As Saffron nears the edge of the Char system and Lilly prepares for their jump, a video call from Selendis comes in. “Imogen Owendoher, Lilly Washington, are you well?”
“Aye,” Imogen answers.
Selendis looks expectantly at Lilly. “Uh, yes, ma’am.”
“That is good to hear.” Formalities out of the way, Selendis gets down to business. “We had earlier spoken about—for lack of a better term—jobs your Lost & Found corporation might assist us with.”
“Is there something you need recovered now?”
“There is. We need to recover the control crystal from a dragoon core. If you are not aware, a dragoon is a protoss robot of sorts that houses a fallen warrior so that he can continue to fight.”
“Is that in the control crystal?” Imogen asks.
“After a fashion, yes. The control crystal is an important component to this. We are in the unfortunate situation where we have plenty of fallen warriors but very few control crystals. Each one we can recover is one more warrior who can keep fighting, keep earning honor. One of our dragoons was killed and—what is worse—taken in, not just blown up, by some terran pirates. They are not part of the Dominion or any other organized group. They are at a place called Iceberg Station. You, being terran, have a better chance of being able to get on the station and recover the control crystal peacefully. We will, of course, pay you in appropriate currency for this task.”
“How recent is your intel on this station?” Imogen asks.
“We believe they captured the dragoon and headed in that direction a month or two ago. If it is destroyed, that is most regrettable, and at that point we would take a retributive stance. It seemed unusual that they were recovering it. Perhaps they think they can study the technology, but sadly it will be beyond their capabilities.”
“Or they were commissioned to do it,” Imogen suggests.
“Commissioned? I did not believe these pirates were that organized.”
“We have some knowledge of that space station, and it’s not currently being run by terrans.”
“Has it been taken over by zerg?”
Selendis narrows her eyes. “Would you speak plainly, Imogen Owendoher?”
“Our information is that the tal’darim are running it.” Selendis’s eyes flash, the intensity of their glow heightening. Imogen continues, “And the terrans there are working for them.”
“We should have suspected tal’darim involvement! Of course they want to try to reverse engineer it so they can have their own dragoons. And they sent these pirates out to do this. Have they no shame?” Selendis seethes. “Then it is even more imperative that we recover it. But if the tal’darim are there then that makes this considerably more dangerous. I do not know if I can in good conscience ask you to do this task.”
“Oh, we’re going to do it,” Imogen says confidently. “We said we would.”
“You are a most honorable person,” Selendis compliments her. “The sudden change in situation would be an acceptable reason to back out of a deal.” She tilts her head inquisitively. “Do you have a plan for recovering the control crystal?”
“Do you have any more information on it? What’s its size?”
“The dragoon itself is relatively large, but the control crystal is not. If you could recover the entire dragoon shell that would be even better, but the control crystal is what we need most.”
“The dragoon shell is not going to fit in Saffron,” Imogen points out. Selendis has been aboard their ship. She knows how cramped the science vessel is.
“No, but it might fit in pieces, and that would be acceptable. Dragoons have a large footprint, but they are not bulky. They have large legs and a sizeable central core. If it is already in pieces, you might be able to move it all aboard.” Selendis does not have much information about the pirates’s vessel. They took the protoss by surprise using some sort of cloaking technology. The force was small but well-equipped, including weaponry that Selendis refers to as lockdown rounds. Given that its purpose is to fully disable electromechanical equipment—such as the dragoon—it is likely some sort of EMP. Selendis finds their use of cloaking particularly unsettling, but now that she knows tal’darim were involved, it is not as shocking. Given the means of capture, it is possible the protoss warrior is still active within the crystal, but since reverse engineering is likely happening, Selendis would be surprised if that were the case.
Imogen tries to understand what the crystal actually contains. “So the soul of the fallen protoss is somehow bound in the crystal?”
“After a fashion, yes. It is what is required to bind him. But if he dies ‘properly’, shall we say, then there is, in general, nothing left of him in the crystal. Some protoss believe that they leave some mark, and if a new warrior takes up a shell, he will inherit some of the memories of the original owner. But we do not have any scientific evidence of that.”
“So, let me ask you this—and I’m sorry if it’s insensitive. If the tal’darim have already put one of theirs inside this control crystal, is it still of value to you?”
“It is. As long as they have not broken it.” Selendis doubts they will have been able to completely reverse engineer the dragoon in the amount of time they have had, but they could be getting close. “And it depends on if any of their warriors have fallen. Although, one of them might volunteer or be forcibly sacrificed… that might be a possibility with the tal’darim.”
Selendis gives Imogen and Lilly a long look. “I am very grateful that you have agreed to attempt to recover this. Do not put your life on the line. If it gets too dangerous, raise the alarm with me and I will send in a strike force to simply wipe them out.” She is not talking about an emergency bailout; they will not have her fleet on-call during their operation. But if the control crystal is unrecoverable, Selendis does not want the tal’darim to have it and will make all haste to strike at them as best she can. “Make sure you get clear first. We would not want to strike while you are still on the station.”
“I appreciate that. Not everyone is so gracious,” Imogen tells her.
“I thank you again for your willingness to assist us in this matter. The tal’darim in particular are always looking over their shoulder watching for us as we attempt to stop them from pilfering our technology. It’s unfortunate that they have commandeered your fellow terrans’ home, but they are pirates, they trade in that kind of life. Thank you again. I look forward to hearing from you and reuniting our brethren.”
Before Selendis cuts the connection, Imogen asks how the bengalaases are doing. The icy world of Browder II is not their native environment, so they are now living inside in a simulated environment. The bengalaases could be better, Selendis admits, but the morale of the protoss warriors is improving as a result of their presence. She also informs them that Arudin, the warrior they rescued from Antiga, is starting to recover. “He’s leading a different kind of life now, and I think it is going to be difficult, but there are people who can understand him, at least.”
“I’m glad to hear that,” Imogen tells her.
Selendis bids them farewell with a cryptic protoss phrase, “En Taro Tassadar.” Imogen notes it down once the connection is cut, though she does not know when she will have the opportunity to research it or use it. Malorn would probably slap me in the face if I said it to him, she gripes to herself. Already, he is getting on her nerves, and they have not even reached the rendezvous point!