As daylight dwindles, Old Red pulls up to Saffron. Now that they are away from Li’s sanctuary, Imogen calls Rory. As that conversation happens around her, Lilly considers other options for the science vessel if they cannot get her spaceworthy. Maybe we could set her up somewhere as a small restaurant?
After a few rings, Rory answers the phone with, “Swann Engineering.”
“Is this a good time, Rory, or are you wrapped up in Jimmy’s business?” Imogen asks.
“I’m always wrapped up in Jimmy’s ‘business’. What you got going, cowboy?”
“I’m wondering if you’re free at all tomorrow and what sort of rates you charge for your engineering work?”
“Engineering work? What you got that you need doing?”
Imogen starts, “We’ve got two little projects. One’s a vulture bike—”
“Oh, got yourselves a bike! All right! Nice!”
“—and one’s a…” She might as well just say it. “A science vessel.”
“You got a science vessel!?”
As Imogen tries to describe the situation, Lilly, listening in, just nods. “It’s, uh, in need of a little bit of… of upkeep, and—”
Rory cuts in. “Now, don’t take this the wrong way, but did you hijack a science vessel?”
“Hijack implies someone was already driving it and that it was in space at the time. Neither of those is the case.”
“So, somebody left a science vessel lying around, and you stole it? Is that correct?”
I’m not a thief, Lilly thinks.
“Isn’t it called salvage out here in the wastes?” Imogen counters.
“So you stole yourselves a science vessel. Right on, cowboy!”
Getting back to the reason for her call, Imogen tells him, “It’s not spaceworthy as far as I can tell, but I’m not really sure what I need to patch up to make that happen.”
“Yeah, well you probably gotta check the flux capacitors. Those things are really flaky. Is it mobile right now, or did you just find it?”
“Oh, it’s mobile,” Imogen assures him. “Lilly took it for a test spin.”
“Cool. Did you check the air filters first and the electrical conduits?” Imogen checked a lot of systems and repaired a few things but neither of those. At least, not on the spaceship. On Old Red, yes. On Saffron, no. “You flew a starship without checking the electrical conduits?”
“It didn’t crash,” Lilly points out.
“Let me just say, you’re lucky to be alive. You could’ve gotten fried in there. Starships put out an insane amount of power. If it’s not being properly routed, you’re in for a real hot day, real fast.”
“The floor’s not insulated?!” Imogen asks, incredulous. Dominion tech really is way behind Umojan, she reflects.
“On a salvage operation, who knows what’s exposed?” Rory points out.
“See, this is exactly why I was interested in knowing what your rates are,” Imogen tells him.
“Science vessels… that’s a little more involved. I mean, I can do that… That’s going to take me a little more time than I’ve got right now. And some of those parts are a little bit tough to come by.” Imogen requests a walkthrough inspection, so that they can at least get an idea of all the things that need replacing and prioritize their repairs appropriately. “Okay, I think I can do that. Where you at?”
“We’re at a rendezvous by some cliffs southeast of town.”
“Oh, that’s right, you met with Jim this morning. You delivered a letter, right, for dear Matthew.” Rory chuckles. “That guy, I tell ya.”
“I hope you’ve only heard about it, not read it,” Imogen comments.
“That poor guy,” Rory continues. “I almost feel bad for him. Almost.”
“So, if you could meet us…”
“I just don’t have the time now. I’m really sorry. We took some hits today; I’ve got some repairs I gotta make to the APC.” He explains the acronym at Imogen’s request. “Armored Personnel Carrier. AKA, a truck with people in it that we—a truck with people in it. We’ve got a lot of… exercises that we’re doing right now. And if that APC’s not in tip-top shape, some of our boys out there might be in trouble the next thing we need to do. If you could bring your ship to me, I could walk you through some things. But, I don’t think… Jimmy trusts you, but I don’t think he trusts you to, you know, fly a ship all the way up to our location.”
“It’s not a big ship,” Lilly points out.
“Is there anything we could do to help you?” Imogen asks.
Rory dithers for a bit. He is not entirely sure of her mechanical skills, but he is rather keen to see their vulture bike, and if she really did get a rusted-out science vessel up and running, she might be up to some of the repair tasks on his docket. “Well, you did fix that up. You could probably—” Sudden gunfire makes Rory pause.
In the background, Lilly and Imogen hear Jim Raynor’s voice. “Evac! Evac! We’ve gotta evac. Everybody get out of here!”
“Uh, sorry, I gotta go!” Rory says. As he cuts the line, Imogen hears Raynor shouting the rendezvous coordinates for the evac.
“Lilly, Lilly! Fire it up! Let’s go!” Imogen shouts urgently, dashing from the bike over to the science vessel.
“All right,” Lilly replies calmly. “Start the engines.” She pats Old Red and heads over to Saffron. It is a bit sad to leave him there in the wastes, but he survived before. By the time she gets to the pilot station, Imogen has the engines stoked. Her mouth is running a mile a minute.
“I can’t believe I have to do this every time. There must be an automated system, but I’ve no idea how to access it. I hope it doesn’t require that mainframe to be operational. Lilly, get us in the air. This is something that matters right now. I’ll call Li June once we’re in the air and let her know we—”
Lilly tunes her out and starts the lift off sequence. Things go more smoothly this time, now that Imogen has all three engines running. Lilly is not surprised. All these things they have found in the waste, Imogen has been able to get going just fine. She’s a really good mechanic.
They head northwest, toward the coordinates Imogen overheard. Lilly knows that clearance is required to fly over the city. They do not have permission, nor do they even have a registration for the vehicle. That might be a problem. And in atmosphere, Saffron does not go much faster than Old Red. “We should probably steer clear of the town,” she suggests. She plots a route hooking to the north. It will take them over the vespene pipeline, but maybe no one will care about that.
As they fly above the pipeline, though, the radio tuned to civil comms crackles to life. “Fly zone only with permission. Get clearance.” Don’t wanna deal with that, Lilly thinks. She reroutes around Our Lady of Perpetual Agony to avoid any hassle from air traffic control, which costs them some time.
They reach the coordinates and find that Jim Raynor really does have an army. In addition to the APC, they see a barracks, a command center, and even a small factory among the units on the ground below. The raiders are currently dealing with a zerg attack. Saffron could fit half a dozen marines in combat suits, maybe ten non-combatants in regular clothes. They should be able to help with the evacuation. But suddenly Saffron shakes. Some marines are shooting up at this unknown vehicle that has found their location. “Should’ve put out the white cloth,” Lilly says. “Maybe we should radio down.”
“I don’t think Jimmy will be answering his phone right now,” Imogen replies.
Up north, beyond the waves of zerg currently occupying the troops, Saffron‘s sensors detect many burrowed zerg. That area is too far afield to be visible from the ground. The marines may think they can hold out, but they have no idea of the extent of the threat. It is much worse than it looks. It would take a really big rock to distract that many, Lilly reflects.
“Hover near that factory they’re loading up, and I’ll open the door,” Imogen suggests. “That’s Rory’s bike there. And some of those lads met me this morning; they’ll see that we’re here to help them evacuate once they recognize us.” Lilly agrees to the plan, and Imogen leaves the central hub for the entrance vestibule. Once there, she opens the hatch to outside.
Lilly brings the ship lower, but hovering at this elevation is tricky. Saffron shudders. Imogen makes a grab at the side of the hatch and misses, falling to the ground below. She thuds to the packed earth near Rory’s bike and finds herself thinking of the platform that they used to crush a hydralisk on Redstone III. She blinks a few times dazedly. “You’re looking for an evac?” she asks the stunned mechanic at the vulture bike.
“Imogen! What the hell! You just fell out of—” The Umojan points straight up, and Rory’s tone changes from shock to wonder. “You do have a science vessel! Are you all right?” From her vantage point on the ground, Imogen comments on a part of his bike undercarriage that needs adjusting, but the vehicle is not at all on Rory’s mind at this moment. “Jeez! You gotta get out of here! Why did you come here? How did you find us? You got a stim pack?”
Nothing feels broken, but Imogen aches all over. She pulls one of her painkiller shots from her backpack and jabs it in her thigh, then sits up and shakes her head to clear it a bit. “From the sensor suite on Saffron up above, we could detect hundreds, if not thousands, of zerg coming.”
“Bad news, bad news, cowboy.” He gets on his comm. “Commander, that science vessel is a friendly! And we got a whole horde of zerg coming up.”
Imogen turns to her own radio, calling up to Lilly, “I don’t think that’s going to work. You might want to lower the ship.”
“You got it,” Lilly agrees, unaware that Imogen is no longer aboard. She sets Saffron down but keeps the sensor suite active.
In the field, marines gun down zerglings. They have a couple firebats for support, along with a couple medics, but no mechanized units. No siege tanks, no goliaths. Rory’s is the only vulture bike around.
Imogen shouts over Rory’s shoulder into his comm, “Jimmy, our sensors detected some four hundred zerg to the north. You need to get your men to stop shooting and run. There is no holding that back.”
“Imogen, what the hell? Roger that.” Raynor hangs up on Rory, but he is close enough on the field that Imogen can hear his next shouted orders, “Matt, we’re going to need that evac. Fall back to the beta site.”
“All right, Imogen, what’s the plan?” Lilly’s voice comes from Saffron’s entrance. Imogen motions her out and tells her to start getting injured people on board.
“Let me help you with that,” Imogen tells Rory, nodding at the bike, which it is clear he will not abandon.
He is reluctant to let anyone else work on it. “No, I’ll just drive my bike like, uh, whatever. It’ll work.”
“It’s in pieces right now. Did I mention the four hundred zerg I saw to the north of here?”
“Okay, hand me that number three wrench,” he relents, allowing her to help. They slap on the necessary pieces, leaving some of the frills behind. It looks to Imogen like he must have had the bike entirely stripped down at the time the attack started.
A bunker to the north is overrun by approaching zerg. Lilly considers their current location, compared with the town, and wonders if it is at risk. A problem for another day, she decides. Deal with this here for now. She gets people settled inside, then looks around for Imogen.
Rory and Imogen affix the last crucial piece to the vulture bike. “All right, cowboy. You should probably…” he waves his clamp-hand toward Saffron. “Your ship’s going to be safer.”
Imogen nods and runs up the ramp, waving to Lilly over the injured passengers to signal that she is aboard. “Where are we taking these people?” Lilly asks. Imogen gives her the beta site coordinates that she got from Rory.
There is chaos on the ground as they take off. A bunch of people hop onto an APC; others flee on foot in their power armor. The barracks tries to fly away, but hydralisks shoot it out of the sky and zerglings overrun it on the ground. Lilly pilots Saffron eastward to a location hidden in the hills near the clinic. She is getting more comfortable with the controls and brings the ship down smoothly. They offload the injured and then head back to see who else they can help.