Matt Horner catches up with Imogen Owendoher in the corridors of Hyperion. “Ah, Imogen, there you are. I appreciate you waiting for our chat. I had to take time to talk to the potential council right away. I need to get us all on the same page. It’s not going to be easy.”
“Any of them pass muster?”
Horner lets out a long breath. “You know, there’s what you read in the reports, which are themselves covered in layers of propaganda. And you have certain access to historical information. And then there are the people themselves, with four years added on top of that. I… I think we’ll be okay. I think imparting the gravity of the situation will be the most difficult part for some of them.”
Imogen listens to his words, of course, but she also skims his mind, seeking an understanding of what drives him. He sees threats, lots of threats, and what he wants more than anything is safety. Not personal safety just for himself, but security for the sector as a whole. It is not tinged with ruthlessness, either; he does not strive to succeed at all costs. I can work with this, Imogen thinks.
“Now what did you want to chat about?” Matt asks. “I don’t suppose you have any ins with the Umojan government and might be able to get us some assistance in this revolution?” he adds hopefully but half-heartedly. He doubts she will answer in the affirmative. “No?”
“Umojans, we don’t have a navy to speak of,” Imogen begins.
“Well, but other resources—”
“And they are not concerned about the bigger picture,” Imogen continues, emphasizing the pronoun shift. “They’re concerned about their own planet and their own space. Managing a small thing, and managing it well.”
“I don’t blame them,” Horner says. “They’ve had a mostly peaceful existence. I hope that can hold out for them.”
“But people like you and me, we have to take a longer view or else this sector is never going to see a lasting peace.”
Matt is calm and cool in general, but he brightens a bit at her turn of phrase. “People like us? You’re interested in the long-term fate of the sector?” He had not realized the commander’s reconnaissance team was anything other than temporary contractors.
“I’m interested in the very long-term fate of the sector.”
“Well, we can only project so far out. Our models are only so good to begin with.”
“I have information your models don’t,” Owendoher states.
“What information is that?”
Imogen has gotten a good feeling about Horner. She takes a chance and lays it out for him. “There’s a UED ghost who has been gathering information on the sector and the forces here. And who I think is preparing to send it all back to Earth.”
Matt’s eyes go wide; he cannot help it. “That’s, uh, a pretty major claim. Now, I don’t want to make you think I don’t believe you, but what evidence do you have of this?”
“I have some of his technology.”
“Do you, now? May I see it?”
“Your understanding may be that we went to that prison facility because Jimmy asked us to—”
“Yes, and I’m very appreciative that you were able to recover those people.”
“But we volunteered to go because we had other reasons for being there.”
This is growing more and more intriguing. “Really?”
“You’re not the only one who wanted to spring someone out of there. The UED ghost swiped one of those prisoners a week ago, but he didn’t take all of his technology with him.” Imogen parcels out her information as much as possible, hoping after each statement that Horner will be satisfied without her having to out herself. Unfortunately, he just keeps prompting her for more details.
“What did he leave behind?”
“He left behind a holo-emitter so that they wouldn’t know they were missing one of their prisoners. But I think I can use it to trace back to him.” She holds up her hands to stop the next question. “This is a lot that’s suddenly being presented to you. I understand. And you might be wondering what I want of you and why am I telling you it.”
“I admit that thought has crossed my mind. This is a lot to deal with at once. You do know that the only thing that defeated the UED before was Kerrigan’s Swarm.”
“Aye. Which is why I’d rather the UED not come here at all.”
“I mean, we can tell them to piss off, I suppose,” Matt says, seeking some minor levity in this unexpectedly intense conversation.
“I’d rather we tell them something more convincing.”
“You have something already in mind?”
“I have the beginnings of a plan. But I don’t have a power source to implement it.”
Matt’s brow crinkles at that strange turn. “How big of a power source do you need?”
“I think the kind of power source required would be something of Xel’naga make.”
Horner lets out a long breath. “You’re thinking about that artifact.”
“What do you actually know about the Moebius Foundation?” Imogen asks.
“Moebius? They’re a relatively recent scientific group. They tend to do a lot of research on protoss-type technology, which gets them in trouble on occasion. And they’re willing to work with us, the raiders, which most organizations are not.”
“Do you have any information on their actual staff?”
“Their staff?” he echoes, puzzled. “A bunch of scientists, I suppose.”
“I’m not trying to be alarmist, but I am wondering if there are any UED sympathizers there.”
Horner takes the suggestion seriously, but after a moment’s thought, he says, “I’d be surprised. I don’t know of many UED sympathizers. A certain fraction of the sector did sign up with them under the illusion that they were restoring the Confederacy with UED help. But you may recall that when the UED succeeded, it became clear that they were installing themselves instead. Most people are pretty sour on them now. There might be a few scattered operatives, soldiers who survived the fighting, but I would expect them to be trying to blend in more than anything else.” He rubs his chin in speculation. “But you’ve got a ghost you claim you know, and you’ve got some of his tech…” He shakes his head suddenly. “No, that artifact is not just something we can play with. We’ve had Egon study it for a month and a half.”
“Egon’s no ghost.”
The comment hangs in the air between them. Matt looks at Owendoher. She looks levelly back at him. “Is that…?” He clears his throat. “Um, can I ask you one question? Are you actually a plant by the Umojan government and they have their own ghost program that they’ve kept secret?”
Imogen chuckles. “The Umojan government doesn’t work the way that the Confederacy or the Dominion did. If they have a ghost program, it’s hidden so well that none of their citizens know about it.”
“What if you didn’t even know about it yourself, but you were in it?”
Imogen snorts. “That’s a pretty extensive level of paranoia. You think I’m a sleeper agent? That I don’t know any of these things, but I’m reaching these conclusions on my own and acting on them? And somehow, the Umojan Protectorate, the smallest planetary government—one concerned mostly about its oceans and trees—”
“And yet that seems to develop an uncanny level of technology,” Horner is quick to point out.
“Aye! Because they’re not wasting their effort blowing each other up!”
“And that somehow manages to stay out of every sector-wide conflict that has ravaged nearly every other planet,” he adds. “I’m not saying it’s a probability. I’m saying it’s a possibility.”
Is this a deal-breaker? Imogen wonders. She has sensed no danger from his words, but she tries now to lean into his mind to make sure. It has been a really long day for her, however, and she can get no reassurances that way. Maybe he’s got a little bit of latent talent himself, she thinks.
At Owendoher’s silence, Matt grows a little frustrated, perceiving it as coyness. “Look, even if I believed you and agreed with you, it’s the commander’s call regarding what we do with the artifact. And there are a lot of credits on the line. Yes, we already got paid, but we get a bonus for a clean delivery. That’s what we need to fund this revolution. We’re going to—” His jaw clenches in annoyance, but he forces the words out. “—take those credits and hire Mira’s Marauders. If we were to use the artifact to deliver this message, I don’t know if we’d still be able to deliver it intact. If we can’t do this revolution, then it doesn’t even matter if the UED doesn’t come around, not if Mengsk is still in charge.”
Owendoher frowns, but Matt holds up his hand to forestall a protest. He is not done speaking yet. “You’ve certainly proven yourself to be trustworthy. You can talk to Egon. You can study the artifact. Take whatever readings you want. But I don’t think we can release it into your care. Maybe after we drop it off with Moebius they will be fine with you using it. Maybe that would be an interesting experiment for them. And we’ll be on guard,” he assures her. “I’ll check into some of the Moebius folks. Everything we’ve seen has been on the level, and we really do try to vet people—but also we have to take the jobs that we can get, and this was a good one. Money-wise, anyway.” He shakes his head at a recent memory. “That last piece though… I tell you, the very world was burning up in front of us. Fortunately we managed to pull it out before the whole place fell into its sun. I do not want to do that again. And the whole time, tal’darim were fighting us. I have no idea why. Fighting us on a dying world!”
“Well, it was important to them religiously. People do a lot for their convictions.”
“Now that is true, and it’s a good point. The protoss mind just works a little bit differently, I suppose.”
Imogen holds out her hand. “Thank you for your time.” Horner takes it and gives her a firm handshake. Before she lets go of it, she looks him in the eye and says, “Umoja doesn’t have a ghost program, and you don’t know any Umojan ghosts.” As soon as the words are out of her mouth, Imogen realizes they will only reinforce his misinterpretation of the situation, but she decides that is not a bad thing after all.
He gives her a tight nod. “I understand the level of confidentiality associated with this.”
As Imogen heads back to Saffron to finally get some much needed rest, she reflects that having Jimmy’s admiral believe she is a government official of some sort could be useful. Horner might feel he has to be more careful around her, but he will not be as dismissive of her. She will count that as a win in her fight for the sector.