FRAWD Investigators: Changes | Scene 9

Once they are en route to Mar Sara, Imogen fills Lilly in on what happened with the shipjacker at the starport. Then the Umojan skulks off to her room, where she remains for most of the rest of the flight sulking, as far as Lilly can tell. Lilly herself spends the time trying to improve the ship’s security system. On Antiga she had set up a logger, but that is really not sufficient. She hopes to get a tracker in place for them to benefit from, or at least put in more hurdles for an intruder to get the ship started. Her efforts are stymied, though, by an annoying interface and the out-of-date computer systems. That Stetmann guy reset them to the factory defaults, and unfortunately that means they are lacking five years’ worth of patches. These vulnerabilities may be something Li June can help with, or else it will cost them some of their dwindling credit supply.

At the thought of Li, Lilly places a call to her to let her know they are on their way with the goods from Korhal that she requested. Lilly knows the recluse does not get into town much herself and asks if there is anything else she needs in Mar Sara City. She and Imogen will be passing through there to hand Rory’s order over to Joey Ray. Li is grateful for the offer and requests more sweet tea and a few other basics. She also lets Lilly know that she has made some progress researching what Lilly’s “friend” might become, but she wants to wait until they are in person to provide the details. “Understood, ma’am,” Lilly acknowledges. She hangs up and begins considering more physical approaches to security, wondering what sort of traps she can set up.

Although it may appear to Lilly like Imogen is in a funk, she is actually racking her brain over how to handle the Neiman situation. She feels like she failed somehow, like things did not have to go down this way, not if she had just handled Neiman better after Redstone. But no, in a fit of pique, she put a soldering iron through the comm unit he gave her once it became apparent that he was unapologetic about slipping a tracker on it.

And now look where they are, going up against a ghost, and Imogen so very unprepared to deal with a psionic adversary. Up until this point, she had just thought they might run into each other there as potential rivals for uncovering whatever the Cerberus facility might hold. But the reality is that she and Lilly will need to rescue the people he has abducted. Imogen knows there is so much more that psionics are capable of than the handful of things she has learned to do. One of the few things she has a grip on is sensing life, but Neiman can likely shield himself from her. Meanwhile she cannot do the same against him. And there is no good way for her to practice something she does not fully understand, not that she has a Khala to back her, anyway.

Over the several-day flight, she reviews everything she has learned from Malorn and Selendis, plus what she has gleaned from rumors about ghosts or things that Neiman himself told her. Imogen does not want to hurt anyone else on the ship—or Saffron either, for that matter—so attempting the resonance attack is a non-starter. The more she thinks about it, though, the more she realizes that protoss minds, at least from her experience bashing herself up against the Khala, are structured very differently from terran minds. Protoss grow up immersed in a psionic society, even the tal’darim. Going into others’ minds is natural to them in a way that it is not to terrans. The resonance attack would probably be too subtle for a terran ghost. They demonstrate more physical manifestations of their power, using it to activate their equipment, for example, or to move objects. Neiman himself admitted to having telekinetic abilities. Imogen wonders whether he used psionics to get Elaina to accompany him or just social engineering. Abdul put up a fight, though, so maybe Neiman does not have the psionic nudging ability that Selendis taught Imogen.

Probably Neiman’s equipment is going to be more of a concern than his psionics, Imogen finally concludes. There is a reason ghosts carry rifles, after all. Once again, she bemoans that Lilly traded away the DORF optics for upgrades to the frying pan laser. Hopefully Neiman’s ability to cloak himself will not foil their plans. She comforts herself with the knowledge that Saffron’s sensor can detect cloaked things and the EMP can disable them. However, how useful that is will depend on where they are when they run into Neiman. Those things need to be actively operated from the ship unless Lilly can write a sophisticated computer program with detailed enough parameters.

By the time they reach Mar Sara, Imogen has encouraged herself enough that the problems ahead seem tractable at least. They set down in Mar Sara City to take care of their gofer activities and then fly eastward across the wastes to Li’s compound. As Lilly is setting the science vessel down on the rough terrain in the yard, the older woman comes out of her house, arms waving wildly, trying to get their attention. There is a horrible scraping noise as Lilly gets too close to a boulder. Imogen cringes. “Bounced a little,” Lilly says.

“I just fixed it!” Imogen complains.

Lilly lowers the ramp, and Li comes right up to it, a bit distressed. “Oh, sweetheart, no! I just installed a landing pad! You didn’t need to do that anymore. I’m so sorry I forgot to transmit that information to you, and look, the wind has done blown dust all over it. No wonder you did not see it from above. I do apologize that your ship got all dinged up.”

“Sorry, ma’am,” Lilly says sheepishly, hoping she did not crush the woman’s garden or anything. She heads down the ramp, joining Li at its base. 

Imogen paces around Saffron, checking out the damage. “Looks like we’re going to have to be using your garage again,” she observes.

Lilly asks how the pad got installed, and Li tells her she keeps an SCV suit on hand, which she used to pour the concrete herself. And she wired up beacons, which she then points out to them. The landing pad is not large enough to host a big ship, but it can certainly accommodate the science vessel. “Why don’t you all come in for some sweet tea,” Li invites. “And bring your friend Snowball.”

“Oh, we’ve got a new friend to introduce you to,” Imogen says.

“She’s not a zerg,” Lilly clarifies. “Sunshine!” At Lilly’s call, the lyote comes barrelling outside. Sunshine sniffs the air, then picks a direction and runs. Fortunately, the automated turrets all point outward. A little belatedly, Lilly checks that it is okay for Sunshine to run around within the walls of Li’s compound. She cannot guarantee that the lyote will not steal anything, but she can at least promise to return whatever Sunshine snags.

Li is surprised but not alarmed when the lyote shows herself. A lot of these animals run around on Mar Sara. The surprising thing to her is that the creature tolerates being cooped up in the ship. She asks Lilly if they intend to release the lyote back into the wild here. “Dunno,” Lilly says. “Hadn’t really thought about it.”

“You put a nice cute ribbon on her,” Li observes, “so I guess she’s yours now.”

Lilly shrugs and chuckles. “As long as she’ll agree to it.”