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The GatheringEdit

As Daniel watched the viewscreen, he saw yet another wormhole open up, disgorging a gray fleet about a hundred times as many ships as what Daniel had. "Who's that?"

"It's the Dominion, admiral. Should we hail them?"

"Go ahead." Dominion bastards. At least maybe they'll be on our side at a time when we needed them. But if I know Mengsk - which I do - I don't think he'll ally with anyone in the fight against the Zerg.

The viewscreen was replaced by the image of - who else but Grand Admiral Duke, aboard his new Hyperion-class, the Norad V.

"Damn it, it's you again!" Daniel clenched his fist in rage at seeing the portrait materialize into one of the commanders he positively hated. "What are you doing here?" he challenged in a clearly unfriendly tone.

"Whoa there, why are you so unfriendly to an old friend?"

"Old fr-- Duke, we were NEVER friends! I just kept beating you all the time!"

"Yeah, well, you might have beaten us before, but that was either because I was crash-landed or was preoccupied, or was sorely in need of sleep, or because you had the aid of the Protoss--"

"Excuses, excuses!" retorted Daniel. "Your crash-landing was your own pathetic fault. I've had to double-task before. And don't give me any of that lacking sleep crap; I haven't had more than a few minutes of sleep in the last 36 hours. And we have the aid of the Protoss because we earned it, just like you have the aid of the Dominion because you did - oops, did I actually say you earned it? Because it's obvious the only thing you earned was the chance to get your ass kicked. Which makes me wonder, how did you get your hands on a tunneling drive?"

Edmund smiled. "It seems even geniuses like you are stumped at times. The Dominion has spent its nascent months of existence performing some high-level research on the Zerg. They've not only perfected anti-Zerg nanites - key to resuscitating those infected by Zerg nanites - but also have adapted the Zerg glaive wurm nanite weaponry for our own use. Might I add, it makes our fleet that much more potent. Want to test it out? We would love to test it out... on you!"

"In your dreams!"

"Admiral, the Imperial Fleet is headed our way!" shouted the adjutant.

"Then we're leaving!" ordered Daniel.

"Cowards!" shouted Edmund. "You can't get away." The next moment something white and silky had been leashed between the Imperial Fleet ships and the Harbinger Fleet.

"We are being tractor-ed toward the Imperial Fleet!"

"Then blink us out of here!"

A hyperspace window opened but before it enlarged beyond a meter it had collapsed again. Daniel turned to stare angrily at Edmund, who had an sly grin on his face. "Heh, is your bag out of tricks already, Daniel?"

<Ariel, can you transfer to me control of a single Mothership? I have an idea that, granted it succeeds, may bolster the size of the fleet defending your Homeworld.>

<Permission given.> Suddenly Daniel felt a hundred or so Protoss crew members aboard a Mothership suddenly call out to him for orders.

<Get between us and the Imperial Fleet, and open up with your subversion beams,> he commanded to them. Moments later, while Daniel stalled for time, the gigantic flower-like starship had maneuvered in position, its turrets already unleashing multiple sprays of golden beams at the Imperial Fleet vessels while six wings of interceptors flew out in formation and entangled themselves with the Imperial Fleet's starfighter escort. Daniel suddenly smiled. "It seems like your technological prowess is about to stab you in the back," he gloated.

"What the-- Open fire, you fools! Open fire! I want that Mothership destroyed immediately!" shouted Edmund. A multitude of nukes launched straight at the massive target before them. Although most of the warheads were destroyed en route by the interceptor cloud, others quickly vaporized the shielding of the vessel, and the next slammed into and detonated right in the face of the Mothership, blasting it into three large, smoldering pieces. Meanwhile, the greatly outnumbered interceptors were all destroyed in moments. "Ha! Take that, you fool! Your end is about to come!" Edmund taunted.

"I don't think so," Daniel said coolly. A moment later the burning wreckage of the Mothership began to disappear from left to right like a massive cloak had been draped over it - as did all the interceptors' debris fields.

"Hey! Where did the Mothership go? I thought it was destroyed!" exclaimed Edmund in outrage at his end of the comlink.

"Daniel, the Mothership has just phase-shifted," reported the adjutant. Daniel braced for impact as the Imperial Fleet continued to approach. Moments later, before them, the Mothership reappeared in view, as if that same cloak of invisibility and undetectability had continued on and had ended. A Mothership, like brand new, had replaced the one that was destroyed - or could it be, as Daniel believed, the same Mothership, only very quickly repaired? It immediately commenced firing with its brilliant gold, curvy subversion beams. The interceptors were as good as new once again, too.

"What the...? Oh shit!" exclaimed Edmund in terror when news came in that every ship the golden beams touched had very quickly become overrun by an unstoppable flood of golden nanites. Each vessel that had been brushed by the nanites had within the space of a dozen or so seconds had its hull covered by a layer of golden nanites and its circuitry rewired to obey telepathic commands only - in this case, directly from Daniel. His mind became flooded with all the raw data streaming in from the subverted starships, and he soon came to realize, intuitively, that he could dispatch them all to do his bidding with a single thought.

Then the situation for Edmund suddenly took a dramatic turn for the worse as the golden nanites utilized the already existing nanite-weaponry launchers on the subverted ships to sweep additional subversion beams at other ships. Golden beams flashed all over the place as more and more ships came under Daniel's control in this manner.

"My goodness..." muttered Edmund, clearly flustered. "Forget the Mothership! Destroy the infected ships! Now! And destroy all the nanite launcher equipment on every ship, ASAP!" But as the Imperial Fleet turned on the now golden-hulled vessels, their attacks met up against stiff resistance - on each of the subverted vessels had already been erected the deflector shields that were the trademark of all Protoss vessels, with the result that destroying them was a painstakingly slow process requiring considerable concentrated fire. From the launch bays of the golden-hulled vessels launched Wraiths covered in golden nanites which collided with more ships, infecting them in turn and wreaking mass havoc throughout the Imperial Fleet. The golden beams continued to flash with every second bringing more and more ships to into the subverted fold. And the Mothership fired its many golden beams as well. Within half a minute nearly a hundred vessels had become subverted. "Oh no! Turn off the inhibitor! I'm ordering a general retreat! All vessels go to a different location! We'll meet up with each other later!"

Daniel smiled at Edmund's panic as he continued to order the subverted vessels to continue the chain reaction. Meanwhile, the Mothership had used its time bomb to freeze time for two thirds of the Imperial Fleet, thus preventing their escape. Those starships that were still pure dwindled at an incredible rate. A great many of them had been overtaken before they could destroy their nanite launchers. Within the first two minutes, there was not a single ship in the Imperial Fleet left un-subverted that was not trapped in a time bomb. Their crews had all been trapped where they stood on board, rendered helpless by the nanites on the ship.

When all of the golden ships had rearranged to surround the time bombs' spherical regions of effect, Daniel deactivated these stasis fields. The black orbs vanished, and time was reintroduced to those who had been caught within. To them, it seemed as if one moment they were preparing to escape via gravitic drive, and the next the number of subverted ships had increased by a magnitude and had, somewhat miraculously, surrounded them all. Most didn't even have a chance to make for an escape pod before their ships fully fell under the influence of the nanites, which spread throughout the ship, passing through floors, ceilings and walls like they weren't there and quickly entrapping the helpless crew in a golden, ensnaring web. Not a single one had managed to scuttle ship.

Daniel watched expressionlessly as the comlink with the ship Duke was on was re-established. The man, having seen what fate had swiftly befallen his fleet, was now frantic. Under his orders, the reinforced doors of the bridge were closed and sealed off. Moments later a golden wave of what appeared to be goo punctured right through those same doors, as well as leaked into the room from a dozen other directions, then swept through the bridge, filling it up with spindly gold tentacles. Every officer on deck was encompassed and trapped by the golden reams. Edmund now looked straight at him, terror in his eyes. "I-I surrender! P-please spare us!"

"I'll spare everyone on this ship. Oh wait, Edmund, we wouldn't want Mengsk to know that you have become suddenly such a cowardly loser now, would we? You have nowhere to turn after this is all over, you know? If I were to let you live, you'd have to live a fate worse than death. So why don't I just make it quick and easy for the both of us?" <Kill him.>

"Wait... NO!!!" Edmund's dying scream was cut off as hundreds of golden tendrils impaled his body, quickly dissolving it into a golden mist and leaving not a trace behind.

And Daniel's Harbinger Fleet suddenly enlarged by magnitudes.

"Things are getting crazy," remarked Daniel. He knew from looking at the holographic display at the central table that the battle was not going particularly well for either side. Aiur had been ravaged, while the Zerg swarm had taken catastrophic losses. But it was still more or less a troubling situation. A situation he wanted to be able to get them out of before long, and the best way to accomplish that was to get the light ones and the dark ones reconciled. Now, his liberal arts education would be of some help - especially since he could draw upon what he knew of something called cognitive dissonance theory. Looking around the bridge, he spotted Ariel. Catching her by the arm, he pulled her into an empty nearby cabin.

"What's this all about?" asked Ariel thrice before they finally got there.

As Daniel shut the door, he replied, "I have something to tell you. I hope you'll try to listen." They sat down opposite each other, a table in between.

"Really?" The next moment Daniel sensed Ariel knocking on his mental door. Smirking to himself, he set up a mental trap and then created a hole in his mental barrier. As he expected, Ariel's mental presence swiftly entered, searching for more information about in his brain. It all happened very quickly. Daniel shut off all routes of escape from this mental prison and then began squeezing the room, while Ariel's mind tried helplessly to either withdraw or resist Daniel's mind. But of course Daniel knew he would win; in his mind he had a home-field advantage and he was willing to use whatever he had. Soon the enclosing walls had become very close together, so that Ariel's mind - which had taken her own form - had little room to move about; metal-like mental barriers were on all sides and to her they felt very, very real. She was trapped, and since her mind was in Daniel's, she couldn't hide her blossoming sense of dread from her captor.

Daniel snickered. <You're an inquisitive girl, aren't you?> he chided her, then continued pressing the walls inward.

Ariel could no longer move her mental body at all in such cramped quarters and was now terrified at the prospect of being squeezed to death - the claustrophobia was overwhelming - and she begged to be let out: <Please, Daniel, I have realized the error of my ways. Please, don't do this to me!>

<Then in the future you will not try to invade my mind, is that clear?>

<Yes, yes, anything you say!>

Satisfied, Daniel dropped his mental barriers and tossed her out of his mind. He opened his eyes - he realized that he had shut them, so much effort had he exerted - and saw Ariel collapsed on the table and panting. He put a finger under her chin and lifted her head up. "Hey. Hey, are you okay?"

In between heaves, Ariel replied, "Thanks for letting me out of there... That was terrifying. I never encountered anyone who could do that before; how did you manage?"

Daniel smiled enigmatically. "One thing at a time there, Ariel. For now we have more important matters to discuss."

"Okay," replied Ariel demurely. "What's it about?"

"We need to improve relations between your two sects, so I would like for you to transmit your thoughts about the discussion we're about to have with your collective - the Khala."

"We don't want to hear things that would go against our philosophy."

Unperturbed, Daniel continued, "Do you know what an ostrich is?"

"A very large bird."

"Correct. It is so large it can't hide from predators. Instead, it sticks its head in the sands. What do you think of that?"

"It is stupid. The correct thing to do would be to face the facts directly and take protective action."

"Exactly. Would you then agree that just ignoring problems will not solve them?"

"We agree."

"Would you then agree that when one suspects a problem, one should take actions to resolve it?"

"We agree."

Daniel smiled; his line of reasoning was going to drive the Protoss into a corner and then into the wall very soon. "Would you then agree that the difference in viewpoints between human and Protoss is a problem that needs resolving through communication?"

"We agree."

"So then let's talk about those ideas that generally go against Protoss philosophy."

Daniel clearly sensed Ariel's unease. The ambassador gave in, for as an intelligent, sentient individual, it would be nigh impossible for her to contradict what followed from her own arguments. In other words, it would have felt AWFUL not to agree to that last prompt after what Ariel had just said about having to face problems head on. "Continue."

"Do you believe that the issue regarding lack of acceptance of Tassadar and the Dark Templar to also be a problem that needs resolving?"

"We agree."

"Do you trust me?" Key question.

No reply.

"Do you trust me, after all of the things I've done to help combat the Zerg so whole-heartedly?"

"Yes."

Daniel took a sigh of relief. "Then you trust my actions?"

"Yes."

"Is my communicating with Tassadar an action of mine?"

"Yes."

"So then you trust that whatever outcome comes out of his meeting with Tassadar to be for the best?"

Ariel didn't want to admit it, but, come to think of it, it made a lot of sense. "Yes."

"Have I made it clear to you that my meeting with Tassadar will very likely end with the two sharing the common viewpoints and returning to help us and the Protoss and each other?"

"Yes."

"Since that is an outcome, then you trust that my coming back together with Tassadar and company will be for the good of the Protoss?"

"Yes."

"If that is for the good of the Protoss, then do you think you should be willing to help make it happen?"

"No, not if it means dealing with Tassadar or the Dark Templar with which I frequent."

"But you already agreed that our working together with them will be for the good of the Protoss, so it does not make logical sense for you not to help make that happen."

"True, you are correct, but we do not want to consider this subject any more," said Ariel, getting ready to leave.

"But you already agreed that this is a problem that needs facing, so you cannot logically simply decide not to consider it any more."

"That is true also..." But once those words were uttered, Ariel couldn't exactly convince herself to leave, so she awkwardly sat back down.

"So let us finish. Since I and anyone I work with is out for the Protoss good, then it would benefit the Protoss to help me and anyone I work with."

"Yes."

"Tassadar is someone I work with, so you should help him too."

A very long pause, so long Daniel thought Ariel had decided to tune out. However, she finally did respond. "Yes."

Daniel sighed, relieved at having achieved so much. "The dark ones are with Tassadar - they are allies - so if you help Tassadar, then you should help the dark ones."

"Yes, that first part is true, but that does not mean that we will be helping the dark ones."

"But you already said that you will be helping Tassadar, so it only makes sense if you also help the dark ones."

"True, but resources are limited, and we need--."

"The battle is not going well as it is, and if we keep this up the Protoss will lose."

Ariel sighed, unwilling to concede the fact. "True."

"Then in order for the battle to be won somehow, a different method must be found and used."

"We concur."

"Is that the Conclave speaking through you?"

"Yes. They have all been listening in on this conversation."

"I, Tassadar, and the dark ones represent a different method which has been found."

"We concur."

"Since we need to try different methods, and this is a different method, then we should try it out."

"We already did against a Cerebrate earlier, and it was a dismal failure."

"That was not the different method of which I speak. I, Tassadar, and the dark ones have a different method, and the one performed against the Cerebrate was the same method as that used by the Protoss throughout the centuries, namely, physical destruction."

"We concur."

"So we should try the dark ones' different method."

Another long pause, probably during which the Conclave debated amongst itself. However, Daniel's arguments had driven them into a corner, and now it was hard to refuse.

Daniel continued typing, switching to a different argument. "The Protoss have already given help to me in the quest for different methods of victory, the psi disruptor being a foremost example."

"True."

"If this different method was not so likely of bringing about success, then the Protoss, with its limited resources, would have chosen not to help me on the quest."

"We concur."

"So if the Protoss decided to help me on this quest, it must be because said quest is likely of bringing about success."

"We concur."

"A quest or different method likely to bring about success should be endorsed by the Protoss, regardless of other considerations."

A pause; but by then it was hard to refuse. "Yes."

"Endorsing the different method means not interfering with it, and means helping to make it happen."

"True."

"Not interfering with it includes putting aside centuries-old discrimination against the dark ones - discrimination which is critical to the quest for different methods."

"True."

"So the Protoss should not consider the pasts or social groupings of the dark ones when making its decisions."

"We concur." Great, so that problem was solved.

"Helping to make it happen means lending a fleet or several fleets to support me, Tassadar, and the dark ones with firepower against any enemies that stand in their way."

"We concur." Ariel smiled but a moment later. "Well done, Daniel. It seems you have convinced us of something we had been totally opposed to right from the beginning. How'd you do it?"

< I wouldn't try to get into my mind again if I were you,> warned Daniel. Well now, wasn't that efficient? I just convinced billions of Protoss of everything I wanted to convince them of. Real nice.

Thank goodness there was such a thing as psychology.

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