Imogen steps back away from the door and motions Lilly over to the opposite wall to join her. At first, Lilly thinks Imogen is about to do something really big, but then the Umojan waves her hand down, indicating Lilly should lower her weapon.
“I think this zerg can help us,” Imogen begins to explain quietly. “I—”
“All right. What’s your plan?” Lilly asks, immediately onboard with whatever her teammate has in mind.
“She knows the way around the interior here. She wants to rip Neiman to shreds, and I’m not sure she has a bad reason for it, either.” Imogen presents her arguments, unsure of how Lilly will react to the proposed alliance. She did fight against zerg in some wars, after all. “I don’t know about these other zerg. Zerglings, hydralisks, mutalisks, they seem to just attack instinctually. Maybe they’re just trained animals or pets or whatever. But she’s a person. Maybe one who hates us and hates all of our kind, an enemy fighter. But for right now, our purposes seem to align. She wants revenge, and she wants her hydralisks free from here and free from the implants. We want to make sure none of our friends are here being experimented on. Along the way, I feel like we can’t help but learn something about what you may have been involved with.”
“I don’t see us being able to broker any sort of peace agreement between her and Neiman.” Imogen did not come here to kill Neiman. Sure, she has qualms with him, but experimenting on zerg would not earn a death sentence in her book. But this whole situation is complicated by the existence of sapient zerg. For some reason Imogen cannot quite articulate to herself, trying to behaviorally tame zerg feels way less bad than using technology in their heads to reprogram them. “I agree that zerg are a dangerous thing to terrans, but I’m really confused right now about the sort of experimentation that is going on. People have a right to defend themselves from zerg incursions, but the means by which you choose to do that is telling, as well… I realize that we’re maybe a little hypocritical here with our pal Snowball,” Imogen admits. The zerg in question is currently standing at-ease near the entrance, a short hydralisk unconcerned with the goings-on around him. “I don’t know if she’ll be able to detect that Snowball is not a normal zerg. She might try to liberate him as well.”
“But having a bunch of spines on our side directed at the person we’re here to stop would be useful. It’s one thing to study zerg and try to find their weaknesses so that you can combat them. It’s another thing to weaponize them and use them on your side.”
“So you want to let her out?” Lilly asks, trying to cut to the chase here. If Imogen thinks she can broker a deal, that is good enough for Lilly.
“I think I need to try to negotiate some terms. But, aye, I think we should try working with her.”
“All right. Well, Neiman—or whoever this ghost is—he took our friends. He made his own bed.”
“It’s definitely Neiman,” Imogen says sourly.
That changes nothing for Lilly. The guy gave them a lift once, but they do not owe him anything. “Made his own bed,” she reiterates.
“Just… keep your frying pan at ready, since I don’t know at what point she may change her mind. Right now, it seems to me her plan is to stop Neiman and free her creatures.” Imogen squares her shoulders, preparing to head back into the fray. “This whole situation is getting more and more complicated,” she mutters. “Trying to figure out the right thing to do is getting harder.”
It’s always harder when you find out your enemies are people, Lilly reflects with the wisdom of the battlefield. “Let’s let her out, see what happens. Shoot her now or shoot her later.” Lilly shrugs. “Maybe not at all.”
Imogen steps back up to the slotted door. The broodmother’s claw clatters in the small opening. “Terran, let me tear that ghost apart!”
“We think we have friends here, too, who are being held against their will, and we want them let out, same as you. We’ll let you out, and we can work together on getting this situation handled. If you want to tear him apart, that’s up to you to do. But we need to find our people and get them out of here.”
“What of the zerg you brought in with you? He does not respond to my commands.”
Good to know… “He’s not yours,” Imogen says coolly.
“To which brood does he belong then?”
“His leader died,” Imogen replies, thinking of the broodmother she killed on Mar Sara after Old Red took a spine in the fuel tank.
“Who was his leader?”
“She didn’t give me her name before she shot at me. Do you have one?”
“My name is Zagara, and I serve the Queen of Blades. If his broodmother is dead, he is feral, and he should belong to me then. Have you perverted him?”
“We’ve been taking care of him,” Imogen counters. Lilly just marvels that a zerg has a name (other than the one she bestowed).
“Then why is he so short?” Zagara snaps.
Snowball may not have grown properly because they did not know what he was supposed to eat, but right now he looks like an unimpressive hydralisk. Imogen infers that Zagara takes Snowball at face value in that regard. There is no need at this point to admit to her that he is a changeling who is as mind-controlled as the hydralisks Zagara wants to liberate. Imogen pleads ignorance. “I don’t know how tall your hydralisks are supposed to be. Maybe he had stunted growth. Maybe he was the runt of his litter. Maybe he just looks short because Lilly is tall.”
“You have not been taking good care of him,” the broodmother growls.
“What’s more important to you? One hydralisk who hasn’t been getting enough to eat lately or half a dozen hydralisks—”
“All my zerg are important to me!”
“This one’s not yours yet. Focus on what you have right now.”
“All zerg serve the Queen of Blades. She freed us from the Overmind.”
“But they serve her through different lieutenants, is my understanding,” Imogen counters. “You’re not the only one on that level.”
Through the slot, Imogen can see Zagara narrow her eyes. “That is correct. Your ghost has perverted an overlord inside this compound. He is using that to control other zerg. I cannot psionically break through.”
Lilly shakes her head. This is just getting better and better. “So there’s an overlord?” That is what the balloony zerg on Redstone was. Pretty much a zerg sensor relay.
“And you’re saying the ghost here is controlling the overlord?” Imogen asks.
“Yes, he has perverted the overlord, issuing commands through it.”
“Can you hear those commands? Do you know what these zerg are being told to do?” Imogen presses. Zagara reluctantly admits that she does not have access to that information, she just knows she cannot control them. “All right… Will you agree to not attack us, our companion, and the friends that we are here to rescue if we let you out and help you locate your people?”
“If you agree to not hurt the other zerg in this facility and to render your stunted zerg to me.”
“You want Snowball? I’m not in a position to make that bargain. I don’t even know how to ask Snowball his opinion on this matter,” Imogen protests.
“Who is Snowball?” Zagara says. When Imogen points at their companion, the broodmother objects, “Hydralisks do not have names.”
“This one does,” Lilly says. She takes her eyes off Zagara to look over at the changeling. “Hey, Snowball, do you want to go with this lady?” she asks, tossing her head towards the door the broodmother is behind. “Or stay with us?” The response is an undecipherable breathy growl. “Do you like this lady?” Lilly tries again, concentrating on Snowball and trying to read a reaction. He seems sort of neutral, maybe even a bit tense, reflecting her own and Imogen’s body language. It is true he did not give off an enemy-alert vibe about this broodmother, but he is no longer a larva, so she is not sure if his responses are different simply because of that change. At any rate, he does not seem excited about a transfer of command. “Snowball’s off the table,” Lilly announces. “Unless he decides to go with you, he stays with us.” As an afterthought she adds, “And you can tell us what he eats.” She has not intentionally been feeding him wrong.
“Then you will help me free every zerg here,” Zagara insists. “Every zerg that has been perverted is to be left untouched.”
“And what if they attack us in the process of trying to free them?” Imogen points out.
“Then you are to destroy the technology that is controlling them. Once they are free of that, I can redirect them.”
“Including the overlord?” Lilly asks. If they free the overlord, it might relay to the Queen of Blades that they are here. She and Imogen are not on her good list.
“The overlord should be put out of its misery,” Zagara says. “Unfortunately, it has been perverted too far for too long.”
“We can agree to those terms,” Imogen says.
“We can try. We can’t promise shots will be true,” Lilly interjects.
“Aye, we can do our best,” Imogen amends. And hopefully she never sees the device in Snowball’s brain. That might get us in trouble. “You want your people; we want our people. We don’t want any of them hurt unnecessarily. And after we get out of this facility, we go our own separate ways.” Any liberated zerg will likely just be stuck on this planet, so they will not be endangering other terrans. They are welcome to this barren rock.
“Very well,” Zagara agrees.