They were created by the Terran Dominion, secret weapons forged from Zerg flesh and Terran steel. They were the ultimate war machines, unstoppable on the battlefield. They were incapable of questio...
Gregory P. Wong
Chapter 4: Power On
"Straas!" Szcraa cried out in alarm. Straas had just fallen down, limp. As she reached for him, everything turned white. A flash, one so bright that it temporarily blinded her. When her vision cleared, she gasped at he sight in front of her.
Straas was transformed.
He stood majestically, his transfigured body possessing a purity and power that she marveled at. Straas' eyes, once a dull red, had become twin, blazing suns. His scythes were like flaming swords, a blue-white shroud of energy swirling and twisting around his blades.
He turned to Szcraa, and spoke. His voice had also... changed. It echoed ever so slightly. "Szcraa, get to the other part of the city. The Dominion troops there need help. I will be fine..."
She looked into his eyes, and noticed that he was not shrinking back at the sight of her. He moved closer, looking down into her eyes.
He had always been taller and stronger than her, but he now seemed to tower over her. Looking up, she sensed that he had changed in more ways than physical. But he still seemed the same Straas. He flexed his arms, and he returned back to normal. Almost. His red shaded body was now streaked with flecks of gold.
He reached out with a retracted scythe, and stroked her face gently with his palm. She shivered, and held his hand in her own. He was actually touching her...
She reached up and returned his gesture in kind, relieved that he was not shying from her touch. Suddenly, he reached out and embraced her, drawing her close. "Humans seem to enjoy this, and now I see why..." Straas murmured. They stood there for a while, and then Straas released her.
"Szcraa, leave me. Get the humans to safety," said Straas.
"No! I won't leave go you alone. It's-" She stopped when Straas gestured with a hand.
"I promise that I will be fine. Go now." Straas' scythes shot out and ignited, burning with a cold, white-and-blue flame. His eyes flared and she knew that Straas would keep his promise. She touched his shoulder, and dashed off to aid the humans
Straas felt the power. The psionic dampeners had suppressed his psi powers, and the hidden datafiles had concealed these powers from him. Szcraa's spirited, desperate, emotional speech had triggered these changes in him, and by accessing the now revealed datafiles, he knew that Szcraa had the same powers as he. It would only be a matter of time before her psi-powers showed themselves too.
He charged straight at the oncoming tide of Zerg, faster than ever before; he was topping 160 kph. He heard surprised shouts coming from the Dominion soldiers, other cries were in wonderment, yet others were in fear. He barely heard them as he flashed past. His limbs felt energized from his revealed psi powers, and he felt invincible. Then he slammed into the Zerg.
The Zerg legions seemed to splash out as if an immense hammer had hit them. He began a deal out death in a fatal dance, his psi-scythes flashing and striking. Diminutive zerglings attempted to dodge away in vain. Hydralisks were gutted as they hissed in inhuman outrage. Ultralisks roared in pain and agony as they felt deep cuts and slashes eviscerate them.
He opened his chest, rolled, and fired a volley of Magna Needles, which now resembled streaking blue laser bursts. /So my Magna Needles were psi-charged too/... The Needles impacted, wiping out a small pack of zerglings. Another cascade of Needles took out a charging ultralisk.
He leaped into the air, dodging two ultralisk's Kaiser blades, and landed on its vast back, stabbing his psi-scythes deep. The Zerg warrior shuddered and collapsed to the ground, its nervous system severed. Straas heard screeches coming from the sky.
He looked up, and saw the swiftly approaching mutalisks and the slower guardians. He gave a neural command, and his targeting system went over his left eye. He focused on the mutalisks, moving the targeting crosshair over the flight of airborne creatures, and blew them from the sky with hot plasma, all the while dodging madly. The guardians could wait for later. He returned to the battle on the ground; the Zerg had already reached the city gates. He was going to have to fight harder than ever to save the city...
"By Adun!" exclaimed Tarthan/Jetok, Executor of the Gray Shadow Fleet. He had detected an immense psionic presence off to the south. He felt the faint echoes as other Protoss heard it in their minds, and subliminally retransmitted it through the psionic link of the Khala.
It was immense, gigantic, and he wanted to know what it was. Gliding over to a Khalai technician, he asked her to focus their arrays toward the south, in hope of gauging the power. The technician looked down at her sensors, and gasped.
"What is it?" he asked the technician.
"The power readings are off the scale!" she exclaimed. "The total psionic power of this individual is /greater /than three dozen of our most powerful High Templars. The source of this signature seems to be in close proximity to Zerg signals."
"Perhaps not so impossible, Tarthan."
"Perhaps this is the one we have been tracking for so long."
"I do not think so."
"We had better investigate this. This power is astonishing... and dangerous"
"We will go to the location of the signature with a task force." Tarthan/Jetok turned to an awaiting zealot, and ordered him to gather an effective assault force.
One hour later, the task force was assembled. His armored zealots stood impatiently, itching to get into battle to serve the Khala. Right behind them was a fair sized group of cybernetic Dragoons, and behind them were one dozen Archons, each consisting of two High Templar that had made the ultimate sacrifice, to merge from two into one. A group of shuttles and scouts floated on anti-gravity thrusters, ready. The shuttles contained a unit of Reavers. This was probably all the firepower they were going to need, but they had brought another squadron of scouts and Corsairs, along with a huge carrier that would take them into battle.
His fleet was the first of its kind, integrating Dark Templar and Templar into one armada. Even /he /was unique, being the first Archon ever to gain the rank of Executor. His flagship, the experimental /Elemental/-class carrier /Phantasm /was capable of cloaking-something the Dark Templars had taught him. However, they were going to use a different carrier, the /Aniopith/, to take them into battle. The fleet's flagship would remain on the surface of the world, far from the battle, in reserve. No matter.
The Aniopith was fully loaded with dozens of interceptors, all ready to shoot out of the carrier and engage the enemy. Signaling his warriors, he motioned for them to board the gigantic capital ship. The shuttles and attack craft would fly alongside. He boarded the carrier, and felt the ship rumble as it flew toward the battlefield.
Szcraa decapitated yet another ultralisk. It collapsed on the ground, jerking in death spasms. Marines in bunkers quickly dispatched the screeching zerglings that had accompanied it. The vast, reinforced underground bunker had become the refuge of the civilians fleeing from the invasion, and it was full of non-combatants. Several brave young men from the refuge had grabbed weapons from fallen troops and rushed to the bunkers to assist in the defense. While they were full of spirit, they were untrained, and as much a liability as they were help.
She saw another wave of Zerg heading for the bunker, and rushed out to meet them. She dispatched the attackers quickly in a flurry of Needles and plasma. The bunker had taken a few bad hits, and with each passing hour, troops died, weakening their defensive net.
She hoped Straas was all right. She did not know what to do if she found that had been severely injured or killed. He...
She shook her head and focused on her objective: keep all civilians safe. But she wondered how long she could do that. She had taken a few hits to the lower body and legs, and her mobility was limited due to the break she had received awhile ago. She turned, and again confronted another wave of skittering monstrosities...
Straas was beginning to tire. He had been fighting for hours straight, with absolutely /no /rest. His psi-powers gave him energy, however, and it would by long before he collapsed from exhaustion. But as soon as he did, the city was doomed; he was the only thing keeping the Zerg from completely overrunning the city and flanking the other marine garrison forces. He fought on, the face of Szcraa in his mind.
Suddenly his psi-sensors detected psionic signatures approaching from the north. The signatures were the same frequency and type used by Protoss. He wondered what they would be doing here. They could be here to assist the Terrans in repelling the Zerg; the Protoss had on occasion shown compassion to beleaguered Terrans, or they would wait until both sides weakened themselves, and then incinerate the survivors.
He took a moment to pause and peer to the north, where a Protoss carrier and small fleet of starfighters came escorting shuttles. The large golden ship descended. The carrier hovered low, and disgorged a large group of Protoss who were being led by an Archon. Hostile Protoss troops could be a big problem, if his datafiles told the truth about their offensive capabilities.
Suddenly, he felt a sharp pain in his side. He looked down and saw a dozen zerglings hanging there, trying to dig their claws into his steel-hard carapace. He shook them off violently, and stomped them to death. He had stayed still too long. Roaring, he resumed battle.
Tarthan/Jetok emerged from the carrier first, blasting a way through the rampaging Zerg with bolts of sizzling psionic energy. His warriors followed, but the Zerg immediately surrounding the bay opening were already dead. He ordered his zealots and Dragoons into the fray, and the fleet carrier to stay back and provide air support with one dozen interceptors. He gave explicit orders that Terrans should not be engaged unless they fired first.
His warriors were making a difference to the battle; the Zerg had not expected an attack on that quarter, and the assault was thrown into disarray.
His scouts and Dark Templar-built Corsairs gave the Protoss control of the sky, and the Reavers, Dragoons and zealots were holding their own on the ground. He and his personal guard of Archons were gliding forward, overseeing the battle, helping wehre necessary. With the unexpected attack from a previously safe area, the Zerg had broken, then retreated, all but a few hundred still remaining.
He turned and peered at what seemed to be a strangely shaped Terran Goliath walker. Gesturing for a single Archon to accompany him, he hovered to where the construct stood. From a distance, the upper turret seemed to be breathing deeply, as if it were alive.
"Yes I know, Tarthan. However, I do remember you a long time ago declaring a power of this magnitude did not, /could not /exist."
He turned from his internal musings and floated closer to the machine. The construct had turned and was tracking him, it seemed. He fully activated his shields, and got within sight range of the enigma, gauging the power of the pilot.
"Incredible! Tarthan, can you feel the pilot's psionic signature? This is definitely the source of those enormous energy."
"I do, but I do not think the pilot is the source of the power..."
Tarthan/Jetok was greeted with an amazing sight.
Tarthan/Jetok could believe his eyes! The Terran Goliath had turned out to be a living creature, a mutated hydralisk merged with Terran technology. He immediately began to raise his arms in automatic preparation for a psionic attack, but stopped when he... felt something. Even more disturbing, it seemed to be the source of the psionic energy. Its scythes appeared to be on fire, as if a blue-white flame from an Archon had rushed out and consumed them. Its opposable claws were a distinguishing feature on the Zerg body, telling of bioengineering. Its eyes were twin, blazing torches, and it strode majestically toward him on double-jointed mechanical legs. As the creature approached, the scythes slid away.
The Archon escorting him began to raise his arms, ready to deal out fiery death, but he sensed that this creature meant no harm to him. He gestured for the other Archon to return to an alert, but non-threatening state. The Cyborg did the last thing he expected: it spoke.
"Greetings Protoss," Straas said to the two Protoss Archons approaching him.
Straas did not expect the two Archons to come meet him, so he came to them, slowly, with scythes retracted and plasma cannons lowered. He stayed Ignited, however. The Archon on the left raised its arms in preparation for a psychic attack, but with a gesture from the other, it lowered its hands, but did not abandon a cautious stance. The lead Archon spoke in its twin, booming "voices". "Who... what are you!?" the Protoss exclaimed, using the signature Protoss mind-voice.
Straas was used to this reaction before. Not many people were quite prepared for a talking "Zerg".
Straas smiled inwardly at his thought; before Szcraa's plea to him, relating himself to a Zerg, even in his thoughts, would make him angry at least, murderous at most.
He was a Zerg genetically, yes, but he had something that the Zerg did not have: Emotions, sentience, and perhaps most importantly, care for someone else. Returning to the Archon, he answered.
"I am... Straas. I freed myself from Dominion enslavement and escaped along with my partner Szcraa into the countryside. As you see now," he gestured to his fiery blue-white arms, "I have uncovered my psionic powers, which the Dominion had kept hidden from me. Now, I would like to know who you are." The Protoss seemed taken aback by the question.
"He has to answer nothing, abomination!" snarled the second Archon, stepping in front of the first.
"Liharenen/Daruvo, stand down," ordered the first Archon. The second archon backed down, reluctantly. The first Archons turned back to him.
"Strange thing "Straas" to tell a complete stranger of your travails of the last month," said the Archon. Straas blinked.
"I am Executor Tarthan/Jetok," rumbled the blue figure, "I command the Gray Shadow Fleet, a fleet consisting of Dark Templar and Light Templar. We have been tracking... a being off unimaginable power. We originally landed here to acquire supplies, but when we detected you... we investigated." The Protoss swept his arm towards the battlefield, which has littered with bodies, not a few of them of them Protoss.
Straas felt something murmuring against his mind, and he dismissed it as it faded away. Yet the whispering in his psyche had not completely left, for he still felt a touch on his mind. He ignored it, and turned back to the Protoss, extinguishing his psi-scythes.
"While I'm not an authority figure here, I welcome you, and thank you for the assistance in repulsing the Zerg," he said. "You saved countless innocents."
"Some of my predecessors would just say 'they are just Terrans.' To me, however, innocents are innocents. We will always aid those unjustly beset by enemies.
"We thank you reciprocally for the welcome," went on the Archon, turning towards the hovering carrier, "but we must depart from this world. My command ship is... what in he name of Adun!?" exclaimed the Archon, as he encountered Szcraa instead. Straas was taken aback; she had managed not only to evade the Protoss' senses, but his meticulous sensors too, which were far more precise than the two Archons' senses. Szcraa was full of surprises.
He jerked in surprise when he noticed six red dots appear over Szcraa's body, and by the way she was looking at him, he knew that something similar had appeared on him. With his attention directed towards Szcraa and the Protoss, he had not detected cloaked Terran Ghosts sneaking up on them. He mentally berated himself for being so sloppy.
He knew that the Ghosts would do a lockdown strike if they made any movement. He should have known... The Dominion meant to recapture them and again enslave and twist them like their plaything. He waited for the rounds of mechanical-freezing ordinance to strike him...
Tarthan/Jetok immediately reacted to the red dots appearing on the two Cyberlisks' bodies. He spun around, raising his arms and channeling his energy. While he could not see the Terrans, if he managed to fire in the right direction, they could be fried.
He heard a voice shout out, "Don't try it blue boy! We got a mobile EMP emitter here, and make one hostile move and we hit you with it, and you get /shredded/."
He stopped and moved back to his previous location; he was too weak without the protective plasma shields encasing his body. He glared at the trees, trying to spot the cloaked Terrans, but to no avail. Their cloaking devices were too good. His guardian moved in a position that would shield his Executor, and the two Cyberlisks, Straas and Szcraa, stood defiant, not knowing when the lockdown rounds would hit. Suddenly the red beams snapped off, and a female Ghost emerged from the shadows, the cloak dripping away like water.
"I have orders to subdue you two and bring you in," she said to Straas.
"Well then, be done with it," Straas growled back in defiance.
"Well, but I won't." the Ghost sighed. "Stanton Hunter was my colleague, and if he thought you two were worthwhile knowing, then I do too. But one condition: don't let me catch you again. Otherwise my superiors will severely punish me. And I know how they intend to too." She shuddered slightly. "You two better not let me catch you again, and you Protoss too, get out of here before Mengsk decides to sic his dogs on you." With that, she cloaked and moved off. After the Ghost had disappeared, Tarthan/Jetok turned to Straas and asked "Is that one Szcraa, the one over there?"
"Yes she is Szcraa." Straas sounded like he had encountered this question many times.
"She! Zerg have no gender!"
"True, but we are not ordinary 'Zerg.' Can Zerg talk, or can they ignite their scythes?"
"Your point is taken. Let us go back to the /Aniopith/. We will provide quarters for the two of you on my flagship, the /Phantasm/."
"What?" exclaimed Szcraa, now revealed to be a female.
"I believe that the Ghost made a very clear point. You cannot stay on Waj Norhal, or they might deactivate you and return you to your slavery."
"Your offer is generous, Executor. We thank you," said Straas. The three of them began to set out for the carrier. His guardian floated behind them a few meters back. He sent a command to the /Phantasm/, ordering it to be brought to the surface. He sent a summons out for a shuttle to pick them up and bring them to the flagship.
"We only have one more room left on the /Phantasm/."
"They will be fine. You worry too excessively"
"My 'worry' has saved us many times, Jetok..."
"Truth, but it does get tiresome after much time. But then again... I have had ample time to get used to it."
Szcraa was awed at the Protoss carrier /Phantasm/. The zealots guarding the landing site of the shuttle pointed at her. Their psi blades mounted on their forearms ignited and they tensed, ready to protect the First Born and their Executor.
"These two are not enemies," called Tarthan/Jetok to his troops via psi speak. "These two are hunted by the Dominion, and even though of their appearance, they have heroically defended a human settlement that would have been destroyed if not for their intervention. I ask you all, even if they appear to be Zerg, to allow them to travel with us and to treat them as equals." The Executor rambled on.
Szcraa was relieved when the zealots extinguished their blades and stared at the Cyberlisks. The Protoss still looked suspicious, though.
Straas looked at her and opened up a commlink.