Waking up suddenly is rarely a good way to start the day. Even less so when you wake up and you're sure that you've forgotten something important. In my case, it was a weird dream that seemed all too real and there was something about it that I needed to but couldn't quite remember. All I could remember was a series of images and words that made no sense. Slowly I staggered out of my bunk and splashed my face to try and wake up, hoping it might help. As usual, it didn't.
Sitting down again, my mind drifted to the previous day and the debacle of a mission with that arrogant idiot Duke. We'd been tasked with breaking through the Confederate capital world's defences, but as I'd come to expect from fighting both with and against the man, he was no tactician and even less of a commander. The man wasn't worth being called a soldier, let alone a warrior.
And then, just to add to the fun, there was Mengsk's "plan". Thinking it over, it wasn't really a surprise that he'd kept it between him and Duke, Duke was a cold-hearted bastard who really wouldn't care in the slightest. But then no one had anticipated that Mengsk would be crazy enough to lure the Zerg to a civilian population.
My thoughts were interrupted by my door sliding open. Given that I was sleeping on my own ship rather than the Hyperion at the moment, there was only a couple of people who could open that door without my permission. I looked up to find one of the few people with the code. Jim Raynor and I had gone back a fair way, back to when he was one of my Marshals on Mar Sara, in the days when I was still a Confederate Magistrate. Funny, at best that could only have been a few months ago, and yet it felt like years. As bad as times had been for us, both of us were at least reasonably happy until the Tarsonis campaign. Of course, Jim had more reason than most to be pleased.
His relationship with Mengsk's lieutenant, Sarah Kerrigan, while not exactly advertised by the couple, was not exactly secret either. Personally I was glad to see the man find someone like her. It was always going to take a formidable woman to bring him out of his buried grief for his dead wife and son, but Sarah undoubtedly qualified in this regard. From what little I had found out about her history, she had had a harder run than even Jim. Having been around them both while working and during downtime, I knew quite well that professionally they were individually very lethal, but together were damn near unstoppable. Outside of combat, the pair were somewhat nervous but they fit together like a fist in a glove.
I was brought back out of my musing by Jim clearing his throat. "Come on Ranger, Mengsk wants us again".
Groaning, I got up and glared at him. "So what delightful twist is he not going to tell us about this time?" I replied.
Jim, Sarah and I hadn't been told that Mengsk had ordered Duke to place the bloody Psi-Emitters on the orbital platform he and I had cleared out the previous day. None of us reacted particularly well to the revelation and my trust of Mengsk, already significantly lower than Jim or Sarah, had sunk another couple of notches. This was a fair part of the reason why I was sleeping back on my own ship, the Stingray-class gunship Liberator, not really wanting to be within spitting distance of Mengsk.
"Not sure, but you know there'll be something," came the reply.
Walking out and keying my door closed, Jim and I walked along the corridor towards the airlock where the Hyperion was currently docked. "Yeah, just a case of what crazy task he gives us this time. I'm not holding my breath for a sane battle plan," I said, feeling somewhat snarky towards things at the moment.
"I know what you mean. I wasn't sure things could get any more interesting before, then he pulled that."
"Yeah, and things can always get worse."
This business with the dream wasn't helping matters either. I was starting to remember bits and pieces now, I knew it related to Kerrigan, but I still couldn't see exactly what or why I had had it now. It was probably just my subconscious trying to sort out recent events. Still, my gut feeling was that something big was about to happen, and ignoring my instincts had never helped matters before. As the airlock opened, a Marine was waiting on the far side.
"Sir, General Mengsk requests your presence in the conference room immediately."
"Thank you, Sergeant," I replied, "Tell him we'll be there momentarily."
The Marine saluted as we walked past and I could hear him activate his comm as we moved out of range. Jim and I exchanged glances, not needing to say a word to communicate that continuing our previous discussion on Mengsk's flagship was probably not the wisest of moves.
In under a minute, we reached the conference room and entered to find Mengsk and Duke already deep in discussion while the adjutant remained waiting patiently. Mengsk turned to face us as we arrived. "Commander, Captain, thank you for joining us. Let us begin."
Jim and I both took our seats, as the adjutant began to speak. "I've picked up several dozen Protoss warships descending upon Tarsonis. They appear to be on a direct course with the Primary Zerg hive."
The Protoss. We knew very little about the enigmatic race, but I had noticed that where the Zerg appear, they are not far behind. Given that Mengsk had just lured the Zerg here, it was no real surprise that they would show up.
Before anyone had a chance to speak, Mengsk slammed his fist on the table. "If they engage the Zerg, the Confederates may escape." He paused for a minute and looked directly at me. "Commander, send Lieutenant Kerrigan with a strike force to engage the Protoss. Captain Raynor and General Duke will remain behind on the command ship."
Right. One Ghost, and what I could cobble together as a strike force, to take on two hostile armies and we could only engage one of them in offensive operations. There is a variety of technical terms to describe what Mengsk had just given me. The most polite of them was 'suicide mission'. FUBAR was more what I had in mind. At the same moment, my instincts were screaming that there was something wrong with this. I didn't need them to tell me, I knew everything was wrong with this.
Jim, unsurprisingly, was furious. In a heated voice that gained in volume as he went, he snarled at Mengsk, "First you sell out every person on this planet to the Zerg, then you ask us to go up against the Protoss." Almost yelling by now, he finished, "And you're goin' to send Kerrigan down there with no backup!"
If looks could kill then, both Mengsk and Raynor would be dead by now. In a voice as chilly as winter, Mengsk replied, "I have absolute confidence in Kerrigan's ability to hold off the Protoss."
That all sounded well and good but holding off the Protoss wasn't exactly the only issue facing this mission and I found it strange that Mengsk didn't mention the Zerg. Still at the moment, I had very little room to manoeuvre to stop this mission, which meant I has to attack the issues from another direction. "Mengsk, stopping the Protoss while not being able to attack the Zerg with what you're giving me is no simple task," I said quietly. "We're going to lose a lot of people if we do this, more than I think the mission is likely to be worth."
The look of cold fury Mengsk directed at me spoke volumes even before he opened his mouth. "No! The Confederacy must not be allowed to escape."
"The Confederacy is practically dead in the water. About all the Zerg will do is put the final nail in their coffin, and kill billions of civilians along with them. There is no tactical reason to allow the Zerg to remain here, and every humanitarian reason to ensure the survival of the civilian population."
"You will make sure the Protoss do not succeed in destroying the Zerg, unless you wish someone else to take your role Commander…" He trailed off but the threat was clear. While I wasn't particularly afraid of him, if he was hell-bent on this, then I was going to make sure we could pull it off. That didn't mean the argument was over, however.
"You'll what? Replace me? Who else have you got that could stand a chance of doing this and would be prepared to go down there? Kerrigan's already going but she alone won't be able to manage it, Duke isn't good enough to pull it off, I strongly doubt Jim is crazy enough to do this and the rest of your commanders? They haven't a chance in hell of getting this done and you know it."
Duke started spluttering but I just went over the top of him. "The only other commander you have that could do this is you yourself. And I strongly doubt you are going to take this mission on."
By this time, Mengsk was nearly ready to burst a blood vessel.
"So Mengsk, I'll make you a deal. I'll do this, but I do it my way. That means no interference from you, of any kind."
"Are you saying you don't trust me?" Mengsk asked coldly.
I raised an eyebrow. "Trust works both ways. You could have at least filled me in on the fact that you intended to use Psi-Emitters. You've made it clear you don't trust me, and given that, I'm not exactly sure why I should trust you."
Mengsk was silent.
"That's the deal, Mengsk. Either do this yourself, or I do it my way, your choice."
Mengsk glared at me, internally raging. "You had better get this done right. Just get the job done."
Sighing, I nodded, "Very well. In that case, I had better make what preparations I can." Standing, I looked at Jim. "Jim, would you mind bringing Kerrigan to the tac room ASAP. It would be better to sort out a battle plan before we start." I didn't need to tell Jim that I meant the tac room on the Liberator, he knew exactly what I meant. Nodding to Mengsk and Duke, I walked out and began heading to the Liberator myself. Pulling this off was going to take every bit of skill and craziness I could muster and given what I had in mind, I wasn't going to allow Mengsk anywhere near the planning for this op.
This idea's been rattling around in my head for a while, so I thought I'd see what I can do with it. My apologies about the writing but this is my first story so something of a learning curve. Please review and let me know what you like or don't like.