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Originally written at Starcraft.org by RelentlessRecusant under the psuedonym of "X9"


Chapter 1Edit

After-Action Report: OPERATION: Odin’s Demise Delta Anmor III, Delta Anmor System SUBJECT: Bravo Team

OPERATION: Odin’s Demise was a demolition strike mission executed by Terran Dominion forces against Terran Confederacy insurgents on 4.4.2451. On 0140 hours, Taskforce Agamemnon entered the Delta Anmor System in far perimeter orbit from Delta Anmor III. Taskforce Agamemnon consisted of the Mammoth-class Carrier Agamemnon, five Colossus-class escort frigates, and the Hermes-class Exfiltration Subprowler Meriwether Lewis. While Taskforce Agamemnon engaged the Confederate outer perimeter patrol, the Meriwether Lewis infiltrated rebel orbital forces and was able to successfully deployment Bravo Team on Deployment Zone Foxtrot and then moved to extreme low orbit to observe and provide in-field tactical support via tight-beam laser transceiver communications.

Bravo Team consisted of two Ghost-trooper commandoes, Commander 871/7 and Lieutenant Commander 218/8.

Bravo Team was able to infiltrate Confederate security and detonate the massive subterranean Vespene deposits under Industrial Zone B-33 with a MJOLNIR tactical nuclear device. They then maneuvered to Exfiltration Zone Richter...


* * *


Near Exfiltration Zone Richter, Bravo Team, Terran Dominion Alpha Squadron Delta Anmor III, Delta Anmor System 4.4.2451

The clattering of an MK06 assault rifle dropped abruptly in decibel level as a small spray of red splattered over a Confederate Marine’s face and slightly ricocheted off the semi-polarized faceplate. The soldier’s last action, the priming and tossing of a DP-10 fragmentation grenade, was completely awry, and only a small plume of dust washed over Lieutenant Commander 218/8, Bravo Two.

She tossed away the spent assault rifle onto the superheated dirt where the grenade had detonated. “Out, sir. You?”

Bravo Leader, Commander 871/7, hefted his C-10 canister rifle - a massive elongated shotgun that was strikingly uncovert for the Ghost stealth commandoes. It essentially propelled a variable-load canister at medium-long range into an enemy. Typically, the heavy rounds were HE: High Explosive. With a practiced reflex, he checked the ammunition display on the side of the heavy weapon. “Three more canisters, Ghost. And then I have my sidearm.”

Bravo Two, otherwise known as Janice, nodded curtly, reaching for the professionally holstered semiautomatic pistol at her hip. Their brief exchange of words was rudely interrupted by the staccato stuttering of a nearby heavy machine-gun. The two commandoes instantly made calculations within their cerebrums. The aural profile matched that of a Vulture reconnaissance bike, and close-by.

The commander, whose first-name was David, tapped his index finger and thumb together through the semi-flexible gauntlet he wore. Integrated circuits connected, current pulsed, and his HUD, fed by an array of complex goggles that read in various wavelengths, changed from real-color vision to thermal. The Vulture was on the far side of a small, sagging shop that hadn’t fared well when the Confederacy wrested control of this world away from the Zerg. Goliath armor-penetrating rounds had profusely sprayed the metal building, slaughtering half a dozen hydralisks that had used the Terran-built emporium as an improvised bunker.

A jolt of alarm rippled through the battle-wrought psionic connection between the two Ghosts. Reflexively, forged by innumerable hours of live-fire combat situations and fifteen years of intensive training in weapons, David roughly removed a corrugated suppressor sheath from the muzzle of his canister rifle, his nerves drenched in hyperborean ice water as time seemed to accelerate for him as the Vulture swiveled around, its fragmentation grenade launcher whining to propel an explosive...

With a burst of psionic energy from his partner, his gauntlets shoved a lockdown round into the now cut-down barrel of his weapon, and barely clearing his left hand from the muzzle, fired. Liquid fire sank into his reinforced chestplate as Janice crudely propelled him to the side of the irregularly patched tar road and a fragmentation grenade detonated nearby. The acuminous, steaming shards drove into his armor. Their acute angle and trajectory made them eviscerate the first two armor and stealth layers, and they firmly lodged between the last layer and his bare flesh over his lungs. As he moved upwards, his arms shaking uncharacteristically, fueled by the fire of adrenaline from his near death encounter, they drove even further into his flesh. His vision was so blurred, a mirage of flickering shapes, that he barely registered Janice firing with pinpoint precision into the prow-mounted launcher of the disabled bike. The Vulture sparked and detonated with a plume of sparks and rising dust, its flaming remnants as mangled as its demented namesake.

As blood ran down his chest, some absorbed by the tight body glove he wore under his Ghost Environmental Suit, he bit his molars together, the jigsaw-like pieces firmly settling along each other in a brief venting of agony. His suit, with electrodes gingerly adhered to his bare-shaved head, easily received the surface alpha waves resonating on the nerves of his skin, decoded the digitalized signals as pain, and initiated a sequence of analgesic injections through osmotic skin patches.

Janice also uncovered his pain, offering a hand. “Sir?”

The commander refused to be helped on the battlefield by a lady. Even though it had been demonstrated on numerous exercises and combat situations that some female Ghosts could clean his clock, he could not dislodge the primal human instincts that males were more physically and emotionally hardened that girls. It simply didn’t compute in his adolescent mind.

Brandishing the shield of Duty and Service against the raging pain, he stood, taking the fallen suppressor and screwing it in again on the muzzle of his rifle. It made contact with the rest of the gun with a reassuring metallic ping, and his HUD flickered to show a new ammunition counter for his C-10 canister rifle: two HE rounds and the familiar targeting reticule.

David waved his right gauntlet at the exfiltration zone. The angles of his fingers, decoded, commanded “Move to location at highest speed.”

Without an affirmative, the lieutenant commander reoriented herself and sprinted, taking several seconds for the adenosine triphosphate and their molecular energy to fully surge through her calves and bring her to her fastest running speed. Her hands were tensed, at her sides, moving like an Ancient Earth ninja’s sinister blades as she sprinted.

As he steeled himself against the prospect of running to the evac zone with a chest wound, typewriter-font text scrolled across the ghastly static-laced viridian HUD: MERIWETHER LEWIS AT HOLDING POSITION OVER ZONE RICHTER. STATUS: ON STANDBY.

The metallic crackle of gunfire behind him shook him out of his rapid tactical translation of the text: gauss rifles, heavy weapons. The ordinary grunt was no cannon fodder for the animalistic Zerg, instead a living human, a soul, encased in integrated titanium/molybdenum alloy armor and equipped with an intimidating, fearsome D-14 “Impaler” gauss rifle. Standard-issue might the colloquially termed Impaler be, but its effects were ravaging.

Janice halted her rapid advance, in a single, sweeping motion coming to her knees behind the dubious cover of a conveniently located traffic display and firing her handgun sidearm. For her, it was reflex, just as a toddler cringes from an open flame. Not lower-aim-shoot, but a graceful, single maneuver. Her pistol was automatically aimed at the visor of the leading tango, as if mechanically aligned there by a computer. As the dirt erupted beneath David’s feet and his muscles tensed for a blow in the back from a rifle, two crisp, muted reports sounded, amplified by his aural headgear and his ears, accustomed to registering the sounds of any suppressed firearm. The first shattered the faceplate, impacted between the eyes, lancing through white matter and cerebrospinal fluid and then edging to a stop at the aft of the cranium with a contusion of shattered bone, fragmented brain, and a gathering puddle of fluid. The second was overkill, but an automatic practice, simply because the time between the two shots, accelerated by the phobia rampant in combat, was insufficient for Janice to judge the accuracy of the first shot. Yet, all Ghosts had been trained sufficiently to kill any Terran infantryman at reasonable ranges with a maximum of two shots from any firearm. Standard operating procedure.

The first soldier fell as David himself fell to the ground and activated his personnel cloaking field as his fingers tensed in reflexive fear of Hades, not from combat damage, but from, once again, operating procedure. As the two other Marines in the fireteam widened their eyes in dismay at the loss of their corporal and took precise aim at the petite female figure crouching behind the traffic sign, unwilling to not fill the intruder with depleted uranium, David, a wraith in the air, used his momentum to swirl on the tarred road and to lunge forward. It was not to somehow magically soar into the air and slice a Confederate’s throat, yet, to move his two gauntlets forward and project an invisible psionic lance into one of the pursuing marines. The swiftness of the necessary maneuver did not allow the Ghost to expel a thrust of lethal energy, but to simply stun the weak mind of the man.

The last marine’s automatic aiming at Janice, also drilled into his mind by practice, was punctuated with a new obstacle. His drills did not have fluctuating variables, such as the apparent death of a nearby comrade. Of course, he had been instructed in the Academy to continue aiming even in the midst of that scenario, but it hadn’t been real...the horrifying shrieks of dying men as they fell from the world, the chattering automatic weapons around one...a moment’s hesitation resulted in the planting of a canister rifle round through the area between his torso and upper chest. The HE round penetrated the frontal armor and detonated, literally blowing the man into two irregular halves, with gore rife in the air.

Janice did not pause in her relentless attack. Her mind, encased in tunnel vision and not realizing the fall of the other marine, mind focused on her death, yet her last action, the taking out of the other Confederate, was broken from those trappings as the Ghost realized her target was falling...information entered her tactical mind, formerly submerged in a barricade of stoic fatalism, and she reconfigured her firing solution to a single handgun round, as the target was apparently incapacitated. By what means, her mind didn’t compute then, but those thoughts were terminated, along with a Confederate’s life, as her round impacted squarely between the eyes, a common Janice surgical kill.

David’s gaze fell on Janice as he uncloaked and thrust his last round into the canister’s rifle into the firing chamber of his gun. He felt a yawning sense of utmost respect, and fueled by combat adrenaline, the simple...fire...that drove on during combat, the speeding-up of the temporal axis from the contradictorily bland mayhem raging around them...those thoughts somehow were transfigured into a love, the kind that results from one to a savior.

However, the air deadened, and Janice made a brief hand signal behind him. He whirled to find...

More text: ENEMY CONTACTS INBOUND AT VECTOR ONE-EIGHT-FIVE. ADVISE IMMEDIATE WITHDRAWAL TO ZONE RICHTER.

A dozen nimble Vultures swept ahead of the mechanized support group, their pilots judiciously acting prudent to avoid any sort of trap set by the Ghosts. A price of overestimation, but with no less than five Goliaths and ten retrofitted Jeeps, the Confederates could afford the loss of several seconds.

Or at least in a normal situation.

The armada maneuvered boldly, with the Vulture line acting as a carrier’s interceptor screen in starship combat, essentially diminutive gnats screening the main group. Or, perhaps their shifting forward-arc screen did not account for any attack from the southern hemisphere.

After all, what trap could eliminate even a single Goliath? An automated rocket launcher emplacement? The audacious Ghosts hadn’t even used a single heavy explosive during their penetration raid, and the odds that they would set such a snare were astronomical.

David’s analytical mind calculated distances as the Confederate group advanced down the asphalt street, past ravaged cars and decimated sodium vapor street lights and advertisement hologram projectors. They wouldn’t have time to make it to the extraction zone before the Goliaths loosed an inferno of Hellfire missiles and vaporized them in a firestorm.

Janice also came to the same, fatalistic conclusion.

The seventeen-year-old commando’s mind flicked to the Meriwether Lewis, just several hundred meters away in standby position. However, sobering facts settled like O157:H7 Escherichia coli within his colon - the exfiltration starship was only lightly armed. Even though it had a fair chance of eliminating the Goliaths, the air support which would swiftly come as a retributive strike from the nearby looming titan of Roosevelt Base would annihilate the Terran Dominion subprowler.

The lieutenant commander hissed over the psi as the Goliaths drew into maximum bombardment range, far beyond even the finest marksman’s canister rifle range, We must buy time.

His eyes flicked to his rifle, with a single HE round remaining, and nearly floundered in his hopelessness. Running was futile. The walkers merely had to fill the street with missiles. They didn’t even have to aim. A single bombardment would eradicate Mark II Ghost-troopers 871/7 and 218/8. Unacceptable.

That was when his acute vulnerability was processed by his strategic mind. He flicked his helmet-mounted mike to local Confederate frequencies in operation, and immediately tactical cross-chatter filled his helmet: of which one was the preparation to wipe the two teenage Ghosts off of the slate. His peripheral vision registered a slight dotted line superimposed on his optical sensor’s image on the HUD, and Bravo Leader broadcasted with such agility that his swollen tongue lost his words, and he mumbled, “Confeds, we surrender. Don’t shoot.”

Janice caught his idea immediately, and raised her hands and roughly tossed away her nearly depleted handgun. His muscles taut from stress and innumerable close gauss rounds, David gingerly placed his C-10 canister rifle on the floor, and too raised his hands, crossing them behind his head.

A curt, aristocratic reply came over, and the Ghosts, pale and vulnerable within amorphous metal armor that seemed to juxtapose with their youthfulness, “We hear you, rebels. Now, get down on your knees.”

Spotlights mounted on the quick assault vehicles burned to life, their luminosity barely illuminating the teenagers with the blazing corona of Delta Amnor Alpha already lighting the scarred battlefield. From the perspective of an external observer, it seemed almost comical, like a parody of the patheticness of the Confederate military, that twenty-seven battle vehicles were necessary to subjugate two teenagers.

The commander of the Meriwether Lewis at last recognized the crafty handiwork of Bravo Leader. Mirroring the words of the nuclear physicist Richard Feynman at the first detonation of an atomic bomb on Ancient Earth, at New Mexico, the United States, he whispered over cracked, desiccated lips, “Now I have become Shiva, the destroyer of worlds.”

With a tap of two thumbs and germanium semiconducting circuits, nuclear fire billowed from the heart of Industrial Zone B-33, and a new sun was birthed in the cradle of the stars momentarily...before the two prostrating commandoes were awash in charred ash. The yawning Vespene deposits underneath the urban section were transformed into pure fire, and the major pipeline system that channeled the gas to Roosevelt Base was the channel for such destructive force...

The scrolling words BRAVO ZULU. MISSION ACCOMPLISHED. and their meaning slowly jerked their way into his deadened mind as he was bathed in the EMP shockwave. Fortunately, he and Janice had deactivated his suit’s electronics before the blast, so the pulse did nothing.

The two young titans straightened from the accumulated ash, their suit Geiger counters blaring alarms of Curie limits and heavy particle emissions. However, it was not immediately terminal, the fallout. Flash radiation treatment would revitalize their cells with such speed that the commandoes were likely to not develop any permanent DNA dysfunction.

The Meriwether Lewis descended, its hull plating sparking with multicolored light and errant shapes as the EMP temporarily overloaded the external stealth technology, the radiation bombarding and fluxing the texture buffers and photoreactive plates of the subprowler as the two Ghosts rose, armor covered with dark jags of splotchy, wavering black. The same particles that were assailing the exfiltration starship’s stealth electronics had also interfered with the stealth coating of the environmental armor of the Ghost-troopers.

Yet, David felt utterly dehydrated, even over tens of thousands of fallen enemy soldiers. His mind was deadened, its acuminous wit shaved off. It was only a stratagem, a ploy, to allow Bravo Team to escape. However, he had not considered the ramifications from a non-tactical perspective, from the viewpoint of living men, of families that would grieve for all eternity from loved ones burned from a distant battlefield…

His feet mechanically moved as his eyes, pupils dilated, hastily shifted from object to object, the scorched, fused glass behind him, the fading mushroom cloud that had arced into the sky, the superheated particles losing integrity and descending into the entropy of a billion cascading subatomic fissions…the automaton-like fashion his limbs were pumping sharply contrasted with his unfocused thoughts, the last thoughts and words of the Confederates he’d killed resonated like a demon’s shrieking, grating cries in the inferno of hell within his mind, except multiplied a thousand-fold.

His world was glazed, a blur of cubist art and voices somehow materalized into sight, and he didn’t even register the gangplank sealing behind him and the gentle pain sweeping down his body as the acceleration generated by the Meriwether Lewis thrust him into the atmosphere, a fading spectre amidst hundreds of dueling Terran warships…

“Hey, boss.”

A brief shaking of his scarred shoulder pauldrons wasn’t even sufficient to dislodge him from his fractured mental world, how he’d slaughtered soldiers by the battalion with a single commandment: to preserve Janice and his lives.

A soft hissing sound of compressed air, and his vision reasserted itself: an ammunition counter, motion sensor, targeting reticule, and in his sights…a departing ONI medic in shaded technician armor moving to the minute Engineering section of the starship. He shook his head, struggling to keep his sight unblurred.

“You feelin’ better?”

Finally, the voices of the phantoms faded into the background sounds of a million fighting soldiers, and beyond that curtain into nothingness. His mind seemed to automatically reboot, and he construed what the quiet sound had been: the joining of an external syringe to one of his armor’s intervenal ports and the injection of the standard post-battle antishock cocktail.

Janice reappeared before him, and his lethargy, like what he would find after a twelve-hour sleep after an intense torture training session, evaporated like ice exposed to napalm. The energy reinvigorated him, shaking off the last of his mental constraints. Her eyes were soft, with a touch of sincere concern, the kind that could only be generated for a comrade. Few civilians can recognize from their external vista the camaraderie forged in fire and the looming presence of Death itself amongst soldiers, men and women of war.

David squinted, though. Surely something else lurked behind those cold azule eyes, so like gray ice with pale watercolor paint splashed over them. David’s eyes blurred as they attempted to widen and focus, only to be met with shrieking white lights and the cold, blank tile of the subprowler’s inner sanctums. Not that it mattered; David was, after all, a Ghost-trooper. He brushed out gently with his mind, meeting the usual N/B/C protected, triple-reinforced, titanium-wrought, rigid and virtually indestructible walls surrounding the fortress of Janice’s mind.

They crumbled like they had a multiple personality disorder—the second personality, the walls of Jericho. No trumpets, however, blared and no chariots raced around these walls, they simply fell, dissolving into nothingness, and releasing a tidal wave of flooding emotions. David’s mind was rocked by anger, joy, sorrow, and…love. David did a double take. Love? A ghost in love? And why was she showing him this, unless…

It all clicked into place. Suddenly, the stubborn shields around his own mind vaporized; not the huge, hulking outer layers, but those to a small sanctuary that David never entered, for fear of compromising a mission. With a start, David realized that they were the walls to his heart’s desires. But these emotions, they were more powerful than any he had ever experienced. They blew through his outer defenses and came out to meet the clear surface of Janice’s mind.

In the half-second this had taken, David blinked his eyes to clear them of the light-induced tears, and saw that Janice was closer, much, much closer than she had been before, but before he could realize anything else, he felt the most unusual sensation of them all - the loving caress of human contact, as Janice leaned over to brush her lips against his. Instinctively, David reached up with his hands to take her body and bring it closer to his own. The brush became a connection. He felt her tongue flicker forward, and opened his mouth to accept it.

Chapter 2Edit

Bravo Team, T.D.S. Agamemnon, Terran Dominion Delta Squadron Warp Space, en route to Annapolis System 4.8.2451

Newly promoted Colonel 871/7 reclined, yet not with complete relaxation, mind taut in preparation of omnipresent combat, in the soft folds of the gel-conforming chair that had been installed in his tight quarters upon the Mammoth-class Carrier Agamemnon. The warship itself proudly bore the scars of Zerg guns: the product of the recently ended Battle of Tarsonis. It had been the final blow to the Confederacy, the loss of its capital planet and the majority of its Home Defense Fleets.

The combat op he’d been sent to was typical Ghost-grade: grueling and near-suicidal. He, along with several companies of Marines with a unit of support Vultures, had been sent planet-side to deny the Confederacy the blockbusting industrial sector named New Orleans of the supermassive city that stretched across the planet. He had been expecting a snag: all Ghost missions, regardless of their initial difficulty, always turned FUBAR at some point: the climax of the mission. It got, to quote, “mighty exciting”, when the Zerg swept in. Forget Omega Squadron, whose elements were brooding over the area. The Zerg had concisely annihilated the faltering defenders, and then moved to similarly eradicate the Dominion intruders into their newly-claimed land. The Protoss came then come in as guardian angels defending believers from demons, but when Lieutenant Kerrigan and her element had turned against the reptilian psionic slitherine vermin on the far side of the planet, it became a mayhem-dripping fire zone. Fortunately, Janice had been separated from him, and another Ghost, 308/7, otherwise known as Rick, had rounded out Bravo Team in her lieu. Rick had fallen in a tumultuous death, exenterated by a horde of converging Protoss Zealots before David could even raise a hand in defense of his fellow telepathic commando.

Whatever was left of the Dominion group was scraped together and exfiltrated by several D3-class dropships before the Protoss brought a destroyer into ELO (extreme low orbit) and began systematically sterilizing New Orleans to vaporize the Zerg infestation entrenched there.

Gunfire sounded in his darkened quarters, and one could have expected the Ghost to tense at the automatic fire. Yet, he did not. It was merely Rick’s mission recorder playing on the compressed plasma screen affixed to the front wall of his quarters. The colonel’s eyes narrowed like those of carrions, registering every precise three-round report from the Ghost’s MK06 assault rifle. A zergling fell before the optics, claws outstretched towards the hardened armor plating, guts piling out from a lacerated underbelly as the acuminous knife-like claws, thrust forward by the feral beast’s death motions, were barely a centimeter from the shin-plates of the Ghost. Perhaps a moment’s hesitation on the behalf of 308/7 would have led to his demise, but Rick was an automaton, bound by training and unwavering in his aim, that is, until he fell in combat.

David, in his camouflage khakis, was awash in bright, brief scintillance as on-screen, a Firebat was slain, and the confinement fields projected around his plasma-charged fire-tanks flickered and died, and a stray gauss rifle round ricocheted into the bare metal...a spherical inferno blossomed with unnerving speed, instantly immolating the Terran within, but also scorching half a dozen nearby zerglings into the void as well, a final act of retaliation on the behalf of the soldier, representative of what humanity was being laid low to do. No more were the valiant strikes on enemy strongholds, but now the damage was dealt in dying throes.

The Battle of Tarsonis definitely had chiseled a difference within the formerly relatively nonchalant commando. It was as if a sculptor had taken a razor and chiseled his face into an angular ghost of its former self. The eyes were drawn to acute points, and the irises themselves burned slightly brighter, perhaps a trick of the light. His cheeks were slightly depressed, and the bones were more pronounced.

The recording, a work of a mime, as without the sound, the vibrant blood and weapons seemed muted in their color, was abruptly paused. The commando had his fingers, bleached white from a lack of melanin developed from sunlight, curled in a professional grim around the butt of his sidearm, the traditional Ghost-trooper handgun. His mind strained a single thought: A sneak attack aboard the vessel?

Instead, a disembodied voice whispered through the speakers. “Colonel, this is Jacqueline, Artificial Intelligence II-9815, second tactical coordinator of the Agamemnon. I have Lieutenant Johan on the line for a mission briefing.”

The voice intonation slightly changed, a sign of the AI substituting aural subroutines. “Putting contact online. Please wait a moment.”

The Ghost-trooper belatedly realized that the military AI, for a moment, sounded like some civilian phone operator.

Thoughts rushed through his head. But there are no more civilians in this war...

The veracity of the statement astounded him, trembling him to his primal being. It was an insidious snake worming itself into his heart, and for a moment, he faltered in his tactical mind’s analysis of the frozen picture. The Korprulu Sector was disintegrating into a thousand brushfire battles, with the greatest of governments splintering, factions denouncing their allegiance to one another. Humanity had held the higher ground before the invasion. Now, its spirit had been broken, as its spine: the Terran fleets were wayward and dying, unable to fend against the aggressive maneuvers of the Protoss and the Zerg as they clenched Homo sapiens between their teeth, crumbling the divided human forces with ease as they seeked to eradicate each other.

There were no civilians in war. They were all dead.

Dead.

The image of a trembling teenager before the looming armored figure of a Protoss Zealot appeared, his ripped jeans suddenly transposing into a vulnerability for the thirteen-year-old. His mind no longer thought of fashion, it was of the incinerating heat, the plunge of death as the blade exenterated him...

Death.

A shredding of soft tissue, lacerated by a cauterized wound that gouged through the ribcage and terminated on a diagonal tangent on the right kidney.

Dead.

The alien warrior deliberately took an armored foot, fitted with a serrated edge, plunged it like a scalpel into the human, compounding his utter failure to defend himself, as if symbolic of the fall of the human race.

Death.

“Sir?”

A Caucasian officer with short-cropped blond hair appeared, his eyes lacking the weariness of combat fatigue, how you were compelled by duty and honor to fight, impelled by the enemies lunging to take your life, and your own soul, unable to punctuate the inertia of combat...

“Sir? This is Lieutenant Johan, Colonel. I have orders from CENTCOM.”

His eyelids flickered, and that listlessness came to him in the form of apathy and lethargy, which would inevitably, with the deliberation of that Protoss warrior performing the highest act of dishonor before a fell opponent...

His reality and mind were intertwined for a moment, and he felt inexplicably hazy, as if just emerging from a drug addict’s shot of jinz, the coveted sanctum of chemically-induced euphoria fading and the harshness of life and all that represented it: life, logic, the senses, permeating him with utter pain.

“Colonel? Is there a medical problem, sir?”

Still emerged in his ablution of sharply counteracting worlds, his voice automatically replied, as if controlled by a robot, “Negative. Proceed.”

A jagged shard of imagination thrust itself into his coronary vein, and then he cleared, his vision slowly residing to its former state.

Johan was saying blankly, as if reciting a bland speech, “You’ve been given command of a dozen Ghost-troopers, to be termed Bravo Team, and a platoon of Marine commandoes in OPERATION: Razor’s Blade. The Antares System was taken by the Zerg...”

The word Zerg, the antipathy of life and the God-given right for the pursuit of happiness, was enough to break him from his ever-more frequent bouts of conflicting states of mind. Oblivious, the officer continued, “...a month ago. It was a major Confederate shipping junction within Defense Sector Three. Two Confederate counterattacks have failed to dislodge the invaders, which according to the latest unmanned reconnaissance drones, have infested the massive shipyards complex in orbit, the Prometheus Shipyards. They’ve planted eleven seeding berths, organic cocoon facilities that nurture Zerg ship embryos until their maturation. A local Confederate command, a unit of Epsilon Squadron, has voluntarily joined with Battle Group Agamemnon in an effort to destroy the entrenched aliens.”

Epsilon Squadron was the Special Operations arm of the Confederacy, with in collaboration with Nova Squadron and Cerberus Squadron, handled the dirty work, the type that the most knowledgeable Confederates tried to disassociate themselves from.

“They’ve given us eleven canisters of ANACONDA virus, a specifically genetically-engineered microscopic killing machine that specifically infests seeding wombs, intoxicating them so that they draw an inordinate amount of nutrients from the supporting matrix of Zerg Hatcheries that are dispersed across Prometheus, and that their products are unable to function. Essentially, the birthed ships die before being engaged in combat. It’s just like a pregnant mother with jinz in her system. It’ll kill the ma and also the kid.”

David’s unarmored, slender hands slightly clenched with the reference to jinz. Both of his parents had found themselves prey to jinz, the deathly drug percolating within them, entering through pinocytosis through phospholipid cell membranes and deactivating the ATP synthase enzymes on the folds of the cristae of the organelles, rancorously asphyxiating both of his parents as they failed to find energy for their diaphragms to breathe. At least, that was what Command informed him. He was already seven years old and within the Mark II Ghost Program at the time.

With another hard-wired automated response, the colonel commanded, his eyes lacking a passion of fire, any sign of independent thought, “Draw me up the team roster. When do we deploy?”

Johan replied remorselessly, with deadened lead weighing upon the fringes of his voice, bittersweet, “Tomorrow, Colonel. Buenas noches.”

Chapter 3Edit

Bravo Team, T.D.S. Agamemnon, Terran Dominion Delta Squadron Annapolis System 4.9.2451

The Confederate Pegasus-class troopship Second Harvest slew across space, banking gently and altitude thrusters effluxing precision microbursts as its supermagnetics screwed in to universal reciprocating ports on the Mammoth-class carrier. It was an uncommon sign of human valiance: enemies uniting to combat a greater, rising threat. Specifically, the dozens of Zerg warships that would be spawned every month over Antares IV. That is, unless Bravo Team infected the wombs that had nested on the metallic, spaceborne shipyards that were in geosynchronous orbit over Antares Prime, the capital of the formerly Confederate industrial world.

Several hundred Confederate soldiers, armor scarred from unending turmoil: civil wars and alien attacks of such ferocity that human spirit had broken before bodies, debarked from the Second Harvest. Its rather unwarlike name fit its status. The troopship was not to duel in space, but instead to deploy Terran soldiers on solid ground.

The reservoir of resident tension spiked as the Dominion companies arrayed in the forward drop bays of the Agamemnon repositioned rifles under the glaring matrix of neon lamps overhead, instinctively aiming for heads of former enemy Terran soldiers. Before the transfer irises that were the interjunction between the Agamemnon and the Second Harvest would close, Confederate soldiers did likewise, and David was in the process of twitching his trigger finger, until he realized the ridiculousness of the situation. They were falling like pathetic puppets into the grand play of Disorder and Death of the galaxy: humans slaughtering one another even under the pretense of a truce, no matter how transient.

“Stand down!”

The aggregation of soldiers flinched, and turned their attention to the Ghost-trooper, the environmental suit feeling like a cool, second skin, as the colonel had not donned it for a full day.

The Confederate commander, a naval officer leading the ranks of Confederate infantrymen, nodded curtly. It was a sign of truce: a single handgun shot could slay the unarmored Confederate. The mere thought sent calculations to David’s head about the appropriate angle and range of such a shot, which were deleted as the Ghost-trooper boldly stepped forward into the unofficial DMZ line between the two regimented forces, and took the naval captain’s hand. Flesh met metal, but the disparity of the two substances did not dent the relief circulating in the vast bays, the D3 dropships cycled to the midsection hangars for spaciousness.

“Colonel 871/7, Terran Dominion Delta Squadron.”

An equally assertive and sincere voice answered warmly, with a touch that all battlefield men and off-site commanders seemed never to possess, that of comradliness, “Lieutenant Commander Jacobs, Terran Confederacy Epsilon Squadron. Damn good to see you, sir.”

The spectre of a smile danced upon David’s lips as he sized up the lieutenant commander. He was young: early twenties. A bronze oak leaf was affixed to his breast, affirming his rank, and a soft velvet cap concealed most of his over-regulation length blonde hair. His eyes were a startling blue: he was the perfect image of Hilter’s perfect German man.

He also realized the fact that the Confederate was honoring one that was maybe five years younger with the honorific sir. The Ghost-trooper’s thoughts, however, were not revealed to the Confederates. He was still an imposing titan, clad in his environmental armor, and an MK06 assault rifle clenched in his gloved left hand.

In an effort to encourage the burgeoning of a permanent alliance, David offered, his voice clumsy as he realized he was befriending those he’d been slaughtering with his two hands for months, “May I offer you something?”

The naval officer cut straight to the point. “First, I need to get my troops holed up in your carrier. Our troopship took heavy hits from a Protoss destroyer, and our aft sections were lit afire. Hell, I’m astounded we weren’t all wreathed in damn flames. Secondly...”

He waved at a sealed module that laid by the side of a squad of Confederate Marines. It was emblazed with the standard Terran biological hazard symbol, encased within a triangle. On one striated metal surface, it read: ANACONDA. Its invaluable importance was emphasized by the half-dozen Confederate Ghost-troopers hanging in a deceptively lazy semicircle around the container.

Jacobs, with dead calm, stared unblinkingly into an eyepiece, as if having his retinas scanned for a security clearance. The air chilled, indicating no further words were necessary.

David curtly nodded, his visage of death that was his helmet, for all intents and purposes with its ocular eyepiece arrangement to be Medusa, and continued, “Commodore Jones, my commander, I believe wants to speak to you regarding details of the insertion. Meanwhile, I’ll see to your troops.”

With a grave, formal bow, the Ghost-trooper terminated the conversation, waving his hands in discreet hand signals to his soldiers to disperse and for the aides to transport Jacobs to the commodore. Meanwhile, Dominion naval officers indicated Confederate commanders where to set down their equipment and to bunk.

It was not necessary to tap into the currents of the psi to feel the slight alleviation of burden from the Confederates. The meeting hadn’t devolved into a bloody firefight, and their former foes were laying down their arms and instead raising the white flag of truce and the chrysanthemum of hospitality.

Yet, the Confederate Ghost-troopers held him in their gaze as the ranks of marines and vehicle pilots fanned out towards the hangar doors, rifles and sidearms insouciantly slung over shoulders as they began to speak in hushes...the colonel was too immersed studying his counterparts to strain his aural earpieces to intrude on their conversation. Even with the sea of departing soldiers, the telepathic commandoes blankly stared at him as if psychopathic morons in an asylum. Once again, the warm air, overheated from a small coolant pump glitch, turned frosty. Water vapor seemed to crystallize into bands of ice, which were shattered as the Ghosts melded into their departing compatriots and towards the troop compartments of the Agamemnon.

The moisture returned to his mouth and his eyes finally stopped tracking the Confederate Ghosts as Janice sidled up adjacent to him, adorned in a new form-fitting advanced Ghost infiltration suit. Yet, her viridian eyes did not hold cheer. They too were monitoring the Confederate Ghosts until, finally, their camouflage armored forms passed beyond the doorway.

Their thoughts flowed between one another freely, as their minds had developed a psionic bond during their mission on Delta Amnor III, a product of over-communication through the psi. They were struck by the awkwardness of their counterparts. It was as if two divorcees had met in a shopping mall a week after the papers had been signed and the gavel had fallen. There was an unnatural characteristic about them, with wide, sweeping minds unlike the tactically-wired ones of the grunts. Their mere presence brought a sort of gloominess into the psi, and a repulsive force.

Janice whispered as the last of the Confederate and Dominion regulars emptied, “I feel it too.”

The strands of the psi emanating from the pair of Dominion ghosts were naturally attracted to those of the Confederate commandoes, yet they could not meet, instead a negative energy forming between them, a wide, invisible chasm.

David broke off contact, retracting those bands of psionic energy, as did Janice. The lights, seemed dimmed during the tension, now appeared at normal strength. Background noise strained into his ears as epinephrine began to drain away and his heartbeat, elevated without his knowledge, settled too to its normal tempo. They were beeps and the calls of klaxons: elevators were transferring the D3 dropships back to their standard positions in their fore bay.

The teenage colonel turned, finding Janice’s eyes meeting his, an expression of seriousness plastered on her face. The brunette hair did not sway, and David immediately recognized her body stance still of that of confrontation. He gently laid a hand on the barrel of her C-10 Canister Rifle, depressing it from its slightly elevated position. “Stand down, Ghost.”

A sigh took the place of an expanding plume of rising dust from the shattering of a NeoSteel pillar, yet this pillar was of the tension that had pervaded the Agamemnon from the still oppositely-aligned minds of the Ghosts aboard, and now it was crumbling within Janice’s mind.

With a mock salute far displaced from military conduct, she replied, smiling slightly at the simple relief of repulsiveness, “Sir.”

In an effort to maintain the neutrality in the atmosphere, he said in a feeble attempt to change the subject, “Commander, what are you wearing?”

Janice retorted, “What, you want me to be in a bikini or something for you?”

That brought a gentle smile caressing his face. “Such an aggravated mind. See a psychiatrist before the next mission.”

He moved to muss her air with a hand when a steel blade intersected its trajectory - her arm, coated in metal combat-quality alloy. Her dead-serious expression was only a façade, however, for the flirtatiousness within the other Ghost. With tensileness in her voice matching her armored forearm, she replied, “CAS-II Armor: Covert Assault Strike Mark II infiltration suit. We...”

David, with his telepathic skills, plucked out the intent of what she was to say before her lips voiced it. “...liberated a few sets from a research facility on a Tarsonis orbital station before we retrograded the hell out of the fire zone. We even recovered data disks with several gigabytes of data for this: maintenance, operation, the works. It was black-ops Epsilon Squadron material too. Don’t think that our new buddies onboard would enjoy it.”

The commando eyed the stealth armor with an experienced eye. He was intrigued by the suddenness by which Janice seemed to be within a corona of brilliant sparks, pure electricity roaming the air, and then transforming into a lurking shadow, a darkly-colored wraith with occasional jags of electricity smearing across, but swiftly dissipating in null charges, the armor plating. Janice felt his thoughts, and provided a running commentary. “It’s the traditional stealth plating at the conventional radar-retardant angles, but with a germanium semiconductor layer underneath. When it accepts a charge from the built-in reactor foil within the suit, it refracts the light impacting the armor at incident angles, and imperfectly blends into darkness. However, since the density of the semiconductor is not perfect across the whole plating and also environmental conditions, there are occasionally electric discharges.”

The uncommon serrated jags of light across her faded into nothingness instantaneously, and as if the air had been peeled with an unseen fist, with a silent rustling, she reappeared.

Janice, during the armor’s unstealthed mode, appeared to be a titan, like one of the Greek heroes of old, indomitable in spirit and body, yet with a distinctly unnerving predatory appearance. Her profile was slender, minimizing a target for enemy snipers, and the armor plates were angular, regardless of their formfitting properties. The plating itself was a dark cyan, and on several articulation, muted blue lights burned. When she affixed the helmet connected to her back onto her neck, with a hiss of hydraulics, her uniqueness seemed to be directly proportional to her face -she became an anonymous warrior, Commander 218/8. He craftily observed the helmet: the visor had been coated for stealth as well, and was barely distinguishable by a minute bronze tint from the rest of the full-set integrated helmet.

She remarked, almost offhandedly, “They have the rest of the suits down in Engineering. One’s marked for you. Also, I believe the commodore is going to reacquisition the Confederates for more. The CAS-II is in every way superior to the environmental suits.”

Behind the visor, she teasingly smirked at the colonel, and David waved her aside. “Copy that. Now, you’ll go down to the troop bays, and get those simulators online and rally the Confederate ghosts into our team, and we’ll run the sims together.”

Janice’s blood froze, and ice water ran through her veins. “Sir. You don’t meant to say that Bravo Team is being joined by those bastards.”

At his perfectly still stance, she whispered, “Sir?”

The colonel took a deep breath, as if steeling himself for a lumbar puncture. “Just go, Jan.”

Janice summoned up a weak smile. “Don’t you mean Commander Janice, sir?”

He cursed his growing infatuation with the girl. Hell, she was sixteen. And a girl. He could picture himself as a knight of old, chivalrously warding a lady in distress, but a teenage girl? A telepathic commando? A woman that could more efficiently down targets with a handgun that a marine with a gauss rifle? A morbid fascination at her predatory beauty grew within him.

It’ll compromise the mission, no?

A soft voice, enticing, whispered in return within the psi, not Janice’s, but of his inner soul, You made the choice over Delta Anmor III. In life there is not solely service, yet of life as well, life, joy, and love. You’ve yet to uncover that, David. Life needn’t not be monotonous killing and death and...

The images of mother and father silently gagging to death in the folds of pristine, crisply-folded white sheets in a Tarsonis medical center, a melodrama without audio, their tendons prominent within their hands as they fended off invisible hands closing around their clammy thoughts at the thought of death...

David stalked away, his metal boots producing clipped sounds against the forward hangar bay’s floor.

* * *

The Terran force that was to be sent to Antares IV to infest the Zerg shipyards in a way akin to how the feral beasts took the lives of humans and transfigured them into horrid zombies with minimal time and lives, the entire objective of the op, assembled in the forward dropship bay of the Agamemnon.

Bravo Team, an aggregate of a dozen Ghost-troopers, four Dominion and eight Confederate, stood at parade rest, legs spread wide and gloves clasped behind their backs, stood at the lead of the regimented ranks. The halogen lights overhead gave profuse light to the forty Confederate Office of Naval Intelligence commandoes behind the telepaths, adorned in jet-black stealth armor, the precursor to the CAS-II suits that the Ghosts were equipped with.

Even further behind the ONI shock troopers were rows of recently-cleaned and checked weapons: MK06 assault rifles with muzzles gleaming with lubricant beneath the blazing lights ahead, C-10 canister rifles with variable-yield projectiles, assorted rocket-propelled grenade launchers, SSR-K “Strike” rocket launchers, DP-10 fragmentation grenades, plasma grenades within thermally resistant cases, detonator packs with high-yield plastic explosives with a reputed history of not detonating when jarred, M-229 sniper rifles with adjustable cartridges, magnum heavy-weighted handguns, and finally, the ANACONDA virus syringes. There were enough arms to resist an attack of over a company of Terran Marines.

The firearms and explosives were neatly adjacent to one another over wet cloth spread on the hangarbay, once again nearly vacant from the lack of dropships. Yet, the exfiltration subprowler Meriwether Lewis was at the mouth of the bay, with three starfighter-sized kite-shaped obsidian black machines being connected to ports on the stealth ship. Those were the VVM exfiltration craft: the last resort to get the hell out of a mission. Their prows, the ones angled like kites, consisted of advanced stealth gear. Yet, interlaced amongst that technology were atomizers that could convert the circuitry into energy for the scramjet engines. At the start of an operation, a subprowler on station would drop the VVM craft by gravity, not thrusters, upon predesignated area on enemy turf. The stealth gear aided the survival chances of the two-man exfiltration craft. If a mission went FUBAR and the subprowler was destroyed by enemy fire, friendly forces could still retreat by jump-starting the engines of a VVM, essentially slagging the stealth tech and feeding all the energy into the scramjets, and the VVM could explode out of the fire zone with tremendous velocity with its afterburner-assisted engines. Maneuverability was nearly nil, but the brutish speed was enough for the occupants to survive. Normally.

“Attention!”

“Commodore on deck!”

The stentorian voice was that of the colonel, and with immediacy, every trooper straightened, and even the crew chiefs and technicians milling at the fringes of the carrier’s forward bay paused.

Commodore Jones, commander of Battle Group Agamemnon, had only a light shade of the expected Negro darkness inhabiting his skin. He was an exemplary commander. His taskforce had skirmished well against the Confederacy in the drive towards Tarsonis, where the savageness of the Sons of Korhal had prevailed over Confederate valiancy. While some of Mengsk’s black ops were not reputable, even surpassing the vileness of Confederate projects, the usage of hundreds of psi emitters had brought the Confederacy to its knees, its circulation incised by the fall of fortress worlds and industrial shipyard worlds as well. The Agamemnon, however, had flagged in the Battle of Tarsonis, the climax of the rebel assault. It had been caught in an intractable bind, between two sweeping Confederate frigate groups. Only the arrival of the Zerg and the xenocidal Protoss with their fleets had shredded the Confederate taskforces thoroughly enough for the badly damaged carrier and its escorts to limp away from the three-way battle.

Janice paused momentarily, noting that the commodore had adorned a psi-screen, a device used by military forces when they knew they would be engaging telepaths. It inhibited telepathy, although the user was fully vulnerably to telekinesis. Her fingers infinitesimally tensed, as if she were upon the battlefield and a foe had just assailed her rear hemisphere. Why would the commodore prevent himself from reading his mind? All these missions, he’s never donned a psi-screen.

The retinue of lieutenants that flanked the commodore in his dramatic entrance from the primary blast-door to the hangar also had the psi-screens worn, a semitranslucent partially-polarized visor rectangular in shape and an uneven light crimson in color that were like oversized glasses, projecting from ear to ear, and with unique earpieces coated with three stubs per side.

The Ghost gently expanded her mind, and immediately felt the probing of the eleven other Ghosts towards the command officers. Their thoughts were gauzy and...elusive. They were seemingly there, but could not be touched, entrenched behind the psionic wall projected by the psi-screens.

Jones began his cliché speech. “Men and women of the lineage of Terran, I address you in a call to heed arms in our war.”

She whispered psionically, Interesting dialect.

The colonel nodded his assent.

The rest of the speech was with a dry, professorial air, of the manner of one who has given it one too many times before, over-rehearsed. “Be wary, the mission to Antares IV is fraught in danger. Yet, extreme times demand even more extreme responses, and the vanguard of the human race is you, Ghosts and Marines. You will be the ones that establish our beachhead on the shipyards, so that the infested world may fall.”

A pause, and it was not necessary to have telepathy in order to anticipate his next words. It just emphasized the unoriginality of the why-we-fight speech. “Godspeed, soldiers.”

As the officers turned, she once again expanded her mind past her cranium, gently attempting to circumvent the psi-shields and read their surface thoughts. Then, she appeared immersed in a surreal environment, her eyesight blurring like water above illuminated fiberglass at the edges as yet tried to construe their thoughts, her touch becoming harsh on the mechanical barriers as she pressed on relentlessly...

The tunnel vision from her psionic exertion was broken with the deftness of one breaking the seal to sealed mission orders by David. “Commander, a moment of your time?”

The ritual response came autonomously from her mouth as she licked her lips, rehydrating the chapped skin there. “Only a moment, Colonel. Time is pressing.”

What was unexpected was the Ghost-trooper dragged her aside beneath metal scaffolding, in which held magnetically-sealed cylinders plastered with radiation symbols: the replacement parts for starfighter burst lasers. A large textured cloth, a towel of some sort, yet absolved in grit and lubricant, hung over the two like a precipice as David hurriedly whispered, face bleached in consternation, yet heart beating with a stoic fatalism, “Janet, do you...”

She raised a gloved hand. “It’s Janice.”

Annoyance showed over his features as he continued through his helmet’s external speakers, “Do you know why the command staff were wearing psi-screens?”

She blankly shook her head, her soft ponytail finding little room to sway in the tight confines of her nearly-claustrophobic helmet, so different from the ones on environmental suits. “Rather difficult to discern, Colonel, when you can’t scan them.”

Scan was telepath-speak for telepathically reading one.

He continued anxiously, as if relieving a heavy burden at the end of his endurance, the words coming swifter, “You don’t need to.”

Janice offhandedly noticed the two metal canisters of slick green beads dangling on his hips where his sidearms would have been mounted, the spheres glittering in the residual light not taken by the cloth overhead, with almost a malicious, leering grin. “Janice, I checked the prowler’s recon pass data of the shipyards an hour ago. They have between thirty to fifty thousand. We have, what, fifty-four troopers?”

The immensity of the disparate force numbers knifed into her heart, penetrating deeper as she comprehended it, yet tried to fend off her growing numbness. “We’re Ghosts, we’re meant to...”

She surveilled her lexicon for the correct word, but found only the word die. She stuttered, thinking of win or be victorious or live, yet none of those fit her heart’s instincts.

David whispered, slower now, the fire in his eyes dulled, “This is my fifth mission since graduating from the Ghost Academy. This will be your third. You know the statistics. We’re expendable. We’re...”

Janice’s jaw was held in a semi-slack position. She tried to rebut, We’re Ghosts, we’re meant to win, legends that never die, specters invincible to create a pax galactica...

He continued, a bitter touch on his voice, “We’re disposable. We’re meant to carry out three missions and die. I died two missions ago.”

The following words were like MK06 assault rifle rounds jarring her suit, and time seemed to slow, as if she’d been lanced and saw her life spilling before her. “You’re going to die on this one, Janice. The statistics say so. Look at the op. Even with the minimal estimate, each one of us have to kill over five hundred and fifty Zerg. Tell me a way when we don’t have nukes. Tell me, Janice.”

Her tactical mind booted and began running calculations, but she knew within that her query would find no matches within the system. In response, she sputtered weakly like a failing Peredition flamethrower, “The ANACONDA virus. We don’t have to kill fifty hundred and fifty some. We just need to slip by their defenses and...”

With the suddenness of a man falling into bacterial shock, exotoxins in a single, thundering circulation overwhelming his immune system, he grasped her hands in his. “No. They have overlords, spore colonies, even capital ships. Our cloak generators don’t have enough charge.”

The anxiety welled, and then was relieved in a single blow to her moral.

“It’s a suicide mission, Janice.”

Instead of tension, tears built within her, and she willed for them not to be excreted. David held her in a comforting embrace, like a parental figure. She had been steeled before death in the Academy - psychological sessions that left her with no fear, pain shockers that made her experience how she’d fall in a searing death. Yet, that training did not crumple: the steel wall remained untarnished, yet the plunge through her moral came from another direction. Not the fiery, climatic death that she was prepared for, her canister rifle still firing as she was immolated in a strafing Protoss Scout’s photon cannons or an Arclite Siege Tank’s MJOLNIR 120mm plasma-charged artillery cannon...but the gentleness by which David’s words came.

She finally looked up, her lips emblazoned in encrusted salt, expecting to see a mournful expression in her eyes, but found a small spark of lightness, the comical expression in a foxhole joke that could liven one’s spirit. It was inevitable, like a pendulum returning to its resting position: after dour dolor, it could be counted on the colonel to provide something lively.

David handed her one of the canisters, with the triple-bulletproof glazed heavy glass analog barricading the spheres of supercooled gas within. The warmth immediately withdrew from her glove as she gently grasped the cylinder. Before she could inquire of its identity, David whispered conspiratorially, eyes shaded, “Terrazine gas. Supercooled. It’s a chemical mutagen that I managed to recover from New Orleans on Tarsonis from a Nova Squadron spec ops place. I handed it over to CENTCOM, but I...have just retrieved it. Without asking.”

Noting the lack of biohazard signs typically affiliated with mutagenic chemicals on the burnished canister, she queried, “What does it do? And what are the side effects?”

They locked eyes for a moment, chilling Janice to her soul, her primal being at the deadliness within David’s eyes. “It won’t let us survive, but we’ll get more of the job done before dying.”

The relative lightness associated with the morbid words befell Janice that the colonel was composed for a death, and was brazen to face it.

“Terrazine gas is a chemically-related analog to one of the sac gases within Zerg embryos. Specific chrysalises, such as those of higher-ranked Infested Terrans. Ghost-troopers, for instance. There’s also intelligence that...”

Janice cleanly picked up the surface thoughts. “Infested Kerrigan. She underwent treatment with terrazine gas within her chrysalis on Char...no?”

“Roger that. It creates a series of biochemical cascades that affect the musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, endocrine, and neurological systems. The muscles are given superhuman strength, increased limberness. Wounded muscular tissue heals faster because of induced enzymes. The cardiovascular system has increased heart volume and further capillaries are entrenched into the muscles, feeding them further oxygen. Our endocrine systems will secrete far greater reaction hormones, such as epinephrine. Coupled with the mutations to our muscles, our physical strength will be greatly amplified in times of stress. Our peripheral nervous systems will also become more hard-wired. Reflexes will be improved as synapses are sheathed in alien organic substances, greatly reducing voltage drop-off.”

The horridness and extent of the physical and mental changes struck Janice as uncivil, and the application of the gas would transform her into the enemy, a gas that would forever defile her soul, corrupting her, forging her into a weapon that was the foe…that is, for the length of time that she lived. No human could possibly undergo such radical transformations before the op without giving out swiftly. It would be too far a biological transfiguration for her to survive. She was destined to die, yes, but she hungered for a valiant death as a human, not as a hybrid Terran/Zerg whose organ systems faltered, her human body unable to retain system hysterisis.

David undemandingly read her thoughts.

“That brings me to my second point. Once I superheat the glassine spheres to bring about the gaseous form, I have a set of hypodermic syringes of enzyme concentrate. They are metal ion and organic catalysts with metallic cation apoenzymes. The terrazine gas’s work will be impelled forward by over a factor of three.”

She tensed, unable to vision herself as one with a forever tainted heart, impure, not a human. What gave Homo sapiens its strength now before the darkness to come, its trading lives for time and surviving another day before it would eventually succumb and fall at its knees, was its identity: the human heart, a forever indomitable spirit that gifted humans with immunity to fear, what blessed Ghosts the power to face Hades, its lethal visage, without vacillating.

Even disregarding the moral arguments, the enzyme potion would be impossible to sustain. The temporal impulsion of the gas’s effects would multiply its toxicity tenfold.

Without flinching in fear of either Ghost’s mortality, he said tautly, “We will live three days before dying of shock and the residual toxicity from the excessive enzyme concentrations, and the terrazine gas itself. The auxiliary organs will not be perfused with sufficient blood. The metal cations within the enzyme concentrate will…”

Yet, the human heart had a limit as well. The biochemical details of her gory death, if she even survived three days before being impaled by razor spines or glaive wurms, were unnecessary. Her vision fazed, and her gaze drooped towards the dirtied bay floor in the shade of the towel overhead.

“Look at me. That is an order from a commanding officer. There will be no decisions.”

The tensileness of his voice, resonating with an iron core, was unnerving. He had kissed her, yet was now authoritatively compelling her to take something that would ravage herself far worse than the abominations of the Zerg… She still refused to meet his blazing eyes, the maniac zealousness roiling behind them to complete the objective, to trade their two lives for a possible higher success probability.

In-fitting with psychology necessary to bring about another’s thoughts without damaging a relationship, he coaxed, “Hey, Janice. It’s just…”

Janice glared at him. “Now you’re going to put on a façade of niceness to try to get me to breathe the gas and take the enzymes. How did you convince the rest of the Ghosts to…”

David stared at her with deadly calm, an oasis of halcyon irises. “I have only two canisters. I’m giving one to you.”

Janice off-handedly noted the use of the word giving, yet not that of command you to take one.

The mental presence of the colonel caressed against her own, urging her to face the prospect unperturbed. For the human race. To survive another day. Our lives are inconsequential, Janice.

Sulking rather like a young girl, bathing in gloominess rather stupidly, she murmured, “So now you’re going into the why-we-fight speech.”

He continued undaunted, Humanity is weak, her heart is vulnerable and blades are coming to lance her. We, during the times of war and misfortune, may chance to reap the fruits of victory or those of peacetime. You must choose: the yoke is now upon you. I will not impel you to take the chemicals.

With that, he gently laid a canister and three capped syringes upon the floor with utmost gingerness, deliberately avoiding her winter-frost irises, and stalked off for the final preparations.

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