As Imogen and Aiden walk back to Saffron, her comm goes off. She lets it ring a moment as she tucks some loose strands of hair back into her braid. Then, when Malorn has waited long enough, she answers.
“I am in the system. Transmit your coordinates so I can arrive and solve your problems,” he demands. Imogen does so, and he continues. “Are you still working with zerg?”
“Nothing’s changed in the last twelve hours, Malorn,” she replies, unable to keep all the exasperation out of her raspy voice.
“Zerg can change very quickly,” he counters. “That’s something you should keep in mind. Adaptation is their strength.”
“Did you bring anything other than your biting wit?” Imogen asks.
“As you would say, aye. Yes, I have my numerous technological devices, marvels to your terran minds.”
“It’s my terran lungs I’m more concerned about,” Imogen wheezes. Do protoss even have lungs? she wonders.
“Your fragile body shall be repaired to within reasonable degrees of its limited capabilities,” he allows. “Have no fear. I shall be arriving very shortly.” Malorn cuts the connection.
Aiden eyes his sister during the exchange but holds his tongue. When they reach Saffron, he takes a good look at the vulture bike for the first time. “It’s welded to your ship!”
“Well, we couldn’t get it slimmed down enough to fit inside, and Lilly didn’t really want to leave it behind… It’s another one of our Mar Sara acquisitions.”
“That’s quite a planet.”
“It’s treated us well enough,” Imogen agrees.
With Aiden’s help, she is able to decouple the vulture bike from the science vessel. She makes some choices along the way about what sort of damage is acceptable. As a result, Saffron gets just a few cosmetic scratches, but the armored-plating mounts on the bike are ruined. Although the vulture’s hull is weakened, it still runs just fine. Imogen is all right with this outcome; they need Saffron to get off this planet, but they do not need Old Red, despite what Lilly might think.
As they work, Imogen asks Aiden for details on how everything went down during his capture by the pirates. If she ends up having to negotiate with them herself, she needs to know some of the history. Aiden explains that he really had thought he would be able to do a legitimate delivery of stolen goods, but that acquiring the actual weapons turned out to be harder than he had anticipated. That was when he came up with his idea to use prop weapons. Perhaps he was too proud of his own cleverness. The pirates did not have all of the money available when they met for the deal, and Aiden foolishly got surly with them about it. That led the pirates to inspect the product more closely. Once they started testing the weapons and found most of them were not real, there was no negotiating at that point. They felt betrayed and took him prisoner.
When Old Red is ready, Aiden asks who is going to drive it back. Imogen gestures for him to take the driver’s seat. Just like when they were kids, she is the planner, and he is the doer. She hops on behind him, and they race back towards the factory, though not at anywhere near the speeds Lilly would coax out of the bike.
Aiden has good reflexes, but coming from Umoja, he has never had an opportunity to drive anything; the vehicles on their homeworld are all automated. He takes the final turn too tightly, spilling both him and Imogen off the bike. They roll as they hit the ground and come back up to their feet laughing and dusting themselves off. It is reminiscent of some scrapes they got into when they were younger. For a moment, things feel normal between them, but it does not last. Imogen starts coughing again, and Aiden rubs her back with a clawed hand.
Old Red coasts toward where Lilly and Lief are exiting the factory. Lilly lifts a leg and plants her boot on the hood of the vulture bike, stopping its forward glide. She notices the bent up hull anchors along the sides. Well, it’s not called New Red, she reflects.
She loads the spider mines aboard, in preparation for deploying them against pirates. Imogen encourages her to save them for when the pirates are actually exploring outside their vessel, rather than setting up any ambushes with them out in the wilderness. “You can zoom around on Old Red faster than a pirate can move on foot, so it’s not like any of them would give chase. And I don’t want any of us to actually set them off ahead of time.”
Lilly nods. “Good point. That would be dumb.”
A distant, screaming whine grows louder, and they all look up to see a sleek protoss fighter burst from a mist cloud. Two zerg flyers trail behind it. Imogen turns to Aiden, worried that these zerg have somehow not gotten the message that Malorn is here to help. “Brother, can you do something about that?”
“We’re just keeping an eye on him,” Aiden responds defensively, “making sure he doesn’t cause any trouble.” Imogen frowns. “He’s getting his own escort. Nothing wrong with that.”
The long, pointed fighter bears twin mounted laser cannons but is not currently in position to fire. Malorn’s craft is a bit faster than the scourge, and he executes a quick loop-de-loop maneuver to try to position himself behind them. He does not line himself up quite right, but it turns out not to matter. The scourge are sufficiently confused by his actions that they collide into each other and explode.
“This would be your protoss friend, then?” Aiden says angrily to Imogen upon the death of the zerg.
Imogen sighs, annoyed herself. “That’s what you get for harassing him!”
Aiden rails, “He just comes flying into zerg space—”
“Because we told him there’s a pirate issue.”
“Aye. We were just keeping a close eye on him,” Aiden reiterates.
“No. You were antagonizing him.”
“We have to stay careful. I don’t know if you remember, but I mentioned yesterday that his people have been fighting the zerg Swarm for these past four years.”
Imogen’s dander is up now as well, and she lays into her brother. “And I told you that he is coming to help us fix your problem. The zerg, which you told me are all about taking out Mengsk now, have been assaulting protoss space. That’s got nothing to do with Mengsk.”
“I don’t know what that’s got to do with Mengsk,” Aiden replies. “I know it’s a thing that’s happening, and I trust that it’s important.”
“You, Brother, need to remember who you are. I know things are changing for you now, but if you lose your humanity in all this, then you’re nothing but a pile of organic matter to them. The Queen of Blades is not the only one who gets to keep part of herself.” Sarah Kerrigan is still self-aware enough to be angry at someone who betrayed her as a terran. Imogen hopes Aiden can retain some of the more positive memories of his time as a terran.
“Those are harsh words, Sister,” Aiden grinds out, but those very words seem to sink in a bit, such that he admits he does not have the full picture. “I’m still coming to understand things. There’s a lot of bad blood between our people.”
“Aye, it’s on both sides,” Imogen agrees, “which is why antagonizing him was a dumb idea.”
Lilly, who has watched this sibling squabble without getting involved, nods in agreement. “That was dumb.”
“We’re taking precautions. The scourge did their job. He’s some fancy flyboy protoss, and he’s made his point. We’ll hold off. Hopefully he’s as capable as you say he is.” Aiden releases a long breath. “I’ll go get the zerglings while you greet your ally.” He stalks off.
Lilly watches him go and then turns to Imogen. Something Aiden said at the start of that argument has been gnawing at her. “Zerg space?” As far as she knows, Jarban Minor is part of the Umojan Protectorate. Imogen’s brother is a little too zerg-nationalist for Lilly’s tastes.
Imogen shakes her head slowly. “This planet was Umojan; I learned about it in school. But zerg are here now. And you’ve seen that building. The Umojans are dead. Either that, or they’re fled.”