It is not too late to get started on the decryption project that very night. Li invites Lilly to fetch her toaster and bring it into the watchfloor, where Li’s own adjutant is set up.
Lilly is in uniform, seated at a too small desk. Around her are military classmates and walls covered with screens. At one of those, a really old guy with a stylus and a tweed blazer drones on about the Smirnoff algorithm, though to be honest, Lilly is not really listening. Suddenly the professor spins around and demands, “You! Colonel Washington! You need to pay attention.” His stylus bangs against the screen. “What is alpha?”
Lilly focuses on the writing, and the equations all click into place. “Seven.”
The professor glares at her. “No, you see—” He turns back to the screen and stares at it a moment. “Wait, uh, you might be right…”
Li and Lilly work together, taking advantage of Li’s computational resources and Lilly’s knowledge of weaknesses in the Smirnoff algorithm. When they recover the password, Li is impressed at how random it is. Lilly corrects her; the long string of letters and numbers is actually a power armor model serial number.
By the end of the night, the Tarsonis adjutant is a fried brick, but Lilly has a vast database of zerg research. They install one copy on Li’s system. Lilly’s copy will go in Saffron’s computer banks. The amount of data is ridiculous. Just decompressing all the files will take several days. And then there is the matter of navigating all the data. Lilly herself is to blame for the difficulty there; the file organization is a mess. Apparently past-Lilly did not trust version control systems nor did she believe in the value of
README.txt. A bit embarrassed, Lilly looks at Li and just shrugs.
“Oh it’s fine, sugar. You gotta have a system that works for you. Maybe it made sense at the time, or there’s some method to the madness here.” She opens
project3-misc.old.donotdelete and finds a lab report on a hydralisk dissection. It details the physical characteristics and assigns a danger rating. Another similarly poorly named file is a neurology report which provides some findings on a partially-understood gland that might be useful for controlling xenomorphs via radio waves, provided there is a direct interface.
Given her previous ill luck with non-Umojan computer systems, Imogen stays out of the way while Lilly and Li work on the adjutant. She has her own pet project to deal with, and it requires a better understanding of the organic technology employed by zerg. Fortunately, one of the first files that comes available from the Tarsonis adjutant is on a related topic. Imogen takes a print out of it and heads back to Saffron. Lilly may have aired some secrets with Li June tonight, but Imogen is not prepared to show off her new radio.
Imogen needs to find a more reliable way to power the radio Aiden sent her. Regardless of the means of doing that, it will require more zerg tissue than she currently has. It occurs to her that harvestable material might be lying right outside the walls. She takes her flashlight and a collection jar and heads out to look. A freshly fallen zergling looks like the perfect candidate for heart donor. Imogen dashes out, knife in hand, and extracts the part she needs. Just as she is packing it up, she hears a growl behind her. I hope that’s just a lyote, she thinks. Imogen is courageous, but she is no Lilly. Taking out zerg single-handedly is not where she normally shines.
Imogen turns in time to see the zergling leap at her. Fortunately, she is still within range of the turrets. Their bullets shred the creature but leave the designated friendly unharmed—not unscathed, though. Imogen is covered by the spray of zerg ichor, and her heart is pounding a mile a minute. Still, she steps up to the new corpse and slices out the part she needs, pleased to have twice as much material for her radio. She brings her prizes aboard Saffron, stores them in the fridge in the drawer beneath the crisper full of kale, and steps into the shower.
As Li and Lilly flip through newly-available files on Li’s computer, they bond over their Confederate experiences. “The Confederacy was a real piece of work,” Li reminisces. “I’m glad that’s all behind us—not that the Dominion’s much better. Oh, were you two helping Jimmy out with his liberation tomorrow?” The question is posed so casually, she might have been asking about cleaning a garage.
“Oh, no. Jimmy and I don’t really… We don’t interact directly very much anymore. I do wish him well, but he’s stirring up a hornet’s nest of trouble. I’m not sure it’s going to be best for the people here on this world.”
“You don’t think?”
“Well, the Dominion’s not going to take too kindly to liberating this planet. They might bring their forces—freshly retreated from Tarsonis—here to pick on an easier target. That’s what I worry about. And if too many Dominion folks come sniffing around here, well, that’s trouble for me, too.” Lilly nods. That makes sense to her. “So if you can keep the Dominion from caring or noticing, that might be better in the long term. But I’m not on the field. Like I said, I wish Jimmy well. I wish you safe.”
It ends up being a rather late night. The adjutant is completely dead by the end. Lilly gives Li the internal electronics to help her repair her own adjutant but keeps the toaster body for herself. It makes a nice hat rack, after all, and it is a good reminder of her own past. She lugs it back over to Saffron and gets the file decompression going on the science vessel’s computers. Lilly is happy but worn out; revealing her status as a resoc to someone always takes a lot out of her. The bathroom is still steamy from Imogen’s shower and smells vaguely of zerg. “Hunh,” Lilly says. Then she grabs a beer and heads to bed herself.