When Imogen sails down past her, Lilly immediately rights herself and gives a solid kick to the Xel’naga artifact, hoping to knock a chunk off it. Unfortunately, it is solidly held together by whatever weird forces are at play. If Lilly wants her partner to have cover, she will have to provide it bodily herself. With that in mind, Lilly lets out more rope, zipping down to the floor herself. She lands just in front of Imogen, who is groaning her way to her feet, bleeding in several places and wobbling dazedly.
“Damn scavengers!” the sergeant in power armor growls, stalking towards them. “Can’t trust anyone on this planet.” What he fires from his rifle is definitely no warning shot. Lilly jerks down when she sees the weapon coming up, but a bullet clips her. His squad takes their lead from him and lays down some suppressive fire, approaching from the opposite side of the artifact.
Imogen straightens up, smooths her frayed braid, and leans into the perfect lie presented for her. But because Norm is here, she needs to disguise who she is. The dim lighting in the room is in her favor, but she conceals her accent, just in case. Using the same twang she adopted as a Korhal scavenger, she cries out, “Whoa, there! Well ain’t this just a pickle, now? You think you off-worlders can come in and just take all of our sweet salvage here? Well, you don’t own the space above this ship, and I was completely within my rights snooping around up th—er, I mean… Yeah, that reporter gave us some money to see what we could see, but we ain’t seen nothing. It’s dark as blazes in here!” Imogen is going for a combination of flustered and irate. “The ground gave out under me, otherwise you wouldn’t’ve seen nothing!” She layers some desperation into her voice, which is not too hard, considering how bruised she feels combined with the sight of blood streaming down Lilly’s arm. “Look, we ain’t seen nothing here, all right? You took your shots, and we’ll just take our leave? All right? We took our licks. No hard feelings.”
Stupid scavengers paid by a reporter are the last thing that Norm wants to deal with right now. He is no bloodthirsty killer, but he also does not want to risk unnecessary exposure. “Tie them up,” he orders casually. “We can’t afford to have any more visitors. That journalist is still snooping around, and we can’t have you reporting anything back to her, even if you saw nothing. I assure you that if you don’t resist, you will not be harmed. We’ll let you go as soon as the device is ready to go.” Turning to a technician he adds, “And what is that blasted noise coming over your radio? Some nonsense about the emperor? Shut that off.” He shakes his head in annoyance. “I tell you, don’t get involved in politics if you can help it,” he addresses the room at large. “It’s not worth it.”
“We’re happy to not get involved in anything,” Imogen assures him. “We’ll just be going, then…”
“Tie them up,” Norm reiterates to the guards. He draws his pistol, just in case the scavengers get any ideas.
Imogen is clearly making a play, but Lilly is not sure they can afford to see it through. Under other circumstances, they could stick to this scavenger ploy and just wait out the threat. For all the people at FRAWD know, Lilly and Imogen could have gone into the salvage business after quitting government work. From a certain perspective, they have. It is a defensible lie, even if they are recognized. However, due to recent events, they are now wanted criminals. And while a random guard is unlikely to recognize them, the guy they made fill out their paperwork is another matter.
Lilly gives her partner a quick look over. Imogen is leaning against the wall of the hold, filthy and bloody from her fall. It looks like she is favoring a leg. Lilly has to get her out of here, and she is not going to be able to outshoot the soldier in front of her and his three goons coming up at them from behind. Lilly kicks at a nearby bag of cement to stir up some obscuring dust, then grabs Imogen. Her partner is too startled to resist being unceremoniously slung over her shoulder. Lilly charges straight for the door, not afraid of Norm’s little pistol. She hopes none of the soldiers will want to shoot their bigger guns right at their boss. And that he will not recognize Imogen with her face pressed into Lilly’s back.
“Now, now, don’t be hasty,” Norm tells the panicking scavengers as they barrel at him. “I assure you, as long as you follow directions no harm will come to you. But my men are capable, and I am also capable,” he says, raising the pistol now. “You already took a warning shot. You don’t want to take a lethal one.” The burly woman continues toward him, and Norm nods to his security chief. The man lines up a careful shot. It hits, and she breaks stride momentarily, but soon she is right upon Norm.
The smaller woman over her shoulder pulls a pistol from her carrier’s leg holster and waves it threateningly back at the artifact. “This thing is so important to you that you don’t want us to get away with information about it? If you want to keep it, you have to let us go.”
The Xel’naga artifact begins pulsing again. “Whoa! Whoa!” a tech shouts. The science staff has been staying out of this whole affair, but with the jump in the readings on the monitor that just accompanied that outburst of emotion, she has to speak up. “She’s connected! Keep her! We have to keep her! Boss, I think she’s a ghost.”
The area around the corrugated door turns into a free for all. Lilly is trying to get past Norm to the door; guards are grabbing at Imogen, trying to pull her off Lilly’s shoulder. At one point, the door opens a crack, slid by someone outside. Kate is there to support the women who have broadcast her message, but shooting her little holdout pistol into that mess only makes things worse by putting another bullet into Lilly. The next gun that goes off is Imogen’s, causing the guards to back off from her. Meanwhile, Norm’s priorities have shifted to silencing the reporter at his door, and that is where he directs his fire.
Kate has been in plenty of war zones, but this is the first time she has ever been shot herself. All those wars I covered, and this? This is when I get shot? When a bloody Lilly squeezes out the cracked door with Imogen, that really puts Kate’s minor injury in context. Kate shoves the door closed as Imogen squirms out of Lilly’s grip. The Umojan takes a step up on some junk and yanks something out of the pile of trash into which the makeshift door is set. It turns out to be a perfectly serviceable immersion blender. It was apparently also the linchpin holding all the debris back. With it removed, an avalanche triggers when Norm’s forces yank at the door. They will dig themselves out eventually, but by then their quarry will be long gone.