Above Ten Tines Prison, on the wasted surface of Korhal, an undernourished group of dissidents tries to right a science vessel under the watchful eyes of half a dozen guards. The ship is off kilter, making it look even more laughable than it usually does with a vulture bike slapped onto one side of the sphere. The sergeant in charge asks Lilly for guidance since it is her ship. Her response is as terse as usual. “It’s listing to starboard,” she says. “It needs to go that way.” She tosses her to the other side. Talking is Imogen’s thing, not Lilly’s.
The sergeant grows just as frustrated with the well-muscled pilot as he was with the Umojan scientist. Grumbling about the burdens of command, he snaps out orders. Trying to right the ship is physically taxing and filthy work. As the struggle continues, Lilly positions herself closer to Sally. The other woman leans toward her, but rather than greeting her as an old friend, she whispers, “I don’t know who you are, but for some reason, I feel I can trust you. Can you get us out of here?” The grunts and groans of people shoving at the science vessel cover their conversation.
Lilly cracks her neck and glances over at the sergeant. He is busy harassing other prisoners. When Lilly looks back, Sally is wiping away some sweat and adjusting the collar of her jumpsuit. Lilly notices a Dominion resocialization tattoo peaking out. That definitely must have happened after Lilly thought she had died. “We’re friends, and I’m going to try,” she answers Sally.
“We’re friends? What do you mean? You look sort of familiar, but… you could be anyone.”
“I’m Lilly Washington.”
“Lilly Washington, Lilly Washington,” Sally murmurs. “Lieutenant Lilly Washington. Lieutenant Sally Adams!” Sally rubs her temples. “Oh, that’s been locked away for a while. We went to the Academy together, didn’t we?” Lilly nods. “Did you come all the way out here for me? That was so long ago.”
Lilly shakes her head. “I didn’t know you were here.”
“This place is terrible!”
“Yeah, I don’t know if we can get you out today, but can you hide things?” Lilly holds out her phone.
“I don’t even know who I would even try to call at this point,” Sally says glumly.
“Call Imogen in the contacts when you can talk.”
“Who’s Imogen? Is that someone I know, too?”
“She’s my partner. Can you be our inside man?”
The risk is just too great. Sally pushes Lilly’s phone back at her. “They would search us going back in. They’d find the phone pretty quick.”
“That’s fine,” Lilly assures her, pocketing the device.
“When can you get us out?” Sally presses.
“Soon. Probably the less you know the better, yeah?”
“Well, yes, but soon is so vague. Are we talking in the next year?”
“Within a couple weeks,” Lilly shares, but that is as far as she will go in revealing any of Jimmy’s plans. Sally accepts that answer. She has been here a few years, so what is a few more weeks taken against that? Although she cannot smuggle anything electronic in, she is still eager to help in some way. “Do you think they would notice if a prisoner was missing?” Lilly asks, only half in jest. “Can you slip away?”
“If you could make a distraction… but I don’t want you to get in trouble. They would not goof around.”
Lilly looks around, considering. It is not like there is anywhere safe nearby to go. Sally might be able to hide among the rocky outcroppings, but she has no supplies for surviving in the harsh desert. They bat around ideas, Sally hiding on the ship, Sally taking Lilly hostage. A limiting factor is that Imogen is still in the compound, and Lilly will not abandon her, not even for Sally. The hostage-taking plan has merit, but Sally would need more than just Lilly’s knife to really sell it. Most of the guards up here have shotguns. They finally settle on a plan. Sally will sneak onto Saffron, where there are more serious weapons. Then, when Lilly and Imogen board the ship, Sally can take them hostage.
For that to work, the ship needs to be open, though. Lilly signals to the guards that she needs to get inside. The ship is almost righted, but sand keeps slipping, setting the work crew back a bit each time they make some headway. She carefully approaches the side and lowers the crooked ramp.
Once aboard Saffron, Lilly decides to let the science vessel itself provide a distraction. She sets the guns out in the central hub for Sally to easily access in a bit. Then she orchestrates a major system malfunction, flipping the radio on really loud and lightly tapping one of the thrusters, so that it appears to misfire. There is a scream from outside. Someone must have been too close. Lilly wastes no time, though. The chaos she can hear out there is exactly her goal. Cursing up a storm herself to sell the accident idea, she quickly sets off the EMP as well. She does not target anything specific with the launch. Just having the missile go off nearby will be sufficient to disrupt the guards’ radios. She cannot afford the time to try to hit the doors to the base with it, so the blast is unlikely to affect the underground facility. When the missile goes off and her music suddenly cuts out, Lilly realizes her miscalculation: the EMP was close enough to affect Saffron’s electronics. Emergency backup power kicks on, just enough to keep the food in the fridge fresh. Certainly not enough to activate the defensive matrix or even take off.
Outside is complete chaos. Guns drawn, guards are shouting into their radios and getting no response. Even with one guard down to thruster burns, that still leaves six, which is too many for Lilly to take on with just her shotgun and knife, even if Sally takes up a pistol. At that moment, Sally dashes aboard Saffron. As Sally moves past her to hide, Lilly is struck for a moment by a fragment of memory.
Lilly and Sally are paired together as usual in a training exercise at the Confederate Officer Academy. The simulator room is set to urban firefight today, and they are supposed to be clearing buildings. Right now they are pinned down, though. Needing a distraction, they fall back on an old ruse they have used many times before.
“Are you guys all right?” Lilly calls out to the guards as she steps out onto the ramp. She remains at the top near Saffron’s entrance, one hand nervously clutching her shotgun just out of sight. Lilly is really missing Imogen right now. Her partner would know just the thing to say to make this guy go away.
“Stand down! Stand down!” the sergeant yells at her. “What the hell is wrong with your ship?” The squad leader who had been near the thruster is a burnt mess but still alive enough to scream in agony. “This man needs medical attention. Your scientist is also a doctor?”
“Ma’am, get off that ship! We can’t have any more trouble.” Turning to his underlings, he orders one to take the injured guard back down into the prison for treatment. “What were you doing in there?” he demands, attention back on Lilly. “You said we just needed to push this thing upright!”
“Step away from the ship,” Lilly growls back. “It was a hard landing, remember?”
He narrows his eyes, but he steps back. She might very well have weapons on there that he and his troops are not equipped to deal with. This is not something he needs to die over.