Snowball emerges from Lilly’s room in his female terran form as Lilly sets Saffron down on the southern end of Liberation Point Alpha. The group hikes south to the remains of Tarsonis City Metro Station. It has suffered both Dominion shelling and zerg attacks in the past couple days and is in rough shape. Some of those attacks have conveniently reopened access from this end. However, the area is now covered with creep and gross lumps of zerg biomatter that suggest the railyard itself is being infested.
Lilly hears a distinctive growl coming from within the building, like a hydralisk, but deeper. “Hold up,” she calls out, swearing under her breath. “Hydralisk,” she warns Imogen next to her. “Hunter killer.” They are a particularly dangerous strain, bigger and tougher than the regular rank and file.
“That name doesn’t sound bad at all,” Imogen says sarcastically. “Do they have any particular missions that they tend to do, other than the obvious hunting and killing?”
“They’re pretty rare these days, but they used to do escort duty for things the Swarm needs to protect.” She sighs. I’m probably going to get shot. “We should do this quietly.”
Worried that there might be burrowing zerg laying in wait for them as they approach, Imogen reaches out with her psionic senses. After a moment’s concentration, she says, “I don’t think there are any hiding out here. If there are others, they’re inside the station.”
“Okay,” Lilly acknowledges.
Durian steps up to their quiet conference. “What do you mean? What’s in the station? We got zerg in there?”
“Hydralisk,” Lilly fills him in. “A hawk,” she adds, using marine slang for hunter killer.
“Oh, boy,” Durian groans.
“So we just drop the building on it,” Imogen suggests, partly in jest. “That’s how we handle hydralisks, right? That’s what we did on Redstone.”
“Not if you want to get what’s inside the building,” Durian points out. “And I’m not sure that would kill a hunter killer.” Lilly cracks her neck, and then without a word she takes off, moving swiftly but quietly through the creep, gun at the ready. “Guess we’re going in!” Durian says, surprised, and hurries to catch up. Imogen hangs back; Durian’s power armor is loud enough as it is.
Lilly passes swiftly through an opening in the rubble into the large central chamber and then ducks down behind some dented boxes that provide good cover. The set of crates Durian clumps down behind does not treat him as well; a zergling is lying in ambush right there. Lilly turns at the sound of a scuffle and sees Durian wrestling with the creature. Trusting his power armor to handle a zergling for a moment, she quickly looks around the rest of the room for other threats. Lilly spots the hunter killer, one with quite a few scars, as well as a regular hydralisk. Not good. They are on alert but not looking this way. Lilly makes a snap decision. Discharging a weapon might draw the hydralisks, even a quieter one like the protoss laser in her hands. She drops Sweetpea, letting the rifle’s sling catch it, and whips out a knife as she dashes across creep over to Durian. With one surgical swipe, she slashes the zergling’s throat so that it cannot cry out in its final moments.
“Two hydralisks,” Lilly says into her comm to alert Imogen. She looks meaningfully at Durian as she relays details on their locations due east.
Durian glances up over the top of the crates and lets out a long breath. “That’s bad news. Maybe they’ll just leave? Ah, but that’s not generally how zerg work,” he mutters, realism overtaking his usual optimism. “I dunno, could we just ask your zerg to ask them to leave us be?”
Lilly’s eyes light up with a plan. “We need a distraction,” she tells Imogen. A moment later, Snowball joins her in terran form, smiling at all the creep around. Then there is a loud series of crashes and dust momentarily obscures her vision.
* * *
Outside, Imogen, Frank, and Snowball approach the entrance slowly. Lilly’s voice crackles over the comm, giving location information on the hydralisk threat. “Do you remember going up against any hydralisks before?” Imogen asks Frank.
“Hydralisks? The big spikey guys? Probably…” He looks down at himself for a moment as though searching for something and then pushes up a sleeve. “Maybe this one, on my arm?” He holds the limb out, turning it.
Imogen sees two round scars on opposite sides of his forearm. She has seen injuries caused by hydralisk spines on Lilly, and these fit the bill. “Aye, that looks like one. Maybe whatever instincts you have will come to the front when needed,” she encourages him.
“That would be good. Sixty percent of marines don’t survive their first encounter with a hydralisk, so there you go.”
“You’re no average marine,” Imogen tells him.
“No, no, I want to be just average. Get through, get out. Nothing more, nothing less.”
“Average marines don’t get out,” Imogen says somberly.
“That’s probably true. Keep being average and don’t start being dead, that’s what I’ve got to do. Keep your head down and your nose clean. Stay alive, stay average.”
“It’s a little late for that.” Imogen turns to her other charge, Snowball, and snaps her fingers. “Hey, pay attention. If you’re not going to help, you need to at least stay out of the way. Are you listening?” The changeling opens his mouth and slowly sticks a tongue out. Imogen has never seen him successfully produce one in this form, but this is not really the time nor place for that. “Aye, you have a tongue,” she observes, unimpressed. “I don’t think that’s the kind of information that’s important here.”
Snowball may be a lousy spy, but he has honed his negotiation skills over the past few months. He points to Imogen’s backpack, and when she does not immediately satisfy his request, reaches towards it.
Imogen swats at Snowball’s hand. “I don’t have treats for you!” she scolds, and Snowball recoils. Imogen has further reinforced that she is the mean one. He sulks through the entrance to go join Lilly.
Frank watches, wide-eyed. This woman must have been resocialized real bad, he thinks. No longer able to talk, even! “What was that about?” he asks.
“That’s Lilly’s responsibility. We need to stay focused on our own task here.”
Frank nods. “Right. Good. We just need to stay focused,” he repeats. “Whatever else they have to do, that’s not important.” He covers his face with his hands, rubbing his forehead. “We just need to get that adjutant and get it to your friend. Mengsk, get it out so that they know. So that I can get out.” He drops his hands and shakes his head. “Got to stay focused. West. We’ve got to go west, right?”
“Aye, but there are a couple hydralisks in the way.”
“But those are east. We’re going west. Not our problem. That’s her responsibility.”
“We can’t have hydralisks at our back,” Imogen argues. “We have to help Lilly and Durian make sure it’s safe for them to proceed with their task here.”
Frank sighs but sees the wisdom in her words. “And then they might be able to help us. All right, all right. Clearing zerg is always good.”
With that, they set to work on the distraction Lilly called for. It really is the Redstone platform all over again. From the entrance way, Imogen evaluates which load-bearing columns look particularly weak, and then Frank sends a luggage cart careening at them. When the domino effect is done, the hunter killer is trapped under a collapsed beam, and the landscape of the train station has changed significantly.
The hunter killer lets out a deep screeee and two more zerglings unburrow. The zerg in the station are on alert, but they do not know which direction the threat is coming from. When the dust settles, Lilly peers over the crates to get a look at the situation. That scream sounded familiar. Crap! That’s Spikey! she realizes. He looks a little bigger and tougher than when they broke him out of Neiman’s lab on Chau Sara, but she recognizes some of the distinctive scarring. She radios an update to Imogen.
“That’s Spikey?!” Imogen groans, annoyed that she just pinned an ally. “Does that mean you’re okay handling this whole situation here yourself?”
“Then Frank and I are going to head out.”