FRAWD Investigators: Antiga Antics | Scene 20

Saffron breaks through the clouds above the former Confederate base where they expect to find the beacon. As expected from the sensor readings, the vast majority of the area is covered in creep. Little mesas protrude from it here and there, providing potential landing sites, but ones that would require more climbing. The ship is still too high for them to pick out details with the naked eye, but using the optical sensors, they are able to zoom in on a clearing surrounded by several infested buildings. A group of zerg is gathered in a formation of sorts, like a terran regiment, moving in a surprisingly orderly and rectangular fashion. Marching is the word that comes to mind, and it is bewildering. Zerg just do not do this sort of thing. Zerglings form the vanguard, with hydralisks making up the rest of the unit. As the terrans watch in amazement, the zerg perform a half-wheel left and continue parading in the new direction.

“That is not how zerg work,” Lilly states. Zerg do not learn; you cannot train them. No zerg would just march back and forth. Nevermind that one is doing so in her quarters right now. These zerg do not seem to have cranial implants, at any rate. They are also more ragged and beat up than one usually finds. The lack of hives has impacted their ability to replenish their ranks.

Lilly and Imogen scan the area, looking for signs of the beaconing device itself. Tucked away against the cliff wall of one of the mesas is an object of the expected size, complete with two small rotating dishes. Unexpectedly, it is in the four-fingered hands of a protoss, who is manipulating its controls. The energy signature Saffron detects confirms that this is indeed the beacon. There is nothing about the protoss to indicate what faction he comes from. He has one psi-gauntlet but no fancy armor. Imogen takes some comfort from the fact that he is not equipped like a bloodhunter. “Maybe he’s controlling the behavior of the zerg here,” she suggests. 

As Lilly and Imogen continue to monitor the situation on the ground, the orderly zerg show breaks down. Some of the creatures start attacking each other, while others simply wander off. Right now the zerg are far enough from the protoss that this seems a good time to make a move on the beacon, even though that means landing on creep. Imogen tells Lilly to take the ship down.

“Wanna EMP it before we crash?” Lilly asks. The weapon’s range is definitely long enough to hit the ground before the ship does.

“Aye. That’s a good starting point. Center it on the protoss.” If he has cloaking technology, it will also get scrambled, preventing him from sneaking away with the beacon. 

Lilly fires the weapon, and a missile launches from Saffron. The science vessel itself stays high enough to be outside the range of the EMP when it triggers fifty feet above the ground. Sparks play across the beaconing device as it fizzles to a halt. There is also a play of flickering light around the protoss, and they realize they have also knocked out an energy shield. He looks up, scanning the skies for the source of the malfunction and igniting his psi-blade. So psi-gauntlets are not affected by the EMP, Imogen reflects. Good to know. 

For the most part, the zerg ignore the EMP, as it has no effect on biological matter. Some hydralisks take note of the missile, but when its explosion does not harm them, they resume their previous activities. All but one. As Lilly brings the ship down, he rushes in their direction, fortunately not as quickly as a scourge. Unfortunately, hydralisks are a lot more sturdy than the organic balls of explosive gas that were careening at them earlier, so Lilly is not sure that a single dose of the irradiator will be enough to take one down.

“We’ve got to land,” Imogen insists. “Either to confiscate that device or destroy it. Hopefully Saffron can take a spine or two.”

“One way to find out,” Lilly replies, firing as they come in on their landing approach. The hydralisk takes the hit and probably could have returned fire, but he gets the hint. His hide breaks out in sores, and he sinks down into the soothing creep. Whether his goal is to hide or to recover does not matter. They will not be sticking around long enough to find out.

“That creep is deeper than I thought,” Imogen murmurs, surprised at how the hydralisk has vanished as though into quicksand.

“Unless it’s solid rock, most zerg can just burrow through it,” Lilly volunteers.

Great, Imogen thinks, remembering the lurkers. Zerg could be anywhere.