As the UNN Liberty Squad picks its way carefully southward out of Tarsonis City Metro Station, Imogen keeps a close eye on the marine transporting the ghost glove. It would be completely reasonable if in the explosion and ensuing confusion, what she wants were to just “fall” out of Carl’s bag. At least, that is the story she would be happy to promote when its absence is later noticed. As it happens, though, something far more convenient happens. As they are crawling through a narrow, dark section, the backpack gets snagged and its clips snap. Ensconced in his power armor, Carl does not even notice. Imogen does, though, and she quietly grabs the glove from it, stuffing it inside her jacket and keeping quiet about what has happened.
By the time they all get outside, it is mid-afternoon. They emerge onto a ridge overlooking a valley south of them that stretches east-west. A battle rages across the creep-covered ground dotted with zerg structures. No new Arclite shells are currently striking the area, but many craters remain from the earlier ones. Dominion forces are trying to advance from the east, but the zerg are keeping them at bay. Those zerg are between the UNN group and the visible Dominion forces. Somewhere in their midst is the location where Imogen and Lilly earlier triangulated the source of the Umojan music broadcast.
“Hey, Durian—I mean, Sgt. Breaker—did you radio back the location?” Lilly asks. “Are these guys looking for the music?”
It takes a moment for Durian to realize what she is asking about. “Oh, sorry, Ms. Washington. I didn’t include that in my most recent report. I figured that until we had a confirmed sighting…”
“Understood,” Lilly says, not needing an explanation.
“I did tell them we were investigating southward, but this is…” He looks at the messy conflict below, then turns to the nominal leader of the group. “Ms. Lockwell, this is not a safe place to take you.”
Kate has her camera out and has already gotten some excellent footage of the scene. “We need to go down the ridge and see what this radio message is about,” she tells Durian. “I know you guys are all professionals, and it looks like the Dominion is clearing this out, but you know how friendly fire goes. They might destroy whoever is sending that message before we have a chance to reach them.”
“This is too dangerous for my troops,” Durian objects. “They’re not equipped for combat support right now. We should wait this out until the Dominion has cleared the area.” The zerg are putting up a heck of a fight, but as Durian watches more, he decides that the Dominion does look to be slowly advancing.
Imogen keeps her mouth shut and hangs back, having recently been admonished for issuing orders out of place. Let Kate and Durian hash this out, she decides. Lilly steps up next to her and quietly offers to go take a look. Imogen smiles; Lilly is someone she can give orders to. Not that any are needed here, though. Lilly is fast and stealthy, and one person is less likely to be observed than a clump of bright red marines. “You’ve got my blessing,” Imogen tells her.
Lilly glances over at Durian. She is not in his squad, but he might raise objections. The easiest thing would be to just not deal with that.
Imogen follows Lilly’s eyeline. “If Durian notices you, I’ll just dress him down,” she assures her partner. “You’re a very experienced combatant; you don’t need him babysitting you.”
That is all the reassurance Lilly needs. Shotgun in hand, she slips off to the side and begins picking her way down the ridge, staying close against it as long as she can in order to hide her movements from Durian. Once on the flatter ground below, she dashes forward, putting a large boulder between her and the UNN crew. She sneaks a peek up at them, and as far as she can tell, they remain unawares. When she turns back toward her destination, though, there is a zergling right there. It leaps at her in a flurry of claws, slashing at the arm she throws up to block. Lilly shoves the creature off of her and brings her shotgun up. With all the sounds of machine gun fire from the Dominion forces, the blast from her own gun is not likely to draw any additional attention. She unloads right into the zergling’s chest, and it collapses. No other zerg seem to have noticed her, focused as they are on the battalion further east.
Lilly stoops to collect some creep for Snowball and then continues swiftly on her way. When she gets a clear look at the target area, she sees that a disgusting bio-mass forms a structure right where she is headed. She takes a moment to radio back to Imogen. “There’s a big green zerg building,” she reports.
“Is it the sort of thing I would stab in the face?” Imogen asks, thinking of the incident on Redstone III that Lilly is always telling people about, where the zerg building had a scorpion-like tail for attacks.
“Well, I wouldn’t put it past you, but no. More like a structure. No face.” Update delivered, Lilly heads closer. As she approaches the structure, part of it opens, and out rolls some kind of baneling. Lilly ducks down behind another boulder.
Up on the ridge, Imogen hears Durian say, “What’s that?” She looks over at him and sees his binoculars pointed down where her partner is. “Wait, what? Lilly!?” Durian lowers the binoculars and hastily looks around the UNN group, confirming she is not among them. He flips on his comm and radios her. “Lilly! Lilly, are you okay?”
“Yup,” she confirms.
“You’ve got a zerg six feet to your right. Looks like it’s a baneling, but it’s purple. There’s something strange about it. You need to get out of there right away. If you can fall back to cover, I can radio in and try to get some siege tank fire on that location.”
Lilly looks out behind her rock and sees the creature is rolling quickly straight at her. This is not one of the slow crawling banelings like they saw on Redstone III. Hope the blast isn’t as bad as D8, Lilly thinks, as she dives aside at the last moment. The baneling explodes against the boulder. Purple goo goes everywhere. Lilly avoids most of the splash, but not all of it. Most banelings are green, and their insides are an extremely toxic acid that starts eating through gear—or skin—immediately. But what hits her seems more like creep.
Lilly scoops up a handful of dirt from the ground, using it to rub off some of the sticky gunk. It does not feel like it is burning her skin, and as far as she can tell, her clothes are holding up just fine against it. Actually, it feels kind of soft. She looks curiously over at the remains of the baneling, and something catches her attention. There is some kind of tech lying there. It looks similar to a normal radio but with some strange organic parts mixed in. And it is covered in the same soft purple goo she is, of course. Is that what’s been broadcasting the music?! she wonders. That is so weird!
“Lilly! LILLY! Are you okay? Are you okay?!” Durian’s voice sounds urgently from her comm.
A nearby hydralisk growl informs Lilly that it really is time she got out of here. Durian will see her in a second and know she is okay, so she feels no need to speak a reply. Instead, she cracks her neck, scoops up the gooey radio, and runs. Durian and his squad—and Imogen, of course—lay down supporting fire, taking out the zerg between her and the ridgeline to clear Lilly’s route back to them. Kate is shooting too—video, that is. A few hydralisk spines come close to Lilly, but none hit her. And once she reaches the base of the ridge, the pursuing zerg peel off. Maybe they are unwilling to enter the meat grinder of Dominion machine guns, or perhaps the more important foe is the battalion to the east.