Any terran vessel showing up around Browder II immediately causes a stir. Before Lilly can hail the protoss, a message comes through from the colony. “Terran vessel, identify yourself,” Selendis demands.
“This is science vessel Saffron requesting permission to land,” Lilly answers, unruffled. Although she recognizes them, Selendis still asks their business before granting them permission to proceed.
“We’ve got a delivery for you,” Imogen responds. The sounds of their current passengers are carried across the line as well.
“What is that? What are you hauling?” Selendis’s mood then brightens as Imogen reports they have two bengalaases aboard. “Of course you may land and offload your precious cargo. This will be good news for our people.”
“Thank you, ma’am,” Lilly acknowledges, receiving the landing clearance. The area around the protoss base is as snowy as it was last time they were here, but the weather does not interfere with their flight.
It is not easy convincing Snowball to stay behind this time. Although Lilly shut him up in her room when she put in the coordinates, she did not leave him locked up for the whole flight. Now that they are getting ready to exit, he wants to leave the ship with them in his terran form. When Lilly still objects, he tries switching to a protoss one. “Well, that’s not going to work,” Imogen says when she sees the length of nerve cords Snowball chose based on his main model, Malorn. Something like that is sure to set Selendis off. Imogen can think of nothing worse for them to show up with than a zerg spy disguised as a tal’darim.
“No, you should be a person,” Lilly says, though she doubts Snowball understands her. He reads her disapproval, though, and tries a zergling form. “Terran,” she clarifies uselessly.
Imogen is digging out the crayons and paper when a different approach occurs to her. She has previously run into a wall when trying to read Snowball’s thoughts, but she has not yet attempted inserting any as Selendis taught her. Snowball is supposed to be an investigative zerg, so Imogen appeals to that inclination. She concentrates on a mental image of Lilly’s bunk. Lilly’s room is very interesting. I wonder if there’s anything under her bed this time? Lilly does sometimes stash items in that location, so it is a reasonable thought to have.
The zergling with the ribbon bow suddenly turns away from Lilly, back towards the door to her room. He seems to be pausing in thought, considering whether to check out the situation there right now. Making up his mind, he darts inside. Lilly takes advantage of the fortuitous change of events and quickly steps to the door herself. She tosses in the piece of candy she was just getting ready to offer Snowball and seals the door. “Maybe he thought he needed his backpack,” she says with a shrug. Figuring out Snowball’s motivations is not high on her priority list.
A bang sounds from the outside of Saffron’s hull as the protoss contingent knocks impatiently on the ship exterior. Lilly lowers the ramp, and Imogen apologizes for the delay caused by the awkward crate. Selendis is there waiting for them, along with four warriors and a pair of scientists. Although there are enough templar to cause a problem if they wanted to, there are fewer than when Lilly and Imogen returned the borrowed hoversled last time. The terrans do not expect any trouble on this visit. Sunshine is no longer with them, and Snowball is occupied for now. Imogen cannot help but feel a little nervous, though. The warriors are decked out in armor, each with two psi-blades, and their shields are actively shimmering. They could definitely rip her and Lilly to shreds if they wanted to. Imogen just used psionics to hide a zerg spy; she hopes none of them sensed that activity. If Selendis chooses to dip into Imogen’s surface level thoughts right now, things will take a sharp turn.
These are the same researchers who studied Sunshine and patched up the terrans’ injuries last time. One of them, hearing a noise from the crate, cries excitedly, “Oh! It’s a cub!”
Imogen tells them they have the mother, too, which is fantastic news to them. “Just be careful,” she advises. “She’s a little possessive. The father, unfortunately, was taken down by zerg before we could get to him.”
“Ah! Blast the zerg!” the scientist moans, but the protoss as a whole are extremely grateful for the delivery. The body language of the scientists is excited and animated as they look back and forth at each other, though the terrans hear nothing of their silent exchange. They load the crate onto a hoversled for transport.
“I do very much appreciate your retrieval of these creatures,” Selendis says. “Now, as for payment, I believe you had expressed interest in a variety of things. Did you have something specific in mind? We have managed to come into a few terran credits, if your interest lies that way.”
“Well, Lilly’s might, for her share of things,” Imogen says, looking to her partner for input. Lilly is looking across at one of the protoss warriors and does not seem to register the question. It is Axion, with whom she sparred on their last visit.
“Come,” Selendis says into the silence, “we have things to discuss, and there is no reason to stand out here.”