The landscape up ahead is dotted with abandoned structures: a decrepit command center, a broken-down barracks, rusted out bunkers, and so forth. Lilly parks the vulture bike next to a wind-scoured sign that says Backwater Station, and then she and Imogen look around some on foot. The walls of the old Confederate command center are totally shattered on one side, allowing easy access to its interior. The building itself is not salvageable, but its contents certainly are. They soon find a barrel of dinosaur juice and siphon it off into Old Red’s fuel tank. It is easily enough to get them to the science vessel and all the way back to Mar Sara City afterwards.
It is possible there could be other useful things around, but they did just stir up a hornet’s nest of zerg which are probably headed their way, so they decide to move on. With the freedom the vulture bike provides, they can come back later when there is not a pack of zerg on their tail.
Lilly points Old Red to the east and opens up the throttle. This section of the wastes was not very detailed on Li’s map, but cutting across it is the most direct way to the ship’s coordinates. They cruise for a while, ending up back down on lower terrain. The ride is bumpy at times, but Lilly is quite enjoying herself.
A canyon wall forces them toward another field of creep, and they stop at the edge without triggering any zerg or spidermines in the area. Lilly lets Snowball out to snack while she looks around for signs of danger. This field’s creep tumor, the structure that sustains and generates the creep, is at death’s door, bleeding out of numerous wounds. Of more immediate concern, though, is the odor of gasoline. Lilly turns back towards Old Red and sees a spine in the side of the fuel tank. “Oh, man! Imogen, look! We have a leak!”
“That is definitely new!” Imogen immediately starts inspecting the damage while Lilly checks the gauge. The fuel level is quite low. “Is this a hydralisk spine?” Imogen asks, extracting the spine and putting a temporary patch over the damage. It will definitely need to be revisited in a proper workshop.
Lilly shrugs. “I dunno.” Snowball is having a good time munching on the edge of the creep field. Lilly grabs a jar and heads over to take a sample. He seems to like the creep all right—and it is probably more nutritious for him—but she is sure he enjoyed the sweet tea more.
Imogen looks around, alarmed. The bike was shaking so much that they did not feel the impact of the spine, so who knows when they got hit. It could have been on any part of the ride since they left Backwater Station. Or, it could have been far more recent. She sees a trail of gasoline going back the way they came.
Suddenly, Snowball grows very active. He starts looking around and emitting a groaning noise. “Time to go,” Lilly announces. “Pack up.”
“That’s our unidentified zerg, it is,” Imogen says. Off to the north is a creature a little larger than a hydralisk. It looks sort of like a scorpion when viewed from the right angle, just like Rocko described. Although big and armored, it is not as weaponized as zerglings and hydralisks. It does have some spines, and Imogen glances briefly at the one she extracted from the vulture bike, confirming the match. The new zerg is bleeding as it crawls toward them, its fearsome appearance somewhat tempered by the beating something else has already given it. Judging by the acid-covered spines sticking out of the new zerg, that attacker was a hydralisk. Looks like zerg are prone to infighting too, Imogen thinks, just like terrans and protoss. Then another possibility occurs to her. There is no sign of an implant on this zerg, so perhaps someone is controlling hydralisks. The zerg continues dragging itself toward them, faltering every couple of steps. Imogen, gun in hand, moves to close the distance.
Lilly is not going to let Imogen go alone. “Watch the bike,” she tells Snowball, taking off at a jog to catch up with the Umojan.
As they get nearer, the new creature looks at them, making eye contact, and then, despite its lack of mouth, they hear its raspy, vaguely female voice. “Foolish terrans! This—” It breaks down into a coughing fit for a moment. “This territory belongs to the Swarm!” The creature weakly raises one of its talons as though to threaten them. Entangled in the claw are pieces of wiring and antennae, suggesting it has been attacking some technology.
Imogen has no idea what the proper name for this zerg is, but it definitely seems capable of thought. This could very well be the intelligence behind the directed attacks Li mentioned. It has said nothing that suggests it would be open to parlay, and it already attacked them, taking out most of their fuel supply. She cannot risk it summoning more zerg to set upon them. Imogen makes a well-placed shot, and the creature collapses, its dying words, “You will corrupt no more of my brood.”
Imogen turns to Lilly. “Seems like this one doesn’t like that people are sticking boxes on the heads of zergs and was trying to do something about it. Probably it was chased off by hydralisks or other things with boxes on their heads. That’s my guess.”
Lilly looks around, on alert. If that thing was controlling the local zerg, they are now going to be feral, meaning their tactics just became unpredictable. “We gotta move,” she says. While Imogen extracts samples of the broodmother for Li, Lilly returns Snowball to her backpack and then brings the bike over. Imogen is not certain what parts of the zerg will be most useful, so she pulls specimens from a variety of locations. She also fills a second jar for Neiman. As they drive off, they theorize about the status of the creep tumor. Chances are, whoever took out that broodmother also damaged the tumor.