The guard Larry escorts Imogen and Lilly around the corner of the cliff face where they come upon a group of a couple dozen ragged people. There are no children here, just adults in their middle years, maybe thirties through fifties, though it is a little hard to tell because outdoor living has taken a toll on them. Some of them have the watchful, military-bearing as those Imogen and Lilly have encountered so far, but not all. The other guard Charles is here, and he is not the only one holding a slapdash spear. Some others have knives or primitive axes. Unsurprisingly, there is no sign of guns of any kind. Spearmint is in the general vicinity, emptying out his sack into a pile that is clearly fated to go into one of the fires. At his feet are control boards and other scraps of technology, most notably the battery that Snowball needs.
Charles is speaking with a silver-haired woman whose olive complexion is lined with wrinkles. She is wearing the same rags as everyone else, but there is a definite air of authority about her. “We can’t let these infidels continue to desecrate our land,” she snaps at him. She turns to some other elders gathered around her. “We’ve made so much progress against the zerg! But they’ve brought their foul technology, and it’s stirring up the zerg. Salvation comes only through the fire goddess. She brought the zerg; she is the one who can take them away. We will burn their technology, and we will erase these demons of the past.”
Imogen evaluates the performance, no stranger to the many ways to manipulate others for one’s own ends. This woman is not making a passionate plea to convince anyone at the moment; she is just telling them what is going to happen, leaving no room for question or debate. Lieutenant Spearmint over on the side is slowly shaking his head to himself with a frown as he continues offloading valuable technology to be destroyed. He does not seem to buy into what Marsha is saying, but what about the woman herself? Does she believe it? Or is it just a convenient fiction to control those around her? Imogen has no need to upset the social structure here; she does not care how this group organizes itself. She just wants what she wants.
As Larry ushers Imogen and Lilly up to the cluster of people, Marsha says, “So you’re the two causing trouble. Stirring up zerg.”
“I believe the zerg are the ones causing trouble. But we’re here to help you with that!” Imogen begins brightly.
Marsha sighs. “You brought a science vessel, the most technological of things.”
“Let me pose a question to you. Have you been attacked by zerg on this planet?”
“Aye!” Imogen replies cheerfully.
We’ve been attacked by zerg on every planet… Lilly thinks.
“You were already attacked! You should know better by now! This is what attracts the zerg. The only cure is removing the technology.”
Imogen hears the sincerity in the woman’s voice and decides to approach her as someone who believes what she is saying. Mystical goddess talk aside, if Marsha thinks technology is the root of her world’s ills, that is what Imogen will address. “Aye, technology is a problem, and the zerg want it. As we have already seen, they’re keen for our science vessel. We’d be happy to help you out by taking this dangerous technology away from your world.” Imogen gestures toward the pile of technology near Spearmint where the crucial battery is. “We can take it off-planet and lead the zerg away.”
Lilly nods. She has got no problem leading zerg on a merry chase, though she wonders whether they really are attracted to technology. No zerg have attacked Saffron while she has been on the ground here. She has noticed that that Spearmint guy does not seem totally onboard with this cult thing. Maybe she can just trade him his stuff for the battery, and then she and Imogen can go. Lilly has no intention of leaving Imogen by herself with a mob of crazy nutjobs, but things seem to have settled into talking now, rather than waving weapons around, so a little bit of separation should be safe enough. With Imogen and this Marsha lady the focus of attention, Lilly just casually fades back a bit.
“We can lure the zerg away,” Imogen reiterates.
“I see what you are getting at,” Marsha acknowledges, “but it is not going to work, and we’re all going to die. Just your science vessel being here is calling out to the zerg. You don’t understand. You weren’t here. Where are you from? Umoja? That place is probably overrun by zerg by now.” Marsha barrels onward, not allowing Imogen a rebuttal. “I was there. I saw her. I saw the fire goddess call down the zerg upon our world with a piece of technology we had never seen before.”
Again with this fire goddess thing… Is she talking about the Queen of Blades? Imogen wonders. She does not have a firm grasp of the timeline of important Confederate/Dominion events, but she is pretty sure the Antiga rebellion was early on, sometime before Kerrigan took over the Swarm. Marsha might have had a vision. Maybe even something protoss-induced, if they were here too as the presence of the bengalaas suggests.
Marsha continues, “Or are you telling me that it is pure chance that one moment—suppose it is just a regular woman—a ghost shows up in our base, and not six hours later, a swarm of zerg descends on our planet? No, I tell you she had some device that gave off emanations we had never before recorded. So you see, these kinds of technologies attract zerg. We figured it out: no technology, no zerg. It gives us a chance to slowly root them out, and we’re making progress. But if you bring your science vessel and other such things to this planet, that only makes it more dangerous for us!”
Imogen’s laser-focus on the battery dissipates in a single moment. There is some sort of psionic zerg-attracting device here? Where’s that?! She starts mentally running through possible scenarios. Maybe the protoss had something that attracted zerg, and some terran ghost swiped it and set it off here. Oh, and maybe the fire goddess idea came from some sort of psionically-projected shielding that the ghost had. That would be great to uncover evidence of. Marsha’s underlying argument—the part about the technology, not the fire goddess—is sounding more and more reasonable to Imogen, and if that device is still around and functioning and psionic… “There was a device, a specific device, that you saw in a specific location here that attracted zerg?” Imogen asks intensely. “Tell me where it is! We can deal with that. I am equipped to handle things like that in ways that you couldn’t possibly. Just throwing it into a fire is not going to completely deal with that issue. That’s not terran technology. None of your Dominion or Confederate technology is sufficiently advanced. Our guns and those batteries are not on a level that the zerg would care about or else they would have come hundreds of years ago. But you saw what was probably a protoss device, and it makes total sense that something like that would draw zerg in. Tell us where it was, and we’ll go and get it and take it out of here!”
Sounds like a good plan to Lilly, as long as it fits in the ship. Maybe Jimmy would want it for the raiders to use. Or they could give it to Malorn. He would probably know what to do with it, or at least how to turn it off.
This foreigner sounds arrogant and a little too eager to use technology, but she is offering a long-term solution, even if she is ignorant. Marsha cannot just dismiss her, not yet. “You still don’t understand,” she tells the Umojan. “I was there, okay? I used to be a Confederate officer.” She gestures around at her fellow survivors. “Everyone knows; it’s not hidden. I literally saw her. She had a device that was definitely of Confederate manufacture. The protoss didn’t come until later, which we’d heard they tend to do after zerg arrive. No, this was definitely Sons of Korhal—sons of bitches—terrorists calling down the zerg using whatever this device was. I don’t know how they did it, but now all technology is suspect. The only thing safe is iron. That’s how we’ve been fighting the zerg for five years, and we’ve slowly whittled down their numbers, destroyed their hives. We’re winning that war. We will be able to retake this planet. But not if you call more zerg here!”
Marsha loses her cool, pressing on with more heat, “You’re just a stupid foreigner, a stupid kid; you don’t understand. Your planet wasn’t destroyed by terrorists and zerg and protoss! You don’t get it! You don’t know! But you made the dumb decision to come here with all your dangerous things, so we’ve got to destroy all those things.”
It’s a good thing they don’t know where we’ve parked, Lilly thinks.
Imogen looks around at their audience. She does not know the social structures here, but if this woman does not have sole authority, then Imogen needs to start pitching her words to them, as well. Otherwise, with Marsha in full-on rant mode, all hope of a peaceful resolution here will be lost. Beneath the leader’s diatribe, Imogen picks out some murmurs from the others. It is a mixed bag: some listeners want to reclaim their planet, while others just want out of a bad situation. And some have not indicated their preference at all.
“Yeah, if we could just deal with the source…” one man says, “That might work actually, save us a lot of trouble.”
“Why don’t we just leave?” a younger woman asks. “They have a ship! We didn’t have a ship before. We had no way to contact the outside world.” Her volume increases as her frustration becomes more apparent. “We kept destroying all the radios!”
Imogen has discerned the four people she truly needs to target, and she turns partially away from Marsha so that they will feel more like part of the conversation. “She’s making decisions on partial information,” Imogen tells them, before directing her argument back at Marsha. “Sure, you saw a device used, you saw zerg come. But what grounds do you have to declare that iron is the only safe thing? That one piece of technology is a problem, not all electronics. Human beings have been using radio waves for hundreds and hundreds of years! You are thinking small, and your people are suffering because of that.” Imogen turns to the others. “There are other viable solutions to this problem. We can look for that device. We could take it off your planet. Also, you all have been here for years. Dominion zerg-fighting tactics have progressed. You’re actually making things harder for yourselves by fighting with spears when there are better military options.” Imogen taps into some of the things she has picked up from Lilly and the more martial folks they have dealt with. “They’ve upgraded the armor on firebats so that they can be on the frontlines to take out zerglings. Sensor suites like the one in our ship can detect zerg that are underground before they pop up and attack people. There are all these solutions to your problem that you have excluded based on extrapolations from one crazy device causing trouble.”