That's it, I've decided that from now on I'm just going to write "hard sci-fi" shorts.

Well, this one may become a multi-chapter fic, but I'm not gonna promise updates like I used to :/

The Last Cerebrate

Exactly how long has it been ? I can't tell. It's been like a dream to me, all these millennia.

Of the memories that feel real to me, most are from the time on the Homeworld, before I, like my younger comrades, submitted to the Overmind's will, in exchange for the promise of eternal life ( and adventure, in my case ). What followed was a long stream of chaos. Our assault on the Ancient Ones, transiting from one world to another, finding others interesting creatures, and bringing them into the fold. And slaughtering those who threatened our survival.

I have struggled to exert my consciousness. The times that I succeeded, I beheld such horrors that I wished I was drugged again.

They called me the Old One, the one who so "stubbornly" clings to his original form, the one who has yet to embrace the Overmind's grand vision for our species. By the boiling geyser vents of Zeurus, could they not see what they themselves had become ? Bloated monstrosities who could not even walk by themselves ! What kind of grand vision is that ?

And then the Overmind was gone. While I lamented the passing of the great entity that had been watching over us, I began preparing for my own future.

( Somewhere on the surface of Char, aftermath of the activation of the Xel'Naga artefact ( in Wings of Liberty ) … )

"Oh boy, I can't believe we actually won !" Private Bryan relaxed and let himself fall to the gravel-covered floor on his back, with a relieved clang.

"Well I can't believe you're still alive !" His section mate nudged Bryan's plate-armoured midsection with his metal boots, then pressed a button at the base of his helmet and shouted, "Hey ! I just found I big lump of trash here ! We need the truck over at this location !"

"Common Leo buddy, let's have a good look at the sky before we leave." As if to illustrate the point, the surface of his helmet visor reflected the expanse of dark clouds above. The latter was rolling over each other like molten rock, and no light shown through save for a faint diffuse glow here and there. The rest of the cloud surface was only dimly illuminated by light from the landscape below.

"No thanks, I don't wanna see this god-forsaken place for one more minute." Leo bent and reached for Bryan's hand. " And you better stay on your toes too. Stetman says the 'terrain's becomin unstable'."

"Yeah, no thanks to the Commander." Bryan took Leo's outstretched hand and allowed his friend to pull him back up, then followed Leo as the latter turned and walked down the rocky ridge, down a shallow valley path which wound through an expansive but sparse formation of volcanic rock, towards a sprawling cluster of mountains in the near distance, their dark silhouettes criss-crossed by fine gold veins – the occasional lava streams faintly illuminating the hellish landscape of Char, stronghold world of the ( now finally defeated ) Zerg Swarm.

At the mountains' feet, dwarfed by the now silent Primary Hive Clusters, was what remained of the combined Raiders-Dominion base.

Bryan could see signs of frantic activity in said military installation. Aerial transports landing and lifting off by the flocks, and structures folding and shifting one by one. "What's the hurry man ? I mean the Zerg are practically dead right ? There won't be any monsters poppin out of the ground again right ?"

Leo did not reply. He just stopped walking and stared down.

"What's wrong ?" Bryan stopped walking as well and turned to his friend.

"I kicked into something." Leo bent down to pick up the "something". "Didn't sound like a rock."

"Well we better have a good look then." Bryan switched on the torches built into the shoulder plates of his armour, giving them the appearance of cars' headlights. "Screw light discipline right."

At once the valley seemed flooded with light, and it took a second for their eyes to adjust to the sudden glare.

"What the F-"

"Are those …"

For tens of metres on out, the area on which they were standing was covered in half-buried-

"Trilobites ?"

"Huh ? Oh, those dead critters you see in the museums ? Ha, for a while I thought we were screwed." Bryan turned slowly around to get a good view of their incredible surroundings. "but man this is creepy ! They look so big, and … and"

"Well preserved." Leo finished for him and examined the object in his hand. The tip of a "fossilised" arthropod feeler. One metre long, five centimetres thick, with a faint dark emerald-brown sheen across its surface. "It's as if they just died yesterday. Could be Zerg."

"Not like any Zerg I've seen before." Bryan kicked off chunks of gravel from the ground where he was standing, to reveal the smooth top carapace of a smaller one of the "fossilised" creatures. It had the same emerald-brown sheen as the other parts sticking out through the ground and wall all around them. "Say, do you think we can keep some as souvenirs ?"

Leo frowned, then shook his head. "Better leave them where they are."

"What ? they're all dead !"

And then the earth erupted behind them.

I trembled, both with excitement, and with the effort of digging through the rocks above me.

My calculations were correct ! The Warp Cocoon I had erected around me had kept me alive as the tidal wave of destructive psychic energy from the Artefact swept across the planetary surface above me, draining the life out of every Zerg caught in its wake, including that of the modified Drones I had used to generate the Cocoon. Said tidal wave also ruptured the Cocoon itself, allowing me to awaken from the self-inflicted stasis.

As I drove upwards through layer upon layer of petrified drones, I became aware of faint psychic signals coming from the surface. Most of it conveyed relief, satisfaction, and weariness. Those must be the Terrans. Clearly, they had prevailed in the final battle, and if I assumed correctly, they were now preparing to leave Char. I must get to them before they leave, or else I would be stuck on this world for a very long time. I doubted they would just let me ride in one of their transports, but … there must be a way. I had not gained my freedom just to confine myself on this blasted ash-world.

Now I sensed two small psychic presences above me. Excellent !

With one final push, I broke through the top most layer and emerged into the open. At once, fresh air washed over my spiracles, and I inhaled it greedily. Exhilarating ! I stretched and flexed my myriad limbs. Then I bent over the edge of the hole and got ready to haul my whole body out of the tunnel.

And then I heard their loud curses.

"SHIT !"


I turned to look at the source of the voice, and was temporarily blinded by a strong white light.


"… !"

I could feel the sense of shock emanating from the two Terran … what did they call them ? … oh yes, … Marines. This shock gradually turned into fear and panic. They levelled their metal projectile-firing weapons at me, while slowly stepping backwards away from me. Timid creatures, these Terrans. Timid, but still very dangerous, as our wars with them had proved.

I reached out with my mind until it touched theirs, and attempted communication,

Have no fear …

Their reactions were so interesting to watch.

"Shit, did you hear that ?"

"What, you heard that too ?"

"No, actually I didn't."

"Haa … haa …"

I mean you no harm … please sheath your weapons …

"Like hell I would !"

One of the marines pressed a hand to the base of his thick metallic neck and whispered something into it. He was alerting his brood-mates to my existence. I decided to let him. A new plan was forming in my mind.

Leaning forward, I crawled out of the tunnel. I could feel both the panic and wonder in the two Terrans intensify as they beheld my entire physical form.

"Mother-effing giant maggot !"

"You mean centipede."

"Smelly feet ?"

"Forget it, just go with maggot !"

I ruminated on their way of describing my appearance. Verily, the Terrans have made an art form out of hurling insults, for the image invoked by that first phrase reminded me of my degenerate comrades, except for that part about copulating with one's female progenitor. Ah, if only the Terrans could appreciate what a wonderful talent they have. They throw around those colourful sounds they call "words" without realising the latters' full potential for expression.

Of course, I do not look like the larva of a certain flying insect. I have legs and eyes, and my skin is certainly not that soft ! The second animal mentioned seemed to resemble me more, though such a tiny, frail, and unintelligent creature could never compare with one born of great Zeurus. The third phrase implied the excessive diffusion of odours from the tips of my limbs. Were their senses that acute ? I brushed my feelers over the tips of my foremost legs. Whatever chemical traces there were barely detectable to me.

However, I did not bother correcting them. After this day, they would not remember anything about this encounter anyway.

Rather, I extended my psionic presence further forward, and tried to force a psychic tendril into the deepest core of their minds, similar to the Link I used with my underlings ( who now all lay dead beneath my clawed feet. Being unable to feel the psychic presence of your entire brood is depressing, but I had seen this coming. Everything was done for a reason. I have little regrets. )

The haze of fear that hung over the marines' minds faded away, replaced by confusion as their sub-conscious reacted to my psychic intrusion.

Their bodies convulsed. Then they dropped their weapons and collapsed to the ground, where they continued with their unsightly spasms.

Was it not working ? Perhaps the Terrans are not as responsive to such things as I expected. Then how could the Overmind achieve those fantastic feats of psychic manipulation ? There must be a way. Perhaps I had been too forceful. Before this my mind had always been partially occupied with controlling my brood ( and absorbing the occasional mental prodding from the Overmind or the Queen of Blades ). Now that my entire brood had perished, and there was no longer any entity able to repress my consciousness, a considerable reserve of my psychic potential was freed up, so much so that the moment I tried to exert control over another lesser being again , I overloaded their minds. Ah, the wonderful surprises that come with achieving total freedom !

I tried again, withdrawing my psychic presence a bit and then gently poking their minds from different angles.

Finally, after several attempts ( and several instances where I accidently triggered adverse neural responses, with some interesting results ), even the confusion in their minds died down, replaced by a familiar kind of emptiness. With a simple psychic command, they both stood up, and took on the postures they had before , as if nothing had happened. Perfect !

If I could express emotions like Terrans do, then I would have been dancing and singing with joy, but my cumbersome body did not allow for such antics. I decided, once this was over, to seek out a functioning Evolution Chamber, and try out one of those mutations that we had been using on our underlings but never on ourselves. Or perhaps I could induce those changes on my own ? We natives of Zeurus do have a certain genetic versatility. That was how the Swarm was formed in the first place. As I thought of this, I also felt a desire to see the Homeworld. To do that, I needed a safe and reliable means of travel.

I looked out into the distance, at the make-shift Hive that the Terrans had constructed, and were now rushing to tear down.

After some consideration, I issued another psychic command to the two marines.

Lead the way.