"Commander, send Lieutenant Kerrigan with a strike force to engage the Protoss. Captain Raynor and General Duke will stay behind with the command ship."
"First you sell out every person on this world to the Zerg, then you ask us to go up against the Protoss? And you're goin' to send Kerrigan down there with no backup?"
Raynor's voice was filled with anger. Hatred, even. In the times to come, I often wondered what would have happened if we had agreed to Mengsk's plan. Would the Zerg still have done... what they did? Would more of my former comrades in arms be alive today? I don't know. But I can't regret the choice we made. Friends support one another. Even unto death.
"He's right," I said. "There are other options. More strategic ones."
Mengsk's lips curved down in an angry sneer. "I have absolute confidence in Kerrigan's ability to hold off the Protoss. But if you do not share my faith, then fine, feel free to join her on the ground. Gentlemen." Spitting out his last word, Mengsk logged out of the video conference.
Raynor sighed in frustration, then added Kerrigan to the conference. "Kerrigan, are you reading this?"
Kerrigan's face appeared on screen. "I heard. I'm going down there. Arcturus knows what he's doing."
Raynor scoffed. "Funny. I never thought of you as anyone's martyr. I'm going with you. Wouldn't be able to live with myself if anything happened to you down there while I waited safely up here."
Kerrigan rolled her eyes. "Jimmy, quit the knight in shining armor routine. It suits you sometimes, just not... not now. I don't need to be rescued—"
I interrupted. "Kerrigan, with respect, you're being foolish. None of us have faced the Protoss on the ground before. We have no idea what they're capable of. You'll want help. I'm coming to the planet too. I need to direct this personally."
Kerrigan sighed. "Fine. Commander. Raynor. I'll see you on the ground." Kerrigan's face blinked off the monitor.
"I got a bad feeling about this," Raynor muttered.
I stared with eyebrows furrowed at the screens in my command center in my main base on Tarsonis. Strange, I thought. I've ordered a number of bunkers and tanks to our back line, but the Zerg have barely tested our defenses. I hope that's because they're somehow capable of recognizing that we intend to protect them, and not because they're biding their time for something. The Protoss, on the other hand, keep sending attack waves. But not in overwhelming numbers. Which is strange, because our Comsat station reports that they've had enough forces to destroy our base several times over. Instead they're letting us build our army. It's almost as though their commander is reluctant to truly engage us. Maybe his skirmishing squads are merely meant as warnings to stay away. Well, if they are, we can't heed them." I ordered the deployment of additional tanks and marines. Time to show the Protoss what we're made of.
Once we went on the warpath, taking out the Protoss was surprisingly easy. The only thing that was really a threat to our moving wall of tanks was their reavers, but Jimmy's fast bike and Kerrigan's lockdowns were enough to keep them under control. Once we got past their cannons and started wrecking their base, their forces began to warp out. Victory. We had defeated a superior alien force. But I wondered to what extent they had let us win.
I was reporting to Mengsk, voicing my concerns about the Protoss, when it happened. Kerrigan, who had since returned to the base with our army, suddenly broke into the conference. "This is Kerrigan," she said. "There's a wave of Zerg advancing on this position. Too many to handle. We need immediate evac."
My eyes jumped to the screens showing the paths between our base and the Zerg's, and I cursed under my breath. Flooding into our base was more Zerg than I'd ever seen before, including several hulking monsters we had never previously encountered on the field of battle.
"Yes," I agreed, opening a channel to the captain of the Hyperion. "Send us dropships ASAP!"
"BELAY THAT ORDER!" Mengsk barked at the captain. "We're moving out."
"WHAT?!" Raynor roared, his face appearing in the video conference. "You're not just going to leave us?"
Mengsk ignored him, and opened a channel to the rest of the fleet. "All ships, prepare to move away from Tarsonis on my mark."
My mouth hung open. I knew Mengsk was ruthless, but this?
Raynor was less tongue-tied. "Damn you, Arcturus!" he shouted. "Don't do this!"
Mengsk looked back at our video conference. "It's done," he said, his lips curling upward in a cruel smile. "Helmsman," he addressed the captain of the Hyperion. "Signal the fleet, and take us out of orbit. NOW!"
"They're... they're really leaving us to die," said one of my aides, looking wide-eyed at the instruments near her that were reporting the departure of our battlecruisers.
"Uh... Commander? Jim? What do we do?" Kerrigan asked, as stunned as I was.
I exhaled nervously. "The only thing we can do," I answered. "Take as many of them with us as possible." I turned to regard the monitors showing our base. My defensive line of bunkers and tanks had lasted mere minutes. Those new giant Zerg could withstand tank shells like they were nothing. The streets of our base were beginning to swarm.
I opened a general communications channel. "All units, I am ordering a full retreat. Try to make it to our forward expansion, and kill everything you can along the way."
"I got mutas on my tail!" Raynor cut in, and I turned my attention to the screen showing his Vulture speeding through the infested streets.
"Try to shake them!" I responded, before opening a channel to the building commanders. "Lift off!" I shouted. "Get us away from the grounded zerg! If we're lucky, we can survive the mutas long enough to reach safety." I knew that this was a slim chance at best. Still, I also ordered our forward base to begin the construction of more defenses. Wouldn't be enough, but I had to do what I could.
"My cloaking energy is about to run out," Kerrigan chimed in as I felt my command center begin to move through the air. "I'm pinned down by our northern supply depots! They're all over; I need reinforcements!"
"I'm sorry!" I replied, a lump in my throat. "There aren't any that could feasibly make it to you! Kill as many as you can."
"No!" Raynor shouted. "Hang on Sarah! I'm coming for you!"
His Vulture's computer reported that it had turned around, ready to dive under the chasing mutalisks.
"No! Jim!" I cried. "Don't be a fool!"
He didn't respond. I watched as his bike's health wireframe moved into the yellow, then the red.
Then the command center lost power. All my screens went dark.
"Sir, Mutas took out our power generator," my aide reported.
"Get some of our internal SCV's down there to try and repair it," I ordered.
The aide nodded, and began to talk into her battery-powered headset.
As for me, I'd done all I could. If my projections were correct, the command center's health wireframe was now approaching the red. Fires would start soon. Then, we would explode. Now I sat, helpless, waiting for the end. In times like these, men are disposed to reflect on themselves and their lives. The first thing I noticed was how calm I felt, now that I'd accepted my death. There was nothing more to strive for. No confederate schooling to get the best grades in, or beta squadron military raids to win with minimal losses. I did not even have the minor colonial worries that come with being forced to be a magistrate on a backwater planet. And I certainly no longer shared the goals of Mengsk's campaign. For the first time in my life, I did not strive for anything. I could simply exist.
At least until the tendrils of Zerg infestation wound their way through the hallways to me.