When Imogen comes in to get the empty barrel for her repairs, she decides to stay for the defiler dissection. There is some very specific information she wants to gain from it. Li may be interested in the zerg’s weaknesses and how to exploit them, but Imogen cares about its ability to be a power source for her radio. “Saffron needs to cool down for a while,” she claims, justifying her presence there rather in the garage.
“It’s going to be a rough day for Sheila,” Lilly observes. Clearly she has not grown too attached to the defiler, despite having given the creature a name. Before they get started, she flips through the copy of her Cerberus database now installed on Li’s computer system. That provides some background to inform how they proceed.
The zerg has shown no signs of sapience, so Imogen has no qualms about cutting it open. The defiler has an enormous heart for its body size, larger than that of a hydralisk. Although the organ pumps blood like any other kind of heart, it is infused with high concentrations of vespene-related compounds. Imogen is not surprised by this finding, given what she has learned about the link between vespene and psionics in the Koprulu Sector. The Swarm does communicate psionically, even if not in the same exact fashion as the protoss. Now that she has had a live zerg specimen to study, she finally realizes how the heart-like energy source in Aiden’s radio is supposed to work. This defiler heart is exactly what Imogen needs. As long as she can supply it with creep or some other sort of nutrient bath, it will be able to permanently power her radio.
When the procedure is complete, the heart-in-a-jar is creepy in more ways than one. Lilly writes Sheila with a permanent marker on a strip of duct tape and slaps it on the jar full of purple goo and quivering flesh. Then she wanders off to go make lunch.
Li has been furiously taking notes all the while, fascinated by what they are learning. Imogen’s level of interest, though, seems strangely intense. Once she attaches alligator clips to the heart, Li cannot help but conclude that she must have some specific purpose in mind. “Now, with this power source you’re talking about, what is it you’re planning to power?”
“Oh, you know how Egon is, with his experiments and everything. Oh, that Stetmann.” Imogen’s excuse rings hollow to her own ears.
“Now, now, don’t give me none of that bull about no Stetmann,” Li says congenially. “He’s never seen nothing like this. Now, c’mon. I want to know, what kind of zerg tech did you find out there?”
“Well, you know, Tarsonis was completely zergified, and we came across some zerg technology while we were there. But it wouldn’t quite work right, and it seemed like it was a power source issue.” Imogen picks her words carefully, not wanting to implicate her brother or even reveal that an infected terran is associated with the equipment.
Li can tell that the younger woman is talking around some issue. This only piques her interest further. “Now, sweetheart, I just have to see this device! There has been no record of zerg technology. Their advancements are always purely biological evolution. I absolutely have to see this. You have to show this to me!”
Li’s tone has been playful, but this is where the conversation takes a serious turn. “I can show you this thing, but discretion is of absolute importance here,” Imogen insists.
Li sees the change come over her and recognizes the gravity of the situation. “Your secrets are safe with me, honey,” she assures her.
Imogen lays it all out, explaining that she needs the heart to power a hybrid radio in order to communicate with her infested brother. Li offers to help in any way that she can, and so Imogen tells her about the vial of blood she drew from Aiden. At the time, she had no intention of giving it to Li, but the researcher is the person most likely to be able to help find a cure. Imogen has not given up on the hope that it might be possible for Aiden to be fully terran again someday.
At this display of vulnerability, Li puts her arm around Imogen’s shoulders. “I’ve lost a lot of people to infestation,” she says quietly.
Imogen bristles. “I’m not going to put him down! I haven’t lost him. He’s still there. I know he’s still there!”
“Maybe, sweetheart. Maybe we can find a way.” She pulls Imogen into a proper hug, and the younger woman breaks down into tears.
Imogen has been holding this all in for a long time. She had to tell her family that he was dead! The failure of not reaching Aiden in time weighs heavily upon her. The burden is compounded by other recent failures, like not being able to do anything to stop Frank’s resocialization and letting the Mengsk adjutant slip through her fingers. It is a cathartic experience, opening up to Li about all this.
The older woman listens supportively. When Imogen seems to have cried herself out, Li says, “All right now, sugar, let’s get to business. Get you talking to your brother, find out what his new friends are up to.”
* * *
While Imogen and Li are crafting a fully functional zerg radio out of Sheila’s heart, a bunch of zergling parts, and Aiden’s contraption, Lilly is poking around Li’s kitchen. She starts making a sandwich and then realizes how dull Li’s kitchen knives are. Abandoning the food, Lilly falls back on her habit of sharpening knives—all of Li’s. Durian has suggested she should have a hobby, but this is not a good time to leave the compound on Old Red. This is the next best thing, and it is so soothing.
When her host comes by the kitchen later, Lilly is lost in the slow, methodical practice. “Well thank you kindly, sweetheart,” Li says, looking at all the cutlery laid out on the table. “Now where are you two off to next?”
“We’ve got a job in about a week, but…” Lilly shrugs. They have time to kill.
“Oh, right, you were asking about Iceberg Station. Do be careful there. And if you run across any interesting protoss technology, I’d certainly be willing to pay you for it,” Li reminds Lilly.
Lilly sets the knife down. “Do you need anything done while we’re here?” she asks.
“Oh no, sugar. You two have already done so much.”
“Any boxes to move? Trees to chop down? Holes to dig?” Lilly presses, restless. “Sections of your wall to patch?”
“Why don’t we just fix some lunch while Imogen has her phone call with her brother. I do have some beers, but I don’t know if they’re going to be up to your standards.”
Lilly steps over to the refrigerator to look at the options. Although she enjoys a good beer, she is no snob. Anything Li has is surely fine to enjoy, but there is potential here to snag something good for Malorn. Li does not realize she may have the secret to uncovering more protoss technology right here in her fridge. And indeed, she does. Lilly has not seen any Old Mar Sara Beer in years, but she vaguely remembers its good reputation. Without thinking, Lilly pops a can and chugs the contents down. Li’s eyes go wide, and her unvoiced warning dies on her lips. “Whoa!” Lilly gasps. The drink hits hard. She stumbles back a bit and leans on the wall.
“Oh, no, sugar! They only call it beer. It’s really much… oh, no.”
Lilly has slid down to sitting on the floor, where she is now giggling. “This reminds me of a beer that I had with Durian. He’s so cute!” She gushes for a while about her boyfriend. Li is surprised at how talkative the drunken Lilly is. She offers her some sweet tea to try to sober her up a bit and discourages her from flying Saffron at all today. Sadly, lunch never gets made.