Eye of the SwarmEdit
When Sarlena awoke, she found herself laying on a bed with all her clothes on and attended to by several members of the crew, including guards. "She's awake."
"Well then what are we waiting for! Let's get her to the trial!"
Sarlena's mind was still on slow as she murmured with a yawn, "what trial?"
The crew member looked at her incredulously. "You're kidding me, right? About Michael's attempted murder against you? Or have you forgot it already?"
Sarlena bolted upright and snarled at them. She did Not want to be reminded of that heart-stopping experience. "Fine then, lead the way," she said, getting out of bed to follow them.
The trial room was already filled with several people, all dour-looking and very serious about the unfolding case. Michael was bound in one corner of the room, still wailing endlessly about how he had failed to exact the dead girl's vengeance by not having killed Sarlena earlier. There was no doubt about the guilt here.
But there was no doubt about the man's insanity either.
"Order in the court! Order in the court!" pronounced Daniel. "All right, I don't have a JD, but we're in the midst of a war, so let's get this over with as quickly as possible. Michael obviously can't plead either way. So it stands, for you, Sarlena, to decide whether he did what he did intentionally or otherwise. I have already prepared two sets cards holding what the rest of us have voted on will be the sentence, whichever way you choose. Please choose quickly." He held up two miniature envelopes, one with the words "intentional" and one with the words "insanity".
It was not a hard choice for Sarlena to make, for it was the truth, after all. And besides, it was not up to her to determine the verdict; whatever was in the envelopes would determine the outcome. So she quickly replied, "insanity."
"All right then, the vote for both of them is either death or life imprisonment," said James, taking the latter envelope and opening it. The others had already voted. Perhaps for his death, perhaps not. Perhaps for the pleading she chose for him, there would be at least one who did not wish for Michael to die. As everyone peered over to watch, he extracted a pile of folded pieces of paper, and unfolded them one by one. "Death." Next: "Death." "Death. Death. Death....."
Everyone in the room looked at everyone else in silent understanding as the votes continued to be read out loud. There was not a single dissenting vote. And that was for the lesser punishment...
"But... why?" asked Sarlena, stricken by being held responsible for the death of a one-time friend, yet knowing that both choices would have resulted in the same result.
James answered for the others with his intuition, "This latest event has finally shown us how much suffering Michael has undergone in the past several months. There has been not the slightest sign of recovery, and there is no light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. Therefore, in order to spare him of his misery, we have decided that a quick and painless execution is most fitting. Am I right?"
Grim, deathly nods from the officials arrayed around them.
"Sarlena, you will be escorted back to your room. Do get some sleep. You have been through too much already today, and I would hate to see the fate that befell Michael also consume you." He stood up at last, tapping his gavel one last time. "Case closed." Sarlena closed her eyes, remembering with sorrow and grief that the Michael before her was not, had not been, the friendly Michael she had known so long ago. It seemed entirely so surreal, that she didn't know what she should be thinking about it all. And yet... was she so heartless?
A few minutes later, when Michael had been put soundly to sleep, euthanasia was administered.
Daniel was awake yet nearly impossibly sleepy - he had slept no more than an hour the previous night - when the unwelcome barrage from the Overmind returned.
<Do you now see our power? The might of the Swarm is eternal; not even power a thousand times greater than your greatest of weaponry can harm the Overmind a whit. All the Protoss forces on Aiur have fallen like a row of dominoes. And we have access to Xel'Nagan technologies that the Protoss never even dreamed of. Do you now see the wisdom of siding with the Swarm?>
Daniel restrained the urge to spit in the operations center. <Humph. And do you not think that we too have secrets that you have never dreamed of? I will KILL you today.>
Then he touched the Khaydarin amulet he bore, and instantly the Overmind's haughty reply was banished.
I've had enough of that beast.
He turned to look at the hologram, which showed the continual progression of the Zerg. The Protoss had managed to evacuate their battered Stargates from the system, and the Khalai that had been on the planet had all been safely evacuated, but that could not right the fact that nearly all of Aiur was now Zerg territory, and that there would be little left of Firstborn civilization on the planet at all within minutes. Very few pylons remained functional on the planet.
Aboard Heart of the Conclave, the first of the Motherships, the most respected of Judicators came together one more time in a pristine, golden rotunda. Seats were placed about the walls, while a large, giant, flawless crystal of Khaydarin hovered in the middle, radiating a soft, tranquil blue glow. Arranged around the circular room like windows were viewscreens depicting the battle raging across the system.
Judicator Aldaris began. <We have all seen the destruction of numerous Cerebrates, and the ensuing total deadness of their two broods, the minions of which have all died from a breakdown of homeostasis. We know very well that these few dark ones alone have been responsible for more kills than half of all the Fleets of the Khala. And I remember very well what Zeratul had said to me: 'You speak of knowledge, Judicator? You speak of experience? I have journeyed through the darkness between the most distant stars. I have beheld the births of negative-suns and borne witness to the entropy of entire realities... Unto my experience, Aldaris, all that you've built here on Aiur is but a fleeting dream. A dream from which your precious Conclave shall awaken, finding themselves drowned in a greater nightmare.' Is it not best for us to acknowledge that maybe we are indeed not as perfect as a thousand years of the Khala has led us to believe?>
No protest, though all were pensive; the very silence seemed loud.
<Then let us make a lasting peace with Tassadar, Zeratul, and their stewards.> The Judicator reached out with his mind, and established a channel with one he once believed was his arch-enemy. <Tassadar. Zeratul. This comes too late to you. But the Conclave has witnessed your defeat of many a Cerebrate. They know now that they cannot deny the necessity or the effectiveness of your actions. We sought to punish you, while it was we who were in error. You represent what is greatest in us all, and all our hopes go with you. EN TARO ADUN, brave Sons of Aiur!>
Back aboard the Hyperion, Daniel smiled grimly. <Wow. Does that mean they're going to send some backup for us?>
<You know very well that the Conclave is but an empty shell now,> Zeratul stated flatly.
<We will return the Ganthrithor and the title of Executor to you. It is the least we can do,> Aldaris responded.
<Thank the Khala.> Tassadar communicated with Zeratul, < If I die killing the Overmind, only bring me back if I fail.>
< If that be your wish, as it is mine, then agreed. As an old friend, I make that request as well, that if I succeed, do not bring me back either, for I have realized what the endgame is. It seems quite apparent that the means the Xel'Naga were referring to involve the combination of two individuals into one.>
< I do too. The creation of an Archon?>
<Yes. The legendary feat that only Adun was able to do. Only this time, it will be different, for we truly know little about the Terran from our interactions with them. Do you think you will be able to manage?>
Tassadar's reply was adamant. < I have sacrificed all that our world might live. I have sullied my honor, I have discarded my rank and standing, and I have even broken our own most ancient traditions. But never think that I would, for one moment, regret my actions. For I am Templar, and above all else, I have sworn to protect our Homeworld 'till the end.>
<Then let us tell Daniel... no wait, we cannot.>
< Indeed, if we tell him what the true cost to him would be of killing the Overmind, he may think twice. And we cannot allow that to happen. He is, after all, human, and the Terran have never been Awakened, have never been able to put their all into a worthy goal to the extent that we and the Zerg are able to.>
<Then you should just tell him that he will be required for a ritual. That is all,> concluded Zeratul.
Tassadar called out to Daniel, <Daniel, you are needed for a ritual for destroying the Overmind. I will blink you aboard the Ganthrithor in a few seconds.>
Just as Daniel tried to understand this, a polarion beam, invisible to the naked eye, passed through him, scanning him, uploading everything there was to know about him into the Protoss data banks.
Daniel turned to James. "I will be aboard Tassadar's Carrier soon. Congratulations, James. With Sarlena... out of the picture... I promote you to rear admiral. You will be responsible for running our fleet and preparing for the final showdown..." Before the awestruck James had any time to react, a miniature portal spirited Daniel away to the flagship Ganthrithor.
"So... what happens now?" asked another officer.
"Daniel's going to do what he can to win this war, even if it means leaving his own fleet. For now, I'm in charge. Just so you know, the battle's about to end soon one way or another, and I'm determined for it to end in our favor, even if it means sacrificing the Harbinger Fleet. You can be sure that I will do whatever it takes to bring us victory today."
Everyone in the room immediately tensed up, and James knew enough about these people to know why. "The Hyperion is not slated for such a fate," he declared, and immediately they all relaxed, even though they then tried to hide it from his eyes.
He saw it, and immediately became filled with rage. "Why you!.!. You care only about your own skins, and don't care if any- and everyone else dies in your place! OWW!--" he roared in frustration as he pulled a tendon in his jaw. "You bunch of..."
"Calm down, James," said Ariel, unperturbed. "There's a reason we - that is, the crew of this ship - have managed to live for so long in so hostile an environment. We're commanders, not martyrs. We're not stupid." Like Christopher, she wanted to add, but shut her mouth at the last moment.
"And Daniel's stupid too?" challenged James.
Ariel remained pacific. "I can promise you, that they will see to it that Daniel comes to no harm; he is merely required for a ritual, that is all."
The Overmind was cloaked in the black night; only the occasional cloud cover reflected any light from the occluded sun, their undersides a dark shade of red. Red from fire, blood, and destruction. The surface was entirely pitch; naught could be seen, as nothing gave off a glow here the way they did in Terran cities. Its furthest tendrils had, despite being time-bombed most of the time, already crept up the stairs of the Temple of Knowledge, working its way up to the final floor.
The hated Overmind, thought Daniel.
Tassadar gave his prepared speech to the remaining Protoss. <My friends, this is our final hour. Not all of us may survive the coming conflict. Yet, death may be a blessing should we fail here. We seek now to destroy a foe that has ravaged its way across the universe consuming all in its path. And now it has reached the end of its long journey. The Overmind has come to destroy all that we hold dear and assimilate us, and all knowledge, unto itself. And I say to thee, this shall not come to pass! Aiur shall not fall! As Executor, I stand ready!>
Daniel added, <As do I.>
Zeratul turned to the fleet of Warp Rays the Protoss had just minutes earlier constructed. <This is our time of glory. For now, we shall attempt to destroy that which we have pledged to destroy for centuries. Today, we are Templar! En Taro Adun!>
As the entire contingent of Protoss in that fleet began a wild psionic cheer, the Warp Rays as well as countless other starships - the Final Fleet - broke apart from the main bulk of the Protoss fleet and began moving toward the well-protected Overmind on the planetary surface. By now the Zerg Swarm had already slaughtered most of the leaderless broods, and had turned their attention back on the Protoss. The Homeworld Fleet began to suffer massive casualties once again.
The Final Fleet blinked all the way down to near the surface of the planet, right next to the Overmind, taking a sphere formation with the Ganthrithor and the Warp Rays in the center. That same instant the two forces, each billions upon billions of vessels strong, clashed, initiating yet another titanic battle.
The Guardians' shields held back the brown tide only momentarily before they too collapsed from the stress of too many Zerg sacrificing themselves in too short a span of time. Now left incredibly vulnerable, they were left shattered hulks, some even entirely missing from this reality, as waves of scourge slammed into them, knocking them out of the timestream. In turn, these scourge were obliterated by the interceptor cloud, their photon torpedoes easily hunting down their targets. But there were simply too many of them, and the dracolisks soon had mopped up all the interceptors through sheer numbers. Even the raw destructive force of the Needleships' ion cannons weren't enough; they could only slash in their narrow beam. It was like trying to stab every ant on the anthill with a pin - no matter how precise one could get with the aiming, it would simply take too much time to clean out the approaching swarm. And time they did not have, as the giant floating crabs - the cancerlisks - spurted out their highly destructive plasma balls, breaking through the Needleships' armor like they were nothing, and quickly pulverizing them into golden specks and shards. Dreadnoughts continued to shoot phase disruptors into the most concentrated areas of the swarm, hoping to score quick victories as their deleterious effects jumped from target to adjacent target but more often being simply destroyed before they could activate. Anemonelisks continually sacrificed their extensive pinkish tentacles absorbing enemy fire while the rest of the swarms continued to advance. Within moments the spider-like arachlisks had released massive, kilometer-scale webbing to entangle the Protoss vessels, preventing them from taking evasive maneuvers. Very quickly the two sides succumbed to each others' fire. Before any of the Warp Rays had caused enough of a feedback loop to harm the Overmind, they had all been destroyed, every one of them.
Then there were those which fought not with destruction. The Zerg had their damselisks, spreading purplish-black nanite plumes all over the Protoss interceptors where vicious microscale battles waged for control of their systems; many an interceptor turned against their own Carriers, unleashing a fierce bombardment in addition to that of the swarm. Motherships continued to flash their golden beams throughout the alien clusters, anything they touched quickly being subverted by the superior nanites of the Protoss. As a downpour of the Zerg nanite weaponry continued to pound on them, the Motherships quickly became pock-marked with holes. Then they would phase-shift, temporarily vanishing from this plane while they were swiftly reconstructed and restored back to prime condition. Then they would return, to continue on. But eventually the phase-shift devices on each of the Motherships was breached before they could activate, and then it was only a matter of seconds before they were destroyed, never to be regenerated.
Such a great cataclysm, so that a single ritual could proceed safely within the spherical formation of the golden fleet.
The flagship Ganthrithor was set on a crash course directly for the Overmind. On board the nearly hollowed out central portion of the Ganthrithor, Tassadar and Daniel stood in the center of the large, beautifully kaleidoscopic chamber, bluish wisps slowly emanating from the High Templar's body as the ritual Archon Meld began. Despite all the reassurances Tealdarin and Zeratul had given him, Daniel still felt unnatural amounts of fear creep upon him.
The light he produced only became more and more intense, the psionic signature more and more potent. Then the critical point had been reached; Tassadar flung his limbs over his head; the three nerve cords at the back of his head twisted together; and suddenly all of the carrier was eclipsed by the static from a sphere of living psionic potential that had replaced the two representatives of separate races.
<Tassadar was right, Daniel IS touched by the power of Xel'Nagan creation,> noted Zeratul as he and others watched the scene unfold from their own starships. <And what a fine one he is too.>
The building energies soon surpassed the size of the Carrier, vaporizing it in the process. The pulsing twilight star lit up the obsidian night sky, a single inextinguishable light in the midst of endless chaos, radiantly bluish-white, as it finished its plunge into the Overmind before it, seeing its doom swiftly approaching, could attempt to transplant itself on a different planet.
The Archon had one final demand to make. <Remember us, Conclave. Remember what was done here today. May Adun watch over you.> *
<En Taro Tassadar,> came the reply.
There was a transient psionic shockwave so strong it took all Protoss in the galaxy into a coma for an entire day thereafter, that destroyed all instruments designed to measure influences along that plane. It was one so powerful that it swept through the thousands of Zerg that had gotten in its way attempting to sacrifice themselves to save their master; and - most importantly - plowed through and obliterated the immunity that had kept the Overmind immortal for so long.
Then the entire Overmind, the Eye of the Swarm vaporized in a heartbeat as the incredible power of the Archon erupted over its iris simultaneously.
The Protoss may be put into a long coma, but the Zerg were dead.