Lilly steps out of the hangar into the corridor, eyes up looking for ducts, but there is no way to tell which ones came from their hangar. Across the way, the sounds of machinery and classic rock are muffled by the opposite door. It is really early in the morning but not too much so for workaholic early-risers to get started on the day’s tasks. Imogen knocks on the door, then raps even harder, trying to cut through the noise.
“Who’s better,” Lilly asks anxiously, “your scientist friend or Rory?”
“Rory probably knows more about the inner workings of the ship, but I was thinking Egon might have some sort of sensors that could detect zerg. If you want us to try both angles, that’s fine, too.” She knocks again, impatiently.
The clanging of machinery stops, and the music grows quieter. They hear clomping, and when the door opens, they see Rory Swann covered in grease and soot. “If it’s about the music, I’m sorry, cowboy,” he says. “I need it to work, but I can turn it down. I understand you’re trying to get some sleep.”
“That’s not the problem!” Imogen says urgently.
“What’s the problem, then? Oh! You needed some repair help. We can get to that, maybe…”
“Rory.” Imogen is intensely focused, and the mechanic quiets down. “Are these ducts all connected throughout the whole ship? Something was moving through our bay, and it seems to have escaped through the vents.”
“Something’s on the ship, you’re saying? Yeah, the ventilation system connects a lot of things. What was moving in your bay?”
“I don’t know exactly, but the vent was the only way out.”
“Was it a zerg? Did you hear a kind of scritchy-scratchy sort of noise? Did it sound like a whole lot of legs skittering across the ground? Like a zerg larva? If we got one of those on board, that’s real bad news.” Rory reads that very bad news on their faces.
“Wh-why would a zerg larva be so bad?” Imogen asks. “There’s no creep here.”
“Ugh, there’ll be creep somewhere else, and they can turn into who knows what. Pretty soon your whole ship’s taken over. Or, they catch a ride with you to another planet, and they cause more trouble there. It’s real bad news. Did you see a zerg larva? Please just tell me. If you saw one, we can try to deal with it. C’mon, cowboy, help me out.”
Imogen takes a quick glance over Rory’s shoulder into the armory, checking that he is the only one in there. That seems to be the case, so she steps into the room, closing the door as Lilly does so too. Imogen looks to her friend for a cue, and Lilly just shrugs. “Rory,” Imogen says, dropping her voice a bit, “I’m going to level with you—”
“Oh, dammit,” he sighs, “you guys are Dominion spies, aren’t you? I’m gonna die…”
“—there’s at least one zerg larva on this ship,” Imogen finishes.
“At least one? How? What?” He stutters a bit, then gets himself under control. “Where was the zerg larva last seen?” He puts down his tools and pulls a small missile launcher off the wall.
Lilly shoots a glance at Imogen and then replies, “In his bed.”
Rory thumps the missile launcher down on his workbench and looks up at Lilly. “In his bed?” he repeats, bewildered. “Do you mean there’s creep on the ship? Is that what you’re getting at, Lilly?”
“No. He was asleep.”
“You found a larva asleep?” Rory presses.
Lilly looks to Imogen again, and the Umojan steps in to soften the news. “Rory…” He cuts in, demanding to know if she and Lilly are infested, and he does not accept a simple no for an answer. Imogen offers to let the lab run tests on their blood, if that will satisfy him, but then she explains, “There is a zerg larva that is atypical—”
“Wh-what does ‘atypical’ mean for zerg larva?!”
“Not a threat,” Imogen baldy states.
“I tell you, if it’s not a threat, it’s ‘cause it’s dead. If it’s alive, it’s a threat. It’s very simple.”
“This one follows Lilly’s orders,” Imogen tells him.
Rory backs away from them, looking at Lilly with alarm. “Okay. I’m pretty sure you two, or at least one of you is infested.”
Lilly explains, “He has tech in his head. He’s controlled.”
Rory puts both hands on the missile launcher. “Lilly, you may not even realize it, but you’re probably infested. And this larva is following your orders because you might be a zerg. We can make it quick, that’s probably the best way to go.”
“Rory! Rory, no! We’re not putting Lilly down.” Imogen clarifies, “The larva has a piece of Cerberus technology embedded in its brain.” Rory insists that the larva and the potential infestation are bad, bad news. “There’s a different set of bad news here, though,” Imogen continues. “Snowball isn’t the one we’re worried about. There were other creatures—”
“Who is Snowball!?” Rory bursts in.
“Snowball is the Cerberus larva. But there were other creatures in our bay.” Rory asserts those must have been other zerg. “Well, then they came with your ship, not ours,” Imogen counters.
“You telling me this larva came with your ship?” Imogen admits as much, and Rory continues his questions. “Why does it have a name, cowboy?”
Because it was funny, Lilly thinks, but she holds her tongue.
Rory presses on, not even waiting for a response. “Zerg don’t have names. Queen of Blades is just a title; you notice no one calls her Kerrigan any more.” He shakes his head. “Look, this is really hard for me, you know, a good friend of mine, Lilly here, being infested, but the best thing to do—”
“Why do you think she’s infested?” Imogen demands.
“Uh, cause she’s talking to zerg, it sounds like. Kind of sounds infested to me.”
“Snowball follows orders like a terran soldier,” Imogen explains.
Rory shakes his head. “That don’t make no sense, cowboy.”
Imogen nods in agreement. “That’s why we’re investigating the tech that’s in his head!”
“So far, I’ve heard that there’s a zerg larva that apparently Lilly orders around on our ship. And possibly some other zerg. You tell me how this is not her—”
“He only knows a couple of orders,” Lilly corrects. “He doesn’t follow everything.”
Rory sighs, and Imogen says, “That’s not helping, Lilly.”
Lilly shrugs. “It’s the tech!” she insists.
“There’s no cure for zerg infestation,” Rory begins again, hand tapping on his missile.
“Well, there’s a test for it!” Imogen snaps back. “We should’ve gone to Egon’s lab to begin with!” She slaps the panel to throw open the armory door and spins on her heel. “We’ll go there now.”
“Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!” Rory begins, but then he reluctantly agrees to go with them. He seals the door to the armory behind them. As they head through the halls, he asks, “What are you doing with a zerg larva if you’re not infested, hypothetically speaking?”
“We’re trying to figure out why somebody was implanting them and trying to control them.” Rory sounds like he does not quite believe that somebody else put the tech in. Imogen insists, “We found the larva already with tech in its head. And we didn’t kill it because some terran did this. Isn’t that a problem?”
“I mean, yeah, that’s pretty weird, but I don’t know that I would, you know, keep that larva around. I might rip out the tech and try to figure out what’s going on…”
“Well, that would be limiting your options.”
“Yeah, but then I wouldn’t be carrying around a zerg larva, which is one of the, oh, I don’t know, most dangerous things you can do in the galaxy. I mean, that’s right up there with not checking your electrical conduits before you start up a spaceship.”
Recalling her most recent experience with the protoss psi-gauntlet, Imogen says with finality, “Apparently we have different ideas of dangerous, then.”
Lilly looks at the floor, not saying anything. She knows it was a dumb thing to do, however much Imogen defends it.