Zagara can sense the hydralisk patrolling beyond the door to the north at the end of the long hall. Before they open it and proceed, though, Lilly asks the broodmother if she has any ideas on how to disable the tech. Zagara’s advice is just to knock it off the head somehow. She suggests Lilly might hold the hydralisk down so that Zagara can tear it off. That provides Lilly with answer enough, namely that finesse is not required. Saffron’s EMP is a tempting option as well, but that risks disabling Snowball’s implant and making the computer records here unreachable. It is a good option to hold in reserve, but for right now, shooting might be the best approach.
While Lilly and Zagara discuss tactics, Imogen pretends to listen at the door. She cannot get a clear sense of what is beyond it. Lilly, meanwhile, has moved on to radioing Li June to discuss the EMP option. Imogen asks her to see if Li can offer any sensor support. “Can she tell how many zerg or how many terrans are here? Even just general numbers could be helpful.”
“Hey Li, can you run a sensor sweep to tell us about the life signs in here, zerg versus terrans?” For once, she forgets the ma’am, treating the researcher like just another friend.
“I’ll see what I can do, sugar. You’re a little bit into the facility, and that’s not what these sensors are specifically for, but I’ll see.” There is a crinkling noise over the line and the sound of Li talking to herself about connecting some wires. “Oh Lawd! Oh my stars! There is a zerg right on top of you!”
“Oh, we should have warned her about that,” Imogen mutters.
“Do you want me to fire up that irradiate?” Li asks.
“No, she’s an ally,” Lilly says. And we’re in here.
“I’m sorry, can you repeat that?!”
“We’ve allied with a zerg, ma’am,” Lilly says, slipping back into soldier mode.
“And you’re not talking about Snowball? You’ve allied with a zerg?”
“For this mission, yes. A broodmother, I believe,” Lilly replies. Snowball is still around, of course, but he is lingering back down the corridor, out of harm’s way for now.
“Are you sure about this?” Li asks, voice loaded with incredulity and reluctance. Lilly clarifies that their goal is to remove the implants on the zerg, to free them. “Woo! That’s a mighty dangerous thing to be doing, Lilly!”
“I agree. But in return, she’s going to help us liberate our people,” Lilly shares. Li cautions Lilly one last time about trusting a zerg but then lets the matter drop. She reports that there is one zerg in the next room. It is pacing back and forth and not as big as the one with Lilly. This confirms what Zagara has already told them. Li cannot get readings farther into the compound just yet. She admits that there is some sparking on the control panels that she should see to. “Okay. Over and out.”
Imogen examines the control panel for the door, then pulls out her tools and makes some modifications. This door opens from the bottom up, so she rigs it to only rise a foot or so. Best case scenario, the hydralisk will not even notice until they have shot him. Even if he does, they will have cover from the door as they take their shots from the ground. Also, it should be tricky for a hydralisk to shoot that low. Imogen puts her tools away and draws her pistol, then waits for Lilly to get into sniper position.
Lilly lies down with the frying plan laser braced before her. If I get shot with a spine, I’m keeping it this time, she thinks, recalling that Selendis might pay for such a sample. When Imogen hits the switch, the door starts up and then jerks to a stop. Lilly sees the hydralisk at the far end of a long room. He turns and sees her, but she gets off a shot before he can react. The tech in his head, much like that of Saffron’s hydralisk guard, is not exactly the same as Snowball’s. The laser scores a glancing hit on the implant which knocks the small receiving dish off-kilter. It is not enough to make the hydralisk stand down, but his movements are at least more sluggish. “One hit, not destroyed,” Lilly reports to Imogen as her teammate drops down beside her. The Umojan’s first shot goes wide.
The lighting around them dims as Zagara’s bulky form steps over them. She mutters about foolish terrans failing to properly open the door and wrenches it partway up and to the side with one claw. This gives her an opening through which to send spines into the next room, while also maintaining their cover. Whether the latter is intentional or not is open to debate. It does not matter for long, though, as the hydralisk unleashes a flurry of spines that shreds the neosteel door to pieces. With the creature moving now and chunks of metal flying, Lilly’s next shot misses its mark. Imogen, however, squeezes off a few solid shots. One clips the receiver again, but another splits the implant in two. The hydralisk spasms a bit at the first hit but brings his spine-launcher to bear. After the final bullet hits, though, he pauses a moment. He looks at Zagara and then his body slumps, the menacing air leaving it completely. He slithers over to the side, and the way is now open for them to proceed.
Zagara bursts into the room, clattering over Lilly and Imogen to reach the hydralisk. She begins to do something to him that looks almost like petting to Imogen. The Umojan picks herself up off the floor and enters the new room as well. Wondering what messages might be traveling between the two zerg, she tries to psionically listen in. It would be easier with more proximity, but she does not get too close because she does not want to tip off Zagara about her abilities. Maybe things are too stressful, or maybe Zagara has a tougher mind than Imogen initially thought. Either way, she is unable to get a read on the broodmother.
Lilly regains her feet up as well, rolling her shoulders to shake out some of the tension from the fight. She examines the remains of the door, hoping to extract some hydralisk spines as samples. They are deeply embedded and as messed up as the neosteel, so she abandons that idea. The room itself is a standard staging area for entering a bunker. There is nothing particular here to guard, but it is a choke point for the rest of the facility.
Zagara begins ripping the implant from the hydralisk’s head. Though quite damaged, it is intact enough for them to hear the crackle of comms. “HL2, your transmitter’s not responding. Report!” The voice has a Korhal accent, so it is not Neiman’s. He may have recruited some people to work with him. Imogen picks up the pieces, hoping to be able to patch it together well enough to trick those monitoring it into believing it is functional. After a moment, she frowns at the tech, concluding that it is too badly damaged. Sparks fly as she connects two wires, and the person on the other end of the line yelps. “HL2! What kind of feedback’s going on here?! Check your computer systems. Run a diagnostic.”
Imogen calls Lilly over. “You’re familiar with this tech on some level. Can you spoof the signal?”
“Sure, I can send a 5-0/nothing’s changed.” Imogen hands her the pieces, and she makes it happen.
“All right. Next maintenance cycle, get that checked out,” the voice says from the speaker. “We shouldn’t be having these kinds of fluctuations.”
With that taken care of for now, Lilly checks with Zagara whether the hydralisk is all right. The broodmother is rubbing some sort of excretion into where the implant used to be in his head. The hydralisk’s carapace responds, sealing over the wound and hardening. Some sort of zerg first aid, Lilly concludes. Zagara seems satisfied with the approach they used here, which is good news. Looks like shooting works. “Is he coming with us?” Lilly asks. “What are your plans for this guy? Is he in fighting shape?”
“He will come with us but stay behind us. He is still recovering. He will protect himself if need be, but he needs to regenerate.” Lilly asks about intel, and Zagara tells her that the hydralisk does not know anything more about the facility than the broodmother herself does. “Up ahead is a hallway with many small rooms of no consequence off to the sides,” she shares.
Lilly radios back to Li, asking for another scan. The older woman continues to express concern about the zerg already in Lilly’s presence. Lilly acknowledges the irregularity of the situation but assures Li that all is well. The researcher performs the requested scan, focusing on the area deeper within the facility. This really over-taxes Saffron’s systems, judging by the sounds of sparking Lilly hears over the line. Li is able to report that there is a terran in one of the small rooms up ahead, and that the corridor leads to a much larger room she cannot tell anything about. Then she tells Lilly she needs to effect some repairs. Lilly is a little surprised that just the sensors could do so much damage, but she supposes she and Imogen have never really put them to the test. She ends the call and relays to Imogen that the sensors are down until further notice.