Saffron drops out of FTL transit, and the viewscreen shows a gray and blue planet, its landforms mostly covered with ice. “This is it,” Arudin stutters out. “This is Browder II. This is the planet… if they’re still there.” He looks over all the controls in front of Lilly. “I don’t know how to use your ridiculous equipment… I have a comm frequency. Put it in, put it in!”
Lilly glances over at Imogen, since the whole talking thing is usually her area, but the Umojan has a sort of vacant expression. She might be having one of her fits again. “Okay, whatever you want,” Lilly tells Arudin. Before they get any further, though, Saffron is hailed. The icy planet is replaced by a light blue protoss, more slender and less wrinkled than Arudin.
“This is Fleet Commander Selendis. Identify yourself, terran vessel.” The no-nonsense voice fills the cabin. It has the typical reverberation of protoss words and is still deep, but not as much as Arudin’s or Malorn’s voices. The sound of it snaps Imogen’s attention back to the here and now.
“This is science vessel Saffron requesting permission to land,” Lilly responds.
“Permission denied! This is protoss space. What are you doing here?” Selendis snaps back.
“Delivering a protoss,” Lilly says simply.
“You have a protoss prisoner? You have ten seconds before we fire upon you.”
“No, we have a guy we rescued,” Lilly clarifies. “We’re just giving him a ride.” She looks over at Arudin to see if he has anything he wants to contribute. His eyes look a little bit wild, so Lilly seeks help from elsewhere. “Imogen?”
Selendis takes in Arudin’s condition. “His cords have been cut! How do I know he is not tal’darim?”
“He’s not,” Lilly says, though she wonders why it would matter.
Arudin himself remains silent, perhaps too overcome by the prospect of speaking to one of his people through the air rather than the Khala. Imogen steps up, tacking details onto Lilly’s simple denial. “His nerve cords are way too short for that. Even the tal’darim leave some behind. This is a battle injury.”
Selendis narrows her glowing blue eyes at Imogen. “Very well, we will let you land. But I am not convinced that this is not a tal’darim trick to steal our technology.”
“Do you have records of those who fought on Antiga years ago?” Imogen asks.
“Antiga? That was before the fall of Aiur. We have almost no information from that time.”
Lilly offers an alternative. “We don’t need to land if you have some other way to transfer.”
“In this case, we would rather meet in person,” Selendis insists.
“Understood,” Lilly acknowledges.
The fleet commander provides landing coordinates and then warns them, “And no—as you terrans say—funny business.” She cuts the connection.
Imogen turns to Arudin. “Do you have any kind of clan structure or family connections?”
He tells her that protoss have a tribal structure, but it is more of a formality than something pertaining to identification. He goes on to suggest it is unlikely anyone here would have any acquaintances in common with him. “I was a warrior. These are researchers,” he states, as if that explains everything. “I don’t know who this Selendis person is. I’ve never heard of her. Awfully young to be a fleet commander. I just… I just need to get down there. You said this kind of wound has happened to other protoss. They must have a way…”
“Their society must have others like you,” Imogen reassures Arudin again. “Hopefully they’ve figured out a way to integrate by now since it has been years.”
“You still cool to land?” Lilly asks. The commander did not seem too welcoming, and Arudin is acting pretty nervous. “You still want to do this?”
“Yes, absolutely. Please take no offense, but I do not wish to spend more time with terrans.”
Lilly nods at that and takes Saffron down through the clouds. Snowy terrain stretches out below, and in the distance, they see a cluster of buildings. Selendis’s coordinates are not for anything so grand as a city. There is a landing platform and various facilities of standard protoss design: sleek curves with a tendency toward brass plates and glowing blue crystalline insets. A pyramidal nexus rises above the ice, a glimmer of the grandeur of Aiur. Lilly recognizes a few of the building types, though she is not sure when she has encountered them before.
Saffron is not the only vehicle around, either. A few dart-like ships called phoenixes zip past them more quickly than Saffron could ever go, definitely fighters of some kind. On the ground below, large robotic things the size of siege tanks stomp around. In addition, there are elephant-size animals with big tusks and shaggy white coats. They walk around hunched over like gorillas so that their arms provide additional support as they traverse the icy waste. Some of the creatures are inside containment fields close to the protoss buildings. There is no indication that they are beasts of burden; likely they are the subject of research here.
It is an interesting challenge to land Saffron on the protoss structure, but Lilly manages it without doing further damage to the science vessel. “No funny business,” she says with satisfaction.