When Imogen catches up with Lilly, her partner’s arms are loaded with bags. In addition to Kick in the Face, she has a variety of other beers to keep on hand for the next time they see Malorn. He seems to like higher proof stuff, so she has picked up some strong ones like Atomic Ale, Stiff Ya’, and Ball-Buster. There are also a couple bottles of whiskey for Imogen. When Lilly finishes showing off her purchases, Imogen tells her that she has done her best to get Durian’s unit reassigned to something slightly less crazy on Tarsonis. “But I have to go there. And you said you would back me up, so… you don’t mind giving me a lift there?”
“Where you go, I go,” Lilly puts it simply.
“Well, then we’re going to go to some bombed out train depot on Tarsonis,” Imogen says, her words dripping with how unthrilled she is. “Do you know anything about it? Tarsonis?” she asks.
“Just vague memories,” Lilly says. “Been there. Fought there.” Retreated there.
“Are you interested in having clearer memories? We still have that terrazine.” They never did get around to using it before their raid on the Chau Sara Cerberus facility.
“Sure! Why not?”
They continue on to Saffron together and find Snowball waiting for them at the ship, still in terran form. He is sitting nearby on a crate, looking around with something approaching childlike wonder. He perks up when he notices them and follows them aboard. Imogen encourages Lilly to lay down on her bunk and relax while she preps the materials. She adapts one of their respirators for after the drug is administered, to help clear it out of Lilly’s system faster. Keeping in mind what Kate Lockwell said, she also secures Lilly’s guns.
When all is ready, Imogen unstoppers the tube she recovered from Abdul’s apartment, and Lilly breathes in the purple fumes. The terrazine is really powerful stuff. Lilly is prone to mild flashbacks now and then, but nothing as vivid as this. It is like she is right back there on Tarsonis.
Tarsonis. The capital of the Confederacy. The capital of all humanity in the whole sector. Gleaming cities made of neosteel everywhere. Lilly stands in a small room, clad in her military uniform. A senior military scientist steps into the room. “So… Corporal Washington, eh?”
“We’re starting a new foundation, and we could use someone like you. You’ve got a certain resiliency to these creatures we’re calling xenomorphs. We think you might be just the person we need to start doing a little more research on them. What do you say? You interested? Keep in mind the alternative is joining the colonial militia on the fringe world Mar Sara.”
He extends a hand. “Welcome to Cerberus Corporation.”
“Thank you, sir,” she says, shaking it.
His eyes drift down to the patch on her chest. “Now, that’s not going to do. I can’t have any corporals in this organization.” In a shocking breach of decorum, he rips off her rank. Lilly’s eyes widen, but she does not challenge his improper behavior. He fishes around in a drawer and pulls out a new set. “Colonel Washington, that’s better,” he says, affixing them.
He escorts her to a huge lab, where a whole bunch of clawed and fanged creatures are chained up. The part of Lilly that reclines aboard Saffron recognizes zerglings, hydralisks, and so on, but the feeling from the past is novelty at the unusual sight before her. “We’ve been calling these xenomorphs,” the lead scientist explains. “We’ve seen them on Chau Sara. We need to figure out how to fight them. Or how to make them fight for us. They’re some kind of crazed animals. We need someone who can put some threat under them.” He leads her over to a zergling they have chained up. “We can’t get it to do anything. Doesn’t seem to care about food. Doesn’t seem to care about pain. We thought we might need a soldier to show it what the right way is. What I want you to do is wrestle this xenomorph.”
“Yessir.” It is not easy, but she wrestles it to the floor. It bites and nips at her, but she gets it in a lock that keeps the teeth at bay. Having control of its head does not make it a good weapon, though. What would she do with that on a battlefield?
Time passes, and Lilly remains uncomfortable in her colonel uniform, but she does her job observing xenomorphs and documenting their behavior. She finds that some get along with each other better than others. It does not seem to be by type, but rather by some sort of cohort. She has divided her specimens up into cooperative groups and named them based on colors. Purple Squad, though made of zerglings, hydralisks, and other types, gets along perfectly well among itself, but any creatures taken from it and paired up with members of Red Squad become unreliable. They do not always attack each other, but they cannot be guaranteed to work together.
“Colonel, how’s that research coming?” the lead military scientist asks as he approaches her station.
Getting these creatures to do what she wants them to do is hard. They do not have the same natural drives like territory-marking and mating as other animals she is familiar with. “The report needs more work,” she tells her superior. “The results are inconclusive so far.” She throws a grenade down among a group of hydralisks from mixed cohorts, but the resulting injuries do not entice either side to attack the other. “I haven’t figured out their motivations yet.”
Later, she dictates a report on using xenomorphs as cavalry to the adjutant she has been assigned. She reviews footage of her own personal attempts to ride a hydralisk. She had to spend far too much energy keeping the creature under control; there is no way she would have been able to fight a foe at the same time. She moves on to summing up the dissection results. Hydralisk brains are so small that she does not think they can be that intelligent. When everything is all recorded, the adjutant processes, announcing, “Encryption complete. Ready for shipping to Confederate Military Command.” Lilly packs it up, sticking the vaguely humanoid torso and face into a crate. She takes it to the train station herself to ensure it is properly delivered.
Imogen crouches at the side of Lilly’s cot, ready to provide medical assistance as necessary, but also with her mind open, skimming as much as she can from Lilly’s memories. It is not that she does not trust Lilly, but her taciturn partner is likely to downplay whatever it is she remembers. Imogen gets hazy flashes of imagery from Lilly’s mind: zerg experiments, riding a hydralisk, an adjutant, a Tarsonis train station. When the images fade away, she sees Lilly lying there, eyes blinking open. “Yeah, I remember some stuff,” Lilly says.
“Maybe it will help us recover something of use from the station,” Imogen says encouragingly as she places the respirator over Lilly’s nose and mouth. “Now breathe deeply and just take it easy. You were out for hours.” After a few minutes, she asks, “Are you all right?”
“Yeah,” Lilly says, almost carelessly.
“Do you need a beer?”
That gets a more enthusiastic response. “Yeah!”