Starcraft II: Heaven's Devils

CHAPTER ONE

“With Kel-Morian attacks spread across three of the five contested zones in the Koprulu sector, Confederate forces have been hard-pressed to keep a consistent response to the mining guilds’ recent hit-and-run guerilla tactics. The resultant increases in military spending have hurt other sectors of the economy, with some of the most significant drops in agricultural support in years. Hardest hit are the independent farmers, and bankruptcies on Confederate agrarian worlds are rising sharply.”

Max Speer, Evening Report for UNN November 2487

THE PLANET SHILOH, THE CONFEDERACY OF MAN

The early morning sun was a blinding ball of fire in the sky, and the hot air shimmered as it rose off the long queue of fuel trucks that snaked the curve and disappeared over the rise beyond. Jim Raynor, squinting behind a pair of mirrorshades, brought the tanker to a stop, switched off the ignition, and leaned back. During the hour he’d already spent in the line, he’d memorized every scuff and speck of dirt on the back end of the truck in front of him.

Through the open window of the truck’s cab, Raynor scanned the familiar landscape. The gently rolling farmland was parched, and had been for more than a month, with the hottest weather still ahead. After a brief interlude, winter would fall like a hammer and the land would be covered with a thick layer of white. “She blows hot, and she blows cold,” Raynor’s father liked to say. “But Shiloh is a bitch either way.”

The tedious grind had been difficult for the restless eighteen-year-old to get used to, but he had suffered through the first few weeks of the vespene gas ration with no complaints. His parents had enough to worry about already.

The ongoing Guild Wars had diverted resources away from the planet and, according to his father, most of the other worlds, too. As a result, farmers like Jim’s parents had to deal with fuel rationing, city residents had to cope with food shortages, and everybody had to pay higher taxes. But they all did what they had to do, knowing their sacrifice would afford them protection against the Kel-Morian Combine.

Sitting on the console next to him, Raynor’s fone chimed and Tom Omer’s face appeared. The other boy was at the wheel of his father’s flatbed truck three rigs back. “Check it out,” Omer said, as his image disappeared and a hologram blossomed over the pas senger seat. It consisted of floating puzzle pieces, at least a hundred of them, which, if assembled correctly, would create a 3-D picture. A picture that Omer had pulled up from somewhere and ordered his fone to chop, mix, and deliver. “Your time starts now,” Omer said. “Go!”

The puzzle pieces were small. None were more than an inch across and they came in all sorts of sizes and shapes. But Raynor thought he recognized some of the colors and reached out to “pick” and “place” them with quick jabs of his right index finger. He made some errors, but was quick to correct them, and it wasn’t long before an image of Anna Harper in her cheerleading uniform began to piece together.

“Nice,” Raynor said approvingly.

“More than nice. She’s my future wife,” Omer replied. “Too bad she doesn’t know I exist.”

“Eh, you’re not missing anything. Anna doesn’t really have any substance.”

“Substance?” Omer called out. “You know what, Jim? Only you would say something like that. Anyway, you finished in forty-six seconds. Not bad for a motorhead… . What you got for me?”

Raynor flipped through a bunch of pictures in the fone’s memory and chuckled when he found one of Omer dressed in a clown