The two guards escort Lilly from the interview room back to the veterinary center. Sunshine is asleep, still lightly sedated. A couple researchers stand around her, looking at readouts from the sensors lightly attached to the lyote.
“The fleet commander said you might have questions for me?” Lilly says when she comes up to the researchers. They turn their eyes to her and she hastily adds, “But she might have just been trying to get rid of me.”
“Oh! This is very fascinating. We don’t often have the opportunity to study mammals like this!” one of them replies excitedly. Lilly makes it clear that her knowledge of the physiology of lyotes and ursadons comes mainly from wrestling them. The researchers pepper her with questions nonetheless, asking to know about lifespan, litter size, typical resting heart rate, and so on.
Lilly knows far more about Sunshine’s behavior than she does about her biology. She tells the researchers about the toys Sunshine likes to play with and about her diet (a lot of MREs). That is not of great interest to the researchers, but when she tells them to watch their stuff because Sunshine steals things, they perk up. That is a sign of intelligence they had not known about.
“Now, this juvenile ursadon, how did you track it down?” the second researcher asks. “You were able to subdue it single-handedly?”
Lilly points out that the creature was not interested in eating MREs, and then she gets pretty worked up giving the blow-by-blow. “He hit me here,” she says, showing off the bruises she still has from the punch. “And then I jumped on his back to try to choke him out. Hit me into the wall a couple times.” The researchers make a note of this sign of intelligence. “Sunshine was barking and biting at him…” They ask how strong the ursadon seemed compared to a whole list of creatures Lilly has never heard of. Pulling on her own experience, she tells them it was a lot like getting hit by someone in power armor but that it did not hurt as much as getting stabbed by a hydralisk spine. That makes sense to the protoss, and they tell her she is lucky to be alive. Lilly does not dispute that.
The researchers follow this up with some hypothetical questions. “Now, what if its hide were twice as thick? How much more difficult would that have made your encounter?” Lilly muses on what that would mean for her knife and gun, which frankly were not that useful in the fight anyway. Her opinion is that choking the creature out would still be the way to go. They ask if she would have significantly changed her tactics if the ursadon had incredibly large tusks, but Lilly sticks with the method she used as the best approach. The protoss next bring up the size issue, asking how she would have handled one twice as large. At this point, Lilly agrees that her tactics would have needed to be different. Her legs were frozen, so she would not have been able to get on the back of an adult-sized ursadon. For a large one with tusks, she probably would have tried shooting first.
“You subdued an ursadon with flash-frozen legs?!” The researchers are very impressed.
“Yeah. Well, I mean, the ice came off when he smashed me against the wall,” she clarifies.
One of the protoss guards remains at the door to the room, but the other has drifted closer to listen to the discussion. He is more interested in the battle than in the ursadon. “I would have cut him open with my psi-gauntlet,” he volunteers during the discussion of hide thickness.
“My knife’s not that sharp,” Lilly says.
“You should get a sharper knife,” he replies.
“Where?” Lilly asks, suddenly intent on him. “Do you have a place here that sells sharper knives? ‘Cause I can’t work one of those things,” she adds, gesturing toward the gauntlet on one of his arms.
“We do not use such primitive knives. And we would certainly not share psi-gauntlets,” he says scornfully. However, this terran has piqued his interest, as it sounds like she has a lot of familiarity with protoss. “You’ve fought alongside a templar before, haven’t you?”
“That’s probably their story to tell, but yeah,” Lilly admits. Those protoss slaves at the Rose mine were templars, and she fought alongside Malorn at DORF. “I’ve seen what you can do with those things.”
“And yet you are still here alive. Have you faced a protoss warrior in battle?”
Lilly’s first instinct is to say no. She had help when they went up against Lendasha, and Lilly just took out the bloodhunter stooges, not the main target. “Well, yeah… but I don’t know if that would count as a real battle. I had help.”
The guard, Axion, is intrigued now. He psionically orders the researcher to give additional healing to the terran. Aloud, he asks, “Would you like to spar?”
“Oh! Yeah!” One of the medical staff steps up to Lilly and administers another shot.
“You feel capable of sparring? This will not be to the death or to serious wounds, of course, but I want this to be an honorable match. I do not want to feel any undue advantage. Other than being protoss.”
They hash out the details. Lilly first suggests hand-to-hand, but Axion says blade-to-blade is the most honorable. However, Lilly only has one knife, and it is not really the equivalent of a psi-gauntlet. Although she is willing to give it a go, Axion refuses, insisting they are not comparable. They briefly consider scalpels, but since that is not a natural weapon for either of them, they abandon that idea. The researchers just look on, eyes wide. Finally, they settle on snapping the branch that Lilly gave Sunshine into two equal pieces to use as batons.
Axion escorts Lilly to a room he refers to as an arena, though it is more of a small practice space. He is a surprisingly quick fighter, given his large size. He is bigger than Selendis and taller than Lilly, though not exactly what she would consider built. His approach is quite different from Malorn’s, who is often hunched and aggressively strikes with harsh blows. Axion is much more calculated in his attacks, delivering precise strikes. Lilly has not sparred with Malorn herself, but she has seen him fight. It may be that he is much older, and this fellow is in his prime. Or they could have just learned different techniques.
Axion does defeat Lilly, though she manages to land a few hits on him. She does not care about winning; she just likes to try these sorts of things out. During the fight, she even does a few moves that Axion has never seen before, so it is a good bout for them both. When they are done, Lilly slaps him on the shoulder. “That was fun! Thanks!”
“You are a worthy opponent, Lillian Washington.”
“Thank you! So are you, Axion. You’re all right. Have you ever had beer?”
“What is beer?”
Lilly takes him back to Saffron to find out.