“Tuchanka supports life…it’s got critters that’ll rip your guts out,” – Urdnot Wrex
From space, Tuchanka looked red and angry, with swirling storms of dust and sand, some of which were visible to the naked eye. The retrofitting of the Endurance had taken two days, and while Elias, Sync and Drimi had worked on those, Anar had gone with Cicepia to find Officer Shields, hoping they could convince the turian husk to join them on their mission, only to come up on a dead end. Apparently the Cicepia from the synthesised universe—or Green Cicepia, as they’d taken to calling her—had been campaigning to have Shields fired. According to Blue Cicepia, it appeared to be a combination of prejudice against synthesised husks and an attempt to increase her own power within C-Sec by scapegoating another.
“I don’t think I like her much,” Cicepia had said, her voice tight as they’d returned to the ship. They’d asked Elias to try to track him down through C-Sec’s network of surveillance cameras, but Shields had clearly known where they all were—and how to avoid them. More worryingly, all of Shield’s electronic presences, from social media right down to his banking, had been cleaned out, and nearly all traces scrubbed clean from the extranet. It had been a dead end.
Now they were orbiting the krogan homeworld, homing in on coordinates Elias had provided from his analysis of Mimic’s memory cache.
“What’s the error margin on those calculations?” Sync asked as he lowered the Endurance onto a sandstone plateau.”
“Twenty three point one four klicks,” Elias said after a moment’s pause.
“Can you narrow it down?”
“Now that we’re here, yes,” the quarian replied. “I can scan the area to locate the portal…just as soon as this sand storm clears up. About the best I can tell you at the moment is that it’s somewhere to the north.”
“In the clan compound?” Sync asked. “I’m reading a fortified settlement up ahead.”
“I don’t know,” Elias replied. “Which clan territory are we in anyway?”
“Thek,” Arkara said bleakly. “I can smell them from here.”
“Really?” Drimi said. “That’s some nose you have there. I can’t smell anything. Hey boss do you think I should check the air filters again?”
“Cool your jets biker dude,” Mridi said. “That was hyperbole.”
“Oh. Right. I knew that.”
“Arkara, if you know the clan, maybe you can talk to them?” Cicepia suggested.
“They want me dead,” Arkara said. “I don’t think I’ll get very far if I go in.”
“More than the turians?” Cicepia asked.
“Oh yes,” Arkara said. “With me it’s personal.”
“It could be worse,” Anar said. “You could be Salarian.”
“True,” Arkara said.
“We could just wait for the storm to clear, bypass the clan entirely and find out where the portal is,” Elias suggested.
“We should still scout ahead,” Arkara said. “Otherwise we’ll find ourselves waist deep in thresher maws and that’s only fun if you’re male. And krogan.” She glanced sideways at Otto, “And not raised on Dakuna.” It was the most words Anar had ever heard her say.
“This one will go,” Anar said firmly. “It is not afraid of thresher maws.”
“Really?” Elias asked.
“Perhaps a fingerling.”
With his blastshields up and helmet on, the sandstorm wasn’t much of a bother for Anar, although he hoped that none of the sand would get into any of the servos that controlled the arms and legs of the suit. The view was both impressive and monotonous. There was sand, stone, rubble, sand, stone and more sand, and while he caught occasional glimpses of the mountains or cratered landscape, the storm obscured almost everything. Only the blinking of his compass point told him which way to go. He pushed along what appeared to be a dirt road—or at least, a flat expanse of baked rock marked with tonka truck tracks—and soon found himself in the shadow of a walled compound, a lookout on top pointing a gun at him, a snarling varren pacing at his heels.
“Be careful,” Arkara’s voice sounded inside his mech. “The clan tend to shoot first unless you give them a strong challenge—or another reason to let you live.”
“You there,” the krogan yelled. “You wear no clan markings. Who are you and what is your business here?”
Anar had hoped that the walk up to the compound would have helped him work out what to say. It really hadn’t. Momentary lost for words, he grabbed at the first thing that crossed his mind. “Survival,” he said, remembering to turn on the krogan voice modulator just in time. Maybe he should pretend to be a Blood Pack merc.
“Here to barter,” Anar said. “You’re looking at the goods,” he said, and tapped his chest.
The krogan pointed his sniper rifle at Anar’s chest. “Why are you really here?” he asked. “Are you here to steal our females?”
A rumble in the distance saved Anar from having to answer, as a the roar of a powerful and well maintained engine rang in their ears. The point of the krogan’s rifle moved away from him, and Anar turned to see what appeared to be a brand new, sporty tonka zip across the landscape, racing through the sand and pulling up to the wall. By the time it arrived, the wind had fallen somewhat, and when the door of the truck lifted up like a wing, the human man who stepped out didn’t get an immediate faceful of stinging sand.
His hair was dark, but bleached in what Anar suspected was a dye job, and his teeth were even and the white that only came from cosmetic dentistry, according to the magazines that Tricey read. He wore shades reminiscent of an oil slick and a bright orange suit that would probably have stood out on any other planet’s surface. He held a small, leather briefcase in his right hand, and as he stood up, he squared his shoulders and grinned up at the krogan, who was now aiming its sniper rifle at him.
“Friend krogan! I’m here to interview you Clan Leader.”
The krogan cocked his head, and appeared to be talking into a communicator. With the gun off him, Anar walked closer to the gate, and Liam Vethaniel Musie threw a set of keys at him. “You there, take care of her. She’s barely two months old.”
For a moment, Anar stood still, keys in hand. Then he nodded. “Sure…sir. Absolutely,” Anar climbed into the truck and lowered the vehicle door just as the gates opened and the reporter was waved inside, Anar driving in slowly. He pulled into an empty space with other vehicles and stepped out, heading back to find the reporter. They were nosy bastards and if he was lucky he’d find out something worth knowing.
“This one has entered the Thek compound,” he said softly into his communicator.
“Thanks,” Liam said, tossing Anar a credit chit. “You want to make some extra creds?”
“Doing what?” Anar asked.
“You any good with a video camera?”
“He doesn’t like the camera drones,” Elias murmured. “Strange he didn’t bring a cameraman along.”
“Maybe he wasn’t allowed to,” Arkara rumbled.
“Th—I am familiar with the technology,” Anar said in response to the reporter’s question.
“Good,” Liam said, and handed him the briefcase before turning and walking towards the largest building in the compound. “Follow me then.”
Anar always found it took him some time to get used to using two hands rather than six tentacles, but he managed to juggle both keys and briefcase before trudging after the human, looking carefully around the compound as he did. The buildings were made of stone, plascrete and sturdy pre-fab modules. By the looks of it several generations of construction lay one atop the other, and he could also see scorch marks and the charred remnants of blacked timber on here and there. Some of the walls were pitted from gunfire, and throughout the streets, young krogan toddlers waddled, crawled and generally got underfoot. He lost count after he hit thirty something and felt a growing unease settle into his stomach.
“Arkara, were there a lot of children around when you left?” he asked.
“No. Why do you ask?” Arkara replied.
“This one is observing a large number of youngsters in this compound. More than this one thought possible given the genophage. They have stubby fingers. This one finds them mildly disconcerting.”
“The females are also very…docile, if you get what this one means.”
“Now you’ve gone from weird to unsettling,” Arkara said. “See if you can find out more of what’s going on.”
“This one is following the human reporter who hosted Citadel’s Got Talent. This one believes the human is going to speak with the Clan Leader.”
“Liam Musie just walked into the Krogan compound?” Elias asked. “Things must be going downhill if he’s taking jobs roving the galaxy.”
From several metres ahead, the reporter turned around “Come on, keep up, man,” he said.
“Coming sir,” Anar said, and picked up his pace.
The guards let them into the Clan Leader’s compound, where a particularly vicious looking krogan lounged on a rude throne of crumbling stone. Heavy scars were gouged into his head plates and his eyes were highly alert and fast moving, darting in immediately on the newcomers with a mixture of calculating cunning and arrogance. Reaching into a compartment, Anar pulled out a small vial and drank down the mixture inside, shuddering slightly at the taste. He’d seen that look before, and it was not one he had wanted to see again, on any species.
The room was more of a courtyard, or possibly an amphitheatre, ringed by towers in various states of ruin and containing a large statue of the leader himself, which easily rose three stories into the air, and was possibly bigger than the monument on the citadel.
“Thek Targev,” Liam said, and handed over a small piece of cardboard with a flourish. “My card.”
The seated Krogan took the card, glanced at it and threw it into a nearby brazier, where a fire was cheerily burning.
“Let’s get this straight, human,” Targev said, leaning forward on his throne. “I don’t know who you are. I don’t care who you are. You are here at my will, and you will report only what we want you to. If you don’t like that, I’ll deal with you accordingly. And I’m not exactly sure what that will mean. Every other squishy ‘news’ reporter has agreed with my terms. Got it?”
Liam looked up from where he had been inspecting his nails and flashed a charming smile. “Crystal clear. Shall we get started?” he asked. “This is my cameraman,” he said, waving towards Anar.
“And bodyguard,” Anar added, turning up the growl on his modulation software. Opening up the briefcase he pulled out the video camera. Turning it on, he pointed it towards the dais, and turned it on, trying to sync it up to his omni tool feed to the Endurance.
“What’s taking so long?” Targev asked. “Buttons too small for your paws?”
Liam turned and snapped his fingers. “Yo, uh, Charlie, you ready yet?”
“Nearly boss,” Anar said. “And it’s Rana, remember?”
“Sure,” Liam said, and then plastered on his best smile for the camera.
“Good morning galactic citizens! I’m here on Tuchanka reporting on an amazing development. Most of you are aware of the challenges facing the great and powerful krogan people, but it seems that one clan has found a way to beat the odds. I’m here with Clan Leader, Thek Targev of what will surely become the most powerful clan on all of Tuchanka. Tell me, Thek Targev, what exactly are you doing that is so revolutionary?”
“We have found a way to combat the genophage.”
“You mean a cure.”
Targev paused. “Yes.”
“That’s amazing. Are you going to share this cure with all krogan?”
Targev threw his head back and laughed. “Only the strongest krogan are worthy of this cure.”
“So, there’s an…audition process?”
Targev frowned. “The cure only works on females. If any female wishes to join clan Targev she will receive treatment for the genophage—if she passes our tests.”
“And what do these tests involve, exactly?” Liam asked.
“They find out when they arrive,” Targev said, leaning back against the back of his throne. “That is all I will say.”
“Right,” Liam said brightly. “Well you heard it here. Any krogan female willing to take a chance at fertility can come and join the Thek clan. This is Liam Vethaniel Musie reporting from Tuchanka—back to you in the studio, Ed. Got that, Rana?”
“Good. That was relatively painless,” Liam said, turning to the clan leader. “Thank you for speaking to me.”
Thek Targev grunted and waved them away.
Anar cut the feed and put the video camera away, following the human out of the compound and back towards the sports truck. “Good show, sir,” he said.
“You too,” Liam replied, handing him another credit chit. “You’re not a local boy, are you?”
“How’d you know?”
“Your armour doesn’t have the Thek clan markings.”
“Thanks for your help, Rana,” he said as he took the suitcase and got into his car. “Maybe I’ll see you again.”
“Maybe so,” Anar agreed.
“So I think we have a way into the compound,” Elias’ voice came through his speakers. “You know, assuming we want to get inside.”
“We do,” Arkara said firmly.
“Well, they say any female is welcome to go in for the cure.”
“They’ll recognise me,” Akara pointed out.
“Not in your armour,” Elias said. “I can also make you some contact lenses to change your eye colour. You can also use a voice modulator to make your voice sound different.
“We could just head straight for the portal and bypass all of this,” Cicepia suggested.
“No,” Arkara said. “Targev’s doing something to my clan. And I don’t like it.”
“Sure, sure,” Cicepia said. “I was just saying.”
“Bring Otto when you come,” Anar suggested. “You might need him to get past the front gate.”
“Can he fight?” Elias asked.
“Yes,” Anar said. “He can definitely fight.”
“Outside of video games,” Cicepia added.
“He hunts for game,” Anar said, recalling a chat they had had in game during a slow period. “He can shoot.”