The coordinates from the administrator are for an area that was already surveyed but has no active mining operations. Lilly files the necessary flight plan and gets clearance to proceed there. On their approach to the area, she runs some scans for bengalaas life signs, mindful of the limitations on what frequencies she is allowed to use. Imogen grumbles unhelpfully about the lack of a verbal interface. The sensor suite is not really designed to operate on such a small band, and soon Imogen switches to admonishing Lilly. “What did I tell you about overtaxing the system?!” she groans as she turns her attention to the power conduits.
“Sorry. That was dumb,” Lilly acknowledges. The results that come back are promising, though. There are some traces of bengalaases near the canyon wall just north of the coordinates they have. Lilly sets down by some ruined supply depots near there, laughing at how easy the landing was.
“See? That’s how it’s done,” Imogen says to the absent Shreev.
Now that they are getting ready to head out, Imogen offers Lilly the syringe containing the sedative she made earlier. “That should last long enough to get a bengalaas onto the ship but not all the way to Browder,” she advises. She grabs the Umojan stun-gun for her own use. It is far heavier than she is used to in a gun, so she leaves behind her usual backpack of equipment. There should not be a need for mechanics tools on this venture, anyway.
They head outside, and Lilly makes no move to stop Snowball from coming along. There is not much for him to learn here that can be of any tactical use to the Queen of Blades. Although he emerges from the ship in terran form, he soon blobs down into his zergling guise, complete with the little bow. “Interesting choice,” Lilly murmurs.
Although they could stuff a bengalaas into Lilly’s room for the six-hour flight to Browder II, Imogen would prefer to secure it better than that. Lilly has suggested that grabbing cubs might work out better in the long run, but they still need a way to contain them. Imogen starts poking around the supply depot for old crates while Lilly looks around for tracks. She finds recent signs of them, with three distinct print sizes, likely a full family. There is also blood here, and it looks to be from at least one of the bengalaases. Before long, she also finds pieces of chitinous zerg plating covered in scratches. “Looks like there was a fight,” Lilly observes. “Recent, too.”
“If one of them is injured, that should make it easier to catch,” Imogen says, putting a positive spin on things. “But also, hey, zerg around!” They will need to be cautious.
“When are there not zerg around?” Lilly asks rhetorically. Their own zerg has wandered off to do his own thing.
“C’mon, help me with this crate,” Imogen requests, leading Lilly to what she has found. It looks large enough to hold one adult bengalaas or a couple cubs, though it will not be terribly comfortable for them.
With the storage situation worked out, they begin their hunt in earnest, Lilly guiding them along the trail that sometimes includes more blood and bits of fur. It leads right up against the canyon edge, to a cave entrance. They flick on a flashlight and take a look down the tunnel. A bengalaas stumbles out of the darkness and collapses just outside the cave entrance. It is in terrible shape, its purple hide rent with gashes. Lilly and Imogen inch forward past the collapsed bengalaas and a flicker of movement farther down the tunnel catches their attention, along with the sounds of several forms of growling. Another bengalaas is locked in a fight with a pack of zerglings. Lilly does not hesitate. A bolt from Sweetpea blasts straight through one zergling, scorching the two others as it goes by them. One of them even actively catches fire.
“Who’s a firebat now?” Imogen quips, bringing her open weapon to bear. She edges farther into the tunnel, needing to close the distance for the stun-gun to be effective. She takes aim at the remaining zergling, which is now easy to see due to the fire consuming its companion. The gun gives a Bwom! sound as it emits an expanding circular pulse of blue energy. The creature crumples when it hits.
In the light of the blazing zergling, they can see that the bengalaas down here is not nearly as injured as the incapacitated one. With the zerglings no longer a threat but other strange smells at hand, it charges down the tunnel at the nearest target, Imogen, swiping its claws across her outstretched arms as she tries ineffectually to block its blows with her rifle. Lilly is already on the move, dropping Sweetpea to let the weapon just dangle from its sling so that her hands are free for tiger wrestling. She wraps her arms around the creature and wrenches it from Imogen. They go rolling away across the ground together. “Use the bloody sedative!” Imogen shouts. Lilly lets go with one hand long enough to grab the syringe and jab it into the bengalaas. The creature goes limp in her arms.
Imogen shines her flashlight around, looking for any sign of cub. She hears a faint mewling from a small bundle of fur off to the side. It is only two feet long, much smaller than the grown bengalaas, probably born this season. Imogen carefully scoops it up into her arms, taking a few more scratches in the process.
Meanwhile, Lilly is assessing how to transport the parent. Movement in the dim tunnel catches her eye, and she realizes there is yet another zergling around. It is actually dragging away the burning one. Pulling a battle buddy off the field is not really a normal thing for zerg to do, but as long as it is not bothering them, Lilly sees no reason to go after it. She is not particularly surprised by this behavior, given that when she first found Snowball, zerglings were trying to help him with the tech in his head. It disappears from view, and she lets it go. Imogen brings over the cub, and Lilly hefts what turns out to be the mother. The creature is heavy and her back twinges at the action. When they get back outside the cave, they find that the first bengalaas is still there, unmoving in a pool of blood.
“I think this one’s being left behind,” Imogen says with regret. “Looks dead to me.”
“Shame,” Lilly says, sad to break up a family. “Do you think protoss would be interested in the remains? Like teeth or fur for keepsakes?”
“No, they wanted living animals as a reminder of the glory of Aiur. That would just depress them.” It is unfortunate that they cannot bring a breeding pair to Selendis, but having the mother with the cub is the best outcome otherwise, given how young the cub looks. “As far as I’m concerned, we’re done here,” Imogen declares. “We can only transport so many bengalaases at a time.”
“Truer words were never spoken,” Lilly agrees.
They head slowly back to the ship. Lilly lines the crate with bed sheets, and they load the mother in, then tuck the cub beside her. There is not much wiggle room, but at least this way she knows where her offspring is when she wakes up. Lilly tosses in a couple MREs, and then they seal the lid. At this point, Snowball wanders back, still a beribboned zergling. He looks a little bit singed, actually, though the minor injuries seem to be healing over already.
“Was Snowball the one dragging away the burning zerg?” Imogen wonders aloud.
“I didn’t notice a ribbon in the cave. Maybe he’s just trying to look a little burnt,” Lilly suggests. “I was paying more attention to the tiger, though,” she admits.
Snowball raps on the crate as he goes by it. It seems to Imogen like he is just trying to be annoying. It makes sense; he is mad that the bengalaases were fighting zerg. “Probably the zerglings started the fight,” she tells him, though she knows he cannot understand her words. “And we’re the ones who killed them. It’s not the first time it’s happened, and it won’t be the last.”
Lilly shrugs. “What’s he going to do to us? Nothing. Maybe it’s not him who’s annoyed.” Imogen takes her point. Communication with the Queen of Blades goes both ways.
When they are ready to go, Lilly secures Snowball in her room; there is no need for him to see the coordinates for the protoss colony that is their next destination. She radios in their new flight plan, and Imogen double checks that they have all the information they need should they ever return here. Then Lilly launches Saffron into the air. An enormous bird-type creature is flying along within visual range. She watches it appreciatively, and suddenly it contorts wildly, as though it just smashed into another object, though she sees nothing there at first. The creature, initially quite surprised, recovers and continues on its way. Then a wraith flickers into view, wobbling from the hit and smeared with goo and feathers. With its control compromised by the collision, it turns tail and heads back toward the Grom base.
“I hope the kakaru took a crap on it, too,” Imogen grumbles, convinced that Shreev was looking to do them in. Lilly snickers, imagining the pilot throwing her helmet on the ground in frustration again.