Imogen escorts Selendis and an assistant into Saffron’s central hub. She reaches out with her mind, hoping to get some insight into this leader, both to figure out the reason for the chilly reception and to find an edge for further negotiations. Why would the tal’darim care about this place? What is she so worried about? This is the first time Imogen has tried to do anything to a protoss connected to the Khala. It takes a lot of effort to look inside Selendis’s well-defended mind. It is like trying to read many, many minds at once. Imogen just cannot narrow it down one set of thoughts. Sometimes, when she tries to read a mind, it is like there is a wall in the way, but if she tries hard enough, she can just walk around it. Here, the wall is miles and miles long; there is no way around it, it seems. Imogen would need to be more focused to jump over it.
Selendis pauses for a moment and looks around as though something feels off. Then she dismisses the notion and gestures for her assistant to present his small handheld scanner. He calibrates it on her psi-gauntlet, and then they walk around the hub, extending a small rod from the sensor to take targeted readings. They are generally disgusted at what they consider to be a gross terran space. Imogen wonders what additional sensory capabilities they have, since without noses they cannot be bothered by the smell.
Imogen steps up to get a closer look at their readout. The device appears to be checking for energy signatures typical of protoss technology. Imogen inquires whether tal’darim technology would register the same as mainline protoss technology, or if it would have different readings like terran technology does. Selendis scornfully explains that tal’darim technology is entirely based on that of her own people. “They have no scientists of their own. At best, they reverse-engineer what we have created over the ages. There might be some minor differences, but this sensor would not be able to register that.”
“Well, what about nerazim technology?” Imogen asks. “Is that different from baseline protoss?”
Selendis stops what she is doing and turns to Imogen. “What do you know of the nerazim?” Imogen starts to open her mouth, but Selendis continues on. “You know nothing. Do not think to ascribe your terran notions to the Firstborn, to our people.”
“But I have seen nerazim using cloaking technology, and I have seen their ships phase,” Imogen protests, surprised at the reaction. She is asking about the technology, not judging the culture. “I’ve personally seen these things being used.”
“Very well, why don’t we turn to your ship’s very capable sensors to search for such things,” Selendis counters. She steps over to the sensor suite.
“That wasn’t part of the agreement!” Imogen protests. If Saffron’s sensors are tuned inward, all their contraband will be uncovered. She launches herself in that direction to intervene, but she is not fast enough.
* * *
There are plenty of protoss near and around the elevated landing deck, though none are guarding Lilly closely. As far as threats go, many of the protoss are armed with psi-gauntlets, and those large robotic walkers stomping below in the icy plains are additional backup. They are the size of a tank and look like they could do some real damage.
The snow is starting to pick up, but through it Lilly sees a group of unarmed protoss, probably civilians, walking toward one of the metallic and crystalline structures. They are followed by a hovering sled transporting one of the large tusked creatures she noticed on Saffron’s approach. A large door opens on the structure as the protoss near it, and from her high vantage point, Lilly sees what they have chained up inside already. It is an ultralisk, a large zerg with four strong legs and gigantic sharp tusks that could cut a whole platoon down. It is actually about the same size as the snow creature, though of course zerg are not furry. Lilly knows that the zerg acquire genetic material in some way to change themselves, and she wonders whether they have had access to this snow beast in the past. Maybe it was even the base template for the ultralisk. It definitely seems like the protoss are doing zerg research here.
Lilly has drifted closer to the edge of the landing platform as she has watched the procession below. Now a few of the armed guards step up to her, and one of them advises her to keep closer to her ship. The door she was watching has closed now, so there is no reason to stay here any longer. “Yes, sir,” she says, and she heads into Saffron to join Imogen.
When she reaches the archway from the foyer into the control hub, she sees Selendis to her left, hands on the sensor suite board. Handheld scanners is one thing, but booting up our ship is something else! Lilly grumbles to herself. She hopes the computer security is tight enough to keep Selendis out.
Lilly is sitting in her room sharpening knives when Egon performs the factory reset on Saffron’s computer system. She hears the generic boot-up message and breathes a sigh of relief that the ship no longer recognizes her as Colonel Lillian Washington. Once he leaves with the psi-gauntlet to study, she checks over the computers herself. She runs through the standard checklist of how to set everything up anew. It is all second nature to her after all the reboots she has done over the years. She sets up accounts for herself and Imogen. Snowball does not have any hands so she does not bother giving him a username. She makes Imogen’s login voice-activated since that is the way things are on Umoja. Finally, Lilly redoes the admin settings, replacing all the defaults with more secure options.
Selendis encounters a more hardened security system than she was expecting on the sensor suite. With professional protections like this, these terrans must be hiding something that they do not want her to find. The shorter terran is at her side, protesting that using the sensors was not part of their agreement, which lends further support to Selendis’s suspicions. “It is for all of our own safety that I check this,” Selendis tells her. “You seem to have a highly advanced computer network defense system for an independently owned science vessel. Just what kind of research do you do with this ship?”