Across the creep-covered clearing, among the zerg structures, Lilly sees a pink ribbon and thereby recognizes the full-sized hydralisk wearing it as Snowball. Spikey must have been feeding him better, she thinks. Snowball’s form resembles Spikey’s but is missing the numerous battle scars that the hunter-killer has. He looks at Lilly with the excitement and desperation of someone who has not gotten candy in a long time—though it has only been a few weeks since they parted on Tarsonis. The Queen of Blades seems preoccupied with the strange disjointed conversation she and Imogen are having, so Lilly decides to sneak Snowball a treat.
She fishes out of a pocket a candy of the same type she gave Ted and tosses it toward Snowball. The ground between them erupts, and Spikey bursts out to bat away the treat. He hisses at Lilly as if to say, “C’mon! Give me a break!” Lilly looks back at him and gives an innocent shrug. This all causes a bit of a scene.
Imogen’s heart jumps into her throat at the sight of a hunter-killer unburrowing so close to Lilly, but then she realizes it is Lilly’s friend Spikey. She then concludes that the other hydralisk must be Snowball if candy is involved.
Kerrigan has also taken note of the events and is not amused. “Yes, there is the matter of the creature you call Snowball, one of my larvae who was mercilessly toyed with by the Confederacy and the Dominion. I do appreciate you rescuing him, as a matter of fact. Zagara mentioned how you took care of him as best you could.”
Now, with Kerrigan’s eyes directly on her, Lilly nervously adjusts her collar, hoping desperately that her Cerberus, Confederate, and Dominion resoc tattoos are well-concealed. She cracks her neck to ease some of the strain.
“I’ve run into some Cerberus technology from time to time. Frankly, it is no threat to me, but I hate to see it deployed against another zerg. So I thank you for what you’ve done.” Kerrigan’s hand moves very suddenly, and like a bullet, something shoots across the space, thunking into the creep-covered ground right at Lilly’s feet. The speed of delivery is unnerving. She could have put that through my heart, Lilly thinks. At first glance, it looks like a hydralisk spine, but then Lilly realizes it is actually some sort of bony knife. There is clearly a handle, which looks to be made of zerg carapace. “I understand you’re a fan of knives,” Kerrigan says.
Lilly’s heart was in her throat, but she manages to find her tongue. “Thank you, ma’am.” She crouches down and picks up the weapon. The blade looks incredibly sharp, and the whole piece has a purple sheen to it. She hefts it, appreciating the good balance. Regardless of how deep it can pierce or how vicious its edge, it is a new knife, and that is enough for Lilly. She will be able to appreciate it more later if they make it out of here alive.
Kerrigan turns her attention back to Imogen. “As for you… there’s something I could still use your assistance for. The two of you, really.” Imogen wonders whether this is related to Zagara not being able to find something. “Yes, it unfortunately is,” Kerrigan says aloud, making no sense to Lilly. “This UED ghost is troublesome, particularly because he can sense zerg approaching. He’s on guard for that.” Then she smiles maliciously. “But you two are not zerg.”
“We’re not assassins, either,” Imogen says.
“I don’t need you to assassinate him, and I’m not sure you have the capability, even if you wanted to. But if you can find him and distract him, we could take care of the problem.”
“I don’t know how I feel—”
“Do you feel remorse for him?” Kerrigan cuts Imogen off. “Is that it? Do you want him to face the Dominion justice system? Do you think you can change his mind?”
Imogen’s skin crawls. This is more summary justice, just like with Raynor’s Raiders. Given how slowly the Rose prosecution is moving, Imogen does not expect Neiman ever to be put on trial in Dominion courts for kidnapping and enslavement. However, throwing someone to the zerg to be murdered does not sit right with her personal ethics.
“If he manages to contact the UED, they will have a full report on the true status of the sector as well as whatever capabilities he has managed to recover. The UED already has whatever knowledge their expeditionary force gained,” Kerrigan says, addressing Imogen’s unvoiced concerns.
There has been a lot of talk from Kerrigan but no evidence. “How can you show me that the UED really is still a threat?” Imogen asks bluntly. The Queen of Blades says nothing. Instead, Imogen feels her strong presence blatantly in her mind again. And then the rush of visions begins.
The voices are a jumble of UED accents, pulled from the minds that the Queen of Blades has read in the past or the lips of those she has interrogated. The flood pauses on a UED officer trying to resist torture. “You don’t even know what you’re dealing with! This wasn’t even half—this wasn’t even ten, not five percent of what we can do! You don’t understand. This protoss tech? It’s good, but it’s not military grade. We’re—” That voice cuts out as other UED soldiers’ testimonies crowd into Imogen’s mind.
The onslaught pauses again on another officer, but beneath the UED uniform, his skin is scaly and his fingers clawed; this is an infested terran. “Yes, they will come with more preparations, my Queen. I don’t know if you have the forces to handle it. UED is very good at making war. Dominion? They’re still figuring it out. They don’t have quite the base that we have. You are far away, but UED, they don’t take losing very well. They will come.” Imogen’s mind fills with the image of a fleet. These ships look nothing like the Dominion battlecruisers she has seen. In both quantity and size, they outclass the Dominion. Actually, they have some similarities to protoss ships. She can see shields glimmering around them and energy weapons powering up. Beams shoot down to the planet they encircle, glassing the world, something no other terran faction is capable of.
From Lilly’s perspective, Imogen asks, “How can you show me that the UED really is still a threat?” Then the Queen of Blades stares at her for a moment, and Imogen staggers backward, steadying herself against a large flat rock with one hand while putting the other up to her head.
“And now you see what we’re up against,” Kerrigan says. “If you can imagine protoss technology levels in the hands of barbaric terrans…” As she continues to rail against the UED, Lilly glances nervously over at Imogen, wondering if the heat is getting to her. Her partner’s eyes are unfocused, but Imogen has been known to just stare off into space now and then. Hope she doesn’t pass out, Lilly worries.
Meanwhile, Kerrigan wraps up her speech. “But that’s all a problem down the line. Right now we have one rogue UED ghost who can sense when my Swarm is coming.”
Imogen regains her sense of the here and now. “Is that an unusual thing for ghosts to be able to do?” she asks.
“He has a certain level of paranoia that most ghosts don’t have. And frankly, most Dominion ghosts don’t have the level of training and experience that he has. He is a true believer in UED ideology. I don’t know if you know this, but many Dominion ghosts undergo a certain level of mental conditioning. Trust me, it’s the same as the Confederate program, the same as anything that went before. You’re rather lucky. Point being, he’s paranoid. If you’re going to approach him, you will need certain mental defenses.”
“Can you show me how to do that?”
“Yes, if you two will agree to track down Neiman and lead the Swarm to him.”
Imogen turns to Lilly, who is wearing an expression that is a strange mix of alarm and befuddlement. “How do you feel about that? He enslaved all those people we rescued from the Rose Mine. But this is about unleashing the Swarm on him.”
Oh, we came here to get a job, Lilly realizes. That is a frame of reference that makes sense to her.. “I don’t have a problem with that,” she tells Imogen. It is a little outside what they normally do, but not too far. It is a missing person job, and they are Lost & Found. “That’s if you want to take this job.”
As it appears that Lilly has no qualms, Imogen tells Kerrigan, “We’ll take the job.”
“Very well. Rest assured that when we take him, we are not going to infest him. We are going to kill him.” With promises to share pertinent information with them later, the Queen of Blades dismisses them to go rest in their nice cool ship.