“Science never solves a problem without creating ten more,” – George Bernard Shaw.
Padok Wiks led them back through the main garden and up the large, central stairs that Arkara remembered from her last visit. They led up to the…the…how much of her memory was actually hers, she wondered. How much of it was am imprint from the original Khel Ghyal? How much was a fiction seared into her brain with careful manipulation of biotic fields? As the group passed the largest cloning tank she paused and pressed one hand up against the thick glass. Inside an older version of her floated in the bluish liquid, eyes closed and limbs hanging limply by her sides.
“That’s you,” Cicepia’s voice brought her out of her reverie.
Turning, Arkara saw the C-Sec officer standing behind her, the asari Rayne by her side. “No,” Arkara said. “I’m her.”
“No,” You’re both different,” Elias said from where we was standing on the bottom step. “She’s her, you’re you. Similar, but different.”
“How can you be so certain?” Arkara asked.
Elias shrugged. “Have you heard what I sing in this universe?”
“Don’t say that in front of Mridi,” Arkara advised as they started up the stairs.
“So what’s upstairs?” Cicepia asked.
“Cloning labs,” Padok Wiks said. “Scientists from Friends of the Galaxy.”
From the upstairs landing, the salarian led them through a decontamination scanner and into the cloning labs, which were clean, clinical and the delicacy of salarian design seemed slightly at odds with the the heavy blockwork of krogan architecture. Two rows of cloning tanks curved around the room, creating a double U shape that Arkara had heard was something like a horse shoe. Not that had any idea what sort of alien a ‘horse’ was. In any case, the space between the rows housed workstations, monitoring equipment and quiet research areas, and the empty space inside the U held a large conference table, where a dark haired human was sitting, the lines on his face serious and his eyes covered with tinted glasses in the glare of the fluorescent light. Unlike the scientists he wore almost military garb, with army cargo pants and a loose white t-shirt, covered in a heavy jacket with enough pockets and weight that she wondered if it was, in fact, military grade.
“Sir, apologies for intruding, but we have representatives from the Thek clan to see you.”
The human looked up, and the lines on his forehead deepened slightly. “A clone wishes to speak to me?”
“Yes,” Padok said. “She is the original clone,” he said, placing a slight emphasis on the word ‘original’.
“I only speak of clan business with the Chief,” the man said. “Where is he?”
“You’re looking at her,” Arkara said.
The human stared at her, his face impassive. “I’m sorry?”
“Thek Targev has been succeeded,” Padok said. “New Chief.”
“Is that so?” he said, putting his omni pad away. “What is it you wish to speak to me about my dear? Please make it quick, I’m a very busy man.”
Arkara walked right up to him, until her face was staring down at his own. “Let’s start with what you’re doing here?”
“Exactly what it looks like,” he said. “We’re trying to cure the krogan of the genophage.”
“By making us meek?” Arkara asked. “Taking away our fighting spirit?”
“That is a…side effect of the cloning process,” the man said. “It’s something we’re looking into.”
“A convenient one for Targev, then? And you?”
“The old Chief wasn’t overly concerned by it,” the man conceded. “I don’t have a strong feeling on the matter one way or another. If you are angry about their treatment by the clan then it would seem you’ve claimed your revenge for their plight already. Our contract with the clan is simple: we provide them with clones and they pay us for our services. We do not meddle in the affairs of the krogan themselves. We are, after all the Friends of the Galaxy, not its dictators.”
“And you’ve been doing this for how long?” Arkara asked.
“So your only interest here is credits?”
“Hardly. Friends of the Galaxy aims to make the Galaxy better as a whole. To help those who’ve been treated unfairly by fate or circumstance. Or other people. Like the krogan,” he said, waving his hand at the tanks. “I’m sure you can relate.”
“Why do you care about the krogan?”
“Why shouldn’t we? The rest of the galaxy may be keen to sweep the krogan under the rug until there’s another war, but we wish to provide them will the tools to save their people. How you use those tools is up to you.”
“You’re saving them by making their entire species meek and docile?” Elias asked.
“That was a unintended side effect—”
“That will be passed down through the generations from your clones,” the quarian continued.
“And they would prefer extinction?” the man asked. “The temperament of the clones is no different to that of the average human. Significantly different to the typical krogan baseline, I’ll grant you, but in my view that’s still survival of the species.
“And what is Cerberus’ interest in this?” Arkara asked.
A hush fell over the room as the scientists gave up even the pretence of work, and Book Chen was suddenly the focus of every ear in the room. “Where did you get that idea?”
“I have my sources.”
“Cerberus no longer exists,” he said, folding his arms. “Even if your allegations are true, why would it matter if I had ties with them in the past?”
“Because their ideals of human supremacy might be affecting your work,” Arkara said sharply. “Those side effects still not addressed for three years?”
“You’re starting to try my patience, Chief. Do you wish us to stop? Would you like to condemn your race to the ignominy of the genophage once more?”
“Oh, I intend to pull the plug as you say,” Arkara replied. “But I have other ways of fighting the genophage.”
“You want to close the facility?” Padok said, surprise evident in his voice. “We are not too far away from reaching minimum number of clones for species viability, even factoring in normal krogan aggression and mortality rates.”
“Very well,” the man said. “What do you wish to do, chief?”
“Take care of those in the tanks, but no new clones.”
“We have a contractual obligation to continue until we reach species viability,” Chen said.
“Is anyone good with contracts?” Arkara asked, turning to the group behind her.
“Absolutely,” Elias said.
“I’d like to take a look as well,” Rayne said.
Rayne and Elias withdrew to the far side of the conference table and started peering closely at the contract, and there was a flurry of whispered conversation that Arkara couldn’t catch. When the two returned, Rayne was smiling.
“Well?” he asked.
“Well, you’re wrong on two counts,” Rayne said.
“She can tell you to stop cloning,” the asari said. “Your contract stipulates you need to create as many viable females needed for species viability, yes. It doesn’t state you must use cloning technology to do it. But because your contract was made directly with Thek Targev and not with Thek Arakara—”
“She’s not bound by it,” Elias said simply. “She doesn’t have to pay you single cred, no matter what you do.”
The human pulled out his omni-tool and stared carefully at the text on a display. “Fair enough,” he said. “What do you propose then?” he asked, turning back towards Arkara.
Arkara’s earpiece bleeped as Elias’ voice filled her helmet. “You could kick them out and void the contract entirely, or renegotiate better terms—the contract is weighted heavily in favour of the FoTG,” he said. “As for actually curing the genophage…that’s up to you.”
“I’m not honouring that contract,” Arkara said bluntly. “If your scientists would like more work, I’d want the current clones cared for until they’re ready to be released and then…Elias, you had an idea?”
“I may be able to obtain samples of genophage resistant krogan tissue,” Elias said. “I believe a cure could be reverse-engineered from that, yes?”
Book Chen turned to the salarian. “Padok?”
“Uh, yes. Mr Chen. With correct samples, cure synthesis is quite possible. I would be curious as to your source, however?”
“I’m sure,” Elias said. “But that’s confidential. I can guarantee it will be from a willing volunteer and not obtained through coercion.”
“Very well,” Book Chen said. “If you provide a sample of tissue, we’ll work on a cure for you. Consider it a done deal.”
“After a new contract is drawn up with some more…balanced safeguards and assurances,” Elias said. “I’m happy to provide a template.”
“One more thing, Mr. Chen,” Cicepia said.
“Yes? Who are you?”
“Cicepia Altus. Are you familiar with the name Octavius Altus?”
“Sounds a bit familiar, why do you ask?”
“Just answer the question!”
Book Chen looked around at the rest of the people and then stepped back, thinking. “If memory serves that sounds like the name of a turian military operative responsible for killing a large number of Cerberus soldiers.”
“What happened to him? Did you cross paths with him? Is he alive?”
“He murdered my daughter. And no, he is not alive.”
“She was probably a Cerberus agent,” Cicepia said.
“And that matters why?”
“Did you kill him?” Cicepia asked, her hands wreathed in dark energy.
“We were at war,” Book Chen said. “If it makes you happier to think I killed him, then yes. I killed him.”
“Cicepia,” Elias said. “Wrong Octavius.”
“He still killed him.”
“And the you here was pretty dodgy too. Should we be imprisoning you for what she was attempting to do?”
“As far as I’m concerned, we’re even,” Book Chen said levelly.
“How dare you…”
Cicepia’s arm raised, but Rayne grabbed her wrist, and the air around them distorted and bulged and then stabilised. Book Chen pulled out a pistol. “Chief, is this really how you intend to start negotiations?”
“No, Arkara said, walking between Cicepia and her target. “It is not.”
“Then please keep your people under control.”
“But he killed Octavius.”
“Wrong one, if I’m understanding this correctly,” Rayne said. “And if you want revenge for that you can sit and stew on that for twenty years and come back to dish it out but I will not let you drag the Krogan down with you on it. I’ve invested too much here on Tuchanka to let that happen. Understood?”
Cicepia stared at the asari, then at Arkara and finally at the guns pointed in her direction. “Fine. Can I get out of here? I need some air.”
“There is a balcony overlooking the courtyard garden back through decontamination,” Padok Wiks said, hostering his pistol. “I would be happy to show you the way. Incidentally, regardless of what you think of Mr. Chen or Friends of the Galaxy, I personally am committed to seeing the survival of the krogan people. The genophage effects are ghastly; a blight on galactic history and needs to be fixed. I don’t know how to demonstrate this to you other than vocally.”
“Thank you,” Arkara said, as Padok showed the biotics out of the room.
“In light of these events I feel I would prefer not to write up the contract until the samples of tissue are provided,” Book Chen said once the three had left.
The quarian shrugged. “The genophage cure work would need to be contingent on the samples being delivered anyway. Are you sure you don’t want a contract for the care of the remaining clones? Without that there’s no guarantee of payment.”
Chen nodded slowly. “I’m happy to do that. I don’t believe that will take more than six months though.”
“There is still a portal to deal with,” Anar said. “Unless we do something all of this is will not matter.”
“This won’t take a moment,” Elias sending something over on his omnitool to both Arkara and Chen. “Acceptable?” the quarian asked.
“Fourteen day cooling off period?” Chen asked looking up from the scrolling text.
“You both might find something in the contract you decide you don’t like,” Elias said. “Basically, agreed rate of pay continues until delivery of the final clones on the standard growth timeline.”
After the contracts had been signed, Arkara nodded towards both of them. “All right. I have to take care of some clan business. We’ll go to the portal once I settle things with the shaman?”
Elias nodded. “We’ll be downstairs.”
In the end it was a relatively simple thing to get the Shaman installed as Chief in power if not in title.
“We’ll be wakening Khel Ghyal from stasis soon,” she said. “They won’t be able to make any more clones from her after that I don’t think. It will take a while, but perhaps if you choose to return you’ll be able to speak with her.”
“I’ll be back, Arkara promised.
And that had been that. Rayne had stayed behind to talk to the scientists, although not before giving her contact details to Elias and offering further assistance if needed. “It sounds like you’re into something big,” she had said.
“Thank you,” Elias had said, taking the number. “We’ll certainly let you know if we pass through again.”
“That wasn’t very enthusiastic,” Mridi had noted later.
“I’m not sure I trust her,” Elias said with a shrug. “Something was off there. I can’t put my finger on it, but something was off.”
The portal itself had been in the middle of a ruined wasteland, prowled by varren and the occasional klixen.
“No reapers?” Arkara said as they exited the tomkah truck they’d commandeered for the journey.
“This one was looking forward to some carnage,” Anar’s voice said from within his mech.
“It does seem too easy,” Elias agreed, even as the glowing red thread faded from view. “Not that I’m complaining but…it does seem rather anti-climactic after everything we just went through.”
“With apprehension: I do not feel we should jinx our good luck,” Otto said. “Especially given that we almost lost the Captain.”
The roar of engines overhead made them all look up as the shadow of the Endurance drifted over them. “Speaking of which,” Elias said, “time to go to Invictus…blue universe this time, right?”