When Saffron drops back into normal space, Lilly adjusts the ship’s sensors, tuning them to more easily detect zerg. Pleased that Lilly has not overtaxed the systems this time, Imogen pores over the readouts. There is no doubt about where the defense platform is; it is the huge thing in orbit around Tarsonis. Unsurprisingly, she also sees zerg flyers, devourers like the ones who took down Jackson’s Revenge on Jarban Minor. There is barely any atmosphere at the altitude the platform occupies, but that does not seem to bother the zerg. How are they even flying without air? Imogen wonders. “What do you think? Just a patrol? Or are they going for the platform?”
Lilly shrugs. “Guess we’ll find out.” There are a ton of Dominion ships around the platform, so it is not like it is undefended.
Imogen moves her hand toward the radio, but before she can hail the platform, a call comes in. “Unidentified vessel, please identify yourself,” the business-like voice orders.
“This is science vessel Saffron,” Lilly replies, transmitting Imogen’s work orders, which grant them access to the platform. “And we see some devourers in your area,” she adds. “Are you aware of that?”
“Your credentials all check out,” the voice affirms after a moment. “Now, what are you saying about devourers?”
“I’ll send you some scans,” Lilly tells whoever is on the other side of the channel. She transmits the output from the sensors directly to the platform. They tell her they are patching her through to the tactical office.
Another voice comes over the air, a male one with an air of authority. “This is Tactical Command. I understand I am receiving some scans of potential zerg life signs. Do you have any more details about these zerg? They look pretty large to me. Do you think they’re going to be a threat to our battlestation here?”
The scans are all the information they have. The only other contribution Lilly can make is from her own life experience with devourers. “Do you know what they are?” she asks.
“Do I know what they are?! I’ve fought in over fifteen Dominion invasions against zerg and other foul nemeses! Soldier, who are you to be asking me this question?” the man blusters.
“Didn’t he just say that he wanted to know if we know anything else?” Imogen blurts out, annoyed. “We just need a baseline of what he knows!” There are reasons that Imogen is not in the military, and self-important jerks like this are among them.
Lilly, though, is used to officers and just lets it wash right over her. He could be setting her up to put her down further, he could be honestly interested in her insight, or he could be hiding his own incompetence. That last one is the most likely, in her experience. “They’re devourers,” she tells him. “Oh, wait, you know what they are, I’m sorry,” she apologizes.
“That’s right! Devourers. Now, soldier, since you’re so smart that you have a science vessel, what would you do if these devourers were approaching, say, your orbital platform?” he asks in his demeaning tone.
“I suppose an orbital platform is too big for evasive maneuvers,” Imogen mutters.
Lilly decides to be more talkative than she normally would be, in case the officer really does not know anything about devourers. “I don’t know how far into space devourers can go but presumably to the platform.”
“Let’s presume you are correct, soldier.”
“Since they spit acid that can eat through a ship’s hull—”
“Oh, do they now?”
“Well, since they spit acid, I would shoot them before they got too close. So, on a platform, I guess I’d organize my defensive guns toward where they’re coming from. But they might just be out on patrol, anyway. Look, I mostly do evasive stuff; I don’t really know about platforms. If you have some backup support, that might help. We’ll be in the area shortly and we can assist, at least a little bit.” Saffron’s irradiator has worked well against scourges and mutalisks in the past, but devourers are much larger. It might slow one of them down, but it is unlikely to kill any.
Imogen leans in and projects her voice to carry over the line. “You should have your maintenance crews prepped and ready on the side the attack is coming in from. That acid can eat through a ship’s hull.”
“Seems like an earnest assessment, soldier,” the officer grants. The sound of quick typing trickles down the line as well. “We’ll put your ideas to the test, see how much you really know about deverrers…” He hastily corrects himself, “Devourers.” He orders Saffron to deploy to a set of coordinates to the southeast of what he refers to as an assault platform, rather than a defense platform. “Proceed there and stand by for action. This is war, after all.”
Ah, being ordered to do the thing you were going to do anyway, Lilly reflects. The joys of managing officers. “Yessir.”
The large assault platform is overall rather flat, though anti-aircraft turrets protrude in various places. They are mainly attached below, pointed down at the planet. The platform looks too old and worn to have been built here for this particular assault. Perhaps it has been towed in from another mission or repurposed from the original battle on Tarsonis.
Once the science vessel reaches the coordinates, Lilly initiates another sensor sweep. With the sharper readings from this position, she determines the number of enemy flyers. “Five devourers. That’s a lot of large zerg to be in one place,” she comments.
“If there’s five of them, then the irradiator’s more important,” Imogen says, “but I think we also need to be prepared to use the defensive matrix if they get close to the platform. I’m going to see what I can do down below.” She pops open a panel in the floor of the central chamber so she can drop down to where the reactor is. Lilly can worry about where exactly the devourers are, but Imogen is more concerned with whether Saffron has enough power for deploying both the irradiator and the defensive matrix in rapid succession. Overclocking the generator for just a little while should not be too dangerous.
“Good call,” Lilly tells her partner. The zerg squad’s bearing indicates they are definitely headed toward the assault platform. It might just be a reconnaissance run, and Lilly is not sure how much damage the devourers can do to the platform itself, but certainly they could take out some of the guns and snuff out some lives if they get too close. She transmits the new scans, and a more knowledgeable-sounding comms officer receives them, saying that they will be arraying the platform along that vector. Once again, she is asked to stand by.
“It’s juiced and ready to go,” Imogen shouts up. “Primed like this, the irradiator should be able to make a bigger splash than usual.”
Lilly flips on the soothing music in the cabin and checks the sensors again. The zerg have looped up and are coming at the platform from the spaceward side rather than straight from the planet. The forces on the platform itself are still getting into position to deal with that. Lilly sees marines running to anti-aircraft emplacements and a few Goliaths walking around. Despite orders to continue monitoring at these coordinates, she decides to buy the marines more time by speeding Saffron toward the devourers. If nothing else, this will cut down the distance before she takes her shot at them, and maybe she can even lead them on a bit of a chase. Nevermind that there are no clouds or canyons here to hide in…
Lilly is aboard a science vessel along with a superior officer from the science division, a bald man in a Confederate military uniform with a glowing red cybernetic eye. “All right, Corporal, let’s see what you can do. We’ve got this irradiate ready to go. I just need you to irradiate that marine. Don’t worry; he’s a horrible criminal. Like all of you.” Lilly looks at the targeting screen, where the marine, resocialized like she is, is walking around in an open field, gun clutched tightly. “We need to test this to make sure,” the scientist urges her. The marine is jumpy, firing at anything that catches his eye, including a poor dog. He looks up at the sky and notices their science vessel. They are too far away for him to hit, but that does not stop him from trying. Lilly hesitates, but then, thinking of the dog, she presses the button as ordered. She is a soldier, after all. The irradiated marine collapses, and medics rush onto the scene. “We’re doing an important experiment today. How long can we hold off the radiation?” the scientist continues. “Boy, I don’t want to be him. It’s going to be hot down there.”
With that uncomfortable memory lingering, Lilly launches the irradiator at the squad of devourers. They all turn quickly, spreading out, and the shot splashes across space flotsam behind the zerg formation. Then Saffron shudders as something impacts it. Certainly some of the exterior is bent out of shape, but whether it is also dissolving, only time will tell. Smoke is definitely coming off the ship, though. “Maybe we should get out of here,” Lilly says, whipping Saffron back around before any other devourers can land a blow.
“Too bad Snowball can’t tell his brethren to leave us alone,” Imogen mutters as she begins damage control.
The devourers give chase, following Saffron all the way to the assault platform. The defensive emplacements are now ready, and the Dominion forces—turrets, Goliaths, marines—all open fire, lighting up the zerg. There is even a wing of cloaked wraiths who begin aerial combat with a couple of the devourers. “I can cool down the irradiator for a second shot if you want, or you can deploy the defensive matrix,” Imogen calls up to Lilly. Science vessels generally do not fight on the front lines. Their strength lies in detecting the enemy, and then they generally get out of the way once the shooting starts.
Given the way the battle is unfolding, Lilly does not think individual marines are in jeopardy. She opts for another attempt at irradiating a devourer, choosing one farther from the platform to reduce the risk of collateral damage to the Dominion troops. It is a solid hit this time, and the now-suffering creature immediately peels off from the battle, retreating. Imogen climbs back up into the control hub and steps to the sensor station to check how the fight is going. The closer devourers are taking hits, and before long they too retreat. “They were probably just probing the defenses,” Imogen suggests. “I wonder if they would have gone so close if they hadn’t been tempted to chase us in. Bet we seemed like a juicy target.”
The comm unit crackles with an all-clear from down below. “Thanks for that support up there. The wraiths will take it from here, make sure they don’t come back in. You should head into the hanger and get some repairs.”
“Aye! Aye, by all means, go towards wherever we can do repairs!” Imogen urges her partner, worried about the hull. “We’ve got to get this hosed down.”
“Yup,” Lilly agrees. As she pilots them in, she admits, “That was dumb. They could have hit Old Red.”
“Maybe they did,” Imogen says. “We won’t know until we get out and take a look.”