"Enough of this psychic stuff," Daniel complained to Ariel when his tenth daily session of Commencement was over. He had made significant inroads in stalling Ariel's mind probing for a few seconds, but doing so invariably drained him of all his psionic reserves.
The two had just started walking side by side, both of them enveloped in a small hemispherical, scintillating personnel shield that protected them from the ambient radiation that was emitted from the entire planet surface.
She smirked at Daniel's lack of tolerance for the strenuous psychic tests. "You're lucky we even offered it to you," she retorted. "You're not at the level of the two Ghosts who are in the fleet."
"Oh well, and you just had to be so good with your mind at Commencement meets too, would you?" he quipped.
"Yep, while I may be human the Protoss have gifted me with the ability to do wonders with my mind," Ariel stated softly. "I'm basically 'plugged in' to the Protoss collective."
"In other words you're a walking Khaydarin Crystal. Listen, I'm not sure how useful developing my mind will be considering battles are being fought on a very - large - scale. Don't you think it will be more useful if we learned a bit more about your technology?"
"I've told you plenty already. What else is there to cover?" she asked, leading him to the massive, landed Protoss Carrier where Daniel had first found her.
"I don't know, it just seems that my men aren't as prepared as we would like to be two weeks after having landed on Korhal. Who knows what the Zerg could be doing at this very moment, how many innocent civilians they're killing right now--"
"Currently the Zerg aren't engaged against humanity anywhere across all of Koprulu."
"Yeah, great, but I mean they will someday, when they find another inhabited planet, or when they choose to strike one of the human worlds... they'll need defenses."
"They HAVE defenses. While initially they have been caught off guard, the Confederates and the Umojan-Morian Combine have been rushing to produce vessels using their factories across all their worlds ever since the Zerg reared their ugly heads on Mar Sara. According to our sector-wide observations, they have recently drafted considerable numbers of new conscripts and gotten them into rapid training. The production facilities have been turning out machines of war for quite a while already, and the militaries on the remaining planets have already more than doubled and are still growing very rapidly. In a few more days the first battlecruisers will be ready. Even the newly produced fleet at Braxis is larger than your so-called Harbinger Fleet."
"Pooh! So the Confederates doubled their standing forces from one million to two million. So what? One million soldiers were wiped out in the space of fifteen hours on Tarsonis, and they were fighting on the same planet and so had the benefit of focused fire. They need a lot more than that to stop just the Zerg force that assaulted Tarsonis."
"I'm trying to say that even if you were to throw all of your fleet into war you will be regarded as merely another drop in the bucket. You won't make a dent against any Zerg swarm intent on annihilating one of the planets."
"Then why don't you make us capable of doing that? We're allies, right? And you have the technology to help defend our worlds against the Zerg."
"Oh, so THAT's what this discussion is about, huh?" challenged Ariel, for once seemingly angry. "You want to get your hands on our technology?"
"No!... I mean - yes..."
"Daniel, we have for all the centuries we have fought the Zerg been doing our utmost to expand our production possibilities frontier and construct ever-larger, ever more powerful, ever more resilient fleets and dispatched them to explore ever-more distant reaches of the stars. We have obliterated any Zerg we have encountered at every turn, and hunted them out of innumerable worlds. Billions upon billions of Zerg have been eradicated, and yet both sides seem to have an endless stream of reinforcements. While it is true a single one of our fleets would increase the defensive capability of any of your worlds by magnitudes, and we have more such fleets than the Confederacy has Wraith starfighters, we do have finite resources. Warping in an extra ion cannon onto the Hyperion means one of our needleships will be lacking that same ion cannon. And currently we find it far more useful to have an extra needleship than an extra ion cannon on the Hyperion because our vessels are better in many other ways and they are all under a highly efficient and highly knowledgeable central command. It is for your good, too, that we do what we are doing."
"Hmm." Daniel didn't know how to argue against that. He wasn't quite surprised that the Protoss, advanced as they were, would have an impeccable logic for every action they undertook. But he had truly hoped that he could make a difference in the scheme of things, even though his fleet was small by comparison to just about everyone else's. He wasn't about to let this meeting come to naught. "Ariel, as a human, you must know that it feels very stifling to not be able to do something patriotic, to help save fellow humans in a time of need," he remarked.
"Actually, I've not had that feeling," said Ariel, blushing.
"Well... I do, and I'm quite certain most people on board my fleet would agree with me. We may not have much of a military, but we are soldiers. We are ready."
"ARE you ready?" Ariel inquired sarcastically.
"More so than any other human in the world," declared Daniel, alluding to his being the first human to encounter both the Zerg and the Protoss. Heck, wasn't it him who had given names to BOTH of these two alien races?
"Actually, you aren't the first human to have seen either of our races," corrected Ariel.
"What do you mean?" asked Daniel as they entered the vessel, back to the homely chamber where he had first encountered Ariel.
"To your peoples history is always half cloaked in secrecy. I believe we mentioned earlier that the Protoss had so far cleansed three Terran - human - worlds, one of which you cannot account for. That world is the moon, Chau Sara."
Recognition dawned on him. "Ah yes, that makes sense now," agreed Daniel. It, the first moon of Mar Sara had inexplicably disappeared off the map half a decade ago, and no communication or transport had been sent there ever since. As far as he knew, Chau Sara was suddenly abandoned, owing to some mysterious cause...
"You don't mean to say that Chau Sara was overrun with the Zerg too!" exclaimed Daniel as he sat down on what had been a bed, but which had heeded a mental command from Ariel and had promptly reorganized itself into a sofa. So the war hadn't started just in the past two months...
"They weren't. Instead, the Confederacy managed to gain the upper hand in the fight against the Zerg after a great deal of difficulty. We do not know how the Zerg originally arrived on the planet, but we soon noticed psionic fluctuations in that sector and were sent to investigate, with orders to eradicate all non-Protoss life that we encountered. The Confederates there were destroyed as well. We razed all of the few paltry bases established on the world, then swiftly departed."
"I see. And those Confederate bastards, they knew that they were up against something dire and they decided to keep it under wraps! I bet that's how Edmund Duke became a General despite him being such a fool!" Daniel was quickly getting excited and outraged, and had no desire to cool down.
Ariel smiled warmly. "It seems you are finally starting to trust me."
"Well, thinking logically I concluded that since the Protoss has such advanced technology it would be futile to go against your will in any way. It's not like we stand a fighting chance."
"Good point. Though we as a race do wish for humans to be at peace and have at least some autonomy as to what you wish to do. Unless you do something incredibly stupid, we probably won't do anything to stop you."
"Good, because right now I want to go to all the other planets and bomb the Confederates and their stinking government into pieces. No, actually, that wouldn't be a good idea; my family is on Halcyon. I dearly hope they're all right..."
"You wish to see them again?"
"No; I can meet with them at any time; it's only a small hassle to use an ansible to communicate with them. I just haven't gotten around to doing that lately, as I've been rather busy lately with other matters. But much of that we can't accomplish with our sluggish vessels..."
"I can sense your desire, Daniel," said Ariel sweetly.
"You desire to obtain our blinking drive to suit your own purposes. You desire to trade your psi emitter technology for our blinking drive technology, do you not? We have already analyzed your psi emitters and have already produced more of them than you can imagine. The Protoss do not trade technologies with lesser races..."
Daniel was crestfallen. But if we can't get technologies like that, how will we ever be able to wander across the stars?
"...The Protoss GIFTS such technologies to them."
"Huh?" Daniel was clearly startled by his change of luck. "You mean it? You're going to simply share with us your hyperspace travel capabilities?"
"Not only that, but more." And with that, Ariel departed, leaving Daniel alone and wondering just what the future would hold once his fleet was no longer constrained by the sluggish speeds of gravitic slipstream drive.
Christopher went to the secondary entertainment room to get a rest as the Hyperion lifted back off into space on its dozen Quantradyne engines. The secondary entertainment room was for those who wanted to enjoy free time in relative peace and relaxation, as contrasted with the primary one, which was always filled with brawling fights and competitive drinking like any old-fashioned battlecruiser would have. The secondary was barely ever visited, and that was why Daniel chose to go there. After hours of heavy programming work, Christopher wanted to spend some time meditating.
Instead, he found several Protoss Khalai busy at work, brilliant cyan lights flowing about everywhere, and an enormous, gilded contraption filled most of the room. All the game tables and televisions were absent...
"What the heck do you think you're doing here!?" demanded Christopher in the only way he knew, staring at the uninvited Protoss and hoping that they would be able to understand.
And understand they did. A nameless Khalai turned to face him, and replied directly and forcefully into his mind, <Don't you want to be able to go to another planet? Do you think getting there is a stroll in the garden?>
<Exactly, this is an instance of the blinking drive. With it, your ships will be able to reach their destination within minutes by entering hyperspace. The same hyperspace you saw when you, Daniel, and Ariel warped to Korhal. This would shorten your effective journeying time by more than 99.99 percent compared to your gravitic slipstream drives.>
Really?!!! Damn, that's cool! So much for my worrying about whether or not we'd make it in time. "Well then, I'm sorry I was so rude against you, you're certainly welcome to install these devices as long as they--"
<Apologies accepted. We hope you do not mean to imply that our technologies should fail?>
"Absolutely not!" Christopher backtracked, though that was the very suspicion he had. "Your technologies are probably fail-safe, are they not?"
<Protoss technologies are superior to all others. You can rest assured, as can the Whispering One.>
"I assume that there's a radius of effect for this warp drive?"
<Any allied vessels within a hundred kilometers may be brought along by this blinking drive. There now, the warp drive is finished.>
"All right then, tell me, how do you activate this contraption?"
<You activate it by sending a psionic signature into the device telling it to activate or deactivate and where to go. If you have a telepath with you, it's actually quite intuitive.> Without sending a farewell of any sort, the Khalai vanished in a short-lived, swirling sphere of blue. Major Christopher Lowry was the only person in the room, and he looked on at the golden device with awed wonder, before speaking into his intercom to inform the other majors.
Moments later Ariel returned to Daniel's side, her lips curled into a soft smile. "It's already done. We have already installed a blinking drive on the Hyperion. With that one ship you can bring a perhaps infinite number of ships along with you as you journey across the galaxy." Light was shining in Ariel's eyes, and Daniel found her utterly beautiful - more beautiful than he could imagine, perhaps.
The next moment, several people burst into the room, huffing and saluting. "Admiral, sir! Our old entertainment room has been replaced by something else, something entirely different!"
"You won't believe what we found!" burst another in excitement.
"Yeah, well try me," Daniel said, crossing his arms and presenting himself very calmly.
"In its place we found an incredibly advanced piece of technology! I mean, the golden device couldn't even possibly have been brought into the room, it was so large!--"
Daniel faked a yawn as he bade farewell to Ariel. "That's old news," he muttered to them. The officials, stunned, stared back at him in wonder before following him back to the Hyperion. Ariel collapsed onto her bed, yawning.
"What's going on?" alarmed people kept asking Daniel as he swept past them on his way to the bridge. He didn't answer them, and so they trudged right after him. Soon a whole mass of important officials had filled the bridge, and stood beside a table as Daniel brought up a hologram of the Koprulu sector right over the table. There they were, independent worlds Moria and Umoja, and all thirteen planets of the Confederacy: the capital world Tarsonis, and anywhere between three and thirty light years away, core worlds Antiga, Brontes, Dylar IV, Halcyon, Korhal IV, Pridewater, Tyrador, and fringe worlds Agria, Braxis, Char, Chau Sara, and its moon Mar Sara. Daniel studied Char closely; the fringe world was lightly defended, far from aid, and rather close to Mar Sara - perhaps too close.
All the while there were questions of "What happened?", "What's going on?", and "We going somewhere?"
"Yes, we are going somewhere," Daniel shouted out, desperate for some peace of mind. With the blinking drive the Protoss had just gifted his fleet, he could have a flexibility of space navigation never before seen by any humans. "We leave right now. Too many people on too many worlds face the dire threat of a sector-wide Zerg offensive. We must save as many of them as possible, as soon as possible, and bring them here where the Protoss may have the technology needed to fend off the aliens. "I don't expect anything TOO interesting to happen during this expedition, however. I will be expecting that the ground fleet continues smoothly building the base while we're gone."
Sarlena interrupted, "Daniel, you do realize that we don't have close to the firepower that the Confederate worlds can muster against the Zerg, especially the core worlds. After all, there are many, many important people on them - from the Confederate point of view, anyway."
"Excuse me, but how are we going to get there?" asked Raynor. "I'm certain you are aware that we're missing a gravitic drive."
"Oh, but we have something better," replied Daniel, patting him on the back. "As usual, leave the worrying to me."
"So we need to go save the other worlds, in case any trouble comes to them," declared Christopher.
To this Daniel nodded. "Adjutant, tell the others to bring our entire fleet into low orbit and to cluster around the Hyperion at close range. Our destination: Char."
As the adjutant went off to perform her duties, Raynor turned to him and asked, "You do realize that it will be hard to convince the people on Char to defect and join the Sons - no --" - he frowned - "just what are we calling ourselves again?"
"And I doubt we will have trouble convincing them of a need to join forces with us."
The adjutant chimed in, "Prepare for launch." Silently, softly, and without any feeling of acceleration, the Hyperion jettisoned itself upward the skies at incredible speeds to join the host of other Harbinger vessels rising into space.