Ted and Aiden return with some old salvaged terran technology that can play the recording of Mengsk for the Queen of Blades. Ted handles that while Aiden escorts Lilly and Imogen back to Saffron. As they walk away, they can hear from the smashing sounds that Kerrigan’s response was about the same as Raynor’s. Aiden asks Imogen how she is doing, and she lets out a long sigh. Her mind has not been through such a wringer since Selendis interrogated her, and even that was nothing compared to this.
“What do you think of her?” Aiden asks.
“I think she’s angry.”
“I mean, she’s not quite the same as Sally McGee…”
“Is that where your head is?” Imogen asks him. As he sheepishly shakes his head no, she continues, “Sector-wide warfare—beyond the sector even. Civilizations clashing with each other and eradicating each other along the way… I appreciate you trying to lighten things.”
“Aye. The stakes are a little bit bigger than when we were just trying to avoid getting into a scrape down an alleyway on Umoja.” He smiles in remembrance. “And trying not to get caught by Uncle Leo.” Aiden lets out a breath. “I recognize I may have let myself just get by here, so I appreciate you reminding me I need to help out where I can. I’ve got to do my part.”
“She’s got sweeping ambitions—”
“She’s gotten a lot done.”
“—but someone needs to remember that there are normal people in this sector as well. They need to survive all this, or what’s it all for? And that’s protoss and terran and zerg.”
Aiden looks around and comments, “Aye, but none of us are those normal people.”
“No,” Imogen agrees. “But do what you can for them, for the people like Ma and Da.”
“Aye, they were cut out for a different life than us. But you’ll do the job? You’ll track down this ghost?”
“Aye, it’s what we do.”
“Lost & Found, huh?”
Imogen playfully bumps Aiden with her shoulder. “Found you, didn’t we?”
“That you did. And I much appreciate it. I’m always getting myself into trouble. I don’t think that’s going to change, Sister, being part zerg or not.”
“Aye, some things don’t change.”
“Well, I’ll let you get into your cool ship. I imagine the heat is getting to you mighty fierce.”
“I’ll be there for you when you need me, Brother,” Imogen tells him at the base of Saffron’s ramp.
“And I for you.”
Imogen sets aside her disquiet over his current physical form and wraps her arms around him in a hug. He lightly embraces her back, not wanting to press her too closely into hard carapace. He was never very muscular, but now his body itself is like a suit of armor.
Imogen follows Lilly inside the ship, and there her partner turns around and asks a question that has been weighing heavily on her mind. “Why do you think she’s so big?” The zerg infestation seems to have treated Kerrigan differently from other terrans, given that Aiden and Ted still look their old size and build. Growing that much must have been painful.
Imogen shrugs. “Maybe her infestation wasn’t typical.”
That jostles some random facts loose in Lilly’s head. Kerrigan’s infestation was specifically engineered by the zerg Overmind to produce the creature that is now the Queen of Blades. She was supposed to be one of the Overmind’s independent agents, more powerful than a standard zerg. Getting its claws or tentacles on a compatible terran ghost was a unique opportunity for the Overmind.
Lilly sets that matter aside and instead turns her attention to her new knife, testing it out on a variety of materials. Imogen watches, curious as well, while thinking aloud about where they could start in their upcoming search for Neiman. “The Cerberus base self-destructed, so no leads there… Maybe there are other Cerberus facilities? If you don’t remember any yourself, maybe there are some in the records from your toaster.”
After a fair bit of stabbing and cutting, out of the blue, Lilly says, “Maybe we can lure him to us.”
“Do you have an idea of how?”
“I don’t know what he needs or what he wants.”
“Hmm…” Malorn has talked about psionics leaking or leaving a trail. Imogen wonders if there is some way she could psionically broadcast a message to Neiman, something that could goad him into coming after them. Or if he himself might be leaving psionic imprints somewhere that she could pick up. “If there’s a way to demonstrate we know something he wants…” There is that whole adjutant’s worth of research data. That might be something they can wield here, Cerberus records that he might never have been able to access. “Maybe we could approach it like we’re trying to cut a deal with him… Wow, that’s a brilliant idea, Lilly.”
Lilly shrugs. A hunter in a blind waits for the prey to come to them. She jabs a beer can with her new knife and is surprised at how easily it goes through. Beer starts to spray, so she quickly pulls the knife out and brings the punctured can up to her mouth.
There is a buzz, and Imogen glances over at the monitors. Blight is floating outside. Turning back to her partner, she asks, “So, you’ll just entertain yourself then?”
“Uh-huh,” Lilly replies, barely sparing any attention. She is really enthralled with the carapace knife.
Imogen slaps her respirator on and goes back outside to meet Kerrigan’s chosen tutor. With no greetings or social niceties, the blightbringer dives right into instruction. “Brain. Make it a maze. They get lost inside. Nowhere to go. Your thoughts. Jumbled. Disorganized. Easy to pick off. You, try on me, now. Observe.” He points one of his tentacles at his large head. Rather than show her how to defend herself, he is first inviting her to observe what defended territory looks like.
Imogen tries to read his surface-level thoughts, but much as he said, it is like getting lost. She chases the impression of ideas but never quite reaches them. “This is not at all like the wall that is the khala,” Imogen observes.
“No. Walls can be broken. Walls invite hammers. Mazes frustrate. Distract. Delay. Mazes can be further constructed. Once there is a break in the wall, adding height does not help. Someone starts to find their way in the maze, make the maze more complicated.”
“So someone could think they’re making progress, when all they’re doing is going farther and farther down the wrong way,” Imogen suggests.
“Another dead end,” Blight agrees.
At his prompting, Imogen tries herself. The effort once again causes a nosebleed, but she reaches a new understanding. This is like when she got lost in Lilly’s head back when they were salvaging from the Exploracorp science facility on Antiga. Her partner’s mind was like a maze with very open spaces. There was no wall, but Imogen was nowhere productive. With that as her model, she takes to the defensive technique very quickly. Blight is actually impressed. “Offer on table still. After this mission. Terran required for this. Meet success, have place in Swarm. Rejoin brother.”
Imogen still has no interest in that offer. She is, however, grateful for the additional insight this practice has given her on how the zerg psionic network works. It is not based on carefully architected walls. It is more fractal-like, an emergent complexity problem. Take a simple rule for building the maze and execute it many, many times with just slight variations. As she reflects on the differences between the organic zerg mazes and the rigid protoss khala, she wonders whether there is any native terran psionic tradition. Were the first psionic terran developments influenced by one of these? If vespene or terrazine plays a role in psionics, how are there ghosts from Earth? Maybe terrans have this capability natively, but the qualities of this sector make it more pronounced. It is a fruitful training session.
When the time comes for Lilly and Imogen to leave Char, Aiden provides what information the zerg have on Neiman. Some of it they already know, as Zagara is Kerrigan’s main source. The zerg suspect Neiman will hit a Dominion facility to gain access to more Cerberus information. Their best guess is that he will target one on Korhal, Ten Tines Prison. It holds prisoners stretching back to the time of the Confederacy, and there is one there who may know about other Cerberus research installations. Zerg intel on the prison is rather sketchy, though. All Aiden can really say is that it is underground. “And it’s possible Neiman has already hit the facility,” he points out. “But that’s where our trail has left off.”
An underground prison on Korhal, eh? Imogen thinks, hoping that it is the same one Raynor is interested in. If she and Lilly are going to poke around there for their own purposes—that is, for Kerrigan’s—they might be able to get useful information for Raynor at the same time. She will have to try to find out soon from Jimmy or Matthew specifically which political prisoners they are interested in.
Before he goes, Aiden compliments Imogen on her improvements to the radio design he and Blight worked out. Then he says his farewells to his sister. Lilly has her own goodbyes to say, since Snowball and his chaperone have also come to visit. Spikey looks miserable the whole time and vetoes any attempts to give Snowball candy.
Lilly also makes sure to give Ted some PowerAde when he stops in for one last chat. They share a drink of it, and Ted is quite impressed. Lilly shrugs; it seems all right to her, but it is not beer. She finishes her whole glass of it though, figuring she needs to replenish some electrolytes after being out in the heat. “Good for hangovers, too,” she tells him.
Ted holds up the glass and looks at its contents thoughtfully. “This might be useful for short bursts of speed for certain zerg creatures.” You think? passes through Lilly’s mind, but she does not voice it. “Ugh, but it makes my teeth hurt,” Ted continues. “Good thing they regrow now.” He downs the rest of his glass.
“See you around,” Lilly says.
“Thank you again, and I’m sorry for the way we parted on Brontes.”
“Don’t even worry about it!” Lilly tells him. Now that she knows that he destroyed the psi disruptor and got infested, her opinion of him is quite high.
Spikey and Snowball get high fives on their way out. She tries to toss a piece of candy to Snowball as he leaves, but Spikey again swats it away. The candy flips up and lands in his own mouth. For a moment, the hunter-killer makes a sort of choking noise, but then it changes to a hiss of pleasure. He holds out his claw to Lilly. With a large grin, she gives him a handful. As she closes up Saffron and heads to the pilot station, she reflects that beer and candy are excellent for promoting friendship among the different species of the sector.