Imogen has not figured out how to stop the cameras from sending out data, but she cannot just shut them down because the sensors that she needs to monitor during flight feed off the external ones, and the whole system is connected. She does not want to jeopardize Li June’s safety any further than she already has, so she asks Lilly to set Saffron down near the spot of that morning’s rendezvous with Jim Raynor, a few miles from Li’s compound.
“Sure, that sounds like a good plan,” Lilly agrees. “Whatever you think is fine. I’ll crash there.” It seems to be what pilots do.
As they fly back across the wastes, they take in the situation on the ground, Lilly in the course of her piloting, and Imogen operating the sensor suite. They detect a few zerg colonies below, but more alarming is the flying zerg that is closing in on them at their own altitude. It has a curved shape with wings and an angry-looking mouth: a mutalisk. Saffron has no functioning weapons, and any of their personal firearms would require getting far too close to the mutalisk for comfort. In addition to its unarmed status, Saffron is rather unarmored as well.
“We’re just going to have to land this thing,” Lilly says.
Imogen presents an alternative. “Can you lose it?”
“I can try,” Lilly replies. Imogen points out a cloud bank that she thinks will provide sufficient cover. “All right. C’mon, Saffron!” The mutalisk gives chase, and Lilly leads it into the clouds, then doubles back and exits on a different tack. Imogen reports from the sensors that the mutalisk is continuing on its original trajectory. Saffron has evaded her first threat under the new command.
Before long they see the rivers near Mar Sara City in the distance, heralding their approach to the morning’s meet-up spot. Despite her insistence that they are going to crash, Lilly brings Saffron in for a relatively smooth landing. Some sparks fly from the conduits leading to the engine brakes, and the ship still lists to the side, but there is no new permanent damage. Imogen warns Lilly to treat the ship as gently as the vulture bike. A science vessel is not designed to take the knocks. When everything settles, Lilly mutters, “Damn pilots,” her last shred of respect for the profession gone.
Imogen inspects Old Red to determine if there is anything she can quickly remove so that they can get it out of Saffron more easily. She soon abandons that idea; she does not have the right tools, and the vulture bike needs a thorough inspection after all the time it sat in the wastes. The new coat of paint has just covered up years of corrosion, not removed them. Pulling off more parts than are necessary under these conditions is not a good idea. Imogen sighs. “You know what we need?”
“We need to give him—”
“We need Rory.”
“Ooooooh, that’ll be a treat for him later. Right now, we need to give him a good shove.” Lilly moves into position while Imogen opens the hatch and drops the ramp. “All right, Old Red.” Lilly tries pushing the bike out, but he gets caught in the door on the first try. She tilts him at just the right angle and makes sure to use her legs, not just her arms, and finally the vulture bike makes it out of the science vessel. She rights him on the sand with a smile. This is all going great, she thinks. First they found Old Red, then they got Saffron. Lilly reflects, the wastes aren’t such a bad place, as long as you can deal with the zerg. Speaking of which, she needs to get Snowball back into her bag. His behavior on the flight was all standard Snowball issue: occasional patrol rounds, lots of standing at attention. It did not seem like the ship was a familiar environment to him or like he found it particularly interesting.
Imogen sets about reattaching the pieces that Lilly had removed. It will mean they cannot just shove the bike back in the ship, but she is not worried about making a hasty launch from this location. When Lilly starts the vulture up, Imogen is relieved to not hear any clicking noises. So far, working on these large-scale devices seems much easier than small things like her pistol. She slaps another layer of duct tape over the spine hole in the gas tank and declares it good to go.