Chapter 3:

The Birth of a Queen

Months had passed since Kerrigan's supposed death at the hands of the Zerg on Tarsonis. On a planet with hundreds of active volcanoes, forever shrouded by clouds of ash, where volcanic fire had turned the surface of the entire planet black, volcanic rock harder and sturdier than a foot of neo-steel comprising the ground. The planet had little life due to its paper-thin atmosphere that contained just enough oxygen for humans to breathe and its searing climate did nothing to enhance its appeal to anyone. However, the Zerg are not anyone, and had occupied the once lifeless planet and turned it in to home. The purple creep that marked Zerg territory had reclaimed acres of barren wasteland. The blackened ball that housed the galaxy's most vicious killers held a fitting name.

The former members of the Sons of Korhol, now lead by Captain James Raynor, had arrived on the planet several days before, and had set up a solid base, in an easy to defend location, surround by lakes of molten lava. Admittedly, the temperature was less than comfortable but at least they did not have to worry about ground assaults against them. He could not explain why he had brought his troops, or why he had even come to this blackened ball of space rock. Just a something, a something he could not place or understand.

Something had drawn him here, something that he could not understand, but he knew that it was important for him to be on this planet. However, he was still worried about the fact that the new "Emperor" of the Terran Dominion had sent his bloodhound, General Edmund Duke to Char as well. James had no idea what Duke was doing here but there was only one reason that made any sense to him at all: Duke was here to track him down and either capture him, or more likely kill him and every single man woman or child affiliated to him. Nevertheless, what worried him a little more than Duke was the presence of the Zerg on this planet.

James found himself wondering but dismissed it as unlikely that if the Zerg here, were the same Zerg that had taken Sarah from him. He paused in mid thought as he remembered the happy memories that he had, of her, of him together doing nothing spectacular, nothing fancy, but just the simple things. How they had stood on one of the observation decks of the Norad II to simply stare out and watch the stars shoot by them as they traveled. How they had passed time in his quarters, the way they made love to each other, how it was different almost every time, sometimes slow and gentle while other times it was hard, rough, with a near animalistic passion driving them.

He shook his head, clearing the memories from his mind – he did not need this, to have those memories intruding upon him right now. Duke may be looking for him but the heavy cloud cover and ash that infested the atmosphere was actually a double-edged sword that provided him with enough cover to hide in plain sight. But what drew him here, was as something he could not understand, as if she had been calling to him in his dreams. It had led him across the depths of space, to Char. Now, the very thing that kept him and his forces, the few that there were, safe, hampered his search for her. He knew that she was close by, almost as if he could see her through the ash and smoke that always hung low to the ground. He was not sure if he was hallucinating or not, but he prayed that he was just hallucinating because the last thing he wanted to do was see someone that nobody else could see.

What worried him was that her calls were accompanied by images that did not frighten, but terrify. The images of numerous broods and strains of Zerg warriors, everything he feared about them hammered in to his sleeping mind. It was the images of her face with something different about it, and it was that something different in her face, her appearance that worried him, that had made him drag along every marine, tank and Goliath that he had to the surface of this burning planet. Raynor's Raiders had made their way through and set up camp, running what was to all intent and purposes, nothing more than a massive search and rescue mission, especially if Sarah was alive and a hostage of the Zerg.

It happened with a speed and ferocity that left James Raynor stunned: The entire Western Perimeter of the base was suddenly lit up like a Christmas tree as the dozen of static hellfire missile turrets emplacements suddenly sprang to life, spinning to achieve a solid target lock in to the banks of clouds that hung low over a lake of molten fire as the lights within the command center changed from their normal muted blue shades to a deep burgundy red.

"Captain Raynor, we have come under attack from a large force of Zerg that are from a currently unidentified Brood. Displaying live video feed from missile turrets four and seven," reported the adjutant. Raynor stared at view screen as the Mutalisks, a mass living wall of the winged tube shaped organisms. Nobody understood how such creatures could possibly fly but fly they did, with a grace that belief their bulky shape and form as they unleashed their glave wurms against their targets.

Jim had expected a Zerg assault and had order turrets deployed in a two-three-two pattern to minimize the risk of splash damage. It was when they split in to groups of twelve and each group targeted an individual turret, creating a sudden gaping hole in his perimeter. That got his attention: New and advanced Zerg tactics. His unasked question was answered with chilling certainty as the a dozen Overlords hovered out of the cloudbank.

They glided low over the ground, their ventral sacs popping open deposit their deadly cargo as if disgorging troops from a dropship, with a pair of Zerglings supported followed by a Hydralisk, and then a set group of the same. Perfectly organized and in unison, suddenly putting a sizeable attack force on the ground. He could see it on the view screen and did not quite believe what he was seeing, as they advanced towards one his four outlying defensive positions, "All right," he took a deep breath before opening a general broadcast, "Listen up boys and girls: Zerg on the perimeter closing on position Fox Three. Lock and load!"

He snapped his own visor shut as he slung the Gauss rifle in to position, pausing to run his armored fingers over the… It was a habit to reach for the lucky rabbit foot. He had given in to Sarah, months ago, before the ill-fated mission to New Gettysburg where she died.

He waited patiently, as he watched several different units of marines and Firebat infantry move to their bunkers supported by several dozen of the Goliath War Walkers. He had few siege tanks available and he would not be able to call on their support until they get in to position atop the low ridges, they would have better range and accuracy against the on coming Zerg. He'd faced off against the Zerg over a dozen times and was one of the few to repeatedly come back from the battlefront, but only because he had evac close at hand. This time, his evac was already on the way, but over twenty minutes away, which assumed an uninterrupted flight… with Zerg flyers in the way it meant at least twice as long, and his outpost, would be lucky to hold for ten.

He shook his head, and sighed, wondering if everything he had gone through, the visions that showed him where to go, leading him from one Zerg infested planet to another Zerg infested rock. Every time the calls getting stronger and more urgent until he had arrived here… when they stopped coming in his sleep, and he received nothing more. He just wished he know what it meant that the psionic calls had stop.

When the first of the siege tanks fired, he knew that the assault would strike his lines in a matter of minutes, but he had no intention of simply sitting behind his defenses and waiting for this assault to crash against him. He had only one thing left to live for, and he knew that it drove him, and it was a reckless move but he could care less. Rifle in hand, he stood amongst those in the front line, waiting for the smoke and flames to clear. He did not have to wait even that long as the first of the Zerglings broke through the dense wall of smoke. He did not give the order, simply took aim and unleashed hell in to the dense ranks of Zerglings.

Around him, the bunkers opened up, but he could already see that there were too few marines to the number of Zerg… they would be able to hold them back for only a few minutes. From above him, he heard the dull thudding roar as the Goliaths cut loose with their chain gun cannons, effectively pulverizing the on coming ranks, creating piles of still smoking Zerg as blood painted the ground a deep burgundy color. The howling saurian like roar filled the air as every siege tank under his command heaved their barrage of death in to the sky, to come crashing down upon the ranks of Hydralisks, the computer assisted targeting assuring every shell was a solid hit, the two dozen advancing Hydralisks suddenly found their numbers cut in half. More Zerg reinforcements were dropping out of yet another fleet of Overlords, this time a lot closer to the bunkers, under the effective reach of their defensive siege guns, the barrage of supersonic Gauss Rifle slugs and immolating flamethrowers doing little as they ripped in the bunkers, a massive flurry of fangs, claws and acidic spines.

Raynor let vengeance drive him, but he was not as foolish as to let it rule his decision or actions, "Pull back to base! Evac is on its way! I do not want any heroics! Lucifer Seven! We do this by the book!"

While the retreat was smooth and precise, the reduction in the volume of fire allowed the Zerg to breakthrough his defensive lines as through out his base, structures beginning a slow ascent to move themselves closer to the rendezvous point with their air support: Three Battle Cruisers and close to three dozen Wraith Class fighters. It was the easiest way to reduce the time the time to pick up by going towards the pick up. Raynor's command center would be amongst the last to leave, waiting for its complement of six marines to clamber aboard, and man the gun turrets.

The Zerg ignored the fleeing Terrans; concentrating on destroying every structure that they could catch… they wanted the buildings? It made no sense… he could only watch in confusion as the Zerg ripped the doors off the Science Facilities and swarmed inside, when he saw something, a flicker of light, in waves, amidst the ranks of the Zerg. Even as he fled to his command center, he barked orders to the adjutant; calling up a small view-screen on his visor, "Rewind and replay!" he studied the tape, even as his feet moved on autopilot. He gave numerous commands to the Adjutant to zoom and magnify the image, to catch a glimpse of something, a claw, a hand, something pressing down, tearing through the science facility doors. Finally after twenty long seconds, just past the outer door of the Command Center, "Adjutant: Extrapolate for missing data and present restored image."

"It can't be…" James felt something inside him, his heart snap and break, something that tore at his heart, piercing it, freezing as if in a vat of liquid nitrogen, before shattering to rape his lungs. His hands grasped the edge of the console and shook, unable to believe the image that stared him in the face, her eyes that glowed jaundice yellow with green skin, a color that one normally reserved for those severely ill. Her hair was nothing like the luxurious tresses that she used to have, now more like armor plated braids that dotted her head… it was hair after a fashion but no longer human, he looked at the image, and he could feel the tear falling down his cheek, "Sarah… my Sarah…." He broke down at that moment, as he cried, the single scream that broke from him echoing the pain and suffering he had endured for so many months, what felt like years, the pain eating at him now stabbing deeper in to him that he ever thought possible, "Mother of God Kerrigan, What have they done to you? What have they turned you in to?"

Kerrigan, surrounded by a pack off Zerglings and her two Hunter Killer escorts were making their way between the Science Facility and the Covert Operation Center when she sensed, no, not sensed, felt: Pain and outright anguish. Moreover, she could tell where it was coming from, and more importantly, who it was: Captain James Raynor. She flexed her skeletal wings experimentally as she brought them up, their bladed edges coated in red, and morsels of flesh, the remnants of several marines and a Goliath pilot who had soiled himself before she had ripped him in two, her skeletal wing punching through the armored cockpit with ease. She moved through the rubble of the base quickly, her Zerg enhanced muscles and reflexes allowing her to easily match the pace of the four Devouring One's she ran with, the Hunter Killers perhaps two strides behind, even as she sent a psionic message to him, "Jimmy dear, its me, your love. It is me. It is Sarah. I'm coming to you…"

James heard the message and recoiled in horror, falling to his knees, slamming his head against the console, once, then twice, and finally a third time, trying to beat the message out of his head. The image continue to show his Sarah charging towards his Command Center with her Zerg escorts, his base mostly smoking ruin as she led the assault. It made sense now, the advanced tactics of not swarming in to his defenses, of the closer combat drops reducing the amount of time they were exposed. However, he could do nothing but stand and stare as she walked up to his Command Center and punched through the door with her skeletal wings, tearing it clean of its hinges. She stared up at the camera and gave what was probably a smile but looked more menacing with her teeth, now sharpened in to fangs, "Come to me Jimmy, and nobody else will have to die today…"

Torn between love and hate, his mind hesitated although his body did not, hand wrapping around the stock, his hand sliding on to the grip, slapping in a fresh clip before storming down the red lighted corridor towards the white light at its end, to face something that not even his darkest nightmares could have prepared him for. He stepped through the broken doorway, the visor of his helm shut, to hide his anguish twisted visage from her, "Sarah, is that, is that really you?"

Her muscles seemed to writhe of their own accord, moving and flowing beneath her skin as she shook what now passed as her hair, passing a clawed hand through it. She took a deep breath and smiled at him, "To an extent… I'm far more than I once was…" her voice took on a menacing edge, as the chitin armor plates over her ribs and torso seemed to slide together creating a tight fitting but agile suit of armor, as her claws flexed, "You should not have come here Jim…"

The threat was clear in her voice, as the Zerglings encircled him. He did not seem to see them, his eyes only focused on her as his rifle lowered itself, to point at the charcoal colored rock ground, confusion evident in his voice, "But the dreams… I dreamed that you were still alive, and that that you, the Sarah I know, was somehow calling to me…"

A cold almost cruel laugh erupted from between her lips, as the Hunter Killer Hydralisks took up flanking positions around her, their chest cavities opening as they revealed row upon row of deadly acidic toxin coated needle pines, ready to be launched in the fraction of an instant if he were to try and somehow threaten her, "I was. While I was in the chrysalis, I instinctively reach out to you and to Arcturus telepathically. Apparently Duke was sent here to reclaim me," she gestured in to the distance, "Not too long ago, but the Cerebrate who guarded me during my incubation annihilated Duke's coveted Alpha Squadron." The warped smile widened slightly, and if looks could kill, James Raynor would have received a mortal wound, "I trusted the Confederacy – not like I had a choice when they take you in the dead of night and kill you parents in front of you. I didn't remember until the Zerg unlocked the memories. Terrans and the Confederates, and their Ghost Program took my innocence and my childhood, and my life and twisted me into a Ghost "special operative." The Confederates betrayed me and only to be betrayed again. Betrayed by my former Commander! By General Duke! By Arcturus Mengsk! Humanity was far crueler to me than the Zerg. I've killed men and women today, with my hands, and of course, my new limbs."

She lowered the skeletal wings, outstretching them until their points were only inches from Raynor's face, close enough for him to smell the coppery smell of blood, to see the fragments of human tissue still hanging to the serrated bone blades. "I was betrayed Jimmy, It was the Confederacy, the humans" she spat the word as if it was the harshest curse in the entire universe, "in the Confederacy who took me from my family, twisting me, warping me in to a "special solider" with their Ghost Program."

Her eyes changed color from their jaundice yellow to black orbs upon a field of fire.

A sudden crackling energy field surrounding her hand, crackling blue wisps of energy arching from her eyes, "The Zerg helped me regain my memories of that "program for psychic children." They helped me remember the surgeries that broke and rebuilt my body without the numbing benefit of anesthesia, the way they hacked my mind like a computer to bend and reshape my mind in Psych Ops. Sarah Kerrigan? She was the shell that remained after Terrans and humans butchered her. Now I am something different, I am one of the Zerg now. I am the Queen of the Zerg. I am something more powerful. And I like what I am. You can't imagine how this feels," she paused, her twisted smile reflected in his faceplate, "to be whole and complete."

Behind the mirrored visor that hid his face, tears fell freely, streaming down Terran Captain James Raynor's face. He contemplated the monster that stood before him in the guise of his former and most precious love, his voice spoke, but even though the voice was calm and steady, his trembling hands tightened around the trigger of the fully loaded rifle, steadying as the barrel raised a few centimeters, "So? What? You going to kill me now, darling?" The final word was laced with just at tinge of sarcasm, to hide his pain from her, even though he knew that she could now reach into his head and rip out the truth. Rip out the fact that it was a bluff.

She seemed to do just that as the skin upon her right hip seemingly retracted, creating a flesh pocket. She pulled the silver chain that he recognized, and it took a moment for her to pull it out, as she took her time with it, toying with it as she toyed with his emotions, a dark smile upon her face. Finally, she whipped it across the six-foot gap between them, letting it careen through the ash upon the ground, to come to rest mere inches from his armored foot.

The bladed bone wings retracted, folding away neatly as the Zerg warriors pulled back. "It is certainly within my power, but you are no threat to me, Jim." She stalked forward, a hunter upon the prowl until her foot descended, with exaggerated care, the heel of her foot to grind the rabbits foot he had given her so long before, in to the ash, burying it deep, "Be smart: Leave here and never seek to confront the Zerg again!"

He could do nothing more, but nod and turn away from her, knowing that his precious Sarah was lost to him, forever, "Doesn't look like I have much choice."

He could feel her smile corroding in to his back like the acid from a Hydralisk spine, the gentle and quiet sound of swishing curtains before she vanished from sight. He waiting a moment longer, until he knew that she was gone, before turning and falling to his knees, digging madly through the ashy ground that burned with the heat of the planet's volcanic core. His finger were starting to warm within the gauntlets but he did not care, even as the warmth became a heat, and the heat turned to a burning fire.

He did not care until he found the edge of the length of silver, warped by the heat of the land. Puling the charm, now ash grey, he held it to his chest as he cried, not from the pain arching like lightning thorough his blistered hands but for the pain that radiated through his entire being, his mortal heart broken as the fires of hell around him, burned away the last human vestiges of his love. In the end, it was what she had been twisted and warped. The Queen of Blades had erased every fragment of Sarah Kerrigan.