Those of you who know me, know I love playing video games. One of my favourite is Starcraft II, a real-time strategy game made by Blizzard. Occasionally, Blizzard has fan contests either for artwork, map design, or stories. This is my entry for one of those. Unfortunately, while I’m quite happy with how it turned out, I didn’t pay enough attention to the brief. So instead of creating a new situation not seen in the games, I based this story on the final battle of the Wings of Liberty story arc (game 1 of 3 in the Starcraft II series). What I did that was original, was to frame the story from the perspective of one of the worker units (SCV – space construction vehicle) on the ground, instead of one of the heroes.

I hope you enjoy, Road to Liberty.

Char: blood-red sky, 300 million square miles of lava-baked topsoil, ‘bout a million degrees in the shade, and home to every mother-lovin’ Zerg in the fekkin’ galaxy. An I’m cuttin’ bluestone for an army no one wants in a battle no one knows about.

It’s the final stand and word is the Queen o’ Blades herself is here. We’re hopelessly outnumbered laying our life on the line to guard some glowy hunk a metal while the air burns and the ground explodes with every demon in hell. Few months ago there weren’t nothin’ you could give or take that would make me fight this fight. Now, ain’t nowhere else I’d rather be.

“Let’s get some bunkers up ASAP,” the comm. in my suit crackles.

“I read ya.”

We’ve shored-up backs to a cliff, nothin’ but lava and Zerg before us and a 200 foot drop to sudden death behind. Push comes to shove and I know which I’d choose. I stow the drill, making a beeline for the right flank as freshly suited marines, firebats and marauders rush by. On a rocky knoll I see turrets going up and tanks seiging below the dark underbelly of two battlecruisers. The alien thingy in the middle of the mess seems somehow pure, unaffected by the chaos around it.

My suit’s autopilot stops at the first coordinates relayed by command and I pump out a polycarbon alloy from the extruder tank, painting the ground in a square sheen that quickly hardens under the heat of my plasma torch. For the scaffolding I reverse the process, first fabricating a light mould of carbon fiber before filling it with the alloy. Once hardened I use the scaffolding to support the wall and roof moulds before spot-welding them in place. Then I’m on to the next build.

It’s quiet on the front, expectant, the calm before the storm. These are the easy builds. No zergling rushes, no hydralisks spraying acid, no creepy overlords watching just out of range. That comes later. New pilots make the mistake of thinking it’ll be this easy through the whole battle; that we’ll always have free reign to build. That no one kills the peons. Veteran pilots are the ones that learn fast that ain’t true.

As I start the next bunker, the uneasy calm somehow reminds me of Tarsonis. Before the Zerg came and changed everything.

I was on top of the world then, fresh from boot camp. Had a cozy spot with the build boys in engineering corps, a beautiful wife, and a darling daughter. I was ready to do my part against the rebels but not get shot doing it. Hard to imagine I was ever that green.

We were training in the badlands outside New Getysburg; having fun, playing at war, like young men do when the battles seem far away. I was looking forward to some downtime on the weekend, to seeing Cheryl and Aimee again. I’d been six weeks away and was missing them something fierce.

We were just finishing for the day when the sirens blared and the commander came on the squawker, “All station personnel to evac. All station personnel to evac. This is not a drill.”

It was one of those unreal moments. Sights and sounds merged until you could only distinguish what’s right next to you—the rest a blur of noise and color. I made it through the base in a daze, following the crowd. Though I don’t remember nothing of it. Only thing I recall is frightened rumors that other bases had gone radio-dead. We thought the Protoss had finally come to cleanse us. That probably would’ve been more humane.

As we neared the dropships there was a sense of urgency among the officers. They hurried us along like the world was ending. And they didn’t answer any questions. Not ‘till we were  strapped in and vectoring hard for upper atmosphere. That’s when they told us: Zerg. Everywhere.

We didn’t believe them at first; thought it was a training drill. Then they showed us the satellite images. You couldn’t see ground for the bugs.

For long moments there was stunned silence. Then the air erupted with yells, demands. We insisted they take us back. We had to save loved ones. We almost mutinied, until the warning whine of marine C-14s flanking the pilot’s door drove home how serious this was.

Then, it was like the air burst from a balloon. Everything went quiet again, except for soft mumblings and muted sobs.

At the orbital platform they confirm it: Zerg razed everything. Us and a few other groups were the only survivors. In one strike, the confederacy was no more.

We held up at Osborne Port ‘til the rebels took us out of system, resettled us on Korhol mostly. Could’a been Mar Sara, or Braxis, or even Aiur, didn’t matter none to me. I lost everything that day. Everything worth fightin’ for.

After that I hated the fekkin’ Zerg for a long time. Wished every fekkin’ one of them was burned to a crisp. Hit rock bottom then, living in the bottle. Didn’t come out ‘til I learned the truth.

Or what I took for the truth.

Build’s done; four bunkers in two minutes and I’m back to mining. After the first load of bluestone I top off my extruder tanks at the command center, where the liquid alloy is made. Eggheads at boot camp said it’s synthetic carbon tubes strengthened by molecularized mineral, whatever the hell that means. We call it ‘base in a bottle’.

Command again, “Vehicle repair on the left flank.”

“I’m on it,” I answer.

Swerving, I follow the uploaded path on my HUD until I reach a pair of tanks and a Goliath covering a cluster of bunkers. The dirt shakes and I can feel the storm coming; Zerg stampede, rolling like thunder across the ground. The seige tanks fire off deafening volleys while I begin patching the damage. Painting and flaming, painting and flaming, mix it up with a few spot welds to keep things together. The tanks fire again and now the bunkers have opened up with all barrels and the goliath’s twin 30mm autocannons whine up to speed.

I continue, painting and flaming. Second tank’s done when something slams hard into my suit before exploding in a ball of blood and bone. I hit my head hard on the rollbar and pause, stunned.

“Need a hand?” It’s an angel. Or at least one of those cute medic girls. She waves her beam of healing bots over me and I instantly feel better. Then, with a wink, she’s off. Damn, I’d love to triage with her. If I survive this.

I turn to the goliath but it explodes before I reach it. Poor bastard. I patch the bunkers and then back to mining.

First time out in the space construction vehicle it’s easy to get distracted by the fight. All around there’s killin’ and dyin’, screams of rage and screams of pain. But you quickly learn to ignore it, ‘cause if you don’t only one of two things gonna happen—you die or someone else dies ‘cause of you. ‘Cause you were too busy gawkin’ and not busy enough fixin’.

Was told that by a good friend. One who’s gone where this fight can’t touch him.

For a long time after Tarsonis, my only comfort was the bottle. It was my life support—numbed the pain enough for me to endure another meaningless day. I didn’t have anything, and didn’t want anything. I was dead in every sense except my vital signs.

So when the Terran Dominion—what the rebels called themselves after they took over—came calling, I just couldn’t answer. Didn’t matter none that Earth herself was here, trying to take over. Didn’t matter that the Protoss and Zerg were trying to wipe us out. Didn’t matter that it might be the end of everything. I didn’t care. Just wanted to forget. So I left Korhol on the first freighter that’d take me, working odd jobs to pay my way.

Stayed that way for a while, working freighter to freighter, not knowing or caring where in the galaxy I was. Would’a stayed that way for ever, but for some trouble I got into on Deadman’s Port. As I recall, it involved drink, cards and more than a few credits I didn’t have. The short of it was that I became indentured to a merc boss name of Mira Han.

Wasn’t much different from the freighters really, moving planet to planet doing odd jobs. The only thing that changed with Mira was now I was building again. And I met Jar.

Ole’ Jareth Taiven was the one who pulled me back to reality; the only friend I had through those dark days. Only merc I ever knew that laughed. Most of the others were tough-as-nails, just-as-soon-kill-ya-as-look-at-ya ex-cons, or bottom-of-the-bottle losers like me. He was different. Tough? Hell yeah, but never showed it unless challenged. And always laughin’ like the universe was one big joke. Eventually, I began to think maybe he was right.

I asked him about it once, about why he hung with a band of cutthroats like us instead of making some woman happy somewhere. He just smiled, slapped me on the back and bought us another round.

Those days were a whirlwind of builds, bottles and meaningless beds. I was never sure what planet we were on and it never mattered much to me anyhow. When I was driven, I was driven by only one thing.

It was Jar who finally told me my hatred of the Zerg was wasted. Might as well hate the sun, or the wind, he said. Zerg were a force of nature. I came to see he was right. Besides, I was empty, spent. I had no energy left to hate. At least that’s what I told myself—what I believed.

The old hatred may have been spent, but I learned there’s always energy for a new hatred and destiny brought it to me in the form of Matt Horner. The man was a rebel, and idealist, and a mean poker player and I had nothing against him. But soon as he landed, word started going round about his boss.

Jim Raynor: scourge of The Dominion, terrorist, murderer, thief, double-crosser, any label that could be pinned on him was. The labels were spoken more with awe than disgust on Deadman’s Port, admiration that one man could have accomplished so much mayhem. Didn’t bother me none one way or the other—until I heard the story of Tarsonis.

Word was that he was there and that him and the Queen of Blades worked against Mengsk to call down the swarm. It was a whispered rumor from a friend of a friend, but my blood boiled at the thought that even part of it could be true.

Raynor was smart, no way he’d come down to a rock full of cutthroats, any one of them willing to sell him to Mengsk for a fat reward. No, he sends his second in command, a man almost as well respected—Matt Horner. We knew Matt. That’s to say, we’d heard of him. Idealist, rebel, grew up some rich kid on Korhal but left the family fortune behind to live the glorious life of the resistance. Or something fekked up like that.

Anyway, seems the Hyperion was only gonna be there three days—a quick restock— so I hatched a plan. I’d wait ‘till he was alone then kidnap Horner and force him to take me to Raynor. Then I’d extract my revenge. It wasn’t a well thought-out plan but it was the best plan I had.

I’m there when the shuttle lands. I’m expecting a grizzled veteran, but in waltzes this kid. I can’t believe this baby-face is second in command, ‘cause despite all the stories, he don’t look old enough to hold a bottle, let alone command of the most feared group of mercenaries in the sector. But Jar gives me a nod of confirmation. Incredible.

So I start following him around. Two and a half days I waited, biding my time, watching for an opening, a moment when Horner was alone. But the kid was always watched. If he was surrounded by Raiders, then it was merc friends. I was running out of time. But fortune was with me. That night was a high stakes poker game; lots of drink, lots of money, lots of women, and lots of distractions. Perfect.

The day passes in slow motion, but finally it’s time. The bar fills with the usual riff-raff and more. All the bosses are there and everyone wants to see the game. I don’t pay too much attention, watching more the flow of people and drink in the bar. Horner seems to be doing well though, while ignoring Mira Han’s flirting. Not an easy task from what I’ve heard.

Finally it’s down to the final hand. There’s a stack of chips in front of Horner and a handful before Han, the others are out. Horner holds and ante’s. Mira takes two and tosses her remaining chips in. It’s not enough but she whispers something and Horner pales even as those around the table yell and jeer, but he can’t back out. She calls.

Horner throws in his cards—full house, Aces over ladies. Sure there’s better hands, and from the stunned silence at the table, most thought his was going to be one of them. The pile in front of Horner said that was how most of the night went. Only, it was funny ‘cause, as he looked up you would have thought he’d lost. Mira had a grin from ear to ear and Horner seemed about to empty his stomach.

I was watching his face, thinking about my next move, when the bar erupted. There were shouts and accusations. Someone called him a psike—nothing mercs hate more than sharks with psi. Bottles were flying, tables upturned. In the chaos, I lost track of him and feared someone else would get to him first. I was right.

It was Jareth that smuggled Matt out of the midst of the brawl. Jar almost made it too, ‘til a bullet found him right between the shoulder blades. He died in my arms.

Matt got away and I lost a good friend that night, but I had a new purpose.

Soon as I paid-up my debts I left Mira’s band and joined the Dominion. Yeah, like most, I could tell there was something not quite right about Mengsk. But I didn’t care. He was a means to an end.

Base is up now, defenses set. We’re just letting the waves of Zerg crash against our walls while the alien thingy does its stuff—which don’t seem to be much. Must be more happening, but they don’t tell us peons nothin’. So, for us build boys it’s just routine, cuttin’ and patchin’. This is the time the careless die. The time the enemy pulls a fast one.

Sure as the nose on my face, a fekk-load of overlords cloud the sky, swimming in from cliff-side.

“Where are the air defenses!” the commander yells.

I agree.

A few of us veterans start building turrets near the quarry as a squad of Vikings swoop in, popping overlords like they’re gory balloons. A half-dozen zerglings drop but they’re mopped up by a few marines and a medic—the same one that patched me up. I catch her eye and she smiles. Maybe, after all these years it’s finally time to move on… Love in a swarm of Zerg. Sounds like a bad song by L80ETC.

But first we gotta survive this. And it’s starting to get ugly.

A general alert sounds over the comm. “Level 12 psionic presence detected.” Fekk. Ghosts are bad enough, with their deadpan eyes and creepy voice, always appearing and disappearing. But I ain’t never heard of a level 12 ghost. It’s gotta be The Queen herself. Things are about to get messy.

That’s how it always works: long calm then, Bob’s-your-uncle, there’s fightin’ and dyin’ and threats of the end of everything.

Four years after the second war, after everyone went home to lick their wounds. Four years of rebuilding, repopulating, making the sector a better place and then, all hush-hush-like, the word went out — Dominion was looking for SCV pilots; looking for anyone and everyone really. That was the only chance I needed. I was qualified and sober, and I had a score to settle. This time I answered the call. Figured it would get me out in the field where I could find Raynor. I shipped out on the first cruiser.

Considering he was enemy numero uno of the state, Mengsk wasn’t looking too hard for Raynor; seemed more interested in digging up fringe worlds. So I did some of my own research and volunteered for every job on every godforsaken planet where the name Raynor’d been heard. But it was always the same; he’d gone when we got there. I was getting crazy—it was like chasing the devil himself. Then, finally, I was sure I’d got a lead—Tyrador VIII. It had to be the one. I volunteered for the mission, sure I’d get my chance this time. Only, The Dominion had other ideas.

I found myself on a detail to Mar Sara; a quiet job building a small base to support some dig. I was fuming. I didn’t sign up to guard holes in the ground. We touched down and started the build. Base was up quick and I was itchin’ to get outta there. First chance I got I went AWOL. Stole a marine suit and headed for the nearest town—or what passed for a town on that backwater planet. Wanted to see if the name ‘Raynor’ rang any bells.

I never got to a town, or any other settlement. Instead, I met up with a small squad going the other way. They were ‘fraid of their shadows; claiming Zerg were everywhere. I didn’t believe them until we crested a ridge and I saw for myself. Must have been almost a dozen hives an’ that mucky blanket they live on spread as far as I could see. Well, I’m not a God-fearin’ man, but we held up there and prayed mighty hard, ‘cause this looked like the end.

But they just sat there, all quiet, like they were waiting for something. Still, it was too risky for us to leave.

After a while we could tell something was up. Zerg started moving, all in the same direction. Minutes later—the sound of C-14s spitting lead, and a lot of cursing. We all thought it at the same time—a base!

But the Zerg came faster and in bigger numbers, there wasn’t any way we were leaving our rock without becoming dinner. Even the medic couldn’t heal us fast enough to survive that stampede. Still, if it was a human base we should be able to find the comm. frequency. So we dialed like mad.

One of the marines hit it and shouted out ‘We need immediate support! Hostiles all around us! Is anyone out there?” Either he was just a bit too loud or the Zerg have damn good ears. He no sooner finished then we had zerglings on us.

I hadn’t handled a C-14 since basic training but man it felt good to mow them critters down. On the hill, we had the advantage of altitude, but that wouldn’t be enough against their numbers if we didn’t get help.

A second wave attacked and again we cut’em down. Then the hydralisks came. We started taking serious damage. The medic drained her nannite stock pretty quick and it was looking like the end when a massive squad of marines tore into the Zerg clearing a swath around us.

Their insignia was prominent on scuffed and dented shoulders—Raynor’s Raiders.

“Thanks for the assist. We’re with you Raynor!” one marine yelled to agreeing shouts from the rest. I joined too, of course, but I didn’t know what to make of it. Rescued by the Raiders — terrorists, outlaws, the worst of the worst. Not to mention led by my sworn enemy. If they were so bad, why save us? Why not just hold up in their base until evac? Not many men with nothin’ to lose’ll put it on the line for someone else. It didn’t make sense.

With more reinforcements from the base, we went on to put a pretty good dent in that Zerg hive cluster before some monstrous, ancient battlecruiser made planetfall and evac’ed us. As we pulled away, we could see hundreds of Zerg pouring out of Nydus worms to the north. Within moments the base fell under a blanket of rabid flesh. The scene reminded me of Tarsonis—on a smaller scale. I surprised myself by watching the entire thing without breaking down. Time really does heal all wounds, I guess. Time and a good friend.

In the loading bay before jump the man himself met us—Jim Raynor. He’s not put out about losing the base, seemed genuinely happy that we all got out. Said we’re all welcome to join his crew and any who didn’t want to would be put off at the next friendly port.

Over the next few days, I came to see that the man had a quiet force of conviction. He was haunted, sure, but that only made him more human. There was more passion in one soft word of his than an entire speech by Mengsk. When he spoke you knew you should listen, ‘cause it was important. Jim Raynor never wasted words, and he never sent men to do what he wouldn’t do himself.

So when we got to that friendly port, I stayed on, building for the ‘bad guys’ now, all the while trying to figure out Raynor. One thing I can say for him, he plays with the big boys. We jumped around more in a month than I did my entire four years merc’ing. Stealing artifacts from Protoss, saving colonists, busting open New Fulsom prison, we even stole a prototype from under the noses of the Dominion. I started feeling a bit like one of Robin Hood’s merry men.

‘Cept I still couldn’t decide what was up with this guy. My gut said he was real, but one man’s freedom fighter was another man’s terrorist. There was still a chance Mengsk was right.

For much of the time, I only half-accept the Raiders’ version of events. And only because of Raynor’s force of personality. I wanted to believe, but couldn’t reconcile my understanding of events with their version. And it was just too hard to believe that Mengsk could be responsible for an entire Zerg invasion. It wasn’t until we finally uploaded the adjutant’s data archive to the UNN broadcast facilities and I heard the entire feed that everything came clear.

Mengsk played us all for fools. Raynor was right all along.

After the broadcast, there was some descent among the guys about going to Char, about not going after Mengsk straight away. Not from me. I trust Raynor and I know we’ll get Mengsk when the time’s right. Meanwhile, we’ve got other fights.

And we’re in a big one now. Zerg are swarming from all sides. I’m patchin’ at the front, trying my best to stay out of the way of the perdition turrets and ignore the never ending flood of critters crashing against our defense. Just beyond the knoll there’s a blinding glow and I know it’s trouble.

I keep patching while the sinking feeling in my stomach grows. She’s near enough now to distinguish her body and the grotesque skeletal arms extending from her shoulders. The Queen of Blades is here. I start sweating in my suit, praying I live to build one more day.

The boys open up on her with everything they’ve got—tanks, infantry, thors, even a battlecruiser—you can barely see her for the smoke and shrapnel. But she’s got some kinda shield or something that soaks up the lion’s share of the damage and she just keeps on comin’. With a wave of her hand she blobs a battlecruiser in this weird bubble before slamming it to the ground like a toy.

Oh fekk, oh fekk, oh fekk! I repeat my mantra, praying she doesn’t notice me, or that I don’t get sideswiped by an attack aimed at someone else. Now I know how a bug feels when a size 12 combat boot’s coming for it.

She raises her arms and my mind turns inside out. The bunker beside me disintegrates and the nearby tank explodes. I’m sent reeling through a storm of shrapnel. Everything goes black.

* * *

I wake in a large med bay full of occupied beds. There’s no sound of war, only the soft thrum of engines beyond the steel walls. I just lay there trying to figure out if it was all a dream. It seemed too big for the likes of me. A gentle hand touches my head and I turn. It’s her; the medic from the battle.

“Did…did we win?” It seems a foolish question, but I have to hear the answer.

“We’re alive aren’t we?” she says, smiling. It’s a beautiful smile.

She hesitates a moment and then turns to leave. I touch her coat and she stops.

“Are you doing anything later?”

“I am now,” she says, with a wink and a smile. “Nineteen hundred hours in the cantina?”

I nod, returning the smile, before she moves off into the ward.

Then I lay back, close my eyes and enjoy the feeling of not being scared to death. The bubble of voices from the infirmary wash over me. Most are happy to have survived, some mourn lost friends and there are a few angry rumors sayin’ the Queen o’ Blades—Kerrigan—is actually on board.

Don’t know what to make of that, if it’s true. A lotta good folks lost good friends and this move ain’t gonna be popular. But the boss knows what he’s doing. Hell, I’ve seen him call in favors from Protoss. Anyone with those kind of connections gotta know more than us grunts. Still, somehow I got the feeling this whole thing’s just getting started. If so, I don’t know how it’s gonna end, but I know I’m here to do my part. I’ll stick with Raynor ‘til it’s over.

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