Art of WarEdit
"Good. Well, in this short period of time I have learned an awful lot from you already. It wouldn't be exactly fair to have just me informed and keep my loyal friends in the dark, would it?" As he stroked the bark on one of the trees, Daniel spoke into a comlink, "Chris, Sarlena, James, report to Pride of Aiur."
Daniel had been strolling through the almost surreal park-in-a-starship for ten minutes, chatting with Ariel all the time. She had taught him that since he had eaten the omelet that she had miraculously conjured from out of nothing, that Daniel now had his own store of nanites for him to use at his disposal.
"Really? ... Actually, I figured as much," replied Daniel, rapidly adapting to this new bit of knowledge. "So... Is this something that I can do at will, just like you can?"
"The nanites within you have been set to respond to your telepathic signals. Just communicate to them with your mind, and they will listen. Why don't you give it a try?"
Daniel turned to a nearby pine tree, and concentrated on analyzing a part of it carefully, memorizing the 'gist' of the plant's appearance and remembering what he knew from biology class. It was amazing that the Protoss had hacked so deeply into human encyclopedias and video data that they knew exactly what a pine tree was like, both in overall appearance and also the cells on a biological level. <Let's see, why don't we make a pine cone right here in my hand?> concentrated Daniel, hoping that the nanites within him would pick up on his command.
From his open palm exuded a slight golden mist - which Daniel now knew to be a nanite utility fog - that swiftly reformed into a pine cone. He turned it over in his hands, and quickly came to the conclusion that it had been made exactly according to the specifications his mind had retained about what this particular object should look like - it was an impeccable duplicate. Daniel turned to Ariel, a perhaps jejune delight on his face. "So, does this cone have the ability to mature into a pine tree?"
"Of course it would if you had in any way 'told' the nanites within you to build a fertile pine cone."
The rear admiral and two colonels entered through the Protoss Carrier's hatch and found themselves suddenly in a simulated environment far larger than could possibly fit inside such a ship. "What the..."
"Na ah uh," interrupted Daniel. "Let's first thank Ariel for making this such an appealing place for a visit, why don't we?"
Chris looked over at James who looked over at Sarlena.
"...Thank you for giving us such a fabulous welcome," said Sarlena, breaking the ice with a pleasant smile.
"Come on, let's take a seat," said Daniel, indicating a wooden table in the middle of a nearby clearing. Soon they were all seated and had made themselves comfortable. "Lady and gentlemen," began Daniel, sounding extremely formal, "today is an important day for human-Protoss relations, and therefore for you all as well. Because today our lovely ambassador will be telling us about what the Protoss have been doing to fight the Zerg!" said Daniel, excitement clearly expressed on his face. It caught on immediately, and soon Ariel found herself being stared at by four awaiting listeners.
"Will I?" Ariel asked, her face flushed in embarrassment.
"Of course! After all that discussion we had about nanites, it only makes sense that you would continue the discussion with what actions the Protoss have done in their battle against the Zerg!"
"Oh, um," muttered Ariel, as she realized that Daniel was verbally forcing her to start this 'introduction'. "Right. I Was going to be telling you all about that topic. Let's see, where should we begin?"
"On the issue of why you haven't wiped out all the Zerg with your extremely powerful nanite technology, which the Protoss clearly possess."
"Well, that would be because the Zerg possess, in a word, numbers. Overwhelming numbers, in the trillions. Scattered throughout the stars--"
"Ariel, you're making the Protoss sound like a bunch of people who like making up excuses!"
"No I'm not! Oh all right, maybe that wasn't the way to go. But it is the predominant reason we haven't been able to simply crush them. Sure, we do wipe out whole Swarms of the Zerg every once in a while, and eliminate entire squadrons of their fliers daily, but it is quite evident that their daily production capacity could very easily be greater than what we manage to destroy daily. They have the Nydus tunneling drives responsible for those warp vortexes that you have seen over Antiga and later over Tarsonis, which means that they can easily escape to places where we can't scout them out. And the galaxy is immense. Four hundred billion star systems. It is unimaginable just how frighteningly large that number truly is. We have only covered roughly an eighth of the planets and stars of the Milky Way, leaving immense gaps in our coverage in the numerous asteroid fields and nebulae where the Swarms could hide from us. And there are about a million trillion trillion asteroids in this galaxy alone. Then there is also the very great possibility that contingents of the Zerg have left for other galaxies altogether - it is possible with the technology that they have to far outpace our ability to catch up to them, since they merely need to warp to the other end of the universe, whereas we would have to spend millennia exploring and permanently keeping tabs on every hole and alcove where the Zerg could potentially hide, for every galaxy and star system in the universe. The Zerg are a cancer that has metastasized. Localized surgery will accomplish nothing than to defend the planets we currently hold and explore new ones."
"Do you mean to say that this war can never end?" asked Christopher in dismay.
"No," replied Daniel. "It merely means that we can't ever be sure when we have found the last Zerg hideout. But know this: the Zerg are led by a solitary Overmind, and should that Overmind ever fall, the rest surely will collapse into infighting." Turning to Ariel, he remarked, "It surely seems like a wise thing for the Xel'Naga to do, to create this Zerg as a way of keeping the Protoss from slipping into decadence, perhaps for all time," remarked Daniel, to which Ariel could only agree.
"Create? Xel'Naga? What- what are you talking ab-"
"ANYWAYS," interrupted Daniel, "Ariel, do you have some good news to share regarding how goes our fight against the Zerg?"
"Of course. we are superior in all things but numbers. We have every technology that they have, save the ability to command their many minions. We have perhaps the ultimate in destructive technology, that is to destroy anything no matter how large it is. We have weaponry that can crush whole fleets in seconds. We have deflector shielding that make all of our constructs at least temporarily immune to any incoming forces the Zerg may try to throw at us. We have the ability to instantly share and receive knowledge from all of our other counterparts spread across the stars. We have incredibly advanced nanites that can work miracles and swiftly repair damaged vessels. We have the ability to analyze and reproduce any technology we encounter. We can gather the whole of our fleets to any location in the universe as we may desire within minutes. We have crushed and sky-blasted thousands of Zerg worlds. And, of course, we have won almost every engagement with the Zerg for the past hundred years. There, is that good enough for you?"
"I don't know," replied Daniel with all honesty. "A large enough magnitude puts any level of technology in perspective," he remarked.
"So," said James, "we've never seen just what your worlds are like. It seems improbable that they would all be like the admittedly small presence you have planetside here on Korhal. How does a fleet get built?"
"We have numerous Forge Worlds - planets brimming with industrial production capability, and each of which is much, much greater than all the Confederacy ever had. Our Homeworld of Aiur is our first and foremost Forge World. Hourly, thousands upon thousands of starships are built from scratch in ring-like megaliths we call Stargates. The vessels are assembled from components that have been transported through hyperspace to one destination from many others. To an uninformed observer, this process - called warping-in - would appear as if the ship were being produced from absolutely nothing. It is definitely possible to warp in a copy of just about anything given a template either real or electronic, including individuals. However, it does take up a tremendous amount of energy to generate such a vessel from scratch, and so much of our Forge Worlds are gigantic power grids."
"You'll have to show me before I can understand," said Sarlena.
"You'll probably get a chance to see one someday," replied Ariel.
"If it's no problem, I'm interested in learning about the vessels you possess," remarked Christopher, a hint of the engineer inside flickering in his eyes.
"Me too, and that would be a very informative topic," agreed Daniel. "Ariel?"
"Very well. Let's talk about this on your ship; you have a holographic projector there," she replied. The group got up and left via the exit hatch. After the others had left, Daniel gave one final look at the Carrier. The park scenery had swiftly vanished into a golden utility fog, replaced by the bedroom appearance he had first encountered when he entered the vessel. He was now quite sure that the bedroom setting was also a facade for whatever were the inner workings of the Protoss vessel.
Walking down the comely and rather spacious halls of the Hyperion, Daniel thought over everything he had learned so early in the morning. That was a lot of information to digest. If it were all true, and he had little reason to doubt its veracity, it meant that the Protoss must really be viewing them all like zoo animals. With their all-of-a-sudden clumsy gravitic drive, they were all but bound to the Koprulu sector, while the Protoss could travel across the stars, unfettered as they were from any and all speed limits. It was just like when he had gone to the zoo the next planet over, and saw animals pacing to and fro in their cage. It was the same kind of vastly disproportionate scale all over again. After all, that Protoss Judicator... what was his designation again? Species Protection Premier... Hmm, I wonder what that means, thought Daniel.
Alternatively, he could liken the Protoss as that of a mother doting a baby. Ariel was certainly caring and adoring, just like one would expect a mother to be. And although Ariel was telling them a considerable amount of information, she had yet to give him a substantial amount of information telepathically, which they both knew was very well possible. It was as if she wasn't particularly concerned about letting up on the secrets of the much greater world that she represented. That was just like a mother occasionally speaking to a baby, letting out tidbits of truth whenever the baby started acting like it wanted to learn - and definitely not taking it all too seriously. Much like a mother would discount anything a baby could say or do to try to help her out with any task, Ariel seemed to downright disregard Daniel and his followers as anything that could be anything other than in need of help. At this point, Daniel didn't know if he should be feeling safe or distraught.
Before he knew it he was standing on the bridge, where the others all stood up in respect. "At ease. All right Ariel, carry on please," he gestured.
"Computer, activate hologram for Firstborn Interceptor," said Ariel.
The hologram table immediately responded by projecting the detailed 3-D image of an Interceptor in full color, slowly spinning around. If it were not for the fact that the image was translucent so that the internal components were slightly visible, one could not have distinguished between perfected hologram and a real miniature. The craft resembled a binocular, with the front of both sides being weapons turrets, the back parts the engines, and the center was the starcraft's cybernetic core.
"Whoa, now how does SHE know that the ship can be voice controlled when WE didn't have a clue it could do that?" exclaimed the adjutant.
"Ah, so clueless. It's called redundancy. What happens if the buttons fail mid-battle?" asked Daniel, acting as if he knew very well that the systems could be controlled by voice. What he didn't reveal to the others was that he had no clue, and that he surmised Ariel only knew because the Protoss had scanned the vessel long ago with a polarion beam and were aware of its entire configuration. "So, that's an interceptor, by far the most numerous of the Protoss vessels and I believe some form of starfighter."
"Indeed. Since they are so small and easy to generate, this type of vessel is highly effective in battle against the small but overwhelming numbers of the Zerg fliers. They, as are all Protoss vessels, are equipped with gravitic drives and an advanced type of fuel which you might as well call something like 'nahqadah II'. In particular they fire periodic bursts of photon torpedoes from their twin photon cannons, perhaps the least advanced of all our weaponry and yet still highly effective after centuries of use. Nanites spread throughout the craft make swift work of any hull breaches, just like they do on all our other ships. As with all our vessels, we have fusion-powered deflector shields that are capable of resisting just about every form of external harm known, with but a single exception. The interceptors are easily replaceable as all our Carriers have what are needed to create more of them. While they are most often kept in dock, they are just as capable of going through hyperspace as are any other ships and their fuel can last them for a very, very long time. Next: Computer, activate hologram for Firstborn Carrier."
The next ship to appear on the hologram was the typical bud-shaped carrier, surrounded by interceptors frozen in space. "The carrier you are already familiar with. Each is a kilometer long and one third as wide. Although they themselves are not armed, they have hangar bays capable of storing two wings of 72 interceptors each and several independently operating, very rapid assembly chains for quick production of scores more. There is plenty of room for resource and product storage, such as that of spare nanites. And, of course, regeneration chambers for the Protoss."
"Regeneration chambers?" Daniel asked quizzically.
"Of course. The average Protoss operates 96% of their lifetime trying to be as effective as possible in fighting off the Zerg and exploring new territories. They manage to accomplish this with advanced regeneration technologies that reduce downtime - 'sleep' - by a magnitude." Ariel then brought up the image of a much smaller, spherical craft. "Next we have the Observer: a passive, fully robot-controlled corvette-sized unit that is permanently invisible and is equipped with state-of-the-art cloak detectors. They are cheap to manufacture, and we produce them en masse every day. Next - the Needleship."
Tapping the hologram table, she brought up a hologram of a Needleship, resembling a needle like its namesake. It was composed of a rounded head, and the rod, three legs bundled together. Also attached to the rounded head was a sizable, solitary turret-like device which Daniel immediately recognized as an ion cannon. "At 400 meters tall, it is capable of being deployed both in space and on the ground. The extremely long, flexible legs allow it to move rapidly across even the most rugged of terrain at speeds in excess of a kilometer per fifteen seconds." This was accompanied by a depiction of the colossus rapidly deploying into its tripod form. "The ion cannon is its primary weapon, capable of destroying most smaller flyers, such as dracolisks, with a scraping pass, and capable of inflicting serious if not total damage to larger vessels. Modern versions are designed so as to be far more effective than a photon torpedo at draining a target vessel of its shielding - something very useful in our secondary war - the war between the light ones and the dark ones."
"Yes, I've seen them in action before," said Daniel. "Those ion cannons are very tight! Can you give us some?"
"No," said Ariel, looking at him suspiciously.
"I said NO!"
"Aww..." Daniel whined, but evidently he wasn't cute enough to get pass Ariel's stoic visage. "I should have known that it wouldn't have worked on you..."
"That's right. We have analyzed humanity and found that many people with positions of power in its governments' hierarchies desire nothing more than still more power - even if it comes at the expense of wanton destruction. We for one will not condone such destructive use of our technologies. Unless you can prove to us that you can resolve your difficulties without resorting to warfare, we will withhold our technologies. Now, do you still want to learn about the other vessel designations in our fleet?"
Daniel sighed in defeat. "Very well."
Following that came a crescent-shaped starcraft. "The Arbiter too is armed with an ion cannon, but that is merely ancillary. It also comes equipped with an advanced cloaking field projector that can stretch to any allied vessels and strike craft within a hundred kilometer, making it an exceptionally valuable support vessel against enemy fleets that lack a detector. This cloaking is more advanced than the ones the Confederacy uses, so that only your science vessels and the handful of missile turrets with proximity sensors can detect them. The Zerg do not have proximity sensing technology at all. However, these devices are definitely more... tedious... to make than the standard Observer's cloaking, and so we use them sparingly. Whereas Overlords can detect the cloaking of an Observer, they are rendered helpless by the cloaking of the Arbiter. However, the cloaking field projection itself has yet to be perfected and thus the Arbiter itself can be detected by those without proximity sensors."
"Don't you have one of these Arbiters with your current fleet?"
"Yes. In the battle at Tarsonis the Zerg focused their attacks on destroying the Arbiters, but we managed to keep one working."
"Then how come all your vessels were in plain sight of ours?"
"We had assumed that you would like to establish first contact with us, so we intentionally let it down when you were ready."
"I... see... You people had it all arranged from the beginning, didn't you?" Daniel accused lightheartedly.
"Naturally," replied Ariel with a smile. "We have introduced five ships so far. The last three are the true capital ships of the fleet. First we will introduce the Dreadnought, the most destructive of all of them." The hologram flickered and was replaced by the 3-D model of a ship with the shape of a flying saucer. At the bottom were ten ion cannons pointing inward on a single point. "As you can clearly see, the Dreadnought has ten ion cannons, all of which can seek out independent targets. With the incredibly resilient nanite armor of just about every Protoss vessel, the war against the dark ones has resulted in the development of more and more powerful ion beam weaponry. Over a century ago we discovered that the power of ion beams can be made to stack to cover a greater span of phase frequencies--"
"What's that?" asked Christopher.
"Don't worry, it's advanced quantum theory and you wouldn't get it. An ion weapon can become far more destructive than it would appear if it is capable of covering a greater span of phase frequencies because they put great stress on a ship's deflector shielding. Remember that this particular application is for use against other Protoss ships, complete with all of their defensive armaments. The most often used weapon on a Dreadnought is its Phased Ion Cannon Array, or PICA - look! I just made an acronym out of the blue - for short. The ten ion cannons combined allow the resultant beam to span twice the phase frequencies of a typical ion cannon. Doesn't sound like much, but it is actually a hundred times as draining to a deflector shield. Unlike the typical ion cannon, which can fire continuously, the phasing requirements mean that a PICA fires in short bursts. And then, the most destructive weapon ever conceived, and which is also installed on a Dreadnought, is its Phase Disruptor, which launches warheads that can entirely screw a target mass's phase so that it becomes entropic many magnitudes faster than normal. A world hit by one would suddenly be reduced to a hellish orb, at least until the phasing returns to normal."
"I've seen those in action," remarked Daniel gloomily, as he remembered the terrible destruction wrought by such a Phase Disruptor on Tarsonis. Which, by the way, was of Confederate origin-- "Oh yeah, that thing that was fired on Tarsonis, which we called a molecular disruption device, it did the same thing!"
"Yes. However, the Confederates have been so far unable to reverse engineer that instance of a Phase Disruptor. Two centuries ago a derelict Protoss vessel crashed onto Tarsonis, though some other equipment on board survived the journey. We have been observing the sector - you would call it Koprulu - ever since, believing that perhaps it was the Zerg that had wreaked havoc to the ship, but until just recently we have not spotted them."
<Great. Such an awesome piece of technology, and it just had to be Protoss in origin.> "Ha!" Daniel exulted. "An instance of inter-alien cooperation from centuries ago! Who would have guessed! Oh by the way, there's another piece of technology which we treasure as much as we did our gravitic drives until you came along. It allows us to meet with people across star systems in real-time. It's called the ansible. Funny, how the Confederates can't even explain to themselves how the device manages to work, and yet there it is! Working!"
"Then that would be because they didn't invent this technology of their own accord."
"The Protoss developed ansible technology nine hundred years ago. It was one of our first great breakthroughs. Just like you we found it incredibly useful for communicating with colonies on other worlds."
Daniel frowned at that morsel of information; it seriously hurt his pride as a former Confederate and as a human. "Oh no, not another one! Now don't tell me the Psi Emitter was of Protoss origin also."
"The war could very well be over if we had. As it stands, despite the recent flurry of research into the device, we don't know too much about it."
"Good!" cheered Daniel. At least human ingenuity counted for something, even if it came at the expense of what could be the Confederacy's very lifeline.
"Good? How so?"
"Erm... excuse me. Continue."
"Right... Anyways, the great majority of the Dreadnoughts we have are stationed on Aiur, and have been for over a century, awaiting information regarding the whereabouts of the dark ones' core world. The next ship I want to discuss is the Guardian." The hologram resolved into the image of a ship with two pairs of wings that spread out the sides, simultaneously resembling a massive butterfly and an angel. "The Guardian is the ultimate protective vessel. It is unarmed, with a weak deflector shield, and its only contribution to any fleet is its single flexible bubble shield which can be adjusted to protect ships up to a few hundred kilometers from itself. The bubble shield is an upgrade from the standard deflector shield, which takes up an entire ship's worth of space but whose shielding spans two times the phase frequencies of a typical ship, making it roughly a hundred times more effective per unit of shield power. Add onto that the great power reserves of a ship with no other intended purposes, and you have a massive floating shield battery," concluded Ariel with an uplifting sense of pride.
"If you wouldn't give us a good weapon, maybe a Guardian--?"
"NO!! Stop being a cry-baby!"
"I'm NOT a cry-baby!" retorted Daniel. "It's just that I... whatever. I guess resistance is futile. Continue, please."
"And last but definitely not the least, we have-" The hologram changed into the last image, a well-rounded ship resembling an blossoming flower complete with a trio of petals. "This is the flagship of most fleets: the Mothership. Aside from being a mobile space colony ever since establishing small colonies as a concept fell into disfavor, it has a sizable complement of weaponry as well as some more advanced abilities. The foremost is the ability to temporarily stop time in a particular region of space, placing all within into an absolute-black, timeless void for anywhere between a several seconds and several minutes. This Time Field has found both offensive and defensive uses. In addition the Mothership can hold six wings of 72 interceptors each, as well as serve a variety of other functions for the fleet. And that, my dear friends, is a full run-down of the Protoss fleet. Tomorrow I guess we can cover the Protoss industrial organization if you want. Oh look at the time! Daniel, we should have started our next Commencement class ten minutes ago!" Ariel said this with a full smile on her face.
Daniel, who experienced the psychological horrors and mental strain he had to endure the last time he had taken that class, simply groaned.