Imogen monitors Saffron’s sensors, looking for any signs of increased danger. On the ground, right in the path that marines on foot will be taking, she detects some large burrowed zerg. Bigger than zerglings, bigger than hydralisks, even. Was this what was below us back when we met Sam Aran? she wonders, alarmed at the size. It looks like an ambush. Imogen dials into the general raider broadcast channel Rory gave her. “Alert. Zerg ambush up ahead.”
A voice she does not recognize replies, “What kind of zerg we talking about? A couple hydras?”
“No, larger. I don’t know. They’re underground. They’re pretty big, though.”
“Underground! Burrowed, ready and waiting for us! Send us your sensor readouts, and we’ll just take ‘em out along the way.”
Imogen balks at the request, not sure the group of marines can handle these creatures. “Can’t hurt to send them,” Lilly suggests.
“They’re in the path we gotta go, right?” crackles over the comm.
The only other routes are through a zerg hive to the north or through town to the south, neither of which are viable options for a group of raiders. “I guess if town’s off limits to you, then that’s the case.”
“Yeah, so, the only way out is through,” the marine says matter-of-factly. “But with your sensors, we get the jump on them. And by jump, I mean bullets. Lots of bullets.”
Lilly tries to find a place to set down, to at least get the wounded on board, but with the terrain and the zerg and the atmospheric conditions, it is tricky. The ship crunches down with a few horrible grinding noises that Imogen will have to sort out later. They take on board support personnel and the most injured, those who cannot fight. The marines help them up the ramp, and the one in charge, whose voice they recognize from the radio, requests, “Just stay with us, and keep that sensor information flowing.”
Saffron takes off, remaining in range of the marines. Imogen navigates the operational computer systems, feeling the pressure of the lives counting on her down below. Umoja may be technologically advanced, but that does not mean that she knows how to use computers. She sets a data stream flowing down to the combat suits of the marines.
“Oh, shit, we’ve got lurkers!” the sergeant says. “All right, boys, eyes up! Spread out! They’re not gonna get all of us. We might not all make it today, but we’re getting through. We’re getting off this planet.”
The marines fan out so that they are not clumped together and start shooting down through the dirt. The lurkers are not very deep, but the marines need to get close to do real damage. These zerg do not unburrow, they just shoot their spines from underground. The eruption takes out a few marines, but their crescent formation means each of the hurled projectiles can only endanger one terran. The marines take out one lurker right away, a geyser of ichor marking its location, but the next blast of spines annihilates a marine in return. The terrans focus on the source of that attack, dispatching the hidden zerg. The whole assault only momentarily slows the group, and they are able to continue along their route to the beta site. A few stray zerglings pepper the trail, but because they easily got through the ambush, the marines are in fine form to deal with those.
“Raiders, roll! We got five minutes to evac!” Raynor shouts over the broadcast channel. “Move, move, move!”
Lilly sets Saffron down, and she and Imogen emerge, running over to Rory, who is frantically throwing things into his vulture bike. “Hey, cowboy, some nice flying there,” he greets them.
“Thank you, sir,” says Lilly, smiling.
“You two joining our, uh, little outfit?”
“Looks like it,” Lilly laughs.
“We were interested in your personal services,” Imogen clarifies, “not necessarily in joining your army.”
Is there something more important we’re supposed to be doing? Lilly wonders.
Imogen considers. From what Mira and Jimmy have said, it seems likely that Matt or Matthew, or whatever that man goes by, is in charge of an actual spaceship. Certainly, no admiral of a sea vessel is going to be evacuating these folks from the dry Mar Sara wastes. A ship like that, which can take on these people and their flying buildings would most likely have the sort of hangar room and equipment she needs to patch up Saffron. If Raynor has a ship like that at his disposal, it is not simply going to linger around this Dominion-controlled world, though. If they get aboard it, who knows where they will end up. But really, what choice do they have? Chau Sara is a burnt out wreck of a planet, and there is no way Lilly is going to sweet talk Grom into sending a mining vessel there. The only way for them to get to that Cerberus facility is to fly themselves, and to do that, Saffron needs some serious attention. All this quickly flashes through Imogen’s head as around them Raynor’s Raiders gather their equipment. “Are you evaccing off this planet?” she asks Rory.
“Yeah, we gotta get out of here, cowboy. This place is getting way too hot. I mean, we hit an important distribution center yesterday, we picked up some kind of interesting piece of tech, we got a lot of things going on. We got—we gotta get out of here.”
Imogen turns to Lilly and drops her voice. “This is a way to get off planet without going through quarantine.”
“I’m game if you are. We’ll worry about Old Red later.” A spaceship is not as cool as a vulture bike, but it is still pretty good. And if they need to, they can sell Saffron to buy a vulture. Maybe even two.
Imogen nods. “We can let Li know it is there, and she can retrieve it if she ventures out that way.” The vulture bike was a convenience here, but she is not sure how useful it would be on Chau Sara. The terrain is likely all torn up from the cleansing. Come to think of it, there may not even be breathable atmosphere. She is going to need to do some research. Their breath masks from the Bunker may not cut it there. Imogen wrenches her attention back to the current set of problems. “Does the ship have a hangar, Rory?”
“Oh yeah. Matt will be here with Hyperion in no time. We should be able to fit—I still can’t believe you got yourselves a science vessel. Where’d you find this thing? It’s not a Dominion vessel, is it? Doesn’t look like it.”
“No, this predates that. And like I told you, we found it in the wastes,” Imogen tells him.
“I think it’s Confederate,” Lilly adds.
“I’m not sure if that’s better. It’s hard for me to keep track of these things,” Rory says.
Imogen rolls her eyes. “The ship’s not politically affiliated with anything.”
Lilly just shrugs. “It’s a ship. It mostly works if you don’t crash it all the time.”
Imogen and Lilly step back aboard Saffron to call Li June and tell her that something has come up, necessitating that they leave in a hurry. They assure Li that they are all right, and tell her where to find Old Red if she wants to bring the bike into her garage. Lilly is philosophical about leaving him in the wastes. That is where they found him, after all, and they left him in better shape.
As the call ends, things on Saffron begin to rattle and wobble. With a loud rumble, a massive battlecruiser descends through the clouds. It is huge. Imogen goggles, never having seen anything like this up close before. This is nation-state level tech. Something like this would be full of engineers, technicians, and equipment, as well as a significant fighting force. It can certainly evacuate all these people.
Lilly recognizes the ship. Now that she sees it, the name clicks into place. “Oh, that Hyperion.” At the end of the Confederacy and the beginning of the Dominion, some outlaws made off with this flagship. Guess that was Jim. Hope my neck thingy doesn’t work on it.
As Hyperion descends, it opens up its laser batteries upon the zerg. An energy blast immolates an enormous flying zerg that was just starting to approach the site. With no regard for the terrain, Hyperion lands. People and mobile buildings rush aboard, Saffron included. A broadcast comes over the raider comm channel in a crisp, clear, well-educated voice. “This is Admiral Matt Horner. Prepare to warp on my mark.”
There is a pregnant pause, during which Lilly mutters, “We totally could’ve delivered that letter by hand.”
Then Horner announces, “Mark!”
As the sun sets on the zerg swarm, Hyperion warps away from Mar Sara.