Since the beginning of time, the angelic forces of the High Heavens and the demonic hordes of the Burning Hells have been locked in the Eternal Conflict for the fate of all Creation. That struggle has now spilled over into Sanctuary—the world of men. Determined to win mankind over to their respective causes, the forces of good and evil wage a secret war for mortal souls. This is the tale of the Sin War—the conflict that would forever change the destiny of man.
The demon-backed Triune has fallen. All that now stands in Uldyssian’s path to freeing humanity is the Cathedral of Light and its charismatic leader the Prophet. But the Prophet is actually the renegade angel Inarius, who sees the world he created as his uncontested domain. Facing a cunning foe that would just as readily see Sanctuary destroyed than let it slip from his grasp, Uldyssian is blind to the others who would possess his world. Both the Burning Hells and the High Heavens now know of Sanctuary…and their warring hosts of demons and angels will stop at nothing to claim it.
An original tale of swords, sorcery, and timeless struggle based on the bestselling, award-winning M-rated computer game from Blizzard Entertainment. Intended for mature readers.
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EXCERPT – CHAPTER ONE
The man in the middle of the pentagram shrieked as Zorun Tzin deftly used his magic to peel away another area of skin. The patch, a tidy three inches by three, methodically rolled back without hesitation. It left in its wake a bleeding gap that revealed the muscle and sinew underneath. Streaks of blood flowed from the gap down the naked figure’s body to add to that already decorating the floor.
The gaunt, bearded mage was not at all bothered by the splatters on the stones. They would be gathered later for other uses having nothing to do with the dark-skinned Kehjani’s current interest. The Council of Clans had managed to cease their feuds long enough to implore him to discover what he could about the fanatics pouring across the land, fanatics with powers unbelievable.
That these—edyrem, they called themselves—had brought down the mighty Temple of the Triune was not the point. The mage clans were more than happy to be rid of the powerful sect, which had been the first to wrest influence away from the spellcasters. Indeed, that had been in great part the cause of the first feuds, as clans had struggled to seize from one another what stature remained.
No, what disturbed the clans so much that they had been able to agree to something at last was the simple fact that the edyrem were nothing more than untrained peasants for the most part. They were farmers, laborers, and the like, and yet their leader promised them abilities that the mages had painstakingly toiled for most of their lifetimes. Not only that, but the use so far of those powers revealed a recklessness that endangered so very much. It was clear that the edyrem were a hazard and had to be contained.
And who better than the mage clans to do that? Under their strict guidance, these mysterious powers could be properly explored and exploited.
“I say again,” Zorun rasped. “You saw the outsiders bring down an entire temple with only their bare hands! What words did they chant? What gestures did they make?”
“D-don’t know!” bellowed the prisoner. “I—I swear!” The man was bald and still fit, despite the mage’s interrogation. He had once been a temple guard, one of the few who had escaped the fanatics’ grasp. It had taken Zorun some weeks of scrying to locate even this individual, so deep underground had any survivors of the Triune gone into hiding. “I swear it is s-so! They did—did n-nothing like that!”
With a gesture, the Kehjani had the square of skin finish peeling. A new shriek of agony escaped the captive. The orange-sashed mage waited impatiently for the cry to die down before speaking again. “You cannot expect me to believe that they just willed something to happen. Magic does not work that way. It takes concentration, gestures, and long practice.”
From the prisoner, he received only gasps. Frowning, Zorun Tzin slowly paced around the pentagram. The octagonal chamber in which he had spent the last day interrogating the former guard was meticulously clean and neat. Each vial, each parchment, each artifact was set properly on the correct shelf. Zorun believed that neatness and order were paramount to success in the arts. Unlike some mages, he did not let clutter overwhelm him, nor did he allow dust and vermin to render his sanctum piggish.
Even when it came to himself, the Kehjani sought to be immaculate. His brown, wide-shouldered tunic and flowing pants were freshly cleaned. He kept his beard trimmed to a proper shape and length. Even his thinning gray hair was artfully oiled back.
The manner in which he ran his own life perhaps gave indication of why Zorun pursued the secrets of the fanatics as he did. They were a slovenly, disorderly factor, and their spellcasting appeared to be based on whim and emotion. In truth, when he had been approached by the council for this task, Zorun had already been delving into the situation in secret. Of course, he had not informed them of that; otherwise, they might not have granted him the list of demands he had given or promised even more should he succeed.
No, there was no should. Zorun did not fail.
“You saw the Ascenian leader, this Uldyssian ul-Diomed, he is called. Is this true?”
“Y-yes! Yes!” screamed the guard, sounding almost grateful to be able to respond to any question. “Saw him! Pale! H-he is—w-was a farmer, they say!”
“A digger in the dirt,” the spellcaster muttered disdainfully. “Little more than a beast.”
The figure above the pentagram let out a gurgle that might have been agreement.
“It is said that he brought down the temple himself. Did you see that?”
The response caused Zorun to grow more exasperated. “You are wasting my time, then.”
He gestured, and the bleeding figure suddenly gasped. A choking sound escaped the stricken guard. He tried to reach for his throat, which had now swollen monstrously around the apple. Yet, even had the Kehjani’s captive been allowed to move his arms—which, of course, he was not—he would have been able to do nothing to stop Zorun’s work.
With one last garbled cry, the guard slumped. Zorun Tzin finally let the body drop to the floor, where it sprawled, quite ungainly, over the pattern.
At his summoning, a hulking Kehjani with too small a head came shambling into the chamber. He wore nothing but a simple tunic. The face much resembled one of the small primates considered sacred by many lowlanders, although Zorun saw as little divinity in them as he did in his servant. Terul was excellent at obeying direct orders without question, the reason the spellcaster had first picked him out of the slums.
Terul grunted, the closest he ever came to speaking. His too-small head dipped down to acknowledge his master.
“The body.” Zorun had to say no more. The servant understood exactly what he desired. Terul hefted the dead guard as if the latter weighed as little as air, utterly ignoring the blood that stained his skin in the process. The giant had been trained by his master always to clean up afterward.
Terul shuffled out with the corpse. There were many passages in the sewers coursing underneath Kehjan the city. All eventually emptied into the river beyond the walls. From there, the wild lands beyond—also called Kehjan by the ancients—would deal with the refuse.
Glancing at the pool of blood and the trail following in Terul’s wake, Zorun muttered an incantation and drew the proper symbols. He watched with immense satisfaction as the crimson liquid smoothly and cleanly began rolling toward the pentagram, leaving not a trace behind. How many on the council itself could perform such a feat? It had taken Zorun ten years to perfect that spell….
He grimaced. No doubt, this Uldyssian ul-Diomed could do the same without more than a glance.
This must not be…or, if it must, then it shall be I who am able to do it, not some fool of a peasant!
Zorun seized a cloak and departed from his sanctum. There were those he needed to visit to gather the necessary items for his work. That would require some tricky bargaining that he had no desire for those who had hired him to know about. A mage’s secrets were more valuable than simple coins or jewels. They were worth lives.
And if Zorun’s plans fell into place as they should, one of those lives would be that of the Ascenian, Uldyssian.
“You must speak to your brother,” Rathma encouraged, his generally toneless voice now hinting at concern. “He is growing reckless as his power further manifests itself.”
“What can I tell him that is new?” Mendeln asked with a shrug. They were both contrast and similarity, the pair. Rathma was taller than most people and with perfect features that might have been chiseled by a master sculptor. His skin was far paler than that of any other living person, and that was made more noticeable by the cowled and hooded black cloak and robes he wore.
By comparison, Mendeln ul-Diomed, was average in height and more plain of feature. He had been a farmer’s son, albeit not so good a farmer himself. His broad nose made him feel ugly in contrast to the one with whom he spoke. His dark hair seemed lighter against the pure black of Rathma’s.
Yet in their manner, in their speech, and in their clothing, they were more like brothers than he and Uldyssian. Mendeln wore a cloak and garments similar to Rathma’s, and his flesh, while bearing some pink tint, was still far paler than normal—especially for an Ascenian, who should, like his brother and Serenthia, be baked nearly as dark as the lowlanders.
It was not so surprising, though, that Mendeln should be very like Rathma. The latter had chosen the younger son of Diomedes to be his pupil, the first mortal to learn the path walked by one who was son of both an angel and a demon.
“He thinks he is being very practical,” Mendeln went on. “Hints of the Triune’s stirring again forced him once and for all to stamp out their kind. That makes sense to him, as it does to many of the others. Even I understand the logic.”
Rathma’s cloak swirled around him, despite there being no wind. Mendeln often wondered if the garment were alive, but he never asked.
“But he thus remains blind to my father,” the tall figure reminded him. Rathma was an Ancient, one of the first generation born to the world known to a select few as Sanctuary. Like him, all of that generation had been the progeny of refugees from the High Heavens and the Burning Hells, who had forsaken the eternal conflict and bound together to seek a new existence.
They had found that existence, for a time, in a place of their own making, masked from the sight of the two great powers. Yet, in finding common cause, the refugees also had begun their downfall. Familiarity brought with it the intermingling and, with that, Rathma’s generation—the first humans.
In the beginning, the new children had seemed harmless enough, but when they had started to manifest powers—powers unlike those of their parents and with unlimited potential—the angel Inarius, leader of the group, had declared them abominations. Only barely had he been convinced by a few of his fellows not to act instantly. He and the other refugees finally had agreed to retire to their separate sanctums carefully to consider the fate of their children.
But among them was one who had already made her decision. Inarius’s own lover, the demon Lilith, secretly stalked the other demons and angels, slaughtering them one by one. In her madness and ambition, she saw herself as the savior of the children and also, thus, the only one with the right to mold their destiny.
A destiny that saw her as mistress over all.
However, she had dearly underestimated Inarius. Discovering her treachery, he cast her out of Sanctuary. Then, using the gigantic crystal called the Worldstone—which had been created to keep Sanctuary hidden—he had altered the artifact so that it caused the innate powers of the children to decline until they became so dormant as never to have existed.
Some of Rathma’s generation, called the nephalem, had protested…and they had been crushed. The rest had scattered, Rathma himself forced to hide beyond the mortal plane. Over the centuries, most of his kind had vanished, and the generations that followed grew up in ignorance of the birthright that had been stolen from them.
But no more…
Mendeln turned from Rathma as he considered the other’s words. The two of them stood deep within the jungles of Kehjan, well away from where Uldyssian’s vast following camped. The scent of smoke that wafted by did not come from the huge encampment but rather from Urjhani, a town about half a day to the south. There, Uldyssian had tracked down some of the last priests to a minor temple, which he had afterward burned to the ground.
“My brother is painfully aware of the angel,” Mendeln finally responded. “Just as he will always be painfully reminded of Lilith.”
The demoness, despite Inarius’s confidence, had managed to return from exile. The angel, distracted by the incursion of the Burning Hells into his world, did not notice her slow, subtle manipulation of the Worldstone. That manipulation had reversed his intentions, awakening the potential within the many humans now inhabiting Sanctuary. Lilith had chosen Uldyssian for her pawn, stirring through violence and lust his latent powers.
In the end, however, she had failed to turn him to her cause. Uldyssian had fought her in the main temple, and although her body had not been recovered from the rubble that was all that remained of the towering edifice, everyone, including Rathma, was certain that she was at last dead. Unfortunately for Uldyssian, who had once loved her as the woman Lylia, the demoness would never truly be gone.
“And for that, I can but apologize to him. I knew my mother’s evil, just as I knew my father’s sanctimony…and for generations, I did nothing but cower.”
Rathma had hardly cowered, but Mendeln said nothing to assuage his mentor. Still…“I shall bring up the Cathedral’s missionaries to him again. You said earlier that there are already a number of them en route to Urjhani, and we left that place only the other day. That would have to mean that they were dispatched from the Grand Cathedral itself even before we reached the town.”
“Which is not the first time, either, Mendeln. My father almost appears to know Uldyssian’s path even before he does.”
“I will make mention of that also.” But still Mendeln did not depart. He suddenly surveyed the jungle, as if expecting some beast to leap out at them.
“I am not hiding him,” remarked Rathma with a rare show of frustration. “I am not pretending my ignorance of your friend Achilios’s location. Both Trag’Oul and I have searched, but of the hunter there is no trace.”
“But you were the one who raised him from the dead!”
“I? I only influenced the situation. You are the one who brought Achilios back, Mendeln. Your gift and your link to the realm of afterdeath are what enabled him to return.”
Rather than begin an old argument over, Mendeln left the shadowy figure behind. Rathma did not call after him, and the human, aware of his mentor’s ways, knew that the Ancient had already melted into the shadows.
Neither of them had uttered what both suspected concerning Achilios’s disappearance. The one time in the past when they had discussed the possibility, Mendeln had nearly lost all heart. What point was there in trying to change the world, if the world was soon to be no more?
It was all too obvious to Uldyssian’s brother what had happened to the hunter. Rathma had detected no demonic traces in the vicinity of Achilios’s last known location. The absolute absence of any such trace could mean only two things. One was that Inarius had seized Achilios for some plot against them, a dire notion indeed. Yet, as terrible as that might be—especially to Serenthia—there was a second scenario that made the first welcome by comparison.
What if another angel had stolen away the hunter?
They all knew what that meant. The Burning Hells were already aware of Sanctuary and had been so for centuries. They had let it survive because of their interest in the potential of using humans as a turning point in the eternal war. The Temple of the Triune had been created by the demon lords—the Prime Evils—in order to bring Mendeln’s race into the fold. Had not Inarius taken personal umbrage at their act—seeing Sanctuary and all in it as his—humanity might even now be marching into battle against the angels.
But now, if the High Heavens did know of the world, they were sure either to fight to possess it or simply to destroy it so that it could not be of use to the demons. That thousands of lives would perish was not of interest to either side.
It is essential that we find Achilios, Mendeln determined as he reached the edge of the encampment. For all our sakes, it is essential!
His thoughts were violently interrupted by an invisible force against which he collided. As he rubbed his nose, two figures appeared—one with the swarthy skin of a lowlander, the other as pale as any Ascenian tended to look next to one of the locals. Mendeln recognized the second as one of the dwindling number of Parthans, Uldyssian’s first converts. There were perhaps a little more than a hundred of them left, where once there had been many times that number. Being among the earliest of his brother’s followers, the Parthans had, unfortunately, faced monstrous dangers before having the chance to truly begin to come into their powers.
“Ah! Forgive us, Master Mendeln!” blurted the Parthan. “We couldn’t know it were you!”
The other edyrem nodded nervously in agreement. Whether from the lowland jungles or the highland forests, nearly all of Uldyssian’s flock treated Mendeln with a combination of veneration and fear. The fear came from Mendeln’s calling, which dealt much with the dead. The veneration…well, he was wise enough to understand that it originated simply from the fact that he was their leader’s sibling.
Oddly, a small handful had begun to come to him for learning, but Mendeln did not set any store by their interest. They were just morbidly fascinated by certain aspects…at least, that was what he told himself.
“You need not apologize,” he told the pair. “I left without giving word. You did as you were commanded.”
They opened the way for Mendeln, watching with some visible relief as Mendeln passed. He pretended not to notice.
And, as if by passing the guards, the younger son of Diomedes had entered a new realm, suddenly the area around him was filled with magic. Colored spheres of energy dotted the vast camp, as if arranged for some festival. Yet none of them was secured by string, but rather floated above those who had cast them. There were still fires, but mainly for cooking, not for illumination.
But the spheres were not all. As Mendeln strode through the throngs, a continual array of magical displays caught his gaze. One swarthy lowlander had created a glowing stream of energy that entwined around itself like a serpent. Another edyrem levitated a number of small stones, then proceeded to have them move around as if in the hands of an invisible juggler. A fair-haired Parthan woman created a spear from empty air, which she threw with perfect accuracy at a distant tree. The spear hung embedded for a moment, then dissipated as she forged a new one.
These were but a few examples. The many spells cast by the edyrem varied in power and skill, but that the seemingly insignificant faces around him—faces drawn from all castes and occupations—were those of people mastering what had once been available only to a select few was both astounding and troubling to Mendeln. Common folk such as himself were supposed to live out their lives toiling in the field. They were not supposed to become powerful sorcerers.
And that was what troubled him, even as he watched one inventive youth create for his smaller siblings—yes, Uldyssian’s “army” even included children—bright butterflies that flew in a dozen different directions. In some ways, many of those who followed his brother were naïve about the potential they wielded. At best, they saw it as a tool, like a hoe, not as something that could possibly either turn on them or brutally maim one of their own.
Perhaps I am being too harsh, Mendeln considered. They have fought for what they believe in and have been forced to slay those who would make them their slaves and puppets.
Yet his misgivings did not go away. Despite everything, Mendeln felt magic was something that needed to be studied carefully and used with the utmost consideration. One had to grow into its use and learn to respect its dangers.
Then, ahead, there arose a soft, comforting blue glow. Mendeln hesitated but finally stepped toward it. He had no reason to fear the source. After all, it was only Uldyssian.
Even amidst so much magic, one could feel his brother’s presence. A large group of edyrem sat or stood in a circle around the area Uldyssian had chosen for his bed. Mendeln could not see his brother, but he could sense exactly where Uldyssian was. Without hesitation, the younger sibling strode into the crowd, which immediately took notice of his presence and began to open a path for him.
And barely had Mendeln made it halfway when at last he caught sight of Uldyssian.
The sandy-haired figure had the strong build and looks of a country farmer, which, of course, Uldyssian had been. Quite good at it, too. Broad-shouldered and square-jawed, with a short, trimmed beard, the elder sibling was handsome in a rough-hewn way, and that helped him appeal to others. He did not look in the least like one of the haughty priests or fiery prophets with whom most of his followers were familiar. He was one of them, the common folk. He had prospered, and he had suffered, his greatest loss that of all his family save Mendeln years before to plague. At that time, Uldyssian had turned from one missionary to the next, seeking salvation for his loved ones and receiving nothing but empty words and suggestions of donations. That tragedy had given him a fierce hatred for sects such as the Triune and the Cathedral even before both had gone hunting for him.
Uldyssian sat atop a log, talking earnestly to all. Mendeln did not have to listen to know that Uldyssian was speaking words of encouragement to his flock, explaining what walking his path meant. His words all had great merit, but too often, Mendeln’s brother did not follow them himself. Of late, Uldyssian had been letting his incredible abilities take command of him, not the other way around.
Urjhani was the latest example of that. Uldyssian had intended to capture the priests, not slay them. There were questions about their true masters, the demon lords, that he had wanted to ask. Yet, when one had struck at the edyrem in a desperate attempt to stave off the inevitable—an attempt that had been easily deflected—Uldyssian had angrily hit back.
What had once been the priests had been strewn for yards, each having exploded from the inside. Uldyssian had shrugged off the situation as if he had intended this end from the start.
“They were Triune” was the reasoning with which he cut off any other protest from Mendeln. That said, Uldyssian had ordered the final temple burned down so that no memory would remain of the sect.
Now, the same man who had so casually torn apart those living souls and burned their temple dismissed his followers with a genial nod. The glow muted but remained strong enough to be noticed.
Only one figure stayed behind: Serenthia, daughter of the merchant Cyrus, who had been one of the first slain by Uldyssian’s powers. That had not been his fault, naturally, Lilith having manipulated the situation to bring about such terrible results. Serenthia was a beautiful woman, with long black tresses and bright blue eyes. Like Uldyssian’s her once-pale skin was bronzed. In contrast to the brothers, she wore the loose-fitting, flowing clothing of the lowland regions. The spear in her right hand was a constant companion, and if anything marred her beauty, at least in Mendeln’s opinion, it was the dread determination in her expression.
“Mendeln.” Uldyssian rose and greeted his brother as if the latter had been gone for days. “Where have you been?”
“Beyond the boundaries.”
“Ah.” Some of the older sibling’s pleasure faded. “Who was it this time? The dragon or her spawn?”
By “her,” he meant Lilith. “Rathma, yes. He warns of his father—“
The aura abruptly blazed bright, causing some nearby to start. However, all eyes quickly turned away again. “As he does every time! Does he think I keep no watch for that one? Rathma could serve us better by standing at our side rather than running off into the dark after he whispers another fearful warning.”
The glow continued to increase in intensity. Mendeln felt his own anger stirring but kept it in check. “You know he risks as much as any of us, Uldyssian…and you need not hate him for being Lilith’s progeny. He regrets that more than you can ever imagine.”
The blue muted again. Uldyssian exhaled. “You—you’re right. Forgive me. The past few days’ve been long ones, haven’t they, Mendeln?”
“To me, the days seem to grow longer and longer with each breath I take.”
“I miss the farm.”
“As do I, Uldyssian. As do even I.”
Serenthia finally broke her silence. Gaze narrowed at Mendeln, she muttered, “And any word of Achilios?”
“You know I would speak if I knew even the slightest hint.”
She thrust the bottom end of the spear into the ground. A brief scattering of red energy marked where the spear struck. Of all Uldyssian’s acolytes, Serenthia was the most powerful. Some of that strength, unfortunately, was fueled by her concern for the hunter, and the longer he remained missing, the more careless she became. It was becoming not an uncommon trait among the edyrem, and as the only relative outsider, Mendeln appeared alone in noticing it.
“Achilios will find a way to return to you,” Uldyssian interjected. “He will, Serry.”
But she looked uncertain. “If he could’ve, he would be standing with us now!”
“You wait and see.” Uldyssian put a hand on her shoulder, which, long ago, would have made the merchant’s daughter turn red. She had adored him most of her childhood, only discovering her love for Achilios just before the demon Lucion had slain their brave friend.
Turning back to Mendeln, Uldyssian added, “And, as I said, I keep wary about the angel, but what can he do against us that the Triune didn’t? Rathma’s hidden so long it’s hard for him to think that—“
There was a shout from the edge of the encampment and a host of angry voices that did not belong to the edyrem.
Uldyssian stared into the sky. He frowned, looking more frustrated than surprised.
“We’ve guests,” he told Mendeln and Serenthia. “Many uninvited guests…”
“Triune?” she asked, almost eagerly. Serenthia hefted the spear, looking as if she intended to throw it now.
“I don’t know, but who else can it be?” Uldyssian headed toward the direction of the cry. “Well, whoever they are, they’ll receive the same greeting we always give the Temple.”
Cyrus’s daughter smiled, a look that reminded Mendeln just briefly of the expression often on her countenance when she had been possessed by Lilith. She raced eagerly after Uldyssian, the two quickly leaving Mendeln well behind.
He did not move, although it was not because he shirked battle. Rather, as the sounds of struggle rose, Mendeln wondered at this desperate surprise attack. It hardly sounded like the Triune, assuming that they could muster any size force now. Yet the only other choice in his mind was Inarius. Mendeln, though, could not conceive of something so overt, so simple, from Inarius, whom Rathma had often described as one who worked behind the obvious, manipulating events as he desired—
Mendeln swore, suddenly rushing to join the others. Whatever this attack appeared on the surface to be, it would have another, far more dread reason behind it—one that it might already be too late to stop.
eBook, 180 pages
Far in the future, 60,000 light-years from Earth, a loose confederacy of Terran exiles are locked in battle with the enigmatic Protoss and the ruthless Zerg Swarm. Each species struggles to ensure its own survival among the stars in a war that will herald the beginning of mankind’s greatest chapter—or foretell its violent, bloody end. She is the Zerg Queen of Blades. Her name has become legend throughout the galaxy, and that legend is death for all who stand against her. Yet once, long ago, Sarah Kerrigan was human—the unwilling subject of an insidious clandestine experiment. She was forced to serve as a merciless assassin for the Terran Confederacy until a twist of fate propelled her toward a destiny none could have foreseen. This is the untold tale of Kerrigan’s shadowy origin…and the war that was fought for her very soul. An original tale of universal conflict set in the world of the award-winning, bestselling computer game from Blizzard Entertainment.
Chapter One: The Seeds of Rebellion
Throughout the course of every person’s life, a large-scale catastrophe is certain to occur. At some point, fate will hand each of us the ultimate test: a tragedy so profound and so inescapable that it will forever alter the remaining course of the life affected. This event will have one of two outcomes. The man or woman confronted with the catastrophe may be defeated in the test, and live the remainder of their life as a shadow of the person they once were. Or a person might transform and become strengthened by their experience, transcending all self-imposed limitations and flourishing in a way they had never deemed possible.
Arcturus Mengsk was one such man. He had overcome a tragic event in his life, and now it had changed him, forever molded him into a being of single-minded purpose and unshakable determination. Lesser men would have been broken by the tragedy. Lesser men would have just given up. But lesser men did not take their place in the proud annals of Terran history.
During his formative years, young Arcturus would often awake from dreams in which he had seen himself as a figure of importance, a preeminent leader of men. Mostly, Arcturus would dismiss the dreams as whims of an overactive imagination. In the waking world, Arcturus did not see himself as the leader-type at all. He didn’t care about the affairs of others; he didn’t care about the Confederacy. All he cared about was serving his time in the Confederate military and how much money he might be able to earn as a fringe-world prospector when that time was done. He had certainly done his duty, and, lack of desire to lead notwithstanding, had ascended to the rank of colonel before the climate changed; before he realized he was not fighting for what he believed in, and of course, before the tragedy.
Now, in the wake of the tragedy, things had changed. Arcturus’s self-perception had changed; the man he once saw himself as seemed no more than a distant relative. Now Arcturus was on his way to becoming the man he was in his dreams.
For the most part, up until now, it had all been about preparation: keeping in constant communication with his colleagues in the underground network on Korhal (although they had become so vocal and overt as of late that the term “underground” no longer applied); recruiting like-minded, eager civilians for training; and observing the actions of the Confederacy here among the relative safety of the Umojan Protectorate.
Preparation was well and good, and Arcturus prided himself on planning ahead. But he believed that the time had now come for action. Blowing up supply route bridges on key planets, hacking into Confederate mainframes and staging mine-worker revolts was all well and good, but the time had come to strengthen his numbers and to set out on his quest in earnest. The time had come to raise hell.
And so General Mengsk now stood looking into the determined eyes of the roughly twenty or so Umojan men before him. They were an able-bodied lot, though not as many as he had hoped for, and he was fairly certain that none of the men had ever seen combat. Still, they were capable, and they were willing to fight for what they believed in, and that’s where the seeds of rebellion truly began to germinate.
The general greeted each man’s eyes in turn. Once he was confident that he held their attention, he spoke. “You men are gathered here today because you share common beliefs and a common desire. Among the beliefs you share is the tenet that no man or body of government should have authority to treat you unjustly; the desire you share is the pursuit of independence. Make no mistake men—these are the ideals that wars are made of. The least of the troubles that lie ahead for all of you is a life of forced seclusion, of being branded as seditionist by the very government that would impose her unfair laws upon you. The worst of what you may face—of what we all face—is death. Pollock and I and the rest of our fighters are, as you know, already considered turncoats by the Confederacy….”
Arcturus motioned to a man standing at parade-rest to his left. Pollock Rimes was a man who looked the part of a battle veteran—his bald head and face were covered with scars, and the upper left hemisphere of his skull bore a slight indentation the size of a large man’s fist. His left ear was mostly missing and the bridge of his nose formed a backward S. Pollock’s eyes stared ahead blankly as Arcturus continued. “It is important that all of you go into this knowing that there exists a very real possibility that you may not live to see it through.”
As Arcturus allowed his words to sink in, his eyes fell on a man outside the room, visible through one of the large windows. The man, of Asian descent, wearing the clothes of a low-level prospector, seemed to be quite intrigued by what was going on inside. When the man looked up and saw Arcturus staring at him, he held the gaze for a second before looking away. He seemed to be wrestling with some kind of decision. Just then Arcturus heard the sound of one of the men clearing his throat. He turned to see a somewhat crazed-looking older man standing near the front of the group whose face bore a web of wrinkles and whose white tonsured hair circled his bald dome like wispy clouds hovering around a particularly worn mountain peak. “My mother, may she rest easy, used to say that there wan’t nothing worth living fer that wan’t worth dyin’ fer.”
Arcturus allowed himself a half-smile. “I see. And what might your name be, civilian?”
“I’m Forest Keel, and I seen my share o’ friction in the seven cycles I served in the Guild Wars.”
“I’m sure you did. And I’m sure you made your superiors proud.” Old Forest beamed a smile devoid of a few teeth as Arcturus’s eyes once again scanned the nearby window, where the prospector was still standing, nervously undetermined. Arcturus turned his attention back to the group. “Well men, the time has—“
Just then Arcturus was interrupted by the sound of an entryway opening. Looking to the far side of the room, the general saw Ailin Pasteur—one of the Protectorate’s ambassadors—stick his head in. The usually unflappable man looked pale and distressed.
“I’m sorry to interrupt, General, but there is a situation that requires your immediate attention.”
The Spy Deck was an area where mining foremen watched image-enhanced holograms of planets within the system that might be fertile grounds for prospecting. For the enlistment of its current purpose, the Spy Deck could not have been more aptly named. Not long ago, Ailin Pasteur had served under the command of Arcturus’s father, Angus. Angus had saved the man’s life on one occasion and Ailin had repaid the favor by being one of the voting members of the Ruling Council that appointed Arcturus the rank of general, and leader of the revolution. The Council also allowed Mengsk to use the Protectorate as a base of operations, and to use the Spy Deck as a somewhat archaic means of surveillance. The imaging program contained detailed charts of all the planets within the known systems. It was also capable of charting the progress of freight ships carrying their valuable cargo through the trade routes in real-time—a primitive kind of “radar” system to be sure, but more than adequate for Arcturus’s needs. It was here on the Spy Deck that the Ruling Council of the Umojan Proctectorate stood, their haggard faces revealing collective concern.
Ailin turned to Arcturus and spoke in a halting voice: “We received an anonymous transmission suggesting that we keep on eye on this sector.”
Arcturus looked at the sector currently being displayed. He recognized the planet at the display’s center immediately. “Korhal,” he said, to no one in particular.
The superintendent nodded slightly. Arcturus noticed that the man was sweating heavily. “Yes.”
Several smaller objects that looked like orbiting satellites of some kind surrounded the image of the planet. Arcturus had an idea, even before the superintendent spoke, of what the objects really were.
“Battlecruisers,” Ailin confirmed. “We make out twenty of them. We’ve been monitoring the military channels and have overheard nothing that might explain this.”
“Nothing they’re willing to admit, anyway,” offered Mengsk. “But you can bet your bottom credit that the Confederates are the source of your anonymous tip. And if those ships are orbiting Korhal on Confederate orders, they mean to start trouble. Send an intelligence report to Achton immediately.”
In Korhal’s capital city of Styrling, Colonel Achton Feld—the elected leader of the rebel forces in the absence of General Mengsk—was busy shouting orders, standing atop a guardwalk at the city’s perimeter, the myriad antiair missile turrets that served as outer defenses forming a jagged outline on the horizon behind him. At one time, this fortress in the center of the city had been a Confederate post. That was before the revolution. Now it served as the rebel headquarters on Korhal.
The rebels had of course known about the presence of Confederate ships in their orbit, but their limited surveillance systems had been unable to uncover what the recent intelligence transmission confirmed: that the orbiting ships numbered twenty—quite a number, especially with the capacity of each ship to hold hundreds of marines, dropships, siege tanks, even armored Goliaths. And those were just the ground forces. They were sure to be bombarded from the air first. But none of that mattered now. The rebels had spent almost a full cycle beefing up their antiair defenses and had recruited enough of the planet’s population to form an army that was more than just sizable—it was huge.
The confrontation with the Confederate forces was inevitable. And even now, in the midst of all the fear and the panic and the anticipation, Achton was glad. He was glad that the waiting was over and that the battle was about to begin. The Korhalians were about to send a message to the Confederates: that they were the citizens of a free planet, and that they would fight to ensure that freedom. Let them come, thought the Colonel, let them bring their armored walkers and their cloaked fighters, but just let them come.
Colonel Achton smiled and waited for the first dropships to appear.
The holo-image now showed several tiny objects, no more than minuscule dots. They came from the ships in swarms, like locusts, leaving the battlecruisers and snaking their way toward Korhal’s atmosphere.
“Dropships?” Ailin responded to the unasked question on everyone’s mind. Mengsk shook his head. “No. Too small. They look more like … no, no that couldn’t be, just could not—” Mensgk continued shaking his head, refusing to believe, because he knew that if he believed, that just might make it all the more real.
He watched with the others as the scores of tiny, luminescent dots began descending into Korhal’s dense atmosphere.
Achton waited, looking out at the array of defenses beyond Styrling’s walls. A lieutenant raced up onto the guardwalk, out of breath. He had the harried look of a man who suddenly wished he were somewhere else.
“Sir, we’re tracking hundreds of incoming objects that have locked onto several positions across this side of the planet. I’m not sure, but I think we got a report from the Underside that they’re tracking objects as well.”
“Hundreds, you say?” The colonel’s calm veneer was slipping, and the naked fear began to become apparent on his face.
“Yes, sir. Too small for us to identify just yet, but they’re coming fast.”
Just then the colonel heard a low hum, barely detectable, like the whine of a small insect. Then he looked to the horizon and saw a swarm of small objects descending, trailing tails of smoke from behind, and he knew. “Not fair…” he whispered.
But the lieutenant did not hear him. The hum/whine had become almost deafening now. As the lieutenant looked up and saw more of the objects descending on them from directly above, he began to scream.
On the Spy Deck, a palpable silence pervaded as pools of brilliant light began spreading across the surface of the already luminescent image of Korhal. They continued from multiple locations until the majority of the planet was engulfed in that brilliance and no one in the room could question what they had just seen.
“By the fathers, it’s gone … Korhal’s gone. Every-body. Millions of people …” Ailin seemed on the verge of fainting.
Arcturus felt his stomach tighten and was aware of nothing but that image in front of him, the image of Korhal burning. After a short time, the pools of light began to fade, and the holo-image of Korhal became a darker, featureless facsimile of its former self.
In the midst of his shock and denial, Arcturus managed to speak three words: “Gather the men.”
The case of Korhal was, like many others throughout history, an example of a government attempting to suppress upheaval among its populace through tyrannical means and thereby only strengthening the determination of its dissenters. Inside the ready room where twenty men had stood just moments before, a throng of over fifty now crowded, exchanging angry and violent discourse over the loss of Korhal and the impudence of the Confederacy.
A hatchway slid open at the head of the room and Arcturus entered, looking like a lion that has stalked its prey into a corner and is savoring the moment just before the kill.
“You all know what has just transpired. For those of you who want the specifics—and I think you all deserve to know—twenty battlecruisers just launched about a thousand Apocalypse-class missiles from Korhal IV’s orbit. The missiles impacted on the planet’s surface and 35 million people will never again see the light of day. You need no stirring speeches; you need no coercion or coaxing. You all know the difference between right and wrong. Now the time has come to fight for the values you hold dear and to challenge those who would strip you of your individual freedoms. Are you with me?”
Fifty fists raised into the air simultaneously as the mob responded with a deafening roar. Mengsk waited for the din to subside before continuing. “As of this day, I declare that you are all no longer civilians. You are now soldiers. And we are now at war.” Mengsk prepared to go on, then stopped as a hatchway at the side of the room opened, and the Asian prospector he had spotted outside earlier now stepped in. The crowd was silent. Mengsk’s eyes traveled to the newcomer.
“I want to join,” he said.
Mengsk approached the smaller man and stood before him, an intimidating presence.
“I saw you before. You seemed hesitant.”
The Asian man nodded. “I wasn’t sure yet. But I am now.”
Somewhere among the crowd a mocking comment was made. A man near the general muttered “Fringe-squib” under his breath. The general silenced the man with a glance, then turned back to the Asian. “Indecision on the battlefield costs lives, boy.”
The smaller man held the general’s gaze. “Sir, all I’m asking is that you give me a chance.”
“Will you follow orders without question?”
Mengsk searched the other man’s eyes for a moment, then finally nodded. “What’s your name?”
“Somo. Somo Hung.”
“Welcome aboard,” said the general before he walked back to his spot next to Pollock and surveyed the men. “As I said, from now on … you are soldiers. And you will bear that mantle proudly. And as for the name of our little army, the name that shall be the bane of the Confederacy’s existence, I think it only appropriate that we call ourselves the Sons of Korhal!”
Once more the room erupted, this time with spirited cries of “Mengsk! Mengsk! Mengsk!”
Ailin stood next to the general, looking out into the docking bay where a battered, barely recognizable craft hung suspended. Workers pored over the behemoth busily, their torches spraying out sparks of light as final fittings and adjustments were made.
“She’s not exactly pristine, but she’ll serve her purpose,” Ailin offered, nodding his head toward the craft outside.
“That she will, my friend.” Arcturus was visibly pleased with the progress.
The battlecruiser was the casualty of a navigational systems error, much like the snafu that landed four supercarriers, carrying convicted criminals onto a few inhabitable worlds (including Umoja) into the deepest reaches of space just a few millennia ago. Those criminals were the forefathers of the Terrans, a blanket term that applied to all the generations of humans who followed and spread, inhabiting world after world and marching on in the way only humanity can.
The battlecruiser now in the docking bay had crashed onto a fiery planet not far from the Protectorate, but well out of range of the Confederacy’s hailing frequencies. Ailin and Mengsk went to the crash site immediately and stripped the craft of its tracking beacon. In the cargo bay they found several SCVs as well as a fully operational siege tank, and in the launching bay they found two CF/A-17G Wraith fighters, as well as four dropships.
The Protectorate shepherded the cruiser into one of its many docking bays. The Confederacy was obviously angered by the loss of one of their ships, but without proof of the Protectorate’s subversion, was unwilling to start another war. The crew was pronounced dead, and offered better pay and shorter hours to remain among the Protectorate and remain silent (a proposition no one balked at), and not too long after that the displaced ship’s captain became Arcturus’s most trusted soldier, Pollock Rimes.
It seemed like so much time had passed since then, though it was only a cycle. The craft had remained, being upgraded and modified slowly and methodically, until it became what Arcturus now saw before him, a battlecruiser he could call his own.
Ailin interrupted the general’s thoughts briefly. “What would you like to call her?” he asked.
Mengsk thought for a long moment.
“Hyperion,” he said at last. “I’ll call her the Hyperion.”
Just then Pollock approached the two men. “The soldiers request an update of status, General.”
Arcturus turned his bright eyes to Pollock. “Tell them we set out at next interval.”
Pollock’s lip lifted slightly, the closest thing to a smile Arcturus had ever seen cross the man’s face.
Copyright ? 2000 by Blizzard Entertainment
Pocket Book, 272 pages
Far in the future, 60,000 light-years from Earth, a loose confederacy of Terran exiles is locked in battle with the enigmatic Protoss and the ruthless Zerg Swarm. Each species struggles to ensure its own survival among the stars in a war that will herald the beginning of mankind’s greatest chapter—or foretell its violent, bloody end.
Danny Liberty was a good reporter…too good. When his investigations struck too close to the heart of the corrupt Terran Confederacy, he faced a simple choice: continue his current series of expos?s, or take a hazardous new assignment covering the Marines on the front lines of the Koprulu Sector. It didn’t take him long to decide….
Behind the attacks of the Zerg and the Protoss lies the story of a lifetime, but every piece of information blurs the mystery further. Thrown into the middle of a war where the outcome will determine mankind’s very survival, the only thing that Danny Liberty knows for sure is that the only person he can trust to keep him alive is himself.
The first in an epic new series of space warfare novels set in the world of the bestselling computer game!
Chapter 1: The Press Gang
Before the war, things were different. Hell, back then, we were just making our daily living, doing our jobs, drawing our paychecks, and stabbing our fellow men and women in the back. We had no idea how bad things would get. We were fat and happy like maggots on a dead animal. There was enough sporadic violence—rebellions and revolutions and balky colonial governments—to keep the military going, but not enough to really threaten the lifestyles we had grown accustomed to. We were, in retrospect, fat and sassy.
And if a real war broke out, well, it was the military’s worry. The marines’ worry. Not ours.
—The Liberty Manifesto
The city sprawled beneath Mike’s feet like an overturned bucket of jade cockroaches. From the dizzying height of Handy Anderson’s office, he could almost see the horizon between the taller buildings. The city reached that far, forming a jagged, spiked tear along the edge of the world.
The city of Tarsonis, on the planet Tarsonis. The most important city on the most important planet of the Confederacy of Man. The city so great they named it twice. The city so large its suburbs had greater populations than some planets. A shining beacon of civilization, keeper of the memories of an Earth now lost to history, myth, and earlier generations.
A sleeping dragon. And Michael Liberty could not resist twisting its tail.
“Come back from the edge there, Mickey,” said Anderson. The editor-in-chief was firmly ensconced at his desk, a desk as far away from the panoramic view as possible.
Michael Liberty liked to think there was a note of concern in his boss’s voice.
“Don’t worry,” said Mike. “I’m not thinking of jumping.” He suppressed a smile.
Mike and the rest of the newsroom knew that the editor-in-chief was acrophobic but could not bear to surrender his stratospheric office view. So on the rare occasions when Liberty was summoned into his boss’s office, he always stood near the window. Most of the time he and the other drudges and news hacks worked way down on the fourth floor or in the broadcast booths in the building’s basement.
“Jumping I’m not worried about,” said Anderson. “Jumping I can handle. Jumping would solve a lot of my problems and give me a lead for tomorrow’s edition. I’m more worried about some sniper taking you out from another building.”
Liberty turned toward his boss. “Bloodstains that hard to get out of the carpet?”
“Part of it,” said Anderson, smiling. “It’s also a bitch to replace the glass.”
Liberty look one last look at the traffic crawling far below and returned to the overstuffed chairs facing the desk. Anderson tried to be nonchalant, but Mike noted that the editor let out a long, slow breath as Mike moved away from the window.
Michael Liberty settled himself into one of Anderson’s chairs. The chairs were designed to look like normal furniture, but they were stuffed so that they sank an extra inch or two when someone sat down. This made the balding editor-in-chief with his comically oversized eyebrows look more imposing. Mike knew the trick, was not impressed, and set his feet up on the desk.
“So what’s the beef?” the reporter asked.
“Have a cigar, Mickey?” Anderson motioned with an open palm toward a teak humidor.
Mike hated being called Mickey. He touched his empty shirt pocket, where he normally stashed a pack of cigarettes. “I’m on the wagon. Trying to cut down.”
“They’re from beyond the Jaandaran embargo,” said Anderson temptingly. “Rolled on the thighs of cinnamon-shaded maidens.”
Mike held up both hands and smiled broadly. Everyone knew that Anderson was too cheap to get anything beyond the standard el ropos manufactured in some bootleg basement. But the smile was intended to reassure.
“What’s the beef?” Mike repeated.
“You’ve really done it this time,” said Anderson, sighing. “Your series on the construction kickbacks on the new Municipal Hall.”
“Good stuff. The series should rattle a few cages.”
“They’ve already been rattled,” replied Anderson, his chin sinking down to touch his chest. This was known as the bearer-of-bad-news position. It was something that Anderson had learned at some management course but that made him look like a mating ledge-pigeon.
Crap, thought Mike. He’s going to spike the series.
As if reading his thoughts, Anderson said, “Don’t worry, we’re going to run the rest of the series. It’s solid reporting, well-documented, and best of all, it’s true. But you have to know you’ve made a few people very uncomfortable.”
Mike mentally ran through the series. It had been one of his better ones, a classic involving a petty offender who was caught in the wrong place (a public park) at the wrong time (way after midnight) with the wrong thing (mildly radioactive construction waste from the Municipal Hall project). Said offender was more than willing to pass on the name of the man who sent him on this late-night escapade. That individual was in turn willing to tell Mike about some other interesting matters involving the new hall, and so forth, until Mike had, instead of a single story, a whole series about a huge network of graft and corruption that the Universe Network News audience ate up with their collective spoons.
Mike mentally ran through the ward heelers, low-level thugs, and members of the Tarsonis City Council that he had skewered in print, discarding each in turn as a suspect. Any of those august individuals might want to take a shot at him, but such a threat wasn’t enough to make Handy Anderson nervous.
The editor-in-chief saw Mike’s blank expression and added, “You’ve made a few powerful, venerable people very uncomfortable.”
Mike’s left eyebrow rose. Anderson was talking about one of the ruling Families, the power behind the Confederacy for most of its existence, since those early days when the first colony ships (hell, prison ships) landed and/or crashed on various planets in the sector. Somewhere in his reporting, he had nailed somebody with pull, or perhaps somebody close enough to one of the Families to make the old venerables nervous.
Mike resolved to go back over his notes and see what kind of linkages he could make. Perhaps a distaff cousin to one of the Old Families, or a black sheep, or maybe even a direct kickback. God knew that the Old Families ran things from behind the scenes since the year naught. If he could nail one of them…
Mike wondered if he was visibly salivating at the prospect.
In the meantime Handy Anderson had risen from his seat and strolled around the side of his desk, perching on the corner nearest Mike. (Another move directly out of the management lectures, Mike realized. Hell, Anderson had assigned him to cover those lectures once.) “Mike, I want you to know you’re on dangerous ground here.”
Oh God, he called me Mike, thought Liberty. Next he’ll be looking plaintively out the window as if lost in thought, wrestling with a momentous decision.
He said, “I’m used to dangerous ground, boss.”
“I know, I know. I just worry about those around you. Your sources. Your friends. Your co-workers…”
“Not to mention my superiors.”
“…all of whom would be heartbroken if something horrible happened to you.”
“Particularly if they were standing nearby when it happened,” added the reporter.
Anderson shrugged and stared plaintively out the full-length window. Mike realized that whatever Anderson was afraid of, it was worse than his fear of heights. And this was a man who, if office rumor was correct (and it was), kept a locked room in the sub-basement that contained dirt on most of the celebrities and important citizens of the city.
The pause dragged beyond a moment into a minute. Finally Mike broke. He gave a polite cough and said, “So you have an idea how to handle this ‘dangerous ground’?”
Handy Anderson nodded slowly. “I want to print the series. It’s good work.”
“But you don’t want me anywhere in the immediate vicinity when the next part of that story hits the street.”
“I’m thinking of your own safety, Mickey, it’s…”
“Dangerous ground,” finished Mike. “I heard. Here be dragons. Perhaps it would be time for an extended vacation? Maybe a cabin in the mountains?”
“I was thinking more of a special assignment.”
Of course, thought Mike. That way I won’t have the chance to figure out whose tail I’ve inadvertently twisted. And give those involved time to cover their tracks.
“Another part of the Universe News Network empire?” Mike said with a broad smile, at the same time wondering what godforsaken colony world he would be doing agricultural reports from.
“More of a roving reporter,” teased Anderson.
“How roving?” Mike’s smile suddenly became flinty and brittle. “Will I need shots for off-planet?”
“Better than getting shot for being on-planet. Sorry, bad joke. The answer is yes, I’m thinking definitely off-planet.”
“Come on, spill. Which hellhole do you want to hide me in?”
“I was thinking of the Confederate Marines. As a military reporter, of course.”
“It would be a temporary posting, of course,” continued the editor.
“Are you out of your mind?”
“Sort of ‘our fighting men in space,’ battling against the various forces of rebellion that threaten our great Confederacy. There are rumors that Arcturus Mengsk is rallying more support in the Fringe Worlds. Could turn really hot at any moment.”
“The marines?” sputtered Mike. “The Confederate Marines are the biggest collection of criminals in the known universe, outside of the Tarsonis City Council.”
“Mike, please. Everyone has some criminal blood in them. Hell, all the planets of the Confederacy were settled by exiled convicts.”
“Yeah, but most people like to think we grew out of that. The marines still make that one of their basic recruiting requirements. Hell, do you know how many of them have been brain-panned?”
“Neurally Resocialized,” corrected Anderson. “No more than fifty percent per unit these days, I understand. Less in some places. And the resocialization is more often done with noninvasive procedures. You probably won’t notice.”
“Yeah, and they pump them so full of stimpacks they’d kill their own grandpas on the right command.”
“Exactly the sort of common misconception that your work can counter,” said Anderson, both eyebrows raised in practiced sincerity.
“Look, most of the politicos I’ve met are naturally nuts. The marines are nuts and then they started messing with their heads. No. The marines are not an option.”
“It’d make for some good stories. You’d probably get some good contacts.”
“Reporters with experience with the military get perks,” said the editor-in-chief. “You get a green tag on your file, and that carries weight with the more venerable families of Tarsonis. In some cases even forgiveness.”
“Sorry. Not interested.”
“I’ll give you your own column.”
A pause. Finally Mike said, “How big a column?”
“Full column-page print, or five minutes stand-up for the broadcast. Under your byline, of course.”
“You file, I’ll fill.”
Another pause. “A raise with that?”
Anderson named a figure, and Mike nodded.
“That’s impressive,” he said.
“Not chump change,” agreed the editor-in-chief.
“I’m a little old to be planet-hopping.”
“There’s no real danger. And if something does flare up, there’s combat pay. Automatic.”
“Fifty percent brain-panned?” Mike asked.
Another pause. Then Mike said, “Well, it sounds like a challenge.”
“And you’re just the man for a challenge.”
“And it can’t be worse than covering the Tarsonis City Council,” Mike mused, feeling himself sliding down the slippery slope to acceptance.
“My thoughts exactly,” his editor agreed.
“And if it would help the network…” Yep, Mike thought, he was on the edge, poised to pitch over into the void.
“You would be a shining light to us all,” said Anderson. “A well-paid, shining light. Wave the flag a little, get some personal stories, ride around in a battlecruiser, play some cards. Don’t worry about us back here at the office.”
“Cushiest. I’ve got some pull, you know. Was an old green-tag myself. Three months work, tops. A lifetime of rewards.”
There was a final pause, a chasm as deep as the concrete canyon that yawned beyond the window.
“All right,” said Mike, “I’ll do it.”
“Wonderful!” Anderson reached for the humidor, then caught himself and instead offered Mike his hand. “You won’t regret it.”
“Why do I feel that I already do?” Michael Liberty asked in a small voice as the editor’s meaty, sweaty hand ensnared his own.
Copyright ? 2001 by Blizzard Entertainment
Pocket Book, 288 pages
The book novel plot is from Jim Raynor’s point of view, and it details the events that occur on planet Char, specifically the interactions between Raynor, Kerrigan, Tassadar, and Zeratul. However, look forward to reading what happened in the meeting between Tassadar and Zeratul.
“Former marshall-turned-rebel Jim Raynor has broken away from the power-crazed Emperor Arcturus Mengsk. Enraged over Mengsk’s betrayal of the powerful telepath, Sarah Kerrigan, to the ravenous Zerg, Raynor has lost all faith in his fellow humanity.
Yet, in the aftermath of Mengsk’s treachery, Raynor is plagued by strange visions of Char—a deadly volcanic world haunted by horrifying alien creatures. As the nightmares grow in intensity, Raynor begins to suspect that they may not be figments of his imagination—but a desperate form of telepathic contact. Convinced that the woman he loves is still alive, Raynor launches a mission to rescue Kerrigan from Char. But deep beneath the planet’s smoldering surface, Raynor finds a strange chrysalis . . . and is forced to watch in horror. as a terrible, all-too-familiar entity arises from it.
Before him stands a creature of malice and vengeance . . . Sarah Kerrigan : The Zerg Queen of Blades.”
Copyright ? 2006 by Blizzard Entertainment
The world went dark.
Not just a darkened sky—no mere nightfall could produce such utter darkness. No, this was the dark of captivity, confinement, blindness. Nothing visible, no light, no shadow, only a smothering visual shroud. A stark contrast to the blinding lights and sudden bursts of color from just before.
I struggle to make sense of my surroundings. Where am I?
Nothing but blankness answers, and an instant later a far larger question looms up, erasing the first. Who am I?
A wave of panic rises deep within, bile carried along its edge, threatening to drown me as I realize I cannot remember. I do not know who I am!
Calm, I tell myself. Calm. I force the panic down, pushing it back by sheer will, refusing to let it envelop me. What do you remember, then?
Nothing. No, brief flashes. A battle. A war. Horrid, horrible foes, great monstrous beings surrounding me, dwarfing me. Betrayal—though I cannot recall the act itself I can still taste the bitter realization of it. Abandonment. Desperation, a last frenzied struggle. The feel of sinewy flesh pinning me, choking me, killing me. The light fading around me as the numbness creeps in.
And now this.
Where am I? I stretch my senses to their limit, probing my surroundings. The results, though hazy and disjointed, form a single conclusion.
I am being carried.
I can feel the movement, the gentle rocking motion. Not directly—something cushions me, envelops me, holds me all around. But that cushioning is moving, and me with it.
I try lashing out, but my limbs will not cooperate. I feel sluggish, drained—drugged. Senses dulled, body leaden, but nerves oddly on fire. I am burning from within! My flesh crawls, creeps, melts, morphs—I have no control over my own form anymore. I am changing.
Around me I can feel others shifting. They are not confined as I am—they are free to move, though their minds are oddly blunted. They are my captors, conveying me in my confinement.
I can hear their thoughts, slithering across me, through me. A part of me recoils but another part—a newer part—welcomes their intrusion. Vibrates in tune with their gibbering, allowing the patterns to resonate through me. Changing me further, bringing me closer to those waiting just beyond.
The part that is still me, the old me, recoils in horror. I cannot, I will not become one of these! I must escape! I must be free! My body is captive but my mind soars, reaching out for help, any help. I scream, desperate for anyone to hear.
And, far away, I know that my pleas have been heard.
Rubble lay everywhere, evidence of a city in flames, a world in demise. Buildings had fallen, vehicles were crashed and crushed, bodies littered the ground. A sign still stood near the edge of the destruction, its scorched surface reading “Welcome to”—the name New Gettysburg only a jagged hole with blackened edges. All manner of bodies, from the pale flesh of the Terrans to the smooth hides of the protoss to the sinewy blades of the zerg. People, those not yet dead and unable to evacuate, ran screaming, wailing for help. Some brandished weapons, crazed beyond rational thought, desperate to defend themselves and their families. Others cowered, weeping, unable to face the end of their world. A few hid or ran, hoping to escape their fate.
The Swarm ignored them. It had a higher agenda.
The battle had not gone as expected. The Terrans had put up a strong fight but with fewer soldiers than anticipated. The protoss, the hated protoss, had appeared as always, gleaming in their battle suits and glowing in their arrogance, but had rapidly lost focus, dividing their attentions as if facing not one but two opponents. In some places the Swarm had sighted Terrans battling protoss, a strange but welcome sight. Yes, it had been a strange battlefield, the sides constantly shifting. But that was for the Overmind to consider and digest. For now, the conflict was over, the battle won. The remaining Terrans posed little threat and the protoss had vanished once the outcome was clear. For some reason they had not razed the planet, a fact which had allowed the Swarm to discover and claim a previously unexpected prize.
Now, their linked minds already turned from this conflict to those stretching out before them, the zerg marshaled their forces and prepared for their victorious departure.
One brood cleared a path, removing any obstructions, whether flesh or stone or metal. A second brood followed close behind, its ranks protectively closed around its prize. Near the center several ultralisks moved in close formation, their back-spikes almost touching. Between them were four hydralisks, thick arms linked to support the large oblong they held. Through its rough, sticky shell the cocoon pulsed with light, though its faint glow was lost amid the fires and flares and explosions that had once been this city.
“Carefully,” warned the brood’s cerebrate, observing their progress through the overlord floating just above the sphere. Because the celebrant itself could not move, the airborne overlords served as its eyes, ears, and mouth. “The Chrysalis must not be harmed!”
Obedient to its will, the ultralisks shifted slightly closer and slowed their pace, allowing more time for the brood before them to open the way. Their heavy feet crushed bone and metal and wood without thought or pause as they lumbered on, shielding the Chrysalis from attack.
“We have it, Master,” the cerebrate announced in the depths of its own mind. “We have your prize.”
“Good.” The reply echoed from within, rising from the deep well of the zerg hive-mind. “You must watch over the Chrysalis, and ensure that no harm comes to the creature within it. Go now and keep safe my prize.”
Accepting the Overmind’s orders as always, the cerebrate redoubled its efforts, making sure its brood’s defenses were secure. The Chrysalis would be protected at all costs.
On the zerg marched, the city burning around them. At last the Swarm had gathered itself within a vast crater where once the city’s vaunted lake had stretched. Now the surface was glass-smooth, seared by the force of the protoss’s landing ships and unmarred by the heavy feet that had trekked across toward the city under siege.
“We are ready, Master,” the cerebrate declared, arraying its brood around the Chrysalis.
“I am well pleased, young Cerebrate,” the Overmind answered, the warm glow of its benediction washing over the cerebrate and through it all the members of its Swarm. “And so long as my prize remains intact, I shall remain pleased. Thus, its life and yours shall be made as one. As it prospers, so shall you. For you are part of the Swarm. If ever your flesh should fail, that flesh shall be made anew. That is my covenant with all cerebrates.”
As the cerebrate swelled with pride, a great darkness descended upon the crater, a shadow of the mass that drifted into view high above them. Beyond the upper reaches of the planet’s dying atmosphere hung a massive storm, a swirl of orange and violet gases that spun around strange flickering lights. They moved faster and faster, the colors merging in their fury, until the center of the storm collapsed in upon itself, light and color giving way to a shadowy circle far darker than even the space hovering beyond.
“Now you have grown strong enough to bear the rigors of warp travel with the Swarm,” the Overmind stated, its words sending a thrum of power through the Swarm. “Thus we shall make our exit from this blasted world and secure the Chrysalis within the Hive Cluster upon the planet Char.”
As one the first brood rose, soaring high above the ruined city. They broke free of the planet’s weak, fading grasp and approached the storm above, pulled into that yawning, beckoning darkness at its center, and vanished. The cerebrate felt their transit through the hive-mind link all zerg shared and allowed a spark of contentment to linger within its own mind. Then the Overmind summoned it as well, and the cerebrate called its brood together, linking them tightly for travel through the warp. They rose from the crater, letting the power of the Swarm fill them as they ascended, and soon the darkness had drowned out all thought, all sense, as it carried them across the vastness of space to their destination.
And within the Chrysalis, faintly visible through its thick skin and viscous contents, a body writhed in pain. Though not conscious the figure within shifted, stirred, unable to lie still as the zerg virus penetrated every cell, changing DNA to match their own. Soon the Chrysalis would open and the new zerg would emerge. All the Swarm exulted with the Overmind.
And, as they departed and Tarsonis died behind them, the mind trapped within the Chrysalis screamed.
STARCRAFT ? 2006 Blizzard Entertainment, Inc.
|June 26, 2001
Pocket Book, 272 pages
Far in the future, 60,000 light-years from Earth, a loose confederacy of Terran exiles are locked in battle with the enigmatic Protoss and the ruthless Zerg Swarm. Each species struggles to ensure its own survival among the stars in a war that will herald the beginning of mankind’s greatest chapter—or foretell its violent, bloody end.
Bhekar Ro: a bleak, backwater world on the fringe of the Terran Dominion, where every day is a struggle to survive for its handful of human colonists. It is a veritable wasteland—one speck of dust among many in the vast, dark sea of space. But when the most violent storm in recent memory unearths an unfathomable alien artifact, Bhekar Ro becomes the greatest prize in the Terran Sector—the Holy Grail of the Zerg, the Protoss, and Humanity alike—as forces from the three great powers converge to claim the lost secrets of the most powerful species the universe has ever known.
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As a smothering blanket of darkness descended over the town of Free Haven, the rugged settlers scrambled to avoid the storm. Night came quickly on the colony planet of Bhekar Ro, with plenty of wind but no stars.
Pitch-black clouds swirled over the horizon, caught on the sharp mountainous ridge surrounding the broad valley that formed the heart of the struggling agricultural colony. Already, explosive thunder crackled over the ridge like a poorly aimed artillery barrage. Each blast was powerful enough to be detected on several still-functioning seismographs planted around the explored areas.
Atmospheric conditions created thunder slams with sonic-boom intensity. The roar itself was sometimes sufficient to cause destruction. And what the sonic thunder left unharmed, the laser-lightning tore to pieces.
Forty years earlier, when the first colonists had fled the oppressive government of the Terran Confederacy, they had been duped into believing that this place could be made into a new Eden. After three generations, the stubborn settlers refused to give up.
Riding in the shotgun seat beside her brother Lars, Octavia Bren looked through the streaked windshield of the giant robo-harvester as they hurriedly trundled back to town. The rumble of the mechanical treads and the roar of the engine almost drowned out the sonic thunder. Almost.
Laser-lightning blasts seared down from the clouds like luminous spears, straight-line lances of static discharge that left glassy pockmarks on the terrain. The laser-lightning reminded Octavia of library images she had seen of a big Yamato gun fired from a Battlecruiser in orbit.
“Why in the galaxy did our grandparents ever choose to move here?” she asked rhetorically. More laser-lightning burned craters into the countryside.
“For the scenery, of course,” Lars joked.
While the bombardment of hail would clear the air of the ever-present dust and grit, it would also damage the crops of triticale-wheat and salad-moss that barely clung to the rocky soil. The Free Haven settlers had few emergency provisions to help them withstand any severe harvest failure, and it had been a long time since they had asked for outside help.
But they would survive somehow. They always had.
Lars watched the approaching storm, a spark of excitement in his hazel eyes. Though he was a year older than his sister, when he wore that cocky grin on his face he looked like a reckless teenager. “I think we can outrun the worst of it.”
“You always overestimate what we can do, Lars.” Even at the age of seventeen, Octavia was known for her stability and common sense. “And I always end up saving your butt.”
Lars seemed to have a bottomless reservoir of energy and enthusiasm. She gripped her seat as the big all-purpose vehicle crunched through a trench and continued along a wide beaten path between plantings, heading toward the distant lights of the town.
Shortly after their parents’ death, it had been Lars’s crazy suggestion that the two of them expand their cultivated land and add remote automated mineral mines to their holdings. She had tried, unsuccessfully, to talk him out of it. “Let’s be practical, Lars. We’ve already got our hands full with the farm as it is. Expanding would leave us time for nothing but work—not even families.”
Half of the colonists’ eligible daughters had already filed requests to marry him—Cyn McCarthy had filed three separate times!—but so far Lars had made plenty of excuses. Colonists were considered adults at the age of fifteen on this rough world, and many were married and had children before they reached their eighteenth birthday. Next year, Octavia would be facing the same decision, and choices were few in Free Haven.
“Are you sure we want to do this?” she had asked one last time.
“Of course. It’s worth the extra effort. And once we’re established there’ll be plenty of time for each of us to get married,” Lars had insisted, shaking back his shoulder-length sandy hair. She had never been able to argue with that grin. “Before we know it, Octavia, it’ll all turn around, and then you’ll thank me.”
He had been certain they could grow crops high on the slopes of the Back Forty, the ridge that separated their lands from another broad basin and more mountains twelve kilometers away. So the brother and sister had used their robo-harvester to scrape flat a new swath of barely arable farmland and plant new crops. They also set up automated mineral mining stations on the rocky slopes of the foothills. That had been almost two years ago.
Now a gust of wind slammed into the broad metal side of the harvester, rattling the sealed windowports. Lars compensated on the steering column and accelerated. He didn’t even look tired from their long day of hard work.
Laser-lightning seared across the sky, leaving colorful tracks across her retinas. Though he couldn’t see any better than his sister, Lars didn’t slow down at all. They both just wanted to get home.
“Watch out for the boulders!” Octavia said, her piercing green eyes spotting the hazard as rain slashed across the windows of the impressive tractorlike vehicle.
Lars discounted the rocks, drove over them, and crushed the stone with the vehicle’s treads. “Aww, don’t underestimate the capabilities of the machine.”
She snorted indelicately. “But if you throw a plate or fry a hydraulic cam, I’m the one who has to fix it.”
The multipurpose robo-harvester, the most important piece of equipment any of the colonists owned, was capable of bulldozing, tilling, destroying boulders, planting, and harvesting crops. Some of the big machines had rock-crusher attachments, others had flamethrowers. The vehicles were also practical for traversing ten- to twenty-klick distances over rough terrain.
The hull of the robo-harvester, once a gleaming cherry red, was now faded, scratched, and pitted. The engine ran as smoothly as a lullaby, though, and that was all Octavia cared about.
Now she checked the weather scanner and atmospheric-pressure tracker in the robo-harvester’s cabin, but the readings were all wild. “Looks like a bad one tonight.”
“They’re always bad ones. This is Bhekar Ro, after all—what do you expect?”
Octavia shrugged. “I guess it was good enough for Mom and Dad.” Back when they were alive.
She and Lars were the only survivors of their family. Every family among the settlers had lost friends or relatives. Taming an uncooperative new world was dangerous, rarely rewarding work, always ripe for tragedy.
But the people here still followed their dreams. These exhausted colonists had left the tight governmental fences of the Confederacy for the promised land of Bhekar Ro some forty years before. They had sought independence and a new start, away from the turmoil and constant civil wars among the inner Confederacy worlds.
The original settlers had wanted nothing more than peace and freedom. They had begun idealistically, establishing a central town with resources for all the colonists to share, naming it Free Haven, and dividing farmland equally among the able-bodied workers. But in time the idealism faded as the colonists endured toil and new hardships on a planet that did not live up to their expectations.
Nobody among the colonists ever suggested going back, though—especially not Octavia and Lars Bren.
The lights of Free Haven glowed like a warm, welcoming paradise as the robo-harvester approached. In the distance Octavia could already hear the storm-warning siren next to the old Missile Turret in the town plaza, signaling colonists to find shelter. Everyone else—at least the colonists who had common sense—had already barricaded themselves inside their prefabricated homes to shelter from the storm.
They passed outlying homes and fields, crossed over dry irrigation ditches, and reached the perimeter of the town, which was laid out in the shape of an octagon. A low perimeter fence encircled the settlement, but the gates for the main streets had never been closed.
An explosion of sonic thunder roared so close that the robo-harvester rattled. Lars gritted his teeth and drove onward. Octavia remembered sitting on her father’s knee during her childhood, laughing at the thunder as her family had gathered inside their home, feeling safe….
Their grandparents had aged rapidly from the rigors of life here and had the dubious distinction of being the first to be buried in Bhekar Ro’s ever-growing cemetery outside Free Haven’s octagonal perimeter. Then, not long after Octavia had turned fifteen, the spore blight had struck.
The sparse crops of mutated triticale-wheat had been afflicted by a tiny black smut on a few of the kernels. Because food was in short supply, Octavia’s mother had set aside the moldy wheat for herself and her husband, feeding untainted bread to their children. The meager meal had seemed like any other: rough and tasteless, but nutritious enough to keep them alive.
Octavia remembered that last night so clearly. She had been suffering from one of her occasional migraines and a dire sense of unreasonable foreboding. Her mother had sent the teenage girl to bed early, where Octavia had had terrible nightmares.
The next morning she had awakened in a too-quiet house to find both of her parents dead in their bed. Beneath wet sheets twisted about by their final agony, the bodies of her mother and father were a quivering, oozing mass of erupted fungal bodies, rounded mushrooms of exploding spores that rapidly disintegrated all flesh….
Lars and Octavia had never returned to that house, burning it to the ground along with the tainted fields and the homes of seventeen other families that had been infected by the horrible, parasitic disease.
Though a terrible blow to the colony, the spore blight had drawn the survivors together even more tightly. The new mayor, Jacob “Nik” Nikolai, had delivered an impassioned eulogy for all the victims of the spore plague, somehow rekindling the fires of independence in the process and giving the settlers the drive to stay here. They had already lived through so much, survived so many hardships, that they could pull through this.
Moving together into an empty prefab dwelling at the edge of Free Haven, Octavia and Lars had rebuilt their lives. They made plans. They expanded. They tracked their automated mines and watched the seismic monitors for signs of tectonic disturbances that might affect their work or the town. The two drove out to the fields each day and labored side by side until well after dark. They worked harder, risked more…and survived.
As Octavia and Lars passed through the open gate and drove around the town square toward their residence, the storm finally struck with full force. It became a slanting wall of rain and hail as the robo-harvester ground its way past the lights and barricaded doors of metal-walled huts. Their own home looked the same as all the others, but Lars found it by instinct, even in the blinding downpour.
He spun the large vehicle to a halt in the flat gravel clearing in front of their house. He locked down the treads and powered off the engine, while Octavia tugged a reinforced hat down over her head and got ready to jump out of the cab and make a break for the door. Even running ten feet in this storm would be a miserable ordeal.
Before the robo-harvester’s systems dimmed completely, Octavia checked the fuel reservoirs, since her brother never remembered to do so. “We’ll need to get more Vespene gas from the refinery.”
Lars grabbed the door handle and hunched his head down. “Tomorrow, tomorrow. Rastin’s probably hiding inside his hut cursing the wind right now. That old codger doesn’t like storms any more than I do.”
He popped open the hatch and jumped out seconds before a strong gust slammed the door back into its frame. Octavia exited from the other side, hopping from the step to the broad tractor treads to the ground.
As she ran beside her brother in a mad dash to their dwelling, the hail hit them like machine-gun bullets. Lars got their front door open, and the siblings crashed into the house, drenched and windblown. But at least they were safe from the storm.
Sonic thunder pealed across the sky again. Lars undid the fastenings on his jacket. Octavia yanked off her dripping hat and tossed it into a corner, then powered up their lights so she could check one of the old seismographs they had installed in their hut.
Few of the other colonists bothered to monitor planetary conditions or track underground activity anymore, but Lars had thought it important to place seismographs in their automated mining stations out in the Back Forty foothills. Of course, Octavia had been the one to repair and install the aging monitoring equipment.
Lars had been right, though. There had been increasing tremors of late, setting off ripples of aftershocks that originated deep in the mountain range at the far side of the next valley.
Just what we need—another thing to worry about, Octavia thought, looking at the graph with concern.
Lars joined her to read the seismograph strip. The long and shaky line appeared to have been drawn by a caff-addicted old man. He saw several little blips and spikes, probably echoes of sonic thunder, but no major seismic events. “Now that’s interesting. Aren’t you glad we didn’t have an earthquake tonight?”
She knew it would happen even before he finished his sentence. Maybe it was another one of Octavia’s powerful premonitions, or just a discouraged acceptance that things would get worse whenever they had the opportunity.
Just as Lars formed another of his cocky grins, a tremor rippled through the ground, as if the uneasy crust of Bhekar Ro were having a nightmare. At first Octavia hoped it was merely a particularly close blast of sonic thunder, but the tremors continued to build, lurching the floor beneath their feet and shaking the entire prefab house.
Lars tensed his powerful muscles to ride out the temblor. They both watched the seismograph go wild. “The readings are off the scale!”
Astonished, Octavia pointed out, “This isn’t even centered here. It’s fifteen klicks away, over the ridge.”
“Great. Not far from where we set up all our automated mining equipment.” The seismograph went dead, its sensors overloaded, as the quake pounded the ground for what seemed an eternity before it gradually began to fade. “Looks like you’re gonna have some repair work to do tomorrow, Octavia.”
“I’ve always got repair work to do,” she said.
Outside, the storm reached a crescendo. Lars and Octavia sat together in weary silence, just waiting out the disaster. “Do you want to play cards?” he asked.
Then all the lights inside their dwelling went out, leaving them in pitch blackness lit only by flares from the laser-lightning.
“Not tonight,” she said.
Copyright ? 2001 by Blizzard Entertainment
|May 21, 2002
Pocket Book, 256 pages
Far in the future, 60,000 light-years from Earth, a loose confederacy of Terran exiles is locked in battle with the enigmatic Protoss and the ruthless Zerg Swarm, as each species struggles to ensure its own survival among the stars—war that will herald the beginning of mankind’s greatest chapter or foretell its violent, bloody end.
All Ardo Menikov ever dreamed of was to live in peace on the verdant colony world of Bountiful. But when the vicious Zerg Swarm attacked the colony and annihilated his loved ones, Ardo was forced to wake from his dream and accept the brutal realities of a war-torn galaxy. Now a confederate marine, charged with defending the worlds of the Terran confederacy, Ardo must come to terms with the painful memories of his past—and the unsettling truths that may dominate his future.
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Chapter 1: Downfall
That was his word for it, that rare…, perfect day that warms the soul with a golden glow of joy. There was peace in a golden day.
Some days were gray, hung with leaden clouds and rain punctuated by brilliant flashes of burning white and rolling thunder. Other days were a vibrant cold blue arching over the frost-encrusted domes and sheds of the settlement. Some days were even red—the evening sky painted by the dust in the spring winds before the crops had gotten their own hold on the soil. Some days even extended into the night with a velvety cobalt blanket across the sky.
He liked those autumn nights when he could leave his world behind by staring up into that rich darkness. God had put pinpricks in the dome of the night, he imagined, so that His light could shine through. As a child he had searched the stars, hoping to see through to the other side and catch some glimpse of this Creator. He had never stopped looking, even though he had reached his nineteenth birthday and had thought himself too mature for such things.
Each day held different colors for him. He had experienced them in all their hues. Each held a memory and a place in his heart. Yet none in his experience could compare to a golden day. It was the color of the wheat fields that rolled like waves across the low hills stretching out from his father’s homestead. Golden was the warmth of the sun on his face. Golden was the glow he felt within him.
Golden was the color of her hair and the sound of her voice.
“You’re dreaming again, Ardo,” she whispered playfully. “Come back to me. You are much too far away!”
He opened his eyes. She was golden.
“Melani, I’m right here.” Ardo smiled.
“No, you aren’t.” She pouted—a formidable weapon in getting her way. “You’re off dreaming again and you’ve left me behind.”
He rolled onto his side, propping his head up on one elbow so that he could get a better look at her. She was just a year younger than he. Her family had arrived back when Ardo was nine years old, another group in a long line of religious refugees that fell from the sky to join with other Saints in Helaman Township.
Refugee survivors had been gathering from nearly all the planets of the Confederacy back then—reluctant pioneers of the stars. Many devout religious groups had been among the first to be outlawed by the United Powers League on Earth back in ‘31. It was not a new story to Saints and Martyrs. Throughout humanity’s history, those who did not understand the faithful had driven them from place to place and home to home. That they should be driven from planet to planet, then star to star, was beginning to sound painfully repetitious in their Heritage classes. Now, exiles once more, families of the faithful were scattered among the ill-fated transports of the ATLAS project, and when that mission ended in such cataclysmic failure, those families who survived searched desperately for their brothers and sisters. When communication was finally established between worlds, the Patriarchs chose an outlying region on a world they called Bountiful for their new home. Soon, Orbital Dropships were landing at the Zarahemla Starport daily. The newly arrived families would then make their way to the outlying settlements as best they could. Arthur and Keti Bradlaw, with their wide-eyed daughter, were one of five families that arrived that day. Ardo had joined his father as the entire township came out to welcome the new families and get them settled.
Ardo could not remember much about Melani then, although he had been vaguely aware of the stick of a girl who seemed awkward, lonely, and shy. He first took real notice of her when her fourteenth year brought some rather remarkable changes. The “stick girl” seemed to burst into his awareness like a butterfly unfolding from its chrysalis. Her features held a natural beauty—body painting and makeup were frowned upon by the Patriarchs of the township—and it had been Ardo’s great good fortune to have been the first to approach her. His heart and soul fell into her large, luminescent blue eyes.
The nimbus of her long, shining hair played softly in the warm breeze drifting over the wheat fields. The wind carried the distant hum of the mill and the faint scent of the bread at the bakery.
“I may be off dreaming, but I’ll never leave you behind,” he said to her, smiling. The wheat rustled about the blanket where they lay. “Tell me where you want to go. I’ll take you there!”
“Right now?” Her laugh was sunshine. “In your dreams?”
“Sure!” Ardo pulled himself up to kneel on the heavy blanket he had spread out for them.
“Anywhere in the stars!”
“I can’t go anywhere.” She smiled. “I have a test in Sister Johnson’s Hydroponics class this afternoon! Besides,” she said more earnestly. “Why would I want to go anywhere else at all? Everything I want is right here.”
Golden. Who could ever leave on such a golden day?
“Then let’s not go anywhere,” he said eagerly.
“Let’s stay here… and get married.”
“Married?” She looked at him, half bemused and half questioning. “I told you, I have Hydroponics class this afternoon.”
“No, I mean it.” Ardo had been working himself up for this for some time. “I’ve graduated, and things are working out really well on Dad’s agra-plots. He said he was thinking of giving me forty acres at the far end of the homestead. It’s the sweetest place, right up near the base of the canyon. There’s a spot there next to the river where… where… Melani?”
The girl with the golden hair did not hear him. She sat up, her blue eyes squinting toward the township. “The siren, Ardo!”
Then he heard it, too. The distant wail, rising and falling across the fields.
Ardo shook his head. “They always sound it at noon…”
“But it isn’t noon, Ardo.”
The sun was eclipsed in that instant. Ardo leaped up, wheeling around toward the darkened sky. His mouth fell open as the lengthening shadow surged across the yellowed fields of wheat. Ardo’s eyes went wide with the rush of fear. Adrenaline roared into his veins.
Enormous plumes of smoke trailed behind fireballs roaring directly toward him from the western end of the broad valley. Ardo quickly reached down and pulled Melani to her feet. His mind raced. They had to run, find shelter… But where could they go? Melani screamed, and he realized that there was nowhere to go and no place safe to hide.
The fireballs seemed so close that both of them ducked. The flames arched over them, the thunderous sound of their fury quickly drowning the distant warning siren. The shadow of their wake covered the entire valley. Five enormous columns crossed overhead, their fingers reaching over Ardo and Melani toward the clustered buildings of Helaman Township. Then the fireballs wheeled as one, lifted over the township, and descended in roiling flames into Segard Yohansen’s instantly ruined fields, about a mile past the center of Helaman.
Ardo shook—whether from fear or excitement he could not tell—but at least his stupor had ended. He clasped Melani’s arm and began pulling at her. “Come on! We’ve got to get into the town before they shut the gates! Come on!”
She needed no further urging.
He could not remember how they got into town.
The golden day had turned a muddy brown fading to gray from the smoke that still coated the sky overhead. It was an oppressive color, slate and cold. It seemed so out of place here.
“We’ve got to find my Uncle Dez,” he heard himself say. “He has a shop in the compound! Come on! Come on!”
Ardo and Melani struggled to move through the center of the township, now crowded with refugees. Helaman originally had been nothing but an outpost in the far reaches of Bountiful. Its town center was the original fortress compound with the defensive wall encompassing the main buildings. Since then, the town had grown well beyond those central walls. Now more than ten thousand people called Helaman their home—and nearly all of them had poured into the safety of the old fortress compound.
He could just see the sign “Dez Hardwarez” across the packed central square.
The rattle of automatic weapons clattered suddenly from the perimeter wall. Two dull explosive thuds resounded, followed by even more chattering machine guns.
A cry arose from the crowd in the square. Ardo felt more than heard the fear in the seething mob. Shouts rang out, some strident and others calming. The smoke overhead cast an oppressive veil over the surging mob.
“Please, Ardo!” Melani said, “I… Where do we go? What do we do?”
Ardo glanced around. He could taste the panic in the air.
“We just need to get across the square,” he choked out, then, seeing the look in her eyes. “We’ve done it hundreds of times.”
“It isn’t any farther than it was before. Just a little more crowded, that’s all.” Ardo looked at the tears welling up in those beautiful blue eyes. He squeezed her hand tightly. “Don’t worry. I’ll be right here with you.”
Somehow, they were halfway across the square when it came.
A sheet of flame erupted beyond the fortress’s outer wall. Its crimson light flashed against the blanket of smoke that hung oppressively over the town. The blood-red hue electrified the panicked crowd in the square. Screams, shouts, and cries all tumbled into a cacophony of sound, but several disembodied voices penetrated Ardo’s thoughts clearly.
“Where are the Confederacy forces? Where are the Marines?”
“Don’t argue with me! Get the children! Stay together!”
“It can’t be the Zerg! They couldn’t have penetrated so far into the Confederacy…”
Zerg? Ardo had heard rumors about them. Nightmares, so he thought, to scare children or keep outsiders from settling in the Outer Colonies. He could not remember all the whispered tales, but the nightmare was here now, and very real.
Another voice penetrated his thoughts. He turned toward her.
“Ardo, I’m frightened!” Melani’s eyes were wide and liquid. “What is it? What’s going on?”
Ardo opened his mouth. He could not answer her question. No words came out. There were so many words he wanted to say to her in that moment—so many words that he would regret never having said for uncounted years to come. But no words came out.
A light flared. He felt the heat on his back. He turned, holding Melani behind him.
The eastern wall had been breached. The old rampart was being pulled down from the other side, dismantled before Ardo’s eyes. It seemed as though a dark wave was breaking against the breach, an undulating silhouette. Then details lodged in his mind: a gleaming purple carapace, red-streaked ivory claws sliding from a colonist’s limp body, the arching, snakelike bodies writhing across the broken stone.
It was unthinkable…. The nightmare had come to Bountiful.
The shoulder-to-shoulder crowd in the square roared their deep fear and turned to run from the breach. There was nowhere to go. Zerg Hydralisks had already crested the opposite wall, cascading into the street like black drops from a greasy spill. Within moments, hideous cobra-like hoods had unfolded above their razor-sharp talons. They arched their tails upward. Armored spikes exploded from their serrated shoulder sockets and darted with deadly effect into the western edge of the crowd.
Those facing the new threat suddenly tried to reverse direction, crushing back into the surging crowd behind them.
Ardo heard Melani gasp behind him. “I can’t… I can’t breathe…”
The mob was crushing them. Ardo looked desperately around him, trying to find a way out.
Movement overhead caught his eye. A bloated, bulbous form like a disembodied brain drifted over the colony wall. Tendrils hung like viscera beneath it, quivering with activity. It was reaching down for the center of the crowd. Ardo had heard tales in which the Zerg had captured colonists and taken them alive to a fate that could only be worse than death.
Tears flooded Ardo’s eyes. There was nowhere to go and nothing left to do.
Suddenly the Zerg Overlord drifting above the colony shuddered and slid sideways. Several explosions erupted from the side of the hideous beast. The Overlord exploded in an enormous fireball. The Zerg Hydralisks entering the compound suddenly hesitated.
A wing of five Confederacy Wraith fighters ripped through the smoke overhead, the scream of their engines nearly drowning out the cries of the terrified crowd below. Twenty-five-millimeter burst lasers pulsed repeatedly as the Wraiths wheeled through the air, the bolts slamming against targets on the far side of the crumbling fortress wall.
One of the Wraiths wavered suddenly, then exploded under a hail of ground fire from the outraged Zerg.
The Zerg who had entered the compound were pressing their attack, killing some and dragging others off without apparent distinction. They had corralled the humans; now all they had to do was harvest them from the edges of the crowd inward. A second flight of Wraiths tore through the smoke blackened sky. Then a single Confederacy Dropship ripped through the air, spinning in a rapid breaking maneuver and descending toward the square. The downblast from the engines created an instant hurricane on the ground. Trees bent over nearly double. It was impossible to hear anything over the roar of the engines. People all about Ardo tumbled to the ground, shielding themselves from the gale.
Ardo blinked through the dust. The Dropship continued to hover but managed somehow to lower its transport ramp into the square. He could see the silhouetted figure of a Confederacy Marine beckoning to them.
Everyone else in the square saw the Marine also. Mindlessly they charged the ramp. A human tide pulled Ardo along.
He lost Melani’s hand.
“Melani!” he screamed. He tried to fight against the crushing press of the panicked crowd. His words were lost in the roar of the Dropship’s engines. “Melani!”
He saw her behind him. The Zerg were pressing their attack with anger now. The Dropship was depriving them of their prize. Ardo was appalled at how quickly the large crowd had been sundered—harvested like blood-red wheat in the field. The Zerg were already nearly at Melani’s side.
Ardo clawed and fought. He screamed.
Three Hydralisks grasped Melani at once, dragging her back from the edge of the crowd.
“Please, Ardo!” she wept. “Don’t leave me alone!” The mindless mob pushed him farther into the ship.
Zerg claws suddenly rang against the sides of the Dropship. The pilot had played out all the time his luck would afford. The ship responded instantly to his command, lurching upward away from the Zerg and bearing Ardo away from his home, his life, and his love.
“Don’t leave me alone!” Those were her last words to him, pounding through his mind and soul, louder and louder, threatening to burst his skull…
Ardo’s world went black. It would stay black for a very long time.
Copyright ? 2002 by Blizzard Entertainment
Pocketbook, 320 pages
Four years after the end of the Brood War, Emperor Arcturus Mengsk has rebuilt much of the Terran Dominion and consolidated a new military force despite an ever-present alien threat. Within this boiling cauldron of strife and subversion, a young woman known only as Nova shows the potential to become Mengsk’s most lethal and promising “Ghost” operative. Utilizing a combination of pure physical aptitude, innate psychic power, and advanced technology, Nova can strike anywhere with the utmost stealth. Like a phantom in the shadows, she exists only as a myth to the enemies of the Terran Dominion.
Yet Nova wasn’t born a killer. She was once a privileged child of one of the Old Families of the Terran Confederacy, but her life changed forever when a rebel militia murdered her family. In her grief, Nova unleashed her devastating psychic powers, killing hundreds in a single, terrible moment. Now, on the run through the slums of Tarsonis, she is unable to trust anyone. Pursued by a special agent tasked with hunting down rogue telepaths, Nova must come to terms with both her burgeoning powers and her guilt—before they consume her and destroy everything in her path….
Pocket Star, November 2006
Mass Market Paperback, 320 pages
As soon as she felt Cliff Nadaner’s mind, Nova knew that she could destroy her family’s murderer with but a thought. She’d spent days working her way through the humid jungles of the smallest of the ten continents of Tyrador VIII. ‘Funny how I tried so hard to avoid this planet’s twin, and now I wind up here’, she had thought when the drop-pod left her smack in the middle of the densest part of the jungle—before the rebels had a chance to lock onto the tiny pod, or so her superiors on the ship in high orbit insisted. The eighth planet in orbit of Tyrador was locked in a gravitational dance with the ninth planet, similar to that of a regular planet and a moon, but both worlds were of sufficient size to sustain life. They also both had absurd extremes of climate, thanks to their proximity to each other—if Nova were to travel only a few kilometers south, farther from Tyrador VIII’s equator, the temperature would lower thirty degrees, the humidity would disappear, and she’d need to adjust her suit’s temperature control in the other direction.
For now, though, the form-fitting white-with-navy-blue-trim-suit—issued by her teachers at the Ghost Academy when her training was complete—was set to keep her cool, which it did, up to a point. The suit covered every inch of her flesh save her head. The circuity weaved throughout the suit’s fabric might interfere with Nova’s telepathy, and since her telepathy was pretty much the entire reason WHY she was training to become a Ghost, it wouldn’t do to interfere with THAT. This suit wasn’t quite the complete model she would be using when she became a Ghost—for one thing, the circuitry that allowed the suit to go into stealth mode had yet to be installed. Once that happened, Nova would be able to move about virtually undetected—certainly invisible to plain sight and most passive scans. But she wasn’t ready for that yet. First she had to accomplish this mission.
The suit’s design meant that sweat dropped into her eyes and plastered the bangs of her blond hair to her scalp. The ponytail she kept the rest of her hair in was like a heavy damp rope hanging off the back of her head.
“At least the rest of my body is comfortable”.
The suit’s stealth mode would probably have been redundant in this jungle in any case. The flora of Tyrador VIII was so thick, and the humid air so hazy, she only knew what was a meter in front of her from the sensor display on the suit’s wrist unit. Intelligence Section told her that Cliff Nadaner was headquartered somewhere in the jungle on this planet. They weren’t completely sure where—though still only a trainee, albeit not for much longer, Nova had already learned that the first half of IS’s designation was a misnomer—but they had intercepted several communiqu?s that their cryptographers insisted used the code tagged for Nadaner.
In the waning days of the Confederacy, Nadaner was one of many agitators who spoke out against the Old Families and the Council and the Confederacy in general. He was far from the only one who did so. The most successful, of course, was the leader of the Sons of Korhal, Arcturus Mengsk—in fact, he was so successful that he actually did overthrow the Confederancy of Man and replaced it with the Terran Dominion, of which he was now the emperor and supreme leader. Nadaner did somewhat more poorly in the field of achieving political change, though he was very skilled at causing trouble and killing people.
Days of plowing through the jungle had revealed nothing. All Nova was picking up was random black ground radiation, plus signals from the various satellites in orbit of the planet, holographic signals from various wild animals that scientists had tagged for study in their natural habitat, and faint electromagnetic signatures from the outer reaches of this continent or one of the other nine more densely populated ones. All of it matched existing Tyrador VIII records and therefore could be discarded as not belonging to the rebels. And now she was reading a completely dead zone about half a kilometer ahead, at the extreme range of the sensors in her suit.
“This is starting to get frustrating”.
She had completely lost track of time. Had it been four days? Five? Impossible to tell, since this planet’s fast orbit gave it a shorter day than what she was accustomed to on Tarsonis, with its twenty-seven-hours day. She supposed she could have checked the computer built into her suit, but for some reason she thought that would be cheating.
“Let’s see, I’ve got enough rations for a month, which means ninety packs. I’ve been eating pretty steadily, more or less on track for three squares a day, and I’ve gone through fourteen packs, so that makes—“
Then, suddenly, it hit her.
“A dead zone.”
She adjusted the sensors from passive scan to active scan. Sure enough, they didn’t pick up a thing—nothing from the satellites, nothing from the animal tags, nothing from the cities farther south.
Nothing at all. Nova smiled. She cast her mind outward gently and surgically—not forcefully and sloppily, the way she always had back in the Gutter—and sought out the mind of the man who killed her family. In truth, Nadaner had not personally killed her family. That was done by a man named Gustavo McBain, a former welder who was working a construction contract on Mar Sara when the Confederates ordered the destruction of Korhal IV—an action that killed McBain’s entire family, including his pregnant wife Danielle, their daughter Natasha, and their unborn son. McBain had sworn that the Confederacy of Man would pay for that action. However, instead of joining Mengsk—himself the child of a victim of Korhal IV’s bombardment with nuclear weapons—he looked up with Cliff Nadaner’s merry band of agitators. Nova learned all that when she killed McBain. Telepathy made it impossible for a killer not to know her victim intimately. McBain’s last thoughts were of Daniella, Natasha, and his never-named son. Now, three years later, having come to the end of her Ghost training, her “graduation” assignment, which came from Emperor Mengsk himself, was to be dropped in the middle of Tyrador VIII’s jungle, and to seek, locate, and destroy the rest of Nadaner’s group. Mengsk had even less patience for rebel groups than the government his own rebel group had overthrown.
Within five minutes, she found the mind she was looking for. It wasn’t hard, once she had a general location to focus on, especially since they were the first higher-order thoughts she’d come across since the drop-pod opened up and disintegrated. (Couldn’t risk Dominion tech getting into the wrong hands, after all. If she completed her mission, they’d send a ship to extract her, since then they could land a ship without risk, as Nadaner’s people would be dead, and her suit was designed to do to her what was done to the drop-pod if her life signs ceased. Couldn’t risk Dominion telepaths getting into the wrong hands, either, dead or alive.)
It was Nadaner. Also about a dozen of Nadaner’s associates, but their thoughts were focused on Nadaner—those that were focused at all. The man himself was chanting something. No, singing. He was singing a song, and half his people were drunk, no doubt secure in the kinowledge that no one would find them in their jungle location, with its dampening field blocking any signals. It probably never occurred to them that an absence of signals would be just as big as a signpost.
“Complacent people are easier to kill”, she thought, parroting back one of Seargent Hartley’s innumerable one-sentence life sessions.
She was to kill them from a d
istance, using her telepathy. Yes, her training was complete, and sh
e should have been able to take down Nadaner and his people physically with little difficulty—espacially since half of them were three sheets to the wind—but that wasn’t the mission. The mission was to get close enough to feel their minds clearly and then kill them psionically.
That was the mission. For the next two hours, Nova ran through the jungle, getting closer to her goal. After her “graduation”, the suit would be able to increase her speed, allowing her to run this same distance in a quarter of the time, but that circuitry hadn’t been installed, either.
“The hell with the mission. That bastard ordered McBain and the rest of his little gang of killers to murder my family. I want to see his face when I kill him right back.”
Soon, she reached the dead zone. She could hear Nadaner’s thoughts as cleary as if he’d been whispering in her ear. He’d finished singing and was now telling a story of one of his exploits in the Confederate Marines before he got fed up, quit, and started his revolution, a story that Nova knew was about ninety percent fabrication. He had been in the Marines, and he had been on Antiga Prime once, but that was where his story’s intersection with reality ended.
With just one thought, she could kill him. End him right there.
“That is the mission. You don’t need to see his face, you can feel his mind! You’ll know he’s dead with far more surety than if you just saw him, his eyes rolling up in his head, blood leaking out of his eyes and ears and nose from the brain hemorrhaging. Kill him now.”
Suddenly, she realized what day it was.
“Fourteen packs, which means the better part of three days. Which means today’s my eighteenth birthday. It’s been three years to the day since Daddy told me I was coming to this very star system.”
She shook her head, even as Nadaner finished his story, and started another one, which had even less truth than the first.
A tear ran slowly down Nova’s cheek. “It was such a good party, too…”
Pocket Book, 352 pages
Jake Ramsey—an unassuming, yet talented archaeologist—has been given the chance of a lifetime. Hired to investigate a recently unearthed Xel’Naga temple, he knows this latest assignment will open up whole new possibilities for his career. Yet, when Jake discovers the remains of a long-dead protoss mystic, his hopes and dreams are irrevocably drowned in a flood of alien memories. Bonded to the spirit of the dead protoss, Jake has become the sole inheritor of the protoss’s total history—every event, every thought—every feeling.
Struggling to maintain his own fragile identity amidst the raging psychic storm in his mind, Jake soon realizes that he has stumbled upon a secret so cataclysmic in magnitude—that it will shake the very foundations of the universe.
An original tale of space warfare based on the bestselling computer game series from Blizzard Entertainment.
An original tale of space warfare based on the bestselling computer game series from Blizzard Entertainment.
Driven by the living memories of a long-dead protoss mystic and hounded by the Queen of Blades’ ravenous zerg, archaeologist Jake Ramsey embarks on a perilous journey to reach the fabled protoss homeworld of Aiur.
Seeking a vital piece of protoss technology, Jake finds that Aiur has been overrun by the zerg. Descending into the shadowy labyrinths beneath the planet’s surface, he must find the sacred crystal before time runs out—for him…and the universe itself.
Yet, what Jake discovers beneath Aiur is a horror beyond his wildest nightmares—Ulrezaj—an archon comprised of the seven most deadly and powerful dark templar in history….
EXCERPT – CHAPTER ONE
In the darkness, there was order.
Her haven was inviolable. She was queen of all she surveyed, and her vision was vast.
What those who served her unquestioningly knew, was her knowledge. What they saw, was her sight. What they felt, were her feelings. Unity, complete and utter, shivering along her nerves, racing in her blood. A unity that began with the lowest and most base of her creations and ended with her.
“All roads lead to Rome” was a saying she remembered from when she was weak and fragile, her mighty spirit encased in human flesh, when her heart could be softened by such things as loyalty, devotion, friendship, or love. It meant that all paths led to the center, to the most important thing in the world.
She, Kerrigan, the Queen of Blades, was the most important thing in the world of every zerg who flew, crept, slithered, or ran. Each breath, each thought, each movement of the zerg, from the doglike beasts to the mighty overlords, lived but by her whim. Lived to service her whim.
All roads led to Rome.
All roads led to her.
She shifted in the damp, dark place, flexing wings that were sharp and bony and devoid of membrane as she might have rolled her neck to ease tension when she was a human woman. The walls pulsated, oozing a thick, viscous substance, and she was as aware of that as she was of the larvae hatching in the pods, as she was of an overlord on a distant planet assimilating a new strain into the whole. As she was of her own discontent.
Kerrigan rose and paced. She was beginning to grow impatient. Before her arrival as their queen, she knew, the zerg had had a mission. To grow, to absorb, to become perfect, as their creators had wanted them to be. Their creators, whom they had turned on without so much as a breath of conscience. Sarah Kerrigan understood the idea of “conscience.” There had been moments, even in this glorious new incarnation, where she had had twinges of it. She did not see such a thing as a weakness, but as an advantage. If one thought like one’s enemies, one could defeat them.
The zerg were still on that mission under her guidance. But she had brought something new into the mix: the pleasure of revenge and victory. And for too long now, she had been forced to rest and recover, lick wounds, and fall back on the original mission. Certainly, she had not been idle over the last four years. She had rested here on Char, had found new worlds for her zerg to explore and exploit. The zerg had thrived under her leadership, had grown and advanced and improved.
But she hungered. And that hunger was not sated by moving from planet to planet and simply re-creating and improving zerg genetics. She hungered for action, for revenge, for pitting her mind—keen even as a human’s, awesome in its ability now—against her adversaries.
Arcturus Mengsk, self-styled “emperor” of the Terran Dominion. She’d enjoyed playing with him before and would again. It was why she had let him survive their last encounter, why she’d even tossed him a few crumbs, just to ensure he’d make it.
Prelate Zeratul, the dark templar protoss. Clever, that one. Admirable. And dangerous.
Unease fluttered inside her, quickly quelled. Once, before her transformation, she had cared for the easygoing marshal. Perhaps she had even loved him. She would never know now. It was enough that thoughts of him were still able to unsettle her. He, too, was dangerous, although in quite another way than Zeratul. He was dangerous for his ability to make her…regret.
Four years of waiting, gathering strength, resting. She had been sick of slaughter, but no more. Now that she—
Kerrigan blinked. Her mind, processing at light speed, sensed something and latched onto it. A psionic disturbance, far, far distant. Of great magnitude—it would have to be for her to have picked up on it from so far away. But then again, she herself had been able to telepathically contact Mengsk and Raynor when she was undergoing her transformation—touch their minds and cry out for aid. Aid which had not come in time, and for that, she was grateful, of course. But what was this, that sent ripples out as if from a stone tossed into a lake?
It was fading now. It was definitely human. And yet there was something else to it, a sort of…flavor, for lack of a better word. Something…protoss about it.
Kerrigan’s mind was always on a thousand things at once. She could see through any zerg’s eyes, dip into any zerg’s mind as she chose. But now she pulled back from all the ceaseless streaming of information and focused her attention on this.
Human…and protoss. Mentally working together. Kerrigan knew that Zeratul, the late unlamented Tassadar, and Raynor had shared thoughts. But they’d created nothing like what she now sensed. Kerrigan hadn’t even realized such a thing was possible. Human and protoss brains were so different. Even a psionic would have difficulty working with a protoss.
Her fingers came up to touch her face, trailing along the spines that lay like Medusa locks on her head. She had been remade. Part human, part zerg. Maybe Mengsk had done the same thing with a human and a protoss. She wouldn’t put it past him. She would put very little indeed past him. She herself might even have been the one to give him the idea.
She’d been what was known as a ghost herself, once. A terran psychic, trained to assassinate, with technology that enabled her to become as invisible as the ghost for which she was named. She knew that people who trained in this program were made of stern stuff; the people who put them through the training, heartless.
Ripples in a pond.
She needed to go to the source.
What had gone wrong?
Valerian Mengsk couldn’t believe what he was seeing. His ships were just…sitting there in space while the vessel with Jacob Ramsey and Rosemary Dahl aboard made a successful jump. They were gone. He’d had them, but now they were gone.
“Raise Stewart!” he snapped. His assistant, Charles Whittier, jumped at his employer’s words.
“I’ve been trying to,” Whittier stammered, his voice pitched even higher than usual in his agitation. “They’re not responding. I can’t raise anyone at the compound either.”
“Did Dahl’s ship manage to emit some kind of electromagnetic pulse?” It was a possibility, but not a likely one; all of Valerian’s ships were well protected against such things happening.
“Possible, I suppose,” Whittier said doubtfully. “Still trying to raise—“
Eight screens came to life at once, with nearly a dozen people talking simultaneously. “Talk to Ethan,” Valerian ordered, leaning down to mute all the other channels. “Find out how it is that he managed to let them slip through his fingers. I’ll talk to Santiago.”
Santiago did not look like he wanted to talk. Valerian would go so far as to say the man looked positively rattled, but the admiral managed to compose himself. “Sir,” Santiago said, “there was…I’m not sure how to explain it—some kind of psi attack. Ramsey rendered us all completely unable to move until he jumped.”
Valerian frowned, his gray eyes taking in images of the others on the vessel. They all looked shaken in one way or another, but—was that young woman over there smiling?
“Let me speak with Agent Starke,” Valerian said. If somehow Jacob Ramsey and the protoss inside his head had indeed been able to send such an attack against his best and brightest, Devon Starke would know the most about it.
Agent Devon Starke was a ghost, one who had come perilously close to becoming a literal one a little more than a year ago. That was when Arcturus Mengsk had decided that the ghost program needed a serious overhaul.
“They are useful tools,” Mengsk had said to his son. “But they are double-edged ones.” He’d frowned into his port. Valerian knew he was thinking about Sarah Kerrigan. Mengsk had helped Kerrigan escape the ghost program, and for that he’d won passionate loyalty from the woman. Valerian had seen holos of her; she’d been beautiful and intense. But then when Kerrigan had outlived her usefulness, started to voice questions, Mengsk had abandoned her to the zerg. He thought they’d kill her for him, but they had another idea. They’d taken this woman and turned her into their queen. Thus it was that Mengsk had unwittingly created the being who was now probably his greatest enemy.
Valerian was determined to learn from his father, both the good lessons and the painful ones. A ghost who was loyal to you was a good thing; letting one out of your control was not.
So when Mengsk decided that he would terminate—in a controlled environment this time—fully half the current ghosts in his government, Valerian had spoken. He’d asked to have one.
Mengsk eyed him. “Squeamish, son?”
“Of course not,” Valerian said. “But I’d like one to help me with my research. Mind reading is a useful thing indeed.”
Arcturus grinned. “Very well. Your birthday’s coming up, isn’t it? I’ll let you have your pick of the litter. I’ll send their files over to you tomorrow.”
The following afternoon, Valerian was perusing a data chip containing the files of two hundred and eighty-two ghosts, two hundred and eighty-one of which would be dead within thirty-six hours. Valerian shook his head at the waste. While he understood that his father was dedicating all his resources to rebuilding his empire, it seemed a poor decision to Valerian to simply terminate the ghosts. But it was not his place to challenge or even seriously question his father on such decisions.
Not yet anyway.
One file in particular stood out. Not because of the man’s history or his physical appearance—neither was remarkable—but because of an almost offhand notation about Starke’s area of specialization. “#25876 seems to excel in remote viewing and psychometry. This predilection is counterbalanced by a proportionate weakness in telepathic manipulation and a less efficient method of termination of assignments.”
Translation—#25876, known now by his birth name of Devon Starke, didn’t much care to plant mental orders for suicide or murder, and didn’t like to kill with his own hands. Devon Starke could do these things, certainly, which was why he had not been terminated before now. Mengsk wanted tools he could use immediately. Later, when the empire was firmly established, there would be a place for those who could, say, tell who had held what wineglass and where their families might be hidden away. But that was later, and at this moment Mengsk wanted to keep the best assassins and at the same time send them a very firm message about what would happen to them once they were no longer useful to him.
Valerian knew well what had happened the last time Mengsk had a ghost who was “problematic.” Mengsk did not want that to happen again.
So for his twenty-first birthday, the day he had come of age, his father had given him another human being as a gift. #25876 had been freed from the cell where he had been awaiting death. The neural inhibitor that had been deeply embedded into his brain as a youth was removed, and Starke was permitted to remember his identity and history. He was also permitted to know why he’d been spared, and who had chosen him.
He therefore was utterly loyal to Valerian Mengsk.
Starke’s face appeared on the screen. Devon Starke was, like Jacob Ramsey, someone you wouldn’t give more than a passing glance. Slight, shorter than average, with thinning brown hair and an unremarkable face, the only memorable thing about Devon was his voice. It was a deep, musical baritone, the sort of voice that immediately caught and held one’s attention. And because being memorable was not exactly what being a ghost was all about, Devon Starke had gotten used to seldom speaking.
“Sir,” Devon said, “there was indeed a psychic contact from Professor Ramsey. But I wouldn’t call it an attack. A delaying tactic, maybe, to allow them time to escape.” A pause. “Perhaps we should continue this conversation in private? I can step into my quarters and have you patched through.”
“Good idea,” said Valerian.
At that moment, Charles Whittier turned and looked at him, visibly upset. “Sir—I think you should hear this. Someone named Samuels; he says it’s urgent.”
Valerian sighed. “One moment, Devon.” He punched a button and turned to the screen Charles had indicated.
Samuels, dressed in medical scrubs and looking a bit panicked, was gesticulating. The sound came on in mid-sentence. ”—critical condition. They’re operating on him now but—“
“Hold on a moment, Samuels. This is Mr. V,” Valerian said, using the false name he had adopted when working with most underlings. Very few knew his true identity as the Heir Apparent to the Terran Dominion. “Calm yourself and speak clearly. What’s going on?”
Samuels took a deep breath and ran his hands through his hair in what was obviously a nervous gesture. Valerian observed that Samuels’ hands were bloody and that the man’s fair hair was now clotted with the substance.
“It’s Mr. Stewart, sir. He was injured when Ramsey and Dahl escaped. He’s in critical condition. They’re working on him now.”
“Tell me what happened with Dahl and Ramsey.”
“Sir, I’m just a paramedic, I don’t know much about what went on, only that we have wounded.”
“Please, then, find someone who does know, and have him or her contact me at once.” Valerian nodded to Charles, who continued speaking with the flustered paramedic. Briefly, he permitted himself to wonder why someone who was trained in handling life-and-death situations was so upset by what had happened.
He switched back to Starke, who was alone in his quarters. “Do we have privacy?”
Devon grinned. “Yes, sir.” Devon had, of course, read the minds of the rest of the crew to make certain that their line was not being tapped. Having a ghost was so terribly convenient.
“Continue.” Valerian placed his hands on the table and leaned down closer to the screen.
“Sir…as I said, it was psychic, but it wasn’t an attack. There was nothing hostile or harmful about it. Somehow, Ramsey managed to link our minds. Not just mine to his…all of our minds. Everyone in this immediate area. And not just thoughts, but…feelings, sensations. I—“
For the first time since Valerian had known the man, Starke seemed at a complete and utter loss for words. Valerian could easily believe it, if this was indeed what had happened. This was protoss psi-power, not human. Only a tiny fraction of humanity had any psychic ability at all, and only a small percentage of those could do what the ghosts could do. And from all accounts, even the most gifted, most finely trained human telepaths were pitiful compared to an ordinary, run-of-the-mill protoss.
He hungered to hear more, but he could tell that Starke was in no real position to tell him. Pushing aside his impatience and burning curiosity, Valerian said, “I’m recalling your vessel and two of the others, Devon. We’ll discuss this more when you’ve had a chance to gather your thoughts.”
Starke gave him a grateful expression and nodded. His image blinked out, replaced by that of the vessel floating serenely in space.
Valerian tapped his chin thoughtfully. Now he understood better why the paramedic he’d spoken with seemed so shaken and distracted. If Devon had the right of it—and knowing his ghost, Valerian was certain he had—then the man had just undergone what was possibly the most profound experience of his life.
Not for the first time, Valerian wished he had the freedom to have been present when these miraculous things were happening, rather than hearing about them secondhand. To have been with Jake Ramsey when he finally entered the temple. To have felt this strange psychic contact that Devon was certain wasn’t an attack. He sighed. Noblesse oblige, he thought ruefully.
“Sir, I have a Stephen O’Toole who says he’s now in charge,” Whittier said. At Valerian’s nod, Whittier put the man through.
Valerian listened while O’Toole related what had happened. Rosemary Dahl had managed to take Ethan Stewart hostage, using her former lover to get to the hangar in Stewart’s compound. Once inside the hangar, fighting had broken out. Apparently someone named Phillip Randall, Ethan’s top assassin, had been killed—the witness said by the professor. Ethan himself had gotten a round of slugs in the chest from Rosemary. Fortunately a team had been on hand with sufficient time to get Stewart into surgery, although the prognosis was not good.
Valerian shook his head as he listened, half in despair, half in grudging admiration. Jacob Ramsey and Rosemary Dahl were proving to be more than worthy opponents. The problem was, he’d never wanted them to be opponents at all. None of this was supposed to happen. Rosemary, Jake, and Valerian should have been together in his study, sipping fine liquor and discussing the magnificent archeological breakthroughs Jacob had made. And perhaps that would yet happen.
It was a pity about Ethan. Valerian had poured a great deal of money into financing Ethan Stewart. If he died, it would be quite the loss.
“Thank you for the update, Mr. O’Toole. Please keep Charles apprised of Mr. Stewart’s condition. I’ve recalled three of my vessels but am leaving the others there for the time being. I will be in contact.”
It had been touch-and-go for a long while. Ten more minutes and it would have been too late. As it was, Ethan Stewart was a mess. Whoever shot him had done so at close range, but had been a bit impatient, which had meant he hadn’t stopped to make sure he’d finished the job. Paramedics had snipped off just enough bloodstained clothing to get an IV in one arm and lay bare the bloody chest, impaled with several spikes. The chief surgeon, Janice Howard, had deftly removed the spikes, and they lay in a glittering crimson pile on a table near the bed on which Ethan rested. One had gotten too close—she’d had to suture up a slice to his heart. But Ethan was incredibly fit and apparently as strong-willed in an unconscious state as he was while waking, and against all odds, they’d saved him.
She was closing up the chest cavity, daring to think the worst was over, when suddenly a harsh, wailing sound cut through the air and the room’s lighting changed from antiseptic white to blood red. Howard swore. “Hit the override!”
For a second, her assistants just stared at her. She knew what the sound meant, and so did they, but Janice Howard had taken an oath, and even if the base was under attack she wasn’t going to stop in the middle of a life-and-death operation.
“Hit the damn override!” she yelled, and this time the assistant obeyed. The sound of the Klaxons dimmed and the light returned to normal. Howard gritted her teeth, calmed herself, and returned to the delicate job at hand. She was almost done. A few moments later, she’d finished stitching up her employer like a cloth mannequin and let out a long sigh.
“Someone find out what’s going on,” she said. Samuels nodded and began trying to raise someone from security. She wasn’t overly worried for her personal safety or that of her team; the compound was complex and well guarded and the medical wing was located deep inside. Of more concern to her were the casualties elsewhere on the base. They’d already weathered one attack today; she wondered how many people they’d have to stitch up when it was all over.
She stepped back, peeling off her bloody gloves and disposing of them while her assistants cut away the rest of Ethan Stewart’s bloodstained clothing.
“Can’t raise anyone,” Samuels said. “Everything’s down.”
“Keep trying,” Howard ordered, fighting back a little flutter of panic.
“Huh…this is weird,” Sean Kirby said. Howard turned to look at him and her eyes fell to Ethan’s left wrist.
The clothing on the right arm had been cut away so they could insert the IV, but they’d ignored his left arm until now. The wrist was encircled by a small bracelet which had been taped to his skin. No, not a bracelet, a collection of wires and hardware—
“Shit,” moaned Howard, darting forward, blood still on her upper arms. She grabbed at Ethan’s hair, knowing now that it wasn’t hair at all, hoping she wouldn’t find what she knew she would, and tugged off the hairpiece.
A delicate netting of fine, luminous wires was wrapped around Ethan’s bald pate, held in place by small pieces of tape.
Damn it! There’d been no time to check for such things, he’d been within minutes of death when they’d found him and the surgery had begun almost immediately. It’d taken six hours. How long had he been wearing this thing before then? What kind of damage had it done? Why was he wearing it anyway, Ethan was no telepath—
Gunfire rattled in the corridor. All heads turned toward the doorway. All heads but Janice Howard’s.
“We’re medical staff; they won’t kill us, whoever they are,” said Howard, hoping to calm them. Howard did not look at the doorway, instead bending over Ethan and starting to remove the tape that fastened the softly glowing wires to his cleanly shaven scalp. She didn’t know much about these things. Every instinct told her to just rip it off, but she feared that might damage him further.
More gunfire, and screams. Horrible, shrill, agonized screams. And a strange, chittering sound, a sort of clacking.
“What the…,” whispered Samuels, his eyes wide.
Howard thought she knew what it was. She was pretty sure everyone else in the room had guessed as well. But there was nothing to be done, except their jobs. There were no weapons in an operating room; no one had ever expected they would need them. And if the sound came from the source Howard thought it did, it was unlikely that any weapon any of the doctors and assistants could wield would do anything but make them die slower. They had a patient. He came first. With hands that did not shake, she continued to unfasten the tape.
The screaming stopped. The silence that followed was worse. Howard removed the last piece of tape and gently disengaged the psi-screen.
A bubbling, liquid sound came from the door and a harsh, acrid odor assaulted her nostrils. Coughing violently and holding the psi-screen net in her hands, Howard turned. The door was melting into a steaming puddle, the acid that had dissolved it now starting to eat through the floor. Framed in the hole that was now the doorway to the operating room were creatures straight out of nightmares.
Her team stood frozen in place. The zerg, strangely enough, also did not advance. There were three of them that she could see, standing almost motionless. Two of them were smallish; she’d heard the term “doglike” used in training to describe zerglings, but now that she beheld them, they were nothing so pleasant. They waited, incisors clicking, red human blood shiny on their carapaces. Above them, its sinuous neck undulating slightly, towered something that looked like a deranged cross between a cobra and an insect. Scythelike arms, glinting in the antiseptic light of the operating room, waited, presumably for the order to slice off heads.
The zerglings drooled, fidgeting a little, moving slightly into the room so as not to be standing in the puddle of acid. The medical team backed up as if the creatures were indeed dogs, sheepdogs from old Earth, herding them into the corner. They went, terrified into obedience, confused that the creatures they were told would rip them to pieces on sight were not doing so. Thinking that maybe they might be deemed unimportant, and live to talk about the encounter over a beer somewhere someday.
Howard hoped that too. But she knew in her gut she was wrong. The zergling in the lead was staring at her intently, and Howard knew without knowing how she knew that someone other than the creature was looking through its eyes. Those black eyes, flat and emotionless, went from her face to her hands to the prone form of Ethan Stewart on the bed.
The cobralike thing—hydralisk, that was the name; somehow it was important to Howard to use the proper term for things, even now when the properly named hydralisk was about to kill her and the thought made hysteria bubble up inside her—reared back and spat something on Ethan. It was a strange gooey substance, and as she watched, it spread, rapidly encasing him in some kind of webbing or cocoon.
Attacking her patient.
“No!” Howard cried, the paralysis broken. A saver of lives to the last, she sprang forward. The zergling whirled on her, chittering with excitement, happy to be freed from its command to sit, to stay; by God it really was like a dog, wasn’t it—
She heard the screams around her as she hit the ground, and after that, heard nothing more.