“I know you’re there.”
Imogen swears under her breath. Is that you singular or you plural? she wonders. If Hawke already knows she is here, then Imogen need not worry about tipping her hand psionically. And it would be very useful to know if Frank’s presence is still hidden. Imogen reaches out with her mind, trying to skim the officer’s thoughts and glean something useful—something manipulable—about her.
The impression Imogen gets is of a woman who craves power and authority over others while at the same time feeling highly isolated. Perhaps as a ghost she has been forced to be separate from others, and it eats at her. The thoughts from a few seconds ago are still echoing around in Hawke’s mind, and Imogen catches them, too. Good, this deal is almost done. The Kel-Morians get what they want; I get what I want. Wait—that feels familiar. That’s who that was up on the platform.
That is when the psionic defense kicks in, sending shards of pain lancing through Imogen’s head. This time it is less like a door slamming or hitting a brick wall and more like a deliberate stab. Imogen has been warned before that rooting around inside other people’s heads is not always a safe activity. Attention fully back in the physical world, Imogen now hears weapons cocking. She turns to Frank.
“We’re screwed, aren’t we?” he asks. “This is it?”
“I can distract them, and you do what you need to do,” Imogen tells him. She turns to step out.
“You can distract all those people while I grab the adjutant? You’re crazy! I’m crazy too.” Frank hisses after her.
“You’ve got this. You can do this,” Imogen assures him, hoping the show of confidence will help keep him together.
“No! No, we stick together,” Frank insists, calmer now. “We’re battle buddies. We gotta have each other’s back.” He follows her around the corner, in plain sight of Captain Hawke and her associates.
Imogen swallows nervously. She would like to project calm mastery of this situation, but with all the guns and armor in front of her, she does not really feel that way herself. Are those actual rocket launchers in that huge power armor?! The Kel-Morian mercenaries hold their weapons casually, not seeming to pay Imogen any mind, but the Dominion soldiers have their rifles pointed at her. Captain Hawke’s pistol is also trained on Imogen.
Imogen’s own weapon is still holstered, and she holds her hands out non-threateningly. “There’s no need for that. We can all get what we want out of this situation. We can work together.”
Hawke scoffs at the suggestion. She does not know what this interloper is about, but she certainly does not present any sort of danger to her plans. “No, I don’t work with other people,” she says bitingly. “Maybe, maybe, you can work for me if you can prove that you’re worth it. But I don’t think you have anything to offer me. Maybe I should just murder you right now. That’s going to be their role,” Hawke says, gesturing at her Dominion escort, “but we can add you to the pile. It’ll make it look even more realistic.”
Imogen’s eyes flick over to the soldiers, searching their faces for a reaction, but they are as blank as Frank’s was at dinner last night. They are resocialized and completely disposable as far as Hawke is concerned. The Kel-Morians are clearly not included in that plan, though. One of them glances at his watch, a bored look on his face. The other flips up his visor to refresh his cigar, clearly untroubled by anything here. Imogen’s own resocialized escort looks nervous; Frank’s gun is still held across his chest, though, not pointed at anyone.
“With an attitude like that, it’s no wonder you’re so alone,” Imogen chides Hawke. “Here you have a chance to work with someone who can really understand who you are and what you can do. And can appreciate it. But you just blow it like you’ve blown everything else. The fact that I’m here means your attempts to hide what you’re doing have failed miserably. Those Kel-Morians don’t need you; they’re humoring you! And we didn’t come without support. We’re not the only ones who know what you’re doing here. This is your chance to get away scot-free. I can expose you; I’ve already put things in place.”
Hawke is unsure of how much to believe of what the Umojan has claimed. She looks the foreigner up and down, unimpressed. “You might have backup, but you didn’t mention a dead man’s switch. So if I murdered you right now, everything would be fine!” Her voice cracks a bit at the end.
That sounds almost gleeful, Imogen thinks. Just how unhinged is this Hawke?
“Did you think about that? Did you?” Hawke presses, cracks forming in her cool facade.
“Why would I lay all my cards out on the table?” Imogen responds calmly. “Of course I haven’t told you everything yet. You know people like us can send information quite fast, quite far. You’re not a good enough shot to kill me instantly. Everyone would know, even your supervisors.”
“Th-they have it!” Frank suddenly blurts out, grabbing Imogen’s arm and pointing at a pickup truck visible behind the Dominion troopers. “It’s already right out! Sticking right out of—Oh, they can hear us.”
Hawke’s group has already extracted the adjutant. Oh if only things were as simple as just grabbing it and running, Imogen thinks wistfully, imagining the emergency brake on the truck failing. It could roll right over Hawke, straight to her and Frank, and they could just take off with it.
“You have no backing,” Imogen needles Hawke. “You’re a loose cannon, here on your own, precisely because you have no support. So stop pretending you have any more power than just that gun in your hand and this lot that you’re ready to kill. You’re not going to get away with this. I can’t let you. You’ve already destroyed at least one person’s life. I’m not going to let you just haphazardly throw these other three away.”
“You want the—No! I’m going to finish this deal, and then I’ll deal with you!” Hawke says, turning away from Imogen toward the Kel-Morians. “We doing this or not?” she demands of them.
The one with the fresh cigar puffs out smoke in Hawke’s direction. “Seems to me like we should be getting a discount here,” he says in his deep voice. “You’ve got some problems that you didn’t disclose earlier.”
“There are other markets,” Imogen tells Hawke. “These Kel-Morians are not the only ones who can get your message out. I have connections. I have other contacts who are very interested in what’s on that adjutant. Maybe you turned to the Kel-Morians because that was your only lead, but they have no respect for you. I can get this message to people who would use it.”
“You with the Raiders then? Is that it?” Hawke asks. “Raynor’s Raiders?”
Imogen shrugs. “With?”
“Don’t split hairs with me,” Hawke snaps testily. “I’m bald.”
“I’ve done work with them,” Imogen admits.
Hawke considers for a moment and then yanks up a chain around her neck, revealing a small drive, the adjutant’s memory core backup which she has already extracted. It is a high fidelity copy of the adjutant’s contents, one that would be very difficult to fake. Hawke snaps it off the chain. “You can have a copy of it. Take this to Jim Raynor and tell him to hire Hammer Securities. My team. I’m in charge. He’s to make me the boss of that division.”
Imogen can certainly tell Raynor he needs to hire these mercenaries with Hawke in charge in order to get access to the full adjutant. The recording should be quite convincing. And as for the Queen of Blades, it will also satisfy her need to know what this whole invasion was about. It is unsatisfying that the despicable Hawke shows no contrition over her treatment of Frank, but the deal is not contingent on her developing a conscience. Imogen glances over at Frank to make sure he is okay with this arrangement. He looks anxious but not disappointed; he will probably be glad just to get out of this alive.
Imogen nods at Hawke. The officer tosses the drive, and Imogen catches it. As she and Frank start to walk out of the line of fire, back behind the ruined railcar, Hawke’s voice follows them. “An unregistered ghost is a dangerous thing,” she shouts ominously. “You might want to be careful.”
Imogen flushes hot all over and then goes cold. She was very careful to keep all her comments veiled in that conversation, but now Hawke has explicitly outed her. She glances back over her shoulder in alarm. The Kel-Morians, at least, do not seem to care. They are loading the adjutant into their shuttle with no mind to the Dominion squabbling going on. Once she is safely behind the railcar, Imogen turns nervously to Frank, unsure of how he will take this news. Lilly may not pay attention to everything that happens around her, but Imogen cannot assume that is true for all resocs.
“Shit, you’re a ghost? Man, marines are dumb, but ghosts are crazy. Loco! Ghost saved my unit once, I remember that much. You guys are crazy. Crazy like a fox.” Awe is better than fear or rejection, Imogen supposes, but it is still distancing. She understands Hawke’s feeling of isolation. “A ghost is what you need in a pinch,” Frank continues to ramble, as they pick their way back eastward. “Takes a ghost to save me from a ghost, I suppose. Aw, man, can’t believe she’s working with Kel-Morians. It’s all so confusing.” He puts a hand to his head again. “Ugh, it hurts.”
“Do you want to go back?” Imogen asks.
“Go back to where? To what?”
“To your cat.”
“My cat,” Frank quietly echoes, thinking a moment. “Mr. Snuggles,” he remembers. “I do want to go back to my cat,” he declares. “Do you know where he is?”
“Can you take me there?”
“Ugh! But I need discharge papers or something. They’ll know. They’ll follow me.”
“You don’t need real ones,” Imogen points out. She assures him she can get fake papers that will work on Korhal. Then she offers another option: she picks up the cat and takes them both somewhere else.
Frank impulsively gives her a big hug. Mr. Snuggles now serves as a calming anchor in his mind, and he tells her that the perfect planet would be a dry one, since the cat does not deal well with moisture. Imogen supposes Mar Sara could do nicely for that. She talks with Frank about his aspirations, feeling out whether he would want to strike back at the war machine that hurt him or just quietly fade away. Frank prefers the latter, to disappear like a ghost.
“You don’t need to go back onto that platform,” Imogen assures him. “We’ll get the papers sorted out and have them ready for when you’ll need them planetside.” She is confident Lilly can handle an unrushed job. “If you’re fine with changing your name, you just need a fake ID.”
“Mervin. Let’s go with Mervin.”