After lunch, as soon as Imogen suggests they go ahead and run the sensor sweep, Lilly preps the ship for launch. Even if they cannot find signs of Spearmint, there might be other signs of active civilization. They fly eastward since that was the direction Spearmint’s tracks were going when they lost his scent. They run a broad pattern search first, just to see what it will hit on. There are definitely more zerg out that way, beyond where the Exploracorp science facility lies. Thankfully, these zerg are on the ground, not careening suicidally through the air at Saffron. That seems to be enough for Lilly, who smiles happily as she flies them around. Imogen keeps her focus on the screens though. Creep spreads out below them, not as much as on Redstone III or Mar Sara, but enough to be a problem. There are some zerg structures below, along with some zerglings and hydralisks. Imogen even observes a few spine crawlers, but she sees no hives. The relatively low number of zerg below fits with that; without hives, zerg cannot replenish their forces, and attrition actually becomes a viable strategy. The primary problem when dealing with zerg on a planetary scale is that when you take one down, there are always two more.
Further east, beyond the zerg, the sensors report heat signatures, and terran eyes can pick out large smoky plumes to match. Someone has built three enormous fires. Pyres, maybe. It is not unreasonable to expect that a terran who knew the territory would be able to get this distance from the militia firebase in half a day on foot. Imogen gets a sinking feeling that this is where their batteries have ended up. And of course, there is no convenient starport nearby. Their choices are to land on some cliffs here or go back to the ruins and then spend half a day hiking through zerg-infested territory to get back here. Imogen does not really like either option.
“You want me to crash at the cliff?” Lilly offers.
“I’d rather you land, lass.”
“All right. We can try that.”
Imogen requests that Lilly try to bring Saffron in at the bottom of one of the cliffs. It might put them within range of something unfriendly, being so close to the pyres, but she does not want these people to have a chance to run while she and Lilly fumble their way down a cliff face.
Lilly does not see what the big deal is; they have climbing gear, after all. But she agrees, as a lower landing will also make a getaway easier. “If you’ve got a plan, you got it.”
“My plans are always the same,” Imogen admits. “I’ll talk to them until they give up.”
The terrain is such that they can approach unobserved, using the system of ridges for cover. However, a series of updrafts buffet the science vessel, and Lilly is forced to redirect the ship upwards. Imogen pays close attention to the sheer surface as they pass it, resigned to climbing down it in the near future. Parking on the flat mesa top turns out to be much easier, and no one seems to have noticed their approach, including any zerg. There is a lot of smoke coming off the fires, which has provided a useful screen. Unfortunately, it also limits how much information Lilly and Imogen can get on the situation they will be walking into. The sensors report the chemical profile of the smoke along with likely fuels. Wood is on that list but so also plastic. It will certainly smell horrible, but Imogen does not think it is a short-term health risk. Still, they have the filter masks, so they might as well bring them.
Lilly anchors the climbing gear at the top of the cliff and then heads down without any trouble, calling up some advice on the best route. Imogen attempts to replicate the feat, but she is neither as strong nor as well-balanced as Lilly, and her climb soon turns into an uncontrolled fall. Lilly swiftly steps up to intervene between her partner and the ground, but she can do nothing about the outcroppings Imogen knocks herself into as she comes down. Her actual landing is cushioned by Lilly, but she is scraped up and rattled by the fall. I see now why she wanted to land down here, Lilly reflects as she pulls out a painkiller and jabs it into Imogen, then patches her up a bit with the medkit. It was a nasty fall, but Imogen is tougher than she looks and soldiers on.