The entrance to the Cerberus science vessel is a hatch emblazoned with their three-headed logo. It is large enough that a hydralisk could squeeze through, but one certainly would not be able to just casually stroll in. Neither can Lilly and Imogen, though, as long as it stays locked. Next to the big turn-wheel is a keypad. Imogen frowns at it, not knowing where to even start trying to guess old Confederate passcodes.
As Imogen inspects the door, Lilly remains on high alert, surprised that nothing has come out of the ship. After all, they did just kill the guard-zerg. One would think somebody would be mad about that. She walks slowly around the perimeter, unintentionally echoing the hydralisk’s own patrol route. The ship is not that large, probably just a few chambers. It is actually not all that much bigger than Li June’s garage and workshop. Spaceship is a very generous term for this vessel, though it is certainly built for vacuum.
These ships are not made for carrying cargo, so there is no hangar door, just the one personnel entrance. Given that it is locked, Imogen considers other possible ways in. She does not know if this type of ship has escape pods, but if it does and they launched, that might be a way in. Lilly has the right idea, checking around the exterior of the ship. Imogen abandons the front entrance and joins Lilly.
The hull is intact; there are no tears from the rough landing or blasts from weapons. The rest of the ship exterior seems to also be in relatively good shape, all things considered. Antenna and sensor arrays are still attached, if a bit off-kilter. From a distance, it looked like the ship had plowed into the earth, but now that they are up close, Lilly can see that the sand and dirt has been blown up against it. It landed hard, but it might even still be flyable.
The ship has a tri-fold symmetry, with three evenly spaced engines and thrusters around the exterior. The main hatch is between two of those, and an escape pod had been located between each of the other pairs. Lilly believes the two pods both ejected long ago, judging by the wind-scouring and dust buildup. Imogen begins to investigate those spots, trying to get through one of the seals. They are definitely not designed to be controlled from this direction, but at least there is no passcode required. With a pop and a hiss, Imogen gets the hatch she is working on open, revealing a chute.
Lilly steps up to the opening. “I can go first,” she offers.
“Your arm, Lilly!” Imogen says. It does not look like too tight a fit through the chute, but she is worried about her companion exacerbating the injury.
“Good point.” Lilly pulls out her pistol to have a one-handed weapon ready. The shotgun would be a little tricky to use in such tight quarters anyway, even if her shoulder were not injured. She brushes past Imogen and climbs in. It does hurt, but she manages to maneuver her way down the chute.
Lilly emerges into a small crew quarters dimly lit by emergency lighting. It is a little odd that there is even that much power left, given that the crash happened a few years ago. The ship is pre-Dominion; maybe things back then were built to last better. There is a bunk and a simple footlocker but not much else. Most notably, no people and no zerg. Small though it may be, Lilly begins searching the room for threats, but she gets distracted by what she finds under the bed. “Ooooh!” There sits an old jerrycan of dinosaur juice, just what Old Red needs. Should I grab this now? Lilly wonders. Snowball might be a bit crowded if she tries to squeeze it into her backpack. Maybe on the way out.
Imogen winds her way through the chute and finds Lilly crouched near the bed, closely studying something underneath it. Whatever that is, Lilly can handle it. Imogen is more concerned with determining whether this room is actively lived-in. The walls, ceiling, and floor are austere metal with no personalized decorations. The bed has sheets and blankets, not made very neatly, but the layer of dust coating everything suggests it has not been used recently. Some small items are scattered about the floor, perhaps from the jostling they took during the rough landing. Imogen picks one up to examine it and recognizes it as part of a medical kit. Now down near the floor, she sees the rest of the kit under the bed and pulls it out to go through it. The drugs are all past their expiration dates, but there are enough here that she could properly treat Lilly’s injury. That could take a while to do, though, and she would like more assurance that nothing is going to jump out at them while she is in the midst of that procedure. Imogen steps up to the door and concentrates, trying to sense whether there is any life in the room beyond. All she can detect is Lilly and Snowball.
Confident that they are the only ones aboard, she turns back to Lilly. “I think we’re alone on this ship. Would you mind me treating you now? I found these drugs that should help with the pain, and I should be able to put it back in joint and—” Lilly agrees even before Imogen finishes presenting her argument. The hydralisk spine scraped along the bones and disrupted the joint, but it did not actually break anything. Lilly curses up a storm as Imogen relocates the shoulder, but a set of injections dulls the pain from that point on. It takes half an hour or so, but in the end, Lilly’s arm is usable again.
Imogen places the last piece of tape to hold the gauze in place and helps Lilly back into her jacket, but then she pauses. She hears some sort of chittering or scratching echoing up the chute from outside the ship. “That’s not Snowball…” The cramped space would be a hard squeeze for a hydralisk, but a zergling could definitely fit through it. “It sounds like there’s something outside. We can try to secure the chute, or we can try to look out it. What do you think, Lilly?”
Aren’t those the same thing? “Okay,” Lilly tells Imogen, pulling out her shotgun and nodding. She rolls her shoulder to test it and finds it nice and numb. Lilly crawls back through the chute and takes a look outside. A pair of zerglings are over by Old Red. One of them is just sniffing at the vulture bike, but the other is curiously clawing at it. She does not see any implants on these zerg and suspects they are feral. Sticking halfway out of the chute, Lilly considers her options. She does not want to accidentally hit the bike, so just shooting the zerglings with her shotgun is out of the question. Time for old tried-and-true methods.
Lilly leans forward, stretching her arm down to grab a rock off the ground. She throws it toward the zerglings to get their attention. They turn and run toward her, colliding with each other a bit in the process. One of them takes exception to the other’s behavior and swipes at it. The target of its ire keeps running toward Lilly. She lets loose a shot at the approaching zergling, felling it. The remaining creature tears into it with its teeth. Lilly takes advantage of its diverted attention and shoots this one as well, but the blast is not as well-placed. It tears through the zergling’s hide, wounding and angering it. Snarling, it leaves the carcass and charges at her, leaping up and into the chute as she scoots back a bit. Teeth, claws, and tusks come squeezing in at her. Lilly releases the shotgun with one hand and pulls out her knife, stabbing it straight down into the zergling’s forehead. She waits until the body stops writhing and then shoves it out of the chute. With no other visible threats in the area, she returns to the crew quarters to report. “I got ‘em both, but I don’t know how many more are on the way.”
“I’d better get in there and secure the hatch, then,” Imogen says. She wriggles in and pulls the hatch shut, then rips open an access panel. She tries to lock it down securely so that nothing else will be able to open it, but she cannot manage this to her satisfaction. There are lots of switches and mechanical doodads, many of which she is unsure about what they control. She flips a few, hoping they will do something related to the hatch. Apparently, one of them had been the crucial broken link in the ship’s wiring, disrupting the flow of electricity, as the ship’s power now cycles on. She can feel the engines revving; this is not just backup batteries. The light in the quarters brightens as minimal operating power resumes. Imogen extracts herself from the chute. “We might be able to access the computer systems in the ship,” she tells Lilly excitedly, “and not need to drag things back to Li June’s.”
“You don’t think you can get it to fly?” Lilly jokes.
Oh, now there’s an idea. “The power’s on, and it didn’t look too badly damaged,” Imogen ruminates. “There are no holes in the side… Do you know how to pilot a ship like this?”
Lilly chuckles. “I can pilot a ship as well as I can drive a vulture bike.” If they had their own ship, they would not have to worry about taking Snowball places. They could just fly wherever this Cerberus investigation leads them.
“Well, perhaps it’s a possibility, then,” Imogen says. She draws her pistol and steps toward the door, but then pauses and turns back to Lilly, holstering the gun. There has been something she has been wondering for a while, and now seems like the time to ask. “I know you said you don’t really like talking about your association with Cerberus, but you understand Snowball pretty well. Is there any chance that you have some sort of implant also?” After all, Snowball has recognized Lilly as a fellow soldier somehow, and the larva does not seem bright enough to reach that conclusion just from Lilly’s behavior.
It is not the affiliation with Cerberus that Lilly is reluctant to talk about; it is the fact that she was resocialized by them. But Imogen has just introduced a concept Lilly never considered before, that she might have tech in her head. Lilly’s eyes widen and she swears. She begins feeling around her skull, searching for any signs of devices. There are a lot of scars, of course, many of which she remembers. That’s from a vulture bike crash. That’s from where I got grazed by a bullet. Then her fingers reach a particularly straight scar on the back of her neck. “No, I don’t remember it! What’s this?” She spins around, showing the mark to Imogen.
The Umojan studies the area, prodding at it. It looks like a clean surgical scar, and there definitely seems to be something hard just below the skin, but it could be a bullet fragment for all she can tell. “I’d need some sort of scanner to see what’s in here or else surgery, but I don’t think we want to go into that here.”
“What does it look like?”
“It’s just a small, clean incision, about an inch long. It seems to have healed up properly. Maybe whatever is here is why Snowball respects you… because he senses something.”
Lilly glances over her shoulder at where Snowball is poking out of her backpack. He remains at attention, eyes forward, like a good soldier. No help there. She takes a breath. “You know what? There’s nothing we can do about this now. We need to keep checking the ship.”
“All right, but there’s a possibility you may be able to tap into things. Just keep an open mind, that’s all,” Imogen concludes brightly, trying to be reassuring.
Oh, crap. That is not comforting to Lilly at all. A chip in my brain? she thinks, trying to remain calm. Is something going to trigger in my head? She considers trying to pry the thing out of her neck with her own knife, but she would at least need a mirror for that to be feasible. Speaking of which… She tries to use her knife’s reflective blade to see the back of her neck, working herself back up. “Shit! Shit! Shit!”
Imogen realizes that what she just said was not helpful. “Try not to worry, Lilly. We can deal with it. When we’re all wrapped up here, we can get you checked out by a proper doctor.”
“Okay, but if I turn on you, don’t be afraid to shoot me,” Lilly advises.
“All right! We’ll reserve that option for later, perhaps.” Like I could stop you with a bullet, Imogen thinks. A hydralisk spine didn’t even stop you. With that in mind, she pulls out her souped-up stim from the Bunker and jabs it into Lilly, one last drug cocktail to get her operating at a hundred and ten percent. She smiles encouragingly and opens the door.
For a moment, Lilly expects to pass out, thinking Imogen has tranked her to neutralize the potential threat. Then the drugs hit her, and she realizes this is the good stuff, like back in her Goliath days. Seems like Imogen does trust her. Lilly follows her through into the next room.