As the chaotic, swirling energies subsided, a heavy silence settled across Aiur's star system. Due to Tassadar's noble sacrifice, the Overmind was now dead and the Zerg Swarms were scattered and broken. But as the heroes surveyed their once glorious homeland, they realized that their victory had cost them all but their lives. Aiur was left nothing more than a smoldering ruin. Those few Protoss who survived the final battle could only wonder what the future would hold for their race.
Half a day had passed since the Eye had been vanquished.
Reconnaissance task forces reported that all the Zerg, not just on Aiur, but on all the other planets where they had been surveying, had either stopped dead in their tracks and begun to fester and decay, or had turned on themselves, obliterating their own numbers with abandon; that the fliers had all fallen out of the sky or had shredded each other to pieces. As far as any Protoss observer could tell, Zerg power in the galaxy had been entirely broken. The galaxy was safe from the swarm, and forever would be. The massive numbers of Zerg against which the Protoss had fought had been systematically purged by the remaining Homeworld Fleet. The dark ones hunted down and slew every Cerebrate they had managed to locate, which left little chance for recovery and a second War.
Already the Protoss who had fled the planet as refugees were returning as victors, phasing in new structures from templates of bases on innumerable other worlds. With the processing and energetic capabilities of the other Protoss Forge Worlds, reconstruction of the planet was swift. No human in the Harbinger Fleet had ever seen a society rebuild from such total ruin with such awe-inspiring swiftness as had transpired now.
The Protoss, far from being a cold and cruel race that turned on their allies after the fall of their enemies, had promised to integrate the two races, their two cultures, as one. The shining light of Aiur's star smiled brightly upon the newly constructed cities. True cities, not the endless grids of pylons that once made Aiur an ubiquitous green. The era of the Forge Worlds was history. Cities which bore a hallmark no other settlement in all of Protoss history aside from on Korhal ever had: Terran buildings mixed in among the Protoss structures.
Coexistence. Mutualism. Cooperation. Those were the key terms of the new society. Gone was the absurd distaste for the dark ones; gone was the mistrust of Terrans; gone was the secretiveness of Aiur's whereabouts; gone was the ever-pervasive threat of invasion by the Zerg.
The first and greatest of the cities on Aiur, also the site of the new Conclave building and the embassy for the human race, was named in honor of a human: New Travincal.
And the Protoss were hailing each other with <En taro Tassadar!>
James burst into the Ariel's room, an angry snarl on his face. "You traitors, you lied to Daniel, and now he's dead!"
Ariel looked up in surprise. "That's not exactly true--"
"Yes it is, and you know it! Why? Why did you do that? Never mind, I don't really want to know, it would only hurt me more. I trusted you, Protoss! And now all my friends are lost to me. Michael, driven mad since the day we encountered the Zerg. Christopher died fighting in your war. Sarlena can't bear to live for a moment without him. And now you've taken Daniel too!" James finished, a pained expression on is face, before turning around and leaving in his fit of anger.
Ariel called after him, "What about Sarah?"
James paused for only a moment. And Sarah's never liked me anyway. "I barely knew her." Then he left.
When he sat back down at his computer station he saw text across the screen: "Remember the story about the ostrich?"
That gave the rear admiral pause. Daniel had used that on the Protoss not too long ago, if he recalled correctly. Since when did others use Daniel's tactics on him?! This was outrage! And yet... and yet, being an intelligent human being, it would not be right for him not to face this problem, so he typed back in reply. "What do you have to say?"
"Do you not consider his sacrifice to be worth it? If he had not done what he did today, the great War would have been lost. Our futures would be fated to destruction at the hands of the Zerg. Surely you cannot wish for that to pass?"
"Of course I do not. But at least you could have told him what he was getting himself into, because I don't think he would have wanted to die!"
"Exactly. If we had told him, this sacrifice would never have happened. He would have probably backed out, and never become the ultimate hero he is now."
James did not know how to respond to that. True, Daniel didn't strike him as a typical bravado-filled marine; he always kept his cool and thought through things rationally, and did especially well at keeping himself out of trouble when he saw it coming. It had been the backbone of this nascent fleet. Unlike Chris, who had to get himself killed... On the other hand, how different is Daniel's fate? Did they not both die? Christopher died in the glory of combat, insignificant as it was in the great scheme of things. Daniel? His glory might have been greater, but he had not wanted it to have happened.
The words on the screen changed. "James, there is another great secret that we have yet to share with you."
Ariel continued. "We too have lost a great leader, in our case Tassadar. Before he died, he declared that, should he succeed in his ultimate goal, he did not want to be brought back alive. Daniel never said as much. So, we shall be bringing him back - in due time."
"Can you, really?" James could scarcely believe what his eyes were reading. The gift of a second life?!!!!
"Right before Christopher set out to fight his personal war against the Zerg, right before Daniel left the Hyperion for the last time, right before Michael was executed, we passed a polarion beam through them, capturing their biometric data as of those times. With this data, we will be able to recreate people."
James might have been jumping for joy if there was a nagging part at the back of the brain that kept saying that this was too preposterous to be possible, that something was bound to go wrong.
Everything went just the way it should, however, in direct violation of Moore's Law, as mere seconds later, amidst a newly appeared golden mist, a new Daniel materialized.
Everyone rushed over to see if this were for real, then proceeded to bombard him with the worries they had been having of him all that time, asking what the experience of the Archon Meld was like...
"Oh oh everyone get off 'er me!" he shouted as he clambered to his feet. "I don't recall the experience of the Archon Meld, to be sincere--"
James's ears perked up at this. "What, aren't you Daniel? The Daniel Travincal we knew so well?"
"Yep, I'm him, except... I think I am a younger version," he said with an expression of utter confusion.
"Why, you look very tired to me, just like he was before he sacrificed himself," said an oblivious officer.
"Yeah, well that's because I WAS incredibly over-strained when I entered the Ganthrithor. That must have been when the Nexus created its template of me, because I don't remember anything that happened after."
"Wait, but then that means... You weren't really revived back from the dead."
"No one can be, James."
"But... But - the Protoss, they said--" he sputtered.
Ariel had by then walked over. "True, he is a different Daniel than the one who died, but only fractionally so. You see, from the viewpoint of the Daniel who became the Archon, well, he's still dead, so he doesn't really have a viewpoint of speak of, eh?"
"Why, you! Give me my Daniel back!"
"Haven't I explained myself quite clearly already?" Ariel responded. "He's still the same Daniel you have always known, except for that last part - that's where they diverge."
"But that other Daniel... he must still be dead..."
"He is, and always will be," replied Daniel. "Now, I've taken courses in psychology, so let me tell you this: if you don't get over this slight inconsistency in me, then you'll never live the happy life you should. Just... think of me as Daniel, a Daniel from the past whose future lies with you all, but whose other identity would die in the future - that is, twelve hours ago."
"Argh! You're making my head spin!"
"Come on now, we've got other people to bring back, don't we?"
James sat straight at this. "Why, I almost forgot! Michael never had to die, we could bring him back--"
"If we did, he would still be the tormented soul we have known him to be for so long now."
"What?" How? But that must mean... that the earliest recorded template of Michael already was of a person psychologically irrecoverable... No... And then the reality of the situation sank in. This delayed Phasing process wasn't perfect by any means.
"So do you see? If we want to do Michael a favor, we will let the matter stay as it is. To do otherwise would be of no benefit to him and his soul whatsoever."
James's fingers twitched. This entire situation was so harsh, so unforgiving, so... cold... To just leave Michael out there in the middle of nowhere, to cease to exist...
"Exactly," said Ariel with a cheery smile. From behind her materialized a new Christopher, also from a puff of golden fog, causing everyone's already open mouths to drop still further.
"Just... don't tell Sarlena too much about these... specifics," admonished Daniel. Then he turned to Ariel. "I take it the fact that I'm alive once again means that you had some spare energy, which means the war's over and that we succeeded. But if so, just why did you bring me back?"
"Well, I thought that you would have wanted to--"
"Wanted to what? Watch a replay of the battle? That's not going to make me feel very much alive. Live as a civilian now? My life was dedicated to being a soldier. I can't possibly adjust. Preside over the reconstruction of Aiur? Not interested!"
"Why, I'd thought that you'd for one be happy that you're alive again!" exclaimed Ariel in dismay.
"I..." Daniel chose his words carefully. "...am an anachronism. I stood for a War between races which had ended in the past. I don't know what I'm doing here, or how to cope with things now so suddenly different. It's like the world I've known has fallen apart and a new one rebuilt on its ruins. This... this isn't my world. My world ended when my other self died killing the Overmind. I should not exist... I have no purpose in life... I should never have been brought back to life. You were in error to do so."
"But Daniel!" Ariel shouted in despair. "I did it for a reason! I did it because--"
"Because..." For a moment Ariel felt too shy to continue.
"Because I loved you." There, it was out and it felt better.
"I don't know what you've been feeling, Ariel," Daniel replied stoically, "but no matter what, you're a Protoss creation at heart. It's like I said: Not a human, never a human. I will not exist just so that you may have some desire of yours fulfilled. Now: Use your Protoss nanite powers to remove me from existence."
Ariel pouted, "but I can't do that! That's murder!"
"I've killed a lot of people in my day. Now go on, DO IT," said Daniel, approaching menacingly.
"NO, I WON'T!!" said Ariel, backing away.
Daniel sighed. "Fine then. But I certainly won't kill myself. Since the war is now over, I want the Protoss to give me control of their military - or at least a sizable fraction of it."
"Since you have requested it, it has been done. But... What for?"
"So that I can continue to travel the stars and hunt down the Zerg for the rest of my days," Daniel replied solemnly.
Realizing that Daniel didn't have any feelings for her at all, Ariel collapsed onto the floor of the bridge, sobbing and wailing, hoping that Daniel would take pity on her or start to feel again. When she looked up a few moments later, brushing away her tears, Daniel had just vanished through a hyperspace window, leaving her to pound the floor in frustration.
Moments later, a quarter of the Homeworld Fleet exited through a newly formed wormhole, taking Daniel and billions of Protoss off on a continuation of their interstellar odyssey. For that, after all, was what Daniel knew best in his life.
Sarlena's face was quite a bit bruised from all the injury she had done to herself to vent her frustration and despair; and now her hands were bound to the wall in what was a very, very aching position just so that she couldn't hurt herself any more. Her mind was totally numb from all the internal tension and strife, that her stricken mind did not register for a long while as rear admiral Christopher entered the room, causing the guards to stagger in shock. She barely noticed when Christopher unlocked her fetters and carried her limp body in his arms, bringing her out of the desolate cell.
It was only a few minutes later, of being snuggled softly into her own bed with Christopher by her side, that she started to recover - slightly - from trauma.
"Who... are you?" she managed a disconcerted whisper. This person she was looking at couldn't possibly be whom she wanted him to be - could he?
Christopher turned around with a soft smile. "Feeling better?" he asked softly and lovingly.
"Who are you?" Sarlena continued in her soft, weak voice.
"Chris. Do you recognize me?"
"Chris? Who's Chris..." She banged her fist on her forehead. "Christopher?" She suddenly turned around and looked at him with a dazed stare. "Chris... Christopher? The same Christopher that I fell in love with?"
Sarlena dropped her gaze away from him as she pondered out loud. "Chris... But that can't be, you're dead, so if you're here, then that means... O, this must be heaven!"
"Yes, it is," he replied, caressing her.
"My God, I've already died!?"
"Err, no, that's not what I meant, you're still alive."
"What?" she snapped back. "Th-then you're... you're a... ghost--"
Christopher held her petite hand in his. "A ghost is neither tangible, nor warm. Remember?"
"So... You're real? You've died but you're still alive?" She closed her eyes. "But, how does that work?" she asked mellowly. "But... you're dead, I saw you die with my own--"
She stopped as Christopher put two fingers over her mouth. "Hush, child. Don't think of things like that; they aren't meant for you. I didn't die in that fight," the video just lost track of me, that's all," he explained.
"Oh, I see, I knew it, I had always known it!" Sarlena's exclamations became steadily stronger and more excited as Chris's words sank in. "So all the time I thought you were gone, you were still around! You didn't die!" She instinctively reached across the bed and hugged him.
Christopher patted her back. "No, I didn't die, I didn't," he affirmed.
"Then what were you doing?"
"Why, I must have been off killing more Zerg, of course!"
Sarlena was still quite suspicious, half of her mind wishing only to believe that this were true, the other half too entrenched in its belief that Christopher was definitely dead to think otherwise. Maybe the Protoss are playing tricks with me and my mind, she wondered. Is this really Christopher, or am I being brainwashed? Well, only the real one can know the truth.
She hugged him even tighter, feigning complete trust, murmuring softly, "Oh, I'm so glad you didn't die! I knew you wouldn't, no, because when you left you promised that you would return no matter what..."
Christopher was about to say 'and so I have returned and fulfilled that promise', when he realized that he couldn't exactly recall that ever happening. He abruptly pushed her away, looking at her with peculiar eyes. "Say, what the heck is wrong with you, I NEVER said that!" Oops, maybe I shouldn't have hurt her so... Darn me... he instantly regretted it.
Sarlena was very much recovered. She looked him straight in the eye. "So, you're the real Christopher, not a fake sent by the Protoss to assuage me," she whispered to herself. Christopher heard her.
"What the...? The Protoss would never be capable of such treachery, they're too noble for that," Christopher asserted. "...Oh, I get it now... You were testing me, weren't you?"
Sarlena looked into his eyes with a sheepish but angelic smile. "Yep, and you passed it!"
"Oh, look at you now, just started your recovery and testing me already!? Testing me, eh? Maybe I should be testing YOU!" he teased as he snuck up close to her.
And with delighted expressions on their faces, they tumbled over each other, falling off the bed and ending up exhausted on the floor as they traded desirous, ecstatic glances at each other while laughing helplessly.
The sunlight was beginning to fade a brilliant pink-purple as the evening sun crawled toward the horizon when James finally awoke, significantly but not yet fully refreshed, and yawned with outstretched hands like he never had before, as a titillating giddiness coursed through his body. He picked himself up, and looked out the window. Majestically parked here, where he was standing in, was the massive metallic vessel, stretching nearly a mile long, the Hyperion.
Was it all over? Had we truly won? Has the War finally ended, allowing me and the rest of us to live in peace? he pondered to himself. It all seemed to have been such a massive nightmare; now that it's over, it seems so surreal... No, it wasn't a nightmare. Because nightmares portray the horrible truth, while the truth isn't so horrible, and the Zerg are no longer part of that truth. It was just a really, really bad dream. Because dreams aren't true by the time one awakens from them, and they already seem to be so far away.
The War is over. And before us... well, let's just take that one engagement at a time.
He opened his eyes, and thought he spied various officers holding up a picnic table.
No, that couldn't be; they were obviously hand-crafting and white-painting wooden benches. Row after row of them. Someone was working on a podium. Why would anyone be doing something like this? he asked himself. The War has just ended. Doesn't anyone want to take a much-deserved break? With a grunt, he picked himself up and walked toward the dirt hill where these constructions were being crafted.
Flowers were being adorned on an arch that was likewise made of wood and was slightly taller than the height of a man; nearby, balloons were being blown and glued to posts.
"What's going on here?" James asked.
"Shh, hurry up, they're coming now," was all the nearest officer said in reply.
Around him, everyone scrambled to move the furniture into position - and now there was a definite aisle, with a column of benches on either side, ending with the gate and podium.
"Some kind of ceremony?" James wondered to himself. Probably another Protoss gimmick...
Just then Christopher led Sarlena out of the hatch of the battlecruiser from barely ten feet away - and found themselves gaping, blushing, at what had been set up. Everyone looked eagerly at the two, expectant.
The next moment Christopher had whirled on Sarlena and was down on a knee, kissing her hand. "Will you marry me?"
Sarlena was too stunned to say anything; the redness that crept up her face belied her embarrassment at being caught so totally off guard. She didn't want to answer right away; there was still some pondering she wanted to mull over...
James threw up his hands. "Oh come on, we all saw what you were like when he left in that Wraith, you were begging--"
Sarlena shot him a dour look that made him shut up instantly, then smiled as she recalled all the experiences she had shared with Christopher. Not a bad choice really. Oh stop kidding yourself, you've been waiting for this day for eternity already.
Her lips were quivering as she prepared her reply, and as she accepted the proffered ring, she answered him:
The End. --Yunzhong Hou 3/29/08
Version 2, The End. --User: Abcxyzzzz 11/27/08