Despite their best efforts, Daniel, Christopher, and Raynor gaped in surprise at what they saw in the room before them.
A very large room without any doors, walled on every side with marble and mahogany. Pillars supported the room down the center. Along the far end was a solitary queen-size bed, and someone was evidently sleeping under the bedsheets. To the side, a nightstand and a wardrobe. A few potted plants was at each corner. The place had a very comfortable, spacious, and luxurious touch. A few cool lights shone from above, softly illuminating the room in place of windows. Fresh air lingered through the air. For a moment Daniel wondered if he was dreaming and the dream had shifted into some other storyline, because this seemed to have nothing to do with space travel. Of all the things he had mentally prepared himself for, he hadn't prepared for a homely, tranquil welcome like this one - then again, he felt more at ease when encountered with this situation than he imagined to be possible for a man boarding an alien starship.
And yet, it seemed strange... He paused to consider what was strange about it. Only then did Daniel realize that the thing most wrong about it all was that it seemed too... human.
"Are we dreaming? We must be dreaming," noted Raynor.
"This isn't right... It's too much like home!" Christopher agreed.
"Quiet," Daniel whispered to the other two as the trio silently motioned into the room, breathing heavily and on high alert. After pausing to make sure nothing was about to spring on them, they walked over toward the far end of the room and the bed located there. Without a sound they sneaked up on the bed, all the while keeping a lookout for anything suspicious. Daniel was incredibly suspicious. Why did this place look so much like a human residence, when this was clearly an otherworldly vessel? Why did this room not have an exit to another room? These questions were going through his mind as Raylor, with his Gauss trained on the bed, flung the bedsheets off, revealing the slumbering form of a teenage girl, who started moving drowsily.
"She's a woman!" "It's a human!" muttered Christopher and Daniel, respectively, in disbelief, and just stared at her.
That she was indeed. She had the appearance of a slender nineteen-year-old young lady with hourglass physique, fair complexion, and long, flowing golden hair. Her ears and neck were adorned with resplendent violet jewelry, and her face was soft and pristine. Even in her peaceful slumber she appeared remarkably vivacious, easily one of the most beautiful people any of the three men had ever laid sight on. It seemed she had been pulled straight out of a cosmetic ad and made into reality. Her alluring appearance held the trio in enchanted captivation.
Daniel almost instantly found himself lusting for her, but held his emotions in check, reminding himself not to judge a person by one's appearance.
"Uh, did anyone consider the possibility that maybe the Others are merely a long-lost human group?" asked Raynor, the grip on his gun loosening. He looked at Daniel with an accusatory glance. "All that preparing for the extreme possibility, and we didn't prepare for this?"
"Something is telling me this isn't right," protested Daniel as the girl's breathing quickened and she stirred awake. Long, bold eyelashes adorned her glittering eyes.
"Whoa!" she screamed in high-pitched terror as all three armored men aimed their guns at her. She didn't try to get out of bed. "Please don't... Wait... Who are you?" Having awakened, the young woman was clearly even more breathtakingly attractive, with exotic, violet eyes that glinted forcefully in the light.
"What the--! You are in no position to ask questions. I ask the questions right now. How do you know our language?!?"
"There is much that we know," Ariel replied evasively.
"What are you?" demanded Daniel.
"She's obviously human, who does she look like?" protested Raynor.
"What are you?" repeated Daniel again, this time getting impatient.
"I'm... I'm Ariel," she replied, stuttering.
"I'm obviously human, if that's what you're wondering," Ariel stated plainly. "Now, can you let me get up? It feels... uh... awkward being caught unawares in bed by three soldiers and having three sets of guns being aimed at me," she protested.
"Um, how about no?" retorted Daniel. Being suspicious, he drove telepathically into her mind - and ran into a brick wall which revealed nothing about whatever Ariel might be thinking of at the moment. This only further aroused Daniel's suspicions. "Only those who aren't truly human would say that they are. Raynor, Chris, when's the last time either of you said 'I'm a human'?" Looking at the startled lady, he smiled at having made his point.
"Oh come on, Daniel, don't be such a -"
"A what? Don't you see it? The aliens are trying to turn us against each other already? They're using HER - a human, whom by the looks of the place they have been holding in captivity, or one whom they've brainwashed - to get us off guard. I suggest we be careful while we're here. Just because we four seem to be the only ones here doesn't mean that we're close to safe right now," Daniel replied, keeping his gun on Ariel's head even as the other two put theirs back into their holsters.
"I think you're suffering from a bit of paranoia," noted Christopher.
"Uh, if you paid any attention to the battle on Mar Sara, it was my paranoia that saved the day when everyone else wanted to simply rely on a couple of nukes," declared Daniel. "It was my paranoia that led to us expecting the Zerg to show up on Antiga!" Turning back to the girl, he demanded, "Oh, so you're human, eh? Then how come you're here? How come you're in a room, with no food, no water, all alone, and without an exit? Hmm?" Daniel smiled; he had reasoned her into a corner and she would now have to reveal her secret.
"There ARE doors to other rooms in this ship," replied Ariel, making no attempt to escape. "However, unlike the docking hatch they are integrated into the wall. You'll find them there," she said, pointing to another wall. Daniel didn't even bother to look, discounting anything he might have seen by looking as being a hallucination or some other trick.
"How did you end up getting here?" asked Christopher.
"I... You know what, I don't remember any more."
"That's odd... Really odd," noted Daniel with a snicker.
"Oh come on, we've been here two minutes already and we're still alive," said James. "You don't have to be so alarmed, okay?"
"That's because we have a hostage at gunpoint! Mexican standoff, ever heard of it? There could be cloaked guns aimed at us this very moment, with the technology I'd expect them to have! What, you only want to be alive for three minutes?" retorted Daniel before threatening Ariel once again with his gun. "Make me trust you."
"Uh... How can I?"
"Well, you can begin by telling us everything you know about the Others."
"The alien race that is taking you hostage," replied James.
"Oh, you mean those of this ship? They call themselves the Firstborn," Ariel stated calmly and soothingly. "They were created by another alien race, the same ones who created the other aliens you've been fighting, known as the Xel'Naga. The Firstborn are technologically advanced compared to that of the Confederacy."
"Yeah, we know," said James. "Say, what is with this insistence on calling them the Firstborn? Are they the oldest race to have arisen?"
"No, they are not; there are a handful of races that have attained sentience before the Firstborn did."
"And are you a member of this Firstborn?" asked Daniel, not knowing if these "Firstborn" were actually a splinter sect from humanity or an alien race like he had assumed for a while now.
"No; the Firstborn are not humans," Ariel replied with a smile. "Although I am."
"Changelings!" Daniel insisted.
"Oh give it up!"
"Hey, uh, listen, this is a Firstborn ship so they might not be pleased to know that we've boarded and are meeting with one of their human captives. Should we be escorting Ariel back to our ship?" asked James.
"What are you, crazy?" Daniel snarled at him. "For all we know she could be a walking time bomb ready to blow up the Hyperion!" Everyone turned to stare calculatingly at her, as if to perceive if she were truly a threat behind flowing gown and fair skin.
Ariel smiled nervously. "Erm... actually, there will be no need to 'rescue' me from the Firstborn."
"What's that supposed to mean?" exclaimed Daniel, readying to fire his Gauss at any moment.
"I merely meant that... you see... I'm the Firstborn representative for the humans. And ambassador."
"What the fu**!" exclaimed Christopher, readying his gun again.
"See I told you there was something suspicious," concluded Daniel. "What do you mean by representative and ambassador for the Protoss?"
"And you are the human representative to the Protoss. I hope we can interact peacefully, freelancer admiral Daniel Travincal."
Daniel smiled. "You know a lot more than you are letting on, aren't you?"
"Yes, we do."
"We?" said Daniel, narrowing his eyes. Does this mean that she's one of them, in disguise?
"Uh, yes. I... er, speak for the Firstborn. Oh, and I remember now where I came from," Ariel blurted out. "It's like this. From afar we have scanned your ship and learned far more than even you know about the Hyperion. As you entered the room we scanned you, throughout your body, and so here I am - reconstructed on a molecular basis from knowledge about your anatomy and physiology."
"I knew it," said Daniel. The Protoss race is too advanced for us to confront. No point fighting them from this point on. He returned the gun to his holster, the other two having already done so, and helped the young lady get out of bed, already fully dressed. She was very attractive - and Daniel had a very good hunch as to why. Well, that was a nice ploy by the Firstborn, constructing a human to be a representative to the humans, he commended silently. Contrary to what Daniel half expected, no cloaked weapon suddenly fired at him. This was actually a peaceful place, a peace which only the humans had violated. It seemed the three officials had no need after all to be so alert - Ariel was evidently quite relaxed now that they had put away their weaponry. At least we didn't end up shooting each other. "Well, so can we see a real Firstborn now?"
"I think you're ready for that," Ariel replied sweetly. Suddenly a life-sized, bluish hologram appeared in the middle of the room. It seemed almost humanoid in shape, but with different proportions, a tan, reptilian-like scaly skin, a larger body size, and bluish, glowing eyes. For hair it had three gnarled--things--reaching back two meters to its back. Its hands had three opposable thumbs and two fingers. Aside from the scales, which at this point could have possibly been mistaken for a vest, the creature was otherwise 'naked'...
"Wow, so that's what the Firstborn really are," muttered Christopher. He then smiled. "It's not every day that you get to be the first of your race to lay sight on another, totally alien life form."
"Come to think of it, a misnomer such as 'Firstborn' seems entirely inadequate. What kind of name is that, anyway?" remarked Christopher, finally easing into more pleasant, friendly conversation.
Ariel smiled in understanding. "I see, you would like to give the Firstborn a more... exotic name, am I correct?"
"Very much so."
"Well then, since you are after all the first humans to have come into our vessels, we can change the name if you want to. Let's see, an exotic name..." Ariel walked back and forth across the polished floor, deep in thought.
Daniel spoke into his helmet's comlink, "Admiral to fleet. All clear. The Protoss seem to wish us no harm." Although Daniel stopped muted the external speakers, he didn't doubt that the Protoss had plenty of ways to hack into their communications. Nevertheless, Ariel didn't seem to have heard, or if she did, she took no notice.
Ariel stopped walking and whirled to face the others, a delightful smile etched across her face. "How about... Protoss?"
"A fitting name," Daniel decided immediately. And so it was determined, that this would be humanity's name for this particular spacefaring species.
Ariel continued, "Then it's settled. I represent... the Protoss," she said to no one in particular, listening to the sounds of the word and finding it to be a nice fit. Now, we already know a lot about you and the technology your civilization is capable of. You, however, are special, as you have a trait few others of your kind possess."
<You mean this?> asked Daniel with his mind. I'm special because of my telepathy?
<Of course you are, Whispering One. Your fellow Terrans, however, are mute.> It seemed to be practically a thought SHOUT, for he had never experienced such forceful communications with anyone except--the Overmind, who suddenly seemed to have been deliberately speaking in a 'normal' tone that Daniel could more readily handle. <We originally did not have telepathy either, for it is a gift that we ourselves received many centuries ago. However, the technology has since become ubiquitous and now almost all of our kind are linked in thought via our ability to communicate on the mental plane.>
Daniel stood in place, stunned by the very unfolding of this effective 'dialogue' he could hold with the Protoss, something certainly made possible only through the advanced alien technology they possessed... As he mused on this, countless images of Protoss-colonized worlds and increasingly violent battles with both each other and the Zerg flooded his mind in relentless torrents of information. He saw hour-long battles rush to completion in the flash of an eye, and understood all that had transpired; he was taken in by the grandeur of the Protoss starcraft.
<So it seems that we have another thing in common: We are at war against the Zerg. How did your battle with the Zerg begin?> Daniel found communicating with a fellow human via the mind to be far more likable than having to spend a much greater amount of time speaking the words.
<That is a long battle which we have fought for a millennia of Tarsonis years. We have forgotten the reason, though we are constantly reminded of it by endless bloodshed.> (Tarsonis years were remarkably similar to Earth ones.)
<We too have a grudge against the Zerg, and we have been fighting them for the last two months.> The meaning of a "month" was also transmitted via telepathy as a concrete entity that Ariel could easily understand.
<That we know. Our observers have been following the progress of Zerg and Terran alike. For one thing, you do not know that we Protoss came several Tarsonis hours after the last evacuations from the planet where you first encountered the Zerg-->
<Agreed, then Mar Sara. Then we obliterated the Zerg, as well as all other life on that planet.>
Daniel was surprised. Mar Sara too? <Just as you obliterated Antiga?>
<We sense what you refer to, and yes, much like we did to Antiga.>
<Yes, you have some good weaponry-->
<We sense your desire for our weaponry. Of that, only you shall master of these brought before us, Whispering One.>
Daniel's hopes were stopped at that. <Then we'll have to rely on our own,> he thought.
<Yes, you have your own weapons against the Zerg. Inefficient and impotent, but they seem to offer your people a misguided sense of your own safety.>
<Hey, don't insult our weaponry!>
<Sure. Of course, we both realize that you already have realized the superiority of our weaponry,> Ariel replied telepathically.
<Hence, our need to find someone with more. Otherwise, I sense the Zerg shall take planet after planet... And we only have so many planets left.>
<Only 24 worlds that you know of, of which fifteen are in Koprulu, including the three we destroyed?> This count didn't include Tarsonis.
<Three???> Daniel tried to peer inside Ariel's mind once again, only to run into the mental equivalent of an electric fence. His mind instantly recoiled and he found himself frowning.
<Ah, you shall learn of that third one later. We do have potent weapons, but you should not underestimate your own.>
<What do you consider to be our potent weaponry?> Daniel rapidly recalled the various weapons he had seen the humans wield.
<Your psi emitter is very attractive to us, and the now destroyed phase disruptor fired a uh... interesting projectile not long ago.>
Okay, so you are fully psionically oriented. <Were you dragged toward the psionic emanations or did you seek them out of your own accord?>
<We must not be at the whims of others who would seek to lure us, or else we should one time or another find ourselves in dire situations. The Zerg are a force to be reckoned with indeed, one such as which our race has not encountered one similar. All that which your human peoples may control pales in comparison, but we see flickers of your advantages. You are indeed worthy specimens for us to analyze, and you may be worthy of assimilation.>
<Yes, Whispering One--fine then, Daniel Travincal--We shall explain more of this to you-->
<For as long as we recall, we have been fully linked to each other as a race--each member of it, able to communicate with, and also to block out the thoughts of, each other. In meeting with you, while you give your thoughts to us, we share such thoughts, and so our entire race is made knowing of that information even as we communicate through the Protoss specimen you see before you.>
<Amazing... Could you do that kind of bioengineering for us? We would have much to benefit from doing this.>
<We see no significant potential to be gained by undergoing such treatment in those you bring with you, and you already can use your telepathy to communicate with any of us-- to an extent.>
This entire conversation had taken mere seconds for their minds to process, during which the astonished humans had been analyzing Ariel and the craft. But one minute later, Christopher looked at Daniel--still staring, he was--and bumped his elbow into Daniel's side.
!!!That hurt!!! "Oww! What was that for?" Daniel questioned him, as the others came to attention.
"You've been staring at the girl absent-mindedly, I think, and I wanted to make sure she wasn't mesmerizing you."
Meanwhile, he continued his communication with the Protoss.
< I believe we've been holding this conversation for too long, Daniel Travincal,> communicated the Protoss representative. <We shall begin phase warping to one of our staging worlds shortly. Has your barrier been tested?>
<Has any other psionic entity tried to pry information from inside your mind?>
<Yes, indeed. The--Overmind.>
<That is exactly what we suspected. Were you able to resist?>
< I don't know if I succeeded.>
<The Overmind is very wily. If you don't know if it succeeded, then it succeeded.>
"Now, we are planning to blink to an abandoned world, so if you wish, you may take one last look at Tarsonis before we leave," Ariel said as she gestured to the walls. All around them the polished walls, floor and ceiling were seemingly replaced with glass. Mouths open in awe, the three newcomers saw the other Protoss vessels arranged nearby, high orbit over the former Confederate capital world which loomed right below them.
Suddenly, they experienced an eerie feeling, like the very laws of physics had changed. Of course, it was indescribable, except that none of the humans could even feel that anything had changed. Unbeknownst to them, they had gone thorough a door between the real space-time continuum into that of another reality altogether, one that could only be described as hyperspace, and were now hurtling off at the equivalent of tremendous velocities toward their new destination, without really moving at all in this new reality.
Aboard one of the fleeing Terran vessels:
"They vanished. Just like that," someone Confederate reported to someone else his superior.