The two guards depart with Lilly, leaving Imogen alone with Selendis to have a private conversation in the interview room, at least as private as possible when one of them is connected to the Khala. As soon as the door is closed, Selendis says, “I do not know why it is so important to you that your associate remain unaware of your psionic abilities, but she is gone. You may speak freely now. Why did you joy-ride with our hoversled? Even if you did not think it was wrong.”
“I really did think that it would be the fastest way to get Lilly and Sunshine, who I knew were injured. But also… to see if I could,” Imogen admits. Selendis asks if she has had formal ghost training, and Imogen states flatly, “I’m not a ghost, and I don’t want to be a ghost. It’s because of things like that, that I don’t want her to know. The fewer terrans who know, the better.”
“Interesting. How many know? Are you on the run? Are you putting my people in danger by being here?”
“I don’t think I’m being tracked, if that’s what you mean.”
“We can more thoroughly scan your ship than you can,” Selendis says, still suspicious.
Although Imogen has agreed to speak frankly about her psionic interests, she does not want their protoss equipment confiscated. She tells Selendis that there was a tracker before, but she disabled it with help from experts. “If it will make you feel better to go over it yourself, you can,” she grants. “But what is on that ship is ours.” Selendis requests that Imogen simply tell her what she is so keen to protect, and Imogen informs her that they have received gifts from other protoss, gifts that Selendis cannot take.
“Protoss have given you gifts? What protoss? It is very rare for a protoss to gift anything to a terran.”
“Well, this protoss isn’t part of your society, so I doubt you know him.”
“You’ve been working with the tal’darim, haven’t you?” Selendis asks. “You seem to know an awful lot about them.”
“We have not been working with the tal’darim. They’re not as cohesive a society as you seem to think. We have worked with a tal’darim,” Imogen explains. “They don’t all get along, you know.”
“No, none of them get along,” Selendis says scornfully. “Each one enslaves the next, all the way down the line.”
“So the fewer weapons in their hands the better, from your perspective, right?”
“What did you do to earn this gift?”
“What I have was given to me to spite other protoss,” Imogen admits.
“Now that’s something I can believe of a tal’darim,” Selendis mutters.
“We released a group of protoss who were enslaved. We did so because slavery is wrong, not because we were seeking any reward. But because we released them, they think slightly higher of us than they do of other terrans. And therefore, when they wanted to slap somebody in the face, that’s when I got a gift.”
“Indeed, you are another pawn in their game.”
“That’s something that protoss and terrans have in common,” Imogen observes.
“One of few things,” Selendis allows. “It is unfortunate that the tal’darim’s barbarous ways continue.”
Circling back to the topic of scanning Saffron, Imogen adds, “But you have no right to that technology because it isn’t yours. And that’s why we didn’t tell you about it, because we didn’t want you to take it.”
“Do you know who created that technology? It doesn’t even matter what it was; I don’t even need to know with what component they gifted you. The Khala created that technology. We are nothing without the Khala. The tal’darim have stolen it. It is not theirs to give to anyone.”
“Just because you developed a technology doesn’t mean that every piece manufactured belongs to you,” Imogen counters.
“They raid our ships, enslave our people, take our technology, and turn those very weapons against us. And you look at that and say they have given you a gift!”
“You can’t even keep track of your own people,” Imogen points out, thinking of Arudin. “You have no way of knowing whether the tal’darim built this piece themselves or stole it from you.”
“What is the item they gave you? I am familiar with many forms of templar technology.” Imogen pushes up her sleeve to reveal the scars there. “They gave you a psi-gauntlet,” Selendis observes, “and you nearly chopped off your own arm.”
“They gave me a psi-gauntlet, and I know how to use it,” Imogen reframes it.
“I highly doubt that.”
Selendis is wearing two gauntlets herself. “Do you want to spar?” Imogen asks. Selendis declines, citing how dishonorable that would be. “Hmph, that’s what Arudin said too,” Imogen mutters.
“That is a point in his favor, then,” Selendis says. “We are still evaluating his allegiances and sanity. Did you truly come here only to drop him off as a refugee? You and your associate have gotten into a fair bit of interesting situations since then.”
“We had no intention of coming here at all until we encountered Arudin marooned on that planet and this was the only option of getting him back to his people,” Imogen insists. “But being here, of course I’m interested in how all these things work! This isn’t anything we have schools for. The only way terrans learn about psionics is if they’re abducted as children and forced to become assassins. Just because all your people are this way,” Imogen waves a hand at her head, “doesn’t mean you have a right to monopolize the knowledge of how psionics works.”
“It is incredibly dangerous. We do it for your own protection. As you saw, you could barely control a simple hoversled.”
“Aye! Of course I could barely control it. I’d never driven one before. And of course I cut up my arm the first times I tried to use the gauntlet because it didn’t come with instructions.”
“Are you not seeing a pattern here?” Selendis says.
Imogen finally loses her cool and snaps, “Just because I can’t do something that no one ever taught me to do, does mean I can’t learn to do it!”
“It is… conceivable… that a sufficiently gifted terran could learn to power-on some of our devices, as you have demonstrated. But we, as a society, are not equipped to offer training to all these terrans. Nor would it be wise for us to do so, as they would no doubt in time turn those very weapons against us.”
“Your own people are turning these weapons against you!” Imogen bursts out.
“All the more reason we do not need even others to turn against us.”
Imogen offers a different perspective. “Wouldn’t it be a reason that you’d want allies?”
“I’m not keen to give our unique advantages to people who are today our allies and tomorrow may be our enemies. I have fought alongside terrans, and I have fought against those same terrans within the span of a single solar rotation. I’m only too aware of how quickly alliances shift. Some of us have fought alongside the Queen of Blades, only to have her betray us and slay our greatest warriors. Do not tell me of things I should share with potential allies. Every ally is also a potential enemy. Every enemy is also a potential ally. So I will be very judicious in what I share. But I will not take from you what you were gifted. It is already gone, and I do not believe you have the wherewithal to manufacture more. If you were to take it to your Dominion scientists, for example, it is more likely they would hurt themselves in the process. And because they are potential allies, I do not want that to happen.”
There is no danger of Imogen doing that. If she let the Dominion authorities know about the psi-gauntlet or the frying pan laser, those items would be confiscated immediately. After all, it was from a Dominion facility that she and Lilly got the frying pan to begin with.
“Let me make a proposal,” Selendis offers. “You have unusual knowledge of the tal’darim that most terrans do not have. And frankly, that most of my people do not have. They routinely steal from us. We would like to reclaim some of these things, but they know to watch us carefully. They don’t know to watch out for someone like you.”
Well, some of them might be on the lookout for me, Imogen thinks. Lendasha was not very pleased after their recent encounter. Imogen lets out a long breath, considering this turn of events. It is like Selendis is saying that now that she knows Imogen is not a spy, she wants her to become one. “You already told us you weren’t interested in us crawling around looking for protoss technology. Are you changing your mind now?”
“Not for you to go crawling around looking for. We would give you very specific instructions, specific things we need recovered, and specific places the tal’darim are likely to be trying to reverse-engineer them.”
“So, you want us to go recover your lost things? And what do you propose to give us to incentivize us to do that? If you’re going to send us into these places to get things from the tal’darim, you can’t withhold knowledge on how I can use this,” Imogen argues, pointing to her temple. “Not if I’m going to be up against them. I don’t have a Khala to help me. I can sense the Khala; I know it’s there. It’s like a wall around you all.”
“The Khala is like a garden for us, and I am sorry that you are not welcome in that garden. If terrans could join the Khala, they would all understand so much more easily,” Selendis says, a tinge of sadness to her voice. “Since some terrans manifest these abilities anyway, we can show you how to control them a little bit better and, most importantly, how to protect yourself,” she offers.
“If you can show me how to protect myself from what you did to me, that would be a start,” Imogen replies.
“That was indeed a demonstration of a relatively common ability among the high templar. I will caution you that adept high templars discovered that they can do this to anything powered by vespene. It is not a neural atack. It interacts on a chemical level.”
“I don’t understand. You made my mind get caught on its thoughts. How can you do that to things powered by vespene?”
“What you experienced is the effect it has on sapient beings. Your brain gets rewired in a certain way, so it can only go in a single loop. It’s very painful. But this can also be used against highly advanced vehicles. Crafts such as your ship could be susceptible to this, as the attack vibrates the activated gas circulating through the generator. Fuel reserves are not affected.”
“So this is some sort of agitation? On a brain, that agitation has the effect it had on me. But on a vehicle, that agitation would be applied to the vespene gas.”
“Yes. And in fact, you, being who you are, are more susceptible to this.”
“Because of my psionic abilities?”
“Yes. Certain kinds of vespene—and terrazine to a higher degree—is embedded in your brain. It interacts in particular ways—”
“What?!” Imogen is stunned. “There’s terrazine in my brain? I never even tried it!”
“Trace amounts,” Selendis clarifies. “You live in this sector. Vespene gas is in this sector. There are trace amounts of terrazine in all of us.”
Once Imogen has swallowed this revelation, she returns to the business deal they were discussing: hitting a tal’darim facility. Selendis grants that their facilities would be a difficult direct target and suggests going after something in transit might be better. She does not have a gripe with any particular ascendant; she just wants the technology recovered. Imogen is cautiously optimistic that she and Lilly can handle this sort of job, but she does not know off hand what kind of payment her partner would want. Selendis asks if Lilly also possesses gifted protoss technology, and Imogen admits that she does.
The frying pan laser is exactly the sort of thing Selendis has been talking about, protoss technology that the tal’darim were after. Lilly is currently keeping it out of Lendasha’s hands, but Imogen has no idea how fond of this particular weapon the ex-soldier is. “That was given to Lilly as a gift,” she explains to Selendis. “I don’t know how she would feel about parting with it. But I can talk with her about whether she is willing to return it to you.”
Selendis assures Imogen that she is not looking to reclaim the device. “These were given to you as gifts; they are out of my control. And you did not necessarily know their origin when you accepted them.” She suggests that she might be able to make the weapon safer for them to use. Imogen tells her about how shooting the laser overheats the device, causing it to shut down after just a couple uses. The description rings a bell with Selendis, who is less offended that the frying pan laser is in terran hands that Imogen expected. “It is like what you would call a rifle? Yes, that was, frankly, a misguided project undertaken by some of our engineers. It was somewhat effective but had… issues.”
“One of them being that it’s not a melee weapon?”
“The psi-gauntlet is a more elegant weapon. Our first layer of defense are our zealots, the guards with the psi-gauntlets. They are very melee-oriented. They prefer to engage their opponents up close. When you are fighting zerg, you have to. But perhaps you saw the large robotic creatures walking around outside… These are protoss warriors who have fallen in body but still live in spirit inside these constructs. They continue to serve. They launch powerful energy blasts, so do not think that just by standing across a river, you could protect yourself. We may not have our Golden Armada—”
“That wasn’t what I meant!” Imogen was just commenting on the penchant for up-close fighting that the protoss she has met seem to have. She was not suggesting they were incapable of seeing the value of ranged attacks.
“The point being,” Selendis continues, “the loss of this laser is of little consequence. If your associate will accept payment of improvements to it to better suit her style, that will be acceptable to us.”
“Aye, if you won’t view that as giving up your secrets, that’s fine. The things that we’re interested in as far as payment goes are the same now as they were earlier today: vespene, basic supplies, and improvements to our ship.” With that tentative agreement in place, Selendis declares that she will still need to discuss the deal with Lilly, though she will withhold information about Imogen’s abilities. Imogen takes that opening to remind Selendis about the issue of training her in psionic defense.
“We will find a tal’darim target that we think you can hit,” Selendis replies. “When you bring us the recovered technology, we will train you in this.”
Imogen frowns, given all the warnings she just heard about how dangerous protoss psionics can be. Selendis is as good as saying that if Imogen can survive going up against the tal’darim without psionic training, then she will be worthy to be trained in what she clearly did not need, after all. Imogen does not want that to be an excuse they can use for going back on the agreement. “If you help me now, I’ll have a higher chance of success,” she points out.
Selendis asks some questions about what the terran can already do to get a feel for her capabilities. Imogen Owendoher describes how she can sense life and emotions, sometimes even tell what is important to someone: desires, fears, surface level thoughts. Selendis takes this a step further and explains how to subtly adjust how the target feels. The terran is initially uncomfortable with the implications of that, so Selendis clarifies, “You might convince someone to go away or even just look away so that you don’t need to cut them down to get past them. They are very subtle adjustments; it is not any kind of domination. Do not think you can take over someone’s mind.”
“Good. I wouldn’t want to,” Imogen says.
“That is also good.” Selendis explains the theoretical underpinnings and works through some exercises with Imogen. “When you see someone’s thoughts, you are—in a way—already in their head. But you are not merely an observer.” The technique is more like inserting a single thought than it is like having a telepathic conversation. While Imogen’s tendency is to talk to people to get what she wants, she does see the value in being able to affect someone without having to speak. It would certainly help her sneak past people more easily; she is not as stealthy as Lilly.
When they are finished, Imogen is surprised that Selendis escorts her to the resting quarters, rather than back to Saffron. She is pleased that she is not being kicked out, though with all she has to think about now, she is less likely to poke around at the technology here or pester protoss researchers. And indeed, Selendis’s parting words are, “You will be watched closely. Do not cause any further trouble.”