Apparently not all that interested in the four humans stuck on the ship, Aldaris turned to his table and started...I think writing something. Maybe he only meant to keep an eye on us until he could send us away. In any case, he ignored us when we started talking again.
"I actually liked Heart of the Swarm." Toby piped up.
I turned to him and stared at him with the most dead of eyes. "Toby, we can't be friends anymore."
"What? It wasn't that bad. It was fun to play."
"Gameplay, eh?" Okay, fine, that's a legitimate reason. I dropped my stare. "I only like Starcraft for its plot. I'm not that good at actually playing it."
"So many people left Blizzard that I knew the story wouldn't be any good." Stakus stretched out his legs. "The reviews said that the gameplay was basically the same as the first, so I didn't see any reason to get the new one. I'm a grown up now, and I've got better things to do than to play games."
"I like Starcraft too much not to. I had to at least find out what happened." It was sort of cold there, so I hugged my knees. "At least I had to find out who all the new characters were in case I wanted to do my personality tests again."
"Personality tests?" Toby asked. "On Starcraft?"
"Oh yes. I used to determine things about people based on which Starcraft characters they liked and disliked. It's based on the idea that all characters have themes, and the themes that the three favorite characters have in common are ideas that are important to the person who likes the characters. And on the other side of that, the things that a person dislikes about their least favorite speaks volumes about who that person is not."
"Wow, you really are a nerd." Statkus wrinkled his brow. "And you're how old again?"
"Mind your business." I turned back to Toby. "It's sort of annoying because I have to get a clear understanding to understand the characters again, and they've butchered the three characters that mean the most to the Starcraft franchise."
This caught Aldaris' attention. Though it's easy to assume that he was keeping an eye on us, but this comment got him to look up from whatever he was working on. He didn't say anything, and I pretended I didn't see it.
"Don't even tell me what they did to Raynor." Stakus chuckled. "I don't even want to know."
"Why don't you test me?" Toby asked. "I wouldn't mind it if you poked my brain a bit."
"I don't know....after all, I sort of know you, and that's cheating. The personality test works the best when someone's a stranger on the internet, or I just met them."
"Aw, come on. You can at least try." Toby put down his cup and shifted into Indian style on the floor. "Here, give me a second to think which ones are my favorite."
"You're not sure?" I asked. "It works best either off the top of your head or after you've given a lot of thought. If it's only halfway thought out, you'll probably pick misleading characters. But anyway, first tell me which of the three races in Starcraft is your favorite."
"Oh, that's easy!" Toby grinned up in the direction of our host. "The Protoss, of course. They're the most interesting."
Aldaris twitched only very little, but one eye slowly made its way around to Toby's position to give him the slightest peripheral glare. Toby grinned back, and then Aldaris suddenly found his scribbling a lot more engaging.
"Heh. Okay." I nodded. "Now tell me three characters in Starcraft that you like the most."
"Well, I definitely like Raynor. He's amazing. Fenix was awesome too." Toby scratched his head. "I like so many characters...I don't know, Artanis is fun."
"Now give me three people you don't like."
"I definitely don't like the Overmind." Toby said. "And I simply can't stand Duran. As for number three...uh...I'm not really sure."
"That's okay. Even if you don't have three picked out, it's more important that you really dislike the ones you pick than to fill out the number." I cracked my knuckles. Yay! Poking at people's brains is fun. I haven't been able to do this in years, and thankfully he hadn't picked any Starcraft II characters that I don't have a firm thematic grasp on -- and let's be honest, how thematic are shallow characters like General Warfield or Mengsk Jr?
I began. "So you've picked a race that isn't your own. What with the themes of the Protoss, this means that you either find modern culture disdainful, or certain specific people controlling modern culture really irk you. In either case, you feel a disconnect with the world as it currently is, and have an idealistic view of a future you want or a society you want to escape to, where society is advanced in ability, beliefs, and just generally how people treat each other."
"You got all that from him liking the Protoss?" Statkus raised an eyebrow at me. "And Protoss society..."
Statkus didn't have to look at Aldaris to know he shouldn't finish his sentence. To Charlie's credit, he said nothing. Still, even though humans aren't psyonic, all of us could feel his irritation. Probably even Cheonha, who was still drawing by the window.
"Sort of. You have to remember that I kind of know him." I answered. "Besides, if you look at his favorites, they're all very obviously good guys, none of whom would go out of their way to start a conflict. This mean Toby views things through a more idealistic lens, and by Starcraft's standards, Protoss are the thematic equivalent of Vulcans from Star Trek or elves from Lord of the Rings: a race somewhat higher than humans in culture and ability. They're by no means perfect, but provide different angles on how life could be lived. You'll notice that in all three cases, the high race makes critiques of ordinary human life."
"What would it mean then," Aldaris placed down his pencil (pen?) and addressed me. "If Toby had chosen the Zerg?"
"In Toby's specific case, I'd have to think about that a little. In general though, it could mean that something is very wrong with a person, and that they've become attached to grim things as they have no hope for the future. Or it could simply mean that someone prefers playing the game as Zerg. Depends on how seriously the person in question takes the game."
"I just have one word to say about all that." Statkus said. "Neeeeeerd."
"Hehe, let me finish already. This is fun." I thought for a moment about Toby's favorite characters. "Okay, so the first thing, like I said. All of Toby's favorite characters are very obviously good guys. None of them are especially secretive, except that Raynor and Fenix are soldiers, and there are lots of things that soldiers don't talk about to civilians. Just how it is.
"Now, a person admires others for two reasons: because these heroes different from them, and because they're the same. I'm sorry to say this, my dear Toby, but at this point in your life you are not as cool as Raynor and Fenix. Don't feel bad, their kind of toughness is only earned through hard times, and with age. No, the thing about Raynor and Fenix is that they're generally very calm in any given situation, and aren't given to extreme emotional output. They're the sort of guys that can calmly assess a situation and do their best to figure out how to act. They don't go out of their way to find trouble, and if the circumstances of Starcraft hadn't taken place, Raynor would go quite happily on being a marshal on Mar Sara. We don't really get to see much of Fenix's background, but presumably he'd just be a regular Templar, just earning whatever promotions his experience brought him."
"What does that have to do with me?" Toby asked.
"It means that you admire these men for what they are. You want to be like them." I answered. "You admire their self control and resourcefulness in a pinch. You also probably are the same leadership type as they are, in that if you ever lead a group of people, you need to be in a place where you can see those who your decisions affect. You not only like being around people, but you work best when you can see for yourself how your followers are; you're not going to be some detached bureaucratic mofo a hundred miles away who passes laws on people he never met."
"Hm..." Toby nodded. "I see that, I see that."
"I do not know that Fenix and Raynor are particularly similar." Aldaris mentioned. "I have known Fenix many years, and I do not believe he is quite as you describe him."
"Well, you have to remember that it's not about who Fenix and the others from the game really are, but how they're portrayed in Starcraft." I said. "After all, Toby's picking his favorites from the game, not from having met them."
"I see. Then what do you say of Artanis?"
"We don't get to see much of him, but it's pretty clear he's gotten his authority not because he was especially talented or smart, but because better people weren't alive to take his position." I hoped my frankness didn't offend Aldaris, but he said nothing in response. "And it's also clear that Artanis doesn't have a lot of confidence in himself, as he's in a high-pressure position and seems prone to insecurity from time to time. Compared to the rest of the Protoss in the game, he's way less self-contained and calm. And that's reflective on Toby in the sense that he feels also inadequate, though for either reasons that are not clear or he hasn't told us."
"I don't know what you're talking about." Toby said. "My life is fine. It's quote boring, really. The most exciting thing ever to happen was Charlie here to pop out of nowhere."
"Ah yes, feelings of being fenced in and not allowed to reach whatever your fullest potential is." I nodded. "In any case, if my observation is correct, you seem to have an underlying insecurity about your own ability, and that if you were ever in a tough situation, you want to believe you would handle it like Raynor, though you don't trust yourself enough to be certain of that. Mostly because you haven't really been tested yet."
"I...I don't...that's...that's odd." Toby sputtered. "I've never looked at myself that way."
"Maybe you shouldn't. I don't know if it's healthy or not."
"So what about the Overmind and Duran?" Statkus asked. "What do they mean?"
"For Toby, his likes are more important than his dislikes. What all three of his favorite characters have in common is that they are fairly accepting of anyone. Raynor accepts the Protoss, Fenix doesn't say one bad word about the Dark Templar, and Artanis is a friendly little puppy. None of them are especially suspicious by nature. So is Toby. As for the Overmind and Duran, as a parallel, they're clearly bad guys, both enigmatic creatures who don't let things be clear for anyone around them. They prioritize themselves and their missions, with no real love for anyone. Also, the Overmind is a distant authority, and Duran is a solitary operator, two different functions in which Mr. Collins here can't operate in, because they both involve not being close to other people."
"You're really good, you know that?" Toby shook his head. "You're making me sound a bit like a nutter, though."
"Nah, it's not like that." I shrugged. "Everybody has problems. Yours are pretty cute, actually. And normal. You just have sort of an idealized view of the world and you want to measure up to your own idealized, manly view. That's all."
"Great then. I now have to go set an appointment with a psychologist now and go get myself sorted out."
"No, that's the opposite of what I'm saying." I said. "Your drive to be above where you are now means that you'll probably end up achieving something good. After all, people don't do hard things unless they feel they have to."
"I suppose you're going to want to psycho-analyze me now." Statkus sat up a little straighter. "I'm ready."
"Cool, cool. Favorite race, favorite characters, least favorite characters. Go."
"Alright, but keep in mind that I haven't played Starcraft in years." Statkus tapped his chin. "Well, my favorite race is Terran. My favorite characters are Zeratul and Duran. My least favorites are the Overmind, Kerrigan, and Ju..." his eyes wandered to the table. "...Just those two."
It didn't take a psychic to know what he was thinking. Me and Toby burst out laughing. Cheonha couldn't figure out what was going on, but guessed from Aldaris' look that maybe she should stay out of it. Actually, Aldaris didn't seem that irritated. He simply rolled his eyes.
"And to think that I have credited you with being the most rational of the four." Aldaris said.
Surprisingly, Statkus actually winced. "Um, well, those likes and dislikes are all from when I was a teenager. I was really immature then..."
"That is quite likely." the Protoss retorted. "In any case, you need not fear that I should seek retribution for so small a thing. I care little for the opinion of any human."
"And you have to recall that it's not necessarily you that past-John dislikes." I said. "We only get to see you as a character in Starcraft, not really get to know you as a person. Therefore his dislike of your character is generally more about the themes Starcraft presents you with, not as you really are."
"I'll admit it's a stretch." I nodded. "But it's not so much you have something in common with them, as Statkus thinks you guys have something in common."
"....I find myself even more offended."
"But I'm curious now." Statkus grinned. "So Bethany, what do Aldaris, Kerrigan and the Overmind have in common?"
I hit two fingers against my other arm. "They're all composed of sub-atomic particles. Seriously, Statkus, give me a minute. Yours is really hard. Way harder than Toby's. Oh, and for thematic purposes, I have to know which you dislike more: Sarah Kerrigan, or infested Kerrigan?"
John thought about it for only a few moments, and nodded a little to himself. "Okay, Sarah. I hate her worse."
At this point, Aldaris wasn't even pretending to work on whatever it was on the table. He raised a flippant hand toward Statkus' direction. "There we have it! There is no need for further analysis. John is mad; his senses have left him, and he remains morally stranded in a world where right is wrong, and evil is true."
"Now hold up a minute." I chuckled. "Again, the themes of the characters are more important than the characters themselves. After all, none of us here have met anyone else from your universe, and I'm sure we'd feel more appropriately if we actually knew them."
"I'm just mad that he likes Duran." Toby said. "Duran? Really? The biggest scumbag in Brood War?"
"Duran was just interesting to me at the time." Statkus tried to explain. "When I was a teen-"
"Nope!" I made an X with my arms. "Don't say why, that's cheating. Now give me a minute to think, alright?"
I thought hard. Seriously, Judicator Aldaris, the Overmind, and Sarah Kerrigan? If it were any two of them, I might be able to figure it out, but the three all together? I snapped my fingers near my ears to help me concentrate, and squinched my eyes tightly shut. And then, after a moment, it came to me.
"Ah-ha!" I snapped my fingers one more time. "It's authority! That's what all three have in common! All of them tell other people what to do. Yes...yes...ah, and it matters that it's a wide spread of authority too. The Overmind has absolute control over the Zerg, representing high authority. Charlie's in the middle, as he's high ranking but not the highest."
"No one person can claim penultimate leadership of the Protoss." Aldaris said. "It is impossible, even when one does not consider the Nerazim. We do not have singular leaders."
"You know what I mean, though. You're still the middle. In any case, Sarah's the lowest, since in her human days she mainly just worked with a few to complete a specific objective, and Mengsk always took care of the big picture for her. In other words, Statkus over here has an authority problem. He doesn't like being told what to do. Which is why he isn't as irritated at Kerrigan when she becomes Zerg. At that point, Kerrigan is working for herself and not being a naive follower. Isn't that right, Statkus?"
"Maybe a little." John grinned. "But that's not quite right."
"Oh, yes, because it's more than that. What characterizes each of your three dislikes is their devotion to an ideal or philosophy that is not their own. Naive human Kerrigan followed Mengsk even though it was clearly stupid to do so -- from the perspective of someone playing the game, at the very least. The good Judicator here is fiercely devoted to the Khala, and the Overmind somehow got the idea into his head that it's alright for him to take over the universe.
"This is so much fun." I giggled as I continued. "So you contrast this with your likes, Duran and Zeratul. Both of these guys are very independent. As much as Duran appears to be working for other people, all he really wants is his own agenda, and he doesn't need anyone else to tell him what to do. Zeratul also does more or less as he chooses, and is loyal to the Matriarch only because she is, in his opinion, very wise. From a day to day basis, however, he decides what he's going to do."
"So you're saying I can't listen to people?" Statkus just wouldn't stop smiling, but it wasn't out of amusement. A sort of suspicion made his lips turn upward, as though he were a modern scientist trying to take seriously the claims of a tribal mystic. "That I'm a rebel?"
"No, 'rebel' is too strong. You're just extremely independent, and will only listen to people you consider smart enough."
"Okay." Statkus nodded. "I'll buy that."
"What's more," I went on. "Duran and Zeratul are not really leaders. Presumably someone helps Duran with all the Protoss-Zerg hybrids, but we only see him doing things of his own initiative, and he's clearly not afraid to do things for himself. Zeratul, also, is not a great leader. He can manage a small group of highly trained warriors to complete a very specific objective, but he has no sense of the bigger picture, as is seen in his rather not thought out choices in Brood War. However, the independence of these two characters is what appeals to you, as is the fact that they don't control other people."
"Eh, okay." Statkus shifted his position on the floor. Clearly sitting on metal tiles wasn't exactly the most comfortable thing ever. "Are you trying to say I'm incapable of being a leader?"
"No, because I think you have a better grasp of the big picture than Zeratul. I will, say, however, that you don't have the natural ability to make people follow you. Don't feel bad, that's a superpower that not too many people have. In fact, you would have trouble making people listen to you if they don't share your goals, especially since you have no real urge to force them to. You figure that either people will hear you out, or they won't, and there's little you can do to convince them. Hence the individuality of Duran and Zeratul. They get stuff done through practical means, not by sitting around and talking."
"I'm not sure I like this anymore." Statkus said. "But just out of curiosity, what does favoring the Terrans mean?"
"When taking your characters into perspective, it means practicality. You're no-nonsense, and don't deal with fantasies, either personal ones, or ones created by people like Toby, who imagine a future better than today. To you, Toby's views are silly."
"Did you hear that, Statkus?" Toby chuckled. "We're moral enemies."
"Y'know, I figured my mortal enemy would be a British guy. It just makes sense."
"Does this mean I have to grow an evil goatee and buy a cat?"
"No, you're the idealistic one, and that makes you the good guy. I get the goatee and the cat."
"Good. In my flat they don't allow pets."
"Anyway," I went on. "Your natural perspective is sideways. You don't hold good and evil as your main line of distinction, as Toby does. Your distinction is independence and practicality versus fantasy and control. This is shown by your distinction: your dislikes all have immense, odd power. The Overmind holds mental control over his entire race, Aldaris is a psychic of seven and a half centuries, and Kerrigan was apparently powerful enough to catch the Overmind's attention. Because you're such a materialistic person, things like psionic power rub you the wrong way. It's bizarre mysticism, and if it weren't for Charlie here, you'd still think it a bunch of bunk.
"Contrast this with Zeratul and Duran, and you get a whole different side. Duran may very well have powers comparable to Protoss abilities, but everything he does in the game is something an ordinary human can do with only a little cleverness. Despite Zeratul's powers, he's known in Starcraft for his ability to fight and his resistance to Aldaris, neither of which are particularly mystical. And Aldaris, because he is used as a metaphor for how atheists see believers -- specifically Christians, to be exact -- is played off to the atheist notion that believing in God automatically turns someone into an uptight jerk. Zeratul, because he gives Aldaris so much crap, represents the almighty atheist who gets up in the believer's face and tells him he's wrong."
"Do you think I will continue to put up with such nonsense from you?" Aldaris snapped, and I jumped ten feet in the air even from a sitting position. Oh crap, and now he was getting out of his chair. "You speak such lies so effortlessly and expect that I shall simply accept it? The Nerazim have no fewer gods than those of the Khala, and if I am not mistaken, have indeed adopted more in their ruminations over what they describe as 'the void'. I will not accept such a translation of events from you."
That was my fault. I really shouldn't have said anything about Zeratul, what with Aldaris having a sore spot there. It's not exactly easy for Aldaris to be merciful for someone not only partially responsible for his death, but apparently responsible for the Overmind discovering Aiur. I winced and tried again, avoiding the urge to scoot away from Charlie. When in the shark's waters, it's best not to appear as prey.
"I apologize." I said. "But it's not my translation. It's Blizzard's. It doesn't have anything to do with real events at all, but is the usage of human connotations on the events of your time period. They are using what appears to be a religious conflict to create a distinctly human message. It's not you they're trying to offend, but people like me."
"Be that as it may, I am wearied by all these things you say about those you have never met, and those you have never faced." his red eyes shone darkly on all of us. "You speak with light heart the names of those that would kill all in the universe if profit was in it, and indeed could lead your own race to extinction. And you wonder if such a future is not your own! Whether the events you have seen take place for latter generations of your people or no, I cannot imagine too distant a year for the descendants of people such as yourselves."
"Charlie," I protested. "You're taking-"
"Have we all not been exhausted by the sound of your voice?" Aldaris snapped. "Be silent and allow us relief from it!"
"Chogiyo!" Cheonha suddenly exclaimed. "Tah-shee wassoyo!"
She pointed down at the ground, and the now clearly obvious rodent, a peachy-brown hamster, scuttled right across Statkus' leg. To John's credit, he didn't freak out much, and just jumped a little. The hamster ran off, but I was fast enough to snag it, thankfully. I barely held the squirmy little thing, and let it run from hand to hand until it trusted that I wasn't going to hurt it.
"Aw, it's a little hamster!" Toby gushed as he broke a little piece off of a cookie. "Here you are, little bit."
The little critter sniffed at the broken bit of cookie. It snatched the bit out of Toby's fingers and quickly stuffed it into a cheek before it returned to running through my hands.
"Hamsuter?" Cheonha didn't come too close. "That is hamsuter?"
"Ne." I held it closer to her. "It's cute. Pet it."
"No, don't pet it." Statkus said. "Who knows what that vermin got into?"
Cheonha ignored him and held her hand over its little head. The thing wiggled too much to really pet, but Cheonha managed to rub a finger over his little ears. She even giggled at it, putting her hand under so that it would run to her.
"That must be the culprit." Aldaris' shadow fell over us as he went to look. "This diminutive animal has caused me no end of trouble."
"He must be a smart little guy to survive on a ship this long." Toby patted the hamster. "Especially one with no food."
"There were some rotting oranges here the other day." I shrugged. "Maybe there were other foodstuffs lost around the ship."
"Rotting oranges?" Statkus said. "Oh, you mean that time you nearly got electrocuted?"
"Wait, what? I didn't tell you about that." Like I'm going to tell the guys all of the stuff I put in my journal. That's for posterity, not people that can make fun of me.
"Yeah, Aldaris did." John grinned. "I think it's funny as hell."
"I did not nearly get electrocuted. I wasn't even near anything that could shock me."
"Says the person obviously ignorant that fruit is capable of conducting electricity." Aldaris retorted. "And given your highly apparent lack of knowledge in engineering and personal discipline, it will be a desperate day indeed when I shall again ask for your assistance in any such matter."
Toby and John burst out laughing. Sometimes it's just not fair; my brain won't download any witty comeback or insult in response to mockery. It was deserved mockery, after all, so I just sat there with my arms folded until the guys shut up.
"I want hamsuter." Cheonha suddenly said, pulling the little beast closer to her chest. She must have calmed it down somehow, as it finally sat still in her hands. "Che hamsuteriehyo."
"Choayo." I nodded.
"But what if I want the hamster?" Toby teased.
"No." Cheonha scooted back. "It is my hamsuter. Pappa su opsuneyo."
Toby chuckled. "I was just teasing."
"Too much english, Toby." I reached over to pat the little ham, and \\\ Cheonha let me. "Besides, no pets in your flat, remember?"
"Yeah yeah." Toby stretched. "So was it this little hamster that messed up the ship?"
"I don't think so." John answered. "There didn't seem like there was any chew damage, but what do I know about Protoss ships? Maybe it chewed on something that I didn't see."
"At least hamsters aren't known for their plagues. Well, except for wet tail, but only hams get that." I turned, expecting at least a comment from Aldaris, but he wasn't there. "Huh, where'd Charlie go?"
"Now that's odd." Toby looked around. "How in the world does somebody that big go off and disappear. He's no Dark Templar."
"Maybe it's a psychic trick." John said. "He made it seem like he was still here, and then just walked away. Probably because we have a religious nut on board."
"Or maybe it's because we have an ignorant materialist in our midst." I replied with a wink. "Hey man, was I wrong in my assessment of you?"
"You were wrong in saying it."
"Eh...that much is certain." I winced. "I probably should not have said so much about Zeratul."
"Okay fine, definitely."
"But why would Charlie pull some cheap trick?" Toby asked. "It didn't take too long for us to find out he's gone."
Statkus raised an eyebrow. "So you're saying we're all a bunch of doofuses that didn't even notice when a giant monster left the room?"
Cheonha poked me with her elbow and said something. I didn't catch what it was, but given that she was shoving the hamster into my hands, her intent was obvious. I took the fuzzy critter from her as she cleaned up. Toby and John finished their juice and dumped their cups into the bag she held open. The wrapper from the first pack of cookies joined it, and her notebooks all closed.
"Hamsuter chuseyo." Cheonha reached out her hands.
I gave it back. None of us knew how we knew, but we all silenced as we expected a change. It took only a few moments, and once more a blue cloud surrounded us, sweeping us away and sending us back home. And then I sat down and typed all this out. And then had some nachos.