In the infested former Umojan research facility, Lilly and the Owendohers discuss possible approaches to luring Jackson’s Revenge to Jarban Minor. From Lilly’s experience working with that crew, she knows the battlecruiser is not a carrier; it has weapons and people aboard, but it is unlikely to have any vehicles other than a vulture bike or two. As for mounted weaponry, she remembers their Yamato cannon and the mini rotary guns that fire shrapnel, but not much more than that. If the local pirates send a distress call, Jackson’s Revenge would likely have to land, provided there was nothing obvious to shoot at from the air. Imogen favors having aerial zerg attack the ship as it comes in to force it down, and then the small terran strike force can go in. Any spider mines they can incorporate into this plan would be a bonus.
All potential plans circle back around to using Naja’s factory to send a message. Imogen does not want to wait out the rest of the week until the scheduled rendezvous. If Jackson’s Revenge is responding to an urgent mayday, they will come with whoever they have immediately on hand, rather than having bulked out their forces to deal with resistant ransom-payers.
The more they stand around talking in the infested space, though, the more concerned Imogen gets about incidental dangers from erstwhile allies. She, Lief, and Lilly were all thrown around in the factory and have scrapes and bruises. Aiden’s situation is bad enough; she does not want any of the rest of them accidentally zergified. “Is infestation something that happens accidentally or intentionally? Are we going to catch something just standing around here?” she asks her brother. “I trust the zerg here won’t attack us, but…”
“It was a choice for me. I don’t know if it can happen spontaneously,” Aiden says. Then he continues, somewhat defensively, “Sure, bad things can happen, but this isn’t necessarily bad. The Swarm can give people a new chance.”
“I’m not questioning your decisions, Brother, but that’s not a choice we’re making. I want to know if it’s safe for us to stay here, or if we need to take this discussion back to our own ship where nobody’s going to catch anything.”
Blight is still floating around nearby, and his giant eyes wobble around a bit, then fix their gaze on Imogen. “The Swarm always acts with purpose. Nothing is left to chance. We made an offer. You declined. No risk. If you wish to change your mind, offer is still on the table.” The large orbs roll around, looking at all the terrans. “Offer open to all. Many ways to serve the Swarm.” There are no takers.
Still, it is better to be safe, then sorry, so Imogen patches up the rescue team. Then she turns to her brother. He was held captive by pirates and could have been mistreated, and there is the matter of his infestation. Aiden is a little nervous, and he looks to Blight for direction, but the blightbringer seemingly does not care. “I assure you I’m fine,” Aiden tells Imogen, “but if it will make you feel better, sure, you can look me over. I’ve got to warn you, not everything is what it once was.”
Imogen cannot help but snicker.
“That’s not what I mean!” Aiden cries.
Imogen bursts out laughing, but then she reins it in and turns to the task at hand. Her brother’s face is paler than usual and clammy, but when she looks at him really closely, she sees that his skin has actually thickened. It is not quite as hard as a carapace, but there is a definite toughness to it. Boney material is beginning to protrude from his shoulders, suggesting that he too may develop wings of a sort, akin to what the Queen of Blades has. He still has his long blond hair pulled back into a loose braid, but Imogen wonders if it will eventually be replaced by tendrils. Aiden’s fingernails are more claws now, likely to grow out longer than they currently are. He seems healthy enough, but clearly he is still transforming. “Any vomiting of acid or anything?” she asks. Though she never saw Ted apply acid to any surface, she saw the aftereffects of it. Her brother explains that the acid comes from glands on the inner wrist. He pushes up a sleeve to show her.
Aiden even consents to Imogen drawing some blood. She takes it, not to sell as just another zerg sample, but to get properly analyzed so that she can try to understand what infestation actually does and if it is reversible. Whether that means giving the sample to Li June or Egon Stetman or even Selendis will depend on their interactions in the future; in no case does she intend to tell anyone who the blood came from. Not all infested terrans made the same choice as Aiden; certainly Ted did not. She does not know where he is now, but people like him have a right to some hope, and this might help.
With the medical business out of the way, they discuss moving on the factory. It was under attack by zerg when they fled it a little less than an hour ago. Blight reports that the factory was taken down by the Jarban glider that the zerg forced to crash into it. The glider was in the vicinity, and devourers redirected it towards the factory. The scourge then damaged it enough to essentially club the floating building out of the sky. The structure is still intact, at the base of a nearby cliff that it collided into, but it is on fire. As for the pirates themselves, the zerg do not know their state.
“Ready to go back?” Imogen asks the group.
“Aye, Coz. Let’s do this!” Lief agrees eagerly, ready to be done with this creepy building.
“All right,” Lilly says. She rolls her shoulders and cracks her neck.
“Are… are the zergs coming with us?” Lief looks around, nervousness overtaking excitement for a moment.
Aye, because Aiden is, Imogen thinks, but she knows that such a bald statement will shake her younger cousin. “No, not the zerglings, devourers, or scourges. We’re just going to sneak back inside and see what we can get that will help the next stage.”
“Aye, hopefully those pirates are dead,” Aiden says.
“The spider mines could have rolled around,” Lilly points out. She had emptied them out of the crate and left them unsecured, and the door to that make-it room was open while the factory was getting swatted around.
Imogen assures everyone that only one spider mine was activated, and it had dug down into place. If any others have exploded, it was because of damage the factory sustained, not because the proximity sensors were triggered. She does admit, though, that she has no idea how old Earth mines differentiate friend from foe. Maybe UED soldiers carried transmitters of some kind, she certainly does not know. They may soon find out.