As soon as Lilly is back atop the ridge, Durian rushes up to her. “Are you okay? I… I didn’t realize you ran down there! You didn’t have any backup!”
“I was scouting,” Lilly explains simply. She holds out the gunked-up radio toward her partner.
Imogen takes it and begins fiddling with it. This is definitely the transmission source of the Umojan music, and it is still broadcasting. The signal is much easier to pick up with the item in hand instead of deep within a zerg structure. Maybe Aiden’s influence is spreading through the Swarm, and they all like Umojan music now, Imogen jokes to herself. With Durian here, it is not the sort of thing to say aloud.
“That was in the baneling,” Lilly explains to Durian.
“That don’t make no sense.”
“In its stomach or in its head?” Imogen asks, thinking of Snowball.
“Unknown. I didn’t see it until after the explosion.”
“Whoa, a baneling exploded on you? We’ve got to detox you. I don’t understand how you’re not liquified. I don’t know what that purple stuff is, but if you got hit with a baneling, you should be melting.”
Lilly shrugs. “It’s sticky,” she offers. She was only able to get some of it off earlier. She fishes out a sample jar and scrapes some more off to save for later study. Durian coaxes her off to the side so that he can properly clean her off and bandage the gashes on her arm. “Zergling,” she explains when he asks about those. During the treatment, Lilly is cautious about how exposed her neck gets, but no goo hit her there, so Durian focuses elsewhere, spraying her with acid neutralizer. Lilly tells him about the zerg structure she saw down in the valley.
“Sounds like a baneling nest, which makes sense,” he tells her, though like her he thought the creatures were always green. “You’re lucky to be alive. When a baneling explodes on a marine, usually their lifespan is measured in seconds.”
“Well, I did jump out of the way,” Lilly points out.
“I’m just saying, you must be Lady Luck,” Durian says with a smile.
“It was kind of dumb,” Lilly admits.
“Hey, the best stories are kind of dumb,” Durian tells her, and they share a laugh. “But you’re still standing, so it wasn’t too dumb.”
Meanwhile, Imogen continues to examine the device. She fishes out an oil rag from her toolkit and wipes the purple goo from it. It does not bear much similarity to the Cerberus implants, so it probably was not actually attached to the baneling, just inside it. Its base is a terran radio, but it has been significantly modified by the addition of zerg parts. Some of the components have been completely replaced with organic alternatives. For example, there is no battery, but there is something like a heart. It reminds her of the infested research facility on Jarban Minor, but on a much smaller, more detailed scale.
When Imogen’s eyes have told her all that they can, she shifts her focus, running her hands across the device and sensing into it. Where did this come from? Imogen wonders. The object’s past is a mystery difficult to penetrate. Imogen can feel blood dripping onto her upper lip again as she concentrates harder, but she refuses to give up. Who had this?
Kate records the whole study, impressed with how focused Imogen is on the device. “Here we’ve recovered some strange artifact, and our Umojan scientist is investigating it right now. Of course, we’ll get it back to Dominion forces.” Imogen was working with tools earlier, but now she just seems to be staring angrily at the device. “Umoja, known for its very intense scientists. Still, a future part of the Dominion. We’re all part of humanity.”
In Imogen’s brief psionic trance, the Umojan music resonates, and she gets an unquestionable vibe regarding the hybrid radio’s previous owner. Aiden! She is surprised that he is back in Dominion space already, given that the Swarm still needed to arrive and deal with the pirates on Jarban Minor when last she saw him. The zerg must have much faster transport than Saffron. It then occurs to her that her brother might very well be on this planet, a planet that the Dominion is shelling into oblivion. She knows it is foolish to attempt to touch his mind at such a distance, but she tries it anyway. It is too far or she has pushed herself too far; regardless, she cannot get a sense of Aiden on Tarsonis beyond what lingers on the radio itself. The device in her hands still resonates with the feel of him, convincing Imogen that she can use it to contact him in some way. She will want to be somewhere safer when she does that though, far from the warfront and prying UNN eyes. It appears that, once again, she has something that Kate will want to take away from her.
Fortunately, the journalist now finds something else to occupy her attention. She has panned her camera back across the land below. “It looks like in mere moments, our Dominion forces will be riding to vic—cut, cut, cut!” The zerg have redoubled their efforts and are now managing to push the Dominion back eastward. This is not going to be a safe place to linger much longer.
Imogen gathers up all the gear from her mechanics kit and stuffs it back away along with the zerg radio. She can always claim later that it got left behind in the confusion. With that taken care of, she respectfully addresses the military leader of the expedition. “Sgt. Breaker, should we perhaps withdraw hastily, given the oncoming forces?”
“Unfortunately, I think that is what we’re going to have to do. As much as I’d love to apply pressure, we are not in a position to do that. We got what we came for. We should get out of here. We can cut around the station on the other side to make our way back to Liberation Point Alpha. Maybe if we follow the train tracks west a bit. Probably shouldn’t need to shoot our way out.”
“Yeah, we should get out of here before the artillery starts back up,” Lilly agrees.
The new route takes them through terrain made rough by all the past destruction the land has suffered, and there is a smaller zerg colony to the west. However, the terrans manage to keep their distance and not stir up any trouble, returning to the firebase without further incident.
On the approach, Kate records some final thoughts. “It is all right that it was very difficult. Taking back Tarsonis is going to take more than a day. But our crews are out there. We’re doing our part, trying to scout out a little bit. We looked for interesting things around the railyard, but the only prizes we found were some old Confederate technology and a zerg item.” Kate turns to Imogen and asks, “What do you think will come of that?”
“Hopefully the good boys in red will be able to recover it from the area that we evacuated so rapidly,” Imogen replies encouragingly.
Kate is bummed to hear this, but she acknowledges that the tech recovery was not critical. “The important thing is that we got out of there with our lives.”
“Thanks to Sgt. Breaker.”
“Yes, thanks to Sgt. Breaker. We’re all in good shape, even.”
“Would you say that this mission was a success, then?” Imogen asks leadingly.
“Yes!” Kate agrees enthusiastically. “This mission was definitely a success. I’ll have to do some re-editing, of course…”
Imogen whips out a piece of paper. “Would you sign this affidavit that this mission was a success?”
The journalist rolls her eyes at the introduction of bureaucracy at this point, but she takes the sheet and scrawls her signature across it. “Success. Ten out of ten. Would be defended by again.” She hands the form back. “I did get some good soundbites from Durian. But I still have work ahead of me. Might resplice, change the order of some things… That’s TV magic; that’s how it works,” she says in her defense, before the Umojan can criticize the process. “Look for this to air in a couple days on UNN.”
Imogen lets the propaganda go uncontested at this point. She has gotten what she came here for—and more besides—but she is worn out. Her nose is still periodically trickling blood; her brother is… up to something. But at least Lilly has what she needs for Durian.