The journey from Mar Sara to Umoja takes about two weeks. Now evolved into a changeling, Snowball mainly stays in his terran form, that of a non-descript woman shorter than Lilly but taller than Imogen. Sometimes he attempts to communicate using the paper and crayons that Imogen found in one of the lockers, but usually he is content just to closely watch what goes on around him. He is particularly attentive to Lilly’s piloting and to anything Imogen does for ship maintenance. Eventually, though, a need becomes so pressing that he carefully takes a crayon in his weak faux-terran hand and concentrates on drawing a message. He gives the paper to Lilly, and she recognizes the symbol: it is the logo for Li June’s favorite brand of sweet tea.
“He seems much more curious now that he’s no longer a larva,” Imogen observes. “But I wonder whether Snowball is really curious or if the Queen of Blades is curious.”
“About what?” Lilly says, starting to rummage around for other treats for Snowball to consume. They have already gone through her entire supply of creep.
“About what it is we’re doing,” Imogen clarifies.
“Oh, you think he’s a spy?” Lilly says off-handedly. There is beer in the fridge. That has calories and sugar, but she holds off on offering it just yet. There might be something in one of the crates or up on the shelves that Imogen cannot reach.
“I think that’s what a zerg that can change shape would be useful for, infiltrating and observing. We know zerg have psionic links to those that control them,” Imogen reminds her. They did, after all, just recently take down an overlord that was relaying messages to zerglings. “Snowball clearly indicated that’s who he wants to work for, the Queen of Blades, and I think she’s got a connection to him now. So, when we get to our destination, he’s staying on the ship.”
“Got it. Or did you want to drop him off before?”
Imogen looks at her business partner, eyes wide with incredulity. “In the vast expanse of space between the Dominion and the Umojan Protectorate?! We don’t have anyone to leave him with. Are you just going to drop him on a rock somewhere? You said you didn’t think he could take care of himself.”
“No, I didn’t mean abandon him, but… I don’t know. I guess there aren’t zerg babysitters.” There are certainly some Dominion scientists who would love to study him, but Lilly is not interested in that. “A broodmother would probably take him in,” she suggests a little tentatively.
Imogen shakes her head. “He had his chance to go with Zagara and he didn’t.”
“That’s true. I think it will be fine. We’ll just keep him on the ship. We’re not really doing anything that exciting here. The Queen of Blades probably already knows how to run a science vessel.” From the back of a dusty top shelf, Lilly pulls down a solitary packet of Exploracorp-brand Tang. From the look of the packaging, it was a promotional item that came with the science vessel. She figures the sugary drink will be close enough to sweet tea for Snowball and mixes some up. “I’m sorry, buddy, we’re out of the tea. How’s this?”
Snowball looks skeptically at the bright orange liquid, so different from the rich red-orange of Li’s sweet tea. He has no real nose with which to sniff it, but he sticks a tongue-like appendage into the liquid. The way he rapidly pulls it back indicates to Lilly that he is not a fan. Time for plan number two. Lilly pops open a can. “How about some beer?” she offers, hoping that the alcohol is not too dehydrating for him. Snowball samples it and gags, recoiling from the beverage, and Lilly is glad she did not sacrifice a bottle of Kick In the Face Stout for this experiment.
Lilly holds out the Tang again. “Sorry, buddy, this is what we’ve got until we land.” Snowball scrunches up his face, emitting a low growl of displeasure. “Yeah, I know, buddy. I’m sorry.” He tries it again, but it is clear he does not like it. “Probably too acidic,” Lilly mutters. For some zerg, that would not be a problem at all, but changelings must lack whatever zerg mechanism deals with acid.
“Well, this is a science vessel,” Imogen points out. “Bring that over here to the science station, and I’ll see what bases we have on hand. Maybe we can start with just diluting it….”
The final product, while delightful to Snowball, is almost unbearable for the terrans in the ship. Something in the Tang has reacted poorly to one of the additions, causing the concoction to smell absolutely terrible. Gagging, Lilly flips on the fume hood above the science bench. Snowball laps up the new beverage, entirely content. Imogen pushes him out of the central hub and closes Lilly’s door behind him. Their trip will not take that much longer, but she does not want to spend the remainder in a breath mask. She jots down the reagents she combined and in what quantities. Hopefully she will never need this recipe again, but it is good to be prepared. Who knows, maybe it can even operate as a chemical zerg lure with some minor adjustments, should they ever need one.