Nov 26

Mass Effect Collision Chapter 20: Friends of the Galaxy

“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.
“Noted.”
“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.
“Three years.”
“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.
“How so?”
“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.”
“Ah…of course.”
“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.
“Elias?”
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?”

~*~

Return to Chapter 19

Nov 20

Mass Effect Collision Chapter 19: New Chief; Old Friends

“They have a Krogan, why can’t we have a Krogan?” – Cat6 dropout.

There was already a crowd gathered when Arkara strode out into the main compound. There were cries of ‘Where’s the Chief?’ and ‘What happened to the Chief?’ and one of the men behind her pointed towards her and said “She’s what happened to the chief.”
A murmur spread through the crowd and the women gathered around her. Some of the men seemed less than pleased with the turn of events but so far, no one was questioning this turn of events. As Otto stepped up beside her, she felt relieved to have at least one friendly face nearby.
“Last five years,” Arkara said. “What happened after I set fire to this place? And where is the shaman?”
The crowd looked at each other, none seeming to want to speak first, but then the voice of an old krogan rumbled up from somewhere deep within his belly. “Chief Targev took charge of the clan, after the fire, Khel.”
“Why do you call me that?” Arkara asked.
The Krogan looked confused. “Because…you are her? You do not bear the number of a clone, so you are the original.”
Arkara’s jaw tightened, but she let the comment pass. “And where is the Shaman?”
“She is at the cloning lab.”
“Take me there,” Arkara said. “Show me what Targev ‘achieved’.”
The hubbub and murmurs of the crowd rose as they Krogan looked at each other, and then one of the male warriors said “Follow us.”
“What about this trash?” Anar asked, dumping the unconscious form of Targev at Arkara’s feet.
“He may know what’s going on here,” Elias said, resting a hand on Arkara’s arm.
Looking down, she found the muzzle of the shotgun–Targev’s shotgun–that she held in her right hand was pointed directly at Targev’s head. “I want to see him dead,” she muttered.
“The Chief was saving us,” one of the male Krogan said.
“Through enslavement and cloning?” Arkara snapped.
“We don’t have another way,” one of the females said timidly. “We have a purpose.”
“If these preening pyjaks stopped killing each other—and us women—then we could find a better way, a better purpose.”
“Well, yes,” Rayne said. “What did you think I was doing here?”
“Throwing a concert?” Elias asked. “You always did well in Krogan space…if I recall correctly,” he added hastily. No one else seemed to notice the quarian’s slight slip of tongue.
“Well, yes, but the proceeds have been going towards genophage cure research.”
“And why would an asari help us?” Arkara asked.
Rayne paused. “Because I believe that every race has a right to make their own decisions and to live to their best potential.”
“And what if this is our best potential?” Arkara asked, sweeping her arm wide across the gathered krogan.
“I don’t believe that,” Rayne said. “And I don’t know who you are, but from what you’ve just said, I don’t believe you think that either.”
“So you support this?”
“A cure isn’t worth anything if there’s no Krogan left to give it to!” Rayne snapped.
The silence that followed was broken by a small cough. “There um, might be another option,” Elias said.
Arkara turned towards him. “I’m listening, Elias.”
“There already is a cure somewhere…else,” the quarian said delicately. “We’d just have to go fetch it.”
“You said the cure was distributed,” Cicepia said. “There was only ever the one dose.”
Elias shrugged. “So we find the formula. It would be around somewhere. Failing that a sample of cured krogan DNA would kickstart research here—it would become a process of replication and reverse engineering from a known solution.”
“Is that not universe tampering?” Anar asked.
Arkara snorted. “As opposed to everything else we’ve been doing?”
The hanar paused. “This one concedes you have a point.”
“It’s an option,” Elias said. “Or if you’re really worried about meddling we could just go close the damn portal and leave. Or not. We could just leave and let everyone take their chances with the…” he glanced around. “You know.”
Rayne stared between them. “I’m going to need the full story on that one. And you’re Elias, as in…”
“Parallel universe,” the quarian said, and his eyes glowed very briefly green before his mask flickered and the usual white glow Arkara had been used to shone through once more.
“I…see.” Rayne said.
“He’s stopped breathing,” Cicepia said from where she was monitoring Targev’s vitals.
“And Sync?” Arkara asked.
“The Doctor’s life signs are stable, Thek Arkara,” Elias’ drone said. “However I would recommend he gets medical attention in the next two point seven six hours.”
“Our ship’s too far away,” Cicepia said.
“I have a car,” Rayne said. “But I’d need someone to give me directions.”
“I’ll go,” Cicepia said. “You should go with Arkara,” she added to Elias and Anar.

~*~

The krogan led her and the others towards an irregular line of parked tonkas, Rayne and Cicepia walked off in a different direction, Sync’s body hovering between them on a biotic field.
The facility was as a squat plascrete bunker, built on the ruins of an old hospital and Arkara noticed there were both krogan and salarians with guns on the fortified roof. They passed at least three gun posts that she spotted, carefully camouflaged in rubble, debris and twisted metal, and when they pulled up to the structure itself, she could still see the scorch marks from the chemical fire that had raged when she’d set it ablaze half a decade ago. There had been a half hearted attempt to patch some of the damage up where there had been structural damage, and the new plascrete stuck out like a sore thumb against the pitted and weatherbeaten fabric of the old building—as did the new second story that sat atop the building, giving it a commanding view of the ruined city it sat in.
“Killing field,” Elias muttered as they drove up to the entrance. “All the fortifications face outward.”
Arkara grunted. “Looks like the sandstorm’s cleared up,” she said. “Any sign of the reapers?”
“No actual reaper signatures,” Elias said. “The portal’s to the southwest of here, some distance off the main road. We’ll have to get it on our way back.”
The tonkas drove through heavily guarded vehicular gate, and then they were led down a ramp into the facility proper. The inside smelled strongly of antiseptic, and there were a large number of salarians inside, most wearing labcoats. In contrast to the outside, the inside of the facility was clean and it appeared that a bit more care had been taken in making recent repairs. There even appeared to have been some attempt at painting, and a natural light well fell upon a rare garden of Tuchanka native plants. Salarian influence no doubt. The aliens stared at their group with some surprise, and she could see groups forming as the news sparked from quick thinking brain to quick thinking brain. There were a number of large, round glass tubes, each surrounded by shiny new machinery and filled with a bluish liquid. About half of the tubes contained the floating forms of female krogan, although none appeared to be moving.
A salarian dressed in a black soldier’s uniform approached them, carrying a datapad. “Hello and welcome. I admit I’m surprised to receive unscheduled visitors—and aliens at that. What brings you all here? You come with guards, so this can’t be invasion. We have no diplomatic ties to Palavan, Rannoch or Kahje. You can’t be connected to the Friends of the Galaxy, I would have heard—”
The krogan guards stepped aside and looked towards Arkara and the salarian started.
“Khel? No, you can’t be Khel, I passed Khel in tank just…” he half turned towards one the largest tank at the center of the indoor garden.
“Who are you, and what is going on here?” Arkara asked.
The salarian’s omni tool lit up and he appeared to be scanning something. “Padok Wiks, former STG. I’m with Friends of the Galaxy now, attempting to save the krogan race from extinction. That doesn’t make sense,” he said, staring at his omni tool. “No records of…” he looked up at Arkara. “You’re the first.”
“The first of what?”
“You’re the first clone of Khel Ghyal.”
“I saved Ghyal,” Arkara burst out. “I burnt this place to the ground to get her away from Targev!”
“I’m sorry,” Padok said. “I don’t have any records of that. I joined this facility two years ago. I would suggest you talk to Shaman, although you would need…permission to visit her from the Chief,” he added, glancing at the guards.
“Targev’s dead,” Arkara said flatly. One of the males nodded confirmation.
“I see. I wondered why you had his shotgun. Very well. Come with me.” The salarian hesitated slightly. “I would like to say I personally disagreed with the…quarters assigned to the shaman. The old Chief insisted. My professional recommendation is that she be removed from facility entirely. The quarters are wholly unsuitable and the precaution of having her here is unnecessary.”
“Take me to her,” Akara rumbled.
“Walk this way please.”
He led them through the garden, past the large tank containing what appeared to be another Arkara. Down a small corridor they came to a locked door. A metal, locked door with heavy bolts and a tiny viewing window, which was shrouded in cloth. On the other side was a room best described as a jail cell. It was small, cramped and although there was some comfortable furniture and pelts on the floor, the walls were rough and there was no natural light. At the far end of the room, an elderly krogan sat on a padded chair, reading a book printed on yellowing paper. A long chain ran from her leg to the wall. Looking up, she stared for a moment, and then pulled out a round spectacle, which hovered over her eye, caught up in a tiny mass effect field that appeared to be generated by the frame itself.
“Is that you, Khel? You are out of your pod. Did they release you? Have they made enough of our people?”
“Shaman? Why are you here? And why are you calling me Khel?”
The shaman squinted at her. “Come closer, child.”
Arkara strode forward, and the shaman looked her up and down. “Arkara? It’s good to see you, but you shouldn’t be here. You must be very confused.”
“What happened here? And why… can someone get her out of that leg cuff? Now!”
“Uh, I’ll get the passcode,” Padok said, just as Elias said, “Done.”
Arkara looked down to see the cuff clink open and fall off the Shaman’s leg, then at the quarian, who was putting away his omni-tool. “What? It’s not like that was an unexpected request.”
“Thank you,” she said.
“You hacked our security systems,” Padok said accusingly.
“You bought commercial software,” Elias said. “And haven’t installed patches for four years. A nine year old could get through your security. I mean, a server administrator username of ‘admin’? Come on.”
Leaving the two to bicker, Arkara turned back to the Shaman. “What’s going on?”
The shaman reached out to cup her face. “How much do you remember from when you left?”
“I remember the fire. You helped me and Khel to the space port. You got me off planet, said you had somewhere to hide Khel.”
“Yes, you helped stem the treachery of Tarak, but after you left his brother Targev led a hunt for you. He didn’t find you, but when he returned he was determined to continue with the research. He wanted to continue Dr. Lennox’s work. Oh. I’m sorry, you probably don’t remember who Dr. Lennox is.”
“Blind salarian. He claims he left and took all of his technology and research when he found Tarak trying to use it to build himself an army, not cure the genophage.”
The shaman sighed. “Ah, then things were worse then we thought. Yes, Dr. Lennox left and took everything, which infuriated Tarak, but I never knew why. You’d already been born at that point though. You were the first clone of Khel Ghyal. You were so close—the best of friends. You talked like each other, thought like each other and…shared some of her memories. You remember her first child, slain by the hand of Thek Tarak?”
“Yes.”
“She was named Arkara,” the shaman said with a smile. “You were named in her memory.”
“Why don’t I remember any of this?” Arkara asked, sitting down on the small cot.
“The salarian’s departure sent Targev into a blood rage. He rampaged through the female compound and…Khel was not battle ready. You were. Normally the one who slays the Chief is the next chief, but…you are a clone. None of the krogan saw you as an equal. Not after that Urdnot got his company killed on Uttuko to save the indoctrinated Rachni. So, you had to leave. I reached out to an old friend, an information broker named Shias Lazeen. She forged you a new identity, but to keep you safe, you asked for one more favour. You asked me to alter your memories so you would only know of yourself as Thek Arkara. You were never a good liar, and in order to keep your new life intact, you had to believe the lie. So I used biotics to imprint the new identity into your mind and you left.”
“So that’s why everyone keeps calling me Khel.”
“Yes, but you are your own person Arkara. You made it so through your own choices.”
“But what about here?” Arkara asked. “What’s happened here? If Cyrus left how is this place still running? Why are the cloned females so…docile.”
“Targev found a way to restart the facility with the help of a group calling themselves Friends of the Galaxy. They came to us, saying they wished to help the krogan. I don’t think they have intentionally sabotaged the cloning process, but well… even their best minds are not a match for Dr. Lennox. I think they’re more interested in being paid for their research. At least…” she paused. “Do not misunderstand me, the scientists here have treated me well and I believe they are genuine in wishing to help the Krogan. I’m not sure about the motives of their leaders—especially the ‘Chen’ human who calls the shots and represents the Friends of the Galaxy.”
“Is he here?”
“Usually. Unless he’s gone on one of his ‘business trips’. Be careful around him,” she said. “He used to be…” the shaman’s voice lowered. “He used to be with Cerberus.”
Arkara nodded and rose to her feet. “I will have to meet this Chen. But why were you chained up here?”
“Thek didn’t trust me,” the shaman said with a grin. “But he knew if he killed me he would have a more difficult time convincing the females to go along with his demands. So he keeps me here, and I am escorted to as I go about the rituals of our people. It is comfortable enough, for a prison, but I am isolated from the clan. I can at least keep conditions here comfortable for the women here. But once outside the compound I have no influence. I can’t say I condone what Targev has done outside these walls, but when the alternative is extinction…”
“Targev’s dead,” Arkara said softly, reaching out to take the shaman’s withered hands into her own. “Will you help me fix this?”
The shaman stilled and then nodded. “Yes child, I will. I believe it’s time for you to reclaim your clan.”
They sat a while longer, saying nothing. And then it was time to go upstairs.

~*~

Rayne strode through the doors of the med bay, and deposited Sync onto the main operating table. “Hey doc, we have a patient for you.”
From a nearby desk, Cyrus turned around. “Ah, I see. So you need my help now, do you?”
“Sorry, what? I thought you were the ship’s doctor?” Rayne said.
“I was talking to the other one.”
Cicepia sighed. “We’re dealing with the aftermath of your mess. Now are you going to do your job or not?”
“I’m on it, I’m on it,” Cyrus said, and walked over to the bed, and his visor flickered as it scanned Sync’s body. “I see, severe heat stroke coupled with near failure of cybernetic implants. Really should find fix for temperature extremes. Poor thing. No foresight,” he added, tapping Sync on one of the man’s pallid cheeks. “Seems to have cooled down now. The transport had air conditioning?”
“Yes,” Rayne said.
“Also used mud to absorb heat, I see. Still, I should be able to help.” Pressing a few buttons, Sync’s body was suddenly covered with tiny ice crystals as was Cicepia’s purple hood which she’d kept pressed against the gun would on Sync’s torso. “Bringing core body temperature back to normal parameters. You can release pressure now,” he added. “Cryo-stasis should stop surface bleeding. Will need to suture any major blood vessels though. Looks like shot went straight trough. No shrapnel at least. Less complicated.”
Cicepia stepped back, her hood frozen solid in her hand. She’d have to put it through the wash to get all the blood out.
“Have you found the cloning facility yet?” Cyrus asked as he started surgery. “I’m curious as to how it has held up—and who’s running it.”
“The others are on their way now,” Cicepia said, putting her hood into a plastic bag and going over the sink to wash the blood off her hands.
“Jerks wouldn’t let me in earlier,” Rayne said. “Hopefully I’ll get to go in now.”
“What was it like when you were last here, Cyrus?” Cicipia asked.
“It’s Tuchanka,” Cyrus said. “It’s hardly a five star resort.”
“What were you working on exactly?”
“Cloning,” Cyrus said. Suddenly he turned towards the Asari, who was holding up a tattered photograph. “Put that down, that doesn’t belong to you!”
“Sorry,” Rayne said, replacing the picture, and Cicepia saw it was a yellowing picture of a young human girl. “I guess I’ll go snoop somewhere else since you asked so nicely…jerk.”
“Go find the female asari,” Cyrus said as he turned back to the operating table. “I’m sure you’ll have a lot to talk about.”
“All asari are biologically female,” Rayne said with a frown.
“Oh are they? Of course, I suppose you’d know.”
Cicepia sat down on one of the beds, keeping out of the way as the Salarian moved around the table.
Moments later, Rayne stormed back into the bed bay. “What wasn’t I warned about this?” she demanded.
“About what?” Cyrus asked, without looking up.
Rayne pointed at Drimi, who was standing uncertainly in the doorway.
“I didn’t think he was an issue,” Cicepia said mildly.
“Not an issue? You do realise he makes Asari inbreeding look tempting right? No one should be allowed to be that hot.”
“Um…thank you?” Drimi said. “I think.”
“Drimi, you might want to come in.”
“No, I’m good here, thanks,” Drimi said, still staring at Rayne.
“Sync’s on the table.”
“What? Boss?” Drimi pushed past Rayne and went straight over to the examination table
“Use the disinfectant first!” Cyrus snapped.
“What happened?” Drimi asked as he washed his hands.
“He overheated,” Cicepia said. “Then he…looked like he was about to go on a murderous rampage and got shot. Badly.”
Drimi’s omni tool glowed as he ran a scan over Sync’s body, and then there was a whirr as he started loosening some tiny screws Cicepia hadn’t even seen when Elias had been looking over Sync’s medicals back at the Thek compount.
“What are you doing?” Cyrus asked. “I’m trying to work here.”
“You handle the flesh, Cyrus, I need to make sure his implants are still working. If they’re not, nothing you do is really going to help, now is it?”
“Hm. I suppose that makes sense. The blood vessels from the gunshot are sutured or repaired. I’ll pack the wound with medigel to aid healing. I’ll also prescribe some mild antibiotics as a precaution. What’s the status of his technical implants?”
“Some damage to the power circuitry,” Drimi said. “The shielding stopped most of it, but I’ll need to replace some of the neural interfaces. I’m not sure if he’ll be properly registering the implant feedback at the moment.”
Some minutes or hours later Cyrus was wiping down Sync’s skin with a yellowish liquid and applying gauze and bandages to his chest when Drimi put his tools away. “Done.”
“And it looks like pretty boy is waking up,” Cyrus said, and Cicepia saw the man’s good eye flicker.
“Sync,” Drimi said. “Sync, say something!”
“D-drimi? That you?”
“Yeah.”
“Where…am I?”
“You’re on the ship. You gave us a bit of a scare there.”
Sync grimaced, and tried to sit up, but fell back down against the table. “But I was on Tuchanka… it was hot.”
“You overheated,” Cicepia said. “Arkara had taken down the Clan Chief and it was… you walked like mech and looked like you were going to execute him.”
“Did I?”
“No. You froze and one of the bodyguards shot you.”
“I froze?”
“Someone hacked your systems and tried to override your cybernetic automated survival subroutines,” Drimi said. “I don’t think they were fully successful.”
“Elias,” Cicepia said. “I wondered what he was doing with his omni tool.”
“I acted like a mech?” Sync said.
“Yeah.”
“Damn it,” the human swore.
“It’s all right,” Drimi said hurriedly. “Were were able to patch you up and you’ll be as good as new soon.”
Sync nodded and looked up at all of them. “Thank you. All of you.”
“You’re welcome,” Cicepia said.
“Hey, where’s your hood.”
“Got dirty,” Cicepia said with a shrug.
“Right. Where’s everyone else? Was anyone else hurt?”
“Not badly, although I think Anar’s mechsuit will need some fixing. They’ve headed over to the cloning facility.”
“We’re still on Tuchanka? They’re still out there?”
“Yes.”
Sync pushed himself into a sitting position an would have swung his legs over the side of the table if Drimi hadn’t pushed him back down.
“No, you need to rest,” the asari said firmly.
“He’s right,” Cicepia said. “You overheated just being on that planet. You need to stay here.”
“Sedative?” Cyrus suggested.
There was a shriek from the back of the ship.
“What was that?” Sync asked.
“I’ll go check,” Drimi said, leaving the med bay.
“I presume the female asari just met each other.”
“Female asari?” Sync asked. There’s more than one. Wait, I remember…”
“Rayne T’kai,” Cicepia said. “She’s been surprisingly helpful considering.”
“Did she recognise Elias?”
“Yes.”
“That is interesting.”
In the distance they could hear Drimi’s voice raised to a yell. “You can’t have both Elias AND Rayne!”
“They’re a set,” Mridi’s voice came down the corridor.
“That’s not how it works. They were pitted against each other.”
“But they’ve clearly patched things up and now we can all hang out together…like friends.”
“Oh sure, ‘friends’. I’ve seen you staring at Elias’ ass.”
“It’s the suits. I mean, form fitting right?”
“So not the point!”
“Oh and what is the point then, hun?”
There was a smug pause. “I’m hotter than you are. And I don’t need a push up bra.”
“Well, I’m smarter than you and I don’t need to resort to nitpicking over clothing items to win an argument.”
“You? Smarter? Ha! No chance.”
“Really? Well, I guess I’ll just have to prove it then.”
“Okay. How are you going to do that?” Drimi asked.
“We’re going to do a tech off. We’ll both build something set to parameters set by…hmm… your boss when he’s back on his feet. Rayne and Elias can be judges.”
“You’re so on,” Drimi said.
Cicepia sighed. “Well, at least they’re getting along.”
“If you need to get into the facility, I suggest you go now,” Cyrus said. “Sync is stable, but I advise against planetside activity until countermeasures can be taken against extreme heat.” He paused. “I suggest you take one of the wonder twins with you.”
Cicepia sighed. “I’ll go talk to Rayne.”

~*~

Continue to Chapter 20

Return to Chapter 18

Aug 20

Mass Effect Collision Chapter 18: The Ones Who Fall

“It bears emphasising: our traditional ways of thinking have ignored – and virtually made invisible – the relationship between people and technology,” – Kim J. Vincente

Elias looked around at the people he’d been travelling with. A turian, two krogan and a hanar. Back on the Endurance, there were two asari and a salarian doctor. Which would have been great if the ship wasn’t over an hour’s walk away. And if Sync didn’t look likely to bleed out before they even got there. Applying a coat of medigel onto Sync’s wounds, stopped some of the gushing, but if something had ruptured…
In his visor, Sync’s body became awash with green lines as Pi activated Elias’ omni tool’s diagnostics.
“Creator Elias.”
“Yes?”
“Doctor Sync’s physical upgrades include both arms, one leg, one eye and portions of his torso. While his vital stats are deteriorating, we have a sixty four percent chance of saving him if we get him to a trained medic in the next thirty minutes. Alert: secondary survival subroutines present in the Doctor’s circuitry. Activating now.”
In the background, Elias could hear the footsteps of other krogan, doubtless drawn by the gunfire, and Rayne was pointing a gun at Thek Targev’s head. “He’s not dead yet, but if you get any closer he’s going to be.”
Out of the corner of his eye he saw Arkara move towards them. “He just got kicked in the quad as he richly deserves.” She was still holding the shotgun. Targev’s shotgun.
“You!” One of the krogan said. “What are you doing here?”
“Finishing what I started,” Arkara said firmly. “It looks like you’ve been busy since I’ve been gone.”
“How did you escape from the lab?”
A female voice which Elias recognised as belong to Tricey—or possibly Beatrice—came out of speakers that appeared to be in the middle of the human’s chest.
“Deactivating Synthskin,” it said as the holographic illusion that Sync used to clothe his augmented body in the illusion of flesh flickered out of view. From his sternum to his belly button was a smooth, diamond shaped metal plate, with a circular piece that sat just underneath where the human’s ribcage would be. From around the edges, angry red light leaked out, and Elias was reminded how Sync’s emotions were often betrayed by the light of his cybernetic implants.
“Emergency systems online,” Beatrice said, and the circular section popped open like a lid. “Error. Critical damage sustained. Manual start required.”
Elias flipped open the lid, looking into the small cavity and finding a bright red button. Heart pounding more than it had during the battle, he pushed it.
Immediately, the covering of the button opened, sections sliding away from the centre to reveal a lens, and a holographic interface appeared, projecting up over Sync’s body.
“Running diagnostics. Organic tissue failure. Heart function at point zero five percent. Recommend mechanical CPR. Yes/No?”
Elias poked his forefinger at ‘Yes’, passing through the hologram in his haste.
“Initiating mechanical CPR.” Sync’s chest began to rise and fall, his chest shuddering unnaturally, and a heartbeat monitor appeared on the holographic display.
“Look,” Rayne was saying. “I don’t care what the politics of the situation are—lower the guns or I’m going to start taking off your chief’s headplates. One by one.”
“I know who you are,” it was a youthful, male voice.
“And I don’t care.”
“You should have won!”
For a fleeting moment, Elias was annoyed, but then, Rayne had been very popular on Tuchanka. Besides, this wasn’t his universe, and given his counterpart’s taste in music, maybe she should have won. A looming shadow interrupted his thoughts and Elias looked up to find Otto standing there, holding a ceramic vessel of water.
“With Regret: I was seeking water to help the Captain. It appears I am too late.”
Cicepia grabbed the water and ripped a piece of fabric from Sync’s shirt. Wetting the rag, she lay it across the man’s forehead, and then levered a crumbling piece of stone from the dias, revealing the cool earth below. “No, you’re not,” she said, pouring the water into the cooler, lower soil and smearing the resulting mud over his extremities. “Help me cool him down.”
“Mechanical CPR failure,” Beatrice said matter of factly. “Suggest endocardial defibrillation. Yes/No?”
Elias slapped both Otto and Cicepia’s hands away from Sync’s body and hit ‘yes’, and the man’s body spasmed as voltage coursed across his heart once, twice, three times. There was a pause and Sync’s body jerked again, and a slow, steady beep on the heart monitor coincided with a shallow breath.
“Heartbeat restored. Running diagnostics.”
“Hey guys,” Rayne said in the background. “I’m going to need an airstrike at these coordinates—”
Elias looked up and the standoff was still going, with Arkara and Anar pointing guns at the three male krogan who had entered the clan leader’s compound.
“Wait, wait,” the young male said. “We don’t need no airstrike.”
“Are you sure?” Rayne asked, her omnitool still orange and glowing on her wrist. “Because you’ve still got guns pointed in my direction and I don’t like being shot. If I’m going to die, I’m at least going to take you with me.”
The younger krogan nudged the warrior next to him with his shoulder. “We pick new clan leader this way,” he said.
“Or you can become krogan barbeque,” Rayne said. “I sort of like that idea…mmm…barbeque.”
“The new chief is the krogan who defeated the old chief,” the older warrior grumbled.
“Ah,” Rayne said brightly. “I think you’re in luck there.”
Beatrice’s voice pulled Elias’ attention back to Sync. “Arterial blood gas collected.”
The holographic screen showed a table, which flickered accusingly at him.

 

pH 7.28
PO2 98
PCO2 89
HCO3 24

“Displaying suggested treatments.” Three further options appeared on screen: epinephrine, HCO3 and 0.9% Saline, each with an ‘Apply Y/N’ selection toggle next to it.
“What’s that mean?” Cicepia asked.

~*~

“What does all that mean?” Elias asked Corbin as he stared at the datapad by the side of his bed. “You know, I’ve realised that for all that quarians have weak immune systems, we rely a bit too much on pre-programmed diagnostic tools when it comes to our health.”
The human smiled, the corners of his eyes crinkling as he turned the datapad so that Elias could view it more easily. “Those are just your blood gas readings. It tells me whether or not your body is getting enough oxygen to function—see the PO2 reading? That’s a measure of dissolved oxygen in your blood. The PCO2 reading is a measure of the dissolved carbon dioxide in your blood.”
“And what’s the P stand for?”
“Pressure.”
“But the pH is just the…the…acidity measure?”
“Yeah, it is,” Corbin said. “You know, I can’t actually remember what pH stands for.”
“And seven point four two is good?”
“Well, it turns out that humans and quarians have similar biology, leg shape and proteins notwithstanding,” Corbin said. “Normal pH is seven point three five to seven point four five. You should have seen your stats when you first got here though. CO2 readings were through the roof.” He paused for a moment. “Actually you probably didn’t want to see that.”
Elias stared down at the small numbers on the datapad. CO2 was reading thirty seven, which appeared to be good. “So what about medication? Has it been hard getting dextro first aid supplies?”
“Not for this,” Corbin said, tapping the screen with a stylus. “It’s just the proteins in our bodies that are different. Chemistry is chemistry regardless of species and there’s no proteins in medical grade saline solution so that’s useful galaxy wide…well…maybe not on volus on account of pressure, but you’re no trouble at all.” The human smiled, showing even white teeth and Elias couldn’t help but smile back. Not for the first time he hoped he had enough credits to cover his medical bills.

~*~

“His blood has too much carbon dioxide in it and for some reason is too acidic,” Elias said. “The CO2 probably built up while he wasn’t breathing. Epinephrine. That’s adrenaline, so yes. Saline will help given he’s lost blood and the bicarb should counteract the blood acidity.”
They watched as the numbers flickered and changed, pH creeping higher and CO2 creeping lower until both flickered into green.
There was a loud crack of bone on bone and Elias looked to see Arkara headbutt the largest of the krogan warriors.
“Gather the clan,” she said. “I want answers.”
She swept out between them, not waiting to see if they followed. After a moment the two larger warriors followed, but the smaller one sidled up to Rayne.
“Can you um, sign my shotgun?” he asked.
With a smile, Rayne pulled out a thick marker and signed over the silver sideplate of the gun, along with a picture of a cat.
“Thank you!” the krogan said as he hurried out after the other two. “I’m going to sell this on the extranet for lots of credits!”
“At least a thousand or you’re being ripped off,” Rayne called after him. “That kitty face is rare!”
“No, she hasn’t.” Pi’s voice sounded softly inside Elias’ helmet.
“Hasn’t what?”
“Undergone synthesis,” Pi said. “This is not the Rayne we know.”
“Mmm,” Elias said non-committally as the asari walked over.
“How is he?” she asked.
“Stable,” Elias said. “But we need to get him back to our ship. He needs medical attention from someone with a better understanding of human medicine than me.”

~*~

Continue to Chapter 19

Back to Chapter 17

Aug 02

Mass Effect Collision Chapter 17: Ethics in Science

Oh, better to die to a thresher maw,
With shotgun-blasting-roaring-roar,
Than to play ambassadorial games,
with the blood of Shiagur in her veins

– Mordin Solus

“Ah Captain,” Cyrus said when Sync brought him up on his omnitool. “Maybe you can sort this out. I suspect your ship ‘engineer’ may not not worthy of the title. My med bay door has been stuck for two minutes now and I’m fast running out of cookies.”
“This one would like to remind you that there is a rack of cookies in the kitchen,” Anar said. “This one saw them earlier today before leaving the ship.”
“Which would be great, if I could get to the kitchen!” Cyrus snapped.
“Drimi’s working on that,” Sync said.
“In the meantime, perhaps you could help us with a few things,” Cicepia said.
“Yes, perhaps you can,” Anar said. “Otto can you pass the cookies this one asked you to bring along?”
Taking a peanut butter cookie from the krogan, Anar started eating as noisily as possible, and Arkara shook her head.
“You know, Protheans used to eat hanar. Said they were crunchy. I have a recipe here. Always wanted to try it.”
“Before or after your historical course of flies?” Anar asked.
“Ha ha,” Cyrus said. “In all seriousness Captain, I demand you send someone more competent to deal with this situation. The Med Bay is clean room. I would like it to stay that way.”
“Sure,” Sync said. “We’ll get that door open as soon as we get some information from you.”
“Ah,” Cyrus said. “So the door being locked is not a malfunction. I should have guessed. I’m surprised you did not simply ask first.”
“It’s a precaution,” Sync said. “Normally I would, but I love my ship, and I’m not about to set you loose on it after what we’ve just found out.”
“And what’s that?”
“The krogan say you’re the one who gave them the cloning technology they’re using in an attempt to beat the genophage,” Elias said.
“And what if I was? That was shut down a long time ago and—”
“It’s still running,” Elias said.
“What? That’s impossible. I took all machinery and notes when the Chief decided to misuse the technology. He wanted an army, not a cure. No krogan could have started the facility up again.”
“Arkara, would you mind showing Dr. Lennox where you are?” Elias asked. “Do a quick tour of the building.”
“Interesting,” Cyrus said, scratching at his temple as Arkara showed him the ladies with her face. “Someone has dug up my work. Implications unsettling. The cloning technology was…imprecise.”
“In all seriousness, this one is surprised you tried to help the krogan,” Anar said. “You’ve never mentioned it before.”
“To what point?” Cyrus asked. “I failed. I hoped for a better resolution.”
“When did you do this? This one finds it hard to believe Eclipse authorised this.”
“They didn’t,” Cyrus said. “They just put me in a position where I could steal cloning technology from Cerberus which I used here.”
“We need to get inside and shut down that facility,” Anar said.
“And how can I help you with that? I haven’t been back to Tuchanka in years.”
“Dig out the facility blueprints,” Elias said. “We need to find a way in.”
“I can send them over, but this is Tuchanka. Unless there’s a hole in the wall there is only one entrance to facility. No secret doors, no hidden passages. Will send over the file now. I trust that will be sufficient to have my door unlocked. I also want two dozen macaroons. No. Three dozen.”
“Proudly: I can make those.”
“One other thing,” Elias said. “If they are using your technology, what’s the best way to shut it down? You know, aside from a bomb or airstrike.”
“Pull the power or destroy the generators,” Cyrus said promptly. “Bearing in mind doing so will kill any clones growing in tanks at time.”
“Ah.”
“We’ll deal with that when we get there,” Arkara said. “Was your facility located in the clan compound?”
“No,” Cyrus said. “Given your current coordinates, the facility was off to northeast. I can send you exact location, but there’s no guarantee the krogan would be using same place.” He sniffed, “They’re traditionalists, so it’s entirely possible, but potentially a waste of time.”
“We’ll have to deal with the Targev either way,” Arkara said. “He’s not going to let us out without a fight.”
There was a ping on Anar’s omni tool. “Schematics sent. I recommend caution. I destroyed all local copies of my research and wiped all computers before leaving with the hardware. Only way for facility to be restarted is with Cerberus intel. Many possibilities. Mostly bad.”
“Thanks Cyrus,” Sync said. “I’ll get your door sorted.”
“And there really are more cookies in the kitchen,” Anar said.
“We’ll talk later, Anar,” Cyrus said. “Or not. I might just lace your next meal with something interesting. I have some research on mindfish active compounds that need testing.”

Arkara left the dormitory just after dawn, along with the other women, and met up with the others outside. The temperature was already climbing towards scorching, and even with the cool of the night Sync seemed to be in trouble.
“You need to drink some water,” she told him.
“Ran out,” Sync said, keeping to Anar’s shadow. “Let’s just go, all right?”
“Sure. Where’s Otto?”
“Not here,” Cicepia said.
“We need to find him,” Arkara said, but the turian laid a hand on her arm.
“We don’t have time,” she said. “If we don’t see the Clan Chief now, we’re risking a fight with all the krogan warriors here.”
“I’d like to see them try,” Arkara muttered.
“I wouldn’t,” Elias said.
Arkara grunted. “Where are your guns?”
“This one has them on a rack in its mech,” Anar said, “along with your armour.”
“I don’t think I can put it on now,” Akara said, glancing around at the stares of the male krogan. “You’ve got my assault rife, Anar?”
“Yes.”
“Then let’s go. You’ll have to do the talking once we’re there.”

Targev’s throne was just as she remembered it—heavy, crumbling and sat on a dais ringed by towers that had probably once been part of the defensive walls of a fortified bunker. Whatever roof had covered the area had been ripped off years ago, and now only protruding lengths of rusted metal suggested that there had once been a structure overhead. The giant statue of himself behind the dais was new, although unsurprising. It was hewn out of rubble, and Arkara fancied she could see the rough, blocky joins where piece had been cobbled together. Shoddy work, even by krogan standards. Targev himself lazed on his throne, one leg thrown carelessly over an armrest. He was flanked by two bodyguards, and Arkara saw the flash of metal in one of the towers above.
“Two krogan the the towers and two o’clock and ten o’clock,” Elias’ muttered softly as they walked into the centre of the room “Also one behind us at four o’clock.”
“I’ll deal with him,” Cicepia said quietly. “These collars are unlocked, right?”
“Just yank them off whenever.”
“What took you so long?” Targev said impatiently. “You arrived yesterday.”
“She underwent the rite of purification,” Anar said. “Taking a new clan is not something done lightly.”
Targev grunted and turned towards Arkara. “And what’s your name?”
“Our female is mute,” Anar lied quickly. “She does not speak.”
“And how did she become mute?”
“She’s always been mute,” Anar said. “I think it makes her more appealing. You don’t need to speak to have babies.”
Rising from the throne, he strode over towards her, eyeing her as he might eye a prized varren. “She certainly looks strong,” he said. “She seems…familiar somehow. Where is she from?”
“Another tribe.”
Targev turned his glower towards Anar. “Which one?”
“One you don’t know.”
“I know all the tribes, clanless scum,” Targev said and slammed his forehead into Anar’s mech. Arkara tensed as Anar’s helmet rotated nearly a full one hundred and eighty degrees.
A thick oppressive silence descended as everyone stared at the krogan who by rights should have fallen to the ground with a broken neck. Reaching up, Anar twisted his helmet back into its normal position. “This one’s kid hits harder than you,” he said.
Targev roared, and went to headbutt Anar again, when Arkara barreled into him, yanking his shotgun out of his hands and pointing the weapon at him. Behind her, she heard the the now familiar hum of Cicepia’s biotics and an exclamation from a now airborne krogan, and another tumbled down from the tower wall, landing on the floor with a bone crushing thud. The crack of bullet fire rent the air and shots punched their way into Anar’s mech and carved new scars into the rubble pile Sync had ducked behind.
“Hey turian lady, do more of that!” At the back of her mind, the voice was familiar, but Arkara shoved it aside and fired the shotgun at Targev’s head, only to have him duck out of the way and lash out with his foot, sending her stumbling backwards, right into the sights of one of his bodyguards, who had his rifle trained on her. The guard squeezed the trigger and the thermal clip ejected into his face, a hiss of superheated air blasting outwards. Finding her feet, Arkara glanced over at Elias, who had ducked down behind Anar and was tapping away at his omni tool. He gave her a thumbs up and then grabbed both his sniper rifle and his sub machine gun as Anar’s suit opened up.
More gunfire rang in the air and she felt a shot graze her shoulder, and she roared, more in anger than anything else and rushed forward, using the butt of the shotgun to knock Targev upside the head, and heard shot hit one of the nearby bodyguards, releasing the smell of pepper, chilli and something hotter. The bodyguard sneezed, which was promptly followed up by a second sneeze and a third as more of the spices entered his nasal cavities. As the krogan shook his head to clear his nostrils—or waited for them to shut down—a field of blue energy crackled across Targev’s armour, causing it to buckle. A spray of blood splattered her face as Anar unloaded six shots in rapid succession into Targev’s chest, and the clan leader keeled over, gasping.
Glancing around, Arkara saw only the other of Targev’s bodyguards was still in the fight. The krogan in the tower behind them was still struggling in the grip of Cicepia’s singularity and the third warrior had been pulled helplessly into the air by another biotic field, only to fall to the ground moments later, a bloody hole punched through its helmet.
She felt the cool touch of medigel settle over her shoulder, and looked over to see Sync beside her.
“Thanks,” she said.
He nodded woodenly, and she could see his face was flushed and his synthetic implant lights were glowing an ugly maroon. She thought she could just make out a voice repeating the phrase ‘Critical heat levels detected. Engaging survival mode’, but as she raised the shotgun to fire at the still remaining bodyguard, she saw the doctor step forward, his pistol in hand and aiming down at Targev’s skull. It would have been a point blank shot. It would have blown the man’s brains out. Sync moved as a robot, and then he paused, a burst of electricity crackling over his body, and she glanced towards Elias, who had his omni-tool back up again. Then a burst of gunfire sounded and she saw two holes punch their way through Sync’s chest. The human hit the ground like a sack of meat, and while the return fire from Anar brought down the krogan it appeared they were too late.
The mopping up was clinical—Elias finished off the floating krogan with a shot from his sniper rifle and Arkara used Thek’s shotgun to down the man’s last remaining bodyguard. As the dust settled, Cicepia was already trying to staunch the blood flowing from the doctor’s wounds.
“How is he?” Elias asked, running up.
“Bad. I think it punctured a lung.
“Is he…”
“No,” the turian said. “But his systems are failing.”

Back to Chapter 16

Apr 08

Mass Effect Andromeda: Is it homophobia if…?

So I’ve been playing Mass Effect Andromeda blind. And I’ve been intending to upload that as a Let’s Play. And yes, I play gay men where possible because after spending nearly twenty years pretending to be straight I don’t see why I should have to do it in a video game. Bioware, as a studio has been one of the video game creators at the forefront of representation, and Mass Effect Andromeda is the fourth instalment of their flagship sci-fi series, and the second game in that series to include gay, lesbian and bisexual romance options. Bioware’s fantasy flagship, Dragon Age, has had gay, lesbian and bisexual romance options included in all three games.

Although records have since been scrubbed from the internet, it is an open secret that both Kaiden and Ashley in the original Mass Effect were originally written as bisexual, with romance tracks for both male and female Shepards, down to their lines being partially voice acted. This eventually came full circle in Mass Effect 3, where they became, once again, romance options for Shepards of either gender. So why was the content cut? Time seems unlikely, since most of the content was already there and shipped, and the official reason for the lack of gay male representation from the developers was “we didn’t have any gay men on the team, but one of the sound engineers is a lesbian so we have the asari”. The asari, of course, are a monogendered alien race that appear to be attractive females to any dimorphic sentient species in the milky way, and pretty much play directly into the heterosexual male fantasy of two hot women getting it on, but it’s not two women – it’s a woman and a monogendered alien. The excuse of “we couldn’t find a single gay man anywhere to talk to in the studio – or the city the studio was located in” rings hollow, as did the idea that somehow, having one lesbian allowed them to keep Liara as a female Shepard romance option, but not Ashley.

Then we had Dragon Age 2, a game with faults, and the dudebros got freaked out by having a guy hit on them, and Mass Effect 2 followed with a suspicious lack of any gay male romance options at all. In short, the history of the Mass Effect franchise has been one of exclusion, and frankly, homophobia, whether for reasons of marketing or the developers being deliberately or accidentally exclusionary. Given the lack of representation in Mass Effect 2 and constant fan interest, accidental exclusion seems unlikely.

Mass Effect 3 was better. And it seemed like vindication that Mass Effect was finally moving it a more inclusive direction akin to the Dragon Age series. There were still issues – such as in the Citadel DLC where Shepard and Kaiden go upstairs after Kaiden cooks a steak dinner – and if you play as MShep, it’s obvious that they’ve animated FShep, and then played them on MShep’s body – because clearly gay men react to foreplay as women, right down to assuming they have breasts. It’s a tiny moment, about five seconds tops, but it’s…indicative of a lack of caring. A notion of “this is good enough for gay men and those men and women who play them in a video game”. And with Mass Effect Andromeda, this appears to have continued despite a change of project leads. I’m not sure if it’s completely fair to Bye Felicia Casey Hudson, or if he was just the poor schmuck who had to defend the business decisions to make Mass Effect a playground for the straight male dudebros and them only, but well, community anger does tend to gravitate to the man in charge. And if nothing else, he doesn’t appear to have fought that decision.

And it wouldn’t be an issue, really, if Dragon Age hadn’t continually kept showing how it could be done well. Honestly, it seems to me that Dragon Age is where Bioware takes risks and experiments, and Mass Effect is their safer, mass market juggernaut that’s more carefully controlled, but after the representation in Dragon Age Inquisition, I had high hopes for Andromeda, especially when the developers confirmed that they were including queer chracters and they were happy with the balance of options provided.

The Internet disagreed.

And really, I’m disappointed. Really disappointed. Feeling betrayed might be closer to the truth of the feeling, but let’s be honest, Bioware doesn’t owe me a great gay male romance. They don’t have to write one that is of the same prominence, depth and character as the romances they write for straight men, or women, mostly straight men. But they implied that’s what they were making. Or maybe they didn’t. Maybe when they said they were happy with the balance they’d struck with the romances, they were happy with the heterosexual male romance options being the most detailed, the most nuanced, and everyone else can fuck off because the heterosexual male romance was the only one they really cared about. And given that gay men didn’t get any depth, or squad banter, or mission dialogue and the least screen time and fade to blacks more consistent with Jade Empire than Mass Effect 3 or Dragon Age Inquisition, I can’t help but think that for the Mass Effect Andromeda game developers to be HAPPY with the balance – they have to be homophobic.

Whether that is actively homophobic and trying to work in a company that isn’t and they’re actively working to make the gameplay experience worse for gay characters, or whether they’re just clueless straight men who think that by having a ‘gay character’ around they’re being inclusive along the lines of separate but equal the way that America pretended was racial equality for a long time is open for debate, but they have to be one of the two. There is no way they could genuinely be happy with the balance of the romance options if they actually cared about equality for sexually diverse people and the representation of those people in their game. If that were the case they’d have created a game that shipped at a point which didn’t need the promised ‘Improvements to male romance options for Scott Ryder’, coming over the next two months, to quote GM of Bioware Aaryn Flynn.

While they’re at it, they seem to have promised to improve the hamfisted treatment of their (presumably one) visible trans character—again, something that wasn’t needed with Dragon Age Inquisition shipped. That development team just got it right. So why can’t Mass Effect?

Why is Bioware satisfied with producing exclusionary sci fi games, but strives for equality in its fantasy games? Why does Bioware accept homophobia, whether latent or active, in its Mass Effect development team? Why after four games has it been unwilling or unable fix that singular issue in its Mass Effect development team? Why should I pre-order any Mass Effect game if it’s going to lie to me in its marketing now? Mass Effect is a great universe and the only shooter I’ve ever really loved, even if I had to wait three games before its development team decided people like me were allowed to visibly exist. And sure, they don’t have to do that – lots of games don’t. But lying about how progressive they are to get the dollars is really not cool.

An argument in progressive circles at the moment is that outrage is great and makes us feel better (heck I’m writing this for catharsis so that I feel better), but if we want people—or game studios—to get better, we have to let them. The issue is that after four games, my patience is running a bit thin. And I don’t see why I have to wait ten weeks for the game I was promised I was going to get out of the download. And now I’m torn, because my immediate choices appear to be stop playing the game, including my Let’s Play and hope the promised patch will actually deliver something better than the heteronormative bullshit that whoever okayed the Andromeda storylines seems to think is ‘sufficient’ for people who play anything other than a straight man in their game. It might not. It might still be crap, the way the non-heterosexual sex scenes are still heterosexual animations played on different bodies that don’t actually move the same way. Or I could play the unpatched version and then HAVE to play a second run to see the (hopefully) better content. And maybe the game has enough replay value that I’ll be okay with that. Maybe it won’t. Either way, I shouldn’t have to make that decision. It shouldn’t be acceptable for a triple A studio to ship a game that forces its players to make that decision. Not because I’m demanding it, or other players are demanding it. It shouldn’t be acceptable because in the society we have, and the one that Bioware is saying it supports, it should be unacceptable on the basis of its own Quality Assurance.

And I’d like to skip this bullshit and get to the point where I’m living in that world. That fantasy world that’s more compelling than anything I’ve played in Mass Effect Andromeda so far. Honestly, until that happens, I don’t think I’m going to get very far in my Let’s Play. In fact, I’m tempted to stop playing until I get that better content. Or maybe I should demand a refund and refuse to give them my money until they deliver on the balance they apparently promised.

And next game, I think I’m going to wait until I see whether they do deliver before I hand over any cash.

Feb 20

Better with Bacon – Touring the Blogosphere

Recently, I’ve been popping up all around the internet doing guests posts as part of a blog tour for my new Novella, Better with Bacon. The story itself follows David and Patrick: two best friends who have the chance to deepen their relationship. There’s just the question of Patrick’s ex showing up in his life. His very pregnant ex.

Better with Baconis is now available for at Dreamspinner Press, so head over and grab it now.

If you haven’t found all my guest posts, be sure to follow me on twitter, and you can also check out the links below:

I’m also aware that there are going to be several day 1 reviews coming out, so expect me to be sharing those with you as well!

Better with Bacon

Genre: Fiction
Sub-Genre: Contemporary
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

When Patrick’s long-term girlfriend Li Ling dumps him just as he’s working up the nerve to propose, he ends up drunk on David’s couch—and later in David’s bed. Although initially reluctant to pursue anything beyond a one-time drunken tryst, David throws caution to the wind during an intimate dinner, where the two men also discuss Patrick’s dream of entering the food industry. Just as the friends-turned-lovers are settling into their new romance, Li Ling calls Patrick—she’s pregnant.

Convinced the announcement spells the end of their love affair and a return to their platonic friendship, David flees to Sydney to escape his heartbreak. But upon his return to Melbourne, David discovers the situation hasn’t gone the way he’d expected. There might still be a chance for David and Patrick’s dreams to come true if they can forgive each other’s mistakes and move forward.

Available From:

Feb 20

Mass Effect Collsion Chapter 16: The Dormitories

“Hard to see big picture behind pile of corpses,” – Mordin Solus

Getting into the compound had been easier than expected. After cautioning Otto about his speech patterns, they had set out, the storm dying down enough that sand wasn’t an issue. The voice modulator had helped them talk their way through the front gates, but Arkara was surprised the others had gone along so quickly with the gate guards comments.
“And these aliens are your servants?” he’d asked. “You’ll have to chain them.”
“I’ll deal with them once we’re inside,” Elias had said as the krogan threw down some electronic locking collars with long chains.
Sync was visibly suffering in the heat of the afternoon, but had waved off any offers of assistance.
The layout inside the compound hadn’t changed, and Arkara didn’t need the map Elias generated from his scans of the area to know that the market was in the south western quadrant near the warehouses and the main living areas were in the east. The large dormitory style buildings to the northeast were new, but they were built of stone as reinforced plascrete just like the older buildings. Anar’s mech strode towards them as she took in the number of females and children that were evident in the camp, but the women sat quietly or walked with their eyes looking down, shrinking back whenever one of the men walked past.
“This one is glad to see you all again,” Anar said, even as Cicepia yelped.
“Stand still,” Elias muttered. “These locks don’t respond well to wireless commands.”
“They have a wireless interface?” Cicepia asked.
“No, but they have an electromagnetic field,” Elias said. “If I can get the right opposing fields nearby I should be able to trigger them to unlock.”
“Or you could just re-program them,” Sync suggested.
“Not out in the open without being obvious, I can’t.”
“Do it later,” Arkara said. “We need to go speak with her,” she added, and walked up to one of the females, who was seated on a bench rocking an infant in her arms while several youngsters played on an sturdy playground nearby.
“Why her?” Elias asked.
“Because she’s closest and not under armed guard,” Arkara said.
The woman was dressed in civilian clothing, with a structured robe, hat and veil in an off white colour with red embroidery, and cringed away when Arkara tapped her on the shoulder.
“Sorry,” Arkara said. “I didn’t mean to startle you. I just wanted to know what sort of processing you go through for this cure—and what are the tests they put you through first.”
The woman lowered her eyes and clutched her baby to her chest. It was clear that she understood the question, but for some reason was unwilling—or unable—to respond.
“What have they done to you?” Arkara asked, her eyes narrowing.
The woman looked around, glancing sidelong at some of the nearby males, who were regarding her with some interest—and a watchfulness that Arkara could only describe as threatening.
“Otto, come over,” Arkara said through her communicator. “Make it look like you’re asking the questions.”
The cook walked forward, bringing the others along give the leashes weren’t very long.
“With understanding: What can I do to assist?” he asked.
“Just stand there and try to look imposing,” Arkara hissed. “And stand between her and those males to block their view.”
Otto bristled, loomed forward and folded his arms. “With Anger: You must keep your hands to yourself and know who is boss.”
The female stared at him for a moment, uncertain fear warring with amusement on her face.
“It’s okay, he’s with me,” Arkara said. “We just want to know what’s going one here.”
“I’m not allowed to say what happens during processing,” the female said, and Arkara was shocked to hear her own voice being spoken back at her. She heard Sync gasp and stared at the other woman, noticing that she had Arkara’s amber eyes. If not for her helmet, the other woman could well have thought she was looking into her own face.
Arkara took an involuntary step back, nearly bumping into Anar, who was standing just off to her right. “What have they done to you?”
“Find us in the dormitory after sundown,” the female said glancing towards the large, new building complex. “When there are less of them around,” she added meaningfully.
“I’ll need a face veil,” Arkara said. “I don’t normally wear one.”
“The men insist,” the woman said softly, and Arkara didn’t think she’d ever get used to hearing herself. It was bad enough listening to recordings of her own voice. The woman got up and walked over to a building, returning shortly with a pile of cloth that she pushed into Arkara’s hands before walking off towards the playground.
By now, the sun was sinking low on the horizon. “We should find somewhere to sleep for the night,” Arkara said to the others. “I need to find out what’s going on here.”
“Was that…you that we were just talking to?” Sync asked. “It sounded like you.”
“Looked a bit like you too,” Cicepia observed.
“Cloned tissue?” Elias suggested.
“I don’t know,” Arkara said. “And I can’t begin to guess.”
“This might make it easier to blend in though,” Cicepia said.
“Yes.”

They holed up for the night in an empty storage shed, and the cool of the desert night gave them all some respite, especially Sync.
“You need a better cooling system if you’re going to run around with those cybernetics,” Elias said as he popped the lock on Sync’s collar.
“I’ve never been somewhere this hot before,” Sync said. “How do the geth manage heat like this?”
“Venting,” Elias said. “And thermo regulation built into their platforms. It’s not dissimilar to the one I use in my own suit.”
“But I thought your people created the geth before your immune systems weakened—before you needed the suits.”
“Sure, but we still had work suits,” Elias said. “These modern suits are just refinements of the technology we already had.”
Sync nodded, and munched on a muesli bar that Anar had distributed to the levo-protein people from his mech. “I’ll have to look into that once we’re back on the ship.”
Elias nodded and walked over to Arkara, holding out a two clear hemispheres that were as delicate as flower petals. “Here,” he said. “I don’t know if you’ll need them now, but I made you some contact lenses. They might help if you run into someone you know.”
“Like the Clan Chief?” Arkara said, picking them up. They looked tiny in her large hands, and felt strange going into her eyes, but it felt even stranger being out of her armour. She wasn’t used to going without it in enemy territory, and the Thek compound was definitely enemy territory.
“Like the Clan Chief,” Elias agreed, pulling up his omnitool and making a few adjustments to something on her new omni tool. “All right, I’ve linked you up so that you’ll be able to relay video to me and—” Elias stopped as a presence loomed in the doorway—the guard from the gate was staring in at them. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Anar slip into the back hatch of his mech, and was thankful the hanar had parked so that the hatch should have been out of sight from the doorway.
“Has your female presented herself to the Chief yet?” he asked.
“She is resting,” Anar’s augmented voice came. “She will present herself in the morning.”
“So she is weak?”
“She is to perform the Rite of Purification tonight,” Anar said. “Does Clan Thek take a change of clan fealty so lightly as to forget the rites of all Krogan?”
The guard bristled. “You dare insult clan Thek?”
Otto charged up then, and smashed his forehead into the guard’s helmet, sending the smaller male stumbling backwards. “Do not speak to my lady in such a tone!” he said with a fair approximation of emotion in his voice.
“You dishonour Thek with your presumption,” Anar said. “Tell the Clan Chief our female will present herself in the morning.”
As the guard scrambled away and Anar closed the door, Otto rubbed at his headplate. “Painfully: Ow.”
Arkara laid a hand on his shoulder. “Well done,” she said.
“With slight regret: That was a rash action. I am not sure why I did it.”
“Well it seemed to work,” Arkara said with a smile. “I’d say there’s a fair bit of krogan in you after all.”
“With feelings of turmoil: I am not sure if I have just disappointed my parents or made them proud.”
“I think you made them proud,” Arkara said, and Otto blushed. Then she slipped out the door and headed over to the women’s complex.

As she joined the women as they were herded into the dorms, Arkara noticed that a lot of them had the same eyes as her, although not all of them. Once inside, the women were able to remove their veils, and Arkara found that many of them had her face. Indeed, she could see that there were only about six different faces amongst the twenty or thirty individuals who were tucking in their children. She also noticed that each one had a number tattooed on her right wrist. Looking around, she approached one of them that looked like the woman she’d seen earlier.
“Did I speak to you earlier today?” Arkara asked.
The woman stared at her in confusion. “No,” she replied in Arkara’s voice.
“Show her your hands,” Elias’ suggested quietly. “You don’t have a number.”
“Can I get all of you together please?” Arkara asked. “I need to speak to you—all of you.”
The woman backed away. “Why? What are you planning?”
Arkara held up her hands, trying to appear as non-threatening as possible. “I just want to work out what they’ve done to you all—and why you look and sound like me.”
The woman peered at Arkara’s wrists and her eyes widened. “Are you the original?” she asked.
“What do you mean original?”
“You shouldn’t be here,” the woman said. “If they find out you’re here they’ll kill you.”
“That’s nothing new,” Arkara said with a shrug. “They’ve been hunting me for years.”
“We came—well, some of us came—from you.”
“I left years ago,” Arkara said. “How is this even possible?”
The woman looked down at the floor. “We are not true krogan,” she said, shame dripping from every word. “We were made from you.”
“Made? You mean…created?”
“Yes.”
“How? Why?”
“They wanted more fertile krogan, so they made more.”
“Who did? Who is this ‘they’?”
The woman looked around, almost instinctively it seemed, and then lowered her voice. “Mr. Cyrus,” she said. “He’s a salarian.”
“Anar? Did you know about this?” Arkara asked through her omni-tool.
Through the video link she saw Anar drift into view, stuffing the mouth under his belly with cheez puffs. “About what?”
“Elias, do you have any idea what this means?”
“It sounds like they’re cloning fertile females—including you,” Elias said. “And I suspect these tests are simply a ruse to find more fertile females to clone. But more to the point—Sync can you isolate Dr. Lennox in the med bay?”
“On it,” Arkara could hear the human’s voice even though she couldn’t see him. “Hopefully he’s still in there.”
“Is that what they’re doing?” Arkara asked. “They’re not helping women overcome the genophage?”
The clone shook her head. “I believe they’re only looking for fertile females. But if this is what it takes to survive, we have to do it.”
“Not this way,” Arkara said. “There has to be a better way.”
“Change of leadership?” Cicepia suggested.
“Cicepia’s right,” Elias said. “The technology itself isn’t bad. Just perhaps the way it’s being used.”
“Do we have the right to impose a leadership change just because we find the customs here objectionable?” Anar asked.
“To end the enslavement of these women, I’ll act first and debate later, thanks,” Cicepia snapped.
Elias sighed. “We still need more information—and our best source is sitting on board the Endurance.”
“Are you sure it’s the same Cyrus?” Anar asked. “This one has never heard of Cyrus being familiar with cloning technology.”
“He’s salarian and a medical doctor,” Elias said. “Chances are good.”
“But he’s on the ship,” Anar protested.
Arkara turned back to her clone, who was staring at the video from Arkara’s omni-tool in fascination. “Is Mr. Cyrus here? On Tuchanka?”
“I don’t know,” the woman said. “I was made years ago.”
“How many years ago?”
“Three years.”
That was two years after Arkara had left Tuchanka, burning down the Thek science facility in the process. It made her wonder if she missed anything. Through the video screen a stream of chatter could be heard.
“Drimi, keep Cyrus locked in the med bay,” Sync said.
“Uh, sure thing boss—um, Sync,” Drimi’s voice was softer. “What’s this about?”
“I’m not sure yet. I’m isolating the med bay systems so he can’t override the lockdown. Keep an eye on things up there, okay?”
“As far as this one knows, Cyrus seeks redemption for something that happened during his time with the Eclipse Mercenary gang,” Anar said. “Both of us did things we aren’t proud of in those days.”
“Then I’d say his past just caught up with him,” Elias said. “Once he’s contained we can ask him about it.”
“This one would appreciate that,” Anar said. “Cyrus has always been good to this one, although he does tend to be impolite when directly questioned.”
“With surprise: Doctor Lennox has always been very kind to me,” Otto said.
“You bake.”
“I think we should deal with Cyrus after we’re done here,” Cicepia said. “One problem at a time.”
“But if this is the same Cyrus, he may have information as to what’s been going on here,” Elias pointed out.
“Assuming he’ll tell us—can we trust him?”
“This one has found him trustworthy in the past,” Anar said.
“Look, we have two options,” Elias said. “Either we get information from Cyrus and possibly find a back way into this cloning facility, or we go straight through the Clan Chief. We might have to deal with him anyway, but it could get bloody. I don’t know about you but I’m not keen to go up against a battleline of charging krogan.”
“I want to take out Targev,” Arkara said. “He’s a lousy pyjak just like his brother was. I just don’t know if we could walk out easily afterward.”
“It’s your call, Arkara,” Sync said. “These are your people.”
“Politely: if the women in that building are clones of you then they are your family,” Otto said. “They are your sisters. What do you think is best for them?”
“To be free to live their lives,” Arkara said promptly. “To be their own persons. That’s not going to happen under Targev’s watch.”
“This one believes the Clan Chief will use his numbers to take over Tuchanka once enough krogan are born,” Anar said. “You are looking at the future of the krogan if we let things be.”
“I don’t know,” Elias said. “That’s a highly limited gene pool. You need more than six females to repopulate a species even with redundant systems like the krogan have.”
There was a pause as everyone stared at the quarian.
“What? I was looking into livestock farming methods as potential data to bring back to Rannoch.”
“Thoughtfully: I doubt the minds behind this enterprise are thinking scientifically.”
“No,” Elias said. “I’m also wondering whether they built in other traits into the cloning process.”
“Such as?” Arkara asked.
“Um…pliability?” Elias suggested. “None of the women have your feisty nature.”
“Targev probably wanted people easier to control,” Arkara said.
“That trait could get passed on to their children,” Elias pointed out. “Between inbreeding and a change in temperament, I’m not sure we’re looking at the salvation of the krogan race.”
“There’s something to be said for constantly replenishing numbers though,” Anar said.
“It’s not going to win against reapers,” Elias retorted.
Arkara sighed. “No, it isn’t,” she said. “Let’s talk to Cyrus.”

Continue to Chapter 17

Back to Chapter 15

Dec 04

Mass Effect Collision – Chapter 15: Tuchanka

“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.
“So?”
“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.”
“That’s weird.”
“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?”
“Yes, sir.”
“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.”
“Oh.”
“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.”

Continue to Chapter 16

Back to Chapter 14

Nov 19

Mass Effect Collision – Chapter 14: Collision

“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.”
“Really?”
“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.
“What if—”
“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.”
“Seriously?”
“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.
“I’m sorry…”
“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?”
“Uh huh.”
“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?”
“Well—”
“Did you just call me a liar?”
“No, I—”
“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.”
“Very serious.”
There was the swoosh of a door opening and Mridi’s voice echoed down the corridor. “Arkara!” she yelled.
“Yeah?”
“This fool man is telling me Elias is funding this mission? Is he for real?”
“Yeah.”
“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.”

Continue to Chapter 15

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