Death would reel at this scene.
The aftermath of a Zerg infestation is never pretty. The viscous pink matter often called 'creep' tends to laminate every possible surface, concealing burrowed Zerg perfectly. Strewn over the creep were charred corpses of the late inhabitants fortunate enough to be in the blast radius of a ruptured gas line.
Corporal Rick Wells retracted his previous statement. Death wouldn't reel; he'd cry.
"Yep. Visual on the bodies, alright. We got some infestation scaling the walls and covering the floors, too." The comlink in his suit would proceed to buzz in his ear for a few moments before the signal came back. It was always patchy when you were within Zerg grounds.
"Stay sharp, men. We're in enemy territory now." Wells recalled his officer training. "Morale always dips whenever you mention 'enemy territory', especially when it belongs to aliens. You have to be stronger than their fear!"
Yeah, I'll try my best. His men took position on either side of him as they slowly made their way through the installation-turned-festering alien slimehole. "Remember our objectives; we have to find cell block Delta and retrieve the prisoner." Confirmation lights blinked on Wells' HUD and the squad moved forward. A loud noise of bone on steel made everyone snap to face their left flank. Damnit! Wells quickly motioned two of his squad ahead, the rest following at a distance.
The hazy fog created by the infestation blocked their vision in the confined hallways. "Sir, the fog is gonna mess with our equipment." Wells' second in command, Jeremy Budreaux, was always thinking tactfully. The officer was deeply appreciative of the reassurance now more than ever. "Roger. Keep coms to short-range, so we don't risk straining the things too much."
They exited the corridor, which fed out into a large, open landing. Wells' eyes fell almost immediately to the Zergling dragging away the corpse of a recently-deceased Terran.
Kill the Zerg!
Before he knew what he was doing, Rick Wells had lifted his rifle arm and aimed it at the xenomorph. Thoughts that didn't belong to him flooded his consciousness, making it impossible to think clearly or even register his gauss rifle going off.
The Zerg dropped to the ground, several sizeable holes in its carapace. The rifle arm lowered, and Wells could think again. Resoc. The thought churned in him like a stomach sickness.
Criminals who were turned to soldiers for the Terran Dominion were often resocced. The resocialisation left the subject's mind clouded with false thoughts that erased any memories they had beforehand.
Being an ex-Dominion marine himself, the resoc had been "undone" by the Rastarian neurologists, but evidently, some of it remained to haunt him.
He shook his head and barked out orders, as if trying to reassert his control over his own body. "Let's keep moving, gentlemen! We don't want to keep the rest of the Zerg waiting, do we?" Confirmation lights blinked on, and the squad moved forward, intent on their destination.
Thoughts. Chaotic, ravenous, not unlike a caged beast. Echoing and rocketing. Never disappearing.
Echo. Echo. Echo.
Resolve fading. Weakening. You are weak. Frail. Too much like your race. Time. Yes, weak.
No... Please, no...
Time for a new host.
The ear-piercing shriek caught all the marines off-guard. Even Wells, still angered by his relapse, was halted, his wariness overpowering his malice. The squad slowed to a halt like slowly-breaking aircars at a trafficking light, keeping their weapons ready. Wells' voice echoed somewhat ominously in the hallway.
"On your guard..."
The shrieking came again, suddenly coinciding with an onslaught of Zerg. From both sides of the hallway, the creatures poured in. Wells' instincts would have taken over, but the resoc kicked in again.
They say echoing adds a certain atmospheric fear to things. Boots walking, doors closing, even an out-of-place cough can often put people on edge.
So, one can be certain that strained yells, bullets clanging to the ground, and bloodcurdling alien shrieks, all frightening enough alone, would easily be amplified by an echo. As fear and hatred burned brightly in the Rastarian soldiers' eyes, only one thing, one word, one command, was echoing inside Wells' head.
So Wells did.
And a half hour later, he was still progressing, bloodied and limping in one leg. Wounded. Alone.
Hoping for nothing but a quicker death in his next life.
The ceiling lights flickered here and there. The machines that still worked hummed lowly and occasionally beeped. A dying man was gasping for air, trying to force oxygen into dead lungs. A Zerg, split in two by sheer bullet force, shrieked in pain and squirmed.
In the mind of Rick Wells, however, all was quiet.
Limping toward the room marked "Delta 4-A: Detainment", the corporal grimaced as his thoughts, memories of the desperate battle he'd fought only moments before, came back to him. A young private by the name of Sam having his sandy-blonde head of hair shorn clean off by a Hydralisk's scythe, the sickeningly-rank scent of the Zergling blood that was caked on every one of his soldiers' faces. No one deserves to die like that. No one.
Closing his eyes for a moment and shaking his head, Wells moved on, manually opening a broken-down autodoor. This is it... He scanned the room intently, taking a cautious step forward, his gauss rifle raising to aim forward as he advanced. As Wells turned to his left, his eyes bore witness to a stripped corpse, stained with blood and bearing a very hollow look to its visage.
As steeled as Wells was for a physical attack, he couldn't have prepared for the mental assault that ravaged his mind. A force alien in both origin and existence entered the corporal's conscience, sinking deep into his mind and brain. He could sense it enacting a ritual within his psyche, one that rendered him instantly dazed and bewildered. This mental force was unraveling something that long ago became what Wells thought to be a permanent part of him; the resoc.
It was liberating.
It was terrifying.
"Oh god..." Wells sputtered in a mix of anxiety and grief as the resoc fell to pieces like a tattered flag strewn with bullet holes. "Oh hell on fucking Earth, what the hell is happening to me?"
Human. Like the other, but you are stronger. Fine physical specimen, expansion needed mentally. You will suit my purposes well, Rick Wells.
Rick sputtered in disbelief as he collapsed to his knees, his suit feeling more overbearing than ever before.
Rest your mind now, corporal. I will take over. We will be free of this prison soon enough.
As the soldier's eyes closed unwillingly, a single thought, one he could be sure was his own, flickered into being. I sure as hell hope you're the thing I was supposed to retrieve.... Otherwise, my ass is in a heap of trouble.
Now, Terran, look into the past. Through me, your mind shall inherit my memories, that which I know to be true. You shall see what your planet was so long ago. You shall know the truth.
The gleaming, golden peaks of the Mel'Korian Archives, which, indeed, was the tallest of the structures built by Protoss hands on the planet, stood out defiantly against the green-tinged darkness of night. The twin moons of the world, edging ever so slowly towards each other as if in a well-practised dance, hung brightly over the tallest spire of the archives, adorning it with a white glow. Were it art on a tapestry, the structure would have basked in this light forever.
At the base of the archives lay the massive portal of a door, a gateway into unparalleled and unprecedented collections of knowledge. Through the halls beyond and ascending up the tallest of spires was the council of Mel'Kor, headed by the commander of the "civilised" Protoss forces, Uldwe, and his most trusted adviser and closest friend, Nanp´r. The council was discussing the recent incursions by the insurgent tribes that had revolted from under Uldwe's rule.
We must take action! The thoughts of High Templar Tol resounded powerfully throughout the chamber, overpowering the rest of the council. The insurgents must be dealt with! Almost immediately, a clash of outlook took place as yet another templar made himself and his views known. We cannot relinquish all ties to our brethren! We and they are still brothers! If we turn on one another now, how can we speak for unity in the future?
As others began to speak out on either sides of the debacle, Nanp´r let loose a burst of psi energy, silencing all. Enough! If you wish to see this issue resolved in a swift and efficient manner, let the most experienced of us speak! After a pause, Nanp´r nodded towards Uldwe, who rose in acknowledgement.
I have witnessed the birth of this world's colonies, he began. Under my rule, I intend to shape our empire so that it allows the reunification of our people, but we cannot do this if the insurgents remain a threat. As he spoke, the three-dimensional interface at the centre of the council chamber erected itself and displayed a map of the insurgent encampments. The inner cities are what we should be targeting here. If we cripple their morale, their will to fight, they will have no choice but to surrender to us.
While he waited for the council to take it all in, he looked to Tol and Nanp´r. The eyes of the former were alight with battle plans and strategy, as the brilliant tactician was always thinking about troop movements and multiple ways to win efficiently, while Nanp´r's mental expression was more grave. He knew the risks, and the strife such an act would create between Protoss, but Nanp´r, more than anyone else - anyone, perhaps, but Uldwe - knew that this open act of war was necessary. This is not an easy action to even think, let alone suggest or begin to do. I may speak for more than just myself, but I believe we all know that, if there was a point of no return, we crossed it a long time ago.
Vision leapt back to Rick Wells, and the installation floor came up to meet the soldier as he bowled over, his brain struggling to grasp the immense scale of things to which he'd just been introduced. Regaining control of his motor functions, the corporal sputtered and choked, trying to steady his heart rate. "I... What the hell did I just see?"
Wishing he was out of his armour so he could remove the sweat from his brow, Wells struggled to a leaning position, using the wall as a support and wincing as the presence in his mind stirred. The council of Mel'Kor reached a decision that involved the destruction of the core insurgent cities. This eventually lead to a corruption of power, as those below the great Uldwe witnessed what one Protoss could do with the mantle of leadership.
Wells shook his head. "Why are you sharing this all with me? Why the hell do I get the psychic alien treatment? I was supposed to bring you back to base before the Zerg got to you!"
Something stirred within the presence. The corporal winced apprehensively and steeled himself for an attack of any sort, but was greeted with none. Instead, the presence seemed to exert a soothing feeling over the soldier's stressed mind. Then it's lucky you arrived in time, isn't it, Terran? Now, do your duties and report to your commanding officer. I must withdraw to the inner-workings of this vassal and rest. Migrating from host to host can be quite difficult, you know...
"Fuckin' aliens, probably cold-blooded as shit, too." Wells looked for something to kick angrily, but found only walls and infestation. "Damnit..." His side, still limp from the attack, was proving to be a major pain, though it wouldn't hinder the soldier's movements. "I better not run into any Zerg up in here on my way back, or it'll be the end of you and me both. Hear that, Protoss?"
We're going, Rick, with or without your approval.
"Yeah, whatever." No matter how hard he tried, the stubborn soldier found it impossible to reason with the alien. Why don't you grow arms and legs and do it yourself?
The argument at hand concerned a journey to the corporal's military installation. Irritated by the invasion of privacy caused by the foreign presence in his mind, Wells had wanted to stop moving to rest. Don't be so spiteful, Rick. You know the risks. You're bound to come across Zerg. Better to be awake and at the ready than in a death sleep. The soldier knew that the alien's statement was more than accurate and needed no further emphasis. Yeah, I suppose so. I'll have to call in for evac after we find a good spot. Stepping into the unlit elevator and using his suit's built-in lights to find the correct button, Wells waited for the upwards journey to end. It was fairly silent in the elevator's box, with only the periodic beeping punctuating the quiet environment.
Slithering down from the shaft and dropping into the elevator, a Hydralisk made its presence known by shrieking loudly.
Without thinking, the soldier leapt to the right, narrowly avoiding the Zerg's lunge. As the alien crashed loudly into the elevator's frame, Rick Wells rose to his feet and shook his head, rifle arm trained at the beastly creature. "Ugh, you're worse than the resoc! You give orders, and you talk!"
Before he could continue with his tirade, the Hydralisk hissed and began spreading its jaw. Shut up and shoot the Zerg! Complying without any semblance of hesitation, the soldier's gauss rifle fired off round after round, each impact sending chunks of Zerg bone and meat around the walls of the elevator.
When the beast ceased its unholy wail, Wells triggered the reloading function of the weapon and additional rounds were fed into the rifle. The soldier exhaled audibly, kicking the lower half of the Hydralisk out of his way as the elevator doors opened. That was a surprise. He felt the alien within him stir and start feeling around his mind for information. "Ugh. You know that's irritating. I never know what the hell I'm doing when you grope my brain like it's a friggin' toy." When he received no response from the alien, the soldier sighed and pressed on, going slower than usual to make sure he was headed in the right direction. The smallest of things could escape him when his mind was not his own.
Silence. What? What is it? Now, the alien had gone quiet. Wells was not used to the mental silence after spending but a day with the creature inside him. Okay, seriously... Should I be concerned about this?
He glanced around and heard a fizzing noise emanating from one of the distant rooms. Frowning, Rick went to explore. If his internal alien wasn't talking, he was going to find out what was going on himself. "Never needed that stinkin' thing before today..." As he rounded a corner into a machine room in disrepair - possibly engineering at one time - the source of the fizzing became more than apparent with a bright white sparking fuse of a light.
Rick's eyes widened.
Rounding the corner again and taking cover against the wall, the soldier grimaced as the door was blasted open by explosives. Strained shouts and footsteps were heard as Rastarian militia poured into the room. They were most likely a follow-up team, which meant they'd be heavily armed and expecting the worst from the installation.
Which meant they could easily think that Wells and his team had been killed. Or infested.
Rick knew what he had to do. The soldier gripped his gun tightly with both of his gauntlets and ducked his head, retreating back to the previous room as silently as he could, his blast shield lowered. Thankfully, the ruckus from the forced entry was loud enough to mask the armoured soldier's footsteps, and Rick took comfort in the fact that he would soon be out of this hellhole. Taking cover behind another corner, the soldier timed himself.
Fifteen seconds went by. He heard footsteps. Thirty seconds. Orders barked. A minute. A group of men began walking in his direction.
Without even seeing the men, Wells knew what had happened. He heard them snap to attention, felt their anxiety. "Rick Wells, corporal." He moved into their view, keeping his rifle pointed at the creep-covered floor tiles. He took some measure of amusement in the fact that the men were practically browning their pants at the sight of him and repressed a smile before it turned into a grimace. "Last survivor."
No one seemed to know what to do for a moment. Wells himself was somewhat in shock and relief that the follow-up detachment came as early as it had. Rescuing you must be pretty high up on the general's to-do list, huh? After the realisation that he was still getting the silent treatment from the alien, Wells looked amongst the soldiers. None looked like an officer. "Who's your cee-oh?"
As if on cue, a tall, white-armoured man, possibly in his mid-thirties, entered the room. "Sergeant Vic. You're Wells, huh?"
Taken aback by Vic's sudden appearance, Rick took a moment before nodding. "Yeah. That's me." The sergeant looked around, as if taking in the surroundings for the first time. "Well," his gaze returned to meet the corporal's. "What the hell happened?"
The corporal immediately decided that he didn't like the sergeant too much. Frowning, he replied, "What do you think? My men are dead. Slaughtered. Didn't stand much of a chance. Fuckers bit straight through my leg padding." He tried to read the sergeant's stony-faced expression as the rest of the soldiers milled about under the illusion of paying no attention to the conversation. "And the subject?"
Wells opened his mouth to reply but closed it, feeling a minute adversity. As much as it had tried to stay silent, the alien presence couldn't let the Terran corporal give away their secret. Rick thought for a moment. "Zerg must have got to it. There was nothing in the room but a human body and some dust." The sergeant's brow furrowed into his skull. "That's fuckin' nice. Command's gonna love hearing that." He turned to his men, who immediately stopped aimlessly walking and stood at attention. "Looks like our lucky day, boys. We found what we came here for earlier than expected. Let's get on out of here now. We have our orders."
As Wells filed out with the rest of the men, he couldn't help but notice the grim expressions on every soldier and wonder why.
The archaic doors swung slowly open, creaking with a majesty that resonated within every fibre of the Protoss' body and mind. As the figure slowly entered the dull room, a dreary chamber illuminated only by the holotable affixed to the centre of the raised floor, thoughts roiled in bedlam and anarchy with no true form, passing as quickly as they came and bringing with them legions of others. One thought, however, drowned *out all the rest - not because of force or strength in numbers, but because of its sheer simplicity. While other thoughts were scrambled and called for many different actions, this was a single word - a single thought.
Every tortured soul was slaughtered.
Every pained mind was relinquished.
Every frail body was incinerated.
At the mere nod of his head, the Protoss' armada carried out the grave orders.
And every voice screamed out in agony, HELP. US.
Corporal Rick Wells awoke in a cold sweat, gasping for air and trying desperately to recollect his thoughts while his eyes adjusted to the dark interior of the hospital room. As the soldier caught his breath, a monitor chirped and activated, bathing Wells' face in an eerie green light, bringing out his scars against the fleeing shadows of the night.
HEART RATE: 215
"Oh, fuck." Rick exhaled heavily, leaning back into his hospital bed and covering his eyes with both hands, sweat drenching his brow. "I gotta stop seeing shit in my dreams..."
Dreams of the past, Executor?
Executor Uldwe's muscles clenched above his eyes, moving in a downward motion that would possibly resemble a human frown if seen in the proper lighting. Against the backdrop of the shadowy-black night, however, the movement was barely noticeable to even a keen eye. Slowly, the imposing Protoss warrior rounded to face the speaker. The Executor was a startling height of nine feet and seven inches even before stepping into a Zealot power suit, putting him well above the standard height of a Protoss. His body was clearly built for action, with finely-toned muscles blending naturally with his bright cyan-coloured skin. His eyes shone a deep blue, a hint of magenta flickering in and out of existence, truly manifesting only when a thought was projected.
Uldwe's visage promptly eased when he saw the speaker. Salanas. The thought that identified his addresser as one of two High Templar chosen as personal advisors to the Executor was filled with recognition and a strong mutual and emotional connection - what humans would describe as "friendship."
Honourable Uldwe. The templar nodded his head in acknowledge of the rank of Executor, a ritual that Uldwe often grew tired of. Your thoughts are troubled. Without true cause, I have become concerned about your... security. A pause in thought projection signified that the High Templar was choosing his words carefully. Are you alright? The Executor sent back an emotion of appreciation of the other's empathy and yet another reassurance of their friendship before taking a pause himself. Salanas was a foot and a half short of reaching Uldwe's height, putting him just over the average size for a Protoss male, and his skin, a dull grey with scattered hints of purple, covered an exterior that was average at best in terms of strength. But the more impressive feature of the templar was his eyes. They crackled an electric green, belying true intelligence and illuminating the darkness. Salanas was chosen as an advisor for his ability to naturally establish an emotional and mutual connection between himself and another party, as well as his expansive understanding of psionics. The Executor himself was more fond of brandishing a pair of psi blades and charging in for a close-quarters fight, but that's what he enjoyed about keeping such company; they balanced him out.
This time, the Executor knew who the addresser was. First Templar Kempor, Uldwe's second consort, made his presence known with his ever-ghastly delivery, the resonance of his mental voice echoing throughout the minds of all those nearby. If there ever was a true foil to Salanas' character, it was Kempor. The brash, ruthless, almost malevolent personality the First Templar sported clashed almost every way with the calm, understanding, and benevolent one of Salanas'. Kempor was chosen to aid Uldwe in making tough but crucial decisions during any skirmish, large or small, and his option was almost always the quickest and the bloodiest - or, as he liked to refer to it as, "the most efficient way". This naturally created strife between the Executor's two advisors. While they both were powerful templar, however, Salanas had always been the more psionically-adept - becoming the natural choice for accompanying ground forces during operations - and this infuriated Kempor to no end. I am pleased to report that the Protoss insurgency in Taltam÷r has been defeated, as I predicted. There shouldn't be any more problems for quite a while after my demonstration...
Salanas' response was an emotion of distaste that Uldwe found surprising. The templar usually wasn't as blunt as that, even after such a distasteful action. Very well, Kempor. The Executor expressed a frustrated emotion - something a Terran would know as a mental 'sigh' - before facing his First Templar directly. Perhaps you can brief me in more depth at sunrise. Salanas and I were discussing a matter of importance that need not concern you. Uldwe kept his mental tone respectful but strong, hoping to avoid angering Kempor. The addressed merely nodded and stepped back into the structure, leaving the Executor and his templar at the balcony. Salanas sent a frustrated emotion not unlike Uldwe's own, to which he responded with an agreement. Turning to violence wherever there lies a problem only creates more.
The Executor nodded. The insurgents have been increasingly violent recently. The last few takeovers have denied our negotiations, and I am not keen on letting them take our lands. Those who deal in violence will meet their ends just the same.
Salanas sought for a statement, but defaulted to merely sending his mental sigh once more. His frustration was met with Uldwe's empathy. You can't save them all, Salanas. Sometimes, they just don't see the bigger picture. The Executor placed a comforting hand on Salanas' shoulders, meeting his gaze and sending the feeling of mutual, emotional connection again before stepping past him to seek out Kempor.
The templar looked to the stars as Uldwe departed, and wondered just what had triggered his Executor to think back to their home, Rastar.
"And you found nothing in the room?"
Rick was tired of being barraged with this question over and over again. Resisting the urge to roll his eyes, the soldier responded, "Sir, the only thing I saw in the room was dust and a human body, and the body looked like it'd been there for a long time. That's all there was." His response had the debriefing officer sinking his hand into his face and sighing, something Rick himself had felt inclined to do several times through his exceedingly-thorough questioning. "Is that all?" A bit agitation was evident in Wells' tone, and the officer definitely picked up on it, frowning as he raised his head. "Yeah, I guess so. Sorry about your men, sergeant."
Rick opened his mouth to respond, but stopped himself. Sergeant? "Sir?" The officer nodded. "Command saw it fit to promote you, seeing as how you attempted to fulfil your objectives long after there was any real hope of succeeding and still pulled through. I gotta give it to you, son - one hell of an endurance you got there." He rose and moved to the door, pulling it open for Rick. "Good luck out there, Wells."
The sergeant nodded after a brief pause and rose to step through the door, still a little surprised that he got a promotion for losing all his troops in a single skirmish. I guess that's how things work... Rick gave himself a mental shrug as he headed out of the office and back towards the mess hall for some grub. As he walked, a strange feeling crept over him, running over his mind like running water over one's arm. Rick smiled.
I guess so, Sergeant Wells.