As the group finally rounds the edge of the cliff face Aiden has been leading them along, they enter a stretch of wasteland covered in creep and populated by various zerg structures. Here there are no signs of any former terran presence. Imogen is breathing a bit easier now that they have moved away from the sulfurous lava streams. Although the external environment has become slightly more palatable, the psionic one has gotten worse. No one else around her seems to notice, but Imogen senses what can only be described as a terrifying presence, one she got just a hint of when they were approaching the planet and she checked on Sheila. She realizes now that she has felt this before, when getting shut out of Aiden’s and Snowball’s minds. And possibly when she interacted with the xel’naga device in Egon’s lab aboard Hyperion. She is still not sure whether that was a projection of some kind or a shared experience between her and Kerrigan.
And then the Queen of Blades is before them in person. She is taller than Lilly by a good six inches or so, perhaps because of the bone-like protrusions from her feet that give her stiletto heels. Back when she was a terran, Sarah Kerrigan was definitely not pushing seven feet tall. Lilly glances over at Aiden and Ted, evaluating their height, but as far as she can tell they have not gained any. Like them, the Queen has claws for fingers, and her height is further exaggerated by great bony wings folded up behind her.
Right now, Kerrigan is in verbal conversation with a broodmother. Imogen wonders if they are speaking aloud to conceal their conversation from lesser zerg that are only primed to psionic communication. She recognizes Zagara from their time together on Chau Sara in the Cerberus facility. All Lilly seems to recognize is threats, threats everywhere! She keeps her gun handy.
As Aiden leads them up, Imogen catches the tail end of the heated discussion, Kerrigan saying, “Well, then you’re going to keep looking!” in her deep, reverby voice. Zagara steps back with perhaps a tremble of fear, and Kerrigan turns to the new arrivals. “So you’re the two who messed with my cerebrate.”
“Didn’t exactly know it was yours at the time,” Imogen says.
“Everything that is zerg is mine. Everything in this sector is mine, whether I choose to exercise control over it or not. But there was another one who was toying with my cerebrate. Where is he?”
“I don’t know where he is now.” Imogen feels a presence in her own mind then, not just in the general area. Not satisfied with her spoken answer, Kerrigan roots around there for the truth. Imogen has no training on how to block this sort of attack. Kerrigan easily picks out the name Neiman, as well as the feelings of betrayal and disapproval that Imogen associates with the idea of him. There is the personal betrayal from him putting a tracker on her when they had agreed to a deal, but even more so than that, there is the matter of all the Rose Mine ex-slaves that he scooped up for reenslavement in his zerg experiments on Chau Sara. Kerrigan also reads the wariness Imogen feels toward Neiman; he has knowledge of her psionic capabilities, but he is completely out of her control, whereabouts unknown.
“You could have just asked,” Imogen says, having felt Kerrigan rifle through her mind.
Lilly is confused by her partner’s comment. Isn’t that what she just did?
“I would have told you,” Imogen goes on. “I’m not going to defend him.”
The Queen of Blades seethes. “Ugh! UED! They get their hands in everything.” Her bony wings crash into the ground in front of her, stabbing into the rock. A cloud of dust rises from the impact. Everyone jumps a bit at the suddenness of it, even the zerg present. Lilly grips her gun more tightly and her body language screams high alert, but she does not go so far as pointing a weapon at Kerrigan. Aiden just gazes at his queen in awe; she is so amazing.
“He told me he was no longer connected with that group,” Imogen volunteers.
“I’m sure he says a lot of things,” Kerrigan growls.
“Well, you did send them packing. I don’t think he’s got a line back to Earth right now.”
“I’m sure he’s working on it,” Kerrigan counters. “At any rate, that’s not entirely why I brought you here today. You did a good turn for me, finding out what Mengsk was looking for on Tarsonis.” Imogen holds up the thumb drive with the recording. Kerrigan scowls at it. Aiden and Ted scurry forward and collect it, assuring her they will get a playback device set up. She dismisses them with a wave. Blight remains behind, bobbing silently in the area near his queen. “I am, of course, aware of what it is,” Kerrigan says. “I was there. But having evidence of it will make it easier for some people to be convinced to move against Mengsk.”
“Do you have people like that to share it with?” Imogen asks.
Kerrigan glares at her. “I don’t need any of those kinds of allies. They are merely convenient. It is good to know Mengsk’s purpose though, that he was not actually testing some new weapon. So the situation stays normal. That’s all I’m concerned with. But Mengsk’s time will come, and he will be mine.” She breathes heavily, visibly trying to contain her anger.
Imogen cannot help but think, You’re going to have to fight Raynor for the pleasure of killing Mengsk.
Kerrigan tilts her head, and her tone softens a bit. “Yes, Jimmy might get in the way.” Imogen blanches as she realizes the Queen of Blades is still in her head. I’ve got to find some way to blank my mind out. She focuses on her breath. Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out. Man, this air is hot. Kerrigan snorts. “Just a distraction! I will deal with Jim when I have to. If he knows what’s best for him, he will stay out of the way. Mengsk may have betrayed Jim, but he sacrificed me. And for that I will make him pay. Gah, I keep getting distracted!”
With a deep breath, Kerrigan steadies her voice. “You did something good for me. You desecrated my cerebrate, as well. But the time of the cerebrates is past; I now rely upon my queens.” One wing stretches out a little, indicating Zagara. “And that cerebrate had no choice, anyway. So in truth, none of that matters.”
Just like all these terrans who have no choice about being infested? Imogen reflects. Shouldn’t Sarah Kerrigan empathize with that since it happened to her? How can she support the zerg converting terrans? If she hates Mengsk so much for it, why would she want that to happen to other people? Either Kerrigan has changed her mental focus, or this is a topic she does not want to engage, because these thoughts go by unchallenged.
“No, we’ll call it square. As you said, you didn’t know, despite the numerous zerg defenses there. That’s fine. But you’re curious about what I’m going to do with this sector once Mengsk is out. I will tell you: the UED is still coming. When they came before, they came with local manufacturing, second rate equipment. It was an expeditionary force. I don’t know if you were here.” Her gaze moves from Imogen over to Lilly. “They enslaved the zerg. They would have enslaved me, had they succeeded. I won’t let that happen. They would rule the entire sector. I will note that I’ve had four years of uncontested control, and I’ve let the Dominion play along as best they can. Because oddly enough, a strong terran force would actually be useful in throwing back the next UED assault—a strong terran force not headed by Mengsk. If I had chosen to shatter them four years ago, they would be in a million pieces, and I would not now have this strong terran force that I can use.”
“Where do the protoss fit into all this?” Imogen asks. Malorn has complained to her about zerg attacking his people.
“They will also be useful armies against the UED, but they’re very difficult to convince. You may think the zerg are constantly attacking the protoss, but we are in fact constantly holding back the tal’darim fanatics—which we get no thanks for from the rest of the sector. Given how many other forces were weakened, they swooped in. Were it not for the Swarm, they would have overthrown the Dominion by now. So, take that back to your terran friends!”
The tal’darim would have overthrown the Dominion?! That is a take Imogen has never heard before. As far as she knew, the conflicts between protoss and terrans started when protoss were cleansing worlds to get rid of zerg.
“Taken over, destroyed, who knows what?” Kerrigan shrugs, and her bony wings jostle. “Whatever they bother to do with terrans. So you should thank us.” She folds her arms across her chest. “So that is what comes for the sector when Mengsk is gone.”
She means war with the UED. She really thinks it’s coming, Imogen reflects.
“The UED will come. They will bring their—frankly superior—firepower to bear. Think how strong the Dominion has gotten with four years of nothing holding them back. And now imagine Earth, where no zerg has tread. They’ve developed much more advanced capabilities. When they finally muster the political will, they will send another stronger, more better equipped force.”
“Why do they care?” Imogen, the sheltered Umojan, asks. “Don’t they have their own space?”
“Funny thing about terrans, most of them aren’t content to sit in their own space. Were you happy on Umoja? No.”
I didn’t go take over a bunch of other planets, though, Imogen thinks.
“Yet,” Kerrigan says. “But you might. You’re accumulating power at your own rate. Anyway, that’s what I’m up to.”
Lilly watches the conversation, bemused. What is she talking about now?! It seems so random to her, as she is not privy to Imogen’s thoughts the way that Kerrigan is. The Queen of Blades has some wildly divergent trains of thought sometimes, Lilly marvels. Kind of like Imogen. She seems a bit off her rocker, as far as the UED stuff goes. We beat ‘em once. We can beat ‘em again, Lilly thinks. Then her eyes light upon something of much more interest to her: Snowball!