Zagara drags herself onto the creep that Imogen just vacated. “The man you’re after has run down the hallway,” Imogen tells her, pointing up at the doorway above. “What happens to him is not our concern. We’re here for our people, and that’s what we’re going to prioritize. If you don’t mind me saying, you don’t look like you’re in such great shape yourself.”
The broodmother bobs her head. “Unfortunately, you are correct. I am not presently equipped to properly take vengeance upon him. And like you, my purpose is to gather my brood. Although that one,” she points a claw at Spikey, “is resistant.”
Lilly, meanwhile, moves to secure the area. The guys up on the northside of the catwalk get their acts together enough to lower a ladder down to the training floor. Lilly scales it quickly and heads to the closed door Neiman escaped through. When she opens it, frying pan at the ready, a rush of air flows past her. At the end of the long corridor she just revealed, there is a door open to Chau Sara’s low pressure atmosphere. She hears a revving in the distance. Likely Neiman is headed to his cloaked ship. Lilly closes the door, glad that at least it did not reveal additional enemy forces. She calls down to Imogen to report her findings.
Imogen has moved on to handling the terrans. There are four in this room, and she knows where Elaina is, but more people than that were abducted. Shelley shares that some of them were staying in the dorm quarters. These would be all the people that fell for Neiman’s witness protection story. Apparently Shelley was one of those, too, despite the blood in her apartment. Perhaps Neiman being injured from one of his less-friendly grabs helped him sell the story he told her about Rose hiring someone to kill the witnesses for the slavery case.
Shelly tells Imogen that once they arrived at this facility, she realized something was off. Real witness protection would have taken them to a place like Mar Sara, not a secret base. “I played along as best I could, but Abdul never did. Those of us who didn’t play along, he stuffed in some of the storage rooms.”
Now that the chaos of battle is over, the rescuees explain how to access the top of the tower where Abdul is. Lilly is already by the computer terminal Neiman was operating. None of the detachable drives are still here, but she is able to operate the controls for the tower once those are pointed out. While Lilly and her helpers take care of getting Abdul, Imogen radios back to Saffron.
“This is Saffron here,” Li June’s voice crackles over the comm. “Y’all okay? There are still a lot of biosignatures in that room.”
“Have you gotten the sensors fully working again, then?”
“I’ve just now gotten them all back online. I was concentrating on the interior. Are you saying we’ve got exterior problems?”
“Probably Neiman’s ship has launched by now and it’s cloaked.”
A moment later, Li reports, “I’ve got a read on him; his cloak’s no good against us. He’s in atmosphere, heading out. What would you like me to do?”
Imogen has no intention of asking the researcher to try to stop Neiman. If he has left the planet, then they can all relax a bit. “This facility is secure then. If you want, you could come in and take a look at these computer systems.” Suddenly a klaxon sounds, announcing that the self-destruct sequence has been initiated. Imogen frowns. “Nevermind,” she tells Li.
“Y’all okay in there? I’m getting energy readings from everywhere! Something’s building up.”
“Forget the computer systems. We just need enough time to get everyone out of here. Launch the EMP, Li. Maybe it can slow this down. I’m going to get people moving.” Ten additional terran passengers is far more than Saffron is designed to carry, but for just the short hop back to Mar Sara, the ship should work. Imogen directs some of the liberated terrans to carry the groggy Abdul out. She has Shelley guide her to where others are.
The EMP is a physical missile. Getting it to affect the self destruct system this deep in the compound would require perfectly lining up a shot to get it in through the bunker door. Not terribly practiced in gunnery, Li radios Lilly for pointers.
“Oh, yeah, it’s just point and click,” Lilly assures her. “One sec.” Lilly pokes around at Neiman’s terminal, hoping to be able to set up a targeting beacon for Li. Unfortunately, energy is spiking throughout the facility, swamping out anything she tries. “Nah, that didn’t work. Just go ahead.” A moment later Li comes back with bad news. She got the missile through the main entrance, but the EMP went off in that first room. It was not close enough to affect the self-destruct. Lilly works at her terminal, throwing open every program she can find in an attempt to slow down the self-destruct via an internal denial-of-service attack. She adds a flood of maintenance requests as well; clearly the arena needs cleaning. She radios Imogen, “I’ve bought us another ten, twenty minutes at best.”
Zagara is moving slowly, still worn out from the battle and her captivity. Shelley takes note of this and encourages her to have her zerglings help out. “I don’t know, have them carry you,” she suggests. The broodmother takes the suggestion to heart, and both cohorts of zerglings form up together to bear her out of the building. Spikey, for his part, stays close to Lilly, on the alert for any new threats. As far as she can tell from his coloration, he is not part of Zagara’s brood and so has some level of autonomy here.
Lilly and Imogen do eventually get everyone out of the facility in time, but it does not go smoothly. Abdul is badly injured, Elaina is practically catatonic, and the zerg allies are making everyone—except Shelley—nervous. Imogen finally resorts to shouting. “If you don’t get your act together now and get out of this room,” she yells at Elaina, “then we are going to leave you behind on this planet, where this building is going to collapse on you. And even if you dig yourself out of that, you’ll just be wandering around a wasteland where there is nothing, barely even air to breathe.” That gets people moving.
Lilly and Spikey are the last ones out. Lilly ducks briefly into her old office as they pass it. She glances around quickly. Imogen has grabbed stuff already, but Lilly takes one last look for anything with information on her past. In the trash can by the desk, there is a crumpled piece of paper on which she sees her own handwriting. There is no time to read it now, but Lilly swipes it to look at later. From the short look she got, it is a draft of some kind, with lots of scratched-out writing. The title at the top is Operation Warhorse.