The terrain is rocky out in the wastes where Jimmy’s forces are mustering. A person in an SCV suit fills the role of aircraft marshaller, waving a lit baton to signal Lilly to a flat enough piece of ground for Saffron. As she and Imogen descend their ship’s ramp, they see Raynor coming out of his command center. His distinctive power armor makes him recognizable. On one shoulder, a white zerg skull stands out against the battle-scarred blue of the rest of the suit. He takes a few clomping steps, and then the suit seizes up. “Dagnabbit!”
A thinner man in a white lab coat comes rushing out of the same building. “Now, wait a second, sir,” Egon Stetmann calls after him. “I think if we just reverse the polarity—”
“Stop!” Raynor shouts. “Just stop, Egon, okay?”
“Lubricant doesn’t have polarity,” Imogen says as she comes up to them. It looks to her like Jimmy just needs an oil can.
“Uh, well, no, but if you electrolize the lubricant, then you could possibly make it—”
“Just stop, Egon!” Raynor growls again. He lets out a sigh and says more softly, “Just stop.” Having gotten his anger under control, he fishes around for something to get Egon away from him. “I need you to go look at the zerg sample you got again. I think it’s growing. It’s calling you.” Stetmann rushes off, and Jim turns his attention to the new arrivals. “Aw, hell, am I glad to see you.”
Lilly is glad to see him, too, or at least his power armor. It is a customized model with some similarities to the War Pigs’ suits. Bulkier than a standard suit, it has motor-enhanced limbs that enable the wearer to carry heftier weapons. The small nuclear reactor mounted on the back is standard issue, though.
While Lilly ogles his gear, Raynor explains the situation to Imogen. “We’re trying to get this power armor situation worked out, but Stetmann keeps getting distracted by his ‘improvements.’ It’s dang crazy, I tell you. I don’t need vanadium plating right now.”
“Is this what your Umojan neo-steel catalyst was for?”
Jim nods. “I just need a basic install of some upgrades, as well as some repairs. The troops have taken a lot of damage recently. But Stetmann—excuse me, Dr. Stetmann—cannot stay focussed on one thing,” he gripes.
“So do you know what’s most important to be fixed first or do you need me to survey that?” Imogen asks.
Raynor lays out his priorities. He needs Imogen to mix up a new batch of neo-steel with the Umojan catalyst and use it to patch up the power armor. If she can do all that before the raid tonight, only then should she approach the vanadium plating project. “And I don’t need electrolyzed lubricant,” he adds. “I don’t need that at all.”
“All right. And I’ll see if I can wrangle your man along the way,” Imogen tells him. Stetmann is brilliant and capable—when he is focussed. But Imogen also has a secondary agenda in dealing with him. Egon has done a lot of research on zerg with the particular goal of using zerg innovations to improve terran technology. Anything that can help her better understand the interfaces between zerg and terran technology will improve her chances of getting Aiden’s radio fully operational.
“Much appreciated.” Jimmy turns to Lilly and asks, “Are you going to be helping us out with some flying, then?” Lilly gives her usual blunt affirmative. “We should be good with just basic sensor support,” he tells her. “I’m a little concerned about the Dominion calling in reinforcements, though. Got any insight into that?” Even if they make a fast hit here and take control of the city, there is the potential that the raiders will be steamrolled by backup if a call for help gets out.
Lilly considers. Mar Sara is a fringe world. Korhal is a few days away, and that is where the bulk of the Tarsonis forces ended up. It’s not like anyone’s hiding on the moon, lying in wait…
“Is there any way you can jam their starport comms tower, or something?” Jim asks into the silence.
“Spoofing might be a better move than jamming,” Imogen suggests. If they can replace calls for help with standard status messages, the Dominion will think everything is fine on Mar Sara.
Raynor is definitely in favor of that, he just did not think that option was even on the table. “If you can get into the comms tower, you can probably do that.”
Lilly smiles at a devious thought. “Maybe we could even spoof the Dominion responses so the forces here think help is on the way.”
“Two-way spoofing! Now that’d be icing on the cake, there,” Jim says. “Anything you can do along those lines would really help us out. In addition to the regular sensor sweeps when my boys on the ground are rolling in, of course.” Lilly laughs at the idea of a whole year going by before the Dominion notices that Mar Sara was liberated. “That sort of is the plan,” Raynor tells her. “If the Dominion finds us, they can come roast me whenever they want. I keep having to be on the move, and it’s straining our resources. We don’t have any place to rest. If we can set up here and not let the Dominion know about it right away… Maybe they’ll just think there’s some corruption, and that’s why they’re not getting as much vespene as they ought to be. Things like that.”
There is certainly precedent for that, Imogen thinks. She wonders if another FRAWD team will get sent in to investigate the next vespene shortage. Maybe Norm will finally get out into the field.
“You don’t have any friends in the command center, Jimmy?” Lilly asks.
“Oh, no,” he replies with a sad laugh. “I don’t have many friends left in the Dominion at all. They put their stooge in there. That’s the one fella that’s gotta go. My boys and I will take care of that. And if you can handle the comms and keep the Dominion in the dark, that would really help us out. Once we have full control we can implement a longer-term deception campaign. I just need you to get something going today.”
“Okay,” Lilly agrees simply. The comms tower is an issue for the night. Right now though, in the light of day, the power armor needs attention.