“Are you all right, Sister?” Aiden calls to Imogen when he sees her board the overlord, blood smeared across her face.
Imogen hears Lilly and Lief bounding in behind her and throws out her arm to stop them from moving any further into the cavity. “We’re all aboard. You can get this out of here now,” she tells Aiden, leaving his question unaddressed.
“There’s still one pirate!” Aiden shouts, not recognizing the tough-looking woman with Imogen and their cousin.
“No, she’s with me, so we can go now,” Imogen tells him levelly, unsure of how much the infestation has altered his mind. Ted was in control of himself up through when they parted company, but he knew he was changing, and he told her he was unsafe to be around. How much free will does Aiden still have? Imogen wonders. Is he just another vessel for the Queen of Blades? She watches her brother closely, trying to gauge his reaction to her words.
Meanwhile, Lief’s eyes have adjusted to the dim light and he recognizes the other person in the room. “Aiden! We found you!” he cheers. “We’re here to rescue you. Whoa, you look like shit, man!”
Aiden smirks a little at his younger cousin, demonstrating that he still retains some of his personality. Then he sobers up. “Aye, Sister. We can get away from those terrible pirates.” He runs a hand across forehead, wiping away sweat. “I got in over my head, I did. I thought I could deliver those weapons… but I panicked.” He cracks a weary smile then, and asks, “How’ve you been?”
Imogen laughs, but it shares the same weariness. “You thought being with the pirates was in over your head? What about now?”
Aiden lets out a long breath. “What can I say? When you find yourself in the lion’s den… I made a deal with the devil. They promised the Swarm could set me free.”
“Have you talked to her or only local ones?”
“Oh, to the Queen? I’m… aware of her. It’s complicated. I don’t know how much you want me to go into…” Imogen waits for him to continue, and Aiden pieces together a response, struggling to put it into words. “I’m always aware of her and I do… I need to see her and meet her. I’ll get there, I’m sure. One day. There’s many zerg…” He lets out another sigh, this one more impatient than frustrated. Dealing with the pirates is his priority right now, making right the situation he screwed up. “Look, there’s zerg that’s in charge of what was that facility. I’m sure he can help us straighten this all out. He was the one who got me out.”
“I’m not looking to make any deals,” Imogen says flatly.
“Aye. Aye, I hear you. Just… what are you looking for then, lass?”
“I’m looking for you.”
“Well, you found me. I can’t really go home, though,” he says, gesturing at himself.
“No. No, you can’t. And none of us can because of what you did,” Imogen snaps at him.
“Sorry, I just thought… Look, with the economic blockade, we can’t really smuggle anything on legitimate vessels anymore. So I figured—”
“You weren’t even smuggling legitimately!” Imogen cries, her pitch increasing as she takes out some of her pent up worries on her brother. “You were selling knockoffs!”
“I wanted to sell them real weapons and be a legitimate smuggler,” Aiden shouts back. “But do you know how hard it is to get weapons on Umoja? I got three. Three! But I’d already signed the deal with them. I don’t know how well you got to know those pirates, but they don’t take kindly to being crossed. So I did what I had to do to make up the rest of the shipment. I didn’t think they would check that closely. I figure, eh, they’re a bunch of drunken pirates, they’re not going to look. They were a little more careful than I thought. They put on quite a show, and part of that show is kicking people’s asses.”
“Aiden,” Imogen says, more subdued now, “the whole family’s paying for this.”
“It wasn’t what I wanted,” he says, tone more apologetic. “I wanted us to finally make it big. To make something for myself. That’s what I wanted, all I wanted. Look, I screwed up, okay? But I’m—the Swarm’s going to fix this. They have the—we have the power to fight these pirates.”
Imogen hears how he is already identifying with the zerg. And she was worried about just Snowball getting too close to home! “You think they’re going to stop there?” she prods. “You think you can control the Swarm?” Aiden sighs, but Imogen presses on before he can answer. “What’s to say that they stop at just dealing with the pirates? They could overrun all of Umoja!”
“The Swarm’s not interested in Umoja,” Aiden protests.
“Oh? What do you know about what the Swarm’s interested in?”
Aiden suddenly sounds more serious—and certain—than Imogen has ever heard him. “The Swarm, we have to destroy Emperor Mengsk. He was a useful tool for some time, but now he must be destroyed.”
“There’s a lot of people been saying that, not just the Queen,” Imogen observes.
“And there’s a lot of people not doing jack squat about it either,” Aiden replies, fiery. “She’s been doing things. Preparing. She can make the universe a better place by getting rid of Mengsk. And that makes Umoja more free, too,” he insists, “because if Mengsk wanted to, he could probably move in on our homeworld. We don’t have the army to deal with that.”
“You know, using zerg to take care of your problems is not that much different from what Mengsk did,” Imogen says, thinking of Antiga Prime.
“What are you getting at?” Aiden asks. “Mengsk betrayed the Queen.”
Imogen does not know the details of what went down between Kerrigan and Mengsk, but that is completely besides the point. “I’m saying that using zerg against other terrans ain’t a good idea,” she clarifies. “Or have you already given up that title?” she adds, wondering if Aiden no longer considers himself terran.
Aiden sidesteps the question. “Look, I understand I never was much of a negotiator, all right? But we have to do this. We have to—The Swarm can fix these problems. I know it looks gross, but trust me, it’s less gross than Mengsk is. Or you tell me. You lived in the Dominion. Is it really different? Is Mengsk actually an upstanding citizen and the Dominion is the beacon of humanity?”
“I never said it was,” Imogen objects.
“That’s what Mengsk says it is. I’ve seen the Dominion holo-broadcasts. ‘Join today! I’m doing my part!’” Aiden feigns the stodgy tones of a Dominion marine, and Imogen cannot help but chuckle. He has picked up a trick or two in his time dealing with pirates.
“Well what exactly are you proposing? Do you even know where their battleship is?” she asks.
Aiden insists that Jackson’s Revenge must be in the system somewhere or they would not have left behind crew without a warp-capable ship. The factory is just the outpost they have been working out of locally. He is surprised the rest of the pirates have not shown up already, given how long it has been since he escaped. “After I broke out, they should have alerted the cruiser and immediately come looking for me in force,” he says. “I don’t know what they’re up to.”
“They didn’t want to get in trouble,” Imogen tells him.
“They didn’t want to get in trouble!?” Aiden echoes, disgusted. “Ugh, cowards, all! I tell you, you can’t even trust—That’s another thing! In the Swarm, there’s trust. You know who’s got your back: every other zerg out there.”
“Really?” Imogen thinks that a rather simplistic view of things. She has definitely seen zerglings tear each other to shreds.
“Aye! Never a zerg in the Swarm that crossed another zerg,” Aiden declares naively. Imogen points out that broodmothers have their own groups, but Aiden insists there is no real competition. “If there were, the Queen would stamp it right out. That’s more about logistical organization…” His voice fades away and then he admits that he does not really understand all the details. “But tell me, was life in the Dominion worth it? Was it better than life on Umoja?”
“It got me what I needed,” Imogen states succinctly, but that is not enough for her brother.
“What did you need?”
“Something of what you’ve got, but without those trappings.” Imogen chooses her words carefully, specific enough for Aiden to understand and vague enough that Lief and Lilly will not realize she means psionic ability like that which comes with being part of the Swarm.
From his position just within the organic hatch, Lief is gazing around at the interior of the overlord with wide eyes, boggled by the situation in which they have found themselves. Lilly is looking around too, but she is keeping an eye out for threats. This is not her first time inside a zerg dropship; she rode in one with Spikey when they were taking on the UED. Still, that is no reason to be complacent. This Aiden guy looks to be infested, and from the sounds of it, it was voluntary, which is mind-boggling to Lilly. She has never heard of that happening. From the conversation so far, he made some sort of deal, a really crummy one, in her opinion. Sell-your-soul-level bad.
As a result of her split attention, Lilly is only half-listening. She wonders what Imogen means by her last statement. What did Imogen need? A crew? A job?
Imogen’s talents are not something she ever discussed openly with Aiden, even when he accused her of cheating at cards. They were very close growing up, just eleven months apart in age, and Imogen tried to subtly sound out if he was similarly gifted. If he did have psionic abilities of his own, he did not let on, but she thinks he understood what she was talking around. When she left Umoja, hurriedly departing on the last ship out before the Dominion blockade, she told him she had a lead on some specialized training unavailable on Umoja. She thinks he will be able to infer what she means now. Even if he himself could not detect her psionic pinging for him, something else around here may have done so and informed him.
“Ah,” Aiden says. “That does make sense then. Someone like you, Imogen, has a lot more potential than someone like me. We could work together…”
“I’m not interested in what she’s selling,” Imogen says firmly.
“I didn’t think I was for a while, too,” Aiden says.
Imogen does not find that response reassuring. She wonders whether he made his deal before he was infested or after. Was it negotiation or coercion? “I don’t need to make that deal to do what I need to do,” she says. She twists her lips in remembered frustration. There’s plenty of other jerks who are willing to work with me, she thinks, recalling Malorn’s lessons.
“One thing at a time, I suppose, then.” Aiden gives up on the recruitment pitch for now. “We’ve got to deal with these pirates. You and your mercenary friend and—Lief, what are you doing here?”
Lief, who was stretching an arm out to feel the strange walls, startles back to attention. “What? I’m… I’m helping,” he says defensively.
“Keep your hands to yourself,” Imogen warns him, but his hand is already sticky, and he panics a bit, trying to wipe the goo off.
“We’ll just talk to Blight,” Aiden says, getting back down to business. “He’s in charge here, our sort of conduit. With him, we can work out some way to take this fight to the pirates. Then we can free the family and…” Aiden lets out another long sigh, reluctant to ask this of his sister but needing to do so. He looks Imogen in the eye and pushes on. “I want you to tell Ma and Pa that I didn’t make it, okay? They can’t…” He is embracing his new identity but not enough to share it with his parents. “I can’t go back,” he settles on.
Imogen looks torn at the request, but then she nods. “They’re already talking about you as if you’re lost anyway,” she admits.
“Tell them I died fighting the pirates. Heck, maybe I will. I hope not, but it would be easier for everyone. I don’t imagine I’ll be running into any of the family in the future.”
“I certainly hope not,” Imogen agrees.