FRAWD Investigators: Changes | Scene 11

Some of the plates protecting Saffron were jostled by the rough landing and are now askew. Li provides replacement bolts for the ones that were sheared off and helps Imogen make the repairs. Lilly is scarce while they work, and Imogen assumes she is just on the other side of the ship, painting over scratches. But no, that is not what Lilly is up to.

The changeling catalyst sounds great to Lilly. The sooner they can stop having to hide Snowball all the time, the better. Li talked a lot, but all Lilly heard was disguise, and that is enough for her. She fetches a jar of creep and the tube of no-longer-mystery catalyst from Saffron, then calls Snowball outside. No need to have him mess up Li’s place if this goes awry. 

Lilly pours the creep on the ground, and Snowball rolls around in it, having a good time. She issues an order of attention, and he straightens up as best he can, only four tiny legs on the ground instead of twelve. Lilly dumps the catalyst out on top of him, and he does not flinch, holding position like a good soldier. Soon, though, his body starts to convulse. Lilly steps back, watching as all the creep around Snowball sucks up around him, forming a hard egg-like structure with pulsing veins on the outside. It is large, the size of an armchair.

Lilly is inside a facility, looking down at a containment chamber. A few unspoiled larva roam around on the floor below. She watches with interest as they are sprayed with a fuming liquid. Several form into eggs of a sort. Lilly glances down at her watch as it ticks on, the longest thirty seconds of her life. Finally, the four eggs hatch. Eight zerglings pop out. Hunh, that’s interesting, Lilly thinks, surprised at the duplication. She picks up her clipboard, checks off a few boxes, and logs her observations. She glances up and sees the Cerberus logo on the wall.

What is going on in front of Lilly right now is part of the normal process. Snowball is taking longer than thirty seconds, but that also is not a cause for concern. The simpler the zerg, the faster the transformation, she knows. Still, time drags as she spends a couple minutes watching the pulsing. Finally, the egg bursts open, splattering gross green liquid all over the place. Everything then gets sucked back in, leaving no residue or pieces of egg behind. Just like in Li’s video, the creature before Lilly is a messy blob. There are two distinctly arm-like appendages for dragging itself around, and some vaguely eye-like spheres on what must be what passes for a head, given where the tech is embedded. It looks disgusting as it oozes into the shape of a hydralisk and positions itself as upright as possible. It holds perfectly still, hook arms pressed to its sides. 

The last order Lilly issued to Snowball was attention, so he must still be in there, doing his best to comply. He has made a perfect replica of a hyrdalisk, just the scale is a little off. He lacks sufficient mass to be quite their standard size. His fake carapace is muted mottled greens, similar to the drab army olive of Lilly’s jacket. She stares at him a while. Now that he is a hydralisk and not a blob, this is actually kind of cute. Suddenly, she realizes how long she has kept him at attention. “At ease?” she offers.

Fwoomf! Snowball oozes back into the blob form that is his new default. Lilly suppresses a gag at the gross sight. He takes up a lot more space now than when he was a dense little larva; there will be no more stuffing him in a backpack. Curious about the texture, Lilly pokes him. His flesh gives a little, but he is not sticky; no goo comes off on her fingers. “Follow me,” she tells him, intending to take him to the garage where Imogen and Li are pounding a hull plate back into shape. Snowball oozes up into a terran shape. Much like Malorn did, he chooses one inspired by the terrans he knows best. It is a somewhat muscular female form, shorter than Lilly but with longer hair that has more body. Snowball replicates basic clothes as well, including a hat that, combined with the hair, conceals the Cerberus implant. He makes a very convincing terran, and it is uncanny. His hand feels like terran flesh, not like what she just felt in his blob form. Only very close up can Lilly find things that look just slightly off. Creepy, she thinks. Gross. This is just too weird. Lilly cracks her neck and recenters herself, then heads into the garage to see what will happen.

* * *

Lilly comes around the corner into the garage, followed by another woman Imogen has never seen before. Imogen extends her senses outward, trying to detect if there are any other intruders around. She cannot get a clear read on other terrans, but Snowball is definitely about somewhere. Lilly seems a little nervous, glancing now and then over her shoulder, but she does not have her weapons out. “Who’s your friend, Lilly?” Imogen asks carefully, slowly moving her hand toward her own gun.

At Imogen’s words, Li notices the newcomer. She does not hesitate to pull her gun. “Who the hell is this, sweetheart?”

“Oh!” Lilly says. “It’s Snowball! It’s Snowball.” That diffuses the situation, as they realize Lilly has applied the catalyst. Li is disappointed that she recorded no video of the transformation. Lilly describes the process as best she can, given how unsettling she finds this whole experience. “I put him on the creep. I dumped the stuff on him. He sucked up the creep and turned into an egg. After two minutes, he hatched into the blob. Everything went back into him.”

“That’s mighty efficient of them,” Li observes, disappointed that there is nothing remaining for her to study.

Imogen goes up to Snowball to examine his new state. She has not had much success communicating with Snowball when he was a larva, but now that he is all grown up, she tries again. “Can you understand me?” she asks. Snowball emits a noise in response, a wheezing gurgle. Imogen looks at Lilly, who just shrugs. “Is that an aye?” Imogen asks Snowball.

Snowball makes the same creepy noise and then looks to Lilly. “Good job,” she tells him, and he smiles broadly, opening the mouth. That action shows the cracks in his mimicry ability. There are teeth there, but the jaw does not open properly. The simulation really is just skin deep. Lilly shudders. She needs to just get a break from this. She sits down on the side and pulls out a knife to sharpen, slipping into the soothing meditation of the repetitive movement.

Li nods, “I think this will do it for y’all.”

“I don’t know,” Lilly comments. “But he did a hydralisk earlier. It’s just so weird. So weird.” 

The more technical people present, however, are not fazed by the changeling, perhaps because they were spared a close up look at his transformations. Li gets out some scanning equipment and starts muttering about biomass and how there are no actual organs inside. Imogen uses her own mind for a similar purpose, trying to read any surface level thoughts Snowball might have. She cannot pick up any concrete thoughts, just a feeling of familiarity that, yes, this really is Snowball, along with a vibe that indicates some sort of shift in perspective. Whether that is new understanding or a simply a result of increased height, she cannot tell. “So, Li, do you think this zerg is advanced enough?” Imogen asks.

“Should be. All my scans indicate, yeah that’s zerg under there.” On a whim, Li decides to see if he still likes sweet tea. She offers Snowball a glass, and he sticks his face in it, trying to absorb the liquid.

“You can relax now,” Imogen tells him, thinking he might be better off in a more comfortable form for consumption. “You’re not on duty anymore?” she tries, unsure of the right military lingo.

Snowball looks over at Lilly. She is just sharpening knives, no longer on duty herself. Snowball collapses down into his default blob. Using his two wiry arms, he drags himself over to his bowl of sweet tea from earlier and flops a lump into it. Imogen smirks at the thought of how similar this is to protoss and beer.

“This will certainly make taking him back to Korhal easier for you,” Li observes. “As long as they’re not inspecting anybody for infestation.”

“Aye, I suppose. Whenever we go there next,” Imogen replies. “But we don’t have any reason to be there for a while.”

“Y’all don’t live there?”

“Not anymore.”

“Did you two get fired?” Li asks. “You had some cushy Dominion job, right?”

“No, we quit,” Lilly throws in from the side of the room, voice cracking a little from fatigue and the stress of the day.

“It’s all right, sweetheart,” Li assures Lilly, the note of consolation in her voice suggesting she does not believe her. “Have some more sweet tea.”

“Think I’ve had enough,” Lilly replies. 

“Why don’t y’all get some rest then,” Li suggests. “And tomorrow morning we can say hello to this Neiman fella. Give him what for.”

“Aye,” Imogen agrees wearily.

“No sweet tea for him,” Li adds as she leaves. A smile crosses Imogen’s tired face. That is the harshest judgment Li June can pass.