Thursday, January 5, 2012

Nitpickery: Writing and Selling Your Novel by Jack M. Bickham

Hey y'all.  So as you know, I'm a writer, and I work in a bookstore.  It's now a used bookstore, but I still get to "check out" and read books.  I've been trying to read more books that will help me, rather than just history or fiction books.  Those are helpful for writing, but I want to get more into business books and those that will help me get published.

So this book, "Writing and Selling Your Novel" sounds perfect, yes?  You'd think that.  I mean, it is a helpful book in its own right.  However, writing is all about voice: the way your books sounds when it's read out in the mind.  Some people have sarcastic voices, others blunt or fanciful.  While voice is important for fiction, it's even more important for non-fiction.  In non-fiction you're more constrained about what you can write, and the entertainment factor heavily depends on the reader's base interest in your subject matter.  The only major place where a non-fiction writer can show their own independent creativity is in their voice and presentation of the subject at hand.

And that's where Jack Bickham gets me.  I'm all excited to be reading the book, and then I get to paragraph three.  At once I'm pulled out of it, no longer following the writer as he speaks.  Lemme quote it.

"Of course you'll need talent, too.  But 'talent' is a mysterious quality that can emerge only after a professional attitude has been cultivated and fully developed.  To put this another way, 'talent' is what people say you have after you have worked like hell for years to improve yourself."

Um, no.  Bickham's doing a little thing here I've seen in other writers where he changes the meaning of a word and accuses other people of having misunderstood it in the first place.  Honestly though, having read further, I do understand his sentiment.  Basically he's trying to say that you shouldn't just call yourself a writer and then produce five pages every two months.  You have to have a professional attitude about your work.

My problem with this passage is that he's going too far with it.  Talent, yes, is a mysterious thing that is a bit awkward to define.  I personally, as well as most people in general, refer to it as having naturally the qualities that would make you good at a job or trade.  You've met people that are just good at singing or drawing or something, and you wonder how they do it.  This doesn't mean they're perfect or anything, because all babies start out with no knowledge, but it does mean that if they decided to persue a singing (or whatever) career, they'd end up having to work less hard at it than you to produce the same results.

Talent does include a necessary amount of work for success, but at the end of the day, that's not talent.  That's drive.  Talent is capable of existing in people who have no drive.  This is what we call wasted talent: you know they're good and could be great, but they slack.

Yes, nitpickery perhaps, but already Bickham's got me ranting and raving in my head by the third paragraph.  Not good.  I guess he's trying to be abrupt and extreme by coming across strong, but it's really very off-putting if you're someone like me.  Other people will like Bickham's directness, and I would too if he didn't feel the need to be unnecessarily contrary.

Still, there are others who will feel differently than I do about it, willing to see it more from Bickham's perspective.  Really, all Bickham wants is for writers to take what they do more seriously.  That is a good endeavor, and does help the book go on.  Still, I have other grievances with his work, yes, nitpicks, but that's what I do.  I'm only going to mention a few problems I have, because I get too ranty sometimes.

And so I quote again.

"It's only in this century that the distinction between 'what's good' and 'what's popular' began to be drawn by academics and their hoity-toity followers."

How do you know that?  How do you know it's only been going on now?  Snobs have only existed in the past 100 years?  None before then?  Also, how do you know it's the "hoity-toities" that are to blame?  Aren't there lower-class people who have thumbed their noses at "cultural" stuff?  And why would anyone follow an academic?  I follow people I like and trust, not just smart people.  Again, nitpick, but this statement just reeks of oversimplicity.

"...and give up the mystical baloney about 'inspiration' and other stuff that doesn't exist except in the fevered imagination of a few deluded English teachers."

I really want to give Bickham credit.  He feels passionately about writing and does have a lot of good and important things to say.  Yet again this statement trips me up unnecessarily.  All he had to say is to not wait for inspiration and just work until your motor neurons are just used to being creative all the time.  This does happen the more you write.

That doesn't, however, negate the existence of inspiration.  Inspiration is essentially that burning, excited feeling you have within you when you realize you have something to write and can possibly do it.  Or, alternatively, it's the little spark of something you see, hear, and/or feel that gives you an idea of something you want to write.  Sure, inspiration is a floating mystical thing that nobody really understands properly and you have to make disciplined to work in your favor, but it exists.

Probably Bickham is just complaining about it because he's annoyed that people go on and on talking about inspirations and ideas but never put anything down on paper.  I wish he would just say so instead of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.  Sometimes we writers just want to take a break and be all pretentious and talk of such things.  There's nothing wrong with that, as long as we also get work done.

Okay, so my problems with all those other comments is just the unnecessary hatred that comes along with them.  Bickham's sentiments in and of themselves are perfectly acceptable and in fact even necessary to the budding writer.  He just feels the need to go that extra step and really narrow down the meaning of his words, making it easy for the reader to get thrown and off-topic.  Again, he's probably just trying to be extreme, and there are those who will like his more practical perspective.  But at the end of the day, writing is an art.  All arts will retain an aspect of floaty, emotional strangeness that is more or less so depending on the specific artwork.  Art does not exist to be purely practical, and therefore no one can be purely practical and a good artist.

My next complaint will be about the advice Bickham gives.  Let's see...I'll give you two more quotes and my problems with them, then I'll give an overall review of the book.

Okay, so chapter five opens with a really weird story about a caveman named Hrothgar.  Hrothgar is just a nobody caveman that isn't popular or admired.  One day, Hrothgar gets into a battle with a tiger, and after a long battle, the tiger jumps at him.  Hrothgar ducks, and the tiger jumps completely over him and into a river.  So Hrothgar goes back home and tells everyone this story, and they're all really impressed.  Hrothgar likes the attention, so he makes up similar stories, hoping to continually impress his clan.

Of course, eventually this stops working, because obviously no one warrior could have all these adventures.  So Hrothgar starts telling them from the second person perspective.  "Imagine you were a warrior...", etc.

I thought at first that the point of this mini story was going to have to do with believability.  Not so.  Bickham's trying to make the overall point that all writers should want to make the reader see themselves in the story.  While this is true sometimes, trying too hard to have a second person perspective risks being really gimmicky.  It's a choice an author makes depending on what they intend to write.

Bickham continues to explain that a viewpoint must be maintained.  A viewpoint or perspective, however you want to put it, is basically who's telling you the story or whose eyes you are seeing the story through.

Please forgive this brief lesson in elementary writing.  It's necessary to make a point.  I was armed with this information in my head as I read the passage, and it alerted me at once to Bickham's opinion.
1st person writing- "I went down the hallway..."
2nd person writing- "You went down the hallway..."
3rd person writing- "He/she/it went down the hallway..."

Note that third person has two different forms, limited and omniscient.  These terms basically refer to how you reveal new information.  Limited means that you only learn about what one person sees.  For example, if Bob is your viewpoint character, in 3rd person limited the author only writes what Bob can experience.  Bob goes to a party, and he can tell you the sights and sounds.  He cannot, however, tell you what the girls he hits on are thinking.  In omniscient, the author does reveal what the girls are thinking directly.

Limited: "Bob felt so nervous.  He barely managed to say his name to the hot blonde, but she only wrinkled her nose and turned away."
Omniscient: "Bob felt so nervous.  He barely managed to say his name to the hot blonde, but she obviously felt negatively about the possibility of them going out."

Now, knowing this, I read what Bickham had to say.  He had some very good points about 3rd person limited, telling his readers not to switch perspectives or go outside of the experiences of the viewpoint character.  Bickham basically says that 3rd person omniscient is old fashioned and outdated.  While I do appreciate how he hammers down the point of not switching perspectives too much and he does explain viewpoint characters very well, it's silly of him to knock 3rd person omniscient.

As soon as he started knocking it, all I could think of was the stories I liked that had 3rd person omni.  In particular I kept thinking about C.S. Lewis' The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, and the passage where Lewis explains each of the four childrens' reactions to hearing the name of Aslan.  Yes, I know that was written decades ago, but the fact is, people still read and buy the Chronicles of Narnia books today.  They're still good.  And therefore, so is 3rd person omniscient, which I'm sure I could find in many other good novels.

Yes, people do abuse 3rd person omni, and they should be aware they do so.  But you can't throw the baby out with the bathwater.  He also said, "there is no use in trying to write a modern novel from the viewpoint of the passive observer" (emphasis his).  All I could think of is Perelandra, where Lewis uses himself as the passive storyteller of his friend Ransom's adventures on Venus.

Thing is, art should be liberating, not constraining.  Yes, limiting oneself can produce new skills and strengthen weaknesses, and thus is good at times.  But art in and of itself can be many various things.  You can paint with watercolors, acrylics, food, digital pixels, and even chicken crap.  Art is expression in various different ways, and just because a way is different doesn't mean it's wrong.  Except for the chicken crap.   Saw that in a museum once.  Very wrong.

And then he gets into one of the most bizarre comments I've ever heard.  First he lists a few examples of a "viewpointless" statements.

"-Something crawled across Joe's hand....
- Joe took a drink.  It had almond flavoring....
- Smoke filled the room.  Joe got up....

This is description or narration from no viewpoint.  It's neutral.  The reader doesn't know who he is supposed to be."

And suddenly the story about Hrothgar makes more sense.  Bickham thinks a reader wants to be a character.  In some cases, this is true, but by no means is it all.  Nor should a writer have to plan for a reader to want to be a character.  A lot of the time they don't want to be someone, they merely want to be themselves, perhaps with powers or weapons, inside that universe.

Take Star Trek.   You've got a lot of good characters in that universe, but people don't want to be any of them.  They want to be a cool captain like Kirk, or an ex-Borg like Seven of Nine with her regenerative nanites, or perhaps a Klingon like Worf.   They don't want to be those people exactly, because then they would have to play by the personality rules of Kirk, Seven or Worf.  They want to have their own personalities.

At the end of the day, it's not about creating a cool person, it's about creating a world.  A world with seemingly no limits, where readers can fill in their favorite gaps with their own imaginations.  A world they can build on in their minds, either adding themselves or maybe their own set of characters.  It's one thing to limit oneself, but shame, Bickham, don't limit the reader.

Crap.  I wrote down in my journal some of the stuff Bickham wrote on page 29.  I was going to skip over this for the sake of brevity, but I really want to talk about them.  Characterization is one of my favorite parts of writing, so I feel I have to address some of this.  Here we go.

First, a minor nitpick.  Bickham claims that it is the author that forms plot and not chance.  That no plot is an accident.  While on one level this is true, it sort of diminishes the fact that characters write stories.  I don't remember if I posted it here, but I wrote an essay on facebook once about predestination and free choice existing both at the same time.  It does in writing.

You, the author of a story, are writing out what happens.  However, it is only bad authors that force characters to do things that they would not choose or say things they wouldn't say.  In this sense, it's the characters that make choices for you, deciding which paths are possible and which are not.  Therefore it is an effort of both author and character that writes the plot.

But fine, that's a nitpick.  Let me get to a real issue.

"In the first place, a character is not a real person.  Real people, when rendered with total fidelity on paper, are dull, unconvincing, and vague.  A fiction character must, first of all, be a host of exaggerations.
"Why?  Because one of the hardest things we ask readers to do is to take some symbols on a piece of paper, translate these symbols into words, process the words into meanings, sort out and react to both the denotation and connotation of those words (not to mention deep processing of secondary associations!), then take all this and imagine a human being, then believe the human being actually exists--but in a make-believe world--identify with the person, care about the person, worry about the person and invest time in finding out what happens to that person-- who doesn't really exist anywhere except in the imagination!
"Readers understandibly aren't very good at this."

Bickham, Bickham, Bickham!  Why must you insult readers?  That's highly offensive, and very near to calling non-writer people stupid.  For one thing, anyone who reads is already doing those things, unless they don't connect to your writing for whatever reason.

Note that there are several reasons why a reader might not connect to a writer's story.  Perhaps they feel the author isn't creative enough or his writing is faulty.  Or they have different beliefs than the writer and the story primarily involves these beliefs.  Or maybe they just don't like your genre.  Sometimes people don't like fiction altogether.  Maybe they're just in such a bad mood they can't like anything at the moment.  Or in Bickham's case, I don't connect to his book because he makes too many broad statements.  There are multifarious different ways a reader can be disconnected from a book, none of which have to do with the reader having no intelligence or imagination.   On occasion, it's the author with none.

The thing that bothers me the most about the above statement is that all the things Bickham mentions are just things that everyone does subconsciously when they read.  Sure, some people are better than others at interpreting language, but it is a process every reader does.  Taking "symbols on a piece of paper" and "translat[ing] these into words" is the very simply process of reading.  If you're a reader at all of the language, you can translate our Roman symbols into words.  You do it every day.

As for having any sort of emotions for a character, that depends almost entirely on the writer.  It's the writer's job to get you interested in the character, not the reader's job to muster up emotion for a fictitious person.  This might be difficult for the early writer, but it's still their job and something they have to learn to do.  You can't put the burden of believability on someone else.

Okay, so insulting the reader aside, let's deal with his first statement that complains real people on paper are dull, unconvincing and vague.  I don't know why he says that.  Quite frankly, I crave real people in writing, and when authors present this cartoonish fops to pass as characters, I find it hard to continue reading.  And yet that's just what Bickham asks the budding writer to do.  Later on he makes the statement that because the story is going on in words instead of a visual medium like movies, all characters must be exaggerated to garish proportions.


Okay, okay.  There is a time and a place for having more cartoonish characters.  Those are specific genres or specific roles that are not at all meant to be taken seriously.  However, with the normal character, you don't exaggerate.  You imply.

The reason he claims writing a real person on paper is dull may possibly be that it just takes too much information to explain a full person out.  Writers should be careful not to overload their readers with information about a character, especially not a two page essay on who that person is.  That's why I say imply.  You take the individual characteristics of a person and imply them throughout the story.  Perhaps you have a female cop and want to explain that she has an affinity for fashion, wondering if she is any good at it.  You could imply this by having her job take her to a clothing store, and she takes a second to peruse some racks and wonder if a shirt would look good with a skirt she has at home.  Or you could have her sketching dresses in her spare time.  She could tell a criminal that he should never wear a plaid jacket with pinstripe pants.

The art of writing is not about explaining everything to your reader.  You should not assume your reader is stupid.  In fact, you should assume they are intelligent.  Leave little clues about a person and let the reader come up with their own ideas.  For example, King Theoden in Lord of the Rings makes the statement, "I am old, and fear nothing anymore".  This shows without showing that Theoden is a crusty older person that's gone through a lot, and yet is a completely hardcore guy you don't want to mess with.  Readers see this statement and enjoy Theoden's personality for being so fearless.  The point is to let readers decide on their own how they feel about your character.  Your skill as a writer will be revealed if they feel the same way you do about them.

The ultimate example of implication is Star Trek: The Original Series.  People have their ideas about Star Trek and it's pretentiousness, but the original series was never like that at all.  It's goofy, hilarious, and yes, a tad self-righteous.  At the end of the day it's nowhere near as grand as people see it in their imaginations.  Seriously, watch "The Trouble with Tribbles" or "I, Mudd".  You'll see what I'm talking about.

Back when Star Trek first aired, it had meh ratings and a fight against cancellation ensued at the end of the first and second season (no one bothered for the third).  The saddest part is that the fan mailings and gatherings that supported the continuation of Star Trek were all organized by Trek's creator Gene Roddenberry himself.  When Gene got a bad time slot for the third season, he even gave up on his own creation, leaving it to the writers and producers to figure out what they were going to do.

Only in re-runs did Star Trek come back to life.  It wasn't Gene's doing, or the doings of Paramount (they own Trek) or any of the people associated with the show.  Fans just liked it.  They put meaning into Star Trek that no one had ever intended in the first place.  Roddenberry didn't create the Trekkers, they created themselves.

And that's why we should never assume the reader is stupid.  Their additions, encouragements, and feelings for your characters, even if it's not obvious at first, are what make you a success.  If you let them, your work can even outlive you.

Okay, so let me review his book.  I've gone on and on about how I disagree with several of Bickham's points, but the fact of the matter is, he's very intelligent.  He knows the basic structures of how to write, and he does have things to teach.  There are so many good exercises in his book that it will be helpful to the people that can get over Bickham's negativity.  It's just so sad the guy threw me off early on.  Later in the book he gets much more helpful, and there's a lot of things a person can learn from him.

Another trouble with this book is the words "and selling".  This book has all of four chapters on selling books, and the first three are about editing your story and say practically nothing about actually selling.  The last chapter does not go in depth about actually selling the book.  It states a few vague principles without bothering to discuss strategies or working on sales pitch.  There is no reason to buy this book if your primary concern is selling your novel.

Honestly, Bickham should have catered more towards his artist audience by not putting in his anti-artistic and reader insulting statements.  He also should have not bothered talking about selling at all.  It's clear he has more opinions and advice to give on the actual construction of the novel, so he should have renamed his work to reflect this.  Maybe, "The Writer's Classroom" or something like that.

Now, you might think I'm missing the points that Bickham is trying to make in his contrary statements.  Yes, that's exactly right.  I am missing his points, precisely because he goes out of his way to confront "old fashioned" ideas and say they are wrong.  In reality, they are merely different.  Bickham is so confrontational about it that I am extemely reluctant to view things from his perspective.

For example, J.R.R. Tolkien and his friends wrote stories precisely because they didn't want to read contemporary literature.  They wanted to write something different, something they wanted to read.  They weren't focused so much on modernity that they forgot other eras could write.  And now Tolkien is the father of today's fantasy.  It's Tolkien's influence that resulted in things like Drizzt Do'Urden, Warcraft, and all the plethora of elvish/"historical" fantasy books that are out there today.

The lesson to learn here is that you are a good writer when you write what you want, not what is "modern" or "today".  You should always know the basic principles of writing and do your research, and at the end of the day if you enjoy what you wrote, chances are you have an audience, and they'll like it too.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

StarCraft Fanfiction: Far From Home

Hey y'all.  So you already know that I think DJ Redlight is one of the best musicians ever.  He is the only artist that has consistently produced songs that I always want to hear.  This may have something to do with him producing like one song ever few months, but really, each piece is a gem.

His latest gem that he posted is Far From Home, a very beautiful and haunting piece that you can download for free on  This piece inspired me to write a story based on the Starcraft universe.  I felt filled with images when I heard this song, and thus I wanted to write them all out while the inspiration was fresh.

Note that all inspiration is good.  You can easily harness the inspiration and direct it to a project you felt less inspired about.  Especially when you finish a story and people like it.  You can harness the energy and go on to the next project feeling much better, even if you were struggling before.

So, without further ado, here is Far From Home, the ever so slightly true story of how I entered the Starcraft universe.


I was just so tired. I didn't know why I couldn't concentrate. This story was the last one of my Mega Man fanfiction, and I needed it to be good. It was my penultimate fanfiction to end my fan writings and begin my quest to become a published writer, not stranded back there in the land of fanfiction hoping to be something more. If only I could get the characters to end their storylines properly, making a point as a writer I've wanted to do for years. But I was so so blurry headed and uninspired. Writer's block sucks. Of course, if your story is good enough, the block will go away. I know it will. This particular block was just my own personal exhaustion. True block was what happened to me when I tried to finish writing my Starcraft II fanfiction, Another World. I could write the Zerg campaign, but the Protoss campaign ran into a brick wall. And then the real Starcraft II came out, ending my attempt to write my own version. Lovely.

And so zerglings and zealots were running through my tired head as I laid it down on the cafe's table. It's the cafe's fault for being so calm and soothing. Green on the walls, green sofas, green sounds kind of boring just describing it to you, but it was that perfect light green, accentuated by some nice off-whites and seashell colors. They say green is the most soothing color, which is why they have "green rooms" backstage in theaters for actors to lounge in.

Okay, maybe it's about time I should talk about what happened. I must have been more tired than I thought. I've never fallen asleep in public before. As soon as I realized what was going on, I lifted my head up. After all, you never knew who would steal your computer in this town.

As soon as I opened my eyes, I realized that there was no point in worrying. "This town" was gone. In its place was some sort of...narrow place. My first sensation was one of mild nausea. It took a second to realize that this was due to the entire lack of gravity. I was loosely held between a metal bar across my stomach and the wall behind me, and was sort of half in a lying position as I floated there. The whole room was tilted. Yes, it was a room, or I guess more like a very short hallway because there was no door to the open area to the left. Over there was where a lot of debris I couldn't recognise floated about like lost, jagged snowflakes.

I couldn't see much farther to the left because of my stuck position, but it looked a lot bigger than the little five by five alcove I was in. The alcove was narrow, but extremely tall. I was far enough from the ceiling, but I was a good four feet or so away from the floor. It was so weird to have the floor at that angle.

In front of me was an opened panel - you could tell that the panel that must have made the wall was removed. I think it was floating somewhere off to the left. Behind where the panel was supposed to go was a of...wall-ish computer thingy. Something beyond my ability to describe properly. It was some sort of computer. I could tell that much from the little white lines running all over the blue surface. Other than that it didn't look much like a normal computer. It had these little colorful rectangles sticking out of it and some empty slots where more of them could go. These rectangles had little shapes carved inside of them, but I couldn't really tell what the shapes were. My arms are long, but even so the nearest wall was still a foot or so further away.

A sinking feeling started to come into my stomach as I noticed that some of the rectangles had this black, ashen marks on them, as if some part of the computer had sparked on them. My mind started putting things together. Looking to the right proved what my brain was thinking all along. I'd seen enough Star Trek and such to realize that I was inside of a spaceship, and that spaceship was drifting with its bow stuck up in the air. Er, or relatively upwards. There's no real up in space, so they say. Or air either. Yeah.

In any case. outside the long window was space. There were also a couple of Protoss ships outside, I think a carrier and an arbiter. They looked pretty beat up. Little floating gold bits - obviously parts of Protoss spacecraft - spun in the cold void. Some of them had red streaks on them, and from the obvious claw marks on every conceivable part of the metal, a battle with the Zerg surely did all of this. I think I saw a corsair spinning away in the distance.

I have to say, that moment right there really sucked. There's nothing like drifting in a lonely place, waiting for Zerg or space pirates to come and get you. The golden beam holding me back wasn't tight across my stomach, so it was possible to get out from behind it. I wondered if I could somehow figure out the Protoss controls. Yeah, I know, smart, right? I don't know how to fly a human ship, much less a Protoss one. How could I even read the controls? Yes, I was in a 'Toss ship. The place's high ceilings could hardly have been a Terran vessel.

Not knowing what else to do, I got quiet. I didn't feel upset at that point. It seemed a little strange to be there, and I might have been too shocked to fully understand what was going on. Or maybe I did realize it, and knew there was nothing I could do. Even if I did get off that ship alive, where would I go? I don't exactly have any friends in the Starcraft universe.

So I sat, er, floated there for a minute. I figured I'd be as optimistic as I could be in that situation. If space pirates were the first people to show up, then I'd have to come up with some sort of reason why they shouldn't hurt me. I'd offer to be their cook, but I suck at that. I tried not to let my mind wander to the sort of things that they were sure to want to do to me and hoped that somehow I would run into moral pirates. Yeah. Huh. Getting killed by Zerg was starting to sound a lot better at that point. I'm one measly girl, so I doubt they'd infest me.

As I quietly mused my unhappy fates, I then noticed the voices. They were very faint at first, but as I banished the thought of pirates and Zerg from my mind, I could hear them with relative ease. They weren't, well, voices, per say, but rather ideas sort of zooming about like radio waves. Some of the Protoss must have been drifting around in that space battle mess too. Or maybe they were rescuers.

I tried to hear them out and figure out what they were trying to say. Surprisingly enough, I could understand it. It was easy. They weren't talking in any language.  The voices were talking in ideas instead of words, things like the word "spaceship" never showed up, but instead the very picture of a Protoss ship would show up in my head.

As I listened, the voices suddenly stopped. As you can imagine, I was pretty annoyed. Did I do something wrong? Was I trying too hard to hear them? I got quiet and tried to clear my head of all its thoughts. An instant later, a question appeared in my head. Like I said, they didn't use words, but I'll go ahead and write it that way, just to make it simple.

"Who are you?"

I paused a minute, shaking. They weren't talking to me, were they?

"Yes, we are."

Fudge monkies.

"Um," I thought, hoping that they could hear me. "Hi. I'm Elise Bridges. So...any chance I'm going to get out of here?"

One of the voices sort of laughed. It wasn't a mean laugh, but sort of sad. Which was actually worse. It was a voice that knew how absolutely screwed we all were. So they weren't rescuers. Crap.

"No. You are caught with us in the same plight. Only minutes ago our outpost was invaded by a brood of the Zerg. Their numbers were greater than ours, and they swept through our position. Our vessels were incapacitated and abandoned. The Zerg left us alive as we were deemed no longer a threat to them in the battle. They now chase our forces stationed at this quadrant."

I winced. I wanted to say that maybe their forces were going to beat the Zerg back and come and rescue us, but I got the distinct impression that they weren't. I could have asked him to clarify, but somehow I knew that the Zerg were too many. It would upset him to ask for details. After all, he'd already said there was no chance to get free.

"Oh...that's pretty lame."

"Excuse me." a different, harsher voice said. "But perhaps you will answer where you came from and how you came to be on a Protoss vessel."

Now that was a question. I hope they realized how nervous I was. "I don't know. I fell asleep, and suddenly I was here. I wasn't captured or anything. I just...sort of appeared here. I'm supposed to be at a coffeeshop now, writing a story. I'm sorry, that's a very dumb excuse, but it's all I have."

The voices kind of murmured to themselves after that. I don't think they disbelieved me. I mean, Protoss can tell if you're lying, can't they? But in any case, none of them seemed all that eager to talk to me. It's not like I knew them. I don't exactly have lots of friends down on earth, so there's no point expecting aliens to like me any better. All the same, we were all in the same trouble. Plus I was bored. As bored as I could be for someone stranded in space. Which is pretty dang bored.

"If any humans pass by, I'll try to tell them not to shoot you."

The Protoss thought that was a funny thing to say. The first voice answered me. "That is a nice sentiment, but we are not close to any human colonies. It is highly unlikely for any of them to be here."

"If we're lucky, Jim Raynor might show up."

"Perhaps. The rumors of his travels have not come this way."

"Oh. Do we have a plan or something? I mean, we can't just be here waiting for the Zerg to eat us all."

"We have a plan." a third voice said. "We cannot repair our vessels in time, but many of their functions still operate. The Zerg have left us for now, but they know we are here. Shortly enough they shall return to destroy us entirely. When this time comes, we wish to be ready for them with a trap. You would not understand the operations of our spacecraft, but suffice it to say that our technology has been built to operate by means of our greater psionic power. We are hoping to unite the remaining power of our vessels and create a psionic disturbance that would destroy the Zerg forces."

"That sounds like a good idea." I said. "Better'n nothing. Can I help?"

"I do not see how you would be able." the second voice piped up. "Your psionic power is significant, but your unfamiliarity prevents you from aiding us."

I'm psionic? Since when? I don't exactly read people's minds on earth. The closest I get to that is determining people's personalities by their favorite Starcraft characters - it's surprisingly easy. I can't exactly tell them that, so I kept my mouth shut. Er, my brain, rather.

"Not necessarily." the third voice said to the second. "There is a means by which it is possible."

"Well, whatever I can do to help." I said. "I don't have anything better to do and I don't know how to get home."

"It is much to ask of you." the first voice piped up. "Doing so will considerably drain the life support systems remaining on your vessel."

"Well, if the Zerg get us all, what's the point?"

"That is a good answer." Number 3 said. "Now tell me, can you move about your vessel?"

"Well, the gravity's out, but I could push off the walls and stuff like that if I have to." I pushed at the gold bar. It wiggled some. "Huh, I'm being held back by some sort of beam here, but I can get out of it if I have to."

"Where are you presently? What is around you?"

"Not too much. I'm stuck in this little area, and the wall in front of me is exposed. There's a bunch of weird colored thingies sticking out of a blueish thingy with a bunch of white lines on it."

"Fortune favors us. This is exactly where you need to be. It would be difficult and time consuming to describe to you what needs to be done. You must allow me to enter your mind so that I may act through you. It is also convenient to allow my companions to network with your mind as well. Is this acceptable to you? I will not do this against your will."

I thought about it for a second and hesitated. I mean, to me and you Starcraft is a fictitious game. What would they do if they found this out? And also, well, I'm not really comfortable with them being in my brain. I think about lots of nerdy things, and I'd feel really embarrassed if they knew about it. These concerns weren't that bad. I mean, what's the point in being embarrassed now? Maybe since Protoss connect to each others' minds all the time they're used to people's weird thoughts. Still, I had another question.

"Um, it won't hurt, will it?"

"Not unless you suddenly resist. Do not concern yourself overmuch. It is less harmful than Dominion tales would have you believe."

Well, I didn't know any of the Dominion tales he was talking about, and I had a feeling I wasn't really that curious about them. So what the heck? Let's do this. Leeroy Jenkins. All that good stuff.

"Um, okay. Sure. How do I do that?"

"You must calm your soul. Take a deep breath. It would help if you imagined music to establish the psionic connection. Etheral music, that is. Some of, Terran songs are rather inappropriate for psionic connections."

I laughed, but the way my voice echoed around that empty ship kinda freaked me out. All the same, it was pretty funny.

"Heh, don't worry. I don't listen to country music. Etheral stuff, eh?" I dug into my pocket to discover that my ipod was there. For some reason it was a bigger surprise that my little pink Techno Darling made it into the Starcraft world than it was that I myself went. "I can do that. There's this one DJ that should be perfect."

I plugged Techno Darling's earbuds into my ears and set the playlist to an artist I listen to all the time. The electric music filled my ears, and at once I recieved the sensation that this was entirely appropriate for the psionic bonding. Man, that sounds so weird. Well, that's the way it goes. It was also good that my ipod was with me. The music constantly playing made things much easier.

"Alright, you can start. Just don't go poking around my brain, alright? I'm nervous enough as it is."

I tried to relax, but honestly it's sort of hard to do that when you know someone is trying to enter your brain. It felt...I don't know. You know how your brain sort of buzzes when you're thinking really hard? It's kind of like that, except the buzzing is coming from outside. As it began, I felt I could chill out a little more. After a bit, I became aware of other places in my head. Other ships, other computers, other people. I had worried about them messing with my mind so much that it didn't occur to me until then that I could mess with theirs. I mean, they're Protoss and they could probably stop me, but the possiblity was there.

After a moment, I started to move. The freakiest thing was that I wasn't choosing to move. My arms were pushing at the beam holding me to the wall without my influence. I guess the third guy was trying to let me reach the computer, so I started to try and get free of the bar.

"Do not attempt to help me. Doubling your neural signals is unwise."

"Oh, sorry."

I think I let go of my body's controls too suddenly, as I jerked back a little as I tried to let him get control. Soon enough I was moving again, and my arms managed to shove the bar far enough away so that I could kick out. Moving in that space was sort of weird, but the third guy managed to get my feet against the back wall and make me hold onto a support beam in the opposite wall with the computer thingy in it. Pretty soon I was shuffling around the little colored rectangles and pulling out the blackened ones, all without trying.

"This isn't so bad." I said, hoping that talking didn't interfere. "It's dang weird, but I hardly notice you're here."

"Yes." the first Protoss said, and I felt his voice more strongly now that I was connected. "It is rumored among humans that doing so damages the mind. This is untrue."

"Maybe it's because of ghosts." I suggested. "Those guys might be messing people up."

"The tactic is known, but generally not very effective." the second 'Toss said. "Against Protoss, in any case."

"Can Protoss mess people up like that?"

"Such methods are not legal." the second continued. "Generally the minds that are strongest can prevent serious damage to their own. Also, the one attempting to damage another's mind is often damaged itself. This process is entirely too dangerous to be considered by any logical person."

"Good to know. Hey, y'all never told me. What are your guys' names?"

"I am Khollus of the Templar." said the third voice.

"I am Templar Naj'ahri." the first one said.

"Kaniktar is my name." the second finished. "Of the Judicatora."

Those names sounded a lot more fancy than mine. I mean, I like my name good enough, but I'm only Elise of the Bridges. That's not exactly all that noble a name.

"Never mind that." Kaniktar said. "Not all languages sound as grand as others."

Dang. I was going to have to be more careful about our thoughts now that we're all connected. Of course, my brain is the kind of thing that won't even shut up when I'm trying to sleep. A lot of the time I basically have to think myself to sleep. A horrible thought popped up in my mind. I tried not to look to the left, as I assume Khollus needed my eyes so that he could see what he was doing, but all the same, I realized that there was no need for them to connect to my brain if another Protoss was alive on this ship. I tried my hardest not to think of any dead Protoss bodies floating around.

"Hey you guys," I said. "Um...this is a bad question, but are we the only ones alive right now?"

I could sense that Naj'ahri did not want to answer this question. Khollus was focusing on fixing my computer, but Kaniktar answered.

"No." he said. "Two of my companions are not conscious, but they live."

"Oh? What are their names?"

Kaniktar didn't want to answer this question, but after a minute he did anyway.

"Adnarim and Khoduin."

"Oh. Good."

"I like this song you are listening to." Khollus said, more than likely to change the subject. "What is it called?"

"It's Far From Home." I answered. "Sort of perfect for right now, isn't it? The artist did a lot of other good songs. My favorites are Hotwire and Still Waiting. Well, actually I can't really decide. They're all really good. Most of his stuff doesn't have lyrics, but he also did this funny song about little tiny people that live in your computer and make it work."

Naj'ahri chuckled. "Amusing. I do not know if you would care for our music. It is vastly different in nature from yours."

"I'd like to hear it sometime. Um, assuming I get out of here alive and all that."

"That is not likely." Kaniktar said. "Our trap will consume much of the Zerg, but there is no telling how great their numbers may be. If a cerebrate leads them, it is likely that any that survive our attack will utterly destroy our ships. Perhaps if Kerrigan herself leads them, it will amuse her to leave us stranded amongst the stars. One cannot say."

Khollus felt like he was going to object to Kaniktar's negative attitude, but he didn't. Instead he talked to me. It's so weird when people change their mind inside your mind. It's kind of like some sort of very soft gear switching around in your head and kind of brushing by the inside of your skull as it spins.

"Elise, you do not seem upset by these circumstances. Why is this?"

"It doesn't feel real." I answered simply, trying not to shrug. Man, it is weird when someone else controls you. "I don't think I'm going to die. I mean, it'd just be too illogical. God's been working on me for too long. I'm not perfect now, but I used to be a lot more...well, whiny and selfish. I was so afraid that I'm going to do something wrong that it made me really annoying to be around. I'm only really starting to enjoy life now. If it's my destiny to die like this, it seems like a waste of time for God to work on me so much. I could've done this ten years ago. Now I feel like I could do so much more good."

"It is uncommon to find a human that believes in any God." Kaniktar said. "Many times Terrans seem aimless, wandering about the universe based on their moods."

"I have encountered a few that do believe." Naj'ahri added. "Mainly marines."

"They're probably the quiet ones." I said. "It's really easy to get intimidated if you let yourself. But anyway, I'm not too worried about dying or anything like that. I'll be fine."

"Implying that we are not?"

Khollus literally had to stop me from shrugging this time. I shrug too much when I talk. I got the feeling it was sort of annoying him. He was really focused on those computer circuits. One of the orange ones was broken, but he needed it so he had to think of another way to rewire the psionic pulse engine. Wow, I know what a psionic pulse engine is. Cool.

"Well, I know how God is." I answered. "It seems really weird to me that he wouldn't show himself to your culture in one way or another. I mean, y'all have been around for a long time, maybe longer than humans, for all I know. Presumming you'd have to hear about God from humans, that's a long time to wait. I heard you're polythiestic though."

"That is true." Naj'ahri answered. "We have many gods in Aiuran legend."

"The Xel'Naga?"

"No. These gods are older than the Xel'Naga. Most Protoss do not see the Xel'Naga as gods, though there are a few." Kaniktar mentioned. "The Taldarin, for example."

The other three of us laughed. It was pretty clear that Kaniktar didn't think much of the Taldarin. The Judicator seemed mildly embarrassed.

"You understand, of course," Kaniktar stiffened - I could feel him stiffening in my head. "Their vigil in guarding the relics of the Xel'Naga may be regarded by some as bordering on the fanatical. They mean well, of course."

"You are very diplomatic, Judicator." It was pretty strange to have Khollus laugh through me. He also felt weird laughing with a mouth. He'd never done it before. "Do not mince words. We know of them well."

"Too well." Naj'ahri added.

This made Kaniktar feel a little more comfortable. I know I say this a lot, but it all felt very weird. We all got a little more quiet at that point. I didn't have much to do, but Kaniktar and Naj'ahri were focusing on their own vessels. Naj'ahri was trying to get his ship's aiming systems back online, and Kaniktar had his own psionic pulse engine to rework. Khollus' was already done, mainly because the whole trap thing was his idea. He's been a Templar soldier a really long time. Heck, over twice as long as I've been alive.

I wanted to look a little more, but Khollus sent thoughts for me to stop. I don't think the others heard him when he said that. Khollus isn't embarrassed about his past, he's just not eager to share it. I guess that makes sense for a soldier. I stopped. I got the sense that Khollus was the kind of guy that merged minds with a lot of people. He's really very discreet. The sort of person that makes you automatically want to respect him. Those sort of people always make me feel like a little girl - like I'm so flighty, silly, and artsy-fart by comparison, and he would pat my silly head like a child or a kitten if he ever met me in person. I wanted to talk to Khollus, but he was concentrating so I just settled down and let my thoughts wander to dresses. Khollus thought that was cute, but I ignored him.

Kaniktar's mood changed. Not necessarily downwards, but he felt fate's hand on him.

"My engine is complete." he said. "Khollus, you may wish to look over my work."

"Momentarily." Khollus replied. "I will shortly be finished with Elise's. What is your status, Naj'ahri?"

"I feel I am overworking this system. There is no reason why the aiming should not work, but I fear for it nonetheless."

"Observe it for any serious problems then ready it as best you can. There is no point to excessive worry. How is yours, Kaniktar?"

"It is undamaged. It is prepared according to plan, but I shall check it once more."

Huh. As much as being hooked up to their minds allowed me to know some things I didn't before, I still felt a little left out. There wasn't anything for me to do besides chill out and try not to interfere. As much as I like dresses, it wasn't really right to think about them now. I could be dead very soon. I started to think about my family, especially my little nephews. I hoped they wouldn't be too sad without me. I haven't accomplished much in life, but I hope something I did makes my family happy. Of course, they wouldn't know where I was. To them I was just lost. Ouch. I hope my dead body magically appears at home or something. Or maybe I'll be dead at the cafe. Wow. Imagine what kind of day you would have if you were in a coffeeshop and then one of the people in there suddenly died for no reason.

"God." I prayed in my thoughts. "Please save us. I'm not really worried about myself, but my dad would be pretty angry if something happened to me. I ask in your mercy to let all of us get out of here alive. Naj'ahri, Kaniktar, and Khollus. And Adnarim and Khoduin too. Enough people have died today, so don't let that be us. In the precious name of Jesus I pray, amen."

To my surprise, the Protoss were quiet. I should have realized they could hear the whole thing. I probably sounded like a huge dork. They noticed how weird I felt, which was good because I couldn't have explained it anyway.

"That is very good." Naj'ahri said. "Perhaps your God will help us."

"It will do no harm, in any case." The Judicator said.

Khollus didn't say anything, but that was fine. I got the feeling not even Naj'ahri really believed praying would do any good, but whatever. I felt better. In any case, Kaniktar was done with his work. Naj'ahri was too. He was trying to calm down a little, but felt like he couldn't meditate with us in the loop. Poor guy, he's really young. Well...forty-two isn't that young, but for a Protoss he must be.

Something withdrew from me, and I found that I was no longer moving. Khollus was done with the psionic engine. I wiggled my fingers, glad to have control of myself again. I went ahead and pulled my ipod out of my ears. It didn't seem smart to be distracted from anything that might happen. Khollus was still there, but he must have been concentrating on Kaniktar's engine. I looked over mine. I couldn't really tell what Khollus had done with it, but from the way all the damaged color rectangles were floating around, I guess he managed to loop my spaceship into the others' so that the psionic feedback would build up and spark. Wow. I wonder if I can read some Protoss words now.

"It is complete." Khollus said. "The loop is finalized. We have about an hour or so until my vessel drifts out of range. Though I doubt the Zerg will tarry so long."

Nobody said anything for a minute. I felt a little sick. How were these guys getting their information about the Zerg? Of course, I'd missed out on the battle earlier. The Protoss didn't seem willing to share their information with me either. It was probably because I'm a little more than half of Naj'ahri's age, and that must make me practically a baby in their eyes.

"Do I need to do anything?"

"No." Khollus answered. "We can operate the trap from our vessels. You have done well to be present with us. That is enough."

Y'know, if I were a Protoss, I'd want Khollus to be my father. He sounds like he would be a very smart dad. Maybe not very talkative, but that's fine. If I was a telepathic creature that wouldn't be such a big deal anyway. I wonder if he does have any kids and if they listen to him. I really hope they do, even though he's always gone on missions and stuff.

Nobody was very talkative then. Naj'ahri was a little anxious. I expected Kaniktar to be more upset, but he was singing a song I didn't understand. It was a nice song, though. Khollus was the most calm of all of us, and also the most sad. In my mind I could almost see him leaning back against one of those big Protoss chairs, staring out of his long window at the stars as if they were more bright than the glittering controls in front of him.

I went to my window too. It's sort of hard to get around without gravity, but if I was in sort of a laying position, I could hold my legs against one side of my little station and my shoulder against the other - taking care of course not to mess with the engine. As I looked at the Protoss ships outside, I noticed that one of them was Naj'ahri's. Kaniktar's was a little further away. I couldn't see Khollus', but he did say he was further away. He might have been behind me. I didn't want to get out of the little area I was in, though. If I got to the open parts of the ship, I might go out of reach of a wall and be stuck.

It was nice looking out in space. I've never been an astronaut before. There was no nebula or anything outside, but even the stars themselves were enough of a background. I felt a little sad. I wished I could see what the others looked like. I was a little torn on the inside. I desperately wanted to talk to them, but was this supposed to be a private moment?

"It does seem impractical to decide our last words." Kaniktar said for some reason. "It is not as if any of us shall live to deliver any message."

"I magically appeared here. I might magically go back." I said, also for no particular reason. "I wish I could remember exactly what happened."

Yeah, let the others think I have amnesia. I might have it, after all. It's not every day somebody falls asleep somewhere and wakes forty bajillion miles away. Then again, the others were hooked up enough in my mind to know I wasn't lying about "magically" appearing. And they had checked. Kaniktar checked three times, and as I brought it up, he checked it a fourth. I didn't have amnesia.

"I am sorry this should happen to you." Khollus said. "You are not a warrior, and this end should be not be yours."

"It's alright. It's better than dying of cancer or getting hit by a car. Besides, it was cool meeting you guys. I wish I could tell my friends I met Protoss. They would never believe me for a minute."

"I can think of no better way to reach the Khala's End." Kaniktar agreed.

Naj'ahri couldn't help but add, a little longingly, "Though fighting Zerg directly would be more desirable."

"The Khala's End?" I asked. "Huh. For what I believe, death is only the beginning, when the veil will be taken away."

"It is true that death shall part us from the illusions of this existense." Khollus said. "We shall part from mere belief and return to that which has always existed out of the scope of our sight. I am prepared for this."

We talked a little longer after that. Mostly about our families. Turns out Naj'ahri is the youngest out of sixteen siblings. Kaniktar is an only child, so he was really interested in all the stories Naj'ahri had to tell about being the littlest out of his family. He said he had to wear a lot of green hand-me-downs, even though he looks terrible in green. He said the best thing that ever happened to him was that he got to join the zealots and finally look like a decent person for once. I told them the story of how I passed out while playing "the floor is lava" with my siblings, and then Khollus started talking about his family. Turns out he does have kids, two daughters and a son. They're all grown-up, and one of the girls is married. The other is still young enough to live in his house on one of the Protoss moons. I found out that the Protoss don't hang out on Shakuras all the time, and they have a few worlds of their own they like to live on. I wish I could see Khollus' house. It's a huge place filled with gardens, gates, and arches. If I lived there, I'd spend all day in his stone terrace with the kui'a roses growing on the pillars and write and write.

Khollus had just finished, and Kaniktar was going to say something about his cousin, but then they got quiet again. They didn't need to tell me. The Zerg had come for us. I went to the window to look out. Nothing, at first. Were the Zerg distant from us or something? I tried to look at Kaniktar's and Naj'ahri's ships, but no vicious critters were there.

I almost screamed as I flung myself back from the window. Only that stupid metal beam kept me from flying too far back to see them. The Zerg were rushing right by my window, flying so close that I could see every hideous detail. For no sane reason I could think of, I went back to the window to look.

There are those who play Starcraft and actually like the Zerg. Not necessarily playing as the Zerg, but they actually like the Zerg as a race. I saw in that moment that every one of those people are messed up in the head. I can tell you that the skin that was tightened around their bones throbbed and bulged with putrid fury as they somehow conveyed themselves through the dead of space. I can tell you all about their stained claws that hung like scythes and their tiny eyes that glowed red as if they were evil stars. I can even tell you about the droplets of sparkling drool and acid that dripped from their maws. Those drips hung about, tiny little translucent planets whirring about only to hit the Zerg coming up next with a splash. The acid left dark streaks on their carapaces. I can say all of these things and more, and yet I still could never tell you how haunting, disgusting, and fearful those creatures are. They were enough to make the most dense materialist believe in absolute evil. That evil was the Xel'Naga, because like hell did some "good" race create those monsters.

I was surprised how little I recognised the Zerg that were there. Looking at them in person was far different from looking at computer sprites. The mutalisks were fairly easy, and I think I saw some devourers in there as well. It made sense to see them, being as they were flying Zerg units. There were other kinds, but quite honestly I didn't know what they were. Probably they weren't even in Starcraft itself. The thing that didn't make sense was that they were all just rushing by. It was impossible for them not to have seen us - they were less than a foot away from my ship's hull. I kept expecting one of them to start clawing at the window to try and get me. They never did. Did they think ships were just ruined vessels that didn't hold anybody living?

"They know we are here." Khollus said simply.

They were taunting us. They had to be. Zerg thrive on fear. Apparently this is common knowledge to anyone with psionic powers, though I'm pretty sure normal people would get the picture pretty fast.

I could feel the tense anticipation of the Protoss as they readied themselves for just the right moment to spring the trap. They had to be waiting for more Zerg to arrive. My window was completely blocked by the evil things, so I couldn't tell. All of a sudden I began to hear scratching against the side of the ship. The scrunch, scrunch noises echoed in the ship so that I could hardly hear the simultaneous expulsions of acid eating away at my shelter. And through the waves of Zerg out the window, I saw, the cold, dead eyes of an overlord as the slothful, flying bag of gore gently cruised to the ship. He saw me. Right away the nearest Zerg began clawing at the window and that part of the hull, ready to make mincemeat out of me.

"NOW!" I screamed.

My screaming voice was drowned out by the psionic energy that pulsed through the ship. The psionics nearly drove me deaf and mad with their power, and I covered my ears even though it wasn't audible at all. The brightness of the energy outside the ship nearly blinded me with its intensity. The glowing energy ripped apart the Zerg, and I could hear their piercing shrieks somehow through it all, a dark chorus to the whistling mental power. Three pulsing waves of psionic beams glowed through each of our ships, destroying all Zerg nearby.

I gasped for breath, trying my hardest to just stay under control. A burst of sparks from the computer broke my concentration. I forced myself over to it to look. I knew without knowing that this was creating a huge power drain on my ship - it could not handle all this energy for too much longer. The psionic beams began to subside at that point, quieting down for a recharge and one last shockwave burst. I could still feel the tinge of the psionic in the air, and I felt it rise as the next attack initiated. Again the magnificent glowing and horrifying Zerg shrieking sounded.

I heeded none of it. I had to keep my computer functioning as long as it could, and if the khai'darian discs all burnt out, I was sunk and the psionic beam would shrink by at least twenty-five percent. Knowledge fell into my mind as I shoved those little discs around, forcing the secondary ones to primary positions when the ones ahead of them burnt out and showered me with sparks. The sparks burned me, the psionic glow made everything glow unnaturally, and the Zerg, though shattered, had not stopped their attack. I ignored all these as much as I was able. I just had to keep that psionic pulse engine going for as long as possible.

A final explosion in the midst of the computer and a burst of sparks alerted me that the pulse engine was done for. Instantly the psi energy was gone. Something outside the ship also exploded, sending the ship and me inside it hurtling backwards through space, end over end. I bumped into walls and Lord knows what debris. Only by forcing my feet against the computer and my hands against the opposite wall (this took way too many tries) did I manage to get still enough to access what was going on. Even then I couldn't stop shaking.

First and foremost on my mind was the ship. There's no friction in space, and that left the ship to spin for eternity, leastways until it hit something or was caught by a planet's gravity. With the floor becoming a wall and shortly thereafter the ceiling, the only thing that kept me from throwing up was knowing how vomit would act in a gravity-free environment. It didn't help that my blood was already in the air - I think I cut my head on something. Worse yet, my arms were more burned than I realized from the sparking computer. In my dizzied condition the pain intensified.

"Khollus!" I called out, both mentally and audibly. "Kaniktar? Naj'ahri? Where are you?"

There was no answer. No longer could I feel their presense in my head. They were gone. I carefully moved to the window. There wasn't much outside. I couldn't see anything. Not Zerg, not ships, and not wreckage. Just spinning stars and blackness and the occasional burst of sparks as the ship's engine's failed from the overstrain on its systems.


Up till that point I'd never really thought I was going to die. Now I was alone, hurt, and completely out of options. I remembered what Naj'ahri said about compromising the life support systems. At some point soon, the cabin would be full of carbon dioxide, and that would be the end of that. In my state I couldn't be sure, but I'm sure the air felt thicker than it had just a minute ago.

My breathing slowed, and I watched the stars as I spun, letting the dizzying sight be the last thing I ever saw.


It hurt to move. I lay there on the verge of wakefulness. Any attempt to move my head resulted in a clear negative. I've never been hungover, but I couldn't help thinking that this must have been pretty much like it. My first reaction was annoyance. If I'm going to die, I would prefer to be passed out while it's happening. Call me a wuss, but you know you feel the same way. It took a minute to realize that the spinning going on was only in my head.

I tried to get up. This proved difficult. At once my arms, especially my left, complained sharply. Oh yeah, the spark burns. That really happened. My head wasn't happy with me either, and as my eyes started to defog I noticed the breathing mask over my mouth.

"Hey there, you hold on." a friendly, southern-ish voice said. "Don't go movin' so fast. Just sit there and rest a mite."

As he spoke, two hands gently pushed my shoulders down. He was very careful, but even then my skin tugged at the spark burns. All I could do was lay there and hope that I wasn't scarred for life. That wasn't too bad. Like I said, my head was still hurting, so I just moved my eyes to look around. I didn't see much other than some stuff I didn't understand. There were a few beds around, and lots of medical looking things on the walls. Forgive my lack of description. I don't know anything about medicine in this universe, much less the Starcraft one. Between that and the painkillers I couldn't be exactly certain what was going on. A similarity between both universes was the IV stuck in my arm. I shivered. Ugh...needles...

"I hope you know how lucky you are." the nice voice said. "We got there just in the nick of time."

I tried to respond, but I was still stuck in mental mode; not all people can read your thoughts like a Protoss. It's just as well. I'm not sure how coherent I was at that point. Whoever it was, he and his heavy boots went a little ways away. He wasn't talking to me, but some other person who also sounded fairly hickish. I had a feeling that this second person was someone I really should have recognised, but my brain was too fogged up to care very much who it was or what he was saying. It insisted on sleep, and I slowly drifted off to the sound of their quiet talking.

All of a sudden I was wide awake. I hate when that happens. Have you ever just gone to sleep and then woke up, hours later but feeling like you've only slept two seconds? The fog in my mind was still there, but it was lessened. So too was the pain in my arm subsiding. If it hadn't, I'm sure I would have been complaining a lot louder when the doctor shook my shoulder, however gently it was.

"Hey, wake up." a dark-haired man that I recognised as one of the voices from earlier said as he shook me. "There's someone who wants to see you."

"Buh?" was all I managed to reply. Not exactly my finest point, that. The doctor was pretty nice, though. He helped me out of bed. My first instinct was to look at what I was wearing: a red shirt with the sleeves torn off (to not interfere with my wrapped up arm), and some...boxer shorts with little hearts on them. Ugh. What kind of hospital was this? It's bad enough to have to be dressed while you're unconscious, but this was pretty creepy. I learned later that this sickbay doesn't have hospital gowns or anything like that. They did have some decent jeans that were only a little bit too big for me, and the doctor helped me get into those. He also tied my left arm in a sling.

"No bones broken," the doctor kept talking as all this was going on. "And mostly first degree burns. There's a couple of second degree burns on your arm, so don't try to move it too much. The burns on your face'll clear up in a little bit. You're pretty lucky we've seen 'Toss ships before. Otherwise you might not've made it."

"" I mumbled. Stupid painkillers.

The next couple of minutes passed by in a blur. The doctor was very encouraging to me, and he kept saying things about talking to somebody or other. I confess that I wasn't paying too much attention. Making that effort only put pressure on my head, which was already trying its best to comprehend all the many different dimly lit metal hallways we passed through.

"Where are we?"

"The Hyperion." he answered. "You're very, very lucky we were in the area."

That was a splash of cold water. I felt my heart rising. I was going to meet James Raynor! How many people can say that they've done that? It took all my self-control and a headache to prevent me from squealing like a little girl. Better yet, Raynor's Raider were there, and if they got here before my oxygen on the Protoss ship ran out, then maybe...

I entered the bridge of the Hyperion (I know they probably don't call it that, but I've been a Trekker longer than a Starcraft fan), where I immediately looked around for the sight of the famous place. The holographic projector in the middle of the room was off, but the little gadgets and gizmos all around were lit up with their glowing green displays. The Hyperion's a pretty fancy place for a rebel leader. I immediately searched for Raynor. He was there, at the side of the room and sort of leaning against the wall. Let me tell you, Jim's every bit as hot as his concept art makes him out to be.

Raynor and Matt Horner (aw, Horner's so adorable I could just pinch his cheeks) were talking about something, but they look over as I come into the room. Raynor smiled a little and rolled his eyes. I guess he's pretty accustomed to dealing with fangirls. He gestured over to the activated viewscreen.

I had never seen this face before. It was the reptillian face of a Protoss. His scales were a dark brown, and two white streaks like claw marks ran from his forehead almost to his sharply pointed chin. His eyes were a really cool green color, flashing out with his words as he spoke.

"Welcome again to the realm of the living, Elise."

And then I really did squeal, exploding with about a million questions. Seeing Khollus again was far more exciting than meeting Raynor, and I hope you'll understand why.

Y'know, someday I should tell you the story of how I got home. It's a tale well worth hearing.