Flush with cash on Korhal, Lilly kits herself out properly. All things considered, her shotgun was sufficient on her recent mission to Brontes IV, but she thinks she would feel more comfortable with a sidearm, even if she is not a proper soldier anymore. When she asks around at Sam’s Cantina for a good gunseller, the pasty guy on the stool next to her offers to sell her a light pistol right then and there. “Uh, you looking for a sidearm? I got this, uh, good sidearm right here. Don’t need to go to no shop. Don’t worry about those numbers filed off the side there. It’s a good weapon, originally from Big Daddy Browder’s Gas & Guns. No need to ask any questions.”
Lilly buys the light pistol, thinking it will make a good backup weapon if something happens to her shotgun, but later she does go check out Big Daddy Browder’s. At the register are all the usual things one would expect to see for last minute purchases, including knives. Lilly picks up one of those, too; it could be useful in a pinch or—if nothing else—for opening bottles. The friendly clerk tells her to let him know how it performs next time she is back in the shop. “That’s a knife. You’re going to like that knife; it’s really good,” he insists. “If you cut something with that knife, let me know. I always like to know how the products work. I mean, should I stock more of them? That’s what I need to know.”
Lilly shrugs. “It looks like a good knife. Next time I’m in here, ask me about it.”
Imogen, meanwhile, keeps her credits. She spends her time in Augustgrad studying the new piece of technology she has received, a protoss psi-gauntlet. She puts it on and tries to activate it with her mind. It does respond to her, just not as she expected. Rather than produce a beam of bluish-white energy, it clamps down hard on her forearm, piercing her skin. Imogen manages to extract her arm, and then she examines the device further, but she cannot tell whether that was a defense mechanism or just the way the gauntlet connects to its wielder. Does this need a command word? she wonders. Is it keyed to an individual? She has no idea. Her arm is twinging, but she does not have time to deal with the wound right now because she has an appointment to get to. She throws on a long-sleeved shirt to conceal the injury and heads out. It has been a week since she and Lilly submitted their Brontes IV report, and Jefferson Duke has called them in.
* * *
At FRAWD headquarters, Lilly and Imogen meet with their boss in his office. Duke begins, “Now, you gals managed to stir up quite a bit of a hornet’s nest—”
“A zerg nest!” Imogen corrects.
“That too. It’s a little bit of a shame the zerg have taken out everything else there. But I took a look at some of the evidence you collected, and I’m actually pretty impressed. You got enough that it looks like they’ll be able to prosecute—probably even convict—which is mighty impressive. So, good work. But it’s going to take a little while for those wheels to turn. I’ll pass things forward, make sure they get the official stamp of approval. Maybe in a couple months, maybe a year, we’ll get that trial running. The wheels of law just take a long time to turn. We try to grease them as best we can, but it just takes a while.” He takes a sip from his gin and tonic.
“But y’all did good work there, so I want you to investigate another issue. It’s not at a mine, so don’t worry about it. Nothing like that,” he reassures them. “Either of you ever been to Mar Sara before?”
“Isn’t that a type of sauce?” Imogen asks.
Duke does a double-take. “No, no not at all. It’s a lesser fringe world in the same system as Chau Sara, although no one lives there anymore. That place is a wasteland.”
“That’s a toy, isn’t it?” Chau Sara certainly sounds like the name of something from a popular childhood game on her planet.
At this question from Imogen, Duke sets down his glass. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. Are these weird Umojan things?” He turns to Lilly. “Do you know what she’s talking about?”
“All right, well anyway, this colony has been using a lot more vespene gas than their allotment. They mine a lot of vespene gas on the planet, but they’re supposed to be shipping most of it back here to Korhal to be used in our important industrial processes.”
This topic piques Imogen’s interest. Vespene is a precursor to terrazine, which she learned on Brontes IV could have some sort of psionic side effects. “So, vespene gas, eh? Being used for something else?”
“Something. They’re way over their quota for what they’re supposed to be using locally. We need you to go out there and see what the problem is. Could be it’s just a leak, somebody’s siphoning gas, or there’s just not as much as we thought there was. Whatever the problem is, I need you to go out there and find it.”
Imogen knows nothing of this world. “Is this a single refinery or a whole colony?”
“There is a whole colony there, but we’ll be dropping you off in Mar Sara City. I let the magistrate know you would be coming, so you can meet with him and work from there. I think there is a primary refinery in the city and some kind of pipeline. But it’s one of many fringe worlds, so I don’t know the details.”
Imogen’s arm is aching, which reminds her of something else she wanted to ask. “Is medical covered this time?”
Duke rattles the ice around in his tumbler. “I can put in a request, but I cannot make any guarantees.” He then tries to downplay it. “But you really shouldn’t have any trouble; it’s a Dominion-controlled world.” He takes another drink. “Do y’all have any more questions?”
“No, sir,” Lilly declares. She cannot think of anything, and this briefing has gone on long enough. It is time for them to be doing something.
But thinking of the aid Ted provided last time, Imogen asks, “I don’t suppose there’s another scientist for us to take this time?”
“Well…” Duke draws the word out, “scientist is not the term I would use. I do have this intern. I don’t know if I want to send him on this mission with you, though.”
“I suppose we have been to a refinery once, so we know what we’re doing,” Imogen asserts. She does not want Duke to think they cannot handle the assignment.
“That’s true. You did mention in your report that there was a local vespene refinery there.”
“Not any more,” Imogen clarifies.
“Shame that exploded. Vespene’s mighty valuable. Walk away with a barrel of vespene,” Duke taps his glass on the table, “that’s a lot of money.” He gazes off, mulling that over.
Imogen brings him back to the topic at hand. “What types of skills does this intern have?”
“You know, I tried to figure that out. He’s from some really important family, and he claims he’s good at all sorts of things. His name is Norm. I called him an intern, but I brought him in at the same pay rate as y’all. He made a good impression, seems a good guy, knows his way around things. As for specific skills… he can shoot a gun, but that shouldn’t be that important.”
Feeling the muscles in her forearm twinge, Imogen asks, “Does he know anything about medical treatment?”
“Ah… He did not list that on his resume, but he said he’d been injured before, so that means he has experience with our medical system. He’s a pretty quick fellow. He knows how the system works, who to talk to. So, do y’all want him?”
No actual engineering background, no medical experience? No, thank you. “No, I don’t think so,” Imogen tells Duke.
“That’s probably for the best. If he got hurt, I’d probably get in trouble. His family is a big deal. I should just keep him inside, keep him out of the way somewhere. We’ll just put his name on the mission report, make it look like he’s doing something good. Don’t worry, I’ll take care of it.”
Imogen raises an eyebrow at that. “That sounds like fraud.”
“Yes, we are the FRAWD Division. FRAW Division? Anyway, your flight leaves in an hour, so you had better get going.”
* * *
Lilly and Imogen travel to Mar Sara via the cheapest transport available, Space Greyhound. In the hostel bunkroom, Lilly notices that Imogen is favoring her arm, “Is something wrong? I could try to patch you up.”
“Uh, I kind of… cut up my arm a little bit,” Imogen replies evasively.
Lilly looks at the strange injury. “What were you doing?”
“Uh… I was… um…” Imogen searches around for a believable lie, but nothing comes to mind. She decides to trust Lilly. “Do you remember those arm things?”
“I… I acquired one.”
“One of the ones we found at the mine?” Lilly asks.
“That’s a good question.” Imogen slips a chair under the door handle to make sure none of their fellow berth-mates can barge in on them and then pulls the psi-gauntlet from her backpack. They examine it together, trying to determine if it is one of the units from Brontes IV, but they do not remember anything particularly distinctive about those. All psi-gauntlets look the same to them, given their limited experience with them.
Lilly shrugs. The gauntlet looks weird and alien, and she does not really care where it came from. On the other hand, Imogen is hurt now, and they should take care of that. “So what happened?”
“When I tried it on, it kind of bit me a bit.”
“There were some kind of spikes that went into my arm here.”
“That’s dumb,” Lilly observes.
Imogen defends her psi-gauntlet. “I don’t think I did it right.”
Lilly just shakes her head and puts proper bandages on Imogen’s arm.