Morning came swiftly to those who slept well, and most did after a most delightful previous night. A yawning and arm-stretching Daniel, dressed in a becoming suit, reached the exit hatch of the Hyperion only to see hundreds upon hundreds of people already waiting out in the open, within some kind of spherical force field that was large enough to envelop the Hyperion and some of the nearby dropships. Ariel was bounding about, rushing to the dropships to tell the people there that it was okay to come on out. Seconds later she had noticed Daniel at the entry way and pranced over. "Morning, Daniel," she greeted with a smile.
"Oh... This meeting was scheduled too early! I'm still very tired... and suffering a bit from morning-after sickness..."
"Cheer up, Daniel! Today is a historic day for both of our races! You should be delighted!" Grasping Daniel's hand, she gently pulled him out into the open. "Don't worry about the radiation; that has been taken care of with our deflector shielding. See? We're all waiting for you."
"Gee, Ariel, some ambassador you are, to be able to convince everyone to go out into the open despite the obvious danger," Daniel commended as they went along. "On whose authority? Because I certainly didn't give mine."
Ariel smiled. "Oh yes, you did. Or that's how you'll tell them, I'm sure." Before the admiral could react she had implanted a kiss on his cheeks.
"Erm... I see, you want me to go along with your plan, but how did you convince them, considering they don't even know you?"
"Being an attractive gal has isn't just for appearances' sake; it wields psychological power, the likes of which you, a man, can never tap into," she replied smilingly. Then she swirled around in a circle very gracefully. Time and again Daniel felt himself desiring her, despite her unclear background.
"It seems like you know more about the human race than you care to let on," Daniel remarked stoically.
"Like I said, I'm good at keeping secrets. Oh, the Protoss are about to arrive."
As if on cue, blue, swirling warp rifts opened up before them and the arrayed humans that were out to watch the ceremony. A second later they dissipated, revealing several otherworldly forms in their place. Protoss. Three of them. Probably naked. Each of which looked significantly different from the other two. They seemed a cross between a large reptilian figure and a humanoid, standing nearly three meters tall. Each had two hands with three opposable thumbs, and three feet, as well as cord-like objects where a human would have hair, reaching back. They lacked mouths but had a variety of similarities to the humans, including what resembled a nose and eyes.
Ariel introduced them one by one. "This is Executor Tealdarin, who has since yesterday led this fleet and several others that are currently located elsewhere. He is a male, and a member of the Templar Caste - in a word, warriors." The Templar had scaly, sometimes even spiky brown skin and its eyes glowed the entire spectrum of blue, and its pupil was a shimmering flare of shining white. It stood a formidable sight, and some of the humans backed away in surprise. That was partially due to a subconscious effect of the aura of psionic grace and power that the entity telepathically emanated.
"This is a Protoss female of the Khalai Caste - makers - whom do not go by individual names but by that of an organization including all Khalai, known as the Great Maker. She will be the one with whom you will be performing Salutation with - and no, it's not what you're thinking." The Khalai's tan skin was particularly less scaly, with far fewer ridge marks; its eyes glowed violet. Although no less imposing in actuality compared to the other two, Daniel could feel that she was diminutive and less imposing.
"This is Three of Five, the Conclave's Species Protection Premier, which includes matters involving all non-Zerg encountered species. It - Three of Five is androgynous - is one of the most revered members of the Judicator Caste - judges - all of whom are hermaphroditic." The Judicator had bluish-brown, plated skin and its eyes flared ruby red through fiery orange. These were the only distinctions Daniel could tell at a glance from looking at the three castes of the Protoss. It projected a telepathic aura of cool reasoning that cleared the mind.
The humans arrayed before them were gawking and conversing hurriedly with each other like a group of fan-girls gone giddy.
<Greetings to the three of you,> replied Daniel psychically.
<Greetings to you too. Now that Ariel has introduced to you our castes, I believe you will need some time adjusting. However, you seem to have a knowledge of the communication we use. That is commendable, as no other human around here seems to know the same.>
Daniel smiled. < I always knew that aliens aren't similar to us.> This understatement struck a chord with the Protoss, and their resulting joy at realizing this informed Daniel that they too had a sense of humor. With a start, however, he realized that the Protoss hadn't have had any humor, of any kind, for ages...
<Us humans have a lot of specialization too, perhaps far more so. However, we don't look so different, we like to consider ourselves similar enough to each other that we can associate with them. Our troubles are generally with race, though that is more prevalent on our homeland than in Koprulu.>
<Ah yes, long ago your peoples tried to oppress others solely based on skin color, eye color, and facial appearance.>
<You even know that?>
<We hacked into your transmissions long, long ago - ever since your kind arrived on the planets you call Tarsonis, Umoja and Moria.>
< Indeed. However, all is not equal between the three Protoss castes. At the top are the Judicator, rarest of the three castes, followed by Templar, the most numerous, and last but not least, the Khalai, which brings us to our main reason for our currently coming together. We are here to see that Salutation is accomplished.>
<Ah yes, of course. Erm... what's Salutation?>
< It is a ceremony held whenever psionically potent leaders of previously unmet groups meet each other, and it is one of the most influential of events. The last salutation was held several of your centuries ago, so as you can see that this is a rare ceremony.>
<So how do we do this Salutation?> Daniel asked inquisitively.
The Templar replied, <Each one of us has a special role in the Salutation process. The Templar make sure that all goes as it should and that nothing disrupts the process. The Judicator act as witnesses to its process and determine that it is indeed legitimate. And the Khalai--> The Templar's psionic signal pattered off into the chaos of conflicting emotions.
The Khalai stepped forward, and psionically began to shed its hardened skin, revealing a new, soft and silkily smooth one underneath. Daniel felt a sense of repulsion. He had no intentions of seeing a naked Protoss like that... Or is that the Protoss definition of naked anyway? And is naked a bad thing for an alien race?? Such questions were fighting inside Daniel's mind as the Khalai stepped up toward him and came down to its knees, so that its head was about a foot and a half lower than that of Daniel's.
<What's going on? What am I supposed to do?> Asked Daniel, perplexed, while staring at the Khalai.
A pause, and then, <Salutation requires that one party creates a Khalai and the other to eliminate it. Life is creative destruction.>
<So... How do I eliminate...??> Daniel already had the sense of what was coming.
<More specifically, Whispering One, you must kill her,> replied the Judicator.
<What????!!!!> Daniel was in turmoil. He had no wish to harm anyone, much less kill a Khalai, who was after all part of the Protoss race, who had given the humans, as well as him in particular, the opportunity to escape the wrath of the Zerg back on Tarsonis... Why would they want to have one of their own number killed? Were they savages? Daniel could not think of an answer to them, so he postponed, the sides of his brain still fighting with each other-- This is much like the human sacrifices of old, and they were always bloody and detestable, Daniel recalled from his history textbooks. Then again, they were after all Confederacy history books, so he couldn't be sure anything like that had really happened... But the idea was disgusting, just the very idea itself, so he knew that he ought not to do it... 'Do unto others what you would want others to do unto you' was that Commandment (which had made it to Koprulu along with the Confederacy), and it was the cornerstone of human society. To break it, shatter it like it were nothing, for a pointless meeting--even if it only occurred four times in history--is a clearly barbaric act. Yet something told Daniel that it was different this time, that something about this occasion would pardon him if he were to do as the Protoss bade him do. It was, after all, a monumental moment in the history of both races; but still, why the sacrifice of an entire person, mind, body, soul, and all? And then Daniel remembered what the Templar had told him earlier, that through the process of Phasing, they could recreate a new identity that was exactly the same as an older one, so death would not technically be the loss of a unique individual; he had experienced this himself, as the Protoss Expeditionary Fleet had fled from Tarsonis... Then Daniel remembered how so many of the rules had been broken, how nothing is as it should be, how things so strange had happened... Maybe this was just another one of them? But no, he couldn't allow himself to commit murder, be it of another race entirely... Killing a cornstalk to eat the corn may not exactly be murder, but a Protoss was more similar to a human than to corn; and he had seen in the Protoss, eyes that were strangely reminiscent of a human eye... Back on the core planets, even pets were treated like people, kept alive for as long as possible and given state-of-the-art medical care, not merely killed; how could he treat the Protoss any differently?
Gradually, another presence entered his mind: that of the Khalai, feeling anguish, repulsed, discarded, unwanted... Left all alone, unsure as well... Daniel, moved out of pity, were about to console the Khalai, when he realized that the psionic emanations were generated not because the Khalai feared for death--in fact, it seemed that the Protoss feared honor far more than death, much, much more--but because of Daniel's very inaction. In other words, the Khalai wanted to die at his hands!?! --which struck Daniel was an experience that was totally out of this world. The strength of the signal increased; now the Khalai was pleading to be killed, pleading to complete its mission, the Salutation ceremony...
<Remember,> a third voice echoed into him, throwing Daniel into even more confusion, and as it continued over the next few seconds, Daniel felt his conscious slip away...
<...Remember, that real Protoss don't die, they just fade away-->
<--Remember, this Khalai, who has devoted to you all that it has, even placed its honor on the line, so that this salutation may be accomplished...>
<<But... How... I can't!!>>
<...Remember, remember this Salutation, which marks the true beginning of the relationship between Terran and Protoss, two races, different in many ways, yet which stand united...>
---But how does this have anything to do with the relationship between Terran and Protoss?--
<Remember: let this Khalai's end be a marker for all of you, on Aiur, on Khyrador, on Shakuras, on Zerus, on Char, on Tarsonis, on ....... ......... ......... ......... .......... ......... .......... ......... ........... ........ >
--What's all those names??? Why do we need the Khalai to be a marker?!?
<Remember this point in time, the dawn of a new era, the end of another beginning, the beginning of another end...>
I shall remember, like all of you!!! I shall accept!!! May our two races live in peace for all time, and may we triumph over the Zerg!!!!!
<Remember... Remember... Remember...>
Acknowledge, Remember, Forget...
Daniel awoke on the ground near where he must have collapsed, mind summoned back by the Judicator's powerful psionic pull. The Templar and Judicator were standing nearby, looking down upon his prostrate body.
He pulled himself back up, stepping around--only then did he see the corpse of the Khalai glowing brilliantly, shining rays of light erratically flying in every direction, arc lightning trailing across the surface, as the body started to shrink, keeping its proportion, as the brilliant light grew ever stronger until Daniel had to turn away from the blinding crescendo; each moment drawn out, a ball of yarn, streching and stretching with no end in view; sparks of heat burst forth from the violet-cyan-lavender-white, opalescent sphere of amassed psionic potential, focusing with every moment, condensing, pulling itself together faster and faster, the black hole of a vortex consuming the psionic power discharged from the Khalai's body, drawing back together, into a mere pinpoint, revealing a tiny yet immensely beautiful multicolored crystal that pulsated with the very life-blood of the sacrificed one, and now its light was dimming, enveloped within the bluish, nearly opaque material, stored, empowering, enchanting, overpowering...
Daniel was dazed by the psionic shockwave that traversed through his mind. When he re-awoke, the Judicator held out a beautiful, golden amulet with the crystal embedded into its socket, placing it gently around Daniel's neck. The moment it touched his skin, Daniel felt an overpowering surge of potential, of majestic might, graceful grandeur, such a powerful feeling that few would know what it meant... He felt--capable.
It was then that Daniel realized how powerful his true psionic potential might one day become. For as Daniel looked at it, he realized that it was--
A Khaydarin Crystal.
<So... Accomplishing Salutation... is the Khalai dead??>
<You are incorrect, for the spirit of the Khalai resides within that crystal. As long as it is preserved, her spirit shall be preserved as well, and shall help you in your psionic endeavors.>
<Cool! Well, that's a relief... But what about you, do you all have such crystals as well?>
<Some of us do; others do not. Since you are the only one of your race that we have so far encountered who has psychic capabilities, to us you are set apart from all others, and deserve to be awarded with such a gift.>
<As for the Khalai...>
<Need not feel any guilt. She eagerly sacrificed her First Life so as to help your relations with out society and to enter her Third Life.>
< Indeed. That particular Khalai is one of the two reproductive forms of our race. However, it is done differently from the process of intercourse that you Terrans undergo. Our process is that of a merging. Fate willing, we shall explain more of that particular facet of our society at some later time when you have sufficiently recovered from the shock of this experience.>
<And what's this about the First and Third Life?>
<We undergo up to three transformations while we are extant in this world. The First Life is the form that I take, as you can see right in front of your eyes, and is surprisingly similar to your body. The Second Life is the result of the merging, after which we create offspring. The Third Life is life as a spirit within a Khaydarin crystal.>
<Oooh.... Sounds a bit alien to me, I'd admit-->
At this point Sarlena walked up to Daniel at a brisk pace before duly being startled. "Daniel, what the--?"
< It is best that we leave now, Whispering One,> was the way the remaining two Protoss bid him farewell--at least for the moment. Blue warp rifts opened up, then closed, thus whisking away the two Protoss. Daniel and Sarlena were left alone.
"Well, Sarlena? I was communicating with the Protoss, you know, trying to get to know them--"
"Yes, so you'll be telling us what you've discovered, am I correct?"
Just then Daniel thought of something. "You know, it would be really cool if we taught the Protoss our language--either written or spoken--so that you all would be able to communicate with them, therefore making life easier for me-" Daniel got out of his chair and strode to the viewport of the bridge, as Sarlena turned around to keep facing him. "Oh, there's no hurry. We're probably going to be here for a long while. See the Protoss base? They're obviously turning Korhal IV--at least this part--into either an outpost or a base of operations, and during this time we'll have more opportunities."
The people who had been standing not far from them had started dispersing and returning to their ships. Just then, Ariel rushed up to them, exhilaration written on her face. "Well, that was exciting! It's not every day that we get to see something so totally... different as that."
"Oh great, Ariel, why don't you accompany Sarlena and the two of you have some fun?" asked Daniel, clearly not caring, walking back to the Hyperion and opening his mouth into a yawn.