Two sentries remain outside the beat-up building, but the other two underlings head into the supply depot with Lilly and her former associate. “Grab a six-pack, Kofi,” the leader tells one of them as she invites Lilly to sit at a table. While that fellow opens up a minifridge, the other man takes a seat in the corner of the room, picks up a book from a nearby crate, and then props his feet up on it, settling in for a break.
Lilly sits down. “So what the hell are you doing here? You still with the crew?”
“Yeah, I’m moving on up, actually. I’m a lieutenant now, for what it’s worth.”
“Oh? Congratulations,” Lilly says. Now she can at least call the woman Lieutenant to avoid the matter of having forgotten her name.
“I’m getting by. The captain is still in charge, you know, for now. Doing a good job.”
“So, this is an outpost?”
“Well, we’re kind of waiting around,” she equivocates. “We’ve got to keep this area secure. But what are you doing all the way out here? If I ran into you in Dead Man’s Port, that would be one thing. I get that you’ve gotta sell some sort of BS story to one of the crew here that you’re collecting zerg samples, but, c’mon.”
“Well, I’m sure there’s salvage out here,” Lilly says confidently.
“Maybe you could get some Umojan tech, but you saw that building. It’s totally infested.”
“I didn’t know it was going to be like that! Is there anything interesting on this planet?” Lilly might as well find out if there are actually opportunities for salvage, in case their exit ends up being leisurely.
“Eh, there’s pockets of zerg here and there. This was some kind of Umojan research facility or something, I dunno. But that place is crawling with zerg. We sent a few people in a while ago, and they didn’t come back.”
“Here you go, Lieutenant Naja,” Kofi drawls out as he plops a six-pack of Paps down on the table. There is no sense of military decorum here; he slouches down in a seat alongside them, clearly intending to help himself to the beer as well.
“Was it zerg research?” Lilly asks.
“I don’t think so,” Naja replies. “It would be weird if Umojans were researching on zerg.”
Lilly shrugs. “Seems like everybody is.”
“Anyway… we don’t bother the zerg, and they don’t bother us much. But no, we don’t go inside; I definitely don’t trust that.”
“So is this your homebase now? What happened to the ship?”
“No, the ship is homebase, of course! We’re just doing a side job,” Naja replies. “This is just temporary.” Lilly can tell that Naja is holding back, but that is no surprise. After all, Lilly did not tell Naja what she was doing here. Unfortunately, Naja seems keen to keep returning to that topic. “So, what brought you here? Everyone knows this planet’s been hit by the zerg. What did you think you could get here?”
Lilly wants information, but she is no talker like Imogen. She wants to be able to sneak away and have a look around, but that is not going to happen while all these people have a clear eye on her. She is feeling safer and more confident here inside the outpost, where she has a layer of protection from the infested building outside, and it emboldens her. She cracks open one of the beers and chugs it all down in one go, getting some up her nose in the process. Slamming down the empty can with a thud, she eyes Naja. “So now that we’ve had the water, how about that beer?”
Naja chuckles. “Think you can best me? You’ve gone soft, Lilly. I’ve still been living the pirate’s life! We’ll see what you’ve been up to.” She cracks open a can herself.
Kofi takes this as license to start drinking as well and grabs a can, too. “You going to let her do that to you, Lieutenant Naja?” he asks.
“Yeah, Lieutenant,” Lilly goads, downing another can and crushing it in her hand, then letting out a big burp.
“So that’s how it is then?” Naja drinks hers down quickly, then heads over to the minifridge and pulls out a different label. “Let’s try a bit of this. No more of that grog.” The bottles of Giant Rooster clink as they hit the table.
Lilly remembers having seen this served at Joey Ray’s. “This stuff is great,” she says, popping off the cap and chugging it down, “but it’s no Kick In the Face.” That is what she has gotten used to lately. “What else you got?”
Naja drinks hers fast, too, trying to keep up. “All right,” she slurs, “now that we’ve gotten warmed up…” Naja is not petite, but she does not have Lilly’s height or mass. Those extra pounds of brawn are coming in handy here in a different way than usual. There is a bit of a blush to Naja’s cheeks as she stands with a sway; Lilly can tell that the alcohol is starting to get to the slighter woman. “That’s not good enough? Fine.” She winds her way over to a metal door in the wall with a large circular turn-crank. She spins it open, telling Lilly, “This is the cold fusion generator.” When the seal breaks, streams of condensed gases roll out. Naja reaches in and pulls out frosted-over cans.
As she returns to the table, Naja tosses one to Lilly. She catches it and wipes off the frost. This is Cold Fusion; Lilly has heard of it but never had any. “Oh, nice!” They go through several cans, and although Lilly seems to throw hers back, she makes sure to leave some liquid behind in the can each time so that she is not drinking as much as Naja and Kofi are. Her drinking partners are slowing down, focusing closely on wrapping their hands around cans and lifting them carefully.
Lilly takes advantage of their inattention and looks around the space. She notices that one of the rooms off the hall just outside this one has been converted into what seems to be a prison cell. This is some sort of factory ship; brigs do not come standard on those. The door has a standard Dominion key lock, but there is also a slot cut into it, just the right size for a tray of food to go through. Lilly can think of no other explanation for a door like that than to hold a prisoner. She lets the contest go one more drink.
“Yeah, Cold Fusion is the best!” Kofi slurs out. At least, that is what Lilly thinks he says. It is getting harder to tell.
“Whoa,” Naja says as her can crashes into the table, the movement too quick for her muscles to control.
With both those two barely able to find their faces with their beers, Lilly decides this is a good time to poke around. That other guy still has his nose in his book, and as long as she does not make too much noise, she doubts she will draw his attention. She stands up and wobbles a bit herself, definitely tipsy, then weaves over to the suspicious door. Once there, she hunches over and peeks through the slot.
The tight room definitely looks like it was lived in. There is a small cot and the remains of a meal, but no one is in it right now. Perhaps the giant tear in the back wall, large enough for a person to squeeze through, has something to do with that. It looks like something has rent that wall open, a claw perhaps. “Huh,” Lilly breathes.
And it is at that moment that she feels a tap on her shoulder and hears, “What do you think you’re doing?”