Sorry for the delay; this chapter took longer than expected, and ended up being the longest of the story so far. In fact, due to board limitations on post length, I've had to split it into two sections.
Leaving the handful of marines and techs that had answered Truul’s call for backup to handle the damage and the wounded, the Major, Jacen, and the Master Chief were packed once again into a turbolift together, this time heading for deck one, and the bridge. When Truul had attempted to ascertain why less than half the number of reinforcements he had expected had actually arrived to secure the ruined junction room, his comlink had given out without reason, as had those of every other crewer in the vicinity. He had tried to raise the bridge on a remote, emergency channel, but that too had been overwhelmed by static and disrupted after only a few moments of contact. Truul could only assume that the damage Kira had done in her madness was more extensive than he had originally anticipated, and had somehow overloaded the ship’s comm repeaters.
“I knew I shoulda assigned independent comlinks to the crew when we came onboard,” he grumbled, more to himself than the others. “These spacers always depend too much on their ships. One blasted problem, and they can’t even talk to each other.”
The motile compartment began to slow, and Truul breathed out a sigh. “Ah well, taking this straight to the source should speed it up, in any event. I’m not to keen on being debriefed by remote, and we’ve got places to be.”
“This isn’t the command deck,” the Master Chief said. He couldn’t read the symbols displayed on the lift’s internal interface, but he had ridden in the compartment enough to develop a feel for it, with armor or without. They were stopping too quickly, too abruptly.
Truul glanced down at the control panel. “You’re right, we’re two decks short. I know I put this thing on an express track to the bridge. What’s…”
An instant before the lift came to a full stop, a flash of intuition hit Jacen, and he swept the lightsaber from his belt, igniting it in the same fluid motion.
“Back!” he yelled, just as the bowed door slid open.
A blast of rancid, wet air billowed into the small chamber, followed immediately by an equally gut-wrenching snarl. Filling the lift’s exit from deck to ceiling, a creature that was both animal and weapon leered at them with tiny, lidless red eyes. Reared up on its snake-like lower half, the beast “stood” nearly three meters in height, a ridged mass of thick, reddish-brown chitin and bony plate upon which were fixed a pair of long, scythe-tipped arms and a colossal, fanned skull. This head, more nightmare mask than living visage, was adorned by a protruding, detached jaw, dozens of uniform fangs less than a meter from Jacen’s bloodless face.
For an instant, the Jedi’s world froze. Each of his senses focused on the threat before him, and he could suddenly discern everything about the creature. He felt its damp breath, heard the grinding of its slung jaw as it flexed in anticipation, saw the muted hue of blood stained across one scimitar-like claw. He could see, too, beyond its predatory eyes, into the harsh, confusing chamber that was its mind. Jacen had encountered many strange animals on more worlds than he could recall, but he had never touched one that resonated in the Force so disconcertingly. Instinct, primal emotion, and basic desire all coalesced to drive the warrior beast, but they were but a shell, emissaries to the body, but ungoverned by it. Another power drove them, sheltered deep within the creature’s limited consciousness.
Hunger. Malice. All for one, and one alone.
The flash of clairvoyance dissipated before Jacen could even begin to process it, but it did leave him with a single, pivotal thought.
“Against the walls!”
Even as he uttered these words, Jacen began to brace himself, hunching closer to the lift’s floor and bring both his lightsaber and his free hand in front of him. As he did, the Zerg creature swelled up to an even greater height, puffing out its chest cavity with a whine of transient air and chitinous plate. Its massive head lifted to towards the ceiling, revealing a pair of hard, ribbed plates that covered most of its long torso. Above this armor, a fleshy sac bulged forth, inflated by the intake of atmosphere.
A dozen minute tears appeared in the reddish mass, and abruptly the air was filled with a barrage of bony spines. Polished white, covered in a membrane of mucus, and tipped with points finer than needles, the hail of organic missiles crossed the space between the Zerg and Jacen in a split second. Rather than tearing through the unarmored human like so much uncooked meat, however, most of the spines diverted course fractionally, as if caught by a powerful wind. The bolts whistled past the Jedi’s head and chest, narrowly missed Truul and the Chief, who were still reacting to Jacen’s sudden command, and impacted the car’s curved rear wall. Each hit with the report of a gunshot, and a few nearly perforated the metallic surface before coming to a halt, a testament to their lethal capacity.
Ignoring the pair of cuts on his left arm left by spines he hadn’t quite been able to deflect, Jacen lunged forward, bringing his saber hilt to his chest and then slashing horizontally at the attacking creature’s center mass. It reared back with incredible speed for its size, but was unable to completely evade the glowing pylon of green energy. A long scar of charred exoskeleton just below the creature’s spine sac provoked a piercing, clattering screech, but for all its rage, the animal’s thick covering seemed to have protected it from injury.
Jacen closed distance with the beast again, but was unable to raise his lightsaber for another slash before Zerg brought its own blades to bear, bring them across at the Jedi from both sides. Still confined by the turbolift aperture, Jacen could not dodge under the blows, so instead he went up; a Force-enhanced leap brought him level with the beast’s hard, left shoulder. Unable to recover from its failed death embrace quickly enough, the Zerg could do nothing but jerk back violently as Jacen slid over its armored torso, spun around as he fell towards the ground, and planted his lightsaber a patch of flesh exposed between its shoulder and neck plates.
The creature’s spiny tail leapt up to meet the falling Jedi, and its chinked underside slammed him into a nearby bulkhead before he could regain his footing. It swung about to face its incapacitated prey, but, as though it only then felt the narrow shaft of cauterization that slit it from flank to flank, reeled back onto its own tail with a muted scream. Then, with a few lazy swings at the empty air and a single grind of its powerful teeth, it collapsed and was still.
Blocked from view previously by the creature’s bulk, a pair of smaller beasts peered at their slain comrade apprehensively. Vaguely canine in form and size, they were burly masses of jagged plates and livid skin, each with a pair of odd, clawed appendages sprouting from their backs like overgrown spider legs. The two seemed to peer at each other for confirmation, their tiny eyes barely visible over faces filled with jaws even more terrible than those of the larger minion, and then they turned their focus in unison towards Jacen, who still lay against the fall wall, struggling for breath after the powerful blow.
The Zerg took a few tentative steps towards the human, and when he did not immediately leap up to rebuff them, they grew bolder and began to lope down the narrow hallway, their clawed antenna undulating in concert with their steps. Jacen watched them come, desperately forcing himself up against the wall and reaching out for his lightsaber, which had been knocked from his grip by the towering beast’s final blow. He found it, lying on the deck several meters away, beyond the lifeless Zerg corpse. Jacen reached out for it, felt it nudge towards his hand. The two quadrupeds were almost upon him. His weapon was too far.
As the leading creature tensed its haunches in preparation for the final leap, two lambent bolts alighted upon its midsection. The scaly surface lit with combustion, and the beast tumbled onto its side, momentum carrying the twitching form nearly another meter before it finally came to a stop. Its companion bayed in outrage, but it too was stricken by crimson energy, and fell to the deck with equal swiftness.
Looking ins the direction from which the blaster fire had come, Jacen stared at his own muted reflection, captured in the Master Chief’s rounded faceplate. The soldier held out a gauntleted hand, and the Jedi took it gratefully, pulling himself fully to his feet.
“Nice work,” the Chief commented, gently nudging one of the larger beast’s forelimbs with his boot.
“You too,” Jacen said, and then retrieved his lightsaber hilt from the scuffed floor.
“Hydralisk.” Truul joined them, his blaster still at the ready. “That’s what Tassadar called ‘em. Nasty creatures. A few of them nearly tore up a few of my boys on Deep Space Nine. This one’s bigger than those, though, and I never saw any of them move that fast.”
“The smaller Zerg are different as well,” the Chief noted. “They’re tougher and bulkier than any I’ve encountered before.”
“Well, I guess this would explain why I haven’t been able to raise anyone above decks for the last few minutes,” Truul said. “I’m willing to bet that this lot wasn’t all of ‘em.”
“How could they have gotten onboard?” Even as he voiced the question, Jacen reached out into to the surrounding ship, searching for minds and threads of activity that might answer it. He found only a clutter of rampant emotions, fear, confusion, and bitter determination intermixed with the unsettling, hollow presence that emanated from the Zerg.
“Haven’t a clue, but if they’re this far into the ship’s habitation section, the security detail probably isn’t having much luck sealing off the source. The damage that Bajoran inflicted to the internal system probably didn’t help. Whatever’s going on, the captain is going to need our help getting a handle on the situation. Looks like your Fed students will have to wait a little while longer, Chief.”
The Spartan checked the ammo indicator on his sidearm.
Truul nodded. “Alright, let’s see if we can’t hook up with some of the crew and get a picture of the tactical.”
It didn’t take very long for the eerie silence of the corridor, which Truul identified as being only several below the bridge, to be broken by the sound of combat. Coming around a turn, the trio found a few crew members hunched behind a large supply crate, directing the fire from a handful of pistols and rifles down the long hallway. At least ten of the smaller beasts, Zerglings, were tearing up the narrow space towards them, pining loudly as they leapt over abandoned barricades and shattered corpses, humanoid and quadruped alike. Behind them, a pair of Hydralisks seemed to be preoccupied with a forcefully exposed wall conduit, and were peppering it with a hail of razor spines.
A single Alliance marine stood out of cover in front of the oncoming pack, punching commands into a wall interface as the others covered her, picking off as many Zerglings as they could manage. She tapped a final key, and a thick blast door began to close across the hall. Squeezing off a few parting blast from her own sidearm, the marine retreated from the panel for the crate. Before she made it to cover, however, an explosion sounded from the hall, and the overhead lights began to flicker. Something heavy sounded from within one of the walls, and the blast door stalled. Cursing, the marine turned back for the control, but found her path blocked by a glowering monstrosity that had pulled itself through the barrier’s gap.
A blaster bolt from one of the crewers burned off several of its raised back scales, but the creature did not retreat from its intended victim. The marine aimed her weapon at the thing’s head, but a lightening strike from one of the Zerg’s bizarre dorsal appendages knocked the weapon from her hand. The second clawed limb swung at her chest, but before it could find its mark, the whole beast found itself skittering back across the deck for the stalled blast door. Snarling, the Zergling attempted to shake off the unseen attacker, but a volley of blaster bolts put an end to resistance before it crossed under the threshold.
As Truul raced forward and reactivated the lockdown protocol, Jacen dragged the wounded marine back to the waiting arms of the other crewers, one of whom had already produced an emergency medkit.
“Much appreciated,” she said as someone bound her injured hand and applied a local anesthetic. “I’m guessing that that thing didn’t just decide it wasn’t hungry anymore and turn back. You must be that Jedi I’ve been hearing about. We could have used more like Commander Skywalker back on Hoth, but I’m damn glad you’re here now, sir.”
Jacen smiled and nodded at the complement, but did not reply. The mention of the rout at Hoth made the Jedi remember that the woman he was speaking to was probably a grandmother in the world he knew, if she had survived the Galactic Civil War at all.
“Private.” Major Truul kneeled down next to them and scanned the soldier’s simple dressing. “You alright?”
“Yes, sir. They always told me I was a bad shot, anyways. This can only improve my aim.”
“Glad to hear it, because we might still need ya. Now, I want to know what’s going on here. Everything.”
The marine recounted everything that had happened in the last few minutes: the internal security failures, the sudden communications blackout, the Zerg outbreak, rumors of a battle raging outside the ship’s hull. Truul listened to it all in silence, his expression stony. The others kept close watch on the empty hallway behind them, and the sealed bulkhead, against which the sound of fevered scrabbling could still be heard.
When the soldier’s account was through, one of the crewers spoke up. “Major, before I got separated from my repair detail, we were working on one of the primary monitoring nodes on this deck. As far as I could tell, the intruders are doing their best to neutralize the Republica’s offensive capabilities. After they severed internal comms, we started seeing major fluctuations in the main deflector and laser power feeds. At the rate they were working, we might be dead in space by now.”
Truul nodded. “They’re planning something.”
“We should make for the main bridge,” the Master Chief said. “Command and control has to be preserved if an attempt to retake the ship is to be made, and they may still have some intact comm systems.”
“Right. The bridge is only a few decks up, anyways, although we’ll have to take the maintenance crawlways. I don’t want to get pinned in one of those cars with a Hydralisk breathing down my neck again. There should be an access conduit a few sections down this corridor.”
The group gathered itself up and began to make its way back down the left length of the isolated stretch. The Chief and Truul took point, with the crewers and the injured marine behind, and Jacen bringing up the rear.
“This is yours, I think,” Jacen said to the soldier, handing her the blaster that the Zergling had knocked from her grip. She grasped it in her left hand and sighted it experimentally.
“This’ll have to do. Thank you, sir.”
“You don’t have to call me ‘sir’. I don’t really deserve it. My name is…”
Jacen stopped abruptly, his eyes widening. He turned back and peered down the hallway, searching it for something.
“Sir?” the soldier asked.
“You said that the outbreak originated somewhere inside the ship. Where?”
“Well, as far as I know, no one is exactly sure, but I did hear the sergeant mention something about the main cargo bay during the last comm dispatch before the lines went dead.”
“The cargo bay…” Jacen whispered to himself, still staring off down the hall.
“Why, sir? What’s wrong?”
“Tell the Major that I’ll regroup with you as soon as I can. I need to check something.”
With that, the Jedi began to run back the way they had come, ignoring the soldier’s confused shouts and warnings. Why hadn’t he thought of it before? Why had he been so distracted? As Jacen tore around a corner, he desperately hoped he could remember the way to the ship’s main hold. There was no time for wandering, if there was any time left at all.
The creature had no name. It had no identity, and no sense of self. It had those things once, but they were utterly forgotten, less than faded memories. It was an appendage now, a slave to another in every way that an organism could be enslaved. It was barely even a distinct entity, defined only by the sagging, unkempt boundary that was its skin.
To one foreign to the trials that it had endured, the thing, or any of the half dozen other beings that were attached to the bridge of a warship that had once too had a name, a history, a crew and captain, the creature might have appeared to be any number of things. It was undeniably alive, pulsating, twitching, breathing in the shallow, vestigial manner of something that really does not need to breathe, but beyond that, it bore little resemblance to any lifeform encountered in the collective experience of the peoples who had constructed the warship upon which it sat. It could have been a plant, for it never moved from the broken and dirty seat on which it was rooted by knotted strands of scaly flesh. Perhaps an insect; the sharp, russet protrusions that burst from its withered skin certainly had the appropriate quality. More than either, though, it bore the appearance of an animate corpse, a marionette that existed only by the bizarre providence of some greater power.
In truth, it was all these things, but in true function it was something else entirely, and that was all that mattered. It was a hand.
Without knowing why, or needing to know why, the thing raised its naked arms, heavily blistered but still separate from the bloated mass that its body had become, and placed them upon an adjacent interface. Neural impulses stimulated by a mind a thousand miles away moved fingers in a precise, almost mechanical fashion, a series of strokes and taps that meant nothing to the body that performed them. Other creatures nearby, bonded to the ship by grotesque chains of sinew and lack of will, carried out different motions on different interfaces, equally oblivious of their own hands. This soundless symphony fired conduits and triggered electrical signals throughout the warship’s artificial brain, uncorrupted but a slave all the same, and it in turn compelled devices interspersed throughout the hull to project an invisible bubble of energy around the mass of metal and flesh.
The creatures did not know that an instant after that shield was raised, a storm of phaser fire nearly brought it down again. The tremors that shook the vessel to its very core did not phase them. Another explosion overloaded an interface violently, lashing one organic instrument with a shower of burning sparks and jagged particulate; it simply bypassed the damaged circuits and continued on with its noiseless work, oblivious the lacerations that bloodied its already scarred features.
Another entity, seated before a tactical display, saw without seeing the large, vaguely tubular vessel that a previous course correction had aligned them with. The visual signal went unprocessed by the creature’s brain, but another mind did read it, and soon after the thing and its companions were set to their controls once more.
The warship, and dozens of others like it, moved closer to their target, some firing blindly at the host of more lively constructs that pursued them, others utterly focused on their prize. The larger starship remained still, as though waiting for the single-minded swarm to arrive. Its weapons blisters, capable of swatting any of the vessels arrayed against it in an instant, were silent. Its deflector shield generators, capable of withstanding any onslaught the foe ships could muster, were inactive. By all outward appearances, the vessel was dead, heartless and cold as its suitors truly were.
The beating of Laura’s heart filled her head. When she tried to think, the constant pounding shattered her concentration. When she tried to move, the booming only increased, and terror stayed her. She could not feel the cool metal around her, or taste the saltiness of her dry lips; all she could perceive was the deafening beat. That, and the scene that filled her vision.
A thin fog of acrid smoke filled the air, unmitigated by the meager efforts of atmospheric purifiers that flickered on and off with the cargo bay lights and the distant explosions that sent faint tremors across the gray deck. Small fires still burned unchecked where data terminals and maintenance accesses once stood, their exposed wiring sparking occasionally with undirected energy. The cloud stung Laura’s eyes and obscured her vision, but she did not care. What she saw could not be diminished by such an inconvenience.
The deck was littered with bodies. Between stacks of cargo containers and claw-gouged machinery, more than a dozen inert forms lay in various states of contortion and desecration. Some were draped over smashed droids or the bodies of their comrades, dispatched by deep slashes or lethal barbs. Others were virtually unrecognizable, heaps of bones and flesh mired in pools of smeared fluid. All, however, bore mementos of their final moments. Hands half-clasped upon weapons, bodies cut down mid-flight, faces drawn into masks of fear.
Laura had seen the scene before, and now all the deep, terrible feelings that the prior experience had inflicted upon her had returned, amplified all the more by the closeness of the carnage. Sheltered under the overturned wreck of a repulsor crane, which she had stumbled under more by instinct than conscious thought as the world around her dissolved into blood, she was a prisoner, alone with ice-cold dread that had become her mind. She had not seen one of the monstrosities for some time, how long she could not tell, but fear still confined her. Fear of both claws and teeth, and of the lifeless creatures that lay along the path to escape.
She would not leave the safety of the chance alcove, could not. Even if Laura was armed, and the demons that now crept through the Republica’s halls were somehow crippled, she could not summon the will to enter into the terrible place again alone. She would stay there, hidden, until the world around her turned to ash. It was all she could do.
A gasp of labored breath sounded close by, and Laura recoiled deeper into her ruined space. She clenched her teeth and wedged herself into a fetal position, waiting for the searing pain and ensuing darkness. She could almost feel the blood-sullied spears of bone slicing her skin and piercing her to the core.
The wheeze came again, faint and fading, almost imperceptible against the pounding within her chest. The sound still terrified Laura, but after the scythes of the hunting demons failed to rip her from her protective shell, she managed to open an eye and scan the space before her for its source. There was no Zerg beast there; the chamber still seemed devoid of life. Then she saw it, a body not three meters from the low, cluttered opening beyond which she was crouched. It was the Wookiee deck chief Dapaduuk, and his thickly-furred and blood-matted chest was rising and falling, if only slightly.
A ray of awe worked itself into Laura’s mind. She had seen the towering Alliance soldier beset by five of the invading creatures. Fearsome even without a weapon, the Wookiee’s huge paws had rent one of the smaller attackers nearly in two and stressed the bladed arm of a larger creature almost to breaking. Nevertheless, weight of numbers and the ferocity of the Zerg onslaught had overwhelmed him, and he had been brought to the floor by more than a dozen vicious slashes and rending bites. The sentient’s hide was virtual patchwork of open wounds, each of which was still hemorrhaging dark liquid. And yet, he was still alive.
A hiss and clatter of nailed feet echoed from one of the adjoining halls. Fear gripped Laura once again, and she began to retreat further into her hiding space, but just as she did, breath once more racked the Wookiee’s body, and his left arm twitched. The alien’s lips, gashed by a deep cut, drew back haltingly, and a low groan emanated from beneath broken rows of teeth.
Laura stared at the Wookiee for a long moment. She remembered the Cornwall, seeing friends and colleagues torn apart and left on the bloodied ground, dying and without hope. She remembered the fear, the confusion, the helplessness she had felt as each one died. She remembered her own flight, her feet and blind fortune snatching her from a fate that no other had escaped.
She remembered the distorted reflection of her own face in the face plate of one of her saviors, twisted so by fear and self pity that she thought a moment that it was one of the monsters that hounded her.
Slowly, cautiously, Laura crawled from the cover of the wrecked vehicle. On her hands and knees, ignoring the sticky wetness that soaked her palms and uniform, she moved the Dapaduuk’s side. Gingerly, she touched a massive, hairy shoulder.
“It’ll be alright,” she whispered. “I’ve got you.”
The Wookiee made an indecipherable noise and turned his battered head fractionally towards her.
“Quiet now. I’m going to have to move you. Hold on.”
Quickly assessing the considerable damage to the massive creature’s upper body, Laura positioned herself behind the Wookiee’s neck, propped its lolling head on her chest, and grasped him beneath each arm. Inhaling deeply, she tugged on the limp mass, found herself unable budge it a centimeter, repositioned, and tried again. This time, the Wookiee slid back with her fractionally, but as soon as she stopped to gasp for another breath, he loosed a guttural howl of pain. It was a weak cry, but loud enough to reverberate into every corner of the chamber and beyond. The footfalls in the hallway ceased.
Pushing down the wave of fear that tempted her to drop the wounded soldier and flee back into her dark cave, Laura strained once more against Dapaduuk’s impressive weight. He moved with her again briefly, and again a fevered cry escaped his lips.
Laura was about to whisper something, more to bolster her own resolve than silence the pained Wookiee, when a shadow leapt up suddenly on the deck before them. Looking up, she saw the forms of two slithering Hydralisks, backlit by a fallen floodlight, as they made their way into the hold. The beasts did not rear up and scan the chamber for prey or fall into covert, stalking movements; they saw their intended victims, and cared not if they were seen in turn. Mindless minions or no, instinct told them both that their next meal was to be an easy one.
Laura did not attempt to flee as they approached. The Zerg saw her now, and a bent pile of machinery would not keep them from their prize, even if she could reach the overturned repulsor pad before their jaws found her. She simply watched, and let the feeling drain from her limbs, resigned to the inevitable. Certainly, fear was still with her, but she found that next to the fear that had nearly kept her from reaching out to the Wookiee, the pain that this new terror inflicted was bearable. She had conquered one fear, only to find another that was unconquerable; perhaps, she thought ruefully as the twin predators moved closer, there was some small solace in that irony.
The Hydralisks closed past the range of their spine sacs, instead allowing their exposed jaws to fall open and raising their scimitar claws in anticipation. One gurgled joyfully and locked eyes with Laura, as though claiming her as its particular share of the find. She returned the cold gaze unflinchingly.
Fanning out on either side of the Wookiee and the human, the two Zerg coiled their hind sections and leaned close, until Laura could have reached out and touched her hunter had she had the energy or inclination. The Hydralisk was so enraptured by its target that it failed to notice the blur of motion that appeared at the entry hatch through which it had emerged, nor the flash of green light that accompanied it. This ignorance would likely have continued for some time, but a loud rush of warped air current managed to elicit the creature’s attention, and it turned its massive head towards the doorway in time to catch a glimpse of a flattened, lambent disk of green, just before it sailed smoothly into the beast’s sloped forehead.
It took the other Hydralisk only a second to sense that something was amiss, but in that time the blur had crossed the distance between them, and had already retrieved its glowing blade from the smoldering chasm that it had left in the first Zerg warrior. Before the slain creature could even fall onto the deck, the blur resolved into the form of a man dressed in black and leapt over Laura and her charge, directly on top of their remaining foe.
The Hydralisk unleashed a volley of spines before its attacker could reach the ground, but the man changed his trajectory in midair, deftly dodging the onslaught and landing behind it. The creature’s muscular tail whipped up to meet the human, but he vaulted over the strike and lunged at the Zerg’s undefended back. The lightsaber bit into dense chitin, but the Hydralisk managed to jerk to the side away from the blow, leaving behind a large chunk of its exoskeleton plate. Screeching, the beast slashed at the man with an enormous claw, almost toppling onto its back in order to do so.
A flash of illumination separated the talon blade from its arm. Another flash separated the Hydralisk from half of its skull.
As the second creature joined its companion on the plated floor, Jacen Solo straightened from his combat stance, keyed the pommel of his blade off, and then collapsed to one knee, breathing heavily. The engagement had lasted less than ten seconds.
Numbly, Laura stared at her savior, oblivious to the Wookiee’s weight upon her legs or the cool sweat that drenched her brow. She opened her mouth to speak, but a chorus of surprise, blind relief, lingering fear, and something else entirely echoing in her mind left her mute.
His breathing finally slowed, Jacen looked up at the woman, and then began to rise. The young Jedi winced visible, and a hand clapped onto his thigh, where a long sliver of red welled from under his black garb.
“Are… are you alright?” Laura tried to move towards him, but found herself still pinned by Dapaduuk’s bulk.
Jacen nodded quickly, and then raised his hand. The cut was still emblazoned wetly upon his skin, but the flow of blood was swiftly diminishing, thickening under the gentle caress of the Force.
“Don’t worry about me. Are you alright? I came as soon as I realized what was going on.”
“I’m not hurt.”
Jacen attempted to look around the room, but his eyes never quite left Laura’s gaze. “I’m sorry… I’m sorry I couldn’t get here any sooner. Are any of the others…?”
The feeling returning to her extremities, Laura was suddenly aware again of the Alliance crewer’s thick, warm blood upon her hands and uniform. “Yes. Yes, he’s still alive. He was wounded pretty badly, though. I’m not even sure how he’s still breathing.”
Tearing his gaze from the woman, Jacen moved quickly to the Wookiee’s outstretched form, which was still moving with occasional, haggard inhalations. He laid each hand gently upon the alien’s chest and peered at his scared face, reaching out for the pain-racked consciousness within. After a moment, he looked back at Laura, worry obvious on his face.
“We need to get him to a bacta tank. I might be able to keep him breathing for a little while longer, but he’s lost a lot of blood, and I’m not skilled enough to maintain him like this.”
“There’s a turbolift just outside the bay,” Laura said. “Could we get him to the medbay?”
Jacen shook his head. “The Zerg have gotten into the lift network, it’s not safe. And the medbay may have already been overrun, anyways. I’m sensing fighting all over the ship now.”
Nowhere safe. Nowhere to run.
Laura forcefully expelled the seditious thoughts from her mind. She had already come face to face with mortality on this ship and survived; the threat of more wouldn’t be enough to stop her now, or ever again. She would not be defeated by the savage specter without a fight, especially not in view of the man crouched before her.
“Well, we’ve got to get him out of this bay. I doubt that you managed to get here unnoticed.” Gritting her teeth, Laura attempted to lever the Wookiee up off of her, and then off of the bloodied deck. Jacen was at her side in an instant, and Dapaduuk’s weight was suddenly manageable. When they had managed to move and prop him up against the ruined vehicle under which Laura had sheltered, Jacen paused to give Laura time to breath, and the two caught each other’s eyes once more.
In a rush, all the feelings of regret and anxiety Jacen had felt following their last meeting came back to him. He remembered the frustration, the doubt; all the feelings that coming to know Laura Martin had sparked within him. He remembered affections from his life before they had crossed paths, some old, some achingly fresh. He felt the inevitable pain of parting, and knew he would have to brace himself for it again. Then, all in an instant, Jacen decided he would not need to.
Laura accepted the kiss without resistance or apprehension, as though she had expected for a long time. An eternal moment held them both, and no hesitation sullied the act, no doubt. The closeness of combat and death, the devastation all around, even the softly wheezing creature at their side, all were forgotten, taboo and inhibition cast away. Both had walked through the darkest corners of loss and the unforgiving jaws of war, and both had emerged alive, their strength found in the other. For the briefest and longest of moments, they were one.
Parting found them in the same macabre chamber, and neither hesitated to return to their dire work, but where weariness and worry still hung heavily in their features, despair was gone.
Together, the two lifted the taller, unconscious sapient to his feet, and Jacen gingerly grasped him around the broad chest. His muscles buckled under the weight, but an invisible hand joined them, and the Jedi found himself able to tote his living burden across the deck. Nevertheless, when a jarring tone resonated from the ceiling over the ambient drone of distant fighting and lesser warning sirens, the knight had to quickly refocus to keep from toppling onto the ground.
“What was that?” Laura asked, close at the Jedi’s side.
Jacen frowned, and then caught sight of a cracked wall display that hung lopsided from a gutted maintenance computer, exposed wiring simultaneously keeping it lit and suspending it above the hard deck plate.
“It’s an evacuation alert. Captain Ryceed just ordered all crewmembers to the escape pods. We’re abandoning the Republica.”
A hub of brisk and earnest activity only minutes before, the command bridge of the Alliance cruiser now looked very much like the main cargo bay. The hatch that led to the adjacent turbolift bank lay in roughly-shorn pieces on the burned and scratched floor. Interfaces and displays all across the chamber’s lower deck bore debilitating damage from wild slashes, blunt force, and gouts of corroding acid. Smashed emitters and rapidly depleting power cells left the bridge lit only by dim emergency illuminators. A haze of smoke from stray weapons discharges and electrical fires, some of which still smoldered unchecked, choked eyes and lungs, as did the stench of burned flesh and fresh blood.
William Riker stood just above the scene of destruction, his right arm wrapped with a hasty tourniquet. His once pristine uniform was torn and soiled in places, and his forehead was covered in a sooty cement of sweat and airborne detritus. Wiping the filth from his eyes, the commander watched as a trio of Alliance marines mounted a portable E-Web blaster cannon on its bulky tripod, aiming it towards the exposed access way from the bridge’s interior balcony. Below, other soldiers and crewers were arrayed about the deck, the bodies of fallen comrades and heaps of lifeless Zerg at their feet. Moments before, they had been set upon the grisly work of searching the dead for ammunition and pushing the remains away from the center of the room. Now, however, all were motionless, eyes fixed up the Starfleet officer.
“I’ve relayed the order, sir, on all channels,” a lieutenant reported from a communications station. “With the internal systems as they are, I can’t be sure it’ll reach everyone aboard, but I’ve done my best.”
“The intercom is still offline?”
“You could use it, Commander, but there’s no guarantee that anyone outside of this room would hear you.”
Riker nodded in recognition, and then turned back to what remained of the Republica’s bridge crew. After taking a quick head-count, he could barely keep himself from cringing; barely two dozen beings stood before him, even with their numbers bolstered by the timely arrival of a squad of reinforcing marines and the handful of refugees that Major Truul and the Master Chief and somehow managed to spirit onto the command deck.
The onslaught had been sudden and brutal. With communications all but lost with the rest of the ship, Captain Ryceed had decided that there was no choice but to seal off the command level completely while the marines scattered throughout the ship desperately struggled to contain the encroaching intruders. However, even as she sent personnel to personally ensure that the level’s key corridors and entry points were locked down, reports began to flow in that Zerg had been spotted only one deck below, and confused readings from what remained of the cruiser’s senor net indicated that hostile warships were within transporter range of the floundering, defenseless vessel. Two minutes later, as the last of the Republica’s weaponry and monitoring gear went offline in a cascade of internal failures, the security detail posted by the bridge turbolift bank failed to report in.
Ryceed and her officers had managed to get heavy blast doors closed over the two main doors to the bridge, and were sealing the ingress from the lifts when they had appeared, sinuous claws and armored bulks turning back the durasteel barrier like it was made of foil. The marines tasked with defending the ship’s nervous system had opened up on the threat without hesitation, but there had simply been too many of them to stop. Riker, consumed a moment before with finding a way to reestablish contact with the Allied fleet, found himself in the middle of a ferocious melee. Only the timely arrival of a contingent of soldiers lead by Truul and his Spartan companion from a maintenance crawlway adjacent to the turbolifts had saved him the jaws of animalistic intruders.
Ryceed had not been so lucky. Even as the Zerg invaders were being mowed down by a sudden crisscross of blaster fire, a single Zergling had managed to bowl its way past the defenders and onto the second level, where it had set its single-minded malice on the Mon Calamari captain before being extinguished by a pair of expert shots from the Chief. She now lay a few paces behind Riker under the care of a frazzled medic as she drifted in and out of consciousness. Confirming the severity of the deep lacerations that rent her expressionless face and uniformed torso, the caretaker insisted that he needed to get her to a medical facility with all possible speed.
She had only managed one intelligible statement since the attack, uttered to Riker as he knelt next to her mangled form. Ryceed had fixed the human with both huge, glassy eyes, and said, “Don’t let them have it.” Riker had given his word, and the captain had slipped from waking.
Now the commander cleared his throat, and all eyes fell upon him. “I have given the order to abandon the Republica.”
A few murmured in dismay or disbelief. The rest were silent, watching.
“I realize that I am not your captain, or your executive officer, or part of this ship’s chain of command at all. I am not even an officer of the Alliance, and I have never claimed to be. By all rights, I shouldn’t have the authority to give the command I am giving now, and I understand fully if you are apprehensive about following it. The abandonment of one’s vessel is a hard burden to bear, and to do it without the leadership of a commander you know and trust is almost impossible. Nevertheless, I must ask you all; trust me in this, and believe that I know enough of your captain to do what she would do in my place. I too despise the thought of retreating in the face of the Zerg, giving up this fine ship, but I also know that there is no way we can win this fight. There is no point in sacrificing this crew in a hopeless last stand when the war can still be won, and you all returned to fronts nearer to your hearts.”
For a moment, no one spoke, until a human marine with a bandaged hand stepped forward from the small crowded, glancing meaningfully at her comrades as he did. “Commander Riker, I used to be an Imperial trooper, and I killed my share of good, honest sentients before I finally saw what the Empire was doing to our galaxy. This crew still accepted me, despite all of my crimes, because the Captain decided that there was something decent enough in me to let me on her ship. Most of us have only known Major Truul and the Chief for a few weeks, and we’d still fight for them and die alongside them if need be. At least, I would. I would because they’ve proven themselves able soldiers and competent commanders, and in a universe as twisted as this one, you’ve got to take all the men like that you can get.”
“Solid skill or the Captain’s confidence. If you’ve got one of those things on the Republica, your part of the family. From what I’ve heard, Commander, you’ve got both, and if that’s the truth, then I’d follow you straight to the gates of the Imperial Palace. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Rebel or a Fed or a blasted Hutt, for that matter. Of course, if you end up being a dud, my opinion might change a bit, but from the looks of things right now, I won’t be in much of a position to complain if you’re wrong about this.”
Truul walked up next to the woman and slapped her on the back. “Alright, Private, enough speeches. We haven’t got the time. You heard the Commander, we’ve got places to be.”
With that, the crew began preparing for evacuation as readily as though the order had been handed down by Mon Mothma herself. Clearing away a fallen Hydralisk corpse, a few ensigns began to manually decant one of the blast doors, while others armed themselves for the short trip to the bank of escape pods designed to serve the ship’s command crew. The rest readied the wounded for transportation or stood at watch by the other bridge apertures, fully conscious of the muffled sounds of sabotage and battle that resonated through the floor plates from below.
Disguising a relieved sigh with a cough, Riker turned to the operations officers still at their posts. “I assume that there are some self-destruct protocols still available to us.”
“Yes, sir. We still have an uplink with sublight control; it looks like the Zerg were trying to leave it intact. Locking the ion drives into an uncontrolled charge cycle should build up enough energy to flow back into the core and destabilize the hypermatter containment systems. If containment is lost like that, the ship will literally crack in half.”
“How long will that take?”
“No more than fifteen minutes.”
“Then get on it. I have a feeling that the Zerg aren’t going to hold off for that long.”
Truul hastened up the stairs to Riker. “Orders, Commander?”
“As soon as they get that door open, I want you and your soldiers to escort the wounded and the rest of the crew to the escape pods, and then launch yourselves out of here.”
“What about you?”
Riker tugged on his tunic. “I’ll stay here with a few officers to make sure that the self-destruct sequence is irreversible. After that, we’ll follow out of the ship. Try to remember and leave us a pod, if you can.”
Truul frowned, but nodded shortly. “Got it, Commander.”
As Truul directed two of his largest marines to conduct Captain Ryceed to safety, Riker turned back to Operations and watched as a pair of lieutenants overrode several of the security protocols of the cruiser’s navigational droid brain, and then directed it to appropriate all available power from the reactor for the massive tubular sublights at the rear of the vessel. Rather than divide the energy into individual apportionments for each drive, which could then produce the jets of energetic particles that propelled the warship through the void, however, they instructed the computer to pool what it diverted in the subsystem’s power distribution grid. Within a minute, a status display indicated that the distributing vanes were heating well beyond their design specifications, and the energy that continued to pour in found the system less and less conductive. It was only a matter of time before the wave of energetic potential had no place to go but back, into the reactor’s power feeds and inside the control systems that kept the tiny hypermatter star at the ship’s heart from spilling forth.
Just as the current within the distant chamber surpassed the local flow meter’s capacity to measure, several crewers shouted and pointed out the main viewport. Despite the battle that was obviously still raging outside of the ship, with the Republica’s sensors dead and imaging systems largely inoperative, the scene beyond the transparisteel plate had been fairly peaceful, a starfield trimmed by a silver of blue-green Bajor, occasionally etched with a distant flash of colored light or surge of motion. Now, however, several starships hung in space near enough that Riker could easily identify them as being Starfleet in origin. One of them, an Intrepid-class patrol ship, was so close that the commander could almost read the name and serial number stamped upon its silvery, oblong primary hull.
“Reinforcements?” an Alliance officer asked Riker.
Riker did not respond immediately. Instead, he moved closer to the panoramic viewport, straining his eyes at the distant form. The vessel, designed for speed and endurance, was of a new class, commissioned after the Enterprise-D had passed through the fateful rift, and as such the commander was relatively unfamiliar with its structure. Nevertheless, something about its streamlined surface rang false, some feature out-of-place on a Starfleet hull. The ship moved almost imperceptibly more proximate, and Riker’s seasoned eyes could suddenly see the flaw clearly.
Spaced along the ship’s surface, sprouting from almost every hatch and pore, irregular lumps sullied the Intrepid’s sleek veneer. It was still far too distant to know for sure, but Riker would have sworn upon his commission that the protrusions were organic in nature.
“Those are no reinforcements.” The Starfleet officer tore himself from the front of the bridge and swiftly returned to the upper level railing, beyond which the crew was already mostly assembled around the exit, which was already mostly unsealed. “Major!”
Truul looked up. “Yes, sir?”
“We need to get these people out of here now! The Zerg are within transporter range of the Republica, and this bridge.”
The marine nodded solemnly, and then amplified his gruff voice commandingly. “Alright, let’s get moving! Grab the wounded and line up at the hatch. I want us through the instant that barrier drops. Ulrand, Olesa, get on that gun and cover our backs!” The blast door creaked, and then disappeared into the ship’s bulkhead, revealing a darkened, empty passageway. “I’m taking point. Chief, you take the rear. Let’s move!”
The assembled group of officers and crew cued obediently before the hatchway and passed from view in groups of one or two, interspersed every so often by a wary marine or stretcher-bound casualty. After Captain Ryceed was carefully borne away, the Master Chief ushered the last few stragglers through the doorway, and then turned to Riker, who remained close by the operations station with the pair of soldiers and a steadfast Mon Calamari technician.
“Commander.” The Spartan withdrew an object from a slot on his girdle and tossed it lightly to the Starfleet officer. “Just in case.”
Riker looked at the thing carefully. It was a smooth, metallic ball roughly the size of his fist, adorned by a dark equatorial band, a few inactive lights, and a single, flat switch. The device was obviously of the Alliance’s galaxy, and its purpose was somewhat outside of Riker’s experience, but he had little difficulty identifying its nature.
The thought of the Chief’s implication chilled Riker’s blood, but he accepted its worth nonetheless. He offered a nod of thanks to the armored soldier; the Chief returned it, and then vanished himself beyond the bulkhead.
“The drive buildup still hasn’t initiated a significant feedback reaction,” the technician said without looking up from his controls. “There are too many redundancies and automatic regulators built into the system, and the computer network is too chaotic for me to shut many of them down. It’ll be another few minutes before were sure that an irreversible cascade has been initiated.”
“Anything you can do to speed it up,” Riker urged.
Seeing that the two remaining troopers were rechecking their mounted blaster, the commander picked up a pistol that had been left on an inactive holograph plate and checked its tiny ammunition display. As he attempted to interpret the foreign symbols, an out-of-place and yet completely familiar sound met his ears. Normally a harbinger of hope and aid, the artificial crackle nearly froze his heart. A transporter beam.
Spinning towards the source of the noise, Riker found himself face to face with a charging mass of claws, teeth, and armored flesh. Diving instinctively to his right, he felt more than heard the creature strike the bank of computers next to which he had been standing. Rolling onto his back and sliding desperately away, Riker watched as the Hydralisk struggled to prize its scythe-like claws from the sheets of ruined metal, sending showers of scrap machinery and sparks cascading to the deck as it howled. Once it had wrenched itself free, it turned once again towards the commander, locking him in its single-minded gaze.
Barely thinking, the man raised his weapon and fired twice. The first shot went wide, blowing a relay box mounted on the ceiling into blackened fragments. The second hit, impacting the base of the creature’s paddle-like skull fin, just above its eyes. The energy of the bolt shattered the bone, sundering organic armor that could have resisted any lesser blow. A look of deep malice still fixed on its angular visage, the creature shuddered, flailed its vicious limbs uselessly, and tumbled to the floor less than a meter from Riker.
Crawling away from the corpse in an adrenaline stupor, Riker made to call a warning out to his companions, but immediately saw that it was too late. Half a dozen other Hydralisks and a host of their smaller kin had appeared on the bridge, all around them. A few lay dead, victims of the quick response of Truul’s marines and their E-Web, but the rest were converging upon the trio of humanoids, flashing over ruined terminals and cluttered deck plates with almost supernatural speed. As Riker looked on, one of the snake-like warriors, blood-red frame bulkier than that of its russet cousins, effortlessly grappled over the upper-level railing and threw itself at the technician, who had remained at his post resolutely.
The Mon Calamari leveled a blaster at the attacker, but before he could fire, a sideswipe knocked him to the deck, lifeless. A corona of crimson splashed against the hunter’s arched back, but it seemed to barely feel the blow, and turned to face its new prey without pause. The marine who had shot the thing faltered momentarily, aghast that the monstrosity had survived the searing bolt, and then opened up on it again, his rifle coughing with added earnestness. The spray of charged gas set the Hydralisk aflame with small explosions, and small fragments of the creature rain from its skeletal form, but its advance did not cease. At last, blinded by a hit on its skull, the beast reared back, opened its chest cavity, and belched a hail of spines at the soldier, emptying its sac of projectiles before a blaster bolt found its way into the gap and ignited the Zerg a final time.
Stricken by several of the barbs, the trooper screamed and tumbled back over the railing, straight into the waiting jaws of a brace of Zerglings. The second Alliance marine barely had time to recognize that his comrade had fallen before he too was surrounded and overwhelmed by the claws and teeth of three more of the greater Hydralisks. Dragging himself to his feet, Riker attempted to stave off the feral creatures with volley after volley from his weapon, but they seemed to ignore him, even after two Zerglings joined the grim heap piled around them. Only when the other had been fully and unrecognizably dispatched did the marauders turn their attention again to the commander, who was now backed up against the bridge viewport, the very front of the compartment.
It took Riker a moment to notice that he had finally exhausted his blaster’s supply of ammunition; he depressed the pistol’s trigger again and again without thinking, barely aiming, intent on holding back the merciless host and nothing else. At last acceding to his disarmament, Riker let the blaster fall to the deck and placed both hands on the small orb which was still clasped tightly in his left fist. He contemplated its simple form, the single button trimmed by tiny lights. Mustering the last of his resolve, the Starfleet moved a thumb over the stud, and then looked up again at the ravenous sets of eyes now fixed firmly upon him, as if challenging them to come closer.
Then, to his bewilderment, Riker realized that they were not moving at him. The pack of beasts had stopped; the three towering Hydralisks and their lesser cohorts were less than six meters away, and still they did not show any sign of attacking. Instead, they sat in furtive silence, ever watching Riker, but seemingly restless, as if something had managed to distract them from their predatory impulses.
Footsteps sounded from the short stair on the bridge’s left side. Rather than the rapid, clanking clamor that the Zerg boarders produced as they propelled themselves on claws and spiked coils, these were slow, of a gait that had control and clear purpose.
The entity that stepped into view was physically smaller than the pair of towering Hydralisks that flanked her from a distance, but see completely captured the commander’s attention. In basic form, she was a woman; two meters in height, two arms, two legs, and a physique that could have made her a stunning beauty under different circumstances. Her torso and outer extremities were draped in a dark, burnished armor, which might have been artificial or grown of her own hide, and wherever the covering was absent, olive skin and sleek musculature flexed smoothly. Full, purple lips contrasted with lines and splotches of reddish discoloration that embellished her fine features, some of them traced down her chin like ribbons of long-dried blood.
Rather than hair, she bore a mane of segmented, brown spines that flowered out around her shoulders, their pointed ends swaying slightly with each step she took. Behind these growths, sprouting one from each shoulder blade, a pair of exposed bones jutted up above her head. Like the wings of some macabre angel, the appendages each sported a set of outstretched, enameled extensions, tipped with rending points that made the blades of her guardians appear worn and dull by comparison.
Riker watched her keen, yellow eyes fall upon him, and immediately had to steel himself to keep from losing his balance. Somehow, simply returning her gaze had sent a spasm of pain through his brain, and he was still attempting to clear his head when the being let her eyes fall away from him, focusing instead upon the head Mon Calamari technician who lay at her feet.
“A pity. This one could have been useful,” she said after prodding the body with a boot. Her voice was surprisingly soft and ordinary, but with it Riker could perceive a chorus of other sounds accompanying the words within his mind, guttural noises and echoing incantations. The strange voices were similar to those he felt when Tassadar communicated, but rather than the controlled and steadfast sensations that manifested themselves with the Protoss’ words, this creature’s telepathic emissions were almost indecipherable, a clatter of fractured feeling, tinged by an aura of dread that Riker suspected was his own.
“Ah well, this breed of warrior has always been a bit overeager in its lust for the hunt. That’s what really makes them superior to their lesser brethren I suppose, their drive, not their simple bulk. I must admit, the Protoss name for them, hunter-killer, I think it was, is quite appropriate. Still, they are quite sweet if you get to know them.”
The woman held her hand out to one of her formidable escorts, and it moved within range of her fingers, tinting its massive skull upwards obediently. She stroked its detached jaw affectionately, and then turned again to face Riker. The half-grin on her lips frightened him far more than any of the tensed, waiting monstrosities arrayed around her.
Two more creatures shambled onto the bridge’s upper level behind her. They were also obvious once humanoid, and still bore the rudimentary structure of their species, but otherwise were completely unrecognizable, amalgams of disjointed limbs, insectoid facial organs, and scabs of leathery, plated skin cast in all shades of purple and brown.
“There,” the woman said, inclining her head fractionally towards the control panel the deceased Alliance officer had been manning, but keeping her gaze locked onto the trapped human.
“These two will perform just as well as the other would have. And this saves me the time of having to break and reform the alien, even if I would have had to do so only temporarily. Still, I am getting quite good at it. Fully compromising and reshaping a human mind used to take me several hours, and even then, they tended to fall apart quite quickly. Now I can do it in only a few minutes, and I don’t even have to be present, as long as a suitable conduit is available. That’s how I broke the poor little soul that got me onto this fine vessel, in fact.”
She donned a look of mock consternation. “Still, I did feel her break free at the very end. Perhaps I should practice my technique a bit more.”
“What are you?” Riker said at last, finally managing to choke back the fear that the creature’s arrival had seeded within him.
She smiled again, and began to walk towards the man. Riker stood his ground as she approached, fixed less by courage than by the simple fact that he had nowhere left to run.
“That’s no way to introduce yourself, Commander,” she said irascibly. “Why don’t you tell me a bit about William Thomas Riker first? Wait, allow me; speak up if I’ve missed anything. You were born in 2335, on Earth, Alaska, I believe. You graduated eighth in your class from Starfleet Academy, with several commendations for tactical ingenuity on your record. You served on the Pegasus, Potemkin, and Hood exemplarily, and turned down your own command for a chance to serve on the flagship USS Enterprise-D as Captain Jean-Luc Picard’s first officer. Up until your disappearance in 2368, you were noted numerous times for distinction of service and competency under fire.”
“You also enjoy smooth jazz and card games, and have a taste for exotic women.”
“How…?” Riker began, and then clenched back his question. She was barely more than an arms length from him now, and he had barely even noticed her close the gap.
“How do I know all this?” she ventured. “You’re a clever boy, Will, you should have figured it as soon as I spoke. After all, I assume that that Protoss templar you’ve been ferrying about hasn’t kept mute for this whole time. Like him, and those lovely Betazed you seem to enjoy so much, I’m a telepath. Here, close enough that I can smell your sweat, I can read your mind as easily as I could order one of my warriors to bite that explosive you’re cradling out of your hands.”
Riker’s thoughts raced. He and Captain Picard had often used Deanna Troi’s empathic talents to get ahead in tense negotiations, but the commander had rarely been on the other side of a potentially hostile telepath. He only knew of one strategy that had any chance of circumventing their considerable advantage.
“You still haven’t answered my question,” he said. “Who are you?”
Kerrigan cocked her head at him, still grinning. “Alright, I’ll play along, Commander. As you’ve guessed, I was once a human, a telepathically-gifted human from an empire that impressed people like me into military service from birth, but a human nonetheless. When the Zerg showed up and started devouring our colonies, I fought against them, and, just like everyone else, I was eventually overwhelmed. But they didn’t kill me; no, the old master of the Swarm had different plans for this little Terran telepath.”
“The Overmind stuck me in an organic chrysalis and changed me. He killed the woman I was, spunky Sarah Kerrigan, and used what was left to make his newest pet. That mound of rotted flesh enhanced my psionic abilities and altered my DNA, giving me this body, extending its life indefinitely, and injecting me with a sliver of all the hate that had been building up inside him for however many thousands of years he had festered. When I popped out, I was the perfect killing machine, a loyal and efficient executor of the great eyeball’s divine will. Of course, that all changed when you friend Tassadar managed to land a battle carrier on him.”
“Free, and without direction, I found that the Overmind had been kind enough to leave me with only one real passion; to conquer. I’ve tried to change that, get back more of what I once was, but it’s never worked, and eventually I just gave up trying. I enjoy what I do, and I’m damn good at it. Queen of Blades, they call me, queen bitch of the universe. With the Overmind’s old swarms for my own, I subjugated every world from Tarsonis to Shakuras, and all the way to Terra. And now I’m here for an encore performance. The first of many, I expect.”
“But that’s enough about me. My minions should be almost done stabilizing this ship’s drives, and I don’t want you to go on too long thinking that you have any chance of delaying me beyond the point of no return, or killing me with that little ball you’re still holding. That would just be cruel.”
Beneath Riker’s hard, angered face, despair bubbled anew. He had known that this Zerg queen, this Kerrigan could not be distracted from her machinations so easily, but he had had to try. That was just the way the commander was. And now his efforts were truly for not.
Might as well try one more stupid maneuver…
Gritting his teeth, Riker raised the thermal detonator the Chief had given him and thumb the activator switch. A low, mounting whine emerged from beneath its alloy shell, and the lights around its perimeter shown bright.
The RiftStanislav Petrov- The man who saved the worldHugh Thompson Jr.- A True American Hero
"In the unlikely story that is America, there has never been anything false about hope." - President Barack Obama
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