The mesa top has a vast field of creep through which multiple hydralisks and zerglings wander about. Lilly and Imogen crouch at the edge, hoping to not be detected while they figure out how to get close enough to the cerebrate to extract a sample. The ghost or shimmer or whatever it is—the potential source of knowledge of psionic powers—is the least dangerous thing on the plateau as far as Imogen is concerned. The air itself is more of a problem for her, and she wheezes despite the breath mask.
Lilly finds herself coughing now too, her mask having gotten jarred on the climb up the cliffside. She blows dust out of it and puts it back on, but it remains hard to breathe in complete lungfuls of air. The sulphurous smell has gotten into her nose, combined with the organic reek of zerg, and she cannot get rid of it. We had better get what we need quickly, she thinks. The shimmer is moving in their direction, and she has no intel on whether it is friend of foe. Sure, it could be a Dominion ghost, but some protoss—assassin-type ones called dark templars—are always cloaked. Running into one of those up here could be a problem. Their warp blades can cut a marine in two in one swipe, and Lilly does not have the right equipment to deal with that sort of threat. She wipes the tears from her watering eyes and looks over at the shimmer’s last known location, but she can no longer see it. “Watch your back,” she tells Imogen.
The younger woman turns around to look behind herself. She sees the cliff they just climbed up and, beyond it, a vast sea of lava where the low-lying plains they just crossed used to be. “Well, those zergs won’t be a problem anymore,” she comments. “But I guess we’re not getting out that way.” She spins back around to Lilly. “Are there any things we can hide behind as we make our dash? Or a way to camouflage ourselves? This is not really my skill set.”
Lilly looks around, searching for ways to execute Imogen’s ideas. They are crouched right on the edge of the creep. There are a few rock outcroppings they could use as cover while moving across it. As for camouflage… Lilly briefly considers the creep itself. It has such a pungent odor that it would cover their scent, but it would probably only fool a zerg casually wandering by. If a group of zerg took a good look at them, it would not trick them for long and they would let all their friends know through whatever mind-link zerg share. Plus, Lilly is not really sure how the zerg virus spreads, but she is pretty certain that coating themselves in creep will increase risk of infection. They are fine walking around on the creep, but rolling around? Probably not so much. Lilly advises against it.
There is a zerg tower with a giant spiny tail between them and the cerebrate, and Imogen watches it to assess the range of its attack. How close can we get to it without getting impaled? she wonders. She notices some smaller flying creatures that occasionally alight near the tower. It whacks any that get close, but there seems to be some sort of recharge time required between strikes. Imogen shares this with Lilly, who is continuing to survey the landscape. “You like stabbing things, Lilly; look at how often it stabs. We should be able to time our dash to cover to avoid it.”
The only things not coated in creep up on the mesa are old mining platforms that dot the area, all in varying states of decay. Their shaky legs could provide some cover. The platforms themselves could serve as high ground for defense against zerglings, but hydralisks would be able to shoot their spines that far. And neither Lilly nor Imogen has a quiet gun. Firing a pistol or a shotgun is likely to attract more attention than they want. A platform to the south of the cerebrate seems the best staging point for their final approach, and they begin moving that way, using the outcroppings as cover where they can. Lilly moves swiftly, having spent more time than she can remember fighting on creep.
Imogen, however, has a hard time keeping up. She is crouched behind some rocks, one last sprint from the platform where Lilly is waiting, when she hears the chittering. The zergling is really hard to see in the creep, but she can picture it just fine, having gotten a close-up look at the one that clamped onto her leg during the fight back on Mar Sara. She stays very still and tries to calm her breathing, which is rapidly approaching hyperventilation. She hopes it has not noticed her.
From her position at a platform leg, Lilly turns back to see what is keeping Imogen. The younger woman is ducked behind a rock, shaking, her back pressed against it, and a zergling is slowly stalking up to it. Across the plateau, Lilly notices the shimmer again, now up on top of the platform to the west. She files that information away for later.
Right now, more importantly, there is a zergling approaching Imogen, and it is about the same distance from Lilly as it is from her teammate. She throws a rock at the zergling, and it bounces off the thick hide without doing any damage. The creature whips its head around and charges at her, exactly as she wanted it to. The rough terrain between them is inclined upwards, which hampers the zergling’s stride enough for her to dodge away from its swipe. It tries to stop its forward momentum and skids to a stop right at the edge of the mesa. As it begins turning back around to face her, Lilly is already charging right in herself. She drops her shoulder and slams it into the zergling, knocking it off the plateau. She lands on her hands and knees right at the edge and sees it fail to gain purchase on the cliff face. It sinks, burning, into the lava below.
Imogen watches Lilly knock the zergling off the mesa, wide-eyed. Then she pulls herself together enough to look over her rock out across the creep, hoping that no other zerg have taken notice. There are zerg still wandering around between them and the cerebrate, but they do not seem to be on alert. Imogen scrambles to her feet and runs to Lilly. “Sorry!” she says.
“No problem,” Lilly replies, getting to her feet. “You can just keep luring them over, and I’ll throw them in the lava.”
Her light-hearted response calms Imogen a bit, enough that she cracks a smile. “I attract them, and you dispatch them?”
They turn away from the cliff edge and see that a hydralisk right near the cerebrate has indeed noticed the disturbance and is headed their way to investigate. Imogen goes pale again. “We are not three marines in body armor,” she observes. “The rickety legs of this platform are not going to provide much cover, and even if we climb up it, the hydralisk will still be able to shoot at us.”
“Maybe it will just lose interest if it passes through the platform and doesn’t actually see us,” Lilly suggests.
Imogen looks at the support, contemplating climbing it. Now that she sees it up close, she doubts it would hold their weight, so hiding atop it is out of the question. But then something else occurs to her. “This structure doesn’t look climbable. It looks like it would collapse. Now, I don’t want us to go up there to collapse it, but maybe from down here you could pull out one of the leg struts, and then we could squash the hydralisk. The others might not even attribute its collapse to terrans prowling about. There’s plenty of seismic activity on this rock.”
Lilly looks around. “Where can we hide you while I do this?”
“I need to attract the hydralisk,” Imogen points out, “so that it’s in the right place. I’m the bait. We need it to not see you.”
They select a column for Lilly to take down, and she makes sure to keep it between herself and the hydralisk. Imogen steels herself and crosses beneath the platform to the cerebrate side to lure the enormous snake-like creature in. She moves in a way to attract its attention so that it will come investigate rather than just shooting its acid-covered spines. When it gets closer, she slips away, but not before noticing all sorts of frightening details. The hydralisk is taller than Lilly, taller even than a marine in full combat armor. It does not really have hands, just collections of talons at the end of each arm.
Once under the platform, the hydralisk does spot Lilly, unfortunately. It leans down for a second, and Lilly feels a burning pain in her shoulder as a spine dripping with acid embeds itself in her. She ignores it, turning all her attention to the platform leg in front of her that she needs to destabilize.
Lilly is in a dark parking deck with a few figures clad in black whose faces are concealed by balaclavas. She is not bothering to wear one, and her tank top reveals a single resocialization tattoo on her shoulder. She stands beside a concrete column. “All right, Lilly, you’re going to yank that column; that’ll bring down this wall. We’ll be able to get in and clear out this bank. Everybody ready? C’mon. Just like when we took down the Confederacy. Let’s do it!” Lilly pulls with all her might, and the wall comes crashing down. Through the dust, she sees her comrades go in. Because of all the rubble, she cannot see what happens to them, but she hears sirens wailing and flashes of red light illuminate the particles in the air.
The rusty support creaks and groans and wobbles, but it does not totally give way. Imogen reverses direction, coming up to the base of the column. The many handholds make it easy for her to scramble to where she can reach the reinforcements that are preventing the beam from falling completely. She hastily begins trying to unscrew some of them. The bolts are rusted over, too stuck for her to manage with her hands, and she does not have any kind of wrench on her. She throws a frantic glance over her shoulder to check the hydralisk’s location and sees that it has paused under the center of the platform and is looking off to the west. The floating zerg in that direction has drifted toward the other mining platform, and the hydralisk starts heading that way. Surely that ghost is a bigger threat than we are turning out to be.
Lilly still has her hands on the support and feels it shuddering with Imogen’s movements. The hydralisk will only be under the platform a little longer. Lilly starts climbing up to add her own weight and urges Imogen to move higher. When they pull themselves onto the flat surface at the top, they feel it wavering beneath their feet and hear the growls of the hydralisk below. Lilly jumps in place, and with a loud groan, the whole structure comes crashing down, the screeches of metal and hydralisk filling the air.