The protoss runs towards them along the cliff face, keeping one eye on the zerg and the other on Saffron. That is just fine with Lilly; he has what they want. Sure, he has a psi-gauntlet out and lit, but she has a frying pan, and for once on this planet, she feels no uncertainty about carrying it. She sets Saffron down a little roughly into the squishy creep. They might have to cook the engines a bit to break free later, but it does not feel like they have incurred any new damage yet. The protoss is still a ways off, so they have time to position themselves as they see fit.
Imogen is at the ramp release before Lilly has even stepped away from the piloting console. She has her pistol out since there are zerg around, but as usual, she plans to try talking first. Spearmint follows her, spear in hand. He did not seem to fully track everything they were doing at the sensors on the way in, but it is clearly action time now.
Lilly feels a little relieved when she sees Spearmint heading out. Having him alone on the ship might be too much temptation for him. Suddenly, it occurs to her that he might have done something to the ship. She doubts he had anything that could sabotage it; a bomb would be too advanced for those cultists to have. But he could have swiped something. She glances over to the shelves in the science area, wondering if he might have grabbed a catalyst and stuffed it in his bag. She does not have time to look more closely, though, because Imogen is already outside and needs backup she can trust.
“Who the hell is that guy?” Spearmint mutters when he sees the protoss up ahead. He starts to ready his atlatl, and Imogen sharply tells him that they are going to talk first so that they can find out what is going on. “I heard what these people did to Chau Sara,” Spearmint growls.
“You don’t know that that person did it!” Imogen shoots back. “Lots of terrans have done lots of different things.”
“I’ve heard they’re all of one mind—”
“You are completely wrong!” Imogen snaps at him, shutting down the conversation. She has enough experience with Malorn to know that regardless of their reputation for oneness, protoss are as varied as terrans are.
Imogen slogs her way towards the protoss as he charges at the ship. As soon as she is within shouting range, she calls out to him, telling him that the device in his hand is jeopardizing the people on this planet. “That’s why we’ve shut it down,” she explains, hoping he will see that the EMP was not an attack on him personally. “It can’t stay here. If you want to take it off-world, I’m willing to consider that, but you’ll have to present your arguments. Otherwise… I’m the one with the spaceship, and you’re all by yourself…” She does not want to start with threats, but she will go there if she has to.
“Deceitful terrans!” he shouts back, continuing towards her. “You don’t know what you’re dealing with! You don’t know how to use this device. Terrans and your terrorizing weapons!”
He is not wrong about that, Lilly reflects from the top of Saffron’s ramp as she steps outside. She raises her protoss weapon and sights down its barrel, tracking the protoss’s approach but not firing just yet. Imogen wants to talk, so she can talk. At least until that guy is within psi-gauntlet range of her. Lilly would prefer to get closer to her partner, but at the same time, she does not want to leave a clear path between Spearmint and the ship. She goes as far as the bottom of the ramp. As the protoss nears, she begins to see how worn and wrinkly he is, which makes her think of Malorn. Wonder if this guy likes beer, too. He looks injured, and one eye glows a brighter blue than the other.
“I agree that it’s a terrorizing weapon, and it shouldn’t be used here, which is why it needs to be turned off,” Imogen reiterates.
“Well, it’s off now!” The protoss’s voice reverberates with a mix of anger and frustration.
Imogen’s friendly demeanor cracks a bit. She is tired of protoss talking down about terrans. It is like this fellow has not listened to anything she has said. “Aye! It needs to be turned off. And it needs to be taken away. We’re here to do that. We’re not going to let you take it off somewhere else to play around with it to get your own group of zerg marching on things,” she tells him, her voice taking on a scolding tone. “You’re a bit out numbered here. Cooperate with us, or we’ll handle this with force,” she concludes, gesturing back at Lilly.
A third terran has emerged from the spherical craft, this one wielding a weapon of the Firstborn. There is more to these terrans than Arudin first thought. He is not cowed by their words, but the ranged threat gives him pause, particularly since they have disabled his personal shield. He comes to a halt a few meters from the speaker. “Do you think your sharpshooter is fast enough to stop me if I were to end you?” he asks her, unconcerned about the spear-wielder at her side.
Now that the protoss is right before her, Imogen notices that his nerve cords are too short and have rough ends. The edges look jagged and uneven, as though damaged in an accident, rather than the purposeful amputation that Malorn underwent at birth. Imogen knows that nerve cords play some role in linking protoss to the Khala. If this fellow has gotten abruptly cut off from that and then been stranded here for years, he is likely just as mentally fragile as Spearmint, perhaps moreso. She hears more curiosity than threat in his words, and she wonders whether he is asking her or himself. Cut off from the Khala, he might now vocalize more than most protoss would. “Maybe not when you were in your prime,” Imogen replies with compassion rather than scorn. “Look, you’re clearly injured—your nerve cords—and that doesn’t look recent. Have you been trapped on this planet the whole time, too? We can get you out of here,” she offers.
“Yes, my nerve cords have been severed since the crash,” Arudin barks at the speaker, who is too clean and composed to be of this dreadful world. “For five cycles, I’ve been cut off from the Khala. It’s—no, you cannot possibly imagine what that is like! If your ears were cut off? No! It’s not the same. If you lived totally alone, maybe? Maybe your wildman associate is closer to understanding, but you! You have no idea what it is like! So don’t come to me with your supposed solutions. You have no idea what I have been through, what I’m still suffering.”
This protoss is unconsciously echoing Marsha’s words. They’ve had a rough time on Antiga, that’s for sure, Imogen reflects.
Man, even a shipwrecked protoss can tell Spearmint is unsettled, Lilly observes. The man is still twitching nervously. When she shifts her attention to him, she realizes he is not paying any mind to Saffron at all. Rather, he is looking further off toward the zerg. Following his gaze, she sees that some of them are heading in this general direction. They are not charging purposefully, just dispersing after the parade, but she still does not like it. From his body language, neither does Spearmint. There are probably a lot of memories hitting him really hard here on ground where he fought, especially with all these zerg around. Lilly starts to feel a little bad. While she was focused on the protoss, Spearmint could have made a run at Saffron if he had wanted to steal the ship, but he did not. Instead, he was looking for more threats. Maybe she judged him too quickly, and all along the off-putting vibe she was getting from him was just the echoes of war. “Stand your ground, soldier,” Lilly tells Spearmint, trying to sound reassuring. “We got this. We’ve got the advantage here.”
Severed nerve cords… can that even be healed? Imogen wonders. Her only protoss contact comes from a society that would not have any interest in doing that procedure, even if it were possible. Imogen has no idea where Aiur is, and even if she did, it is not a safe place. It was overrun by zerg, which would probably be news to this protoss. That thought actually prompts an idea. Imogen does not know herself where any protoss would have resettled, but maybe this fellow does. “I don’t know a way to heal your nerve cords,” Imogen admits. “But I do know that you are probably not the only one with this injury. Aiur was overrun,” she tells him plainly. “Your people had to evacuate it. Aside from the tal’darim who intentionally cut their nerve cords, I imagine there are a lot of protoss who were injured in that invasion. This has got to be a problem that your society is dealing with now. I know this is hard to hear, but it is not the case that while you have been cut off, your society has been happy and healthy this whole time so you won’t fit back in. Unfortunately, the protoss are a war-torn people now. If you know of some coordinates for a protoss colony world, we can take you there. Whatever your intentions are with that zerg device, that’s not going to solve your problems. Give it to me, leave it alone, and I can reconnect you to your people.”
“Aiur has fallen,” he whispers. This is shocking, terrible news to Arudin. The Firstborn are the ultimate technological warriors. His psi-gauntlet loses cohesion, and he slumps to his upper knees. “I can’t—How? The Golden Armada was supposed to protect us! How did this happen?” He stares at the ground for a bit, then looks back up at the terran. “How many of my brethren are left? You’ve indicated you know protoss, right?”
“Aye…” Imogen does not really think Malorn would be the best role model for this fellow.
“Do the zerg rule the sector now? Did we fail?”
“The war is still going on,” Imogen says, with more cheerfulness than she would usually inject into such a sentiment. She did not mean to completely break his spirit. She closes the distance and drops down to look him in the eye, giving the discussion a more friendly and intimate feel. “There are still enough protoss that there are different protoss groups and different protoss societies. The tal’darim are still a thing… Aiur evacuees, nerazim… There are still enough protoss that they can argue with each other.” It sounds more silly than encouraging when she puts it that way, so she tries again. “The protoss are not at the point that there are so few left that they must set aside all their differences just to survive.”
He looks over at Lilly. “Your sharpshooter carries protoss technology. Where—who did you get it from?” Imogen tells him that they liberated it from some terrans who had taken it. “Well, where did those terrans get it from?” Lilly shrugs. “Maybe they know where my brethren are. Are they still alive? Did you kill them?”
“It’s a complicated story that we’ll be happy to provide more details on when we’re not both kneeling in creep here,” Imogen tells him. “Do you have your own vehicle? Because if not, come aboard our ship.”
“No, my scout crash-landed, shot down by some terrans on this world.” His gaze drifts over to Spearmint. “We were trying to save this world without glassing it. A new attempt to try to stop the zerg. Clearly it didn’t work. We should have just glassed the whole place. Would have been much, much more thorough.”
“Let’s ah, save that talk for later,” Imogen tries, hoping the protoss will not unsettle Spearmint.
“You can get me to my brethren?” he asks her.
“We can get you off this world, and we can try to connect you to your people,” she affirms.
“And you want this device in return?”
“That device cannot stay here and on,” Imogen tells him.
“How do I know that you won’t use it to call down the zerg upon your enemies?”
“I won’t lie to you. I’m kind of keen to see if it has a reverse setting that pushes zerg away,” Imogen admits. “But I’ve got no desire to pull zerg anywhere.”
Oh, there’s places we could send them, Lilly thinks.
“I don’t fully know how it works,” the protoss says. “I was able to use it to lure zerg in certain ways. A sort of primitive training, you might say. Why don’t we just destroy it?”
“You’re sure it can’t repulse zerg?” Imogen presses. There was a device at the Rose mine on Brontes IV that could, a psi disrupter. “Did you try?”
“I’ve had five cycles. I’ve tried many things, but it is made of primitive technology,” the protoss replies heatedly. “I’m a templar, not a phase-smith.”
“Well, maybe it will make more sense to me… I know a bit about reverse engineering and fixing up tech,” Imogen shares. “I’d like to look at it before we destroy it.”
“Let’s talk about this on the ship,” Lilly inserts. Those zerg are getting closer. Still not within range of her gun, but why give them the chance?
“Some knowledge is too dangerous for anyone to have,” the protoss declares, rising and reigniting his psi-gauntlet. Sparks fly as he cuts the beacon clean in half. In a fit of pique, he throws one half of it at an approaching hydralisk. Imogen scoops up the other half in case there is anything to be learned from it and escorts their new associate aboard Saffron.