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 6: Foreshadow
Szcraa was still exploring the ship when she turned a corner and almost barreled into Straas. With her mind so engrossed on him, she had not detected him. And by the way he had almost bumped into her, he was thinking about something too. Straas smiled, recovering first.
"Hello Szcraa." Straas paused, the added "You seemed very deep in thought."
"Oh." She was a little taken aback by his comment. She thought for a while, and saw no reason to keep it from him. "I was... thinking about you."
This time Straas looked a little surprised. And concerned "You were?"
"Strange... I was thinking about you too," Straas said.
They walked in silence, wondering what exactly Straas was thinking. Straas took the lead, and she found herself in front of yet another door. Her deciphering software labeled the door as "training room".
"Traenid gave me maps to the ship. I would like to see what Protoss use for training," Straas explained, tapping the door control. The door slid up into a recess in the wall and they entered the training area.
For only a training room, it was huge. The floor was divided into six square sections, each section except one having devices.
She walked over to the nearest machine, which was named "reflex-tester". She looked over it, but could see no directions on the use. She looked at Straas, who had accessed a computer terminal. The gold-and-gemstone machine seemed to be explaining the device to him. She walked over.
"How did you access a Protoss computer?" she asked Straas.
"Traenid showed me how." He turned from the computer to look at her. "That machine you were looking at is a reflex-testing machine. It fires small metal balls at you from nine directions, with more being fired as the levels progress. The objective is to dodge or destroy the balls before they hit your body. Thirty levels, and the highest the Protoss on this ship have gotten is thirteen, set by Traenid. It also appears that Esralath also tied his record. Impressive."
She snorted. "It has thirty levels, and the top ranking is /thirteen/?"
Straas shrugged. "They're Protoss. Some things may never make sense."
She had moved over to the reflex-tester, and began examining it. It had nine tubes arrayed around a thirty foot square space. There was a tube on each side, on each diagonal corner, and one above her. She turned it on, setting it to level ten. Balls began flying. /Much too slow/, she thought, dodging and slicing the balls apart. She upped it to level twenty, then thirty. She aced it. /Too easy/. /Thirteen/... /Ha/!
She stepped away from the middle of the machine, not even breathing hard. Almost immediately a diminutive Protoss probe began to take the rended metal in it's anti-gravity beam and began to move the metal to a reprocessor.
Straas used a different machine. He braced himself, and was pushing against a shimmering force-field wall. She examined the control panel, and discovered it also had thirty levels. Straas was just finishing the last level. Like her, Straas didn't appear tired.
"This machine uses a force-field to push against someone, testing for strength. All you basically have to do is to push back harder than the wall's pushing."
Straas stepped off and allowed her to step on the mat. Straas moved over to one of the reflex machines.
Straas had just finished level twenty-seven when he looked over at Szcraa. She looked as tired as he did. He had clocked the number of spheres shooting out of the tubes at over ten per second. Huffing, he stopped the machine and peered at Szcraa. She braced herself for level twenty-eight, but in vain. The force-wall hit her and knocked her flat on her tail. He couldn't help from laughing at the dazed expression on her face as she sat on her rump.
"/I/'/m/ funny? You try 28 on that machine... wait, you did," she grumbled as she massaged her rear and got back to her feet gingerly.
Chuckling, he turned back and awaited the metal orbs to begin flying. The first dozen came out. He blocked them, but the other dozen that shot out and hit him on the face settled the matter. Rubbing his nose, he slipped clumsily on a piece of metal and fell down too.
He and Szcraa burst out into laughter. He got up and helped Szcraa to her feet.
"Don't worry, I'll beat you one of these days," he said as they left the training area, exhausted. "In a few hours, we will have our last meal for the day in a special eating area for the officers, before retiring," he added.
"I hope the food is good..." she said.
"Don't worry, it's quite tasty."
Traenid sat down next to an old High Templar at the table that was "usually" reserved for the Dark Templar. He dipped his hands into his bowl, and absorbed some of the nutrient fluid.
The four huge circular tables were meant to provide a separate dining area for the officers of the four castes of the fleet: Templar, Khalai, Judicator, and Dark Templar. Tarthan/Jetok had abolished that custom, as with anything else that had to deal with segregation in the fleet. Traenid was again glad that he had gotten this particular Executor. With the Archon's unorthodox disregard of traditional separatism, a future relationship with the Dark Templar Esralath might just be possible. With his musings, he almost didn't notice Esralath sit down next to the old Templar and begin a conversation with the old one. After a few minutes the High Templar got up and walked away. Esralath got up and took the High Templar's vacated seat, next to him. He hoped he did not appear nervous to the Dark Templar. He took his hands out of the still half-full bowl and set the meal aside.
"Xupol was questioning me on the use of our light-bending cloaking. He was possibly hoping to learn how to do it," Esralath said to him.
"Oh. Ye-yes, your cloaking technique is quite... uh... helpful." He sounded horrible, even to himself. He sounded as bad as when he was in training, and another attractive zealot had caught his eye. He hoped his nervousness didn't show.
"What is wrong, Templar? You seem very nervous. Why because?"
It showed all right.
Traenid wanted to say "you", but he thought that would eliminate any hopes of getting anywhere.
"Nothing is wrong. Truly, I am just fine."
"Is it I? You are staring at me."
He flinched a little, but kept it from her notice. His mind raced for a comeback.
"Uh. Partly. I think Kirah will be bedridden for a couple more weeks, no?"
Kirah, a low ranking zealot, had made the mistake of saying... unkind words about Esralath's people. Something about connecting her lineage to a Protoss and a bengalaas. The zealot was now in sickbay, nursing two broken bones, and a superficially damaged eye.
That was close! he thought. He did his best to hide his feelings from the communal link of the Khala, but failed. He winced; Esralath could read them if she wanted to. Then he remembered whom he was concerned about.
No Dark Templar joined in the Khala, despite the Conclave's orders; in fact, it was their act of disobedience that had gotten them exiled by the Conclave so many centuries ago.
He spied over his shoulder and saw Straas and Szcraa enter the room. He motioned for the two to sit at the table, but a few feet from a seat, Straas gave him a strange look. With a crooked grin, Straas left the table and sat at the Executor's table. Szcraa ignored her partner's action and sat next to Esralath. In what seemed like no time, the female Cyberlisk and the Dark Templar were deep in conversation about battle tactics. Perhaps next time, he consoled himself as he got up from the table and seated himself next to Straas.
Somehow Straas had known what had been going on in Traenid's head. He had no idea how that was possible; he knew his psi-powers weren't that strong. He pushed the thoughts aside as he conversed with Tarthan/Jetok.
"Executor, what is the Gray Shadow Fleet's destination? I was not able to ask you this earlier."
"We are en route to the Dark Templar colony world of Sawea, to which we are bringing supplies and additional colonists," answered Tarthan/Jetok. "The carrier Khala's Chosen is the colony ship, transporting over two-thousand Khalais. We should arrive there in about two to four weeks."
Tarthan/Jetok turned and began speaking to a Templar on his side, and the rest of the meal passed quickly.
Straas was still bothered by his mind reading. As they were leaving the room, Straas decided to tell the Executor his thoughts.
"Executor, I have a question.
"When I entered the room, I had... read Traenid's mind. I don't know how I did it. Do you have any idea?"
The Archon suddenly looked thoughtful. "What did it feel like."
"It felt like... a groups of minds in my head, but I could only feel Traenid's thoughts."
Tarthan/Jetok's glowing visage frowned. "A communal mind!? You are describing... The Khala, the way of the light Protoss. How...?"
"I have no idea, Executor."
"You always have something knew and interesting about you Straas. I do not know how you can sense the Khala, but it is truly amazing. If it is not detracting from your well-being, then I see no need to be concerned with it," said the Archon.
"It is not, Executor. Thank you," he replied.
"Good, good. Have a pleasant night, Straas." With that Tarthan/Jetok turned and glided away.
He reached the room and opened the door. Szcraa was not back yet. She was probably still talking with he other Protoss. He went over to his mattress, which was on the floor, and laid down on it, swiveling his plasma cannons down and flat on his back. He closed his eyes. A few moments later he opened them when he heard the door slide open. Szcraa entered the darkened room, and sat down on her mattress, on the opposite side of the room. He told her about his mind reading.
"My thoughts exactly."
They laid down on their respective beds and didn't say anything. Abruptly, Szcraa spoke.
"Sawea is Esralath's homeworld." She turned her head and peered at him from across the room.
"Ah. She'll be glad to go back home," he said. He thought of a comment to add to the information, but could think of none. "Good night," he said, turning over and closing his eyes.
She was running through the winding canyons, being pursued by the powerful creature, a creature horrible beyond imagination. She stole a glance back, and saw that the /thing was loping at her heels. She ran faster, and pulled away. She rounded another corner, and gasped at the sight. Straas had Ignited, and was battling desperately with what appeared to be a Protoss in strange armor. The Protoss wielded two swords, which were glowing with an evil, black, light. Straas was slowly weakening against the powerful adversary. Dark swords flashed, and blue-white blades flashed to meet them. But as the battle progressed, the blue-white blades were taking longer and longer to parry the blows. Suddenly, a powerful blow knocked her forward. She slammed into the ground and felt her leg crack, sending webs of pain through her system. She rolled onto her back, and saw the creature that had been pursuing her leap into the air, its claws ready to impale her and pin her to the ground./
"/NO/!" yelled Straas from behind her, and Szcraa saw the monster knocked away by a burst of plasma. Eyes wide, she turned back to look back at Straas and his opponent.
With Straas facing her, his back was turned to the Protoss. Straas could not see the pulsing ball of darkness hit him in the back. She screamed in horror as the Protoss ravaged the stunned Straas, cutting and slamming him. Then, cackling maniacally, the Protoss locked his hands on Straas' head. Rings of energy began to burst from Straas' head and up the Protoss' arms. He was being drained of energy! Straas roared and tried to throw the Protoss of, but he was weakening by the second. Soon, Straas stopped struggling, and lay still. His attacker leaped off him, and floated into the sky, still laughing. After the Protoss had soared away from the area, she limped over to Straas' body, and knelt next to it.
"/Straas! No, this cannot be! You died to save me. To save me again. No./" She sobbed into his body. "/I love you./" She didn't sense the other creature creep up on her.
Straas jerked awake as he heard Szcraa scream. He leaped from his mattress, and bounded over to Szcraa, who was sitting up and shuddering on her mattress. He kneeled down next to her and took her into his muscular arms, holding her close. She had begun to sob into his chest, holding him fiercely.
"Szcraa, what's wrong?" he asked.
"I... had... a... dream..." She stuttered out, her eyes beginning to brim with wetness. /Ah, yet another something we have integrated into us/, /Cassandra/, he thought absentmindedly, sighting the tears.
"It... Involved... /you/! He..." She got that far before she again broke down. Straas was starting to feel alarmed. Szcraa was a very brave individual, and something that frightened her this bad must be really horrible.
"Please, tell me, Szcraa," he whispered to her. She suddenly got a hold of herself, and became calm.
"Why am I worrying? It's just a harmless dream. I-"
"It didn't sound harmless," he interjected.
She stared at him. Relenting, told him her dream, that is was about the carrier that they were on exploding.
He didn't believe it. Something like that wouldn't leave her crying and shaking. Hoping that she would forgive him, he probed her mind, and saw her true dream. He jerked a little when he sensed her whispering "I love you" into his dead body of her nightmare.
"You love me Szcraa?" he murmured into her ear. She started in his arms.
"I'm sorry. I read your mind."
"Oh." She paused. "You what?"
"I read your mind. It's the truth. I don't know how, but I did."
Szcraa hesitated. "I... yes I do Straas. I do love you," she confessed, lowering her eyes. After a moment she looked back up. There were tears in her eyes.
He hugged her tighter. "I'm sorry for doing that. You just seemed... so distressed," he said, feeling embarrassed.
"Don't apologize. So you know my whole dream then?"
"Yes. No wonder you woke up screaming..." he told her.
"Straas...?" Szcraa asked him, putting her head on his chest again.
Szcraa ifted her head of his chest and looked into his eyes. "You know I... love you. Do you..."
He looked down into her eyes. "Love you too? Yes."
She looked up into his eyes. He looked down.
Not knowing how, he felt his head lowering to hers. Szcraa looked into his eyes. Their faces were only centimeters away. He lowered his head the few remaining centimeters, and felt his mouth contact hers. Their mandibles interlocked, and they grasped each other tighter. He savored the tingle the kiss caused. After several seconds, they disengaged.
"That was nice," said Szcraa, mystified.
"I thought kisses were of human origin," said Szcraa. "Their mouths are much more flexible..."
"Humans enjoy them, and besides, you didn't seem to mind. As for the flexibility issue, I think they work just fine..." he whispered.
Their next kiss lasted a lot longer.