“I am trying to find myself. Sometimes that’s not easy.” – Maralyn Monroe
He was in the kitchen, trying not to cringe at the video being displayed on the side of his helmet. “The me in this universe actually did a dance remix of Physical?” he said.
“It would appear so, Creator Elias,” Pi replied inside his helmet. “On the bright side, you do appear to be remixing yourself live.”
“He’s remixing himself live,” Elias corrected. “Him. Not me.”
“You do look remarkably alike.”
“Ha, bloody ha ha,” Elias muttered. “Keelah, couldn’t he have chosen a better song?”
“That song filled the number one spot for ten weeks in America in nineteen ninety one,” Pi pointed out.
“I can’t believe he beat Rayne T’kai with that nonsense,” Elias said, as the camera panned to a shot of his constant rival in all three universe’s seasons of Citadel’s Got Talent.
“Punk isn’t for everyone,” Pi said neutrally.
“Electro dance isn’t either,” Elias grumbled.
“I’m sure he’d feel the same way about your rendition of My Favourite Things,” Pi said blandly.
“One day you’re going to have to explain what’s so bad about The Sound of Music.”
“I don’t like puppets. Especially not the ones with strings.”
“Are you talking to your drone?” Cicepia asked, striding into the room.
“Absolutely,” Elias said, “It helps to talk one’s thoughts out loud sometimes.”
“Does it talk back?”
“Absolutely, Officer Altus,” Pi said, and Elias was glad his face mask hid his smirk.
“I didn’t find anything about Arkara,” Elias said, dropping his voice. “She really doesn’t seem to exist over here. Anar exists and hangs out with shady characters, but he pops out of nowhere a few years back. It’s like he didn’t exist until the war ended.”
“New identity,” Cicepia mused.
“That would do it,” Elias agreed. “What did you find out?”
“That I’m dead in this universe,” Cicepia said, dialing up a cup of tzanga from the beverage dispenser. “Arkara shot me at your concert.”
“Oh…that was her? Right.”
Cicepia turned to stare at him. “You knew?”
“It was in all the news feeds,” Elias said with a shrug. “I just didn’t put it together with her. Do you know why she did it?”
Cicepia sat down at the table, crossing on knee over the other. “The Shadow Broker hired her to,” she said simply “I think the me in this universe was…crooked.”
“From what I can see, yes. I found some hidden files on her computer. It looked like she was trying to find the Shadow Broker’s identity.”
Elias laughed, and then paused. “Wait, seriously?”
“She had a contract for a killing—would have made a lot of creds.”
“Who hired her?”
Cicepia grinned. “You know, I was hoping you’d be curious.”
Wordlessly Cicepia handed over a piece of paper. “Access codes,” she said.
“Never send them digitally,” the turian said with a grim smile.
“You want me to trace the personal details of someone trying to put a hit out on the Shadow Broker?” Elias asked.
“Are you saying you can’t do it?”
Elias grinned behind his mask. “Oh I’m sure I can. Just making sure you’re sure about sending me up against cashed up paranoia. But hey, I don’t really exist in this universe, right?”
“Of course you do, you’re just…doing club remixes from what I’ve heard.”
“Don’t start,” Elias said, pulling out a datapad and getting started. He never used his internal systems for something like this. Too risky. “But I will be using your identity and passwords to access the systems here.”
“No, you’re using hers,” Cicepia said grimly.
In the end, the cybertrail took him through several darknet forums and a private server where he found one name: Diana.
“No last name?” Cicepia had asked.
“We’re lucky to get a first,” Elias replied. “And that’s assuming our billionaire was either dumb enough or arrogant enough to use their real name.”
I’m not entirely sure what she was doing, but a lot of it wasn’t her job,” Cicepia said, taking a sip of the hot beverage. “Frankly, it creeps me out a little.”
“Well you could—” their conversation was interrupted by the sound of footfalls coming up the staircase.
“This is some ship,” an almost familiar voice said. Peering out into the hub of the ship, Elias saw a slender asari in a russet and gold dress walk up the ramp followed by Arkara. He also saw Drimi exit his quarters and turn towards the elevator leading down to the cargo hold.
“You have to get this on vid,” he said, and moved to the doorway to watch.
The new asari—who Elias was certain was Arkara’s friend Mridi—locked eyes with Drimi.
“Oh,” she said.
“My,” he said.
“Goddess,” they finished together.
“And there you go,” Arkara said from behind her friend. “Do you believe me now?”
The two asari stepped towards each other, and then began circling, each appraising the other—her with her slinky dress and heavy bracelets and him in cargo pants and a leather jacket.
“Pick a number,” Mridi said.
“W,” Drimi said with a grin.
“Oh my Goddess.”
“You’re thinking what I’m thinking,” they said in unison. “That’s freaky. No, that’s really freaky. Stop that!”
Mridi turned to Arkara, “Girl, I think I need to sit down.”
Drimi shook his head “Boss, got any of that beer left?”
“It’s Bud,” Sync said.
“Whatever. I’ll just have to drink two.”
Drimi hadn’t taken more than two steps towards the kitchen when an unfamiliar redheaded woman walked onto the ship, Anar floating in behind her. Her hair was loose and fell in ringlets over her shoulders and her eyes were green and slightly uncertain. Sync froze when he saw her, his mouth falling open and the lights from his cybernetic implants taking on a purplish tinge.
“Tricey these are the people this one told you about—Everyone, this is Tricey. This one has told her everything,” he added. “But it felt seeing you would provide reassurance that this one has told her the truth. The truth is important. Isn’t that right, Doctor Sync?”
“Uh…” Sync stammered.
“The Captain’s not a man of many words,” Elias said, as Tricey stared at him taking in the light show without comment.
“The doctor recognises you from his universe,” Anar said softly. “It is why…I asked if you’d been married before.”
“Ah,” Tricey said, but her answer seemed reflexive more than anything else. Elias wondered what that was like—to have someone you loved look at you with no memory of you at all.
“The doctor wished to know if you were happy,” Anar said, and Elias noted how one of his tentacles was wrapped around her hand. “I felt I couldn’t answer on your behalf. He’ll probably wish to speak with you once he recovers.”
“Sure,” Tricey said, letting go of Anar’s tentacle and walking over to Sync. “So…you’re the captain of this ship?”
For a moment Sync’s hand stretched out towards her as if to cup her cheek and then he paused, and lowered his arm. “Yes. Can I…speak to you in private?”
It seemed to take a moment for his words to register, and Elias could see Tricey’s eyes darting over Sync’s features, roving over the man’s face as though searching for something.
“Is there a version of your in this universe?” she asked. “From what Anar’s told me there could be, I think? There’s something…familiar about you.”
Behind them, Anar curled his tentacles around each other, and then stopped, deliberately letting them dangle freely to the floor.
“I…don’t know,” Sync said. “I don’t think I’m alive in this universe, to be honest.”
“Oh. I’m…I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay. I didn’t know me here so… please come this way. There’s something you should see.” He walked off towards the rear of the ship, where the sleeping quarters were, and Elias knew he was headed for the locked door.
“So,” Drimi said as they all stared after Sync and Tricey. “About that drink.”
With the exception of Anar, they were all in the mess when Tricey came running back down the corridor, and Cicepia was striding forward to intercept her.
“Tricey, is it?”
“I’m sorry, I can’t…I just can’t. I need to get out of here. Anar? Pleae?”
“This one—I will be right with you,” Anar said, but Cicepia placed a hand on his bell as he moved to go after her.
“Anar you need to get her to see a doctor.”
“This one needs to get her home,” Anar said.
“Sync’s wife died from a terminal illness. Depending on how alike people in these parallel universes are…your Tricey could have the same thing.”
Anar paused and looked at Drimi, “Is that true?”
“It’s true,” Sync said, walking slowly back into the main deck.
Anar paused. “This one can’t tell her now. She’s already dealing with enough as it is. Perhaps you could give me details later, Doctor and I’ll pass them on at a more appropriate time.”
Sync nodded and Anar made his way out of the ship after his girlfriend.
Outside Anar floated over to his girlfriend, who was leaning against his mech, her arms folded across her chest.
“Why did you bring me here, Anar?”
“This one wanted you to see the truth,” Anar said softly. “It didn’t want it to just be words.” Floating over to her, he wrapped her in a hug. Slowly, her arms came up and embraced him, although it seemed as though her heart wasn’t fully in it.
“Why is this happening?” she asked. “Is it so wrong that I want to go back to when things were just…normal?”
“This one has asked itself the same question. But from what this one has seen, this universe is about to get very dangerous. When this one disappeared from the concert, it was attacked by volus husks. It appears the reapers are not done with their harvest yet.”
“No,” Tricey shook her head. “No, that can’t be true.”
“This one wishes it weren’t.”
“Why are you telling me this?” she asked, unshed tears shining in her eyes.
“Because this one has to go away, and it doesn’t know for how long. If we don’t act now, it could be too late by the time everyone else notices.”
“But why does it have to be you?” Tricey asked. “Why do you have to go?”
“This one doesn’t have a choice. The disc Chris gave this one before he was…taken, is reaper technology.”
Tricey’s eyes widened and she took a step back from him.
“This one is scared too,” Anar said. “But if it has the ability to stop it from destroying this universe—and others—it will do whatever it can to keep you safe. And if that means this one does not return alive…then it won’t.”
“So, what are you saying about us then?”
Anar reached into the mech and pulled out a little black velvet box, hinged on one side. “This was to be your anniversary present, except this one forgot to bring it.”
“Anar, we said no presents.”
“You bought concert tickets,” Anar pointed out. “This one procured this.”
Slowly, he reached out and placed the box in her unresisting hand. “This one requests you do not open the box until one of two things happens,” he said. “Either when this one returns, or if you feel in your heart that this one has perished.”
Tears were flowing down her face now, and Tricey made no move to wipe them away. She stared first at the small box, then at him, and she nodded, clutching it to her chest. “We’ll talk when you get back.”
“That’s this one’s girl. Come on, This one will take you home.”
Tricey shook her head. “It’s all right. I need the walk.” She looked towards the entrance of the docking bay where an aged salarian was leading a group of men of various species towards them, some guiding crates along on hovertrolleys. “You have work to do.”
Cyrus waved at Anar and ushered the men into the cargo bay doors and they were soon installing weapon racks and unloading Anar’s armoury into the space Drimi had cleared with mercenary efficiency—which is like military efficiency but without the rules and regulations regarding facial hair. He was still in conversation with Otto, but stopped before Anar could hear what he was saying. A flicker of red light told Anar that Cyrus was scanning the ship with his visor.
“Interesting. Design incorporates salarian engineering with human. Also appears you have quarian stealth drive adapted from SSV Normandy design but missing key battle systems. Has potential. If I had studied engineering, I would help.”
“Respectfully: Mr Anar, Doctor Lennox has suggested I apply for the position of cook on your ship. Whom should I speak to in regards to that?”
Anar waved a tentacles. “This one would prefer you to just call it Anar. There are no titles among friends. This one suggests you speak to the Captain inside. His name is Sync.”
“I’ll get the armoury sorted and then investigate your med bay. Hope it’s state of the art,” Cyrus said with a sniff.
“You’re coming with us?” Anar asked.
Cyrus sniffed. “Maybe. I haven’t decided yet. Will let you know in a few minutes.”
“Captain, can I have a word with you? It’s important.”
They were back in the mess, and Cicepia had just returned from what Elias assumed was a grilling of Arkara’s friend Mridi. By the looks of things, nothing had gone well and the asari was now talking to the krogan in a low voice.
Sync looked up, his eyes puffy and red and his hand shaking slightly where he gripped his beer bottle. “Can it wait?”
“I don’t think so,” Cicepia said.
Sync sighed. “All right. I’ll meet you in the conference room.”
“Wow,” Mridi said when the two had left. “Does supercop always have a stick up her ass like that?”
“Pretty much,” Arkara said.
“Huh, takes all kinds I suppose,” she said. “And that man she left with is the captain you say?”
“Well, he’s pretty cute,” Mridi said. “And sensitive too.”
“Mridi. No. Just…no.”
“I’m just saying,” Mridi said, holding up her hands. “So you all are going off to save the universe I hear? Sounds like fun.”
“Universes,” Drimi corrected.
“Whatever,” Mridi said. “When are we leaving?
“I don’t know, that’s up to the Captain,” Arkara said.
“Okay. I’ll go and talk to him then.”
“Uh, wait,” Drimi said. “You’re planning on coming with us?”
“Of course, honey,” Mridi said. “Do you have a weapons and armour specialist on this ship? No? I didn’t think so. Just because you can point a gun at someone doesn’t mean you know how to take care of it.”
Drimi shook his head and picked up another beer.
Shortly afterwards, Cicepia left the conference room and headed aft towards the sleeping quarters, and Mridi rose to her feet, a determined look on her face and a datapad in hand.
“Excuse me, Captain Sync? I’m Mridi. Well, the other Mridi—” the conference room door snicked shut behind her.
“I’ve got some things to take care of,” Elias said. “See you later.”
Drimi waved him away and Arkara merely grunted, and set fire to her drink before gulping it down.
As he headed towards the common lounge, Elias turned on the video feed from the conference room, tuning in just in time to see Mridi bat her eyelashes at Sync.
“…thought I’d slip you my resume,” she said, bringing up a document on one of the many screens in the room.
“Oookay,” Sync said. “So how much of this is fake?” he asked.
Mridi’s eyelids stopped mid flutter. “I beg your pardon?”
“Did you just call me a liar?”
“No, no, honey. You do not get to call me a liar.”
Sync shrugged. “You’re Arkara’s friend, right?”
“Yes,” Mridi said, coolly. “Her best friend.”
“If she’ll vouch for you, maybe we can see what you’ve got.”
“Well, maybe I don’t want to work on this ship,” Mridi said. “It seems to me that you aren’t very good at treating your employees decently, maybe I should—”
“Whoa, whoa,” Sync said. “Who said anything about employing you? We’re just trying to stop the reapers from killing everything.”
“And? What about payment? Living expenses, parts, tools, wear and tear…”
“Pay? Why don’t you go ask Elias. He’s pulling the finances together for this adventure.”
“Elias? Who’s Elias?”
“You know, Elia’solor nar Ashru? The singer. He was in the mess just now.”
“No! You’re not serious.”
There was the swoosh of a door opening and Mridi’s voice echoed down the corridor. “Arkara!” she yelled.
“This fool man is telling me Elias is funding this mission? Is he for real?”
“Girl, you have been holding out on me and that is not cool,” Mridi said. “You and I girl. We’re having a chat after this about sharing.”
“Okay,” Arkara said, pouring herself another drink.
“Well,” Mridi said brightly, turning back to Sync. “I think we’re done here,” she said, and swept out of the room with a haughty grace that Rayne would have been proud of.
“Creator Elias, the asari’s estimated arrival time is ten seconds,” Pi said inside his helmet.
“Thank you, Pi,” Elias said, killing the video feed and settling down on a coach, pulling out his own datapad of technical specifications just as Cicepia stepped out of Arkara’s room, glancing around furtively. She froze as she saw him and then forced herself to relax, crossing her arms nonchalantly across her chest.
“Pi, do a sweep for new wireless signals will you?” Elias asked. “We might have to crack encryption too.”
He could feel Pi gearing up for an ‘are you sure?’, but Mridi was already sweeping into the lounge area.
“You,” she said, pointing a finger at him. “Are you the Elias? Don’t hold back on me now.”
“He’s an Elias,” Cicepia said, “I don’t know about the Elias.”
“Different universe, similar person. Better music,” Elias said.
Mridi gasped. “That…I mean…”
“I think there’s three of me,” Elias added.
“Oh…three of you?”
“Well, I haven’t met the other two yet, but I think so, yes.”
Her walk reminded him of the femme fatales in the black and white earth movies Corbin liked to watch, her hips swaying as she stalked forward. Keelah it was good to have an envirosuit in awkward situations.
“Anyway, I’ve been a big fan for a long time and I heard you’re the one who’s, ah…sponsoring this trip?”
“In a matter of speaking, yes.”
“First of all, I just want to say I’m very grateful for everything that you’re doing to save the galaxy and all, and I just wanted to show you my resume,” she said, holding out her datapad. “You’re going to need someone who can make sure you’re out in the field with the best weaponry and armour and the best mods available outside of proprietary research labs. Plus I have a degree in fashion, so I can make sure you’re at the cutting edge of style. Can’t save the universe without looking our best, now can we? Best foot forward, as I always say.” Her accompanying giggle was nervous, stopping abruptly as she pulled herself together, and her hands trembled only slightly as she handed over the pad.
A blue light flickered in his helmet. “Creator Elias, her heart rate indicates—”
“Please don’t,” Elias replied softly as he took the datapad and flicked through it.
“Very well her gal—”
“And I don’t want to know about her galvanic skin response either,” he added.
“Creator Elias, you have not been romantically involved with anybody in over eighteen months,” Pi said. “Physical and emotional intimacy is healthy for organics.”
“She doesn’t want romance, Pi,” Elias said. “She wants a fantasy.”
Mridi’s resume was more of a portfolio, with finished products, some technical schematics which included some new alloying techniques he hadn’t come across before. After a moment he was aware that Cicepia had walked over and was reading over his shoulder.
“Very impressive work…Mridi, yes?”
“Yes,” the asari said brightly. “I’m the pretty one.”
“So, I see,” Elias said blandly.
“Um, yes, so…I was wondering what sort of budget we’re talking about for something like this? If I were to sign on as your weapons, armour and modding specialist, what would be the hourly rate?”
Elias smiled and handed her his pad, helpfully pre-loaded with the contracts he’d already passed out to the others. It was a modified boilerplate from Jamak, with payment and sponsorship rates that were probably a bit on the low side and included the standard appearance waivers, but it had some beefed up merchandise fees as well as a privacy clause that Elias insisted was included in all of his contracts. That said, his contract also prohibited any footage or images of him outside of his envirosuit being published, but that probably wasn’t going to be an issue for anyone else so far.
“Payment depends entirely on the ratings, my dear,” he said as she took the pad.
A slow smile spread across her face. “I like the way you think,” she said. “Ooh, is this whole thing going to be filmed?”
“Yes it is,” Elias said, contriving to relay that confirmation with as much nonchalance as possible.
“Do we get to give confessionals and everything?” she said. “Because I’ve got some things to say about some people around here,” she said, glancing pointedly away from Cicepia.
“I’m sure that could be arranged,” Elias said, making a note to see if Jamak though that would help or be too cheesy. Then he decided not to mention them at all and hope Mridi forgot about the whole thing.
“Are these actually going to work?” Cicepia asked. “They look so…showy.”
Elias shrugged. “She’s better than me,” he said.
“Really?” Cicepia said, looking Mridi up and down, taking in the iridescent dress and three inch heels. “Well, I’m sure her services will be useful then.”
“Honey, you seem to be doubting my abilities,” Mridi said, placing one hand on her hip as she stared at Cicepia. “Do you have a problem with asari, dear?”
“Not at all,” Cicepia said. “I just didn’t take you for the technical sort, but if Elias thinks you’re as good as you say you are then I’m sure you’ll be an asset to the team.”
Mridi smiled at her, in an ‘aren’t we playing nice’ kind of way. “So these are your rooms, Mr. Elias?” she asked brightly.
“Oh no, this is the common room,” Elias said, making visual copies of the venting work Mridi had done in an attempt to increase thermal clip efficiency. “We’re all in smaller individual rooms leading off from here.”
“Oh. Wait, are they putting you in the same type room as everybody else?”
Elias shrugged. “We’re saving the galaxy, Mridi, we all have to make sacrifices.”
She sighed. “You are so noble, Mr. Elias, of course. So…I just sign here?” she asked, pointing towards the bottom of the contract.
“And fill in your contact details,” Elias said. “We’ve had to come up with very rough descriptors for each universe as well. Interdimensional law is a bit tricky, but we’ve already established credit chits cross universes remarkably well. I’ll send you a copy and forward the other to the production company.”
She smiled and handed the tablet back to him. “Well, I’ll just go get my things and be right back. See you soon,” she said as she left the common area, head held high.
“Do you think she saw the ‘not responsible in case of death’ clause?” Cicepia asked after she’d left.
“I hope so,” Elias said. “It was highlighted. And in bold.”