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Bane 14: Revelations
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Created By the Immortal deadfast
 

"Up and at’em, kiddo! We’ll be orbiting Tarsonis in less than an hour," the words intruded my dreams, along with the light TJ turned on before speaking. I fought the voice that blurted into the darkness, urging me to wake up; I never seem to get enough sleep.

"C’mon, Reece! This is getting old… The capt’n isn’t gonna be happy if you’re still lounging around when we’re all ready to go!" TJ said again. I didn’t care; they would have to dump me out of the bunk this time-there was no way I was getting up. Finally, TJ’s exasperated words of defeat announced my victory,

"Screw it! I did what I was supposed to; I’ll let the Boss decide what to do with you." I faintly recall the sound of foot steps and the door to my quarters opening. The lights flickered off automatically as TJ left and that was all it took; I was gone again.

***


"Where’s the kid?" Boss asked as TJ entered the equipment room alone. Everyone looked totally different in their leisure clothes, Joe even had his infamous pair of sunglasses handy for the trip to Tarsonis.

"Reece refused to get up," TJ reported with a bored tone.

"Oh well, leave em’ here." Boss said calmly. Most of the squad began to pick up their assigned bags and turn for the airlock, leading to the waiting dropship, but TJ stopped and spoke up again,

"What if the kid wakes up and starts wandering around?"

"Good point," Boss noted, setting one duffel bag on the steel grated floor and walking over to a panel next to the airlock.

"Hey, kip," He said to the small keypad after holding one button down.

"What’s happen’n Cap’?" Came the static ridden voice.

"Reece won’t get up so we’re leaving em’ here. I don’t want the kid causing any trouble while we’re gone, so set a level two lockdown when we take off," Boss said confidently. The panel on the wall responded almost as fast,

"Sure thing."

***


Immersed in this wonderful, new world of dreamless sleep, I didn’t think I would ever want to wake up, but eventually I was led back to consciousness by a familiar sensation; hunger.

I sat up groggily in bed and was blinded by the automatic lights. I rubbed my defenseless eyes to shield them from the bombarding light and swung my feet to the floor. Reaching to the metal bedside table, I sleepily snatched the remote up and flicked on the holoscreen. It flashed to life, displaying some women in front of a big map, pointing out multiple weather systems. I was mindlessly staring at the hologram, pulling my boots onto my feet, when I noticed the TNN logo at the top of the screen.

"Tarsonis New Network?" I asked the empty room. I finished lacing up my boots thinking, ‘Wow, we’re already at Tarsonis! How long did I sleep?’ before I finally remembered that TJ had come in and tried to wake me twice for just that reason.

"I wonder why everyone’s so excited about going to Tarsonis," I asked myself out loud again while flicking off the holoscreen and tossing the remote to the bunk. Out of all the planets in the korpral sector, Tarsonis has taken the most heat from its long history of wars, yet civilization returns again and again to start over. The planet is greener than Korhal and has a few large cities, but nothing that really holds any value-that I could think of. If I had given it more thought, I would have figured out that they were probably there on business again, but I shrugged the thought off as another hunger pang reminded me why I even bothered getting out of bed this morning in the first place.

"Wait a minute…" I said as the door to my quarters slid shut behind me. There was one way I could find out exactly what they’re doing, if Joe left his door unlocked again. My room was the last one on the row, so that made Joe’s three doors down. Just like last time, the place was unlocked and I was granted access at the push of a button. The lights came on automatically and I strode over to the metal nightstand where Joe’s open crew’s log awaited me once more. Going straight to the com-screen, I found that two new messages had been received and read already. I opened the newest one, entitled Weapons Trade;

"Hey, Joe, doing alright, man? Try not to think about her too much, it’ll only bring you down. After all, business must go on. Speaking of which, we’re all gonna head down to Tarsonis to sell those plasma rifles to our rebel buddies. You ought to come with; some fresh air will do you good. Besides, why would anyone visit the most laid back planet this side of the sector without having a few drinks?"

"So," I said out loud while setting the crews log back on the nightstand, "That’s why they were so intent on leaving early." I set Joe’s log back to the screen it was originally on and put it back on the table without much more thought on the subject, until I went to the door. Nobody told me to stay here; In fact, they never laid out any ground rules to begin with. Technically, I could take off whenever I wanted.

After leaving Joe’s room, I turned and walked for the short hallway, leading to a single door, sealing the crews quarters. At first, I began to wonder what kind of ships they have spare in their bay, but then I remembered breakfast, too.

"Meh! Tarsonis can wait," I said out loud to the empty room, announcing my decision. I thought I had everything figured out, but when I hit the button to open the door, a deep buzzing noise came from the panel. In confusion, I pressed the button again, getting the same results. A few moments passed as I thought of what I could do, when static suddenly erupted from a speaker on the panel. Seconds later, words broke through it,
"Hey kid, where you going?" The sound of another voice took me by surprise; I didn’t think there was anyone else on board besides me. I hesitated, staring at the panel, trying to figure out which button would allow me to reply, when the static-ridden voice came again,

"Push the yellow button to talk," was all it said. I immediately found the said button and depressed it,

"To the galley," I said awkwardly, "Or where ever you guys keep the food around here. Why are the doors locked?" The speaker on the panel brought me the voice once more,

"Because the Cap’n ordered a lockdown. However, I don’t see any harm in you getting a bite to eat. The mess wing is down the hall, to the left, four doors down-I’ll unlock the right ones for you."

"Thanks," I said to the speaker, while holding down the button again. After a moment’s wait, the speaker box crackled to life once more,

"Okay, the door’s unlocked, kiddo. Go knock yourself out."

*****

"But you have your plasma shields for protection; while I have only my carapace to take the blow of your warp blade. This ‘sparing’ test, as you call it, sounds unnecessarily dangerous." Teilon and San’Dreale stood and listened to my words without moving, nearly as still as the stone walls and floor of their training room. Ignoring me, San’Dreale closed both eyes, focusing his thoughts for the deadly warp blade. Buzzing and crackling to life, a curved beam of light grew from the templar’s right hand, which was hidden beneath the tribal robes. San’Dreale held the blade up and finally turned to me,

"If what Rakeem has said about you is the truth, then you should have no fear of us." Some of the tribal robe he was wearing fell away from the hand that the held the blade, revealing a wrist shrouded in some kind of metal contraption. I took note of this immediately,

"You require machines to wield these weapons?" I asked with a sudden growl. Teilon was the one to answer this question,

"Yes, cerebrate. Only the oldest and wisest of our race are capable of maintaining the power required for a psionic weapon, much less a blade of this size."

"Well," San’Dreale interrupted suddenly, "Shall we begin?"

"Don’t let me stop you," Teilon announced, stepping back to lean against one wall of the training room and watch.

"What happens if-" I began to say, but the sound of a warp blade cleaving the air interrupted me in mid-sentence. A slight pain began to throb from my left shoulder and I looked down to find a tiny slash in my carapace where San’Dreale had judged our distance perfectly; a scythe’s width closer and the blade would have severed my arm.
"So be it," I snarled, throwing one blade at the Templar’s throat, "Let’s begin!"

With blinding speed, San’Dreale flipped his warp blade around in a circle, where it collided with my offending scythe and knocked it away. Still recovering from the speed of the swing, I was a little slow to respond to the warriors next attack. San’Dreale lunged for my chest with the point of the psionic weapon, which I managed to knock away with my left scythe. At the same time, I made a long, horizontal strike with my free blade that would have toppled the Protoss, but San’Dreale was expecting this and ducked as I made my counter. My scythe cut the empty air just before the templar leapt up again with a swift diagonal slash of his warp blade. I managed to keep clear of the swing, or so I thought, until I discovered yet another gash in my carapace, just below the right scythe joint this time. San’Dreale had stopped attacking when he noticed that I was injured again, but had begun to back away when I looked up. This was only a training drill, but I could not stop my vision from swimming in a bright red hue as I focused on the careless Templar again.

With a fierce snarl, I dove for my enemy. This time, I was the aggressor as I made a wicked swing for San’Dreale with my left scythe. The templar knocked the blade away with practiced speed, but my right was already there once more, closing the warrior’s opportunity for another counter blow. While forced to block the second blade, I pressed the attack. Rage added to adrenaline, and my third swing was too quick for the occupied templar to block.

A bright blue flash met my eyes. San’Dreale’s shields saved him from the crippling damage my scythes would have caused, but he stumbled to the left from the force of the impact. Instinctively, I was ready to dive on my enemy and deliver the finishing blows, when I sensed something behind me. Spinning just in time to see Teilon’s blade coming for my midsection, I threw my scythes into the blades path with an outraged snarl, catching the beam of light between them before it could meet my tail.

"Two against one isn’t a fair fight," I said as Teilon struggled to free his warp blade from my lock.

"Indeed," the young templar agreed, pulling his weapon free with one final jerk. Sparks flew and fell to the floor as the warp blade ran the length of my scythes. Without warning, San’Dreale’s psionic voice finished for Teilon,

"No one ever said that all battles are to be evenly matched." San’Dreale was back on his feet with warp blade at the ready behind me.

*****

"Forgive me for questioning you again, Rakeem, but why do you insist on saving this creature, even against direct orders from the Matriarch?" The tall protoss student asked while motionlessly watching a small hologram that projected from a panel, displaying the nearby stars and planets passing by as a tiny figure of the Kalimar rested in the center.

"Dair’sar, your leader Zeratul may be wise, but one cannot sit idle on the same planet for over a century and still be all knowing about the universe. At first you, yourself, doubted even the existence of this hero. Do you still feel no different now that we have found it?"
The student hesitated, lost between thought and the hologram before him,
"Indeed, I do feel…compelled to know why a simple zerg specimen has apparently been gifted with a free will and intelligence, but I still don’t understand your logic. This being you claim to be a Hero is nothing more than a beast created solely for the purpose of destruction. How can one possibly believe that this Bane is capable of, or even willing to protect life?"

Rakeem did not grow angry with his students assumptions, the words merely added to the Temlpar’s resolve,

"Because I have witnessed this with my own eyes," the teacher answered calmly. Silence held the control room of the Kalimar for a moment, but it was broken once again by the prodding questions of a student,

"Tell me of this time, again, Rakeem; so my faith can be renewed." At this point, Rakeem would have sighed with exasperation, as the Terran’s do, but the teacher retained his stature,

"Over a century ago, not long before the disappearance of Kerrigan, my brethren and I were ordered to investigate the zerg infestation on the Terran planet of Tarsonis. Along with the task of smiting any zerg presence, the conclave bid me to bring back a number of the Terran vessels for research; to gauge the possibility of a threat from the devastated settlement. Upon arrival of the ruined planet, I found that life had returned, despite the punishment from Tasadar’s mighty fleets. But all was not well. The majority of life there was zerg, followed by a single, yet sizable, settlement of Terrans. As ordered, I commanded my ships to destroy the zerg infestation there, but consequently, the city itself was totally incinerated in the blast. Upon personally moving to the surface with a small regime of zealots, we proceeded to capture the remaining aircraft in the area for research when I found the ruined form of our hero amongst those of the slain zerg. At first, I was appalled to find the body of a hunter killer still alive and was about to order it to be slain, but something in the back of my mind said otherwise. To this day, I’m not sure whether it was luck or the influence of the Khala that bid me to do what I did, but I knew then that this was a being of destiny; thus I ordered it to be brought aboard my ship with the Terran vessels." Rakeem paused momentarily to adjust the Kalimar’s velocity slightly before continuing,

"Little did I know; a single Terran was captured along with the hero, and, together, they escaped our ship."
The student was still not satisfied,

"How does that signify this hydralisk we’ve found as a hero?" Rakeem simply continued,

"Because, my impatient Dair’Sar, the next time the hydralisk and I parted ways was in death. The noble creature sacrificed its life to save the remaining Terrans and I from the ravaging swarms of the zerg."
The Templar’s student was now enthralled in the history lesson,

"Tell me of that battle, Rakeem. I wish to know every detail." Rakeem’s psionic laughter rang in the control room,

"Perhaps another day, Dair’Sar. For now we must focus on-" a sharp bleeping noise sounded twice from the controls, ending the idle conversation. Dair’Sar turned from the holographic projection of the Kalimar to investigate the odd interruption.

"We are closing on the Terran planet, Tarsonis, we’ll be coming out of warp space any moment now," the student reported calmly from his new post.

"Ah, then it is time to hail the cerebrate so it can find this Terran and we can continue on our mission." Rakeem said vigilantly, "Speaking of whom, where is Bane?"


*****

Tiny particles of bone showered to the floor as sparks with a brief flash when my right scythe moved into place just in time to stop San’Dreale’s long blade from cleaving into my tail. Using a likewise maneuver with my left, I simultaneously blocked Teilon’s swing for my throat. The psionic weapons crackled wildly as my sparing partners held their weight against me from both sides, attempting to keep me pinned, but, due to the fact that my physical strength is easily twice that of the beings fighting me, I quickly turned both my scythes in opposite directions, throwing the blades clear of my body momentarily.

Teilon was young and fast, thus the first to recover, but I was ready for the blow and knocked the offending blade away with the closest scythe. San’Dreale’s weapon was now back again, coming for my face, but I wasn’t there to receive the punishment. Lunging backwards with a powerful thrust of my tail, the blade merely wiffed the empty air, leaving the templar confused as I dove forward again, throwing both scythes at my ‘enemy’ in a scissor-like motion. A bright flash of blue plasma shields was my reward for a successful blow and the templar was sent stumbling to the stone floor once again. Unexpectedly, a sharp pain took my backside as Teilon’s swift blade ran across my unguarded side, and now it was I who lost footing. I didn’t falter, however, and spun on my tail with the momentum, throwing everything I had into my left scythe.

As I had sensed, Teilon was hot on my trail when I staggered, ready to deliver another blow, when my surprise retaliation came for him. The flash of the dying plasma shield was blinding, but the sound of Teilon’s body colliding with the wall of the training room assured me that I hit my mark. Panting heavily, my vision returned to normal and I was able to watch the two templar rise to their feet again, releasing their concentration for the psionic weapons they held. The crackling blue warp blades each receded to the hand from whence they were held, and the room fell silent, save for the monotonous drip of my blood running down my back to the stone tile below my tail.

"You are a formidable opponent indeed, cerebrate," San’Dreale’s voice showed no fatigue, unlike the physical signs of exhaustion that the templar’s body presented.

"You two aren’t that bad yourselves, but If you ever hope to-" I stopped in mid-sentence as the door to the training room slid open with a sudden hiss. Dair’ Sar stepped in the doorway, nodding to each of his brethren before speaking,

"Tarsonis is nearly in range. Rakeem requests a briefing with you before venturing to the planets surface."

*****

Cold oatmeal was hardly the kind of food I was thinking of, but it was the only thing in the fusion locker that was already prepared. It took ages to find silverware and, to top the lousy meal off, the location of the sugar remains a mystery to this day. Needless to say, I was more or less sick of breakfast at the moment and ready to skip the whole thing. After shoving my half eaten bowl of chilled gruel aside, I got up and walked to the door. It opened with a hiss, allowing me to step into the hallway.

"Let’s see," I thought out loud, "Which way did we go after making the fajita’s?" Now I remembered, talking always seemed to help me think. Turning up the hallway, I began my search for the launch bay. As far as I could remember, It had to be on the opposite side of the ship, judging from the distance TJ led me yesterday. I retraced my steps through the twisting hallways, always trying to keep my heading whenever possible. Finally, the hallway came to a corner and I could no longer go forward. After rounding the bend, I had found what I was looking for. The thick, steel blast-door was built into one of the ships bulkheads at this point, making it a very tough seal to crack if you had to get through without the combination. I was about to press the green button on the panel to open the door when I remembered that it was locked. Hope began to fade as I tried to stare down my new obstacle, but then I remembered what I found in Joe’s log the other day.

"Four…Four…Five…Seven…one.." I said the numbers out loud as I keyed the combination into the panel and pressed the open button. The panel emitted a satisfying ‘Ping!’ and the door rose up slowly with a whine of hydraulics.

As I stepped through the door, I was faced with yet another wing of various doors, each leading to different rooms. Working systematically, I tried the first one on the left, finding that it was the airlock room that I first arrived here in. After putting the code in for the second door, I had, at last, found what I was searching for. The lights flickered on automatically, gleaming off the freshly painted hulls of two wraith fighter jets and an armored dropship. One spot was empty, probably where a ship was parked before Boss and his gang of cohorts left with it. There was one smaller dropship on the other side of the hangar, but it appeared to be older than all the others combined. I walked up to the shining, armored vessel parked in the center of the room, jumped up to the door and grabbed the handle, but it didn’t swing open as I planned when I pulled on the latch. It was locked.

"Damn," I swore while looking around nervously, as if someone could catch me at any moment. There was no way to get into the craft without damaging it, and it need to be intact to navigate the vacuum of space. Obviously, I couldn’t take this ship, and even if one of the fighters was unlocked, I would have no idea how to fly it. Once again, my attention turned to the older ship parked on the far side of the hanger. Despite being aged and somewhat battle worn, the craft itself seemed to be in operable condition, that is, until I saw the opposite side. The entire quarter panel beneath the top-right aft thruster was totally mangled, as if hit by some kind of explosive. The nearby armor plates were somewhat disfigured from the blast as well, but they didn’t have the massive breach like the one at the point of impact. I turned and walked to the rear of the ship and hit the button for the cargo door. To my surprise, a chime sounded from somewhere on the ship and the small door on the ship opened with a hiss and slowly climbed into its locking place on the track built into the roof of the cargo area. Relief hit me as I stepped into the ship and found the inner hull, the one that kept the ship air tight, still intact. After a moment, I found a button for the lights and discovered a slim hatch-like door at the end of the cargo hold that led to the pilots compartment. This door had no electrical locks, only a large steel hub mounted in the center.

"This ship is older than I thought," I laughed while grabbing the hub with both hands and turning it counter clockwise to break the seal. It was a little tough going at first, but then the hub loosened some and the seal finally broke with a satisfying crack. After that, it was easy to turn the hub around twice more and release the bolt that held the door shut. Once again thrilled with my own progress, it was mercilessly stamped out again as the light from the cargo area flooded the cockpit. A huge piece of the control panel was taken off and laying in the floor. Heaps of wires flooded from inside the dash board somewhere and stretched all over the cockpit like the roots of some ancient, multi-colored tree. Miscellaneous parts and tools lay strewn all over the top of the dash board and heaped in the two pilot’s seats. The place was a total wreck; I was surprised, at this point, that the rear cargo door and the hold lights even worked at all. Now I was ready to go back to my room and forget the whole thing, but I looked again at the mess of wire.

"What the hell," I swore, swiping a pile of parts and tools out of the pilots seat and plunking down in it.

"I’ve got nothing better to do anyway."

From what I could tell, after picking up the panel and investigating the wires, there was a bad short at one time and it burned out the thrust actuator controls. Someone had apparently tried to fix them, but gave up after seeing the avalanche of wires. Some of the wire harnesses were pulled from the actuator board and the switch mechanisms were visible. The problem was obvious. The metal parts that that physically completed the circuit were burned clean through. Two of the burned switches could be sanded off and repaired but those for vertical thrust were totaled. Once I put the dash back together, I could feed the wires for the burned switches through somewhere and rig a connection for them, but before I could find the right wires I had to turn get the power back on in the cockpit, and before I could do that, I had to find the short so it wouldn’t blow my repair work up all over again. What a mess!

Setting the panel and wire harnesses aside, I got up and went back outside to investigate the big hole in the starboard side, as it was the most likely cause for the short. The rip in the hull looked even worse, somehow, as I approached it again. The damaged panel had to be removed, but it was held on by a number of rivets around the outside. I stood back and glanced around the hangar once more in search of another door besides the one I came in with; there had to be someplace where they stored tools to service the ships. I soon discovered what I needed.

*****


"Greetings, Bane. I trust that your training session was…educational," Rakeem announced as Dair’Sar led us to the bridge.

"I was told that we are near Tarsonis and that you requested word of me before going to the surface," I said, ignoring the off handed statement. Rakeem noticed the drying blood on my carapace, and answered me with another question,

"You’re hurt again?" Teilon and San’Dreale exchanged a silent glance, but I dismissed it with an impatient growl,

"Think nothing of it! What did you want to tell me?" My friend gave a cold stare to his students, but snapped out of it halfway through.

"When we left Korhal," Rakeem finally began, "Our observer was left on the planet’s moon to monitor the zerg‘s activity."

"And?" I interrupted when the old Templar paused momentarily. He continued without showing any notice of my impatience,

"The swarms are massing their forces on Korhal, consuming every natural resource available, as we expected."

"Indeed," I snarled, "I could have said as much."

"However," Rakeem said with added emphasis this time, "The zerg are creating an odd formation just outside of the planet’s atmosphere made of hundreds of their fliers. It…alarms me that I don’t understand the nature of this phenomenon; I was hoping that you could identify it for us." The Templar stepped aside and put a hand to one of the crystals set deep in the controls of the Kalimar. It glowed slowly to life at first but the light quickly intensified and became a three dimensional picture in the air, taking the shape of Korhal with its silent moon. I’ve heard the Terrans speak of this type of technology before, but I couldn’t recall the odd name they gave it.

A pair of shifting objects hovered in a mass next to the planet that competed in size with its moon. I moved closer and Rakeem adjusted the view some, bringing the curious collection of creatures in space into focus. They were both moving in giant, whirl wind formations, endlessly churning inwards towards the center. As I watched, more zerg were visible rising from the planet in small flocks, joining their spinning brethren in the void of space. Suddenly, as if the answers were in the back of my mind all along, I knew what they were trying to do.

"The over mind is using them to create dimensional rifts. The entire swarm is…leaving the planet." I finally announced to the silent templar. The resulting expressions on their faces could probably be called the Protoss equivalent to disbelief.

"What are you saying, Cerebrate? The zerg are capable of warp travel?!" San’Dreale blurted.

"Not in the terms that you and the Terrans think of," I continued before Rakeem could scold the student for speaking out of line, "The zerg’s form of high distance travel is much faster than your methods; its nearly instantaneous. The only drawback is the time needed to initially open the rift."

"How much time?" Rakeem asked quickly. Now, I was the one who hesitated,

"A few hours, maybe less."

Now the look of urgency on the Templars’ faces was doubly renewed.
"Can you tell us where they are going?" My friend practically pleaded. As the Terrans sometimes do, I sighed before answering,

"Not right now. The over mind is in a deep state of meditation, I cannot harness it’s will until the warp rifts are complete." For a brief moment, the Kalimar’s bridge was silent, until Rakeem finally spoke again as if his concern about the zerg was never there,

"We have come out of warp space and a shuttle has been prepared to take you to the surface the planet," came the templar’s telepathic voice while he changed the image of the swarms to a picture of Tarsonis, "If the zerg are traveling here, we won’t have much time. How are you going to locate this Terran among so many others in only a few hours time?"

"It matters not if the zerg invade; the mortal‘s safety is all that holds merit," I responded, almost coldly.

"If there’s no harm in my asking," Teilon suddenly piped up, "Why?" The question must have been on all their minds, because when one student finally presented it, all eyes were on me for the answer.

"Reece," I began with a low snarl, "must live because his mind emits a powerful psionic signal that has disrupted the over mind’s control over me. If this mortal is slain-" The sense of urgency I was trying to convey visibly struck the Templar at this point and Rakeem interrupted me in mid-sentence,

"Why did you not mention this before?!" The Templar blurted,

"Take Bane to the shuttle immediately!"


*****

"Alright," I said out loud while using the rivet puller to remove the last fastener from the damaged panel,

"Let’s just see what this looks like." I gave the tool a jerk, removing the final rivet, and the piece of twisted metal plating fell to the floor, clattering loudly.

"Not again!" I complained to the ship as I discovered another mess of wiring harnesses. Upon closer inspection, I found that there wasn’t nearly as many as in the cockpit, but these were all blasted apart, leaving burned, frayed ends sticking out like the spines of an unruly metallic cactus. This was going to take a good pair of scissors and a lot of duct tape. I stepped back from the ship with a sigh and started walking towards the tool room once more.

By the second hour into this…project I had gotten myself into, I was thoroughly hungry again, and seriously considering the possibility of ordering some take-out on Tarsonis somewhere, but I was finally able to pound the last rivet back into place and set the tools aside. I stepped back once and admired my handiwork. The damaged panel had been painstakingly hammered into a resemblance of its former shape, making the rip in the hull look much less intimidating once it was reattached. Luckily, I found a supply of spare wire to replace what was destroyed, but it was barely enough. Noticing that some of my silver-clad repair work was still visible through the cracks left in the plating; I made a mental note to burn the reverse thrusters on the way into the atmosphere so I wouldn’t bake the wiring all over again. If I lost stabilizer control in re-entry…I shuddered at the thought.

Hot wiring the actuator controls in the cockpit was much easier than my previous repair, but getting the control panel back together is an entirely different story. There were small pieces of paneling that had to go back on and each one had different screws; all of which were scattered all over the cockpit amongst the heaps of extra parts and old tools. The last fastener eluded me for nearly twenty minutes until I found it, at last, under the pilots seat in the far corner. With both repairs finally complete, all I had to do now was get the power back on in the cockpit and see if everything lit up like it was supposed to.

The location of the breaker panel became one final mystery until I found it mounted on the wall of the cargo compartment in plain view. The cover was held in place by a latch and it swung open on squeaking hinges, revealing a stunningly simple breaker cluster. There were two switches to toggle the power in the cockpit set below one large main switch and with 5 others below them, probably for the engines and power to the cargo hold.

"Okay," I sighed. I couldn’t believe it; I was hesitating again. I shook my head and reached for the two bottom breakers, which were set to "Off". I closed my eyes and hoped once more that nothing erupted in sparks and flipped both the switches at once. Nothing happened. I sighed again, but in relief this time, and reached for the final switches with more confidence. Just as my fingers met the breakers, a loud, intruding voice echoed through the cargo compartment, nearly making me jump out of my boots,

"How did you get in here?!"

I turned slowly towards the open cargo door with one hand still on the breakers, expecting some huge marine-like person to be pointing a rifle at me. My assaulter was barely a foot taller than me, and wasn’t pointing a gun at me either. He looked like a mix between Terran and machine; this half pint was decked out with more utility belts than three people could affectively use, all packed with full looking zipper pouches, hand tools, interchangeable screwdriver bits, wire, remotes, batteries, what appeared to be a portable electric driver, complete with a various array of electronic attachments and communications equipment.

"What are you doing?!" The unshaven face said again from beneath a pair of bulky electronic goggles, a headlamp and two headsets. I could barely conceal a laugh, and at the same time, realized that my right hand was still on the breaker for the pilots compartment. Instead of answering this person, I pulled the switch. Seconds later, the reassuring hum and bleep of the panels and onboard computers coming to life in the cockpit told me that my repair job wasn’t a flop after all.

"You’re that person from the intercom, aren’t you?" I finally spoke, letting my hand drop from the breaker. This person was obviously awe struck; and didn’t answer my question for a few moments.

"The names, Kip," he finally spoke again, but in a more respectful tone, "How did you do that?"

"It took a while, but for the most part, this was easy. I’ve been doing repairs on small craft all my life."
"All your life?!" Kip mimicked my voice while walking up the ramp and past me to investigate the pilots compartment, "And how long has that been?" Ah, I thought wisely, another person that judges me by my age. I rolled my eyes,

"Give me a break; I turn thirteen in four months!"

"Impressive…" Kip murmured as he turned the lights on in the cockpit and checked the read outs on the diagnostic screen. I wasn’t sure if it was said in sarcasm of my remark or in compliment of my second rate repair job, but I remained silent none the less.

"Does anyone here know that you can do this?"

"Probably not," I answered after another moment of hesitation. Kip turned from the cockpit and stood to face me again before replying,

"What do you mean by that?"

"Well," I recalled, "I told them that I knew how to fly a ship, but I didn’t say anything about being able to repair them." After an uneasy silence, Kip finally spoke up again.

"You know kid, I know what you were planning here."

"You do?" I asked, trying to play dumb. Perhaps these guys aren’t all halfwits, as I had proposed by how loose the security was. Kip continued,

"Yep, sure do. And if the captain were to find out, he’d be pretty upset, and both you and I would be in trouble." I held my tongue in defeat; I thought I was as good as caught.

"That’s why," Kip said, peeling the goggles off his face, revealing one that was surprisingly young, "The captain will never know that you left."

"What?!" I was shocked. After stealing their entry code, and being caught in the act of taking one of their ships, however rickety it was, this person was just going to let me do it anyway. I must have had a strange expression on my face, because Kip started laughing at me,

"Don’t look so surprised, kiddo! Believe me, you’re not the first crew member of the Mark II to take off without permission. Hell, I’ve even left, myself, a few times." His words didn’t help much, I was still stunned, unable to think of what to say. Kip seemed to notice this and kept talking,

"Yeah, kid. It happens more often than you think; everyone has their reasons for leaving once in a while. Speaking of which, where are you planning to go?" A question! I could finally get a word in on the conversation,

"I-I was going to the planet for some fresh air," I stuttered. I would have said more, but Kip interrupted me,
"Never mind, I don’t need to know the real reason anyway. But, if you are to go anywhere, you must know two things. The most important one is, don’t tell the Boss that I had any part in this; and secondly, everybody is due back tomorrow at noon. Do us both a big favor and make sure that you’re here before they are, alright?"

"Um…Okay." I said dumbly, still in disbelief. Kip nodded and turned, walking back out of the ship, but he stopped before walking out of view,

"By the way, with that big rip in the hull on the right side, it would be smart to burn the reverse thrusters on your re-entry." At last, I was able to respond,

"I’ve already planned on that," I spoke with a little more confidence than before. With one final nod, kip was gone. Realizing that I was still standing in the same spot next to the breaker box, I shook my head and tried to take in everything that just happened.

"This was too easy," I said to myself, slamming the breaker box closed.

The doors were all sealed, the power was on and the diagnostic system had just finished running a basic scan, reporting no problems.

"Okay," I spoke to myself again while buckling the double seat belt that was too big for me to do any real good,

"Let’s see what you can do."

I set the controls to hover and nervously flipped the four switches that fed power to the engines. At first, nothing happened, but then a tiny, high-pitched whine came to my ears. The ship’s single diagnostics screen bleeped, indicating that the engines where online. The whining sound grew some, but I still hadn’t felt the slightest shudder in the ships position. For nearly a minute, the only thing that told me anything was evening happening was the monotonous noise from outside.

"That’s it?" I asked the ship in disappointment. As if trying to answer me, the whining noise began sputtering, causing the floor to shake beneath my boots. Suddenly, the low sound exploded into a roaring static, causing the ship to lurch into the air. The walls of the hanger instantly slid to the right in the windshield and, for a fleeting moment, I didn’t have my hands on the controls. I lunged for them and instinctively pulled it back and to the left, but my efforts were far too late. If it weren’t for the seatbelts I was wearing, I would have been thrown out of my seat as the ship collided with the hanger wall. The engines stumbled with the impact, but they came roaring back in response to the controls.

"Easy there, old girl!" I crooned to the lumbering machine, easing the controls to idle again. The ship leveled out and managed to stay in roughly the same spot, allowing me to turn it 180 degrees in place. I couldn’t hear myself think over roar of the engines, but the huge bay doorway leading to the air lock was now in front of me. I eased the wheel in and the ship noisily, yet obediently, crept forward into the corridor. After a moment of waiting, the neo steel doors slid shut, sealing the air inside the hangar. Finally, the blast doors for the main bay opened, revealing the dark, endless abyss of space with the teal-green planet of Tarsonis looming in the middle of it.


*****

"What?! You cannot be serious, Bane," Rakeem blurted. His students stood with him, in equal disbelief, blocking my way to the rear of the Protoss craft, where I knew, from somewhere in my memory, that a door of some kind offered passage to the inside.

"We cannot let you go alone," My friend demanded once more, but firmly this time.

"Though you have my gratitude, it was foolish to risk your lives to save me in the first place. I will not allow you to risk yourself or even one of your students by sending them with me now," I told them with a verbal snarl, "Now stand aside!" My words did nothing, the four templar remained.

"Cerebrate, heed our advice," Teilon spoke this time, "The Terrans on the planet will attempt to kill you on sight, and worse yet, when the zerg arrive-"

"Enough!" I growled impatiently, "If you ever want me to help you after this endeavor by playing along as your hero, you must learn to trust me. If I do not have your complete confidence in my motives, what is the point in helping me at all?" Finally, the Protoss were struck silent.

"But Bane," the eldest Templar began again,

"Rakeem," I interrupted once more, but without another offensive verbal noise, "There is something I can sense about this…anyone of you that goes with me will not come back alive. I have already caused too much death since my awakening. I don’t wish to be responsible for another lost life, especially one of your students’."

The Protoss seemed to be just hanging there, totally expressionless.

"You have my word that I will return to you, honor it by letting me do this alone." I said at last, almost in a tone of defeat.

"Very well," Rakeem finally gave in, speaking with his eyes closed, "You may go alone in search of your friend. Just…" the templar paused, looking for the right words.

"I know; I’ll be careful." I finished for him. With a nod, my friend stepped aside, motioning for his students to do the same. Dair ‘Sar put his hand against a silvery panel next to the shuttle door as I approached, causing it to slide open silently, revealing the dull, yellow-clad interior of the craft. I slithered on board, using a short hop to reach the slightly elevated floor of the shuttle. As I turned around inside the ship to face the Templar again, Dair’Sar began speaking once more,

"I’ve pre-programmed the ship to take a course directly to the planet’s surface. According to thermal scans, you’ll be within half a day’s travel of the planet’s capitol. You can start your search there." I returned Rakeem’s nod to the Templar, mimicking the horizontal movement of the head that told them I understood. Then, as if by silent command from their master, the students began filing out of the hangar, leaving me with the ship. After a moment, Rakeem took a step forward. I could sense the ancient Templar had need to say something more. I felt inclined to know what it was,
"What troubles you, my friend?" The Protoss seemed relieved that I asked, yet unsure how to answer me. After a moment of thought, Rakeem spoke,

"When you reach the surface, you are sure to find many dangers. You may be strong, but you must always remember; you’re mind is the most powerful weapon you have."

"I’ll try to remember that advice," I promised. The Templar nodded again and stepped back towards the door.

"The shuttle must be activated from the bridge; may the best of luck go with you, Bane." Rakeem announced from the thresh hold of the hangar.

"Fear not for my safety," I responded with a snarl this time, "You have only to keep yourself and your students alive. I shall return."


*****

"Do you believe it was wise to allow such an asset to venture alone into the hands of imminent danger?" Teilon asked while activating the shuttle from the control’s of the Kalimar.

"I also sense a looming menace," the teacher answered solemnly, "But Bane’s actions in life are bound by fate; despite whether the cerebrate understands that fate or not." The control room was unusually quite, even with all four templar present, as a hologram was activated. The image blinked into existence, revealing a view of Tarsonis with its two moons. The view was zoomed in, and a tiny figure of the Kalimar appeared . After a moment, the shuttle appeared from one of the many hangar bays, barely visible compared to the massive carrier that it sped away from. The image was brought closer, yet again, and followed the shuttle on its short course to the planets surface.

"Something is troubling you, Rakeem," San’Dreale, the oldest student spoke suddenly, "What is this dark cloud that torments your thoughts?"

There was a pause before the templar replied, and the glow of its eyes wavered as he answered,

"There is something amiss about Bane that I have yet to confront with him. The Hero did not recognize me at first sight, and in those moments back on Korhal, I could feel a silent, heavy fog plaguing the creatures mind. Though the presence of an old friend, such as myself, may have helped to clear it, the Over Mind may still have some powerful influence over the cerebrates thoughts."

"What does this mean?" San’Dreale interrupted, becoming urgent.

"Despite being free of the tyrant’s control, I fear that Bane may not be able to recall events past before the swarms reappeared. It seems the Over mind has already began to make efforts to block our path forward."

The silence returned to grip the bridge for several minutes more; the Templar’s answer caused nothing but a new tangle of questions in the students’ minds. Suddenly, an odd alarm broke the tension by sounding twice. Teilon checked the controls in front of him for the source of the disturbance and announced his discovery promptly,

"The shuttle has safely breached the planet’s atmosphere, but it’s sensors are picking up four Terran air ships in range and an odd signal. Should I relay the message?"

"Indeed; this could be urgent," Rakeem told his pupil. After making a few adjustments to the communications panel, Teilon was able to translate the Terran transmission. A psionic amplifier began radiating the voice of a stern Terran female,

"-I repeat! This is Lieutenant Conners of the fourth Tarsonis Valkyrie fleet hailing the unidentified Protoss vessel! You are in violation of Terran airspace without authorization; turn back now or your ship will be destroyed!"

*****

The closed interior of the Protoss craft seemed even smaller with the door in place. The ship had moved beneath me, but the enclosing yellow walls offered no windows to view the outside with. After a few moments of shifting in direction, the ship seemed to finally be satisfied with its position and I could sense acceleration. At this point, the trip became quite uneventful, and one begins to search for something to occupy the free mind. As I took in the details of the shuttle’s interior, I couldn’t help finding the forged yellow walls somewhat familiar. Without warning, the Protoss craft began vibrating intensely, yet, it seemed to be keeping its course, thus I grew custom to the turbulence in a few minutes’ time. Once again, my thoughts began to drift, and blurry images of the inside of the shuttle tugged at my mind‘s edge.

I could nearly recall the event, but it remained just out of reach; an ancient image clouded beneath murky water. Yet, despite my difficulty recalling how or when, I was positive that my path had led me to this same situation once before. Suddenly, something new and clear burst into my mind, shattering the dull memory of the past,

"Bane! Listen to my words!"

I was taken back; this was Rakeem’s voice, but the Templar was nowhere to be seen. As I turned and scanned the craft again for the source of the message, it came again,

"A number of Terran attack ships are enroute to your location. Brace yourself; we must start the shuttle’s evasive formations."

Despite the message Rakeem sent me, the ship began smoothing out and the dull whistle of the craft sliding through the air could be heard. A few moments passed uneventfully, but soon a new sound began droning in through the hull of the craft. The sound was weak at first, but it grew intensely, until the roar seemed to be coming from all directions.

Suddenly, I realized that Rakeem was correct; only Terran machinery makes so much noise while operating. As if the shuttle had read my thoughts, the engines roared to life and threw the ship into a sharp, spiraling dive so quickly that I slid backwards into the rear cargo door despite the craft’s nearly vertical incline. To my dismay, gravity caught up with momentum in a few seconds time, and the other side of the cargo hold came rushing back up to meet me.

The impact wasn’t as painful as I previously anticipated, but the metallic clang that resounded inside the yellow shell was deafening. Although somewhat dazed from my fall, I attempted to stand on what was now the front wall of the cargo hold, when I realized my right scythe had punched through the hull of the vessel and had become lodged. With an agitated snarl, I ripped my blade free of the metal. The second my scythe was free, air roared through the hole and some kind of annoying alarm began going off. As the shuttle rocked and heaved in its suicidal dive, yet another new sound became audible over the static of noise in the cargo hold. Whistles erupted from somewhere outside multiplying in number and volume, until even the shuttle seemed to hear it. Its engines screamed a different note and the craft corkscrewed into a sharp, banking arc that threw me to the floor on my back.

"I hate machines!" I growled as the powerful force of the high speed turn pinned me flat against the floor.

Without warning, explosions buffeted the ship relentlessly. Although the plasma shields could be heard absorbing the brunt of the attack, the ship trembled violently and the onboard lights flickered out. The engines stumbled this time as the ship desperately swerved in the opposite direction, slinging me to one wall again. More of the whistling attacks could be heard, but I could do nothing but wait for them to collide with my metal shell. As expected, a number of explosion ensued, however, the plasma shields failed shortly into the second volley, and the shuttle was sent tumbling out of control beneath the pummeling attacks from the Terran ships. As I crashed from wall to wall, the engines sputtered and died altogether.

I believe, in my spinning, nauseating daze, that I could hear the Terran attackers breaking away from the pursuit, but it was difficult to tell over the clanging recoil of my carapace colliding with the metal walls and the rush of air outside the lifeless vessel. Just when I began to wonder if one could fall forever and was nearly ready to lose every last bit of Ursadon that I carried with me, the world came crashing to a stop.

There was a great wrenching of metal as I met the other side of the cargo hold instantly. Flames leapt up from every crevice of the crumpled interior of the ship, consuming my vision and finally, at long last, the calm, the pain-free world of unconsciousness threw its black cloak over my mind.

*****

"This looks like as good a spot as any," I said to myself, easing the throttle in. The engines roared in defiance, but, never the less, the rickety ship had made it through the atmosphere and was now slowly rumbling its way to the ground with the help of the thrust actuators I had repaired. I noticed some pedestrians staring as I set my ship down in one of many landing spaces in front of the Cells and Shells refueling station and restaurant. The engines sighed and sputtered to a stop as I killed the power to them and shut down the running lights. The humid air hit me like a wall as I opened the pilots hatch and climbed down the side of the ship.

"I didn’t think it would be this hot on Tarsonis!" I exclaimed as my boots hit the pavement. Without warning, my stomach grumbled irritably, telling me that it was far past time for breakfast. As I stared at the odd sign advertising the Cells and Shells, it reminded me of the fajita’s T.J. had made when I first arrived on the ship. I reached into the pocket of my tunic and palmed the few coins I had there. It was incredible that the things managed to stay with me since I left the Rusty Bastard, but they were of little value when compared to a hot meal. I left the ancient ship in its spot and eagerly walked towards the entrance of the Cell and Shell.

The Cell and Shell must have been a common stopping point for tourists because the store’s owner kept racks of free brochures in plain sight next to the counter. I ordered two manager’s specials, whatever they happened to be, and picked up one of the brochures with the words "Explore Tarsonis!" in big, goofy letters and began flipping through it. According to the pamphlet, Tarsonis was a temperate planet with plenty of leafy scenery and wildlife that flourished in the wake of the zerg’s disappearance. I turned the page and a list of tourist attractions was laid out on a map of the city with their exact co-ordinance marked next to them. The Tarsonis Towers and the Second and Third Garrison Memorials where open at all hours. There were tours of the ancient crash site of the first sub-light vessels just outside the city and a guided trip through the abandoned Confederate headquarters that ran twice a day. I was actually becoming interested in the multitude of leisure activity available when a odd voice broke my train of thought,

"Hey kid! Order up!" A bored looking clerk behind the counter stood waiting for me to pay for my order. I walked up with brochure in hand, and, before I knew the price, I dumped my small pile of coins on the steel counter. The clerk gave me an odd look before sliding about half of the coins into one hand.

Much to my surprise, the manager’s special was remarkably similar to fajita’s, only with a salted, crunchy shell instead of the bread-like wrap.

"Must be why they named this place the Cell and Shell," I thought while making quick work of my purchase beside the beat up old ship that brought me here. Some passing customer’s stared at me as they entered the store, but I paid them no attention. Once the crunchy-fajita‘s were no more, I brushed my hands clean, to an extent, and climbed back into my ship through the pilot’s hatch. Even though the old bucket was on its last wing, I felt more comfortable being aboard as I opened the brochure again. I had never been anywhere on a leisure trip before, and not having an official destination left my mind somewhat blank.

"Well," I spoke to the silent interior of the ship, "You can never really say that you’ve been somewhere until you have the T-shirt. I bet the Confederate Headquarters tour has a souvenir shop."

I tossed the brochure onto the heap of scrap parts and tools that still plagued the copilot’s side of the cockpit and flipped a few switches. The lights on the panel of the ship glowed to life as the ships reserve of cells fed power to the engines. They obediently stumbled and coughed, as they first had back in the hangar, before finally roaring to life with enough noise to make most of the pedestrians in sight turn and stare in wonder that the ship was still capable of flying. I couldn’t help laughing as I throttled the ragged engines up to lift off and the noise effectively doubled.


*****
I awoke to darkness, snarling as I found my movement restricted, but everything had, at least, stopped spinning and my vision adjusted to the low light level in seconds. The hull of the shuttle seemed to be totally mangled from its crash landing, and it was practically crumpled around me. After managing to twist one scythe in its place, I began pulling the blade free. The metal moaned before giving with a terrible screech as it was torn by my scythes’ monomolecular edge. With one arm now usable again, I was able to force the heated, pliable metal back. Soon, with both scythes free, the defenseless metal shell gave easily beneath my blades.

Loose plates on the hull and cables hindered my escape, but I had finally slashed and hacked a path through the wreckage and now only trees surrounded me. I turned and to investigate the shuttle only to find it to be nothing like the sleek vessel it once was. All that remained of the ship was a smoldering heap of twisted metal at the end of a newly cleared path in the forest. There was a trail of pieces of the craft that had been ripped off as it came down through the canopy and rolled to a stop, more or less disintegrating in the process. Debris and wreckage was everywhere.

"Machines…" I growled in disgust. From observing the nature of the crash, I realized it was very well that the templar did not come with me. Their stealth and swift blades would have been enough protection to afford them nothing but imminent death in such an event; only something coated in a solid layer of carapace could have survived. I was about to turn and leave the smoldering wreck when I also remembered that the Templar’s communications equipment was probably scattered all around me in useless pieces as well as most of the ship. Surely, they knew the ship had been attacked and gone down, but they had no way of knowing if I survived or not. I scoffed at the thought of trying to use a machine, even if it where intact, and came up with another idea.

I am still a cerebrate, I thought, cerebrates can give commands and see through their minions eyes from across galaxies. It seemed quite feasible that I could send a psionic message to Rakeem, only a mere hundreds of thousands of miles away on the Kalimar in the shadow of the second moon. I closed my eyes in concentration, blocking out the ambient noises of the forest around me.

At first, nothing happened. However, I was soon made aware of every living presence nearby. Nothing but small animals and wildlife occupied the surrounding forest. I mentally searched for Rakeem, shifting my life-seeking thoughts to the second moon. The void of space left bottomless black pits in my thoughts, bringing the form of a huge obstruction in space to my mind’s eye in bright contrast. The Kalimar. I could sense four beings on the ship, but had no idea which one was Rakeem. It was impossible to differentiate between the life sources, hence, I simply spoke to them all,

"Rakeem," I sent the message forward. An air of confusion grew with my minds touch, so I called to my friend again,

"Rakeem, your Hero hails you. Speak." This time, a reply came echoing into my thoughts,

"Bane! You live! How is it possible?" It was Rakeem’s telepathic voice, their was no mistaking it.

"I’ve told you before, old Templar; fear not for my safety. I only have need of your guidance."

"Our shuttle has been destroyed; how will you escape the planet?" My friend’s response came instantly.
"I shan’t repeat myself," I would have snarled, had my mind not been submerged in deep meditation.

"Very well," Rakeem said uncertainly, but with a new sense of trust, "What say you, Cerebrate?"

"I am somewhat…disoriented from my crash and all view of my surroundings has been blocked by this forest. In which direction would I travel to reach the city? I sense the mortal is close." This time, there was a few moments hesitation before the Templar answered,

"According to the co-ordinance of the shuttle’s last emergency signal, you are closer to the city than we originally calculated. Travel south-east, you should reach a break in the forest in no more than an hour."

"You have my gratitude, old friend. I’ll contact you again when I‘ve found Reece."

"As you wish; we shall await word from you here," Rakeem responded for the last time, "May luck be with you, Bane."

I released my concentration with a mental sigh and the psionic imprint on my mind became dark and fuzzy, until it faded out completely. The sound of the forest and other senses of reality returned and I opened my eyes to the same monotonous trees and scattered shuttle wreckage they were closed to. Wasting no more time, I turned in the direction Rakeem gave me and started off through the trees, leaving the shattered Protoss craft behind.

Rakeem’s prediction of the travel time seemed to be somewhat off. After hacking and slithering through the trees, plants and other various forms of clinging undergrowth for well over the proposed hour, the terrain finally gave, and traveling became easier. The direction must have been accurate, at least, because the mortal’s mental signature grew stronger with every passing moment. However, as the forest thinned, a new, nagging thought echoed from the dark corners of my mind. In spite of myself, I initially ignored this odd second call while climbing one last hill.

True to the Templar’s words, the outskirts of a Terran city suddenly ended the forest altogether. Trying to stay hidden from view amongst the last stand of trees, I was finally able to get a better view of my surroundings. A short, grassy stretch seemed to be the only border between the natural wilderness and towering buildings separated by rows of streets. Oddly, Terran activity in this area was much lighter than one would expect. A thin cement path was set through the grass lane behind the buildings, with benches and odd metal poles that held lights, lining the miniature street in intervals along its length. As I looked around, I could sense a being drawing nearer, and scanned the bases of the buildings for activity. In seconds, I found what I had sensed.

A Terran dressed in brightly colored cloths came out of one of the buildings to my left and began running towards the path in the grass. It obviously wasn’t running in distress or fear of something, this I could tell by the lazy pace the Terran used while watching some device that was strapped to one arm. It crossed the grass and, to my surprise, began running down the cement trail toward my stand of trees. Obviously, this puny being posed no threat, yet it continued to lope fearlessly closer, until it passed me altogether. Only when I turned to stare in awe of this creature’s reckless aloofness, did the Terran suddenly stop in its tracks and spin around, finally realizing that there was a bullet-proof killing machine idly watching its every move. For a moment, nothing happened. The Terran simply stood in trembling fear of my potential wrath, in complete spite of itself. At last, I turned my head to one side, speaking with a low growl,

"Greetings, cowardly mortal."

The petrified creature exploded in a series of shrill screams, sprinting away so fast that it tripped and stumbled to the ground twice before it ran out of sight between two of the giant buildings.

"Terrans…" I couldn’t suppress a snarl of laughter as I looked again at my surroundings. No one seemed to be drawn by the commotion, but time was of the essence. I couldn’t take the fastest routes through the city in plain sight, that much was obvious.

Without warning, my senses heightened again, but this time it was something deep in my mind that alerted them. The thought I ignored while finding the city now came bursting forth, and I wished I had listened to it the first time.


*****

It was more difficult to find the Confederate Tour than I expected, but I still made it in time for the evening run. There were a lot of other tourists there with camera’s and a big group of kids, all even younger than me. I found a spot to stand in the back of the group as I some woman led the tour from the first floor to the surveillance room, showing off the ancient collection of video monitors and control boards while running her big mouth about various facts of the confederacy.

"This is the room where every move of the Confederate staff was secretly monitored," the guide explained with practiced flawlessness, "It was said to be in operation even until Mengsk, who held control of the Terran planets for nearly a decade after the fall of the Confederacy, was mysteriously murdered and thrown from his forty-seventh floor office in the capitol of Korhal. Named the Cropolis tower, this is the sister building of the famed Capitol building, and, if you’ve seen the two by now, you’ll see many likenesses between them today on our tour."

The whole thing went on like that for about forty minutes as our guide led us through eight floors of the building, explaining not only the confederate history, but going into detail about the other factions that held control over the three primary Terran planets to the present day. By the end of it, I was thoroughly sick of history. The best thing the guide said was something near the end, along the lines of,

"Thank you for visiting the Confederate Tours, today! The gift shop is on your right before the exit."

At last I was free. I made a mental note not to visit the this part of Tarsonis again as I strode ahead of the lumbering crowd of day trippers. With its glass windows and bright glowing signs displaying the word ‘Blizzard’ in big, weird letters, I’m not sure how I didn’t see the gift shop the first time I walked in. The small store built into the former lobby of the building had just about everything from lunchboxes and coloring books to T-shirts and hats. I wove my way through the mob of tourists that had followed me in until I reached the shirt rack. There was one that was colored like a marines power suit and another with the buildings name in big letters, but the third one was a sure winner. It was plain grey but it had the image of a hydralisk ripping through the fabric on the front. I paid for my choice find with the last of my coins and left the overrun gift shop and the building clutching the purchase in both hands.

"This was worth the whole trip!" I swapped the top half of my stained white slaves tunic, still cut to ribbons on the back, for the clean novelty shirt. Suddenly, I felt a great weight fall on me, I haven’t given much thought to Bane lately. After all, I lost count of how many times the strange, reincarnating beast had saved my life in the short span of our friendship. I shook my head in attempt to clear my thoughts, when a brilliant flash lit the world.

It was brief, somewhat akin to lighting, but the intense light seemed to last longer. I rubbed my sore eyes and looked around. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who saw this because the tourists and pedestrians on the sidewalk had all stopped, too. Some people began looking and pointed skyward, so I craned my neck, as well, to see what had caused all the commotion. There was a great swirling formation hung in the sky like a new sun, except this one offered no light. It shifted and grew, and at last began to lose its shape, seeming to spider off into different pieces.

"Wow," I said out loud, digging in my pockets for the Tarsonis brochure, "I didn’t hear about these things on the tour!"

The brochure wasn’t in my pockets, so I simply watched the odd spectacle in the sky as I walked back to my ship. The thing seemed to be growing still, shifting and contorting like a cloud, and it was always drawing more and more attention. Air and street traffic even began slowing down as people stared. I began to realize that this wasn’t an expected event, and fear began to replace the wonder that the phenomenon had brought. I couldn’t shake the feeling that something bad could come of this, even when aboard the ship again. As I watched all forms of traffic come to a stand still through the windshield, the radio’s com-light began blinking. I leaned forward and flipped the communications equipment on and a crackling message erupted from the ancient speakers hidden somewhere in the cockpit,

"--not return to the ship," the message began in mid-sentence, "I repeat, this is the Mark II hailing Interceptor one and Reece, do not attempt to return to the main ship. The airspace here has been completely compromised!"

This was Kip’s voice, something sounded Terribly wrong,

"Local space has been totally overrun with zerg; they came out of nowhere, hundreds of them are emerging from some kind of warp space portal and descending to the planet! Nearby orbiting craft have been wiped from the radar, and more bogeys are closing on my location. I don’t know how much time I--Oh shit!"

After Kip swore, the radio went silent. The signal was still strong, but nobody was speaking. I sat motionlessly in the pilots chair , listening, waiting for something to happen; when the source light blinked twice and went out. I felt numb as I listened to the sound-less radio. Without warning, another transmission suddenly came in,

"This is interceptor one, calling Reece. Are you on this channel?" This was obviously boss’s voice. I activated the com-link and spoke out loud to the radio,

"Roger that, Interceptor one; you have Reece."
"What are you doing with one of my ships?!" He didn’t sound very happy, "How did you even get off the Mark II?"

"Kip let me go," I answered, "And I don’t see why you’re so worried about this ancient scrap heap. You should thank me for all the work I did just to get this tub off the ground." There was a moment’s hesitation, but the voice soon returned, and it didn’t sound as angry,

"You took THAT ship?! Jeez, kid; do you have a death wish or something? Listen, we’re getting off this planet as soon as there’s an opening in the zerg’s offenses. I don’t recommend that you take that ship, it probably couldn’t survive a single attack. If you want to come with us, you’ll have to meet us here at the rebel compound before-"

"Wait!" I interrupted, "I have no idea where that is, and the only thing I have to get around with is this brochure of the capitol I picked up earlier."

"The capitol?!" Boss stammered, "When you screw up, you do it right, don’t you, kid? Alright, what does the brochure say? Is there a landmark at the edge of the city that you can find?"

I ignored the offenses and looked over the brochure once more before replying,

"The Tarsonis Defense Memorial is set on northern fringe of the capital borders; it’s the farthest thing on the map."

"Then that’ll have to do. We’ll meet you there in three hours. Don’t be late, Reece, you’ll only get one shot at this, and then you’re on your own."

"Rodger that," I sighed and shut the radio off. I still couldn’t believe how quickly everything had changed again. How could the zerg travel and multiply so fast and still be nothing more than mutated beasts? I was about to start the ships engines when screams broke out. The civilians I could see through the windshield were in a mad panic. They yelled and pointed, running from something up the street. I opened the pilots hatch, which happened to be on the same side, and stuck my head out to get a better look. With the door open, the sounds of the chaos intensified, and I could hear the city’s emergency sirens and distant explosions. A faint roar from the sky caught my attention and I looked up to find flocks of mutalisks soaring high over the tops of the buildings. Without warning, they began raining fiery glave wurms down on the city. At first they targeted small commuter crafts that tried to flee, sending them reeling to the street in heaps of flaming wreckage. I shut the hatch again and sat in the pilots chair in shock for a moment, but when a holoscreen repair vessel crashed to the pavement so close to my ship that pieces of flying debris rained on the windshield, I shook my head and kicked the door open again, jumping out to the ground. So far, the zerg’s ground forces apparently hadn’t arrived yet; traveling on foot amongst the buildings seemed much safer than attempting to fly.

I landed the ship facing east, so finding north wasn’t a problem. The streets where practically deserted at this point and I constantly had to watch my surroundings for falling debris from the mutalisk’s systematic air raids. Twice I had to take cover in an alley as a flock flew over, pummeling the buildings, sending huge pieces of smoldering concrete and steel crashing to the ground. Smoking wreckage already littered the streets and I couldn’t help feeling more and more defenseless; I couldn’t recall a time when I felt more alone. Overlords floated low between the buildings like ghostly blimps that watched your every movement. For a while, the engines of fighter crafts could be heard overhead as the Capitol’s air defense tried to fight the raining zerg, but soon they faded and only the sound of destruction could be heard. I began running, I couldn’t help my fear as resonating explosions and thuds that could be heard throughout the city. As the blocks went by, I found that some buildings had already toppled. Other than being terrified, the trek to the memorial had been relatively safe thus far, until the swarm of ground forces arrived.

I was about a dozen city blocks from where I left my ship when the sound began. It was a static noise that started out far away at first, but moved like a fog, until it sounded like it was only a few streets over. Other noises grew with it; distance screams explosions echoed from the sides of the buildings. Despite my fear, I began slowing down. I was totally winded from running so long, I had to stop, but that’s when they finally appeared. While leaning against the cement side of an apartment building, a series of sharp growls arose from behind me. I turned around and found a pack of zerglings emerging from a side street with an overlord floating along above them. They all seemed to spot me instantly and the zerglings took off, leaping up the street after me as I stumbled into the closest alley. Still out of breath and panting heavily, my lead on the quick-footed fiends was closing to a few seconds. I had to stop, there was no way to outrun them. I looked around with the split second of time I had left and saw a ray of hope.

There was a dumpster to my right with a fire escape ladder hanging low over it. I jumped at the side door and pulled myself onto the steel lid just as a zergling leapt for me and crashed into the steel plating of the dumpster. The impact nearly knocked me down again, but I stood up without a second look at the zerglings and dove for the ladder that hung in the center of the alley. One hand all but missed completely but the other slapped home against the bottom rung of the ladder. After a wild swing, I hung there for a second as the mob of zerglings surged beneath my swaying feet. I had to pull my legs up as one of the them made a dive for me. It barely missed, sailing just below. Grunting with the effort, I managed to pull myself up to the next rung and get my feet up. Another zergling came flying through the air at me, and I had to hug the ladder to keep from being tackled by its open, hungry claws this time. I began climbing, but one of the zerglings wised up, diving directly for the ladder. The one hundred-pound brown missile slammed into the opposite side of the ladder and it came crashing off the fire escape with a clatter of metal. The zerglings snarled in triumph as I fell to the cement on my back, lunging in after me. The fact that the ladder and first zergling fell on top of me saved my life.

Despite nearly blacking out from the impact the back of my head took and having the wind knocked out of me, for a few precious seconds, the group’s wild, frenzied swings where hampered by the mangled steel ladder and the body of their dazed brethren that still pinned me down. I didn’t kick or scream, I simply closed my eyes and waited for the rain of hurtful blades to rip me apart. But, instead of the stinging pain of death, something much different came to me. There arose a fierce, yet wonderfully familiar snarl that could be heard above those of the zerglings, accompanied by the telepathic voice of a friend,

"Sorry I‘m late, Reece!"

I still couldn’t believe what I heard, even when a swift, timely scythe swept through the carpet of zerglings that covered me. The frenzied creatures practically screamed as the blade parted limbs and sent a few of the enemies sailing against the brick wall of the alley. Despite the dark, warm blood that splattered on me from the attack, I could see daylight again and the zerglings suddenly darted away from me. After rolling the ladder and the carcass of a dead zerg aside, I was able to sit up and see what happened. The zerglings had all abandoned me to fight an aggressive, new enemy. All nine zerglings seemed to leap for the hydralisk at once, but it was ready for them.

Making wide, horizontal swings with both scythes, the powerful creature repelled all but two of the flying enemies. Out of the ones sent reeling back to the pavement, six of them got up again. Bane, as it had to be by now, although it seemed impossible, slashed one of the zerglings off that made it and impaled the other with his free blade before slinging the screeching foe at it’s charging brethren. The huge projectile collided with one of the zergling like a runaway train, killing them both when three of the enemies leapt in unison once more, with claws outstretched, but the hydralisk wasn’t there to receive the missiles.

Bane lunged aside and the zerglings met only the side of the building before a mighty swing of both scythes smashed two of them completely through the brick wall. The third one, still half in a daze, was impaled instantly as Bane came forward with one blade. The hydralisk hefted the enemy off the ground and swung it overhead over-head in an arch, just in time to crush a final zergling that dove from behind.

In less than forty seconds, all but one zergling lay slain on the pavement. The last enemy crouched for one more attack as the hydralisk sidled towards me. When the zergling leapt, Bane turned with one scythe, expertly smashing the creature out of the air as it flew near. It screeched in pain as it rocketed back to the ground, skipping twice before coming to a stop.

"Bane?" I asked in astonishment, standing up, "How did you get off Korhal?! How did you find me?"

The hydralisk was bleeding in two spots where the leaping enemies made it through his defenses, but other than that, Bane was none the worse for wear as he quickly answered both my questions,

"An old friend intervened on my behalf. Finding you was not going to be easy until the zerg arrived. Though the over mind may not be able to retain direct control over me, I am still a cerebrate," Bane paused to gesture towards the dead zergling with one scythe,

"I can see what they see."

"I’ll take your word for it," I couldn’t help smiling, "But I’ve never been so glad to see you! We’ve got to get out of here!"

Bane paused for a moment, staring at me.

"What is it?" I asked, "Do I have something on my face?"

"Odd," my friend answered at last, "I never saw any merchandising royalties from those.."

"What?" I said again, even more confused. Bane shook his head,
"Never mind; you are right. We must escape this place immediately."

"My thoughts exactly," I agreed, "There’s a ship that’s supposed to pick me up on the northern end of the city. I’m sure they’ll take the both of us, if we can make it in time."

"They will or they’ll share our fate," the hydralisk snarled, "Let’s go."

Most grateful to have my ten-foot, bullet proof protector back, I obediently followed the hydralisk into one of the alleys that branched off from the one we met in. It was a long, unbroken hallway of brick that lead to the street again far ahead. I could still hear distant explosions, and the terrifying roars of the zerg army.

"How many zerg are there, Bane? Where are they?" I asked, one step behind the hydralisk.

"Hundreds of them; thousands," my friend growled, "They’re all around us, and still raining onto the planet. The Over Mind seeks to destroy your Terran worlds before moving on to assimilate the Protoss."

"Where are Tarsonis’s defenses?" I couldn’t stop the questions, there where so many, "Why haven’t there been any troops protecting the people in the city?"

We were nearly halfway down the long, cement and brick path before Bane gave an answer,

"The Terran defenders and their machines have not been able to penetrate the zerg’s invasion force. They are fighting vain battles at certain points around the perimeter of the city.

"What happens if-" I began another question, but my friend suddenly stopped and interrupted me in mid sentence,

"Silence!" Bane snarled, "They draw near!"

I stood perfectly still, but it seemed to be of no use. A barrage of sharp growls and screeches echoed up from both sides of the alley. Instead of finding just ten zerglings this time, dozens of them poured into our alley from both ends and they were closing on us at an incredible speed. I looked to my friend, knowing that he couldn’t fight them all. The hydralisk returned my stare with its unchanging, armored face and maw of jagged teeth before pushing me aside with the blunt side of one blade and diving at the brick wall of the alley with both scythes.

The masonry work practically exploded out of Bane’s path as he went completely through the wall, leaving a gaping hole in the side of the building. I didn’t hesitate, jumping through the new exit and jogging to catch up with the unreal beast. The inside of the building was dim and muggy, and the floor was lined with rows of machinery in a sort of assembly line fashion, obscuring the surroundings as Bane led me further into the darkness.

"I can barely see!" I complained, beginning to panic again. Short growls and the sound of many clawed feet on pavement began filling the building.
"Fear not, mortal," Bane assured me with a snarl of his own, "We’ve nearly reached the other side. There’s a door ahead; if you could open it normally, it may buy us time instead of leaving an open path for the zerglings to follow."

Bane led me around one final corner and stopped in the red glow of an exit sign. I ran ahead, shoving the door open by the push handle. It led to a paved lot where shipments apparently came to and from the factory. The hydralisk followed, taking only a moment to squeeze through the eight foot door frame, and I closed the exit again. Surprisingly, there weren’t many zerg to be seen on the ground in our area, but they could still be heard on different streets, and inside the building behind us.

"There has to be a safer way to travel across this place," Bane suddenly snarled, "There are far too many zerg, and more arrive every moment. You know these Terran cities much better than I, Reece. If you are to survive, I need your help; think!"

I nodded and looked around, racking my brain for some way to travel without being seen. At last, the answer came from the wide, empty street in front of us.

"I have an idea," I announced quickly, before running out into the open roadway. The hydralisk bounded after me as I came to a stop in front of a steel man-hole cover in the road. I couldn’t possibly hope to move the huge circle of metal myself, but Bane got the idea immediately. The hydralisk jabbed one scythe point through the edge of the steel lid and effortlessly flipped it out of the way with one quick motion. I jumped onto the rusted, slimy rungs of a ladder built into the side of the cement tunnel and began climbing down into the darkness. It became pitch black in only a few seconds; I couldn’t even see my own hands in front of my face, but, after a relatively short descent, my boots found the damp cement floor and I took a few blind steps away from the ladder. In a moment, The hydralisk plummeted into the sewer with me, hitting the ground with the heavy thud of carapace on pavement.

"Can you tell which way is north down here?" I asked hopefully. A snarl from the darkness accompanied the quick telepathic response,

"As long as so many swarms dwell in the city, yes."

Bane began to take the lead again when I spoke up once more,

"Wait, I can’t see a thing down here!"

I could hear the hydralisk come to a stop somewhere ahead of me, but there was a moment of silence before Bane responded,

"This will be a long path, I cannot lead you by scythe the entire way," my friend growled, "But there is an alternative."

"What’s the alternative?" I asked. My mind began to grow vaguely numb, as it does when Bane speaks telepathically, but this time, there were no words. Without warning, my senses of hearing and touch began to flicker. The thought of losing control of my body scared me, and I shook my head, and the numbing feeling vanished.
"Fear not, Reece." My friend assured me, "Sharing my mind with yours is the only way you can see in the darkness."

I nodded, clearing my thoughts, and the numb feeling came again. At first, it seemed I was losing control of my body again, but it was always barely there. Without warning, new senses of sight and hearing bombarded my mind, creating an oddly lit view of the sewer around me. The colors where somewhat inverted, but it made every crack and turn in the terrain visible. The little stream of dirty water that ran down the center of the cement tunnel was like a buffeting static; yet, tiny sounds could still be picked up; the rhythmic thud of my own pulse could be heard clearly.

"Is this what you see?" I asked in astonishment, "This is incredible!"

"Indeed," my friend answered, causing the mental picture to shimmer briefly. It was odd seeing myself through the extraordinary eyes of the hydralisk. I seemed so small and puny; being shorter than Bane by more than half.

"Go ahead," Bane said with a quiet growl, "I shall give you directions and lend you my mind. You should be able to see perfectly."

Watching myself navigate the labyrinth of tunnels and sewers in third person with the senses of a hydralisk was easily the strangest occurrence of my life at the time, but actually walking while still maintaining a grip on the mental image was more difficult than I expected. Bane said, at one point, that the problems where centered around the fact that I have a free will. However, I got the hang of it after about ten minutes of tripping, or fumbling into a wall when I should have turned. The sudden movement always caused me to lose the image altogether and I was enveloped in the darkness of my own feeble Terran eyesight and dull hearing until Bane was able to focus the senses on my mind again.

Other than seeing the occasional rat, it was an hour-long, uneventful trek through a stinking sewer, to say the least, but at least there were no zerg to be found other than Bane. We came across two places where metal bars blocked the tunnel, but the hydralisk made quick work of the barricades. Shortly after the second set of bars, my friend spoke up,

"This next exit is the most northerly one in the city, we should return to the surface now."

Using one last glimpse of Bane’s sight, I found the ladder leading up to another opening to the street. Groping for the rusted metal rungs caused the mental image to fail, but my fingers ran across it in the darkness. I was about to begin climbing when I remembered something,

"You’ll have to go first," I said quickly, "I can’t move the man hole cover." The thought of being alone in the pitch-black sewer was unnerving, but it was the only way. While keeping one hand on the ladder, I stepped aside as much as I could and Bane stepped up.

"Guard your eyes," my friend warned before getting a slight jump start into the tunnel. I looked away and the awful sound of scythe scraping and clawing cement tore at my ears as the hydralisk climbed up the to the top of the sewer somehow and hammered the metal lid away with the same ease. In my rush to see daylight again, I shot up the ladder and out of the darkness after my friend.
To my surprise, the street appeared to be deserted once again as I reached ground level. The light bombarded my eyes, even though some cloud cover was gathering. Bane offered me a scythe and I grabbed the blunt edge of it with both hands. The hydralisk effortlessly hoisted me out of the tunnel and lowered me to the pavement again.

"Where is the meeting place?" Bane asked with an urgent snarl, "Our window is brief; the swarms will return to this area again."

"I’m not quite sure," I confessed, pulling the crumpled Tarsonis brochure out of my pocket for another look. According to the map, and the lifeless neon sign on a tiny store amongst many others on one side of the street, we where next to the Tourist Information Center.

"We’re not far," I reported optimistically, "It’s only a few blocks away."

The Defense Memorial was a huge plot of grass; fenced in with iron works and trees, all set in complete contrast to the city that surrounded it.

"What kind of sad place is this?" Bane asked as we approached the closed main gates.

"I don’t know. I’ve never been to a place like this before." I answered blankly. Rows of carved stones set in the grass were visible between the tall bars of the iron gate as the hydralisk wrenched a wide opening between two of them with both scythes.

"What now?" Bane snarled after I stepped through the gate to get a better look around. The entire area was the same; a few city blocks of grass and a handful of scattered trees was the only real scenery that made up the Defense Memorial other than the endless rows of upright stones and a single, lonely sidewalk that ran up the center of it all to a big statue in the middle.

"We must be a little early. Maybe it would be best to find a safe spot to wait on the ship," I said hopefully, taking the lead. I could tell Bane wanted to say something else, but my friend held his words and followed me further into the memorial. Only a few moments into our trek up the only path available, the hydralisk spoke up without warning,

"These stones," Bane said with a tone of surprise and awe, "They mark the resting places of many of your species. There are hundreds of them here."

"Creepy!" I exclaimed as the statue in the distance grew closer and closer, "I wish those guys would hurry up with that ship, we’ve got to get out of here! I don’t know how long you‘ve been on the planet, but I’ve had just about enough of Tarsonis for one day."

When my friend didn’t respond and the sound of the hydralisk following me faded, I turned around.

"Bane?" I asked in confusion. The hydralisk had left the sidewalk, wandering away from me, into the isles of head stones. I began jogging back in the other direction to catch up with Bane as he came to a stop, staring at the inscriptions on a stone just like any other in its row.
"What’s wrong with you?" I panted, slowing down to stand next to the hydralisk. Once again, Bane didn’t answer. The silence was getting to me, the distant thud and roar of the swarms even seemed to be still and waiting for a response.

"Bane?!" I said again, but louder as I waved a hand back and forth in the hydralisk’s view. A few more agonizing seconds passed, but my friend said something at last,

"At first, nothing truly made sense to me…"

"Come again," I interrupted in spite of myself, but I think Bane was beginning to snap out of it.

"It’s all becoming clear now, yet…something is still amiss…"

I didn’t say anything this time, waiting for something to end my confusion, too. At last, Bane acknowledged that I was standing there,

"Reece," Came the telepathic words with a short growl, "Can you…read the inscriptions written here?"

"Yeah, sure." I piped, leaning forward to get a better look at the weather beaten carvings on the stone.

"Here lies Charley Bennit Daniels," I began reading slowly out loud for Bane, "First Lieutenant Specialist of the Third Defense Garrison." There were more words, but my friend spoke up suddenly,

"I remember it now…I remember all of it," the hydralisk snarled weakly, "I am so sorry…"

At last, it struck me. For the first and only time in my life, Bane showed a new emotion that I didn’t know a hydralisk could possess; sorrow. All I could do was stand and listen to my friend’s sad words as they slowly came between the pauses,

"I know now…I know why you didn’t want me to go…" the mournful telepathic voice was barely audible,

"Please forgive me…my friend…" Bane reached out slowly with one scythe, but never quite touched the mossy tomb stone. The silence returned once more, but those were awful, stinging moments that hurt even more than the words themselves.

The hydralisk stood motionless like that for what seemed like ages, and a gusting wind was picking up from the brewing storm. The zerg could be heard again as well, but they were louder this time, as if they were drawing nearer. I could feel the danger in the air, but I didn’t know what to say to my devastated friend.

"Bane!" I pleaded, "We’ve got to go, the zerg are coming!"

Finally, the hydralisk turned to me, but Bane’s next words weren’t the ones I wanted to hear,

"You must go," my friend said solemnly, "I shall remain here for a while longer."
"But the ship!" I argued, but Bane wasn’t negotiating his decision in the least.

"The over mind has now lost all influence over my mind, and I’ve become a greater threat than ever. The ship will not come; the entirety of the swarms are closing on our location. Rescue would be impossible."

"You can’t be so sure!" I yelled back, even though I knew my friend was right. The distant static of the swarms destroying the cities interior was growing into volleys of distinct roars that echoed over the memorial grounds.

"Bane," I said again, but sternly this time, "I won’t leave you to die again!"

My friend wasn’t phased by the words, but the hydralisk reassured me with a renewed growl,

"Fear not, I shall return to you."

Without warning, a great crash of metal could be heard and I turned around; the zerg had arrived. Trampling over the iron fencing at the entrance of the memorial, countless numbers of zerglings and hydralisks poured into view. They tore over the grassy field of stones toward us by the dozens and the scream of mutalisks could be heard before they came soaring low over the trees lining the edge of the memorial. They were closing the distance to seconds now as I warily tried to speak to my friend one last time,

"Bane?!" I yelled. The hydralisk merely stood and faced the swarms with me, and then I knew. Bane would not leave the grave.

"Remember your promise!" I screamed, at last, above the roar of the charging brood and sprinted away from my friend without looking back.

I hated Bane for what he was about to do, but I couldn’t go any further as I reached the tall statue of a planet on a podium in the center of the memorial. Leaning against the cement sculpture to catch my breath and my bearings, I turned and watched the event unfold before my eyes. The zerglings were the first to reach Bane, but, oddly, he didn’t make a move to stop them as a group dove, tackling their target to the ground.

Blood could be seen flying in distant sprays and mists as the numbers of zergling swarmed on the hydralisk. The mutalisks began circling overhead, pelting the growing mass of screeching groundlings with their glave wurms in an attempt to hit the lone enemy. Zerglings reeled with the violent explosions of the projectiles, but their rampage wouldn’t stop until it achieved its inevitable ends, and the zerglings were soon replaced by the hydralisk’s that tore their smaller brethren aside to reach my friend.

Just as quickly as their attack began, the whole of the swarms seemed to sigh, snapping out of their uncontrollable fury. It was done.

"No…" I gasped quietly, but not in fear of my own life, as a number of the zerg now charged in my direction, but for the loss of my friend. I thought of just standing there, waiting for the claws of the uncountable brood to cut me down too, but Bane wanted me to run; he said that he would come back for me. As if on their own accord, my legs began turning beneath me once more, and the rest of my body followed.

The opposite end of the memorial loomed ahead of me with it’s tall, unclimbable fencing as the roaring swarms closed in on me again. Crumbling tomb stones in their path, the brood of zerglings and hydralisks had me cornered, there was no point in running the last ten yards to the iron bars of the memorial’s border. I turned, standing to face the blades of death at last. Just as with Bane, the zerglings were the fastest of the group, and they took the lead over the hydralisks, second only to the mutalisks that soared over them. I couldn’t help closing my eyes as the zergling’s hungry blades and the great, red wings of the mutalisks took on detail.

Suddenly, there came a rush of wind and something hit me like a train, taking hold of my body with a huge set of jagged jaws, gripping me so tight that whatever breath was left after the impact was squeezed from my lungs. The roar of the swarms reached a new pitch as I opened my eyes and found them swirling away below me. Despite the pain of the pointed teeth that held me fast, I turned up and saw the whirling red wings of a mutalisk laboring furiously. Regaining, my senses, I suddenly panicked in fear of being eaten, pounding my fists on the rocky carapace of the creature that carried me into the sky. Wind buffeted my hair around, obscuring my view as the beast hauled itself further into the air with me along for the ride. My height above the ground quickly became terrifying, surpassed only by the confusion as to why the mutalisk hadn’t bitten me in half or swallowed me whole yet and I looked back, noticing the flying creature’s outraged brethren in pursuit of the prize.

"I would have rather been torn to pieces by the zerglings!" I thought fleetingly as the mutalisk carried me higher still.

"Is that so?" A telepathic message intruded my mind. My heart leapt; the voice was twisted and mutated, yet so familiar, but at the same time I didn’t believe it to be true.

"Bane?!" I yelled over our the rhythmic rush of the great red wings and the screeching enemies on our trail.

"Hold on!" came the odd voice once again as the mutalisk suddenly rolled in the air, releasing its grip on me with its jaws. I screamed as I was thrown into the empty air and the world spun as I began plummeting towards the rooftops far below. Suddenly, the mutalisk was back again, meeting me at a different angle. The wind was knocked from my lungs once more as I collided with the carapace of the creatures back in mid-air, but my hands found a groove between the rocky plating and I clung between the mutalisk’s wings like dirty laundry as it leveled out again.

For a precious moment, the loping ride settled and I was able to get a better grip with both hands. Without warning Bane whirled again, changing directions as our pursuers launched a volley of glave wurms at us. With wings swept back, the mutalisk plummeted between one of the buildings, using gravity to outrun the projectiles before sweeping low over the pavement. It was a petrifying maneuver, but the other mutalisks were still on us. Windows of the buildings blazed by as Bane banked hard, turning down the street’s path between the sky scrapers. Huge throngs of hydralisks and zerglings filled the next street, and volleys of green spines were launched at us as we soared overhead. I could hear the projectiles pocking Bane’s carapace on the bottom side, but his wings kept pumping furiously, carrying us over the ravaging brood.

With warning, the fliers in pursuit screamed behind us, releasing another blast of their glave wurms. One of the fiery attacks flashed just below Bane’s left wing before smashing into a building and exploding. The mutalisk reeled to the right, avoiding the flames and debris erupting in our path, but the enemies only drew closer.

"We cannot lose them this way!" Came Bane’s fleeting telepathic voice, "Hold on! We’re going up!"

I dug my hands further under the plate of carapace that I clung to behind the wings of the mutalisk as it suddenly changed directions again with a powerful thrust of its wings. The other fliers chased us still, as we spiraled into the air, above the buildings again. I began getting dizzy as the swirling rooftops grew farther and farther away. The ground seemed so far; the way it did when I first came here with that ancient little ship, but this was a much different flying experience.

Clinging for dear life with the wind tearing at me, the unreal beast, with its massive, powerful wings, hauling us ever further above the city. It was easily the single most terrifying, yet most exhilarating event of my life.

"They’re still with us!" I yelled, leaning up for a quick glance backwards. The view of the spiraling planet below and the pursuing mutalisks was practically nauseating.

"We can lose them in the clouds!" Came Bane’s telepathic response with a thundering roar. Indeed, the white and grey canopy seemed just ahead, but I couldn’t shake the feeling of nausea that grew rapidly with every second of climbing.

"Bane," I tried to yell, surprised at how weak my own voice sounded, "Something’s not right!"

As we reached the white fluff and entered the bottom side, the mutalisks in pursuit could be heard roaring in frustration as they followed us into our cover. I could no longer see Bane’s wings through the thick clouds, but, for no reason, my breath left me, and I began panting. My whole body grew instantly numb and sudden exhaustion wracked my bones.


"Reece?!" Came the faint psionic voice, shrouded in concern, "Hold on!"

It was too late. I can only vaguely recall my hand slipping from its grip on the carapace. At last, I remembered as I was blown off the mutalisk and away like a leaf on a gale, about the air pressure. That’s why I was passing out, the air pressure was too low.

The final thing I remember before everything went totally black was the incredible roar of the air rushing by me and the mutalisk high above reeling back to the planet in pursuit.

To Be Continued…

 

More Bane!

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