"Distress call? Again?" asked Daniel.
"Yes, admiral. This time it's coming from Braxis. Should we go to their aid?"
"Last time I went to anybody's aid it was a disaster," he called with shame. "Those people will be able to fend for themselves. At least, they'll fare better than if I intervened."
"Daniel, I think you're getting a bit withdrawn," mused Sarlena. "Relax a bit. It wasn't--"
"Now don't say it wasn't my fault, or I'll throw you in the brig," said Daniel with a start, pointing a threatening finger at her. Sarlena stopped talking right away. Turning to the adjutant, he said, "we're not going."
"Admiral? These distress calls... they're not even human in origin."
"What?" said Daniel, jumping out of his seat in surprise.
Braxis was a planet covered with ice the planet over. It may have once held life, but with its present orbit there wasn't single natural pool of water left anywhere on the planet. On the surface were five colonies of varying size, separated by quite a distance; the whole population on this fringe world numbered 40,000. It had a rather small military, but at the present those forces were bolstered by some regiments belonging to Alpha Fleet.
In high orbit, a circular window to hyperspace opened, gradually sweeping through the whole of Daniel's fleet. Many ships were in clear need of repairs. A landing crew had been prepared already. Everyone had already been briefed on the mission. Several of the Protoss of a different sect - the dark ones - had been taken captive by the Confederacy. Their normally cloaked Carrier had malfunctioned and crash-landed on the surface, although the dark ones had stated that it was still operable. Now they - Daniel's forces - were going to go in and attempt to rescue the Protoss.
"Blinking completed successfully. Our scanners have located the presence of the dark ones. Proceeding to coordinates..."
The fleet's vessels activated their nahqadah engines, leaving trails of fiery orange as they swiftly reached their destination.
"Admiral, Admiral Duke is hailing us."
Daniel watched the viewscreen from the bridge of the Hyperion as the portrait of Edmund Duke formed. "Ye fringe world scum! What do you think you're doing here, eh? Coming to this hell-blasted world with scarcely a tenth of the forces at my disposal? I'll give you one opportunity to surrender yourselves, and maybe I'll let you live."
"Oh, it's you," a wearied Daniel, lines trailing over his prematurely sagging face from his lack of sleep, looked at the image. "I would have thought the human leadership on this world was pretty decent, to have captured the dark ones. How'd that someone turn out to be you is beyond me."
A snarl crept up on Edmund's face. "How dare you underestimate me?! That will be your downfall! I, Edmund Duke, am in control of this planet and--"
"You're full of yourself," mused Daniel out loud.
"What did ye say? Don't you think I ought to be? Look, I don't have time to play games with you. Either come out now with your hands empty and surrender, or prepare to die a very nasty death."
Daniel snickered with his reddened, bloodshot eyes. "You got to be kidding me, right? Flee from my wrath, and let me get a good night's sleep!"
"Huh?" was the last word Edmund managed to add in before Daniel turned off the communication. "Well guys, it looks like it's our old pal Duke again. I say let's give them hell!"
"Hoorah!" shouted his men on the intercom in unison.
A minute later the main force under Daniel had fled quite a distance away from the planet, with a large portion of the Braxis Fleet in close pursuit.
On the monitor, the screen showed Duke's flagship, the battlecruiser Norad III, steadily move toward them. "Bastard's rich connections got him a new toy," Daniel remarked to himself, much to the other marines' delight. "Too bad we won't be staying around to play." He turned around to the warrant officer running the operation. "Adjutant, prepare the fleet to warp to low orbit," he ordered as the Norad III closed in on them.
"Incoming transmission." The picture flared up on the screen, revealing the nicely kept face of Admiral Duke contorted into a taunting grin. "Well, so I see you want to play with my battlecruiser, eh? I bet you won't last long, but just for you, I'll make sure my crew doesn't end it for you in a single shot."
Daniel smiled back condescendingly. "Child's play," he replied.
Both sides fired their weaponry, first lancing each others' vessels with their laser bursts, with missiles coming up swiftly.
"NOW!" shouted Daniel.
And aboard the Norad III, the live video feed of the small approaching fleet was suddenly swallowed up by a swiftly moving plane of light, and the next moment it was gone.
"What!?! How can this be? What insane technology is this?" Admiral Duke roared in contemptuous anger, yet shuddered at the thought of what the consequences might be. "Locate him. Now," he ordered his own adjutant.
"Admiral, it seems Daniel's forces have reappeared in low orbit around Braxis. Even now they are assaulting Base Gamma."
"Base Gamma? But there's nothing there, why would they... that's... preposterous!" He laughed to himself, oblivious of what was actually occurring.
"Admiral sir, let me remind you that before we headed over here, we were the sole garrison stationed at Gamma. There are currently no forces defending the entire base, which means that we have just turned over several thousand civilians and military crew to Daniel's task force."
On Base Gamma, the unarmed military personnel all came out with their hands raised the moment Daniel's ships landed on the surface, raising their proverbial white flag.
"Please spare us, God knows we didn't want anything to do with Alpha Fleet and Duke's cronies," pleaded their leader.
"That is fine, we do not intend to harm fellow humans," replied Daniel.
"Hey, that's the Travincal marker!" exclaimed one of the civilians in awe. "What are they doing here?"
"We would like to have swift and safe access to the dark ones who are being held hostage in Base Alpha. Any of you know any way to get in and get back out really quickly?"
The people shook their heads warily. "Duke's security in Alpha is quite strong. If you want to get through, you'll have to truly defeat them on this planet."
"That won't be much of a problem, considering what a bungling bloke he is," commented Daniel nonchalantly. At that, many of the civilians cheered, and were considerably more at ease. "Tell you all what - this Dominion is falling apart faster than many of you may know. I'm offering each and every one of you the opportunity to join the Travincal military instead, on fair terms, with fair treatment."
"Wow, really? What can we do for you to express our gratitude?" To which, many others nodded. Duke's regime certainly was poorly managed.
"To say the truth, there is something you can do. Now. We have a certain valuable hyperdrive core aboard one of our ships that must not be harmed. We don't want to keep it in the starship, because its element of surprise is out, and if we plant it somewhere secret in this base, it might still be of use to us. So what do you say?"
"Why, certainly!" exclaimed the leader of the base. "We have just the place for it all..."
"And, speaking of Duke, they'll be getting here soon. What are you going to tell him, when he asks why I didn't mistreat any of you?"
"We'll just tell him that we overheard you speaking to each other about how the handful of you marines can't wage a battle and manage over a thousand prisoners, sir!"
"Good, well at least someone isn't stupid," he beamed back. Meanwhile a strange contraption - most certainly NOT golden - was hauled out of one of the ships and handed over to the people stationed there.
As Daniel predicted, Duke's ground forces had parted Base Alpha for Base Gamma, its backbone composed of Goliath walkers and Siege tanks. Already the Wraiths had showed themselves and had been destroyed before they could inflict too much damage. "All right men, let's get into position," Daniel intoned.
"Dispatch all our ships for Base Beta," ordered Daniel as he and his crew returned to the Hyperion. Soon the ships had taken off, leaving a bright copper trail of fire behind them.
"Adjutant, what of the enemy forces?"
"The fleet is headed for Base Gamma. It seems they have a spy in the enthusiastic crowd we had just met who told them about the fake blinking drive we put there. The forces at Base Alpha have mostly departed for Base Beta, since they think you left your blinking drive behind and that you're out to wrestle for control of the planet, and Base Beta houses the local government buildings. How brilliant. Oh look! Their fleet has already arrived at Base Gamma and have landed." The adjutant switched to an up-close view. The ships were all parked around the base, and soldiers rushed in to claim the device that had been left there.
"Adjutant, patch me in to Edmund."
The viewscreen showed live portrait of the admiral. He was gloating. "Well, Daniel, I seem to have you in a bad position, I must say! Even now we are bringing your hyperdrive onto our ship. Soon we will have the technology you have so thoughtlessly given us! But surely you didn't think that these people in Alpha Fleet, MY men, would bow down to you? "
"That's right; I didn't think so. If you'll take your ships' scanners and scan the device you so trusted to be a hyperdrive, you'll see that it's a ready-to-go nuke. If you try to blow it up, or try to tamper with it at all, it'll blow up. And with your ships all parked around the base it'll easily take out your entire fleet. And you. Also, don't try to escape. I have sensors pointed at you and the moment I notice anything suspicious at all, I'll press the button."
The color had entirely drained from Edmund's face.
The fleet from Base Alpha had moved over to reinforce Base Beta. Only to realize, too late, that Daniel's ships weren't headed that way any more.
Aboard the Norad III, these new reports had just come in, even as on a lower deck the engineering crew was working to subvert the nuke.
Edmund paced his bridge, wondering how this could have happened. How could he, an admiral, allow such a fringe-world rogue to get the best of him? Even to have him held prisoner aboard his own ship? And he could detonate that nuke at any moment... He had made so many miscalculations in this engagement already. It didn't make any sense...
Only then did it occur to him why Daniel was here.
"Adjutant! They must be here for the Protoss we captured! Just to spite him... I want each and every one of them killed, immediately, do you hear?"
Several Dominion troops were immediately dispatched away from the main battle at Base Alpha to execute these orders. As they walked down the alleyway, they did not notice as the three Vultures on the other side of the natural wall, led by James Raynor, managed to use their hovering abilities to stack on top of each other, effectively squeezing two of the three through the supposedly-too-small gap in the wall while leaving the third behind.
The speedbike drivers immediately discharged their fragmentation grenades at them, catching them off guard. For them, it was a fatal error.
Then they continued, unhindered, past abandoned posts whose sentries had been summoned to the battle at the front lines, hurtling through the underground facility as they began their frantic search for the captives. Here Duke's bungling was once again evident, for there were lighted signs indicating the way to the "top secret interrogation room" which was so clearly where they were.
After that, and a very brief no-questions-asked-nor-answered meeting with Zeratul and company, Raynor and his sidekick spirited the Protoss out of the installation, back to the half-flaw in the natural wall they had entered through. Raynor then used his sidekick's Vulture as a base over which his own Vulture hovered, allowing his own speed-bike to rush through to the other side. Just as the Protoss found a suitable place to sit in these two Vultures' passenger seats, the prison behind them, realizing that it had been compromised, detonated, very, very belatedly.
"Daniel, this is Raynor. The caged birds are out and about. Over."
Daniel was directing the battle at Base Alpha when James and his two speed bikes pulled up, along with the two rescued dark ones. WHEW. "Congratulations on your success, Jimmy!" Daniel said, eagerly patting him on the back. Then he turned to look at the dark ones.
<Can you hear me?>
<What the... Amazing! A Terran who whispers!>
<Yes, yes, I also go by the nickname Whisperer. Now, I'd think you'll be thankful for what we've done today and the countless lives lost, so-->
< I, Prelate Zeratul, thank you for my freedom. However, we cannot divulge too much about ourselves at this point. I can sense that you have made contact with other Protoss - for you have the taint of the light ones. We have much work to do in the fight against the Zerg - very, VERY important business, one which could spell victory at last against them, about which I once again must apologize for being unable to share them with you. Here is a beacon that I wish to give you. At a later time, should you feel that the need is great, you may use it to call for us. You shall find its use to be rather intuitive, for a whisperer like you. and now, we must depart.>
It wasn't as satisfying an explanation as Daniel would have wanted, but he realized that it would have to do.
"All right. Farewell then." As the Protoss went for their landed Carrier, Daniel ordered his men to retreat back to the beckoning ships.
"Aaand... we're off!" said the adjutant as the ships launched into the firmament.
"Should we set off that nuke we left behind?" asked Christopher.
"Absolutely not," said Daniel. "We have had enough bloodshed for one day. There's no point in killing another ten thousand people just because we don't like Duke. We'll need those men in the fight against the Zerg. And besides, I promised that one day they would fight with us, under the Travincal banner."
Daniel pressed another button, and the nuke's activation device was turned off. Its red light ceased to glow. Edmund, who had still been incredibly terrified that it could go off at any moment, sighed with relief at the thought of having been spared.