Lilly smoothly sets Saffron down on Li June’s landing pad just as the sun is sinking. They called ahead so that her turrets would not gun them down. Li is there waiting for them when the ramp descends. “Haven’t seen you in a while,” the recluse greets them. “Haven’t seen anybody in a while. I’m much obliged to you for picking up all those necessary supplies.”
“Yeah, how are you doing?” Lilly asks, a twenty-pound bag of sugar balanced on one shoulder.
“I’m doing all right. Trying to make sure I secure my networks. Processing what information I can. But you know, it’s getting harder and harder to come by intel these days.”
“You haven’t had any more problems with network break-ins, have you?” Imogen asks, wondering whether Neiman is still at work.
“Not that I’ve detected, but I’m not sure if that is better or worse. How about y’all? You’re still up, still moving?” She waves them down the ramp.
Lilly asks Li where the new supplies should go, and they spend a little while unloading the goods into storage sheds and the house. Lilly passes the savings on to Li, charging her only what everything cost, including the senior citizen discount for the ammunition. Li is particularly grateful for the boxes of bullets, as her turrets were starting to get low. She invites them to take a break with a fresh batch of sweet tea.
Imogen casually leaves a Lost & Found business card on the serving tray and then asks, “Have you been having more zerg attacks lately? Or has it just been a while since you last restocked?”
“Mainly the latter, but there have been a few more attacks recently than in previous years. I don’t know if this is just the new level of zerg activity we have to deal with, or if it’s because the Dominion is raising more of a ruckus out there. I don’t exactly have a lot of insight into zerg intelligence, unfortunately.”
Oh right, I totally meant to give Snowball fake intel. Ah, well, can’t follow up on everything, Lilly reflects.
For her part, Imogen coughs through a swallow of sweet tea. After all, she has a two-way zerg radio on the ship. Clearing her throat she agrees innocently, “No, it’s really hard to get intelligence on what the zerg think they’re doing.” She fiddles with the end of her braid, retying it to avoid Li’s eyes.
Li refills Imogen’s glass. “So, have y’all had some encounters with zerg recently? Say, where’s your little friend? Is he on the ship? Snowball, that was his name.”
“He’s been awfully agreeable lately, staying locked up in your room that whole time,” Imogen comments to Lilly. Dealing with Frank would have been much harder with a zerg changeling moping about the ship.
“I left him on Tarsonis,” Lilly says.
“You left him on Tarsonis?” Imogen echoes, flabbergasted.
“Do you mean you forgot him there, and you’re just now remembering?” Li asks.
“No, I found him a dad!”
“Oh! Didn’t know zerg had dads,” Li says, taking another long drink of sweet tea.
“It was a hydralisk I knew. Do you remember Spikey?” Li went to Chau Sara with them, so there is a chance.
“Uh, a lot of zerg are spikey,” Li says.
“Wait, I didn’t tell you?” Lilly suddenly exclaims, turning to her partner.
“He’s with Spikey now. He’ll teach him how to do zergy things.”
Li asks about what they observed from the changeling prior to the split, such as additional shapes, regenerative powers, or increased levels of aggression. Imogen laughs at that last one. “Aggression? From Snowball? No. But as for regenerative powers, he did take some hits and he recovered quite quickly from them.”
“Quick like five minutes or quick like five hours?”
“Probably more like five hours. I’m not sure exactly. We were kind of busy, we were.”
“That’s about typical for zerg then, I think. Wait, what were you doing on Tarsonis? Were you part of that Dominion show?”
“Imogen got drafted,” Lilly says.
Li repeats Lilly’s words in disbelief and looks the slight Umojan up and down. “My, they are really scraping the barrel for soldiers.”
“Aye, show is an appropriate word for it,” Imogen says, “since we were there with the cameras for UNN.”
Li spins her recliner around toward her watchfloor and turns on a screen there with a remote. Kate Lockwell’s “pan-terran force” report comes on. Lilly smiles at the sight of Durian’s telegenic presence. Imogen only has a very small bit of air time, and her dialogue has been dubbed over with an accent as thick as Uncle Leo’s. Imogen rolls her eyes; she must not have been foreign-sounding enough. When the segment finishes, Li comments, “Now, I can’t imagine that you two would just help with this and leave. Nor that the Dominion would take kindly to you bringing a zerg along. How did you get rid of your zerg pal, then?”
“Aye, how did you?” Imogen presses Lilly. “When did you?”
“Which one? Spikey?” Lilly asks, having gotten distracted by thoughts of Durian.
“Surely you did not go on a Dominion mission with the hydralisk,” Li observes.
“Oh! He was in the train station. He was the hunter-killer,” she adds, clarifying for Imogen.
“Wooo-whee! You keep strange allies, I gotta say,” Li exclaims, shaking her head in wonder. She pours herself more sweet tea.
Lilly shrugs. “I handed over a shape-shifting spy to an assassin. What could go wrong?”
“It’s not like Snowball learned anything important when he was with us,” Imogen points out. “We didn’t do anything important.”
Li takes a long, relaxing draw from her glass. “So is there anything left on Tarsonis? Or is it all one big zerg hive?”
“Yeah, we came back with something,” Lilly shares.
“Oh? Whatcha got?” Li asks, leaning forward with interest.
“I came back with a toaster.”
Li looks confusedly at the self-satisfied Lilly for a second, but her posture does not make sense for finding just a kitchen appliance. “Oh! You mean you got an adjutant.”
“Yeah. It’s encrypted, and I’d like to get the information off of it.”
Li is intrigued. “What are we talking about here? Is this Confederate encryption?”
“I guess you can call it Confederate,” Lilly says, noncommittally. She was a Confederate when she wrote the code protecting the files, so that counts in her book.
“What is on this thing?!” Li is even more interested now. She starts listing off different encryption schemes. Finally she hits one that rings a bell with Lilly.
“Yes, it’s a Smirnoff algorithm! That’s what I used.”
Li tsks. “You forgot your key. I see. So what did you put on there?” Lilly shrugs. “So let me get this straight… You got yourself a toaster onto which you put something that you recall you have encrypted, but you do not have the key. And you got this on Tarsonis. Is that correct?”
“Yes, ma’am.” Lilly is growing uncomfortable with this line of questioning. It touches too closely upon her resocialization.
“This leads to the question… Why did you have an adjutant on Tarsonis?” Li asks.
Who’s she going to tell anyway? Lilly reassures herself, accepting that she needs to share this secret with Li. The recluse already knows about her interest in Cerberus, and telling a hermit is relatively safe. Lilly looks away from Li, but she pulls down her collar, revealing the tattoos. “I don’t remember,” she admits.
Li leans a little closer, examining the symbols. “Oh…. All right. So, the Confederacy did some things to you, and you think you put something on this adjutant—a while ago, I guess. And now… well, you’re in a bit of a pickle. Do you have any clues about what you used to do before… they did this to you?”
“I know there’s data from the hydralisk testing.” Li’s eyebrows go up. Access to Cerberus research is indeed intriguing. “I’m looking for help,” Lilly admits. She does not really have a lot of other options for cracking this toaster. And at least Li won’t tell anybody.
“Well, let’s take a look, shall we? See how hard it is to make this toaster pop,” Li says, eager to pit her skills against an adjutant. She can see how nervous Lilly is about her lost memories, so she does not press for a copy of the contents.
Lilly, however, volunteers to share the data. Her secret is not the specific research she did in her lost life, but her resocialization. Surely nothing on the adjutant can be worse than that, she figures. Besides, she likes Li.
Imogen has remained quiet all this while. She knows Lilly’s resocialization is a sore topic, so she lets her handle the matter as she sees fit. However, it does pain her a bit to see such a friendly negotiation. Either side could have squeezed so much from the other.