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 8: Encounter
Szcraa found herself on the Arbiter Revaras along with Straas, Traenid, and Esralath, plunging down to he surface of Sawea. In the Arbiter were a small team of warriors and Dragoons, all fitted with special sensors. Their work was only to scout the area for a suitable place to set down the main force of the fleet. The observer drones dispatched by Tarthan/Jetok had mysteriously disappeared.
She looked out of the Arbiter's window, and glimpsed the fiery trail of their entry. She turned and saw Esralath sending a message to the surface under encryption, most likely to her family members on the surface. She looked back out the window.
She drew in a sharp breath. Beneath them lay a shattered colony, many of the fallen buildings still flaming blue, marring the beautiful green landscape. She heard Esralath gasp behind her.
There was a in a few moments she felt the downward motion stop, and the back of the Arbiter opened. Zealots and Dragoons spilled out, dividing into teams of three zealots and two Dragoons. The groups immediately began to spread out, scouting the area. She, Straas, and Traenid hung back, wishing to survey the area first, but Esralath rushed out with a cry. They all rushed after her, helped her sift through the rubble. Szcraa noticed that there were no bodies lying there, Protoss or otherwise. Puzzled, she activated some sensors. Still nothing. She pumped more power into them. /There/! She detected multiple points of movement underneath Esralath, as the Dark Templar kneeled, shocked among the ruins. She noticed Straas jerk in surprise also. The movements did not appear Protoss.
"Esralath! MOVE!" she cried. Esralath jolted, and she looked up with a strange look on her face. But the Dark Templar stayed where she was. Whatever was causing the readings was nearing the surface. She leaped, swept up the Protoss in her arms, and leaped away to safety. She deposited Esralath on the ground
No sooner had she reached a location away from the anomalies, that the ground burst open. She wasn't sure what to expect, but what erupted from the ground was something from her worst nightmares.
The thing stood taller than she and Straas. It was a dark gray in color, and its carapace gleamed harshly. It had a five arms; two were arrayed on each side, near the shoulder. The two arms on the top were tipped with large, curved, meat-hooks, while the bottom two terminated in hands with six digits, including two opposable fingers. The middle arm jutted out from the abdomen, jointed three times. It ended in a large spear-like claw, which dripped acid. Its abdomen, under the central arm, was studded with short, sharp spikes. Muscles bulged from under its exoskeleton. The creature had a triangular shaped head, on which three compound insect eyes were mounted, colored a deep violet. It had two pairs of scimitar-shaped mandibles, and three bristled antennae extended out of its head. Its shell was knobbed and bumpy, with several protrusions. Its legs were jointed backwards, like that of a bird.
It opened its repulsive jaws and screamed. Then it rushed towards her, its hooked claws reaching for her flesh. As she slipped into battle mode, she detected more signals underground...
Traenid just managed to bring up his psi blades before the other aberration swung its hook at him. The other one had burst just a meter off to his right. This one looked different, lacking the middle claw that the first one possessed. He stumbled as the creature hit him on the shoulder with its right hook. He cried out. The blade had overwhelmed his shields on his shoulder and had struck his unarmored arm. White-hot pain flooded his mind, but he shunted it away.
With a cry, he swung his right blade up and blocked the monstrosity's left blade. He performed a spinning backhand with his left arm that walloped its head off. As he used the short reprieve, he heard cries from the scout teams. They had obviously been ambushed too. Another monster burst out from the ground, still about twenty meters from him. It broke into a ground-devouring lope, its clawed arms reaching to rip and tear into his flesh.
Raising his right arm, he gripped it with his left. He stabbed at a crystal button on the right gauntlet, and a hissing ball of blue energy flew from his projector and devoured most of the attacking creature's face. It stumbled on for a few more loping steps, then collapsed.
He turned. Esralath was lying on the ground, her face tucked into her hands, cowering. Three of the insectiod aliens were converging on her.
The shock only lasted a fraction of a second. Straas began to track the six creatures, but his Magna Needles or plasma cannon might hurt one of the others. With a roar, he Ignited and rushed them. Three of them turned and came at him. He didn't waste time, and he slew the three creatures in 4.54 seconds with his Ignited scythes. As the rent pieces of the insectiods fell to the ground, Traenid destroyed three others that had been attacking Esralath. His lover seemed to be holding her own against three of them, one of them a five-armed breed. Szcraa only took 6.0223 seconds to take those out. He heard Traenid yell an order to his spread out troops.
"Return to the /Revarus/! All units, return to the /Revarus/!" the Assault Commander roared.
Only a little more than half the scout forces managed to retreat to the /Revarus/. The Arbiter lifted off slightly and provided cloaking and suppressive fire for the retreating forces. The Arbiter lifted off as soon as the last spidery Dragoon was back aboard, and returned to the fleet.
Three different "strains" had been sighted. Two were already known to Straas, the five-arms and the four-arms, but one report came in about a two-armed breed that had utilized hand-held energy weapons. He was debriefed by Tarthan/Jetok.
"So it seems that these things have reached Sawea before us and had demolished the main colony. We will have to establish a fortified encampment near the canyon here," he gestured toward a holoprojection, "which will provide natural cover and choke points for our forces. Mass orbital assault will begin in one hour."
Tarthan/Jetok rode down with the lead Arbiter, the same Revarus that had brought the scout team in. Behind him three other Arbiters and dozens of shuttles dropped unto the planet. An assault wave of scouts and Corsairs had already swept the area. The carriers Aniopith/, Khala's Chosen/,/ Taeralyn/, and Veranath were already on the surface with the fighter craft; the remainder of the fleet, the eleven remaining carriers and one Arbiter, stayed up in geosynchronous orbit. The Phantasm remained in space as well.
They faced no resistance. In only a matter of hours command nexuses and dozens of powering Pylons and defensive photon cannons were online. The main base was set up on a grassy, four mile wide mesa, which was heavily laden with useful mineral deposits and vespene geysers. There were three entrances to the mesa, to the north, east and south, but Tarthan/Jetok had made sure to guard them all with ample photon cannons. Soon legions of robotic probes were shuttling back and forth, retrieving resources and placing them in the nexuses. The minerals and gas were then beamed to the orbital carriers for refinement and manufacture. The probes on the surface then created warp rifts to warp in the buildings. He also ordered mass production of robotic Reavers and armed shuttles to bolster his forces.
Robots could be replaced. His warriors could not.
He called down some Dark Archons from the /Phantasm/, in hope that they could mind control one of the creatures and extract information from it. He also sent out heavily armed parties out to locate and retrieve any Dark Templar survivors.
The attack came the next day.
Straas awoke the next morning next morning to the feel of Szcraa's arms around his neck. He felt something was going to happen. He sat up and tensed.
"What's wrong, love?" she asked, concerned. She had also sat up and draped an arm around him.
"I do not know. I feel something is going to happen."
"Perhaps you are too tired. I can understand why. Especially after last night..." She grinned slightly.
"It's not that. I feel very refreshed after sleeping next to you," he smiled a little, "but I don't know, something is going to happen. I had better go outside."
They had been sleeping in one of the Nexuses, close to the middle of the mesa. He had just gotten up when an explosion rocked the Protoss structure. Szcraa was up in a flash, and together they rushed outside. He saw about two hundred two-armed creatures were hurling themselves into the photon cannons' fire at the north entrance, a few miles away from the main base. The creatures wielded weapons that looked like a cross between and scantid claw and a Terran gauss rifle. The claw-like opening from the front shot out white sparks that damaged the shields of the defending photon cannons, managing to drain the shields and destroy a few. But he could easily see that the cannons would easily hold off the advance. As the insectiods hostiles made their cannon fodder charges, Protoss warriors and Reavers were already scrambling to engage the aliens. Straas was almost there when the Pylons exploded into azure flame. The photon cannons fell silent, with nothing to power them. No return fire greeted the insectiod's sparking weapons.
The still defensive structures began to fall, caught in the crossfire of dozens of sparks. He cursed, and Ignited, wondering what had caused the Pylons to detonate like that.
At the loss of six zealots, two Dragoons, and ten Reavers, and some minor damage to his and Szcraa's systems, the entire swarm was beaten off. One of the Dark Archons even managed to mind control one of the creatures. It had been dragged into one of the nexuses, and was being interrogated. He stalked off to one of the nexuses, to assist Traenid and Esralath in the interrogation.
"Who... what are you?" Traenid demanded of the creature.
"Thres'nalop am I!" said the creature, enthusiastically waving its arms. Traenid looked questioningly at the Dark Archon that had captured it.
"When I mind controlled it, I made sure it would cooperate. As for the strange grammar, I could not give it a full lesson of our language in one hour." The psionic entity whispered in its eerie psi-voice.
Traenid looked back at the at the "Thres'nalop" and questioned it. Executor Tarthan/Jetok had ordered him to first find the nature of these creatures, and technical information on their weapons. Leadership, hierarchy, politics, etc, would come later.
"Who are you?"
"A noblade am I."
"What is a noblade?"
"Noblade a type of Thres'nalop warrior is.
"What other kinds are there in the 'Thres'nalop' ranks?"
"Ones with four arms stoneblades are. Five arms steelblade denote. Six arms darkblades are," replied the noblade.
/So now I know what attacked us/. /Stoneblades and one steelblade/, Traenid thought. The darkblades looked nasty. The two pairs of upper arms were tipped with hooks, and the mobile hands of the Thres'nalop looked heavily muscled. It stood well over four meters.
"What about these?" He asked, using a small holoprojector to call up images of machines encountered by scout parties and observers. One looked like a ground-skimming Corsair, through it was a utilitarian gray, and without the smoothness of Protoss machines. It had an eerie, oily sheen. Another looked like an egg suspended between six spindly, jointed legs. It stood twice as a high as a Protoss. The egg bristled with what appeared to be three large cannons mounted on ball turrets, and the legs of the machine were spiked and clawed. The last ground machine was a huge bipedal walker that possessed dozens of spines sticking from its front and two huge, hooked arms as weapons. It had backwards-jointed legs, like the Thres'nalop.
And it was even bigger than the egg-walker.
"Six legged one a sickle is. Sharp blades and three powerful nuclear cannon possesses it. Powerful very. Skimmer one a dagger is. Impact sparks fires it. Two-legged one a Bloodscythe is. Powerful more the sickle than. No projectile or energy weapon has it. Rocks by claws crushed, it can."
"Hmm..." he muttered. The Bloodscythes and sickles could have caused problems if they had been part of the force that had attacked the photon cannons. He then switched the holoprojector to enemy aircraft and spacecraft encountered. One of the small aerial machines looked like a Protoss scout, only much, much thinner. Much thinner, as to the point of looking like a needle rather than a spacecraft. It had turret-mounted weapons on its belly. Another ship looked to him like a small Zerg guardian made of metal; it had multiple cannons curling out and forward on its sides. The third ship was much larger than the first two, shaped like a fat Terran goldfish. It had three forward facing cannons on either side of its armored bulk. The fourth ship was huge, dwarfing all the others. It was a straight dagger, with large cannons scattered all over its massive hulk. Traenid thought it looked like his psi blade. The final ship was, if possible, even bigger. It had three turret-mounted weapons, but it was significantly lesser armed than the fourth vessel. /Must be equivalent to one of our carriers, but armed/, Traenid thought.
"Thin ship a Thres'nalop talon is, one of our fighters. Other one a Rapier is, for anti-air and interdiction work used it is. Third a transport is, a scabbard. Large sword-shaped one a Thres'nalop Scimitar is. Very strong it is. Last a Katana is, an armed carrier."
Traenid looked at the vessels, and hoped the fleet never had to engage the ships. They all looked fearsome. /Last thing now, to find the commander of the forces/.
"Who is your leader? What do you want?" asked Straas, who had until then been standing behind him, silent.
"Our leader the rank of Supreme Blademaster bestowed is."
"Who is your 'Blademaster', and where can we find him?" asked Straas again.
"He..." Suddenly the noblade convulsed, pitching forward. It shivered wildly on the floor for a few seconds, making retching sounds, and laid still. Surprised, Traenid bent down and tapped the alien body. No reaction.
"What happened?" queried Ulreathan imperiously, striding into he room in his Judicator's robes. He looked down at the dead noblade.
"Apparently, it was too far taxed by the mind control of the Dark Archon, Judicator."
"Did it mention who was leading these things?"
"It did not, Judicator."
"A pity..." uttered Ulreathan as the he exited the room. Traenid suddenly had a dark feeling, but he could not place its source. He shook his his head, and the feeling passed. He looked at two of the zealots that had been standing guard.
"Take the body to the Khalai xenobiologists. See what they can find." The two warriors complied, picking up the corpse and exiting the chamber.
He turned to Straas. "Did you feel something when Judicator Ulreathan came into the room?"
"Other than his normal psionic signature, no." replied the Cyberlisk. "I had better assist with the repair effort now, if all is done here."
Straas left the Nexus. Alone, he thought more of what was going to happen in the near future.
Szcraa rolled under a Thres'nalop sickle, slicing two of its legs off on one side. The previously six-legged machine tumbled off on its right side. She finished it with a burst of Magna Needles into its belly. The second attack had come with more warning. But this time the noblades were supported by stoneblades, steelblades, sickles and daggers. The eastern entrance guard had fallen to the onslaught, but already dozens of zealots, Dragoons, and a prodigious number of robotic Reavers had advanced to meet the enemy. She whirled in time to dodge a flying spark of energy. She eliminated the offending dagger with a salvo from her plasma cannons.
She and Straas had been the first to meet the assault force, and were managing to beat back the attackers. The Protoss ground forces met the Thres'nalop invaders, keeping the replaceable Reavers to the front. After half an hour of fierce fighting, the Thres'nalop began to retreat. She saw the Protoss scouts that had arrived six minutes into the battle strafe the retreating aliens with dual photon blasters. None of the enemy seemed to be firing back. Suddenly, one of the advance scouts exploded, raining bits of Protoss remains and golden metal onto the surface of Sawea. The other scouts immediately broke off and headed back to base when Thres'nalop ground fire began to strike them. She scanned wildly for what had destroyed the Protoss fighter.
Then she saw. One of the Protoss scouts had broken though the scout squadron and was heading quickly over Thres'nalop lines, unmolested by the insectoid aliens.
"So it had been Ulreathan who has been commanding these... things."
"So it seems."
In the aftermath of Ulreathan's escape into Thres'nalop hands, many peculiar events had been explained. The encounter in space, and the death of the Thres'nalop prisoner had been Ulreathan's doing. But still other events puzzled Tarthan/Jetok. The explosion of the Pylons in the first attack, and the ambush at the surface still baffled him. And Ulreathan had not been informed of the initial reconnaissance incursion. Only trusted officers had been entrusted with the knowledge of the scout force. /Perhaps there was some way Ulreathan could have eavesdropped on us/?
No. That would be too hard. Confidential mission objectives were kept behind shielded doors. Still, with Ulreathan's powers...
He put the thoughts from his mind and left the Nexus' meditation chamber.
Outside, about three-dozen dazed Dark Templars were awaiting a shuttle that would take them into orbit. About a dozen decided to stay and fight. The search missions were turning up more and more survivors each day.
The autopsy on the Thres'nalop revealed some startling revelations. The Khalais had located an organ in the head that was remarkably similar to the ones in the Protoss brain, which allowed them to "hear" and "speak" psionically. In the case of the dead noblade, one end of the organ had ruptured, resulting in instantaneous death.
The Khalais hypothesized that the Thres'nalop communicated both by sound and by psi, though the psi frequencies were different from Protoss'. Their bodies were protected by a tough chitin, nearly as resilient as Zerg hydralisk's. They had an impressive musculature for their size, and the technology that they wielded was clearly superior to the Protoss and Terran armaments.
Suddenly, a booming, terrible laugh seemed to fill all space. Tarthan/Jetok whirled around, then peered up into the sky, which seemed to have gone dark. Ulreathan's face filled the sky as far as the eye could see. His holographic visage was adorned with non-Protoss armor. The floating face spoke with a menacing, thunderous voice.
"I am Blademaster Ulreathan! Stupid, ignorant creatures, to think I was truly one of you. But now I am powerful beyond comprehension." The Judicator's eyes glowed in fury and hatred.
"The Thres'nalop have had a claim to this universe, even before the misguided Xel'naga created you filth. Your vaunted creators fled in utter terror when challenged by the great legions of the Thres'nalop. Now it is time for the Thres'nalop to complete what they had begun. We will sweep this world clean, then proceed to your beloved Aiur.
"The Thres'nalop will not stop until this galaxy is cleansed!"
Then the face faded from the sky.