"Tell me the truth." Daniel was in a somber, perhaps even dark mood when he entered Ariel's bedroom chamber on her Carrier, one of many designated as Pride of Aiur. The room was a rather dim sepia. Ariel was in her bed, and... crying. She didn't answer, but instead carried on with her sobbing.
Daniel knew well enough not to let this decidedly feminine gesture weaken his resolve. He walked right up to Ariel. "You can stop that act now, Protoss 'ambassador'. I Said tell me the truth."
"What truth do you want to know?" asked Ariel, her words distorted by the arrhythmic heaving of her lungs.
"THE truth. Who - What - you are, what your true purpose here is, where you came from, your background..."
Ariel swiped away the tears from her eyes and cheeks with the back of her hand, then looked up at Daniel with glistening eyes. "Okay... I think you deserve to know it now. The Protoss have numerous technologies, including mastery of nanotechnology and warping in. We can create matter where nothing existed before, banish matter from existence and into another, unreal plane, and reassemble utility fogs."
"Mist-like space that results when nanorobots, or nanites, come together into a three-dimensional 'web' of microscopic proportions. It is the intermediate phase between transitioning of nanorobots from one form to another. It is what allowed me to turn into something much like a vapor to travel through the roof, and what allowed me to restore my original form. The nanites can store tremendous amounts of information and can act remarkably quickly and with great accuracy. The nanites are also responsible for generating matter; if you were to put a drop of my blood inside a spectroscope for analysis, for example, you'll see that I have real human cells, but you'll also find the even smaller nanites mixed in."
"So... you're human, and yet you're not?"
"I AM human!" exclaimed Ariel in annoyance.
Daniel came up close and stated coldly and seriously, "Let me tell you something about being a human. Being a human means that you Never become Not a human. You can't exactly be one of us."
Then he softened. "Of course, I have to thank you for saving my life."
Ariel un-tensed and smiled. "Thanks must be expressed by deed."
"What would you have me do?" inquired Daniel, who had been expecting a 'you're welcome'.
"Nothing... at least for now. I'll save your gratitude for later," Ariel replied with a smile.
"So... how did you get here to begin with?"
"The first thing I remember is waking up from sleep on this bed with knowledge of everything I would be expected to know as any normal human being. I first thought that this was because my previous memory had been erased or somehow lost to me, but after I discovered my telepathic abilities and linked up with the Protoss collective, I discovered just what had happened... Are you sure you want to know?" Ariel clearly did not want to have to continue.
Ariel sighed. "Well, the Protoss had warped-in me out of nothingness. So one moment the bed was empty, the next moment, there I was, in bed and asleep, just in time for you, Christopher, and James to barge in and see me there. It is clear that the Protoss created me, drawing upon their knowledge of human psychology to decide what my initial form would be - an eighteen-year-old woman - and using their extensive knowledge of what human females typically look like to design and ultimately create my body. Wouldn't you agree, that of all the possibilities that I could have taken, my present form is the most effective for my role as ambassador? Can the Protoss instill as much trust as they could have in your mind, and the minds of your crew, if they had appeared in person, or had used a mature man with the likeness of Mengsk? Could a younger person, or a less beautiful one, be as persuasive as I am? Would I have been treated as a person like I am now, and not feared or avoided by other humans, if I had been someone or something entirely different? There is 'method to the madness' of what the Protoss do, whether you would be inclined to acknowledge them or not."
"See, that wasn't too bad."
"Huh? You mean you're not shocked?"
"Not really," Daniel could reply truthfully. "While I was alone I extended the entire line of reasoning out - I extrapolated that you might be you simply for our two races' convenience. You're an ambassador, after all. After what I've seen today I'd expect no less than for you to be able to make the type of food I currently feel like eating." <Omelet.>
Ariel obligingly smiled. She raised her hand palm-up, as if she were holding a tray, releasing a golden cloud from her hand. Suddenly two porcelain plates materialized, and on top of that, a pair of savory, steaming omelets. The golden mist vanished, and with another smile, she extended the dish over to Daniel, balancing it with the grace of an experienced waitress.
"My point exactly," said Daniel, chuckling as he happily took the proffered omelets. "Two. You want us to dine together?"
Ariel nodded enthusiastically, her eyes flaring bright. A golden mist came out of the floor between them and swiftly transformed into a dark-cherry wooden dining table and two opposite-facing chairs. Simultaneously the marble-tile room around them swirled away from existence, and they found themselves in what appeared to be a park, surrounded with verdant flora and the fragrance of countless blooming flowers. A newly appeared sun smiled down upon them and zephyrs of fresh wind blew across the room. It was as if they were no longer on a Protoss Carrier, but as if they had gone planetside to Eden.
"Wonderful. Shall we?" said Daniel, as both proceeded to sit down and partake in a delightful meal.
"Ariel, I never had the chance to learn much about the Protoss. Since you have already have a literally inside-and-out understanding of us,--"
"Sure. The Protoss refer to themselves as the Firstborn, because they were the first creations of the Xel'Naga, another race that had developed in millennia past. Oh, I guess I had better start from the beginning. The Xel'Naga are known for six great creations, all but one of which were recorded in our ancient texts. The first was the Temple of Life, which had the power to make anything living have eternal life - with immunity to all threats for all time. It was built on a planet we call Xerus, but we do not have the coordinates of Xerus.
"The second was the Temple of Knowledge, which knew all things past, present, and future, and which was built on our Homeworld, Aiur. Strangely, the Xel'Naga never used the device, probably preferring a universe where the future would remain steeped in mystery. In honor of their decision to do so, our peoples have likewise never tapped into this Temple's data banks."
"Sounds like Adam and Eve."
"What was that? Ah yes, come to think of it, it Does seem to be similar. How unusual.
"The third is the Telekinetic Plane, a whole new reality less real than this one. There are no speed limits in the Telekinetic Plane, but it cannot transmit matter. We, you, and your Ghost operatives can use it for telepathy, which you have probably realized acts instantaneously. It is what allows the ansibles to work - and unfortunately, the psi emitters and ultimately the psionic communication that the Zerg use. We have always believed that a certain modification by the Xel'Naga is needed to make access to the Telekinetic Plane possible, but with our encounter with telepaths of your kind it has become apparent that this is not so.
"The fourth is the Hyperspace Plane, which can be temporarily connected to this reality via a "hyperspace window", such as the ones we create when we use our blink drives. Transport time can reduced by many magnitudes when traveling through hyperspace, and over the course of our interstellar technology's development we have seen gradual increases in our real-counterpart velocities when blinking. This is not the same technology the Zerg use when they create a wormhole; that is done by bending the fabric of space-time. Wormhole creation always takes the same amount of time, and so tunneling drives are capable of being significantly 'faster' than blinking drives over very long distances.
"The fifth is the Firstborn. The Protoss were a sentient species native to Aiur before the Xel'Naga came a thousand years ago and genetically modified them, and taught us the technology we have now. At that time the Xel'Naga already knew that they were about to Ascend to a new state of being - 'Nirvana' may be a close way of describing it - but they felt that they wanted to leave a legacy in our reality before they left. So they created the perfect race out of the first Protoss. One blessed with technology superior to all others in all the known galaxies save for the Xel'Naga themselves. One with the ability to enter the Telekinetic Plane. One with freedom amongst the stars. One for which all individuals could think as individuals and yet think together as a single collective and thus make technological progress many magnitudes faster than those not part of a collective. But this also meant that we were a race perfect in comparison to all else, and the Xel'Naga in their wisdom knew that this would breed hubris and decadence in all of us. And so they purposefully created a cancer of interstellar proportions, and the galaxy's worst nightmare.
"The sixth is the Secondborn. The Zerg. At the beginning they were not the same as they are now. Whereas the Protoss were made exemplars of Purity of Form, the Zerg were made exemplars of Purity of Essence. They had the seed that could one day grow into all other things, as they had a more primitive variety of nanite that could slowly assimilate nearly anything. The nascent race began as a handful of drones and a solitary Overmind which rapidly grew to massive proportions, wielding the power to control an infinite number of Zerg minions. Now, we do not know where the Overmind is, but if our Homeworld held the Temple of Knowledge, it is conceivable that of the great number of stars in the galaxy, the Homeworld of the Zerg also holds the Temple of Life. If so, however, there has yet to be found a single Zerg that can withstand the power of our fleets' weaponry for even a second.
"After their final creation, the Xel'Naga suddenly vanished, never to appear again. The Protoss were already more than capable of traveling the stars on our own, and that was exactly what we did: for five centuries we were explorers of the stars, and the concept of a military was unknown to us. We had our own Prime Directive, which was to observe and protect all other sentient species we met. All that changed when we first encountered the Zerg five centuries ago. Having had no knowledge of the presence of the Zerg, we had done very little to expand our construction capabilities and no reason to develop superior technologies of any kind. Meanwhile, the Zerg had by then assimilated numerous worlds, adding the technological and biological distinctiveness of all those they had encountered unto their own, on both a genetic and cybernetic level. They had large Swarms filled with creatures of diverse subspecies, most of which had various modes of destruction. They quickly destroyed numerous Protoss exploratory colonies.
"That was when we realized that we had to develop a military - a first in five hundred years, ever since our creation - and we couldn't look to the sex struggles of all the other species native to our planet for wisdom. We had to develop military strategies, and build Stargates and all the other structures we needed in a hurry. We had to send observers to seek out the locations of the Zerg, and develop a variety of starships, weapons, and defenses to resist the Zerg. And resist we did, but for all this remaining time, the war seems to be nothing if not a draw. Both sides continue to expand its area of control across the galaxy, and to search for each other, and neither has yet to find the other's Homeworld. We still lack the coordinates of the Overmind and so have no way of assaulting it directly.
"We have come a long way in these five centuries. We have gone from a civilization with a mere handful of colonies to one with far-spanning reach across much of the galaxy and with thousands of Forge Worlds from which our fleets are constantly built. Our state-of-the-art technologies have dramatically improved to catch up with that of the Zerg and ultimately to be superior to theirs. Our starships now number in the billions. War is the mother of very, very much."
"Wow. Neat story," Daniel commended.
"It's not just a story," said Ariel, quite offended. "It's the history of the Protoss race!"
"I didn't say it wasn't."
"Well, it's not the entire history of our race by a long shot. You see, there are actually two sects of the Protoss. The light ones are those who are all telepathically linked together in the great Collective, also known as the Khala. That is the sect of Protoss we hail from. There are also those who have been inclined to unplug from the Khala and experience true individuality. Since we do all retain some individuality whether or not we are part of the Khala, it does happen that a substantial population prefer life as an Unbound to that as a Bound. The dark ones are the sect of all Protoss who wish to remain Unbound.
"It is the general sentiment of the light ones that the dark ones are less efficient than we are as a result of their being Unbound; for example, research is painstakingly slow when one has no one else to rely on but oneself to think things through, even with our highly advanced artificial intelligence for support. Given that we are in the middle of a war that could threaten the very future of not only all the Protoss race but that of those under our protective umbrella as well, we find the prospect of a divided, weakened state unacceptable. They must be brought back to the Collective if we are to be as resourceful and efficient as we can possibly be, even if numerous lives be lost in doing so. Otherwise, there would remain a dark ones sect to which other members of the collective may desire to join, weakening us still further."
"I was told that for every perspective or argument is a counterargument. What is the dark ones' point of view?"
"The dark ones, of course, differ in their arguments. Some believe that the right thing to do is to resist our 'aggression' directly, that is, by attempting to defeat us, which is impossible because we outnumber them by at least ten to one, probably far more. There are others who wish to merely remain as Unbound but still contribute to the race's well-being. Then there are those who believe the latter's reasoning to be treasonous, and there are still others who are pacifist, and others who wish to delay this bickering for as long as possible, etcetera. Whereas the light ones have all been able to come to the same conclusion, the dark ones are highly fragmented and hold a wide range of positions on the matter, proof enough of their inefficiency."
"In our society there is something to be gained from having people, even organizations, holding diverse points of view. Each unique point of view has the potential to offer its own solution to any given problem, which can work wonders when most of our strategists are stumped."
"Yes, indeed. There is much to be gained from fighting a war when there would otherwise be peace; your kind developed nuclear power only because World War Two was in progress. Like I said, war is the mother of so many things. But you have little to gain and everything to lose in fighting a secondary, unnecessary war when there is already a war in progress which may be overwhelming on its own."
By now both had finished their meal. Daniel and Ariel got up and began to walk along the length of the park. It was strange; this surreal park was like a constantly remade room that gave the appearance of endlessness. It was also like a treadmill, in that Daniel could walk in one direction for a long time, much farther than what it would normally take to get to the side of the vessel interior, and yet still be exactly where he had before; instead, the rest of the landscape moved backward when he attempted to walk forward, giving the appearance that he was traveling in an endless garden.
Daniel took in a deep breath, relishing the scent - or lack thereof - of a gust of cool, fresh air, as he gazed forward at the like-real scene before him. "Beautiful. Just beautiful."
And as they walked together, Ariel covertly stole dreamy glances at him.