“Just what kind of research do you do with this ship?” Selendis asks suspiciously.
Imogen’s ready explanation is that they support zerg research by a number of terran parties. She certainly skirts around the things they have to hide, but there is a lot of truth in the cover story she provides to Selendis. “We’re field specimen collectors for zerg researchers,” she says. That sounds better than mercenary scientists and smugglers. “Aye, we have an advanced vessel, but we’re not part of the Dominion military or anything like that.”
No, she’s a Confederate ship, Lilly thinks, but she keeps quiet. Selendis seems to be buying Imogen’s story. That covers why we have some catalyst and Snowball but not the lyote.
As if summoned, Sunshine suddenly appears, rushing out of Lilly’s quarters. The internal doors are not designed for security, and the lyote is rather clever. She has pawed open the door and is now barrelling toward the foyer, either excited by Lilly or the fresh air coming in from the open hatch.
Selendis is startled and does not even have time to ready her psi-gauntlets before Lilly has one hand on Sunshine and the other on the latch to seal her quarters. The lyote was distracting enough that no one spotted Snowball while the door was open. “Sunshine!” she admonishes, trying to get the creature to heel. They do not need her running off through the protoss settlement stealing things.
“You have a lyote with you,” Selendis observes. “That’s not a zerg sample. Or is this lyote infested with zerg?”
“No, this is my pet. This is Sunshine,” Lilly explains. She gets down on a knee and ruffles the lyote’s fur playfully. “You’re not a zerg are you? Not this cute little furry face!” Sunshine gobbles up a proffered treat.
“Right, right, your pet.” Selendis grows a little wistful. “I understand… You must be from a world where those are native.” Lilly does not refute this. “So you two collect samples of one form or another, and you also collected someone who claims to be one of our brethren, Arudin.”
“He was trapped on that planet, and he didn’t belong there. He needed to get back to his people.” Imogen struggles to keep her own frustration contained at having to repeat this yet again.
“He could have been marooned on that planet for being a traitorous tal’darim,” Selendis counters.
Imogen shakes her head. “He was involved in whatever investigation the protoss were doing on the device that attracted zerg to that planet to begin with.” Selendis asks for a moment, and her gaze drifts off. Imogen realizes she must be checking with the Khala for information on this topic. Imogen tries to listen in, but she runs up against that same exhausting wall again. Malorn warned her about this sort of thing; Selendis’s mind is just too well defended. Imogen wonders, though, if the same is true of her assistant. She looks over at the kitchenette area, where he has been since things got heated between her and Selendis. He does not give off the same listening vibe as Selendis does.
While his superior dealt with the terran, Selendis’s assistant continued the inspection on his own, including the archaic refrigeration device below one of the worktops. Inside, he found a container of some strange liquid. The easiest way to test what it was, was to sample it. His eyes went wide and began to glow a bit brighter as he got a Kick in the Face. By the time Imogen turns her attention to him, he is rather buzzed.
Imogen does not understand how the Khala works, whether communication is focused or broadcast widely. But maybe listening in to other people than the main target could be a valid approach, at least with protoss. Like going to the secretary instead of the CEO. Right now is not the time to get sidetracked, though, not with Selendis still here and prying.
Selendis loses her faraway look and says, “Well, Arudin’s story seems to match yours, but we do not have any records of him. Still, you have said he was honorable.” She looks down at Lilly. “You went hunting with him, you said?” Lilly straightens up with a nod, one hand still on the pink ribbon around Sunshine’s neck. “But you did not capture the bengalaas. That would have been great to recover; we have so few artifacts from Aiur…”
This sounds like an excellent business opportunity to Imogen. They will be taking Spearmint back to Antiga eventually, and if they know ahead of time that they are going bengalaas hunting, they might do a better job of it. “So, if we were to come across other native creatures of Aiur, would you be interested? Are your people collecting them to try to rebuild your ecosystem somewhere?”
Selendis gets that look of frustration again, but at least it is not directed at the terrans this time. “Our people once could have wiped out anything in the galaxy, except perhaps the zerg we encountered. But we lost our homeworld. We need every bit of morale we can get, so having something familiar from home would be useful to us, yes.”
“Could be some protoss artifacts on the planet, too,” Lilly suggests. Saffron’s sensors might be able to help them find protoss tech if she fiddles with the computer a bit more.
“Those are things that belong to protoss,” Selendis objects, sounding a bit offended. “I will not trade for those. I do not want to encourage terrans to raid wherever our temples may have been. Nor do I wish to encourage you to seek them out. But if you find creatures from our homeworld, like the bengalaas or the kakaru, that we would value. Some might like them as pets, and for others, they can simply be reminders of Aiur.” She describes a flying creature about the size of a person that sounds a lot like a pterodactyl to the terrans.
Imogen states with great confidence that Lilly would be able to wrangle such a creature. “Might need to have some sort of animal quarters other than my room,” Lilly observes. Selendis also tells them about a cat-sized lizard, but Lilly worries that Sunshine might try to eat something that small. “Wait, how’d these animals get all over, anyway?”
Selendis points out that protoss colony ships can be quite large, which reminds Lilly that Sunshine herself was a stowaway. She asks about pointers on where to look for such creatures based on protoss ship movements, but Selendis is unwilling to discuss locations of protoss colonies past or present. Nor will she tell them where Aiur is, even though it has been overrun. “But if you encounter some of these creatures yourselves and can deliver them, for that I would be willing to trade. What is it you want?”
Imogen refrains from stating the first thing that comes to mind: Oh, just train me in all your psionics… “I wouldn’t expect you to trade in Dominion credits, but vespene itself is of value to us, as are basic supplies. Making use of your starport to patch up the ship would be helpful, too. She’s in constant need of fixing up.”
“You interested in zerg samples?” Lilly asks. From what she saw outside, some sort of zerg-related research is happening on this planet. She and Imogen might as well get another client for a type of job they are already doing.
“Some zerg samples, maybe…” Selendis hems and haws a bit. “Zerg are very dangerous. I wouldn’t recommend trying to collect samples of them, in general. What are you planning?”
“We’ve got a sample of a kind that jumps out of the ground to attack you. Got it on Antiga. Spits acid.”
“Hmmm… We might be able to bargain for that… Yes, we will take your roach sample. That we can use.” In exchange, Selendis agrees to have some of her engineers take a look at Saffron’s damaged undercarriage and effect some “primitive” repairs. The workers will not be available until the next day, though.
“I’m okay with that delay, but we do need to consult our passenger,” Imogen tells her.
Not like he has much choice, Lilly thinks, but out loud she says, “What do you think of that, girl?” as she rubs Sunshine’s head. Then she asks Selendis for particulars on the types of zerg samples she wants in the future. The protoss here are most interested in materials to inform how to fight the zerg, so pieces of soldier-type zerg, like spines and carapaces. Too bad I didn’t keep any of the ones that I took to the shoulder, Lilly reflects. Particularly useful to Selendis would be intact shells for testing weapons against. Those sort of things will not fit in the sample jars like Li June’s genetic samples. But this sounds like good work to Lilly since it helps the fight against the zerg. The Queen of Blades is mad at her and Imogen, so combatting the zerg is wise.
Selendis is now satisfied that Arudin has not done anything to the ship that compromises protoss safety. She makes sure that Imogen understands that the engineers will need access to Saffron while they are working on repairs, and Imogen once again insists that only the central hub is open to protoss.
“If we can keep them from letting Sunshine out, I think everybody would be happier,” Lilly adds.
Imogen points out that the lyote was fine running around on Antiga. “You don’t think she wants to play in the snow?”
“I don’t know what kind of trouble she can get into on this planet.” The lyote could use some fresh air, though, and a break from being cooped up. Lilly asks Selendis for permission to take her pet out.
Selendis agrees that they can walk around the grounds, though most of the facilities are off-limits. Then she surprises Imogen and Lilly by offering to put them up in quarters for the night somewhere. Imogen brightens at that idea but reiterates she has to consult with their passenger. Lilly thinks to herself that it would be better to stay aboard Saffron to keep an eye on their illicit zerg and protoss technology, but Imogen is free to do what she wants.
As Selendis rouses her assistant and prepares to leave, Lilly speaks up, though. “What’s going to happen to Arudin?”
“We will keep him under watch. We will attempt to reintegrate him as best we can, but he can no longer commune with the whole Khala, and that is what our entire society is based around. His options are going to be limited.”
“Are there not other victims of war in a similar position to him?” Imogen asks.
“There have been a few,” Selendis says, “but most protoss would have died. To be injured in this fashion and continue living is uncommon. We wear our personal shields for a reason. He was just very unlucky to be struck there without having his neck sliced clear through as well.”
“He’s welcome to come back with us if he wants,” Lilly says. “We can try to take him somewhere else.”
“I do not know anywhere else you could take him. I can only imagine that being with terrans would be absolutely terrible. Clearly, it has driven him crazy to be cut off for this long. To be cut off from all forms of contact…” Selendis shakes her head sadly. “No, the best we can do is to make him feel comfortable. There’s nothing we can do, really. He can no longer be part of our society. He has effectively lost the ability to hear and talk. I mean, he can vocalize, but it is the slow and ineffective form of communication that you terrans use. It is really only for certain ceremonial purposes.”
Imogen does not like how dismissive Selendis sounds. She gets up on her high horse, despite her overall ignorance of protoss society or sensitivities about the fall of Aiur. “Five years ago, protoss thought their society was one thing, and nobody would have thought it could survive separate from Aiur. Aiur is gone now. And yet protoss society can evolve and change, just like anything else, adapting to what the new realities of protoss are. You shouldn’t just kick him out because he can’t see or hear now. There are terrans who cannot see or hear but are fully productive members of our society. They just interact with it differently. On Umoja they have technological aids that can help them do things, and they can still participate fully in society. Sure, maybe not doing the same tasks and things that they did before their injury, but that doesn’t mean they have nothing to contribute.”
Lilly lets Imogen and Selendis continue hashing things out. Her mind wanders to bengalaas hunting, wondering what would be attractive foods to put into traps.
“The way that you’re talking about Arudin, it’s like you’re getting ready to put him to sleep,” Imogen scolds, “like he’s an injured pet. ‘Oh, we’ll just make him comfortable until he dies.’ He’s alive, and he’s been through trauma. He needs healing, but not just physical healing of his injury. He needs compassion, and he needs emotional healing. If you cannot connect to him just because of his physical deformity, that’s on you. And I understand you’re talking about psionic things, but psionic things are just another sense that people have. Your society has a responsibility to take care of him, and you yourself are a leader; you can’t just throw somebody away.”
Selendis lets the terran rail on for a while. She is not personally offended by the screed. “You simply don’t understand. And because you are not part of the Khala, we cannot share all these feelings together. We’re reduced to this ineffective, noisy form of communication. That’s what it must be like every day for you terrans. It must be terrible that you have to live in your society this way, but at least you have each other. Our comrade does not have that. You say we treat him as a pet—he has lost everything that makes him of the Firstborn.”
“So tal’darim are not—”
“Tal’darim are traitorous barbarians who were exiled from society,” Selendis snaps. She pauses, regains her composure. “There was a time in our history when all protoss fought among each other, a great Aeon of Strife. The Khala fixed that. That is the form of our society that evolved to fix that problem, of protoss fighting each other. And you will point out that the tal’darim fight among us. They steal from us, it is true, but they very rarely strike against us. And even when they do, they are small in number. They were cast out before the creation of the Khala. The nerazim, the dark templar, they were cast out for refusing to join the Khala. But we do not strike each other; there is no violence among us. Look to your terran governments and ask if you have the same benefit.” With that, Selendis leaves.