Lilly and Imogen travel to Redstone III aboard the Smashing Star. Grom, LLC, is a substantial enough corporation to have its own warp-capable ships. This one is clearly a working ship, loaded with mining equipment and short on space for passengers. A pilot and a co-pilot/engineer are the only crew. The survey team consists of six scientists with SCV suits.
The security detail is three marines with power suits and weapons. It is not enough to ward off a full-scale zerg assault, but they look like they could handle a few zerglings. As they sit around in the cluttered common area during the day of transit, Imogen starts to ask some questions. She held information about the zerg close while talking with Grom himself because she did not want that to deter him from helping. However, now that the trip is underway, Imogen does not want anyone surprised by the creatures should they encounter some. “It’s good to see you have some prepared people here. I heard that Redstone III had some zerg activity in the past and there might still be some of them around there. Is that why you fellas have guns?”
The marine in front of her raises his face shield, releasing a cloud of smoke. When it clears, she sees his Southeast Asian features and a big cigar clamped between his teeth. “Zerg? Not surprised. Seems like they’re crawling through every world.”
“Wait, you didn’t know?” Lilly asks.
“People don’t tell me anything. I just shoot stuff.”
“What about you?” he asks Lilly. “Do people tell you things?”
“Yeah, nothing important, right? I just want to know: where’s the next meal coming from, where’s the next zerg coming from? Keep it simple.” As for experience fighting zerg, he says he has encountered them once or twice.
“On Korhal?” Lilly asks.
He clarifies that he actually fought alongside the zerg on Korhal, trying to reclaim it when forces from Earth came a few years ago and tried to lay claim to the whole sector. “You know that Queen of Blades? She did some crazy stuff, but she helped put Mengsk back on top. She actually led the charge to retake the capital city. Of course, then she killed General Duke, so she got what she was looking for.”
“General Duke?” Imogen asks. She has heard her boss Jefferson Duke refer to his uncle, but she does not know any details about the man.
“Yeah. I didn’t serve with him, or else I’d be dead, too. He ran Alpha Squadron. Used to be a Confederate general, but changed sides during the war. He was some kind of big deal in the Dominion, I guess.”
Lilly’s attention has been on the man’s armaments during the history lesson. “So what’s your suit packing?” she asks after he seems finished answering Imogen’s question. As the conversation turns to weapon and armor features, Imogen slips off, having accomplished what she wanted. Lilly hits it off with the tall, bulked-up marine, and the two stumble through introductions.
“I’m Durian, like the fruit.”
“I’m Lilly. Like… the fruit.”
“Like the flower, right?”
“But, I guess, flowers have fruit or something…”
“It’s short for Lillian.”
“Cool. I don’t think Durian is short for anything. Anyway, doesn’t matter.”
Durian is armed with a C14 gauss rifle, high RPM, with the depleted uranium rounds that go a little bit further. The suit itself is equipped with stimpack injectors to give him a hit of “the good stuff” when he needs it. After all, there is no medic support on this mission. He tells Lilly that he has heard rumors about suits with jetpacks on them, but that is way beyond their budget. He theorizes that they would have to cut something out of the suits in order to make them light enough for jetpacks to work, but Lilly points out firebat suits are loaded with features, so maybe they would just tack even more on. They eventually decide that even though jetpacks sound cool, it is probably actually easier to just use a vulture bike, which gives mobility without forcing the marine to be strapped to their potentially explosive transportation device. They exchange numbers so that they can communicate threats on the surface.
Durian shows off his boots and the rest of his equipment. For the most part, it is similar to what the other two less-talkative marines have. It is not quite military-grade gear, but it is pretty close. Lilly thinks the three marines together would be able to go up against a hydralisk. They will certainly be able to provide security to the scientists.
Durian’s kit is a little more elaborate than the others’ in one way, in that it includes a large combat shield strapped to one of his arms. “Yeah, I ordered this special. It’ll keep me going for a while.” He turns and calls over to the two marines playing cards on a crate. “I’m going to earn me that pension, boys.” He tells Lilly that it was adapted from an old medic’s shield, and with some practice, he is now able to use it and his rifle at the same time. She asks about offensive capabilities, and Durian says, “I mean, you could smack something with it, but the powerfist is already pretty nice. Hey,” he chuckles, holding up the gauntleted arm, “you wanna arm wrestle?”
“Sure!” Lilly says, and she clears off the top of a nearby crate. Durian settles down across from her in his powersuit, surprised but pleased.
Lilly is crossing the dusty, bombed-out plains of Korhal, running over creep. The clunky powersuit is hard to deal with, and she trips, getting stuck. She tries in vain to pull herself up out of the goo, but her battle buddy rights her. The giant, seven-foot tall hydralisk picks her up and gives her an encouraging shove in the right direction. They proceed through the warzone, bullets and spines flying everywhere. Marines in stark white battlesuits of an unusual design fight back, but Lilly and her hydralisk partner work as a well-oiled machine. Lilly shoots one marine; the hydralisk throws an acid spine at the one who replaces him. Someone tries to get behind Lilly, and she runs up the hydralisk’s back to get the high ground on him, shooting him down. The hydralisk snatches Lilly by the collar of her powersuit, rotating with her so that she can lay down fire in all directions. Dirty fascist United Earth Directorate soldiers fall around them. The hydralisk sets her down, and she high-fives a claw.
At first, Durian is joking around with the arm wrestling, letting Lilly gain some ground. But then he realizes she is putting up a lot more resistance than he expected. She eggs him on, “Show me what you’ve got here!”
Durian holds firm and begins taking it more seriously, slowly pushing her arm back. He does not want to hurt her, but she will not let go, and she will not surrender. Finally, he slams her fist down onto the crate with a little cheer. Then he catches himself. “Oh! Shit! Did I hurt you? I didn’t mean to do that. I’m really sorry!”
Lilly jumps up. “That was awesome!” She smacks him across the back with the hand he thought he had crushed.
“Damn,” Durian says, “you really gave me a run for my money. I’ll have to get some of the servos checked in this thing.”
* * *
Imogen heads further back into the ship to where the survey team is prepping their equipment. Grom had asked her and Lilly to pick up samples, so she would like any advice they can provide on what would be of interest. That is just a conversation starter, though. Really, she wants to know anything they can tell her about jorium, the mineral with potential psionic applications.
She finds them double-checking their SCVs and getting their sample jars ready. They even have large barrels on hand. It is clear they intend to harvest as much material as they can to make this trip worth it.
“I just wanted to ask you a few questions about the minerals. Mr. Grom requested we collect some samples while we are off doing our thing. I’d like to do that as well as I can, but I don’t have the sort of training you have. Is a fist-sized rock okay? Or is that excessive?”
One of them looks up at Imogen. “Uh, look, we’re really kind of busy.” She glances around, then grabs a paper from a stack nearby. “We have some pamphlets.” She holds it out to Imogen with a frown. It is the same one that Grom had back in Augustgrad. “It takes a long time to learn this stuff. You can’t just get a couple tips and then know how to do geology. I studied three years to become a mineralogist.”
“I studied metallurgy for a long time…” another one adds. “Until the university burned down.”
Imogen imagines the unspoken rest of what the scientist wants to say. But you wouldn’t know what that’s like because you’re from Umoja.
The first scientist continues. “Look, for a layperson such as yourself, this is probably the best guide that you can take. For the size of the sample, a fist is fine. More is better, but, yeah, a fist-size is pretty good. Do you have a standard geology-size hammer? Then I can show you exactly how big.” Imogen admits she does not, and the disdain grows. “We’ve got to get a lot of things ready.” She brushes past Imogen to get another piece of equipment. “I don’t know what exactly you’re here for. I understand you’re friends with Mr. Grom, though, so…”
So we’ll tolerate you, Imogen completes the sentence in her head.
“Whatever makes him happy is fine. But please, just let us try to do our jobs.”
Imogen accepts that these scientists are an unwelcoming lot. She and Lilly are responsible for this sudden journey, after all, even if no one else aboard the ship knows that. And zerg aside, Redstone III is a dangerous place due to all the volcanic activity. It is completely reasonable for them to be annoyed by the spur of the moment nature of this expedition. She decides to give them their space. She will have to learn more about jorium firsthand.