Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Me and Aldaris (p17): Air

When I got out of the bathroom and went back out of the house, Aldaris was out of his chair.  He meandered a little in Kensley's back yard, strolling a few paces away from the back deck and looking out into the distance as though there were something more important out there than the trees.  Kensley, whoever that guy was, didn't have all interesting a yard, though, unless Aldaris just really likes open grassy fields with a few trees dotted here and there.   Or maybe he was mentally scanning the surrounding area for intruders or something.  That's probably a good idea, what with me playing Starcraft on a projector on the side of a house.

Anyway, Aldaris almost immediately noticed me stepping out of the deck, and turned around with the sort of face that makes puppies cry.  Oh no, he wasn't mad at me (I think -- I didn't take forever on my bathroom break), but every thought that had been going through his mind was etched as a wrinkle on his face, and on the whole produced a rather cranky expression.  Oh great, Charlie'd been thinking.  That can't be good.

Whatever he was thinking about, he didn't share.  He wasn't necessarily happy to see me return, but some of the intensity in his expression faded out when he saw me, and a nice little aura of professionalism cloaked him.  Yeah, I wonder how long that'll last.  In any case, Aldaris said nothing and just gestured me over to my seat where I could finally finish off Starcraft, Brood War.  I sat as indicated, but a little knot of tension welled up in my gut.  Suddenly it seemed that showing a bad-tempered 'Toss his world's grim future was a really bad idea.  But it was too late, and I simply returned to the game, while Aldaris returned to his chair.

And that's how I got to spend several more minutes with a cranky Protoss sitting behind me.  It was even worse than before, now that the plot hinged on his worst enemy.  If I didn't appreciate the fact that Kerrigan was his killer before, I sure as heck appreciated it now.  I didn't have to be telepathic to sense the massive aura of hate growing supernova behind me as he watched Kerri make her demented plans for taking back her swarm.

"James Raynor..." Aldaris hissed.  "I see now I once thought too highly of him, and yet here he is, dragging along with him he who was once a resolute warrior."

"Keep in mind that Raynor doesn't know anything about Shakuras." I said.  "I don't know if he or Fenix has had any chance to contact them.  Also keep in mind that Starcraft doesn't keep track of time.  For all we know, most of the Terran missions happened at the same time as the Protoss missions.  Raynor knew Kerrigan before she was Zerg, and for all he knows, she might really have become herself again when the Overmind died.  Granted, it was too quick an assumption, but it's at that point we have to question DuGalle's and the UED's motives, and why they're bein' so antagonistic."

"Then Raynor sees the Directorate's actions as threatening as Kerrigan's?"  Aldaris swatted the air as if he were slapping Raynor himself.  Maybe there was a fly.  "Whatever the Directorate may be, they are not Zerg.  Raynor was a fool to trust a Zerg over one of his own race, whatever Kerrigan's origins.  DuGalle is not himself impressive, but he appears to be less cruel than Mengsk.  Is it truly worth aiding Kerrigan to prevent his attempts at gaining control of the Dominion, with the aid of Mengsk, no less?"

"That's a bit beyond me.  All I can tell you is that every single authority figure in Starcraft is portrayed as greatly flawed.  Notice also that the better moral characters are also not great leaders -- Raynor and Zer are better as soldiers -- or else they're dead, like Tassadar.  Notice also that all the leaders in Starcraft are flawed in one way or another.  Mengsk's a liar, the Overmind is pure evil, Raszagal's a puppet, DuGalle's weak-willed, and the Conclave..." I winced, pausing a minute to say something that wasn't purely insulting.  "...Was unyielding and unable to change."

"It did not need to change." Aldaris' expression changed only slightly, and yet conveyed a very clear threat.  "It was a grand institution, distant and impartial."

"I've spoken to many 'impartial' people in debates." I clicked on the Zerg missions.  "And they have only confirmed in my mind that many 'impartial' people are those that don't have enough knowledge to understand the difference between good and bad."

"You speak only for humans.  Having never lived under the Conclave, I expect you to remain silent, and not judge an organization far beyond your meager understanding."

"My dear Aldaris, it's clear you're very sensitive on said topic." I chuckled.  "But I'm just saying what Starcraft portrays.  Unless the writers of the game went over to your side of things, they're just telling a story, highly biased by present themes of today.  It's the sign of our times that we are anti-authoritarian right now, or else the progressives that hold Hollywood in sway say so."

"I am uninterested in Earth of whatever period." Aldaris kept his voice under control, with only the slightest of edges on it.  "What concerns me is my own people and their circumstances."

"Eh, you should pay a little attention.  After all, that's the lens by which humans here view your people's circumstances.  If you're going to learn anything from this, you'll have to keep that in mind."

"I see."

"Though I'd definitely recommend ignoring the Starcraft novels.  They're terrible.  Especially 'Heaven's Devils'.  Yeesh."

At that point, we were getting to the real meat of the Zerg missions, so the conversation ended.  We watched as Kerrigan helped Mengsk get his planet back -- it really creeped out Charlie that Fenix appeared to be able to order the infestation of command centers -- and as Kerrigan destroyed her would-be allies.

"Fenix was once so strong." Aldaris murmured as that mission ended.  "He was once a confident strategist with clear eyes with which to see his enemies.  Is it that all true warriors must fade to nothing?"

I thought about it for a minute.  Aldaris was sort of right.  All of the Protoss characters in the game did seem to decline.  Tassadar was dead, Fenix was tricked and dead, Raszagal got her mind taken over, Zeratul didn't kill Kerrigan or save Raszagal when he had a chance, and Aldaris himself, though his storyline hinted at improvement, was headed for death himself.  Artanis technically hadn't declined, but that was probably only because we barely see him at all in game.

"I see." Aldaris solemnly fingered the arm of his chair.  Apparently he thought I was talking to him.  "Is this more of your human themes?"

"A little, yeah." I'm really going to have to guard my thoughts better.  "Science fiction is usually very depressing in its truest form."

"'Science fiction'?  I see then all my life has fit to this model.  Indeed,  it would then seem I am truly a fictitious character come to life."

There's never a real answer to sarcasm, so I didn't say anything.  Besides, we were coming up on the mission where Kerrigan kidnaps Raszagal, and I had to skip through that really boring mission with all the scientists.  For that matter, once we heard the briefing on the mission to attack the formation of pylons on Shakuras, I knew from a previous playthrough that nothing happens at the end besides Duran going, "I did it, my queen" or something similarily vapid.  I hit enter and started to type the end level code.

"Do not skip forward." Aldaris ordered.  "Play this one through."

I just nodded.  I went ahead and put in "power overwhelming", and since this didn't provoke a reaction, I assumed it was okay.  It was extremely tempting to turn around and get a look at his face, but there was no way to do that without him noticing I wasn't ordering about the Zerg units.  That, and a cloud of...well, not violence, but something like it was building up behind me.  Something was wrong with Aldaris.

"Mind your own business."

This admittedly obvious reaction startled me so much I bit my tongue.  Crap, I'm really going to have to get used to the whole telepathic thing, I told myself for the forty bajillionth time.  I finished the mission, and dared to glance back once.  Charlie, still as a statue, only turned his blood red gaze at me.  I at once turned back to the screen and hit the victory button.

From then on, as much as I expected Aldaris to say something that would explain all of this weirdness, he didn't.  He didn't comment even as he watched Zeratul kill Raszagal.  Strangely enough, the ominous cloud surrounding the giant lizard behind me subsided.  Sort of.   He could tell that I could sense his emotions -- maybe his telepathy was sort of two-way, and he was keeping track of my thoughts, or something.  Of course, it may have just been that sort of thing when someone's so emotional you can sense it, even when you're not looking at the person in question.  In any case, Aldaris didn't say anything or give any indication he felt either pity or anger as Zeratul killed his former leader and Kerrigan let him go.

"The secret mission is going to take a while." I said, able to use talking to him as an excuse to turn and look.  "That alright?"

Aldaris had no expression on his face; probably on purpose.  He didn't even look at me.  "I have brought you here to end this.  Do so."

"Okay." I faced the projection again.  "Anyway, this is probably the most...ah...interesting of all the missions in Starcraft, so you're really going to want to pay attention."

I've always liked the secret mission of Starcraft.  It's a lot of fun to just go around and start mind controlling all your units.  It's way less fun when you cheat, though.  The best way is to simply be patient, and let your dark archons recharge, and then grab as many of the Terrans as they can.  Of course, Aldaris was only pretending to be patient.  I set up the invincibility cheat and just tried to make it through.  As soon as I mind-controlled the SCV, I could just build a Terran army and go for all the beacons.  It took a little longer than Aldaris liked to finally solve the mystery of the Zerg and Protoss in the stasis cells.  It was pretty funny, though, to see the look on Aldaris’ face as he listened to Duran’s speech.  He didn’t even bother telling me not to look at him.

“That is utterly impossible.” He snapped.  “That is the work of human imagination, and not an event within the realm of possibility!  For if none of my kind can fall sway to the Zerg, then for what reason would someone assume we could become ‘hybrid’?”

“The process would seem to be the same.”  I said.  “Although there may be some difference in that the Zerg are collecting DNA, but to make someone hybrid-“

“Did I call for speculation?” he turned his anger to me.  “This is impossible, and one not from my ‘universe’, as it were, can say nothing on the topic!”

“Says the character from the game we created here in this universe.” I retorted.  “Dang, Charlie, I’m getting pretty tired of your little outbursts.”

“As I am wearied of you, Maiasha.  That we might be sooner parted, I once again urge you to continue.  How many missions remain?”

“Just one.” I tried not to giggle.  As amusing as it was to argue with an alien, this was Charlie’s life we’re going on about, and the next mission is not a happy one.  “You’re not going to like it.”

“Have I enjoyed any of the previous?”

I didn’t answer.  I just let the mission briefing play, then entered in the cheat codes and went for it.  I could tell he didn’t like me going after the Protoss first, but in the last mission of Brood War it’s designed for the player to go against the Protoss first.  Even with cheats on, it’s just easier.  I guess for narrative reasons they wanted it to be Protoss, Mengsk, and then finally DuGalle.  We watched the ending cinematic, and then I read out to him the narrative at the end.  That was it, so I just exited out of Starcraft and pulled the disc out of the drive.  Even as I shut down my computer, Aldaris just sat there in his chair, brooding over everything.  I tried not to stare, but it only takes so long to turn off a laptop and pack it away.

“And that is where it ends?” Aldaris said slowly, watching as I unplugged the projector.  “Kerrigan possessing all the power she had dreamed of?”

“Yeah.” I nodded.  “And by the time everyone figured out the Zerg and not each other are the bad guys and teamed up, it was too late.”

“Only to have the Zerg replaced by a potentially far worse enemy.” Much to my surprise, Aldaris, still stuck in his dark cloud, almost chuckled.   Almost.   “I see now how you Terrans would chronicle such a history.  I do not believe for one moment that these hybrids are anything but an invention of an over-ambitious corporate imagination.  Blizzard is certainly unique in how it insults those of us forced to live through such events.”  Just when I thought Aldaris was going to relax, he snapped his head toward me, and dang if he didn’t get a laugh out of watching me jump.  “You do have the recordings from Starcraft 2, do you not?”

“Ah, yes.” I dug into the bag at my feet.  “I’ve got Wings of Liberty here.  Toby bought Heart of the Swarm, and he’s recording it now.  I think he’s nearly done.  Oops, did you want me to play it on my laptop?”

“That is not necessary.” Aldaris rose from his chair.  “I shall view it on my own when I return to my ship.”

“Okay.  I also got you the manuals from Starcraft because I saw them at work and thought you might want to look at them.”  The stuff retrieved, I got up and went to hand him the disc with the footage of Wings of Liberty gameplay and the Starcraft manuals.  However, as I was about to give it over, I hesitated and \\\\ pulled the discs away.

"Well..." I bit my lip.  "See, the thing is....Starcraft 2....it's really kinda stupid."

"What do you mean?" Aldaris' eyes widened.  "What becomes of the Protoss?"

"Oh, that's not it.  The Protoss are barely in Wings of Liberty at all, and presumably they're doing okay.  It's just that..." I blushed.  I don't like to be the only person representing humanity.  "Well, there's like twelve years between Brood War and Wings of Liberty.  A lot of people who used to work for Blizzard weren't there for the sequel.  There were four guys who wrote Starcraft II, and three of them weren't there for the first game.  The tone is completely different, and um, less intelligent.  I haven't watched a Heart of the Swarm let's play yet, but I hear tell it's even worse."

I slowly held out the discs again, still wincing.  "I mean, I'm not going to stop you from watching these, but I just want to warn you that it's nowhere near as well-written as the first.  I know you don't read english so well, so in case you the game ever annoys you to the point where you don't want to watch it anymore, I wrote a file with the plot synopsis and such."

"I do not care if it is 'well-written'." Aldaris took the cds without a moment's hesitation.  "I only wish to know as much as is possible about the K-Sector, any information that may prove useful upon my return."

"Okay." I nodded.  "I'm just warning you now that I know for a fact it's going to offend you.  Hey, are the Tal'darim real?"

"They are. "

"Then what's their deal?  Do they hate everyone or something?  Did they rebel or something from the main Protoss authority or were they always a fringe group?"

Aldaris raised one of his bright eyebrows in suspicion.  "That issue is not your concern.  Despite this game, you have no right to involve yourself in Protoss matters."

"I can't see how I'd be involved when I'm not over there, but in any case, dude, you have to tell me!"  I pointed to the disc.  "They're portrayed really weird in Wings of Liberty, and I just want to know what their deal is.  You'll get it when you see it."

For the first time, Aldaris seemed in serious doubt at his actions.  He glared at the recording of Wings of Liberty footage as though it were some sort of criminal, but this expression passed quickly, and his face returned to its put-upon neutrality.

"If you have any questions," I added.  "You know where to find me.  Though I have to warn you, I start school soon, so I'm not going to have as much free time as before."

"It does not matter," Aldaris turned to me again, his eyes narrower than before, but still well under his control.  "You shall not see me again."

"Oh?  Did you get your ship fixed?"

"I shall shortly.  And as amusing as all this has been," here he gestured towards me and where my laptop still lay.  "I have matters of my people to deal with, and perhaps I have strayed too far as it is.  My people surely anticipate my return, and though this place is not in time equal to my own, I nevertheless am pressured to go."

"So your ship isn't fixed yet?"

Aldaris didn't answer.  His stony face made it perfectly clear that he felt I had no right to question him.  Well, I did, and in fact every right, so I went on.

"Look sansaengnim, if you're going to be in Earth's orbit, then I need to know about it.  Me and the guys have been super nice so far, but we're pushing it.  If you were in our position, you can't say you wouldn't have told the authorities about the alien in orbit by now."

"Yes, but as you have made quite clear by this point," he mentioned.  "I am fictitious, and thereby unbelievable to your people.  Moreover, I am not subject to human law or authorities, and I intend to do as I please.  So long as I do not interfere with your planet's society, then you may very well keep silent on the matter.  And fear nothing for the survival of your precious 'Dirt'.  My concern is for my own, not for each wayward happenstance of your world."

"Good to know." I folded my arms.  "But as it so happens, you're at the very least subject to courtesy.  Meaning, you're being both very rude and inaccurate when you think you're going to be nearby in space and not have somebody, even if its just our little conspiracy, knowing that we're out there.  And as far as ratting you out goes, I don't have to say that Judicator Aldaris of Aiur is out there.  I can just tell several groups in great detail that a giant reptillian creature of some kind is lurking about our space.  And that's not counting whatever NASA has picked up of you at this point."

"That is laughable.  The humans of my time could hardly see past the cloaking devices of the Protoss, and you expect your petty, archaic technology to out perform your future?"

"Kind of, yeah." I grew thoughtful a minute.  "Our technology always starts out so broad and then gets better, but then loses all periphery...ah, I don't know what I'm saying.  All I know is, that's kind of a quick assumption to make.  After all, you're kind of in the situation where any one little thing can get you discovered.  If we told all we knew, someone would be bound to be suspicious simply by looking into the sky."

"If you are presuming that I should ask your government for permission to remain where I am, then I must refuse."

"Oh!  I didn't mean you had to do that."

"Then what did you mean?"

"Just that me and the guys have a plan." I tried my hardest not to smirk.  "See, you can stay here as long as you like, the only rule is that you have to check up with at least one of us at least once a month.  Or else we'll assume that you've gone off home, and we then can reveal everything about what we learned.  After all, it would be quite unloyal of us not to report what we know, and since you'd be gone, it wouldn't hurt you any."

"I begin to see the nature of the situation." Aldaris wasn't quite yet pissed off enough to lose his control, but I could see I was pushing it.  "And all you require is a message?"

"Yeah.  Just something to let us know you're not gone yet.  We all agreed on it."

"Even John?"

What?  How did Aldaris know that John was being cranky about our plans?  Well, I couldn't think about it and accidentally let Aldaris know more than he should, so I just nodded.  "Yeah."

"And I must remain subject," here Aldaris turned sour.  "To the whims of three common humans with no real authority?  And what motivates me to not simply whisk the three of you -- no, in fact four of you, away from your homes to never be seen again?"

"Dude, I told you, you're a pan-ultimate scumbag if you do anything to Cheonha." I glared.  There was no joking where she was involved.  "That, and I've already left a bunch of notes and such right where people can find them, and so that any investigation into my disappearance will reveal more or less what happened to me.  I'd be surprised if the guys didn't have something like that too."

I sighed.  "Look, Charlie, this is a different time and place.  Humans and Protoss aren't enemies here, and we don't have to act like they are.  Sheesh, all I'm asking you to do is say you're still around every now and again.  It's nothing hard.  It's not like I'm demanding you give us some really cool 'Toss technology."

"Yes, and should you have demanded it, then the three of you most certainly would have 'disappeared', your notes or no.  After all, for what reason would your police suspect that such a story was not another of your fanfictions?"

I raised my eyebrows to the sky.  "The fudge?  How do you know about that?"

"You have very loud thoughts."

Oh crap.  I sure hope he hadn't noticed any of the topics of my fanfictions.  I'm no slash writer, but there's still something kinda creepy about a guy noticing that you've written a story about him.  And then there was that time on the Shattered Enigma forums....no.  I'm not going to think about that.  Not in front of Charlie here.

"Heh, that's true.  My brain never shuts up." I chuckled.  "In any case, if it makes you feel better, I do have a motive for keeping you secret for at least three years.  Our president...well, he's been pushing his poltical aims without taking into account that our economy can't support what he wants, and there's the ethical repercussions of forcing everyone to have government controlled healthcare.  If he gets to meet you, then people will remember him as the president that first met an extraterrestrial, and not for what he really did do.   Granted, I have no idea if the next president will be any better, but that's how it goes."

"Arcturus Mengsk was emperor of Korhal." Aldaris said simply.  "I know as well as I desire the machinations of human politics."

"Lucky.  I know too much."

"Yes, not all worlds are as fortunate as Aiur has been."

For a minute, Aldaris wasn't there.  He fell into the mists of his own memory, and me, the Kensley house, and everything we had just been talking about faded away.  Or so I guessed.  His eyes kind of glazed over, and he got quiet for a minute.  I opened my mouth to say something again, but hesitated.  I was having far too cheesy a thought, and it would only be silly if I mentioned it out loud.  But when I looked up at Charlie again, he looked at me with reluctant expectation.

"This is a silly thought, but 'Aiur' is all around you.  In Romanian, 'aiur' means air." I blushed and shrugged.  "It's the only thing I remember from some language tapes I listened to a long time ago."

"Hm." was it just me or was Aldaris actually amused by that?  "So the humans are dirt and the Protoss are air?"

"Yep.  If there's a water and a fire species, then we'd have all four of the classical elements."

"You are ridiculous." Aldaris shook his head.  "And it is high time I returned you to your home."

"Do we have to go right away?"  I shoved a thumb back at the house.  "There's a mess of dishes in the sink and I feel bad just leaving it there."

"And leave some sign of your presense?  No, you may not."

"I feel bad, though.  You know how you come home from a trip, and how nice it is when your house is clean when you come back, and you don't have to think about it?"

"I said no, Bethany."

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