On Saffron’s approach to Mar Sara, the ship receives a hail. “This is Mar Sara Radio Control Tower. Please identify yourself,” the stilted voice requests.
Didn’t we disable that? Lilly thinks. But she answers anyway. “This is science vessel Saffron.”
“Let’s see… science vessel Saffron… Do you have a Dominion control number?”
“Yessir,” Lilly says, and she transmits the requested information.
“Make sure you let them know our emissions are good, also,” Imogen calls over from where she is seated on the floor, monitoring Malorn.
A moment later, the radio crackles and a far friendlier voice comes out of it. “Oh! Oh, Saffron! Sorry about that, y’all. We just need to make sure we put on the right appearance, you know?”
“Ah, so the ruse is still working then,” Imogen observes. She and Lilly have only been gone a week or so, but this is still encouraging news. The comms tech shares that only one official Dominion supply shipment has come in so far, and that went well enough.
With clearance granted, Saffron proceeds to Li June’s compound in the wastes. Mar Sara City is no place for a severely injured protoss, and Lilly figures she can just take Old Red into town if Li needs more supplies. Come to think of it, Old Red himself needs new plates still.
It is late afternoon when Li’s guests touch down on her landing pad. Li greets them with sweet tea, as usual. She apologizes for not having proper medical facilities but says she has cleared a table in the parlor. Lilly, Imogen, and a strangely dressed protoss carry an unconscious protoss into the house. Once they settle the patient, Li turns to the protoss in the wide-brimmed purple fedora and tacky fur coat. “And who are you, sir?”
“I am Karax, of the khalai caste,” he answers a little stiffly.
Li looks him up and down. “Well, aren’t you just… particular.”
The Dominion, at various times, has tried interrogating protoss. One key component of that is keeping protoss subjects alive as long as possible. Li apologetically shares the information she has gleaned from her review of the Dominion Alien Interrogation Manual.
Imogen’s first concern is the amount of blood that Malorn has lost. While they can certainly start him on plain saline, that might not be sufficient. However, synthesizing a replacement is no simple matter, particularly with how caustic his blood is. Karax consents to providing a sample of his own blood for more detailed comparison with Malorn’s. “A lot of protoss blood has already been spilled, on all sides,” he says philosophically. He is not giving away any important protoss secrets with this donation. Being a little squeamish, though, he looks away while Imogen handles the needle.
Having no real way to help, Lilly simply sits in the corner, sharpening her knives. She would be sharpening Malorn’s for him if he had any. Oh! I should get him one when I’m in town! It is the perfect way to spend the credits she found in the Iceberg Station docking bay.
It occurs to Imogen that she herself is an alternative to hooking Malorn up to an electroencephalograph. She stands beside the table seemingly just studying her patient, but in truth, she is skimming his thoughts. It is a little stressful, using her psionic abilities in front of Li. The older woman may know that Imogen’s brother is a zerg, but this particular secret Imogen has held more tightly.
Malorn’s mind feels different from how it has during her previous glimpses into it. For once, there is no anger. Instead, there is the desolation of a life wasted. Exiled… There are not many coherent thoughts, but every now and then she can fish one out of the morass. Failure… of the tal’darim. A failed society. The thoughts are not happy, but they sound like some sort of progress to Imogen. Maybe her words to him in Lendasha’s quarters actually sank in.
Karax watches as the terran doctor grows quiet and still. She stares intently at the tal’darim for a few moments, and then bright red blood begins leaking from her air holes. Karax narrows his eyes, but he says nothing aloud regarding his suspicions. “So… how does he look?” he asks instead. The woman looks up at him, startled out of her thoughts—or someone else’s. Her hand drifts up to her face. “Here, you might need this,” he says, holding out a cloth.
“Oh, sugar, I do apologize,” Li says as Imogen tends to her bloody nose. “Our planet is so dry.”
Imogen brushes off the concern. “Look at how his eyes are moving under the lids,” she claims. “Clearly he’s still thinking in there.”
“If only he were connected to the Khala; it might help steady him. But he’s all alone in there,” Karax says.
“You know, the Khala’s not necessary for protoss to do psionic things. Can you try to connect with him?” Imogen asks.
“Uhhh… that’s not really my specialty.”
“That’s not an answer to my question.” Imogen does not accept any sort of that’s outside my caste claim as a reason not to at least try to help Malorn.
If he needed air, Karax would let out a long sigh. As it is, he makes a humming noise as he concedes. “Very well. But this is peculiar and—I caution you again—not what I am to do.”
“Just do whatever comforting thing you think the Khala would normally provide.”
Karax places a hand on Malorn, and his eyes drift closed. After a few moments, he makes the irritated humming noise again. “There’s too much… too much blockage, too much chaos. I’m sorry.” He looks up at Imogen holding her gaze with his own, as he continues, “I cannot offer him that kind of comfort.” He does not explicitly tell her to try anything psionic, though; that also is not his place to do. “Your best bet at this point is some sort of stiff depressant, if you could quickly get that into his system.”
“Sounds like a call for whiskey,” Imogen observes.
“I am unfamiliar with your terran pharmaceuticals.”
“It’s pretty stiff.”
Finally seeing some way she can contribute, Lilly leaves to get a bottle. Li calls out for her to bring back some Long Islands, too. Li has a pretty nice liquor cabinet, but Lilly finds nothing in it with that label. She rummages around a while and then does her best to create the drink herself. She does not know what the ingredients are, but she does her best with what is on hand. Then she adds a splash from some unmarked bottle of purplish liquid that smells of vanilla, plops a few cherries into each glass, and considers them done. The whiskey is simple; that just goes in a couple tumblers.
Lilly brings the tray of drinks back to the makeshift operating room. Li takes a sip from the glass Lilly hands her and then lets out a startled noise. Eyes watering, she says, “Aw, sugar, I don’t know what they put in Long Islands where you’re from, but… Woo!”
“Half tequila, half iced tea, and a little bit of something I couldn’t tell you what it is.” The way Lilly says it, it sounds like she has a secret recipe, rather than the truth: she does not actually know herself.
Li takes another careful sip. “Well, it’s not deadly.” She hands a glass to Karax.
He looks down at it confused. “I don’t need to consume—”
“Now, everyone who comes into my house gets served refreshments,” Li insists. “It would be awful rude to refuse.”
“Uh… I don’t have a… a mouth,” he protests.
“Just put one of your nerve cords in,” Imogen orders. Looking over at her, he sees she has done similarly for her patient.
“Yeah, put your tentacle in it,” Lilly encourages him.
“This is most irregular,” he grumbles, but he complies, tentatively dipping a nerve cord in for just a moment. He screws up his face in response. “Seems mostly non-toxic…” His words come out in a bit of a stutter. Lilly laughs in delight at his reaction, though Karax does not seem as much of a lightweight as the protoss who inspected Saffron on Browder II. Putting his cord back in the liquid, he continues sampling it. “That is a most peculiar sensation! Interesting body. Quite a few sugary tones,” he comments, like some sort of wine connoisseur.
Lilly finally gets around to tasting it herself. “That’s terrible!” she gasps, but she keeps drinking the powerful concoction. No need to waste good alcohol.
Imogen’s glass goes untouched. She only drinks Li’s syrupy sweet tea to be polite. She has no intention of drinking an alcoholic beverage half-composed of it. Particularly not when there is whiskey. She takes an occasional small sip from her glass as she takes care of her patient, but nothing that will interfere with her work.
As Lilly listens in on the surgery, with all the talk between Imogen and Karax of stents and shunts and rerouting, she reflects that it sounds more like a mechanic and an engineer than it does a doctor and a nurse. If Malorn were not out cold, he would probably be complaining about it. But that’s Imogen for you, always trying to fix things.
Imogen remains open to Malorn as she works, just to make sure his brain remains active. He does seem to relax as the whiskey kicks in. Every now and then she pokes the wrong place and picks up a sensation of pain from him. Sometimes it even forms into coherent words. Pain. Yes, pain is part of life. That starts back up the thought cycle about a wasted life and the failure of the tal’darim.