Imogen rejoins Lilly in time for Dr. Brine’s talk, which is titled Inducing Heat Through Focused Lasers, or How to Cook a Zerg Alive. As they amble toward the lecture hall, they take a surreptitious look at the door in the back of the museum that leads into the research area. There are cameras mounted on the ceiling, and the troopers here are armed with assault rifles and in a bad mood. Wall signage makes it clear that this is a restricted area for authorized personnel only.
Miraculously, Lilly and Imogen manage to stay awake for the entire length of a lecture that is not nearly as engaging as its title. Others in the audience are not so lucky. Clearly there is some sort of laser involved for shooting zerg, but any details beyond that are impossible to track. The speaker makes no mention of the protoss origin of the techniques, simply attributing them to a brilliant terran discovery made here at this facility. The room erupts into applause at the end of the talk, maybe because of an exciting video clip of a zerg burning up or maybe just because the lecture is finally over.
The FRAWD agents make their way past a sleeping parent with a child conked out in his lap and head to the front of the room. There, Dr. Brine, a lanky scientist with a salt-and-pepper bush on his head and a matching thatch under his pale nose, is chatting with a few people in lab coats. Lilly hangs back a bit as Imogen inserts herself into the conversation. Prior to speaking up, the Umojan tries to apply the lessons she just received from Malorn, but there are so many minds around that she is unable to tell which belongs to the lead scientist. She then tries to establish positive rapport with Dr. Brine by congratulating him on his excellent work while avoiding any specifics since the science was beyond her ability to follow.
“Oh, thank you. The only good zerg is a dead zerg,” he nods. Picking up on her accent, he continues, “You’re from Umoja, aren’t you? I bet you wish you had this kind of technology there. Your protectorate might have been the most capable once, but the Dominion far exceeds you now.” He chuckles a bit. “I’m afraid all of you are going to have to go back to school.”
Imogen just rolls with the disparaging comments directed at Umoja. “Aye, that’s why I’m not there. That’s why I work for the Dominion now.” She pulls out her authorization paper and holds it up for him to see. “And I’m here to investigate your facility.”
“What? What is this?” He leans in to skim the document, frowning. This sort of stress is not what he needs right now. “Look, this is just bureaucratic nonsense. I’m sure you can take it up with my—”
“With your supervisor?” Imogen digs at him.
“—with my secretary. I’m sure if you send it through the official channels, it will make its way to us and we can schedule some kind of tour.”
One of the junior researchers speaks up, “Oh! Dr. Brine, we could fit in a tour later this week!”
Brine grimaces, and Imogen seizes the opportunity. “The day after tomorrow, then? That works for us.” She would have preferred to see the location ahead of time, but she will settle for having a legitimate reason to be present at the same time Lendasha is.
* * *
When Dr. Brine makes his snarky comment about Umoja to Imogen, the other researchers around him grow quiet and give the pair some space, watching their superior interact with this newcomer. Lilly looks on, wondering how she can support her partner. What would Imogen tell me to do? There are no drinks here for making friends. She steps up to a pair of younger scientists and asks if they are working on the same project. The science is above her head, but she hopes to gain some additional information about the restricted area.
“We actually did most of the important work here,” replies a young man named Clemmins, based on his lab coat’s embroidery. “Dr. Brine really just does the presentations. You know, for the crowds,” he adds almost disdainfully, gesturing at Lilly.
She nods. “Yeah, I have a boss too,” Lilly says levelly. This is what Jefferson was telling her and Imogen this very morning!
Clemmins acknowledges that some things apply across the board, regardless of one’s work. He and his coworker Xing answer a few more questions, telling Lilly that they have had a lot of impressive successes lately and that their capabilities with lasers have extended way beyond what they were even just a couple years ago. Clemmins mentions that they have tested it on zerg specimens but that they really need to test it on all forces they might face, which includes protoss and even terrans. He grows quiet, looking at Lilly pensively for a moment. He exchanges a look with Xing. Abruptly, he excuses himself, and his companion scurries off with him.
Lilly watches them cross the room to Dr. Brine’s side. The senior scientist is frowning, but the corner of Imogen’s mouth is quirked up in a half-grin, suggesting that things are going well for their mission here. Clemmins taps Brine’s shoulder and then leans in and whispers something in his ear. Xing tilts her head toward Lilly, and Brine’s gaze follows. His expression shifts from frustrated to contemplative, and he nods as Xing whispers something else. Then Brine turns back to Imogen, all smiles. “Ah, yes, the day after tomorrow?” Lilly hears him ask her partner. “We run a lot of tests, and then you can actually see one.”