It was another universe, another time. Nearly fifty years ago, the Zerg had fled Terran space. Within a matter of days, they abandoned every single colony they possessed. They took with them every mobile unit in every swarm. They cut their hives and other structures up for food and took as many of those as they could as well. The rest were left to starve. A few Human and Protoss telepaths had tried to find out what was going on and were almost swept up by the all-consuming drive to return home and protect the Overmind.
The Terrans celebrated the retreat of the Zerg for nearly forty-eight hours and then plunged into a bloody civil war. The Protoss quietly backed the faction they thought they could work with and, two years later, the Confederacy fell and the Terran United Federation of Free Worlds rose in its place.
The starship Azure Drake was parked in orbit at the edge of a star system at the fringe of the Terran sector. She was a StarFire-class heavy cruiser on her maiden voyage. She had been outfitted for peaceful scientific exploration and was armed to the teeth for the defense of the sector. Even after a half-century of peace and prosperity, even non-military ships contained sizable arsenals. Although most TUFF Worlders under the age of sixty considered this a waste of money and resources, there were still enough old timers in Congress who remembered the Zerg War and the War for Independence that followed. It was they who insisted on the measures and kept the defense budget high.
First and foremost, Captain Farnham considered himself an explorer, scientist and diplomat. His status as a military man was mostly a means to these ends. Looking out at the burnt and twisted wreckage of the observatory ship, Rising Sun, however, Captain Farnham felt uncharacteristically grateful to the right-wing loonies in Congress who had seen to it that his vessel was armed with enough firepower to lay waste to a continent. This might actually turn into a mission where there would be some use for such weapons and training. Right now, though, it was just a salvage and rescue operation. More salvage than rescue since it looked like none of the Rising Sun's crew had survived.
The Azure Drake had been charting stellar phenomena beyond the boundaries of the Terran sector when they received the Code-Z distress call from the observatory. By treaty, any Terran or Protoss vessel who received such a call was to drop what it was doing and proceed to the source at maximum warp with guns blazing. Even so, it had taken them two days to get there.
There was an explosion on one of the larger pieces of the observatory ship. Farnham looked over at his Chief Engineer.
"Just a failin' fusion generator ventin' plasma," said Commander Griswold.
"I'm getting a message from Lt. Gillian," announced Ensign Wirt from his station at the Communications console. "She's ready to deliver her preliminary report."
"Put her on," said Farnham.
A holographic image of the young pilot appeared in the display dish at the center of the ship's bridge. "Our initial scans were accurate," she reported. "There're no survivors. You may as well order Dr. Pepin to stand down."
Captain Franham contacted Sick Bay and did so. "Is this Zerg handiwork?" he asked her.
Lt. Gillian nodded. "It's looking that way. There's Scourge score everywhere. Just like in the news disks from my grandmother's days. No trace of pods or Creep though. This was strictly a hit-and-run affair."
"When was the last recorded Zerg attack in Terran or Protoss space?" Farnham asked the ship's computer.
The Central Artificial Intelligence Network, version 5000, found the answer within nanoseconds. "Forty-nine years, seven months, six days," replied the CAIN 5000.
"Anything else, Gillian?" asked Farnham.
"I was saving the best for last," she replied. "We found the Black Box. Apparently, Captain Ogden had time to back up all their data before the attack. They'd been scanning some old Zerg worlds for signs of activity."
That was another Congressional dictate. Any observatory could be eligible for funds as long as they agreed to devote a certain amount of telescope time to watching out for the Zerg threat.
"Go ahead and play the executive summary," ordered Farnham. He made a mental note to pass the full version on to Chief Xeno-Biologist Adria. Zergology was one of her hobbies.
"Aye, Captain." Lt. Gillian reached out to push a button and her image vanished. She was replaced by the holographic likeness of the late Captain Ogden.
"We have received data back from Long-Range Probe #14. If this information is accurate, it suggests that there was some sort of Brood War. As you know, all the Zerg Broods were called back from Terran space to battle some threat to the Overmind. As impossible as it sounds, it seems that threat was a second Overmind or a similar entity."
The holographic Ogden consulted his notes. "Apparently the old Overmind and the most of the existing Broods, including Baelrog, Tiamat and Fenris, were all destroyed in the war. The victorious Overmind withdrew to recover and create a new Brood."
Inexplicably, Farnham and everyone else on the bridge felt a chill.
"The new Brood is called Diablo."