Daniel was in another of his daily strategy sessions with his trusted friends and advisors, at his personal cabin aboard the Hyperion.
"Everybody knows that there's two main economic systems: the market and the command economies," said Daniel, musing about something no-one else found to have connection with the topic at hand. "The market--"
"Yes we know," replied Christopher. "The market is supposedly the more efficient of the two, and you wouldn't have to work on it in particular for the invisible hand of Adam Smith to flex its muscles. But why are you mentioning this?"
"I'm thinking about applying the concepts of the market system to the way this base is run."
"Er, well, this base is yours to give away, but not to take back. In fact, right now it's all yours, and so I don't think anyone else would have all that big of an incentive to do their best, especially since there's the tragedy of the commons and Zerg aren't within light-years of here," replied Raynor.
"I don't know, but aren't you all supposed to be smart? That's how you managed to get to your current ranks, right?" Daniel goaded them to come up with Something.
There was but one moment of silence, before Christopher continued, "well, there is indeed a way to make this market system work--you'd have to make everyone responsible for their robots." He explained: "the problem with having the robotic system rather than fielding personnel in the battles, is that no one's life is directly at stake by how well one performs. If and when a battle breaks out, and we all rush to our consoles to take command of one or more robots, it would be in each person's best interest not to do anything while everyone else does the task for them. After all, they're not losing anything. But what's good for the individual would be devastating to the society, because if no one were to command the robot in the optimal fashion, then nothing gets done and the Zerg will wash over our forces."
"Now, I'm sure there are quite a few zealots out there in our ranks who will eagerly multitask multiple robots and strive to do more than their very best," countered Sarlena vigorously in a voice that seemed to emanate the vibes of a challenge.
"Yes, but that's beside the point. If we're fielding many units at once--which will be the case if the Zerg decide to attack Travincal--then we can't depend on a handful of zealots to do it all for us, especially since doing so will mean that they would have less focus on each individual robot. Most of our forces will remain un-mobilized, meaning that the Zerg--each of which can attack on its own--will have a vast numerical advantage from the very start."
"Very good reasoning there, Chris! But now what?"
"So I'm saying that we assign each one of the to-be personal commanders with a small set of 'points'. Each point or points will correspond to command consoles of the various specifications, and so they work like currency. People would be able to use these points as a medium of exchange to, for example, trade command over a missile platform on a frigate for command over one of our new AI-only Wraiths."
At that, Raynor jumped at the idea--it was clearly something he had wanted to have since his days as marshal back on Mar Sara. "Yeah! That way, people who are aggressive and know when their offensives will work will want to keep swapping for robots closer to the front lines, while those who are a bit laid-back will exchange for robots defending this colony."
"What's more," added Sarlena, "We'd mark kills made by each individual's robots, and the kills will be rewarded by the distribution of additional points. That way, those who are good with certain 'units' will collect them, and team up and coordinate with those who are good at and who collect other types of units. Points can also be used to earn rewards--"
A brilliant light was shining in each of Daniel's eyes as he heard the proposition. This was exactly what he needed to be able to convince everyone in his military to do his or her personal best--
Daniel interrupted, saying, "so you mean that if we offer stim packs, massages, promotions, decorations, delicacies, and cabin luxuries for those with the most points, and attach a cost to robots, then everyone will want to earn them by fighting the Zerg in the most effective situations?"
"Exactly," came the reply. "That way, we can practically ensure that the individual commanders will do their utmost to earn the things that they really want."
"Wow, team, that's amazingly quick for coming up with an idea just like that," Daniel replied, and he snapped his fingers to drive the point home. He had finished his tray, and placed it back on the moving line for the cooks to take care of. "I'll be getting this concept off the ground then," he told the others before heading back out for the bridge.
By evening Daniel had drafted the first version of how the plan would work, so he asked his adjutant, "would you please patch me in with James." The adjutant obliged, replying in her sweet voice and opening the chat line.
Raynor's image, with the background of the Hyperion's bridge, appeared on screen. "Hey bud, what's up?"
"I've just finished the first outline for my plan. I was wondering if you'd like to be the one to speak about its merits in front of the crowds."
James thought about this for only a second before vigorously nodding his head. "That's exactly the way I'd like it, Daniel," he replied. Daniel then sent a copy of his conceptualization over to him, and Raynor began to peruse it. A while later, Daniel sat down and listened in on the base's primary communications network, Air Travincal.
James was already broadcasting, and Daniel knew that many others must be listening to his speech. James was speaking loudly, quickly, and most importantly, excitedly: "...And what's more, you'd get to CHOOSE what you want from our selection of rewards, whether it be decorations, or promotions in rank, or bunches of other stuff that I'm sure you'll find amazing, 'cause they're just awesome. Like, we have a good amount of caviar left on this ship, those of you lucky enough will be able to get your first taste of it in what must have been nearly a lifetime. Oh, and there's also quite a bit of illicit stuff you can trade for, like drugs, booze, and boobs--"
Daniel nearly burst out of his seat. What? How could he be saying things like that? He shook his head sadly, then crumbled back into his easy chair. Raynor's getting himself too excited about this plan himself, and I KNOW I didn't mention anything about prostitution and comfort-women during that lunch conversation... Then Daniel realized something that was missing, for the first time in over a month: the fact that Sarah wasn't with them. That's who Raynor's missing, thought Daniel. Perhaps... He meant to use the subtle advantages of this organization to give him the edge in recovering his... acquaintance, in any way possible. Even though Raynor was still talking about the things in the plan, Daniel had turned off the comlink, since he knew what Raynor was going to be saying in general. No, it's because I don't want to hear him say something improper like that again, he realized with a start. Oh, whatever. Soldiers who have put their lives on the line have a right to go a bit fuzzy on taboo and law.
Just then, Chris entered Daniel's room, flushed with shock. "Did you allow James to say that stuff?"
"Of course not, but then again, I don't really care as long as he gets the job done."
"Well. I was going to report that our training of the new commanders has been, at least in my view, a terrific success. That fleet combat simulator we devised the first week, it has passed beta testing and already quite a few students have passed the first few levels. I believe they can be called upon to drive the new Wraiths now."
"Already? Very fast. How hard did you make the simulator program?"
"You already know. Come on, I'll show you." Daniel and Chris headed for a residential building not too far away from the landed flagship. This one, the first of the several residential structures that had been built already, resembled a square doughnut, with its four walls spread in square formation and a clearing in the middle. Knowing that a tower could easily topple from concentrated fire, the Christopher had opted to make buildings no taller than three floors at the expense of considerable land, which they had plenty of. As they entered Daniel was immediately assaulted by a sense of the rooms' utter utilitarianism. In strict contrast to the lavish but clearly not useful military buildings of Mar Sara, the new buildings of Travincal seemed almost primitive. Plain steel walls comprised their exoskeletons, lacking even the most basic of wall paints. The entire complex was a great grey maze of sheet metal. The brilliant shop-lights suspended from the ceilings were reflected every which way by the steel in stark contrast to the darkness of the rest of the large chamber. Row after row of computers sat upon plain plastic desks, and the room bustled with people, seated before each of the stations, hard at work on the simulators. Daniel was elated at the sight of so many followers all working so avidly in an attempt to outdo each other. Then he remembered that they must have all been influenced by the speech James had given moments earlier.
Daniel looked around, watching as the newly designated cadets worked through whatever mission they were on, with Christopher introducing. "The first levels are the easiest, but they steadily get harder. We programmed level one to be a simple mission without any opponent AI involved. After that, levels became harder in every way we could devise. Enemy vessels became more numerous, were given superior armaments, and and improved AI, while players had fewer 'wingmen' and had to pilot more and more inferior crafts. By level six, almost every attempt resulted in defeat. Two remarkable players have made their way to level seven, however."
"Interesting. Tell them to pause their games for the moment. I want to challenge them both to a two-on-one."
"Daniel? Far as I recall you don't have any experience either piloting a real Wraith or working with the simulator. You might end up making a fool of yourself in front of everybody else."
"Oh, no, I have something better than that," said Daniel enigmatically.
"All right, would the two of you who have beaten level six report to room two," announced Christopher, before swiftly leading Daniel to the next room over. He then gave Daniel a crash course into how to use the system, followed seconds later by the entry of the two summoned cadets.
"Ah, enter! Very promising cadets, I have heard," said Daniel with a smile. "Now, I want to challenge you two to a two-on-one."
"Who will have the honor of playing on your side?" asked one.
"Neither. Show no mercy. Come on, I'm a busy man," said Daniel to the astonished cadets as he sat down behind his own computer. The other two wordlessly opened up their own terminals and soon the trio were in the game, with Christopher watching Daniel's monitor with a perplexed expression on his face.
Daniel started off not knowing how to use the controls of the simulator and also not knowing exactly what to expect from every action. His two opponents, the best of the cadets, teamed against him and with everything they had, showing no mercy. And, of course, Daniel came out the victor in under a minute.
"How did you win?" asked the appalled pair.
"Simple. I have something you don't," said Daniel.
"Like what?" asked Christopher, who couldn't believe what his eyes were telling him.
"Thank you two for teaching me your most excellent Wraith strategies," replied Daniel. "Dismissed." Although the cadets got up to leave with confusion evident on their faces, Christopher had already come to the correct conclusion. Daniel had been telepathically looking into their minds, learning how to play the simulator and learning dogfighting tricks simultaneously. There was no way they could have defeated him - not a chance. After the door closed behind them, Daniel turned to his dear friend and asked, "You thinking what I'm thinking?"
"Absolutely." Then both burst into chuckles as they walked over to the building's exit.
Sarlena spoke into Daniel's ear via comlink, "Daniel, we have just received ansible that Halcyon is under attack. They seem to already know that there are fleets that can respond nearly instantaneously. Should we go to their aid?"
"I don't see why not. Come on Chris, we've got to get back to the Hyperion." They took off running with a sense of extreme urgency. Halcyon was not just another human-colonized world. That was where his own family was. That alone changed everything. He had to get them to safety however possible, even if it meant considerable losses in battle against the Zerg.
Moments after he and Christopher stepped through the hatch, it closed and the vessel's engines flared to life, quietly pushing the Hyperion into low orbit, leaving a golden trail of burning nahqadah in its wake, to join the other vessels that were rising into formation. Daniel walked briskly over to the bridge, where officials were making frantic arrangements in preparation for the journey.
"Adjutant, what is the status of the Guardian?"
"Its shields have fully recharged and are at 100 percent."
"Great. Alert the Protoss and prepare the fleet for blinking."
He, Christopher, Sarlena, and James looked over at each other, in anxious expectation. "Well, what do you think?" said Sarlena, face flushed.
"Don't worry, darling, with our Guardian we will be pretty well protected from harm," remarked Christopher.
"All vessels - the Guardian, three Hyperions, four Harbingers, 13 Behemoths, 37 Valkyries, and 1400 Wraiths report battle ready, coordinates set for Halcyon high orbit. Blinking in three... two... one..."
A circular window to hyperspace opened up on the side of the fleet, its edge shining with a variety of dazzling colors. It swept through the Harbinger Fleet, and suddenly the space around them was devoid of stars. They were on their way.
Halcyon's local space was plunged in warfare. Floating debris of entire ship squadrons floated in low orbit where they had been obliterated by the Zerg offensive, doing their best to buy some more time for the people on the surface. Hundreds of slain Zerg drifted through space, each on its own path to nowhere. Explosions and laser bursts continued around the planet's lone moon, which was to say, not far in the distance. The dropships that had been present on the planet had already departed, and the many civilians who remained on the surface were stranded, knowing that their only hope for survival lay in the victory of the defending fleet or the timely arrival of reinforcements - in particular, the Harbinger Fleet.
A shimmering window to hyperspace opened in this desolate reach of space, depositing the new fleet as it passed, its flanking ships fifty kilometers apart.
"Blinking completed successfully, admiral."
"Good," said Daniel. In front of him, the hologram immediately came to life, depicting white, blue, and red blips. The white ones seemed to multiply as the Wraiths left dock and took up a fighter screen in front of the fleet. "That's a good sized number of enemy vessels. I want us to engage the nearest swarm as a group. Yamato guns are to be fired at the overlords. All others, fire at will." As the fleet began to move toward the nearest cluster of Zerg, Daniel commanded the Guardian, <Activate bubble shield, radius, 70 kilometers.> The golden vessel's wings altered their orientations. A glimmering, translucent bubble swiftly enveloped the fleet.
"Moving to engage, Zerg entering our attack range in six seconds," said Christopher, also from the bridge.
"Onscreen," said Daniel.
The viewscreen portrayed the fleet of thousands of Zerg, dominated by dracolisks and damselisks, moving toward their position, its many twisted, contorted individuals lacking any noticeable formation, preparing to engage their newly arrived opponents.
From the wraiths came innumerable bursts of highly charged lasers, lashing into and shredding the wings and carapaced bodies of their dragon-like targets. Innumerable alien fliers contorted in agony before ripping apart; others burst into consuming fireballs as their gravitic drives detonated. The rest immediately took up erratic flight paths, narrowly evading the bolts of death that filled the space around them. In space it was quite clear that they lacked the maneuverability that they could have taken advantage of with their now helpless wings. Whirling streaks of golden light traced across the emptiness, many of them suddenly cut off as more dracolisks were eradicated.
Now the turbolasers fired from the ships, each clearly blowing up their targets in bloody detonations, some lucky shots downing multiple targets in a single hit. Scattered bits of fragmented alien starfighters blossomed off in random trajectories, their blood glowing bright red as those directly behind blew up a second later in dazzling fireballs. Hordes of the dead and dying creatures drifted aimlessly through space.
The battlecruisers charged up their Yamato Guns, the swirling plasma energies forming at the prow of the ships before they were unleashed in a volley. Sixteen of the massive, lumbering overlords detonated in brilliant, blue-hot detonations, leaving only twice as many left in this particular cluster.
"Five seconds until we come in missile range."
The human vessels continued their laser barrage, shredding enemies wantonly.
The maws of the dracolisks opened, unleashing the tannish-brown glaive wurms that had become renowned for their unearthly penetrative power.
"The enemy has opened fire."
Both sides traded missile fire. From the Wraiths and the missile platforms of each ship came an assortment of Apollo, Longbolt, and Halo-class rockets, passing through the distortionary shield with no difficulty. Suddenly the space in front of Daniel's viewscreen was lit up and occluded by thousands of detonations, causing the red blips on the hologram to rapidly disintegrate. The glaive wurms streaked toward their targets, striking the shielding and swiftly vaporizing, with no effect other than to cause bluish ripples across the massive protective bubble, leaving the fleet within untouched.
"Shield status?" queried Daniel.
"Holding at 99.5 percent," replied Christopher.
"Good, and the enemy recon?"
"Their forces are down by 25 percent."
"Keep it up." All along the outer edges of the shielding, parked dracolisks continued to pound with their glaive wurms, but to no avail. The bubble shield had gone entirely blue-white from all the spreading ripples where the enemies' missiles had disintegrated. Lasers continued to lash out at their foes, drawing trails of death wherever they passed. Space continued to be flooded with bolts.
It was downright massacre. There was nothing the alien cluster could do to harm the Harbinger Fleet, which was systematically laying waste to every enemy they could get to. The enemy realized this too, and rapidly began to back away, leaving thousands upon thousands of their corpses behind. The battle had only been engaged for fifteen seconds.
"They enemy is retreating."
"Pursue them. We need to teach the Zerg a lesson not to mess with Halcyon."
The Harbinger Fleet swiftly followed, keeping within a few thousand kilometers of their target and pressing their advantage to the utmost. In half a minute they had managed to cut a trail of death all the way from Halcyon to the next planet, engaging all the while. And the Zerg cluster had not increased its distance from the human fleet, whose lasers continued to fire from long range.
"The Guardian's shields are holding at 98 percent."
"A wormhole has opened within five million kilometers," reported Christopher.
<That's it. Create a second bubble shield around the wormhole.> The wings of the Guardian changed formation once again, and now the bubble shielding was gone, shifted to surround the vortex. Unaware of the fact, the Zerg cluster rushed headlong into it, thousands of creatures disintegrating in mere seconds along the distortionary surface of the translucent sphere. The rest promptly changed course and headed for the unshielded fleet, but were purged before they could fire any projectiles.
"Whoa! I didn't know that the Guardian's shielding could be used as an offensive weapon!" exclaimed Christopher.
"The Guardian's shield status?"
"That's why they never used its shielding as an offensive weapon," concluded Daniel. "Obliterating that much mass puts a severe strain on the Guardian." As an aside, he thought he had just found the Guardian's great weakness.
"Admiral, the Zerg have abandoned Halcyon."
"Good. Set a course for the planetside. I want these people evacuated ASAP."
Most of the people who had first met up with the Protoss over Tarsonis had been from either Antiga or Tarsonis itself. They generally didn't have much connection with the new arrivals from Halcyon, though there was still a considerable number of people waiting to reunite with the rest of their families. There was considerable fanfare; several entertainers had gotten out their musical instruments and hooked up loudspeakers, and now music was being pumped away into the desert atmosphere, much to the delight of those who still had not been too scarred by warfare.
Which, sadly, pertained almost exclusively to the new arrivals. It was so... different, to be encountering other people who have not been through what you have, who know nothing of which you speak, which has dominated your life for all these recent months...
And then, he saw them. Daniel's parents, now in their mid forties, his younger brother Cory who was now actually older than him by over two years, Cory's innocent wife, and their toddler child. Daniel didn't expect to see anyone else related to him, since he had yet to marry, but the family brought along Cory's parents-in-law as well. Daniel was at a loss; he hadn't met them before via ansible.
"Oh, it's so nice to see you again, bro!" shouted Cory at the top of his lungs the moment he saw Daniel, and they ran for each other, ending in a long hug. "You're an admiral! That's so cool! It was you who decided to send the dropships to Halcyon, wasn't it?"
"Indeed, it was," said Daniel.
"And it was because you wanted to meet with us again in person, right?" Before Daniel could nod, he exclaimed, "I knew it! Say, you found yourself a wife yet?"
"Um..." Daniel muttered, before the rest of his family came up, Cory's wife carrying a toddler in her arms. "Still trying to prove you're better than me, eh?"
Daniel gave him a light-hearted slap on the back, before his parents practically crushed him in their rush. "We're awful proud of you, son." Those few, rarely given words meant a lot to him.
Daniel dutifully gave them both a mighty hug, while Cory and his wife looked on.
"Admiral! How does it feel to have others call you that?" asked his father.
"Yeah, I'm an admiral..."
But with a tinge of sorrow, Daniel realized that he didn't have much to tell them. He was left just standing there, surrounded by family and without much to tell them about. He wanted to avoid the most obvious topic of all, the Zerg--he didn't want them any more worried than they were already, and besides he wanted them to think of other, more pleasant things (which would have been just about anything besides peoples' dying).
"I love you all so much, it's been long enough," Daniel finally made out. But inside, he knew that had they come earlier, he would still have nothing to tell them. Actually, that wasn't exactly true--they'd be talking, talking about things that ordinary civilians could bear to hear, such as gossip, the life of a boring Artifact Station guard--but no more.
No more, he could not. It was over for him and his relation to family.
Only then did he realize how different he had become. He wasn't like them anymore--he was outside of their group. Their peaceful group, which he had so desired. Now, he was too into the thick of the military--his life dominated by the one thought of survival against the Zerg and anyone else who stood in the way. His actions had led to the death of so many millions--indirectly or not, human or not, necessary deaths or not... it didn't matter. It was a taint that would stay with him for the rest of his life, that distinguished him so far apart from Cory, who had a happy family (at least he hoped, wearily), from his parents, who were likewise removed from the ravages of the Zerg.
"So... what have you heard about the Zerg?" he whispered fearfully to his father.
"Not much, actually. They tend to keep the stuff about the aliens all so secret from us. They've cut off communications with nine colonies already, so of course we're worried, but in Halcyon... Nope, it's still more of a children's story to scare them into bed before curfew time." There was no humor in that remark, Daniel realized. So different... for the nightmare still be fable on some of the worlds...
"Listen, Daniel," said his mother, in a nearly pleading voice. "Don't go off fighting the Zerg on your initiative any more. Stay with us--stay with your father, your brother, and me. We don't you want you to... leave."
Daniel looked into her eyes. Those eyes belonged to the same person, those lips belonged to the same person, who had taken care of him through much of his pre-adult life. How could he refuse such a small wish? One part of him wanted to remain with family--feel secure, regain the peace that had been so forcefully snatched away from him. Out here, on Korhal, he was safe, at least so it seemed. What would his parents think, do, if he died in battle?
But then... How could he agree? He belonged in the military--it felt like family to him, it soothed him to know that he still had the power to exact vengeance on the enemy. He looked away, and said, "The war with the Zerg is my life now. Do you not want revenge against the aliens that have killed so many people?"
"No, darling. We're tired of this constant fighting. We want peace--and we want you... to share in that peace with us. We don't want revenge--what's past is past," said his mother.
He looked down, unable to face them, incapable of making a statement that seemed right. How could he talk to them? There was nothing he could say. So he turned away, and looked at the Terran and Protoss bases which were not too far away. "We've met yet another race, one that communicates with thought," he remarked boringly, although the fact was clearly not ennui personified. "You want to look around?"
"No, not really," said Cory's wife, clutching her child. "Military stuff can stay with the military people."
Daniel's worst fear was realized. Already, Cory's wife had lost interest; and this was what, only five minutes into the reunion? They didn't want to know about military life and environment; they wanted to live a normal life, and wanted to keep the horrors and rigid discipline of the warrior's way hidden away from them. To them, that was exactly what Daniel represented. To them, he was an outcast.
Sadly, he turned away from them, as he saw in the eyes and faces of them all that they just came here to live a normal life away from the control of the Confederacy. He left them wordlessly, every moment feeling more internal turmoil and anguish at not being able to associate with them. What has the war done to us? he queried himself, feeling that something that was vital to him had been ripped away.
He left and attended to his duties, not shedding a tear.