This is the third day since we crashed at Toluk Valley.
I am Lieutenant Zebadiah Forrester, 53rd Valkyrie Squadron on detachment from 3rd Colonial Battle group to Stratix colony, Thibadault system, Korpulu sector. I am writing this log, this journal, in the aftermath of the Protoss attack on New Fredricksberg. As far as I know, I'm the only surviving member of my squadron. My crewman died in the wreckage of our Valkyrie, and I accept total responsibility for his death.
I keep telling myself I couldn't pull him out in time without killing myself in the process, but the fact remains he is dead and I'm alive, probably not for very long though. I am living on food and water rations, and the barren landscape of the northern regions here is as friendly as a Zerg. Precipitation is within the error margins and the only plant life I have encountered so far are mollusks and some kind of fungous algae already known to be lethally poisonous. I should have headed for the equator.
When the Protoss came in force, I was patrolling the area south of New Fredricksberg, along with my wingman Paul Anacheim, God rest his soul. We picked up strong signals of a Zerg infestation and naturally we radioed in and maxed our 'burners further south, puzzling over how anyone had missed something that big on earlier sweeps. The rest of the squadron scrambled to the air and we regrouped for a reconnaissance in force, delta wave formations, 2 mile separation.
After we flew over the designated area it became clear we had been duped; there was nothing other than crag and tundra, a skin deep bassalt lakebed and instead of a Zerg hive a small artificial construct the size of a sensor array. A close fly-by revealed it to be a Protoss artifact and the signal probably came from a modified psi-beacon, a lure to draw the Valkyries away from the base, diminishing our defenses.
Their coordination was flawless. The exact moment we called in to warn New Fredricksberg, three Protoss Cruisers decloaked inside the defense perimeter, with no warning from the sensor arrays. Whether it was sabotage, incompetence or some new cloaking technology, it didn't matter. Before we lost contact HQ mentioned several attached units to the Cruiser fleet and ordered a withdrawal to the predesignated scattering points all over Stratix.
We chugged that order with the blink of an eye, and very soon we would have second and third thoughts about it.
Upon entering the fray all we managed was to provide target practice for the Protoss task force. The turret defenses and walls had already been laid to waste allowing the Protoss to pour in and surgically strike our vehicle depots, crippling our ability to defend with any chance of success. We tried to take down the Cruisers, but their Scouts forced us into a dogfight we were never meant to survive.
Airspace was at a premium above New Fredrickberg, and the Valkyrie isn't exactly the nimblest instrument of death from above. We had lost the element of surprise, speed, and stand-off distance that made the Valkyrie infamously deadly. It did not go well at all.
We were taking heavy fire from multiple directions, with Dragoons, Scouts and the Cruisers' drones concentrating on our path. Formations, tactics and strategy became meaningless. Every twist and turn to avoid enemy fire just pitched us into some other target reticle. I saw some of our Valkyries fall like bricks from the sky without taking a single hit, probably because of some Arbiter.
Very aptly we lost cover, scattered, and became prey, hunted and put down by the Protoss' precise and coordinated salvos. Being herded and culled like sheep, my instincts kicked in and I did what every animal does in fear of death; I fled.
I diverted all energy to maximum thrust, shutdown weapons systems and trusted my pilot skills. In earnest, I crossed my fingers and prayed. Finding an opening throughout that maelstrom of plasma fire was next to impossible but a small gap presented itself and I hurried to take advantage, with Paul running on auxiliary power right behind me.
Fleeing the massacre, I caught a glimpse of a Thor behemoth surrounded by a cloud of Cruiser drones, being brought down like a bewildered giant, stung by bees, with Zealots biding their time around it like it was carrion fowl. I checked my scanner and the sky behind me. One after another my fellow pilots were being picked out like flees and sent hurtling down to the undeserved anonymity of 'battle casualties'. After a few minutes, we were the last ones still flying.
Amidst the chaos a lurking Scout angled in on me and caught me off-guard, unable to react, lock-on warnings buffeting the cockpit with waves of sound and light. Instinctively I placed my hand on the ejection handle while in that split second Paul having no weapons operational swung around and rammed that Scout at full thrust, forming a lava-like globule of ceramite and metal, spiraling down in a fiery waltz of deathly embrace. I watched them as they silently became a fiery blot on the tundra. I think I meant to cry out for Paul, but all I managed was to empty my stomach compulsively.
The shock of barely surviving the onslaught, perhaps the feeling of cowardice and inadequacy as well, had left me dazed and numb. I found myself flying aimlessly over the empty landscape of the Vysgard Region, grazing red turf, endless miles of tundra rushing past me, my mind blank, senses numb. I checked my sensors. Nothing followed. We had managed to stay alive for now.
Crewman Dowty called in the intercom, arousing me from my reverie, suggesting that we should at least try to contact the civilian lab complex in the north polar region, in order to sent word to Dominion Headquarters, while perhaps securing some form of passage from Stratix back to our Battle group or wherever else Command would deem best. If there was time and hope still left this was our only bet.
A few minutes after changing vector towards Scott's Landing the master caution alarm sounded and while I was trying to get readings off the holographic displays, everything went dead. I lost every single system on board and as far as I can tell nothing hit us, at least nothing I had ever seen or heard of before.
I threw the mechanical master switch on and tried to glide on actuators only, quickly scanning the ground for a suitable stretch of land to perform an emergency landing. I jettisoned every piece of ordnance and the energy core trying to save some weight and extend flight time but eventually I had to accept te fact we'd be going in hard. I fought with the controls and strained the Valkyrie to design limits but luck was not the order of the day and on our way down I flew through a maze of rocky spires that over-watched the intended landing site. I lost my left stabilizer and an engine core erupted in flames, the Valkyrie went into a hard leftward spin and the ejection system was crippled by the impact.
I just closed my eyes and braced for impact.
When I woke up it must've been because of the smell of ammonia from the coolant system that leaked all around my cockpit. I checked my extremities for injuries and sent a comm to Dowty who did not reply, so I unbuckled my harness and jumped out of the cockpit with a jolt to check up on him. The smell of ammonia turned into chemical fumes and the characteristically acrid one of red hot ceramite.
What remained of the Valkyrie would quickly become a smoldering hulk, the fire spreading relentlessly. Dowty was probably unconscious because of the fumes and a failed respirator unit, and every breath of his inched him closer to permanent brain damage and death. I tried to force his canopy open, but Dowty's cockpit compartment was deformed from the mechanical stresses of the impact. I emptied a clip from my auto-pistol trying to lodge it free, but to no avail. I tried to use some broken fuel line as a lever but it would not even budge.
My flight suit indicators flashed red for toxic/radioactive lethal materials in proximity. I had to get out of there but that meant I had to leave Dowty behind. I reassured myself there was nothing more I could do and decided in an instant to live with what I now know to be murder on my hands.
I grabbed my survival kit and comm unit and started off with a jogging pace towards the north. I did not stop for an hour and then I fell on my knees from exhaustion. I crawled under a rock outcropping that seemed to offer shelter from the harsh winds and cried myself to sleep, hugging my kit and praying that I would never wake up again.
When I did wake up, I checked my chronometer by force of habit and realized I had slept for more than a day. The sun was at high noon in the sky, and the rocks offered little shadow. I extrapolated my location relative to the crash site as accurately as possible and realized that if I kept a bristle walking pace I could arrive at the lab complex by nightfall. A more stealthy approach of moving only at night would keep me idle for many hours and I would only spend them brooding over everything. I decided to move hastily but with caution in mind.
Hours went by with no change in scenery; the arid tundra was an almost ashen pitch of white with a few red tufts of plant life. A few dirt mounds and small rock formations were not enough to help me get my bearings so for the most part I trudged along blindly and trusted my instincts.
I stopped only twice, once to rest my legs and have some rations, and once more when I came upon the remains of a Protoss Scout.
Unlike the Valkyrie, the Scout seemed unharmed; no signs of being fired upon, no catastrophic damage on its hull, only some minor impact damage. A successful emergency landing if I read the signs right. I approached the Scout warily, drawing my sidearm auto pistol and cautiously checking for signs of a trap.
Nothing happened when I entered the unfamiliar cockpit of the Scout and scrounged for anything that might seem important or helpful. From the dirt railing on the ground this Scout seemed to have made a controlled landing while flying north. I could not understand why the Protoss pilot had not waited for a rescue mission. Instead it seemed he actually took off on the same vague direction as mine. It seemed to lack sense, but having realized I had tarried for too long, I picked up my pace once again.
As calculated, by nightfall I could plainly see the communications tower of Scott's Landing. Thankfully it appeared to be in one piece, unmolested insofar by the Protoss war machine.
In the hazy backdrop Larrigan's Fall dominated the horizon, the kilometer wide and unfathomably deep chasm that had intrigued Sector Science Command to setup a research facility here in the first place. I had heard stories about how pilots, struck by cabin fever, flew races inside Larrigan's Fall, more for the exhilaration and adrenaline and less for the bets involved. Some even added to the extravagant scenery by literally carving themselves onto the rock.
Once I finally approached Scott's Landing perimeter I noticed there was very little activity if any at all. No posted guards, no patrol vehicles, no busy personnel.
Perhaps there was a lock-down in place or they had already evacuated when the Protoss struck elsewhere. Perhaps they had been able to get communications working through the ionostatic interference that had kept me out of touch since the attack on New Fredricksberg. Maybe the fleet is on its way. I still don't know.
I trudged along past search and rescue vehicles, SCVs, depots, drilling equipment and various stacks and heaps of materiel I was not entirely familiar with and reached an access shaft elevator that seemed locked. With a little luck and some tampering from my behalf I managed to get inside. I pushed to talk to someone in charge but I got only static.
A quick view on the reference map of the facility made me push for the command sector level but it seemed to be inaccessible. I just pushed for the first level right below, personnel quarters. Surely, I thought, I'd find some of the personnel, get briefed on the latest developments and evacuation plans. Perhaps even a warm meal and a hot bath before everything else.
I was soon disillusioned and the brief spell of feeling safe and secure was shattered. The elevator opened into a narrow and utilitarian metal passageway, badly lit by a phosphorescent grid ru nning all along the length of this corridor. With walls made from ceramite panels, forming standard design blocks row after row, I was reminded of our own barracks, though there was a different feeling about this place.
There were few or no smells, no sounds, no graffiti, no chipping on walls and surfaces. These quarters were brand new. But Scott's Landing had been in operation longer than New Fredricksberg. Maybe this level had been renovated but in wartime, out here, renovation was an euphimism for 'blowing up'. What is more important was that there was not a soul in sight, nowhere on the level. I searched every block and every room. All I found was a few wardrobes in disarray, and unfinished coffee cups in the cafeteria. Someone did leave in a hurry but I still don't know where to.
The long walk here and the blind search have made me groggy. I need sleep. I'll continue my search tomorrow, I think the Protoss have either been here before me or they will not be coming. I need to find what happened and more importantly, I need a way off-planet. I'll add any findings to this log.
After all the past misfortunes I hope for the best.
I am Neramon, Dark Templar and Zeratul's former ally.
I found this journal on the body of the Terran named Zebadiah Forrester. I was not responsible for his gruesome death, and had I been able I would try and prevent it. Alas, I am also in peril and I fear the worst has yet to come.
I'll continue the telling Zebadiah started, because it seems this will be the only record of what has and will probably transpire, and his story so far is relevant to my mission here on the world of Stratix.
The downed Scout he encountered was mine, and indeed I was headed to this Terran facility when I lost control. The Terran Valkyrie and my Scout met the same fate due to the strange emanations that originated here, from Scott's Landing, known in our Scripture as Melenos. I did not wish for my rescue from Protoss forces; they are unaware of my work here, and for good reason.
I believe them to be tainted. I am searching for proof of that taint.
Patiently I watched as our forces were poised to strike on Stratix for reasons beyond explanation. The Terrans had no significant presence here, and the Zerg swarms have not yet despoiled this world. Yet, we prepared an assault of disproportionate strength, as if using a hammer to swat a fly. It did not sit well with me. I observed from the shadows, measuring our commanders, guessing at our intentions.
At first I found it distasteful to pry on my brothers as if they were so no more, but in the days that were to come the beast of corruption finally reared its hideous head. Some of the commanders assigned had taken part in infamous campaigns, some had not for even once tasted battle, and for some their ancestry was hidden, veritably erased, untraceable. I had the indications of a plot alien in origin, a scheme beyond the power play and intrigue of Protoss families and clans. I acted with vigilance, and using my psionic potency, melted in the shadows once again and stowed away inside the Carrier strike force to the Thibadault system.
Upon landing on Stratix, I felt a disturbing sense of uneasiness, a pulsating source of fearfully strong psionic emanations that I could not identify, and certainly could not ignore. While our forces prepared for the imminent attack on the small Terran outpost of New Fredrickberg, I focused on the energies that had assaulted me and located their very source, somewhere to the north. I knew where to search next.
As I subdued a Scout pilot, bending his will to my cause and taking his place, a search on the planetary map caused me to fixate on a single point, the giant rift of Melenos, an unmistakably unique feature on the surface of this world. When the first waves of Scouts were ordered into the air, I launched intent on flying north unnoticed for as long as possible, gathering as much information and proof and returning to the Protoss host as fast as possible, blending in again like the night wisps of Acheron. Intentions though are often misled.