The morning after the Special Mission starts with a hangover for Lilly. She grabs a beer from the fridge in the central hub and then steps back into her room to check on Snowball. She cracks open the box that he sleeps in and peers in. He certainly looks much better than yesterday, a testament to zerg regenerative powers. If not for the strange lump in his central blobby area, she would think he was totally fine. Maybe I can just rip that out of him, she thinks. If Imogen were up, she would ask her friend, but Lilly has not yet heard a sound from the other quarters this morning.
Lilly holds the beer can out to Snowball, hoping it can take some of the edge off the pain she is about to inflict. Snowball actually recoils, and then Lilly remembers that he did not like beer last time she offered him some. “Hang tight, buddy,” she tells him, as she leaves her room. When she returns from the kitchenette, she has a cup in one hand and her knife in the other. “Look, how about some PowerAde if you just hold still?” she offers. Snowball cannot really understand her words, but he senses something off about this deal. Lilly sets down the cup of electrolyte-laced sugar water and uses her now free hand to pin him in place. She swiftly slices through his gooey form and pries out the shrapnel. Snowball emits a high-pitched screech. When she releases him, he slithers as far back away from her in his sleeping box as he can.
That was dumb, Lilly reflects, but it worked. There is a gash at the surgery site, but she figures it can heal well enough on its own. She pushes the cup of PowerAde closer to Snowball, hoping to get back in his good graces. He takes it but otherwise ignores her. As for the foreign object Lilly just removed, that she places in Snowball’s little backpack. It can keep his cranial implant company, another trophy of a difficult situation survived. She leaves him be, figuring he will forgive her in due time. In the meanwhile, she has a knife to clean and sharpen.
A short, strange high-pitched noise rouses Imogen. She blinks her eyes open and finds herself slumped awkwardly on her bed among her tools, random pieces of electronics, and zergy goo from Aiden’s radio. She pushes them all aside and sits up stiffly. It was not a restful night. She neatens up her braid and shuffles out into the common area, where she finds Lilly sharpening knives. As Imogen starts preparing her morning smoothie, she tells her partner, “I don’t think we’re quite done here yet.”
“That object you found, it’s a zerg transmitter. There’s a possibility the Queen of Blades is willing to smooth things over between us and her, is what the message said. But I didn’t get any information about a meeting point or anything like that. I’m trying to get the thing to work again so that it can be a two-way conversation. It was left here by my brother.”
“I don’t know if he’s down there, or if it was just relaying his message from somewhere else. At any rate, if we don’t want her hounding us across the sector, we need to pursue this I think,” Imogen concludes.
“I’d like to go back down and look for that thing again,” Lilly says.
“Something you remember down there?” Imogen gulps down some of her smoothie. “Oh! The adjutant. If the place hasn’t been shelled to smithereens yet, it’s possible there’s still something there.” Zerg were overrunning the area when the Liberty Squad left the scene yesterday.
“I guess if it’s shelled, it’s not a problem,” Lilly reflects.
“Oh, you want the thing destroyed, not recovered?”
“I’d like it recovered, but it’s not a problem if it’s destroyed. I think.”
“I see. Well, you’re the one who knows military things, so if it’s a matter of needing clearance to go back down for something, maybe there’s someone you can talk to to arrange that. Or I guess we could check if Kate wants additional footage that we could offer to go film for her. More establishing shots, or things like that. It’d be a reasonable excuse for going back. But I’ve got to fiddle around with this thing a bit more,” Imogen says, nodding her head towards her quarters. “So that’s what I’m doing after breakfast.” The morning is already half gone.
“Okay,” Lilly agrees. They have a science vessel; surely some officer will be interested in recon scans down on the planet. Durian ought to know a good officer to go to, one who might care about something like that. With that in mind, she pulls out her comm to give him a call.
“Hey, Lilly,” Durian answers brightly. “I was just meaning to talk to you.”
“Oh yeah? What’s going on?” Lilly asks, her own questions for him evaporating from her mind.
“Uh, actually, I was wondering if you were free this afternoon.”
“Cool. I have a… Well… They tell me it’s kind of a big deal—I don’t think it’s a big deal. I gotta take a… Well, you know, uh…” Durian stumbles over his words. Lilly just lets him talk, wondering if he is about to try to recruit her again. “They’re uh… They decided to give me a field promotion to lieutenant.”
After all we just did to get him out of the military!? “Is… is that what you want?” Lilly asks, sitting down on one of the crates that passes for a chair in Saffron’s central chamber. “I thought you were going to be going back to the Endurians. No?”
Durian assures her that he intends to return to private security work, preferably staying away from long term campaigns like this one, and Lilly relaxes a little. He talks about some of the perks accompanying rank that he will benefit from for the rest of his short time in uniform. “But the point is, the reason I wanted to talk with you, is that for the ceremony you’ve got to take an oath and all that stuff, and you’re supposed to have a second there. Uh, so I was wondering if you’d be my second.”
“Yeah,” Lilly says right away. “Cool! Congratulations.”
“Thanks, I think. I’m not really sure if I’m cut out for officer stuff, but hey, that’s the officers’ call to make, not mine.”
“You can put it on your business card,” Lilly says.
“I haven’t done one of these ceremonies before. Have you? Do you know what all is involved? Like, how dressed up are you supposed to be?”
Lilly is in the Cerberus facility, surrounded by a bunch of officers. It has been a week since her corporal patch was summarily ripped off and replaced by a colonel eagle. The lead scientist complains that the current activity is unnecessary, but a gruff-looking general insists, “We have to do this. If she’s going to be a colonel, then we have to follow the right procedures. That’s the most important part of all this.” Turning his focus to Lilly, he demands, “And who is your second?”
Some random sergeant is just passing the open door at that moment, and Lilly indicates her. The general demands she come in to participate in the ceremony. The oath he reads off for Lilly to echo sounds like a load of nonsense, and the second affirms, “Yeah, she’s cool.” The general repins Lilly’s eagle on her, and immediately all the lower-ranking officers snap to attention and salute. Lilly salutes back and waves them off.
“I don’t know… your dress uniform?” Lilly says with a shrug. That seems to be the right answer for any official military event.
“Yeah, that’s probably a good idea,” Durian says. “Do you still have your old uniform? I’m not sure if it’s appropriate for you to wear it, though…”
“Oh, for me. Yeah!” Her dress uniform is one of the relics of her old life that she kept when she honorably discharged herself from Dominion service. It seemed a good thing to have on hand, something to support her cover story. “Probably still fits.”
“I’m sure you’ll look great. I mean, uh, I’ll see you at two at the Officers’ Club. Thank you so much, Lilly.”
“All right, see you later,” Lilly says, hanging up. Too late, she remembers what she was supposed to ask him. Oh well, there will be officers at the ceremony. Like Durian!