A Marine's Story Part 12

"The Final Door Is Opened..."

Drake stood, with both pistols raised, and watched Joe’s desk for any sign of movement. It had been over five minutes since either had said anything. “Still thinking there, Joe?” “Yes sir, I am.” Joe replied, his voice sounding not as frightened as it did before. He might have something. “Take all the time you need, son. I don’t got anywhere to be.” Drake smiled. He saw the contents on top of the table shift somewhat. But before he could venture a thought as to what Joe did, his lieutenant said, calmly, “Alright sir, wanna see my plan?”

All the sudden, Joe shot up from the desk and ran straight at him. Drake chuckled at this, his rifle wasn’t even raised. “You disappoint me, lieutenant.” he laughed. Placing both pistols over Joe’s chest, Drake squeezed the triggers. The rounds tore right through Joe’s armor as if it were butter. Blood squirted out of the numerous holes, painting his chest a dark red.

Joe’s eyes shot open as he fell to the ground. Drake stood up from his cover and made his way over to his fallen foe. The lieutenant twitched on the cold, hard ground and muttered words he could not understand. “Tisk, tisk, tisk lieutenant. I trained you for eight whole months and lead you through battle. This all you have learned from me? I’m embarrassed I even made you a lieutenant.” Drake sighed, “I really expected more from you.”

But then, something completely unexpected happened. Joe’s body began burning. All by itself. It burned a bright blue and purple. At first it was a few small flames here and there, but in a matter of seconds his whole body was ablaze. His body burned so bright it felt as if it was day time for a few seconds.

Then, just as quickly as it began, it stopped. Not a single part of his body remained. There weren’t even any ashes. Drake was completely dumbfounded. “What the-?” He didn’t get a chance to finish his sentence. Fore a man came up from behind Joe’s desk and fired a gun. The shot hit Drake square in the chest. Pain raced through every nerve in his entire body as the round propelled him back, into the wall. Both of his pistols slid out of reach when he collapsed on the cold, hard metal floor

Drake pulled himself up into a sitting position and propped himself up against the wall. He looked down at his chest. The round tore a huge hole in his armor and penetrated through into his torso. Blood started bubbling through the fresh wound. The dark liquid dribbled down to the floor, beginning to form a puddle. Drake looked up to find the man throwing down his C-10 and drawing a pistol from his belt.

As the shadowed figure walked closer he stepped into a lighted area. There, Drake got a clear view at his face. “Jo-Joe?” Drake stammered.

Tracy Calmanes lay motionless on the floor, legs pressed against her chest, and hands behind her head. She was breathing quickly and had tears streaming down her cheeks. Quivering uncontrollably, she recalled what just happened.

Jon missed. His shot went straight over her left shoulder. He was a worse shot than she thought. But there was no doubt in her mind, that his second shot wouldn’t miss. In a few seconds, she would hear his boots coming closer and closer, then stop. The last things she would know in this world was her sobbing pathetically on the ground and a bullet going straight through her skull. This was it.

Then, the startling sound of a body falling to the ground caught her ears. She opened her eyes and blinked away the tears. “What the hell was that?” she asked to herself, “It sounded like a body fell behind me, but me and Jon are the only ones in the room. And he’s in front of me!” Tracy looked up to see two heavy combat boots and a gloved hand hovering inches away from her face.

She raised her head a little bit higher to see the smiling face of Corporal Jon Rulli. He held his left hand out to help her to her feet, while the other held his rifle, pointed harmlessly at the ground. She quickly got to her knees and looked behind her.

There lie the body of a dead man in a Hostile Environment Suit, combat knife clutched in his hand. The body had a large, red hole in his throat, indicating where Jon’s stray bullet went. “Saw him creeping around back there when you turned to leave. Thought I’d put on a little show to catch him off guard.” Jon informed her, “Good acting huh? I think I should go career.”

Tracy spun back to face him and was immediately filled with rage. In one swift motion, she pushed his hand out of the way, pulled herself up, and slapped him across the face. “Ow!” Jon cried, rubbing his cheek, “You’re welcome, Tracy!” “You asshole! You scared the living shit out of me!” Tracy screamed at him, “Why didn’t you just shoot him when you first saw him? Why did you have to put me through that nightmare?” “I’m sorry for saving you worthless hide, medic. Next time I’ll be sure to wait and let him slice off your head first.” Jon shouted back. “Marines are supposed to keep us medics alive. Not to scare them half to death in the process.” “Oh ya? Well I must have been sick the day the captain gave out that handy piece of information…”

The pair argued on. But little did they know that there yells were beginning to wake the sleeping marines down the hall.

He did it. He actually did it. Joe was shocked. He really made a working Hallucination of himself. His plan worked.

Now he walked slowly over to where his captain sat, bleeding. “Jo-Joe?” Drake stammered. “Like my plan?” Joe asked, keeping his face extremely serious. “How? How the hell did you…? What the hell did you do?” Drake asked slowly. “It’s a Hallucination, sir. I made a psionic copy of myself and sent him to attack you. Though he could do no real harm to you directly, it gave me a chance to get my shot in.” “You’re…You’re not infested.” blood slid down his smooth armor and dripped onto the floor. “No sir. Stack is the one who’s infested.” Joe stopped in front of his commander. Drake let out a sigh of disbelief, but the expression on his face told Joe he was beginning to understand. “When I was with the convoy.” Drake closed his eyes. “What was that sir?” “That’s when they put it in me. When I was with the convoy. That’s why they left me alive.” Drake explained, “Now I wish they hadn’t. Now I’m just a tool.” “It’s ok sir,” Joe attempted to console him, “Tracy’s here with us. She’ll patch you up and we’ll find a way to get that thing out of you!” Drake smiled and shook his head, “Joe, you know as well as I do, that the only way to get rid of a parasite, is to kill its host.” Joe couldn’t believe what he was hearing, “No sir, there has to be another way.” Drake shook his head again, “No Joe, I’m done. I’m done fighting it. If you heal me, I’ll only be a slave to the Zerg. It might even turn me into one of them.” “It can’t sir! I won’t let that happen!” Joe crouched down and put both hands on Drake’s arms. “Get up!” Drake commanded, Joe obeyed, “I won’t let you waste you’re energy on a pathetic excuse for a man like me. You know what you have to do.”

Drake extended a shaky arm and grasped the end of Joe’s pistol. Slowly, he brought up to his head. Joe shook his head. Tears began forming in his eyes. “No, I can’t Drake. I…I can’t.” Drake rested the barrel in the middle of his forehead, just above his eyes, “You have no choice lieutenant. If you don’t, I’ll just become one of them. I lose either way.” Tears continued to form in Joe’s eyes. There was no way he was going to kill the closest thing he had to a father figure. No way.

Blood started dribbling out of Drake’s mouth now. “Damn it Joe, do it! If you don’t shoot my head that thing could still take me over.” Joe’s hand started shaking and the gun quivered with it, “I won’t let it take you over.” Drake laughed, “It’s not up to you, son. Now I’m asking you, not as an officer, but as a friend. Please kill me.”

Joe’s head still shook but he could feel his finger pulling back. “Just promise me something.” Joe released the pressure immediately. “What?” he asked, allowing a tear to fall down his face. “Tell…” Drake began to cough violently, blood sprayed out of his mouth and onto the floor, “tell Tracy that I love her, I always loved her. And that I’m sorry, I never meant to hurt her like I did. I was an asshole.” his jaw trembled with the last words, “And, that I would have given anything to have seen her one last time.”

Both men had tears in their eyes. Joe stood there, fighting hard to hold them back but more and more just kept getting through. “I will sir.” Joe nodded. “Thank you.” Drake smiled, he closed his eyes, “I am proud of you, Joe. I’m glad that, at least, you were with me. You’ve become an outstanding soldier. I just wish we could have spent more time together.” Drake began coughing violently again. Joe’s hand shook even more now. “Do it, Joe. I don’t want to feel pain anymore. Show me peace.” Joe sobbed, “Sir, yes sir.” “Good.”

The room was filled with noise for and instant. Then silence. The empty cartridge clinked onto the metallic ground and sent and an echo through the room. After that the only sound that could be heard was the soft sobbing of lieutenant Joe Tarn. The young man stood there for a few minutes, mourning the death of his captain. But he still had a mission to complete. So he pushed back his tears and cleared his throat. Joe clenched his fists. “Stack will pay” he thought.

The young lieutenant took a deep breath. He was running out of time. Slowly, and carefully, he bent down and closed the visor over his captain’s expressionless face. “I’m sorry, sir.” Joe whispered. And with that, he tore off down the long dark hallway Drake had come from. “Eleven shots”

Jon Rulli stared directly into Tracy Calmanes’ eyes and shouted, “Its been how long since I saved your life and I still haven’t gotten a ‘thank you’! Why is that?” “Because as far as I’m concerned Corporal, we’re even. I saved your ass back at the Dropship. So it’s a tie game, one: one!”

Just as Jon opened his mouth to retort, he heard something that froze him. He heard the voices of people just outside the door. Tracy heard them too. Both watched as the door to the room opened and five marines, in full combat armor, rushed in. They quickly flipped over desks to give them cover. Both Jon and Tracy were still frozen with horror.

But as soon as the marines began taking aim, he found his strength again. Fast as he could, Jon pushed Tracy to the safety of some near by cubicles. Rounds started flying in as he dove for the cover of a desk. Jon quickly lowered his visor and fired blindly over the desk. “Grenade him! Now!” one of them yelled. Alarm shot through the marine’s body.

Jon tried jumping up to shoot the thrower but the other marines kept him pinned. The next thing Jon knew was that a small, round object has fallen next to him. Without thinking, he quickly grabbed the deadly device and lobbed it back over his cover. As soon as it went off, Jon sprung up and took aim. He saw three marines above the desks. Two with visors down and one with his up. “There’s my bitch,” Jon thought as he poured rounds into their position. Three found there mark and toppled the man. Then, other two opened fire on Jon. As he ducked back down, a spike hit his shoulder.

Jon felt the force push him back down but the bullet didn’t touch his skin. “Two now! Throw two!” came the leaders yell again. Jon’s eyes widened. There was no way he could throw two back before they exploded. What should he do?

Jon heard the marines pull the pins, then the ‘thud’ of them landing next to him again. Jon quickly rolled around the side of the desk. Though it saved him from the grenades’ blasts, it left him open to the other marines. “He’s in the open!” one yelled. “Fuck.” Jon couldn’t see any of them. Rounds began to fly in and slam into the walls next to him. Just then one jumped up from a desk that Jon could see and started firing.

He quickly brought up his rifle and shot back. His rounds made contact with the marine just as the grenades went off. “Ahh! I’m hit!” he yelled and fell back. As Jon rolled back behind the desk a spike hit him right above his left ankle and went straight through his leg. Jon let out a scream of pain. “I got him, sir.” the bastard yelled. Jon breathed hard and hit the manual stim release button. A message popped up on his HUD, “STIM SUPPLY DEPLETED” his pain remained. Jon swore. “Give him more grenades!” the leader shouted. “I’m out, sir.” “Me too.” “Fuck, take Joavanas’ it’s the last one, make it count!” Jon took a knee and couldn’t believe his luck. The marine was all alone and pulling the pin. Jon carefully took aim and sent all ten rounds into the marine’s torso. The man coughed and dropped the grenade. “NO!” their leader yelled as he scrambled for it. Too late.

Jon watched as the grenade went off and launched two marines directly into opposite walls. No one moved. All the bodies were still. Jon tried standing but his left leg buckled. Something moved. Jon spun left, raising his rifle.

Tracy emerged from under a desk and looked at him. Then to the five dead marines. The expression on her face looked something like “Holy shit!”. Jon raised his visor and tried to stand again. But his leg collapsed just as it did before. “Oh god, you’ve been hit.” Tracy said as she walked over to him. Jon nodded and winced with the pain. “Take off that boot.” she ordered as she readied her healing ward. Jon removed his left boot to reveal blood running out of both sides of the wound. “Your lucky it didn’t hit your bone, Jon.” she said running the ward over the wound. “Two: one, now.” Jon smiled, “My lead.” At first Tracy just stared at him. Expressionlessly.

Then, she gave a very pleasant smile, “Yeah Rulli. I owe you one. Thanks”

“How long has it been?” Mike asked again. “Eight minutes, Mike.” Tiffany sighed, “Same as it was when you asked me ten seconds ago.” “No way. You said eight minutes, eight minutes ago.” Mike argued. “Trust me, Mike. It’s been eight minutes since we got to the door.” “Do you think we should go back and get the others?” “No, we stay. They’ll find their way here. Besides, we can’t let Stack escape.” she ordered. Mike said nothing. Tiffany began looking through his mind. He was scared. He didn’t want to face Stack again. He almost took his life, and Tiffany couldn’t blame him for being fearful.

The hallway was silent for a few more seconds, until, “Lockdown lifted” echoed off the walls in a cool, female voice. At these words, the blast door began to retreat and the door to the right opened. Both Mike and Tiffany raised their rifles. Boots could be heard coming down stairs. And the only stairs in sight were the stairs leading up to the communication center.

Mike and Tiffany held their ground on either side of the hallway, weapons pointed at the comm room. Two boots appeared descending the stairs, very calmly. “Oh! Hello.” Stack said very cheerfully, “Very nice to see you again Corporal Patterson.” Mike was silent, he wore a mixed look of fear and rage, “And who do we have here?” Tiffany looked Stack right in the eye and raised her rifle to meet his head. “Ms. Duke?” Stack asked, surprised, “I swear, I thought I saw you die. Oh well. I thought killing you each, once, was a big enough treat. Now you’ve given me the great pleasure of doing again!” He smiled that horrible smile.

Stack produced a long, bone sword out of his right wrist. Tiffany was shocked. He really was infested. “And I’ll get to use my own two hands this time.” Stack leapt for Mike. Both opened up on him. Tiffany shot missed by centimeters but Mike’s were hitting him dead on. They didn’t have any effect though. Stack just charged straight forward into the deadly barrage of bullets without flinching.

Tiffany fumbled to pulled back her bolt. Stack swung with his sword and cut Mike’s rifle in two. Patterson was frozen for a moment, but quickly jumped back to avoid Stack’s next strike. He quickly pulled the pistol from his belt and took aim. Stack was too fast for him. He ducked under Mike’s line of fire and sliced upwards.

Mike let out a howl of pain and collapsed, clutching his arm. Or what was left of it. Stack had cut Mike’s left arm off, just before the elbow. Mike now lie on the ground, sobbing over his stump. Tiffany was shocked. He dropped a marine in a few seconds. Stack, slowly, stood back up and turned to Tiffany. “You’re next, Duke.” he growled an inhuman growl. Then he lunged at her.

Tiffany dodged and rolled to the three hallways. She spun around and fired at him. He was stopped mid-stride by the force of the impact and, the shell, blew away a chunk of his shoulder. Blood oozed from the massive wound. But Stack just looked at her, and smiled. His eyes flashed a bright yellow as the wound healed. A new, scaly, shoulder replaced the old fleshy one. Stack laughed, “You can’t beat me. I am invincible.”

Before Tiffany had a chance to act, Stack leapt at her and reduced her gun to two halves. Fumbling backwards, Stack grabbed her throat with his left hand and lifted her into the air. His amount of strength was incredible. Both her hands shot up to try and pry off Stack’s hand, but his grip was too strong. Then, she felt something sharp pressing up against her mid-section. Stack had raised his sword and slowly began pulling her into it.

Tiffany tried to shake her head and yell at him. But his grip kept her head in place. He could feel her struggling. “Would you like me to stop, Marshal?” Stack asked innocently. Tiffany nodded. He loosened his grip somewhat. “Fine. We’ll wait for lieutenant Tarn to get here.” Tiffany began shaking her head madly, Stack returned his grip to full force. “I’m sure he’d love to watch you die!”

As he got to the top of the stairs his, all too familiar, foreboding sense kicked in. Something extremely bad was about to happen. He sighed and made his way down another dark passage. Joe attempted to forget what he had just done but it wasn’t going well. He killed his captain, his mentor, his friend. “You showed him mercy.” Joe told himself, but that wasn’t good enough for him. He needed to know that there was absolutely nothing that could have helped Drake. “Stay focused!” he reminded himself.

As Joe rounded the next corner, he could see light. He also heard voices, “NO!” a woman screamed. Tiffany! Joe recognized her voice in an instant, and sprinted down the hallway. “Shut up, bitch. You said you wanted to wait.” Stack! Joe had finally found him. He rounded the final corner, what he saw made his jaw drop.

Stack was holding Tiffany up with his left hand and slowly pulling her back onto his sword. “Please stop.” she cried, tears rolled down her face. “No.” Stack replied simply, Joe could see blood starting to run down the end of his sword. “Stack!” Joe yelled, raising his pistol and aiming for his head. Both jerked their heads in his direction. “Speak of the devil. Nice of you to join us lieutenant.” Stack smiled that terrible smile of his, Tiffany’s tears still fell, “We’ve been waiting for you.” “Let her go!” Joe ordered, putting pressure on the trigger. “Ahh…no! See, if I let her go I wouldn’t be able to do this.” and with that, Stack pulled Tiffany toward him with all his might. The blade impaled itself into her stomach and she let out a scream of pain. “NO!” Joe yelled. Stack removed her from his blade and tossed Tiffany to the ground like she was a rag doll. Joe was speechless. But he didn’t need his words, all he needed was his pistol.

He opened fire on Stack. The rounds smashed into the man’s back and he winced in pain. Joe didn‘t keep count of his shots, he just kept shooting till Stack was out of sight. “Come get me lieutenant.” Stack called back playfully, as he ran into the comm room. The door closed behind him.

Joe rushed over. “Tiffany!” Joe yelled as he reached her. She lay, face down on the floor, not moving. Joe rolled her onto her back and put her up against the wall. “Tiff? Tiff, answer me.” Joe lightly slapped her face. “Hey, stop.” she said weakly. “Thank god.” Joe sighed, keying his radio he said, “Tracy, come in. We need you at the comm room. Tiffany’s been hit. She’s losing a lot of blood.” no response, “Tracy come in!” still no response, “Damn, these walls are too thick, I can’t get the signal through. Oh shit. What the hell are we going to do?” “About what?” she asked with a smile. “About your stomach! You’re bleeding all over the place!” blood trickled out of her wound and gathered where she sat. “Well, I say I got a few more minutes ‘till the stim wears off, or I lose too much blood and die.” she laughed. Joe chuckled too and said, “That’s not funny.” “Yeah it is, you know it.” she shifted, “I couldn’t kill him, Joe. I was too weak. It’s up to you.” “I know.” Joe nodded, tears forming in his eyes again. Joe didn’t know if she’d make it or not. Her wound was bad but people have survived worse. “Where’s Mike?” Joe looked around. She didn’t have to say a word, Mike was up against the opposite wall, unconscious, but breathing. “Joe, go.” Tiffany said slowly, “Get your revenge, make him pay. Kill him. You have to kill him. You won’t be the same if you don’t.” she rested her head up against the wall and closed her eyes, “I won’t make it though. So you have to kill him for me. Kill him for Drake.” “You’re not going to die!” she had tears forming in her eyes too, “Tracy’s on her way. She’ll help you.” Tiffany grinned, “Joe, I love you. I’ve always loved you. But I’m going to die. There’s nothing you can do about it.” “No you won’t! You’ll be fine. I promise.” as he began to stand a tear fell from his eye as well, “Don’t leave me. I need you. I don’t know what I’d do with out you. You’re my world” She sighed, “Ditto babe.” Joe bent down and kissed her, “That’s not a kiss goodbye.” Joe told her, “That’s for luck. You just wait. The next time you see me, I’ll have Stack’s head in my hand.” She nodded, “Good hunting.” “I’ll see you in a bit. I got some business to take care of.” Joe left Tiffany in the silent, dark hallway, and made his way up the stairs to the communication center. “I will be back, Tiffany.” Joe spoke to her across the psionic plane, “I swear!”

Joe slowly made his way up the short flight of stairs to the comm room. The door closed behind him. As he reached to the top, there he stood. Stack faced a large screen on the opposite wall. “Hello again, lieutenant.” Stack said, Joe raised all his minds defenses to their highest, “I hope you don’t mind my hospitality. I’m not used to getting many guests.”

He turned around. They stood, facing each other. Joe still had his pistol clutched in his hand. Stack attempted to look into Joe’s mind. So, he slowly, and carefully, pulled his defenses back somewhat. Only allowing him to see what Joe wanted him to see. Keeping his blade safe. “You’re unique, Joe.” Stack stopped searching Joe’s mind, “You survived my trap, eliminated an entire platoon of your people, who were supported by four tanks, and you even bested your own captain in combat. And, to top it off, you‘re just a lowly marine.” Joe was silent, “Though, in everyone of these encounters, you lost someone who you cared about.” Stack continued, “But that’s a habit of yours, isn’t it?” Joe remained silent. “In every battle that you’ve been in, you should have died. But no. You get out alive, while many, or all of the soldiers following you, die in your stead. Does this leave you with any guilt?” Stack smiled. “No.” Joe shook his head, “You wanna know why? Because it was the Zerg who killed them. Not me. You and the Zerg have been responsible for every death that I have had to endure. You kill my soldiers, you kill my friends, you killed my captain, you have even wounded the woman I love, and you’ve almost succeeded in killing me.” Joe raised his hand and pointed directly at Stack, “But worst of all. Because of you, I never got the chance to know my family. Your kind stole them away from me!” Joe finished through gritted teeth.

Stack started laughing. The anger in Joe bubbled even higher. “Are you serious, Joe?” Stack snickered, “That pitiful Praetor hasn’t told you, has he?” “Told me what?” Joe asked, calming down. “Oh my god, he hasn’t!” Stack roared with laughter, “You have, without a doubt, made me the happiest being in the universe.” Joe remained silent, eyes transfixed on Stack, “You seriously believe that the Zerg are responsible for the deaths of your family?” “You bet your ass I do.” “Oh, you’d lose that bet, lieutenant.” Stack chuckled, “Come here. Let me let you in on a little secret. Allow me into your mind.” “You think I’m stupid, Stack? I’m not letting you into my mind.” Joe laughed at this thought. “Tarn, I’m not trying to hurt you, honest!” Stack put both his arms out, “See? I am defenseless, I swear, to your god, that I will not harm you. This will be beneficial for both of us. You’ll get to find out what really happened to your family and I’ll get to bask in it.”

Joe was skeptical. So he quickly forced his way into Stack’s mind. What he found surprised him. Stack had absolutely no intention to hurt him, right now. Joe went through every part of the infests’ mind and found nothing. Could he really want to help him? “So what do you say, lieutenant?” Joe just stared blankly at him. “I’ll take that as a, yes!” Before he had a chance to say anything, his mind was on fire again. “Oh, come on you big pussy.” Stack sighed. The pain evaporated. Joe opened his eyes to find himself in the familiar white room that he and Stack shared the day before. But with one exception.

A wood door sat in the center of the room. No walls were connected to it. It was just a door and a frame. Joe gave Stack a puzzled look. He held out an arm and motioned to the door. “Please, if you would do the honors.” Stack fought hard to keep back a smile. Joe watched him out of the corner of his eye as he moved toward the door. “What’s behind this door?” Joe asked himself as he turned the handle. Joe pulled the door open, slowly.

What he saw beyond that door, stunned him. Through the door he saw a little boy, no more than six, sleeping blissfully in a plain white room. The glossy white walls of the bedroom had a green border running around the center of it. The little boy tossed and turned under his blue and green covers, but remained asleep. There was a model version of a Wraith fighter sitting on his nightstand.

As Joe continued to stare, dumbfounded, into the door way, something caught his eyes. The little boy had long brown hair that stopped just before his eyebrows and, although his eyes were close, Joe knew what color they were. This room, this boy, he knew who it was, who it belonged too. “That…” Joe started, “That’s me!”

Sighing, Stack spoke, “You have to walk through the door for it to work.” Joe turned and looked back over his shoulder. Stack stood there, arms folded, with an extremely impatient look on his face. As Joe turned back to face the doorway, questions began popping into his brain. Could this be another trick? Some kind of ploy to corner Joe and make him easier to kill? Even as these questions ran through Joe’s mind he still sensed no hostility from Stack.

Before Joe realized what he was doing, a foot raised itself off the ground and took his first step into the boy’s room. An immediate warmth spread through every part of Joe’s body. But that was it. Joe’s eyes closed on him and, within seconds, he was asleep. Everything that happened that day was wiped from Joe’s memory. Like some little person in his mind took a bucket of white-wash and spread it over the days awful events. But the little person kept going. He painted over Kel-Moria, Tyrador IX, his marine training, everything. Until, all that he knew was that he was six years old and that, when he woke up, it would be his birthday.

The sun crept through Joe’s window, he pulled the covers up over his head. He hated the sun in the morning. It always woke him up before he was ready. It was too late though. He was already awake and there was nothing that could make him go back to sleep. His eyes fluttered open, only to be closed again rapidly once they met the intense brightness of the room. Having snowed heavily the night before, the sun seemed to reflect off the bright, white surface and beam straight into Joe’s room. Pulling himself upright on his bed, Joe rubbed his eyes.

His door burst open. Joe jumped unexpectedly. “Hey little brother!” came a yell from the hall. Joe looked up to see his older brother, Fedz, race into his room, jump onto his bed, and pin him. “Ow, let me go!” Joe struggled against his older brothers immense strength. “You know what day it is.” he stated and began hitting him, counting with each punch, “One, two, three, four, five, and…” he pulled back for the final blow, Joe ached all over and thought this one would hurt the most, “Six.” his brother lightly tapped the top of his head. Joe rubbed his arms and looked directly into his older brother’s dark brown eyes. “Why do you have to be so mean to me?” Joe asked. “It’s tradition little bro.” Fedz leaped from Joe’s bed and landed on the floor with a thud, “and by the way, happy birthday.” Joe mustered a smile and thanked him. Fedz had long brown hair, like Joe, but he like to sweep his over to the side to see better. Just then, the pleasant form of his sister entered the room, “If it’s a tradition,” she asked, “then why did it start when Joe was strong enough not to cry when you hit him?” His brother shrugged, “Why do you always have to burst my bubble, sis?” “Its my job.” she smiled. She strolled over and gave Joe a hug, “Happy birthday, Joe.” “Thanks Renaie.” Joe smiled. He didn’t know what it was about her, but she always made him feel good whenever she was around. Her long, red hair lit up as it collided with the sun’s rays. “Come on, get ready for breakfast.” she helped him out of bed. Joe walked out of his room leaving his brother and sister to argue in his wake. Climbing up onto his step stool in the bathroom, he began to brush his teeth. As he rinsed out his mouth, a towering form appeared in the doorway, “Almost done in there, squirt? I gotta take a piss.” Joe spit out the water in his mouth and replied, “Yep, all yours.” “Great.” His oldest brother, J.T. as he liked to be called, smiled at him and messed up Joe’s hair as he left. Joe pushed his hand away and scowled at him. “Happy birthday.” J.T. called from the bathroom as he closed the door.

J.T. and Renaie were twins, born two and a half minutes apart. Though they were twins, they looked nothing alike. While Renaie had light red hair that reflected the sun’s light, J.T.’s seemed to absorb it in its almost black color. As Joe walked downstairs, he could still hear voices coming from his room. Fedz and Renaie didn’t get along all too well. J.T.’s full name was Jack Trefdon Tarn II, named after their father. But Jack didn’t like the name, so, he just had everyone call him J.T. He wasn’t a very outgoing person either. He had a few close friends, that Joe had hardly even seen, and a girlfriend. The complete opposite of Renaie. She had an unbelievable amount of friends and was extremely popular.

Fedz was the middle child. And he acted like one as well. He complained constantly of not getting enough attention or not having as many privileges. Then there was Joe, the youngest one. The one picked on the most by his older siblings. He didn’t mind it all too much though. One day, they would all be proud of him. He knew it.

Joe’s feet felt cold as he walked across the cold tile of the kitchen. The smell of waffles met his nostrils as he took his seat at the breakfast table. “Hey baby.” his mom called from the stove, “Happy birthday.” “Thanks mommy.” “I made your favorite…” “You did?” Joe asked excitedly. She nodded and slide a nice big waffle onto his plate. “Wow, thanks mommy!” Smiling, she replied, “You’re welcome, baby.” “Dig in, son.” came his father gruff voice from behind the newspaper, turning to his mother he said, “And the death toll rises. Listen to this, ‘64 die in surprise attack by Zerg forces of the Jormungand brood.’. Death toll is rising up past the thousands, Lynn.” “Jack!” she snapped at him, “That’s not an appropriate topic for the breakfast table!” “Sorry, dear.” he sighed and folded his paper.

As Joe finished his first waffle the rest of the family made there way down. J.T. took up his seat next to dad and across from Joe. Renaie sat next to him and Fedz was careful to give Joe a quick nuggie before taking his seat. All was silent as they waited for Joe’s mother to put breakfast on the table. Once she was done and had taken her seat at the end of the table, they began eating. Joe helped himself to another waffle and doused it in syrup. “Hey, dad.” J.T. spoke between bites. “Yes, son?” J.T. swallowed and put his fork down, he looked really uneasy, “What…What would you think about me enlisting in the military?” Everyone stopped. Joe’s fork was suspended in mid air, with syrup dripping off his waffle piece. Dad finished his bite very calmly and replied, “I would be appauled. The military is almost an automatic death sentence. Survival is just as bad as well. It’s a series of endless nightmares and I will not have any of my children go through the horrors that I went through.” “But dad…” J.T. started. “No ’buts’ son! I will not ha-” “Will you let me finish!?!” J.T. yelled. The whole table was stunned. No one had ever attempted to interrupt dad! Both J.T. and dad glared at each other for a long while. But when dad didn’t reply, J.T. continued, “I went through a screening at school the other day and the instructor said that, in a few years, if I train my mind hard enough, I could have a chance of becoming a Ghost.”

Joe’s fork clattered against his plate with an awful noise, but all eyes were transfixed on J.T. It was silent for the longest time. The sound of the doorbell made everyone at the table jump. Dad opened his mouth but no words came out. He got up without a word and made his way toward the door. J.T. got up angrily and stormed upstairs. Renaie took a quick glance around the table and hurried up after him. Mom sighed, “Joe, honey, go upstairs and change. Fedz, help me with dishes please.” Fedz grumbled as Joe ran past him.

Joe sprinted upstairs just as Dad opened the door. Joe got to the top and perched himself on the ledge overlooking the entrance. An old man with grayish, white hair stood in the doorway. “Good morning Private Tarn.” the man walked inside without being invited. Dad looked shocked. Joe took another hard look at the man. He looked familiar. Joe had seen his short, neat hair and slightly wrinkled face before. He was on T.V. a lot talking about the war with the aliens. “Go-Good morning, sir.” Dad stuttered, “To what do I owe this great honor, General Rykov?” The general’s eyes roamed around the house and smiled, though he didn’t look to pleased with how it looked, “I am here to enlist the help of one of your family members.” “I’m not sure I follow, sir.” Dad replied. “Well, as you know we need all the help we can get in this war and Ghosts are the most prized possessions in the whole galaxy. The machines we use to detect psionic activity in humans is effective but what of those who decide not to use one? So, we have employed the use of Protoss to find the hidden ones.” “And you think someone here has psionic abilities?” A hand placed itself onto Joe’s shoulder. Joe jerked his head up to see J.T. walking down the stairs. “Oh, Private Tarn, the Protoss are never wrong about these kind of matters.” spotting J.T. he said, “Ah, you must be Joe.” he shook J.T.’s hand. “N-No, sir.” J.T. said. “This is my eldest son, sir. Jack Tarn.” “Oh?” the general’s cheeks turned red, “My apologizes. The Protoss here with us said that he has never seen such an enormous amount of psionic energy in a human before. Isn’t that amazing.” Neither dad or J.T. made a response, mom joined them from the kitchen doorway, “Huh, anyway, I am here to take Joe to secret place to train and hone his mind’s tremendous power.” The general looked up the stairs and caught sight of Joe. He gave a smile that Joe didn’t like and waved to him. Joe didn’t return the wave. “I think it’s time for you to go, General.” Dad said, his expression turning hard. “Oh yes, well of course I will, just as soon as that little fella comes down here with me.” the general gave Joe another wave. “You don’t understand, sir. You’re leaving now! Without my son!” Joe’s father’s voice rose. “I don’t think you understand the situation, Tarn. This boy could help us turn the tide in this war. If the Zerg, god forbid, invade Tarsonis and find this child. It could mean the end of all free races in this galaxy.” “Trust me, sir. I will never let anything bad happen to my family, now leave, before I have to force you.” The general stopped smiling, “Are you threatening me Private? Because I will not have that. This boy is going to save us and I will not damn our entire race to hell just because his father holds a grudge against the military. Now I will ask you one more time, give me the child.” “Leave!” Dad and J.T. yelled together. “Fine.” the general sighed, “I just want everyone here to know, I didn’t want it to come to this. But you pushed me to use force. Kill them.”

In that instant, two men appeared out of thin air behind both dad and J.T. Two shots sounded and spread blood and bits of brain matter across the hall. Mom screamed as both dad and J.T. fell to the ground. A third shot left the hall silent. “You, get the one in the kitchen.” the general barked, the taller one ran off into the kitchen, “You, grab the kid.” The second one looked Joe in the eye. Joe quickly got up and ran to his room. As Joe got to the door he heard Fedz throwing dishes at his assailant but after Joe heard a fourth gun shot no more dishes hit the walls.

Joe slammed his room’s door and locked it. Looking around his room he tried to find a suitable hiding spot. Thinking quickly, Joe ran to his closet and closed the door. It was completely dark inside his closet and Joe hugged his knees close to his chest. Joe began to cry. He couldn’t believe what just happened. Less than five minutes ago he was eating breakfast with his family. How did this happen?

Joe heard Renaie pleading with the mean man who had followed him upstairs. Joe sobbed even harder once he heard the fifth gunshot, and the sound of her body hitting the floor. The only sound Joe could hear now were the slow, rhythmic steps of the man outside his room. Joe felt so helpless. He couldn’t do anything. He wanted to, but he couldn’t. And, for the first time in his life, he felt anger. Rage. He wanted to kill everyone. Just so they could get a taste of how he felt. “Come here little boy.” the man called out as he kicked in Joe’s door. Joe sobbed angrily as he waited for the inevitable. The closet door swung open. “Found you.” he laughed. Joe let out a scream of anger and pain. The man recoiled and dropped his gun. Joe screamed again. The man brought both hands up to his head and fell to his knees. He howled in pain. Joe screamed one last time and so did the man. Something within Joe lashed out at the man’s mind. Joe didn’t really understand what happened right then but it left him more tired than he ever felt before.

The man’s face seemed to collapse in on itself with a loud crunch. Blood sprayed from the dead mans head and painted the area around then a bright red. Joe’s eyes were so heavy that he couldn’t keep them open any longer. It was hard breathing. With each breath he took in it seemed like he had swallowed a porcupine. Joe heard more footsteps ascending the stairs and entering his room. “What happened here?” the general’s voice came. Joe rolled over to see the old man looking at the ground, “That Toss warned us to be careful. Guess we should have taken him more seriously.”

The General pulled a strange looking gun from his belt and pointed it at Joe. He tried to yell at him, tell him to stop, but he couldn't speak. The gun let off an innocent pop and Joe felt something prick his right arm. Joe looked down to see a dart protruding from his skin and a green liquid draining into his arm. Joe looked at the general and let out one last, painful scream.

That scream echoed off the metal walls of the comm room. Joe was on his hands and knees, crying over his dead family. His murdered family. A hollow laughter sounded in front of him, “Well lieutenant, it has been a pleasure sharing your…colorful, past with you.” Tears poured out of Joe’s eyes as he tried to comprehend what he just witnessed. His family had been murdered by the very Dominion he had been willing to die for. Everything he had done, everything he had worked for was all in vain. It was all in the service of his families killers. Joe cried even harder as he recalled his families beautiful faces.

Stack began taking steps toward him. “Now you know. Everything that you’ve fought for. Everything you’ve sacrificed has all been for nothing. You’ve staved off the forces that tried to destroy the Dominion that killed you entire family.” Joe still cried. Stack slowly slipped the blade out from his wrist. “Let me do you one last favor lieutenant,” Stack sprinted toward Joe, holding his blade high to attack, “let me end you pain. Let me allow you to rejoin your long dead family.”

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