Lilly and Imogen take a tram to the outer edge of Augustgrad. The DORF grounds have actual grass, and a large statue of Emperor Mengsk decorates the front gardens between a couple lavish fountains. Compared to the desert that is most of Korhal and the built-up nature of Augustgrad, this institute is a veritable oasis. As they walk up the road, they note a few Dominion troopers patrolling the grounds. They are not full-on marines, but still, their presence seems a little over-the-top for just a museum.
Imogen strides up to the ticketing window and quickly flashes her FRAWD ID, immediately demanding to see the manager. She wants to get a look at as much of the facility as possible now, before the actual job. Malorn suspects Lendasha will hit the place during the day, so what they see now is likely what they will have to deal with on Wednesday.
The manager comes out, a dark-skinned woman with tightly braided cornrows and a name tag that says Sarah Palmer. “What seems to be the problem here?” she asks.
Imogen starts, “We’re here from the Fraud, Retaliation, Abuse, Waste Division—”
“That sounds like a waste,” Palmer mutters.
“—And we have authorization here to see the full extent of your facility and look at your books.” Imogen provides the paper Jefferson Duke prepared. Imogen softens it a little with, “If we don’t see anything that is questionable, this visit will be the last you see of us.”
“Yeah, there’s probably nothing here,” Lilly adds. “But I’ve gotta write reports, she’s gotta write reports… so here we are.”
“You can check out the primary area,” Palmer agrees. “Be aware that the restricted area is only for specifically cleared personnel, and your names are not on that list. I don’t have authorization to add people to that list; I manage the museum.”
“And what, exactly, is the other part of this building?” Imogen inquires.
“That’s the research area. The museum is open to the public, for a fee, and you are free to inspect it, as well as look over our books, certainly.”
“And where can I find the manager of the other facility?”
“The laboratory director is actually giving a talk later today in our lecture hall. Feel free to attend it.”
* * *
The layout inside the building is that of a typical museum. Beyond ticketing is the entrance to a café, and then the large open space has scattered exhibits throughout, all with an optical bent. The clientele seems to mainly be families with young children.
Lilly and Imogen examine the room with their true purpose in mind, checking sightlines, looking for possible hiding places, watching the guards. Dominion troopers are present here inside, too, and although they are not in power armor, they do carry guns.
Lilly’s eyes are drawn to the display piece suspended from the ceiling, an old wraith. It is part of an exhibit on Dominion cloaking technology. The placard lists the various battles in which the vehicle participated and states that the cloak still works. As Lilly watches, the vehicle disappears from view, though she notes the vague telltale shimmer that can tip an attentive watcher to the technology in its active mode. It is much easier to detect, of course, when the cloaked object is still and one knows exactly where to look for it.
After a minute or so, the cloak shuts off, and Lilly admires the wraith itself. They are fast, fun, maneuverable one-person aircraft, capable of going great speeds or just hovering in place. She never piloted one of these, but she always wanted to. Cloaking takes huge amounts of energy; if the cloak still works, the wraith might also still be able to fly. Too bad it can’t fit inside Saffron, Lilly thinks. Imogen tugs on Lilly’s sleeve and nods her head over toward a display on advanced sensors. Lilly follows along, but her attention remains on the wraith.
The sensor display includes a pair of goggles that can enable the wearer to see cloaked things. That would be mighty useful against Lendasha and her crew, Imogen reflects. The placard encourages the reader to try the tethered eyewear out on the wraith hanging in the center of the hall. Imogen brings up the goggles to look through them up at the wraith. As she holds them to her face, she subtly tests the tether’s connection, hoping she can pry it loose. The cord is attached too tightly for mere sleight-of-hand, however. As Imogen lowers her gaze, she finds a museum docent standing right in front of her. She has bronze skin and black hair in a tidy bob cut; her name tag says Regina Ng.
“You’re with the compliance folks, right? Is there anything I can help you with? Is everything in order here?” Regina asks. Imogen replies with questions about the provenance of the items on display.
What’s provenance? Lilly wonders, pulling her attention back down to ground level.
“These items, we sort of inherited them from the old Confederacy.” The docent reassures them, “We have adapted them to be proper Dominion display pieces and have stripped out any dangerous technologies. These are all very safe, and this is actually several models out of date. These were salvaged; they were actually used in combat during the Siege of Tarsonis several years ago. Are you a history buff yourself?”
“It’s more a matter of making sure how you acquired them is above-board,” Imogen replies.
“Oh, sure, of course! You can see this one says, ‘Donated by General Duke,’ on the placard.”
Her boss’s surname catches Imogen’s attention. Maybe he has some personal stake in this place and that is why he wanted them to keep things quiet about investigating it. “Anything else here from the Duke family?” she asks. When Regina indicates that the Duke family has donated many items, Imogen asks to see them.
Lilly shoots Imogen a questioning glance, and the Umojan gives a subtle shake of her head, then places the goggles back on their rack in a very deliberate manner. “Why don’t you continue the investigation here while I go along with this helpful lady,” Imogen directs, then walks off with her guide.
* * *
Lilly looks idly around the hall and then decides to check out the restroom with an eye toward vents, but she does not find any useful access points. The washroom is completely interior, so there are not even windows. Makes sense for a museum, she thinks. As she returns to the main space, her eyes fall on the sensor exhibit. She reads the description and realizes why Imogen was so focused on it. No museum staff are in the immediate vicinity. Lilly is not a thief, but… Those would be really handy for spotting cloaked protoss assassins. Malorn has warned them that Lendasha will likely have some lower-ranked blood hunters working under her for this mission. I could just borrow them. Lilly picks the goggles up and brings them up to her eyes.
Lilly wakes up in her bunk at the Dominion military base where she is currently posted. She needs to keep the Dominion safe from the UED terrorists and their terrible brand of fascism. She kits herself out for the day’s patrol, including the goggles she has been issued to help her spot Earth ghosts. They are not perfect, but they give the sentries a bit of an edge. As she starts her patrol, she pulls the goggles off her forehead and down over her eyes. A message flashes across her field of vision, as if this were the HUD in a powersuit. It says, “Don’t trust the Dominion.” She stops, jarred by the unexpected message. “Mengsk is lying to you,” it flashes. Through the words, she looks left and right, seeing if anything looks out of place in the real world. There are no threats, at least none to life and limb. As the messages continue, though, she begins to sense an existential threat to herself.
Over the next several weeks, as she spends more and more time with the goggles on, the resocialization that the Dominion subjected her to unravels, bit by bit. She realizes she needs to get out of there. When the time is right, she makes a break for it. She gives a hearty yessir and salute to her commanding officer as he passes. He will not suspect a thing; she has always been so reliable. In his office, Lilly hacks into the computer and adjusts her records so that she has an honorable discharge. Then she slips off the base, a few trinkets on hand to aid her escape. Some, like the goggles, she will trade away. Others, like the shotgun, she will keep.
“Those things are pretty cool, aren’t they?”
Lilly lowers the goggles and sees that one of the Dominion troopers serving as museum guard is in front of her. He has pasty white skin and a blond crew cut. His name patch reads Johnson. “Yeah,” she agrees. “You ever wear them?”
“Yeah,” he says, taking the goggles from her hand. He puts them on and does a slow look up and down the length of her body. “Nah, they don’t work right.”
Lilly is nonplussed by his painfully obvious gawking. “Let me see,” she says, snatching them back. Everything around her looks slightly different, as though viewed through a subtle filter. The shimmer of the wraith’s cloak is more visible now but still far from obvious. Mounted up on the ceiling as it is, the wraith is far enough away that Lilly realizes depth perception is a bit of an issue through these lenses. They are power hogs, as well. Such drawbacks are some of the reasons they are not a standard part of every soldier’s gear.
She places the goggles back on the stand. Walking away with them right now is not an option as long as the guard continues to hover around her. Lilly does not mind, though, since Johnson is a potential source of useful information. “Do you typically see any trouble around here?” she asks him.
“Oh, yeah, there’s trouble every now and then, but I take care of it,” the trooper replies, puffing himself up self-importantly. “Ruffians, thieves, rowdy children…”
Lilly thinks only that last one is likely. The guy is clearly trying to impress her, and she takes advantage of his interest in conversation, caring not a jot about where he erroneously thinks it will lead. She tries to extract information about guard shifts and armaments, but he is focused on equipment of an entirely different nature.
Johnson gets a bit louder in his rambling, complaining about long hours and how awful the cafeteria food is. His supervisor takes notice and orders him back to his post. “Ugh! And I have this hard-ass sergeant on my case!” he groans. “Well, see you around, toots.”
“Yessir,” Lilly replies. Her attention has already shifted to the superior, who is wearing an actual sidearm and patrolling the area alertly. He might not be in full marine gear, but she wonders if he has the training. As she watches him, she realizes he is also watching her back. Lilly reassures herself that it is just the novelty of a solitary young adult in a museum that catches his attention and not that he thinks she is a troublemaker of any kind. I’m not a thief. She turns away from him and sees Imogen approaching.
* * *
The docent Regina is very accommodating and has nothing but praise for the Duke family. Imogen learns that they were prominent during the final years of the Confederacy and helped usher in the Dominion to replace “those old terrible ways.” From Regina’s use of phrases such as “bastion of humanity,” Imogen suspects that she is parroting materials prepared for the museum staff. The docent mentions that General Duke died while bravely fighting the zerg and points out several more artifacts donated by the family. One such item is part of a laser from the battlecruiser NORAD II. This display explains some of the science behind the weapon and then throws in the sort of propaganda Imogen has come to expect: that this vessel is where General Duke first met Emperor Mengsk and that when the ship crash-landed, patriotic Dominion forces rescued the vessel, convincing Duke of the justness of the Dominion cause. Nothing Regina shows Imogen is directly linked to her boss Jefferson Duke, though.
Imogen asks if the museum ever has any trouble because of the space it shares with a separate group and whether there is any intermixing between the two sets of employees. “The spooks in the back are kind of weird,” Regina replies. “Some of them eat in the cafeteria up front here. I don’t think they have their own space for that, but I’ve never been back there.” When Imogen questions the use of the term spooks, Regina clarifies, “They never say anything about what they’re doing back there. You just never really see them much. Most of them just come in and show their badge back there.” She nods her head toward a door in the back of the hall with two guards flanking it. “Then you don’t see them until they clock out for the day. They’re not very talkative. It’s mainly a bunch of researchers. Every now and then I see an officer go through. But I shouldn’t talk poorly of them. They’re doing good work for the Dominion, and that’s what’s important. I help educate people, and they help develop things to keep our soldiers safe. And what about you? What do you do? You work for the Dominion, too, right?”
Imogen revises her initial opinion of the docent; this could be a real believer in Mengsk. “I keep the Dominion’s credits safe,” she tells Regina, “by making sure they’re being used the way they’re supposed to be used.” The guide invites her to take a look at the ticket revenue, which is of course lower than Regina would like it to be. Imogen makes a show of looking over the museum’s dreadfully boring books. She has no idea what these figures should look like, and she is not surprised to find no evidence of fraud. After all, she is the one who made up the rumors about money laundering at DORF.