(( Disclaimer: This is my entry to the 2011 Blizzard Global Writing Competition. As such, it is not CC-BY-SA-NC at this time, and contains material copyright to Blizzard Entertainment. ))
A Prefabricated Miner’s Home
Colony of New Chau Sara
“Ah’m not crazy.”
Vanessa Lightburn, a Terran woman in her late thirties, brushed back her long brown hair and struggled to keep the light out of her eyes. This prefabricated metal dwelling dropped down on the scorched, barren soil of Mar Sara was her home, and the visitor -- while initially being quite friendly -- had taken to occasionally shining a light into her eyes. Vanessa thought it very strange but said nothing, in part due to the fact the visitor had arrived with five fully armed Confederate Marines.
Vanessa was a farmer born on Mar Sara. She had lived a happy, simple life there with her husband and two sons until the Protoss scorched the planet from orbit. Of her family only she had made it off-world before the alien ships expunged the planet of life, but years later had -- against her better judgement -- returned with the resettlement and reconstruction effort. She was a strong, hardy, unshakable woman whose experience in the last the last years was dwarfed by what had happened to her in the last few hours.
The visitor, a woman, angled the light in her hand around and leaned forward slightly, her youthful voice soft and curious. She didn’t appear threatening, although her hand remained firmly fixed on the small torch, shining it uncomfortably into Vanessa’s eyes.
“So... you were driving to the medical facility and on the way you saw the zergling laying on the side of the road. You took out your shotgun, and... then what did you do?”
Vanessa’s eyes flicked from the shadowy figure to the light and back again. The torchlight was bright and she continued to squint. “Well, ah nearly shot it, but then the dangest thing happened... it spoke.” The woman hesitated, trying to peer through the glare. “The zergling spoke to me. Ah didn’t think they could do that. Not the little ones at least.”
“I see,” the female voice offered, adjusting the light unfavourably as Vanessa instinctively tried to shield her eyes with her hand, “And what did it say...?”
Vanessa didn’t immediately answer, looking away at the dull grey metal wall, fearing that the woman she had called to her house might label her mad if she told her the what she’d heard. Being honest with herself, though, hers was a tale she wasn’t sure even she could believe.
However, the visitor had promised her money which she desperately needed.
Vanessa took a breath and continued, fighting to keep her tone even, keeping her eyes away from the bright light.
“It said... ‘no, no, no. Please don’t shoot me... please don’t shoot me.’” Vanessa looked back to the woman, her tone carrying a pleading edge. “Its voice was really raspy and low, like it was a dog growling, but it was speaking... ah swear it. Ah said ah ain’t crazy.”
The visitor, who had previously introduced herself as Katie Van de Sluis, seemed to consider these words and -- with what Vanessa could only imagine to be a firm, inquisitive look, spoke again. “Miss Lightberg-”
“It’s, uh, Lightburn. And ah’m widowed.”
“My apologies, Missus Lightburn. … look. I don’t think you’re crazy. I just want to see the zergling; from what you’ve told me, it’s obviously different from the others we’ve seen and I want to examine it. Until then, all I want to know is your story and then we’ll get on with business.”
“Can ya’ll stop doing that with the light at least?”
There was a swish as Katie adjusted the light so it wasn’t shining at the woman’s face, then a click as it was turned off. “My apologies. It’s just that, in the right light conditions, Zerg infestation can be revealed by shining a light in the eyes of Terrans and observing the pigment of the iris. We had to be sure.”
Vanessa shuffled again, her discomfort growing. She didn’t like feeling this way in her own house... such that it was. “Ya’all think ah’m one of those thi-”
“We just had to be sure, Missus Lightburn, that’s all. Please continue.”
Vanessa, after a moment’s hesitation, blew out a low sigh. “So, um... right. After ah picked it up, ah spent a moment trying to figure out if ah was brainpanned, then... then ah guess ah figured ah wasn’t. So, well, ah drove to the medical bay with the Zerg strapped to the back of my buggy and that’s where your boys found it. The medical staff didn’t want me keeping the dang thing with them so ah took it home... and then you showed up.”
There was a pause as Lightburn regarded Katie, seeing her properly for the first time now that the bright, annoying light was gone. She was so young that, for a moment, Vanessa thought someone was playing a joke on her -- the woman looked barely old enough to be in her late teens or early twenties -- and she had several implants on her skin. High-tech looking stuff that occasionally moved and creaped along her skin like tiny little snakes. Her eyes were a brilliant green, her raven-black hair cropped into a thin pixie cut. She wore a black, skin-tight suit crammed full of wires.
Some of the wires ran into her skin.
“Did the zergling say anything else?”
Vanessa couldn’t help but stare at the partly cybernetic humanoid. “W-...what the hell are you? Are you a… Ghost...?”
“Missus Lightburn, did the zergling say anything else?”
Forcing herself to look away from Katie’s cybernetic body, Vanessa thought for a moment. “It might have muttered a few things, but ah didn’t understand it. It was pretty dang torn up... savage, really, like it’d been attacked by other Zerg, you know? It was pretty out of it...”
Katie paused, then nodded. “Interesting. Thank you for your time, missus Lightburn. Show me to the zerg and I’ll make sure my associates give you your pay... lead on, if you could.”
“Right, well, ah stowed him out back in the barn. Ah used to keep dogs for breed’n, and those cages are strong as anythin’. Solid steel... can’t imagine he’d get out.”
Katie went to step out the back door of the house, but the Mar Sarran farmer stopped her. “Wait, there was one thing ah remember it said...”
“And what was that?”
A thoughtful pause, then,
“It said its name was Ixen.”
Katie examined the creature through the thick steel cage that seemed, to the woman’s somewhat critical eye, to be just as Vanessa described it; simple and solid in construction and tucked right up the back of the barn. The zergling within stared back at her with sky-blue eyes, an unheard-of feature in its species; so unlike the singular red orbs of most zerg, these eyes were sky blue and slightly larger than usual.
Although the colour and shape were curiosities it wasn’t either which so completely drew Katie’s attention. It was the single, curious glance that he gave her the moment she walked into the barn -- a glance that belied a cunning, sentient intelligence that Katie found remarkable.
It had long thin wings -- translucent, blue and spotted like the wings of a butterfly -- that fluttered occasionally as it moved around. Unlike the other Zerg that Katie had seen in captivity, who attacked their cages until escape or exhaustion, this one had not made a single aggressive move and merely examined its surroundings cautiously and with an obvious curiosity.
This behaviour confirmed to her, more than anything, that this was no ordinary zergling.
It had been injured, though, and Katie could see that Vanessa had done an admirable job of treating its wounds. Thick bandages wrapped around its midsection, the cloth stained with dark purple blood.
With a nod to the handful of Marines she had standing by Katie approached the cage.
“I am Katie Van de Sluis,” she offered to the diminuative Zerg, leaning forward slightly as she spoke, “and I’ve just heard the most unbelievable story.”
The creature reacted -- it could obviously hear and understand what she was saying -- cocking its canine-ish head to one side and padding around the steel floor of the cage. It never took its eyes off her. Katie noticed that the zergling looked her directly in the eyes, like a person would, not simply at her body like an animal.
“A Mar Sarrian farmer tells me you can speak. We paid her good money to hear her tale, so I’m hoping that it’s true... otherwise I’m going to end up feeling mighty foolish, which in turn will end in all manner of unpleasantness for you, blue eyes.”
The creature blinked its sky coloured optics, jaw clacking. Then it spoke; a dark, rumbling voice that rattled and hissed like a cross between a dog and a snake.
“I am Ixen, and I assure you that speaking is not the only gift I possess.”
It was shockingly articulate and clear, despite its strange accent, and its face -- so unlike the expressionless, animalistic visage that was stamped on the billions of its broodmates across the galaxy -- was expressive and animated as it spoke.
Katie was truly surprised. Some part of her, despite the creature’s strangeness, was unwilling to believe that it could truly articulate English... yet there it was, living proof standing only metres in front of her.
Safely walled off behind thick metal mesh, of course.
Katie gave the slight smile. “... so it is true. Well, well, well...”
Ixen gave a low chuckle, the noise sounding gravelly and raspy, pacing slowly at the edge of its cage. “You would be surprised, wouldn’t you? Humans -- ever curious and inventive, but always so shocked when you encounter something out of the ordinary.” It paused, reversing the direction of its slow gait, eyes focused intently on the Human woman. “Your species is a dichotomy of insatiable curiosity and unshakable, preconceived ideas in equal measure... quite the contradiction.”
“What would you know of Humans?” Katie’s voice was part derisive, part inquisitive.
Ixen regarded Katie with a curiously knowing stare, its mouth widening slightly. “More than you could imagine. The Zerg have been infesting your people for years -- their memories, where useful, are extracted and grafted onto the instincts of particularly evolved Zerg who analyze them, study them... learn from them.”
“Zerg, like... the cerebrates?”
“Zerg like me.”
Katie put her hands on her hips, shaking her head at the strange zergling’s bold proclamation. “You’re a little small for a cerebrate, I think. No -- I’m not sure what you are, just yet, but I fully intend to find out. I doubt, however, that there’s much mystery behind it.”
“What would you know of the Zerg?” Now it was Ixen’s turn to smirk.
“... more than you could imagine.”
Ixen rolled his blue eyes, his sickles and wings rustling gently as it shook itself down in a remarkably canine fashion.
“I do understand an ironic echo, you know, but in this particular instance I think you’ve misapplied it. You see, you -- and by ‘you’ I mean your entire species -- really do not understand the Zerg at all. You misunderstand how we work, how we feed, how we live breathe and evolve-”
“We know how you die,” came Katie’s dry remark, “and that’s basically all we need. Me, I love the smell of burned drones in the morning... flash-baked to perfection by well placed tactical nukes.”
“Poetic... but tiresome.” Ixen reached up with a foot-claw, scratching its chin in a display of remarkable agility. “So, let’s hear your theories about me. Indulge me, I’m ever curious...”
A voice from behind Katie spoke up, rough and coarse -- female, but carrying the authority of any man -- as one of the Marines casually shouldered her C-14 rifle, stepping forward. Vanessa, confused, held her shotgun by her side, cautiously stepping back.
“Ah gots a theory... how ‘bout we splatter this dang Zerg and get back to real work, huh?”
Katie regarded the much taller female Marine with quiet disdain, wrinkling her nose at the woman’s... ‘insight’.
“Thank you, Marine, but I’m in charge of this operation.”
Shrugging with what Katie could only guess was boredom the Marine stepped back. “Whatever -- lemme know when you want to put this dog down, boss.”
Returning her attention to the zergling, who had an eye-ridge comically raised as though mocking her, Katie -- somewhat irritated by the interruptions -- resumed speaking.
“So, I’ve got a theory-”
“-that I’m a bunny?” quipped Ixen sarcastically. Wordlessly Katie reached down and un-clipped a small forked prod from her belt, raised it to the all-metal cage and depressed the button. Immediately, the makeshift cell crackled with electricity -- Ixen spasmed and jerked, shrieking in pain as the electrical current surged through its body. Katie released the button and, trailing smoke and limbs still giving an occasional twitch, Ixen collapsed on the steel floor.
“Sorry, blue eyes, but I don’t too kindly to sarcasm... nor people interrupting me. Makes me irritable. So just remember that I’m in control here and we’ll get along juuust fine... mmm?”
Ixen slowly climbed back to all fours, shaking his limbs to clear the last of the spasms. Katie continued.
“So, anyway. From the moment I saw you I already had you figured out... you’re not actually linked to the swarm at all, no. You’re a renegade... a rogue. An outcast. Rejected from the swarm, disowned by your own species who tried to kill you...”
Lidding her eyes a moment, Katie focused inwards, drawing up a strength of power that had taken many painful years of training to awaken.
<... and a telepath.>
For the first time, Ixen did show some surprise on his ever-expressive face. Narrowing his eyes, the zergling leaned forward, his maw almost touching the metal mesh keeping him at bay. His voice echoed in Katie’s mind.
<It seems we have some tricks in common, then.> A pause as the zergling considered a moment. <What tipped you off?>
“The eyes. Your eyes are different... zerglings have yellow, or sometimes red, eyes. Never blue.”
The Marines and Vanessa stared at Katie in confusion. Of course, from their perspective, there had just been a brief silence and then the youthful girl had uttered this non-sequitur without prompting.
Ixen gave an amused chuckle at their collective expressions. “The windows to the soul, isn’t that what Terrans say?”
“They do say that... sometimes.”
Katie reverted to using telepathic communication. <So how much of you is Xel-Naga, I wonder?>
<You think I am a Xel-Nagian crossbreed?> Ixen’s chuckling voice echoed in her mind. <As you said yourself, aren’t I a little small to be anything so... powerful?>
<Not a hybrid,> Katie clarified, <But a throwback. Only more complex life forms, such as the Xel-Naga and the Protoss, have eyes like that... which does lead some credence to my theory. Now, of course, there’s debate in academic circles about the nature of the Xel-Naga and their relationship -- biologically speaking -- to their metaphorical children, the Zerg and the Protoss... especially since all three species seem capable of hybridization.>
Ixen’s wings fluttered. <One might suggest that it’s possible I’m part Protoss, then, instead.>
Katie narrowed her eyes at the blue-eyed zergling through the mesh container of his cage. <Mmm, unlikely. Protoss never landed on Mar Sara, only bombarded it from orbit, and they are very careful with their experiments -- were you one of their playthings, you’d never be running free. Of course... mainstream protoss would do such a thing as experiment with hybridization, not with their sense of honour and all.>
Katie gave a ‘rap-tap-tap’ on the metal of the cage with her gloved knuckles.
<However, some believe the Xel-Naga to share the same common genetic line as the Zerg and the Protoss. If that were true... however unlikely it might seem... an occasional throwback might be present. A member of one species who has traits of all three species... a Zerg’s adaptability and rapid evolutionary capability, a Xel-Naga’s intelligence and wisdom, and a Protoss’s->
The voice came not from the zergling, but from the now glassy-eyed female Marine that stood to Katie’s left. The armoured woman had her rifle up, pointing it directly at the surprised, raven haired Ghost. Although it was difficult to make out, Katie noticed with some trepidation that the bright light shining down from the roof of Vanessa’s barn revealed the Marine’s irises -- which were only minutes previous earth-brown -- now glowed a faint, fearsome, luminescent blue.
With shouts of alarm, the Marines behind her scrambled for their weapons. Vanessa loaded her shotgun, raising it as well.
“Oh, now... don’t be coy.” The Marine said in Ixen’s voice, clearly and without her normal accent. “You must have suspected that I was inside their minds from the moment you reached into mine... I’m surprised you let them stay this long, since-”
The Marine-woman just laughed and Katie had to hold her hand up to prevent the other Marines from shooting their possessed comrade.
“Release her, or I will cloak, leave, and have the Battlecruiser Prometheus level this whole area from orbit in about two and a half minutes flat.”
With a sigh, Ixen blinked its blue eyes. The Marine slumped, then shook her head. Her irises returned to normal. Katie turned back to Ixen, anger painted on her face.
“A... wise decision,” was all the ghost could say, her fists clenched by her side.
<Wasn’t it just?> Ixen’s sarcastic voice chittered in her mind. <How far can you run in two and a half minutes? Fast enough to escape a nuke? Idle theats, lady Ghost, idle threats...>
The female Marine Ixen possessed seemed to recover some of her wits, growling and reaching for her rifle again, but Katie shot her a ‘do it and I’ll end you’ glance. The resocialization program could be considered barbaric by some, but it controlled the Marines. The warrior woman stayed her hand.
Katie waved the Marines away, ordering them with a gesture to begin the long march back to their stronghold. They were a liability here, if Ixen could reach into their minds with such ease, which he clearly could. Vanessa waited outside the barn.
Standing alone, now, the ghost-woman stared down the blue-eyed, butterfly winged zergling. “So now it’s just you and me.”
Ixen gave an uneven grin, tilting his head. “That’s unfortunate for me. Zerg do not appreciate solitude -- makes us a mite... ornery. Argumentative. There is a reason they call us the swarm, after all...”
“You look like you’re coping just fine to me.”
Katie folded her hands behind her back, narrowing her eyes at the strange, sarcastic zergling.
“So why are you here? That Mar Sarran woman said-”
“I know what she said. I was in her mind when we first met -- she’s simple and trusting, but not a liar.” Ixen rolled his dog-like shoulders, clicking his jaw again. “I’m here to help you.”
Katie folded her arms, relaxing her posture in a slightly mocking gesture. “Really...? Seems like you’re our helpless prisoner. I’m interested in knowing what you could possibly offer us outside of a brilliant episode of Zerg Autopsy Weekly with Kate Lockwell.”
“Aww, I like that show...!” Ixen’s tone shifted dramatically, perfectly imitating the famous asian woman’s voice. “And right here we can see the mutalisk’s terrible fangs -- watch out, that blood’s acidic! -- oooh, that’s a nasty burn... I heard doctors make the worst patients, so I pity the-”
Katie raised the prod again and Ixen fell silent. There was a silence as the two regarded each other, before Ixen’s voice drifted into Katie’s mind.
<I’m here because I have nowhere else to go.>
Katie leaned forward slightly, peering through the thick mesh of Vanessa’s dog cage to the creature beyond. She projected her voice into his, pushing her thoughts across the ether. <... indeed.>
<Your theory is essentially correct,> Ixen continued in her mind, <Although I possess no secret knowledge on my origin. All I know is that I was hatched... different... and the swarm attempted to kill me for it. I barely escaped with my life after I psionically dominated a handful of other zerglings... but they turned on me when I let my guard down. I played dead until they left me alone, and that’s when the farmer found me.>
“So what do you propose?” Katie raised an eyebrow. “You want to help us? You want to turn on your own species and assist humanity?”
Ixen spent some time considering, staring at her. Katie knew he was trying to read her mind, but her mental discipline was enough to keep him out. Eventually he seemed to give up.
Katie blew out a low sigh. She stepped up to Ixen’s cage, seemingly disappointed.
Ixen, peering at her curiously, tried to bolster his bargaining position.
“I know where the burrowed Zerg hatcheries on Mar Sara are, and I know they buried eggs all over the planet before the Protoss’s great purge -- that’s how Zerg keep popping up every now and then. But I’ve touched the swarm’s mind, I’ve seen into Kerrigan’s thoughts, I know where the eggs are and if you protect me I’ll help you eradicate...”
Ixen’s voice trailed off. Katie’s left hand held a gauss pistol, gently tapping the muzzle in her right. She stared down at it, a strange look on her face.
Katie raised her head now, and Ixen stepped back in his cage, suddenly confused.
“See, I knew it would come to this when you told me you controlled those zerglings.”
Ixen shook his head, moving further back, his blue eyes wide. “No, I’ve seen into Kerrigan’s mind, I-”
“You’ve seen only what the Queen of Blades wants you to see,” Katie clarified. “She’s more than the leader of the swarm -- the swarm is her, every creature an extension of her will. You... you are not part of the swarm, so you exist outside of her rule, shown only what she wills you to see.”
Katie gave a low chuckle, flashing the befuddled zergling a strange grin. The pistol was raised up, and in the bright light of the barn Ixen could see the faint glint of crimson in the Ghost woman’s irises. Ixen knew then that the Ghost was infested.
“You are an aberration. A throwback to the Xel-Naga, an unnatural creature and one she cannot control. That makes you a potential ruler... and a potential threat.” Katie winked. “I guess you are big enough to be a cerebrate, huh?”
<No, wait- wait...!>
“And like them you didn’t know the most important rule of living in the swarm...” Katie pulled back the hammer on her pistol.
“...my mistress rules alone.”
Ixen closed his eyes as he heard a single gunshot.
“Ya’ll okay in there, little guy?”
Slowly, the zergling cracked open his eyes one at a time. Katie lay dead, her blood pouring onto the floor of Vanessa’s barn. The woman herself stood by the barn door, a thin trail of smoke rising from the muzzle of her shotgun.
“... yes, I think so.”
Ixen regarded her with his strange blue eyes, blinking them, finding it almost impossible to believe his luck. “Thank you...?”
Vanessa stepped into the barn, stopping a moment to regard the broken body of the ghost. She pumped the weapon, putting another blast into Katie’s body just to be sure. “Sorry. Ah heard what she said about her ‘mistress’ and all, so...”
Ixen shuffled nervously around inside the cage. “... I see. How much... else... did you hear?”
“Everything. All that jazz about ya’ll might be part Xel-Naga or what-not. Ah don’t really care.” She walked over to his cage, casually pulling back the locking bolt. “The way ah figure it, ya’ll don’t have a friend in the world... and with mah husband dead, ah wouldn’t mind someone to talk to. So why don’t you stay with me?”
The zergling tilted his head, unable to believe what had just happened. He hopped out of the cage, glad to stretch his legs, staring curiously at the Human woman in front of him.
“Well... you know they’ll wonder where their Ghost has gone. They’ll come looking for her...”
Vanessa shrugged. “Eh, ah don’t really like this place anyway. Reminds me too much of mah late husband, so... I was thinking. Let’s just burn this whole dang place to the ground and move to another settlement... somewhere far away. Some-place quiet and alone and fancy. After all, we have money now.”
She gave a playful grin. “Ya’all can be my dog.”
Ixen gave a sheepish smile. He had no idea if this woman was genuine, or just genuinely crazy, or what her motivations were at all... and there was so much risk with what the woman was suggesting, it seemed insane. There was practically no way they could get away with it in the long term, but...
… but it was better than the Zerg finding him.
“Woof, woof... right?”