Chapter Seven: Vanguard
We had no idea what we were getting into on Valhalla V.
We went there expecting some renegade zerg hives to harass us while we put down privateers. Instead we got... something else.
Liberty's reports, volume III
Valhalla V was well and truly abandoned. Everything down there that wasn't part of a pirate encampment or part of the swarm was already dead. Serena scanned over the planet beneath her, a planet dotted with multiple zerg hives. Images of destroyed buildings and burnt out skyscrapers raced across the screen before her eyes.
'Well ain't that a cheery sight.' said Tychus, chewing on a cigerette. 'What the hell did all this?'
'The zerg, Mr. Findlay.' said Serena 'The Sons of Korhal didn't get here in time. The Confederacy managed to evacuate a large part of the population, others got off with the help of smugglers. The swarm took the rest.'
'You called ma'am.' said Emily Swallow.
'Emily,' said Serena, turning to her subordinate. 'I want you to descend to the planet on the outskirts of the old capital of Valhalla V. Frontal Company's job will be to secure our landing site, and hold it until reinforcements can arrive.'
'Do you believe that will be difficult?' asked Swallow.
'Let me put it this way,' said Serena 'the 'scattered zerg sightings' we were briefed on consist of multiple extremely advanced hive clusters. And somewhere in all this mess is Schezar.' She looked out the window to where another battlecruiser was shifting through space and hit a button. 'Warfield, what is the status on those scans?'
Warfield appeared on the screen. 'We're picking up a high number of zerg in every section of Valhalla V. This is going to be one hell of a hornet's nest.'
'Right,' said Serena 'alright Warfield I want you to land your troops and launch an assault on the outlying hive clusters. I don't know what Schezar is doing out here, but we can't let these hives remain standing in good faith. Guess the protoss missed this place.'
'Ma'am,' said Becky 'I've got something.'
Serena made her way over to the monitor. On the screen was a camp of orange armored soldiers. They moved around with an air of efficiency. 'Delta Squadron. Alright Emily I want you to land there. Clear out the area and prepare the way. Once you've done that the rest of our forces can begin landing.' She paused. 'Mr. Findlay, get off my bridge and get into your marine suit. I'll need you in the second wave.'
Frontal Company had gained a reputation for high casualties and ruthless, glorious victory. The most experienced and deadly of the Dominion marines were usually assigned to it, and Emily did not know them as well as she ought to. Her actions during the final push against the Confederacy had gained her a reputation.
She did not like it at all.
'Alright men,' she said 'listen up. Our job is to seize the area just outside of the former Capital of Valhalla V. We're expecting pirates here, but don't underestimate them. These are ex-Delta Squadron, they're well armed and well trained. We've got to be cautious.
'Yes ma'am!' They echoed.
The dropships they sat within landed and the doors opened. Out of it Emily led her forces and found to resist them a number of marines. They laid down suppressing fire and retreated. Emily raised her gun and fired twice, killing two at a distance. The rest made the bridge and her men moved to pursue.
'Hold position!' said Emily 'Set up defensive lines on those bridges, nothing gets through!' Then running to the edge of the river she drew out a pair of binoculars and scanned the far side. Not believing her eyes she lowered her binoculars. 'I don't believe it. There are sunken colonies all along the other side of the river.'
'Why would Schezar's men be running toward those?' asked Charles, a veteran of New Gettysburg.
'I don't know.' said Emily 'Maybe the zerg already wiped out Schezar for us, and they were just a remnant.'
'If that was the case,' said Charles 'you'd think they would surrender.'
The sound of gaussfire cut off any further conversation, and Emily saw many zerg rushing through the sunken colonies. They were moving at an alarming pace. Emily raised her gun.
'We've got incoming, ma'am!' said a soldier 'And the whole fucking sector can identify them!'
'Stand your ground!' said Emily 'Keep them back, if they flood the LZ the whole operation could fail!'
Then the tide hit, coming over both bridges. The zerg came in the thousands, were mowed down in the thousands, and still more of them came. Frontal Company stood it's ground, mowing them down, yet it wasn't long before zerglings were among the front ranks, assaults. Several dozen men were torn to shreds before Emily's eyes, and she raised her gauss rifle.
Firing repeatedly she shot a zergling mid leap, shot another as it ran then turned and gunned down a hydralisk as a pack of the larger creatures came and began exchanging fire with the marines. Both sides took serious casualties, but Frontal Company had the best weapons and equipment and when the battle was over they stood victorious.
'Sir,' said Charles 'if we get hit again like that again we won't hold.'
'Yes,' said Emily 'I know.'
She glanced back and saw the Command Center landing and dropships landing. Many more soldiers filed out of them to reinforce the lines and SCV's came forward to begin setting up static defenses along the bridges. Missile turrets were set in place along the shore over the course of the next day, and during that time Frontal Company stood guard.
Michael could be seen reporting on what he saw during this time. No doubt telling the Sector of their heroics. It was good to know their cause was documented and appreciated. On the other hand there was Mr. Findlay, looking around carefully, looking like he didn't know quite what he wanted to do with himself.
Serena came forward and inspected the defenses. 'Well done, Swallow. Our scanners are detecting a number of very large zerg hives in every direction. Warfield is handling the ones to the south, which means the rest are ours.'
'What is the plan?' asked Emily.
'Before we handle the zerg to the west and northwest, I'd like to secure our flanks.' said Serena 'I'm leading a task force up to the cliffs to north. I mean to crush it. Once that's done we'll land the rest of our forces there.
In the meantime you are to hold here. If the worst should happen, you are in command.'
'Yes, ma'am.' said Emily.
Serena observed the opening of her assault from the battlecruiser Medea. The sight of a battlecruiser unleashing it's Yamato cannons on the zerg was immensely satifying. The colonies were obliterated by the onslaught of plasma. Then turning her attention to the outlying sunken colonies she began the annihilation of those.
'The spore colonies are destroyed.' said Serena over the com. 'Dropships descend and engage the zerg. Remember we want a gradual advance behind siege tanks, no one try to be a hero.'
She was sending inexperienced soldiers on this mission. She would have sent Frontal Company, but they had taken casualties just holding their ground and they were needed here. And most of the best soldiers had been called away to Char and a dozen other battlefields. What she had here were rookies with a core of experienced troops.
Serena watched as her man landed from the dropships and right away things went wrong. Several dozen marines wandered too close to the sunken colonies, disobeying orders and getting torn to shreds for their trouble. The others were slow to take a position, and by the time they had gotten deployed the zerg had responded and were on them.
Many zerg swarmed from the hive clusters and from around the cliffs to assault them and the marines were hard pressed. The siege tanks had deployed and were laying into the sunken colonies on the cliff. They should have fired at the zerg trying to kill them first.
'Damn it,' said Serena 'send in the reserves. We're going to need them at this rate.'
The tide of zerg was defeated, but with many casualties and as the sunken colonies were finally blasted down and the reserves arrived the army which began the assault was only a little more than one and a half times it's assault.
Once again the marines got sloppy. As they began using inciniary rounds there was a feral roar and ultraliks arrives. One of them was gunned down before they reached the lines, but another was soon among the men, tearing them to pieces by the dozens. Even as that one fell more came and soon hundreds of men died.
Yet at last the creatures were all dead.
'You are all doing well.' said Serena over the com. 'Continue the assault and destroy the hive.'
There were still defenses, of course, but they were all placed wrong. The assault had bypassed them and now the Dominion assault team had destroyed the primary hive clusters. Yet even as victory was within their grasp and assault came in on them, reinforcements from elsewhere.
'This is Swallow!' said Emily 'We've got swarms of mutalisks approaching our defenses!'
'Lieutenant Osimov,' said Serena 'bring your Goliaths to the front and assist Swallow.'
Serena looked out the window and saw the entire horizon had been blotted out by vast numbers of mutalisks. They came by the thousands. Massive clusters of them were mowed down by volleys of missile fire. Still more were torn to shreds by impaler rounds. Yet on they came. Beneath the onslaught of their acid several missile turrets exploded into torrents of flame. Goliaths were torn to shreds, as marines who fired desperately upward were melted alive by acid.
She should have been out there. Fighting with them. But she wasn't and she had to keep in command. Little by little the assault was broken, destroyed by a determined defense. Yet at great cost.
'This is Lieutenant Tom Morris,' said the Lieutenant of the Dominion strike team. 'we've destroyed the zerg presence on the hives.'
'Excellent work,' said Serena 'take up a defensive position and prepare to repel a zerg counterassault.' She looked to Morgan. 'Morgan get in contact with Warfield, ask him to dispatch reserves to take up a position on that plateau. And ask him for a status report.'
'Ma'am,' said Morris 'we've taken heavy casualties. Permission to withdraw.'
'Permission denied,' said Serena 'that position must be held until reinforcements can be mustered. I'm sorry, but you'll have to hold out.'
'Yes ma'am.' said Morris. 'Morris out.'
Serena leaned back in her seat and put her head in her hands. 'This is wearing me out.' She opened a channel. 'Emily what is the status on the defense?'
'We've filled the gaps they created.' said Emily 'But the zerg are going to hit us again like that. We'll need reinforcements of a serious kind to launch any assault.'
'Ma'am,' said Becky 'you said you wanted me to tell you what our scanners picked up. From the looks of things the entire capital city is infested. It's crawling with zerg. And… we've detected a terran base on the far side from us.'
'The entire city is infested?' asked Serena 'And Schezar is operating here? Is the man deranged? Alright, alright, get in contact with Warfield-'
'This is Warfield,' said Warfield 'we've destroyed the primary outlying hives nearest to the Capital, but they put up a serious fight. We're sending the reinforcements you requested, but we won't be able to launch any more assaults on the outlying clusters.'
'That's fine.' said Serena 'This is insane! What is Schezar doing here?! What are we doing here?! This was supposed to be a routine pirate hunt not a life or death struggle against impossible odds!'
'It does seem like we're dealing with a lot more hostiles than we were expecting.' mused Warfield 'I recommend we pull out.'
'We can't do that.' said Serena 'If we don't get a clear cut victory here then people will think the Dominion has gone soft. At the very least we need to seize Schezar's primary base camp. Okay, okay, I have it. We'll draw all our forces in here and annihilate the zerg in the city. Once we've done that we'll take out Schezar.
I'm going to get in contact with Emperor Mengsk. If we can establish a blockade prevent Schezar from escaping while we finish here.'
'About Schezar,' said Warfield 'I get the feeling he isn't going to sit this out.
'Schezar is cautious.' said Serena 'He doesn't like risky ventures, and the zerg are a much larger threat to both us and him. He's probably having problems with the zerg and is going to use this chance to evacuate-'
'Ma'am!' said Emily 'The zerg are attacking again! And Schezar is backing them up!'
Sure enough in the distance Serena could see many wraiths approaching alongside mutalisks. Marines and vultures marched forward alongside zerglings and hydralisks. The assault was feral and the front bunkers were in flames in moments.
'…Oh fuck.' said Serena 'All garrison units redeply to the western bridge! Stop them! Nothing get through!'
Several of the bunkers were destroyed, and men fled from them to form a second line of defense. Many were torn apart by zerg before the rest of the garrison came to aid them. Siege tanks tore into her forces from across the bridge. Frontal Company and the rest were having a gunfight with Schezar's Scavengers even as they tried to shoot down zerglings.
All she could do was watch. She'd already deployed everything she could. All Serena could do was watch and hope they won. Over the next few minutes huge numbers of people died as the Dominion forces rushed to defend the line against an onslaught of zerg. When at last the zerg were all dead, what remained of Schezar's strike force fled across the breach.
Fresh forces from Warfield then arrives.
Serena looked at her hands. 'Okay, that's it. Get all remaining reserve forces down here. We're bringing everything we have into this.' She looked to Warfield. 'Take tactical command. I need to speak with Arcturus about this.'
She made her way into her quarters and opened up a private channel to Emperor Mengsk's office. Soon enough Arcturus appeared. 'Ah, Serena I see-'
'Scattered zerg sightings?!' roared Serena 'This entire planet is crawling with the things! We've faced multiple all out assaults in the first two days! Schezar's forces aren't getting attacked by them either, he actually helped one of their assaults!
Who the hell sent that intelligence report?! Whoever they are they should be put up against a wall and shot!'
'Calm down Commander!' snapped Mengsk 'What is happening?'
Serena sighed. 'Just what I said. There are way too many zerg down here and Schezar is helping them attack us. Our death toll is over a thousand already, and it's only going to get higher.
I need reinforcements and I need them now.'
'I understand,' said Mengsk 'I feel I should explain the situation. The wraith forces who followed the Soldier III only had a very brief amount of time to look over Valhalla V before they were discovered by zerg and chased off.
At the time we assumed Schezar was only temporarily there, so we dispatched you and Warfield immediately in the hopes of catching him. Obviously we underestimated the zerg presence and there are more than a few unknown elements.
It's unfortunate, but this sort of thing happens in war.
I'll dispatch a fleet to assist you at once.'
'Thank you.' said Serena 'A lot of good men got killed out here.'
'Then we'll honor their memory through victory.' said Mengsk 'Now get moving.'
Schezar received the report from Sanchez calmly, his hands clasped together. Schezar was always calm, always in control. It was why Sanchez admired him so much, when everyone else was freaking out, Schezar had a plan. Sanchez just hoped he hadn't screwed it up.
'In summary sir,' said Sanchez 'we lost a lot of good men. The Dominion held out and now they're advancing on us. We've already lost one of the zerg hives and taken massive casualties.'
Schezar smiled. 'Excellent.'
'Sir?' said Sanchez, not sure if Schezar heard him right.
'It is, of course, unfortunate about your men.' said Schezar 'It was a calculated gamble on your part. If it had worked it might have routed our enemy. Despite it's failure, however, the result was largely positive.'
'…I don't understand sir.' said Sanchez 'We're losing hives and they have a foothold.'
'Yes, of course we've lost many zerg.' said Schezar 'But that is no great loss. The zerg are not sentient, they are no more to be valued than any other weapon. And even if we lose a few hives they can easily be replaced by having our cerebrate take control of some of the various other feral broods which are all too common in this sector.
On the other hand the Dominion has lost a great many soldiers and valuable weaponry which cannot be so easily replaced.
I shall be honest with you, Sanchez. I never expected to hold Valhalla V. This whole affair is little more than an elaborate trap which the Dominion have fallen into. I intend to force the Dominion into either a pyrric defeat, or a pyrric victory.'
'You sure they won't pull out?' asked Sanchez.
'Far from it,' said Schezar 'to pull out would be political suicide. We would have effectively gotten off scot free after raiding their shipping repeatedly and devastating their shipyards. No, Arcturus Mengsk has no alternative but to continue to attack us.
To that end I want you to begin prepping your base for evacuation. Gradually move our men and material to other areas of Valhalla V. We want to keep Mengsk here as long as possible.'
'Yes sir.' said Sanchez 'But… what if we win?'
'Then all the better for us, Sanchez.' said Schezar 'In the meantime I have another matter to attend to.'
Well here is the next chapter. Enjoy I guess.