In front of the large vent, Imogen turns to Lilly. “What do you think, danger-wise? Do you want to go first or watch our backs?”
“I’ll go first, see if it’s safe.”
“Uh, I can guard the hallway,” Egon offers.
“Oh, you are definitely coming with us,” Imogen replies. “We’re sneaking onto the bridge to get your escaped blobolisk. If that’s going to be a problem, that’s going to be your job to explain, not ours!”
Lilly removes the vent cover and pulls herself up into the duct. She finds that her shoulders are a bit too broad for the constriction a little ways in. She backs out and drops to the floor. “I’m just going to have to boost you; I’m not going to fit.”
Imogen frowns, considering. She pulls out a screwdriver and then accepts the boost up. When she reaches the constriction, she removes the piece jutting out into the crawlspace as quickly and quietly as she can. This is technically a friendly vessel, but if they are discovered under these circumstances, it is not going to go well. She hisses back to Lilly to help Egon up.
The lanky scientist has no trouble fitting in the duct once Lilly gets him high enough. Then she herself follows. They crawl for a little while, then reach the air feed for the weapons area of the bridge. Imogen removes that grating and crawls out into a space behind some large consoles. Egon comes stumbling out behind her. While she shushes him, Lilly emerges and takes a quick look around to get her bearings. She is sure Imogen must have mentioned their destination, but she is a little surprised to find herself actually on the bridge, not just in some auxiliary area. They are behind one of the front consoles used to operate the weaponry. In the middle of the room, she sees a clean-cut man in full military regalia standing at a table studying a star map, brow crinkled with concern. The pale man is all gold chains and epaulets; this must be Admiral Horner.
Matt or Matthew, whichever, glances up across the table at Jimmy, or Commander Raynor as he is known here. Jimmy stares down at some kind of necklace or pendant in his hand, oblivious to anything around him. He stands totally still, breathing slowly, mesmerized by the item. Matt frowns a little and checks his watch, then returns his attention to the map. Imogen slides up next to Lilly and tries to get a good look at what Jimmy is holding, worried that it is some sort of psionic trap left by the nerazim. The angle and dim lighting combine to foil her attempts to see.
But where is Snowball? Lilly wonders, moving in a crouch as she directs her gaze lower, eyes focused at floor-level, checking under the table and bridge stations. She spots him back behind another console curled up in a nest of rags and other odds and ends. Nearby, also behind the console, is Sunshine. She is pawing at her mouth and scraping it against the floor, trying to get the pink ribbon off. Lilly keeps herself from letting out a bark of laughter, but just barely. Everything can get on this bridge! It must be really warm over there because the blobolisk is near the nest, too. Lilly sees Sunshine paw at it a little but then recoil. Egon had mentioned it might be acidic, so maybe she got burnt. The lyote tries to lick her paw, but the ribbon prevents the action. She returns to trying to remove it. Lilly waves, catching Imogen’s attention, and points at the busy nest a short dash away.
“Egon,” Imogen whispers, “how important to you is keeping secrecy here? Your blobolisk is right over there.”
“Commander Raynor has only just recently agreed to start funding research. We can do a lot of good, but if he knows that a sample got out, it will be bad. Real, real bad. And… And is that a zerg larva over there?”
“Yes,” Lilly admits guiltily.
“Aye, that one’s ours. We fund our own research,” Imogen tells Egon.
“Right, okay, well, why don’t we each get our zerg, and the commander doesn’t need to know about any of that.”
“I’m sure Rory will keep it quiet,” Lilly says.
“Rory was just drinking too much, I think,” Egon suggests. “That’s what we can tell people.”
Imogen presents her plan. Lilly can sneak over and grab the creatures while the Umojan creates a distraction. After all, she still wants to warn Jimmy about the nerazim. She already told the marine they were here about a threat to the ship. Hopefully she will just seem a little overzealous and not end up in the brig.
Lilly takes the containment jar from Egon. He asks, “And Lilly will grab both the zerg… and the lyote?”
Imogen shrugs. “If she wants. We’ve got space.” Lilly nods. She is not looking to get a pet, but she does not think these officers should have to deal with vermin living on their bridge.
Imogen creeps along behind the consoles so that she can reveal herself from a different part of the bridge than Lilly needs to reach. Once in position, she brazenly steps out from behind a computer bank and up to the table covered in star charts. “Jimmy, Matthew, there’s something you should know about your ship.”
Matthew Horner looks up at her and draws a pistol, covering her with it. “That we’ve got intruders aboard?” he asks calmly. “I feel like I’ve figured that out by now.”
James Raynor does not respond in any way, which makes Imogen even more concerned about what he is staring at in his hand. From this closer position, she recognizes the design as protoss. The piece of technology has green patterns similar to what she has seen associated with dark templars.
Imogen has Matthew’s full attention, which is a good thing, because from her location, she can see Lilly begin sneaking behind consoles heading toward the nest. The lyote sniffs the air, then turns to stare directly at Lilly. An angry growl gets caught in its throat since it is still unable to open its jaws. It charges behind the consoles and leaps at Lilly, barreling into her and knocking her back. It cannot bite Lilly, but it wrestles with her. Egon winces, but he does not intervene, just stares down at the woman and lyote rolling on the floor in front of him.
Despite Imogen’s best efforts to keep a level expression, Horner can tell she is looking at something behind him where the weapons array is. He keeps his eyes on her, though. She raises her hands so he can see they are empty. “Technically, I’m not an intruder, as I am here by Rory Swann’s invitation. But I wasn’t able to gain entrance to the bridge through the door due to your guard there—”
“Yes, that is his job,” Matt states.
“Aye. But I thought you should know that a nerazim was on your ship very recently and just warped off. And I can’t help but notice… Jimmy!” Imogen snaps her fingers at Raynor a few times, but he registers nothing. “Jimmy over there is holding a protoss artifact.”
“These are all things that I am well aware of, yes,” Matt calmly tells her.
“So what’s going on with that?” she demands, pointing at Jimmy.
The admiral lets out a long breath. “The protoss who was here—his name is Zeratul—is some important figure in their society that Raynor has a good history with. He had some hokey warning,” Horner’s voice takes on a touch of disdain, “about bad times, and that this thing would help Raynor see what those times might be. I find the whole thing a bit unbelievable. I’m curious how you were aware of this protoss figure, however.”
Oh. Oh, crap. Imogen realizes she has horribly misjudged this situation. He probably told everyone to stay in their quarters so the nerazim could get around without being noticed. Well, at least I’ve distracted him from Lilly.
Horner continues, “I know pretty much all the people on my crew. You’re not my crew.”
Lilly wraps an arm around Sunshine, containing the lyote’s flailing legs and applying pressure in just the right place to knock the creature out. “Shut up!” she hisses. When the lyote goes still, Lilly passes her up to Egon. She gets back to her feet and resumes heading toward the tangle of rags and zerg, but there has been too much noise already.
Horner takes a step backwards and draws a second pistol, pivoting to cover both Imogen and Lilly, who is holding Egon’s large sample container. “So two intruders. That’s new.”
Imogen sighs. “Dr. Stetmann, you might as well come out and just make it three.” He might not be a ranking officer, but he legitimately belongs on this ship and might add a shred of credibility to this farce.
Egon emerges. “Uh… Admiral! They were taking me hostage, I swear! They overpowered me…” His arms are full of a lyote, a pink ribbon wrapped around the muzzle.
“Shut up, Stetmann,” Horner orders exasperatedly. “What is going on here now? Are you thieves? Is that what this is about? We could just jettison you into space. I feel like I should give you a chance to say something, though. Are you willing to answer questions?”
I thought we’d be hung. Lilly looks to Imogen to provide a response.
“We’re not thieves, Admiral. We’re not on your ship to steal anything. We’re on your ship because we helped with the evacuation on Mar Sara. That’s why you don’t know us, because that’s where we came aboard. But Egon there has a science experiment that sprung loose, and it’s on this bridge also. And how do I know about the protoss? I saw him, I did, and I saw his ship leave. And based on what I know about dark templars, I really thought that was a credible threat here.”
“Ah.” Matt keeps his guns out but lowers them a little. “Rory did say we had some help, and I recall seeing a… Were you two piloting that science vessel?”
“Aye, that’s ours.” Horner is still not entirely happy that they snuck onto the bridge. “To be fair,” Imogen points out, “we tried the front door first, and that didn’t work.” She asserts that the guard posted out front did a good job, though.
Horner tells her that everything is under control regarding protoss things. “This is a little weird,” he admits, “but I was assured that Raynor would only be out of it for a few hours. It’s apparently very stressful, and he was already under a lot of stress, but he insisted. He’s the commander, so if he wants to do that, that’s fine. It lets me get work done. I’m trying to line up our next way to get some income so we can pay our people here.”
“Did he at least deliver the letter first?” Imogen asks.
That trips up Horner. “How do you know about the letter?!”
“Because Mira gave it to me,” Imogen says matter-of-factly.
Matt loses his cool completely. “How do you know Mira?! Ugh!” The guns are totally down now.
Imogen smiles to herself, having sufficiently distracted him from their own antics to someone else’s. “We can just take the experiments and go,” she offers, not mentioning that they have their own zerg in the mix.
“Yeah, so, if you see Mira again…” Horner starts jotting something on a little notepad. “Why don’t you give her this letter. And, yeah, don’t read it,” he adds sarcastically. “That would be terrible, if you read it.” He does not even fold the note, just slaps it face-up on the table in front of Imogen. “If you see her again, you know.”
Maintaining eye contact with Matthew, Imogen picks up the paper and slips it into the inner breast pocket of her jacket, sight unseen. A ride for a letter once again, she reflects.
“So, yes, if there’s a science experiment here, please get it off this bridge.” Horner then looks at Egon. “And why is there a lyote on my bridge?” Egon shrugs as best he can with the weight of the animal in his arms.
“The vents,” Lilly explains.
“Aye. The vents would be why there’s a lot of things on this bridge,” Imogen agrees. Ourselves included.
Lilly looks to Imogen and then at the admiral, tentatively taking a step in the direction of the zerg. Horner waves a hand at her dismissively, and Imogen nods. Lilly scoops the blobolisk up into Egon’s container and puts Snowball back in her backpack. Then she gathers up all the odds and ends from Sunshine’s nest. There are a variety of things that the lyote has clearly taken from the crew, treasures such as a hairbrush, a scarf, and a military decoration of some sort. “Uh, sir?”
Horner takes the last, muttering, “I’m not sure how that got over there.” He nods at Lilly. “Much appreciated. Thank you, soldier. You can just take the rest of that to the lost and found.”
Lilly examines the nest area and the vent by it. The grating is not firmly attached. From a distance, it looks closed, but clearly Sunshine was able to paw it open or lift it with her snout. Lilly turns to Imogen. “Do you think there were two of them?”
“Either there were two of them, or the protoss was in our hangar also. There were definitely two things in the hangar.”
“There’s a vent down there.”
“I’ll have Rory take a look,” Horner says. “I’ll add it to his extremely long list. And now, if all of you are done here, I’ll ask you to please exit my bridge.”
“Shall we use the door this time?” Imogen asks with a smirk.
“That would be preferable, yes. Thank you for assisting Dr. Stetmann.” Horner gestures towards the door, but then adds, “And if the commander does not come-to, rest assured that I will do something about it.”
As they file away, Imogen tells Egon, “Sorry for throwing you under the vulture bike there, but the good news is Jimmy’s completely unaware that your science experiment got out.” Egon rambles about how the admiral is probably too busy to tell the commander, and Lilly pushes the door off the bridge open.
The marine spins around and registers her with a strange sample in a jar, as well with the lyote in Egon’s arms. He reaches toward his gun, shouting, “Whoa, sir!” to the admiral.
Horner waves him down and says exasperatedly, “Just… just no visitors. And tell Rory to fix the vent system.”
“Yes, sir,” the marine replies. But as the bridge-crashers depart, they hear him mutter, “Man, why couldn’t I get the night off?”