The Final Solution
Just as Daniel and Ariel walked back to the bridge, the entire ship rocked, knocking many people off balance. Urgently, they rushed to look at the viewscreen. People were scrambling around getting back to their stations. "All ships red alert!" shouted Daniel. The next moment the standard white lights had dimmed, to be replaced by the reddish glow of the alarm lights. "Someone tell me what's going on!" Just then, it hit him. "Wait a minute, this is too coincidental. I doubt-- Adjutant? Report!"
"Sensors have reported an incredibly powerful psionic burst fully five magnitudes stronger than anything ever recorded in either our or Confederate files. Currently homing in on the source of this disturbance..."
"Seems like we found out the culprit already," Daniel remarked to himself.
"What was that all about?" asked James.
The adjutant responded by bringing up a video recording on the mainframe. "This clip was captured by a Protoss observer near the site of impact." It showed the surface of Aiur from the depths of space, from a viewpoint hundreds of miles away. That part corresponded to the heart of the Zerg presence on the planet. Suddenly, there was a burst of light at a spot on the surface, and a beam struck out from it into the void; even from so far away, the line of the beam was clearly visible. It was like a white, static, laser, except so powerful its path was visible, and so large it dwarfed a city.
From the space side of that beam of light warped in a massive meteorite that quickly sunk toward the planet, along the path of the beam of light.
"Tractor beam? That's--"
The meteorite struck the planet surface, surrounded by a near opaque nebula of Zerg fliers. It hit with the power of a thousand nuclear detonations.
The psionic emanations had suddenly spiked, the light vanished, and a massive crater and debris cloud appeared. Through the piercing lens of the observer, the onlookers watched as the meteorite seemingly unfolded into a red-black, massive structure the size of a city.
Unharmed, it floated above a sea of roiling magma-turned-lava, as a mile-high wave of fire spread out in a ring from ground zero outward.
"The day of judgment hath come," someone quoted with eyes wide open, as everyone else hung their jaws in silent bedazzlement.
"Is that...? Focus on the... thing!"
As it came into view, Daniel realized just what it was. The Overmind, with its unimaginably large eyeball, sitting atop a great brain-mass and surrounded by large spire-like appendages. Its fleshy tentacles had already entrenched into the violet-brown, creep-covered ground, and they were spreading in one direction primarily: toward a nearby structure that resembled some kind of temple.
Just then all that Daniel had learned about Aiur he recalled. There was a structure that held information regarding past, present, and future, and now the Overmind was here, seeking that forbidden knowledge... If it succeeded, it would have the ability to rewrite the future using technologies only the future would hold. It was a frightening prospect, since the only two things keeping the Protoss alive was their technology and the secret locations of their Forge Worlds.
"It's the Overmind! Here, on Aiur!"
"The Overmind is leader of the Zerg. If we attack it directly--" voiced one of the officers.
One of the other officers in the operations center turned around and interjected, "then we could end this entire battle in one fell swoop!"
"Shut up, or I'll demote you," said Daniel, his acrid words stinging. "Who do you think the Overmind is, an idiot? If it hasn't been killed for hundreds of years, then it maybe can't be killed. At least it won't be easy."
Daniel recalled something from his latest encounter with the Overmind. The Overmind is eternal; so it was made by our creators. "And indeed, it's very likely we can't kill it; it's eternal. Ariel, are the Protoss moving to engage them?"
"Yes; we have dispatched roughly a third of the Homeworld Fleet to its location. Firing should commence... now."
As Daniel turned to look at the screen, he saw the Protoss unleash their highly focused bombardment of the Overmind. Innumerable ion beams and PICA's slashed away at its skin, and when it became clear that that approach didn't work, a nuke had been dropped. Moments later the sensors revealed that the thermonuclear blast had been harmless to it.
"Oh no, the Overmind is invulnerable!" exclaimed Ariel. Meanwhile, the Zerg swarm had begun concentrating its attacks on this Protoss fleet. In attacking the Overmind it had once again entered the planet's umbra, making it vulnerable to the Zerg passing through. Within mere moments it had suffered tremendous casualties and it was clear that it could not hold out for long against such overwhelming odds. All the while the massive Overmind continued to encroach upon the Temple. The Protoss fleet then directed its fire at the Xel'Nagan Temple, hoping to destroy it before the Overmind could make contact, and so that the Overmind would never be able to retrieve its knowledge. But as Daniel predicted based on what he would expect from a superior race, the attacks did no harm whatsoever to the landmark. It still stood just as magnificent as before, showing no signs of taking any damage whatsoever. Realizing that they could not accomplish what they had set out to do, the fleet suddenly retreated, opting to delay the progress of the Overmind by locking it within a time bomb. The reddish-brown monstrosity was suddenly swallowed up in an utterly black bubble as everything, even light, ceased to move within its field.
"What's with this battle and indestructible enemies?" asked Daniel.
"Today is the first time we have encountered enemies immune to all physical attack, and it is grave news indeed," replied Ariel. "Since we had always revered the Temple, we have never tried to scar it; we didn't know that it couldn't be harmed at all and would one day be used against us. We've identified both the Temple and the Overmind to be composed nearly entirely of a nanite far more advanced than anything we have ever encountered before. Indeed, the nanites in the Temple were what had spurred our research into nanotechnology, perfecting their use to this current state. What the Overmind is doing with highly similar nanites is known to us."
"Isn't it clear now? The Overmind must have tapped into the Temple of Life, which promises immortality to those who reach it, in the process infusing them with the Xel'Nagan nanites which can fulfill this promise."
"So... we're righting against our makers now?" asked Ariel, horrified. Daniel knew what the Protoss must be thinking now: it would clearly be futile to resist the Xel'Naga.
"No, you're not resisting your makers' will. In fact, you are fulfilling it. You're merely resisting your makers' creations. There's a big difference."
"What difference does that make?"
"Perhaps the Xel'Naga intended for you to find a way to overcome the immunity of the Overmind. We cannot give up hope now just because we've encountered the enemy's think tank and found it invincible. Must I remind you that the dark ones under Zeratul had succeeded moments earlier in destroying two Cerebrates?"
<Did someone call me?> asked Zeratul, somehow reappearing on the bridge from out of nowhere.
Daniel stood on the bridge, wondering what came next. He had convinced the Protoss, especially the Conclave which led their collective, of the need to ally with the Dark Templar, but at the moment there was no sign of them anywhere except for the singular personality of Zeratul.
<So... Prelate Zeratul,> began Ariel, sounding rather unsure of herself, < I speak for the Khala when I say that we want to make peace with your Unbound kind after centuries of conflict. I guess we just needed some outside influence to convince us that it was the right thing to do, thanks to our trusty admiral Daniel here,> she said with an uncertain, coy smile. <We don't have much to spare at the moment, but maybe... maybe when this is all over we can live in harmony, Bound and Unbound together?>
<Of course. It's what us dark ones have been waiting all that time for.>
<All right then! Hostilities against your kind will cease immediately.>
All around the icy planet of Braxis was a nebula of comatose Zerg fliers, the orders being sent to them having been distorted and rendered meaningless by the Psi Disruptor. The congregation was so thick that not a speck of the planet could be seen from any direction whatsoever.
In the blackness of night, a single, tiny projectile went straight for the Braxis base, dodging the massive swarms of Zerg as it went. It was not detected until too late. Detonating a short ways above the icy ground, it released a cloud of reddish nanites that resembled a fluid - a particularly vile one at that. It seeped through doors and windows, flooded hallways, and took the crew by surprise. They went right into the exposed skins of every single human at the station, swiftly changing them from within, infesting them. Even as they screamed in terror, their chests or backs exploded, and newly hatched zerglings had burst forth. Even the Neosteel armor of the guards offered no protection as the nanite wave bit through the pores. Before long there was not a single human still alive at the base. The zerglings then rushed over to the giant parabolic dish and deactivated it.
The Dreadnought Fist of Aiur was turned into scrap metal within milliseconds.
A titanic wormhole opened up nearby, its orange glow quickly hidden by the silhouettes of trillions of reawakened Zerg.
The end time had come.
Back on Aiur, the Protoss fleet was content with gradually slaughtering the Zerg from beyond the planet's psionic shadow. The one side of the planet was already entirely in ruins; the Stargates there had been summarily obliterated through sheer might. The Zerg, for their part, were doing their best defending an invulnerable Overmind while being unable to strike out at the Protoss forces. All around them were countless more Zerg, though whole, floating motionless in space. Much of the active Zerg here had already been destroyed, and it seemed very likely that the Protoss would win this monumental battle. Daniel was sitting in his cherished seat, not even bothering to watch the viewscreen.
"Admiral! Come look at this!" shouted the adjutant, suddenly frantic. Daniel's eyes bolted open, and one of the first things he saw was that Ariel's face had blanched.
"What's the problem? The Zerg brought in reinforcements?"
"No... But the Psi Disruptor on Braxis must have failed; we're not getting its signal anymore and my attempt to communicate with them has failed," replied the adjutant.
"Oh shit, don't tell me--"
"Exactly! The Zerg spread throughout the star system have rejoined the battle, and the Zerg concentrated within the umbra have emerged. The Protoss fleets, spread as they were in cylindrical shape, suffered heavy casualties in instants."
"What's our plan now?"
"They've reformed into a single fleet, sphere formation, doing their best to stave off the Zerg."
"My guess is, they'll probably be forced to abandon their Homeworld now," said Daniel, looking out the viewscreen to where the Zerg outnumbered the Protoss still by at least a hundred to one. The shielding that the Protoss had managed to regenerate in the last few minutes was offering them with a much-needed respite, but it would only last a short while and now golden ships were detonating once again at an alarming rate. The Zerg had already commenced attack at the other massive Stargates, and have also begun to encroach onto the unblemished side of the planet."
"Ariel, what says the Protoss?"
"They're... They're holding position, but at the rate with which they're taking fire they'll be destroyed in seconds."
Meanwhile, Zeratul had been overseeing a hopefully much more effective campaign against the Zerg. The dark ones' fleets had by now entirely withdrawn from Aiur's star system, each hunting down a Cerebrate. Most of them had succeeded in neutralizing the pittance of resistance they had encountered - the Zerg had all departed for Aiur - and were ready to use their fleets' complement of Warp Rays.
<We are now all in position, Prelate.>
<Commence immediately. Every second we dally is another million lives lost.>
In star systems across the galaxy, Warp Rays shot their bluish, phase-shifting beams at their targets, causing the Cerebrates to look unnaturally ghostly with many warped, twisted versions of themselves overlapping each other. Phase-shifted, and out of their natural environment, the Xel'Nagan nanites no longer worked properly, allowing the Cerebrates to be destroyed beyond any hope of reconstitution.
Many Zerg broods collapsed leaderless in those few seconds.
Just as Daniel was about to pray for a miracle, he saw one. The beleaguered Protoss fleet backed away as the Zerg swarms all around them suddenly turned against each other with much ferocity and chaos. Now the Zerg swarm was taking heavy losses while the Protoss, content once again with firing from afar, were taking minimal losses and focusing their attacks on the still-unaffected parts of the Swarm.
"Oh yes!" exclaimed Ariel in delight, clapping her hands in joy.
"That's all that my fleet can give you for the next five minutes," said Zeratul. "In the meantime our fleets will be headed for the locations of other Cerebrates. You must do whatever you can to hold out until then."
Nevertheless, the Protoss Homeworld Fleet had already been utterly devastated. More than two thirds of the fleet had already been wiped out since the battle for Aiur had begun; hundreds of billions of Templar had already lost their lives defending their cherished Homeworld.
"You see, Ariel, the dark ones have managed to use their Warp Rays to destroy Cerebrates you light ones had claimed invincible. Well what do you think of that now? It came in handy, didn't it?"
"Indeed. The Conclave has already ordered the remaining Stargates to shift production to Warp Rays. We should have hundreds of them within the minute."
"Good. When we're ready we can lead the attack against the Overmind." Then Daniel looked back at the viewscreen. It showed the titanic swirling masses fighting each other nonstop in a cataclysmic engagement. On the hologram numerous red blips were disappearing. Nevertheless, they still outnumbered the yellow ones many times over.
"If that battle out there comes to its conclusion before the five minutes is up, the Homeworld Fleet will have to do everything in its capacity to stay on the winning side. It will doubtlessly incur many more losses. And yet, if we don't keep the Protoss presence here strong, the Overmind will come out of stasis and reach the Temple - something we cannot allow," said Daniel in a solemn tone. "We need to come up with a way to defeat the Overmind... soon."
"We may have just the one to tell us how to do that," remarked Ariel.
Suddenly a personal-sized hyperspace window opened up within the bridge, leaving a woman in its wake. James opened his eyes in surprise. "Sarah Kerrigan! Is that you? Wait, no, it can't be! You were somehow altered by the Zerg--"
Sarah smiled and struck an alluring pose. There was nothing at all left on her to indicate that she had been infested, or that she had been a captive of the Zerg. She was completely human now - or at least it seemed. "Well, I don't look it, do I?" she said.
"Hmm," Daniel turned to Ariel, "This something the Protoss did?"
"Yes. After capturing her - the self-styled "Queen of Blades" - back on Char, we brought her immediately to a restoration chamber on another world and filled her body with nanites. There were already some sparse Xel'Nagan nanites within her, and the Zerg nanites had home-field advantage in her body, and so it was with great difficulty that our nanites carried the day. She's now clear of Zerg influence and is on our side."
"Wonderful," said James, unable to take his stare off of Sarah. "I just... I still have trouble believing you're actually you again," he muttered.
"Sarah, I need you to tell me everything you know about the Overmind. And don't tell me the Protoss nanites wiped out your memory."
"It didn't. I uncovered the Overmind's great weakness as it was trying to infest me and turn me into some version of itself."
"Get straight to the point; we haven't got long."
"There is an old Xel'Nagan tablet or whatever that the Overmind stumbled upon long ago. It's hard to translate Xel'Nagan scripture but its point is that any two Xel'Nagan creations can destroy any other. When the Overmind encountered the humans in the Koprulu Sector, it was quick to realize that, even though they were not much of a threat on the surface, the humans were actually a creation of the Xel'Naga - not from scratch, by any means, but still modified millennia ago, coinciding with the founding of their first great settlements back on a now-lost homeworld of their race called Earth. Unlike the Protoss and the Zerg, however, the modifications were minor and done without the use of nanites, since the Xel'Naga had themselves not developed such technology at the time," explained Sarah.
"Sounds like an attempt to unite evolution with creation," remarked Daniel.
"Sure, but that's how we interpreted it. The humans, after all, do have some telepathic inclinations, at least in a sparse few members of their population - a trait the Zerg were very surprised at finding. The Zerg had after all encountered and wiped out or assimilated the races on hundreds of worlds, none of which were even remotely capable of resistance and certainly not capable of telepathy."
Humans? I can't believe it! What have we to do with any of this? "So... is the key to defeating the Overmind to combine our two races?"
"So it would seem..."
"If you don't know, I suggest you ask the Protoss."
Daniel turned to Ariel. "Is there a plan in the works?"
"Well, we were planning to just go down to the surface with our fleet of Warp Rays and annihilate the Overmind that way," she replied. "I don't know of any other plans..."
Human and Protoss. Human and Protoss. Argh, just what are we supposed to be able to contribute to this war effort anyway? wondered Daniel. "Oh well. Let us get on with this plan."
Meanwhile, Tassadar communicated to Zeratul. <What do you think about these humans?>
<They are... very interesting.>
<To say the least, they are. But we find it strange that Daniel, the Whisperer, is able to communicate with us telepathically. It indicates that humans have at least some hidden potential for such abilities, though they are much more pronounced in him than in anyone else.>
<Yes....... Too coincidental. And they have the ansible also, which they were actually able to use...>
<Remember how there was supposedly a Xel'Nagan Chronicle uncovered centuries ago about their creations? How we were created first, and called the Firstborn?>
< Indeed. It all does seem so very strange, but... what are you getting at?> asked Zeratul.
<Highly unusual. The Chronicle states very clearly that the Xel'Naga uphold three facets of any species. They are, without being in any particular order, Essence, Form, and Mind. So we wonder why they only created two species, forgetting about the Purity of Mind altogether?>
<Easy answer. Either the Xel'Naga never intentioned to establish a race with the third Purity, or it was still unable to do so when their Secondborn turned against them.>
<No, we do not think it is as you state. Remember, that the Xel'Nagan word for "Born" also means "Awakened". Perhaps that is the crucial aspect? Remember also that our creators created a lot of different things. Is it not possible for there to be more of such creations that we know little about?>
<You venture far into the realm of the hypothetical, Tassadar.>
<Hypothetical, yes. And yet, all indicators point to the same thing. The Xel'Naga like to have things in threes. For example, their two Planes are in addition to the real Plane - three. Also: it has been stated that any two of their creations can be used to stop a third. Why would they say something like that if there was not a third creation, another race altogether? In the past, there have been only one example of such a feat being performed. When the Zerg stumbled upon Shakuras when the dark ones were young, they were swiftly annihilated by the activation of the main Temple located near current-day Telematros by the twin crystals Uruz and Khalis. Which, by the way, can be construed as a third Temple.>
<Are you suggesting that we have already encountered a new Xel'Nagan creation, and that we merely do not recognize it for what it is?>
<No, not a new one, but a very, very old one. One that is so obvious it will shock you. Those I speak of, are the ones we refer to as Terrans.>
<A Purity of Mind? I see, it... Daniel's incredibly profound actions... it all makes sense now...>
< Is it not peculiar that the only thing besides us Protoss and the Xel'Nagan artifacts that has stopped the Zerg have been humans? Never, through the millennia that we have charted the worlds, have we encountered a sentient species with such a powerful blessing as this one; no other species can be held responsible for contributing even an effort of a hundred magnitudes less than what we have achieved. And that, Zeratul, is a very, very tiny number.>
< If what you say is true, and it seems highly likely, then our friendship with the Whisperer has proven to be a monumental windfall for our race. Because if all you said turns out to be true, we may have the final weapon for destroying the hated Overmind.>
<Yes, that is exactly what we were getting at.>
<Why, then, could we not detect around them the strong psionic signals that are intimately connected with all the Xel'Nagan creations?>
<My guess would be, that the humans are the only children of the Xel'Naga that have not been Awakened. Hence, no psionic auras of any sort, no mention in the Chronicle our race was given, and their lack of the title of Firstborn. They were probably the first that were created, because if you look into their own archives, you will find innumerable references to their own creation as a society, more than just a few millennia ago. Their creation far predates our own. They were the first to be made, yet back then the Xel'Naga may have still lacked the ability to connect individuals together through a psionic web. If you recall, that was what the Purity of Form experiment was all about. Perhaps, they intended to go back and revise their first creations; or perhaps, the Pure of Mind need no psionic potential to be just as consequential in the universe.>
<To think that we would live to the day when we would recognize this... The feeling we get is incredible...>
<Now, the main question is how we can use what we just discovered to vanquish the Overmind.>
<Should we tell Daniel about this revelation once he recovers, perhaps? He would be interested.>
They turned and saw him staring back at them intently, enraptured by their conversation. <No need. I felt every thought you shared between each other.>
<My, but isn't that Purity of Mind right there?> Tassadar remarked.