A river and a significant zerg presence lie between the camp of the anti-technology survivors and the location of the device that Imogen and Lilly have agreed to destroy. Flying seems the best way to get there. Accompanied by a group of spear-wielding guards, they head back toward Saffron with their chaperone Spearmint. Although Imogen is not looking forward to climbing back up the cliff, she feels better about having parked at the top now. She breathes a sigh of relief when the entourage balks at scaling the rockface. Part of her was worried that this might have all been a trick to smash up her already bruised science vessel.
Lilly leads the way up, unnerved by all the eyes on her. When she reaches the top, she looks back down and sees that Imogen is having trouble even getting started. “Out of the way,” Spearmint grumbles at her partner. She moves back, giving him space, and it quickly becomes apparent that the former quartermaster is quite familiar with this area. As he quickly scrambles up, Lilly preps the climbing gear. Once Spearmint is clear, she lowers the harness down to Imogen as back-up in case the less agile woman slips again. Benefitting from the support of Lilly’s belaying and the knowledge of Spearmint’s route, Imogen makes it up with just one minor scare when some rocks crumble down on her and she slips.
Up on the mesa, Spearmint eyes the science vessel warily, and Lilly watches him similarly. Clearly he is not aligned with the rest of that cult, but that does not mean he is trustworthy. And he looks pretty tough. If he found an opportunity, he might try to hijack Saffron and blast out of here. Lilly quickly steps up to Saffron before he can approach the ship. The door is locked, but she still wants to be sure she gets aboard before he does.
Imogen extracts herself from the climbing harness and dusts herself off. When she looks up, she notices Spearmint’s anxious demeanor. She imagines the last few years must have been rough for him. Even if he did not buy into Marsha’s drivel, he was still subjected to it over and over again, which might lead him to subconsciously distrust technology. A science vessel is about as techy as a ship can get, and he likely has not flown in years. He grips his spear tightly, clearly nervous. “Don’t worry,” Imogen assures him. “I’ve checked out all the systems myself. There’s no trouble with her. Got us here all the way from Korhal, she did.”
That seems to knock him out of his funk, but not in the way she expected. “What were you doing on a backwater world like Korhal? That place is a nuclear wasteland.”
Korhal is backwater? Imogen throws a questioning look to her partner. “Isn’t it your capital?”
Lilly shrugs. “Yeah.”
“What’s been going on for the past five years?” Spearmint demands.
“I’m not sure I’m the right person to describe that for you,” Imogen replies, completely aware of how little she knows about how the Dominion works. “I guess you haven’t really been getting—”
“Haven’t been getting news reports. No, no, I haven’t,” Spearmint grinds out. “Don’t have a radio. Or a newspaper.”
“Well, Korhal’s the capital,” Lilly says. She opens up the ship, and as she heads inside, she calls back over her shoulder, “Don’t touch anything.” Her hand rests on her gun… just in case.
Imogen invites the Antigan aboard Saffron. While Lilly readies the ship at the pilot station, Imogen talks with Spearmint by the workbench. She is not sure why he volunteered to join them, having been more focused on her debate with Marsha than on Lilly’s hushed conversation with him. She asks if he has ever been to the coordinates Marsha gave them, and he explains that he was there once, back when he helped deliver the device. Imogen perks up at that. “Oh! So what can you tell us about it?”
“That it’s terrible,” Spearmint growls.
“I meant descriptively, to help us find it,” Imogen clarifies. He stretches out his arms to demonstrate the size. The ghost was able to carry it herself in a backpack, so it is likely not that heavy. But he reiterates that it is a terrible thing and they have to destroy it. “Do you know anything about how it was turned on?” Imogen asks. “Were you there too? Did you see this lady of flames?”
“The ghost.” Spearmint says that she was the only one entrusted with details about the device. “I was part of the escort, not that she needed one. Clean-up crew, more like.”
“So do you know what the purpose for it was?” Imogen asks. Marsha said it called the zerg, but Imogen thinks surely that must have been some sort of side effect. No terrans would willingly summon zerg to one of their own planets, would they?
“To attract zerg! Yes, and it is very good at what it does.”
“So it was intentional? Was there already a civil war going on at that point?” Dominion history is not Imogen’s strong suit.
“Oh yes, oh yes. We were rebelling against the Confederates. Got some help from this terrorist group. They claimed they could help out with a new weapon. Didn’t really know until the last minute that their weapon was the zerg!” After that outburst, Spearmint falls back to muttering. “Sons of Korhal… lots of red…. Let’s see, who was their…? Uh…. M-m-m-mengsk! Yeah, he was their leader.”
“They summoned zerg to your world?” Imogen does not try to conceal how appalling that sounds to her.
“Using this device, yes! Gotta give them credit, the zerg did a great job cutting up the Confederates. But then they kept on going. You can’t stop the zerg, understand?”
“Was this the first zerg attack?” Imogen asks, trying to sort out the sequence of events. “Or they were already known to be around?”
“We had heard news reports of other planets that had been attacked by these strange beasts and then these other aliens that came to clean up,” Spearmint tells her.
“Ah, well, I have some bad news for you,” Imogen starts.
“Lady, ain’t no news I can hear that’s worse than what I’m living through right now.” Imogen tells him that Mengsk actually runs the sector these days. “What do you mean?” Spearmint demands. “It was supposed to be a rebellion against the Confederacy. Every world would then… what do you mean?” His tone grows more intense.
“I’m not from around here…” Imogen hedges, “so I’m not really sure the order of things—”
“He’s the emperor,” Lilly states flat-out, piping up from the other side of the central console.
Spearmint’s eyes go wide. “Emperor! What!? That’s outrageous! That, that wasn’t part of the deal. That’s not, not what he said!” His stutter is more pronounced with his increased agitation.
“Don’t look at me,” Lilly says. It is not her fault, at least as far as she knows. Although, she might have fought on his side… Sometimes it seems like she fought on everybody’s side at one point or another.
“My planet’s not part of this empire,” Imogen adds defensively when Spearmint turns to her.
“How many more worlds did he summon zerg to?” he demands. Imogen shrugs. She has heard people suggest that Mengsk might use the zerg as a tool, but she had no idea that he really had. “He’s a terrorist! It wasn’t worth it to ally with him to overthrow the Confederates,” Spearmint grumbles.
“These days, the people trying to overthrow him are generally viewed as the terrorists,” Imogen observes.
“Who’s trying to overthrow him? Confederate remnants? Can we call them here? I’ll take it, I don’t care.” Spearmint would return to Antiga under the Confederacy, just to have Antiga again. “Or if not them, someone new. Who’s new? Is there someone who can wipe out the zerg on this world?” His rapidfire questions are accompanied by the rattle of his spearbutt tapping the floor panels.
Is this guy on drugs or what? Lilly wonders. Spearmint has an intensity about him, a wildness that is off-putting. “Dude, relax. Enjoy the flight.”
Imogen winces at the word choice. No, of course he cannot just enjoy the flight, not after what he has been through. The hand clutching the spear has white knuckles, and the other similarly grips the counter. Spearmint has a constant subtle shake about him. Even people with normal lives can get nervous when flying, and he has been through enough trauma to cause severe PTSD. He clearly lost a lot in the fall of Antiga, his family, his friends, his whole society. Imogen chose to leave those things behind when she left Umoja, so she does not suffer the way he does, but she can certainly empathize with the loss. Combined with all that, there is also the uncertainty of hope as he learns about potential new solutions to his world’s problems. This man will have to be handled carefully.