The overlord has been aloft this whole time and now begins to slow down. Through the squishy floor, they can feel it settle on the ground. The organic hatch opens and the ramp rolls out, revealing that it is now within an enormous, writhing building, the infested Umojan research facility that they saw earlier that day. Lilly shoots her friend a questioning glance. She will back her play, but she wants to know that Imogen is sure about what she is doing. “Imogen?”
Imogen turns to her brother. “Do you have enough sway to guarantee our safety?”
“It should be f—,” Aiden starts, but then, seeing the unnerved looks of those around him, he changes tack. “Let me go down and talk to him a bit first, give you a few minutes here. It’ll be fine, fine,” he reassures them. “If he’d wanted to hurt you, he wouldn’t have helped you escape, now would he?” With that, he heads down the ramp.
In the relative privacy of the overlord, Imogen checks in with her companions. She has been so focused on her brother that she does not know how they have been taking things. They were previously really nervous about this building just walking near it, and what with Aiden being infested… She needs to steady their nerves and show them that everything is well in hand. “In case you hadn’t gathered, Aiden’s made a deal with the local zerg,” she announces. “I don’t know what they think they’re getting out of it, but Aiden’s part is he gets part of the Swarm to go deal with these pirates.”
“Are you sure you want to go out there?” Lilly asks. That building is a disaster zone.
Lief bounces nervously on the soles of his feet. “We’re in the middle of a zerg! Six hours ago I’d never even seen a zerg!”
“The situation is under control,” Imogen assures them, hoping that is indeed the case. “Look, we have some time; let me bandage that up,” she offers Lilly, indicating her cut forehead. She does not know the process by which infestation happens, but she figures they are better off not walking around this place with open wounds.
“I was only shot twice,” Lilly says carelessly, “but sure.”
Imogen wipes down the grazes with antiseptic pads and slaps bandages on. It only takes a few moments, and then she continues discussing the situation. “It seems the way to move forward is to eliminate the pirates. Are you okay with that?”
Imogen is looking straight at her, expectantly. Lilly is not sure what the big deal is; she has fought alongside zerg before. “Got it.” She pulls her shotgun back out and verifies that the action is working fine. “All right.”
“So… you don’t have any personal conflict here?”
“Uh… no?” Fighting alongside zerg is nothing new for Lilly, but she will be on alert.
“These are people you fought alongside before. They were your friends.”
Oh! That’s what she meant, the Jackson crew. Lilly’s memories of those people are rather fuzzy, but she knows she did not leave them on good terms. They do not mean anything to her. Lilly shakes her head. “I don’t owe them anything. And they took your brother. They messed with your family.”
Imogen next turns to her Lief. “And what about you, Cousin? Will you back my lie to my parents, that Aiden is dead?”
“Your parents have been through a lot,” Lief protests. “Telling them that their only son is dead?”
“It’s what he wants.”
“Aye, it’s what he wants,” Lief agrees, but then he realizes things are not exactly adding up. “Wait, why is he pretending to be dead? When this whole thing is over, why doesn’t he just come back home?”
Imogen simply replies, “It’s part of the conditions of the deal. He can’t go back.”
“Did he say that? I didn’t hear him say that.” Lief thinks back over the words Imogen and her brother exchanged while he was weirded out by this ship. “Deal with the devil… He kept talking about the Swarm… and ‘we’…”
“He’s infested,” Lilly says plainly.
“What? He’s a zerg?! I… I think I’m going to be sick!” Lief turns away, gagging, and vomits.
“Let it out, buddy,” Lilly comforts him, giving him a friendly pat on the back.
At this point, Aiden returns and asks if they are all ready. “Aye,” Imogen tells him. Lief remains behind, the overlord now infinitely preferable to whatever is out there. As Imogen and Lilly descend the ramp, she turns to her partner and adds quietly, “Maybe we’ve found a foster-father for Snowball.”