STARCRAFT DOES NOT BELONG TO ME. MASS EFFECT DOES NOT BELONG TO ME. I FINISHED REPLICATING WARFIELD'S PROSTHETIC ARM/CANNON, BUT WHEN I PUT IT ON, I FELL OVER. I GUESS I'LL HAVE TO STICK WITH MY MAGIC ARM. THAT ONE TURNS MY ENEMIES INTO MUSHROOMS.

So, this took forever to get back to. Sorry. However, I had a very good reason: I was focusing on my book, which is now done!

Anyway, let's get back to the fact that the most horrible creatures in Starcraft have returned.

Cycles Upon Cycles

Chapter 34

Nightmares

Hello, this is Kate Lockwell, UNN, with a breaking story. Just minutes ago, we received word that the Zerg Swarm was mobilizing on a scale not seen since the Alliance made contact with the Citadel races. Hundreds of Leviathans are gathering from across Zerg space, and millions of smaller bioforms are traveling with them. We're not sure what is happening, but—

Hold on, we're getting a message from Emperor Valerian. One moment, please.

"Citizens of the Dominion, please remain calm. As you are no doubt discovering from the media, the Zerg are indeed moving in large numbers, but I can assure you that you are not in danger from a Zerg threat. A matter that I cannot discuss, for the sake of Alliance security, has come up, but the Swarm, the Dominion military, and the Protoss have the situation quarantined. There is no risk to Alliance space, so, please, do not panic."

Well, I guess that answers that question. Stay tuned, we'll keep you updated on events as they unfold. Until then, this has been Kate Lockwell, for UNN.

Korhal

"What the hell are you thinkin', Junior!?"

Valerian looked up from his desk. "Good morning to you, too, Commander."

Raynor stormed up to the younger man. "Don't even start, Valerian. Why wasn't I told when Kerrigan found out there were Hybrid? She was surprised that you hadn't told me when I asked why the Swarm was on the move!"

"I wasn't aware that I was required to inform you of every development, Jim," Valerian said archly, then sighed. "Honestly, I need the Raiders where they are. The rest of the Dominion is either building up for the war with the Harvesters, or being mobilized to assist the Zerg and Protoss. The Raiders are keeping the Crossroads safe, and that's where they'll do the most good."

"We can do just as much as the Dominion," Raynor growled, arms crossed, "or even more. We proved that to your old man enough times."

Valerian met Raynor's glare with one of his own. "This may be a surprise, Jim, but you don't have to be the hero every time a potentially universe-ending crisis emerges. The fact that you think you do have be at the forefront of everything speaks of hubris."

Raynor took several deep breaths. "Look, Junior, it's not that I want to fight Hybrid again. Lord knows I still get nightmares about those things. I just like to be kept in the loop; Matt had half our fleet ready to go because he thought the Zerg had gone off the deep end again."

"Somehow, I doubt you're exaggerating this time." Valerian sighed again. "I apologize for not informing you immediately, but I was busy organizing the Dominion's response, and trying to keep people from panicking."

"Yeah, I saw the news on the way here. Gotta tell you, Junior, I don't think people are gonna calm down for a while."

"They will, just as soon as Commander Shepard handles the situation on Tartarus. Then I can release a statement to the press that everything is fine."

"You're that sure the kid is gonna have things finished by the time the Alliance gets there?" Raynor smirked. "I didn't peg you as a guy who had that much faith in people."

Valerian shrugged gracefully. "Perhaps I'm taking a page out of your book."

"I just hope that faith ain't misplaced. I know from experience how much that hurts."

Char

The Queen of Blades sat on her throne of bone and carapace, and though she didn't move, she was far from idle. Her mind moved at many times the speed of Human thought, commanding the innumerable Zerg to war, and also speeding up the birth of new bioforms to protect the worlds belonging to the Swarm.

The thought of the Hybrids' return caused her to snarl in fury. Her anger was transmitted to the rest of the Swarm; the Zerglings that wandered in front of her shrieked and lashed out at the air. Even lightyears away, other Zerg were riled into a frenzy. However, the rage was reciprocal; for years, Kerrigan's subconscious hatred of the Hybrid had fed into the Swarm's collective psyche, and it was flowing back into her, driving her to even greater heights of anger.

"Never again," Kerrigan hissed, her nails digging deep into the arms of her throne. "Never again will the Zerg suffer their control. Shepard, you had better kill those things soon, or I'm not sure who the Swarm will attack."

Tartarus

"Grunt, calm down for a second," Shepard said, holding his hands out in an attempt to placate the Krogan Zerg. "What's going on with Kerrigan?"

Grunt was trembling with rage. His talons carved deep furrows in the Creep under him, and he panted heavily. Around him, the growing Hive of Zerg was similarly incensed.

"The Queen… she hates the Hybrid so much, Shepard. The rage is too great—we're going to attack soon, I can feel it!"

"Tell her to hold off," Shepard begged. "The last thing we need right now is a Zerg rampage… because that will probably end up killing us."

Grunt nodded shakily. "I'll try, Shepard, but I don't know how much my forces can do. It's taking most of my efforts just to keep them from attacking everything."

Shepard sighed; the Krogan Zerg were, physically, some of the strongest members of the Strikers, and losing them meant losing out on a large chunk of their fighting strength.

"Fine, just keep, uh… expanding, I guess. If we find a way for you guys to go nuts that doesn't involve killing the rest of us, I'll let you know."

"Hurry," Grunt urged. "We need a release for this anger."

"Right." Shepard turned to leave. "I should go."

"Commander, this feels like an 'I told you so' situation," Miranda pointed out as they walked.

"Hey, I never asked to have Zerg assigned to this unit!" Shepard protested. "I mean, they've been a big help, but—"

"I don't mean you," Miranda clarified. "Emperor Valerian had been pushing for more Zerg involvement in wider Alliance affairs, but there was always a worry that they would fight us again."

"If we don't kill these Hybrids, that's exactly what's going to happen," Shepard told her. "But let's shelve the possibility of another Zerg war for later. How's the construction of our base going?"

"It could be better," Miranda admitted. "We were never equipped to fight using standard Terran tactics, so our resources on the ground are limited. The Protoss are able to warp in more structures, as well as warriors."

"I always thought that was cheating," Kasumi pouted. "The Protoss can call in soldiers from halfway across the galaxy, and the Zerg can replace their losses in five minutes, but us poor Terrans have to do everything the hard way."

"Then we'll make do with what we have," Shepard said, then paused to send a quick telepathic message. "I just had a chat with Zeratul. He'll send some Probes to warp in Pylons and static defenses around our base's perimeter. What kind of Terran tech do we have?"

Miranda sighed. "Aside from our Command Center, a few Barracks, Factories, and a few other vital facilities, but we don't have the capabilities for a Starport, and don't expect any heavy equipment."

"Ken and Gabby are working on jury-rigging some stuff to help our flyers, so they'll at least stay in the air," Kasumi added. "Tali and some of the Quarians are helping out with that."

"That's something, I gue—ah!" Shepard nearly fell to his knees as his head felt a hot spike of pain. Behind that pain, however, he could sense a cold presence that he remembered from his nightmares.

"Shep, you okay?" Kasumi helped steady him. "Should I call for a Medic?"

"No, it's already passed." He shook his head. "One of the Hybrid just tried getting into my mind, but it didn't get very far."

"It only went after you?" Miranda frowned. "Why not any of us? We're also psychic."

"Probably because of the whole Amon thing," Shepard offered. "Even if I'm only a fragment of what he used to be, I'd be a lot 'brighter' to them." He froze, then grinned. "Oh, those idiots!"

Kasumi glanced at Miranda. "That smile scares me. Should we be worried?"

"Probably."

Shepard laughed. "The problem with Hybrids is that when they're not being controlled by Amon, they're all power, no finesse. I can track down the psychic signature of the one that just reached me!"

Now it was Kasumi's turn to smile. "And if we can find them, we can kill them. Ooh, I like this!"

"Get the Terran and Protoss officers together," Shepard ordered. "We've got a hunt to organize."

With the Zerg contingent unstable at best, the Terrans and Protoss had to do things on their own. The Dark Templar, experts at tracking without the tell-tale signs of sensors, fanned out to find the best land route for the ground forces that would be hunting down the Hybrids.

It wasn't actually difficult for Shepard to locate the alien monstrosities' general location. Any psychic would have been able to point in the direction of the feeling of absolute wrongness being emitted by them, but Shepard's connection to them—and therefore, Amon's connection to them—made tracking them down much easier.

The problem lay in how the Strikers were going to deal with the Hybrids. Even one of them could give someone like the Queen of Blades trouble, and Shepard was certain that there were many more than that.

"At least eight," Shepard said during a brief council of war. "I think they're all clustered together right now, so it could be more."

Miranda did her best to keep her emotions in check, but she had gone very pale. "On Aiur, I saw just one of those things tear a whole company of Marines apart."

Ashley gave her a dry look. "Thanks for that mental image."

"Look, we've got two problems," Shepard said, before the two women could start arguing. "The first is the Hybrid. We need to kill those things before the whole Swarm goes crazy. The other problem is Cerberus. We just don't have enough information on… anything, really. I'm not going to send half our army out to fight the Hybrid, and then find out the other half got swamped by Cerberus."

Kasumi was the only one who noticed that Shepard had pocketed one of Miranda's spare clips. While it was impressive that he'd been able to do that without Miranda noticing, it was a sign of how nervous he was.

"Got any ideas, Shep?"

Shepard blinked at her, then realized what he had done, and returned Miranda's ammo just as stealthily as he'd taken it.

"Yeah, but none of you will like it."

"You haven't said anything, and I already don't like it."

"I'm going after the Hybrid alone."

Everyone was very quiet for a moment.

Kasumi was the first to protest. "Yeah, I really don't like it."

Shepard held out his hands in a placating gesture. "Look, let's be honest here. Best-case scenario, I'm the only one with the kind of power necessary to kill the Hybrid, but I can't use that kind of power if someone else is nearby. I could kill them by accident."

{What is the worst-case scenario?} Zeratul asked.

"Well… the Hybrid recognize me as Amon and start following me around?" Shepard laughed, but it was weak. "I'm not sure how I'll be able to explain that to people. It's not like I'd be bringing a stray dog home."

Jack laughed, and hers was more genuine. "I don't know, Commander, I think it'd be hilarious if you attacked Cerberus with their own monsters."

"Speaking of Cerberus," Jacob said, "how does you going off to fight the Hybrid alone help us deal with them?"

"The less people that go with me, the more you have to hold out here." Shepard idly waved in the direction of the Zerg. "Plus, if Cerberus shows up, you can just point Grunt and his guys at them. That should take some of the heat off of you."

"Commander, I must protest you going off alone," Miranda said, though Shepard could sense a small amount of relief from her. "You'll be in enemy territory, with no chance of support if things go wrong."

Shepard grinned at her, and this time, there was no anxiety. "Come on, Miranda, that's exactly the kind of mission we were trained for."

Miranda nodded at him. "Fair point."

"I'm going with you," Kasumi said, glaring up at Shepard defiantly.

"No, you're not." Shepard regarded her coolly. "You barely handled sensing those monsters from a distance. How are you going to deal with them up-close?"

Kasumi gritted her teeth; while she was easily the stealthiest Terran in the Strikers, and could probably give Zeratul a run for his money, it was no secret that she had the weakest psionic power. Against something like a Hybrid, the sheer presence of the thing would probably kill her if she got too close, and she knew it.

Shepard could see her caving in and sighed. "Believe me, if it was anything but Hybrid, I'd gladly take you with me."

Kasumi took a deep breath. "I'll hold you to that."

Jenkins coughed softly. "Uh, should we leave them alone?"

Shepard shot him a look. "Anyway, Miranda will be in command of the Terran part of things, Zeratul's got the Protoss. I'll leave as soon as the Dark Templar come back with their report. Dismissed."

Most of the officers left to ready their troops and help prepare the defenses, but Kasumi stayed behind.

"I don't have to read your mind to know what you're thinking," Shepard said.

Kasumi crossed her arms. "If you think I'm going to just stay here—"

"Considering that you will die if you follow me, that's exactly what you're going to do," Shepard interrupted. "Look, Kasumi, I am literally the only person on this planet who can do this. If I don't, a lot of people are going to die."

Kasumi clenched her hands tightly at her sides. "I hate it when you're right. I don't like it, but you're right. Just be careful, okay?"

Shepard chuckled and pulled her in for a quick hug. "Hard to be careful when I'm walking into a den of Hybrid, but I'll do my best."

"As long as you come back without losing any more body parts, I'll be happy." Kasumi waved him off. "You'd better go. I'll see if Miranda needs me for anything. If she doesn't, I'll just annoy her."

Shepard laughed again, then put his helmet on and disappeared.

Hours later, Shepard was carefully making his way across the barren landscape, checking to make sure that not even loose stones were disturbed. Normally, he would have felt more confident with his cloak up, but with Cerberus' stealth-cracking capabilities, he was being much more careful.

The Dark Templar had guided Shepard directly for part of the journey, but when they started to feel pain from so many Hybrid, he sent them back to reinforce the Strikers. Despite the help experienced Dark Templar would be, Shepard found himself appreciating the solitude. Working alone was something he had been trained in since he was a child. There was no army he needed to worry about, no wider concern; it was just him and his mission.

It was almost relaxing, save for the gnawing, empty pain the presence of the Hybrid was causing him. He thought it would have been worse for anyone else, but with his essence being that of Amon, his Human body was at least partly protected from the Hybrid's effect.

I wonder what happened, Shepard thought to himself. Were the Hybrid here during the war, or did Cerberus somehow create them?

The idea of the latter happening made him angry, but it felt disjointed and irrational. It took Shepard a moment to realize that the subconscious part of him, the Amon part, was enraged that someone might have taken his creations for their own.

Shepard quashed that line of thought. He couldn't think of himself as Amon; he didn't want to risk actually becoming that monster.

The sooner I kill the Hybrid, the better, he thought. They're causing all kinds of problems, and I haven't even run into them yet!

Grunt collapsed to his knees and panted heavily. His wings twitched and his tail lashed; he dug his talons into the Creep in his urge to kill, but there was nothing there.

Hybrid… kill Hybrid…

The voice of the Queen of Blades echoed through his mind, and the mind of every Zerg in the Swarm. It stoked their rage and brought them to the point of frenzy. Grunt wished he could go to these 'Hybrid', these things that frightened and enraged the older Zerg so much, and tear them apart. He would have done so, but even in her fury, the Queen wisely told him to hold back; as powerful as the Krogan Zerg were, even though Grunt's forces were being reinforced with other Zerg, there just weren't enough of them to fight a group of Hybrid.

But Grunt still needed an outlet for his rage, and an idea came to him. If it worked, the other Strikers would be a little safer; more importantly, it would allow the Zerg to vent some of their anger.

With a thought, he sent dozens of Roaches tunneling into the ground, and ordered his Larvae to morph into more Roaches as soon as they spawned. Each Roach spread out in a vast web of tunnels, scouting the immediate area for any sign of Cerberus. Within an hour, Grunt had a fairly good view of everything near his Hive Cluster, but he needed to do more. He urged the Hive Cluster to expand and evolve, so that it could support the more advanced bioforms. He needed Nydus Worms, and he needed flyers. Overlords and Overseers were good for monitoring the Hive Cluster, but he needed flyers with actual combat abilities.

What he really wanted was more Krogan, but as part of the Krogan Brood's agreement before they joined the Swarm, only the Hive Clusters on Tuchanka could breed Krogan. Still, Grunt had nearly two hundred of his Brood, mostly Warriors and Gargoyles, but also a handful of Terrors, Beastmasters, and Berserkers. He wouldn't waste them on anything but the most vital of assignments.

Kerrigan was aware of everything he was doing, and even in her rage, she sent him a brief mental thrum of approval. When the battle truly began, the Swarm would be ready.

The Normandy

"Shields are down to twenty percent, sir!" Joker bit back a curse as the ship shuddered, jarring his weak bones. "We've got hull breaches on decks nine and ten!"

"Evacuate those decks and seal them off," Anderson ordered. "What's the status on the enemy ship?"

"It appears that its shields are down, but damage to the vessel itself is minimal," Edi answered. "The enemy is maintaining its pursuit course."

Anderson scowled; the Normandy had been taking a beating since the battle began, and it was only going to get worse at this rate. He had underestimated Petrovsky, and now his ship was paying for it.

"Change course, Joker; take us back to the planet. Edi, prep all escape pods, but don't issue the order to abandon ship just yet." The Normandy shook again, much more violently this time. "Damage report!"

"Port engines are down, sir!" Pressly's raise voice was the only sign of how tense he was. "We've only got eight guns left on the port side!"

"Damn it," Anderson muttered. "All right, Joker, do your best to keep our starboard side facing them, but make sure we're still headed for Tartarus!"

"Doing my best, sir, but it's hard to dance with just one leg!"

Alarms began to howl, and sparks shot out from several different stations. Edi's avatar flickered, but her voice stayed strong. "Critical damage sustained. Hull integrity down to fifteen percent."

"How long until we get to the planet?"

"Five minutes, but we will be destroyed in two."

Anderson looked down at his hands. He had changed into his armor not long after the battle began, just in case they were boarded, but now he had a different idea.

"There's Protoss-based teleporters on this ship. Are they still functional?"

"Yes, but I do not know for how much longer, and we require a Pylon or one of the Protoss beacons waiting at the destination."

"I've got an idea. Have one of our nukes prepped and brought to me at one of the teleporters. Load our beacons into as many missiles as we can and fire them at the ship; hopefully, at least one will stay intact."

No one on the bridge was stupid; it didn't take them long to figure out what Anderson had in mind.

Chambers turned to him. "Sir… anyone would do that duty for you. You don't have to—"

"I know that, Chambers, and that's why I'm doing this. I won't have anyone die for me." Anderson stood tall. "When you get to the surface, link up with the Commander's forces. Stay alive. That's an order."

Despite the battle raging around them, the bridge officers turned and saluted. Chambers had tears in her eyes, but didn't protest further. Anderson returned the salute and left the bridge for the last time.

"All hands, prepare to abandon ship," Edi said through the ship's intercom. "I repeat, all hands, prepare to abandon ship."

Anderson made it to the teleporter at the same time as the nuke. The warhead itself wasn't very large, and with a little help from Ken and Gabby, who had brought it, he attached it to his back. The engineers had also figured out what was going on, and gave him tearful salutes.

"Admiral, the beacons have been fired at the enemy ship," Edi reported. "Two are intact, and one is close to the spine of the vessel."

"Then let's see if I can't break her back." Anderson checked his gauss rifle one last time, sealed his armor, then stepped onto the teleporter. "Ready for transit."

"Transit commencing." Edi hesitated. "Admiral… it has been an honor."

"Likewise, Edi." Anderson's skin began to itch, and he vanished in a flash of blue light.

A moment later, he found himself on the outside of the Xel'naga ship. His boots magnetized onto the surface before he floated away. He carefully took the warhead off of his back and placed it on the hull; he tried to ignore his shaking hand as he activated the timer. Thirty seconds would do it; hopefully, the Normandy would put a little more distance between the two ships before the explosion.

There was a sharp impact as something slammed into Anderson's shoulder. He whirled and saw three Cerberus soldiers in their white CMC armor charging across the hull to attack him. Anderson lifted his rifle and fired a burst into the first man's helmet, shattering it instantly. If the hypersonic spikes didn't kill him, the vacuum of space did.

Twenty-two seconds left.

Another Cerberus Marine shot him in the leg, dropping him to one knee. Alarms sounded in his helmet as his suit informed him that it had been breached. Air and blood leaked out of the hole in his armor. Still, Anderson managed to unload his entire clip into the shooter's chest; with the man's mag-locked boots still active, he just stood there, completely lifeless.

Fifteen seconds left.

The last Marine shot Anderson in the arm, nearly severing it at just below the shoulder. Some of the man's shots hit Anderson's rifle, ruining it. Before Anderson could draw his pistol, the Marine was in his face, bayonet driving deep into his gut. He coughed up blood as his suit alerted him to more breaches.

Nine seconds left.

The Marine yanked his rifle free, but before he could stab again, Anderson brought his remaining arm up and punched underneath the Marine's chest plate. The weaker under-section crumpled, and Anderson pushed further, his fist ruining the more delicate parts of the armor. The Marine staggered back, desperately trying to keep his armor intact. That gave Anderson the chance he needed to pull his pistol free and fire three shots into the man's helmet.

Three seconds left.

Anderson looked up at the Normandy in the distance. She was badly damaged, and Anderson wondered if his ship would ever fly again after this, but she was still going. For that moment, the Normandy was the most glorious thing he had ever seen.

The bomb exploded, and Anderson saw nothing more.

Tartarus

"Oh my god."

Miranda heard Kasumi's voice and turned, but she didn't need to ask what the other Ghost was talking about. In the distant sky, she could see the tell-tale flash of a nuclear explosion. Silhouetted against the small second sun was the Normandy; the ship wasn't so much flying towards the surface as she was falling. Some of her thrusters were still active and were starting to slow the descent, but it wasn't enough to completely stop it.

With a crash that shook the ground and knocked many off their feet, the Normandy impacted against the surface of Tartarus. Great plumes of smoke could be seen from the crash site, though no one could tell if the ship had landed intact.

Miranda realized she'd been holding her breath from the moment she'd seen the ship falling, and quietly inhaled before giving her orders.

"See if any escape pods were launched," she said. "Goto, you'll go with Jenkins and rescue any survivors."

Kasumi was a breath behind Miranda in regaining her composure. "Right. We'll move out as soon as we pick up any emergency beacons."

Miranda didn't even acknowledge her words, instead focusing on the tactical display in front of her. She prided herself on her professionalism, on her ability to focus on the mission above anything else. However, there was an anger inside her, a burning need for vengeance that she could sense in the minds of the other Strikers.

The Normandy had been their home from the beginning, and as far as they knew, Cerberus had destroyed it. There would be retribution.

I hope Shepard returns soon, Miranda thought, just so I can watch while he tears Cerberus apart.

Shepard had found it. The closer he got to where the Hybrid were, the easier it was to find them. By the time he reached the entrance to the underground lab, he could have found the place with his eyes closed.

Before he entered the lab, however, he had seen the Normandy's fiery descent to the surface. Any sense of accomplishment from moments before instantly faded at the sight of his ship falling and broken.

Behind his helmet, his eyes crackled with red psionic energy, his powers reacting to his anger. Cerberus was dealing with Hybrid, and now they had crashed his ship. There would be no more subtlety.

Shepard activated his psi-blade and walked into the darkness.

Codex Entry: Zerg Hive Mind

Scientists have been both intrigued and terrified by the prospect of the Zerg Swarm being unified in one collective consciousness. While the pre-Protoss Geth had displayed a similar feature, the idea of an organic race having such a connection was shocking. Scientists have suggested a theory that, because of this hive mind, the entire Zerg race could be considered a single entity.

Philosophers have also had numerous debates on whether or not more advanced Zerg organisms, such as Broodmothers, truly have a sense of individuality in the face of such a connection. Perhaps they are biologically 'programmed' to simulate a personality, in order to better manage individual broods.

Regardless, it must be pointed out that no secrets can be kept from the Swarm. If one Zerg knows something, the entire Swarm knows it as well.

Once again, I apologize for taking so long to post a new chapter. I've mostly been focused on my book, and guess what?

It's done.

That's right, the first novel in a planned trilogy, Alpha Sanction, is complete! If you like this story, and I like to think that many of you do, please go to my website (link in my profile page) and buy my book. It's also available on Amazon, if that's more your thing. If enough of you make that purchase, I just might be able to have enough financial breathing room to update my fan fictions more frequently.

Now, the main thing to address is this: Yes, Anderson is dead. There have been so many close calls for the characters in this story, but I haven't actually killed anyone important to the Strikers. Yeah, a couple of other canon characters died before this, but everyone loves Anderson. Don't get me wrong, I'm not going to start killing off every character, but that doesn't mean that everyone else is now safe. Just be warned.

Also, the Normandy crashed. That sucks, I know, but like with Anderson's death, it's time the Strikers started facing some real consequences.

Next Chapter: Shepard faces the darkness, but he might not do it alone…

My Muffins weigh heavily upon me.