Call him drunken Ira Hayes, he don't answer any more.
Not the whiskey drinking Indian, the marine who went to war.
A beaten up jukebox played old country songs in the corner of the bar. Outside, the mid-afternoon sun beat down on the cracked clay floor. The rocks surrounding the small mining town of Cripple Creek almost seemed to glow in the heat, and the horizon was half-hidden by haze. The township went about its business under the watchful eye of the local Dominion garrison.
But those in the Pink Moon sheltered from that world. The barman, Townes, was an old war veteran with only one arm. In place of the other was a crude robotic substitute. He served up drinks with little more than a vice, powered by a handful of servos which were connected to his arm just below the elbow. He was strangely proud of the device he'd often joke that he'd never play piano again, but his sex-life had improved tremendously.
Old Ma Haggard sat at the other side of the bar, smoking. She, like almost everyone else on Mar Sara, was also ex-services. The Zerg invasion of years ago had driven almost everyone into some sort of military service. Ma Haggard had piloted drop ships, evacuating refugees and dropping doomed soldiers into the middle of bloody battles. When the Zerg finally fled, she swiftly retired from the service and ended up cooking at the Pink Moon. When she wasn't cooking, she was smoking.
On a small table in the middle of the room sat a man cradling a bottled beer. He was a Vulture pilot for the Clay Pigeons, the local smuggling racket. He'd just got back from a raid and things had gone poorly the Dominion had caught up with them, easily out-gunning the Vulture hover-bikes and light armour of the raiders. He had been lucky enough to escape, but many of his comrades had met worse fates. He occasionally took out a picture from his pocket, and stared into the face of a girl, the colour faded from the sun and age.
And in the very deepest, darkest corner of the bar was a sight that was quite unique within the whole vastness of Dominion space. A single male Protoss sat alone, swirling a whisky around in a dirty glass tumbler. He was tall and gangly, though his slouched posture belied that fact. He almost looked fragile beneath his dusty desert robes, but beneath his limestone skin were powerful, lithe muscles. His face was long and thin, with deep-set, yellow glowing eyes. Tentacle-like nerve-stems grew behind his crested head and fell down across his shoulders in an alien parody of hair. His chin stretched long and smooth, with no discernible mouth to break up that grey skin.
The Protoss Eiy'ra Haiz had crash landed on Mar Sara towards the end of the Zerg invasion. He had made himself a sort of home in the desert. Whether he had chosen exile from his own kind, or whether he was simply unable to get back to Protoss space, was a topic of much discussion among the Cripple Creek locals. After years of isolation, watching the humans from afar, Eiy'ra Haiz had slowly drifted closer to their culture. He could often be found in the Pink Moon now, when it was quiet, drinking silently. He seldom spoke to anyone, but was widely believed to have a soft spot for Ma Haggard who was the only person who had ever gleaned any information from him. His corner of the bar was left untouched even at busy times. Eiy'ra Haiz had practically become a local superstition, and none dared to cross him.
He suddenly looked up from his whiskey and sat perfectly straight alert and tense. His eyes closed for a moment. Experts in Protoss body language would have seen a wave of horror pass over him, exhibited in the tightness of his eyes and the clutch of his shoulders. He rose from his bench and ran out of the room, to the curiosity of the stragglers of the bar. He looked up and down Copperhead Road, which cut through the Cripple Creek like an arrow, and ran to the boxy metal buildings which housed the Dominion forces.
As he ran, Eiy'ra Haiz signalled to the people he passed. Like all Protoss, he was telepathic and communicated psychically, rather through physical vocalisation. This communication consisted of a series of mental images and emotions which were projected directly into the mind of the 'listener'. It could be a difficult and eerie experience for humans, but after years of practice he was able to hold a conversation reasonably well. Now, as he ran, he reached out with his mind to issue a warning to everyone he saw.
Danger, he broadcast.
People stopped in the streets, frozen in fear and confusion at the sudden images which flared in their minds. People began to murmur, began to whisper amongst themselves. Most, though, dismissed the crazy Protoss figuring a drunk was a drunk, whatever species you happened to be.
When he reached the barracks, he contacted the Dominion's commanding officer.
Danger, he spoke into the mind of the officer. You must prepare yourself.
The duty sergeant rose to his feet.
"What the damn hell are you talking about?"
Your doom approaches, Eiy'ra Haiz broadcast, gravely. The Zerg have returned.
"Someone get this damned Xeno out of my barracks!" barked the sergeant, ignoring the tall alien in front of him. "I don't have time for this prophetic bullshit."
Eiy'ra Haiz was manhandled roughly out of the barracks and back onto Copperhead Road. He sensed the Zerg moving ever closer. He stopped in the street a moment, like a boulder in a river, letting current of people flow around him. He decided to return to the Pink Moon and take his grave portends to Ma Haggard.
They come again, he said to her, sending images of Zerg infestation direct into Ma Haggard's mind.
"Say, what?" she drawled around a cigarette. "When?"
Soon, Eiy'ra Haiz intoned. Your Dominion has been warned, yet they do nothing.
"Sounds like our Empire's boys," Ma said, grimly. "What d'you want me to do about it?"
Cripple Creek must be ready, Ma Haggard. It must be prepared to face its doom.
Ma sat and thought a moment, unsure whether to believe the Protoss. He was a stern and solemn figure, and she did not believe him a liar. But she was neither convinced of his sanity, nor his wisdom.
"Hey, Stagger," Ma Haggard called out to the raider, still sat alone at his table. "Stagger Lee, I'm talkin' at you." The raider looked up from the picture in his hand.
"Leave me be, Ma."
"Stop mopin' over that girl for a moment and listen. We need you to take a look around, outta town, on that Vulture of yours."
"The hell for?" he replied, brusquely.
Eiy'ra Haiz strode over to the Raider's table and stood before him.
Your doom approaches, human, he broadcast. Will you take responsibility? Or will you cower in fear?
"I don't cower from no-one, freak," replied Stagger, rising from his chair. "Don't you go calling me a coward."
Then find the Zerg. They approach even now, though I do not know from which direction.
"Goddamn Xenos, ruining my beer." Stagger pushed past Eiy'ra Haiz and strode toward the door. "Take your crazy talk elsewhere". The Protoss stood by impassively.
"Boy," called out Ma Haggard. Stagger stopped in the doorway. "Make yerself useful for once. Get out of town and check it out take Pancho and Lefty and any other Pigeons that are hanging about. There's a free drink waitin' for each of you when you get back."
"The hell there is!" cried Townes from behind the bar.
"Fine, there's a beer for y'all on me," countered Ma Haggard with a glare towards the barman.
Stagger stood in the door way for a moment, before stalking off, grumbling as he went.
"Alright, alright. Caught between a woman and a Xeno. Ain't no call for that..."
Eiy'ra Haiz turned to Ma Haggard.
Thank you, Ma Haggard. Your actions may yet save us all.
"You better be right about this," Ma cautioned, stubbing out a cigarette. "I can't afford to just go handing out beers."
Profit will be the least of your worries, Ma Haggard, broadcast Eiy'ra Haiz, solemnly. He turned and left the bar, walked down to the Dominion barracks the tallest building in Cripple Creek - and climbed onto the roof. He watched as four Vultures roared down Copperhead Road and headed South, out of town, into the hazy red desert of Mar Sara.
Now Ira's folks were hungry and their land grew crops of weed
When war came Ira volunteered, forgot the white man's greed.
It didn't take long for the Vultures to return though only two riders came back into Cripple Creek. Stagger and his companion tore back into Copperhead road and screeched to a halt, screaming and shouting. A crowd formed around them first civilians, then uneasy marines and finally the Dominion Sergeant himself gathered to hear the news.
The Zerg were back.
That mindless, all-consuming, insectile race, which had already brought one apocalypse to Mar Sara through an unrelenting hunger for destruction, were returning. In a flurry of action, the Sergeant tried to organize his marines, while Stagger Lee tore off once more on his Vulture to round up his own companions. Eiy'ra Haiz watched from his rooftop as the humans flocked in panic, trying vainly to prepare themselves for invasion.
They weren't ready when the first Zerglings burst through the cracked clay of Copperhead Road. A dozen dog-sized creatures, insectile and chitinous horrors, leapt right out of the ground and onto the unsuspecting townspeople. Eiy'ra Haiz leapt from his vantage point as three of the beasts swarmed onto an unfortunate marine, knocking the heavily armoured figure to the ground.
He produced two blades made of pure psionic energy - shimmering in a fizzing blue light as they emerged from his arms like claws. Like a bolt of lightning, he dove from the sky and skewered two of the Zerglings instantly. He kicked the third from the prone marine and drove a crackling blade deep into its unprotected underbelly. The beast squealed as it died the thin, reedy sound rising above the panicked sounds of gunfire.
The sound quickly faded, and Eiy'ra Haiz looked around as silence began to settle once more. The creatures had been killed. Sobs began to rise to fill the silence - two children knelt above the still, bloody body of their mother. No-one moved forward in comfort: all were pole-axed by the suddenness of the assault.
Eiy'ra Haiz reached out a hand to the floored marine, pulling the powered suit of armour to its feet. It weighed a tonne but was able to rise mostly under its own mechanised power. The orange helmet visor flicked open, revealing a human face buried beneath the metal. A round, female face grinned at him purple hair plastered to her head with sweat.
"Thanks, Darlin'," the marine drawled. "I'm Rita Ballou, and it looks like I owe ya a drink."
More Zerg come, Rita Ballou, the Protoss broadcast in response. Prepare yourself.
"Got time to tell me your name, Honey?"
Eiy'ra Haiz. You must protect these people.
The helmet visor clicked shut, hiding Rita's smile.
"I'll see you in the 'Moon, Ira."
Moments later, the duty Sergeant burst from the barracks, barking orders. Marines flocked to him and set up defensive positions across the street. Shaking her head melodramatically, Rita balanced her rifle on a shoulder and slowly walked into position.
She was half way across the thoroughfare when the ground shook and erupted once more. Rita dove to the floor with a scream, the first to open fire on the new threat. Zerg beast after Zerg beast rose from the floor Zerglings and Hydralisks snapping their terrible jaws, tasting the sunlight. The small band of defenders opened fire, filling the air with metal, punching into the creatures. They screamed as they died under the hail of fire. But this time, the swarm didn't stop coming wave after unrelenting wave of death came at Cripple Creek.
Marine and Protoss fought desperately against the swarm. Bands of marines fired round after round from their Gauss rifles. Eiy'ra Haiz danced through the writhing mass of Zerg, flashing his psionic blades left and right, fighting the enemy claw-to-claw. More than once he fell upon beleaguered ranks of marines, saving their lives when the Zerg got too close. The group of defenders grew tighter and tighter, gathering to a circle in the centre of Copperhead Road. Civilians locked themselves indoors, praying that the swarm wouldn't find them.
Just as the situation looked desperate, and Eiy'ra Haiz began to believe that the town was already overrun, a roar of engines flared above the din of battle. A pack of some fifteen Vulture hover-bikes ripped through the Zerg ranks, releasing frag grenades among the writhing mass. Stagger Lee's Clay Pigeons returned to Copperhead Road like a hurricane. The Zerg numbers were thinned in seconds, and swiftly the horde retreated.
The marines roared in the euphoria of victory, clapping the backs of the same raiders they had persecuted that very morning. Eiy'ra Haiz dropped to a crouch, hanging his head to the floor wearily. The fighting had been fraught and brutal, and he was overcome by a wave of exhaustion. A metal hand landed heavily on his shoulder.
"How about that drink, Darlin'?"
The wide, grinning face of Rita leaned over him.
I require little liquid nourishment, he replied, wearily. Fortifications need to be constructed, he added.
"Hell no, I mean a drink. C'mon."
Rita hauled Eiy'ra Haiz to his feet and they strode over to the Pink Moon. They entered to find the place empty. With a chuckle, Rita walked over to the bar and poured two large measures of whiskey. She handed one to the Protoss, who had sat down heavily.
"This is for savin' my ass, Ira," said Rita, raising her glass. "Thanks," she added, before drinking her whiskey in a single gulp. She almost spat it back out again when she saw the Protoss: he had placed a finger inside the glass, and before Rita's astonished eyes the digit soaked up the liquid like a sponge.
"God damn," Rita murmured under her breath. She poured out another two glasses. "What's your story, Darlin'?" she asked, brashly.
I do not understand, the Protoss replied, swirling a finger around the fresh whiskey. Rita eyed the movement suspiciously as she answered.
"How comes you're on a rock like Mar Sara?"
Eiy'ra Haiz looked straight ahead, pulling himself up straight.
During the first Zerg invasion, my homeworld, Aiur, was overrun. Our entire planet destroyed, our culture ruined. We lost almost everything.
"I'm sorry, Sugar."
Most of my people fled to fight the Zerg elsewhere. I had a family a child. We do not have many offspring Protoss young are extremely rare. I fled the fleet with my female and child, hoping to escape the Zerg threat and raise my progeny in safety. I hoped I would teach him the ways of the Khala.
He stopped broadcasting images for a moment, and sat unmoving. Rita hadn't met a Protoss before and was unaware of their body language but she had a strong sense that he was trying to master very strong emotions. She filled the silence by refilling his glass.
The mothership was destroyed as I fled overwhelmed by Zerg. I felt the screams of the dying I tried to close my mind to them, but I could not. As we abandoned my brethren to their doom, we were pursued in turn by Zerg. Our transport crashed here on Mar Sara. I was the only survivor.
"Oh, Darlin', that's a cruel hand to be dealt."
I have spent the years trying to rebuild a life here, trying to atone for my shame.
He was interrupted by the figure of Stagger Lee, who burst through the doorway.
"The hell's going on here?" he asked, eyeing Rita and the bottle in her hand. "Marine, shouldn't you be back at the line?"
"Well if it ain't the famous Stagger Lee," Rita drawled. "I'm just thanking Ira here for saving my ass back there."
"Ira, huh?" Stagger looked across at the Protoss, suspiciously. "Well. Might be we're all thankin' him soon. But not if we ain't prepared."
Stagger Lee is correct. There is much to be done.
Stagger nodded and ducked out of the bar to marshal his raiders and try to liaise with the Dominion marines. Rita hesitated a moment, unsure what to say. Eiy'ra Haiz rose and left the bar.
Thank you for the drink, Rita Ballou, he broadcast as he went.
With a sigh, Rita drank one more dram of whiskey and returned to Copperhead Road to find her squad.
Now, when the fightin' was over and Old Glory raised
Among the men who held it high was the Indian, Ira Hayes
The Zerg returned again, attacking swiftly and with renewed intensity. This time, Cripple Creek was more prepared. Buildings had been secured, and those civilians who couldn't fight were safely sequestered in the Dominion barracks. The fighting dragged on through the afternoon and into the evening. Eiy'ra Haiz fought with Stagger and Rita, patrolling the defensive positions of Cripple Creek and fighting them at dangerously close quarters.
"Listen, Darlin'" Rita had drawled to him. "If you're gonna fight with us, you might as well fight like us. Ain't no reason to be cheek to cheek with the Zerg all the time."
The fighting eventually broke, and midnight found Eiy'ra Haiz with Stagger and Rita. They sat by the train line at the edge of town. Eiy'ra Haiz predicted that the Zerg wouldn't be back until the morning at the earliest, so the three of them had retired with a few bottles of whiskey and a small horde of weaponry to teach the Protoss how to fight from a distance.
For a while they just sat in near-silence enjoying the quiet after the cacophony of screams and gunfire that had surrounded them. Eventually, Stagger broke the reverie.
"So, anyone got any good jokes?"
"Yeah," replied Rita, taking a swig of beer. "What you call a guy who asks people for jokes?"
There was another moment's silence.
I do not know, Rita, answered Eiy'ra Haiz.
Stagger barked out a laugh and threw a rock playfully at Rita.
I do not understand, Eiy'ra Haiz broadcast, after a moment of contemplation.
"It's a joke, brother," said Stagger. "Well, sort of. Somethin' to make us laugh, lighten the load."
"Don't Protoss have humour, Sugar?" asked Rita.
I am uncertain. Your human humour is strange to me. Young Protoss, I believe, experience something... similar. They project a signal which indicates non-threat, so that they can practice combat and socialisation in safety.
"Uh, yeah," said Stagger, slowly. "Sounds just the same," he added, with a sarcastic shrug.
"Don't be an ass, Stag," Rita chided. "He's talking about play-fighting. It's sorta the same."
"Well, what about adults?" asked Stagger. "You can't be all..." he stopped, and flapped a hand over Eiy'ra Haiz dramatically. "... All of the time."
Young zealots have a certain... rapport, Ira broadcast thoughtfully, uncertainly phrasing the alien social concepts. They often tease each other, have certain competitions.
"Yeah? Like what?"
They try to visualize the most bleak and terrible deaths for their comrades.
I recall now from my own training. When left unsupervised, my fellow zealots and I would often try to out-kill each other, telepathically. The result was competition, banter and a reaction similar to your jokes.
"I'm not sure I get it," said Rita, uncertainly.
Eiy'ra Haiz didn't respond immediately. Instead, he broadcast a psychic image of Rita skewered on the giant tusk of a mammoth-like Zerg Ultralisk while a swarm of flying Mutalisks sprayed acid over her unprotected flesh. The image appeared with such immediacy, such realism, and such sickening violence that Stagger and Rita both leapt to their feet with a scream.
"Jesus Christ on a Vulture!" Rita shouted, trembling in the aftermath of the terrible image.
"Man," sighed Stagger, slowly moving his hand away from the pistol holstered at his belt. "That's nasty."
"You call that humour?! You're sick Darlin'," Rita said around a deep swig of beer.
Among zealots, such things were received with something like your humour.
Then perhaps I understand less than I thought, Eiy'ra Haiz put the palm of his hand over the top of a whisky bottle and raised it upside down, soaking up the liquid through his skin.
Silence hung over them for a moment as they each sat consumed by their own thoughts.
It took me a long time to understand this, Eiy'ra Haiz broadcast, holding his whiskey bottle aloft. I have watched much, and think I begin to understand.
"What's to understand, Sugar?" Rita asked.
It appears that when humans aren't working, they are drinking. Some of you even drink while you are working.
Stagger laughed loudly at that.
"'Cause there's nothin' else to do, brother," he answered. "Ain't nothin' more to it than that."
"Sure there is," said Rita. "This stuff is like a magic potion," she explained, shaking her own bottle. "Drink enough of it, and you'll forget all your woes. Times like these, that can be a real blessing."
Why seek to forget? Eiy'ra Haiz asked. Is it not better to grieve? Or to change that which troubles you?
"Because sometimes forgettin' is all we weak-willed humans can do," Stagger answered darkly. His hand reached to a pocket which held a picture of a girl, faded now from the sun. He softly patted the pocket as he replied, "I guess it beats just... waitin' around to die."
Eiy'ra Haiz thought for a moment, then said, Yes, perhaps I understand this.
Yet another silence broke amongst the three unlikely comrades.
"Alright," said Stagger, decisively. "We got us plenty of empties. Rita, be a doll and go set 'em up over there somewhere."
Rita rose to her feet, stumbling slightly, and started slowly gathering bottles.
"Well damn my eyes," Stagger whispered under his breath. "Rita Ballou, are you drunk?" he asked, watching her awkward steps.
"Hell, yeah, I'm drunk. Shut the hell up and let me concentrate here."
You humans and your drunkenness, Eiy'ra Haiz broadcast to each of them. Somehow, the images were less clear, their meanings less distinct, than they had been earlier. He drew himself to his feet and would have a fallen over immediately had he not steadied himself with an arm.
Stagger burst into raucous laughter.
"Oh I've seen it all now. A drunk Protoss. Well I'll be."
Still chuckling, he leant down and took up his rifle.
"Alright, Ira, let's teach you a thing or two in the art of blowing the crap out of stuff."
He held out the rifle, and Eiy'ra Haiz took it from him carefully. It was a huge, bulky, rectangular thing, and the Protoss held the weight awkwardly.
"Now that there is the finest hand-held assault rifle money can buy," Stagger explained. "That's a C-14 Gauss Rifle, Impaler model. Know why they call it an Impaler, Ira?"
Eiy'ra, who was quickly learning human body language and gestures, shook his head. He was still trying to find a comfortable way to hold the bulky weapon, shifting his shoulder and arm position until he found something suitable.
Stagger answered his own question in the silence, warming to his subject. "It's 'cause it fires these metal spikes... ah, what do you call them spikes, Rita?"
"Right. Well, they call it an Impaler 'cause it fires these eight mil spikes at thirty rounds per second. Them babies will punch through two inches of steel plating ain't many Zerg won't feel that." He stood back, satisfied, and crossed his arms, watching Eiy'ra Haiz struggle with the bulk. "How does it feel?"
Awkward, Eiy'ra Haiz broadcast in response. Heavy. Clumsy. Graceless.
"Yeah, yeah, alright," said Stagger. "It ain't no fancy Protoss whizzgig. But wait 'till you try it out. Just unlock the safety..." he leaned forward and flicked a switch. The rifle made a soft buzz and started humming with life.
"Right," Rita called from the target range. "That's the last of them think we're ready, boys."
"Ok, Ira, To fire-" began Stagger, but was cut off by the cracking burst of the rifle firing. With a shout, Rita dove to the floor and put her hands over her head. Eiy'ra Haiz lurched backward under the recoil and released the trigger.
Nice, he broadcast, simply, into the ringing silence.
"You Goddam idiot!" screamed Rita, leaping to her feet. "You could at least have waited until I was off the damn range!"
"Actually, Sister, I think you were alright," Stagger said with a smile. He pointed to the target range. "Look."
Rita turned around to see the rock covered in shattered glass. Where there had been some twenty bottles standing in a neat line, there were only eight remaining.
"Woah," she gasped. "Uh, nice shooting."
Eiy'ra Haiz aimed again more carefully this time and fired a short burst, taking out two more bottles. Then he broadcast an image of Rita getting impaled by a dozen spikes and being flung back into a rock face. A final spike landed between her eyes, pinning her head back against the rock.
Rita and Stagger both stared, aghast, at the Protoss, both of them physically repelled by the image they'd seen. He somehow contrived to look smug, standing there holding the huge rifle by his side, head cocked to one side. Stagger suppressed a sudden giggle.
"Damn it, Stag!" Rita shouted. "That's not funny! Ira, don't be an asshole."
"Actually," said Stagger, chuckling. "It's kinda funny."
"The hell it-" Rita began but was again cut off, this time by an image of Rita leaping on top of Stagger and brutally caving his head in with a brown bottle.
The two of them fell about cackling hoarsely, racked by sudden fits of laughter at the ludicrously graphic imagery that filtered through their minds. Eiy'ra Haiz stood and trembled, bent over double, projecting immense psi-waves of mirth a thing he hadn't done since he was a child. A thing he had forgotten he had the capacity for.
The three of them spent the night testing their generous array of small arms from the C-14 rifle, to the P-46 and C-150 pistols, an old shotgun and hunting rifle, and even a C-10 sniper rifle that Rita had managed to scrounge. They shot at bottles and rocks until the sun began to rise on the horizon, and fallen into a drunken sleep beside the tracks.
Eiy'ra Haiz was the first to rise, having slept off the worst of the alcohol in a mere couple of hours. He decided it safe to leave the two humans sleeping soundly, so he took up the P-46 pistol, which he had felt the most comfortable with, and left for the sanctuary of his cave in the desert.
When he returned to Cripple Creek that afternoon, the Zerg were threatening to overrun the town again. Darting between the swarming mass of Zerg beasts, he managed to slash, shoot and scrape his way into the human defensive line. The Dominion marines, aware of his presence, were quite content to let the strange Protoss fight beside them. Indeed, it wasn't long before Eiy'ra Haiz had become a key presence in the town of Cripple Creek. His accuracy with his pistol became legendary, and the amount of lives he saved at close-quarters with his psi-blades rose by a dozen for every day he helped the humans fight off the Zerg threat. He slept intermittently between waves of Zerg invasion, never for more than four hours at a time.
Between the sleeping and the fighting, he would mostly be found in his darkened corner of the Pink Moon. Where previously he had sat in silence - listening to Ma Haggard and Townes the barman trade war stories he was now visited by people, civilian and Dominion marine alike, who toasted his health and bought him a drink. He grew closer and closer to Rita and Stagger, becoming firm friends over the weeks they fought together. Eiy'ra's attitude gradually grew less and less austere, and the three of them developed a great rapport by painting gruesome and vivid deaths for one another.
Well, Ira returned a hero celebrated through the land
He was wined and speeched and honored; and everybody shook his hand.
Try as they might, the Dominion sergeant was unable to get help for the mining town. The nearest Dominion Stronghold Tombstone was some distance away, and struggling themselves to hold off Zerg attacks. Even the famous Raynor's Raiders offered little in the way of help caught in a battle on two fronts against the Dominion and Zerg. But one day a small media team left Tombstone a single Medivac carrying nothing more than medical supplies, two cameramen and a field reporter. It's presence in Cripple Creek was underwhelming and unwelcome. The media team had heard of Eiy'ra Haiz's heroics, and were keen to capture the story in a heart-warming newsfeed. The Dominion was always keen for propaganda pieces and what could be more endearing than a superior alien being who had been seduced by human culture?
The people of Cripple Creek were all desperately loyal to Eiy'ra Haiz. Even the Dominon guards were unwilling to let Dominion spin doctors get hold of their brave Protoss guardian. It took days of wrangling and promised bribes but eventually, the small press team got their exclusive. Eiy'ra Haiz gave a ten minute interview, with an interpreter to voice his thoughts aloud. He was every bit the dignified, solemn presence one would have expected a Protoss Zealot to be.
The story broke over Dominion space like a storm. Eiy'ra, Cripple Creek's guardian angel, became a cult figure on all the news networks across Dominion space. Not since Jim Raynor had a single figure taken up so much time on Dominion airwaves. Eiy'ra Haiz captured people's imaginations and the Dominion was keen to capitalise.
Sure enough, after Cripple Creek had miraculously survived another week of bitter fighting against the relentless Zerg, the Dominion sent in their spin doctors hoping to use Eiy'ra Haiz to fuel their hungry propaganda machine. The Dominion's twin wars against the Zerg and against Raynor's rebellion were costly, and needed vast investment from the Dominion populace. Fully one hundred marines including twenty ferocious Firebats were sent to the aid of Cripple Creek. That the Dominion had spared valuable resources to save the town was the subject of a great many media feeds. The transport ships left Tombstone with a fanfare and a promise: to begin the evacuation of Cripple Creek, and save its heroic people from the Zerg.
When the small fleet flew across the Red River Valley and landed in the middle of the dusty town, the new troops instantly asserted their authority and took over from the local duty sergeant. They promised drop-ships to escort everyone from the doomed town within twenty-four hours but for now could only take a dozen people back to Tombstone. Among the names of the V.I.Ps were the town Mayor; several important political officers; four people selected from a lottery; and most importantly - Eiy'ra Haiz.
The Protoss, although tired and weary of fighting, refused to leave. He swore to stand and fall beside his human friends. Stagger Lee and Rita Ballou fought hard to keep Eiy'ra Haiz by their side fearing the worst for their alien friend should the Dominion claim him. Eventually, though, he was half-persuaded, half-threatened to leave Cripple Creek. He was given full reassurances that he would be reunited with his friends within the day.
Rita and Stagger watched sadly as the transport shuttle departed, taking the lucky few away to the safety of Tombstone. A few hours later, the biggest horde of Zerg that Cripple Creek had yet seen rolled over the town the reinforcements sent by Tombstone proved entirely ineffective against their numbers. After hours of brutal fighting, Rita Ballou and Stagger Lee among hundreds of others - died deaths far less imaginative than those they had joked about weeks earlier.
It was a little while before Eiy'ra Haiz learned of his friends' fate. After spending a day being shuffled around various media photo shoots and interviews, he was taken to a Dominion press liaison by the name of Joni Mitchell. Joni's first unfortunate duty was to inform Eiy'ra Haiz of his friends' death. He instantly began a mourning ritual which lasted twelve hours during which he wouldn't speak to anyone. He killed one marine guard and severely injured another when he was interrupted. Eventually, Mitchell decided to let him finish his ritual figuring it would make better press in the long run.
Eiy'ra Haiz spent the next six hours in a bar called the Green Frog Café, where the locals took much amusement in his drinking whiskey through a finger.
Mitchell escorted Eiy'ra Haiz on a media tour of the Koprulu Sector they visited Korhal, Anselm, Nepho II and even New Folsom in a storm of publicity. Eiy'ra Haiz was put on stages in town after town, presented before thousands of screaming people. He was hailed as a war hero. The whole time, as he stood amongst media spotlights and numerous anonymous dignitaries, he thought of his friends who died back in Cripple Creek without him. He thought of the people he lad let down. He thought about his family. In every face he saw amongst the crowd he saw someone who he had met and fought with in Cripple Creek. He mourned every name he recalled.
By day he travelled, mourned, and was sickeningly branded a hero a label he found increasingly hard to bear, so consumed was he by guilt, grief and alienation. By night he sat in bars and was laughed at as a novelty. 'The whisky drinking Protoss', he was called once. Eiy'ra Haiz had torn the man's right arm off and been banned from the bar for life.
On one of these forlorn evenings, Mitchell caught up with Eiy'ra Haiz in a bar, swirling his finger around a huge glass of whisky. She took a seat by his side.
"Jesus, Ira, are you just going to sit in these bars every night?"
Yes, he broadcast, solemnly.
"Why?" Joni asked.
What else would you have me do? I have no enemy to fight, save for my own nightmares and my bitter conscience. You parade me around like a hero, but I have been proved helpless in every test. I have let my friends... my family... die around me. I have twice fled my brethren, abandoning them to their fates. And now I allow myself to be paraded around like some kind of trophy. My people are built on a culture of dignity. Where is the dignity in me now? All I can do is sit, and drink, and remember.
"Why do you drink, Ira?" Joni asked, carefully. "Surely that is the greatest enemy to your dignity?"
Eiy'ra Haiz was silent a moment before he replied.
It beats just... waiting around to die.
Mitchell moved to speak, but decided to keep quiet. She sat and looked at the hunched figure of the Protoss for a moment, trying to imagine him on the frontlines of combat brave, gallant and quick as she had heard rumoured. She watched him fumble as he topped up his glass with another measure of whiskey, and wondered how such a creature could ever have been branded a hero. So all she said was:
"We're leaving for New Houston at zero-eight hundred hours. Be ready." And she left.
Eiy'ra Haiz sat alone with his thoughts and his whiskey. Maybe it was his slumped figure; maybe it was the psionic melancholy he projected; but mercifully he was uninterrupted that evening. He sat alone for a long time with his thoughts, thinking of his homeworld Aiur, and trying to understand his place in this strange galaxy he found himself in. From exile and estrangement, to brief companionship and purpose, to what? A media token and public spectacle? He was an outcast and disgrace to his own people, and a novelty to the culture which he had fought for. Feeling more alone than he ever had in his life, Eiy'ra Haiz took up the bottle from the bar beside him, and left.
Well he died drunk this morning, in this land he fought to save.
Two inches of water in a lonesome ditch was a grave for Ira Hayes.
Call him Drunken Ira Hayes he don't answer anymore.
Not the whiskey drinkin' Indian, the marine who went to war.
-Peter La Farge
'The Ballard of Ira Hayes'