Author's Note: Hey guys, I'm back with a new chapter. This one may look a little filler, but it'll foreshadow things to come later. With the major battles on Aiur ended, it's now time to pick up the pieces and move to the next objective.
In the last chapter, Blackhole1 had said that the Mira I showed in my fic seems very different from the Mira shown in Wings of Liberty. I did this for the following reason:
When we think of mercenaries, we usually think space pirates and such. However, despite their role as freedom fighters, technically the Raiders themselves are mercenaries as well. And as we have all seen in games, films, books, and media, not every mercenary is just someone who doesn't care about anything except the money.
This was something I had already explained all the way back in chapter 17, for those of you who forgot, take a look at it and you'll see.
The point here is that I for one believe that there has to be more mercenaries out there in the Koprulu Sector with less than savage intentions. They don't have to be as noble as the Raiders, but mercenaries are still people, which means even they have to have moral and ethic codes, and that is a bridge I intend to cross later.
For now, I hope you guys enjoy this chapter. Please read and review and I'll see you next time.
Raiders Base, Aiur
Dr. Hanson walked out of the patients room, sighing in frustration. Stubbornness was not just a human trait after all. Although the casualties had not been as appalling as it could have been, the number of wounded remained extremely high and many of the terran medics were being overwhelmed with treating them. There was a severe shortage of the Stabilizer Medpacks, a new generation of medical nanobots that heal faster and could be injected more rapidly. They were every bit as useful in terms of treating wounded soldiers both on and off the battlefield, and virtually none of the terran wounded had any objections to it when they were lucky enough to get their hands on one.
The problem didn't lie with the terrans, of course. Her frustration was with the sheer stubbornness of the Protoss. Despite the fact that some of them had given her access to anti-zerg nanites on Haven, that only turned out to be a very small portion of the total. Most of the other Protoss warriors were deeply skeptical of terran technology and did not believe in their ability to facilitate in healing their wounds.
She couldn't understand why. According to Jim, the Protoss had the purity of form and did not possess the accelerated healing rate like the Zerg. Although they still healed faster than their terran counterparts, Ariel couldn't understand they saw the concept of seeking treatment from wounds in battle as foreign to them. Perhaps it was their pride that had prevented this, in which case that would fit in quite well with Jim's explanation of why Aiur had fallen to the Zerg swarm four years ago. Clearly they had been too stubborn to admit their battle tactics weren't working.
Even so, from what she had seen and heard, after everything that had happened to them, Ariel seriously wondered why the Protoss were still so reluctant to change their ways. Their viewpoint of the terrans as a whole had improved slightly, but for the most part it only seemed to be regarding Jim and maybe some selected few others. With the exception of only a few Protoss, it would seem that they still view the terran race as racially inferior to their own. Jim had explained that this was the same view they had taken when the Protoss first encountered the Zerg, and it had completely backfired on them. As he pointed out quite well, the first rule in warfare is never to underestimate your opponent. Otherwise, such arrogance and prideful thinking would be the end of you.
Many of the Protoss warriors had grown to respect the terran weaponry on the battlefield, as it had assisted them in clearing the Zerg infestation, but the majority still felt it was they who had done all the work. This was perhaps understandable, as the number of Protoss on Aiur greatly outnumber the terrans, but Jim had told her this was exactly how some Protoss felt about their last great battle on Aiur. Despite his services to the Protoss in helping them defeat the Zerg Overmind, even today many Protoss warriors still feel the terran assistance did little more than speed up their progress. After all, it was the Protoss energies that had destroyed the Overmind, Raynor's Raiders had nothing to do with that.
Still, the Protoss weren't completely blind. Almost all of them acknowledged that had it not been for Raynor's victory on Char, they wouldn't be celebrating the defeat of the Zerg forces on Aiur today. All that remained was to hunt down the scattered remnants, and Aiur would be theirs again.
Yet despite all this, Ariel could see many of them felt uncomfortable about Raynor. Like herself, the Protoss too knew about his deep feelings towards Kerrigan. As much as she hated to admit it, they had a point about the former Queen of Blades exploiting the commander's weakness. She had read enough romance novels to know when a man is deeply in love yet was blind to admit it, and Jim had displayed more than enough of those signs every time she had seen his crew speak to him about Kerrigan. But she also knew that love makes a person do some extremely crazy things, and if they backfired, the pain would be even worse. Ariel knew Jim was a good man after he had saved her people on Haven, and she didn't want to see him get hurt again.
"Dr. Hanson," Sarah greeted, walking up to her.
"Glad to see you here, Sarah," Ariel greeted back. "I could use some relief after dealing with so much Protoss stubbornness after the battle. They seem to have a severe pride problem, too proud to even seek my medical treatment."
"It's not that," Kerrigan assured. "It's more of how they view us as a whole."
"Us?" Ariel asked, confused.
"Us as in female terrans. You have to understand, they have encountered plenty of male terrans ever since they met humanity for the first time. During that time, they have gained quite a bit of experience about them. The major experience came from Jim and his crew, and it gave the Protoss impression that most male terrans are honorable and trustworthy. On the other hand, other than myself, their experience with female terrans is virtually nonexistent, and you know how bad a legacy I had given them."
"That wasn't really you though," Dr. Hanson pointed out. "Sarah, why can't you let this go? I agree with Jim and Nova that you were never the Queen of Blades to begin with. Why must you keep torturing yourself over that?"
Sarah shook her head. "That's because all these years it had been something Jim had wanted to believe. The truth is, he had no concrete evidence that I couldn't have done those horrible atrocities of my own free will. The Protoss were right about that, telling him he couldn't prove what he wanted to believe, and I don't blame them one bit."
"Well it's not like the Protoss can prove the other way either," Ariel countered.
"You spent enough time on the Hyperion before Jim dropped you off at Haven and invaded Char," Sarah said softly. "During that time, I'm sure you had heard plenty about me and Jim, either by him or by his crew."
"Except his crew's perspective was rather limited. Jim told me he formed the Raiders after the Zerg invasion of Tarsonis, where he lost you. Most of his crew has virtually no knowledge of what you were like before the Queen of Blades took over, only Jim had that. Yet just about every time I tried to raise the matter with him, he kept it short, saying he didn't want to talk about it."
"I don't blame him. Those memories are very painful to bring to the surface. It was among the reasons why you saw him drink so much. He had hoped the alcohol could be used to bury his sorrows in."
"It made no progress at all," Ariel explained. "I saw him in the Cantina drinking it all away after collecting the artifact piece on Monlyth and helping the Möebius Foundation researchers on Tyrador VIII, both cases where he had much closer encounters with you."
Sarah looked down in guilt. "And I'm sure most of his crew had told him that I wasn't worth the pain he was bringing on himself."
"Maybe so, but I'm not like his crew members," Dr. Hanson replied. "I could tell he needed you more than anything. When he had been informed that artifact might be able to de-infest you, he told me he couldn't care less who offered him the deal to go to Char and take on the Queen of Blades, as long as it could stop the Zerg invasion. Deep down, we all knew what he really meant was that as long as he got you back he could care less what happened afterward, but he just wouldn't admit it to us."
"Regardless, with all the Dominion troops now part of the Raiders, along with all the prisoners we freed from New Folsom, Jim is going to have a really hard time trying to convince them about me. He might have convinced you, he might have convinced Nova, but from there on out it's going to be an uphill struggle. And I don't even expect him to win it," Sarah said quietly.
"Give it time," Ariel said. "I don't believe they'll hold it against you forever. They'll learn to trust you sooner or later, and that's when they'll forgive you."
"I already saw it in their eyes when I went to go see the wounded in the hospital wards," Kerrigan said glumly. "I could see it in their eyes, even the troops that were part of Jim's Raiders before the Zerg invasion are still terrified of me. I didn't even have to read their minds to see their fear. They're completely scared out of their pants of what they think I will do to them, and the Zerg blood in me only adds to that fear."
"But you haven't shown any signs of any behavior that even comes close to what the Queen of Blades did," Ariel protested.
"I was extremely deceptive and manipulative when I was her. I warped the mind of the Protoss Dark Templar Matriarch Raszagal and forced Zeratul to kill her," Sarah said miserably. "That was among the worst things I had ever done. I manipulated the entire Protoss race just to feed my lust for power. I betrayed Jim during the Brood War, and hundreds of his Raiders were killed as a result of that betrayal. It should come as no surprise that most of his crew would have told you that his feelings towards me had clearly clouded his judgment."
"And he continued to insist there was good in you even during your time with the Zerg," Dr. Hanson replied. "From what I see, Jim was right on that part, and his reasons for never having given up on you have clearly been vindicated."
"Maybe to you, but I just don't see it that way. I know I have to earn the trust of people beyond him, but even if I earned the trust of everyone in his Raiders, it doesn't mean I will for Warfield's Dominion battle group. And it certainly won't work when it comes to the Protoss, not by a long shot."
"You went to face their council and they didn't kill you right then and there," Ariel pointed out.
"Because of the Xel'Naga prophecy," Sarah replied bitterly. "All that means to them is they can't cut my head off just yet. And the longer this goes on before I have to do my part, the angrier they're going to get."
"You're making up for what the Queen of Blades did to them, can't they see that?" Ariel frowned deeply. Didn't the Protoss believe in redemption at all?
"Nothing I do can redeem myself in their eyes. And for that matter I don't see that happening with the terrans either. How do you redeem yourself for killing 8 billion human beings?"
"From what Jim told me about that prophecy, everyone in the universe is counting on you," Dr. Hanson explained. "I agree with what Jim said about fighting for the living, and that's something you've been doing ever since you recovered. You fought alongside the Protoss just now to kill the Zerg on Aiur, doesn't that mean anything to them?"
"Yeah, that I'm trying to get them to lower their guard about me so that I can betray them later," Sarah replied in frustration. "Trust me Dr. Hanson, after what I did to them, there is no hope of redemption. Even if by some miracle I can save their entire race, it won't change their minds one bit. All you have to do is watch the events unfold and you'll see exactly what I mean."
With a heavy sigh the red haired ghost turned around and walked away. Ariel watched as Kerrigan rounded the corner and disappeared, before letting out her breath, deeply frustrated. Jim had told her that most of the Protoss are supposed to be rational, but she didn't know if that would apply in Sarah's case, or if their emotions would get the better of them. She prayed it would be the former.
The Dominion engineers saluted as General Madison walked up to greet them. "Sir, you shouldn't have come here by yourself. The journey is too dangerous for you to travel alone and the Protoss could have easily killed you along the way."
"With so few soldiers left, there's no such thing as anyone who would be risk free anymore," the general replied. "We all have to stick our necks out into the line of fire. If things get ugly, I wouldn't be surprised if I have to put rifles in the hands of SCV pilots, staff officers, and even medics just to hold the Protoss off."
"You think it could come to that, sir?" An engineer asked, worried.
"Until the scanner sweeps can determine a better picture of the Observers' search patterns, it's impossible to tell. I can only sincerely hope it's not going to come down to further bloodshed," Madison explained.
The engineer sighed in frustration. It wasn't the answer he wanted, but he knew it was as close to as optimistic answer as he was going to get. That didn't make it any easier on him though. If the general was willing to arm such units with guns should the bullets fly, he had no doubt that he and the rest of the engineers would have to be ready for battle as well. In fact, for them it would be even more likely, as the engineers had to venture out towards the frontlines far more often with the marines, Marauders, Firebats, and Reapers. During the Zerg invasion, there were the occasional times where they had to be called upon to provide light fire support for the Dominion infantry while reinforcements were inbound.
Unfortunately, despite the fact that they were technically designated combat engineers, it did not make them combat seasoned soldiers with the rest of the infantrymen. While there was no doubt that many of them had gained combat experience in fighting the Zerg, there were just as many who were quickly killed by the vicious creatures due to their initial lack of experience on the battlefield.
In this case, the situation was far worse. As the Dominion was technically not at war with the Protoss, there have been much fewer cases of Dominion and Protoss forces battling it out. As such, battle tactics developed when it came to fighting them were more based on theory than practice, and that tended to make a huge difference while on the battlefield itself. In many cases, these turned out to be fatal mistakes.
"How is the disassembly of the amplifiers coming along?" Madison asked.
"We're almost done here," one of the engineers answered. "We are getting some transport to load the equipment onto, aren't we?"
"Of course. I told my boys to have the Vultures come to your location once I arrive. They should be here in a few minutes. They weren't meant for military equipment loading, but the ore loader cargo vehicles simply make too much noise and that could risk us being detected by the Protoss. The Vulture hoverbike's engine on the other hand is much quieter and it'll improve our chances of getting to the new terrazine altars unnoticed."
"It's a start," the engineer answered.
Madison could sense the gloom and frustration in his voice. "Well, we have a few minutes. Care to tell me what's on your mind, soldier?"
"Do you really think any of us are going to get out of here alive, general? We haven't been spotted by the Protoss, so that's good, but we're still not even close to finishing the terrazine collecting. We can't even use our radios because they could intercept our transmissions and pinpoint our location."
"The emperor has barely sent us any reinforcements," another engineer added bitterly. "From what you said, he didn't even send us much ammunition if we have to fight. What does he expect us to do, fight the Protoss with just combat knives and our bare hands? We wouldn't last a heartbeat that way."
The general had to admit his engineers had a point. Was Mengsk so confident that he could get him the terrazine canisters from under the nose of the Protoss that he refused to even consider otherwise?
"The emperor is going through a very rough time right now," Madison said finally. "The riots on the Dominion worlds may have been virtually all put down, but the tensions still remain."
"And you're surprised by this? Me and most of the engineering team have been arguing why we're still serving the emperor ever since we landed on Redstone III."
General Madison was taken aback. It would seem to him that the Dominion engineers were considering mutiny. Then again, such behavioral actions was not unexpected. The Dominion marines were mostly murdering psychopaths, taken from the high security prisons and sent into the penal system, where they underwent neural resocialization. On the other hand, the Dominion engineers didn't work that way. They had a far greater knowledge of military technology and as such, their backgrounds tended not to be of criminal origins. There were of course still some engineers that had criminal backgrounds, but a great deal of them did not require the neural resocialization process to be kept in check.
The side effect to the lack of the resocialization process however is that without it, people tend to speak their minds more openly. Normally this is kept in check by the fear of facing the firing squads, but blind obedience to the emperor was not something that occurred at the higher military levels. After the Korhal broadcasts and other high ranking Dominion officers somewhat questioning the emperor, there was a very real risk the whole of the Dominion infrastructure could be turned upside down. And unlike Mengsk, Madison knew that simply avoiding these questions and expecting the Dominion officers to just blindly obey orders would not make the problem fade away. Rather, it would simply cause everything to escalate further.
"General, you have to look at this way," another engineer spoke up. "We all know the emperor had given us the mining missions on Redstone III as well as here to help him. But he didn't say anything more specific than that."
"There are some things that are not meant to be specified right away," Madison explained.
"True, but after all the casualties we've suffered through, even you have to want answers."
"That's true," the general admitted. "I spoke to Mengsk about this, and he promised that once we collect the terrazine canisters for him, he'll inform me of the details. Once I get them, I'll let you know."
"Something tells me the details aren't going to be anything you like to hear," the engineer grumbled. "I'm betting he kept things vague for us because the main benefits are going to go to him, not us."
"He did say he was trying to secure his throne position after what Raynor pulled off on Korhal," Madison conceded.
"And what about us? We're his people! Does he even care what happens to us?" the engineer asked angrily.
"Well obviously he has to. The Dominion is nothing without the people in it. Mengsk wouldn't be stupid enough to abandon us."
"The public doesn't seem to see it that way, sir. You heard the news reports just like we did. The public thinks he's only looking out for himself. Everyone else is a distant second."
"What do you think then?" Madison pressed. "You think Mengsk would really do that to us?"
The Dominion engineer sighed. "All I know is that when the going gets extremely rough, it shows a person's true character. After the broadcasts on Korhal and his son's broadcasts praising Raynor of the Char invasion, the emperor's popularity is at an all time low. When a man gets desperate, he may sink to new lows to get back on top."
"He's got a point, sir," another engineer spoke up. "If this entire mining operation is part of the emperor's plan to reaffirm his throne, once we get the goods to him we will have outlived our usefulness and he may choose to have us killed so we can't tell anyone else about it."
"I'm one of the top Dominion generals," Madison stated. "Mengsk would never kill off such a skilled officer."
"Ok fine, maybe you aren't expendable, but what about the rest of us?"
"Mengsk won't do it," the general assured. "He needs all the support he can get right now, my gut feeling is he's going to try to stay on the good side of people."
At this point, a few Vultures emerged from the jungle's dense foliage. "General, we are ready to begin the transport of the amplifier equipment," the drivers announced.
Madison nodded to his engineers. "We can talk more about this another time. For the time being, we buck up and finish the terrazine collecting here."
Dominion Command BattleCruiser, High Orbit Over Tarsonis
"Colonel Kim, we have arrived," the skipper announced. "The Dominion ships are now holding in high orbit over Tarsonis."
"How long before we're ready to head to the planet's surface?" Kim asked.
"I'd say 24 hours, give or take."
"Make it sooner," the colonel ordered. "I want this operation to go quickly and smoothly."
"You don't have to worry about a thing. There's no sign of terran ships from other factions near here," the skipper said calmly.
"I'm not taking any chances. The train salvaging operation was based on such thinking and look how well that turned out. Once we go down there, I want our base set up as quickly as possible, along with all the perimeter defenses. I don't want any nasty surprises coming to us and ruining the operation."
"This is a secret salvaging operation, no one knows about it but the emperor and us."
"Rule of thumb: never underestimate your enemy. The Dominion salvage teams that dug up that Confederate adjutant were too cocky in their thinking, and the result was Raynor and his Raiders killed a huge chunk of them on Tarsonis only weeks ago."
"We're better prepared compared to the Dominion salvage teams previously," the skipper pointed out. "Raynor only succeeded last time due to hit and run tactics. The forces we have at our disposal will ensure that doesn't work. Besides, you're acting like the second we hit the surface, he and his Raider terrorists will show up right away. They may not even show up to Tarsonis at all."
"Maybe not," Kim agreed. "But it makes no difference whether he shows up or not. This isn't some archeological dig we're here for. We're going to be excavating military secrets that once belonged to the Confederacy. The Dominion is in a pretty rough position right now, so we have to do our part to patch things up."
She turned to the logistics officer. "Accelerate the preparations. I want our forces to be down on Tarsonis's surface as soon as possible."