“What do you think you’re doing?” Booker asks Lilly as she is leaning over looking through the food slot in the brig door. Naja may have welcomed her aboard, but he is not as pleased about their old shipmate being here.
Lilly straightens to her full height, head and shoulders over this dude. “I can’t get into this bathroom,” she slurs, laying it on thick. “I gotta go!”
He rolls his eyes and then grabs her shoulder, spinning her to face down the hallway. “Over there on the left. It’s the same place in every factory.”
Lilly follows his directions to maintain her story but also because she drank a lot of beer. While she is on the can itself, the room lurches. “Oh, shit!” Lilly catches herself against the wall. It is not just all the alcohol; the whole outpost is shaking. Footsteps pound down the hall. Quickly, she finishes up and returns to the corridor. No one is out there anymore, but she hears voices from another room shouting about getting the power to full. In the drinking room, she sees Naja and her lackey trying to sit up and doing a poor job of it.
Lilly still has not found Imogen’s brother, and this seems to her like a good time to go for a look. Then she remembers the hole in the brig. He might not even be on the ship. But I’m on the ship! The drunken logic is slowly catching up to her, as she realizes everyone of importance might be on the planet, and she is not. Lilly decides to make the best of the situation and search around for Aiden, just in case he is hiding somewhere aboard. Or maybe she will find something else useful, some salvage after all.
Lilly stumbles around a bit, partly from being tipsy and partly from the ship’s rough flight. She passes the hatchway up to the engine room where she can hear three of the crew are using the pushy interface to keep the building up in the air. One of them says, “I think we can land on that cliff over there. We’ll be out of the mist, and we won’t be too far.”
Lilly continues down the corridor and through the haze of alcohol finally recognizes the place as a refurbished factory, just like the guy with the book said. It should have a manufacturing room, an engine room, a roll-out room, and some sleeping quarters, in addition to the rec room. She heads to the manufacturing room, figuring it will have a lot of places to hide. There are some large crates there, along with big robotic arms mounted on the wall to make assembling things easier. Lilly drunkenly imagines using them to pick up Aiden and remove him from the ship, but there is no sign of him here. If he’s not on this ship, then we’re looking in the wrong place, she worries.
* * *
Imogen and Lief find themselves in a maintenance sub-level criss-crossed with pipes, some hot, some cold, most unlabeled. The ceiling is low enough that moving about involves an awkward half-crouch. They hear distant shouting and the stomp of feet above. Light filters in here and there from small gratings. Imogen concentrates psionically, trying to determine how many beings are around and where they are. All she is able to tell is that there is one terran in the room over their heads. She and Lief need to find an empty room to emerge into, so that one is out of the question. Given that, Imogen decides it is time to make contact with their inside person. There is probably no satellite network here on Jarban Minor, but Lilly is close enough that their comms should work in walkie-talkie mode. They do not have any protocols in place, but Imogen clicks hers a couple times to attract Lilly’s attention, trusting her friend’s judgment on whether or not it is safe to talk.
“Whuz up, lady?” comes the reply.
That does not sound like everything is fine with Lilly. Imogen thinks again about how Aiden’s mind felt when she sensed it earlier, confused and affected by something. Maybe they are drugging people on this ship. The short response is not enough for Imogen to judge whether Lilly is alone or under duress, and she does not want to give away to any pirates who might be listening that an Owendoher is around. Lilly told the pirates she had her own crew now, so Imogen decides to run with that. She does her best to disguise her Umojan accent with a Dominion one, but it comes out a mangled mess. “Are y’all safe to talk right now, Captain Washington?”
Whoa, Imogen is talking really strange! Lilly thinks. But, hey, sometimes she stares off into space, so… oh, I should reply. “Yeah, I’m in some sort of make-it room. And I found where I think they’re holding Aiden, but he’s not there.”
Imogen rolls her eyes. That is just an elaborate way of saying you did not find Aiden! she thinks, but she holds her tongue.
“There’s a hole where they’re holding him,” Lilly continues.
“Wait, you think you found where they were holding Aiden, but there’s a what? A blast hole? A cut hole? What type of hole?”
Alone in her room, Lilly shrugs. “Kind of like it was ripped open. It was big enough—”
“Was this an internal wall or an external wall?”
“I could see the outside. I don’t know if he got out or if he’s still on the ship.”
Oh man, we could be looking in completely the wrong place! Imogen thinks. She sighs in frustration. “I’m on the ship.”
“Me too!” Lilly replies, stumbling a little in her excitement.
Imogen hears a clatter over the radio at the same time as there is a thump above and realizes that the single being she sensed was Lilly. “Lief and I are going to look for a way up into your room from down here. See if you can find anything from your side.”
“Oh, you’re down there? Whoa.” Lilly stomps a little, feeling a bit better now that she knows she did not leave her companions behind on a zerg-infested planet.
Lief, who was looking around while Imogen spoke with Lilly, points his cousin toward a hatch. She undoes it, but when it swings down they see something much larger is sitting atop it.
“You’re on the ship?” crackles over Imogen’s comm. She takes her wrench and bangs above her. Lilly follows the noise to a large crate, longer than she is tall. While Imogen and Lief push from below, Lilly tries to shove it, but it is way too heavy. It is not welded in place, but the crate itself is made of metal and it feels full. She pops it open. “Oooooh-ho-ho-ho-ho!” The crate is full of spider mines. “Awesome!”
The mines are the size of beach balls but with four little legs on which they run after their targets when they are triggered. These ones are all currently deactivated. Lilly begins carefully lifting them out of the crate so that it will be light enough to move. One of them ends up in her backpack. She is not a thief, but she figures she is owed a little back pay from the old pirate gang.
Based on the clanging above, Imogen assumes that Lilly is doing something about unblocking their way. With nothing to do down below deck, Imogen’s thoughts return to what Lilly said about the tear in the outside wall of the cell. A new pair of possibilities occurs to her, neither of which she likes. Aiden, stumbling around in perhaps mind-altering mists on a planet full of zerg… or Aiden in that building, zerg-infested himself and changing, just like Ted did. She needs a clue to where he is, and trying to tune into his emotions will not be sufficient. She has to try to access his surface-level thoughts, something that is not easy to do even for a target right in front of her. But this is her brother; she has to try.
Imogen concentrates, reaching out psionically. She has no idea where Aiden is, just that he is probably on this planet somewhere. There is shaking and clanging and time pressure. This is completely unlike her earlier successful attempt on Saffron, where she had all the time in the world, soothing music, and the comfort of her own room. She cannot get a lock of him, and her mind is overwhelmed by some sort of backlash. From what, she is not sure. She might even have done it to herself. Regardless, there is a sharp pain in her head, and she feels something hot and wet on her upper lip. Imogen raises a hand and finds that her nose is bleeding as light bursts into the cramped crawl space and the smell of alcohol wafts down; Lilly has pushed the crate aside.