Lilly sticks the zerg larva, which she has started referring to as Snowball, in Imogen’s backpack for transport. Imogen wears the backpack reversed, across her front, so that they can both keep an eye on the larva. He sits low enough in the bag that he is not casually visible, but they keep the top open so that they can periodically look down on him to check that he is not transforming. Snowball remains very attentive toward Lilly, perking up if she turns toward him. Imogen agrees with her that they should investigate the technology on the larva. The Umojan feels that its presence implies that people are involved with the local zerg infestation, so she wants to find the former Confederate who Maria said was an expert. Although it is not exactly FRAWD’s job to do this, they have a lead, and Imogen feels they should pursue it. Lilly acknowledges that it would be good to know what is going on, but she conceals the personal nature of her curiosity: the three-headed logo on the device. They set out across the wilderness to the east. Lilly estimates they can reach their new contact before nightfall.
The terrain is dry, and the route passes through canyons. It takes a couple hours to travel across the wasteland, and thankfully they encounter no creep along the way. During the early part of the hike, they see explosions off in the west, which they imagine is Rory drawing the attention of the Dominion. Sure enough, before long they hear distant artillery shelling. Lilly recognizes it as the sound of siege tanks. Imogen keeps an eye on the larva, wondering if it will be able to sense the deaths of the other zerg, but she sees no change in its behavior. Lilly, however, notes that Snowball seems alert during the fireshow back west, chittering what might be a warning at her when the siege tanks are firing.
Along their route, they pass ruins of terran structures: ranches, cattle stations, and the like. Imogen judges that the destruction was caused by protoss weapons, by massive orbital bombardment on a planetary scale. These ruins are the product of the so-called purification. The landscape out here, farther from the capital, is still dry and dead. After two hours, they see their destination up on a hill, a more intact building surrounded by a defensive wall with mounted turrets. They witness a hawk get shot to pieces and judge that the turrets are automated. Maria had told them this woman does not accept calls, but the building also has some sort of antenna atop it.
Prior to getting within range of the guns, Imogen and Lilly discuss how to approach. Lilly volunteers to go first if they want to get closer, but Imogen is reluctant to risk her getting shot by the turrets. The distance is too far to comfortably carry on a spoken conversation, and she doubts they will be able to attract attention by shouting. She fires her pistol into the air, confident that the sound of a gunshot will carry. Two turrets turn in their direction, and Imogen waves. Warning shots hit the dirt well in front of her. Lilly pulls a spool of gauze from her backpack and unfurls it in the breeze, waving it like a white flag of parlay to indicate that they are not a threat.
Their efforts are rewarded by the sounds of a public address system clicking on. A voice rings out across the open space. “Now, I’m not saying I trust you, but I’m willing to hear you out. You can take fifty paces forward, and I’ll meet you at the gate. Ah, just let me turn off the sentry turrets first. Stay between the two flanking the gate.”
Lilly and Imogen approach the manor. The woman who greets them at the break in the wall has Asian features and looks to be in her fifties. “Now, what did you folks come all the way out here for?” she asks. When Imogen says Maria told them she is an expert on technology from the wars, she admits that she fought in her share of battles. “St. Maria is an… odd sort. What kind of technology were you interested in?”
“We came across some technology that was integrated with zergs,” Imogen tells her.
That piques her interest. “Zerg are mighty dangerous,” she cautions.
Imogen agrees, “Which is why we’re a little concerned that there’s technology incorporated into some of them.” Upon Imogen explaining the zerg was found near Maria’s place, the woman seems surprised and says that Maria is usually more about cutting things apart than putting things together. Imogen clarifies that Maria was not involved and that Lilly found the “augmented larva” in a cave system, not at the clinic itself.
“What did you do with it?” the woman asks, looking at Lilly.
Kidnapped him and ran really fast. Named him and put him in a backpack, Lilly thinks, but she does not say anything. She just nods at Imogen for her to keep talking.
Imogen explains, “Lilly removed it from its environment… for examination.”
The woman frowns. “Do you have it with you right now?”
“Aye,” Imogen admits, looking down at the backpack on her chest.
“That’s a mighty dangerous thing…”
“Well, we figured it would be easier for you tell whether you knew something about it if you were actually looking at it.”
The woman thinks it over for a bit. “Why don’t y’all come in, and we can chat about this.”