The day after his surgery, Malorn is burdened with a contraption described to him as a mobile intravenous drip. Apparently his terran medic does not believe him fully capable of absorbing all the moisture he needs to replenish his blood from the miserably dry atmosphere of this loathsome planet. As a result, he is forced to drag around a pole with a bag of saline suspended from the top.
Imogen finds him out on the porch at sunset, watching the red sky slowly fade to purple. “So, do you need anything to maintain the sparkling quality of your blood?” she asks. “There was something in yours that wasn’t in Karax’s. Do I need to be worried that some other vital component is lacking for your recovery? Do you need special ‘food’?” She throws air quotes around the last word to forestall any semantic nitpicking about how he gets his nourishment.
“I don’t need special anything,” Malorn mutters. Raising his voice, he tells her, “I just need to remain strong. And not become weak like him. I’m still a warrior.”
“Is that blood component related to your warrior status?” Imogen asks, unsure of whether Malorn’s comments were purely philosophical or also physiological.
“As I have told you, tal’darim society is not an inefficient, ridiculous caste system. Anyone who has the strength can rise. I had the strength… for a time.” Malorn grinds out the words of his shame. “Until I was… kicked out.”
“You were still plenty strong when we were assaulting Jackson’s Revenge,” Imogen reminds him.
“Of course. But the nature of my blood is determined by my strength, not by what I ‘eat.’ Or what color of light I imbibe.”
Imogen has spent some time today doing more analysis on Malorn’s blood and referencing additional documents from Li. Protoss activities have a strange amount of influence over their physiology. The same is true for terrans to some extent; if one works out all the time, one’s heart will get stronger. But for protoss, the chemical contents of their blood behaves like a muscle or organ that reacts to their training. “So, do you need me to rig you up a backpack for that IV so that you can still go for jogs, or what?” she asks.
“I don’t need exercise,” Malorn growls. “I need…” His voice drifts off.
“You need a purpose?” Imogen suggests gently.
Malorn realizes he cannot hide this from his interrogator. “Yes,” he seethes. “Okay? I cannot rejoin tal’darim society. I realize this now.”
“Well, how mad are you? Do you want to drag them down? Or do you just want to be done with them?”
Malorn ponders the question. “I don’t know that they can be defeated,” he finally says. “It would be pointless to fight them.”
“You don’t think the Aiur protoss would ever be able to take them down?”
“There was a time when they could have, yes. But now they are far too weak, their numbers too few, their spirit too… squishy.”
Imogen chuckles at the highly technical term. “I believe you’ve suggested in the past that not all tal’darim are like-minded, though. Do you know others of your former folk who would want to join you in dealing with this?”
“I’ve known a few who are still part of the structure who would change some things, but not everything. Mainly, they seek power for themselves—which I respect, but I would not find allies there. Allies do not exist in tal’darim society.”
“Could they exist among the Aiur protoss, though?”
“Perhaps. Is there a caste of only allies who help people out?” Imogen laughs at Malorn’s snark. “I do not fit into their little caste system.”
“Do you think they would have more of a chance against the tal’darim if they knew some of the things that you know?” Imogen asks. She has no opinion on whether he should pursue this line or not; she just wants him to see the options.
Malorn grows thoughtful again, but then he turns sharply to Imogen. “What, did those fools from Aiur put you up to this? You know you can’t trust them. They look upon you no better than they look upon me.”
Imogen rolls her eyes. “Malorn, they look upon me, no better than you look upon me.”
“I look upon everyone with suspicion.”
“I’ve learned as much from them as I’ve learned from you,” Imogen shoots back.
That assertion gets Malorn’s attention. “What have they deigned to teach you that you think is useful?”
“Give me your psi-gauntlet,” Imogen orders, holding out a hand for the device.
“Fine, show me,” Malorn says dismissively. There is no way Aiur protoss have made this terran into a warrior. He slides the gauntlet off his forearm and holds it out to Imogen.
“You’ve imbued this psi-gauntlet with memories, just like the one you gave me was imbued with the memories of the Aiur protoss who wielded it before,” Imogen says as she lays her hand on it. Then she opens her mind to the weapon, primarily to demonstrate her capabilities to Malorn, but also to gain whatever insight she can about him.