The room into which Selendis leads lmogen and Lilly is stark, especially in contrast to the colorful and sophisticated medical room. These walls are a light blue color and unusually uniform with no metallic or crystalline flourishes. The room is just large enough to contain a table with two seats near the far wall and one seat on the door side. The chairs are ideal protoss height, meaning Lilly is fine, but Imogen’s feet dangle. Selendis takes the seat opposite, and two guards remain, taking up positions behind her.
“You are both well now, correct?” Selendis asks.
“Yes, ma’am.” Lilly has still got some stiffness and aches, but she is sure she will be fine.
“Aye.” Imogen’s glances around the room, surreptitiously looking for if there are any restraints here or other indications of what is to come. The protoss have not taken away her or Lilly’s weapons, but maybe that is because they do not consider the terrans a combat threat.
“That is good. The ursadon you managed to subdue—somewhat impressively—may be of use to some of the researchers,” Selendis acknowledges. “Now then, you stole one of our hoversleds.”
“I did not steal a hoversled,” Imogen objects calmly. “Mehsir was starting to get the ursadon all together, and I told him I was going to go after Lilly and Sunshine since they were wounded. I was just picking them up while he was getting the ursadon ready. I had the sled back in time.”
“Your ability to confuse Mehsir does not mean you are not a thief.”
“I’m not a thief! I didn’t run off with it. We went out specifically for the purpose of recovering those three beings, and I did that. And it certainly isn’t Lilly’s fault if you do decide that what I did was wrong.”
“What is your true purpose here?” Selendis demands. “Was it to test your abilities on our technology?” Selendis turns to Lilly then. “You’ve been far more discreet than your associate. What illicit activities have you done here? The more forthcoming you are, the easier it is for all of us.”
“Yes, ma’am.” As far as Lilly knows, they are talking about her cave incident. She must just want to hear me say it, Lilly figures. She decides to fully own up to her irresponsible behavior. “I took Sunshine further than I should have, after you warned me. And one of the storms came up, just like you said it would. And I went into the cave to find shelter with Sunshine, and we ran into the bear thing, just like you said was going to be a problem. It was dumb.”
“You were more effective than I bargained for,” Selendis allows. “Yes, those are all very mundane things that you did.” Imogen is confident now that this is all about her psionic use of protoss equipment. She can feel the frustration coming off Selendis as Lilly replays her pedestrian transgressions. “This was clearly an attempt to hijack a piece of our technology.”
“It wasn’t an elaborate ploy!” Imogen insists.
“You schemed to get alone with one of my civilians even, not one of my templars. All for what? To test drive your abilities? Or was it just for a joyride?! Not even for a purpose?”
Man, she is really touchy about this car, Lilly thinks. It’s not Imogen’s fault they didn’t have security on it.
A lot of what Selendis has said has been spot on, but Imogen nevertheless insists, “The purpose was to recover Lilly and Sunshine. As Mehsir would say if you talk to him, we went out to pick up my wounded companions and the ursadon. And what did I do with the car? I picked up my wounded companions while he was getting the ursadon. Aye, I did scratch it on the way back when it got a little out of control. I’m sorry for that, and I’ll pay for damages. But there’s nothing nefarious here. We came to this world to return one of your countrymen. We’re not spies. And certainly anything Lilly did is mundane.” Imogen echoes Selendis’s own word choice there, hoping that the protoss will understand her meaning without Imogen needing to expose her psionic capabilities to Lilly.
Mundane? Lilly wonders. It is not like she chokes out bears every day, but she has wrestled quite a few animals in her time with Imogen.
Selendis takes a moment responding. “You say all these things… You simply do not understand that we are in constant communication with Mehsir through the Khala. So, yes, I got to see exactly what happened, how you fooled him. I should have remembered that terrans are very clever creatures, not to be underestimated. Yes, you returned one of our brethren to us as a refugee—an excellent part of your scheme. If we so choose, we could imprison you. We could obliterate you. But that’s not what I’m going to do right now. If you are simply honest and forthright with us, it will save us all a great deal of time and discomfort.”
To Lilly, it seems like Selendis is returning to her suspicions of when they first landed. The base leader is accusing them of being spies, suggesting that returning Arudin was just about getting an opportunity to poke around and maybe steal tech or information. Lilly feels bad that she has gotten Imogen in trouble with her over all this. “Arudin and I hunted for the bengalaas together. I couldn’t just leave him behind,” Lilly says earnestly. “He’s a teammate; I’m not just gonna leave him on a planet to rot.”
Lillian Washington’s words sound genuine to Selendis, and she feels a bit of pity for this ignorant terran. She has realized by now that her two prisoners are not a unified front. Helping Arudin really was a legitimate activity from Lillian Washington’s perspective, and Imogen Owedoher has said some things that suggest her psionic powers are not known to her partner.
The best case scenario from Imogen’s perspective would be for Selendis to just let them both go, but that is extremely unlikely. Still, if she can get Selendis to let just Lilly go, that would be valuable. If Imogen has to talk frankly with these protoss about what she did, she does not want Lilly present. “I think we can both agree,” she says to Selendis, “that Lilly’s not at fault here. We can perhaps have a more frank discussion if my companion is released.” Selendis interrogating her is a way to learn more about psionics. By the questions she asks and the things she accuses Imogen of, she will reveal information herself. It is true: Imogen is a spy, a spy on her own behalf.
Fleet Commander Selendis narrows her eyes. She regards the small, glib terran treating this interrogation as though it were a conversation between equals. With her years of training and the strength of the Khala backing her, Selendis induces feedback in Imogen Owendoher’s mind. It is a very directed attack that uses the target’s own power against themself. Their mind is flooded by their own thoughts as they rebound uncontrollably.
Lilly’s going to find out. Lilly’s going to find out. Lilly’s going to find out, reverberates through Imogen’s head, each repetition throbbing like a migraine.
Lilly watches the staredown between Imogen and Selendis, waiting to see who will talk next. It is quiet for far longer than she expects, and she concludes that Selendis is figuring out their punishment. Imogen continues to watch the protoss, and Lilly can see the sheen of sweat on her brow. She is probably worried, and Lilly can understand why; Selendis is an imposing officer. Lilly can usually be patient—or maybe distracted—but instead of waiting for one of the more talky people to step up, she breaks the silence, offering mitigating circumstances to soften the sentencing. “Sunshine was bleeding pretty heavily, and there was a lot of blood. It probably looked really bad. That’s probably why Imogen borrowed the car to get to us faster,” she suggests, trying again to make Selendis understand that this is all Lilly’s own fault. She realizes that the issue is the car, more than how she wandered off, but she does not know why. Maybe there’s something they’re hiding out there. Either in the caves or on the mountain…
Selendis turns her attention to Lillian Washington and waves her hand dismissively. “That is not my concern.”
Taking cars must be a really big deal to them, Lilly reflects.
Imogen’s mind goes suddenly silent when Selendis redirects her attention. It is clear to Imogen that the protoss has done some sort of attack and then let it lapse. Imogen is by no means keen to undergo that again. She does take brief pleasure in having gained the knowledge that it is possible, but the stakes here are now quite clear. Selendis has demonstrated that she is willing to hurt them, and Lilly would not even understand what was happening during such an attack. “We don’t need to keep doing this,” she tells Selendis. “I’ll tell you what you want to know, but Lilly’s not involved in any of this,” Imogen reiterates. “Let her go see to Sunshine, and we can have a more productive conversation.” Selendis narrows her eyes at Imogen again for a moment, but she agrees to the compromise, telling Lilly that she is free to visit with her lyote. Lilly looks questioningly at Imogen, who issues a simple order. “Go.”
“All right,” Lilly agrees, though she watches Imogen for a moment longer, just to make sure she does not change her mind. Imogen seems to have a plan, so Lilly will trust her judgment.
As Lilly gets up to leave, Selendis suggests she spend her time helping the researchers understand the anatomy of the lyote and answering any of their questions about the juvenile ursadon. “Don’t worry about the hoversled,” Selendis adds. “The damage to it is superficial.”
Lilly pauses at the door and turns back to Selendis to make one last try at getting them out of this trouble. “We didn’t go to the mountain,” she insists, in case that is where the protoss have their big secret.
“That’s good,” Selendis says, a little confused. “There are more ursadons living up there. You may not have survived—”
“We didn’t see anything over there,” Lilly says meaningfully, “if that’s what you’re worried about. And whatever it is, we don’t care about it.”
Lillian Washington has been completely upfront with Selendis this whole time, and she appreciates her honesty. This terran, at least, is trustworthy. “I understand, Lillian Washington. You’re very good at what you do. You take excellent care of your animals. You took the lyote out on a walk because your creature—your pet—wanted that. That went against my advice, but that doesn’t mean you were incorrect; you still made the right call. We’re going to talk with your associate here, but we know you’re blameless. You will not have any problem. Please—”
“Imogen was with me the whole time, except for when she was driving. I trust her; she’s my teammate.”
“Perhaps this was all an accident,” Selendis allows. “I will discuss it more with your colleague to better understand the situation and make sure that no one is injured any further. You are dismissed, Lillian Washington.”
Lilly does not feel good about leaving Imogen alone, but this woman is a fleet commander, and she has issued a clear order. “Yes, ma’am.”