The fuel situation is not great, but Imogen’s patch holds as Lilly drives onward. They cross the lower plain and approach the incline leading up to the next mesa. There they witness a pair of zerglings rush up the hillside and be taken out by hydralisk spines. In the distance is the Cerberus science vessel, askew and worse for the wear, but not totally wrecked. Patrolling right in front of the slanted ship is the source of the attack, a hydralisk with clearly-visible cranial implants. The ground in the area is covered with creep, but it does not seem to be associated with the ship. Perhaps it was part of that broodmother’s failed efforts.
“Friend of yours, Snowball?” Imogen asks, not expecting any sort of response.
Lilly glances over her shoulder at the larva sticking out of her backpack. “Definitely not a friend of Snowball’s,” she tells Imogen.
“It looks like it’s being all military-like,” the Umojan points out. The hydralisk is patrolling around the wreck.
“But, no, he’s saying, ‘bogey,’” Lilly replies.
“Snowball’s talking to you?”
“Well, not… he… he’s just like… I guess. Can’t you understand him? Look at how he’s pointing.”
Those little legs are not making any gestures that Imogen can recognize. She concentrates really hard on the larva. That last strange zerg spoke without a mouth and so do protoss. Maybe Snowball has some psionic capabilities and is communicating directly into Lilly’s mind somehow. Imogen cannot get a read of the larva though. She is not sensing anything alive, not even Lilly. She really needs training; her psionic powers are too unreliable. Time to switch back to senses she can trust.
Imogen looks around the area. The terrain around here is dry and rocky, but also a bit gooey from the creep. They could stash the vulture bike somewhere and try sneaking up to the ship, but the hydralisk’s patrol is so tight, there is no way they would be able to get in the door unnoticed. It had advanced a bit to take out the zerglings, but once they were dispatched, it resumed its close watch. They need something to draw it out.
Lilly considers just marching up to the hydralisk and issuing orders to see if he obeys them like Snowball does. She thinks it would be cool if it worked, though if it did not, she figures she would get impaled just like those zerglings did. Maybe just shouting from right where we are would be better. On the other hand, he does not seem to have noticed them yet, and giving up their location eliminates some options. Those zerglings were right at the edge of his range, and the vulture bike might very well be outside his area of interest.
Lilly dismounts, telling Imogen she is going to go closer and make herself known but that there is no reason for him to know about both of them. Imogen dismounts, too, drawing her pistol.
“Hey, soldier,” Lilly calls out as she approaches, “I’m a friendly.” The hydralisk hears her, but he does not take her at her word. He launches a spine at her, and fortunately she is just outside its range; the chitinous spear embeds itself in the ground just in front of her feet. That hydralisk could take a step or two forward, and… Oh, shit, Lilly thinks, backing up a few paces. The zerg resumes his patrol, mindful of Lilly, but no longer targeting her. She rejoins Imogen. “Didn’t work,” she reports.
“You don’t say.”
“But he didn’t come after me,” Lilly offers.
“Maybe it’s not supposed to move more than a certain distance away if it’s been assigned to guard the ship,” Imogen theorizes. “Could you notice anything about it up closer?”
The creature was bigger than a standard hydralisk, but it moved slower even though it was on creep. That movement was very methodical, like a soldier on patrol. The brain box was definitely not the only implant. It looked to Lilly like the talons were augmented with metal, either sheathed in it or completely replaced by it. And the hydralisk had goggles, probably to help it see in the dark. Based on what landed just in front of Lilly, the spines themselves are not augmented, just coated with the standard acid. “He’s better equipped than we are,” Lilly sums up.
They decide to try taking out the cranial implant itself. That is unlikely to make the hydralisk friendly, but hopefully it will disrupt its orders enough that they can get it away from the wreck. Lilly volunteers to provide a distraction so Imogen can take the shot. Imogen notes that this is the opposite of how they did things on Redstone III, which might be foolish since, as a soldier, Lilly has a lot more experience with a gun than she does. Before she is finished uttering this observation, though, Lilly is already heading stealthily around on a clockwise approach to the hydralisk. “Well, that’s decided, it is,” Imogen says to the vulture bike.
Lilly slips around, flanking the hydralisk and ducking down behind a large boulder. When the creature turns toward her, Imogen will be able to shoot him unobserved from behind. As for how to get the hydralisk to turn… Lilly stands and unloads her shotgun in his direction. He ducks down low, the pellets going over him, and returns the favor. A spine catches Lilly in the shoulder, and she hears bones crunch at the impact. Redstone was a walk in the park next to this; there will be no casual ripping out of this spine.
From Imogen’s position, she sees the hydralisk turn towards Lilly, exposing the back of its cranial implant. The interface with the brain is right there. Nevermind just disrupting orders, with this shot, she should be able to shut down the creature completely. Ignoring the antenna, she fires at this vent just as the hydralisk rotates, and the bullet flies true. The zerg collapses like a marionette with cut strings; whatever little brain was left has been obliterated. Unaware of her teammate’s condition, Imogen closes the distance and pulls her knife.
Behind her rock, Lilly curses. Then she shifts her focus to the ship to see if their antics have attracted any additional attention. There is no movement around the vessel, and what is obviously the door remains shut.
Imogen attempts to pry the devices off the hydralisk with her knife, but they are too well integrated. Abandoning that idea with an admonishment to herself to pick up a set of screwdrivers, she settles for removing some tissue samples to place in jars for Li and Neiman. She does snap off an antenna, but the rest of the implants are far too hardy. Looking at everything up close, she realizes she really lucked out with that shot.
When Imogen catches up to Lilly, she is appalled by what she sees. Lilly takes in her facial expression and says, “Yeah, hurts like a son of a bitch.” Imogen carefully extracts the spike and stuffs the wound with gauze, but there is nothing she can do out here for the joint. They are about to enter a science vessel, though, so she is hopeful that there will be some equipment or supplies inside that can help treat this injury. For now, she just advises Lilly to use the arm as little as possible.
They approach the door to the ship, full of hope and expectation, only to find that it is locked.
“Aw, c’mon!” Lilly cries.