En route to their first job together, three new agents of the Dominion’s Fraud, Retaliation, Abuse, and Waste Division receive a call from their boss, Jefferson Duke. He informs them that their mission is to investigate reports of a mine running illegally on Brontes IV. There is an important person associated with the mine: Mr. Davis, CEO of Rose, Inc. Duke insists that if there is any wrong-doing at the mine that Davis not be associated with it. Duke says that would cause a major scandal on Korhal. “Y’all are to clear him of wrong-doing… if he is innocent, of course… and he is certainly innocent.” In closing, he reminds the trio that medical expenses are not authorized for this mission.
Although their instructions are to verify illegal activities, Duke provides no clarification on what is actually illegal or on what regulations they are supposed to enforce. Imogen, a foreign work-release immigrant, decides to just go with what she knows is wrong from her upbringing on Umoja. She will enforce environmental and personal safety regulations and ensure that there is no slavery. Her team members, Lilly, a veteran mercenary, and Ted, a former scientist, are agreeable to that.
As their transport approaches Brontes IV, Imogen gets an untraceable secure message: “When you reach the mine, shut down the blasphemous vespene gas refinery. You will be richly rewarded both in purpose and material.”
Lilly gets a secure private message as well: “Our father is being held a slave in the mine you’re about to inspect. Please free Mr. Grom. We are well-connected and prepared to pay for his safety.”
Ted gets a headache.
* * *
The transport drops off the trio at a supply depot belonging to Rose, Inc., about twenty miles from the mine. They are told to expect a delivery truck and to arrange a ride with it. Lilly has a bad feeling about Brontes IV. She vaguely remembers fighting zerg there in the past. She survived, but not much of her squad did. She searches for high ground to keep a lookout for zerg while they wait for the truck. There is a cliff nearby, which she climbs with Ted spotting her to the best of his ability from below. Lilly can see the purple goo known as zerg creep off in the distance. She keeps watch, shotgun in hand.
While Lilly and Ted are occupied, Imogen investigates the small warehouse. It is locked and requires an access code. She reaches out with her mind, trying to sense living beings inside, but she cannot detect anything; at least no one saw her “listen”. Next she attempts to pick the lock, but it is beyond her rudimentary skills. Then Lilly calls down that she sees the truck approaching and that it is almost there. It had been concealed by the edge of a canyon, so she had not seen it until it was practically on top of them.
The truck stops at the depot, and the driver gets out to confront Imogen. “This is our depot. What are you doing here?” he asks.
Imogen informs him that they are there to visit the mine and make sure everything is working properly and legally. She tells the driver that it would make their investigation go more smoothly if he could give them a lift. The driver, Steve, agrees and starts to refuel the truck. Imogen chats with him about people at the mine, and she learns that he does not really like Overseer Beth. She always double-checks his ID and complains about him not being on time.
“A real stickler for the rules?” Imogen asks.
“A stick up her… That’s what we say where I’m from,” replies Steve.
Imogen asks about the zerg, and Steve says he has run into them a few times. Lilly spots a few zerglings and a hydralisk coming from the canyon. When she reports this, Steve insists that they get moving even though the refueling is not finished. Ted, Lilly, and Imogen ride in the back of the truck. Lilly keeps the back doors open so that she can shoot the zerg if they get too close. Seeing that, Imogen joins her at the rear position, pistol in hand. Ted hovers nearby, saying he will keep them from falling out.
Steve floors it, and the truck makes such a cloud of dust that it is hard to see if the zerg are gaining. Lilly hears some growling, but nothing ever gets close enough to shoot. As they drive along, they see more of the sticky, gooey, purple creep. The mine is located between two zerg hives—dangerously close, in Lilly’s opinion. She notes zerg flyers, mutalisks, above the hives. In her experience, that sort of action usually means they are about to attack.
Steve zooms up to the gates of the mine complex, screeching to a halt in front of the barricade. Imogen and Ted manage to catch themselves, but Lilly falls out the back of the truck. She gets scraped up a bit but turns it into a roll to her feet, shotgun still ready. Imogen hops out, asking to see Overseer Beth, who is already there demanding to know the reason for the manner of their arrival. Imogen explains that they were being followed by zerg.
“There’s two bogies a few klicks to the west,” Lilly adds, pointing out the mutalisks. That is enough for Beth to move the conversation inside.
Imogen asks how they are able to have their mine there, when there are zerg so nearby. It seems dangerous to her. Beth explains that they have a psi disruptor and comments that, as a foreigner, Imogen would not understand because she did not have to suffer through the zerg destroying her world. Beth asks what they are doing at the mine, and Imogen says, “We’re here to make sure all the regulations are being followed. Surely a woman like you can appreciate that.” Beth thinks that means they are there to shake them down and asks under what authority they have come. Lilly shows her FRAWD badge, and Imogen answers, “The Emperor’s.”
“Have you ever met the Emperor?” Beth asks. Imogen shakes her head. “I knew him when he was a terrorist rebelling against the Confederacy,” the overseer says. She gives the investigators an hour to snoop around but warns them that they will be thrown out if they cause any trouble. Then she leaves them to their work.
“Ted, patch me up,” Lilly orders.
“What? I’m a scientist, not a doctor. Well… I guess I do know how to use a medkit,” Ted admits. “I have such a headache,” he complains.
While Ted treats Lilly’s scrapes, Imogen, thinking of the strange message she received, asks him what vespene gas is like. He tells her that it produces puffs of green smoke that are not safe to breathe. She resolves to be on the lookout for it.