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Bane 12: Hero's Awakening
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Created by the immortal deadfast
 

I awoke to pain. Darkness was everywhere and when I moved the pain intensified, making the breath catch in my throat with a pathetic whimper. I held perfectly still, as not to stir the awful hurt again, and I could take tiny lung-fulls of air. As the throbbing in my back subsided some, I could recognize the feeling of cool sand beneath me and, ironically, the taste of it in my mouth. I turned my head and did my best to spit it out and found that I was laying face first on the ground. I opened my eyes again and they focused on the dim yellow light of a smoky little fire at my side. It's dancing glare cast a small circle of visibility in what appeared to be a sea of impenetrable darkness.

My eyes adjusted to the dim light and I could make out a black sky with bright stars among the shadow. Then, as I noticed a strange figure on the other side of the fire, that voice pierced my mind again and I remembered where I was,

"Oh good; you're not dead." The zergling was sitting back on its haunches, watching me as I writhed on the ground with my pain,

"Take it easy, kid, your wounds are deep."

"You...what happened? Wha-what's going on..." the smoke from the fire began to drift into my face and burn my eyes, interrupting my train of thought and ending my sentence in mumbles. The zergling stirred the fire some with one scythe and the smoke died down as it responded to my question,

"The Terran facility where I found you has been completely destroyed. Tomorrow, the adjacent city and every other major settlement on this planet will follow," it said with a slight verbal growl, "And you were attacked by a zergling." I could only produce an exasperated sigh as I put my palms to the sand and slowly began to push myself into a sitting position. Too fast. The pain in my back came roaring to life once more and I had to bite my tongue to keep from whimpering again.

"But aren't YOU a zergling?" I hissed between my clenched teeth.

"I believe so," the creature answered, looking at its own scythes and clawed feet as if noticing them for the first time.

I finally managed to sit up, "Then why did you save me?" The puzzle clogged my brain, I was desperate for some kind of answer. The creature's red eyes seemed to emit a light of their own as it sighed, stirring up a little whirlwind of dust on the dessert floor,

"I am not sure how to explain this, but your presence radiates a unique psionic call. It has weakened the Overmind's control over me, but I fear that if you are slain, then I may be forced to succumb the will of the swarms forever."

The zergling's explanation didn't help my confusion much, but I was still grateful for the rescue,

"Well, for whatever screwed up reason you had, thanks anyway. I suppose I owe you one, for what its worth from a kid like me." The zergling nodded, but it didn't take its eyes away from the glaring red flames that separated us as I continued,

"But what about these Zerg? Can't they be stopped?" The zergling faced me again but there was a different tone to its telepahic voice that I couldn't quite place,

"...Indeed, there is a way, but you are far too young to meddle with such danger. My only priority, right now, is your safety." I was going to rebuttal about the zergling saying I was young; it always got my blood boiling when others judged me by my age, but I held my tongue this time.

Once again, silence took over, save for the sounds of our dying campfire. The creature shook its head and seemed to snap out of a trance. It then balanced on one of its clawed feet and used the free one like a hand, picking up something from a pile next to it and stacking it on the fire. The flames licked between each claw, wrapping around the thing's foot as it arranged what it was holding. The limb only smoldered a little after the zergling jerked it back out of the fire and fanned it around to cool it. Watching the thing perform this amusing trick seemed to ease my pain some, and I managed a weak chuckle that made my back throb,

"How on the planet did YOU build a fire?!" The zergling seemed surprised that I would ask,

"It was not easy, trust me. It took all day and into the evening to get this far!" I was about to ask it what it had found to burn in the middle of the desert, too, but the zergling spoke first,

"Do you think you can walk?" it asked.

"I dunno," I mumbled, "Why?" The zergling got up and stretched like a cat, reaching out to the full extent of its scythes before replying,

"Because it will be much easier to travel at night. We must find a way off this planet." I began to shiver in the cool night air and I inched closer to the fire,

"There was the cargo vessel I came here in, but it was trashed by those marines back at the compound."

"We shall find another one. Go ahead; try to walk, mortal." With the zergling's help, I was able to get to my feet easily enough, but the effort of walking tightened the muscles in my back and the slashes seemed to burst into flames, making my steps slow and clumsy.

"No good," the zergling shook its head in disgust and leapt to my side in a single, effortless bound.

"Get on." It ordered. I sighed and gingerly climbed onto its spiky, armored back and held onto the rim of its skull.

The zergling began a gentle stride that moved us along at about a human’s jogging pace and my injuries didn't complain as much as I thought they would. When I became accustomed to the uncomfortable ride, I finally broke the silence,

"It's a long way to the city. Do you think we'll beat the rest of the zerg there?"

"I hope so," The zergling replied. The night was deadly calm, save for the sound of the creature's footfalls in the sand and the steady huff of its breath.

"Just one more thing," I said. It responded with a brisk,

"Yes, Mortal?"

This was another one of the questions that had been plaguing me,

"Do you have a name?"

 

I don't know how far I rode along in silence. Sometimes I nodded off, slumped against the rim of the zergling's armored skull. Bane didn't seem to mind much, he only trudged onward, bringing the looming buildings of the city closer and closer from the horizon. It was a fitful sleep though, bouncing along atop a trotting zergling, but I believe I was nearly out again before being jarred back to reality by an unforeseen hole Bane had accidentally stepped in. I rubbed my eyes with my clenched fists in an attempt to wake myself as a deep yawn forced its way up my throat. I began to stretch as well, but the pain in my back started to flare up again with the effort, so I stopped.

After taking a quick look around, I found that it was obviously close to morning. At one side, the black horizon was giving away to the bright pinks and yellows of Korhal's morning suns and the temperature was climbing. The dull glow was slowly getting stronger, illuminating the frozen desert landscape with hues that matched the sky, seeming to make the two blend together. It all looked unreal, almost artificial; as if someone had painted it on.

"Have you been carrying me all night?" I asked. The zergling answered my question, but it held a steady pace,

"Indeed, but to me, it matters not."

As my eyes adjusted to the dim light, I was suddenly shocked by the distance we had covered. A few large buildings and other structures seemed only a few miles away with the dark shapes of the city's interior filling the space between them. It was a boringly familiar, yet, welcome sight, but something was amiss.

The sky above and around the city lacked the swarm of busy morning air-traffic. Besides the Republic's wraith squadrons, the only vessels in the air were a few stray commuter ships that appeared to be leaving the city at full speed. As we drew closer, I could make out several newer structures and objects that bordered the first streets and low-roofed ware houses-it only took a moment of thinking and about 20 yards more before I could confirm my suspicions: The Republic militia was deployed in full force in response to the zerg threat. Bunkers and siege tanks lined the edges of the city. The zergling noticed this as well and began slowing down,

"How are we going to enter the city?" it asked. I slapped my forehead for forgetting,

"Oh yeah, they’ll probably shoot at you. I didn't think about that." The zergling started walking again,

"Nevertheless, we must find a way off this planet. I sense the swarms are close now.."

"Yeah," I agreed, "But at least we beat them here."

*****

"Vice Admiral! Why have the rebels attacked so suddenly?" It was one tedious question after another during the press conference this day, but answering them had become a mindless, mechanical thing for ranking officers of the Republic.

"We still do not have confirmation of their motives at this point but we'll keep you posted as the information is made available to us," the admiral spouted. The reporters jotted on their notepads and held their microphones high to gather every syllable, but they were never satisfied,

"Have their been any radio contacts with the outpost seen under attack yesterday?" another reporter asked, but the officer was ready with another lie just as fast,

"Yes. The last transmission was received no more than two hours ago. The forces stationed at the Reserve have driven back the advancing enemy invaders with minimal loses and are being evacuated from their current position to the city as we speak."

One down, but many more to go; the press never gets enough propaganda in times of tragedy,

"What about the rumors that the recent reappearance of the zerg is all part of the Rebels' attack plan?" One blurted. Camera's flashed and the room fell to silence as the officer addressed his next question,

"These rumors are completely unfounded; the rebels are currently under attack by the zerg, just as we."

"And what about us? What does the Republic plan to do about the zerg advance?"

"The Republic," he answered calmly, "has deployed a number of troops to the borders of the capitol to keep the zerg at bay until we have found a way to eliminate them."

The room full of people erupted into a state of chaos. The admiral could barely make sense of them, but relief had come. One of the MP's standing guard behind the admiral and his podium received a transmission through his headset and stepped forward, telling the admiral the news. The vice admiral finally held his hands up for silence and the sea of frothing reporters hushed each other,

"Our priorities are simple; the Republican Guard will remain in place until further notice. Evacuation is not mandatory as of yet, but civilians are urged to stay in their homes-it not much safer in the air than it is down here." Without another word, the officer turned from the podium and began marching off stage to the waiting escort of MP's.

"Wait, just one more question!" The reporters from the UNN and Channel Three blurted to accompany the bombardment of their flash photography. The highly decorated officer in first class uniform held his hands up in attempt to deflect the ravaging press. The doors to the press room slammed shut as the commander and his advisors met in the hall and started their march toward the elevator.

"Are the troops in place yet?" the admiral asked, "These hot-head reporters are breathing down my neck for details." A wiry looking second lieutenant was the first to respond,

"Sir, First and third squadrons are in position. The fourth wraith fleet is in the air and the second one is in transit now." The military personnel held a steady march as they talked. The people governing the Republic were corrupt, but they still did their jobs well, and this was no exception; everything was business.

"Good work, Lieutenant. How much longer until we have a complete lock-down of the city?" The elevator stopped and the doors slid open with a hiss to reveal the command deck of the Republican Armed Forces,

"Minutes, Sir-All but the outer fringes of the city have been sealed off."

"Excellent, you may return to your post Lieutenant," the vice admiral dismissed the officer as he approached the console.

"Admiral, sir," spoke one of the communications officers, "We are receiving a signal from the fourteenth perimeter squad.."

"Patch it through, sergeant." The commander responded. Static crackled from the intercom speakers and noise began to break through; heavy footsteps and panting became audible, then the random pops and rattles of gunfire. The communications team boosted the signal and a voice suddenly accompanied the noise. It was full of breaks and the speaker was in a panic, making it difficult to understand what was said,

"...Repeating, this is perimeter patrol fourteen requesting immediate evac!"

The communications officer responded quickly,

"Copy that, squad fourteen, we have you now. What's the problem down there?!"

More static blared before the frantic gunfire returned, only it was more desperate this time,

"Doesn’t matter how many we kill; they’re everywhere! Where the hell’s our air support?!" the signal began to break up again.

"Roger that, squad fourteen, vessels en route to your position," the communications officer responded as he relayed the request to air control,

"Your birds are already in the air-ETA in three minutes. Fall back to the evacuation zone for extraction, Squad fourteen."

Static was the only reply. The communications officer, and consequently everyone else on the command deck, waited a cold fifteen seconds in silence before the commander repeated the order from his override console,

"Sergeant, you are to lead your men back to the extraction point. Do you copy?" The eerie static returned once more before the com-officer cut the sound from the intercom,

"We've lost the signal, sir."

"Then get it back!" The commander blared, "We havn't had an MIA in years and we're not about to start-" The com-officer interrupted as he received a new transmission,

"Wait, Sir, we have one incoming as we speak," The control panel in front of the officer bleeped suddenly, "Okay. We have two transmiss-" Another bleep caught him off guard, but before anything else could be said, the new distress signals began pouring in by the pair.

"What's going on?! What are they all saying?" The Vice-admiral barked. The communications officer was too busy handing the new transmissions off to his assistants to address the commander's order.

"First Sergeant, I gave you an order-" he began, but the radar technician spoke up suddenly,

"Sir, we have a breach in airspace, three-No six, bogey's inbound from the south-No wait, here come more..." The technician trailed off as his radar screen suddenly burst to colorful life.

"What?!" croaked the Admiral, but the communications officer spoke up again, "Sir we are receiving multiple targeting confirmations from artillery platoons two and three, do I give the order to open fire?"

Finally, the commander threw up his hands in exasperation,

"ENOUGH! I can't think with all this noise!" Silence held the command deck for a few seconds, save for the beeping computers and the manic radio equipment. Fear settled on everyone in the room as a dull roar of a noise suddenly became audible through the walls of the building, drowning out the sound of the electronic equipment, but their commander started giving orders again, quickly and calmly,

"Corporal Stevens, issue the abort orders to all scouts outside the perimeter of the city, we need everyone we've got at the front lines!"

"Y-yessir!" The communications officer stuttered, pulling his headset back on.

"I want Infantry units three and four and both mech-fleets at the southern lines as well, its gonna take a lot of pepper to stop this attack," Platoon commanders began carrying out the orders as fast as the Vice-admiral could give them.

"Get the Valkyrie frigates airborne, our Wraiths are going to need help. All units in position are to open fire upon sight of the enemy," The command room began to buzz with activity as a temporary sense of order returned, but the cold look of fear never left the commanders eyes as he turned to his public advisor,

"Lieutenant, the citizens of the capitol are in much greater danger than they know, we must save as many lives as we can. Contact the local presses and start the emergency transmitter; issue the evacuation of the city."

*****

The rocky dessert terrain was a blur. I had to hold onto the zergling's carapace with everything I had as it suddenly changed directions, lunging to the right. A massive explosion ripped the ground where we just where, catching a handful of our pursuers in the shockwave.

As I looked back once more, I found that the broods were closer and far more numerous than I thought before; Bane raced just ahead of a stampede. I could see the fiends bounding at my zergling’s heels as the horizon gave way to a great cloud of mutalisks. The zergling leapt again as the siege tanks fired in unison, causing a wall of napalm to erupt from the ground in front of us. I closed my eyes, but Bane's momentum carried us through the flames and he hit the ground running on the other side. This gave us a few yards of precious distance from the bloodthirsty swarms as the bunkers and siege tanks took on detail ahead.

The ensuing battle was all around; it looked just like the old history logs I'd seen: The tidal wave of zergling's were closing the distance to the front lines despite the punishing blasts of the siege tanks and the sheets of gunfire from the bunkers; there were simply too many to kill at once. Grey worms of smoke from the failing defenses trailed overhead as the Republican air fleet raced to join the battle, launching their salvos of Gemini missiles and halo rockets at the packs of great winged beasts swirling overhead.

At last, We reached the bunkers and I ducked behind the zerglings armored skull as the intensity of the gunfire redoubled. Impaler rounds riddled the zergling and chipped off the pavement around us and the tanks fired once more.

Bane growled in pain from the raining bullets, but he ran against the stream of them and made one last running leap. Time crawled by as the arclite blast turned the ground behind us into a fountain of flames. To my astonishment, Bane cleared the bunkers, but the pavement on the other side of the siege tanks was so far; there was no way we could make it. The zergling's clawedback feet barely clipped the edge of the tank's rollers, but it was just enough. Fearing an accidental stab from those scythes, I kicked away from the zergling as we toppled to the street.

I hit the pavement hard next to my friend and tore the gashes on my back open again. My palms were bleeding from taking the fall as well, but, oddly, I felt no pain or fear. Standing up on wobbly legs that threatened to dump me onto the ground again, I limped over to the zergling. Bane had a little more trouble getting up, but he managed to stand despite the gory, bleeding holes in his carapace where the bullets and shrapnel had broken through. A deep voice suddenly spoke up, catching us by surprise and sounding out of place against the chattering gun fire and booming artillery,

"How the hell did a kid get here?!" I looked up at the squad of marines that quickly had us surrounded by the siege tank. They pointed their gauss rifles at us, and one of them ordered me to move,

"Get outta the way, boy, so we can kill it!"

I didn't move an inch. The siege tanks thundered again and the gauss rifles of the rest of the army became more and more erratic, rising to match the roar of the swarms. The marines were obviously getting restless,

"Greg, grab the kid, we gotta move!" the squad leader barked while jerking the bolt back on his gauss rifle. Obeying orders, one of the marines stepped forward, reaching out for me with one hand. Suddenly, Bane snarled angrily, lunging for the offending soldier. The marine jumped back and Bane aborted his attack, but it was enough to set off the trigger-happy sentries.

The soldiers all took aim in our general direction and Bane used the blunt edge of his scythes to shove me away. I stumbled forward and tripped, hitting the ground at the feet of some marine's power-suit as the gauss rifles blared just over my head. I curled on the ground in fear and covered my ears from the booming gun barrels, but the next thirteen seconds would remain burned into my memory forever.

After knocking me clear, my friend had time for nothing else. The light carapace was no protection against the steady stream of bullets that forced Bane back against the siege tank. The zergling's body slapped against the vehicles armor helplessly as dark red blood flew in splatters with each little impact. Finally, they stopped, leaving us to join the battle as Bane slid down the tanks rollers to the ground and lay crumpled there in a mass of gore.

"You bastard's!!" I screamed at the marines. One of them said something inaudible into his headset as they returned to the firefight and left me with my dying friend. I got up and trip-fell to where Bane was laying. There were so many holes that I could barely recognize the pathetic creature before me as a zergling.

"Oh no...Bane..." I began but the words fell short as I realized the hopelessness of the damage.

"It doesn't hurt..." My friend struggled to move, managing to lift one arm a few inches before giving up and letting it drop again,

"That badly," he struggled to finish, the telepathic voice fading with every word.

"You're going to die, aren't you?" I croaked. Bane painstakingly raised his head; I could see the red fire draining from the zerglings eyes as it spoke,

"..Fear not for me, mortal, you have only to stay alive..I shall return for you..."

I wanted to say more, but the arms of a flat white power suit wrapped around my chest and the ground fell away from my feet. Then, as the pair of marines and a medic hauled me away, my dying friend, trembling with effort, reached out with the same scythe as before in an instinctive attempt to help me. That's when I lost it; the world turned red as rage welled up inside me,

"Put me DOWN, you murdering mother-fucker’s!!" I began kicking and struggling wildly, trying to break free of the medic's grip.

"Hey!! Hey-kid! We're not going to hurt you," the medic began but she stopped short as I squirmed out of her arms and dropped to the ground. I tried to run, but something snagged the cloth collar of my slave's tunic and jerked me off the ground again. A marine turned me around in mid-air and opened his visor so we would be face to face and attempted to calm me down,

"Easy there, boy. Now why don't you just hold still and-" The marine suddenly stopped being nice after I sneered at him and spit in his face,

"You disgusting little freak!" He yelled in outrage as he threw me to the ground again. The wind was knocked out of me as I hit the street on my back and curled into a ball, trying to get my breath again. After wiping his face with a metal-gloved fist, the commanding soldier turned to his team mates,

"Fix the brat up and throw em’ in containment for a while."

I was helpless as the woman in a white power suit came close once more, pointing the barrel of her weapon down at me. I closed my eyes in fear as she adjusted a few switches and pulled the trigger, but I opened them again in confusion as a soothing white light flashed over me. I'm not sure how it worked, but suddenly my back no longer ached and my bleeding palms didn't have a scratch. I began to feel drowsy as the second marine leaned down and mopped me off the ground by the scruff of my shirt again, but I still wasn't ready to go peaceably. I tried to fight the marines hold on me, but the drowsy feeling became overpowering as the sedative given to me by the medic started to take full affect. Suddenly, all my energy left and my body seemed to ache for sleep...

***

…The thundering Terran weaponry and their thudding artillery seemed far away now. I strained to see, but the fading image of the marines carrying the mortal away finally changed to a mass of swirling black hues that seemed to open up and swallow my essence. The will of the Overmind washed in again, attempting to drain me of my thoughts and replace them with simple instinct and insane urges to kill and destroy. I struggled against my creator's overwhelming grip on my essence, but it was in vain. I would be reincarnated to aid the swarms in battle against the Terrans once more, and there was nothing I could do to stop it. I didn't want to become a mindless killer again, but I could already feel the senses of physical reality returning to me. The overmind's will came in waves now, and it began to overtake my mind as well when one last thought flickered through; to live again would be a new chance to keep a promise I had made to a friend...

Reality came crashing back and the blinding light of the evening sun engulfed my newly acquired vision temporarily. I could hear the snarls of my brethren as they coursed over the pavement around me, racing for a firefight just ahead. Felicity overwhelmed me as my sight returned and I couldn't help ignoring the chattering Terran weaponry nearby.

Inexplicably, my body was obeying my commands and my own thoughts rang clearly over the dull murmur that the angry will of the swarms had become, but this was not the only reason for my content; I towered above the mob of zerglings and the group of marines before me. With a quick glance down I found that the two legs of my previous form had been replaced by the familiar armored plates of a single massive tail and my moral returned. I took an experimental swing of my new blades with a deep, satisfying growl and began to turn my back on the one-sided battle before my brethren finished their work-I hadn't the spare time to fight them off. But, before I made the first slither, I realized something: This Terran city was huge; it would be literally impossible for me, alone, to find Reece before the zerg did. Announcing my wrath with a fearsome snarl, I lunged back into the fray.

In the three seconds it took to reach the first enemy, I had taken in the entire battle: Four Terrans in worn power suits fought desperately against a superior number of zerglings, pinned against a wide building with only their rifles for defense. But their weapons weren’t enough; my brethren charged aggressively, trampling over their fallen to reach the enemy. Then I hadn't the time to analyze anything else, for my attention was needed as my blades met the back of the first enemy.

The weaker creature crumbled beneath my scythes with a crunch of its carapace, but as it fell, The marine that was filling it full of holes suddenly turned his bullets on me. I ignored the stinging metal shards that ricocheted off my dense carapace and speared another unsuspecting zergling with one scythe. The creature released an unworldly screech of pain as I easily held the zergling high with one arm, to slash one of his lunging brethren aside with my free blade, before hurling him into the fourth one.

Then, the broods became aware of my presence. The seven remaining zerglings abandoned their individual fights with the marines and came for me in a frenzy. The first enemy to leap for me this time was hammered back to the ground with a vicious swing, but I stumbled forward as a pair of them landed on my back with vengeful claws. Using the gunning enemies to my advantage, I turned away from them and the zerglings stabbing holes in my carapace screamed as the pelting bullets tore them open, allowing me to meet the last of my brethren as they encircled me and lunged in unison.

One of them was devastated in a stream of gauss fire before it could make a leap. Tracking another’s flight path with split second reflexes, I smashed the fiend out of the air with a brutal horizontal swing as the other two went low instead, and I couldn't suppress a snarl of pain as the enemies slashed at my torso with their blades. I turned for the zergling on my left, lifting both scythes in the air bringing them down hard with an angry growl. As the enemy before me was ripped in half, the remaining zergling was brought down in yet another timely hail of well-aimed rifle fire and, just as suddenly as I was forced into it, the battle ended.

Moving only to turn around and face the Terrans again, I stood amongst the slain bodies of my brethren with bloody scythes, panting from exertion. A few empty shells from the marine's weapons still bounced on the pavement, making the only noise save for the death throes of dying zergling.

I did not flinch as the five marines trained their rifles on me; I could sense their fear as they held their weapons with trembling hands, but there was a chance they wouldn't shoot me-their thoughts said as much. Once a few tense moments passed and I no longer had to fight my own adrenaline, I was able to get a better look at the Terrans.

It was quickly obvious that they were not Marines at all. None of their powered suits were new, matched one another or even resembled similar designs. Upon closer inspection, their weapons told the same story. Finally, one of them spoke up in their verbal language,

"Have you eva seen somethin' like this b'for, Boss?" one of them raised the face plate on their helmet and asked, never taking its eyes from me or lowering the weapon. Another one replied; Apparently this Terran was the one they called "Boss",

"You're guess is as good as mine, Mosely," he answered calmly, but firmly, "Today is my first time seeing a live Zerg, too."

"I don't trust it; I say we kill it! You saw what it did to it’s friends just a minute ago; we could be next if we turn our backs," another said. I was ready to speak for myself at this point, but the one that "Boss" called Mosely said something first,

"Wadaya mean? It jus' saved us from bein' killed by `tos tings! Wut if it's a good Zerg?"

The shortest of the Terrans decided to add his opinion, now that everyone was speaking out of line,

"Mo’ makes a good point, Cap'n. If this thing wanted us dead, I believe it would have had its way by now-a whole clip from my gun didn't even make a dent."

Despite the obvious distress and confusion my presence was causing them, Boss was beginning to grow anxious about something,

"Either way, we still have a mission to accomplish here. I don't know about this one, but the rest of the Zerg don't look like they harbor such good intentions. Let's get the job done and get outta here before more of the bad ones show up."

It was only when they lowered their weapons and began backing away slowly, that I realized; Not only could they know where the Marines took Reece, but they had a ship as well. I had to speak now.

"Wait," I radiated my telepathic voice, so each of their minds could pick it up clearly.

"Wow! Da' ting said sumthin'!" Mosely exclaimed before I could continue, but Boss wasn’t so enthusiastic,

"How is it that you speak, beast?! The Zerg can’t talk; this is some kind of trick!" he said sharply, taking aim for me again. As if by silent command, the other three soldiers raised their weapons as well. Their puny weapons were the least of my concerns, but I proceeded to cooperate anyway,

"I am capable of telepathic communication, as are all Cerebrates and the Overmind itself. I also assure you that I will bring you no harm, so long as you cease this heedless hostility," I explained, gesturing to their poised gun barrels with one scythe. It startled them all over again to hear an entire sentence from me, yet Boss was vigilant,

"I‘m not buying this; why should we trust anything you tell us?"

"Because you still live!" I snarled, standing to my full height, "And if you do not take your puny weapons out of my face and hear what I have to say, I shall slaughter you all where you stand!"

That seemed to get their attention faster than cooperation. The lead Terran lowered his weapon some, but he still held it ready to fire with one hand while pressing a button on the arm of his suite. The visor on his helmet slid up with a hiss; consequently, his soldiers did the same.

"You make a good point, hydralisk. I suppose we have the time for a quick chat."

The Terran that suggested that I be shot earlier spoke up again,

"You’re actually going to listen to this monster?! Why can’t we just shoot it before it kills us all?"

"I’m in charge, Joe, and you question my authority at your own risk; Shut up and let the thing speak!" Boss snapped back.

"You mentioned before that you have a ‘job’ to get done. I am willing to assist you and your soldiers in completing this task." I sent through their minds once they were quiet, "The next Zerg assault will arrive soon and crush what ever is left of the meager defenses here and move on to the city. From what I’ve already seen, you Terrans are going to need all the help you can get if there’s any hope of completing your task."

"So you’re ten feet tall and bullet-proof; why do you want to help us?" Boss asked in the same stern voice.

"You also said that you are capable of leaving Korhal. In exchange for passage off of this planet, I will ensure that you leave it with your lives." I could sense the distrust radiating from some of them, but Boss seemed to be slightly intrigued,

"I’m not entirely sure how useful you can be, but ‘tell you what; I’ll give you a chance to prove yourself. Currently, we’re on a rescue mission of a sort. We were on our way to the Magistrates headquarters to pick up a friend of ours when we ran into you and your little buddies. If the place hasn’t been whipped out by the Zerg yet, their will probably be infantry still guarding it. Either way we’ll be facing resistance getting in and back out again; we’ll see what you’re good for and then I’ll make my decision."

I did not favor the tone of this mortal’s voice, but there was no other alternative. I had to trust it.

***

Darkness. It was the dead of night and dark, billowing clouds blotted out the stars’ light, dumping their sheets of rain on the shadowy dessert below. Great fingers of lightning crashed across the raging sky, illuminating the twisted structures of an alien race briefly, but their was no crackle of thunder. The shifting images that ran across my mind’s eye produced no sound at all. The view panned to the left silently, bringing a glowing blue vessel into view.

It ventured through the storm alone, seemingly unaware of the chaos it flew through or the massive number of enemies lying just ahead. The air grew tense and the darkness seemed to encroach the brave little ship. The rain began to pour harder and the lightning intensified, when suddenly, the tiny ship emitted a light of its own. With a bright flash, a shifting psionic light took the shape of a small army below it. Some of the warriors that appeared; I could recognize, and some I saw for the first time in my life. As I tried to get a better look at the group, the picture began growing fuzzy and dark. I could tell that I was slipping back into consciousness; I could already feel the cold surface of a cement floor pressing against my body and smell the dank air.

Struggling to see more of this strange new dream, I managed a glimpse of the large, bulky machines I knew as the old model siege tanks. They transformed without notice as the marines around them made ready. Then ground began trembling violently just before the picture finally gave way to complete blackness…

I awoke with a start on the floor of my cell in a cold sweat. At first, I had nearly forgotten all that had happened and the thought of being in a prison and not knowing why began to frighten me, but my mind cleared with my vision as the last lingering affects of the sedative wore off. Given the same choices and situation again, I probably would have tried to go back to sleep; because once my brain started functioning again, it was instantly flooded with unanswered questions.

I had no idea where I was, exactly, nor did I know if I would ever leave. What had become of Bane and what did he mean by "I shall return for you?" Was he dead? I was far from sure about anything at that moment, I couldn’t even determine the odd dream I just had as an actual event or a product of my own imagination, fueled by the sedative. Then, as I shook my head in attempt to clear it again, I heard a low voice,

"Hey, kid, Are you okay?" I was growing tired of being called a kid, but I didn’t have the energy to argue, yet. I couldn’t see who I was talking to, the person was in the cell next to mine, but I answered anyway,

"Yeah, I suppose," I said back to the voice as I stood up on numb legs and stumbled to the bars of my cell. The voice continued,

"You’re kinda young to be here, especially with the problems the zerg are bringing. Whatcha’ in for?"

I hesitated, not entirely sure of the answer, myself,

"I dunno," I finally croaked, "I guess for running from them."

The voice sounded confused,

"Running? That’s it? There’s got to be something else."

"Well," I added with a smirk, "I spit in one of the marine’s faces."

The voice laughed suddenly,

"Yeah, I guess that would get their attention. But why were you running from them in the first place?"

"Because they killed my friend," I gulped. Silence held the small cell block for a few seconds, save for the rattle faint gunfire through the stone walls.

"Ouch," the voice said quietly, "Sorry I asked. I know how it feels to lose a comrade to the Republic. I’ve lost two myself; one of them only yesterday."

I felt better now that I knew I wasn’t alone,

"Really? What happened?"

The voice was the one that hesitated this time,

"I-I’m really not supposed to tell anyone outside of the business, but you seem like a good kid…" After a sigh, the person continued, but it had a different tone to it. An angry one,

"We were on a recovery mission, a pretty important one, too. Some of our sources told us that a certain rebel faction was planning to strike a Republican ground convoy on it’s way to the base a few miles outside the city. On that convoy was some choice new weapons material, and the Rebels wanted it. That’s where we came in. After the Rebels finished off the convoy’s escort, we moved in and relieved them of their prize. But the old boys put up a stronger fight than we anticipated and the Republic reinforcements arrived before we could finish them off. When they arrived they simply blasted everyone they could and decided to ask questions after the smoke cleared. My co-pilot was shot six times in the crossfire and the remaining rebels fought to the end. I’m not sure why they didn’t just kill me too," the voice finished with a sigh, "I suppose there has to be somebody left alive to blame."

"Wow," I said slowly, trying to take it all in, "My story isn’t that complicated. We were just trying to get away from the zerg earlier today, and they shot him dozens of times." The voice sounded confused now,

"Why so many?" It asked.

"Because he wasn’t dead yet." I answered quietly, almost a whisper. I soon became grateful for the thick stone wall separating me and the person I was talking to, because I could already feel my eyes getting hot again. When I didn’t say anything for a while, the voice spoke up once more,

"Try not to let it bother you, kid. You’re only young yet, and you’ll lose a lot more friends than that in a lifetime-"

"You can keep your pity!" I interrupted coldly. The words snapped out of me before I could really think about it, and I regretted saying them immediately.

"Take it easy, kid, I was just trying to help…" The voice said back in defense, but it trailed off and changed to a question as a metallic crash came from outside our cell windows,

"Hey, did you hear that?"

***

Reaching the Terran’s destination took much less time than I anticipated, leaving me very little time to search for Reece. But, as we crossed the last deserted street and entered an alley, I could sense we were growing nearer and I sped up.

"Hey, why so fast? You know this place?" The Terran I believed to be TJ said, it was difficult to tell them apart with their visors closed again, as he jogged to keep up with me.

"The mortal is here, I sense it." I told him without losing my stride. We passed a wide metal door and Boss ordered us to stop,

"This is it, boys and hydralisks, we get one shot at this," he began, "Joe, TJ, get the door." After a quick, "Yessir!" the two stepped forward and began wiring something to the hinges.

"What are they doing?" I asked Boss as they worked.

"The door’s locked, we gotta get it open somehow, and explosives are pretty cheap," he answered calmly.

"Terrans…" I growled in disgust.

"Aw, damn it! The detonator’s dead!" One of them swore suddenly, holding up a small plastic contraption for the others to see. Mosely stayed were he was, but Boss stepped forward and joined the other two as they began arguing over the useless machine. While waiting for them to finish their squabbling, I happened to notice that Mosely was staring up at me with a bored look on his face,

"Can you open da door so’s we can finish dis’ and go home?"

"Mosely," I said to the Terran telepathically while moving forward to do just that, "I like the way you think."

The other three Terrans scattered as I approached the door and drew back my arms for the swing. The monomolecular edge of my blades punched through the steel hatch effortlessly, and, with a quick twist of a scythe, the heavy door tore free of its metal hinges and I was able to heave it aside, allowing the Terrans entry.

"Good job, Biggie!" Boss exclaimed as he waved his soldiers through the opening.

"Biggie?" I asked in confusion as they stepped inside one by one, with weapons ready.

"Yeah, Biggie; your name." Boss repeated as he followed his men inside. I still did not understand, but I could only shrug and follow them into the dark building.

Once inside, my eyes adjusted to the dim lights instantly. Boss and Joe were whispering,

"That was kind of a noisy entrance, do you think they heard us?" Joe asked quietly.

"I hope not, peek around the corner and get a better look of the inside." Boss ordered.

Gripping his weapon like a childhood toy, Joe leaned around the edge of the wall, taking a look at the room beyond. As soon as he did so, Joe immediately jerked his head back around as some well aimed impaler rounds took chunks out of the wall right next to him. Then, without warning, the Terran militia inside began firing a constant volley of bullets at our doorway, trying to pin us down.

"I think they’re onto us," Joe yelled over the noise.

"They’re going to try and trap us here," Boss shouted over the thundering weaponry,

"Biggie," he yelled to me, "Go take care of them!"

I didn’t like taking orders from an inferior creature, but I did as I was told. The other three Terrans stepped aside to let me by and the fight began.

"Ahhh!" I snarled heartily as I moved into the stream of flying metal shards, letting them ricochet off my carapace in all directions, "It’s good to be me again!"

I felt very little pain as I charged forward, revealing a wide room with many rows of large desks covered with stacks of paper. Amongst them, the Terrans stood and fired their weapons at me for all they were worth.

"Flee if you value your lives!" I growled at them, yet, they paid my warning no heed. Opening my chest cavity and taking careful aim, despite the pelting bullets, I unleashed projectiles of my own on a pair of them. They both were toppled by the force of the impact, but as I found my next target the marines used their stim-packs to redouble their efforts. Consequently, the extreme volley of bullets forced me to close my chest cavity again.

Now, with only work for my blades left before me, I surged ahead to close the distance between my enemies and begin melee combat. But, as the sensation of crushing a Terran in a powered suit felled my new blades for the first time, I couldn’t help feeling a hint of shame for attacking creatures so much weaker than myself.

 

"Look at it go, Boss!" TJ exclaimed as one mercenary guarded the alley and the remaining three watched the fight from the safety of the hall. The hydralisk was apparently unstoppable; after mowing over two Republic guards with spines, it moved on to slashing them down, one by one, with its deadly scythes, but not before hurling a heavy wooden desk into a bunched up group firing their guns from across the room.

"Show’s over kids, we’ve got company," Joe announced. The trained team then spun to meet the surprise attack with their rifles ready. Thanks to quick response, the marines that attempted to surround the invaders were met with concentrated automatic fire as they stepped into the doorway, instead of some free shots at the enemy.

"Good work," Boss barked, "Now let’s go see how our new gun is doing."

 

"Wow, man, we should have met you a long time ago!" One of the Terrans said as the four emerged from the hallway behind me. I ignored the comment as they sifted around me, surveying the damage I had caused from behind the sights of their rifles.

"Does it hurt?" Mosely asked me as they walked by, pointing out the spots on my carapace were the bullets must have began taking pieces with them when they bounced away. Thin lines of blood seeped from them and ran down my sides, but they were already beginning to dry and solidify.

"Very little," I answered finally.

"Definitely not as much as one of us would after going through that," TJ added, prodding one of the dead marines with a suspicious gun barrel.

"Right," Boss agreed, "But if we stand around talking about it all day, we’ll probably see a unwelcome encore. Let’s keep moving."

The remainder of the Terran facility was unusually empty, and eerie vibes that I could not identify began breaking my train of thought, making it more difficult to sense the mortals location as I followed the group of Terrans through the complicated maze of short hallways. I ignored my instincts, in spite of my better knowledge, and decided that whatever-it-was would have to wait until I completed what was most important. It was only minutes later into our trek before Boss began giving orders again,

"TJ, Mosely, check the stockade for anything new, we could use some better guns."

With a nod, the two split off from our group and disappeared down another corridor. I continued to follow Boss and Joe as they turned one last corner and came to a stop in front of a short hallway with multiple steel doors.

"Alright, big guy, these are the holding cells. I have no idea which block our target is in and the Republic could send reinforcements at any moment," Boss said, having to look up to see my face, "We need access to all of them."

"Say no more," I responded with a growl, trying to sense which door held my friend as I approached, ripping them each off their hinges, one by one. Joe and Boss entered the first door made available to them while I opened the rest, but I decided to search the last one first; where the mortal’s mental signature was strongest.

***

"Okay…Did you hear that?!" I asked the voice hastily as the muffled noises died. He sounded worried as well when he responded,

"Yeah, It sounded kinda close, too." Minutes that seemed like hours passed as we strained to listen, searching for some noise or sign of life, but finding only silence. Then, ever so slowly, a new sound became audible: footsteps. They grew louder and louder until they stopped just outside our door. After a another moment of silence that seemed an eternity, a great, metallic wrenching erupted. It sounded like someone was ripping a Buick in half and we watched as two curved scythes punched through the reinforced steel of our cell block door as if it where made of cardboard.

Now that we were thoroughly terrified, the owner of the blades mangled the hatch into an impossibly twisted shape before tearing it away completely with a single growl of effort. The mystery person in the next cell and I could only watch helplessly as a monster squeezed through the doorway.

I could not remember the specific term for this species of zerg, but it was easily three times larger than the zerglings I’ve seen so far. It had to move with a constant slouch to keep from knocking the hanging lights out of the ceiling as it immediately began crossing the room to our cells while the long blades protruding from its arms practically dragged the floor. I backed away involuntarily as it approached my cell door.

The hulking beast towered above me, drooling slightly, and looked even more intimidating up close. I crouched in the back corner of my cell, peering back out at the nightmarish thing in shock, until it managed to lock eyes with me. Suddenly, I was unable to look away, and I began to panic, but soon a calm settled over me like a cloud as the creature stared me down with its fiery, crimson eyes. Then, the breath caught in my throat as a thought flashed though my mind; only one creature could have eyes that burn so fiercely,

"…B-Bane?" I finally stammered at the creature before me. The thing sighed, blowing my hair back with a huge whuff of air and my heart leapt as a familiar psionic voice saturated my thoughts,

"Indeed, mortal! I have returned for you," the words said, only somewhat deeper than what I remember from the zergling.

"Bane!!" I said again, but in exclamation as I jumped to the front of my cage, "Get me out of here!"

Suddenly, somebody in a power suit stepped through the ruined doorway into our cell block and complimented Bane,

"Great work! You cleaned out the Republican magistrate faster than doughnuts on credit!"

More soldiers began following; I counted four in total, all in different power suits. Then, without warning, the person in the cell next to me began talking to the soldiers that came in,

"Well, well, Collin’s boy’s. I was hoping for a few of my own, but I suppose being rescued by a rival faction isn’t as bad as waiting here for the zerg. Speaking of which, who’s your new friend here?"

"Just a temporary business associate," The lead Terran replied before noticing me for the first time,

"Who’s the kid?"

"This is my friend, Reece," Bane told them, "And the mortal shall leave with us."

The mercenary that spoke before didn’t like the idea,

"You said something about bringing a friend along, but a kid?"

"You don’t have to worry about him," the stranger from the cell next to me added, "The boy’s here for spitting on a Republican Marine."

Murmurs of approval and nods were exchanged among the soldiers before the leader spoke up again,

"Well, if that’s the case, we’d better get a move-on. Biggie, would you mind opening the cell doors for us as well?"

To my surprise, Bane looked down to the person talking and nodded obediently, approaching my cage first and dispatching the hinges with two quick flicks of a blade point.

"Why are you helping these guys?" I whispered to Bane as he opened my cell and moved on to my neighbors.

"Because," came the psionic voice while he worked, "They have a way off this planet."

My friend finished unlocking the doors and the marines moved up to help shuffle them aside; the hydralisk had no way of gripping the metal bars and moving them itself. Silence took the noisy soldiers as their leader hit a few buttons on the arm of his power suit and the static of a radio could be heard faintly.

"Okay, Clare, we’ve got the package. How’s the scope look for delivery?"

The lead Terran spoke into his headset calmly, making the only sound in the cell block. After a few minutes of listening to him have a conversation with someone that sounded like nothing but breaks in the static, the commander finally closed the com-link and announced the plan,

"Scanners are picking up lots of zerg on their way from the south and the northwest, ETA is about twelve minutes, but Clare is already in position at the LZ on the east side of the city. If we double-time it, we may just reach it before the brunt of the enemy force arrives."

The city was ghostly calm. With no commuters, air traffic or even electricity in some parts, the dark, looming buildings that rose up around us seemed frightening and forbidding in the waning, evening sun. Yet, to our surprise and good fortune, we didn’t run into a single enemy, although a few of the soldiers didn’t trust the silence, and neither did Bane.

"Something is not right," He finally growled as we made our way down the deserted street.

"I know what you mean," The Terran commander agreed, "We should have run into a few of your look-alike‘s by now."

One of the soldiers spoke up while we walked, further supporting Bane’s statement,

"He‘s right, Boss, this was too easy."

I began to feel the same way as time passed and the buildings grew shorter and wider. Soon we turned one last corner and the view of endless streets stretching on and on between the man-made structures aburptly gave way to the sand of the dessert, but still we came across no sign of life at all, that is, until we came into sight of the dropship.

"We are too late," Bane said after we crested the final dune and finished the short downhill trek to the sleek little ship parked in the sand below, "They’re already here."

"Relax," the commander assured my friend, punching a button on the rear of the ship, causing it to open automatically, "There’s nothing around for miles," he finished before disappearing inside the dropship.

"No," Bane contradicted, "They’ve already been here, they’re all around us."

"Shut up, Hydralisk! You’re making me nervous!" The shortest soldier with the funny accent complained.

Suddenly, the commander came stomping back out of the craft,

"Damn! Biggie’s right!" he swore, "Clare’s gone!"

The words seemed to hit the soldiers like a bullet, they must have known this pilot well.

"Clare…" one of the soldiers said in despair, trailing off before finishing. Then they all seemed to snap back to life when a vicious snarl erupted from somewhere behind me.

When everyone suddenly stopped moving and breathing, I put two and two together and figured out that it wasn’t Bane who made that noise. Slowly, I turned around and was taken aback by the sight of four hydralisks standing atop the dune we had just come over, staring down at us.

Without warning, one of them roared horribly, slinging its mucus with the wind of its breath and making everyone but Bane jump in surprise. As if by cue, zerglings began moving into view, coming to a stop beside the hydralisks. The fourteen zerglings shifted and growled at the flanks of their escort, blood-thirsty for the kill, but none of them made a move towards us, yet.

"Get on the ship," Bane said suddenly.

"We’ll never make it, Biggie," The commander responded grimly, "Those critters will be on top of us before everyone gets inside."

"No, they are here for me," my friend spoke so calmly that it scared me, "Get on the ship, take the mortal with you."

"We’re not leaving you here!" I tried to interrupt.

"You do not have the luxury of arguing over this, Reece, get on the ship!" Bane snapped back at me. From the first time he spoke, Bane has never shown any aggression towards me, and I was taken aback by it now. I felt almost numb, but he was right; It was either him, or all of us. My friend was quick to speak again,

"I am going to lead them away; go for your ship when you see me move."

Everyone seemed to understand, or at least, no one had any objections, except me; I had about a dozen of them, but, to my friend’s request, I remained silent. I knew I shouldn’t have-there had to be something I could do or say to stop what I knew was about to happen, for the second time, but I was helpless; crushed between the desire to live and my own compassion for my friend. I almost felt fortunate when the decision was made for me.

Everything happened so fast; with a fierce snarl, Bane tore away from us and the hydralisks and zerglings atop the dune roared simultaneously in response, leaping down the hill after him. Just paces away, the zerglings raced by and the soldiers did as they were told.

The mercenaries ran past me into the ship as I stood paralyzed in the sand, watching the unbeatable number of enemies pursue the brave beast. I was ready to make the decision to stay here, currently unable to move as I was, but another set of suited arms threw themselves around my chest and the unbreakable hold the sand seemed to have on my boots let go.

Finally, the world was hidden away behind the walls of a dropship and the thrusters suddenly sang to life, kicking up sand in a whirlwind around the craft. We began climbing even before the cargo door was shut, but, before the hatch slid home, my only friend topped a dune and came into sight once more,

"BANE!!" The word finally burst out of me like an explosion, but I did nothing to hide my emotions in front of the soldiers; I didn’t care.

My friend must have heard me: Spending the lead he had on his enemies, Bane stopped, looking back up at our climbing ship and, as if to tell me everything was alright, he raised one blade high with a mighty roar, audible even over the whining engines of the ship. Then, at last, the hydraulic door was shut and the view taken from me.

I could feel everyone’s eyes on me as I let my body fall against the wall and slide down to the floor. I could feel their pity and remorse for me, but I ignored them all, I didn’t care. The one thing I actually cared about was going to be torn to pieces so we could live and there was nothing I could do to stop it.

To Be Continued…

 

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