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Bane 13: The Anomaly
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Created and written by the immortal deadfast
 

"I’m going to lead them away, go for the ship when you see me move," I informed the Terrans of my plan as I focused on the terrible voices that had become nothing but a muffled noise in the back of my mind since I met the mortal only yesterday. The flow of time was psionically brought to a halt as a red hue edged my vision and the will of the swarms suddenly came alive in my mind. Violently trying to rip control of my body from me, it roared in, furious with my treason against it, but now I had the strength to fight,

"Arrogant tyrant!" My own thought severed the Overmind’s blinding mental hold like a blade, and the voices fell in volume, but it’s angry words roared against me like a storm,

"Cursed, defiant abomination!! Though I know not how you manipulate the cerebrates covenant, you shall suffer the pain of eternal death for your vile betrayal!"

"And that," my thoughts rang through again, tearing ugly holes in the voices, "Shall be your downfall. For your own hatred will drive you and your children into the ground!"

The Over mind went into a rage, furious with my defiance, but I did not block it out of my mind completely just yet. When the red hue faded and the flow of time returned, I brandished it as a weapon, amplifying it to the enemies before me.

Now I was out of time.

I lunged away from the mortals and my brethren dove down the sandy dune, the hate filling their eyes as they simultaneously targeted me. I hadn’t even a moment to spare to look back, but the whine of the Terran’s machine assured me that they might still make it to safety. The hydralisks could only keep pace with me, but the zerglings were gaining in leaps before I could clear the first dune. If I stopped, I knew I would be surrounded, but when the mortal’s voice suddenly rang through the fading drone of the small craft’s engines and the snarling creatures on my tail, my own safety was forgotten. Turning where I was, I got a last glimpse of the ship before it rocketed into the sky. Thrusting one scythe in the air, I replied to the extent of my verbal ability; for psionic communication at this distance took time that I did not have. But as the first zerglings crested my sandy hill, I realized why Reece was so distressed for my safety.

Dieing in this battle was a possibility, of course, but there would be no help for me once I was reincarnated again; it would be far too dangerous for them to return. With the mortal gone, the Overmind would ensue his wicked punishment against me. And all because the mindless pawns before me stood in the way at the last moment.

"So be it," I sent the psionic message forth to my enemies as they got close enough to lock eyes with me,

"But if I am damned by you vile creatures, I’ll give you hell before I go!" I snarled in rage as my left scythe obliterated the skull of the first zergling that leapt at me. Its broken form was hurled to the sand but its brethren paid the fallen no heed. Three more came for me simultaneously, but as I made my first swing for the nearest one, they suddenly darted away from me. It was a trick; only a distraction that caused me to turn my attention away from the remaining ten zergling that cleared the dune with a final bound. Now there was time for nothing.

Though I managed to maim another zergling in the attack, more enemies than I can count hit me hard in mid-leap, and their combined momentum sent me stumbling backwards. Suddenly, the ground below me fell away and my vision became a spinning mass of sky and sand as a number of the zerglings tumbled down the dune with me. As soon as I could feel myself losing momentum, I thrust my blades into the sand, consequently throwing me back on my tail again, but, in seconds, the zerglings had me encircled once more, lunging and stabbing with their miniature scythes.

I crushed one of them with my own blades, but I couldn’t suppress a snarl of pain as the blows rained against my carapace. Spinning to face the enemies on my left, I made a long horizontal swing. The scythe’s curved path brought it across three zerglings, severing limbs and tearing the last one’s throat from its brown shell. Six down, but that still left eight, and the ones at my unprotected side attacked immediately. I stumbled once more as the weight of four enemies nearly brought me to the ground again, but the pain from their blades breaking through my carapace kept my rage freshly kindled.

Although impossible to distinguish exactly where the zerglings were on my back, I could tell their positions by the scythes twisting in my flesh, and I was able to make an accurate stab attempt over one shoulder. The enemies leapt off, but I was rewarded with a high pitched squeal and brought my arm forward, revealing my prize: One zergling had taken the blade through the chest, the tip of the scythe just barely breaking through its back. I snarled involuntarily again as another set of blades imbedded themselves in my side. Shifting to face the persistent threat, I held my impaled enemy high and brought its ruined form down on top of it’s brethren, finishing off the injured one and crippling the another.

Just when it appeared that I might survive this battle, a pair of long scythes slashed across my side, hurling me to the sand. I had forgotten about the hydralisks. I attempted to rise, but the zerglings were there yet again. They collided with me, and I finally hit the ground for the last time. All I could see was a blur of carapace and claws as my brethren pinned me down, furiously punching thick holes in my carapace with their deadly blades. There was no escape now; the sound of the zerglings vicious snarling consumed my sense of hearing and the Overmind’s psychotic laughter rang hysterically in my mind. And here, beneath the merciless blades of my brethren, my life, and my freedom, would have ended; had not an old friend intervened.

"Show these vile creatures the strength of the Khala!" Blood sprayed in a mist that nearly blotted out the sun as the zerglings surrounding me literally began exploding in half. The sky was suddenly visible to me once more, and the weight of the zerglings was gone. Snarling with the effort, I was finally able to stand, but the hyralisks still remained untouched just a few yards away. As my brethren opened their chest cavities for firing, I braced myself for the barrage of the deadly projectiles and discovered that my left arm would no longer obey me. Taking the time for a glance down, I found the carapace smashed halfway through just below the shoulder, leaving the rest of the limb hanging lifelessly, twisted at an odd angle. Blood poured from the gaping wound and ran down my useless left scythe in streams. With only one blade for protection, I instantly realized that their would be no winning this battle alone, but the familiar psionic voice from before came again,

"Fear not, old Hero. Death won’t find you this day, so long as we still have a hand in the matter."

The hydralisks began firing their poisoned spines, but the projectiles never found their targets. Blue plasma shields rippled out of the thin air before me, absorbing the hail as my unseen allies raced to meet the hydralisks. I strained my eyes; the sight of a cerebrate cannot be fooled by such illusions, and images began appearing before me. Four templar in long, dark robes, wielding a single curved blade of energy apiece, met the hydralisks with their weapons in mid-swing. The modified psionic blades slashed through the hardened carapace of the hydralisks as easily as my blades cut the Terran metals. The devastating blows took my brethren by complete surprise, but the Templar weren’t finished yet. Continuing the assault, they ripped into the confused enemies with wide, graceful arcs of their blades.

Unable to stop the swift and crippling damage that the invisible attackers dealt, the hydralisks dropped to the sand as their bodies quickly reached the breaking point. Suddenly, the dunes were deadly silent, save for the crackle of smoldering carapace. The templar turned, their psionic blades each returning to the hand from wench they were held.

"Rakeem, old friend," the name finally surfaced from the corners of my memory. The templar that had been speaking to me stepped forward from the ranks of his brethren,

"Bane, at last you live again; My comrades and I have waited many decades for your return."

"How is it that you found me?" I couldn’t resist asking.

"There will be time for talk later, my friend. We must get you to safety before your psionic emanations draw every zerg on the planet."

Without answering my question, Rakeem fell silent as he sent a powerful telepathic message. Naturally, I picked it up easily,

"San’Sor, we have the cerebrate, Recall immediately."

"Who is San’Sor?" I tried asking a different question, and Rakeem was quick to reply this time,

"San’Sor is the name of my Arbiter." He simply answered.

Silence prevailed again as we awaited the recall spell, but when the psionic shift in reality around us announced its arrival, I was compelled to say one last thing,

"Thank you, old friend."

***

"Try to look at the bright side, kid, at least you lived."

I ignored the soldiers attempt to cheer me up, trying my best to stare a hole through one spot on the wall of the ship. I felt numb, like someone had pulled the plug on my nervous system, but rage began to replace the empty spaces as the soldiers around me kept pushing my buttons,

"No use TJ," one of them leaned forward and waved a hand in front of my face, "He’s stunned."

The rage began to boil a little hotter, but the guy everyone called Boss spoke up,

"Leave the kid alone and pay attention, we dock in two minutes!"

I still didn’t look at anyone directly, but I finally adjusted my glare from the wall to the port window at my side. The blackness of space didn’t seem to be moving at all, even though we were probably doing cruise speed. I paid Boss no attention as he began spouting orders,

"Okay, listen up! As soon as we dock, I’ve gotta have the cells recharged in this thing post haste. Make quick work of it, I don’t want to keep a rival faction waiting."

I could already feel the ship losing speed. Leaning forward some, I was able to see around the airlock into the cockpit. A bulky, oblong vessel filled the wind shield, but I didn’t bother to get a better look, all deep-space Terran ships look alike. Boss lowered his voice as he spoke to one member of the crew,

"Joe, I can’t say how sorry I feel for you…Clare was a good woman. When we get back, take as much time off as you need."

Suddenly, the ship jolted to a halt with clang and the airlock sealed with a hiss. The soldiers stood up and the rear cargo door slid open, revealing a tiny grey room beyond.

"TJ, take the kid aboard and keep an eye on em’ until we get back." Boss finished.

"You got it," the soldier I supposed to be TJ replied before looking down at me,

"C’mon little man, time to go."

Reluctantly, I got to my feet; I could still feel everyone’s eyes on me as I followed the soldier into the small airlock room.

"Good luck, Cap’n!" The soldier said as the door to the rear of the ship closed again, before a secondary door slid into place, blocking the back of the ship out of view.

"Welcome aboard the Mark II, kiddo," TJ said with minimal enthusiasm as he depressed a button on the wall and the door opened, revealing the dull grey sights of your usual Terran facility. I noticed extra power suits hanging from the wall on one side with a simplistic metal bench mounted on the floor before them. The wall opposite to this one was covered with rows of mesh-steel lockers of varying sizes; probably weapons and equipment storage. I watched as TJ approached them and put his rifle away in one of the lockers. After that, he turned and started heading for the opposite wall. Upon undoing the metal clamps on the waist of his power suit, the solder was able to remove the overgrown metal armor like a giant, bulky coat.

"So what are you guys going to do with me?" I asked the goofy looking half-Terran, half-machine before me.

This TJ didn‘t offer much of an answer as he climbed the rest of the way out of the power suit,

"Your guess is as good as mine…errr…uh, what’s your name again?"

"Reece," I replied. With somewhat of an effort, the soldier hauled the two halves of the power suit onto their hangers on the wall and pulled a pair of plain boots from a short cubby hole behind the bench. He tied the laces without a word and stood up quickly, heading for the door.

"Wait! Where are you going now?" I called after him.

"Well, Ima’ go find something to eat, then I‘ll probably go to sleep." He replied without turning around.

"That’s it?" I asked in disbelief, "You’re just gonna take a break and let me wander the ship?"

"Yeah, that’s the idea," he answered once more, in a bit of a bored tone, as he pressed the button to open the door and walked through. I was about to say something else when he cut me off with a quick, "Have fun, kid," before letting the door shut behind him.

***

The sudden lack of oxygen at the end of the Recall spell was painfully stunning. The first image to cross my vision was that of the air exploding forth from me in a dissipating mist as the vacuum of space ripped all traces of oxygen from my lungs. Slowly, my body responded and the crippling pain in my chest subsided as the adaptations present in every Zerg species took affect, and I was able to take a look around.

Not that there was much to see; nothing but dull grey sand and boulders strewn in no particular order for miles around. The only thing that broke the monotony of the lifeless landscape was our presence and a small, oddly shaped craft, I supposed it to be Rakeem’s Arbiter, floating above a massive crater to our left. The red planet of Korhal loomed above it all, hanging over us in the black vastness of space.

"Why have we come to this place?" I was now thankful that my ability to speak wasn’t in verbal form as Rakeem answered my question.

"It is here, on this small moon, that we have watched and waited for you."

"But how?" I asked, "There is nothing here."

My friends eyes glowed somewhat brighter than usual while he answered this question as well,

"Look closer, cerebrate."

I stares again at the view of the large crater with its Arbiter floating above, and something new did appear.

Slowly dissolving from its cloak, a huge yellow craft became visible to me, hovering silently in the craters protection. It was easily ten times larger than the San’Sor.

"Your ship?" I inquired with a slight sense of awe.

"Indeed. This is the Kalimar, a modified version of the standard Protoss Carrier." Rakeem answered with pride.

"This colossal machine looks as if been out here for ages," I thought to myself. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who heard it,

"Think what you will of it," One of the unnamed Templar suddenly blurted into my mind, "But this vessel has served us well for two long centuries, and shall serve us yet again."

"How did you do that?!" I would have snarled, were I capable of it at the time.

Rakeem’s psionic laughter rang in my head as he explained,

"It appears that you haven’t gained much during your dormancy. Come, Bane, you have much to learn. Your training shall begin as soon as you are well again."

The Templar stepped around me and began ambling down, into the crater, heading for the massive ship. I remained still.

"Training?!" I questioned irritably, "I am the fiercest of the zerg strains; the primary killing machine of the hive, bred and evolved solely for the purpose of deadly frontal combat," I finished with as much pride as I could muster, despite the fact that I was temporarily maimed and still bleeding from multiple scythe wounds. Rakeem and his brethren stopped, turning to face me once more. By the looks on their faces, they weren’t impressed,

"On the contrary, great killing machine," my friend contradicted me, "It was only minutes ago we found you nearly slain by a mere handful of your own brethren. You have much greater potential than this. Follow my guidance, and we shall reveal the extent of your prowess."

As much as it hurt my pride to do so, I coincided defeat, for the first time in my existence, and began following Rakeem and the other Protoss to their ship. I was alone with my thoughts for the short duration of the trek, although I knew not if my allies were eaves-dropping on them again. My own ability mattered not to me, but if adding to my strength would aid me in protecting the only friends I had left from the inevitability of the swarms, then so be it.

It was an instant relief once the automatic door slide home and the room was filled with oxygen.

"I prefer breathing," I growled, having already missed the sensation, "Next time you decide to drag me through a warp rift for a visit in the vacuum of space, do take the time to warn me."

Rakeem ignored me and continued further into the ship with his brethren in tow, yet, I stopped to glance at the room around me. Nothing seemed out of place in comparison to any other Protoss vessel I had seen. Somewhat resembling the Terran facilities, only lacking the grid-work of bolts and welds that held them together, the entire ship seemed to be comprised of the same dull, yellow metal. The walls, floor, and ceiling was all one smooth tunnel, broken only by another intersecting hallway. It appeared as if the whole thing were intricately carved out of one great hunk of metal. Suddenly, my friend’s voice broke through my thoughts again,

"Follow closely; Finding a lost hydralisk in these twisted paths will take time that we cannot spare."

Suppressing another snarl, I lunged to catch up with the swift Templar warriors. As I followed Rakeem and his brethren, another memory surfaced from the dark recesses of my mind.

"Rakeem?" I asked.

"Another question, Bane?" He predicted.

"Last I recall, you could not live outside the mechanical bounds of your dragoon. How is it that you live and walk under your own power?" The Templar was quick to reply this time,

"I had some Terran allies once, and their scientists are very good at cheating death."

That immediately reminded me of my own allies, but when I suddenly came to a halt in the short hallway, the four Templar did so as well.

"Why have you stopped, cerebrate?" One of them asked.

"I must go back." Rakeem’s eye’s glowed a shade brighter than usual as he read my open thoughts.

"Your…friend is safe for now; We must-"

"Reece," I interrupted with the added emphasis of a verbal growl, "left Korhal with four other Terrans in a tiny craft. To the best of my knowledge, they will have a larger ship somewhere very close." The Templar seemed to be taken back by my outburst, but I continued.

"You are the ones who chose to spare my life; get this contraption off the ground, now, so I don’t have to expend it making you see things my way." I held my only blade at the ready, to show that this was a decision in which I would not be swayed.

The Protoss were silent, or so I thought at first, but I remembered what Rakeem had said about reading thoughts and I managed to pick up pieces of a conversation that my friend and one of the Templar were having,

"Rakeem," One of the Templar asked in confusion, "Forgive me for questioning your order, but you told us of a noble being you once knew, a Hero. However foolish to challenge three trained Templar warriors and their master, the creature before us now is only another threat to our lives. Explain this to me."

I could sense my friend was angry with his students assumptions, but he withheld emotion while giving a simple answer,

"The cerebrate would do battle with any and all forces that stand in its path, no matter the odds. Such is the extent of its courage and resolve."

"It will take more than courage to defeat the Overmind once again; are you sure that the decision to save this creature was the right one?"

"We shall see, young Templar, only time will tell."

Rakeem finally spoke directly to me, or out loud-I could not determine wether the other Templar could hear it or not,

"Very well, stubborn, old friend," Rakeem turned slightly, addressing the Templar standing at his side,

"Start the Reactor and charge the scanners. Notify me when you have found the Terran’s ship."

If I thought the two would question his orders like that of Terran soldiers, I was mistaken. Without stopping to even nod, they turned from us and disappeared around a corner.

***

"Old," I mumbled to myself as I strolled down the next corridor I came to, "But well maintained."

Despite living in and around them everyday of my waking memory, large scale spacecraft have always fascinated me and now I was glad to have something less dreary to occupy my mind. As I stopped and puzzled over another intersection of hallways, I suddenly realized that I was lost, but just as quickly decided that I didn’t care. Although the ship was in good shape, there were no lighted signs to tell me were each path led. Only a simple letter stamped into a metal plate marked the corridors. I shrugged and chose the one marked E, and continued on my aimless tour of the Mark II. After all, it was TJ’s fault if I got lost.

The E wing seemed to lead to the crew’s quarters. The hallway ended abruptly around a corner with large, open area in the shape of an octagon. Respectively, seven doors led to different rooms. Once again, there were no signs on the doors, thus, I had no idea which one led where. After choosing the first one on my right, and finding it locked, I began working my way around, trying each door. By a stroke of luck, the fourth door slid open when I hit the green button on the keypad next to it and the lights turned on automatically as I walked in.

The room was simple enough; a plain bunk protruded from the wall on one side with a small metal stand next to it. It had a sink with a mirror in one corner and a boxy looking, metal dresser in the opposite. Pulling the drawers from the dresser, I only found stacks of grey jumpsuits. Then, after discovering a small remote on top of the dresser, I clicked the power button and a holoscreen flashed to life on the wall.

"Hm," I said to nobody, "We never got to watch the news back on the Rusty Bitch."

Next to the sink I noticed a few breaks in the wall that had no exposed rivets and found it to be a supply closet. There was a refrigerated part with cold drinks, which I promptly raided, and three small lockers. I pulled one open and took out the first thing my free hand fell on. It was a photograph. After forcing down a swallow from the surprisingly awful soda I took, I got a better look at it. It was a picture of one of the soldiers and some woman standing in front of a lake or something. I decided to put the picture back and search the next locker.

It was completely empty except for a gun and three boxes of ammunition. I put my drink down and carefully picked up the weapon with both hands. It was too heavy for me to aim with one hand and I felt somewhat nervous just finding it, so I put the weapon back in the locker and shut the closet.

Upon turning towards the door, something metallic on the night stand caught my eye. It was a small electronic thing roughly the same weight as the gun. I sat on the bunk and, after toying with it a minute, was able figure out what it was. The thing unfolded to reveal a small screen that lit up, complete with a miniature keypad. This was a crew’s log. I checked the messages and found an unread PM. Upon opening it, it read:

"Joe, you’ve really got to get a handle on your drinking problem," I swallowed hard and looked again at the can I was holding and put it down, for good, on the short table. No wonder that stuff tasted a little familiar; You don’t live around two drunks for years without trying the foul tasting stuff once when they aren’t watching. I tried to ignore the awful after taste and continued reading,

"It’s beginning to affect your work and as your superior I must not allow you to endanger yourself or another member of the crew. Lately, it’s been making you forgetful as well; you don’t even lock up your room, your weapons, or even your crews log anymore. Which brings me to another point, you know that we change the combination to all the general keypads once a month for security reasons. For cripes sake, Joe, even Mosely can remember the new code once I issue it. This is the last reminder; I’ve changed the code this month from 37249 to 44571, do take a minute to memorize this before you open a new can."

"44571," I said out loud to myself, "That may just prove to be handy." I was just about to turn and leave the room again when something struck me. This Joe would probably notice that his room had been searched once they got back. I put the drawers back in the dresser and poured the rest of the beer down the sink. After disposing of the can, I made a final check over the room to make sure that everything appeared to be untouched before making my exit.

I felt pretty satisfied with my handiwork as I strode back up the hall way,

"Now if only some clod would leave me a map of the ship laying around, I’d be set."

As I made my way back towards the crossway between wings D and E, I heard a voice calling for me. It was undoubtedly TJ, the odd accent I couldn’t place was a dead giveaway. I was more or less lost, so I answered,

"Wing D!" My voice echoed through the metal clad corridors, soon followed by the thud of approaching footsteps. There he was again, still in the grey jumpsuit and boots from earlier,

"Where’d you go, little man? I didn’t say you could just run off and get lost."

"Yes you did." I corrected. Normally, this kind of insubordinate behavior in front of Bill or his sidekick would earn punishment, but this soldier only seemed to be surprised,

"I did?" was TJ’s only response. I remained silent.

"Oh well, c’mon kid. I just thought it might be better if I kept an eye on you till the Cap’n gets back."

We had only begun walking and I could already tell that TJ was going to jabber the whole way,

"I’m makin’ fajita’s, man. You hungry?"

"Yeah," seemed to be the only word I would get through the flak.

***

I watched closely as Rakeem repeated the move once more. His psionic blade made the graceful combination of three swings again. The blade came down, cleaving the air, then he made two consecutive horizontal swings without rearing it back again, all in about 3 seconds. It was a very simplistic combination, but training my own arm to follow the example proved somewhat difficult. Using my good scythe, I mimicked what my friend was trying to teach me. My initial swing was as swift and devastating as ever, but when it came to changing direction and pivoting my arm at the same time for the horizontal swings, I was terribly clumsy and far too slow. My friend could sense my frustration,

"Fret not, Bane, you have the potential to become an unbeatable melee combatant. Rest for now, we’ll continue your combat training once you are well enough to fight at your full potential."

"But I have not yet grown tired," I reported honestly.

"Perhaps not," my friend agreed, "But psionic training drains the warrior both mentally and physically. You must prepare yourself, cerebrate."

This confused me,

"Psionics? The zerg are not capable controlling such energies."

"Correction," Rakeem boomed, letting his blade dissolve, "The average zerg minions are not capable of manipulating psionic energy, but you are a cerebrate. Your mental capacity knows no bounds."

"Correct me again if I’m wrong," I contradicted, "But my species were not created with the purity of form, as was yours. To even wield such a power would rip my body apart."

"This is true, but fear not. You couldn’t possibly harness the power required for a psionic storm or even a mere psi-blade. Your gift is of another sort."

The Templar sensed my confusion and was quick to counter it,

"You wanted to know how we found you. Your ability is the answer; had you not used it in the fight against your brethren, we may never have located you in time."

Our conversation was suddenly cut short as one of the Templar stepped into the door.

"We may have found the ship," was the only thing I heard.

"Let’s go, Bane," Rakeem suddenly left me behind as he followed the other templar back into the hallway. The Protoss always strove for efficiency; they appeared to waste no time at all. I had to bound to keep up with them as they led the way. It seemed only a short distance to another tiny room, where we all stopped. Suddenly, two transparent doors slid shut, blocking the exit.

"This must be the Protoss equivalent of the Terran elevator." I thought. Once again, both the Templar picked this thought up.

"You are correct, Bane. But we call it a lift," came the annoying response to something I hadn’t said out loud.

"So where do we go now?" This they were supposed to hear.

Without warning, or an answer from Rakeem, the doors to the ‘lift’ slid open again, revealing a great room with a large, blue crystal at its center. The huge gem sat silently in a podium. Rakeem and his student moved to stand before it, so I did the same. The thing had a dull, mysterious glow radiating from its center, but nothing more seemed of interest about it until the Templar reached out to it. Upon contact, the crystal’s light suddenly multiplied ten fold and a three dimensional picture was formed by its glow. Rakeem’s pupil began pointing things out to us,

"This is our moon, we are holding a steady position over its surface as of now. The San’Sor is with us and providing a cloak."

"What has become of the Terran planet, Korhal?" I interrupted, in spite of myself. It was a surprise when the Templar answered me without hesitation,

"The Terran population on the planet is bottoming out. The zerg attack took them by surprise; nearly forty percent were lost in the onslaught."

"What about the rest of them?" I asked. The Templar turned the crystal slightly, and the picture blew up, making it possible to see the tiny crafts rocketing away from the planet in bunches.

"Strangely enough, nearly the entire Republican space fleet remained intact; it’s as if the zerg are flowing forth from the very crust of the planet. The Terrans are leading a convoy of evacuation vessels and civilian supply ships away in a mass evacuation. It appears that they’re heading for their sister planet, Tarsonis. "

This information was interesting, but I was still confused,

"So where’s the mortal’s ship? You said before that you have located it."

The Templar’s eyes glowed fiercely for a brief second, as Rakeem’s do sometimes,

"There is a problem."

"What problem?!" I snarled. The Protoss gestured towards the swarm of tiny ships with one hand as he answered calmly,

"We haven’t the slightest idea which one it is." The Templar’s answer only made me snarl again, but in frustration this time.

"You met the Terrans that you sent Reece with," Rakeem suddenly spoke up, "There must be something you know that could help us to distinguish them from the rest."

Although I was more interested in how Rakeem knew all that without me having mentioned it, I alternately realized that my friend was right again.

"The Terrans that I met probably would not be safe traveling under Republican guard. Track any ship that is not following the survivors to Tarsonis."

"Ah," Rakeem said with a tone of approval, "That will narrow the list down, however, the convoy is quiet large; it will take time for them to clear out. Then we can get better readings."

Despite my attempts to keep up with the Templar’s briefing, a familiar feeling began to overcome me, and an involuntary growl rose from the pit of my insides. One of the Protoss misinterpreted it as more aggression,

"My apologies if our efforts are too slow for you, cerebrate, but if you-"

" No," I interrupted again, "I did not intend offense."

"Then what’s wrong now?" the same Templar asked.

"I feel…" I paused, searching for the right word, having not used it in so long, "Hungry. Yes, that’s it. I’m hungry."

Rakeem and his brethren were taken back. For once, they were nearly speechless,

"Our facilities do not house such necessities, Bane," Rakeem finally answered.

"What does that mean?" I asked.

"It means that we’ve got nothing to feed you with. We Protoss do not need to metabolize biological material in order to maintain our energy."

"Perhaps," I winced, suppressing another one of those painful, little growls, "But I do. Without proper sustenance, it will be more difficult to heal. I must hunt."

My friend didn‘t like the idea,

"That is far too dangerous, Bane, being injured as you are."

"If I do not eat," I argued, "I may never recover from my injuries."

"Very well," The stubborn Templar finally gave in, turning to one of his brethren, "Scan the nearby planets for thermal activity."

Rakeem’s students found what they were looking for in a matter of seconds,

"There’s an small, uninhabited ice planet nearby; some hour’s travel away. Thermals show herds Ursadon, but nothing else."

"That sounds like the right place," I growled, "Let us go; I do not want to waste any time."

"There’s more," the Protoss said, adjusting the view of the solar system with the crystal again, "The ice planet’s location allows us to flank the path of the Terran convoy. This will make it easier to track any straying ships."

"Excellent work, Dair’ Sar." Rakeem praised the student that spoke, "Set course for the ice planet."

***

"And this is the reactor room." TJ was relentless in his tour of the ship, but I didn’t care. The oddly prepared things called fajita’s had most of my attention. I tore into them mercilessly, one in each hand, as the soldier went on about the statistics for the Mark II.

"The Titan four reactor chamber cranks out a maximum of twelve thousand gigawatts an hour and provides power for the sub-light engines."

"Big deal," I said over a mouthful of fajita, "I’ve seen one of those before. Get to the good stuff." Sooner or later, I knew that this goof was going to show me where the ship bay was and then I’d be able to leave as soon as I found somewhere to go. TJ laughed suddenly,

"You‘re something else, kid."

"What do you mean by that?" I asked in a suspicious tone. TJ only laughed again,

"Never mind. C’mon, I’ll show you the ship bay."

Now he was talking. I followed TJ back into the hallway like a shadow, finishing off the last fajita as I went. I had found out how to unlock nearly any door on the ship, and soon I would know where to find my escape. I was so satisfied with my own progress that I didn’t notice TJ come to a sudden stop and I nearly walked into him. When I looked up, I was surprised to see that the rest of the crew had returned and met us in the hall, minus the person I talked to in the cell and the one they called Joe.

"What’s up, Cap’n? How’d everything go?" He said.

"Fair enough." Boss reported, "Blasted rebels didn’t want to pay the full price for rescuing one of their leaders, but we worked out a deal."

"What kinda deal?" TJ sounded intrigued.

"Follow us to the briefing room, we’ll tell you about it." Boss looked down at me after saying that,

"And we’ll get a chance to hear your story, kid."

 

The briefing room was a small, rectangular place with a plain steel table at its center. Eight chairs were positioned at each side with a larger, more elevated chair at the end. I filed in after the soldiers and Boss shut the door behind us. The guy who’s name I didn’t know yet sat on one side of the table, while I sat with TJ on the other.

"So what’d we get from that run?" TJ asked.

"We didn’t get away with very many credits," Boss answered from his seat at the head of the table, "But the rebels handed over some choice weaponry in exchange. Three prototype plasma accelerators were stolen from Republican Intelligence, and we now own two of them. But that’s not the main reason were here." Boss suddenly turned to me again, "What’s your story, kid?"

For once, I couldn’t think of something to say. The only thing I could think of was my name,

"Reece is the only name I know. It’s what Bill and Clem said that I came with."

"Bill and Clem?" The boss interrupted. I started again by addressing his question,

"Bill and Clem are the salvagers that took me in. You see, I’m a war orphan." Nods of understanding passed between the crew members, but they seemed to be full of questions,

"Then how did you get stuck on Korhal, in that mess? And where does a talking hydralisk fit in all this?"

"Well," I rubbed the back of my neck, a habit I have when I’m nervous, "I was sent to the capitol two days ago with a shipment-"

"Aren‘t you kinda young to fly alone?," TJ interrupted.

"Coulda fooled me," I answered smugly before continuing, "Anyway, I was sent to the surface to deliver some ore to the militia reserve. When I got there, the place was swamped with rebels, then the zerg showed up in mass numbers."

"Why didn’t you leave?" Boss asked, somewhat astounded.

"My ship was all shot up, the engines wouldn’t fire. I left it to find another one when I ran into Bane."

"You mean the hydralisk?"

"Actually, Bane was a zergling then," When I said this, I could see the silent looks of disbelief spreading out on their faces like a shadow. I ignored them and continued anyway,

"Bane got me out of the reserve and then through the desert, to the capitol. When we got there, though, there was a swarm of zerg behind us and the Korhalian defenders in front. I got through the Terran army somewhat easier than my friend."

"What happened?" TJ asked quietly. I answered with a sigh,

"The marines killed Bane. That was the last time I saw him as a zergling. They doped me up with something and then I woke up back in that cell with your rebel buddy. You know the rest from there." Boss didn’t seem satisfied,

"If the zergling died, how did this…Bane just suddenly become a hydralisk?"

"I don’t know," was my only response to that.

"One last question," TJ spoke up, "Why where you so broken up about losing a friend you barely knew?"

"From the minute it found me, that creature has done nothing but save my bacon every chance it gets. I’ve never known anyone, or anything, that really cared if I live or die. You tend to become attached pretty quickly, given the circumstances." The briefing room was finally quiet for a few seconds, hopefully signaling the end of the questions. Then, without warning, a odd sounding chime began going off. Nobody seemed alarmed about this noise, but Boss got up and moved to the door, hitting a button on the keypad next to the door,

"Go ahead, Kip," Boss said to the panel. Apparently some of the keypads double as communicators. True to my assumptions, a wiry voice began spouting from the box in the wall,

"The Republican fleets and the civilian convoy are entering warp space for Tarsonis, do we follow?"

"Yeah, sure. We’ll have better chances with the Republic on Tarsonis than we would out here with the zerg," he answered.

I shuddered at the thought; the Rusty Bitch was probably still in orbit around Tarsonis.

"TJ," Boss called, snapping us out of our daze, "Take the kid back to one of the empty rooms, we’ll decide what where going to do with him later. Right now we’ve got a pair of plasma guns to investigate."

I didn’t argue with the decision to sweep me aside for a couple of weapons, I was getting pretty tired from the fajita’s anyway. I got up without being told and began following TJ to the crews quarters, even though I already knew where they were.

***

An icy blast of frozen air welcomed me to the surface of this planet as a section of the floor lowered beneath me. The strange Protoss technology used no cables or wires to guide the lift down, it quietly descended on its own power, bringing the frozen surface of the ice planet closer and closer. As the lift neared the ground, I stared up in wonder of Rakeem’s ship again. It floated silently above me, suspended in the frozen landscape as if it were created there. Sometimes, I thought as I began a slow lunge through the snow, technology can be as mysterious and beautiful as any feat in the natural world.

The thick snow, that had probably remained undisturbed for decades did not give easily as I moved along in no particular path, simply putting distance between the ship and myself. My aimless sight-seeing was brought to a halt, however, when another hungry growl rose from my core. While taking a fresh lung-full of the frigid air, I searched it for any trace of a scent. Luck was with me this day, it smelled as if I had wandered downwind of a small Ursadon herd. My mouth began producing saliva at the thought of eating, and I let it run over my bottom jaw to the ground in little streams, were it melted small holes in the snow as I moved to intercept the herd.

The flat white terrain of this place seemed to go on forever, and I found myself searching for things of interests while I traveled. Finally, a line of spiky objects appeared through the distant, snowy mists, and I eagerly lunged towards them. After a few minutes travel, I had reached the things and found them to be the long-since frozen remains of a forest. Although everything here was completely lifeless, the things held back the stinging wind and made it easier to see ahead.

Suddenly, I realized that without a direct gust of wind to guide me to the herd, I was probably never going to find prey out here before the day that Rakeem gave me was up. Lack of a scent confused me, but the thought of leaving without a meal forced me onward, in spite of myself. But when the light of the evening sun’s began to fade, so did my determination; one was already below the horizon, cutting the light by half, and its sister was already beginning to sink out of the sky as well.

As if the threat of night wasn‘t enough; dark, menacing clouds were billowing up behind me, indicating a drawing snowstorm. I was nearly ready to turn around at this point and grudgingly make my way back, when I saw something. About fifty paces ahead, standing ankle deep in the snow, was a short figure. I began moving towards it and, to my surprise, the figure remained motionless as I approached, staring directly at me. I got closer and the thing came into focus more, but that’s when I stopped.

This thing was not a natural creature from this planet, it was unmistakably a Terran, but something I could not identify in the back of my mind told me that there was something terribly amiss about this mortal. I considered turning and heading back to the ship again at this point, but I found myself unable to do so. Something compelled me to remain a while longer.

I began approaching the silent figure again, though only through sheer curiosity now. Although it was against my instincts, I hailed this Terran,

"Who are you? What are you doing out here?" The Terran did not reply. I stopped, right in front of the silent figure, and studied it closely. This was a Terran Ghost; the light weight armor, helmet full of targeting equipment and the signature canister rifle it held was a sure giveaway.

"You are a military personnel," I said to the Terran that still hadn’t visibly flinched, "How did you get way out here by yourself?" Suddenly, the thing moved, if only a little. It simply tilted its head to one side, as if I were missing something very obvious. Fearing a possible ambush, I spun on my tail, checking the surrounding forest for more of them. There was nothing.

Turning back to the silent creature I had stumbled upon, total confusion began to take me. I studied the figure before me once more, in attempt to make sense of this event, when I noticed a number of startling details.

First, there was a choppy breeze winding its way through the trees, but the cloth parts of this Ghost’s suit did not move with it. Second, and most confusing to me about this encounter, was the fact that I had no idea how this being got to where it is. There was not a single indentation of a boot to be found anywhere in the surrounding snow. The blanket of powder looked totally undisturbed. It could not have been dropped here by ship, the frozen treetops prevented this, and it was most definitely not standing here during a snowstorm, waiting for me to come hunting; the Ghost’s armor didn’t have the slightest speck of ice on it. Soon, my mass confusion began to turn to aggression,

"Alright, mortal, I’ve had enough of your games! It is time you started giving some answers," I snarled, "Who are you?!"

The Ghost displayed no fear, despite the fact that I stood at nearly twice its height, but it finally responded. Releasing one gloved hand from the canister rifle, it made a fist and brought it to where its mouth would be, were not the mask in the way, and extended a finger and I recognized this gesture as one the Terrans use when they want someone to be quiet.

I was about to go into a rage at this point when the Ghost moved again. Upon ending the "shut up" gesture, it held the canister rifle out with one hand and nodded in the same direction. Out of curiosity, I looked for what it was pointing at.

There they were, the herd of Ursadon, standing together in a clearing visible through the low branches. The animals were a short distance away, but I had found them, thanks to the strange Ghost.

"How did you know-" I began to ask the Terran as I turned around, but to my complete surprise, the figure had vanished. I wished to stay and investigate this mystery further, but hunger had returned in full force upon sight of my prey and I finally dismissed it with one final look around and a growl of exasperation.

The Ursadon herd was taken by total surprise when my needles rained down on them. The simple creatures bayed in distress and a small stampeed ensued as the Ursadon rushed to escape, but one of their brethren lagged behind with a spread of long, poisonous spines protruding from one side. It left a short trail of blood in the snow as it limped along helplessly and I emerged from the cover of the forest, swiftly closing the distance to my meal-to-be. Using my good blade, I made a quick swing for the things throat, nearly shearing its head from the neck and bringing it instant death. The Ursadon shuddered and fell limp to the snow, leaving me to my work.

 

Another blast of snow announced my arrival back in the Protoss hanger. The white flakes and wind buffeted the Templar temporarily, as the lift carried me to floor level. Rakeem suddenly looked worried upon sight of me.

"Bane, what happened to you? Were you attacked?" He asked, stepping closer. I had decided on the way back to the ship to keep my encounter with the anomaly to myself, but this confused me.

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"You’re a mess with blood," Rakeem answered.

"Oh, I see," now I got it, "Fear not, for it is not mine." I couldn’t help but to feel as if I had said that before somewhere. One of Rakeem’s students spoke up,

"We have finished scanning the sector; the bulk of the Terrans are entering warp space as we speak, en route to Tarsonis. The only remaining ships appear to automated, as reported by thermal readouts. It appears that your assumptions about these Terrans was wrong, cerebrate." I was going to say something but Rakeem answered for me,

"Set course for Tarsonis, follow the convoy." Two of the Templar, probably the same pair from earlier, nodded and turned, leaving to complete my friend’s order. As I watched them go, my left arm began throbbing with pain, causing me to growl involuntarily.

"What’s wrong, Bane?" my friend asked, but before I could answer, an unseen force took hold of my bad arm and it jerked convulsively with a wicked crunch of carapace. I snarled in pain and reached for the injured area with my good blade as the accelerated healing ability of the zerg forced the dislocated limb back into place with a sharp crack. Rakeem and his student were still watching,

"What is happening to you?" Dair’Sar asked, partially in wonder, the rest in fear. I released the breath I had begun to hold as the pain subsided, and answered his question with a slow, experimental swing of my left scythe,

"I’ve got my arm back."

 

 

To Be Continued...

 

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