A/N

So, Stukov will be the next commander in Co-op Missions. More or less ambivalent about him, since most of my multiplayer time in StarCraft II is in PvP, and his playstyle feels like far too much a 'jack of all trades', whereas previous commanders (e.g. Nova and Alarak) have had more of a specific focus in their playstyle. But anyway, drabbled this up.


Hail the Conquering Hero

He was on board the Aleksander again.

It was a nightmare, or at least, would have been if he were human. The writhing tentacles, the spread of creep across the bulkheads, the stench of death and decay. He'd been here in what might as well have been another life. Been here, acting as vice admiral of the UED Expeditionary Fleet, unifying humanity across the stars. Fighting against the monsters that he himself had become. He hadn't been here when the zerg had overrun the fleet. Hadn't been here to see the ship turned into this aberration. This weapon of war that he'd been granted. Hadn't been here when…

He didn't complete that train of thought. He just stood on the bridge, looking out into the stars. Kerrigan had given him the Aleksander. Izsha had detailed how the zerg under her queen's control had eradicated his fleeing comrades to a man, how the Queen of Blades had infested the Aleksander rather than destroy it. That she had left it out here as a monument to any who might contest her rule. Silently, he had accepted the role of captain. In silence, Kerrigan had terminated her telepathic communication and returned to her own front of war. Amon's forces were everywhere, zerg, terran, and protoss alike. They wouldn't even necessarily be fighting in the same quadrant.

Are you well?

Izsha, her voice like a siren song, piercing his mind. He, Alexei Stukov, former vice admiral, now captain, responded, yes.

Good. The queen expects your forces to be deployed on Meinhoff within thirty-six hours.

The enemies?

Zerg.

Zerg. Of course it were zerg. They spread everywhere, got into everything. He himself was testament to that.

I'll make my preparations.

He cut off the telepathic communication and walked out over the bridge, peering through the transparisteel windows. He'd stood here once, he remembered. Over a world whose name he couldn't even remember, watching how zerg unleashed by Gerard had torn into fellow humans.

You've seen nothing, Gerard had said. Dissecting a dead zerg in a lab is one thing. Unleashing them on man is another.

He frowned, muscle and bone exposed to the turgid air. He'd learnt the truth of that on that day. Saw how horrific the zerg could be. Quashed any lingering doubt he might have about using the zerg as a weapon of the United Earth Directorate.

Are you prepared to go all the way with this, Alexei?

Yes...yes I am prepared to go all the way, my good admiral.

He closed his eyes. Were they the words of Alexei Stukov, vice-admiral? Or the words of Alexei Stukov, commander of the Swarm?

Are they the words of both?

He walked away from the bridge. Gerard, he reflected. Part of him hated the man. Duran might have pulled the trigger on Braxis, but it was by Gerard's orders that Duran had been in a position to do so. It was Gerard who had gone along with the UED's plan. Gerard who had unleashed the zerg on that planet. Gerard who…He sighed. It was Gerard who died on this ship six years ago. Gerard, who had written a message to Helena, one that had never been sent. Gerard, who had admitted to everything in the end. He pulled up the data pad – a 'gift' from Commander Raynor after aiding his forces on Bel'Shir. A trinket that he'd used to transfer what data he'd could off Gerard's terminal. To learn his friend's final thoughts.

Whatever you may hear about what has happened out here, know this: Alexei did not die a hero. I killed him. My pride killed him. And now my pride has consumed me as well.

He'd found Gerard's Luger in his office. One of the bullets was missing from the case.

You will never see me again, Helena.

Stukov would never see him either. Gerard was dead. The Queen of Blades had seen to that. At best, his body was floating in space somewhere, in a manner less dignified than his own funeral. At worst…he flexed his fingers, looking at the talons of a monster. At worse, he didn't dare think about. And he could imagine what "the worst" would entail.

You are lingering.

He ignored Izsha's probe, and through his connection to the hive mind, directed his minions. They were headed for Kaldir. She was right, of course, but he wouldn't give her the satisfaction of knowing that she'd reached him. And yet, he smiled.

Some people on Earth thought that the Aleksander had been named after Alexander the Great, a man who had forged an empire. Not many people knew that it was actually named after Alexander Kolchak, a Russian general of slightly less ancient history. But it mattered little. Both men were conquerors. The Aleksander, Gerard had insisted, was a ship fit for a conqueror. Stukov, of that other life, had agreed. Stukov, of this life…

Prepare for warp.

…could agree as well.

"Hail the conquering hero," he whispered, watching as real-space gave way to warp space. "Bottoms up."

If he closed his eyes, he could almost imagine Gerard standing alongside him.