Malorn sighs. “So you’ve already already tried to activate the psi-gauntlet several times and nearly cut off your own arm in the process. Is that correct?”
“I tried twice, and I still have two arms,” Imogen replies.
“Indeed, that is to your credit, that you still have two functional arms. Why don’t you try right now and show me your current technique.”
Imogen slides her arm through the gauntlet and mentally prepares herself, running through all the things Egon told her from his study of it. She braces herself for inevitable injury and wills the device on, but it does not ignite. On the plus side, it also does not slice her arm to ribbons.
“I thought as much,” Malorn observes. “What are you doing? You’re not even exerting yourself.” He snatches the psi-gauntlet from her and holds it up. “Come now, this is not a glove! Is that what you think this is?”
“It’s some sort of—”
Malorn cuts her off. “It is not an arm-thingy.” He glances around the living room for inspiration, and his eyes light on the knife that Lilly gave Imogen. “How do you hold that primitive knife?” Imogen draws it from its sheath, but in her hands, it looks more like it would spread butter than gut an opponent. “You hold the handle, right?” Malorn continues. “You don’t hold the blade. When you put your arm in the gauntlet the wrong way, you are holding the blade.” To the terran’s look of confusion, he sighs wearily. “Hold out your arm.”
Imogen hastily puts the knife away and presents her scarred right arm to the protoss. Before she even has it fully raised, he grabs it and yanks it up the rest of the way, then slides the psi-gauntlet onto her forearm. “It has to latch in, otherwise it is not going to hold. You, through force of your will, must keep it latched in place without tearing apart your flesh. This is not a problem for templars.” Grudgingly, he allows, “Protoss physiology is somewhat different. This is an extra challenge you are going to have.” Imogen’s forearms, as weak as they are, are actually thicker than Malorn’s. Muscles and tendons lie across them differently, such that the overall shape is not even the same. “Is this going to be a problem?” he demands.
Imogen brushes off that question. She is not going to back down from this. “So, the teeth… with my mind, I have to get them to stop in the right place?” she asks, making sure she understands the information buried under all the scorn.
“Correct. If you don’t let them go far enough, the blade will never ignite. If they go too far, they will cut off your arm entirely.” Imogen nods, but he is not finished. “And you cannot just think. You need to see. Like we did earlier.”
Imogen pulls her arm away from Malorn and holds it out in front of her. Instead of looking at it and concentrating on wanting the blade to ignite, she focuses instead on her arm and its points of contact with the device. She psionically feels the teeth extend from the device and stops them just as they lightly touch the scars they have previously made.
“Now you see?” Malorn’s voice intrudes upon her focus. “The teeth are in the right place. Now you need to see with your arm.”
Imogen is already deeply immersed in the sensations there. She spends so much time in her head, focused on what she is seeing or hearing or thinking. But psionics is a full-body experience, and now her arm is bringing in so much more sensory information than just the softness of a sleeve or the pain of a bite.
“See through the blade. Become the blade.”
The psi-gauntlet has previously only brought her pain through her arm, but now she realizes there is new, different energy coursing through the limb that she completely failed to perceive in the past. Truly, this is a sixth sense, and it is throughout her, not just in her head. She embraces it, sensing with her arm. She feels the blade ignite before she sees the blue light with her eyes. There is still so much she does not know, but she will learn, and protoss arrogance will not stop her.
“The psi-gauntlet requires a certain focus. For most protoss, this is a connection to the Khala. For the tal’darim, it is our own fury. For you, I was going to suggest channelling ignorance, but you seem to have figured that out yourself. Now,” Malorn ignites his own blade, “defend.”
Imogen’s attention is abruptly jerked back to the physical world around her, and she frantically gets her blade up in time to keep Malorn at bay. It is clear that he is only lightly testing her skills, and that is fine with her, as she has had no particular training in hand-to-hand combat. As they spar, she finds that the blade is more like an extension of her arm than it is like a knife in her hand. It has some physical weight to it, and there is definitely a clatter when she parries one of Malorn’s swings.
When the sparring is done, Imogen conducts a few experiments with the blade. She has no intention of touching it herself, but she tries lightly tapping the coffee table. The weapon clacks against it. Then she dips the blade in a glass of water, which gets warmer, indicating that it gives off some heat.
Malorn watches the experiments and comments, “The blade itself forms into a solid—what you would call matter. But it has an aspect of energy to it. I don’t know if you’ve ever fought alongside zealots against zerg… You can see their psi-blades rending zerg to pieces. With sufficient force, you can cut through most things with this.”
“Actually, I did see—”
“Ah, yes, at the mine. I and my associates—”
“No, that’s not what I mean. I saw from the perspective of the wielder of this blade doing it. It was when I tried to get it to ignite before and it nearly took off my arm.” Imogen tells Malorn about the vision she had in the Mar Sara spaceport. “It was some sort of jungly planet.”
“Overly lush? Green? Teeming with life?”
She nods. “And zerg.”
“I believe you saw Aiur, the protoss homeworld,” Malorn says. “Invaded by zerg. My other brethren thought they were stronger than the zerg; they were wrong. They were weak; their homeworld was taken from them. That is the battle you saw. That is why my associate—whose gauntlet you now possess—left the Khala. He could not bear the loss of Aiur.”
Suddenly, the words of the protoss high on terrazine take on new meaning for Imogen. “My life for Aiur,” that is what he was saying. Under the influence of the drug, he believed himself back on Aiur, fighting the zerg again.
“Aiur will never be reclaimed. Trying to is a fruitless pursuit. It belongs to the Swarm now,” Malorn grouses.
Imogen deactivates her blade and slides the gauntlet off her arm. She sits down on the couch, propped on the edge of a cushion, and turns the device over in her hands, considering it. “So do these things hold memories?”
“Not normally. But my associate was aspiring to be a high templar. He was more psionically gifted than typical protoss. There may be imprints left, particularly during such traumatic events as the Battle of Aiur.” Imogen starts to speak, but Malorn cuts her off. “Why?” he demands. “Do you seek to claim some forbidden knowledge from him? I tell you, it will only be nonsense.”
Whenever Imogen feels like she is starting to gain some traction with Malorn, some reasonable sharing of information, he becomes prickly again. How much is his personality and how much is his culture, she does not know, and frankly, she is running out of steam to deal with it. “I wasn’t intending to, but okay,” she grants, accepting his warning. She had been more concerned about having visions that distract her while trying to use the gauntlet. Now, though, she wonders about what sort of psionic imprints objects might hold. Maybe it is worth digging around for other memories. It could be dangerous, but it might be less taxing than dealing with Malorn.
At that point, Lilly returns, balancing a brown paper bag in the crook of her left arm and carrying a six-pack in that hand as she lets herself into the apartment. “Ah, you have acquired beer,” Malorn observes.
Lilly drops her packages off in the kitchen and comes back out into the living room bearing beverages. “Picked this one special for you,” she tells the protoss, offering him a Kick in the Face that she has already poured into a glass for him. He disignites his blade and sits down with the drink. He dips a couple tentacles into the glass, swirling them about, and she sees his eyes go wide. Lilly smiles, a little drunk herself. “Yeah?”
“Yes.” Malorn nods. “That is what I needed. Thank you.” The angry red of his eyes fades a bit.
Imogen leaves the warriors to their drinks. She pours herself a shot of whiskey to take the edge off the training session. After getting herself ready for bed, she sets out the bottle of facial moisturizer in the living room, in case Malorn wants to do something about his wrinkles other than gripe.
Imogen considers maybe putting out a few cucumber slices for his eyes, too, but all the vegetables in the fridge right now are old and wrinkly, just like he is. She makes a mental note to do some grocery shopping the next day when they are out picking up goods for Li and Rory. It would probably be a good idea to load everything on Saffron to prepare a speedy exit in case things go poorly after Malorn’s job and Korhal becomes too hot for them.
When Lilly retires for the night, she finds Snowball still diligently patrolling, for all the good it does. His standing watch has not prevented Sunshine from wreaking havoc. At one point in her life, Lilly had pillows, but that time now seems to be over. Their stuffing now lines Sunshine’s nest, along with a variety of other items, including an old beer can, one of Imogen’s hair ties, and even one of Lilly’s knives. Well, she’s got good taste. Malorn is lucky she didn’t swipe his arm-thingy. Lilly resolves to pick up some treats tomorrow for the lyote.