Once Lilly joins the Owendohers at the base of Saffron’s ramp, Imogen lays out her priorities. “We’re here for information, but if we do find Aiden, we get him out of here.” She reflects for a moment and then continues, “That’s not going to solve this problem, but at least he’ll be safer. What is going to be able to make this go away, though? We’re not going to be able to deliver a million credits, so what else? Blow up their ship? Is that the only option?” She looks to Lilly for input, since she has personal experience with the ransomers.
“Pretty much. Or pay them.”
“Maybe there’s something that they actually want, something we can give them. Something other than all the Umojan weapons Aiden promised,” Imogen says, wondering if the pirates will be open to a deal.
The three make their way through the wilderness towards a large building near the coordinates that Uncle Leo provided. As they approach it, they see that although it was once a terran structure of some kind, it is now thoroughly infested. Imogen merely finds it odd that this can happen to buildings. Lilly, however, saw this sort of thing many times during her soldier days. It is unnerving to her, highlighting again the risk that they may themselves get infested. This is Lief’s first exposure to anything zerg-related, and it is frightening. He peppers his companions with questions about how zerg contagion spreads. Their failure to provide concrete answers does not reassure him.
Imogen remains calm, her mind too wrapped up in strategizing to worry about potential infestation. “If we get caught, a reasonable story is that you’re here to turn in an Owendoher,” she suggests to Lilly. Lief protests, and Imogen tells her red-headed cousin, “I’m the one with the long blonde braid, so it’d be me. You can be her apprentice or lackey or something.” This plan does not sit well with Lilly, who does not like to leave teammates behind. Turning them over is even worse than that.
Closer to the infested building, cover is sparse, and soon they see a smaller outpost off to the northwest. It reminds Imogen of the vulture bike factory in Mar Sara City, though this one is a little worse for the wear. Seeing some movement ahead, they duck into a mess of thickets, and Lief gets tangled up in the thorns. Lilly is still too distracted by the infested building, not concentrating fully on the task at hand, and the bushes she chooses for herself expose her to a group of terrans approaching from the lesser structure.
“Hey! You there!” a rough-looking man calls out, pale skin shaded by stubble across his chin and head. He holds a raised shotgun. “What are you doing here?” He seems to have only seen Lilly.
From her hiding place, Imogen hisses to Lilly, “Now would be the time you turn me in, if we’re going to do that. You’d be able to talk to them about what they’re up to, and I can escape with Aiden.” Lilly’s body language conveys what she thinks of that plan. “Fine,” Imogen says with a frown. “Then you’re here for zerg specimens.”
Lilly shows up at the zerg hive with a six-pack in her hands. They have run off those UED fascists, and it is time to celebrate. Spikey is a good sport, pretty chill for a hydralisk. He tries to open a can of beer with his huge claw, spraying it all over himself and Lilly in the process. She throws back a can herself, then pops another one open for him and sprays him back. When Lilly returns to the barracks, her commanding officer demands to know where she has been. She knows she is a mess, all sticky from beer, and she hopes he does not notice the creep on the soles of her boots. She really does not want to be sent to decontamination. It is the worst. Lilly goes with the first lie that comes to mind. “UED beer stash, sir. I checked it over completely. Nothing worth salvaging.” The officer nods, and Lilly hits the showers.
Lilly emerges from the thicket and closes the distance to the cluster of terrans at a non-threatening walk, moving away from where the Owendohers are hiding. “I’m here to collect zerg samples,” she lies.
The man with the shotgun snorts in disbelief, but before he can respond to the claim, a woman farther back in the group says, “Lilly Washington! Haven’t seen you in a long time.” She steps forward. “Put that gun away, Marshall,” she tells her lackey as she brushes past him. “You running your own crew now, Lilly?”
The bouncy light brown curls framing the woman’s brown skin seem familiar to Lilly, but no name comes to mind. She is pretty sure this thirty-something woman was on the crew of Jackson’s Revenge back when she was. Was she a gunner? Lilly wonders. A pilot? She does not want to reveal the gaps in her memory, though, so she simply answers, “Sure.”
The woman does not buy that. “C’mon, now. What are you doing here?”
Since terse lies are not working, Lilly decides on a true statement. “Can’t say.”
“No one in the right mind would come here, what with the zerg around. Makes it a good place to hide out. It keeps people away. Unless… you with the fuzz?”
“No.” Any formal standing that Lilly ever had with any government body is completely over now.
“Well, whatever it is you’re doing these days, you still owe me a beer. C’mon.” She gestures toward the outpost.
As Lilly follows, she nods at the infested building and asks, “What about that?”
“Oh, we stay away from there,” her old associate replies.