"Lord Vader, we're coming out of hyperspace… Lord Vader?" The imperial officer's voice shook Vader out of his meditation.
"Intriguing". Force potential, but shaped in a different way than he had ever felt before. None of the potential he had felt was very strong, with even the highest of their force signatures being less than a quarter of his own. However, the fact that he could feel hundreds of them on the surface of the planet they were now near… interesting. None of them even noticed his subtle probing, though he could sense a few of the more canny and trained grow at unease.
They sensed his power, and they feared him. As they should.
Vader realized the officer was still waiting on his orders.
"Inform me of your sensor readings, Commander." Vader said simply.
"We appear to be near at least ten different massive ships. All of them over a kilometer long. They appear to be using inefficient fusion drives… All of them are unshielded, but possess a complement of plasma-based laser batteries. Some nuclear missiles, as well."
"Do they appear to be a threat?"
"...No, Lord Vader. Their battery complements are inferior to ours, and their laser systems are low level for a capital ship. They might be able to beat a single star destroyer together, but not the whole fleet." The commander said after some thought.
"And the planet? Korhal?"
"Desert world from our scans. It appears to have advanced industrialization and a population in the billions. Evidence of terraforming and nuclear fallout."
Vader pondered this. So the locals still used nuclear missiles - a commodity now banned in the empire. Most yields attained by the empire were considered relatively useless in the current era of combat - their destructive capacity had been surpassed and their radiation fallout, while useful in the short-term for area denial, was too prone to unintentionally making areas uninhabitable. Areas potentially rich in natural resources and other useful commodities in the empire.
Another voice from the lower deck of the bridge caught his attention. His communications officer.
"Lord Vader! We have attempted contact from planetside!"
"Project a hologram onto the bridge… if these primitives are capable of even that simple a technology." Vader said with disdain. In truth, he was attempting to understand what, exactly, he needed to do about this… entire civilization, it seemed.
Ten capital vessels shown so nonchalantly was nearly impossible for any single world. This meant he had stumbled upon what may be an entire Civilization that had developed outside of the galactic empire's reach.
His first thought was the fact that such was unacceptable. They would require subjugation under the rule of the empire. Vader wouldn't give them the chance to instead forge alliance with the rebels.
His second thought was that while everything he had discovered so far - the numerous force signatures, the fleet now surrounding his own, the unique technological bent this race - judging from what he could see out of the windows of the Executor - appeared to have…
None of this added up to Palpatine's fear. A FTL-capable civilization of this nature, while interesting, could hardly threaten the power of the galactic empire. And despite how common the force-sensitives here seemed to be, they, too, were of no threat to Palpatine or himself.
Something was still missing from this picture.
A soft whine was heard as the Hologram projector came to life, and Vader looked up to see what looked like an older man with a formidable beard. His clothes seemed to be a mixture of rustic and Royal, with a beige color theme.
In Vader's opinion, the man looked ridiculous. But like all other men, his taste in clothes did not truly matter. What mattered was what use he could be to Vader.
"Greetings. I am Emperor Arcturus Mengsk, head of the Terran Dominion. I am honored to meet you fine gentlemen."
The man had an amiable, fatherly manner about him. To someone unversed in politics, he seemed a humble, wise gentleman.
To Vader, he could see through such an act, but he was impressed at just how well this terran masked himself. Even his mind, as Vader saw it, was labyrinthine, hiding his thoughts through sheer will and misdirection. If this were a man working within the Galactic empire, he would be someone Palpatine would assign as governor of a core sector - and then watch closely, tempering the man's ambitions with subtle reminders of his place in Palpatine's larger system.
Here, on the other hand… Mengsk instead apparently had control of an entire private empire, all to himself. He'd even crowned himself an emperor.
This was, of course, unacceptable to Vader.
"I am Lord Vader, of the Galactic Empire. Tell me of this Terran Dominion you control."
Mengsk's brow furrowed slightly, the only sign of anger on his countenance. Anger was one of the principle emotions of the dark side though, and it could not be hidden from Vader. Vader was impressed and amused at the same time - amused, in that simply attempting to command this self-styled emperor produced hatred he could feel radiating out of the man like the energy of a supernova, and impressed that such an animalistic being could hide it so well. In truth, Mengsk was an animalistic beast wearing the skin of an aristocratic noble. If he'd had potential in the force, Vader could see the man being a powerful sith himself.
But in the end, he had no such power, and thus Vader simply continued to listen to the man - both to his words and to the writhing anger he could hear from out of the depths of Mengsk's soul.
"The Terran Dominion is a great conglomerate of the human nations of the Koprulu sector. I rule the Dominion, after saving the human nations from the evil tyranny of the confederacy before it. Hundreds of worlds fall under our benevolent protection, and we are reaching a new age of human prosperity. Our enemies are in retreat, and our will stronger than ever." Mengsk's voice and passion increased every syllable, a calculated way to show his resolve and integrity. One Vader didn't fall for in the slightest. "But… I am interested in your own holdings. Your technology appears to be quite impressive, Lord Vader." Mengsk smiled a benevolent smile.
Vader gave a small signal to his command bridge. They began preparing the Executor for any heavy combat, though they would not power up the weaponry until Vader signaled them specifically to do so.
"I am interested in these enemies of yours." Vader said, ignoring Mengsk's earlier comment. "Tell me of them."
Vader felt the anger swell again within Mengsk, and he secretly relished it. A lingering habit from his younger days, he always had felt a certain pleasure from irritating the pompous and arrogant. Of course, as he grew older he'd realized frightening them was far preferable, but that would wait until he'd wringed everything useful out of the man.
"They have been driven back and are of no concern at this time." Mengsk replied evenly, his tone smooth still.
"I didn't ask for their current activities. I asked for information concerning them."
"And I asked for a little understanding of your own empire." Mengsk replied with a friendly smirk.
So, the fool thought he was clever.
"You are testing my patience severely, Mengsk. Do not attempt to find out it's limit."
Mengsk looked away from the screen and sighed, seemingly hurt. "I'm attempting to speak civilly with you, as one would to his equal. I apologize if I seemed forward - but only one of us is volunteering information at all, while you, on the other hand, seem guarded."
"Your mistake was in assuming that we're equals. Or that we have the goal of parlaying with you." Vader said, his patience at an end. Moreover, he realized the game this Mengsk was playing, the fact his chief concern was keeping his power. He had met men like him before, within the empire, and even if they appeared to surrender to higher powers, they were like a cobra - waiting until they could find an unprotected flank and devour what they perceived as their oppressors. Mengsk reminded him of the Separatist leaders more than anyone.
"I'll offer you a simple deal. Kneel before me now, accept me as your lord, and hostilities between us will cease. The emperor might even allow you to continue holding a position as Governor of this… Korhal. Understand - our might and our vision is far above yours. The Galactic empire has controlled the rest of the Galaxy for decades. Your empire is not in a position to negotiate."
"Don't go down this road. Don't cross me." Mengsk spat, as a fire visible even through the hologram shone through his eyes. "I've sacrificed too much and done too many things to lose it all to some joker in a cheap suit. Continue along this path and I will burn your little fleet down to cinders before you even have the chance to run."
Ahh, now here was the true man baring his fangs.
The cheap suit Mengsk had mentioned was the only thing concealing Vader's grin. His fleet had seen little action recently. His captains had been showing signs of boredom recently. this was the perfect thing to deal with their itchy trigger fingers. the battle would be just challenging enough to stimulate them appropriately.
"For all your bluster, Mengsk, the only thing you're about to succeed in doing is signing your own death warrant. Allow me to show you and your deluded Dominion exactly what it means to cross the empire."
Vader switched the hologram off with a gesture and a subtle push with the force. He didn't expect to ever see the man again - alive, at least.
"Power up weapons, raise the shields. Don't leave a single ship standing."
"Yes, lord Vader."
"And get the soldiers ready. Land them in an open area near the position Mengsk's signal came from. I want him before me."
"Do you wish him alive or dead, my lord?"
"Either would please me."
Several darkened shapes sat at just the edge of terran sensor range, flitting just behind the Star destroyer's without fear. Why should they? Zerg bio-signatures were well-known by now to the terran… but the same couldn't be said for this new player, seeming inexperienced with biological ships. The Overlords sitting just at the edge of their vision used a mixture of their own tiny portion of psionic power, boosted in strength by their Cerebrate's power as they psionically hacked into the transmission, an ability requiring such precision only the Overmind's chosen themselves were capable of it.
"You see, cerebrate?" Daggoth said to his younger compatriot. "This ability was one I myself invented. It has now been passed down to you. Use it well to aid the Overmind."
the other Cerebrate gave the psychic equivalent of a nod, still deigning to hold it's tongue. This was typical of younger cerebrates, particularly those who had yet to fully form a unique personality just yet, but Daggoth decided to push his junior. While he understood the nervousness of the younger cerebrate - he himself had felt similarly when first placed in the presence of the overmind - allowing a cerebrate to withdraw in on himself tended to allow eccentric personalities to form. They didn't need another cerebrate like Gorn, known for his brood's cannibalism and inability to even work with other cerebrates, speaking evenly only with the overmind himself.
"Cerebrate… Tell me of your thoughts regarding the exchange between the terran and the machine-creature." Daggoth asked, using his psionic abilities to converse. Cerebrates relied entirely on speaking through thought, as their physical forms lacked any hint of a mouth.
The other Cerebrate's expression was thoughtful, and Daggoth realized it had yet to truly think on any matter such as this. Other than finishing assigned missions with some inspired skill and tactics - A level of skill even the Overmind had been surprised by - the young cerebrate had never sought to understand such political matters before.
After a moment of thought, the cerebrate finally replied:
"Both are confident."" The Cerebrate finally replied.
Daggoth was pleased. The Cerebrate answered honestly, and hadn't attempted to add any conceit or bias to it's opinion, at least. it had answered, more importantly.
"What does that mean, Cerebrate?" Daggoth asked him, pushing him to think further.
"One is wrong… Or…" The Cerebrate thought a little harder.
"Both sides are equal."
Daggoth noted the pride in the Cerebrate's voice, the gentle probing, and realized the Cerebrate was looking for approval from him. Interesting… He had not known any cerebrate to have that trait before. He'd seen it in countless terrans, but…
Daggoth was interrupted from his musings as the sound of Laser-fire was heard clearly by his overlords.
"The battle begins, Cerebrate. Pay close attention - even the smallest detail may give us the key to evolution."