FRAWD Investigators: Rendezvous on Redstone | Scene 10

Lilly rides the collapsing mining platform down to the ground, sliding safely down the incline. She sees Imogen lose her balance and try to grab onto a valve but miss. Lilly rolls across the ground and then stands up, trying to take in the scene through the big cloud of dust and soot filling the air. “Oh, shit.” Imogen lies motionless, cut, scraped, and bruised. Fortunately, the other zerg in the area are focused on whatever the shimmer is doing out west right now. Lilly fishes out the military-grade stimpack from the Bunker and drops to her knees beside Imogen, jabbing the unconscious woman with it. She snaps a cooling towel and drapes it around Imogen’s neck, then taps her cheek. The younger woman’s eyes flutter open.

Imogen lurches up to sitting, feeling simultaneously exhausted and wired, as if it is the middle of the night and she has been pounding back coffee after coffee. Her body aches, but it is a distant feeling. Right now, she just wants to move. She looks around, still a little dazed. “What happened? Did we… did we get it?”

“We sure did,” Lilly confirms. “You all right?”

“Uh…. it wasn’t really our best idea,” Imogen says, wiping some blood off her forehead.

“Yup. It was kind of dumb.”

Lilly stands up, and Imogen also gets to her feet, still a little unsteady. They look over at the cerebrate to check the zerg situation. More zerg are headed toward the west where the balloon zerg is. It appears to be bleeding, and as she and Lilly watch, another hole opens up, but they hear no sound.

“Gotta get one of those,” Lilly says.

“You want one of those floating zerg now, do you?” Imogen supposes that Li June would like a sample, but how are they going to get that high?

“The gun,” Lilly clarifies. Then she glances down at her own shoulder and casually tears out the hydralisk spike.

“Oh my goodness! Lilly!”

“It’s fine. We’ll worry about it later.”

“Are you sure?” Imogen asks. “Because I have another one of those stim shots.”

“Save it.” Imogen might need it later, Lilly thinks.

The floating zerg begins to pull back. “We need to act now while they’re over there,” Imogen says. “If they’re going to retreat, they might get in our way.”

“Do you want me to go do it while you rest up a little?” Lilly asks. “Or how do you want to do this?”

Imogen is bouncing on the balls of her feet, unable to stand still with the stim coursing through her. She is tired, and she knows she cannot move as stealthily across the creep as Lilly can… but maybe they can use that to their advantage. She succeeded at creating a distraction before. She decides to hold that plan in reserve and suggests to Lilly that she stand guard while the more fit woman gets close enough to fish for cerebrate with their rope and grapnel. Then they get moving because the zerg are beginning to turn around. There is no sign of the ghostly shimmer.

“Here! Take this glass jar,” Imogen calls, before Lilly gets too far away.

“Good point,” Lilly observes, catching the sample container. Then she moves swiftly and silently across the creep, ducking low behind anything and everything available. She gets closer to the cerebrate than she probably needs to, but she figures it will make casting the line easier. With the grapnel attached at the end of the rope, she whirls it above her head like a lasso and then launches it out to the cerebrate. On the first attempt, it catches on the skeletal structure instead of landing in the squishy tissue. 

Imogen keeps watch and sees a zergling lumbering in their direction. Suddenly blood sprays out from the side of the zergling’s head, and it collapses with a bullet hole visible on the opposite side. Again, she did not hear a shot. The ghost must still be around somewhere. As long as this person remains on their side, that is all well and good, but if whoever it is decides that Lilly and Imogen are a threat, they will not be able to see the attack coming. And meanwhile, there are more zerglings about. I should have a weapon out, she thinks. She reaches for her pistol, but then her hand clutches her new knife instead. A gun would be too loud. 

She feels on edge, and it is more than just the stim. Something seems out of place to Imogen, but she cannot quite put her finger on what. She scans the area and notices a zergling burrow down into the creep and a cocoon form around it. She is not sure what that is about, but it cannot be good. She continues looking around, wanting to double check the timing of the spiky zerg building again, since they will likely have to retreat past it. That is when she realizes it is no longer where it was and not because the ghost took it out for them. She catches sight of the spiny structure, and it is a lot closer than it should be. Oh great, she groans inwardly, it’s mobile, it is. It is walking very slowly, but it is headed their way. 

Imogen checks on Lilly’s progress. Lilly needs more time, and Imogen decides to provide it by creating a distraction further away so that the zerg building does not get close enough to interfere with Lilly. Imogen moves across the creep as fast as her gunked-up boots allow. She gets the tower’s attention, all right. It pauses and burrows its legs into the ground, preparing to launch its spine in her direction.

Lilly pulls the line back and gives it another go. This time, the grapnel lands where she needs it to. She starts to yank it back, but it gets stuck for a moment. This thing’s got a thicker hide than I thought. She decides to give it one more tug, and if that does not work, then she is just going to run up to the cerebrate and cut off a slice. She puts her full weight behind one last giant pull, and a chunk of gray matter comes loose. She stumbles back a bit, then steadies herself and reels it in. 

Imogen charges at the spine building, hoping to get inside its attack radius. She is not sure if this will work, but it feels good to be moving and doing something proactive, rather than just cowering behind rocks and having Lilly do all the hard work. She has seen it take out some ground-based crawling things, rat-sized, and some larger flyers, but she has no idea what it can do to a person. However, if she is already within range, moving closer is not going to make anything worse. She runs faster. It’s just a building. It doesn’t have claws. There is not anything to be afraid of here. As she approaches, she realizes the only safe place will be on the tower itself. The tail-like tip of the crawling spine-whip comes smashing down at her, and she dives forward, rolling through the creep right up to the base of the unit. Li June said she wanted samples of unusual zerg, and Imogen is pretty sure this qualifies.

Lilly is starting to stuff the cerebrate tissue into the jar Imogen gave her when movement catches her attention. What the hell is going on over there? She sees Imogen charging the spine-crawler, the sort of action generally regarded as insane back in her military days. As Lilly watches, Imogen leaps to her feet and catches a handhold on the side of the structure. The Umojan climbs up its side and goes to work with the knife Lilly gave her. “All right!” Lilly cheers. 

But the spine-crawler is not the only threat near Imogen. Lilly sees a cocoon in the creep by her teammate burst open, and from it emerges as one of those glowing green globular creatures that Durian said blows up. “Whoa!” She realizes Snowball must not be the only zerg around who can transform into other things. This one was on the creep next to another zerg building that is green and glowing and gross; maybe that has something to do with the transformation. Who knows how these zerg creatures work? She does not want that exploding anywhere near Imogen. 

The balloon zerg is still floating, but it is bleeding all over the place, so it is far less of a concern to the former soldier. Lilly draws her gun, though, to deal with the baneling. She sneaks closer to get within reliable shooting range even though this puts her within striking distance of the spine-crawler’s tail-spike. A small cluster of rocks provides the first stage of cover she needs along the route. As she slinks over to it, the large balloon zerg finally crashes down to the plateau about fifty meters away.

Imogen extracts a sample from the spine-crawler, but the tower convulses and she loses her grip. She rolls through more creep and gets back to her feet, evading the spine’s attack as she runs toward the newly fallen balloon zerg. Lilly is impressed; Imogen is doing some really great work here. She lobs some rocks at the spine-crawler, trying to distract it from her teammate.

On the western mining platform, the shimmer drops completely, revealing a male figure in a military outfit holding a long sniper rifle and wearing a visor of some sort. Definitely a ghost, Lilly thinks. Could be real trouble. A strangely accented voice calls out, “You want to be careful if you don’t want that baneling to blow up in your face! I’ll cover you; get out of there.” Lilly was planning to get close enough for her shotgun, but his rifle looks a lot quieter. She decides to let him take the shot.

At the sound of the voice, Imogen looks up from her attempts to hack through the armored hide of the balloon zerg. A baneling is rolling toward her at a steady clip. Li will have to be satisfied with just the spine-crawler and the cerebrate, she decides. Imogen clears the area, running toward the ghost’s platform. He aims at the baneling but holds his fire until the creature is right on top of the fallen balloon zerg. Then his shot tears through it, blowing the baneling to pieces. Acidic green goo covers the other zerg, eating away at it. If it was not dead before, it definitely is now. Imogen notes increased frenzied behavior in the other creatures prowling the plateau. Some zerglings are going crazy and attacking each other. Other zerg are unburrowing. She had no idea there were this many up here.

“Do you have an escape plan?” Imogen calls up to the ghost from below his perch.

“Da! Da! Follow me up north. Your friend should get out of here as well. Meet me at the platform 500 meters north of here. I’ll get there on my own. I’m recovering energy still.” He lines up another shot at an emerging zerg. Imogen alters her course and spots another derelict structure in the indicated direction. Some of its equipment must still be working because it actually has lighting on it.

From Lilly’s position, she sees Imogen shouting back and forth with the ghost, both of them with arms pointing to the north. Then her phone crackles to life in walkie-talkie mode, and she hears Imogen’s breathless voice gasping, “This fella’s got a way out for us. But we’ve got to get up north. Just watch out for these crazed ones.”

“Roger that.” If they are moving out of here, she had better make sure she gets something good for Grom. One of the rocks near her hiding place has a nice shine to it, so she sticks it in her bag. Then she takes the most direct route she can, running northwest straight through the creep, not skirting its edges like Imogen is doing further west. Lilly loses track of the spine-crawler as she goes. When last she saw it, it was haphazardly spearing zerglings. Suddenly, its enormous spine grazes just past her shoulder, narrowly missing. It thuds into the ground right in front of her, jolting her. With a swear, Lilly leaps over it and keeps running. More zerg spring from the creep, as though a dam has burst. Hoping her phone still has the range, she dials up the power and calls Durian. “At least a dozen bogeys on my six. They’re getting excited but not headed your way.”

“Whoa!” the marine’s voice crackles back. “What did you do to rustle up a baker’s dozen of zerg?”

“I’ll tell you later.”

“You okay?”

“So far. Just FYI.”

He lets her know that the lava in his area is receding, and there are cooling paths that the survey team can use to get back to the ship. “Stay safe out there.”

“You, too.” Lilly cuts the connection and turns her full attention back to running. She sees another zergling collapse, brains blown out by the ghost’s silent weapon.