After Zagara takes her scowling leave of Lilly and Imogen, the two terrans turn their attention to the imposing door ahead. The broodmother has told them it leads to Neiman’s zerg training grounds. There are no vents to look or listen through to confirm this, but given how difficult the door is to open, it must lead somewhere important. Lilly does not remember the code for this door, just that it is six digits, some of which are curvy. Imogen hands off the laptop to Lilly and pulls out the mechanics kit. Lilly shoves the laptop in her backpack. Then she springs the panel open and makes a few unsuccessful attempts to bypass the keypad using a set of Imogen’s alligator clips.
Lilly abandons that approach, muttering about not wanting to accidentally set off alarms or put the whole place on lockdown. Imogen had been studying the edges of the door, hoping to find something to dismantle, but the door is designed to slide open so there are no hinges. She had been considering trying to trick the door into going into emergency evacuation mode, but Lilly is right. A mistake might trigger that for the whole facility. “All right,” Imogen says, “let’s see if this can cut through it.” She does not have a blowtorch, but she does have a psi-gauntlet.
Imogen pulls out the protoss weapon and slips it onto her right arm. It has in the past been difficult—even dangerous—for her to ignite it, but this time it works smoothly. She centers herself and extends her awareness into the device. It clamps tightly to her arm without piercing the skin and draws power from her, thrumming with energy, even heat, almost as though it anticipates her intended use. Either that, or I’ve overdriven something in it… Imogen does not know much about the inner workings of protoss technology. It is possible the gauntlet will need some servicing when this is all over, and then she will learn firsthand. She runs the hot blade along the edge of the door where the locking mechanism holds it in place. Then Lilly takes the crowbar from the mechanics kit and pries the door up high enough for a person to get through.
Before moving in, though, Lilly looks through the opening. On the other side is a really, really big room. The door is on the south side of its lower level. A walkway with a railing runs around the edges of the room, creating a second level that looks to be about eight to ten feet up. On Lilly’s level, there are a couple brownish-yellow zerglings to the left. A similar group, but with purplish skin, is on the right side of the room. There is a large zerg in the back on that side, too, but from here she cannot make out what type. The arena space is littered here and there with crates, available as obstacles or cover. Up on the higher level, Lilly sees a white woman with short blonde hair at a computer terminal along the western wall. Shelley has a headset on and is concentrating on whatever her task is. Additionally, a small tower stands in the middle of the room, a smooth-sided pillar with a little walkway around the top of it. Abdul sits bound there, at the same height as Shelley but without a computer. Even from this distance, Lilly can see bruises against his dark skin. Beyond the tower, the air is a bit hazy. Lilly can see a couple people on the upper level in the northeast corner, but she cannot recognize them from here.
So far no one seems aware of the partially open door. Lilly throws up a closed fist to signal to Imogen to hold position, and then she quietly ducks under the door, slipping in unnoticed. If she can get up onto the catwalk level, she will be in a good position to take shots down at the floor.
Lilly is in a terran city and the weather is the coldest she has ever experienced. Artillery shells pound into the walls; the city is beset by another terran force, those damn fascists from the UED. Her captain tells her to take up a sniper position on the outskirts of the city, addressing her by her first name, Lilly. Things are pretty informal in the Dominion Sniper Force. Lilly follows the order without question, but as she runs, she wonders how these fascists have come to be here when Earth is so far away. Once she reaches the edge of the city, the full scope of the threat becomes apparent. A massive expeditionary force is arrayed outside it. The Dominion troops here might be able to hold out for a little while, but they will need off-planet reinforcements to survive. Lilly sneaks to the cliffs outside the city proper, ducking into a snowbank to avoid detection by the UED troops marching by. She climbs up the cliff into a discreet sniper nest and starts assembling her weapon. When it is set, she takes a look through the scope and sees that another UED force has gone around the city, completely encircling it. Nothing she can do from here will make a difference. The UED is not hesitant about throwing their enormous number of troops into the grinder. Reinforcements never come, and the city is consumed by war. There is nothing left, and Lilly is alone in her frozen perch.
Lilly tries to wall jump up to the catwalk, but the building material is very smooth, and she does not get the purchase she needs to reach the grating above. She does get a better look at the room while she is in the air trying, though. For one, Lilly observes a clash between the sets of zerglings that come from different genetic stock. The attacks are not as vicious as the feral zerg-on-zerg fighting she has witnessed in the past, though. She also gets a quick glance of the north end of the room. Way at the back, at another computer terminal on the catwalk level, is Neiman, dressed in the same ghost outfit he wore on Redstone. Lucky for him, he is beyond the range of her frying pan laser. Floating in the northwest corner, midway between the ghost and Shelley, is an overlord, its legs dangling down from its balloon-like body. Unlike the zerglings on the ground level, the overlord has an implant attached. There is also a large hydralisk in the northeast corner with an implant. The two other terrans on the elevated walkway in the northeast have datapads on which they seem to be watching something. Lilly now recognizes them from the Rose mine rescue, though their names escape her.
Lilly also sees that there are ladders mounted at a few points along the catwalk, but they are all drawn up. There is no way she could lower one without drawing attention to this side of the arena. She ducks down behind a crate by the door she came through and quickly points out the targets to her partner. When Neiman starts talking, Lilly hands the laptop to Imogen and then sneaks further into the room, moving into position to take shots at the overlord.
* * *
Imogen crouches at the partially-open door, her psi-gauntlet still ignited. The weapon is fickle enough about responding to her that she does not want to chance powering it down when she might soon need it again. While Lilly slips inside, Imogen takes in the training arena from floor level right where she is. Abdul is quite a distance away, but Imogen tries to get a psionic read on his emotional state. She is not sure how he is being used in this situation, so any hints she can get would be welcome. The room has too many minds in it, though, and settling on his is impossible in the current hectic environment. With just her eyes she can tell he has been roughed up more recently than his kidnapping. Still, she hesitates before going in, trying to get a better understanding of what they are observing and what role the terrans are playing in it. Up at a computer station, Shelley looks anxious, her bangs sticking to her forehead with sweat from performance pressure. From Imogen’s position, she cannot see Neiman, but she does hear his distinctive voice over the room’s intercom system. “That’s enough playing around now, Shelley. If you want to rescue Abdul, you’re going to have to command those zerg more effectively.” The purple zerglings make another, more aggressive move against the yellowish ones, Shelley’s cohort.
Lilly passes the laptop wordlessly back to Imogen and then heads further into the room, ducking from crate to crate. “What am I supposed to do with this?” Imogen hisses, but Lilly is already gone. It is awkward at best to use a laptop with an ignited psi-gauntlet. Imogen balances the computer in her right hand, the blade stretching out beneath the device, and pecks at the keyboard with her off-hand. Her first thought is to try to control the zerg like Elaina must have been doing, as that might create a distraction to help Lilly. The interface is too archaic, though, and Imogen cannot get the zerg to respond to her.
Lilly has headed around the tower to the east, away from the tangle of zergling claws and spikes on its west side and outside Imogen’s view. The Umojan turns her attention to the chat box, a way to distract Neiman that will not give away their position. In fact, he will probably think they are back down the hall in Elaina’s office. Imogen decides to pose as a displeased Rose operative and use Neiman’s assassin code name from the email Grom shared with them.
Elaina: Lavender, this wasn’t what we hired you for. Your activities in this facility are unacceptable.
Commander: I appreciate you revealing yourself, comrade.