Being on the outskirts of terran space, Dead Man’s Rock is an excellent place for under-the-radar meetings. And being a giant pile of trash itself, it is also a good place to hide a ship. As Saffron flies toward it for the rendezvous with Malorn, Imogen bounces ideas about their upcoming job off Lilly. “If we’re going to Iceberg Station all squished together on Malorn’s little fighter while Saffron is stashed away somewhere, bringing back a disassembled dragoon is not really on the table,” she points out, speaking of their recovery job for Selendis. Lendasha’s tal’darim are in charge of the station, but there are still terrans there, and of the pirate variety. Imogen has been mulling over ways their own party can have freedom of movement. “What if we pretend Malorn is our prisoner, and we’re bringing him in? You’ll probably need to get him drunk for him to agree to this plan, or for us to carry it out if he does not.”
“Hunh,” Lilly acknowledges noncommittally. She totally wants to ride in Malorn’s slick fighter craft.
“Malorn might consider it beneath him to be captured by terrans,” Imogen rebuts herself. “Although it has happened to him in the past.” How they all met is a sore topic for him, so she might be better served not bringing that up when the time comes. “Aside from his own personal pride issues, there’s also this whole counting coup thing he’s got going on where he has to amass a certain amount of tal’darim ‘points’ before he’s allowed to openly challenge Lendasha.” Imogen rolls her eyes as she says this. “My plan might inadvertently cost him some of those. Honestly, though, I’m still hopeful that someday he will realize that he does not need to be trying to get back into that club.”
Lilly shrugs. “Everybody’s got to have a project.”
“Aye, but there are other projects.”
Saffron reaches Dead Man’s Rock with plenty of time to spare. Enough, in fact, for Imogen to deliver the letter from Matthew Horner to his wife. She has been carrying the terse note around for months, ever since he caught her on the bridge of Hyperion, but this is the first time she has been in the vicinity of mercenary leader Mira Han since then.
Things on the junk planet get off to a poor start, though, when air traffic control hails the science vessel. “Hey!” a rough—and perhaps even inebriated—voice shouts through the radio. “Who do you think you are? What’s your business on Dead Man’s Rock today?” This could very well be the standard challenge here; last time Imogen and Lilly came to the planet they were not welcome in their transport’s cockpit. Apparently Lilly does not give whatever response they were expecting, because the comms tech snaps back, “Your ship looks like some kind of official one. What is this, Confederate? Dominion? Whoever’s in charge these days.”
“It’s just a science vessel,” Lilly murmurs as Imogen steps up to take over communications.
“If you could see the mish-mash of parts inside this thing, you’d have a very different opinion,” Imogen assures them.
“Look, I can smell a narc, even on a world this gross. Get out of here before we blast you out of the sky. Mira’s not seeing any Dominion creeps.”
“Great,” Imogen says sourly. “Then you can tell Mira that she can’t get her mail because you’re afraid of an unarmed science vessel landing on your piece-of-junk rock.”
The comms tech mutters angrily under their breath, then says, “You just got a package or something? Why don’t you just get in low atmo and drop it off?”
Lilly barks out a laugh at the mental image of them kicking a cardboard box off the extended ramp while Saffron tries to hover. “Were you thinking that that’s how Mira Han would want her mail delivered?”
“Fine! Mira’s not going to like any of this, though!”
Imogen privately disagrees. It is not everyday, she imagines, that Mira gets a letter from Matt Horner. Regardless of what it says, she will probably be at least a little cheerful.
“You can land. But whatever happens to your ship, happens to your ship,” the comms tech grumbles.
Since the eventual goal is to hide Saffron in a pile of junk anyway, Lilly does not even attempt to find any sort of starport. Imogen looks over the viewscreen alongside Lilly at the piloting station. “What about there?” she asks, pointing out a spot that could be a good hiding spot.
“Excellent,” Lilly agrees, directing the science vessel down. It looks like a great landing space, and Imogen walks away from the piloting station, confident that Lilly has things well in hand. The ship sets down and suddenly everything beneath it gives way. Clutching the controls as she is, Lilly is fine. Lost in her own thoughts, she does not see Imogen go careening into the science station, where her head cracks against the counter.
Lilly is at the control panel, the smug Cerberus scientist peering over her shoulder. “Why, yes, colonel, we need to go capture more of these xenomorph samples,” he says, as though she does not know the mission parameters. She has been monitoring a hive cluster for the past ten minutes, but it is not a significant threat. “I trust you can maneuver this contraption from point A to point B. Should be a simple enough thing for you. Look out! Over there!” He seems to have just noticed the cluster. “No!” he shouts. “They’re coming towards us! What are you doing?!” He tries to grab the controls, forcing Lilly to split her focus between piloting and holding off a panicking, crazed scientist.
Lilly responds swiftly, jerking Saffron out of the way of falling debris and then sliding the ship snugly into a little nook that just formed. The scraped and dented Old Red faces outward, helping the craft blend in. There is even a clear enough space for the ramp to deploy behind a wall of broken ship parts. She and Imogen will be able to just waltz out of here, no need to climb. “Excellent,” she murmurs again. Then it registers with her that there was a loud clang inside the ship as she maneuvered. “You all right?” she calls over her shoulder to Imogen.
Imogen blinks, and her vision shakily comes back into focus as she regains her feet. There is a ringing in her ears, and for a while her mind wanders, trying to figure out if the sound is real or just in her head. “Ach! That was not our smoothest landing,” she groans.
“Sorry,” Lilly says, powering down the systems. “Didn’t hurt the ship too much,” she assures her partner. After all, Imogen just fixed it before they left Mar Sara.
Instinctively, Imogen smooths over her braid, which got mussed up during the rattling she just took. Through her pounding headache, she tries to steady her thoughts enough to evaluate how she feels. There are probably things in the medkit that could help with this, but her vision is too blurry right now to read labels and her hands are not steady enough to administer shots, just neaten a braid. Some concoction of super drugs and rest is all she needs, but it is hard to focus right now. She fuzzily considers her options. Malorn’s psionic healing of her lungs on Jarban Minor left her retching; she is not sure she wants him to attempt something similar on her brain. Surely Mira has a doctor. Maybe we can ask her for help. Imogen stares at her watch, willing the numbers into focus. “We’ve got some time to deliver this letter before Malorn is expected,” she announces.
Lilly sees Imogen zone out staring at her watch, but that is a thing her partner just sometimes does. As far as she can tell, Imogen has just gotten knocked around a bit by the rough landing.