Saturday, May 31, 2014

Me and Aldaris (p30): Discussing Zeratul

There's nothing quite like fear cleaning.  Sure, I was supposed to be at home, finishing my tax homework, but instead I'm trapped in a house I don't know, with a hell-angry Protoss outside.  Seriously, Aldaris wasn't this mad when he found out Zeratul was the one who gave the Overmind Aiur's secret location.  I'm kinda scared to step out of the door.  Thankfully, Aldaris hasn't zapped my brain or something, but he could at any moment.  Being afraid is horrible in a stranger's house, and worse still when you're just sitting there in a dark living room hoping nothing's going to happen.

Well, I didn't have my tax homework, but fortunately for my sense of needing to do something, there was a funny smell coming from the kitchen.  I took my shivering little self over that direction, and peered into the sink.  Huh.  Someone had obviously been here -- all the dirty dishes, instead of layering the counters, now hung out in the sink.

"Eh," I said outloud, because talking to oneself doesn't make a person insane at all.  "I guess I'm not too grossed out to do a stranger's dishes.  I did work in a restaurant once.  Ugh...." I reached in the other side of the double sink and plugged it up.  "Better think of something else before the scarring flashbacks happen again."

So I did the dishes.  Still too nervous to try and reach out with my mind to see what's going on with Aldaris (assuming I can), I decided to wipe the counters and the stove.  The floor needed a mopping, so I went ahead and did that.  I went ahead and vacuumed the whole living room, while I was at it.  Best yet, there were some scented candles in the closet to lay out and get rid of that dank smell that had taken over the house.  After those were lit and the place started smelling like a field of chemical flowers, I stood there and looked around.

"Huh....I wonder if dude has any paper."

There was some in a drawer in the kitchen, and a plastic cup on the counter had some pens in it.  Thus equipped with the tools of my trade, I went into the dining room and began to write.

"Dear Sir,
Hi.  So, I just wanted to thank you for letting me use your house.  See, I didn't have anywhere to go, and it just so happened that your door was unlocked.  So I went in and stayed here for a couple of days.  I didn't steal anything.  Well, besides some beans in the cabinet.  I felt weird about staying here when you were gone, so I cleaned everything up.  Besides your bedroom.  I didn't go in there, because that's just awkward.  Anyway, thank you.  Even though you had no clue I was here, and you probably didn't mean to leave the back door open, you really helped out a desperate person in her time of need."

I lifted the pen for a second.  It's not very adventurous to sign a note "anonymous", and I avoid reading books written under that label anyway.  Even with this note I don't like being a hypocrite.  All the same, putting my real name didn't seem like a good idea.  I lowered the pen again, scratching at the paper and smearing the ink in an appropriate pseudonym.

"Yvonne January."

Granted, that's kind of a silly pseudonym, but it's from a book I intend to publish.  Heh, if the guy who lives here likes teen fiction, he may even find out my real name.  Not likely, probably.  My book is directed toward teenage girls.

"Bethany, destroy that note at once."

Oh, now Aldaris felt the need to comment.  Sure, that's nice.  I stared at the note a minute, contemplating doing as he said.

"Meh." I shoved the paper further up the table.  "Come in here and tear it up yourself, if you want it gone.  It won't do any harm, alright?  Besides, this place wasn't clean when he left it, so there's no way we didn't do something in here, even a little thing, he wouldn't notice."

That seemed to calm Aldaris some.  Well, the floating emotion hovering above my head abated, anyway.  It left behind a sort of....I dunno, sourness.  Like someone storming off in a huff.  I don't know why Aldaris would be upset at something as simple as a note, though.

I sensed that it was safe to go outside.  There wasn't that much cleaning I could do inside the house anyway, unless I wanted to get the windows (which I didn't), so I just went out through the back door.  The back loft was as nice as ever, what with its fancy schmancy lawn furniture.  I gave it another glance to check and see if it needed some cleaning.  Other than some pollen, it looked alright.  We didn't leave any trash around, so I just left it.

Aldaris wasn't anywhere in sight.  The empty lawn curved down into a small cluster of trees, but the Protoss wasn't visible through any of the branches.  Then again, if he could talk to me when I was inside the house, he couldn't be that far.  Not that it's clear how powerful a Judicator's mind is, but presumably his telepathic talking only goes so far.

I wandered through the trees, still able to sense his presence.  It's doubtful Aldaris wanted me to find him, but a bad mood is detectable even when the person involved isn't psychic.  The cluster of trees really was small.  Soon enough they thinned out, revealing a long area of dry grass.  The sun shone especially bright here, and I smiled into it.  Ahead of me a few yards was Aldaris, sitting on the ground with his robe tucked underneath him.  Seriously, I've never seen anyone sit on the ground with such dignity.  And oh wow, there was a cliff there.  Suddenly Kensley's departure from this really cool house made a whole lot less sense. This whole property is gorgeous.

"Are you feeling better?" I asked, wandering against my better judgement up to Aldaris.

The Judicator glanced sidelong at me only briefly.  He didn't answer before returning his gaze to the sun and shut his eyes.  Ah, someone on the internet once told me that Protoss "eat" sunlight, so I guess that's what he was doing out here.   But wait, it didn't make sense.   If Protoss need light to live, then how do they even travel through space?  Isn't that dangerous?  Then again, there's no reason why Protoss can't just put super powered lanterns on their ships.  Heck, those lights they use for professional photography would do the job, wouldn't they?

Uh-oh, I was thinking too loud.  When I looked up from pondering, Aldaris had a fresh scowl ready.  And yet it was somehow different.  Was he...hurt? it all made sense.  

"It's not a problem with all Protoss, is it?" I asked.  "This is a condition just you have, right?"

Still the same scowl.  His eyes narrowed ever so slightly, so I knew I'd figured out the mystery.  

"No wonder you were so mad at me before." I said.  "Well, okay.  Don't worry about it.  I'll just leave you alone then.  And I won't mention it to the others.  Heh, I tend to forget secrets anyway.  Like, I had this friend who had a secret, but she said she's already told me, even though I didn't know what it was.  Eh, I guess it'll take a while to re-charge your teleporter, so I'll get out of your way now.  I'll go back to the house and read a book or something until it's ready."

I'd only taken a few steps away when he stopped me.  Something in my head clicked, and I knew automatically it was him and turned back.

"There is no need." he said simply.  "Sit and talk with me."

"Uh, okay."

I went and sat down near Aldaris' feet, just like a little kid.  Granted, I was a little closer to the edge of the cliff than I should have been, but I really like heights.  Peeking down, I saw the waves of an endless ocean crash against the rocks of the shore.  Cool.  No wonder Charlie wanted to sit over here.  It's like a Thomas Kinkade painting.

"Bethany," Aldaris said as I settled back down away from the cliff and stopped staring death in the face. "From our last conversation on my vessel, it appears that your thoughts dwell frequently on Starcraft."

"Well, I like to think about the characters."  I nodded.  "Too much, probably.  Heh, they call those kinds of people 'nerds', by the way.  Do people in the future say 'nerd'?"

"Not to my knowledge."  Aldaris raised an eyebrow at me.  "Social implications aside, you might be of assistance.  I have dwelt on much that was in the game and compare it to what I have known.  Their similarities are....unsettling.  While certain events are false, it is the personalities that are remarkably accurate. Certain events of which I cannot have direct knowledge seem confirmed, if only based on the knowledge of those I met."

I thought a second.  "You're trying to prevent your death, aren't you?"

Aldaris nodded, solemnly.  "Among other things.  With the proper planning, I may yet spare the Protoss the fate presented in the game."  For a moment, he watched the ocean below in silence.  "Bethany, what is your assessment of Zeratul?"

"What do I think?  You knew the guy."

"Yes, but you should considerable reasoning when you spoke of personalities and compared Toby and John to Starcraft.  I am reluctant to have only my own perspective on Starcraft and its possible relevance to what I have known.  Unfortunately, I have only you to ask.  So I ask you about Zeratul.  He does appear to be your favorite character."

"Pfffft, no." I laughed.  "Why would you even think that?"

"You seemed rather impressed by him previously."

"Not so much.  This is going to sound really shallow, but I don't like him the best because he's too popular.  He's everybody's favorite.  That, and he starts making really dumb choices.  Sure, he's cool in Starcraft, but then in Brood War he just does one illogical thing after another.  It makes sense with his personality that he'd give Kerrigan a chance, but he didn't seem to at any point think about why a runaway Zerg girl would hang out with 'Toss rather than humans she used to know.  Please tell me he questioned her about that."

Aldaris' eyes darkened slightly, but to his credit, his expression was one of complete self-control.  "Not to my knowledge."

"So there's that.  And then, when going after the Uraj and the Khalis -- that happened right?"

Aldaris lowered his head in a slight nod.

"Okay, so when going after the crystals, he attacks the UED rather than try to get the crystal by peaceful means, doing so with Kerrigan's help.  This makes the UED think that all the 'aliens' are allied against them, and they get the wrong idea about the K Sector.  Namely that the Protoss are just as big a threat, when really negotiations should have started.  Third, Zeratul doesn't question why Kerrigan didn't gather some of her Zerg to help them against the UED when she did so later on Char.  Fourth, he goes after you after having misgivings about Raszagal, only slightly questioning why Raz is so out of sorts.  Fifth, after Kerrigan kills you and says she'll be seeing the Protoss again soon, Zeratul doesn't shoot her in the face.  Seriously, anyone who says that clearly has plans, and needs to be shot.  I mean, hello, Captain Obvious!"

Aldaris brightened a bit.  His ever present grimace softened a bit, and it seemed he might chuckle.  "It begins to sound as though you hate Zeratul."

"Not at all.  His choices make perfect sense for his personality type and the themes of Starcraft."  I straightened up, preparing myself for full rant mode.  "The theme of Starcraft, because it's dystopian, is that every single leader is flawed in one way or another.  Raynor's pessimistic, Mengsk is demented, and Zeratul is just not....oh, 'wholistic' as a leader."


"Yeah.  See, Zer's an individual, and he thinks and acts like one.  He doesn't tend to think about leading large groups of people, particularly those who aren't like him.  See, Zeratul operates best when he has a specific mission in mind, something small in scale.  Zeratul doesn't operate with vague goals that have to be puzzled out, he's the guy that, when he finds out what he has to do, gets a small group of well-trained people -- the kind that don't need lots of explanation -- and does it.  Essentially, he carries out specific missions set out by people that aren't him."

"I do not know if you can interpret Starcraft in such a manner.  It contains little information, and having witnessed his nature firsthand, Zeratul seems...."  Aldaris broke off a moment, thinking a little.  His eyes reddened.  "Please, continue, though I prefer you justify your remarks than comment where the game itself is unclear."

"The game's pretty clear.  It's like I said, Zer makes bad choices during Brood War.  Why?  Because he's unused to having to lead a large group of people in the same capacity you or Raszagal do.  That is, taking care of a large group of civilians.  Based on the dialogue from Starcraft, we can guess that he spent his time wandering around the universe, leaving the Matriarch to rule the Dark Templar.  Does anything you know contradict that?"

Aldaris shook his head.  "Rather the reverse.  The Prelate spoke often of his travels."

"Okay, that.  So it's clear that whoever Zeratul ever led were generally a smaller group of like minded people concerned with adventure over just plain surviving.  Thus, Zeratul has never been in the position to sit on some seat of authority and figure out what the heck to do with all the people dependent on him.  Not until Brood War, that is.  That's when he starts screwing up.  Or, rather, making one specific mistake: not thinking things through."

"For all his faults, I have always found Zeratul to be thoughtful and considerate in all his actions." Aldaris raised an eyebrow at me.  "He was not one for hasty actions."

"True, but it's not that he doesn't think, he thinks about the wrong things.  Well, wrong for the given situation. Look at when the Matriarch told him to destroy the second Overmind.  Instead of thinking about why in the world Raszagal would want him to do as Kerrigan says, he just does it.  This is a sign of his over-dependence on a larger scale leader like Raszagal.  She's led their people for so long, that Zeratul has a hard time imagining that he himself has authority.  He's scared of screwing it all up.  To make it worse, because he was so fearful, he really did screw up, completing exactly what Kerrigan wanted him to do."


"Yeah, think of it this way."  I stretched out my hands in front of me.  "Think on one side someone like Tassadar, who is a charismatic person people naturally follow, even outcasts like Zer and humans like Raynor.  When they got to Aiur he was the one calling the major shots, as in what they were going to do.  Then you got your mid range leaders like Raynor and Fenix, who decide things like what forces get deployed where, and how one should attack the Zerg.  They're more detailed thinkers, but carry out Tass' overall plan.  Then you got your low-scale leaders like Zeratul, who is even more highly detailed, and all he basically does is kill cerebrates, carrying out plans set out by Tass and organized by Fenix and Raynor."

"Essentially what you are saying," Aldaris said.  "Is that the more specific and pragmatic a leader is, the fewer and less able they are at stewarding large numbers?"

"Sort of.  It's more rigid than that, because there are different types of leaders I have all organized in my head."

"And on what level of your leadership scale do you estimate I am?"

"You're not on it.  See, with every leader there's characteristics that matter and characteristics that don't.  While your position as Judicator means you usually operate on large scale, your organizational personality means you can work with small groups too.  Everybody needs to be organized."

Aldaris stared at me a little harder. "And my 'one flaw'?"

I stared right on back, and snorted.  "You're not gonna get mad at me if I actually say it, are you?"

"If I did not wish for an answer, I would not have asked for one." Aldaris folded his arms.  "Of course, I can guess it.  I am 'inflexible' not willing to consider the opinions of others?  Or perhaps I am bigoted, yes?"

"You said it, so I don't need to." I chuckled.  "But actually I was going to mention that unlike large or small scale, which doesn't matter in your case, there's another characteristic that does.  Peacetime vs. war.  As a leader, you work best with people who follow you, are your allies, or are potential allies.  You're not great at being a military leader."

"Yes, because that is precisely why the Conclave assigned to me a military attachment."

"Okay, so why then did Fenix start listening to Tassadar the very second Tass made it back to Aiur, no questions asked?"

Thus ensued another staring war.  I knew I had to do something, because there's no way I can win a staring war with a giant demented gingerbread man.  Besides, this is a guy that lost his homeworld to the swarm, and here I am saying he sucks at being a general, basically blaming him for what happened to it.  Even if it is his fault (which it probably isn't, as I doubt the whole entire Protoss military was under his command), I averted my eyes.

"Well, thing is, your type isn't great at military stuff.  Because of your age and the sort of job you had, you probably learned more and got to a level of understanding that a human a similar talents wouldn't have got to, simply because you live so long.  The point is, that's not where you're naturally talented.  Where you have the advantage over Zeratul is that no matter what, you believe in the Protoss.  There's nothing anybody can do to get you to stop believing in them, enabling you to have the right attitude to try and survive any given situation. 

"Zeratul doesn't have that.  His detailed way of thinking means he has to pragmatically assess the ability of those he's with, and it's really easy for people like that to believe everything sucks.  And since Zeratul in Brood War was constantly in a position where he has to guide civillians -- something he has pretty much no experience with -- his iffy decisions are emphasized and have worse consequences."  I pulled up my knees and hugged them.  "My assessment of Zeratul is that he's horribly depressed, at the end of Brood War, anyway.  Sure, maybe he doesn't show it, because that's just his personality, but Kerrigan knew what she was doing when she made him live with the fact he killed Raszagal.  That's not all he has to live with.  He has to live with never figuring out Ras was compromised in time, allowing Kerrigan insight into what the Protoss on Shakuras are up to, the death of those Duran killed to 'kidnap' Ras, and your death as well, and your followers."

"He regrets my death?" the obvious contempt in his voice tainted Aldaris' words.  "I highly doubt that."

"Why?  Who else can keep order with the Khalai Protoss better than you?  Also, you're way better at large scale leadership than he is.  What could have been is that you would steward the Protoss civillians, and Zeratul would handle military matters, as well as making sure Artanis learns fast enough to do his job.  But it's too late.  You're dead, and Zeratul's confidence is destroyed, besides having to deal with whatever the hybrids are.  That leaves sweet, little Artie to save the Protoss all by himself.  And even if you were just some random guy, do you really think Zeratul wouldn't feel bad that you died?"

Aldaris said nothing for a minute.  "I do not believe for one moment that Kerrigan would not take control of Zeratul.  She ample opportunity when they sought the Uraj and Khalis."

"I don't know that I can argue with you about that." I answered.  "But I can believe she wouldn't.  Everything Kerrigan does is based on her emotions, and if she sought to punish Zeratul, there's no better way than to fool him without taking over his mind."

"Do not joke." Aldaris shook his head.  "Were Kerrigan to have the chance, it is better for her purposes to hold in sway the mind of the leader of her enemies.  However emotional the Queen of Blades may prove, to do otherwise is foolish.  No, you cannot argue on that point.  Starcraft is clearly wrong on the matter."

"I guess not." I scratched the back of my neck.  "So Charlie....what are the chances of you figuring out how to get back?"

"The data is all present.  I have merely to interpret it."  Aldaris rubbed a hand across his face.  Man, Protoss hands are huge.  I read somewhere that Protoss are supposed to have claws, but dang if Charlie's hands don't look only a few weeks shy of a fresh manicure.  "Power is a greater concern, but not a major one.  Your star is near, and young."

"Good.  One less thing to think about."

We talked a little more, but that was about normal stuff.  Y'know, about me keeping my mouth shut, him threatening me and the others if we don't, blah, blah.  Seriously, the guy is getting repetitive on that point.  It's really annoying.  It wasn't too long until he said his recall unit was recharged, and I could go back home.  Finally!  I could go back to my computer and finish up those stupid tax class assignments!

My laptop, still on from earlier, sat on my dining room table.  I sat down and started clicking all the appropriate links -- online homework is annoying, but it beats having to figure out what goes where on who knows what tax form.

"My assignment..." I whispered.  "It's not there...."

I clicked on the "see all assignments" link.  Oh no....this week's assignment was due at noon.  I glanced at the lower right of my computer screen.  2:39.


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