Agent of the SwarmEdit
The senior officers were all on the Hyperion's bridge, seated around the main table and discussing something of significant import. After the sudden paradigm shift on Aiur, Ariel seemed to be rather less joyful, and Daniel, more wary of her. It had been a month since, and only now was Ariel showing signs of warming to Daniel's presence again. Nonetheless, the former childish innocence seemed somewhat marred.
Daniel had come to realize that he was getting ever more restless, and that he could focus on little else than to do whatever was possible to better the situation of his fleet as quickly as possible. The Harbinger Fleet had grown significantly in size, but he knew just how insignificant his fleet was compared to that of the Protoss. The Psi Disruptor on Braxis had been completed, but the existence of this weapon had been kept secret from the Zerg. But now something rather disturbing had occurred.
"Show him a replay of the speech," Daniel commanded his adjutant, while still staring suspiciously at James, who had little idea what was going on.
The adjutant pulled up the recording of James's recent speech:
"...and who knows, maybe we'll be able to fight all the way to the surface of dystopian Char and uncover our mystery lady there? It could be the chance of a lifetime! So who's with--"
James's already incredulous eyes eyes were opening a bit wider. "I--I said that?? I must have been possessed or something, to be thinking of that! I didn't mean to say that! It--It just came out, you know?"
Ariel interrupted, "Char was abandoned roughly three weeks ago when we started testing the psionic combo, and we had little reason to believe that anything would have changed in the meantime. The Overmind would not be eager to bring back its swarms to the former Confederate fringe world considering how they have lost every encounter with the Protoss so far, but this line of logic now seems to be flawed. Moments ago an Observer was dispatched to that world, and we have found our enemies having once again re-infested the world we had phase-disrupted not long ago. There is a clear, powerful psionic emanation coming from a spot on the planet's surface, one that I can sense as that of a woman."
"So--I was right, and there really is a situation in which someone needs to be rescued? Who is it?"
"I'd be asking you, James," replied Daniel. "You're the one whose mind she entered."
"As far as I can recall, only one person would bother to send you a telepathic message," surmised Sarlena. "Can you not guess?"
Daniel and Raynor both arrived at the same conclusion, and spoke out roughly simultaneously: "Sarah Kerrigan!"
"But I thought she was lost on Tarsonis!" exclaimed Christopher.
"We all thought so. We never anticipated that the Zerg would find any use for particular humans except as food, as they never seemed to do anything else to their captives. This is an entirely novel situation. And, I believe, if there's a call for you, then I think it's because Sarah's in trouble. A perhaps Zerg-modified version of the woman you used to know."
"Then again, maybe we wouldn't be the only ones drawn to Char. After all, that failed initiative in New Gettysburg had a lot to do with Mengsk's selfishness. I'm guessing he would be contacted as well, and we might end up meeting up with the Imperial Fleet."
"Ariel, I don't believe that you're aware of this, but when I encountered Tassadar and the dark ones in orbit over Braxis, they told me something very disturbing. It seems my predictions about the Zerg gradually evolving a counter to the psionic combo was correct, or at least so they claimed. It would be best to stay alert and not simply hope that the disruptor would work on them."
Alarm swept through her face, which had for a moment gone ashen pale. "That is dire news indeed. You will need to proceed with extreme caution."
"My point exactly. We will need to first know how concentrated the Zerg are on Char; we don't want to sacrifice all our units in a futile attack."
"Then again, you can't wait too long. The Zerg can bring in innumerable reinforcements within five minutes of our arrival, so that will be the window you get to work with."
"All right then, everyone get ready for our second voyage to Char. Adjutant, set us on a course for Char. Dismissed." Daniel paused to make sure his plans were sound, then followed the others to the bridge. A wall of flickering light passed through the ship, and they were now in hyperspace, en route.
James was already there, and making a speech to the cadets assembled on the planetary surface, this time in a serious voice. The moment he had begun to talk, there were crowds of applause. Seems like Raynor's struck a chord with the men, Daniel realized. Darn popular--freak. Wish I had that much attention. He listened to what the colonel had to say:
"All right. All crews, stay frosty, and keep your eyes peeled for our target. Remember, not only are we up against the Zerg here, but our old pal General Duke may be creepin' around too. Let's hope this trip wasn't a big mistake..."
Daniel sat down on the admiral's chair, looking at the viewscreen which depicted nothing but pitch black - no stars, nothing. Then light finally appeared at the end of the tunnel, quickly growing until it dumped them all back in real space. And how he was looking at the wasted, planetary surface of Char. A total ash world, so geologically unstable that there were multiple plumes of currently erupting super-volcanoes stretched across the entire surface. All clear, it seemed, except that much of the surface was a blackened purple. What the heck?!? he wondered, and then applied the biosensor scans, superimposing over the image. Immediately, the entire planet turned into a globe of dense red blips--there were... Zerg here, Zerg there, Zerg everywhere... Just not visible to a standard visible-light scan.
They must be underground--all of them, buried under the creep... Oh shi*, Daniel cursed. "Do we have a lock on the woman we came to seek?"
"I am currently scanning for her presence," replied James.
"All right, let's lure these Zerg out of bed and then deactivate them. Activate the psi emitter!"
Some weeks ago Ariel had taught him how to link with the Protoss collective right before the psi emitter was activated, so that the Khala could shield his mind from the driving urges of such a device. It worked flawlessly. As the signal went out, Daniel felt only a slight feeling of desire, something he could easily resist.
But it seemed that the Zerg resisted it as well. Relatively few dracolisks responded; the rest remained on the planetary surface.
"Admiral, the Zerg are not responding to its activation. Should we proceed to use the psi disruptor?"
"Proceed." The psi emitter was switched off, and the disruptor was activated. As far as anyone could tell by looking through the viewscreen, none of the patrolling Zerg so much as paused. It seemed the Zerg here had adapted not only to the psi disruptor but also to the psi emitter.
"Negative. The psi--"
"Yes, I know. Well, if the Zerg aren't willing to do as we are persuading them, then let's nuke the surface. James?"
"Right on it. Squadron one, let's fire the payloads." A dozen missiles lanced out to the planetary surface, each of them blossoming in radiant brilliance, detonating a mile above the surface.
Twelve massive, spherical clouds rose out from the ground in various locations as several rings of white gases lashed out in a circle from ground zero. There was no mushroom this time--just immense white orbs, burning the eyes of observers with a brilliance far stronger than even Char's dangerously close sun. For a moment, they flowered, before gradually dissipating. The patches of Zerg hidden underneath the creep had vanished, been blown to smithereens.
"Daniel, we have a lock on Sarah Kerrigan," reported James.
"Good, then let us go retrieve her. Set coordinates for the planet's surface."
"Admiral, we are picking up a growing concentration of Zerg at the specified coordinates," reported the adjutant. "It seems like the Zerg are rushing toward a point that is releasing some sort of signal."
The Zerg converged with a terrifying accuracy toward the point where Kerrigan supposedly was; all kinds of beasts, both those the humans had seen before and those they had not, covered the ground and took to the skies. An immense powerhouse of an army swirled around their prize.
Daniel stared at his monitor, at the converging Zerg. What the heck is going on? Whatever it is, it doesn't seem right. Then he had a sudden hunch. "James," he whispered, "launch another nuke. This time, target it at the point of convergence of those thousands of Zerg."
"But that's where Kerrigan is," Jaxtor protested, even as he turned around to key in the commands for a second launch.
"Just do as I say, Kerrigan is not as valuable to us as taking out those thousands of Zerg in a single shot. Besides, I'm pretty sure she won't be harmed."
The missile left its silo, streaking out from the battlecruiser at low orbit and straight at the immense concentration of Zerg. Along its trajectory, the Zerg concentration fired a hailstorm of glaive wurms, almost instantly burning the missile to scrap before it had a chance to detonate. The unconnected pieces of radioactive material scattered into the atmosphere, raining slowly toward the ashen surface.
"Missile 13 destroyed prematurely," Jaxtor dutifully reported, perturbed that his charge had failed. Daniel sighed as he looked at the displays.
<Do you sense it?> asked Ariel.
< I guess not then. I was getting a message from something on the surface, distinctly dissimilar to the psionic signature of the Protoss, though its vibes indicate a size of mind almost as large as a Carrier. We intercepted a powerful message going to it, and found we could understand it: "Cerebrate! The chrysalis is opening! Do not allow any Terrans near it!" We believe this may be a command from a higher power, possibly the Overmind itself. However, the concept of a 'Cerebrate' is very troubling to us all.>
<That's not very comforting. What do you suggest we do?> I had thought only the Overmind controlled its minions. Apparently not, since something else is obviously giving commands right now.
<That is for you to decide.>
"Hey Daniel, I think we got a sensor lock on her," said James, turning his computer monitor for all to see. The image of her body appeared on his monitor, and everyone--for everyone was watching--everyone's mouths dropped in horror.
She was no longer Sarah Kerrigan anymore. Although strangely human-like and svelte, she now sported a pair of blackened, vampire-like wings; her body's skin a sap green carapace; her hair had become bundles of nerve cords similar to that of the Templar, only far more numerous; and her hands and feet had turned into claws and talons. She had taken a deadly form, and her glaring, gothic eyes had that certain something that proved it.
James was the first to speak. "Mother of God... Kerrigan what have they done to you?" he intoned, to no one in particular. He looked over the figure, thinking, That's what she's like now?!? I thought I'd be able to rescue a beautiful woman, but what... How--could this have happened? Raynor was emotionally distressed, not knowing what to think, what to do. "Sarah... Is that really you?" he muttered to himself.
<To an extent... I'm far more than I once was, Jim. You shouldn't have come here.> Raynor practically fell out of his chair at that, for he had not expected ex-Kerrigan to be able to--
"But the dreams... I dreamed you were still alive... that somehow... you were calling to me." To the simple observer, this would appear to be an insane person's monologue with himself, or with no one in particular. "But fine. So what? Are you goin' to kill me now, darlin'?" Raynor continued to say to himself after a pause, knowing that his words were still somehow getting to ex-Kerrigan.
<Doesn't look like I have much choice,> replied Sarah. <Not that I would choose differently even if I could.>
"What did she say?" asked Daniel.
"She's acting as if she's all so powerful and omnipotent. I think she might be right, too. Maybe it's time we got ourselves out of here." James looked Daniel in the eye. "What'll become of her?"
Daniel shrugged. "How should I know? Probably just the Overmind's pet," he answered matter-of-factly. He turned around, knowing that his words were probably too strong for his friend to accept, and yet he still heard the man whimper at his defeat, covering his eyes and wiping the stinging tears away.
Daniel looked looked at the tactical hologram. Two Protoss fleets were arriving. One was the part of the Expeditionary Fleet that had been orbiting Korhal all these months, showing up on the holographic display in gold. The other was a dark ones fleet, for it was represented by the violet that the light ones used to mark them. <The Dark Templar--we wonder what they're up to,> he thought. The violet fleet rushed headlong into low orbit, there to begin a planetside battle against overwhelming numbers of Zerg.
Just then, Daniel sensed a message coming from a Judicator in the fleet--<The traitorous rebels! We must crush them! Tealdarin, do not stay your hand!>
Daniel interrupted the conversation. <What's so big of a deal about hating the Dark Templar, Judicator? Didn't I already give you all plenty of reasons not to engage them? They build, just like we do, and here we have ample proof that they fight the Zerg. We have a proverb that says, "the foe of my foe is my friend"-->
<Silence! We shall have enough of this! The Conclave has determined that these Dark Templar are to be crushed at the earliest opportunity in the interest of a united race.>
<Whatever that time may be, it is not now, Judicator,> Daniel telepathically messaged. <Since the Dark Templar are fighting the Zerg, the longer we wait, the more Zerg die and the more of these traitors die along with them, which just makes our job easier.>
<That is a craven way to act.>
<You would want to sacrifice some of your peoples just so that you could slay the Dark Templar before the Zerg can? Why are you in such a rush?>
< If you hadn't learned yet, the Dark Templar have not been entirely peaceful toward us. The day of judgment has been long in coming. We have waited for this day long enough...>
< I beg to differ. Even if you managed to kill these, I doubt that they are all who remain of the faction who broke off a millennium ago, Judicator,> Daniel replied with the voice of reason.
<Then at least these shall not present us with the troublesome prospect of having to hunt them and their progeny down in the future,> the Protoss lashed back.
"Look at the monitor!" cried out Christopher in surprise. The three of them looked at the hologram, just as the last blips of purple disappeared in a sea of red.
"The dark ones are no more," said Daniel. "The Judicator on board will be pleased. That's what he wanted, wasn't it?"
A pause, as the three of them realized how WRONG it was for one group of Protoss to wish a forlorn death on another group of Protoss by the cold and unforgiving Zerg. But at least the Zerg had only been fighting because they were practically everyone's enemy. The light ones had the luxury of allying with their Unbound brethren, and yet had remained antagonistic toward them for a centuries...
<An illusion? Are you afraid to face me, Templar?> suddenly erupted into Daniel's mind, but it seemed as if it were not meant for him. It was an incredibly strong signal.
<So long as you continue to be so predictable, O Queen, I need not face you at all. You are your own worst enemy.>
< Insufferable Protoss coward! Tassadar cannot evade my wrath forever! I shall find him and...> The mental message quieted down.
"What the heck was that about?" said Daniel out in the open. He was looking straight at the other two humans, who stared back with blank expressions. "Oh, forgot. Obviously someone known as a Queen wants the leader of the dark ones dead..."
<Whatever is Tassadar doing with the dark ones?> asked Tealdarin. Never in his years had he imagined that the ex-Executor would have fallen so low as to consort with the enemy.
<We shall be finding out soon...> replied Daniel.