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A short story by

Hugh Todd

Theromos was quiet for a moment and then spoke. "I have warned you."

Feranon swiveled his chair to face forward.

"Bring a second flux field projector online. Keep the beam trained on that ultralisk."

The tone that vibrated through the ship changed pitch as a second arc of energy sprung up, merging with the first at the main crystal. Once again the ultralisk staggered, but then the beam began to liquefy its tough skin, and the zerg was torn apart, consumed from the inside out.

"Target the remaining ultralisks."

The beam fired, tearing through zerg flesh and bone. What had begun as an army, almost two dozen of the towering beasts, was quickly reduced to ash. The Purity of Form scoured the battlefield until the last ultralisk fell still, its body a smoking ruin.

"Shut down the beam," commanded Feranon.

The vibration that shook the Purity of Form subsided, and the bridge dimmed with the loss of the arcing energy's glare. Feranon turned to congratulate the young dark templar, but stopped at what he saw. Althai lay unmoving.

Theromos bowed his head over the still form. "You have your victory, Commander. It only cost you one of your crew. I will need a new student."

The bridge was quiet as the old dark templar strode from the room.

* * *

Although there was no answer at Theromos's door, Feranon entered his cabin anyway. The space was empty of furniture. Theromos sat in the middle of the room in a meditative posture, his back to the commander. One wall of Theromos's quarters looked out at the prismatic core, the heart of the void ray. The bright flow of energies drew patterns across every surface of the small stateroom. There was a stillness here that reminded Feranon of a xel'naga temple he had once visited. This cabin carried the same sense of ancient peace, but in this case, it emanated from the seated dark templar.

"Althai was brave to take the risk he did to protect our people. His sacrifice will be remembered." The serenity of the room swallowed Feranon's words. The silence extended so long that Feranon thought the old Nerazim wouldn't answer, but then Theromos's psionic voice growled forth.

"Sacrifice. Is that what you would call it?"

"Either we destroyed the zerg then or our warriors would have paid the price later."

"I do not argue against the need to fight the zerg. But Althai was not ready. I had trained him only for a couple of weeks, and he had yet to demonstrate the discipline required to control the Void energies produced by this ship."

"Althai thought himself ready. And he was successful long enough for us to be victorious."

Theromos's grim laughter spread across the room like gravel. He turned to meet Feranon's gaze. "Do you allow every eager young warrior who thinks he is ready to leap into battle against an overwhelming foe? No. I have been training dark templar far longer than you have been alive, Commander. Almost as long as there have been dark templar. If you push them before they are ready, you end up with dead students. As we have today. I should be back on Shakuras, teaching Nerazim, instead of here, helping you kill them. The only reason I do so is out of respect for the Hierarchy and its request for my help."

"There are other void rays in the fleet. Other dark templar acting as Void lenses. They manage. You yourself could fulfill this role for a ship, but you refuse."

"Yes, there are many experienced dark templar, although few with the discipline to manipulate the great forces used by this unhealthy creation of our scientists. As for my reasons for refusing to handle the Void energies, they are my own. I will teach. It is enough. Now leave me to my meditations."

Theromos turned away from the commander, once again assuming a meditative pose.

Feranon looked at the old Nerazim for a moment and then walked from the room. He paused in the doorway.

"Your new student is warping in as we speak. I will have her report to you when she is settled."

When Theromos didn't respond, Feranon went on, his psionic voice quieter. "Theromos, I am not your enemy, nor was I Althai's. I want only what is best for both our peoples; I want to help save the protoss race."

Theromos's words barely disturbed the stillness of the room. "The zerg did not kill Althai, Commander."

Feranon had no answer to that.

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