Saffron returns to Li June’s compounds in the wastes east of Mar Sara City. “Nice!” Lilly says appreciatively as she sets the science vessel down on the sweet new landing pad. Sunshine has devoured all the treats and is sprawled in some shade, enjoying a postprandial nap. The lethargy of digestion has managed to keep her out of trouble while the terrans were away.
Li quickly exits the ship, glad to no longer be cooped up there. On her home turf once more, she begins to feel more comfortable, but she cannot fully relax until everyone else is gone. “I’ve got a lot of things I need to analyze,” she says, already at the door of her house. “You might want to tune up your ship a bit, but I wouldn’t recommend sticking around Mar Sara too long. Those people got to the clinic nice and safe, but a ship coming in is going to be noticed at some point. And someone’s going to connect the dots.”
“Yeah, and we don’t want them coming over here,” Lilly agrees.
Li disappears into her home without offering them any sweet tea. Imogen understands this as a dismissal and is not surprised, given the spat they had earlier. She and Lilly should let Li have her space once they have made their final repairs. “What are your intentions with Old Red, Lilly?” she asks.
“I hadn’t really thought about it… I guess he could use more paint.” Lilly shrugs. “But I don’t think he’s going to fit on the ship, if that’s what you mean. We could take him into town and sell him.”
“What about the emergency drop-pod idea?” Imogen asks. “Attaching the bike to your escape pod port?” They have access to Li’s garage and sophisticated tools right now, but it might be a long time before that happens again.
“Oh, yeah!” Lilly says, excited at the prospect of keeping the bike.
They work together, Lilly operating the winches to hoist the vulture bike up into place while Imogen handles the welding. “Should’ve called Rory for advice,” Imogen mutters as she struggles with the attachments. Her mechanics kit contains clamps, but nothing large enough for this purpose. In the end, Imogen is forced to connect Old Red to Saffron in such a way that there will be no quick release. “That’s the best I can do without mag-lock clamps,” she declares finally, knowing those will be expensive. The ship will still be safe to fly—albeit less smoothly—but getting the vulture bike down and up is going to be a hassle each time. Probably a professional mechanic will be needed to get this done right, but at least they are able to take Old Red with them off-planet. And the bike can serve as external storage, if nothing else.
Both vehicles get scratched up during the job, so they need some touch-up work with Li’s paints. While Lilly takes care of that, Imogen inspects the damage to the frying pan laser. This is the first time she has taken a look at its interior, and she is relieved to be able to make sense of the protoss technology. Their resistors and capacitors use their own color codes, of course, but once she has worked that out, swapping in some from salvaged terran tech is a breeze. This gives Imogen some hope that psi-gauntlet maintenance will not prove too challenging.
“You fixed it!” Lilly says joyfully, taking the rifle back in hand and trying out a test shot.
Finished now with all the work in the garage, it is time for them to leave Li June all alone. As she heads up the ramp, Imogen asks, “And what about Sunshine? Is she coming with?”
“Yeah,” is Lilly’s first response, as she looks at the lyote with affection. But after a moment she says, “But this planet is where she probably came from. Maybe I should let her go, let her rejoin her pack.” Sunshine has had her adventure. If she wants to stay with them, that will be her choice. Once aboard Saffron, they fly a distance away from the compound’s turrets and set down again. Lilly takes Sunshine outside and removes the pink ribbon. She gives the lyote one final pat on the head. Sunshine nuzzles her back a little bit, but she is a wild animal, never truly domesticated. She catches a scent of interest and takes off at a run. She’s been well-fed, Lilly thinks. She’ll be all right.