There are a few moments of silence as Imogen and Malorn both look up from the psi-gauntlet and at each other with new understanding. Malorn sees now that this quest for understanding of psionics is what drove Imogen into her self-imposed exile. This is her main motivator, and he will never get her to give it up just by brushing her off.
Imogen is the one to break the silence. “You didn’t teach me how to do that,” she says, settling down next to him on the bench.
“Now I see your pursuit of power is commendable.” Malorn dips his head in approval.
“It’s a pursuit of capability,” Imogen quibbles.
“You would view it through that lens, wouldn’t you?” Malorn says. “You gave up everything you knew to find this knowledge.”
“I gave up everything I knew to know myself better,” she reframes it.
“Was it worth it?”
Imogen reflects for a moment. If I had been on Umoja, could I have stopped Aiden from his crazy scheme? I would have been there to rein him in. Maybe. He was the risk-taker. She considers herself courageous but Aiden reckless. That is not a distinction he would necessarily agree with. “That question hasn’t been answered yet,” Imogen tells Malorn, “whether it was worth it or not.”
“That is a wise answer.”
“And I see that your whole life has been directed at one thing: making that blade redder.”
“Another symptom of my people,” Malorn comments. “Killing is the only thing we know, the only way to stave off madness.”
Imogen sighs. “You must know more than that.” She pushes back her sleeve to reveal her own psi-gauntlet. “I don’t believe you gave me this just as an investment for future favors. You must have an interest in something other than… tal’darim-ness.”
“Well, I did,” Malorn says sourly, thinking of Lendasha. “But I don’t anymore. I suppose you are saying I have a capacity for interest in something other than murder.”
“Aye. Maybe you could develop some hobbies. Or get a job,” Imogen suggests.
The very concept seems foreign to Malorn. “What? Agree to be someone else’s servant?”
“No! Employee or partner. You’re not from Aiur; don’t think in castes,” Imogen says, chiding him teasingly. “You’re still a denizen of this sector. If you’re going to operate in it, jobs are how people tend to pay for things. If you want something, that requires credits. And the most common way to get credits is to work jobs. Maybe right now you can’t even fathom the concept of wanting something—because what you most wanted, it turns out you don’t. But there is more to life than just what we used to understand. And, unfortunately, credits are the way to get by until you sort that out. Or, if for nothing else, to get a beer. Lilly can’t be the only one keeping you in drink.”
“Do your people pay well for killers?”
“You don’t just have to kill things. Physical strength can do more than that.”
“I will not be some laborer, lifting things.” Scorn drips off Malorn’s description of that occupation.
“Fine. If you’re looking to still be a fighting man, aye, mercenaries are a thing. I don’t know if there are any of your fellow protoss who have left their people behind and gone on to join a company, but I don’t see why it couldn’t be done. I know at least one nerazim has done some work with Raynor’s Raiders. Do you know any nerazim? What are your views on them?”
“I of course know no nerazim. They stalk the shadows. They are a boogeyman to all protoss.”
Imogen shrugs dismissively. “That’s what you said about bloodhunters, too. Constantly cloaked, etcetera.”
“Bloodhunters are a shadow of a shadow,” Malorn states cryptically. At Imogen’s look of confusion, he elaborates, “The nerazim are the first shadow. Bloodhunters are just an imitation of that shadow. Supposedly the nerazim now work with the Aiur protoss. I presume they just made some new caste for them and stuffed them into their box.”
“Look, if you don’t want anything to do with protoss, I understand,” Imogen tells him. “We’ve got a friend who is starting up a small mercenary company. Maybe that’s a place for you. You could at least try it out, see if you like that kind of work.” Malorn mulls that over. No decisions have to be permanent at this point. “He doesn’t have a ship of his own,” Imogen goes on, “so right now he just takes jobs that provide transportation but—”
“So he needs a driver, in fact, is what you are getting at,” Malorn growls, disdain for another trade in his voice.
“No. I’m not belittling you in that fashion,” Imogen assures him, delicately navigating around his biases. Lilly certainly would not see anything wrong with being a driver, and neither does she, personally. “I’m suggesting that you might be able to open up new avenues of work for him. That would make you a more attractive partner.” With the idea presented, she sits back and lets Malorn talk himself into it.
“Yes, I would be more of a commander. Leading from the front, of course. I could use a terran face as part of my organization…”
“Aye, just like you use us. Just remember, this isn’t a done deal,” Imogen cautions. “We still need to sound him out.” She tells Malorn about how he has actually already met Durian, the terran in question, during the DORF job.
Malorn remembers that caper as a time of great victory, but he has wasted no brain cells on the hired help of his hired help that day. “I do not remember individual terrans unless they are particularly grating. He must not have been terribly irritating. Very well.”
“I’ll have Lilly sound him out,” Imogen tells him. “And either way this goes, we can give you a lift back to Dead Man’s Rock where your ship is before we go see Selendis.”
“As per our initial agreement, yes.”
Imogen laughs. As if we had an agreement about returning him to his ship when essentially we kidnapped him off that planet! But she voices no objections. Malorn has been through a rough patch—is still getting through a rough patch—and she will allow him to rewrite this narrative to soothe his pride. They watch the rest of the sunset in companionable silence until Old Red speeds into the compound trailing dust across the landscape.