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Blood cascaded from his midsection, a crimson spout of hasty decisions that muddied his pristine uniform. Employing his own justice with no reinforcements against an Arorem criminal mastermind was far from his finest idea. You’ve always been weak, Eryen. Your mother would be so disappointed. He thunderously pummeled his desk, hoping to drown out the voice of his judgmental father.

“Lieutenant, where the hell are you?!”

The sweaty bean pole of a man shuffled in, his knees tremorous trees in a hurricane. “Major General, I... regret to inform you that the last of our salves have been deployed with our medics. I could only scrounge up some emergency gauze.” Major General Tallou struck his desk again, this time chipping away at the structural integrity of the lieutenant’s legs. The weight of delivering the bad news made the flimsy man’s lower half buckle. You never wanted to upset M.G. Tallou lest you evoke his wrath.

“Give it here.” With a sweaty-handed transaction, the lieutenant retreated through the pod bay doors as Tallou bandaged his torso. The incendiary sting of microtoxins festering his flesh pulsated from the knife wound. With all of the ground troops deployed on the asteroid, the UNSF Nina was short-staffed, and undersupplied. The ship’s defensive capabilities had not been realized since touching down on Tychus Morgana. If there’s one thing Tallou hated, it was playing the waiting game. His appetite for combat was paralleled only by his vast inability to connect with others.

Pressing his hand to his forest fire of a torso, he could feel the acute burning of his insides spreading. He had to act fast. Traipsing through the metallic corridor, he boarded his private ship and set his sights on The Burroughs. The seedy cultural meeting ground housed an unscrupulous character crucial to Tallou’s survival: Gratto Blex. A Machento of his dishonest caliber most assuredly owned something in hen’s pawn shop that would cure him. Or at very least, stave off death for a few hours.

In the reflection of the ship’s interior window, Tallou swore he saw a fleeting glimpse of his mother’s face. In place of the bustling neon lights of the underground trade center, he found only fiery clouds of devastation. A space vessel being reduced to ash, millions of passengers crying out in vain. You never did hear her say she loved you, Eryen. She would have been lying if she had said it, anyways. Tallou violently threw his head to and fro, hoping to shake away his deteriorating mental state. Hallucinations were a common side effect of microtoxin poisoning.

Mustering all the energy he could to fly straight, Tallou landed outside of Gratto Blex’s pawn shop. Hen’s usual barleen wind chimes jangled upon his entry. The shop was littered with piles of unusual knick knacks, trinkets, and keepsakes, a haven for miscellany. Tossing a pink orb back and forth between hen’s four arms, Gratto greeted Tallou with a chortle.

“Eryen, mih fren. Wha’za kin I be dooin’ fer yer?” The usual grin that preceded a haggling match slid smoothly onto hen’s visage. “I told you to never call me that,” Tallou huffed exasperatedly, almost doubling over from the excruciating pain. “I need...a salve. I know my medics frequent this establishment. Have you...have you a salve?” Tallou winced. Gratto reached into hen’s vest pocket, revealing the grey canister with the power enough to heal the dying man. “Lik’a theez? Wot’ve ye got fer mih, den?”

“I’ll give you 50,000 credits,” Tallou managed, before taking a knee. “Tsk, tsk. We’za no dooin’ bizniz lik’a dat. We’za dooin’ de bartering here.” The palace of eccentricities began to swirl in Tallou’s head as he struggled to stand on his feet. “I... don’t have anything to trade you, Gratto. All I have are credits. Please. I think... I think..” Before he could utter the tragic truth of his mortality, Tallou collapsed again to the floor, coughing up blood.

“Den we’za have no deal.” The stinging embers that surged through Tallou’s body were compounded by his rage. He was more firestorm than man. “Listen here, you four-armed freak! Give me that salve!” Any other time, Tallou would have been at the ready with his trusty plasma rifle. In his inflamed stupor, he had not brought a weapon with him. Poor, pathetic Eryen. Will you ever amount to anything?

Gratto pulled out what seemed to be another Leshiball and began to juggle with it. The newer orb was a bright red that started to glow as he caught and released it. Not a Leshiball at all, in fact. A Globulus Grenade. “Unh uh uh, we’za thinkin’ you bess be goin.’” Futility coursed through his torrid veins as he backed away slowly. Ravaged by the poison, Tallou was in no state to fight back. A wave of existential dread washed over his scorched insides. Swiftly, anger took its place. He looked back at the pawn shop as he exited through the barleen chimes and again saw the vision of the explosion. His now blood-red eyes fixated on vengeance. Time was running out. That foolish Machento had cost him his life. There was no way Tallou would survive another few hours before succumbing completely. He crawled his way back to his ship and plotted his revenge every second before reboarding the Nina.

An apparition of flesh and rot, Tallou appeared before the bean pole lieutenant within the Weapons Emergency Control Room. “Major General?” Tallou propped himself up against the nearby table. “Lieutenant, I want you to shift all of the energy reserves to online,” he mustered with a tone more serious than impending death. “Yessir, what is our target?” Tallou looked at the data output screens and spotted the swift phantom flickers of explosions again.

“Set sights on The Burroughs. On my mark.” The fury and desperation of a dying man’s last order. Little did he know that his vengeance would cause an inferno that would rage on for years to come. The first official attack on what history would remember as The Great UNSF-Balesh War. The tremorous lieutenant’s finger hovered nervously over the red button.