After the lecture, Imogen and Lilly go to the cafeteria for lunch in the hopes of eavesdropping on some of the research staff. At least that is what Imogen’s focus is. Lilly is mulling over the strange ending to her own conversation with researchers. The two pick up their food, and Imogen selects a table near the buffet, where a couple people in lab coats are loading up plates.
The researchers sound like they intend to stay in Galileo’s Café to eat, but then one of them glances across the buffet at Lilly who is currently scowling down at a lunch that has far more salad than she had intended. “Oh gosh, look, let’s just go back to the lab,” the researcher says. “I’m having flashbacks to the bully back in my high school lunchroom. I’d rather tangle with the hydralisk in the back than deal with another one of those types.” His companion shushes him, and the two take their food and depart rapidly.
Lilly and Imogen finish their meal and head out. As they pass the reception area, Lilly grabs a pamphlet that includes the floorplan of the museum. It only has details of the public exhibit halls, but the section labeled “laboratory research” at least gives them an idea of the size of the unknown space. Outside, they walk around the grounds a bit. There are troopers with rifles patrolling the area, but Lilly thinks she could slip by them. “I could take a look,” she offers. She is not a thief, but she can be stealthy when she needs to be.
Imogen nods and marches off to engage the attention of the nearest guards. As Lilly slips around to the back, she hears Imogen playing the FRAWD card again, asking if they have ever experienced any delays in their paychecks or seen suspicious individuals talking with the managers. The Umojan is careful not to imply that these guards are themselves on the take, of course. Lilly is happy to leave the talking to her and to be doing something physical finally.
The first thing Lilly notices on the back side of the building is that there is an access point, a place for official deliveries with all the expected keep-away signs. A guard is posted outside, and Lily imagines the door is also watched carefully from the inside. However, there are also windows on the back walls. They look like the kind that do not open, but they could give her a peek inside. Their height is no issue to the tall soldier, particularly since there is some vegetation nearby to provide a bit of a screen. Lilly jumps up and grabs the sill, then pulls herself up high enough to see.
The windows are just below the high ceiling of a laboratory. One wall is covered with a bank of instrument panels and monitors. A couple Dominion troopers are on guard duty, which is no surprise given the chained-up hydralisk in the room. A scientist named Nkosi, judging by the labcoat, stands by a pedestal on the opposite side of the space. On it rests a large rifle with sleek curves and subtle blue lines. It is definitely not shaped like a frying pan, but the project name is stenciled on materials in the room. Nkosi makes some adjustments to the settings and picks the cumbersome weapon up with both hands.
Most sounds from the room are quite muffled, but whatever resonances exist near that side dais carry words spoken there to Lilly’s ears. “Okay, clear!” the scientist shouts. Everyone slips on dark goggles, and the lights in the chamber dim. The hydralisk, which is already quite wounded, shifts wearily. “Fire!” A blue laser streaks out from the gun and bores a decent-sized hole through the zerg. The flesh around the wound catches fire, and the creature thrashes about in pain.
The lights brighten again, and a door on the side of the room opens. Clemmins and Xing walk in, the researchers Lilly talked with earlier. Lilly cannot hear their words, but Nkosi is still by the weapon pedestal, so her response carries. “Wait, wait, wait! So we won’t have to test on this stupid hydralisk anymore? You’re telling me that in a couple days we get to do resoc frying?” She rubs her hands together in anticipation. All right!”
Lilly flushes hot, then goes cold all over. They can tell I’m a resoc?! Startled, she loses her grip on the sill and drops to the ground. She lands awkwardly but, more importantly, quietly. No, they’re not talking about me. No. She hears some guards shouting, but they are not alerting anyone to her actions. Rather, it sounds like Imogen has still got her back. “Hey, Frank, c’mon over here! This woman needs to interview everybody!” By all rights, Lilly should have been seen by now, but the door guard is now dealing with an inquisitive Umojan. Lilly slips away, shaking but unnoticed. As she rounds the building from the opposite direction, she catches the door guard explaining the nature of his work to Imogen.
“The pay is shit, but it’s a job. I just keep people out. It’s very simple. Do I let someone in? No. Until someone yells at me, and then it’s like, oh, that was someone I was supposed to let in? Oh, okay. Generally it’s my boss who yells at me, but, hey, if you control my paycheck, yell at me all you want. Is your department hiring?” Imogen tells him the benefits are pretty crappy, and he says that is what he hears all over the Dominion.
One of the other troopers, whose job it is to guard the front of the museum, comments, “You know, I used to do this work under the Confederacy. I got a decent pension, but that all got wiped away when the Dominion rolled in. It used to be a lot better in the Confederacy.”
Those are seditious statements, but Imogen lets them slide. She is not here to drag blue collar workers back in chains, and she certainly has no personal loyalty to the Dominion. The guards indicate they need to get back to work, and, having spotted her partner coming around the corner, Imogen lets them go.
Lilly adjusts her collar, worried that her tattoos are somehow visible or could have been earlier. Maybe I should wear a turtleneck, she thinks. Her Dominion tattoo is the closest to her neck and seems the most likely one to have been observed. Maybe she was thoughtlessly playing with the collar earlier and someone noticed. “Ah! That was dumb!” she admonishes herself under her breath. Hopefully that was how they could tell and not just by looking at me.