After returning the rental hover-cart, Lilly and Imogen ride Old Red back to Saffron. Although Li June’s garage would have some helpful equipment for installing the hyper-electromagnets, Imogen wants the vulture bike mount taken care of as soon as possible. She handles the installation and wiring, and then once everything is ready, Lilly hefts the vulture bike into place. The first time Imogen powers it up, Saffron’s powergrid almost overloads. The lights flicker, and Snowball looks around, concerned. Imogen rapidly recalibrates the electromagnet system, and then things settle down. They test the mount a few times until Imogen is satisfied.
“Excellent!” Lilly says happily, not caring that her quarters will never have an escape pod attached like Imogen’s do. She fantasizes for a moment about getting a vacuum-sealed suit so she can evacuate her room to Old Red. After all, vulture bikes can work in a vacuum; it is just terrans who cannot.
They call ahead to let Li know they are inbound so her turrets will not fire on them. As Lilly sets Saffron gently down on the landing pad, they see that Li has made some other improvements over the past month. Some sections of wall look recently repaired, but in addition to that, various sections have been bulked up. “That patch of wall looks like it was done in by a baneling!” Imogen observes. “Looks like she’s had some excitement.”
The turrets themselves also have some enhancements, including improved range, based on the pack of zerglings off in the distance that were recently gunned down. “Armor-piercing,” Lilly notes. “Nice.”
The door to the sunroom is open, but the former magistrate does not come outside to greet them. Imogen reminds Lilly that Snowball is not invited to this meeting, and the round of negotiations begins again. Snowball accepts candy as a bribe, but he has had enough sugar today that he does not immediately eat it. Rather, he puts it in his little backpack for later.
“You’re flooding the market,” Imogen warns Lilly. “This currency is not going to last.”
Lilly swiftly closes the door to her room and then grabs a couple armfuls of groceries. They head inside and Li emerges from her command center to join them in the sun room. “Hey, Li!” Lilly greets her cheerfully. She hands over the burger and fries, still warm.
“Thank you so much for bringing all these things. Supplies were getting a bit low. Been a bit busy this last month. Oh! Is that from Joey Ray’s bar? He is such a nice boy.”
“We’ve heard that there might be things going on on Tarsonis,” Imogen comments. “It seems like maybe the zerg are acting up here, as well, judging by your walls. Are these things related, do you think?”
As Li puts away her groceries, she reflects that the zerg have been more active in general over the past month or so, but she is not sure if the two matters are related. She points out a chart on one of the monitors in her command center showing the intensity of zerg attacks over time. It has a worrying upward trend to it. “I’ll be able to hold out here all right, especially with some of these things you brought,” Li says as she loads up one cabinet with the uncanny number of household cleaners she requested. “These will help out quite a bit, and I managed to do a little salvage myself, recently.”
“Are you making zerg disinfectant?” Imogen asks.
“Oh this? Oh, no, this is for homemade explosives. I take the regular ammunition that I’m able to get shipped in and fix it up with a little bit of this. It punches through armor a little bit better. Just a little trick I picked up, back in the day.” She also mixes up her own chemicals for neutralizing zerg acid, such as that left by the baneling that tried to roll on through. The actual threat of infestation, though, is minimal as far as Li sees it. While she grants that it can happen, it has not been as common lately compared to when zerg first showed up in the sector. “It might be that terran DNA just doesn’t mix well with zerg,” she posits.
“But there was that whole quarantine set up in Mar Sara City,” Imogen says. “It seemed like the Dominion was very worried about infestation.”
“The Dominion is a certain level of paranoid about it,” Li grants. “And quarantine for zerg is a good excuse to check everyone for everything else, too.”
“Rory seemed to think you should take a bullet in the head if there was even that chance that you were infested!”
“Well, Rory’s got some interesting ideas, but he’s a little bit excitable.”
“Do you know anyone who’s done proper research on this?” Imogen asks. The topic is near and dear to her heart now, but she is careful to be casual with her questions.
“Can’t say that I do. A lot of the focus has been on how to kill zerg. And since infestation has dropped since the last war, it hasn’t been as much on people’s minds. But I did hear in the news that there was a planet that had a flare-up of infestation. There were some immigrants trying to settle there, but their colony got infested. I think that got cleared out, though, and they’re mostly okay. I didn’t follow the story completely, but there was some bit about protoss showing up, too. I don’t know if they glassed the place; I hope not. That would just mean everybody would be dead.”
Li laments that although the Dominion spends an insane amount of money on military research, they just do not have the technology to deal with the whole zerg situation. The protoss, though, they are advanced enough that they might be able to provide answers. “If we could just get our hands on some of that protoss technology and add some terran ingenuity…”
That sounds like a potential job opportunity to Imogen. “What sort of technology are you thinking?”
Li sighs. Right now, it is just a wild idea. “I’m not sure yet. I don’t have a lot of good sources on protoss technology. Do you have any?”
“We know a bit about some protoss weaponry, but it’s all personal-level.”
“That’s still useful, though ship-level is where it’s really at. How do they get around so fast? How do they cloak things without generators? That’s what we’ve got to figure out. Supposedly they can teleport things, at least some distance. How can we do that? I don’t know if it’s technological or what. Information or materials on that would be mighty fascinating.” Imogen asks whether Li wants equipment for study or schematics. Her preference is for equipment, but anything is better than nothing. They hear her turrets going off again, and Li comments that she has more zerg samples than she knows what to do with at this point.
Lilly unslings Sweetpea and holds her out. “You have to be gentle,” she says.
Li does not move to take it. “What would I want with some mercenary sniper rifle?”
The front door is still open. Lilly pivots, bringing the disguised gun up into firing position, and sends a bolt of blue laser outside.
Surprised and impressed, Li asks, “Now where did you get that? That doesn’t look like protoss tech. Has the Dominion been working on this?”
“It’s protoss,” Lilly assures her. “We just had it modified so it wouldn’t look it.”
“That’s a smart move there.”
“The Dominion was certainly studying it,” Imogen adds, “but they didn’t make any changes to it as far as we know.”
“A little bit of finders-keepers, I see,” Li observes.
“It was a gift,” Lilly says.
Imogen hands Li a Lost & Found business card. “The first piece of protoss tech is on the house, but if you want any others, there’s a fee. And this one, you can just look at.”
Lilly trusts Li. “You can shoot it,” she interjects. They head outside, and she helps Li get the strap over her shoulder so she can take a shot and really appreciate Sweetpea. “It’s slow-ROF,” Lilly says, sounding almost apologetic about the rate of fire.
“It does get mighty hot,” Li comments. “I wonder if the protoss ever figured that bit out.” She knows her way around a weapon, but this particular one is rather big and bulky for her slight frame. “We certainly don’t have anything like this. We can put lasers onto battlecruisers and fighters, but nothing personal-level. That might be useful.” Lilly allows her to take pictures and run whatever tests she wants. They head back inside, where Li hooks it up to a datapad to take some readings.
Li tells them she is willing to pay Lost & Found for protoss equipment that she can keep and study, materials that she can recombine as she sees fit. Although she is more reserved with Lilly and Imogen than she was before Chau Sara stressed her out, Li does offer them some sweet tea and makes conversation with them while her scans on Lilly’s weapon run. They talk business some, and Imogen emphasizes the independence and mobility that Saffron grants them for jobs around the sector. She makes a note that Li no longer wants zerg samples, though since Selendis does, she and Lilly will still pursue such opportunities. “I do need to patch up some things on Saffron before we head out,” Imogen says, testing the waters of Li’s hospitality.
“You’re welcome to borrow any tools in the shop before you head out, but general supplies are a little bit low,” Li replies, without offering accommodations for the night. With the lay of the land now clear, Imogen excuses herself to go look over the power conduits one last time.
Lilly asks Li whether there are any salvage actions she is interested in but has been unable to perform on her own. She has no particular requests now, having recently had some of Jimmy’s folks give her a lift further out into the wastes. Lilly tells her about the place she took scans on that morning, and Li informs her that it is an old Confederate outpost built from temporary structures. They did not have time to properly dismantle it when the zerg attacked them. “You might find some basic supplies there; I wouldn’t expect anything advanced. It was all colonial militia.”
“Is there anything from there you might need?”
Li thinks about it for a moment. “No, there’s nothing from there that I’m interested in. Nothing per—It’s all in the past.”
Lilly accepts that, no questions asked. But she has one last offer to make. “You know, if there’s any kind of information—or misinformation—you wanted to put out there to the zerg, Snowball is open.” As long as he is safe and happy, Lilly has no qualms about using the changeling spy this way.
Li’s eyebrows shoot up. “Now that’s a right fascinating idea.” A disinformation campaign had not occurred to her. But now that the notion is out there, her wheels start turning. “I’m going to have to do some research… Lilly, that’s a good idea. Mmmm…. What kind of message do I want to get to the Queen of Blades, that says something wrong and misdirects her?” she muses.
“Maybe a map? Something he can just see. Think on it.”
“I will have to ponder that, but I will definitely get back to you on that one,” Li says thoughtfully. Imogen returns and announces that Saffron is ready to go. Li wishes them well on their salvage excursion. “Ain’t nobody got rights on that old place, so feel free to poke around, but there might be zerg about, so do be cautious,” she advises.
“It was great seeing you, Li,” Lilly tells her. “You’ve got our number.”
Li June gives Lilly and Imogen one more sweet tea for the road, and then they leave her compound behind.