Chapter Two: New Mission
The reconstruction of Tarsonis looks like it is going to take years. Even if it doesn't, there is no replacing the people we lost. Our society was devastated and corruption remains a problem even now. Everyone I know lost somebody they loved.
Whole neighborhoods lie abandoned and rotting from when the residents fled and never came back. To this day zerg stragglers have been seen on the outskirts of settlements. Even if the bulk of the broods have moved on, the colonial militia will be fighting for years after this.
Liberty's reports, volume III
The screen in her office flared to life and Arcturus Mengsk appeared. He looked tired and older. There were bags under his eyes, and his hair was somewhat out of place. Serena took in the sight and smiled. 'Emperor Arcturus, to what do I owe the unparalleled honor of your presence?'
'Save it.' said Mengsk 'I've heard enough of those platitudes since I arrived on Korhal. People treat me like God incarnate.'
'I thought you enjoyed people treating you like a god.' mused Serena.
'A guilty pleasure, but one can tire of such things.' said Mengsk, straightening his hair. 'You'll be happy to know that the militarization of terran society is well underway. Our military reforms are controversial, but the outlying colonies appreciate the need for them.'
'And the core worlds?' asked Serena.
'Tarsonis aside, they do not fully understand why they ought to take time out of their lives.' admitted Mengsk 'I mean to move a bit more slowly on them. Although Carolina Davis has begun organizing a militia of sorts, entitled the Defenders of Man.'
'I've heard of them.' said Serena 'I also heard that Davis is equipping them with civilian grade rifles and flak jackets.'
'As you no doubt understand, Serena, equipping an army is not cheap.' said Mengsk 'Davis' plan outfits huge numbers of soldiers for a fraction of the price it would take to equip an equal number of marines. I plan to use them as auxiliary troops, to reinforce existing positions.'
'As long as no one is using them for heavy assault.' said Serena 'Marine casualties are high enough. So how is the terraforming going?'
'Ah, you refer to the terraforming project.' said Mengsk 'Not all that well, to be honest. With the zerg encroachments I simply don't have the funds to devote much to them. I am, of course working to assemble a team of scientists to work on the subject, and I have already found an excellent base to begin from.
That brings me to the business side of this conversation. I confess it wasn't simply for the pleasure of your company that I called you.'
'It never is.' mused Serena.
'I'd like to reactivate you as an active commander.' said Mengsk 'You'll take command of the Medusa in orbit and begin a mission immediately.'
Finally! She was getting off Tarsonis! 'What kind of mission?'
'Well, a number of different worlds are having trouble mobilizing.' said Mengsk 'They lack experienced soldiers and proper military production facilities. It is my hope that you might help in overcoming such hurdles. Beginning with Agria.'
'You mean the farming planet?' guessed Serena.
'Yes, their problems are by far the most serious.' said Mengsk 'Other colonies lack the veterans and weapons to mobilize. They lack the will. I trust you can find ways to motivate them.'
'Of course.' said Serena.
'There is one other thing.' said Mengsk 'A gentleman we both are all too familiar with as recently expressed a desire to meet with me. In a moment of haste I have agreed, however, I have since thought better of it, and I would like you to go in my stead.'
'Who is this gentleman?' asked Serena.
'Samir Duran.' said Mengsk, looking in a fouler mood still. 'He has some data for me, and I'd rather it be collected by someone I can trust.'
'Why did you agree to meet him in person then?' asked Serena.
'The man is persuasive.' admitted Mengsk 'And thus far has been a huge asset. I was also tired. In any case, I want you there instead of me.'
'Right,' said Serena 'where and when is the meeting?'
The information was more than a little surprising. Serena never thought Mengsk would even consider trusting Duran. Maybe he didn't want Duran looking for new career opportunities. Either way, orders were orders.
It was the last place Serena expected to attend a top secret meeting. This was no secure facility with armed guards patrolling the place. Nor was it a guarded compound with heavy machinegun turrets scanning for unauthorized entries. It was a coffee restaurant and a very nice one.
The walls were dark and showed many images from Old Earth. There were flowing fountains that could be seen on the walls. The tables were of fine wood, originally from Chau Sara. Samir Duran was sitting at a booth near the edge of the restaurant, hands clasped and leaning back.
Serena moved forward and sat down in front of him, reflecting on how little she wanted to be here. Samir Duran was a man who singlehandedly began the invasion of Mar Sara and who knew how many other Confederate worlds for the sake of Confederate dominance. He'd been a long time associate of her uncle, which meant he probably had more blood on his hands than anyone in the entire planet.
Only his last-minute defection to the Sons of Korhal had saved him. Oh and he was a ghost, he was reading her thoughts right now, wasn't he?
'Guilty as charged,' admitted Duran 'when one is a psychic one gets used to hearing surface thoughts. Though you are making no attempt to hide them.'
'Well I felt you ought to know where you stood.' said Serena 'Tell me, how did you get Arcturus to agree to meet with you in person?'
'I needed to transfer some very important data.' said Duran 'The sort one doesn't want flowing out over transmissions. Emperor Mengsk decided to attend personally. I suppose something came up?'
'One might say that.' said Serena.
Silence fell over them. Serena wondered just what it was that Duran was playing at, and how he intended to get it. She could not deny that he had been very useful, the psi disruptor had ensured many victories in places where victory otherwise might not have been possible. It had probably saved as many lives as the psi emitter had killed.
All of which would be very big on improving her opinion of him if she thought Duran had even the slightest bit of regret for what he had done. The man was a professional, completely and totally detached from the emotional and moral aspects.
Which ironically made him a better person than some she'd met. God save the universe from a man who committed horrific crimes for the betterment of mankind. For a man who did not care about morality who did terrible things might in time reform, or lessen in malice. Yet one who believed what he was doing was right?
He might continue to perpetuate one atrocity after another, secure in the knowledge that he was doing the right thing. It could bring a new age of darkness that lasted without end. One perpetuated by those who admired him.
Where was Serena?
Oh right, Duran and she were currently involved in a profoundly awkward silence. Neither one of them were saying anything. Just staring.
'Can I take your order.' said a waitress. She looked run off her feet, and very tired.
'Just a coffee with extra cream.' said Serena.
Duran ordered the most complicated thing on the menu. The name went on for a whole sentence and the poor waiter struggled to write it all down. Duran looked amused as she did so. It was really the little things about people that told you the most about them.
'Are you actually going to drink it?' asked Serena, after the waiter had left.
'I don't really like coffee.' admitted Duran. 'I drink it because it wakes me up and because I'm obligated to buy something while I meet here.'
'Then why order something so complicated if you don't even like it?' asked Serena.
'Because if they get it wrong I can ask for the refund.' said Duran 'And sometimes they give the wrong drink to you for free and give you a new one.'
'But you don't even like coffee to begin with.' said Serena 'Why would you want more of it?'
'It isn't about whether or not I like it.' said Duran 'It's just about getting more of something valuable.'
Serena stared at him. It occurred to her that in addition to being a cold-blooded monster Duran was also a huge jerk. 'I think you just summarized everything wrong with the terran race by ordering coffee. I don't know whether to be impressed or disgusted.'
'Perhaps we can settle for getting down to business.' said Duran, drawing out a data card. 'Give this to Emperor Mengsk when you see him. It contains the complete documentation of everything Cerberus Squadron has found over the years. It took some time to gather it all together.'
Serena took the data card and pocketed it. Their coffee arrived and she looked up to the exhausted waitress. 'Thank you very much,' she said with a smile 'I really appreciate it.'
'You're welcome, miss.' said the waitress 'Can I get you anything else?'
'No, this should be sufficient.' said Duran, looking at his drink in irritation.
The waitress moved away and Serena looked as Duran sipped his drink and grimaced. Serena smiled. 'Problem, Mr. Duran?'
'This drink is… terrible.' said Duran.
'But it is what you ordered, isn't it?' asked Serena.
'Yes.' he said through clenched teeth.
'You did want the drink, didn't you?'
'You've made your point.' he hissed.
'I just enjoy the sight of someone reaping what they sowed.' said Serena.
'Stop it.' said Duran.
Serena sipped her coffee, feeling a surge of satisfaction. If this was how things would continue, working with Duran might not be nearly so bad. The coffee was very strong here, just the way she liked it. She also knew from experience when she was being psychically manipulated.
'I'm glad you enjoy it.' said Duran 'Tell me, now that you have achieved the greatness and renown you sought, what is it you now desire?'
Serena considered that and smiled. 'I'd like to live long enough to see you executed for crimes against humanity, before being strung up where the universe can see as an example to the slime of the galaxy that wicked deeds do not go unpunished. I would look up into your cold, dead eyes and salute.' And she saluted. 'Do you think maybe the Dominion could arrange that for me, Mr. Duran?'
Duran flinched as she did so. Then regained his composure. 'I feel you will be disappointed, Ms. Calabas.'
'At any rate.' said Serena 'I think I'll take this to go. Get an early start at work and all that. Time waits for no man.' said Serena, standing and making her way off. Then she looked back. 'Oh and Mr. Duran.'
He looked up. Serena saluted smartly. His eyes narrowed and he looked like he wanted to say something exceptionally nasty. However, he didn't and that was how they parted ways.
As Serena made her way to her private car, she drew out her phone and typed in a number. Waiting for a while, she heard the person on the other end pick up. 'Serena? What is it dear?'
'Hi mom.' said Serena 'I just thought I'd let you know I'm getting called up again. Constantino Terra will be Magistrate of Tarsonis in my absence.'
'It isn't anything dangerous is it?' asked Mara Calabas 'You don't know how worried I was about you.'
'No mom,' said Serena 'just some parading. More of a mandatory vacation than a real campaign. With Char winding down without much results, I guess Mengsk wants to bring peoples attention to something else.'
'When do you leave?' asked Mother.
'I'm on my way to the starport as we speak. Even if this isn't a military venture it doesn't mean it isn't important.' said Serena.
'All right, you are old enough to make your own decisions. Be careful dear.'
When Serena reached the starport this time she walked to it in full military uniform. An honor guard of red armored marines stood waiting for her, guns readied for battle. They saluted as she approached. Ahead of her she saw Lieutenenant Emily Swallow waiting.
'Ma'am,' said Emily 'everything has been prepared as you ordered. But are you should leave Tarsonis?'
'I have absolute confidence in the people of Tarsonis' to crush any attempt by the Old Families to seize back control.' said Serena 'You can't rule a place where everyone hates you. Almost everyone on this planet lost people they cared about because of Arturro and they won't forget the fact.
Besides, Mengsk probably has a dozen countermeasures in place.'
'I understand.' said Emily.
They boarded the dropship and made their way into space. Soon they docked with the Battlecruiser Medusa and made their way out. The hanger was a spacious room with many ships lying within it. These ones were all dropships, as well as a few civilian craft. Wraiths and other military crafted were stored elsewhere.
At the bottom of the loading ramp they found Michael Liberty, cybernetic shoulder and all, waiting for them. He smiled as they came, and saluted, a gesture Serena returned.
'Serena, I'd like to thank you for the invitation.' said Michael. 'Reporting on corruption scandals just isn't what it used to be, and I think I'd like to try for a different kind of journalism.'
'Well I doubt we'll see much combat, Michael.' mused Serena. 'The sector has been pretty quiet lately. Almost too quiet. Half the swarm packed up and left and we have no idea where they went.'
'Well I could use a chance to see something other than wrecked skyscrapers, at least.' said Michael.
The bridge of the Medusa was not like the Hyperion. The Hyperion was fine, almost gaudy, with golden lining and beautiful artwork. The Medusa, in contrast, was completely barebones. No art, no engravings, nothing. You could tell that whoever had designed it had not been fond of luxury.
Which was for the best, really. Neither was Serena. She'd been this close to living her whole life in meaningless luxury and being saved from that had been a near thing indeed.
On of the ensigns, Morgan Calabas looked saluted. 'Ma'am, we're ready to move out at any time.'
Her cousin, Morgan Calabas had suffered a series of challenges during his mid to late teens which were easily overcome by his status. He experienced acne, and had it solved by skin surgery. He would have been cut from his school's padball team, but his Father paid for his courts, giving him the delusion that he was actually good at the game. Then there was his purely sexual attraction to November Terra.
Then, all of a sudden, he had a rough time of things. What had begun as a pleasant vacation, albeit made for the purpose of his own safety, for him and a bunch of the other spoiled Old Family heirs had rapidly turned into a flight to a barren mining world. There and the heirs had remained safe, but uncomfortable until Tarsonis fell.
When a Sons of Korhal Fleet under General Davis arrived and politely requested they surrender and hand over the heirs to the Old Families and surrender, they were given up without a fight. November Terra had been taken as a ghost trainee, and Morgan and the others had been escorted under heavy guard back to Tarsonis, during which several of the guards had held a serious discussion over whether they should massacre the brats.
In fact Morgan had had it hardest of all, since he found out that his Father had been butchered in cold blood after unleashing the zerg on Tarsonis, and that his cousin who everyone else regarded as a disappointment, was now effectively the ruler of Tarsonis. Oh and several other members of his family were shortly shot by firing squad for their part in the scouring of Korhal.
On live television.
To cheering crowds.
Trying indeed. Taking pity on him, Serena had arranged for him to be given a crash course in taking communications. Now he was acting as a communications officer, with another officer named Becky tactfully posted next to him to make sure he didn't screw up too badly. Before he had been spoiled, arrogant, and gung ho. Now he barely ever spoke.
'Excellent,' she looked to her crew. 'all right ladies and gentlemen. We're about to embark on one of the less exciting tours of duty. Our objective is to ensure that the mobilization of the colonies goes off unimpeded.
We're unlikely to see combat, but I expect you all to stay alert nonetheless. Now man your posts and-'
'Commander, we're receiving a communication from the protoss fleet!' said an ensign.
'Don't interrupt me.' snapped Serena. 'Patch it through.'
The screen flared to life and Serena saw a protoss for the first time up and personal. Before she'd seen them from afar, so she had an idea that this one was different. She, Serena thought she was a she, was clad in golden armor and had an aura of command. Serena could tell just by looking at her that she didn't think much of terrans.
'En Taro Adun, Terran Commander.' she said 'I am Selendis of the Golden Armada. I am here to inform you that we have been ordered to withdraw back to our homeworld of Aiur.'
'Aiur?' said Serena 'Would this have anything to do with the concentration of zerg heading towards a single location?'
'It does.' said Selendis 'I understand the swarm has begun an invasion.'
'If you require the Dominions assistance-'
'You misunderstand me, Commander.' said Selendis 'I was merely being courteous. We have no need of terran assistance of any kind.'
Serena paused. 'Is there some means by which I might communicate with Executor Tassadar? Should cooperation be required, I mean.'
'Tassadar has been removed from command, pending his defiance of direct orders from the Conclave.' said Selendis 'His successor has yet to be chosen.'
'You fired your highest ranking officer without having a clear idea of who should succeed him?' asked Serena 'That doesn't seem very wise.'
'You understand not that of which you speak.' said Selendis 'The Conclave is not to be questioned. All the achievements and knowledge that your species has gathered is but the babbling of an ignorant child in comparison to the wisdom of the protoss leaders.'
'Have fun with that.' said Serena, resisting the urge to say something far more impolite. 'Is there anything else?'
'That is all.' The screen cut out.
'…Well that was enlightening.' said Serena 'Okay, unless anymore alien species want to act smug I suppose we ought to get underway. Becky Munroe, take us out.'
'I'm not the pilot, Ma'am.'
'Fine, ensign take us out.' said Serena.
The Medusa and its accompanying fleet departed the orbit of Tarsonis and went into warp space. From there they set course for the small farming colony of Agria…
Well, this is starting off slow isn't it? I guess I wanted to write something other than nonstop action. And it is an in universe slow period for the Dominion, so I guess it works out.