Precursors of Man and Void

Chapter 1

Horizon

The doors opened.

In strode a being clothed in black robes. Great, bright yellow eyes shined beneath its wrapped head. No other features could be seen. Its knees appeared crooked, almost broken. As it stepped into the light, however, it was clear that they did not face forward, but backward. The being was not human.

A monstrous - yet beautiful - machine stood before him. The bluish crystal inlays and golden, smooth design so common amongst his race were present on it, but something else was there as well. These constructs on the massive thing made the Protoss decorations seem as rough as sandpaper, and had a calm, silver color to them. The machine formed a great hollow at its center.

The being walked closer to the machine. He paused before it, nearly reverent in his hesitant care, and then placed his hand on the line where the gold and silver met.

The machine stirred.

The being hurriedly stepped back and bowed his head. At the center of the machine, a jagged hole tore into existence. Raw quantum power poured from the wound in reality. However, it grew only for a few seconds, halting at a size barely that of the being's fist. He cringed at that realization. Even then, though, a blue and silver aura of energy flowed through the room. He could hardly imagine the potential it had in its full glory.

Then, a voice echoed through his mind, though it echoed as if in a room of wide walls.

You kept us waiting, a deep, male voice said. The energy within the room pulsed with each syllable.

The being bowed again before responding. "Please, forgive me. Events have been moving apace, and I have not had adequate time for a true report." It would seem strange to most. Though the speech of the being's kind was psychic, it acted much like normal sound. It echoed, it became quieter over distance, and it could be overheard. He could speak with 'true' telepathic speech, but that would be a waste. There was no risk of being eavesdropped upon here.

Explain, another voice said. It was female this time.

Protoss facial expressions were subtle, but even then, the smile could be seen in the being's bright eyes.

"The Solution is underway," He thought for a moment. "In fact, I believe it is being enacted even as we speak..."


UCS Warmonger
Solution class Quantum Control Ship
Imperial Galaxy

Man, this is one helluva light show.

So Captain Maxwell Jackson thought as his ship, the Warmonger, unleashed all of its force on the obstacle ahead; the snarling form of a Warp chasm.

Of course, the Warmonger was no normal military ship. It was the first of the new class now roaming the Imperium. The Solution class.

The thing was large. The Warmonger was nearly the size of its accompanying battle barge, the Far-Reaching Hand, but it had almost no armor. Most of its tonnage was due to one of the most powerful quantum reactors in known space, a reactor that connected directly to the ship's single turret.

The very same turret providing the light show.

A massive rope of quantum power arched from the barrel, lengthening into a cone shape as it connected to the chasm. The blue and silver power wrapped around the red and purple, though the latter appeared to fight back with its full might. Raw Chaos surged from the core of the chasm, rippling and writhing like a nest of beheaded snakes. The captain could just imagine how what the energy was doing to anything on the other side. Judging from vids he had seen of the affect of Quantum weapons on Warp daemons, it wasn't pretty.

"What's our status?" the captain asked.

A man at one of the two consoles at his side spoke up. "The main battery is at forty percent, sir. All backups are prepped and ready." His voice echoed a little in the spacious bridge of the Warmonger.

The captain smiled. "Excellent. We might even get ourselves a record with this one." True to it, the chasm shrank a bit even as he said the words.

All of this was a part of Operation: Solution, a plan to effectively eliminate the Warp's influence on the Imperium once and for all. It was obviously impossible to destroy the Warp itself, and new Warp holes would inevitably pop up every once in a while, but never again would it be enough to gain another foothold in Imperial pace.

Created specifically for this purpose, Solution class ships of UEC build would continually hunt down any Warp chasms detected. The current campaign was slated to end at the mother of all Warp holes, the Eye of Terror itself. Almost every quantum control ship - as they were officially called - currently in operation would be needed for the task of closing it.

The captain sank back into his command chair, enjoying the rather awe-inspiring sight. The continuous torrent of quantum energy looked almost like the flow of some ghastly, space-borne river. The collision of quantum and Warp power resembled a waterfall plunging into a volcano.

A flash in the corner of Jackson's eye caught his attention. Turning his head, he saw an explosion bloom as a new crater appeared on the broken Warp hulk.

Those goddamn Imperials just love playing with their prey, don't they?

The space hulk had just left the chasm when the Warmonger and Far-Reaching Hand had arrived at the scene. The thing was far more corrupted than even most of the Imperials had ever seen. It seemed to be made out of flesh and bone as much as it was out of metal. Its shape constantly shifted as it constructed new parts of itself. Luckily, it appeared to follow many of the laws of a living thing. For one, it seemed young. It also tired itself out in the space of its first salvoes, as though fatigued by the engagement. However, the battle barge had not outright destroyed it. They contented themselves with simply blasting off every new turret and engine that it made.

Not surprising coming from people who used explosive shells against infantry units, easily a war crime in the UEC... if they still used infantry, that is. Either way, the Imperium knew the perfect ways to torment and torture their enemies, and loved doing it as well. No doubt, the daemon's impotence was driving it absolutely mad. Its hull writhed in a disgusting manner. Captain Jackson took that as a sign of rage. Yet it could do nothing else. No matter how fast the metal and flesh formed into cannons and engines, the Imperial craft hammered away at the new appendages, blasting them right off.

There seemed to be only two types of officers in the Imperium: ones who killed anything that could even possibly be a threat and those that preferred to torture threats when they believed them impotent. The former usually had the longest careers.

Jackson's smile dissipated. That reminded him of the others he had on board. Imperials.

The decicion to have them on board each Solution class ship had been…unpopular with both the Imperium and the Coalition soldiers. Yet, it made sense. The Imperial Guard had a lot more experience with Chaos than any Federation soldier (the only Coalition troops present), and could repel any invasion much more easily.

"Sir, the Warp closing has accelerated." The report jolted Jackson from his reverie. The captain's triumphant grin returned.

Only a few minutes later, it was over.

As the huge, lasso like stream retreated back into the barrel of the Warmonger's single turret, activity on the bridge increased as preparations were made for an FTL jump to the next target. Several communications officers chattered into their headsets, coordinating with their equivalents on board the battle barge as it readied its own stellar drive.

Space outside shifted as the Warmonger changed vectors toward its new destination.

Captain Jackson finished updating his orders and walked back to his command chair.


Unknown Location

A collection of sighs resounded off the walls. The being looked up sharply - he had just told them that it was underway, but this was hardly the reaction he had expected.

Already it has begun, a voice said. A host of others spoke as well.

My mind's chains have been loosened.

I can feel so much more.

The influence of Them is coming to an end.

They went on. The Protoss then realized what had happened and 'smiled.' So the Warp was already weakening. Soon... soon, they could return.

The voices quieted after a moment. Silence reigned. The being waited patiently. He knew that their speech was telepathic. They could just be speaking with one another at the moment.

Finally, a deep voice echoed into his mind.

You have served your masters well, very well. We have investigated, and the effects of Them shall be all but gone ahead of schedule with this development. We shall soon return in force and reclaim that which we have lost.

The being put a fist to his chest and began to back away. Time's wound began to close. But the voice spoke out just before it sealed.

Do not slip while we are this close to our ascension. Do not fail us...Artanis...


Terran Galaxy
Protoss Quadrant, Aiur
Executor's Fleet, unnamed transport, designated "VIP" class by Terrans

Home.

It was amazing how things could change. In the span of little more than fifty years (merely the blink of an eye to the long lived Protoss), Aiur had been destroyed…and then returned to its former glory.

Golden spires shone like the sun overhead outside, seeming to slowly descend.

Arbiter Rahn'ma turned from the sight with a heavy heart. It was true, his heart had rejoiced with his people when the United Earth Coalition revealed their advanced terraforming technology, and went so far as to offer its use on the ancestral home world of the Firstborn, but it was also a reminder of what he had lost in the decades previous.

It was the very reason he had abandoned the mantle of the Executor, and had instead named himself an Arbiter, forever shamed, marked by his failure. But he had created a haven for those like him, a society where those who could not bear their own failure could still hold their head up among their own kind.

He had created the Tribunal.

And he, its Arbiter, would lead them as he had failed to do so before. He would do so hidden from the eyes of his people, leading in secret. He would not be found, surely those few who were left would have forgotten about him.

Alas, it was not to be. The new Executor had sought him out as an envoy to the United Nations of Mankind. That position had once been held by the Judicators, but no more. Was the Tribunal to replace that caste? If Rahn'ma had anything to do with it, the Tribunal would remain a shadow of the Firstborn, always serving in the shadows as names alone, but it would never be its own caste.

Yet all the same, he was chosen to be the ambassador to nations that far outmatched the Protoss, and nations consisting of many who want nothing but the destruction of anything that is not human. And no matter his past failures that stained him, Rahn'ma would always bear his responsibility to his people, all the more, in fact, because of his failure.

Yet why was he in the Executor's own fleet? Why would an Executor seek to carry him? Surely whoever it was would not care for him or who he was, some forgotten warrior, and simply give him a contingent of guards and send him on his way.

The skies began to grow dark as Aiur descended. For a short while, the endless black was all that he could see outside, then a shimmering light, then the endless swirling of warp space.

Rahn'ma had his suspicions about who it was who had called for him. Artanis, perhaps seeking another chance to berate him about how he should have been chosen as Executor instead of some failure. No doubt he was enjoying his position as Praetor now.

No, it was best not to think that. The Arbiter had seen how hurt the current Praetor had been by Fenix's second, permanent death had been. It was understandable why he had been so angry at Rahn'ma, it was his fault.

Footsteps sounded from the hall. They were lithe, but heavy, as though the source was wearing armor.

The Executor, a female, Rahn'ma thought.

A woman? That fact was surprising, yet not at the same time. There had never been female Executor before, but with the waves of sudden, overwhelming change that had happened just before the Arbiter had left, it made sense. He turned to face the door.

Why would the Executor come to him?

He stopped wondering once she entered the doorway. For a moment, the two simply stared at each other.

"Executor," Rahn'ma said in a clipped tone.

Executor Selendis shook her head and took a step forward.

"I ask only that my subordinates call me that," she looked into his eyes. "...not my old friends."

The former Executor cocked his head slightly. He had a sneaking suspicion as to who had sought him out now.

"Why did you find me?" He asked, his tone the same. She flinched at it before answering, the emotions radiating from her seemed to dim slightly.

"The same reason that you were once again appointed Executor after Aiur's fall half a century ago!" she shot back. "We need you. This United Nations...they want nothing but our demise! With our numbers barely more than they were at the Fall, we cannot afford another war. If it were up to me-"

"Enough!" Rahn'ma yelled. He could sense where this was going. The Executor's emotions were reaching a peak. He knew how she had felt about his choice. Yet...there was something else there, something that hadn't been there before...or had it?

The Executor stepped back, her eyes wide. That's when Rahn'ma knew he had done something, enough to cause the unruffleble woman to step back, but whether it was his response or his emotions...maybe even something else, he did not know.

"I made my choice decades ago," he declared in a much quieter voice, though it was still full of steel. "Accept it."

Even the Arbiter's own eyes widened a bit at the vehemence in those last two words, but he pressed on.

"I am a failure," he continued, bitterness dripping from his words. "I have failed my brethren, my friends, my people. All of them."

A psionic hiss went through the room, the equivalent of a Terran sucking in his breath.

"I was told to abandon my closest friend, my brother, in battle by the blasted Conclave...and I obeyed without complaint. And it was all to arrest the one being who could save our planet...and all those people...and yet I obeyed."

Protoss expressions are subtle, they did not have as many facial muscles as mouthed creatures like Humans, Eldar, or Tau. Anyone else would have been unable to see it, but the Arbiter could. He looked away from her eyes, turning his back to her.

"I was too weak to reach Fenix...I watched him die, and I abandoned our world in its most dire hour," He turned briefly to look at Selendis, anger flashing into his eyes.

"You have sought me out, claiming that I am to be an ambassador. Pah! There are many Protoss who can do such! No, by bringing me back out into the light, you have condemned me to suffer in the eyes of our people."

He looked away again.

"I see no failure," Selendis said, almost silently. "I only see one of the greatest heroes in the history of our people, one whom Tassadar himself called a friend, one who fought beside Fenix in the defense of Aiur."

Rahn'ma said nothing, but kept his back to her. His luminous, yellow eyes were closed. His armor made a tinkling sound as he shifted.

His armor…he had crafted it himself. Unlike the bright, sharp armor of the Executor, it was a dark, dull blue. It did not hold the over-shoulder loops either, instead having large, rounded shoulders. It exemplified the contrast between himself and Selendis now more than it had between any other Protoss.

"I see a man who could have had a career beyond what anyone else could dream of," Selendis went on. "And a man who…who could have chosen to end that career as a respected father and mate."

At that last sentence, Rahn'ma tilted his head back and burst out in laughter. He couldn't help it. True, traditionally, Templar who became too old to serve or retired for another reason would often settle down. But the Arbiter? Hah! The very idea…

He turned away from the window, which still showed only warp space. The laughter was immediately gone from his eyes, and the grimness returned in full force. Selendis' face held many emotions. Anger, sadness, all mixed in with something he still could not identify.

"A father?" he asked. "I am a broken man, Selendis. Who would want to spend their life with a man like that?"

She did not meet his eyes, instead tilting it away.

"Rahnnos…" she said softly, seeming to gather to say more.

The Arbiter, on the other hand…

He flinched away at the mention of that name; the name that was the source of all his disgrace and shame, the name that he had once borne…as an Executor. His hands gathered into fists, and his eyes narrowed. He noticed nothing about the Executor, only that she had used that name.

Arbiter Rahn'ma strode out of the room with loping strides, the cloak of his office flowing out behind him.

Selendis knew he had left, but she moved only to cradle one arm in the other. Her words, intended for him, escaped as a psionic whisper.

"You would be surprised…"


A/N: Ok, I guess I should apologize for two things; A) for not posting this earlier, but hey, school is beatin the crap outta me. B) I know that this is a bit Protoss-centric for a story involving four different universes. Not to worry, The Imperium, Coalition, United Empires, Terrans, and whoeverelse will show up, just not this chapter.

Thank you Mark Ryan for beta reading.

Reviews are welcome. Questions will be answered at the posting of the next chapter.