Imogen stays up just long enough to make sure Malorn is asleep on the couch and Karax has settled into a room. The khalai is only too happy to have a comfortable bed upon which to sleep. Imogen figures Malorn’s past claims that protoss do not sleep were probably just more posturing about the superiority of his species.
Early the next morning, just as Imogen is getting up, Karax comes to see her. No one else is around, but she is still displeased when he asks, “You have some psionic ability, don’t you?”
Li has so many surveillance feeds going into her command center that Imogen would not be surprised if some of them were in her own house. “I have no idea what gave you that impression. But let’s go for a walk around the grounds,” she replies for the potential audience.
Despite the cultural divide, Karax gets Imogen’s drift. “Yes… or I can inspect your ship now, if this would be a good time,” he suggests. “It’s, uh, good to get work done early.” Imogen brightens up at that, eager to see what he can do to improve the security of Saffron’s main access point. When they get to the science vessel, Karax lets them in himself. Once aboard, he returns to his earlier topic. “You were definitely trying to peer into Malorn’s mind. You strained yourself doing it.”
“I strained myself succeeding at doing it,” Imogen corrects him.
“Did you now?” If Karax had lips, he would be pursing them together. “It’s a dangerous thing to be doing with those not connected to the Khala.”
Imogen frowns. She does not go as far as a scowl, but she is quite tired of this kind of attitude. “The Khala has not cornered the market on psionics.”
“No,” Karax allows, “but it is the most practiced, most practical—I dare say, the most refined form of psionic understanding.”
“Well, I haven’t been invited to join,” Imogen says sourly, “so I’m working with what I have.”
“I’m just advising you to be very cautious if you do these kinds of things. Yesterday you had a bloody nose. Tomorrow, if you strain yourself, you might accidentally call out to someone you don’t mean to.” When Imogen admits that is something she had done before, Karax is taken aback. “And you did not learn from your lesson then?”
“What would you have one learn from such a lesson? Not to try? No. One learns from that lesson to try harder. To practice. To do things better.”
“To be cautious about the right time and place to do things,” Karax counters.
Imogen grows more heated now. “I was monitoring Malorn to make sure he was still alive. I had a reason for what I was doing. I don’t do this on a lark. I don’t go around just broadcasting things all the time.” Imogen acts with purpose. She is ambitious, not frivolous.
Karax gets defensive. “Look, I’m not a psionics expert at all, as I told you earlier. I just know that exercising psionic powers in terran physiology is strongly correlated to mental breakdown. It can be very difficult to see into one’s own mind. This is why the Khala helps us stay level.” His words do not convince Imogen, who accuses him of simply parroting back what others have told him. He takes offense. “I am a being of science, of technology, of clear understanding! This information is in the Khala. No one is hiding it.”
“You’re not an expert on terran physiology, and you’ve repeatedly said yourself that you’re not an expert on psionics.”
“I am not,” Karax agrees. “I am telling you what we, the protoss of Aiur, the true protoss, are aware of.”
“Maybe your data is skewed by the fact that you’ve primarily had contact with ghosts and not normal, everyday psionic terrans,” Imogen argues.
“How many normal, everyday psionic terrans are there?”
“There’s at least one.” If there are more, they are staying hidden, just like Imogen is. Most of the time.
Karax makes a display of looking around Saffron’s central control hub. “Is this normal for terrans?”
“I don’t know. Due to how various governments abuse these sorts of things, one has to keep them under wraps.”
“It is regrettable that no terran society has put together a healthy psionic training program. It may simply not be possible.”
Imogen rejects his opinion. “I think it is possible.”
“You think it’s possible, or you want to believe it’s possible?” Karax challenges. Seeing the terran start to get wound up again, he hastily adds, “I don’t know! I just wasn’t sure how much knowledge you have about it. You seem to know a few things.”
The appeal to her vanity falls flat. “You—” she starts, shaking her head. Hearing the vitriol in her voice, she reels herself back in and tries again. “You Aiur protoss manage to harness your psionics without torturing yourselves. That indicates to me that such things are possible. I know that tal’darim have rejected the Khala and feel you have to be tortured and miserable to develop your psionics. And some terran ghost training programs also seem to be that way. But the Aiur protoss don’t act that way.”
“Ah. You are unfamiliar with protoss history. The protoss did not always have the Khala. We are able to operate as we do because we have it. The Khala is not a natural part of protoss physiology; we created it. Prior to that, our whole society was one of strife that wracked every protoss on every world. We call that period the Aeon of Strife. It set us back hundreds of years. We had a massive civil war long before terrans or zerg set foot in this sector.”
“So if the Khala is an artificial construct, then why couldn’t terrans do the same sort of thing?” Imogen argues.
“The Khala works because every protoss is connected to it.”
“Well, not every protoss,” Imogen mutters, as Karax goes on.
“Just slightly cut off as I am, I feel agitated, anxious. And so few terrans have psionic ability. For you, it is rare to meet another mind to keep you level. If not even your ghost academies have this critical mass of terrans, one isolated terran would, I think, stand even less chance.”
Imogen is not sure which is worse, that psionics really could cause such unhinged violence or that the Khala is some sort of soporific the protoss use to drug themselves into docility rather than actually addressing the roots of their violent ways. “So you blame your people’s psionic ability for all the fighting that you did?” she asks. “I think that’s a crutch. ‘Cause I’m telling you, terrans are capable of doing a lot of infighting without psionics.”
“Then I do not think adding psionics to terran abilities would be better,” Karax argues back, completely missing Imogen’s point.
“I’m saying it’s a completely separate issue! Like, you can’t say that these terrans know how to bake pies, therefore their society will be peaceful. The skill set is completely irrelevant!”
Karax continues to insist his people know better. “We have done the great societal experiment. Before the Khala: strife. After the Khala: peace… for the most part.”
“Aye. There’s the rub. You can’t get me to believe that every protoss gets along perfectly fine with every other protoss because you’ve got the Khala.”
“If you could remove ninety percent of the violence in your society, would you? We decided to do so. Those who would not renounce their ways were exiled. There were others who later rejected the ways, the nerazim. We are… coming to terms with them. But it is very difficult. Their ways are very different from ours.”
“If your goal here is to get me to stop doing this, you’re not going to achieve it,” Imogen tells Karax. “If your goal is to teach me something that can help me be more stable, then I will listen to you. But I don’t want to hear any of this ‘you terrans just can do it’ talk.”
“I just wanted to offer you a word of caution. My advice would be to stop doing it. The problem isn’t that you can’t. The problem is that you can. But controlling it is very difficult.”
This sets Imogen off again. “Damn straight I can. And I will. And I’ll do it right.”
Karax’s eyes pulse brighter with alarm. “Yes, uh, I will say no more.”
“And I don’t need your help anyway, because I already have a teacher.”
Karax gapes at her, as much as someone without a mouth can. “You would learn from Malorn? A tal’darim?”
“I’ve learned from crazier sources.” No way is Imogen going to mention Blight here, though.
“I fear your sanity may already be cracking,” Karax mutters.
“Well, that didn’t stop Selendis from teaching me,” Imogen offers in rebuttal. Maybe name-dropping an authority figure from his own settlement will help him see Imogen as more than just a floundering terran.
Karax chooses his words carefully. “Selendis is a templar, a master of such things. It is her decision.” One he is not allowed to question. Still, he makes one more attempt to justify his position. “And perhaps at the time, you were not as you are now.”
Imogen narrows her eyes at him. “And what am I now?”
“You sound dangerous.”
“That’s because you’re easy to scare; you’re not a warrior. Now fix my damn door, like you promised.”