That night, Imogen also receives a video-enabled call, but hers comes from an unrecognized number. The image is fuzzy at first. When it comes into focus, she recognizes the protoss from the refinery that she thinks of as the lead templar. His eyes glow slightly, tinged red, and his long face, the standard protoss layout of just two eyes with no nose or mouth, is wrinkly. He has no hair, but some sort of short tentacles hang off the back of his head. She does not know enough about protoss biology to tell whether he is injured. Certainly there was a lot of chaos and fighting last time she saw him, back on Brontes IV.
“I had hoped to never talk to another terran again,” he begins disdainfully, “but my brethren have forced my hand. For being captured by terrans, I have been cast out of my society. So I’m going to get revenge.”
What an opener! “On the terrans or on your society?” Imogen asks hesitantly, not sure where this is headed.
“On my people… or what were my people. On the slaves of the tal’darim. And you’re going to help me.”
“Whoa, I don’t think I owe you that much, to go to war with the protoss on your behalf.” Sure, he and his fellow prisoners helped create an enormous distraction at the Rose mining encampment that enabled Lilly to get the other slaves out, but they got their own freedom, too.
“Do you want some petty bargain?” he demands, voice dripping with scorn. “Is that what you’re looking for?” This terran was keenly asking about terrazine, back in the refinery. Something about it sparked her attention, and it is not much of an inference to conclude that she has some potential. “You have some primitive capabilities. Those will be of assistance,” he allows.
“I’m not denying that I want to learn how to use them, but taking out a whole people is not a good deal,” Imogen insists.
“It’s not an entire people we need to take out, and trust me, if there was a people worth taking out, it would be my people. I don’t know what protoss you’re familiar with, but I am—was a member of the tal’darim, the Death Fleet.” His voice is a mix of pride, anger, and shame. “We ourselves were cast out of protoss society eons ago, but we formed our own society, a better, stronger, tougher society. One that doesn’t deal in such petty foreign affairs as terrans or other protoss or zerg when we can avoid them.” He narrows in on the focus of his plan so that this terran will understand. “No, we just need to remove the ascendant in front of me. If I can kill her in the appropriate ritual, I can ascend and rejoin my brethren.”
Imogen saw an incapacitated person shot at point-blank range today. That is not what she signed up for with FRAWD, and it is not the kind of thing she wishes to pursue in side-jobs. “I’m not an assassin!” she exclaims.
“Well good, because you have to make sure not to kill her. I have to kill her in the appropriate ritual. You will be expressly forbidden from assaulting her during this action. She and her team are going to liberate some piece of technology that your Dominion has laid hands on. You have some ties to this Dominion; you can assist me in getting access to this facility.”
Imogen remains speechless. So much for his talk of wanting revenge on this group; he just wants back in, and in a spectacular way. But he does not seem to see the contradiction in this, based on his response.
“Is it power you seek?” he presses her. “I can show you power.”
“I don’t seek it at the cost of my soul,” Imogen insists.
“I’m not bargaining with your primitive soul,” he replies dismissively. “Look, your Dominion scientists have seized protoss weaponry. They’re trying to study it. They are going to hurt themselves—if they’re lucky, that’s all that will happen. My… associate will liberate it and turn it on your kind. I suggest that we liberate it and eliminate her. Then our peoples can continue to live in ignorant peace, not bothering each other.”
It sounds like buried under all this scorn and revenge, there might be a credible threat here that needs to be dealt with. “So you expect this ascendant to recover whatever weaponry the Dominion took and then use it to kill terrans?” Imogen asks.
“I did not wish to go into the entire politics of the tal’darim—”
Frustrated, Imogen cuts him off. “Well, you’re going to have to tell me something to make me think this is a good idea to help you with, ‘cause just helping you kill somebody—”
“Again, I do not need your help—”
“—is not a bargain I’m willing to make.”
Malorn has been issuing orders, expecting this inferior terran to just fall in line. He has never sought to understand terrans, considering them beneath his concern. But now he begins to see some value in figuring out how they think, if for no other reason than to make himself understood. He begins slowly, “The tal’darim is a very martial society. If you, in a ritualistic fashion, kill the person in front of you, you take their place. I was cast out from society. If I want to get back in, I need to take their place in this fashion. Problem: I am cast out; I am not welcome on our worlds anymore. So it is very difficult to get there to achieve my aim. But I know that this tal’darim, the ninth ascendant, Lendasha, has a mission to recover the technology that terrans have stolen—from other protoss, not from us, I admit. She is going to recover it from a Dominion science facility. If we can intercept her there, we can interrupt the acquisition of this technology and stop her.” He is in full-on lecture mode now.
“Why does this matter to a terran? Because Lendasha will use the weapon to further ascend the chain of tal’darim succession, and she is loyal to the High Ascendant, who has been pushing for more aggressive means of dealing with terrans. They feel terrans have been encroaching on our ancestral lands. They have some religious convictions,” he says scornfully, “about certain worlds that need protecting. I think they’re doped up on terrazine, if you ask me. They hold the very gas to be sacred.” For once, the disgust in his voice is directed at protoss instead of terrans. “But the ritual is clear: I must be the one to kill her in ritual combat. That itself will be for another day. Right now, we just need to stop her from getting this weapon. Then we can find another way to draw her out.”
Imogen considers. “So let’s say you get back in. Will you be less inclined to stomp out terrans than your associate?”
“That is correct, if you must put it that way. I find terrans to be,” he searches for the right word, “annoying. I don’t want to deal with them. That I am forced to deal with you is incredibly frustrating. But frankly, it’s not worth killing terrans—more will just pop up—and I will certainly not go out of my way to do it. If you dare encroach on our space, then you deserve death. But for an example of the foolishness of the tal’darim, the High Ascendant has recently hardened protections of a planet that is only months away from being enveloped by its own sun, a pointless, ritualistic world. Let it burn, I say, just let it burn. But he is concerned that terrans will go there to hunt for ancient protoss technology.”
“So… what are you going to do for me if I help you with this?” Imogen finally asks.
“You have primitive untrained abilities. I suspect you attempted to activate the psi-gauntlet but were unable to do so. I can show you how to tap into those powers in a more controlled fashion,” he begrudgingly offers.
“Did you send me that?”
“I arranged to have it sent to you when my brethren rescued me.”
Imogen is shocked. Nothing this protoss has said so far would ever have led her to believe he would bestow protoss technology on a terran. “Why would you do such a thing?”
“Because my colleague who used to have it, the one who became a slave to terrazine, he did not deserve it anymore. So in truth, I did it to slight him. Consider it a prank, that his psi-gauntlet was given to a terran. What greater embarrassment is there? But if you are strong enough, I could show you how to wield it. And if you cut your head off, it’s your own fault.”
Those are terms Imogen can agree to. “All right.”
“I have encountered some of your ghosts in the past. They thought they were psionically strong. They were not. No ghost can stand up to a high templar.”
This fella needs to be knocked down a few rungs if we’re actually going to work together. “So how did you get captured?” she asks.
“I will only say it was on another pointless mission for the high lord, defending something that did not need defending. I put the blame purely on him. Perhaps one day I will challenge him in Rakshir. But he is powerful. I will need more help than two terrans to ritualistically assault him.”
“Do you have some sort of time frame?”
“I’m still sorting out when Lendasha is going to strike. I suspect she is waiting for a signal of when the facility will likely be weakest. Is there a time when you can arrange for yourselves to be there?”
That depends on a lot. “What planet is this?”
“It will be on Korhal.”
That is both good and bad news. “We’ll probably be back there in a week or so,” Imogen tells him.
“I think I can manipulate things on my end for two weeks to be reasonable.” He gives her the address of the facility. It is an astronomy and optics research station on the outskirts of Augustgrad. Then he narrows his eyes. “I suppose I should thank you for… working… with me,” he says reluctantly.
Imogen has grown weary of his attitude. “You didn’t thank us for getting you out of that refinery, so why start now?”
“Very well. I suppose you at least are not inhibited like ghosts are, nor do you believe you are already powerful, so you have that going for you,” he says, attempting to be more gracious. But then he warns her, “Lendasha is a powerful bloodhunter. Those like her are permanently cloaked, obscured from regular sight, so they are difficult to catch and capture. But I am sure with your assistance,” he allows, “we will find sufficient resources.”
“And if we’re going to work together, I’d like to know what to call you, I would.”
He deigns to give her his name, Malorn, and agrees to her request to meet up in advance of the raid for planning purposes. ”What will your associate require for her…. assistance?” He is still struggling to admit that he needs their help.
“Probably credits would be useful,” Imogen suggests, “or some sort of sweet rifle.” Lilly had remarked a bit sadly that she did not think she would be able to afford any of the custom jobs available on this planet.
“Hmmm… perhaps we can promise her the weapon that is contained in this very facility,” Malorn suggests.
Imogen is shocked again. He does not have the excuse of embarrassing a colleague this time. “Didn’t you say this is some sort of protoss weapon?”
“It is, but it is not a tal’darim weapon. We were going to reverse engineer it—”
“But you’re okay giving it to some terran instead?”
“In this case, it is denying it to the high lord.”
Ah, so just sticking it to someone he does not like again. Malorn had described this high lord as quite powerful, though, so Imogen is still cautious about the proposed payment. “And you don’t think he’d come after us for it?”
“I think his hands are rather full, and the more full I can make his hands, the better.”
“All right,” Imogen formally agrees. “I’ll talk it over with Lilly.”
“Thank… you,” the protoss grinds out.
“Good job,” Imogen says sourly as Malorn closes the connection.