boss!" Blake mimicked the marine in a sarcastic voice and the team walked across the base were the pile of nets lay. "Hey Jim, go warm up the dropship-we'll be there in just a sec," Blake said, staring down at the trapped hydralisk. Jim turned and ran back to the dropship hidden behind the comsat station, following orders. "Hey," one of the marines said to Blake, "I thought he was bigger than this," he said, pointing down to the net. Blake shrugged his shoulders and carefully lifted the net up. There was nothing but a circle of freshly dug ash underneath. "What the?! What's with all the disappearing acts?" One marine complained. "I'm still here," Bane told them. They jumped and turned, trying to see were the hydralisk would come from next. Just when the squad was about to move on, dirt and ash showered up between them. Bane had burrowed and come up with both synths ready, and cut down two marines before they even knew what hit them. They fell, screaming in pain as the remaining marine and Blake opened fire. The last marine managed a few shots before Bane impaled his face, ripping his skull off the spinal cord. Blake turned and ran, dropping his gun in the dirt so he could pick up more speed. The coward didn't get far before Bane opened his chest cavity and bucked his fleeing enemy down with several needles. Bane slithered up to the fallen ghost and said, "What was that about a dropship?" Blake coughed blood and turned over on his back, "Get away from me you fucking monster!!" Bane held the tip of one synth at the ghost's throat, "Tell me were your ship is and I may just forgive you for that and let you live," Blake coughed more blood up before answering, "It's behind the comsat station...now just let me die in peace!" Bane showed his wicked hydralisk grin before saying, "Thanks!" Then with one quick motion he cut his enemies throat out, killing the ghost instantly. "I lied," he said, chuckling to himself as he sidled toward the comsat station. There it was, right were the ghost said it would be. The dropship was hovering a few inches off the ground with the cargo ramp down. Bane eased up to the edge of the ship and peeked in. There was that marine the ghost sent for the ship, sitting in the pilots seat and bobbing his head to some kind of load music blaring in a set of headphones. Bane sidled easily up behind the marine and swung one synth over him, impaling him against the pilots seat. The marine screamed and grabbed the synth, then let go, groaning in pain. Bane reached around the marine and held his other synth against the marines throat, snarling menacingly, "WERE'S CHARLEY?!" he demanded. "I don't know what you're talking about!" the marine yelled between rasping breaths. "Something tells me that you better start flying this heap, capiche?" Bane said as he held his razor sharp synth tighter against the marines throat. "I'll die before I listen to you!" he cried. Bane sighed and gave the other synth a slight twist. The marine screamed and yelled, the synth that impaled him rubbing against bones as Bane twisted it. "OKAY!! OKAY!" he wailed, "I'll take you were ever you want to go!!" Bane stopped twisting the synth and said, "That's better! Now, get moving or I'll show you what REAL pain is like." The marine moved a bloody hand to the control panel and pressed a few buttons. The cargo ramp swung closed and the engines wound up.

I came to in a large holding cell in the middle of a makeshift base. The marines who captured me wore the same color armor and insignias as all the ones walking around our cell and through the base. All the equipment they had looked as if it were dug out of a salvage yard, rusting away and falling apart. As my vision cleared, I noticed that most of the buildings belonged to my base. These second rate marines had taken control of our base and everyone in it. The disappearance of the base and all the people was no longer a mystery. Half the base was crammed into the cell with me; there was barely room enough for us to move around without knocking each other over. The other half resided in another cell identical to mine right next to us. The cages had plate steel for floors and a roof and thick bars spaced about 8 inches apart for walls. Our cages were wedged in between a row of supply depos and a run down academy. I held my head and groaned from the pounding migraine I had developed somehow. As I just so happens, my captain was in the cell with me. "Hey, Cap!" I called. He shoved his way through the mass of bodies to me, "Were you been, boy? We coulda used your help!" "What happened?" I asked. "Dirty cowards took a couple bunkers full of marines hostage and we had no choice but to follow their demands. They unarmed us and brought us back here via dropship. From what I've overheard, these bastards are Rebels. They don't have nearly the fleet it would take to make any real threat against the dominion, so they plan to create another force." My eyes grew wide, "The zerg?!" I guessed. The captain nodded his head, "Yep, they were planning to take control of the new overmind the way the UED did some years back. But someone beat them to it and blew it to smithereens," I rubbed the back of my neck, pretending it was news to me, "Wow! But how do they plan to take control now that the overmind is gone?" The captain rubbed his chin thoughtfully before answering, "From what I know from the UED Histories, The overmind they took was reincarnated by the melding of its cerebrates. I guess they plan to meld the overminds remaining cerebrates and take control that way." I nodded my head. "By the way, Daniels," he said. I cringed involuntarily-I hate that last name. "What happened to the rest of your squad? I sent a pack of marines and two goliaths out there! Were are they now?" "Eeeer, Ummm," I said, buying time while I thought. If I told him what really happened, Bane's days are numbered. Remembering the rebels, I got an idea. "Oh yes! The squad! It was so bad I didn't want to recall it," The captain raised and eyebrow in question, "We were just finishing our rounds and heading back to base when we ran into some of those rebels!" I lied, "We fought bravely, but we were outnumbered. The marines charged out in front and the goliaths engaged the siege tanks, even though I told them it was useless. I charged in with em though, and they captured me. The others wouldn't be caught so they.....you know.." "The damn dirty rebels!!" The captain exploded. "I would like nothing more than to get a gun and blast a few dozen, just for killing one marine!" The rebels walking around our cage sneered when he said that. "You may just get your chance," I said, leaning against the bars of the cage. "What do you mean?" He asked me. "I have a friend I left at the base, and I think he may show up anytime now for a dramatic rescue." The captain moved to lean against the bars next to me, "Who?" he asked quietly, as to not get the guards attention. "Just a friend, you wouldn't believe me if I told you, anyway." He sighed, "Kid, I hope you're right. But who could get past this defense single handedly?" I looked around at the extensive front lines set up with our own resources. New bunkers, siege tanks and missile turrets surrounded us on all sides, "If it can be done," I said grimly, "he is the only one who can." Someone burst out of the command center, running up to someone important looking, who stood and watched the proceeds. We all watched as he talked to the messenger frantically, apparently quite happy about something. The commander dismissed him and called the attention of everyone around him. They came and he repeated the message. They all lifted their guns in the air and cheered, celebrating some kind of victory.

The dropship wavered alittle as the marines grip on the control stick loosened. "You are taking me were I want to go aren't you?!" Bane demanded his hostage. He was breathing heavily and kept coughing blood on the dash board. He panted and held his breath before answering, "Of course! Why resist now...I'm gonna die anyway.." The radio started spewing static and a transmission came in, "Cater two, this is ring leader. Do you have the cargo? Over," it crackled. Bane held his synth against the marines throat again, "Answer them!" he demanded. The marine reached a shaking hand to the radio and flipped a switch. The static stopped and he cleared his throat as best he could, "Rodger that ring leader, package intact......We are coming in hot, clear the path," He flipped the switch back down and the static came back, "Copy that cater two, we'll open the door for you. Good job!" The base came into view ahead, the turrets and bunkers visible on the horizon. Suddenly, the ship shuddered. "Keep this contraption still, would you?" Bane told his prisoner. The marine groaned, his voice becoming raspy and strained, "I...can't...help..it..feeling.... light-headed.." Bane looked down at the giant red puddle on the floor, "Damn! Not now! Anytime but now!" The marine had lost a critical amount of blood and was bleeding to death. The marine moaned and panted, growing quieter all the time until his panting stopped abruptly. "Hey you!! I didn't say you could die yet!" Bane boomed at the marine. He made a strained sound like "....Uuughnn...." and slumped forward against the dash board. His hand dropped from the controls and his eyes rolled back in his head. He was gone. Bane jerked his synth loose and the marine crumpled out of the seat onto the floor. Bane watched through the windshield as the base took on detail. Somehow, the dropship stayed fairly level until it passed over the line of bunkers. The marines far below whistled and cheered up at him. Then the dropship started shuddering and began a slow dive. The dive grew steeper and steeper until the ship seemed to drop out of the sky. Bane stabbed his synths into the walls for a brace as the ground and buildings grew and filled his view. He barely missed a barracks. It zoomed by in a matter of seconds-he had to be traveling at top speed. "I hate machines..." Bane moaned to himself as he closed his eyes just before the ground meet the nose of the ship.

"What's going on?" I asked the guard, who was slapping hands with other guards around him. He was in such a good mood, he told me. "Not that it makes a difference to you, but the last cerebrate is on the way! They captured em!" "So much for a dramatic rescue," sighed the captain. The base exploded in an uproar of cheers and we all turned to see what was happening. Apparently, the last cerebrate was arriving via dropship. After straining my eyes for a few seconds, I could see it. It scooted over the bunkers and the marines cheered as it went overhead. The cheers started to ebb into murmurs of confusion as the ship started swerving around in the air. Just when it looked like it was going to just keep flying right by us, the ship nosed down into a dangerous dive. The people in the base still didn't believe what they were seeing until the dropship flashed by a barracks, nearly hitting it. I watched as the dropship plummeted towards us. It nosed up for just a second; 30 feet off the ground then fell like a rock. It smashed the ground and dirt showered up before it as it skipped off the ash. The engines died and the wings tore off as it hit again, harder this time, and started rolling. The guards around our cage ran as the ship rolled right past us, finally smashing to a stop on a supply depo. When the dust cleared, the dropship could be seen as a smoking wreck, pieces of metal and shrapnel from the supply depo and the ship all over the place. A squad of marines moved in to inspect the wreck. The dropship was nearly in pieces, crumpled into a ball that distorted its sleek shape. An SCV came with his fusion cutter, ready to cut the mangled door off the hinges. Just as soon as the SCV reached the ship, the hatch exploded off the rear of the ship, smashing the SCV. The marines ran up to help their friend when Bane lunged out of the ship. They turned, aiming their gauss rifles, but it was too late. Bane reached the group and swatted a marine out of his way, sending him sailing to land hard on his back. He lunged for another one and the marines opened fire. Bane snarled as he was caught in a brief firefight, but he was so close to the marines that they actually shot each other just as much as they shot him. A pair of marines fell from their comrades bullets and Bane cut another one down in the chaos. The last marine dropped his gun and took off, leaving his friends to die. Bane looked over and noticed me and the rest of the base locked in our holding cells. He sidled up to the cage I was in and the trained marines and stalwart siege tanks operators backed as far away as they could from the door, gasping at the sight of a ten foot hydralisk. I pushed my way through the crowd and said, "Its about time you showed up," Bane chopped the padlock off the cage "That's thing's gonna save us?!" the captain croaked, "A hydralisk?!" "I can leave you in the there if you don't like it," Bane said as he cut the lock off the second cage. "It-it talks!!" the captain stuttered. "By the way," I said as I stepped out of the cage, "Nice entrance." "Theyll come for us soon," the captain interrupted, "We need weapons!" I looked at the supply depos that our cages rested next to. "Bane," I said, "Give us a hand with the depo doors?" Bane moved to the supply depo as the bulk of my base poured out of the open cages, wearily following Bane. The hydralisk smashed the door in and heaved it aside, letting the marines through. He opened another one for them and, before long, everybody had a gauss rifle. There were a few TRI's left in the academy that the medics gladly armed themselves with. "Defensive positions!!" The captain yelled, and we took what cover was offered with the academy and the supply depos. The rumbling of a seige tank could be heard and Bane took off towards the sound, "I hate machines!" was all he said. I thought about stopping him, but Bane seemed to know what he was doing, so I just groaned and checked the safety on my gun. Bane kept going until he was far out of our range and stopped in the distance. From what we could see, he vanished into the ash instantly. If you blinked, you would have missed it. Then the marines came into view, charging in by the dozens, while we were a mere 50 marines and medics; well, 55 marines if you count Bane. "Fire!" Barked the Captain, and 43 gauss rifles thundered our ears. The enemy marines were stimmed to the hilt and ran headlong into the bullets firing thier guns, barely feeling the impaler rounds that fatally wounded them. Bullets rained on us from the mob of angry marines, and the rumbling seige tank came into view; stopping aburptly and going into seige mode. Marines were screaming, "MEDIC!!" and the few noble women ran with their TRI's stemming the tide of damage that flooded in on us. A bullet wizzed by my head, and one nicked my arm. It didn't really hurt, the shock hid that. The insane marines fought on despite their wounds and the blast of a siege tank boomed over the sound of the gauss rifles. Next to me some marines were fighting and had tipped a cage over, using its giant metal bottom for cover. Soon after the crack of the seige tank, I was never to see them again. A fireball erupted around them, the explosive napalm claiming the lives of 6 marines and a medic. The marines advanced away from the seige tank and closed in on us, spewing impaler rounds with their gauss rifles. Then, Bane saved us again. He had burrowed right next to where the seige tank stopped, and shot up out of the ash at the sound of its shock cannon. He leaped agily onto the giant treds of the siege tank and then up to the top. The operator inside saw the cross hairs of his targeting system squared on a new group of the prisoners one second, the next he yelled and stumpled back in his seat as a hydralisk had clambered on top of his tank, blocking his viewport. Bane reached the hatch and stared at the solid 8-inch neosteel cap that served as the door on the roof of the tank. He took an experimental stab at the door, only to have his synth bounce off harmlessly, only leaving a little dent in the thick armor. Inside the tank operator activated infared targeting and the turret swiveled around a few digrees with Bane on top. "Machines," Bane snarled as he jumped to the giant barrel of the tank, "all it takes is one simple problem..." He stood behind the barrel and swung with everything he had at the thick steel tube. The tank operator was just about to press the fire switch when a deafening clang echoed through the shell of his tank. Bane only made a little kink in the barrel. He growled swung again with both synths, denting the kink in a little further. Bane jumped off and the seige tank operator fired. The tank's arcilite shot logded in the kinked barrel, detonating on impact. The discharge went off inside the seige tank, turning its protective armor hull into the shell for a bomb. The tank exploded in a crimson ball of fire, sending shrapnel raining down. But the marines had us outnumbered and we were losing ground. They forced us back, holding us pinned behind cover with their gauss rifles. Then, as many times before, Bane saved us again. The marines, busy trying to kill us, didn't notice the 10 foot terror that closed in on them from behind. Bane reached the marines and had a field day with his synths, stabbing and cutting the close-packed marines down one by one. The marines turned their backs on us to address their critical hydralisk problem and we pounced back out of cover, letting them have it with our guns. The organization of the team broke down, as they were forced to split their efforts between battling the hydralisk and the armed prisoners. In the end, all that was left in the battlefield was a couple dozen prisoners, alittle shaken up from their fiecre firefight, and one shot up, panting hydralisk. Cheers and whistles broke out as Bane came slithering back to us, only limping slightly. Everyone was happy and yelling, celebrating an incredible victory. I smacked Bane on the back, "Great job! How do you feel?" Bane winched with the impact of my hand. "What'sa matter? You're not invinsible?" I asked sarcastically. "Those puny rifles hurt when you get enough of them together," he told me, "And you wouldn't happen to have one of those medic things laying around, would you?"

To Be Continued...

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Bane 6: Rising of Chaos

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Once everyone got over their fear, Bane became quite popular as the base fell into its usual routines. Marines would look up at him and ask questions, talk about big battles and jabber about action they'd seen on the front lines. Bane would hush them all with tales of even bigger battles and more

epic heros, causing the crowds around him to erupt in new waves of stories and constant questions. Even a few of the medics overcame their fear and came within three feet. It was a day just like every other day that week. I had slept in and Bane was gone somewhere when I woke up. "You seen Bane anywhere?" I asked a marine as I stepped out of the barracks into Char's dim morning sun. The marine was in the middle of his morning rounds and answered me without stopping his patrol, "I think I saw him by the academy, messing with those medics again." "Thanks," I said over my shoulder as I turned and started on my way to the academy. There he was, sure enough, standing around and running his mouth (or mind really) to the off-duty medics. "Your pet zerg is great!" they announced to me as I walked up. Bane groaned, "It's about time you got up! You sleep like a zergling," The medics laughed at my uncombed hair and baggy eyes as if noticing them for the first time. I was just about to retaliate when Bane pointed to the sky, "What's that?" he asked as a few meek little dots appeared in the distant blue, growing steadily larger. "I dunno," I confessed, "Can't tell yet-they're too far away." A droning alarm started going off as the dots began to take shape. "What's that mean?" Bane said over the noise. The medics took off and everyone started becoming frantic around us. "That means there's an officer coming. Looks like some hot-shot general has decided to pay a visit." I guessed right, because in a few seconds an official dominion flagship appeared, followed by a lumbering battlecruiser and two wraith escorts. "What's going on?" I asked a marine as he ran by. "It's the emperor's messengers," "Mengsk?" I asked, "What's he doing here?" "I dunno," the marine shrugged, "Guess we'll find out shortly." Bane and I stood watching everyone run around until Bane noticed three official looking people strutting through the crowds, "Who are they? They look different from everyone else here." "Messengers," I said as they drew near, "I wonder what they want." I was taken by surprise when they marched straight up to us, keeping their distance from Bane, but studying him intensly. "Are you Specialist Charley Daniels?" The one in the middle asked. I stood at attention and saluted the superior officer. "As you were," he said after returning my salute. I stood at ease. "Reports of a tame Hydralisk saving the Char Resource Operation have reached the capitol," One of them said, staring up at Bane. Bane returned his stare and the officer stuttered before continuing, "The Emperor was very impressed by your valiant achievments and would like to meet you in person to offer an official promotion." "Is that a good thing?" Bane asked curiously. "We accept!" I said quickly, ignoring Banes question, "I've always wanted a nice pay raise." "Follow us to the flagship," another officer said and they all turned abruptly, heading back the way they came. "Common," I said to Bane, "We're getting off this boring planet!" We moved along hastily, keeping up with the swift stride of the messengers. They lead us to a dropship were two MP's gaurded the entrance. The officers walked up the ramp and Bane stopped, "Are you sure about this?" he asked wearily, still remembering his crash landing just a week ago. "Go ahead," I whispered, "I'm right behind you!" Bane followed the last officer into the ship and I walked up behind him. An officer stepped in front of me holding a hand up and saying, "Not you, boy! Just the hydralisk goes!" "But-" I started to protest but the stern face of the messenger and his offending hand was gone in a flash. Bane had spun around snarling and shoved the officer against the wall of the dropship, were he had him pinned by the throat with the blunt edge of one synth. Bane lowered his head even with the messengers face, "The mortal goes were he wants!" he growled. The MP's at the bottom of the ramp drew there guns, "Stop right there!!" one of them yelled. Bane turned from the officer he had pinned for just a second, "Put that TOY away before I tear you in half!" He snapped at them. The messenger turned very pale and his eyes rolled back in his head. Bane let him go and he passed out, crumpling onto the floor. Bane turned and faced the MP's with synths ready. The first messenger on the ship, the superior officer, was watching the whole thing without blinking and finally said, "So he goes." The MP's grumbled and holstered their sidearms,and gave me dirty looks as I walked up the ramp. They stayed outside and the the ramp swung closed. I looked out the window and watched the dust and ash swirl around the ship as the thrusters carried us away.

The ride in the dropship to the capitol was quite possibly the most extraordinarily boring five hours of my entire life. The atmosphere in the ship was pretty hostile at first, but before long alittle conversation broke through. As the hours dragged on though, we ran out of broad subjects to talk about. Talk died down and it became difficult to fight sleep. Pretty soon, everyone was snoring around me, even Bane had trouble staying awake. His eyes were almost shut and his head kept drifting down then snapping back up as he fought sleep. Soon, I caught myself doing the same thing. Finally, the whining drone of the dropships engines was too much and I was gone.

A voice broke through the darkness, light invading with it, "Common! The emperor ain't gonna wait all day!" Who ever it was stopped and the sleep started taking over again, until the grizzly voice snapped me awake, "Git yer sorry asses up!" That did the trick. Everyone was on their feet with minimal commotion and only one sleepy growl from Bane. The messengers left us there and Bane and I stepped out of the dropship. There was some short fat guy in a pair of greasy coveralls holding a old wrench and a tired looking shop rag. We must have looked confused because he finally asked, "Where you headed?" I looked down to his name tag that was so dirty I had to squint to read it. "Clem," I finally decifered, "Can you tell me where I'll find the Emperor?" "Top floor," he said quickly, pointing over his shoulder with the wrench, "Elevator's at the end of the hall." We went were he told us to and eventually came to the elevator. The ship bay was pretty far up, so it wasn't a long ride. Once at the top, there was a wide, dull hallway with a big set of wooden double doors at the end. "Let's go meet the Emeror," I said dully as I shoved the doors open. They swung wide, revealing an immense office with tall cielings and giant book cases lining the walls. There was a thick, plush rug that ran straight up the middle of the office to a expensive wooden desk sitting in front of three long windows overlooking the city. A tall chair was behind the desk, rocking slightly. It stopped abruptly and the Emperor said "Welcome to the capitol, Gentlemen!" as he swiveled around in his chair, a practiced politition smile not giving anything away, "Youre probably wondering why I called you here today, so I wont disappoint you." Bane gave me a confused look and I just shrugged. Mengsk continued, "You see, Ive been in need of a talented team to perform unique tasks for the good of the dominion. I could send hundreds of men and spends thousands in valuable resources, but why do so when a pair of stalwart warriors can serve just as well? When I heard that a single ghost operative and his tame hydralisk wiped out a whole faction of rebels, I knew I had found my warriors-" "Get to the point!" Bane interrupted, "Im hungry!" "My point is," The emperor continued, "That I want you to work for me. Leave your dead-end post in the third defense garrison and make something of yourselves." "Whats in it for me?" Bane asked. The emperor laughed outloud, "You said you are hungry didnt you?" Bane nodded quickly. "Then that will be your reward! Youll have more time to sleep and more food to eat than youll ever know what to do with." Bane grinned with his big, toothy mouth, "Count me in!" he said enthusiastically. "You know what I want." I said. The emperor nodded and pulled out a fat checkbook, slapping it on the table. "So we have an agreement, then?" "You bet!" I answered. "Then let us get down to business, shall we?" he announced. Mengsk slid a folder of pictures my way, "These are the comsat photos of one of many Rebel compounds here on Tarsonis. They are in league with the rebels that captured the Resource Operation on Char. Together, theyve been trying to undermine the Dominion for years. I would send in the local militia to deal with this problem but our situation is one that will not allow a large scale military response." Mengsk slid me another photo. "This is my right hand advisor, taken hostage by these rebels." I took a good look at the photo, and the windbag kept talking, "They will execute her if any violent retaliation is taken, so I need you to infiltrate the compound and rescue the advisor. The supply room is two floors down-use anything at my disposal that you deem necessary for this mission, Good Luck!" With not some much as another word, he flipped back around and faced the windows again. I turned to leave and Bane followed me. Heading down the hall, he finally spoke up, "Is it just me, or is something not exactly kosher about him?" We reached the elevator and I pressed the down button. The doors opened with a "Ping!" and we stepped inside. "I got the same feeling, but this IS a better job." I said. "Yeah," Bane sighed, "Maybe youre right."

I tried the new access code on the door and it only bleeped again, telling me that access is denied. "Are you sure you dont want me to open it?" Bane groaned. "I would," I confessed while trying the code one more time, "but I dont think the maintainence crew will appreciate your methods." Finally, the door slid up with a hiss and the lights came on inside automatically, revealing shelves of assorted weaponry and high-tech field equipment. "Ah!" I said, rubbing my hands together, "Pay dirt!" I walked slowly down the aisles, drooling over the shiny new canister rifles, grenade launchers, different caliber machine guns and one fully automatic, belt fed monster in the corner. "Theyre all machines-Just pick one!" Bane complained. I walked to one rack and said, "Hold these," Bane held both synths up and I started grabbing guns and laying them across his synths by the armful. Bane held a stack nearly taller than I stood before we finished. "That should do it," I said, until I noticed the big glass case of ghost equipment in the back. I walked to the case and stared at the upgraded cloak inhibitors and the best in targeting technology. I threw a pair of inhibitors on top of the stack and one pair of the new night vision, inferred, target analyzing, scope zoom goggles. Bane strained a little under the load that probably weighed more than he did. "Is there anything else?" he managed. "Cant forget spare ammo," I said and Bane sighed, following me to the stack of crates brimming with fresh clips and boxes of shells. At last, with Bane stumbling under the arsenal, I grabbed an expensive looking case of specialty canister rounds and a 45. side arm just for good measure. "One last thing," I said and snatched a set of keys off their peg on the wall. "Common!" Bane raged. "Thats it," I said. I turned to leave, tossing the keys over my shoulder onto the stack Bane carried. I nearly jumped to the ceiling in surprise when Bane collapsed, snarling, beneath the pile of weapons and one set of keys too many.

Bane heaved the huge stack of weapons into the back of the dropship, growling with the effort. "You tryin to supply a whole platoon, son?" Chuckled Clem, the mechanic from earlier, as he watched Bane throw everything down. "Not me," Bane said proudly between panting breaths, "These are the only weapons I need." Bane brandished his synths and the mechanic laughed at his signature fighting stance. "And right powerful weapons they are, too!" Clem said with a thick southern accent. Finally, his laughter died down some and he looked around for me, then asked "Wheres your partner in crime?" Bane was sitting on the ramp, resting, and said, "I dunno. He said he was going to pick up a few last minute necessities." Clem burst into new fits of laughter, "Whad he forget?! The kitchen sink?" Suddenly, the tall cargo door to the hanger slid open and the hydraulic beast known as the C-83 Goliath War Walker stomped up to the dropship. Its electronic voice boomed through the hanger, "Intruder! Drop you weapons, you have ten seconds to comply!" Bane only looked bored, "Common, mortal. I want to deal with this sometime before I die of starvation," he said dully. The cockpit of the goliath split open, and I jumped down. "Sorry," I said, "Ive always wanted to do that." Bane stood up and turned to Clem, "Did you get rid of that seat like I asked?" Bane wanted to sit up front for a change, but the pilots seats were simply way too small for him. "Yep," Clem chuckled again, "Cut it out just for you!" he choked, still not fully recovered from his laughing fit. I was starting to wonder if he thought everything was a joke. "Lets go," I said irritably. "The best of luck to you on yer mission!" he cackled as he walked to the control booth, opening the hanger launch door for us. Bane climbed into the back, dragging the goliath in with him. I flipped some switches and the engines came to life. The ramp swung closed Bane maneuvered over the pile of weapons and the goliath and came to sit next to me on a crate of rations. "Ready?" I asked. Bane just nodded, so I gassed the engines and the dropship shot away, flying off towards the enemy compound.

"How?" Bane asked as he eyed the line of impenetrable bunkers and siege tanks, backed by missile turrets. "I dunno," I said, toying with the goggles I had; trying to figure out how to make the telescope vision work. "But Im sure something will come along sooner or later." " I hope it shows up soon," Bane complained while he popped calorie supplements like candy, "I hate these tasteless things!" Finally, I pressed the right button and the base flew to meet me in the goggles. "Why did Mengsk send us here," I said, studying the front line, "Nothing cloaked can get in or out in of this place in one piece-" "Unless," Bane interrupted, "They let you in." I peeled the goggles off, "What?" I asked. Bane only pointed at an ancient old salvage truck pulling out of the Base. They simply moved aside and let the truck through, billowing up a cloud of dust and smoke as it rumbled up the dirt road towards us. "Hmmm," I said, thinking out loud, "We have to get the truck without damaging it, so we can't gun it down." Bane could only come up with ideas that would total it, so he had nothing to offer. "Ive got an idea," I said finally, "Run out in front of it and they will stop." "Were did you ever come up with an idea like that?!" Bane exploded. "I saw it in a cinematic scene once and it worked." I got up and beckoned for Bane to follow me, "In a what?" he asked reluctantly. "A cinematic scene. A zergling ran out in front of this truck and got hit. They stopped and got out and were killed by the zerg. It cant fail!" Bane sidled wearily up to the edge of the road, "Okay," he said watching the speeding semi. "But what happened to the zergling?" he asked at the last minute. "Dont worry about that, here it comes!" I said and jogged out of the road. Bane sighed and did as I said, staring into the headlights of the truck as it crested the last hill. "I hate machines," I heard Bane groan right before his face met the grill of the trucks radiator. Bane snarled in surprise and pain as the truck smashed him out of the way, pieces of the grill and glass from the headlights flying everywhere. The truck screeched to a hault immeadiatly and a lanky truck driver in a grey jumpsuit hopped out of the cab. He walked around to the front of his truck and whistled at the damage. Then he noticed Bane sprawled motionless in the road about 20 feet from his truck, "Damn!!" he swore out loud. "That's the biggest one I've ever hit!" Bane looked more hurt than I thought he would get by being hit by a semi, so I jumped out of hiding and trained the drivers head in the sights of my side arm. "Step away from the Hydralisk!" I yelled. The trucker flipped around and threw his hands in the air, "Don't shoot, man! I'm unarmed!" "Good, then you won't be carrying much on your walk back to town." I said as I gave him a shove down the road. "But its 14 miles!" he complained. "Then it sounds like you better get started." I said casually and fired a few rounds in the air. He got the idea and took off like a relay runner. Bane growled in pain on the road and I ran up to him. He looked up at me, "Why did you say not to worry?!" he demanded, "Remind me never to stand in front of those things again!" I flipped my pack off my back and pulled out a fully charged TRI, "This'll fix you up, just hang in there." The little gamma reactor started up and its white light flashed over Bane. He sighed with relief at first but then loosed a sharp snarl. He lurched on the ground and I could hear a large bone snapping back into place under the healing power of the TRI. I winched involuntarily at the sound, "Ouch! What was that?" I asked. "That was my spine, you infedel!" he groaned. The little gizmo shut itself off as Bane became fully healed. After a minute, he rolled over and got up. "Next time, you're stopping the truck!" he snapped at me. "Sorry," I said as we approached the semi, "Wait here and I'll go get our stuff." Bane watched me vanish into the dark trees by the road and, in a minute, I came hovering lazily out of them with our dropship. The noisy engines strained as I eased the ship into the back of the truck. I cut the engines and hopped out of the truck. Walking up to the cab, I noticed the passenger side door was laying in the road, along with the seat. I looked up, and Bane was sitting comfortaby in the cab, ready to go. "I don't think you'll pass for a truck driver," I called up to him, "You'll hafta hide in back." He grumbled and jumped out, moving to the back and climbing into the piles of rusted machinery. I jumped into the cab and started the sputtering diesel engine. Noticing a greasy hat and a tired pair of sunglasses on the visor, I put them on hoping to look more truckerish. I made a giant three point turn and started back to the rebel base.

I couldn't help breaking out in a sweat as the siege tanks and bunkers came into view. I followed the road into the base and a marine stepped out and put his hand up for me to stop as I came to the bunkers. "Back already?" he asked. "Yeh," I said as casually as I could muster, "forgot to drop this tin can off." I pointed to the dropship in back. The marine leaned back and studied the ship for a minute before waving me through, "Go ahead, they might want it for something." He stepped out of the way and I drove into the base. I kept following the road until I came close to the command center, were I parked the truck between a pair of supply depos. Leaving the engine running, I grabbed a clip board off the dash. I walked to the back of the truck and climbed in, trying my best to look genuine and check my fake clipboard often. I reached the dropship hatch and threw the useless paper to the ground as I opened the door. Grabbing a pair of cloak inhibitors and one of my new canister rifles, I found Bane huddled in with some of the machinery. "We make it?" he asked quietly. "Yep," I whispered, "But now we hafta find the advisor." Bane noticed the belts I held in my hand, "More machines?" He guessed. "Right again," I reported and helped him put his inhibitor on, and showed him how to turn it off and on. "Its only one button, even you can use these!" I told him. He snorted and akwardly pressed the cloaking button with the point of one synth. Banes intimidating form slowly vanished before my eyes. "Lets go," I said and he followed me to the back of the truck, were I jumped down. I heard Bane's wieght hit the gravel behind me and we made are way accross the Base to the command center, were they probably had the advisor locked away in the brig. We reached the commmand center and Bane tapped my shoulder. "Shhhh!" he hissed at me, and I spotted an SCV approaching. We stood silently and watched the SCV use his key card to open the door. We darted in after him, nearly knocking him over because the door was closing again. He looked right at us with suspicious eyes, but never caught a glimpse of us thanks to the cloak inhibitors. He grumbled and moved on, and we watched him turn the next corner before discussing our plan. "We don't have long on the inhibitors, so lets split up," I said. "I'll go this way than," Bane said and started moving. I nodded, even though he couldnt see it and he moved down another hall directly to the right. I went to the left and searched the next room. It should have been the brig, but these rebels had torn the command center apart and rebuilt it several times, so the room I looked into now was a break room. I tip-toed past the 6 marines lounging around and talking. I moved on and checked the next door, finding the can. The door after that was a utility closet. "Man," I thought to myself, "This is going to be a long search."

Bane's search for the advisor was surprisingly short. He just smashed in the first door he came to and there she was, locked inside a crude little cage. She jumped out of her seat when the door to her cell crumpled up and fell off by itself. Bane moved into the room and she said, "I know someone's there! Show yourself!" Bane's voice stole into her mind, "I'm here to help-were going to get you out of here." She gasped and leaned against her bars, "A telepath! Are you a ghost?" she asked with curiosity. "No." Bane said simply as he approached her cage door. The expression on her face changed, "Why do I get the impression that you're not human?" she asked with a failing voice. "Because I'm not," Bane said with the same simple tone. With only a little snarl of effort, Bane tore the cage door off too. The advisor's eyes grew wide, "I know a ghost can't do that-Show yourself!" she cried. Bane sighed, "Are you sure you want-" "Show your true form or I won't come with you," she interrupted. Bane couldn't think of any way to drag the advisor back to the truck with causing serious fatal injuries, so he finally gave in. "Alright! Just keep your trap shut when I do. You could use this cloak inhibitor more than I could anyway." He found the belt for the inhibitor by touch and worked a synth under it. He snapped the latch off easily and the cloaking field faded. The intimidating form of an over-grown Hydralisk nearly filled the room. Bane sighed as he watched the advisor's eyes roll back in her head. She gasped and fell over backwards unconcious. He leaned down and shook her gently with the flat edge of one synth. She opened her eyes and screamed in Banes face. He jumped and hit his head on the ceiling before snapping at her, "SHUT UP!! Your going to get the guards attention!" She ran out of breath, and so did her scream. She lay there panting for a minute and finally croaked, "You're really here to help?" Bane held a synth down for her to grab, "Yes, we were sent by the emperor!" he said as he hoisted her to her feet. "Mengsk?" she asked as she put the cloak inhibitor belt around her waist, "You should have said so in the first place! Let's go!" Bane nodded and stepped out of the door. Just as the advisor stepped out after him, the six marines I saw came jogging around the corner. "Hey! How'd a zerg get in here?!" One of em yelled. They all raised their guns and took aim. Bane shoved the advisor out of the line of fire just before he was pelted with bullets from the marines. "Hey!" she yelled as she stumbled back into the her cell and guass rifles thundered in the hallway.

I started running as soon as I heard the shots going off. They were from the other side of the command center, so I had time to pull my canister rifle off my back and turn the safety off. I rounded the next corner and skid to a stop. Bane and the marines had been battling it out in the hall. The rebel marines had the jump on him and he had to fight through a hail of bullets to just reach the first one. He managed to cut him down, but the remaining five marines stimmed up and the impaler rounds rained on him. Bane was growling with rage beneath the pounding shots, tearing into the next marine when I showed up. I swung the barrel of my gun up the head of one marine and closed my eyes. Blood splattered as the canister rifle belched fire and the marine dropped like a stone. One of the closest marines got the rebels' attention, "A ghost! Cover the hall!" I hit the deck just before they all turned from Bane and swept the hall with their guns. Bullets wizzed over my head and bounced off the floor around me as I took a prone position, blowing some guys leg off. Bane came from behind another marine and crushed him brutally with both synths. The last marine turned to Bane and fired for all he was worth. Bane snarled and approached him, taking the bullets head on. The marine started backing away, but I stood up and smashed him in the back of the head with the stock of my gun, knocking him out cold. "You shoulda-" Bane stopped in mid sentence to spit out a few well-aimed impaler rounds, "let me kill him," he finished. "He didn't stand a chance anyway," I confessed. Then I noticed, for the first time, that Bane's cloak inhibitor was gone. "Were'd your cloak go?" I asked. He pointed to the cell, "I gave it to the advisor, she needs it more than I do." I leaned into the cell, "Let's go, they'll find this mess soon and then they'll be after some answers." The advisor was huddled in the corner and spoke up, "You're with the emperor too?" She asked. "Yeah, we gotta move!" She got up and we hurried down the hallway back to the front door. "I'll escort the advisor back to the ship first, then I'll bring an inhibitor back for you. Can you hold your own here for a minute?" I asked Bane. He nodded, "Go ahead, just hurry back." "Cloak on," I said to the advisor and she pressed the button on her belt. She vanished in the thin air and I opened the door, which doesn't lock from the inside. I was glad for the cloak inhibitors because we passed quite a few patroling guards on the way. We made it to the truck safely and I let her hide in the dropship in the back, so I could take the cloak inhibitor. I made my way back to the the command center and Bane was still there, although roughed up a little more. "What happened?" I asked as I helped him put the cloak belt on. "Another pair of terrans came through," he said simply and pointed over his shoulder to another slaughter in the hallway. Bane disappeared and we left the command center behind, shutting the door behind us. I was also happy for the coming of night, because the blood trail that Bane left wasn't going to be invisible. The truck came into view, and Bane climbed in the back again. I jumped up to the cab and put on the hat and sunglasses again. Turning the cloak inhibitor off, I put the idling truck in gear and pulled out of my hiding spot. I saw a patroling marine find a bloodspot on the ground with his suit lights in my rear view mirror. I hit the gas a little more as he began to follow the trail to the command center. I gulped as the siege tanks and bunkers came into view again. The same marine stepped out and I stopped again. He came around to the window and said, "That was fast, what happened?" I shrugged, "Boss said he didn't want it." The marine smirked and said, "That's typical," as he waved me through. I drove through the blockade and sighed with relief as we got out of range of the devistating siege tanks. Bane sent me a message through the cab of the truck, "I think we got caught," I looked in the mirror and almost ran off the road as 4 vultures blew by the lumbering truck. They stopped in the road in front of us and fired their fragmentation grenade launchers. Explosions rocked the dirt road as I swerved around, trying to dodge some of the shots. They fired again and I cut the wheel back to the left. Two shots missed, but one hit low on the right side, blowing the tires and suspension out. Another hit the front grill squarly and the engine erupted into a fireball. "Time to go!" I said and climbed out of my window into the bed of the truck, letting it coast right off the road. "In the ship, lets go!" I said hasitly to Bane and opened the hatch. We hit the bed hard as the truck jumped the ditch into the trees. Then the dropship slid forward as the truck smashed into a big tree, stopping dead. I got up with a groan and stumbled into the ship, letting Bane in then closing the hatch and powering up the engines. The vultures pulled up the road and faced the truck, aiming their grenade launchers. "Hold on to something!" I warned everyone before I hit the throttle. The vultures fired as we blew out of the back of the truck. The truck exploded into a mushroom cloud as we zoomed over the vultures, knocking the pilots out of their seats. We gained altitude and the vultures followed along for a while, until a cliff stopped their pursuit all together. Silence reigned in the humming dropship all the way back to the capitol.

Rain streaked down the three long windows as Mensgk sat behind his desk, having a fierce conversation with the Rebel commander on the holophone. "I'm only gonna say this one last time, Mandelle. All I'm offering is a truce. As you already know, my team has extracted your last remaining bargaining chip. So the choice should be simple." A tall, highly decorated officer in a rebel uniform talked on the holoscreen, "You lead a tough deal, Mengsk, but I don't see any other choice." "So we have an agreement, then?" Mensgk asked with a melevolent tone. "Alright, you win. Bring us the cerebrate and I'll give you control of the renegade swarms." Mengsk leaned back in his chair, sighing heavily, "I'm glad you see things from my point of view now, Mandelle! Send me the location of your nearest facility and I'll have the cerebrate sent to you as soon as he returns." "The coordinance is on the way, Mengsk, we'll be ready and waiting for him." The emperor put his finger on the power button of the holophone and said, "Please do have a formidable defense, Mandelle. The ghost won't be hard to deal with, but this hydralisk can be a dangerously resourceful one." The Rebel commander started to say something else, but Mengsk cut the screen off and his picture faded away. Mengsk turned, facing the windows again and started laughing quietly to himself. The laugh rose in volume and became histerical as a single dropship parted the rain and brought his newest weapon closer and closer.

To be continued...

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