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Written by: Arian Solberg
Last Updated: 12.26.1999
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Chapter III - A Foe Most Vile

It happened very quickly. So much in fact that even the soldier did not realize the point of transition, only that he was at one point asleep, and was now awake. He was still in the forest, although now there was a small blanket underneath him, which protected against the cold ground. He lifted his neck and saw that his wounds had been cleaned and bandaged in a professional manner. He was just about to attempt sitting up when the trees began to speak, as if they were a woman.
"So, you are awake."
He tried to utter a response but was silenced by something within him. Instead he rolled his head to where the he thought was the source, and drew a sharp intake of air at what he saw.
The woman was a masterpiece. She stood against a tree, in the pale glow of the moon, radiating an aura worthy of angels. Her coal-black hair etched an outline of her face, which looked to have been painstakingly carved out of stone. He watched her with awe and reverence as it seemed she could deserve no less. She stirred feelings deep within him, which he felt writhing and growing under her immaculate visage. She returned his gaze, through ashen eyes, thinking and feeling much more then would ever be revealed. He felt his heart begin to race at the sight of her perfect lips and firm breasts which complimented her entire frame. A pistol swung loosely at her hip, giving her a hint of danger, and power.
After what seemed like hours, she began to move toward the enchanted marine as a panther would stalk its prey. Every muscle in her aesthetic body moved in unison, responding to their master. Finally, the man regained his presence of mind and pushed himself up into a sitting position, surprised at how little pain there was. He then again looked to her deep gray eyes and broke the silence, "Who are you? Where am I?"
Her siren voice resounded through his head, "I am called Tsetra, and how may I address you?"
"My name is Jake. Jake Reese. How did… What's going on here?"
"You were mortally wounded by the Zerg, and my men found you bleeding to death on the ground. It was on my orders that you were healed and allowed to live." She paused for a moment and glanced up at the silver moon which was beginning to dip onto the horizon. "There will be another time to speak of these things. Daylight will soon be upon us and we are not safe here. If you are well enough to sit and converse, you are well enough to march. Prepare for movement."

* * *

Jake regarded the zergling with disgust and malevolence. Although it was a simple creature, and contained in a glass cage, its mere presence reminded him of his slaughtered comrades, and how he almost lost his life. There was still the primitive urge to fire every bullet he had into its head, ensuring it could never kill again. He had to make a conscious effort to convince himself otherwise.
"Control yourself, for that creature may yet be able to help us."
Jake turned toward the voice, even though he could immediately tell it was Tsetra who spoke.
"We found him much like we did you: lying on the forest floor, disabled, gasping for air. Though his bane was not a flesh wound as you had, the illness he carried was much more deadly. He is sick, Mr. Reese, and I need to know why."
Jake snorted, "You can't be serious. Why would you take the time and manpower to transport an aggressive alien for the sake of a cold?"
"It is not a cold, that much I can assure you. It has already killed two of my soldiers, and possibly many others. Only minutes after he had been sealed in that cube, the two men who handled it became violently ill. They began to sweat, hallucinate, and salivate madly. Every attempt we made to aid them only seemed to make things worse. After some thirty minutes, they could not move another step and refused to be carried. I'll never forget the primal screams I heard that day, something like you can't possibly imagine. I cringe to think of the pain they were in, invoked like a nightmare. My soldiers are strong and trained to endure harsh situations in trying conditions but those two men were being ripped to pieces before my eyes. Their skin literally boiled away as I watched, and their blood soaked the ground before I could even move to their aid. Something vile is at work here, and our lives may be dependent on finding out what it is."
Jake watched her carefully for any sign of emotion but there was none. He turned his eyes back to the zergling, before responding, "I find that hard to believe."
It was then that he felt the firm grasp on his arm, and he looked up to see Tsetra staring back with pleading eyes and a frightened air, "I am not asking you to understand me for my sake, but yours. I know it must be difficult to shed the defenses that the army has spawned in you, but you must try. If there is but a scrap of trust and love left in your battered body, find it now, for there will be no other time. Listen to me, and understand! I have been fending for myself since I was thirteen, never knowing a family or friends that I could lean upon. I curse my eyes every waking moment, for they have shown me death and pain, destruction and tears. But this terror I now speak of has no equal in my brain, nor in that of any other who was present on that dark day. If there was a word that was never spoken or thought about, I would use it here. If there was a song that was never sung or played, because it told of horrors the world could not possibly comprehend, I would sing it now. And if there was a sign that was outlawed and shunned because it symbolized the most foul and putrid thing ever to plague the human race, I would carve it into every tree I passed a dozen times over. Whatever wicked idea your finite mind has ever conjured up, trust me, believe me, and understand me, that this… is worse."


Chapter IV - Realization
by Arian Solberg

The mouse felt his skin being punctured but did not react. Weeks of experiments and tests had numbed his consciousness of such acts to the point of indifference. The pain was slight, and soon disappeared altogether as familiar large hands withdrew the needle. Today though, something was amiss. Before the memory even had time to fade away, his pain returned, although this time it seemed almost ominous. His back began to throb and liquid agony ran wild through his circulatory system. Thirty seconds later, he lay quite still on the floor of his cage, bleeding from several orifices.
The man who had administered the vile disease only stared in silent fear at what had just occurred. Never before in his entire career as a chemist had he witnessed such potent death, such utter destruction from a mere virus. The possibilities for misery raced through his brain faster than even he could comprehend. If by some chance, this was used as a weapon, the results would be catastrophic. A world in which death could be spread as easily as the common cold would soon be nothing but a lifeless rock in space.
He suddenly realized he was hyperventilating and was damp with perspiration. He slowly placed the needle in a sterile container and sealed it before sitting on a metal stool and attempting to calm himself.
Tsetra regarded him through ashen eyes. She observed his sturdy frame and weathered countenance, which indicated years of experience and knowledge. He had introduced himself as Dr. McCullin, a chemist and physicist who took on the outpost's technical needs. He was a man who could be trusted, she observed, both in his judgments and loyalty. But even now, she sensed his confidence fleeing him; this mighty man was coming to his knees.
"I told you that-" Tsetra begin, but was cutoff by a passionate voice.
"You told me nothing! What you told me cannot begin to compare to what just happened."
"Which is why I came to you Doctor. I too have seen its deadly effect. I know firsthand the pain felt not just by the victim, but by all who can see or hear his anguish. Two of my men fell because of this vile toxin. I need you to learn and speak about it, then together, we will fight against it."
"Fight against what? A virus? An invisible opponent? That is one battle you will be doomed to lose my dear."
Tsetra eyed him coolly, "If a man is convinced he will fail, he usually finds a way to make it happen." McCullin did not respond. He took a deep breath, and wiped off his forehead with a handkerchief. Tsetra continued, "Please, tell me what you know, and we will fight this."
He looked at her pleading eyes, felt her devoted presence, and was suddenly able to understand. He realized that she knew as well as he did the powerful forces at work here. This was a woman who understood suffering as if it were her own brother. The mask she wore had fooled him at first, but now he finally saw underneath, and knew that she was right.
He stood from his stool, and nodded, "Very well, follow me."
He led her to a corner of the lab where a creature stood in a glass cage. Tsetra recognized it as the contaminated Zergling that her men had captured. The beast that spread the disease which killed two of her men. Before though, he had been somewhat docile and tranquil, whereas now he leapt viciously at the sides of his prison and slashed at the two humans with his claws. The white foam that had previously occupied his mouth was also absent, and his eyes had cleared considerably.
"He adapted," McCullin stated matter-of-factly. "Shortly after you brought him in, all of his symptoms vanished, and he became very agitated and excitable. I had to sedate him in order to get the blood sample."
Tsetra kept her gaze fixed on the angry creature, "So, whatever this disease is, The Zerg are immune to it?"
"They are now. Whether the same was true two days ago I cannot say. Their bodies are remarkable, changing and evolving almost by the hour. Sickness is not a part of their consciousness - they adapt too quickly. A human being on the other hand, would not have that same luxury. As far as the virus itself is concerned, once the strain has entered the blood stream, death would occur within the hour, unless it is neutralized."
"Which is impossible."
The doctor nodded, "Correct. Now, so far as I can tell, any physical contact with an infected source will spread the disease. This is how your men died, by touching this Zergling while it was still contaminated."
"But where did the creature itself become infected?" Tsetra queried.
"That, I do not know. I am planning to study his anatomy further, and perhaps learn more about its origin. Whatever I find out, you'll be the first to know."
A distinct tone echoed throughout the lab which signified someone's arrival. McCullin looked towards the door and recognized Shugar as he strode across the room.
"Hello Lieutenant," the doctor greeted him with a warm handshake.
Shugar nodded toward the scientist before turning his attention to the attractive woman at his flank. "And you must be Tsetra. Jake filled me in on his… excursion."
"Indeed I am," she replied. "A pleasure to finally meet you Lieutenant."
"And you as well. But, at the risk of appearing rude, I am afraid I must insist on speaking with you in private. Would you excuse us doctor?"
McCullin nodded, "Absolutely, I have to get these anatomy tests done anyway."
Shugar turned and walked back out the door as Tsetra followed. When their privacy was assured, he stopped and faced her.
"I am going to be blunt. I know very little about you, and you are walking among my outpost and my men. If, for any reason, I feel you pose a risk to me, my soldiers, or the Confederacy itself, do not think I won't take the appropriate actions."
Tsetra's eyes narrowed, "You dare to-"
"I wasn't finished." Shugar interrupted. "Trust is not something given freely out here, but it would help matters greatly if you would prepare a report telling me exactly who you are, what your purpose with a group of partisans is, and who you work for. By interstellar law I cannot demand this information from you unless you are formally under arrest, which you are not… yet."
She shook her head. "You are a very illogical man. Do you forget that I have already risked my soldier's lives to save one of yours?"
"Indeed I have not. But I still care for every man under my command as if they were my sons. You are, as of now, a security risk to that care. I appreciate your efforts but you are still a stranger in my home, and thus, expendable."
She snorted, "Well then, are you planning on issuing me quarters, or a cell?"
"That will ultimately be up to you." He replied, "but as for now, I have a place you can rest if you are tired. Your men have already been tended to."
"As you wish. Lead the way."

* * * * * *

She was awakened by strange hands on her shoulders. Her muscles tensed instinctively, and she opened her eyelids a bit to better assess the situation. She recognized a familiar face through the dark haze. It was Doctor McCullin.
"Tsetra, wake up!" He rasped.
Immediately she opened her eyes , completely awake, "Yes, doctor? Is there a problem?"
"You must come with me to the lab, hurry!"
She stood up from the less then meager accommodations provided by Shugar, and followed the physicist out of the room, and down the hallway. He had set a surprisingly fast pace, and Tsetra found she had a jog a bit to keep up.
The hallway appeared radically different with the absence of daylight. The windows appeared dark and ominous, concealing all that lie beyond their boundaries. Their bodies cast sinister shadows on the walls, dancing in the glow of the pathetic yellow bulbs. Tsetra shook her a head a bit to clear these images, and tried to concentrate on the issue at hand.
"Any chance you could fill me in on the way," she asked.
"It's a little difficult to explain," he replied, "You're really going to have to see it to understand."
Tsetra considered prodding further, but remembered his stubbornness in the lab earlier that day and decided against it. Soon, the massive lab doors loomed before them, and the doctor began to speak again.
"I finished my anatomy testing only a few minutes ago, and I found something quite alarming."
"About the virus?"
"Perhaps. It's hard to tell at this point."
Tsetra pondered the significance of this last statement as they walked into the familiar white room, and over to a large console where the doctor began pushing buttons with incredible dexterity.
"I ran all the standard tests in order: Blood, brain, cell, tissue, and muscle with nothing out of the ordinary. Then, I performed a complete scan of its external and internal bone structure and compared it to the diagrams already recorded in the database. They were, to say the least, disturbingly different." Saying that, he hit a few more keys and two greenish wireframe models appeared on the monitor.
McCullin pointed to the one on the left, "This is a model of one of a Zergling's two front teeth. This particular piece was found, examined, and recorded only two weeks ago by a scientist two parsecs away. Now on the right, is a sample of the same tooth from the Zergling you captured. To the laymen, they may look completely identical, but I immediately noticed a difference. The teeth on your creature are physically changing at the molecular level, even as we speak, to create a small hollow cavity inside of it. I do not know the reason for this change, but when I ran the pattern through the computer, it came up with this."
He hit a button, and a picture appeared on the monitor that looked unfamiliar to Tsetra.
The doctor seeing her confusion began to explain, "It is a species of Viperidae, commonly known as the Rattlesnake. It too has the same cavities in its teeth, used to inject venom into its victim after the skin has been punctured."
"But where's the correlation? Zerglings aren't venomous"
"True, but as I said, I cannot testify as to the purpose of this transformation, only that whatever is going on, we should figure it out as quickly as possible. Never in the history of our battle against The Zerg has something like this been encountered. An actual metamorphosis occurring throughout what we can assume is the entire Swarm. And, I am afraid with the existence of this new virus, it could not have come at a worse time."
Tsetra mused softly, "We would need to communicate with the entire species to understand it completely…"
The doctor allowed himself a brief smile, "In the field of science, my dear, we usually prefer logical solutions over the absurd ones."
"That's quite a creed," she retorted dryly. "but I wasn't speaking about the likes of us. We need someone with a powerful mind and unequaled telepathic abilities."
"A Ghost," the doctor interjected.
Tsetra grinned, "Precisely what I had in mind."

Ten minutes later, Shugar had been filled in on the recent discoveries, and they all stood now in the laboratory, with the addition of a new figure: a tall, cold man, dressed in the black garb commonly associated with Confederate Ghosts.
Shugar gestured towards the imposing man, "May I introduce Amadeous Valdez, my most trusted covert agent and personal bodyguard."
Tsetra nodded, "Excellent, but I am afraid time is of the essence. As the doctor explained, it is imperative that we learn as much as possible about what the Zerg colony has planned. The only feasible way to accomplish this is to actually risk a meld with the Zergling itself. Because the species is so tightly intertwined, Amadeous should be able to look directly into The Overmind, through the Zergling's mind, thus gaining all of its knowledge. Theoretically, this should all be possible but, as I said, it has never actually been attempted before."
The Ghost showed no emotion and spoke in a steady voice. "This is foolhardy. The mental stress caused from entering a human mind is enough to cripple most men in itself. To ask that I attempt the same process to a foreign species would be a far greater risk."
"I'm afraid we don't have much of a choice," the doctor interjected.
Amadeous snorted, "Indeed. It must be an easy decision for you when it is my life on the line."
Shugar raised his hand for silence, "That is enough. After carefully listening to the situation, I am forced to agree with McCullin and Tsetra. Please understand Mr. Valdez that this is for the sake of the entire Confederacy, and perhaps, even the universe that surrounds it.
The Ghost appeared visually shaken, "You can't possibly be serious."
"I have never been more so."
Valdez realized he had no choice but to obey his Lieutenant. He reluctantly nodded his head and turned towards the clear cube that still rested on the floor. No one spoke another word as Amadeous approached it slowly, acknowledging that the creature was becoming agitated with his presence. He then knelt, placed a hand on the smooth clear wall, and closed his eyes. At first, the Zergling angrily attempted to attack the intruder, but soon became tranquil, and stood very still. Underneath the agent's silent pose, his thoughts worked furiously to find a safe passage into the demon's brain. As the tension mounted, he began to perspire, taking deeper and deeper breaths to kindle the psionic fires that burned from within his skull. Finally, the primitive barrier relented, and the Ghost became part of the Swarm.
His mind was instantly flooded by chaotic bedlam. Those thoughts and instincts of a primal beast coursed through his cerebellum like acid, and he struggled desperately to stay in control. The sentience of thousands of creatures alike were watching him, and hating him. Never, in his wildest dreams or imagination would he have been prepared for the hellish world that clung to him now like a parasitic leech. In the span of five seconds, he understood a million years of pain and anguish, inflicted by the Zerg upon their enemies. He saw every death that they had caused, every being they had tortured, and every planet choked to death at their merciless tendrils. Blood flowed freely from the wounds of countless human soldiers, each one a unique body and soul before being torn asunder by the unquenchable rage that was the Swarm.
He felt all of their gruesome battles and lost every hunk of flesh that they had ever torn away. He understood the utter despair felt as a body screamed in agony, only to have armies of Hydralisks slither past his bloody chest, then to feel the hideous creep roll over his forgotten carcass, and absorb the rotting flesh which would nourish his killers. He then watched The Overmind howl in delight at his fantastic pain, and he was suddenly very, very afraid.
For those who watched the kneeling psychic, every second that passed was excruciatingly silent. There was no way to discern what was taking place inside of his head, or if any progress was being made. Suddenly, their worst fears were confirmed as a maddened scream ripped through the air. Amadeous reeled back from his position, clawing at his forehead frantically. Tsetra was instantly upon him, trying to restrain his flailing arms, as the inhuman wails continued. His muscles seized and his body arched in the air with powerful spasms. Then, as quickly as it had started, he opened his eyes and the ordeal was over.
"What the hell happened?" Shugar demanded.
The Ghost struggled to speak between breaths, "Something… severed the link… I would have died in there otherwise… The pain was… unimaginable."
"Severed the link?" Tsetra asked, "But how?"
Amadeous made a feeble gesture towards the Zergling. "It's dead. Something issued it an order of suicide while we were connected. They knew what I was attempting, and that was the most efficient way of halting my link to the Swarm."
Doctor McCullin became very impatient. "Did you discover anything at all?"
Amadeous looked at the scientist grimly before speaking, "Not much. They reacted too quickly for me to get too deep in its psyche. Apparently, a few weeks ago, a Zerg scouting party stumbled upon a creature that had died from an unknown disease. They were very intrigued, and set up a colony to began searching for its source. Beyond that, I do not know."
"They must have found it," Tsetra remarked, "Or else this Zergling wouldn't have been infected when we captured it."
"But even so," McCullin replied, "Why would they go out of their way to search for a biological virus strain?"
"It's biological?" Shugar asked.
"All viruses are, Lieutenant."
Suddenly, that pinnacle of realization which they had longed for struck Tsetra, and she was terrified. She slowly closed her eyes, and spoke through a quivering voice for all to hear, "Doctor, could the strain be assimilated?"
McCullin shrugged, "I suppose so, but why would…" he trailed off as his eyes caught the rotating wireframe model of the Zergling's teeth, still present on the monitor. The newly evolved cavity staring back, directly into his soul.
"Oh my God….. Oh my God."

Read Chapter 5!!


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