Lilly is not a thief, but she is still able to pop the lock to Zagara’s cell. The otherwise straightforward task is made a little nerve-wracking by the broodmother’s claw sticking out of the slot, right by Lilly. They have just made an agreement, but still… she might be able to reach out further and yank Lilly’s head right off. Just the awareness of that keeps Lilly on edge as she works. When the lock surrenders, she opens the door and steps back, giving the zerg space to clomp out.
Zagara looks much like the broodmother they fought on Mar Sara, not completely healthy, but still in better shape than that one. She slowly steps out of the cell, her six legs clacking against the floor. She folds her torso down to duck her horned head as she passes through the doorway. Her two arms each have three claws on them, forming something more like hands than what hydralisks have. There is no obvious mouth, but she vocalizes from somewhere.
Lilly figures it must have been Zagara’s tracks she saw outside. She wonders how Neiman got her in here. Some of the horns on one side of her head appear to have been ground down, likely from an attempt to attach tech. Whether the implant just did not take or she ripped it out is not obvious. Lilly does take some comfort from the fact that the broodmother is not in prime condition. That should make her less likely to try anything.
“Are you injured?” Imogen asks.
Zagara makes a sighing noise, but says, “Not significantly.”
“When’s the last time you ate?” Lilly asks. It is asked out of curiosity about the zerg diet more than concern for the broodmother’s well-being.
“I do not need to eat. I need the restorative power of creep.”
“I have a little creep,” Lilly replies, “in my bag.”
“You carry creep with you? Unusual terran.” Lilly just points at Snowball. “Very well. That will help.” When Lilly provides a jar, Zagara mutters complaints about the small quantity, but she takes it nonetheless. She rubs it on her claw-like feet. Lilly observes that Zagara’s arm movements are relatively fast, even though her steps are plodding. As she performs her grooming or snacking or whatever, Zagara shares that the ghost has set up a hydralisk on patrol in the area they will have to pass through. “We will have to free him,” she reminds them.
“Did you see any of the terran captives?” Imogen asks.
“There were several other terrans with the ghost. One had hair long like yours. There was another taller one with short hair like yours. There were several boxes,” Zagara reports. Imogen just nods. That matches up with some of what she heard at the spaceport in Augustgrad.
Across this entrance hall is another doorway. Lilly asks about it, hoping to find a computer or some access point to the internal security systems. Zagara says the ghost never bothered with that door, which actually increases Lilly’s interest in it. She steps over to it and the broodmother grows agitated, insisting that they need to go free the hydralisk.
Imogen intervenes. “The ghost is not the original maker of this facility. There could be things here that can help us in our efforts, so we should check out that room first.” Zagara grumbles at this argument, but she moves so slowly that she cannot accuse the terrans of wasting time.
Lilly cracks her neck and then opens the door, its simple electronic lock giving her no trouble at all. This new room has no security cameras, much like the entry hall. That bodes well for their forward movement through the base. If it is a one man show, with just the ghost conducting experiments, there is a limit to how much he could be watching security monitors, anyway.
The room Lilly steps into appears to be a general supply area, given the variety of boxes it contains. The food stores are well past their expiration dates. Another pile of boxes looks to be received mail that never got distributed before this place shut down. The one on top is addressed to Colonel Washington. That is a common last name, but Lilly opens the box, assuming it was for her. She wonders whether it will be knives or handguns. Once she removes the styrofoam top, though, she sees piles of clipboards and a pack of Checklist 2434-B pads.
It is a standard checklist with instructions for installing implants. It feels familiar to Lilly as she looks it over. Step 1: Cut into xenomorph skull. The graphic is clearly a simplified representation of a zergling. Step 2: Insert neurotransmitter. A closeup shows the specific location to attach to, probably some sort of nerve cluster related to behavior. Step 3: Flip on. Step 4… Lilly digs around further in the box, hoping to find an internal packing slip that verifies this was really for her or a lead on who sent it. She learns that the package came from Confederate Military Supply in response to a form request, but she can find nothing more specific about the addressee than that Col. Washington was in office 2A. Maybe there will be a desk in that room with some of her things.
Since Imogen is their medic, Lilly calls her into the room to show her the form. “This is how it goes in. Nothing about taking it out.” Imogen flips the top sheet over, looking for information on follow-up treatments. It says to check the battery every week because sustained activity will drain it more quickly. There is also a postscript saying that if the implant has been rejected by the day after surgery to terminate the subject. That is all the medically-relevant information, although there is a list of simple commands to give for testing the implant.
“So maybe we just shoot the tech.” Lilly says. “It’s not a safe thing to do, but…”
Imogen frowns. She shot the implant in the hydralisk guarding the science vessel when they first found it and blew up the zerg’s brain in the process. Burning the tech off with the frying pan or just clipping it with a bullet might serve Zagara’s needs better. “We weren’t sure if Snowball would die or go feral If his battery ran out,” Imogen says quietly. “But Zagara seems to think that screwing up the tech will release her minions, rather than kill them.”
“Guess this is a way for us to find out without having to experiment on Snowball.”
The other boxes hold general office equipment, stationery, and so forth. Lilly grabs some sample jars from a box of those and pockets some ballpoint pens with the Cerberus logo. The ink has probably dried up, but they will still make good gifts.
They return to the entrance chamber to find Zagara only just now lethargically reaching a door on the north wall. “Are you sure you’re not injured?” Imogen asks again. “Is that why you’re moving so slowly?”
“I need creep to be at full capacity,” the broodmother admits.
“All right. If we find a room with it, you can have a soak,” Imogen says brightly.
Zagara explains that would not be sufficient, as it would only help while she was on it.
“Well, how about this?” Lilly says, holding out a thermos of sweet tea. “Snowball seems to like it.”
Zagara mutters again about hydralisks having names, further supporting Imogen’s observations that some zerg are sapient while others are viewed even by their own kind as being just animals or lower. The broodmother does not seem to consider a hydralisk to be a person, but rather a tool she is possessive about.
“Yeah, he’s got a name,” Lilly says. “I gave it to him. What do you think of the sweet tea?”
Zagara looks at the container suspiciously, but then dips one of her claw toes into it. She does not have a mouth, after all. “This is unusual,” she observes, sounding almost confused as she draws the word out.
“Well, maybe it’s not for you,” Lilly says, recovering the thermos. “I’m sure Snowball will drink it later.”
“It is not creep but… give it back to me,” Zagara demands. Sugar is a novel thing to her, but it does help her pick up the pace a bit.