“I require that Cold Fusion,” Malorn declares, now that they have reached Lilly Washington’s ship.
“C’mon, it’s in the fridge,” Lilly says, waving Malorn aboard. They have taken out the pirates’ engines, hosed their electronics with the EMP, and stolen their fuel. She is ready to celebrate.
In the central hub, Snowball is in terran form, slapping away ineffectively at the fridge with his wobbly fake hands. “Oy! Who’s this?!” Lief shouts from the entrance, having followed them up the ramp. “Who are you?”
Snowball looks up and tilts his head a bit, in confusion or perhaps acknowledgement, and then returns his attention to the fridge, which he has so far been unable to open.
“Get away from there!” Lief shouts. As far as he knows, his companions are all still loopy and he is the only one who realizes a pirate has infiltrated Saffron. His cousin’s response does nothing to alter that opinion.
“Oh, don’t worry,” Imogen says, following him in. “That’s Lilly’s lyote.” Lilly herself calmly steps over to the fridge and pops it open to grab Malorn’s beer. Snowball lurches to gain access to the inside as well. Lilly pushes him away, and Imogen turns to where Aiden lingers at the ship’s hatch, asking, “Can you tell him to calm down?”
Still confident that he is the only one of sound mind present, Lief attempts to restrain the intruder, but the pirate just turns into some strange blob. “What is going on?!” he cries, not believing his senses. “Oh no! I must be affected now too! I don’t know what’s real anymore!”
Imogen chuckles, but in a far more constrained fashion than earlier out in the mists. “I warned you to forget everything you saw here, Cousin,” she says. She steps back to Aiden to usher him in.
“I think I need a drink!” Lief groans.
Malorn got the only can of Cold Fusion, so Lilly hands him a can of Other Beer, the cheap stuff she has recently been stocking. She looks Lief in the eye and says, “He’s a zerg,” pointing to Snowball. Lief continues to look confused and overwhelmed. “She’s a zerg?” Lilly tries, given that Snowball was in female terran form earlier.
Aiden has not fully entered Saffron, and he turns down Imogen’s invitation. “Thank you, Sister, for everything. I apologize again for getting the family into this pickle. I thought I could bring in something good, but I got in over my head,” he admits seriously.
All traces of levity are now gone from Imogen’s face. “You can still bring something good, Brother,” she says earnestly. “Just be bringing it to the zerg, not to the Owendohers.”
“Aye, that’s what I’ve sworn to do, now. And so I will.”
“I’m serious, though. You need to make them better,” Imogen insists.
“Make the zerg better? That’s what the zerg are all about! Trying to be better everyday.”
“Aye, so retain who you are in the process, and make them better. There’s a war going on. I accept that and that you’ll be part of it,” Imogen says. “But this isn’t just a faceoff between heads of state. There’s plenty of planets out there full of people like Ma and Da.”
“I will,” Aiden assures her, but then he cautions his sister, “but you’ve got to remember, I am them now.”
“You’re still one of us, also. You’re still an Owendoher.”
Aiden nods somberly. “Well, don’t tell Ma I said hi, but… you know what I mean.”
“And you take care of yourself,” Aiden adds, slowly drifting down the ramp. “I think you’re doing all right, but take it easy in the Dominion there, eh?”
Imogen throws her arms around him in a hug before he can slip away. He hugs her back and promises to see what he can do about setting up a meeting with the queen for her and Lilly. He insists he has no sway but that he will put his charm to good use. The corner of Imogen’s mouth quirks up in a small smile. “Aye, use your skills. We have a little changeling that we need to get to her one of these days without being killed ourselves in the process.”
“Do take care of him. He’s seen a lot, but there’s a lot more he still needs to see.” Aiden’s looks off into the distance, eyes out of focus. “I’m hearing from Blight now. It will take them a few days, but the Swarm will be here. We—” It is clear to Imogen that Aiden means the local zerg, himself included. “—can make sure that battlecruiser doesn’t go anywhere in the meantime. I’ll see this through. The ship will not get away.”
That reminds Imogen to ask once more about the family’s ship. Unfortunately, Aiden can see no way to return it. The pirates confiscated it, and he has no idea where it is now. “It is not like the family can run many goods right now anyway,” he points out, “what with the Dominion blockade. It is likely Uncle Leo has an insurance policy for the craft, given how many other irons he has in the fire.” Aiden can respect that their uncle is trying to do right by the family in these lean times. He looks off again. “But I should be going now. You… might not want to stick around. Zerg are not known for minimizing collateral damage.” It is a weak joke, and his sister does not find it funny.
“Maybe you can work on that,” she tells him.
“Aye, one thing at a time, Sister.” Aiden steps off the ramp.
“If you meet someone formerly known as Ted,” Imogen calls after him, “tell him I say hi.”
“I take it Ted’s a zerg now? I’ll ask around about him.” Imogen adds the detail that they parted ways on Brontes IV, and Aiden nods in acknowledgement. “I’ll keep my ears open.” Then he heads off to his new life, and Imogen returns to the circus inside Saffron.
Malorn has enjoyed his beer, even going so far as to acknowledge it was refreshing as he crushes the can. Lilly is pleased. Then Imogen comes into the room, and the protoss switches back to business. “I will contact you when things are ready to seize Lendasha’s warpblade. It may take a little more time than I would like, but we will get there. It was a glorious battle!” he concludes at his most cheerful, clapping Imogen enthusiastically on the shoulder.
“Ouch!” She jerks her scorched and bruised self away. Given the amount of damage she took, she wonders if Malorn has a bit more respect for her now as some sort of warrior. He shows no shame or embarrassment at having been taken out in the fighting himself. He is the only one who was knocked out, so clearly he must have contributed the most. That is Malorn logic.
Lilly hands Malorn a can of Other Beer. “It’s not as good,” she warns him, “but here’s one for the road.”
He cracks it open and sticks in a few tentacles. “What is this, water?”
Lilly laughs. “I know, right?”
Malorn does not even finish the not-beer, just crumples up the can and throws it out the hatchway, polluting Jarban Minor with his litter. He heads down the ramp then, ready to return to his ship and leave this planet. Before he goes, Imogen thanks him. He may have trouble saying such words, but she does not. Malorn nods at her. “It was a day for warriors. There will be more.” And he, too, departs.
With two weeks of intersystem travel ahead of them, Lilly loads up on creep while she can, storing it in a Power Thirst container to make it more appealing to Snowball. Before Imogen gets a start on remounting Old Red to the side of Saffron, Lilly and Lief make an attempt at patching up Imogen herself. The burns and bruises are pretty deep, and their medical supplies are running low. When they have done what they can, Lilly offers Imogen a hard candy in consolation. Snowball watches jealously. “Well if you’d helped with the assault as well, maybe you’d have gotten one,” Imogen tells him, then pops it in to suck on while doing her mechanics tasks. Snowball, recognizing the tone if not the meaning, slinks off to sulk in Lilly’s room. Around the candy, Imogen calls after him, “You’d be a lot more effective as a spy if you understood terran speech!” Snowball tries to slam the door closed but can just barely move it in his blob form.
They head outside then. With Lilly holding Old Red in position, Imogen resecures the vulture bike. Working in such close proximity, with Lilly as stationary as the bike, gives Imogen a close-up view of an injury she had not noticed earlier, a nasty graze across the base of her Lilly’s neck right near her collarbone. “That’s a fierce-looking gash there, Lilly,” she says. “I’ll take care of that once we’ve left this planet behind. Probably it will need a bunch of stitches, and we’ve dawdled long enough.”