Imogen lets out a long breath, feeling things have taken an unexpected and very dangerous turn with Li June’s request for zerg tissue from Redstone III. “Can we confer about this for a moment?” she asks. Li agrees and leads her and Lilly off the watchfloor and back into the sunroom. She refills their glasses with far-too-sweet tea and leaves them alone, returning to her command center. The wall slides closed behind her, but considering the extent of the surveillance suite, Imogen considers it likely that Li will monitor their conversation. Nothing I can do about that. Imogen turns to Lilly. “So why did you pick it up?” she asks.
“They seemed like they wanted to get the thing off of him, and I thought it might be useful for us to know about that,” Lilly explains. “At first I thought they were just messing with some tech which I thought might be useful. Now I don’t know what to do about all this. I guess we could take him back to the caves…”
“Hopefully those caves are collapsed by now,” Imogen points out. She sighs at the whole situation.
Lilly shrugs. “I didn’t really think too much about it,” she says apologetically.
“This is a big thing to stumble across. I’m just wondering if we’re getting out of our depths here.”
“Which part?” Lilly asks.
“The part where we go sneak onto a lava planet and smuggle off part of some giant dead zerg. It’s not just going to be lying there. She said there are other active zerg on that planet.”
“Yeah, I don’t know how long it will take us to do that.” Lilly seems to brush off Imogen’s concerns about the job and returns the topic of the conversation to Snowball. “But I also don’t know what to do with this larva, now that we have him. If we leave him here and he changes…”
“She didn’t seem so concerned about that,” Imogen points out. “She’s got some pretty sweet guns onsite.”
“It could take us a while to do this job, but I guess if she’s okay with that… It would be good to know about the tech, and I don’t know what else to do with it. It’s not like we know any other experts.”
Imogen frowns. Something is not adding up here. Why is Lilly so interested in this device? she wonders. The former soldier has previously only really cared about weapons or vehicles, and this is neither. Nor has she shown a particular desire to engage zerg. “What’s your angle here?” Imogen asks. “If you want me to go to a planet covered with zergs, I want to know why.”
Lilly shrugs her coat off her shoulder and tugs the collar of her shirt to the side, exposing a tattoo of a barcode accompanied by the Cerberus logo. All she says is, “I don’t like to talk about it.”
Ah, she has a personal connection to this platoon, Imogen realizes. She concentrates, trying to see if she can psionically get a read on Lilly to tease out any other details. All she senses, though, are the living things that she knows are around here: Lilly, Li, and Snowball. No zerg menagerie in the basement; that’s good to know. But she can get nothing else off Lilly. “Okay,” Imogen nods. “This is important to you and I owe you, so we can do this.”
Imogen steps up to the retractable wall and raps on it. It slides back, and Li rejoins them, happy to hear they are willing to retrieve the cerebrate sample. She provides them with a spray that obscures the presence of zerg organic matter to help them fool any Dominion sensors they encounter while smuggling the material back to Mar Sara. Li also encourages them to bring back samples of any other interesting zerg they find, even offering to pay a bounty for them. “But not just a zergling corpse; that’s not going to cut it. I’m interested in zerg that we ain’t used to seeing.”
“There’s more kinds of zergs?” Imogen asks.
“Oh, there’s many types of zerg,” Li confirms. “The Swarm is constantly evolving. Some strains evolve away, and new ones pop up. We’ve got to adapt our tactics accordingly.”
Who is this “we”? “Are you sharing your research with anyone? You said you were done fighting yourself,” Imogen points out.
“I pass along the important bits to Raynor’s Raiders. I try to filter out the things that don’t really lead anywhere. But I’m still in the early stages, just gathering information right now. I spent a long time trying to stay out of the war entirely. Did more than my share, as I said.” She gives them a phone number and assures them that she will answer it. “Give a call if you have more questions or find something strange.” Then she offers them hospitality for the night, considering the late hour and how far across the wastes they are from the capital.
They take the larva out of Imogen’s bag. As Lilly starts to leave the sunroom, Snowball waddles along behind her. She turns to look at him, and he stops, going completely still. Lilly takes a step backward, and Snowball shuffles forward the same distance. She notes that he is exactly five paces behind her. “It’s like we’re in the same squad,” she observes, looking over to Li for help.
“That’s fascinating,” Li mutters. Then she orders, “At ease, soldier!” Snowball relaxes into a lump on the carpet. “I guess you were right about the squad. I’ll accept this transfer to my command for now.”
Imogen watches all this, perplexed. “Do you think it was a person?”
“I hope not,” Li says. “That’s a terrible thing to do to a person.”
Lilly turns to Imogen. “What do you mean?”
“Li just told us that that woman, Kerrigan, is now in charge of the Swarm…”
“I see what you’re getting at.” Li explains, “If a terran is infested, they’ll usually still look sort of human. They won’t look like a larva. Their skin might become full of blisters. Their eyes might glow a certain color. They might grow additional appendages. They are gross and misshapen. It’s a terrible, terrible fate, but it’s not this. At least, I’ve never seen that before, and I had to put down a few of my comrades who got infested. I’ll keep a close eye on the larva though, do a full blood workup. Try to figure out what it might turn into.”
“Does it ever go the other way?” Imogen asks. “Do they ever get infested with… terranness?”
“No, as much as humanity might spread across the galaxy like cockroaches, I don’t think we infest zerg in any way. If someone is on-purpose splicing terran and zerg DNA, then that’s extremely foul. No, I’ve only known zerg to do this to people, not the other way around. But I suppose if they found an aspect of humanity they liked, they might integrate it into their brood,” she muses.
They retire for the night. Lilly stays up a few extra hours, just in case anything happens with Snowball, but all remains quiet.