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Juras looked on in horror.
The readouts showed the devastation below with too much clarity. Protoss zealots lay dead, strewn across a battlefield of craters and wreckage. A small band of them huddled on a hilltop fighting off… an alien intelligence. The aliens were incredibly varied – so much so that Juras immediately deduced that they must assimilate other species into their own. More importantly, he could sense their minds. Unthinking feelings of hunger washed over him: a desire to consume or assimilate all. They were naturally a collective conscious. The creatures on the hillside were simple organisms that should operate under a greater intelligence.
But they moved and fought with no direction, tearing at each other as much as the protoss. It was as if their guiding intelligence had abandoned them.
Clearly the protoss had met another intelligence while Juras slept. And the result was carnage.
Blood and ichor mingled freely; chunks of meat and bone stuck out of the mud alongside scorched rubble. Light flashed off of protoss shields and alien claws alike. Once again, protoss weapons were being used against an alien intelligence.
Juras saw himself walking through a deserted city, past the charred corpse of a kalathi.
It must not happen again.
Juras brought the ship completely over the battlefield, casting it all into shadow. An eerie moment of calm descended as combatants on both sides looked up. There was silence. The moment ended; with a rush of action, the aliens resumed their attack. Through a haze of anguish, Juras felt the psionic screams of every zealot who perished. Those screams wrenched him to action – he reached out to the protoss below with his mind.
The response was immediate and hard-edged: “I am Commander Martul. You are Juras. But where are you from, and why are you here?”
“I am a researcher,” he said. “How have you come to violence? Can you not just avoid these creatures?”
“Are you mad? If you have weapons, use them!”
“The weapons on this ship are for self-defense.”
“We are surrounded. Either the zerg die – or we do. ”
Juras saw that she was correct. He could not let his fellow protoss die. And the creatures below had been cut off from their guiding intelligence – perhaps it would be a kindness to end their lives. With shaking fingers, Juras activated the Moratun’s khaydarin crystal and brought the purifier beams to bear. A buzz filled the battlefield as molecules in the air ionized. The light seemed to rush away only to burst forth again from the bottom of the ship.
Pure energy poured down onto the muddied, bloodied battlefield. The zerg writhed as the beams ripped them to pieces. Some creatures simply ceased to exist. Juras felt the joy of the zealots as they saw their foes disintegrate, and it mingled with his own shame.
Once he’d cleared a space near the crown of the hill, he brought the ship in low and activated the short-range teleport beam. Seeing their chance, the zealots charged. The aliens came at them from all sides, determined to keep the trapped protoss where they were. The zealots cut a swath through them, a few of their number falling. Juras saw the protoss reach the blue column of light that represented safety. As they approached the warp, the mothership’s cloaking hid them from view.
The young zealot commander, Martul, reached the warp first, but stood next to it and fought off the ravening aliens while her people rushed past. Juras could not use the Moratun’s more exotic weapons, such as the vortex or the temporal rift, this close to his own people, but the purifier beams kept the aliens at bay.
The final zealot arrived at the gate. The pursuing zerg surged forward. Martul cut down two of them. The last zealot hesitated just outside the cloaked area, ready to help. A hooked arm caught him up and dragged him back into the maelstrom of writhing zerg flesh. Martul’s blades whirled toward the arm, but it was too late: the zealot was dragged into the tightly packed aliens.
Martul leapt after the zealot, heedless of her injury, blades whirling. She felled three, then four. But the aliens were numberless, and the other zealot disappeared into the chaos. Martul registered the death of her comrade, then swung her blades in a great arc and leapt back into the cloaking field.