Author's Note: 11 weeks have passed since I last updated this fic, I thought it's now time to let my readers know that I'm still around, and have not abandoned the project.

Please do not ask on my computer situation though, I am still well away from even scraping up the money the buy the necessary components, and so that problem is still a long way from being fixed.

That being said though, since the delay was not due to writer's block, I recommend that you re-read the previous 5 to 10 chapters of my fic, because this chapter will take place right where the previous ones left off.

In this chapter though, I had wanted to explore Matt and Mira's relationship a little bit. And I'm making Mira a lot more intellectual that most people would believe. This will become useful in the later parts of the story.

I would also like people to take a look at the final Wings of Liberty cinematic, as I have tried to analyze it and put a different perspective on things that some people may not have thought of. Therefore, once you reach the last section of this chapter, please take a look at that cinematic and see if you concur with my assessment or not.

Now, let us continue with the story...


Chapter 64

Tal'darim Base, Char

"Mighty Xava'tor," one of the High Templars greeted, as Ulrezaj entered the Nexus chambers. "We are relieved to see that you are unharmed despite the constant battles against the Zerg creatures."

"I am a formidable warrior, noble templar," the Dark Archon replied. "I cannot be slain in battle so easily. Now then, what is the status of the Khaydarin Crystal shards that you have all been working on?"

"The assembly process is nearing completion," another High Templar answered. "Some of the shards appeared to have been drained of their energy, and thus they were of no further use to us. They could no longer play their role in the reforging of the Khaydarin Crystals."

"Regrettable, but it was inevitable," Ulrezaj admitted. "The Queen of Blades had made much efforts in order to harness the sacred artifacts of the Xel'Naga. It is obvious that she had intended to use them in a similar way that we do."

"What do you mean?"

"Long before the Protoss had even known of the Zerg, we had all been fully aware of the vast numbers of Khaydarin Crystals that the Xel'Naga had left on Aiur. We had also known that the Xel'Naga had used them for experiments, though the exact details of the experimentation remain unclear to us even to this very day. Nevertheless, we had been able to use the Khaydarin Crystals ourselves and harness their energy in order to build our Aiur civilization. They had proven themselves in powering our temples, citadels, fortresses, ziggurats, altars, and every other conceivable building that we were able to construct. They were invaluable to all of the High Templars, who forged amulets from the crystals themselves."

The Dark Archon pointed to one of the High Templars' amulet before continuing, "Because the Zerg had also been created by the Xel'Naga, it means that they too have an understanding of the Khaydarin Crystals. Although Kerrigan herself had been human before becoming the Queen of Blades, the Zerg would have granted her at least a rudimentary knowledge of it, where she would have continued to learn by herself as time passed. Long before the Zerg invasion of Aiur, the Protoss there had continued to make great efforts to further comprehend the energies within the Khaydarin Crystals in order to further improve our society, as well as our warriors."

"And the Queen of Blades was doing similarly with the Zerg swarm," one of the Zealots finished.

"Correct, young templar. This is something that is similar to my great plan here as well."

The individual Tal'darim warriors looked confused. "This does not appear logical, Xava'tor. The Zerg are already extremely powerful, why do you wish to enhance them further?"

"No one doubts their power, but that is not the relevant point," Ulrezaj pointed out. "It is how that power is used that makes the difference. The Queen of Blades may have had a hand in the evolution of the Zerg, but the fact remains that the vast majority of them are not sentient creatures. Thus with the power of the Khaydarin Crystals, it may be possible to bring them under our control, where we could use them for our own purposes."

"How is that even possible?" Another Zealot asked.

Ulrezaj pointed to himself, thankful that his master's illusionary spell prevented the Tal'darim from knowing that he was a Dark Archon. "As you are all aware, the merging of High Templars in order to create an Archon may result in great power, but it is generally not done among Khalai Protoss because the merging also results in the loss of self and the physical form. In addition, despite the immense energy Archons radiate, they simply burn out once the energy is depleted. Were none of you even curious as to how I was able to avoid this fate?"

"You are our Xava'tor," a High Templar said. "You have knowledge that the Tal'darim does not possess. It is entirely possible that such knowledge is currently beyond our comprehension."

"Well spoken, noble warrior. You are correct, as only a select few are aware that there is a way to stabilize the energies that reside within an Archon. I am among them, and that is why I have yet to burn out as others had in the past. Such knowledge is extremely difficult to practice."

"We understand, but please explain how this links to your plan to control the Zerg into doing our bidding."

"Of course. The Dark Templar have a similar technique, where two Dark Templar warriors are able to merge together in order to form what is known as a Dark Archon. Similar to the Archons that Khalai Protoss possess, the Dark Archons also burn out and dissipate because the chaotic energies they wield are simply too unstable to be properly controlled. However until that happens, the Dark Archons are beings of immense energy, far more powerful than Khalai Archons. So great and dangerous was their power that until the Dark Templar had learned of the Zerg, their creation had been outlawed due to the fear that they could not be controlled."

"They must have a power that could allow them to control the Zerg creatures individually," one of the High Templars realized.

"This is correct," Ulrezaj answered. "However the Dark Archons are created from the merging of Dark Templar warriors, and thus such a power originates from Dark Templar energy. While the Khalai Protoss wield a different form of energy due to the embrace of the Khala, the fact remains that both sects of Protoss had been created by the Xel'Naga. To that end, despite your loathing of the Dark Templar, the fact remains the Tal'darim shares similarities of energy wielded by them, however minute that may be."

The Dark Archon then gestured to the chamber door, where he had been informed the Khaydarin Crystals resided behind. "If that is true, then it would be possible for the energies of the Tal'darim, once combined together with the crystals, to take control of individual Zerg creatures.. The greater the amount of Tal'darim energy, the greater amount of Zerg we may be able to bend to our influence."

"How would this enhance the Zerg then?"

"This is the reason why I had requested the Tal'darim to capture live Zerg specimens," Ulrezaj replied. "By adding Zerg energies into the Khaydarin Crystals, once combined with those of the Tal'darim, would enhance the Zerg beyond any efforts that the Queen of Blades had done during her years in residing over the swarm. They would become more powerful, yet would remain under our control, where we would then be able to use them to eliminate our enemies."

The individual Tal'darim warriors looked around themselves. "We would be honored to give our life energies for your goals, Xava'tor," one of the Zealots said courageously.

"Be aware, young templar," Ulrezaj warned. "Such a process could more than likely be fatal to you, and this would be true for any Tal'darim who chooses to volunteer."

"We understand the risks and dangers to this," another High Templar spoke up. "However battles are not won without sacrifice, and here is no exception to this. If we must give our lives in order to achieve the greater good for the Tal'darim, then so be it."

"Very well then," the Dark Archon said. "Once the assembly process is complete, we shall begin the experimentation for the enhanced Khaydarin Crystals. They shall be far more powerful than those you had encountered in the past, and they shall be used to crush our enemies."


Toxic Slums, Dead Man's Rock

"It looks like your suspicion was right," Franklin said over the radio, as the Dropship begin to lift itself back up into the air. "Those Dominion troops must have been thinking the same thing."

"It's nothing too complicated," Kerrigan replied, on the ground and waving the ship away. "This place may not exactly be an ideal choice for prolonged operations, but at least the chances of being discovered are low."

"You sure you want to do this by yourself? You'll be alone with no backup or anything."

"Ghosts are trained to infiltrate," Sarah explained, cocking her C-20 Canister Rifle. "They're trained to avoid detection against the best the enemy has to offer. You said it yourself that Nova had undergone numerous missions of infiltration and got out without a scratch."

"Yeah but the truth was that when she was a ghost operative in the early days, no one really cared if she succeeded or not," the lieutenant grumbled. "Before she earned her reputation as the Dominion's deadliest operative, she was just an expendable pawn. If she couldn't succeed, they would just send another ghost to finish the job."

"It's no different than how the Confederate Ghost Program operated," the redhead said in anger. "We were all just weapons to them. It wasn't until I was with the Sons of Korhal and meeting Jim for the first time that things began to change."

"People, we can dwell on the past all day, or we can let her proceed with the mission," the pilot said.

"The Dominion base is within visual range," Sarah said, looking into the distance. "I'll find a way in, get whatever intel I can get my hands on and get out of there. You boys just make sure to be here when I arrive."

"Of course," the pilot replied, as the Dropship began to steer itself away. "This junkyard will be the exfiltration point, we'll be back here in 4 hours."

Without another word the Dropship turned about and flew away, leaving Kerrigan alone on the ground. The former Confederate ghost gripped her rifle tightly. It had been a while since she had gone into infiltration missions, but that didn't mean she had lost her touch.

The mercenaries were right about one thing though: the stench of this place was overpowering. It only took a brief whiff for Sarah to see why this place was so hazardous. While the radiation levels were not as bad as she thought, the toxicity levels certainly were. If it weren't for the silver ghost mask that she currently had pulled down, this time covering her entire face instead of just the upper half, she knew that she would be on the verge of choking on the fumes by the time she reached the Dominion base's outer perimeter.

As Sarah moved forward across the junkyard, she could see the visibility slowly deteriorate. This of course was understandable, given that she was moving closer to the dumping grounds. Fortunately, thanks to her ghost mask, she was able to see the vision of heat and psionic signatures.

When she reached the outer perimeter, she could see that the Dominion troops had indeed acted in arrogance as she had suspected. Having believed that there was very little risk of attack or even detection from mercenaries, the base entrance was not very heavily guarded. Bunkers had been constructed at the most critical routes leading into the base, and most of them had auto turrets built alongside them. As the latter was capable of firing at aerial targets as well, it must have given the troops there that this was all that they would need in terms of an early warning system in the event of an attack. Every now and then a marine patrol would stop by the bunkers and ask the occupants of any strange activity, but each time the answer was no.

Sarah watched from a distance, waiting for the current marine patrol to move away. Clearly the bunker occupants were getting bored of their sentry duty as nothing had happened for so long. She could hear some of them complaining of having nothing to shoot at, and demanding that the next marine patrol come back with a few kegs of beer. It was obvious that after so long, all of the bunker occupants wanted some R and R. This was an advantage she would exploit.

Channeling her psionic powers, Kerrigan cloaked and advanced forward. Unlike Missile Turrets, the auto turrets were not detectors and therefore could not sense her as long as her cloak was active. Like Nova, she too could remain cloaked for far longer periods of time than the average ghost, and this made it all the more easier for her to simply move past the bunkers and turrets without anyone noticing her presence. She could have permanently fried their brains with ease with a simple psychic attack, but Sarah knew better. With a squad of marines patrolling these entrances every 15 minutes, the discovery of their corpses would immediately raise an alert throughout the base, which was something she needed to avoid. Her goal was strictly gathering information. The assault on the Dominion base would come later.

As she moved deeper into the Dominion installation, the patrols around her began to increase. Instead of just a single squad of marines, they were now in the forms of Goliath walkers, Siege Tanks, Hellions, and Stinger jeeps. The last one was something Nova had informed her about, a vehicle in service before the formation of the Dominion but were not well known to military applications until after the Brood War. They were eventually meant to complete replace the Hellion and the Vulture in the Dominion arsenal, but the transitional period for this remained slow.

All around her, Ore Loader trucks drove past. Some of them carried Dominion troops as their cargo, others carried weapons and ammunition. The latter ones mostly headed for the Planet Hopper and Heavy Lander Dropships, where container after container of cargo were being unloaded by SCVs and moved onto the air transport ships.

It was certainly what she had been expecting, and this was going to very careful cooperation from the Raiders and the mercenaries once the assault on the base began. Nevertheless, Sarah knew she needed more intel, and there was only one other place to look.

Still cloaked, she began moving towards the Command Center building located in the core of the base. Whoever was in charge of this Dominion operation would be in there, and she needed to know what his intentions were.

Jim told her that in the aftermath of the Brood War, the Command Centers had undergone modifications, making them more suited for a military role instead of just the minimal defenses years before. Nevertheless, the basic structure of the installation remained relatively the same, and Sarah knew she had to reach the top, where the operations room was located. Whatever the Dominion planned to do here on Dead Man's Rock, the exact details would be located there.

Even as she moved right up to the installation, Kerrigan could see no signs of detectors anywhere. Clearly the Dominion did not believe the mercenaries of Dead Man's Rock understood anything about infiltration, and thus made no preparations for it. All the better for her to go in and scout.

She waited patiently until a group of Dominion officers walked up to the entrance doorway. Punching in a few codes, the door slid open and the officers entered, completely oblivious to the fact that the red haired ghost had slipped into the installation as well.


Dominion Command Center, Toxic Slums, Dead Man's Rock

"Real impressive method of persuasion, Captain," Ridgeway said sarcastically to Captain Bock, as he and his officers gathered in the operations room of the Dominion Command Center, with Mengsk on the communicator console and listening in. "Terrorizing the women and children within the city of Paradise, along with savage beatings and even killing some of the inhabitants."

"Sir, may I remind you that these are not the regular civilians we're dealing with," the captain explained to him. "Dead Man's Rock is a lawless world, full of mercenaries, crime lords, pirates, scoundrels, and murderers. There's not a single decent person on this world, and very few of them could ever be of any use to the Dominion no matter how much time passes."

"He's right, general," one of the staff officers said. "Just about every town we come across on this planet had been littered with the abandoned and rusting husks of ships and vehicles. Brothels, bars, taverns, gambling halls, drug dens, and pawn shops then spring up among them, so it's not like the citizens here are anything more than prostitutes and drug dealers or anything like that."

"That doesn't make them all useless to us," Ridgeway said, disgusted at Bock's methods. "You and your troops killed so many it was as if you were just slaughtering mindless animals. In case you forgot, these are still people we're dealing with here, and they could have given us valuable information."

"Or they could have just stalled even longer to try our patience," Bock pointed out. "When you're dealing with people in situations like this, using the method of terror is the best way to go."

The general snorted. "And that worked out real well. Your actions for the past hours did nothing but leave over 50 people killed or tortured to death and more than 300 of them injured, half of them in critical condition. Not to mention the fact that now you've gotten the whole city population pissed off at us."

"It's not like they can do anything about that," Bock defended. "All the mercenaries on this planet are only looking out for themselves. They wouldn't even think of stepping in unless something happened that directly affected their situation, and affects them right away. Those guys are running their own illegal businesses on Dead Man' Rock. Unlike us, the mercenaries aren't sworn to protect the people here."

"Bock isn't wrong there, Ridgeway," Mengsk said, speaking up for the first time since the meeting began. All eyes in the room turned to him. "The people of Paradise are weaklings, their will can be easily broken."

"Well they haven't so far," the general grumbled. "I read through all the interrogation reports, and all of them have been either they don't know where Mira Han and her forces are, or they have no clue what we're talking about."

Mengsk shrugged. "Well, that's only because your forces have mostly used the method of holding them at gunpoint and demanding answers. All you have to do is step up the brutality."

"That would just anger them further," one of the Dominion officers pointed out.

"You can argue that," the emperor replied. "But anger isn't going to solve anything. Sooner or later the people down there would have no choice but to acknowledge reality."

"Which is?"

"That we can hurt them and they can't do a damn thing back. It won't take too long before they come to their senses and realize that. Once that happens, they'll have no choice but to cooperate with us and cough up the information about Han's whereabouts."

"Wouldn't that just unite the people in the city though?" another officer asked.

The emperor rolled his eyes. "It wouldn't make a difference. They have virtually no weapons to deal with us anyway. And it's not like they can just contact the local mercenary forces to come to their aid. Most of the merc forces here are conducting operations that conflict with other merc forces, which means most of the time the mercenaries would be fighting amongst themselves. They're not going to care about the people's suffering here in Paradise."

"But you just said it yourself that they may step in if something happened that affected their situation," Ridgeway said.

Mengsk sighed. "All right, general, I'll humor you a bit more. If by some miracle someone in Paradise is actually able to contact the mercenaries and by an even bigger miracle the mercenary force actually comes along, it'd mean nothing. Remember what I told you before you landed on the planet: deep down all the mercenaries are cowards, they don't have the nerve to challenge the Dominion."

"And if by some miracle they do?"

"That seems utterly impossible to me," the emperor replied. "But let's just pretend that actually happened. The result would be a total bloodbath on their end. As I stated before, virtually none of the mercenaries have modern military equipment. Therefore, they know they'd have to assemble a massive force to even have the slightest chance of taking on your forces here. Given so much disunity amongst the mercenary forces on this world, this would be a completely impossible task as it would take too long for all the mercs to put aside their differences, assuming that's even possible to achieve in the first place. Even if the unthinkable occurred and they do manage to achieve the impossible, all the mercs would know that fighting the Dominion wouldn't be worth it. The losses you take here would be minimal, and could be made good in less than a week. On the other hand, all their forces would end up being decimated, and the slender resources on Dead Man's Rock means it'll take years, maybe even decades, before they could make good the losses they've sustained. They'd be smart enough to realize that, and that's exactly the reason why they wouldn't have the nerve to attack your base."

"It just seems such a waste of time to me," the general said, finally relenting. "Stepping up the brutality might provide us the information we need, but there's no telling just how long that may take."

"Then use the special cargo I gave you. It'll be an imminent threat to everyone on Dead Man's Rock, not just the ordinary townspeople. There would be no place to hide, no place to run."

Ridgeway thought about this for a moment. "You believe it'll produce the immediate result we want?"

"Of course," Mengsk answered. "Once you scare the people enough, you can get them to do just about anything, including telling you anything and everything you want to know. Even the mercenary forces would have no defense against something like this. Even if the ordinary citizens don't know where Han is, other mercenaries certainly would, and they would reveal her location right away. Once you get that, it's a simple matter of going there and killing her. I leave this choice to you, Ridgeway."

The general exhaled, as the communications screen blacked out, before turning to his officers. "What do you all think?"

"The emperor's proposal does seem sound, sir," one of the officers said. "I for one believe we should implement this."

"It does seem like a quick solution, I'll give you that," the general agreed, before gesturing to the door. "Everyone, please step outside for a moment. I need to think this over before I consider if and how this course of action would work."


Mira's Mansion, Dead Man's Rock

Matt Horner walked down the spiral staircase and followed the butlers of the mansion as they led him to the designated location. Apparently Mira had wanted to him to join her at the dinner table. Night had fallen, and so far there have been no reports of any hostile interactions between the his wife's mercenaries and the Raiders.

It was good news to the young captain, but he was concerned how long this was going to last. Sooner or later they would have to work together to go up against the Dominion forces, and there was no telling what could happen in the heat of battle.

However, that was something Mira had wanted him to set aside for the time being. She wanted to give him at least a few more hours of rest and relaxation to clear his wearied head. That was something he couldn't argue with, as the constant battles against the Zerg had taken a toll on him.

Mira also wanted to do some catching up with him, since there had been no contact from him ever since they got married and no direct contact the last time the Raiders were here. This was something Matt was very hesitant about, as he was still not ready to accept her as an ally. The last time he was here, Jim's words did nothing to encourage that either, as he was convinced that Mira would help whoever paid her the most.

Nevertheless, during the hours of sleep he had gotten, he was able to look at the bigger picture. He still didn't trust Kerrigan, and neither did most of troops here on Dead Man's Rock. However, so far they were able to work along with her, and that at least shows for something. Admittedly, he was forced to concede that Raynor's relationship with her was a far stranger one compared to his relationship with Mira.

Yet Jim still chose to trust Kerrigan and shared everything the Raiders had done during the four years after the Brood War. For Matt, it just seemed wrong to put the trust in so soon. His commander had reminded him that due to the prophecy and what it may end up holding, the Raiders were going to need all the help they could get. If that meant for Matt to work together with Mira, then so be it.

It was not a welcoming prospect for Matt, as right now he was stuck with almost everyone he didn't prefer to work with, yet he had no choice in the matter. For the time being, he pushed those thoughts aside, as one of the butlers opened a set of doors, where Mira was waiting at the exceptionally large dinner table for him with the mansion servants.

"I'm glad you could join me," Mira said, taking Matt by the hand. The young captain nodded without a word, as one of the servants pulled out the chair. As he sat down, another servant folded a napkin onto his lap.

"Since you had left so abruptly after we got married, we never really got a chance for our wedding dinner or anything like that," the mercenary leader said. "I thought now would be a great time to do so, as well as spend time doing catching up for both you and me."

"I suppose trust building requires its cooperative moments," Horner said, as Mira poured him an elongated glass of red wine and handed it to him. It had a taste of licorice to it, and he liked it. Apparently Mira did have some good tastes in her after all.

"I must admit getting news on the Raiders proved extremely difficult after the so-called Brood War," his wife explained. "With the exception of a few major skirmishes, the Zerg had gone silent for four years, and the Dominion news mostly reported on the rebuilding of Mengsk's empire. As the emperor had used the media to portray the Raiders as terrorists who wanted nothing more than to spread havoc throughout the sector, it wasn't easy to find anyone who had a different saying about it, especially not with virtually all the media branches under the Dominion's belt. Each time you caused rebellion on any world, Mengsk would simply tell the public this is just a further sign that he was right about Raynor and the Raiders."

"There really wasn't much we could do," Matt agreed. "The media is a vital source of information to the common people, so whoever controlled it is usually the person listened to. Until what happened on Tarsonis, we had no incriminating evidence against Mengsk. Many of the Raiders' morale had deteriorated, and some began to feel that their actions were for a lost cause. Thus by the time of the Zerg invasion, the Raiders had been reduced to only just the Hyperion and a handful of volunteers."

"I understand," his wife said, as one of the servants set a plate of fish and lettuce in front of Matt. "You were frustrated because four years had passed and virtually no success had been made."

Matt nodded quietly, as he picked up his fork and gave the dish a shot. It was surprisingly good, and it gave him a chance to adjust his thoughts as he continued to drink his wine.

"So, what happened after you left Dead Man's Rock?" Mira asked. "After the news of the Korhal broadcasts, reports regarding the Raiders became scarce, and it wasn't until Valerian Mengsk made a public announcement about the Char invasion that the Raiders were mentioned again."

The captain thought about it for a moment, before relenting. "As you know, a revolution isn't exactly cheap. It was among the other major reasons why the Raiders had been greatly reduced in numbers during the four years of relative peace. Right before the Zerg invasion began, Jim decided to kick off the revolution against Mengsk again. Initially, it was not met with much enthusiasm. The Raiders' funds and credit levels were so low that it wasn't possible to sustain the revolution for more than a month or two. It was at that point that Tychus Findlay contacted us, saying the Dominion were digging up alien artifacts, but there was another group that wanted them: the Möebius Foundation. Tychus said that they would pay him a ton of credits if he could get the artifacts, but since he was only one man, he decided to turn to Jim for assistance."

"And that was what kept the Raiders going throughout the invasion, wasn't it?"

Matt nodded. "After the Korhal broadcasts, we had to temporarily put the revolution on hold. With Mengsk weakened, we had to turn our attention to the Zerg threat instead. Apparently they wanted the artifacts too, and we were in a race with them for it."

As he continued to explain to Mira about what happened, the next course came, a rich seafood bisque. This continued to surprise Matt, as he never really believed Mira would have any personality other than her mercenary one.

"I had seen the news," the female mercenary said, raising a spoonful of the creamy soup. "They had confirmed that the Zerg invasion was not planetary conquest, though I don't quite understand why they'd be so interested in these artifacts."

"Neither did the Raiders," Matt replied. "We didn't understand just what the artifacts were supposed to do by that point, but we were all determined that the Queen of Blades must not obtain them. Eventually, pay day arrived, and we reached the rendezvous point where we were supposed to meet up with the Möebius people. Instead, we were greeting by Dominion ships, including the Bucephalus, Mengsk's flagship. Valerian revealed himself to us and offered a proposal. He told us that from what his researchers and scientists were able to discover about the artifacts, they were capable of absorbing Zerg energy. Therefore, it was possible to put the artifact pieces together and construct a device that would reverse the infestation process and return Kerrigan into a human being again."

"So that's why there was an alliance between you and the Dominion," Mira mused. "I bet a lot of Raiders were pretty angry at this."

"There was plenty of that," the captain admitted. "Raynor initially felt what Valerian told us was relatively pointless, because the Queen of Blades was on Char, her fortress protected by billions of Zerg, and he was skeptical that there was even a way to get the artifact close to her. Valerian said that Jim was the only person who had ever been close to Kerrigan and survived to tell the experience. He could use the Dominion fleet to provide the Raiders with the forces necessary for the Char invasion, but Jim was the only one who was familiar with Kerrigan's strategies and tactics. Therefore, only with his help could the invasion be a success."

He paused to finish his creamy soup before continuing, "For the majority of the Raiders, they saw that Jim simply abandoned the revolution. However, the commander explained that if the Zerg end up killing everyone, the victory over Mengsk would mean nothing. If a temporary halt to the revolution was needed to stop the Zerg, then so be it. Thus the invasion of Char proceeded. Although both the Raiders and the Dominion forces took appalling casualties, we were eventually able to activate the artifact, and Kerrigan was deinfested."

Mira sensed a tone of bitterness in his voice. "Did something go wrong afterwards?"

"According to Jim, Tychus showed his true colors as his boys went into the hive ruins to retrieve Kerrigan," the captain answered. "Apparently he had made a deal with Mengsk even before the Zerg invasion began, where he had to kill her to gain his freedom. Jim killed him to save Kerrigan, and he's still suffering from the grief of doing so."

"You don't seem too disappointed to hear of his death," Mira pointed out.

"I'm not. The guy was a prison convict. During one of our artifact missions he hacked into the Hyperion database to look up information on Kerrigan. I warned Jim numerous times that Tychus couldn't be trusted, but he would have none of it."

His wife shook her head. "You really hated the guy, didn't you?"

"Tychus had a criminal record so long that it would've taken days just to list them all. Jim said that the two of them had been together for years and gotten into more than enough trouble with the law. When the authorities finally caught up, both of them were in the same situation. The difference was that Jim got a second chance, whereas Tychus got the wrong end of the stick."

Matt continued to point out the frustrations he had with the convict as the entrée arrived for them. Not used luxuries with the Raiders, he had to admit that the exquisite roasted bird that Mira's servants had served them continued to reinforce his wife's better tastes. He was seeing Mira in a new view, though the hesitations in him remained.

"Naturally my suspicions for Tychus escalated even before he directed us for the second artifact," he said. "Shortly after Jim asked me on the situation for the Zerg invasion, both he and I were confused why Tychus wouldn't step out of the CMC Armor he was wearing. At that point, we still believed he was working for the Möebius Foundation, and Tychus explained that until he pays off he debts to them, he has to stay locked up in that armor."

"And I take it Raynor still told you to brush it off?"

Matt nodded. "It was only shortly after we acquired the Odin walker that he felt something was seriously wrong. That was when we discovered that the armor Tychus was in contained a transponder, which would shut down all his vital organs if the right code was entered. This meant that the guy had a gun to his head, though at that point we still didn't know Mengsk was the one who had his finger on the trigger. It's for that reason that I'm glad the guy's gone now. All that time he had been one of Mengsk's spies and Jim didn't even know it."

"I think you may be oversimplifying Tychus, Matthew," Mira replied.

Horner snorted. "How so? He didn't care about fighting the Zerg, he didn't care about saving lives. All he wanted to do was have a drink in the cantina and spend any money he earns. Aside from Jim, the only reason why I even put up with him was because those artifacts were supposed to fund our revolution against the Dominion. I'd say I got him all figured out, so what makes you think any differently?"

The female mercenary leader thought about this for a moment, as she was forking the roasted bird meat into her mouth. "I guess this will have to be based on the actions of what he had done on Char. Well, that and assuming Kerrigan and the Queen of Blades are actually two different individuals."

The captain was confused. "What are you talking about?"

"Tychus could have put a bullet in Kerrigan's head right then and there. He didn't have to tell Raynor about the deal he made with Mengsk, that could have waited until after he fired the round. You ever consider why he didn't do that?"

Matt paused. He never considered that detail that Mira was talking about there. "I don't understand where you're taking this."

"Well, if we operate under the assumption that the Queen of Blades and Kerrigan are not one and the same, then you have to look at Tychus's original goal. When he first encountered the Queen of Blades, all he saw was a murdering psychopath, without the slightest bit of humanity in her. Thus regardless of Raynor told him about her, Tychus could have easily argued that just from appearance alone, it proved otherwise. Now, on the other hand, by the time his chance came on Char, where he and Raynor found Kerrigan deinfested, it would have changed his views. He couldn't kill the Queen of Blades anymore because the artifact had already done the job for him. Because of that, he would perceive that Kerrigan is no longer a threat. However, he was still in the deathtrap suit of his, where Mengsk was telling him to either kill Kerrigan right away or the suit would kill him, it really removes his options on just what to do."

"You think he let Raynor pull the trigger on him at that moment?" Matt asked.

His wife shrugged. "Way I see it, Tychus must have been pushed into the corner at that moment. If he pulled the trigger, Raynor would have killed him for killing his girlfriend. But if he didn't, Mengsk would have pressed the magic button and he'd die anyway. Essentially the only real way out for him at that point was if he killed Raynor too, assuming Mengsk was even going to keep his word and let Tychus go free. I'm sure Raynor would have told Tychus about how close he and Kerrigan were before her infestation, so obviously he would have known that Jim would have his hesitation. But you said it yourself that Jim always did what was best for everyone. If that's true, Tychus wouldn't have been convinced that Raynor would actually spare the Queen of Blades unless he believed she no longer existed."

"That's one of the things I'm still greatly concerned about," the captain said. "After leaving Char, we went to Haven, where Kerrigan was brought to Dr. Hanson, one of the people the Raiders rescued from the planet Agria during the Zerg invasion. There was hope that the remaining Zerg blood could be removed from Kerrigan, but Dr. Hanson wasn't able to do so."

"So you're saying she could still be the Queen of Blades." It was a statement, not a question.

"There's just no way to prove if she still is or not," Matt sighed in frustration. "At least, not with the technology at our disposal. Jim may have been happy he got his girlfriend back, but the rest of us are not comfortable with all this. You certainly weren't when we touched down on Dead Man's Rock."

"No, but I also said it's not like I was going to have a choice in the matter. At this point it looks like everything I just have to work with people who may not be operating in my best interests and hope the result isn't going to end in a catastrophe."

Feeling mostly full and still weary to argue, Matt simply nodded to her. One of the servants then approached the table, setting down a large tray with two dishes of purple ice cream. As the captain took a bite, he suddenly frowned. The flavor wasn't something he was used to tasting, but there was something familiar about the scent.

"Are you all right, Matthew?" Mira asked.

"There's something familiar about this flavor, though I can't quite seem to put my hands on it," Matt said softly.

"It's something called sammuro fruit," his wife explained. "From what I was able to discover from Ethan Stewart's computer data, this stuff comes from Aiur, which makes it near impossible to find."

Matt shifted slightly in his seat. "That was the other major event that the Raiders had undergone in the aftermath of Char," he said. "As you know, we're on friendly terms with the Protoss." As Mira nodded and asked him to go on, he continued, "After what had happened on Char, the Protoss had learned of our victory. They decided this was the time to clear Aiur of the Zerg, and Jim agreed to assist them in that endeavor. That had been the last thing the Raiders had done before coming here to Dead Man's Rock."

"I see," Mira said calmly. She still felt there were parts of the story her husband was not telling her, but decided not to press any further.

"Overall, although much of the Hyperion crew still aren't comfortable with Kerrigan, a lot of them are also not too pleased with me."

Mira looked confused. "What for?"

"They say I'm too distrustful, unwilling to risk anything," Horner said. "Many of them were on my side when Valerian offered us an alliance to invade Char to defeat the Queen of Blades, saying that Jim had gone completely insane for accepting this deal. Personally, I had expected Valerian to betray us during the invasion, and I certainly did after Kerrigan had been deinfested and there was no longer a need for such an alliance."

"But that didn't happen, did it?"

Matt shook his head. "Valerian even handed us the artifact without any strings attached, even though we know far less about it compared to what his Möebius Foundation probably knows. After that, quite a few crewmembers were displeased with me in believing the Dominion was comprised completely of manipulators and backstabbers."

He cleared his throat before continuing, "It was as if they had completely forgotten who Valerian really was. He's a Mengsk, and after everything Arcturus had put us through, it just seemed unthinkable to me to encounter a Mengsk who wouldn't be every bit like that."

"Given that you were meeting him for the first time, I can see why you'd say that," Mira said. "Still, didn't it occur to you that it's wrong to blame the son for the sins of the father?"

Her husband looked confused. Clearly Mira was hinting at something he didn't know. Maybe he didn't want to, but curiosity eventually won out. "Are you saying you know Valerian better than the Raiders do? If so, it'd be good if you share this information with us."

"Of course," Mira replied, as servants arrived to pick up the empty ice cream dishes, replacing them with a wide assortment of cheeses. As she saw Matt's nose tingle a little from the scent, she smiled. "As you know, Dead Man's Rock is a lawless world, very far away from Dominion space and their controlled planets. This planet is considered to be popular for people who want to come here to escape Dominion authority."

"I don't blame them. This place seems almost impossible to police."

"That's the belief, but it's only part of the picture," Mira told him. "The Dominion don't make attempts to bring the world under their control, they do it in a slightly more indirect way. They have aware of the crime lords on this planet for years. Some of them are paid by the Dominion as agents to do the dirty work for them. Ethan Stewart was one such case, and any useful information he carried was passed onto Valerian."

Matt frowned. "This only seems to imply he's just like Arcturus."

"Not exactly," Mira assured. "With the two of them, their relationship has a great deal of friction in between."

The captain snorted. "That seems to be an understatement. I've never heard of anyone who has gotten a stable relationship with Mengsk before."

"The point here is that at the end of the so-called Brood War, the Dominion military had been decimated, and people were living in fear on the Dominion Core Worlds due to the threat of the Zerg. Despite Dominion attempts to keep things secret, news eventually leaks out. In the case of the prince, Valerian had intended to rebuild the Dominion to make it glorious once again."

"He told us something similar when Jim asked him about what he was supposed to get out of the Char invasion," Matt admitted. "Valerian told us that he wanted to become a better emperor and a better man than his father."

"Valerian had a very different view of the Dominion and where to lead it," Mira explained to him, forking a piece of cheese into her mouth. "Mengsk is a brutal dictator who craves nothing but power. Valerian, on the other hand, had a passion for archeology and works of the past. He had a constant interest with regards to evidence left behind of civilizations that had been forgotten due to the passage of time, and for ancient structures and knowledge that had been buried away."

"That would explain why he was the head of the Möebius Foundation with their scientific research on the artifact," Matt mused.

"Mengsk's vision of the Dominion was only to restore it to a rule of might, but Valerian wanted it to be one of arts and sciences as well. It was why he was so interested in discovering artifacts, regardless of what alien race they belonged to."

"Well, for once his discovery just might have paid off for us."

"True, but by now, you know that not all alien artifacts are inert, where you can just put it on display for it to look shiny and pretty for the audience," Mira said. "Some of them are still active—"

"And others are not really artifacts at all, they're weapons of some sort," Matt finished.

"Valerian had a passion for that as well, and this was exactly the reason why Mengsk had supported him in using Dominion resources to uncover those artifacts," his wife said. "However, from the outset there was a problem to this."

"If the artifacts were weapons, then Mengsk would have wanted a way to control them, and use it for himself," Matt realized.

"Exactly. Mengsk felt Valerian was unfit for the throne because he believed in compassion, instead of ruling through fear, which would make him too weak to be a successful emperor," Mira explained. "Furthermore, Valerian had an understanding when it's simply too much. In other words, he knows when he uncovered anything that might be too powerful to use. Mengsk knew that about his son, and this was the reason why he had placed spies into Valerian's research, science, and archeological network. That way, if Valerian did uncover something and refused to share the knowledge with him, Mengsk would know of it anyway."

Matt rubbed his chin. The spies would explain how Tychus had known of the Möebius Foundation, even though he had been released by Mengsk.

He sighed in disgust. "The emperor doesn't even trust his own son."

"It would explain why Valerian handed you that artifact after the Char invasion," Mira reasoned. "Of course he would have wanted it for himself to study, but given what you had told me, it would seem that the artifact is something of immense power, and he had no intention of letting his father have it."

"Well with the spies it just reinforces what I tried to tell Jim from the very beginning, which was never to trust Tychus."

"You hadn't known him very long, Matthew," Mira pointed out. "Raynor had known the guy for years, compared to weeks for yourself."

"Well it's not like you know the guy yourself, Mira," Matt grumbled.

"Maybe not, but he and Raynor had been on Dead Man's Rock before." Off of Matt's confused look, Mira pointed out, "When you and Raynor first met, you knew him as a Mar Sara colony marshal. However, he didn't get that role until he was the age of 24. What do you know of Raynor's life before that?"

"He never talked about that with the Raiders," Matt admitted. "It was only when Tychus was on the Hyperion that Jim began to shed even the slightest details about anything, and even then all he said was that the two of them got into all sorts of trouble."

"In 2495, Raynor and Tychus came to Deadman's Port on Dead Man's Rock," Mira explained. "Apparently they were being hunted by a sadistic bounty hunter named Ezekiel Daun. They came here and turned to the crime lord Scutter O'Banon for protection."

"Did it work?" the captain asked.

"Not exactly. O'Banon felt they were more trouble than they were worth, and eventually Raynor and Tychus left the planet. As for O'Banon himself, well he had only been taken care of recently."

"What are you talking about?"

"He too was one of the paid agents to do the Dominion's dirty work in taking care of business on Dead Man's Rock. Orlan and I didn't exactly get along well, but the two of us agreed to work together to boot O'Banon out of Deadman's Port, which we had done so only a matter of months ago. Neither one of us had wanted this world to be under Dominion rule."

Matt thought about this carefully, as the servants returned with cups of rich, fragrant black coffee for the two of them. Clearly his wife was a lot more intellectual than he had been expecting. Some of the things she had pointed out about Tychus were things that had never occurred to him, let alone have considered. A part of him now reconsidered his view on her, but the idealistic part of him simply wasn't having any of it.

At this point, the radio that Mira kept on her went off. "Commander, I think we have a situation here."

Mira frowned deeply. "I thought I told you not to disturb me and Matthew. Was that so hard to understand?" she spoke into the set.

"Trust me, I wouldn't have contacted you if it weren't something of the direst emergency. You need to see it to believe it."

The female mercenary sighed, but signaled one of the servants to bring in a projector into the room.

"This was something one of our boys in Paradise had caught on screen just minutes ago," the mercenary on the other end of the line said. "What you're going to see is live."

As the projector was wheeled in, Mira pressed a button on it, allow it to light up. Immediately, it showed an image of Dominion Dropship flying over the city of Paradise. This one however looked to be modified, with loudspeakers and special screens attached to the outside. As she wondered what the Dominion was planning, the speakers on the vessel suddenly began to blare out its message.

"Citizens of Dead Man's Rock, I am General Ridgeway of the Terran Dominion," the speakers blared. "Your world houses a dangerous mercenary leader by the name of Mira Han. She and her forces are ruthless to the core and are in possession of something that is vital to the Dominion military. My forces are here to neutralize the threat that Han poses. However, as this world is outside the boundaries of Dominion law, Mira Han has used her familiarity here to her advantage, hiding herself and her troops from the Dominion. We are aware that there are those in the settlements of Paradise and Deadman's Port that have come into contact with this dangerous mercenary and therefore may have information about her current whereabouts."

Matt and Mira exchanged concerned glances at each other before turning their heads to the projector once more. "It is our intention to locate Mira Han and bring her to Dominion justice. We understand that you dislike the Dominion presence on your world, so once she has been apprehended, the Dominion forces on Dead Man's Rock will withdraw from the planet immediately. However, I am also aware that there are many of you who had been manipulated and deceived by this mercenary, and the possibility that she had bought your loyalty, perhaps even with the promise of protection. To show that her promises are nothing but empty words, I will now show you a firsthand demonstration of the might of the Terran Dominion."

The screens attached to the Dropships suddenly lit up, as they showed an Apocalypse-class nuclear warhead on the back of an Ore Loader truck, out in the middle of the nowhere. From the faint silhouettes in the background, it was clear this location was on Dead Man's Rock.

Suddenly, the warhead detonated, and the whole screen was covered in a bright flash of light. As the image pulled back, Matt and Mira watched with wide eyes to see a gigantic mushroom cloud engulf the whole area.

"My Dominion forces are in possession of Apocalypse-class nuclear warheads, which possess a far greater destructive power than the standard tactical nuclear weapons in the Dominion arsenal," the message continued. "The explosion you had just witnessed was just one such warhead, which had been detonated out in one of the barren wastelands on Dead Man's Rock, where there were no civilians. This is just a small demonstration of the might of the Dominion. The mercenaries on this world possess outdated and inadequate military equipment that are completely inferior compared to those of my forces."

Mira knew that this Ridgeway person was right. Even if she did possess modern military equipment, they could not withstand an explosion of that magnitude.

"As I speak, the Dominion troops under my command are readying even more of these nuclear weapons we have at our disposal," Ridgeway said. "For those of you who do not wish to see your cities devastated by the Dominion, all you have to do is reveal Mira Han's whereabouts. Dominion patrols will be standing by on the outskirts of Paradise and Deadman's Port. For those of you who have the information we need, simply approach these patrols and deliver the information to us. If you choose not to, Paradise and Deadman's Port shall be our next targets which we shall eradicate off the surface of Dead Man's Rock. With your inferior military equipment, you know that you cannot prevail against the Dominion. The most that you would be able to accomplish is cause a few Dominion losses which we would be able to make good overnight, whereas your forces would be completely decimated. Make it easy for everyone here and do the right thing. Act in the best interests of your people and reveal the location of the mercenary leader Mira Han. You have 72 hours to comply with our request before my offer of salvation expires and we reduce your cities to dust. The decision lies in your hands, we await your answer."