Lilly and Imogen have to skirt around to the south to get where they need to be. As they move across the hot, stinking surface of Redstone III, Imogen tries to pay attention to how Lilly picks out a safe route, but she grows distracted by the woman herself. Lilly really does have completely standard looks. Sure, she is tall, and she is strong without being jacked, but there is just nothing distinct about her features. Thinking back to what the secretary said about Grom’s description, Imogen realizes she agrees. Other that Lilly is tall, what else is there to say? She has dark hair and tan skin, and that is it. If she had suffered some major injury in all the fighting she has done, like losing an eye, then maybe she would stand out more… It’s really impressive that she hasn’t.
Lilly guides them closer to the low-lying areas to the south, and after a while she notices creep just ahead. She does not see any zerg moving across it, but they cannot be too far away. Continuing this way could be tricky. She pauses to point out the creep to Imogen, and the Umojan practically crashes into her. Lilly then looks out to the east again, hoping that maybe there is a clearer path in that direction now. There is not, but something else catches her eye. The air wavers like it sometimes does above pavement on a summer day. It is hot here, and a glass of Li’s sweet tea would be great right about now, but the heat is not the source of the shimmer.
Lilly is on a lush, green world. She has just thrown a grenade and blown up a Confederate bunker. Around her, the soldiers cheer, “Antiga! Antiga!” Then Lilly sees a faint shimmer—about human size—emerge from a command center. Intel had placed a Confederate officer there. The cloaking drops, and Lilly recognizes her commanding officer, Lieutenant Kerrigan, a ghost. That Confederate is definitely dead now.
Ghosts are wildcards. If this is a loyal Dominion ghost, they might be a potential ally. But just like anyone else, ghosts can be jerks. And if this is an unregistered ghost, or a deserter of some kind, then who knows. But if it is someone trapped here, maybe they can work together, Lilly figures. She radios in the zerg to Durian and lets him know that she has seen something else she is going to investigate. Once she is off comms, she tells Imogen, “I think there’s a ghost over there. I think it’s cloaking. You see that shimmer?” She points up at a ridgeline on the eastern side of the lowlands they have been passing through.
Imogen manages to see a faint indication of what Lilly is talking about. If she moves her head back and forth just the right way, there is a slight visual artifact, as if the light is not quite refracting properly. But of more interest to her than the visuals is the words. Lilly said this is a ghost, and from what Egon told her, that means this is someone Imogen needs to talk to. As she watches, though, the vague terran-sized blur picks up speed and then disappears behind a rock outcropping. “We need to go that way!” Imogen says, and she begins picking her way to the east.
Lilly frowns. If this ghost is not looking to be found, that changes things. She calls it in to Durian, “I think I see somebody cloaked. I can’t tell if they’re a friendly or not.” She gives him the approximate location.
Durian, who was so calm about the creep update a few moments ago, grows alarmed. “Whoa, whoa, whoa! Zerg, I know how to deal with. What do you mean somebody’s cloaked?”
“I don’t know. Maybe a ghost or something.”
“I’m going to need more info than that! That could be anything!”
“That’s the only thing I’ve ever seen like it. It just looks… like a cloak.” Durian mutters that this is bad news, and Lilly tells him the target seems to be retreating from them. She looks up from her phone and sees Imogen wandering off in that direction, unmindful of the lava rivers that make that route completely impassable. “Hey!” Lilly catches up in a few swift strides and grabs Imogen’s shoulder. “Nope! Not that way.” Even if the flows ease up, the ground over there will be too hot to walk on. Lilly redirects her companion toward the south. “We’ve got to pick our way through the creep.”
“You don’t think we could cross the lava?” Imogen asks hopefully.
“What did you have in mind?”
“You did all right jumping before, you did.”
“That wasn’t 200 meters of lava!”
“Well, creep isn’t really flammable, right? Maybe we could shape it into a boat or raft so we could cross the lava more directly. Don’t you remember? That firebat was shooting his vespene flames all over the place, and the creep took a really long time to burn. He had to really concentrate his blasts.”
“Creep is… goo,” Lilly points out, unsure of where this is headed.
Imogen seems to grow more enthused about her plan. “So, we can head that way for a bit, and maybe we’ll come across some abandoned piece of equipment or something. We coat in creep, and then we cross the lava.”
“Okay,” Lilly agrees. She does not have a better idea, and for now, they will move on solid, if sticky, ground. She draws her gun and leads the way.
At the leading edge of the creep, Imogen pauses, staring down at it. She extends her feeble psionic powers, trying to tell if there are any living creatures hidden under it, like on Mar Sara. She detects none, and the effort, combined with the heat, taxes her. It seems safe enough to continue on the creep, and she starts picking her way through it carefully. She tries to keep to the pace at which Lilly can move over it, but she has a hard time of it.
Lilly pulls Imogen along south, helping her when her boots get stuck. She prompts the younger woman to duck low when a threat presents itself, a hydralisk off on the other side of the creep field. Around its large snake-like body, Lilly also sees a couple zerglings and something else, a similarly-sized creature whose orb-like body glows with an eerie, pulsating green light. The slope that Lilly is guiding Imogen towards is further east, away from these creatures. They just need to avoid drawing the zergs’ notice, and they should be okay. As they reach the low ground that Lilly has been angling toward, she catches movement over in the zerg ranks. For a moment, she thinks they have been spotted, but it turns out the hydralisk has simply found an old, abandoned piece of equipment to destroy.
Lilly and Imogen hurry down the slope. Lava has yet to reach this plain, and they move across it quickly. Lilly calls Durian to provide an update on the zerg she has observed. They are more than he can handle alone, but since she and Imogen did not disturb them, they are unlikely to seek out the survey team—at least that is what she hopes. Durian appreciates the warning, but when she mentions the strange green zerg, he curses. He tells her those sound like banelings. They are suicidally explosive and contain enough acid to melt a whole squad of marines.
“Shoot them from far away, is what I heard you say,” Lilly summarizes.
“Ab-so-lutely,” Durian agrees. “Even if you are kind of close, you should be okay if you can cut them down. It’s okay if you kill them before they blow up; they have to self-detonate to spray the acid. Of course, if they’re in your face, they’re probably going to blow up before you get your chance.” The good news, if there is any, is that the one Lilly saw was a crawler. Durian warns her that the rolling banelings are much faster, essentially big wheels of death.
“Good to know. Thanks, Durian.” Lilly clicks off her comm and returns her attention to moving Imogen safely along. The coordinates Li gave them are atop a mesa with very steep sides. At the base of the cliff, the two women pull out their climbing gear. Lilly arranges everything and scales up to the top first, then lowers a harness down to Imogen so that her weaker partner has a more secure climb. Even so, Imogen is winded and covered in sweat when she gets to the top.
Once on the mesa, they see a large structure in the distance. Although it is skeletal in appearance, it seems constructed, perhaps to protect what it is covering. The material underneath it matches Li’s description of a cerebrate and the pictures she showed them in her command center. The corpse seems partially decayed with some holes, but it is mostly intact. The ground between them and the cerebrate, though, has a significant number of living zerg upon it, including a few hydralisks and some zerglings. There is also a zerg structure the size of a small building. Lilly has seen large spines like this one before on the battlefield. As they watch, it occasionally smashes its tip into the ground, impaling whatever it hits.
Across the way, Lilly notices the shimmering again. This draws her attention to a zerg in the sky another hundred meters further on. Unlike a mutalisk, this balloon-like zerg floats rather than soars. It has several large eyes, which fortunately have not noticed them yet. Lilly points it out, and Imogen racks her brain, trying to remember what Li June told them about these creatures. “It was below the cerebrates on the ladder…”
“That looks like patrolling to me,” Lilly says of the floating zerg’s movements.
“It doesn’t look threatening, though,” Imogen counters. “Not like that spike. That does not look like a good time.” The enormous stinger-tail structure is between them and the cerebrate. They will have to go past it to get their sample. Unless… maybe we can bring the cerebrate closer to us somehow. Imogen nods her head at the climbing gear. “This vacation was supposed to be a fishing trip, remember?” Two hundred meters is a bit far, but maybe they can sneak close enough for the rope to reach without catching the impaler’s attention.
They talk over this approach a bit more, and then Lilly cuts off the discussion to point out the actions of the ghost. Whoever that is, they are tracking the floating zerg, maintaining a constant distance from it. And they are coming this way…