The ship's central matrix was a wreck. The stress of the warp jump had forced a power surge through the central control crystal, destroying the delicate logic pathways. The entire network would have to be rewritten, establishing new routes to the drives and sensors. The greater problem, however, was not the repairs themselves, but the danger in performing them. He could still hear the echoes of the thousands of thoughts pummeling his brain. Opening himself to perform a telepathic repair would expose his own mind again to whatever lived in this system. A highly-trained Templar could shield himself from those thoughts with ease, but he, a lowly Khalai, had no such training. He would be like a drum among the voices, beating out his location with every pulse of his heart.
Yet, the longer he waited the greater the chance of discovery. The cloak was inactive, the drives were offline, and the only sense he could safely utilize was naked sight. He stalked to the central crystal and laid his hands on it. Focusing his mind, isolating that one task as his only mission, he dove into the shattered matrix.
His mind was instantly transported into a mazelike dimension of brilliant, clear-blue angles. He could see the pathways that criss-crossed over and around each other, he could feel the inherent brokenness of the circuits, the routes that dead-ended in heaps of crystal shards, the cracked walls that let energy leak from one path to another. The corridors murmured with the hum of nearby, active minds. He concentrated, dimming the sound as much as his skill would allow. With a wave of his hand a pulse of energy washed over the crystal. The corridors began to close as atoms rotated and locked back into an unbroken lattice. The crystal itself took on a more transparent hue, a polyhedron with a purely uniform structure. It was almost with regret that he traced the first route, then the second, a third. Patiently and methodically he opened the channels that would form the complex network that made up a thinking computer. A spiderweb slowly began to grow within the gem.
Who are you?
The Protoss shat upright in shock. Within the crystal a pathway shattered again. His vision dimmed, and he had the sense of a presence looking at him as if it was scrutinizing him. He shuddered. The presence had a dark, sickening feeling to it. He pulled back to disengage his mind, but as he did so a damp blanket descended on him. The presence increased; it was pressing into his mind, seeking answers. He twitched, trying again to break the contact, but the other mind held him firm in its grasp. He could feel the heavy pressure of its will bearing down against his own.
Who are you, an observer? A scavenger? He tried to twist away. The mind paused, scrutinizing him slowly. No...you are not. Intriguing. It cannot be a coincidence that you are here. Its intent focused to a point inside his skull. It dug into the recesses of his brain, probing like a hot needle. Unwillingly, a memory flashed through his thought, a vague image of enormous, elegant ships. A mission. A duty.
The pressure abruptly withdrew. The other mind had been drawn off somewhere else. Unable to move away, he could feel what the other felt: something was coming. A sensor was pinging within his ship. With an enormous surge of will he dragged himself out of the contact. He stumbled to the viewport. Far out past the moon and the gas giant, space was twisting and flickering as if it had been infused with lightning. A spike of dread pushed into his stomach as the void was filled with a white dagger-shape. The ship was resounding with the clamor of voices: sharp, intelligent voices like those he had felt earlier, but many, many more. More ships continued to stab out of the darkness, all of that white, hard-angled design. The fear within his abdomen rose up into his chest and spread throughout his body like a chill. All was unveiled, he was caught in a trap. He had but one choice. With a resolute finger he moved to activate a control on his wrist gauntlet.
Do not think I will neglect you, the dark voice said. Its mood changed. Your struggle is pointless. His finger was dragged away from the control as if by physical force. We will have much to discuss, I think, you and I. He could feel cold claws entering his brain, as if digging around in search of something. A faint pinging was sounding in the recesses of his mind, warning him...of...what was it? He knew his ship was trying to tell him something, but it was so difficult to think, battling against the relentless current. The room seemed to darken, his vision grew hazy...
It was night on the planet Dagobah. The creaks and groans of nocturnal creatures echoed in an undending chorus across the swamplands. Fog rolled in thick wreathes around the trunks of trees and hovered over the surface of little ponds. The wane moonlight from above gave the fog a faint uniform glow, enough to see by if one's eyes were used to it.
In one corner of the vast reach of inhospitable and dangerous wetland the fog cleared around the warm glow of a fire. The ruddy light eminated out of a few small portholes in a nondescript mud hut. The house was so low to the ground and entangled by nearby flora that were it not for the cheery orange flicker one would pass right by it without noticing. Its current resident sat within, cross-legged in front of the fireplace. Its froglike face was crinkled in thought, its brow folded clearly along the lines worn into it after many hundreds of years of such deep meditations.
But tonight was different. Tonight, the creature thought, something was gnawing at him. The small mouth was set in lines of worry, not of peace or heavy contemplation. There was a wrinkle in the tapestry, a rock thrown into the river, and now the stream flowed around it. Its brow furrowed into canyons while its mind stretched further out, submerging itself into the current of energy that flowed through it.
"Greetings, my old friend." The corner of the room began to take on a bluish shimmer.
The creature's ears, laid back against its head, brought themselves forward. Its eyes opened and its face smoothed out. "Hmm. So long has it been, then?"
The old man in the corner smiled gently. "A few days seems enough to say hello again, Master Yoda."
The creature grunted.
Ben's smile faded. "But we have more important things to discuss, don't we?"
"Indeed, many things." The worry lines returned and it shook its head. "What to make of this, I know not."
"And what would that be, exactly? Nothing too drastic, I hope?"
"Drastic? Unsure I am." It looked down at its lap. "Visions I have had, dreams, or prophecies. Clouded seems to be the future now, and begin to doubt my path I do." It shook its head again. "So much of what seemed clear, now hazy appears to be."
"But the prophecy still stands, doesn't it? Luke is the Chosen One, he will end Vader and bring balance."
Yoda paused for a long second. "Yes, such it was. Such had we determined."
The tiny green eyes looked up at him, tired and pained. "Not so sure am I now. Always in motion is the Force, but like this...never has it been. Too much changes at once. Sometimes, clear and brilliant the path is, but other times, it turns away towards darkness."
"But surely Master, we are still correct. We haven't been misguided."
"Misguided, I think not. But changed something has. Something perhaps even the Force could not forsee."
"Maybe so. Even now, what I say I doubt. More time we need, to consider and to understand."
Ben sat down on a nearby stool. "And what are these visions that you've seen?"
Yoda lifted his head. "Show you I will."
They were standing on a black plain that stretched endlessly in all directions. Above and below them was darkness. The air was tense, anxious, unsure. There were others, hazy forms around them, some familiar but still indistinct.
A voice seemed to speak near them. Ben turned and saw a mighty figure towering over them, dark and indeterminate, as if cloaked in shadow. It extended a hand to Yoda, and Ben watched as he took it. The small body seemed frail, but somehow strong, tiny but with some inner strength that radiated out from its core. He could feel power flowing into it, surging up like a wave. Yoda began to glimmer. The energy came from his entire person, it surrounded him in an aura that lit up the darkness. The master's body began to rise upwards, his hands stretched out, filled with power that shot from his fingertips.
Yoda was gone. His presence had disappeared from the Force and left a void where his touch should have been. A few motes of light danced around in the space where he had been, slowly sparking out.
He felt himself suddenly pulled away by an irresistable force. The world leapt away from him. He was floating in space. The stars surrounded him. Below him, Dagobah slept in peace, a foggy green globe just starting awake as its sun peeked over the horizon.
The sun pulsed outward. It grew in brilliance until he had to shield his eyes from the glare. The world below began to smolder, then melt. The oceans turned to steam. The green forests were pulled down into a slag of heaving lava. He could feel the heat scorching his skin and he pulled himself away, out of reach of the planet's destruction.
But there wasn't an escape. The stars around him were burning, exploding into balls of flame. The night sky around him was a symphony of dying planets. Countless voices were crying out in his head. He could hear the agony of a billion minds pleading for help.
"And that is what I have seen."
They were in Yoda's house. The master was sitting by the fire, his back turned. Shadows cast from his hunched figure danced grotesquely on the walls, menacing his tiny body. It was as if the master had suddenly grown old, given in to a deep weariness and age.
They sat in silence for a long time.
"The recent terrorist raids on Mar Sara have again disrupted mining operations. Rebels targeted equipment and worker living quarters in what is being labled an attempt to demoralize miners and disrupt the flow of raw minerals. Emperor Mengsk spoke against the attacks this evening."
The television flicked to a decorated podium and a man behind it. "My fellow citizens, it is a cancer upon our society that the terrorist Raynor continues his operations. I call upon any of you who waver upon the line between supporting and decrying him to look surely at his actions and see if it is not the work of a criminal and a destroyer of decent society. There is no military potential in a simple mining operation, there is no honor in attacking innocent workers. I ask you, if you are in any way connected to him that you take a stand for what is lawful and break off all ties with his organization, shun him from your streets and your back alleys. Give him no aid and grant him no leniency. Do this and he will wither from the roots. I, meanwhile, will not abide by this careless slaughter of innocents. Even now I have given orders that security at the mining sites be increased with reinforcements from the 386th and 393rd Marine Battalion. Such attacks will not be tolerated, not against our people."
"You needn't be filling your head with that bullshit, ya know." Cooper leaned back against the wall. "Might start believin' it yourself."
Raynor tossed back his shot. "Call it research." He dropped the glass and shifted off the barstool. "See you bright and early, Coop."
The lights dimmed behind him in the cantina as he exited. The corridor ahead seemed a bit hazy, just enough to make him squint and shade his eyes from the overhead lights. One less drink next time. He made his way down to the cross-corridor. Which way. Left, straight, left. He turned left and meandered forward, humming a quiet old tune to himself. Which way now. Not down the black hallway. Or was it? Behind him, the lights were shutting off one by one. It was now just him in a pool of light. Finally, his sluggish brain caught up and his danger sense tingled. His hand slid to his holster and he turned, scanning the darkened corridor.
He whirled, peering into the shadows. "I know that voice."
A shadowed figure melted out of the darkness to loom over him. "Greetings, my old friend."
"Zeratul. What in seven hells are you doing here?"
There was a pause. "I bring tidings. And a request. I have wandered across the stars and in my travels I have uncovered events that deeply disturb me. A vision of the future, recently revealed. A vision that concerns you, Raynor, and one whose name I need not utter."
"Yes. A veil has been lifted and through its tattered shreds I have glimpsed what even I do not yet comprehend."
Raynor snorted. "Heh, this is somethin', the day you don't know what's goin' on."
"I do not jest, James." The protoss seemed to shrink. "This vision has broken all bounds of what I thought to be the inevitable fate of our races. Something has altered, and I fear that this is the harbinger of terrible events to come. I have not come to you with clear guidance, my friend, only with the knowledge that somehow you have a role to play in this future."
Raynor's humor faded. "And is that it? I've got a part somewhere in this future vision of yours?"
"More than that. You may yet play a great role if what I have seen comes to past. A greater one than you have ever played."
"Huh. So what's this request of yours you're on about?"
"Only this. You are engaged in raids on the Dominion worlds, are you not?"
"Then I would ask this of you. That you station your ship within an hour's voyage of these coordinates." A small storage device was placed in Raynor's hand. "It is near the system of Monlith. It should not interfere unduely with your efforts against the Dominion."
He turned the device over in his palm. "Monlith, huh? That's a stretch for me and my crew, having to fly back and forth to the Hyperion. Can't say it'll work out too well."
Raynor felt his hand clasped in scaly claws. "I do not ask this out of whim, James Raynor. I ask this for I forsee a future which will affect all of the inhabitants of this galaxy. I ask you to believe, as you once did, that you are part of a greater struggle, no matter how small a part you are to play. Do this, not for me, but for all who struggle against the darkness."
He stared at the alien for a long second. The bright green eyes looked steadily at him, an expression he had never seen before written across the Protoss' face. What was it? Worry? Confusion? No, that wasn't it.
Damn, he's actually pleading. He's not kidding around with this. He straightened up. "All right, Zeratul. I'll see what I can do."
The Protoss released his hand. "That is all I ask." Stepping backwards, he faded again into the darkness. "Thank you for your aid, Jim Raynor. The Protoss have always found an honorable friend in you. We will not forget it."
The nearby lights flickered and came back on. Raynor stared at the tiny box in his hand, turning it over contemplatively. "I don't know what the hell you're talking about Zeratul, but-." He tapped the box against his forehead. "I never will understand Protoss."