Three hours after the grounding of the Liberator, just as the sun began its final descent, the senior officers of the Liberator met in the tactical room. The mood in the room was glum, to say the least. We'd all spent the best part of those three hours battling blazes throughout the starboard side of the ship, covering the ship with whatever forms of camouflage we could find and generally assessing the damage that the Zerg and crash landing had wrought on us. None of what we found in terms of damage had been very hopeful. The only good news was that we were able to hide the ship from overhead view far better than I had expected and we'd somehow managed to avoid any injuries.
I sighed, staring at the Chief Engineer. "How bad is it?"
He grimaced. "She'll fly again, sir, but not without a lot of work. And until and unless we can get her into a full shipyard environment, she isn't going to be the same. She'll be limping until then."
I winced. "Structural damage?"
"We got extraordinarily lucky on that one. Despite the impact with the canyon floor and the strain of the shock from the boarding lances, it hasn't actually twisted the main frame of the ship. There's been a lot of more technical damage, a lot of things have been knocked out of alignment or outright smashed to pieces, and even more damaged, but we have the parts and ability to do all of that. If the framework had been twisted, we'd be well and truly stranded in destination f-"
"Yeah, I get the picture." I interrupted. "We obviously don't have the time to fix absolutely everything. How long to get just enough repaired to get us off the ground and back into space?"
The engineer looked helplessly at me. "Sir, we're looking at a minimum of three days just to get the ship airtight again. Then we've got to strip off the wrecked starboard engines, get one of the port-side ones across and fit it in place and hope we can connect everything else up right to get it all functioning."
I shook my head. "How long for just the engines? That's what we really need to get the ship off the ground?"
He shook his head. "Maybe a day for that, but if the ship isn't airtight, we'll never make it back into space."
"Worst case scenario, we can all wear space-suits until we can get the ship docked with one of the battle-cruisers. The atmospheric barriers should help as well. But you're right, I'd prefer to have some solid neosteel between us and the vacuum of space." I sighed. "But we don't always have the luxury of choice. Get the ship back together, make it as quick and dirty as you have to, but I want to be ready to move ASAP. We can't stay here, not if we're going to survive at all."
The engineer looked mutinous, but he understood our position as well as anyone. "Yes sir." He said coldly, turning on his heel and leaving. I slumped, feeling the pressure we were under and knowing full well that I had put us there.
"Well, this is a disaster." I muttered.
Nova gripped my shoulder. "We're still alive, aren't we? And we're close to the Protoss scientists. We just need to be stealthy. It's just another suicide mission."
I snorted. "We should be used to those by now. Doesn't make them any easier to do, though." I glanced at the tactical display. "So, there's little that I think you and I can do ourselves to help with the repairs. I think we need to track down our missing Protoss."
Nova frowned. "You sure that's the best idea right now? It's not like we can extract them yet."
"No, but if the Zerg work out that we're still alive and that the Protoss are here, they'll have double the reason to come here. If that happens, we'll do better if we're working together, which means we need that alliance sooner rather than later. We can move under the cover of darkness and get there hopefully without being detected."
Ros shook her head. "It's still dicey. Just the two of you, through heavily infested territory? That's not going to be an easy run.
"Agreed, but a small team is faster and stealthier than a larger one, and both of us are well trained in doing such missions." Nova pointed out.
I glanced around the room. Not one person looked happy, but no one spoke up with a better idea, either. Ros, however, had a comment.
"Are you sure we shouldn't contact the rest of our forces? They are going to be worried."
"Absolutely not." Nova beat me to the punch. "Sarah will know we're still alive, which means the rest of the command structure will know. If they're smart, they won't come after us in order to stop the Zerg from paying more attention to this area. This isn't how our mission was to go, but we're here, in place and with a window of opportunity. We can't waste it and any transmissions or even a mental call might be detected by the Zerg and that will bring them screaming down on our heads."
I shrugged. "Essentially, what she said. It's too risky by far for us to contact them now. We'll have to wait until we have a plan to extract the forces here." I looked at everyone. "Any questions?" I saw nothing but head-shakes. "Then to your stations. Wythes, you have the conn. Let's get this girl back in the sky." I looked at Nova. "Meet me in the launch bay with your gear in 10 minutes."
As everyone left, Ros lingered behind. "Jason, you need to snap out of this funk quickly."
I sighed, unhappy she'd noticed. "I very nearly got us all killed, Ros."
"And you will get us all killed if you don't pull your head out of your arse and get your mind back in the game." Her tone was sharp and attracted my full attention. "You're relying on us to get this ship fixed, as you should. We're relying on you to get the help we came for and the plan we need to get out of this. Sometimes things go bad, it's a matter of luck. Should we have left our station to conduct those attack runs? Who knows? We certainly helped out our boys on the ground, there's no denying that. Sure, we took some battle damage, some of it fairly serious, but it's nothing we can't deal with, given enough time. You got us down into a secure position and in as good a shape as we could have expected to be under the circumstances. No one is dead and any injuries aren't all that serious. All in all, it's a fair trade-off. Now, get back into the mindset you need and on the job, clear?"
I shook my head at the end of her diatribe. I should have known better. "Clear, ma'am. Let's get on with this."
As I entered the launch bay, I mused on how well Ros knew me and how I thought. Even Nova, Jim and Sarah had never forced me out of a mood like that so quickly, but then the pair of us had been working together for nearly a decade. That gave us an understanding of each other that was difficult to match, even with telepathy. I should have known she wouldn't let me wallow in dark thoughts, but I was glad she had given me the kick that I needed. Nova nodded her greetings as I met her, doing a final check of her gear. I nodded back, before suiting up myself.
Ready for battle, the pair of us headed to the ramp. I'd considered, but ultimately decided against using a vehicle to reach the Protoss quicker. While the speed would be useful, it risked exciting the Zerg's ire, and that was one thing we did not need right now. For the same reason, I would have to limit the power use of my suit, which meant no jumps. So we were left with a stealthy approach of several kilometres before trying to sneak through both Zerg and Protoss battle lines, without being shot by either side.
On the plus side, Nova was an exceptionally talented Ghost, particularly after months of training with Sarah, Zeratul, Tassadar and Selendis, arguably some of the greatest psionics of the age and, in the case of Zeratul and Sarah, certainly absolute masters of stealth. While she still lacked Zeratul's experience at moving though shadows without being detected, as well as Sarah's sheer power at disappearing and striking without warning, she was certainly the second stealthiest terran in our force, perhaps even in the sector.
As for me, I lacked both a cloaking device or psionics to hide me. But I'd done a substantial amount of work in special ops throughout my career and I had no small amount of experience in avoiding detection. Using the terrain and shadows to hide my form was practically second nature to me.
On the downside, the Zerg were excellent hunters and incredibly numerous. They might not be swarming us right now, but I had no real doubt that they were around us and it wouldn't take much for them to work out we were there. If any of them realised that we were around, the entire swarm would know and our mission, and indeed our lives, would end rather quickly. On top of that, there was no certainty that the Protoss would hear us out, or even give us a chance to talk.
Even New Fulsom wasn't as tricky as this. But it didn't much matter how difficult the job was. We just had to get it done.
Moving silently, both of us knew we couldn't afford to make any noise or give away our position. Nova managed to dampen our physical and psionic presence from being detected, in her case visibly as well as from other senses, while the night vision equipment and other tech built into my suit meant that I could guide us to the Protoss position better. Of course, there was another reason why I had insisted that the pair of us go over anyone else. No one else could function together so easily and communicate mentally so easily as us. Even Sarah and Jim didn't have as good a connection with their own mental bond as the two of us. The weeks trapped on Char had proven that quite extensively and we'd spent considerable time and effort while trapped there to improve our capability together. We'd long since forged the makings of a good team. The battles on Char had created a far improved one. It wasn't like we'd become a single being by any means, but we could both process data from each other, communicate at immense speed and focus on what was required to complete the tasks ahead of us.
With Nova's psionic abilities, we were able to locate and evade the roaming Zerg patrols, slowly slipping past them and easing ever closer to the Protoss fortifications. After a nerve-racking four hours, we finally beheld the Protoss base. The Zerg were certainly aware of its location, but seemed to be unaware of its importance, only launching probing attacks that appeared to only serve the purpose of keeping the Protoss tied up.
"So, any idea how to get past this?" I asked Nova.
She pondered before coming up with one. "Wait for the next attack, and help them fight it off without the Zerg detecting us?" She asked.
I frowned. "Dangerous, but certainly a possibility. I think I'd be best in sniper support, taking out any detector units. That would give you the room to engage them at close range."
"It's not ideal, but certainly going to be the best that we can come up with, I think. Evading the Zerg is going to be a lot easier if they can't see us."
"We're both going to have to use weapons that aren't so distinctly recognisable as being linked with us. My M12 would give the game away very quickly."
"So, we mix it up. You use my C20A, I'll stick to my pistol and blades and that way they can't pick us by our weapons. They might suspect something, but that's rather different than actually being certain."
"But they might be interested enough to launch a few more patrols through the canyons and end up finding the Liberator." I sighed. "I think it's a risk we're going to have to take. We don't have a lot of choice, if we can't get through to the Protoss and convince them to come with us, then this whole trip is for nothing."
A rumbling noise signalled we wouldn't have to wait much longer. It seemed the Zerg had tired of the probing attacks and were now attacking in force. It wasn't an overwhelming force, not yet, but this definitely wasn't going to be an easy job. Nova swallowed slightly.
"Still think this is the best idea?" She asked hesitatingly.
"Unless you have a better one." I replied, not much happier.
Her sigh and charging into the attack was the only reply I got. Setting up on a nearby formation, I began lining up on the hovering overlords and firing as swiftly as I could, knocking them out to allow Nova room to work. Zerg began to drop, apparently from nothing that anyone else could see. The Protoss were clearly surprised, but also professional enough to take full advantage of the unexpected support.
They knew who we were, of course. The remaining photon cannons on the defensive perimeter saw to that. They would certainly have spotted Nova, even if they hadn't seen me. But they'd been concentrating on the Zerg and so Nova and I were already killing the Zerg before the cannons would have been free of their original targets. It granted us a small window when the Protoss wouldn't be immediately focussed on us and, like the Protoss themselves, we took full advantage of it.
The resulting fire-fight was vicious and bloody. The Zerg poured towards the defensive lines and we barely succeeded in holding them back. But hold them back we did. Once the last Zerg fell, the Protoss turned their weapons towards Nova, though they seemed to have missed me thankfully. But Nova was as calm and collected as I had come to expect of her. Quietly holstering her weapons, she nodded slightly to the nearest Protoss.
"It looked like you could use a hand." She said with a slight smile, loud enough that I could hear her.
There was no small amount of confusion among the Protoss, but finally a Zealot pushed through the group. "What brings your kind here to our world?" He demanded.
"Let's just say that this is where we needed to be. My boss wants to talk to yours. Against the Zerg, we both need all the help we can get."
The Zealot towered over Nova. "And where exactly is this commander of yours?" He spat.
I knew a dramatic cue when I heard it. And with no immediate threats in the area, I could take advantage of the relative peace to make an appropriate entrance. With a quick tap of the jets, I boosted out of my sniper's nest and dropped in beside Nova. "You're looking at him." Nova grinned cheekily.
I inclined my head slightly. "En Taro Adun, warrior. I am Commander Jason Davis, leader of the Terran forces supporting Executors Tassadar and Artanis." With a small smile, I held out the C20A to Nova. "I believe this is yours, my lady. Whoever gave that to you had good taste in weapons."
Nova snorted, enjoying the joke. The Protoss looked confused and wary, but not as much as might have been expected.
"Justicator Aldaris has had much to say about you, Commander. Very little was good." The Zealot said slowly.
My own expression darkened. "I'm sure he has. But then, I'm less interested in playing politics and respecting those who have not earned that respect than I am in making sure people stay alive. He doesn't appear to share that order of priorities."
The Zealot's eyes narrowed, before he glanced around. "Perhaps we had better get under cover. The Zerg will be back soon enough, and in greater numbers. You are not here without reason, I am sure." With a gesture, he waved for us to follow him inside. With a glance, the two of us followed him deeper, even as more Protoss swarmed out to reinforce the defences behind us.
The passageway that the Zealot led us down was deep and heavily encased. It was obvious that we were deep underground, in a position that most would find near impossible to assault. However, I knew well how well the Zerg could move through underground positions and so just how dangerous this position was. From the manner of many of the Protoss in the tunnels that we passed, they were just as aware of their precarious state. If the Zerg succeeded in breaking through, it would become a bloodbath.
Finally, we entered into an open area, clearly re-purposed as a command centre. Protoss were scattered around the area, but the Zealot led us towards two arguing in front of a console.
"Praetor, we cannot remain here. Our people are counting on us!" A female Protoss, clearly not a warrior, was pleading with an armoured Protoss commander, with armour markings I had long since recognised from the other Protoss I had met.
The other Protoss replied with a tone signifying his decreasing patience. "My lady, we cannot risk moving you and your team. With the Zerg so close, departing would be fatal to you."
"My father is counting on us reaching his position, our people will die if we fail our mission!"
"Our people will die if you get yourself killed! Trying to reach the main base with the Zerg in our path would be the height of folly. We must wait for reinforcements to reach our position."
"You would put your faith in reinforcements from a base that is heavily besieged? Look around you! There is no-where on Aiur that is not already heavily pressed. We cannot afford to wait for reinforcements!"
"Perhaps I might be able to help with your issues." I elected to interject. Both arguing Protoss spun around to face us. The Praetor snorted.
"And what would a pair of mere Terrans be able to achieve that an entire war-host of Protoss could not?" He said dismissively. "You know nothing of what we are trying to achieve."
Nova snarled. "Want to bet? You're trying to get a team to the nearby base so that you can activate the Protoss Ark-ship buried beneath it in order to evacuate your people, but you've been pinned down here and can't get through."
A stunned silence filled the chamber as every Protoss stared at us. I raised an eyebrow. "Judging by that reaction, I'd say that's a pretty good guess. Given that we just came from the base, though, that was always a safe bet." I faced the female of the pair in front of us. "I take it you lead the team here."
She straightened, but the other spoke faster. "What could you know of our mission? Have you been-"
At that point, my patience had finally run out. Reaching out, I closed my hand around his throat and lifted him clear of the ground, my ABS compensating for the difference in build between myself and the Protoss. Pulling him close, I growled, "Right now, I am about your only chance of walking out of this hell-hole alive. Don't. Irritate. Me." With a shove, I threw him back a few steps, forcing him to stumble, although he didn't actually lose his footing. I shook my head. "Do not re-enter this conversation unless you are invited to."
Turning back to the surprised scientist, I adopted a far softer tone. "Now, as I was saying, I believe you lead the team here."
She swallowed and nodded. "I am Researcher Lasarra. I am assuming that you are the Terran commander that has attracted so much attention in recent times."
"You would be correct. Commander Jason Davis, at your service." My eyes narrowed as part of their earlier conversation sank in. "Did I hear you say that your father commanded the defence of the ark-ship base?"
"You did. Does he still live?"
I nodded. "Last time I saw him, he did. Things make a lot more sense now." I pulled out the crystal he had given me, holding it out to Lasarra. "He said to give this to you."
Her eyes widened as she took the crystal. She was silent for a moment, before her eyes hardened and locked back onto mine. "Do you have a plan, Commander?"
"Of sorts. Unfortunately, my ship was forced down and has taken serious damage some kilometres from here. My crew are conducting repairs as quickly as possible, but even so, we don't have the room to extract all of you."
"You may not need to." Another Protoss interrupted, approaching us. This was also clearly no warrior, but certainly seemed to be a technician of some kind. "If the ark-ship can be made operational, then we can warp all Protoss in the area aboard. The systems on the ship are far superior to those on most Protoss ships and have the capacity to conduct warp operations at a far higher rate."
Lasarra glanced towards the newcomer. "The Phase-smith is correct. If the ark-ship can be restored, then extraction will not be an issue. But the issue is getting to the ark-ship."
"Leave that to us. But if you can get to the ship, can you restore it?" Nova asked.
"It will not be easy, but yes. It will, however, take time. Time that may be difficult to find." Lasarra replied.
"Do you have to be there to do it yourself, or can those at the base do part of it under your direction?" I asked swiftly. The two Protoss exchanged glances.
"The power generators could be activated ahead of our arrival." The Phase-smith said thoughtfully. "But we would need to be able to contact the base in order to provide them with the information to do so, and our communications systems have long since been taken off-line. The antenna is in place, but the Zerg have cut the power to it and we cannot spare anyone to repair it."
Nova and I exchanged glances, both of us knowing she couldn't communicate such information precisely to Sarah or the other psionics, and certainly not without giving away their position to the Zerg. "If you can get me a repair team, we'll make sure they get it back up and running."
The Praetor finally managed to regain his feet and inserted his unwelcome addition into the conversation. "Such a mission is foolhardy. I will not authorise any of my men to take part in such a hopeless attempt."
Quietly, I unholstered my M12, smiling grimly. "I don't recall asking for your opinion. Nor am I asking for your support. In fact, I'm not in need of anything from you at all." I let the weapon swing from my hand. "Though I am rather curious as to why you are so keen to stay here." My eyes narrowed. "An interesting problem to solve. One I'll have to spend some time on." I didn't fail to notice the sudden lack of any movement in the surrounding area. Glancing towards Lasarra, I asked her, "How soon can your team be ready to move?"
She looked towards the Phase-master. "Take command in my absence." Receiving a nod, she turned back to me. "I will need five minutes to collect my equipment. After that, I will be ready to accompany you."
This clearly upset the Praetor and I had to admit I was surprised as well. "You cannot seriously consider conducting this insane operation in person! I will not allow it!"
I was about to express my disgust for the Praetor, when Lasarra got there first. "You do not command me, Praetor. I have waited for you to formulate a plan to save our people and you have ignored your duty to them. I must now do so in your stead. When 'mere Terrans' are more willing to aid us than our own kind, then we must consider what is truly best for our kind. This is a risk, certainly, but you would have us die without a fight and I cannot do that. These may well be the final days of our home-world, but they do not have to be the final days of our people and I will accept whatever aid I can find to prevent our extinction. If that is not your goal, then step aside and let those that will fight for us. But you will not stand in our way."
Nova and I exchanged an impressed glance. "She's definitely a firecracker. And that's an attitude that I can get behind. If more people thought that way, then we wouldn't have the issues we do now."
"Agreed. That guy needed to be cut down to size and it's better coming from her than us." A grin crossed my face. "It's people like that that make this war worthwhile."
Lasarra, clearly attempting to control her anger, turned to us. "I will be with you shortly. Meet me at the main entrance." Without further ado, she left, heading deeper into the base. I glanced back at the Zealot that had escorted us inside.
"Mind giving us an escort back to the main entrance?"
The Zealot looked clearly shocked by what he had just witnessed, but nodded and gestured for us to follow him. Without another word, we left the command centre and made our way back through the tunnels. Once we reached the entrance, the Zealot bowed slightly to us, before taking up a post nearby, clearly keen to get back to work.
Lasarra was as good as her word, arriving shortly afterwards, now clad in armour of her own and carrying a small Protoss pistol and a pair of psi-blades, along with a collection of technical equipment. "I hope you do not expect me to fight to your standards, Commander. While I have had some training, I am certainly not a seasoned warrior."
Nova smiled slightly. "That's what we're here for, ma'am." That was a deliberate ploy, showing Lasarra the respect that she deserved as the leader of this Protoss force, in front of the surrounding Protoss, who doubtless had heard about the argument inside by now. In our view, regardless of her combat qualifications, she had earned that position on the strength of her devotion to her people alone. Lasarra clearly understood the move, inclining her own head with respect of her own.
"Then we should make a move." Without another word, Lasarra led us up to a small crack running up the cliff face. "The antenna is at the top of the canyon, but we only need to locate and track the power feed from above our own ridge. We have already confirmed that the issue lies out in the open, we simply have to locate where the break lies. I can replace the entire cable between the relevant regulators, even all the way to the antenna if necessary, but replacing that much cable will take time. More time than we are likely to have."
"Lasarra, you just find the issue. We'll make sure we all live long enough to pull it off." I smiled.
The Protoss scientist straightened and looked at me. "Of that, Commander, I have no doubt." She leapt up and forward, grabbing a hand-hold and beginning to climb.
I glanced at Nova. "Need a boost?" Her grin was answer enough as she backed up from the cliff face, before taking a running jump at me. With her momentum, my added strength and her psionics, I was able to propel her most of the way up the first cliff face and she swiftly scrambled up the remaining distance, ready to cover our climb. I wasted little time following Lasarra's lead, hauling myself up the cliff as the rearguard. Nova and Lasarra waited just long enough for me to haul myself up, before continuing up through the next stage.
We followed the same order for the remainder of the climbs, somehow avoiding any Zerg along the way. It took close to an hour to make the ascent, by which time dawn was appearing on the horizon. The Zerg would soon be back in force, and we had to make sure we stayed alive long enough to pull this off. By my reckoning, repairs to make the Liberator capable of lift-off should be well under-way, but we were still a long way from escaping this yet.
"We should be at the cable short-" Lasarra cut herself off as we saw exactly what had happened to the power cable. Namely, the group of Zerg that were currently using it as a chew toy and had spotted us. With feral snarls, they turned to face us, stalking us.
"Close quarters. Let's keep the noise as low as we can, for what little good that will do. Use the cliffs and the falls to our advantage and don't lose your footing." I ordered, preparing for combat. "We'll handle the majority of them, Lasarra, but expect at least some to get past us."
The only reaction of the two women was to ready their own weapons.
Thirty Zerg against two Terrans and a Protoss. This was going to be interesting.
With a roar, the Zerg leapt to the attack, only for a sudden blast from above to throw them off the cliff. I pulled up suddenly, completely taken by surprise by the unexpected attack. A shape landed in a crouch in front of us, a figure that I recognised instantly.
"Sarah." I breathed.
Sarah's glare could have cut metal. "You are a ridiculously stubborn sonofabitch, you know that? And I thought I was impatient. At least Nova has more sense than to try and do everything herself."
I turned a glare of my own on Nova. "Thanks." I snarked.
"No worries." She grinned back, before turning her attention back to Sarah. "You avoided detection, I hope."
She snorted. "Please. Give me a hard one." Sarah stepped right up to me and grabbed me in a tight hug. "Don't you ever scare me like that again. I can't lose you too."
I hugged me back, appreciating the presence of one of my closest friends. "You know I don't go down that easy." I released her and held her at arm's length. "Does the base still stand?"
"For now, yes. But the Zerg are pushing harder and there's only so much we can do to support them. Jim's holding the line well, though. But we'd better not hang around."
I nodded, before I suddenly remembered Lasarra. I turned to face her, only to stare at an absolutely shocked Protoss, barely able to stand. Finally, she managed to speak.
"How? What? Who?"
Ok, she wasn't exactly coherent just yet. I stepped over to her, but made sure to stay just out of reach. "Yeah. Lasarra, meet Sarah Kerrigan, one of my top commanders."
Lasarra looked stunned. "You are working with Zerg!?"
I sighed. "Let's just say that the Zerg have their own factions, same as the rest of us. It's a long story and we don't have time for the whole of it right now."
"But, she," Lasarra stammered.
Sarah sighed. "Yes, I'm infested and therefore not trustworthy. I know that, everyone knows that. Thank you so much for reminding me and making me feel better about it."
With a visible effort, Lasarra pulled herself together. "You misunderstand me, Sarah Kerrigan. While I will admit that your…appearance can be unnerving, especially when unexpected, you cleared the Zerg away from our goal with little effort and you have the trust of Commander Davis. I am certainly prepared to work with you, but everything I have heard about the Zerg says they are mindless monsters that seek nothing but our destruction. You are a rather large argument against that logic, which throws almost every theory we have about the Zerg straight into the Void. I was always taught that a thousand pieces of evidence cannot prove a theory right, but one piece can prove a theory wrong. However, until now, I have never seen it so bluntly illustrated as you have."
Sarah was speechless. Mind you, to be fair, so were Nova and I. Lasarra's statement had thrown almost everything we had expected about the Protoss right out of the window. She had reacted by far the best to Sarah's new appearance, including Tassadar, Zeratul and Selendis. Despite her initial shock, she had rapidly overcome it and was now clearly in the middle of some serious contemplations, muttering to herself. Finally, I interrupted the Protoss's musings.
"I know this is a big shock, frankly to everyone, but can we get back to the immediate issue, please?" I asked Lasarra. "Like, what do we need to do to repair this power cable?"
With an obvious effort, Lasarra shook herself free of her thoughts. "I have enough replacement cable to repair it, but we will have to seal and bury it so that the Zerg can't destroy it again."
"And the Zerg will know we're here by now." Nova pointed out.
As if to punctuate her point, Zerg roars echoed around us. I nodded to myself, a plan coming together. "Sarah, Nova, you'll have to hold the Zerg back. I'll help Lasarra get this done."
"You're not exactly familiar with Protoss tech, Jason." Nova objected.
"No, but I'm probably the most technically minded of us and you two are the better fighters by far." I replied as I crouched beside Lasarra.
The screeches of the Zerg put an end to the conversation and the two women turned away to engage the Zerg. Lasarra looked at me. "You have to get the other end of the cable up to the next regulator. It will be quicker than trying to cut and repair the cable twice." She handed me one end of it. "It already has the correct fitting, you just need to detach the existing one and replace it."
I glanced up at the regulator above us. "Consider it done." Securing the end of the cable to my armour, I took off for the nearby cliff-face, evading, ignoring or in one case running straight over the Zerg in my path. In any other case, I might have used the jets, but the cable de-spooler was unlikely to be able to handle that kind of load. Leaping for the cliff, I wasted no time in scrambling for the next handhold, climbing for the regulator swiftly. Thankfully, it was a small cliff and I reached the regulator without incident.
"OK, I'm here." I reported to Lasarra.
"Good. There should be a small access panel on the side. Lift it and tell me what lights you can see."
Opening the panel, I was greeted with a perplexing mix of blue and green lights. "A massive array of lights, all of them either blue or green." I called back.
"Good, that is how they are supposed to be. You should be able to see the cable running in and a small lever beside it. Pull the lever down. That will release the existing cable."
Moving swiftly, I followed her instructions, yanking down the lever, pulling out the damaged existing cable and replacing the connection with the new, intact one. A variety of lights turned from blue to green around a particular control.
"Connection is reading as solid on both ends. You need to turn the control that changed colour to the right. That will seal the connection and warp the cable into the ground below. That will take a few minutes, so you'll have to defend the regulator until it can complete the task."
The growls from behind me told me that it wasn't going to be a simple babysitting task. Straightening, I turned to face the Zerg, drawing my shotgun.
"So, you bastards want to dance? Then let's dance!" I growled back.
With feral roars, the Zerg leapt to the attack, only to meet the rounds from my shotgun. The relatively narrow confines of the space and the small numbers of the Zerg meant that I had reasonable odds at holding this force back. The fact that only Zerglings were able to make the climb up helped as well. The occasional beep from behind me indicated that that the regulator was still online and the Zerg were so focused on both it and I that they didn't bother going after the cable, perhaps because they now knew we could replace it very easily.
Regardless, as I cleared the last of the Zerg off the alcove, the regulator beeped rapidly, before warping into the ground, along with the cable, sealing it away from the reach of the Zerg. I had no doubt that they would eventually be able to reach and damage it again in time, but we at least had a window to establish communications with the main base.
"Lasarra, I think we're done here." I called."
"I agree. All systems are reading nominal. We need to get back to the outpost."
Looking down at the melee below, I switched to the M12 and provided cover fire to the three psionics fighting below. "Got you covered, get out of here. I'll see you at the entrance. Nova, get Lasarra back into the outpost and make sure she makes contact with the main base. We need to get this done fast or we're all out of it. Sarah, it might be best if you head for the Liberator, we don't want to cause more issues with our new friends than absolutely necessary. Once you get there, make contact with Nova, I need to know what the status of the repairs are."
"Got it. No more heroics, all right?" Nova replied.
"Yeah, yeah, I got it. Just get going." I growled, firing as quickly as I could. Watching, I saw all three women leap off the cliff, racing for their respective destinations. A sudden screech from above drew my attention. I glanced up quickly, then dived off my sniper's perch as Mutalisks rained fire down on my old position.
One thing was abundantly clear. The Zerg definitely knew I was still alive, which meant they'd work out the Liberator had survived in very short order. That meant they'd be throwing everything into finding and destroying it.
We were officially out of time.
Wasting no more time, I deployed the wings and soared down towards the Protoss outpost, firing at the Zerg to clear a path. Punching out and through, I landed alongside the defences, nearly deafened by the heavy fire as they duelled with the Zerg. The defenders were being pressed hard, Zerg pounding against the ground on every approach. Suddenly, my comm lit up.
"Jason, Sarah's reached the Liberator, but she was dodging Zerg the whole way. I don't think we can rely on sneaking through back to her." Nova's voice confirmed what I feared.
I replied even as I added my own fire to the defence. "What about the Liberator? Is she able to fly?"
"Engineer gives it another hour, at least. They're doing all they can but some things can't be bypassed. But with Sarah there, the Zerg are likely to find them sooner than that."
I cursed, knowing the issues in sending Sarah there. Nova would have had a better chance of concealing herself from the Zerg, due to her lack of connection to the Swarm but the Protoss would not have been happy to see Sarah. Damned by either option but there wasn't time to deal with it now.
"What about the main base? Lasarra manage to get through to them?"
"Thankfully, yes. She's talked them through what she can, but we need to get her team there soon to finish the job."
"Her team, or can she do it alone?"
Nova paused for a minute as the attack finally tapered off for a few minutes. "She really needs her team to finish the job. It's too big for one person."
My mood darkened. I might have just been able to punch through the Zerg assault and get Lasarra to the Liberator on my own, but there was no way I could do it multiple times for her team. Having the Protoss warp them aboard was out as well, the thick rock protecting the Protoss would block their efforts, although my understanding was that the ark ship's own systems were sufficiently powerful to overcome that limitation. Trying to get a shuttle through would be suicide right now, the Zerg assault was too intensive. Even the Liberator at her best would struggle to hold them back long enough. What we needed was enough power to break through the blockade but that would take the power of a god right now.
I blinked. Power of a god…
"Nova, get Sarah to get to a comm, now."
She didn't waste any time. "What do you need, Jason?" Sarah's voice came across the line quickly.
"I need a hole in the Zerg attack to get a science team through and to control the skies to get them clear. There's an awful lot of Zerg flyers and Overlords here. You think you can play tug of war with them?"
Sarah was no fool. "You want me to pull the flyers down so they crash on their own ground forces? That's not going to be easy."
"I'm fresh out of easy, just like normal. We need insane to survive this mess and this is the craziest best idea I've got. You have an alternative, I'm all ears."
Sarah's curses told me she didn't have a better idea. "You realise I'm going to be vulnerable while I'm doing this, right?"
"I know. Just get back here, I'll make sure you've got the cover you need." I sighed. "Nova, you get all that?"
"I did. You realise how difficult that's going to be, right? Especially with the Praetor still suffering from cranial-rectal syndrome?"
"If he doesn't listen to Lasarra, tell him I'll come down there, drag him back up and let the Zerg relieve his symptoms. We've got enough issues without having to deal with his issues as well and after the day I'm having, I am officially out of patience with his antics. If he wants to behave like a kid with his head in the sand, I'll treat him like one."
Nova chuckled. "Understood."
I looked around the beleaguered defenders and ducked into cover beside the Zealot I had met originally, who was smart enough to keep his head down and let the automated defences handle the Zerg unless they got within close range.
"Well, I've got good news for you but you have to hear me out." I informed him.
He glanced at me. "And why would good news require that I hear you out?"
"Because I've got support coming in, but she's an infested Terran psionic who has retained her mind and I'd really rather no-one tried to kill her, because she's a very good friend of mine."
That earned me a stunned, disbelieving glare. "That is utterly impossible. Zerg are monsters."
"Just as us Terran are primitives that aren't worthy to stand with Protoss warriors?" I shot back. "Just because you believe it or are told that doesn't make it true. I won't deny that the Zerg are vicious and dangerous, but they have their factions, just like the rest of us and there's a lot more going on than what appears on the surface."
The look he gave me was full of scepticism and the expressions of his comrades weren't any improvement. No one liked the idea of working with someone who was infested and I didn't have time to argue the point.
"Look, I know I'm not your commander and I have no right to give you orders. So I'm just going to make myself clear. Sarah is so close to me, she's practically family. Anyone that attacks her will answer to me. Coming here to bail you out wasn't exactly my idea of a good time and I don't have to stay here. You're not escaping this mess without our help and she is the help we need to turn the tide enough for us to pull this stunt off. Anybody have a problem with that?"
My face may as well have been cast from stone by the end of my little speech and as Nova de-cloaked beside me, it was clear that she wasn't any happier.
The Zealot nodded. "There will not be a problem, Commander." His tone made it abundantly clear to everyone in the vicinity that there had better not be a problem. Clearly, he'd worked out the situation as well and had no desire to make life harder than it needed to be, particularly with the alternative being that life would be shorter than expected.
Lasarra emerged from the entrance herself as we finished. "You are calling Sarah Kerrigan back to assist us?" She asked.
"I think it's our best option. I have something of a plan in mind, but we still need to buy some time."
"And what plan is this?" The Zealot demanded.
I looked at Lasarra. "I've heard a lot of hearsay, but I need to know for sure. The ark ship. Can it warp your people out from inside the mountain?"
She nodded. "Yes, the technology on-board is more advanced than we typically use. It will penetrate the mountain with ease."
"Then we stick with a small team extraction."
"Jason," Nova pointed out, "The odds of sneaking a small team back through the Zerg are nil."
"I know. So, if we can't get to the Liberator, she's going to have to come to us."
Nova's eyes widened. "Jason, the Liberator isn't going to be battle-ready. Bringing her in is dangerous to put it mildly."
"Which is why we need Sarah to clear us a path. If the Liberator sticks to the canyons, she'll be fairly well covered until she gets here. Once she's here, we get everyone on board we can and punch it back to the main base. Our boys will still be around, so we should be able to make it."
"And everyone else here?" The Zealot wanted to know. "I imagine there will not be enough room to evacuate everyone."
I winced. "No, which is why we need to blow the entrance before we leave."
Everyone was shocked. "Commander, that would trap the rest of our forces inside. There is no certainty that we will be able to restore the ark ship fast enough to evacuate them from inside." Lasarra objected.
"I know. But when the defences here fall, and they will fall eventually, there is no fall-back position for your people. The Zerg will pour down that tunnel and kill everyone and you don't have the forces to prevent that. We're trading access for time, but there isn't a better way that I can see. The alternative is trading lives and we don't have any to spare." I looked at her. "The mathematics of defeat. Sometimes there isn't a victory to be won, all you can do is make your defeat as cheap as possible for yourself and as expensive as you can for your enemy. I've said it before and I'll say it again; if anyone has any better ideas, I'm all ears."
The silence of those around me spoke for itself. The only interruption was the sound of Sarah leaping over the defences and joining us. To my surprise, none of the Protoss made a move on her. I turned to her.
"Sorry for the run-around, Sarah. Basic plan is this; we hold firm until the Liberator is set to fly, then I need you to clear a path for her and keep the skies clear long enough for Lasarra's team and topside defenders to be evacuated, we blow the access tunnel, get back to the main base and get the ark ship online so we can get everyone else off this rock." I stared at everyone else around me. "Any questions?"
The Protoss looked at each other, but no one commented. Not one of them were happy, that was obvious. But then, I wasn't particularly happy with this situation either. However, I couldn't for the life of me see an alternative that wouldn't cost a lot more lives and have an even slimmer chance of success. When no response was forthcoming, I turned to Lasarra. "Do you have any charges that could collapse the entrance, or do we need to use the Liberator?"
She nodded slightly. "We have some. How much time do we have?"
I glanced at Sarah. "How long did the engineers give you before they were ready to fly?"
"Roughly an hour, but that was when I left fifteen minutes ago."
I nodded. "In that case, I wouldn't count on longer than 30 minutes, by the time you get them set and your team up here ready for extraction." I told Lasarra.
"That will be long enough. I certainly have no doubts that you and my brethren can hold the line for long enough for us to achieve our tasks."
"On that, Researcher, you may rely." Nova replied.
As Lasarra and her team turned back to the entrance, the rest of us turned outwards, towards the Zerg that were beginning to mass once more. I grinned coldly. "Ladies, what do you say we show the Protoss how us Terrans fight?"
The matching grins on the faces of both women almost sent chills down my spine. I know the resulting carnage terrified the Protoss and likely the Zerg as well. I don't think that they'd seen fighters as lethal as the two Ghosts. Given that the average Protoss had a life-expectancy of over several hundred years, that said a lot.
Sarah was conserving much of her psionic strength for the stunts she need to be able to do later to allow the Liberator to approach safely, so she was primarily relying on close-quarters physical combat with the Zerg. Such an approach wasn't slowing her down much, however. While she was faster than the average Terran, her speed was primarily a holdover from her days as a Ghost. What had been dramatically improved during her infestation was her strength and durability; she hit like a tank and could take the blast from one and come back for seconds. Combined with her martial skill, she was an absolute demon. Even keeping to where she was covered by the Protoss defences, she racked up an impressive kill count. Points for style as well, I'd seen her wielding a defiler as a melee weapon before and throw hydralisks around, but there was something truly impressive about ripping off the kaiser blade from an ultralisk and beating it to death with it.
If the Zerg looked for an easier target, they certainly didn't find it in Nova. Unlike Sarah, she didn't have to conserve her energy beyond what was normal for a battle and was taking full advantage, unleashing her powers on the Zerg with devastating effect. Wielding them in tandem with her rifle, the Zerg might as well have been bashing their heads against a neosteel wall for all the good they were doing at getting past her. While she wasn't fighting at close combat like Sarah, her more ranged tactics were proving just as effective in thinning the Zerg numbers.
As for the rest of us, we weren't exactly sitting back and enjoying the show. While I wouldn't have counted the Protoss defenders as being in the same class as Nova and Sarah, they weren't slacking off either, using their own skill and experience to great effect against the invaders. Psi-blades, psionic blasts and phase disruptors were utilised against the Zerg with lethal results. Though the Zerg always pressed hard, they never succeeded in breaking the Protoss lines.
I might personally have had the least technically advanced weapons on the field, and I'd previously received various derisive opinions on them from various Protoss, but that didn't change their effectiveness. Hot lead and cold steel were the dishes of the day I was serving up to the Zerg, but they didn't seem to appreciate it much. In fact, many of them seemed to develop rapid onset cases of fatal metal poisoning. While I wasn't as popular a target as the two women, one simple fact remained. Every single Zerg that charged into my kill zone did not leave it alive.
The Zerg's charge remained blunted by our furious defence and though they pushed against us hard, we never wavered. That was not to say, however, that we remained unscathed from their rage. Each of the Protoss had lost their shields and taken injury at least one point, despite the best efforts of the shield batteries supporting their defence. Two misread the assault path of a particularly determined ultralisk, one being crushed underneath its feet while the other was bisected by its blades before Sarah and Nova could beat it off. Another, risking emerging from cover to gain added glory, was brutally impaled by a salvo of hydralisk spines, turning his body into mincemeat. Others fell too, either to the sheer numbers of the Zerg, or simply to exhaustion. Those that were still fast enough retreated behind our lines to rest and recover. Not all of them were fast enough.
Even Sarah, Nova and I didn't remain untouched. Sarah had been hit hardest, due to her forward fighting position. Several spines scattered her arms and torso from where she hadn't been able to evade them in time. While her Zerg physiology meant that she healed even faster than the average Zerg could, there was no doubt that the battle had taken its toll on her, as she began to pull closer back to the static defences, risking herself less. Nova had been more fortunate, barely diverting a brace of spines that would have impaled her, but the distraction cost her as a nearby Zergling managed to pounce on her, trying desperately to bite her shoulder before she was able to throw it off. Though she escaped the bite, and the potential infestation that might have followed if the virus had managed to make its way into her system, the resulting slashes were undoubtedly painful and she favoured her right arm after that incident. As for me, I had been somewhat luckier, partially because I hadn't been as targeted, but mostly because of the ABS's capabilities. Even so, at one point I hadn't been quite fast enough to completely dodge a hydralisk's scythe, taking a cut over my forehead that bled lightly, obstructing my vision on occasion. I could also feel the pounding from the multiple Zerg that had decided to audition for roles as battering rams and elected me as the door they would attempt to knock down. Thankfully, the improved armour that made up the ABS held up against their impacts rather better than standard CMC armour plate and while I was certainly bruised and battered, I wasn't pierced by any of their attacks.
Relief came from a somewhat unexpected direction, as Lasarra and her team emerged from the tunnel entrance and entered the fight themselves. While they were not fighters to the same degree as the warriors standing with us, it was obvious they had undergone some training and they were able to help throw the Zerg back enough that the rest of us could catch our breath a little and deal with what wounds we could.
Just as well too, of the warriors that had joined battle originally, no more than half were still able to fight and a quarter of that number lay dead.
Wiping the blood out of my face once more, I stumbled over to Lasarra. "Timely, Researcher Lasarra. Timely."
She nodded slightly, looking at the devastation around us. Her expression was mournful, and seeing so many of her people wounded or as corpses around us, I could not blame her. I glanced at my chrono and saw the first bit of good news I'd seen in some time.
We'd managed to hold the Zerg back for the hour we'd expected. All we needed now was to know if the Liberator was on her way and we'd be home free. Lasarra and her team might have been later than I'd hoped, but they'd got here at almost exactly the right time, in terms of the battle.
Thankfully, we didn't remain in suspense any longer. A ping announced itself on my comm and a familiar voice made herself known.
"Commander? Still alive?"
I sighed heavily, feeling relief take much of the load from my shoulders. "Ros, you don't know how good it is to hear your voice."
She chuckled. "Back at you, sir. Engines are powered up and we're ready to move. Tell me you're ready for us."
I looked around at the assembled group and the sudden uplifting of spirits that they all seemed to have on realising the situation. A grin crossed my face as I replied. "More than ready, Ros. Get that bucket of bolts here on the double."
"Yes sir!" Came the enthusiastic response. As the line cut off, I turned to Sarah.
"Liberator's on her way. You still have enough left in the tank to clear the road?"
"Count on it," She snarled, turning her attention to the skies and finally unleashing her psionics. The results were as incredible as they were destructive.
The Zerg still massing around the base were stunned as overlords, mutalisks and, perhaps most destructive and to my mind most ironic, scourge were pulled from the sky with crippling effect. Suddenly, they were too busy trying to evade the aerial bombardment for them to concentrate their attention on our defences, so the em-placed defences had no trouble keeping the few who continued the attack at bay. I knew that we could not miss this opportunity.
"Get the wounded together and ready to move. Anything you can carry, grab it now. Alert the base, tell them to get clear of that passage, right now! Rescue's coming, everyone, and we don't want to miss it."
With renewed vigour, everyone moved swiftly to execute their roles as Nova and I stood beside Sarah, the effort visible on her face as she continued her single-handed assault on the Zerg ahead. The next few minutes meant everything.
Thankfully, they proved to be in our favour. With the Zerg still scrambling to deal with the unexpected counter-attack, Nova and I had very little to do other than take the occasional shot at Zerg that looked like they could slip past the defences. With sudden violence, the ground in front of us erupted in fire, flash-cooking any Zerg still there. To my astonishment, despite the distraction, Sarah continued her own efforts against the Zerg and as the smoke cleared, I beheld a sight that lifted my heart skyward.
She had certainly seen better days, that was clear. Parts of her hull were blackened and warped, holes present where solid neo-steel should exist. Smoke billowed from behind her and the gaps where engines and other components should be was obvious. She was a wounded beast, there was no denying that, and her performance suffered appropriately. But that made her more dangerous, not less. Every member of her crew had now tasted the bitter tang of defeat personally and with their assailant in their sights, they did not hesitate.
Some say that revenge is best served cold. While I agreed to a point with that, I personally found that revenge is certainly perfectly acceptable served piping hot and the heat haze drifting from the main battery and other turrets of the mighty ship told me that everyone on board agreed with that viewpoint.
As she drifted down, her access points opened and the Protoss ground forces, escorting Lasarra's vital science team, made their way on board, clambering over battle debris both on the ground and the ship's decks. Sarah, Nova and I were the last ones on board, swiftly heading for the cockpit as the doors sealed behind us. I glanced at Ros and gave an order that at one point, I wasn't sure I would ever be able to give.
"Get us back to the base."
While the whine of the engines as Ros followed my command were different to what I was used to, enough of their original noise remained to comfort me as we escaped that particular death trap and clawed for the sky to return to the far larger battlefield that Aiur had now become.
Well, just over a year since I last updated this and it feels like an entirely different world. In fairness, it really is. In that time, I've watched fire essentially surround the area for kilometres, dealt with smoke so thick you can't see more than a couple of hundred metres in front of you for months, seen flood waters threaten to cut areas off (though the fact they helped put out the fires is very nice) and now watching as the world goes mad due to the coronavirus. I hope that everyone is staying safe, isolating when needed and being careful and responsible. None of us have ever faced anything like this before and I hope we never have to again. Please, look after yourselves, your family and your friends.
So, I feel rather bad, I've had this chapter sitting half done on my hard drive for the best part of 6 months and it's taken me this long to get it out. In all honesty, I struggled with this one, getting through some of the stages taxed my resolve severely. It's been very busy as it is and this wasn't an easy one to get done. I'm hoping things will go better after this, we're rapidly approaching the showdown with the Overmind, but there are a few things to deal with first. I'm also partway through tidying up some of the earlier chapters, so I will likely be replacing those at some point.
And the Liberator is primarily out of action for a while. This was a very difficult decision for me to make, but for a variety of reasons, it is necessary. As I'm sure you've noticed, Jason is getting a little bit over-confident and it was more than about time for him to be brought back down to earth. This is still going to be something he will struggle with to a degree and I'm sure people will call him arrogant and a variety of other things as a result. To be fair, he probably is somewhat. Over-confidence, taking things for granted, expecting things to fall into place; this is something that both Jason and Mengsk have in common and it's not something I like. Jason will lose this eventually, but let me just say he has a lot more to lose before it finally sinks in. Some people have asked for other character viewpoints, but it's something that I've been resisting and it's for reasons like I've just stated that I've written it this way. I'm not writing this as an overall story of the sector, I'm telling this alternate history of the various wars from Jason's point of view because we never get to see the Magistrate/Commander's viewpoint after the first Terran campaign. Things may seem to be going relatively well for Jason and Co, but that follows the canon plot as well; despite everything, between Sarah's capture and the fall of the Overmind, things mostly do go Jim's way, with only minor setbacks. Things don't start going bad for Jim until after the Overmind's fall and really bad until after Augustgrad. So, in my mind, it's not entirely unreasonable for things to be going relatively well right now.
Sharnorasian, you're not wrong with that comparison. There are definitely a lot of parallels between those two despots. They do seem to prefer flashy but absurd weapons rather than relying on the basics.
Sirens, thank you, I was a little concerned that I wouldn't be able to get this out. Now, you have a lot of questions and issues, so I will address them in order. Warfield retreated after Duke was shot down, more or less in the same way that the Hyperion was forced to retreat. I briefly mentioned this in Chapter 36. As far as the difference between the Terran/Zerg and Protoss/Zerg fights, the Dominion were always fighting as a cohesive whole and had considerable experience at fighting Zerg. Additionally, battle-cruisers are actually tougher than carriers and while a carrier with a full complement of interceptors will out-gun a battle-cruiser, once those interceptors are cleared out, the carrier is essentially useless. Other than their purification weapons, they lack any other offensive capability, making them an easier target for flights of scourge and mutalisks to take down. Just because the Protoss have better technology doesn't mean they use it as well as the Terrans use their lesser technology. Their rigidity to tradition and lack of adapting to new situations does them no favours either. Add that to their lack of experience against the Zerg in a primarily offensive role and it's no surprise they had their head handed to them in a bag. I understand your concerns with Jason, I have heard them from a number of others and it's partly why I wrote my comments above. Jason isn't a combat god by any means, but he has considerable experience with the Zerg, perhaps more successful than any other commander in the sector at this point, the Protoss have never had much to do with Terrans, so it's easy for Jason to surprise them too and he's always been unconventional. Is his success rate going to continue at the same level, of course not. The Zerg will adapt to some of Jason's tactics and force him to revise them to find new ways of facing them. This chapter is a good example of things not going to plan; despite his best efforts, he's barely managed an escape with a handful of civilians and a small, wounded defence force in a battered ship. Tassadar's, and the Protoss in general, centuries of training doesn't help them much against the Zerg, whose primary tactic can essentially be summed up as throw masses of units at a target or ambush them from underneath, kill as many enemies as possible, breed up and repeat. I've explained why I don't want to have multiple points of view and, for the moment at least, I intend to stick to that. For an example of a story where there is just a single viewpoint but it is done really well, I would point you towards the Memoir series in Mass Effect, all written essentially from Liara's point of view. It works very well and is definitely done better than I have managed to achieve with this. Also, I haven't had Jason solving the Aeon of Strife, simply putting a theory forward. Nothing to say it's correct, just because Jason says it doesn't actually mean it's right. He does a lot and gets involved with so much, because that's the kind of character he is. Mostly he gets things right enough, but not always. Jason's luck and success will run out at some point.
About Tassadar, sorry but the idea of him simply deciding to destroy the Heart of the Conclave and THEN surrendering was just plain nuts. That made no sense from any tactical viewpoint, it forces Artanis/Raynor's force to turn their attention away from the Zerg to break him out (And turning your back on the Zerg is such a great idea), it kills off warriors that would be better used taking on the Zerg and it sows massive discontent between the different Protoss factions at a time when solidarity is needed more than anything else. I can just see hitting the Conclave, though I think it crazy, as a good idea, possibly with the intention of removing the incompetent rulers from power and replacing them with those that have their priorities straight. Surrendering straight after negates anything that was gained by that action and wastes more lives when none could be spared, which is why Jason was so pissed. Jason did surrender, if you recall and did attempt to sway Fenix and his followers with words. When they responded with typical Protoss arrogance to his greeting, Jason saw that listening to him was highly unlikely and was forced to use other methods to deal with them, something he had planned for but hoped not to have to resort to. I agree I do need to make better use of those around Jason, but I would also remind you that right now, most of them don't have that legendary reputation yet, they earn that during this war. But they will get the chance to do so, I assure you. I'm not offended, constructive criticism is how I learn what to improve, I'm definitely not that good a writer, so I'll take constructive feedback very well.
Surviversp, thank you for your kind words. Fortunately, I did get the all clear about 6 months ago, so things are looking up, as long as I can evade everything else going around right now. I'm hoping to get more chapters out, but I'm still working from home right now or doing bits of field work so my time hasn't exactly freed up much.
Ilya, I'm glad you enjoyed the last chapter. I'm trying to ramp up the action somewhat, particularly in the lead-up to the final confrontation with the Overmind, so you can expect a lot more action to come. I do owe you some responses to your emails and I definitely need to have a good look at some of your new work, I will get on to it as soon as I can.
Firetemplar, thank you, I do try.
Blaze, I couldn't agree more, on both counts.
Scarease, hope this lived up to expectations.
Capo, you can relax, the Liberator isn't out of the story completely and she will return to the front lines eventually. Jason is likely to be stuck on either the Hyperion or a Protoss vessel for a while, but he will have a new command vessel before the Liberator's return and I think you'll like it. I've also, after some considerable consultation with my beta, nailed down the specs for Jason's eventual command ship for the events of WoL and beyond and that ship is going to be very fun to play with. I'm sure you've worked out how correct your suspicions are by now. I do like that idea, might have to spin that in somehow and some point.
Legally, that is the general idea. Fate does not like having her plans messed with and she will certainly be striking back to some extent. Indeed, those four are still active in the background and, as you've seen here, Nova at least is quite capable of going behind Jason's back to run her own schemes. That is going to end up rather important at some point, so I would keep an eye on her in particular. You're right about the matrix, and I think I've explained my reasoning on why the convoy couldn't be warped anywhere. I haven't read the story you refer to, but I do remember reading about it. There are some interesting possibilities that can be explored with creep, but I think it's not something that is likely to be seen until after the Brood War.
Fire, I'm glad you liked the last chapter. Jason will have something of a fall from grace at some point and things will turn south for him, but that day has not yet dawned. Let's just say I have my own plans for Jason during the Brood War and they are going to have a major impact on what we know from canon. No, the Cerebrate is not likely to make any kind of appearance at this point, although things may end up changing eventually. You're pretty much spot on about the Liberator, but Jason's troubles are not going to be over that quickly. As for Karax and the ark-ship, I will let you make your own conclusions on that one for now.
Geraze, I'm glad you like what I've done so far. I know the focus is on Jason but, as I have said, that's kind of the idea. I'm not going to comment on Jason's, or anyone else's, fate during the Brood War, you'll have to wait and see.
Shade, I know that there is something of a difference between Nova's canon backstory and what I have written here. The difference is deliberate and I honestly prefer my version, regardless of the fact it doesn't fit with canon.
Clone, thank you and I am doing my best.
Trualliixander, I'm glad you like what I've done so far. Yep, a few people have complained about Jason and it's highly likely a few more will. I'm trying to improve him as I go but I imagine someone will always complain. You're right, losing the Liberator, at least for the moment, is going to have an impact on Jason's progress and the effects are going to be extensive. Hope this chapter is worth the wait.
Well, I think that about wraps up this monster chapter. I hope you all enjoy it, please read, review and follow/favourite if you haven't already. Above all everyone, stay safe.
Until next time.