A List of Great Reasons Why Sexist Jokes Aren’t Bad

Picture of a woman with blue hair and sunglasses

Image by danielsampaioneto on Pixabay

Life has been busy and this blog has been quiet. I’ve been working on the sequel to Dragonslayer, pitching a new series of books and seeking out new opportunities, so I haven’t really posted much here.

But I saw a thing on Facebook and so I figured I’d write an article listing some very good reasons why Sexist Jokes aren’t bad.

 

This concludes the article.

Thanks and see you next time.

Matt

Dragonslayer Blog Tour

The thing about Blog Tours, is that I can’t help feeling like I’ve already put everything worth saying about the book I’ve just written into the book. And so I don’t know what to write about when it comes to going into other people’s spaces. So I asked a number of my fellow authors for help, and got a lot of good advice. So very big thanks to Nicki J MarkusSue BrownAnne Barwell, Laura Lascaro, Anna Butler and especially Kelly Jensen,  for the advice, ideas and offers to guest in their digital spaces. As you can see I’ll be visiting a fair few of them.

So, for this blog tour, I’ve decided to provide you all with some extra special things I’ve never put out anywhere else. A look at how Dragonslayer began, a brand new short story set over a century before the events of Dragonslayer and not part of the novel, and a recipe inspired by some of the fantastical food from the fantasy world of Twitterlight. There’s also going to be several chances to win an ebook from my backlist, so if you don’t own them all already and aren’t going to run out and buy them all right now, you can follow the tour to try your luck!

18th September           MM Good Book Reviews – The Origin of Stories
20th September           Sue Brown Stories – Why Fantasy?
25th September           Nicki J Markus – The Offering
26th September           Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words – Catch up with Matthew Lang
27th September           Love Bytes – How to Cook Tarantula in 7 easy steps
28th September           My Fiction Nook – The Winged Traveller Guide to Aer Goragon
1st October                    DSP Blog – Do Haerunwoln Have Pouches?

Once I’ve recovered from all of that, I’ll also be stopping by Anne Barwell’s site, Drops of Ink for a post launch chat.  I hope you’ll join me for at least some of the tour, if not all, and if you haven’t already pre-ordered your copy of Dragonslayer DSP Publications, head over to or your favourite online bookstore to reserve a copy now. You’ll find a full list of shop links on the Dragonslayer page on over here.

Thanks for stopping by and see you next time!

Mass Effect Collision Chapter 29: The Halls of the Dead

“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.” – Albert Einstein.

When the door slammed behind Arkara, she jumped, and immediate turned on the light on her omni tool, dimly lighting up the mounds inside the room, and the absence of her companions. The light was wan, and flickered, casting more shadows than revealing details of objects. Her foot pushed down on something soft, and she pulled back, crouching down to see what it was.
The body was smaller than her foot, with a naked form and only tiny, bony nubs on its head and back gave any indication of the headplates and hump that might have grown. Its soft hide was covered in tiny scales and was a mottled yellow and green. It’s eyes were an opaque, cloudy white and it was still damp with amniotic fluid. Bits of membrane and eggshell clung to it and as she glanced around, she realised that’s what all the mounds were made of – thousands upon thousands of Krogan stillborn. Off in the distance, a white-blue light flickered, and it looked like there was a corridor on the far side of the room, off beyond the mounds of the unborn dead. Picking her way across the room was a slow process, as she moved carefully, shuffling her feet forward rather than crush the corpses around her.
When she finally reached the hallway, she found the light was coming from a cloning tank, set into a recess in the wall, and the either the power to the tank was on the fritz, or the the light was going. Staring up the hallway she saw all of the tanks had flickering lights, and in each tank was a clone of Khel Ghyal, each wearing her face. Their face. As she approached the first tank she stared into the bubbling liquid, the clone’s eyes opened and stared at her through raging red pupils. The clone’s expression didn’t change, but it held her gaze with its own, unblinking eyes. It followed her as she stepped back and on towards the next tank. Each clone’s eyes opened and glared at her in silent accusation and keeping a wary eye on them, almost made her miss the ceremony at the end of the hallway. It was a makeshift dias, with an archway made of welded steel with rose vines growing up around it from pots at is side. There were rows of empty chairs and a broad shouldered, male Krogan in a formal black and blue suit standing before an Asari in a grey dress.
“Well, hey there Arkara,” Mridi said. “Fashionably late to your own wedding?”
Krogan weddings were non existent affairs, really. The genophage had made mating a matter of racial survival and genetics, not love or feelings. Those krogan who found love in the arms of other races—typically asari—would adopt whatever rites they had, but this? This wasn’t normal.
She took a hesitant step forward and felt the swish of fabric against her legs. Looking down she found herself in an embroidered red silk brocade dress, the gold thread glinting in the light of her omni-tool. It was what the krogan of old had traditionally worn according to Ghyal. Although whether that was during wedding ceremonies was debatable, and Arkara either hadn’t had a lot of time to read, or had forgotten what she’d read prior to leaving Tuchanka for the first time. Then the groom turned, and she saw the half-destroyed face of Thek Targev, his smile wrecked from the shotgun blasts that he’d taken to the face. When he turned towards her, arms open in greeting, she could see the grey of Mridi’s dress through the hole in his skull.
Turning, Arkara bolted back down the corridor of cloning pods. She’d take the stillness of the unborn over the walking corpse that was Targev any day.
“This can’t be real,” she muttered as she put her head down and bolted, only to slam into something soft and rather squishy.
Panting, she turned and saw Mridi, still in her grey dress and sprawled out on the floor, rubbing at her head. “Ow, girl, what was that all about? Where are you running off too?”
“This isn’t right,” Arkara said, staring at the asari. “How’d you get ahead of me?”
“I’d like to know when you become a wall exactly?” Mridi asked, pulling herself to her feet.
Somewhere in the background, fans started up, and she could hear the whisk-thud of industrial fans pulling the air past both of them. In the walls, the lights on the cloning pods flickered out, leaving them lit only by the eyes of the clones and Mridi’s biotics. Only biotics didn’t really give that much light. There was a sheen and a glint arond the biotic controlling the mass effect fields, sure, but for all that they didn’t produce a lot of light. Arkara blinked, and suddenly the clones and tanks were gone, and she could see Anar, wobbling slightly as he thrust into the air, tentacles splayed before him threateningly.
“Make your move,” Anar said slowly.
“Make my move? Why would I need to do that?”
Anar started to circle, using his anti-grav thrusters to keep a wary eye on his adversary.
“This one isn’t very good at fighting walls—but even walls make mistakes eventually. So make your move.”
“Anar, I’m not wall. I’m a Krogan. You should know this.”
Anar paused, and he shuddered and relaxed. “Oh,” he said. “You’re a lot harder than this one remembers.”
“Um…thank you, I think.”
“You’re not like the other hallucinations,” Anar said. “But you can go away now.”
“What? Other hallucinations?”
Anar drifted forward and poked Arkara with a tentacle. “Oh. Please forget this one mentioned that.”
Somewhere in the room behind her they both heard Elias’ frustrated voice. “No, that’s Cicepia, she’s Turian.”
“We’ll talk about it later,” Arkara said. “It sounds like the others need our help.”

~*~

“Yeah,” Red Cicepia said. “You kinda look like Rayne, but I know she can’t muster the force of will for a Singularity, and she didn’t walk into this junker of a ship, so…yeah. Logic says it’s you. Plus you know, who else would be weak enough to fall for whatever this is?”
“Talk if you like, I’m not falling for it,” Cicepia said, and focused her mind, creating a warp field that would weaken make it easier to attack her red doppleganger. Just as the blue-black glow settled around her form, she disappeared.
“Where did you go?”
“Uh, it’s a tactical cloak, sweetie. You know, that little thing I mentioned I fixed recently?”
“Quit that patronising attitude.”
“Cicepia, dear think. We all came through the door, but disappeared right? We’re all here. We’re all still here, but we’re seeing different things. I gave your daughter a music cube with a tracker in it. We tracked her to your parents—no wait, your in laws’ place? And then we came here.”
Green Cicepia suddenly looked at her, with an odd look on her face. “What is your problem this time? Can’t handle yourself not being perfectly blue?”
“Oh,” Elias’ voice came. “And now you’ve got Sync.”
In the background, Cicepia heard the slow swish of fans, and blinked. The blood that had pooled at her feet drained away to reveal a dusty metal floor, and she saw Sync floating in the air in her singularity. She didn’t see Elias but then, she wouldn’t, based on what he’d said. Snapping her fingers, she dropped the singularity, allowing her friends to fall to the floor.
Sync looked up at her and scowled. “You want to come onto my ship, and beat the shit out of me?”

~*~

Closing his eyes, Sync switched his vision to infra red. “Okay everyone I can see if we don’t want to use light—” he started, and then realised he was alone. Ahead of him were two long rows of tables piled with stuff, the one on his left piled high with artificial limbs, ranging from solid plastic mannequin parts and wooden hinged arms through some of his early models of titanium and omnigel alloy and a few that were covered in synthskin, including a fully articulated foot. Off to his right he heard an organic thumping sound, and glancing at the other row of tables he saw organic parts. There was brain, intestines, lungs and his vision was drawn to a heart, somehow still beating.
“This guy is a sick bastard.”
“Do you like my work?” a familar voice asked.
Sync pulled out his pistol and aimed towards the voice, his vision tracking a human man who was walking towards him, a heavy pistol aimed directly between Sync’s eyes. He was dressed in a lab coat, the front stained with some sort of brown.
“Al! Where is it?”
“Dane?”
“Where’s my ship, Al?”
Sync’s mouth fell open, “I—”
“I thought we were friends. I really did. Alabond Finston and Dane Anderson would solve the enigma of death itself, but then you…you thieving bastard!”
“Dane… you got to understand man, I needed to save her. I needed to save my wife and I needed your machine to do that and I needed a way out and the only one that I had any chance of getting away in was the ship.”
“My ship! Not ‘the’ ship! My ship!” the pistol jabbed forward, and Dane’s finger tightened on the trigger.
“Okay, okay, your ship. Your ship was the only escape route I had.”
“Escape? You escape and leave me holding the bag? Do you know what you put me through? The questions, the ethical implications the… how could you do this to me, Al? How could you do this to her?”
“Dane, I promise I’ve changed, man. I’ve met some people. They’re good people and they’re really smart. I can fix this. I can get you your ship back once we’re out of here—I can. We just have to find my friend’s daughter first and—”
“I don’t believe you.” Dane’s face was drawn in sadness, anguish and resignation. “I don’t believe you.”
“Dane, I—”
“I’m going to count to three,” Dane said. “And if you don’t tell me where my ship is before then, I swear to God I’ll blow your brains out.”
Something clicked inside Sync’s head. Dane was human. Dane didn’t like his experiments in Cybernetics. Dane was a non-cybernetically enhanced human in a pitch black room with no light. “Dane how can you even see me?”
“One.”
“No really, how can you even see me?” he asked as he carefully took a step to the right. Dane’s arm didn’t move, and his gun continued to point into nowhere.
“Two.”
Sync stepped quietly backwards and to the side, raising his own pistol to point at his onetime colleague.
“Three,” Dane’s head turned to look straight at him and his hand moved so quickly Sync didn’t have time to react as the gun fired and there was a searing pain in his head and then nothing.

He awoke with a start, his face stuck to the pages of a book and a crick in his neck. He must have fallen asleep in Beatrice’s room. Her dress was still there, displayed behind glass, and he glanced down at the green journal, bound with real leather. He’d read it so many times but her words always gave him comfort.

I could hear a circular saw cutting through something. I’m sure it was flesh and bone. I haven’t smelled burning flesh since the reaper war, but I remember it vividly. I was lying on a table, I think it was a padded table, and all I heard was the whir of the saw starting up. He was there, in a white lab coat. I remember his new hands were complete, bands of omnigel on a titanium alloy frame. For lightness, he’d said, but I heard his footsteps before I saw him.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
He smiled. “I’m going to make you better,” he said, his artificial eye red while his smile was white, toothy and even. “Trust me.”
“Al, no, stop this, please…”
“Shh,” he said, leaning over me. “It’ll be all right.”
I struggled, or tried to, but he held me down, and then I felt the sting of a syringe, and—

Sync slammed the book shut and stared at the embossed cover. He’d never done that. He’d never, ever done that. Slowly, gingerly, he pried open the covers of the book again, and stared at the blank pages inside. They were all blank, without any writing on them at all. Perplexed he grabbed for another journal, only to find it empty, and then another, and another. All blank. All of her words gone. Glancing around the room, his eyes fell back to the glass display case and written on it in black ink were three words: Al, please stop!
Dropping the books, Sync edged towards the door, feeling his hands tremble. Behind him, the door swooshed open, and he fell backwards, his feet tripping over a tray outside the door, sending burnt peanut butter and chocolate cookies flying everywhere. Burnt. Otto didn’t burn anything in the kitchen. Someone was in the kitchen. The door to Beatrice’s room closed, cutting off his view of the defaced case, and staring at the familiar metal door it was easier to focus on reality. Taking a deep breath, Sync went to see who was in the mess hall, although he passed no-one in the corridors of the ship. Inside the kitchen, things were…floating. There was another tray of burnt cookies, as well as kitchen utensils, cutlery, and an assortment of soda cans and cheezy puff bags that had shown up when Anar had come on board. Walking towards the cookies, Sync found himself being picked up in a mass effect field, and he twisted in the air to see Mridi standing in the corner of the room, the sheen of dark energy surrounding her as she controlled her biotics. Grinning at him, he closed her fist and he, along with everything being held up into the kitchen, slammed painfully onto the floor, and he barely had enough time to bring up his own barrier to cushion his fall.
“You want to come onto my ship, and beat the shit out of me?” he asked, glaring up at her as he rose to his feet.
“Excuse me?” Mridi snapped. “I just got you out of that thing and now you’re snapping at me?”
“Hey Miss Temper-tantrum, we don’t know what he’s seeing. Quiet you,” a third voice said.
Looking back he saw Cyrus climb off the floor, although he was certain the Salarian hadn’t been there previously.
Sync went to use his new omni-whip but his omni-tool sparked and almost seemed to short out.
“Sync, snap out of it,” Cyrus said. “We don’t have time for this.”
“Snap out of what, Cyrus? I just got attacked by that damn asari over there.”
“No, that’s Cicepia. She’s a Turian. I’m Elias. We didn’t bring Cyrus with us onto the other ship, remember?”
“What are you doing?” Turning to the doorway, he saw Anar, in his mech, flanked by Dane.
Sync looked at his onetime ally, the memory of last night’s dream still fresh in his head. “What you are doing here Dane?”
“Dane? Who’s Dane?”
“Sync thinks he’s being attacked,” Cyrus said. “By Mridi, excepts that’s Cicepia. You can see that’s Cicepia, right?”
“Yes, of course,” Anar said.
“Oh good! That’s a relief.”
“Cicepia?” Sync stared at the Asari.
“Yeah,” Mridi said. “Have been this whole time.”
Sync stared around at the people in the mess hall. “Elias, you’re using a tactical cloak?”
“Uh huh.”
“And you two?” he asked, gesturing towards Anar and Dane.
“This one is Anar,” Dane said, raising a hand towards his chest. “She is Arkara.”
Sync slowly looked between the other four. “I remember…going into a freighter looking for Cicepia’s daughter, right? Did that happen?”
“We’re on the ship,” Cyrus said, although his voice was slower than the Salarian normally spoke. “Right now.”
Sync blinked, and the bright lights of the mess hall faded into dark emptiness of a cavernous cargo hold, the only light coming from Anar’s bioluminescence a Arkara’s torch. “What was that?” he asked.

~*~

Back to Chapter 28

Dragonslayer

Kill the dragon, marry the princess, and rule the kingdom. It’s a fantasy come true… if you’re straight.

Adam is a chemistry student and martial artist, active in his local chapter of the Society for Creative Anachronism. But none of that prepares him to be the savior of a faraway land locked in perpetual dusk.

In a world of shape-shifters, necromancy, and religious politics, Adam is fated to slay the golden dragon, Khalivibra, and defeat its mind-controlling sorcery to help Princess Esmeralda of Aergon retake her city. Tradition dictates he’ll rule by her side—but Adam is much more interested in Duin, a warrior who changes to beast form in the light of the sun… or fire.

Adam hopes he and Duin might end up together when their ordeal ends. But first, the reluctant hero, the spell-casting heir to the throne, the beast-shifting object of Adam’s desire, a six-legged cave lizard, and any allies they can gather must do the impossible… and live to celebrate their victory.

~*~

Dragonslayer is an upcoming novel from DSP Publications, now available for preorder. It will be released on the 25th of September, 2018.

Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: DSP Publications

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Mass Effect Collision Chapter 28: Blood Ties

“The law is only a defense against those who agree to be bound by it.” – Thane Krios

 

Drip. Drip. Drip. Drip.
Somewhere in the distance, liquid was falling off something and hitting the ground. Drip. Drip. Drip. Drip. It was a regularly irregular sound that came from somewhere up ahead in the emptiness of the cargo hold.
“I wish I’d bought that new omni-tool now,” she muttered, as she pulled out her gun. Not that it would do her much good. She was a decent shot. She could hit a target in the firing range just fine. But out in the field she relied upon her voice and her biotics more than she relied on her gun. When she’d been working with partners, or a squad, her lack of expert marksmanship hasn’t been an issue. Now, as she stepped towards the source of the sound, it suddenly was one.
Beneath her, the floor was slick with something that puddled underfoot, and she nearly slid off her feet. Squatting down she ran her gloved hand through the liquid, and found it damp, warm, and sticky, with a salty tang in the air that registered immediately in her nostrils. Blood.
Drip. Drip. Drip. Drip. It was louder now, and suddenly there was more dripping, beating an irregular staccato onto the floor. First it was two drips, then three, then more than she could make out individually until it sounded as though something was being poured onto the floor and splatter, and the blood was rising, now around her ankles as she slogged through it, trying to find the far end of the cargo bay walls. She needed light.
Holstering her gun, he pulled out a flare and lit the end, and found herself nose to nose with…herself.
“Boo!” the other Cicepia said with a toothy grin.
Cicepia nearly dropped the flare, but instead stepped back, pulling out her gun instead. Her doppleganger wore a red dress. It wasn’t as revealing as the clothes the Asari often wore, or as full as some of the human styles she’d seen, but it was a design that took the best of that silhouette and made it into something that screamed ‘Turian’. Absently, she noted the angular panels and stitching. You’d never be able to find that in the shops.
“Who-” she started.
“I’m you. Sort of.”
“What did you find there Cicepia?” Another voice asked. It sounded like she did when she played back her interrogation tapes. You always sounded different when recorded as opposed to in your own head. Moving so that she could see both figures without having to turn her back on them, Cicepia saw another doppleganger, dressed in a dazzling emerald green dress of a similar cut to the first, and with glowing green eyes.
“What is the meaning of this?” Cicepia asked.
“You tell us,” Green Cicepia said. “You’re the one who brought us here.”
“I did no such thing. Why do you look like me.”
“Because we are you, silly,” Red Cicepia said.
“Quit pulling this shit. What’s going on?”
Red Cicepia cocked her head to one side. “Oh, Cicepia, Cicepia,” she said. “If only you knew.”
“Knew what?”
“The truth about Octavius of course.”
“What makes you think you know any more than I do?”
“We know plenty. Plenty,” Green Cicepia said, walking forward, seemingly unconcerned her shins were pushing through the blue-black pool of blood they were standing in. “But it seems like you know a bit about us as well. Been busy doing some snooping. Or at least, getting someone else to do your snooping for you. Smart, Cicepia, well, almost.”
“No it is smart,” Red Cicepia agreed. “Just not as smart as us.”
As the doppelganger in read turned her head, Cicepia saw a familiar bullet wound in the head. She’d snagged a copy of the autopsy reports. Her autopsy reports. It seemed like so long ago now.
“At least I’m not dead.”
Both of her other selves grinned. “Some things are worse than death, dear.” Green Cicepia said.
“Why am I here?”
“Because you need to learn when to leave things the fuck alone,” Red Cicepia said. “I should have. But at least I didn’t abandon my daughter.”
“That was all you,” Green Cicepia said, nodding. “You foisted her off your your grandparents years ago. No wonder she’s gone.”
“You’re a failure, Cicepia,” her dead red self said. “A failure as a mother, a failure as a C-Sec Officer, and all this snooping and half truthed lies? You’re a failure as a Turian. You can fool everyone else, but you can’t fool us.”
“No, you can never fool us.”
“Does it help you fall asleep at night? Telling yourself it’s all for a good cause? That the ends justify the means?”
“That’s what Cerberus told itself.”
“Himself.”
“Herself.”
“Whatever.”
“Shut up both of you!” Cicepia snapped. “I’m here for Talia. And you’re in my way. Or I’m in my way. I’m not really sure, but here’s the thing: I don’t care who or what gets in my way, I’ll get it out of my way if I have to. And that includes myself.”
“Are you sure that’s what’s best for her?” Green Cicepia asked. “A washed out deadbeat mother like you?”
“And aren’t you on some dangerous mission to regain some sense of pride and possibly fucking die in the process? You’ll let her risk all of that?” Red Cicepia said.
“Sounds like someone’s nominating herself for mother of the year there.”
“Move,” Cicepia said. “Or I’ll move you.”
Both Cicepias grinned, and biotics flared around them. “Fucking dare you,” Red Cicepia said.
Cicepia felt the blood pound in her head and she flicked her hand forward, and the dark energy swirled down the familiar neural pathways as a mass effect field sprung into existence, pulling both other Cicepias into the air.
“No problem.”
“Cicepia, put me down this instant!” Red Cicepia snapped.
“I don’t care if you are me, I’m going to find my daughter!”
“Cicepia, this is Elias. You’ve got me in a singularity. Now put me down.”
“What?”

~*~

Elias jumped when he heard the cargo bay doors shut behind them, and then he flicked on his night vision. It hadn’t exactly been standard issue, but it had been the one thing he’d recovered from his father’s suit back when…. Well. Back then. In the greenish monochrome of night vision, the cargo bay looked smaller than he thought it would, a narrow, room empty of anything—including his companions.
“Pi, where’d everyone go?” he asked.
“Crea—or —lias ias ias -a-wry tet tet ette…” Pi’s voice glitched out into static.
“Pi, are you all right?”
“Ssom— ng oong ge ge ger tet tet why ne ne…”
Elias hurriedly checked his suit, clamping down on all the seals and switching the suit into a sealed, envirosuit mode. There didn’t seem to be any mechanical or software malfunctions.
“Pi, this really isn’t the time.”
“I’m sorry, Pi is unavailable right now.” The voice was still male, but it was…chirpy. Pi never did chirpy.
“Who am I talking to then?”
“I’m sorry, Pi is unavailable right now. I’m sorry, Pi is unavailable right now.” The voice changed in pitch and speed, distorting through the vowels and sentences, like Jamak when he overdid it with that vintage record player Elias had got him once upon a time. “I’m sorry, Pi is unavailable right now. I’m sorry, Pi is unavailable right now. Pi is unavailable right now. Pi is unavailable right now, r-r-right now…”
Sighing, Elias gave up and looked around, and saw his name on the walls. Or two of them, anyway.
It was as if his vision was a spotlight, picking up words written in blacklight pen. Only his vision wasn’t a spotlight and night vision typically relied on the infra-red spectrum, not the UV spectrum. On the right hand wall, he could see his name written out in smooth, cursive script with lovehearts and other whimsical doodles. On the left, the writing was angry jagged, and contained words like “sucks” and “die”. It was like fan mail. On walls, with weird hallucinatory visual tricks.
On a hunch, Elias tried calling the Endurance.
“Greetings, this is the Ashru. Please state your name.”
Elias paused. The Ashru had been decommissioned and was now the centre of a thriving town on Rannoch. They were mining bauxite and studying plant symbiosis as well as cashing in on tourists looking to see the Ashru after he’d made it on Citadel’s Got Talent.
“Elia’solor nar Ashru,” he said eventually.
“Elia’solor. You’re returned to the fleet.”
“…sure. Why not. Let’s go with that.”
“And what knowledge have you brought back that will better the lives of the Quarian people?”
Elias shut his jaw with a click. No-one ever went back to the same ship upon completion of their pilgrimage. That was the whole point of the pilgrimage. Rite of passage, useful salvage and genetic diversity. “A chemical compound that allows dextro-protein based lifeforms to safely consume and derive nutrition from levo-protein food sources.”
“That sounds very useful indeed. Welcome back to the fleet, Elia’solor.” The hatch he—they—had entered through opened into the stark light of a Quarian liveship.
“Thank you,” Elias said. “Keelah Selai,” and he ran in the opposite direction.
Of course, as fate would have it, he ran straight into a mass effect field and found himself being pulled up into the air.
Surely hallucinations didn’t do that too.
Twisting around in the field he saw Rayne, her arm outstretched and a look of determination on her face.
“You…cheated!” she snarled, her face contorting in rage.
“You know I know that you can’t actually do that, right?” Elias said. “You mentioned it in your interview about military service and how you never learnt how to do that.”
The image before him flowed and morphed, flowing in a strangely organic fashion between Rayne’s form and that of Cicepia. What the hell was in that dust?
Thanking the ancestors for developing the in-suit neuro control interface, Elias brought up the commands for the ventilation system and turned on the cargo bay extractor fans. Stealth was compromised at this point, and as if to emphasise the point a burst of automatic gunfire rang in his ears. Blinking, he tried to focus on where the shots had come from, but he couldn’t see anyone. It was probably Anar or Arkara.
He hoped it was Anar or Arkara.

~*~

The room was dark, and Anar could feel the dusty air of the Cargo hold clinging to his skin.
“Someone really needs to clean up in here,” he muttered. “Did this one mention it doesn’t do well in dry conditions? This one always finds it needs far too much moisturiser after desert missions.”
The door clanked shut behind him, sudden enough to push air currents into the room, causing the dust to swirl in eddies that he could feel around his tentacles.
“Solid waste excretions, Elias, you could have provided this one with some warning,” Anar said.
From the quarian there was no reply.
“Elias?”
Rising up towards the ceiling, Anar turned started to glow. Or sing. Colour, pattern and intensity were simply ways to communicate complex ideas at speeds far beyond that of vertebrate speech. A conversation with an alien took almost a hundred times more slowly than between hanar, and it was almost a relief to shout at the speed of normal speech after spending years without contact with other hanar. As his form flickered through white-blue and a pattern of bright yellow green, he lit up the rows of military green crates below. And no one else. But they were just there. He heard thunder rumble somewhere outside, the sound muffled by the ship’s hull, but he couldn’t see any footprints. Arkara would have left footprints in the dust. The perfect rows of crates gave him the shivers. They were very much perfect, aligned to the millimetre it seemed. Despite the ground being covered by a thick layer of dust the crates were pristine, sitting perfectly on the dusty floor as though they’d been placed but a minute ago. By flying people.
As he floated over the rows he heard a boom, as if something had slammed into one of the crates. Floating closer, he found one that was just slightly out of line with the others, but there was no indication of anything hitting it from the outside.
“This one’s hallucinations are getting out of hand,” he muttered. “This one needs to speak with Doctor Lennox about tampering with this one’s serum.
As he picked up his song again, he started hearing a similar song—an echo in a different voice, humming along with him. Stopping, he let the song and light fade, and the echo stilled, picking up again only when he did.
Behind him another booming sound drew his attention to a different crate, now out of line with the rest of its precise row. Clutching his rifle he floated down to the crate, aimed his gun at the lid, and used two free tentacles to throw the lid open, aiming the barrel of his gun at the inside of the crate.
The crate lid fell to the ground, raising a cloud of fine, grey dust. The crate was empty. The humming continued, but was now overlain by another sound—a sobbing. Probably humanoid, and probably male. Floating back up to the ceiling, Anar followed the sound. The room ended, and narrowed to a corridor. In the doorway was a humanoid figure, humanoid in shape with purplish blue skin.
Another hallucination?
“Chris?”
The sobbing stopped, and the man turned towards Anar, shielding his face from the glow of Anar’s bioluminescence wit a three fingered hand. “Anar?” the figure said. “What are you doing here?.”
For a moment, Anar simply stared at his friend, taking in Chris’ sunken eyes and gaunt frame. “Is it really you this time?” he asked.
“Is it really you this time?” Chris asked, his lower lip trembling.
Anar lowered his gun. “Of course, numbnuts.”
A semblance of a smile crossed Chris’ features. “It is you. Anar, we have to get out of here. I’ve been searching for an exit for ages and…I don’t know where I am.”
“What happened to you?” Anar asked. “This one has been searching for you…everywhere.”
“I don’t know,” Chris said. “I don’t…the last thing I really remember is the merc job, and then…I was here. And I don’t know where ‘here’ is, or how to get out. It all looks the same.”
Anar glanced around for chains or restraints, but found none. Starting forward he paused. “How did you get here?” he asked.
“I told you I don’t know! I don’t remember!”
“This one knows that feeling.”
Chris reached out and grabbed Anar’s tentacles. “You’re not going to leave me, right? Please don’t leave me. I don’t know how to get out and I want to go home. I want to go back to our game and back to the way things were!”
“There is no going back, Chris. Not for this one, anyway.”
“No…” Chris said. “Don’t say that, please don’t say that, I thought you were real. You always say that!” Turning, Chris bolted away up the dark corridor.
“Okay,” Anar said. “This isn’t the normal hallucination.”
Around him a rumble built, low and slowly crescendoing. It was a familiar laugh, a familiar, maniacal laugh.
“Let this one out!” Anar yelled, pounding the wall with two fisted tentacles. “Let this one out!”
Bringing his tentacles to his bell, his skin flushing crimson red as he tensed, grabbing his gun and firing at the ceiling. Bullets were good. Bullets were good. Bullets shot things. Shooting this was good. Shooting him was good.
Above him the ceiling cracked and buckled, and a body fell from the ceiling—a human woman, with red hair and a redder dress, soaked in blood.
Anar stared, dropped his gun and sank to the ground, his tentacles going out to cradle the limp form, her body still warm to the touch. “Fuck you Simon!” he swore through his sobs. “This one will end you it swears!”
He should put her down. He knew she should put her down, pick up his assault rifle and go and find Simon. But he couldn’t. Running footsteps from the corridor made him look up. Maybe Chris was coming back. Out from the darkness, he saw a humanoid figure, but as it came closer into the light of his bioluminescence, he saw a familiar blond man in a green jacket, face contorted in crazed glee. Letting go of his fallen love, Anar tilted his thrusters and flew directly at the madman, tentacles outstretched to strangle.
“Run, run, run, as fast as you can,” Simon cackled. “You can’t catch me.”Simon’s footfalls where heavier than Anar would have thought, and the man bowled him over, rolling into a predatory crouch as he rounded on Anar. “I’m the gingerbread man.”
“When did you become a wall exactly?” Anar grunted as he righted himself in the air. Simon just grinned, watching, and Anar drew himself into a defensive posture. “Make your move.”
“Make my move? My move? What are you on about this time?”
Anar started to circle, using his anti-grav thrusters to keep a wary eye on his adversary.
“This one isn’t very good at fighting walls—but even walls make mistakes eventually. So make your move.”
“Anar, I’m not wall. I’m a krogan. You should know this.”
Anar paused, and the form before him flickered and suddenly Arkara was standing in front of him, in full battle armour. “Oh,” he said. “You’re a lot harder than this one remembers.”

~*~

Continue to Chapter 29

Back to Chapter 27

Mass Effect Collision Chapter 27: The Canyon

“We’ve all got the power in our hands to kill, but most people are afraid to use it. The ones who aren’t afraid, control life itself.” – Richard Ramirez, AKA The Night Stalker. Human serial killer.

“Are you sure this is okay? We can’t be seen?” Cicepia asked nervously as she stared at the small display in the Endurance’s cockpit.
“Only if they look up and can see through clouds,” Elias said. “Or if they’re actively scanning using something old school, like radar, but we’d be able to detect that.”
“And how are we supposed to find them through all this?” Cicepia asked. “Normally we’d be using a ground search or cameras, but they’re not feasible here. And this area is a known hideout for all sorts of criminals fleeing the law.”
“Well, it is a dark and stormy night,” Elias said far too brightly. “Hopefully they’ll all either be laying low or out doing their criminal crimes somewhere that isn’t here.”
“Criminal crimes?” Sync asked.
“Okay, it’s a tautology, I still like the way it sounds,” Elias said. “Maybe I’ll use it as an album title one day.”
Sync shook his head and refocused on flying the ship through the storm, or rather, above the storm clouds. Beneath them, Cicepia could see a sea of roiling black cloud, with the occasional flicker of lighting arcing across from one area of cloud to another. “Cicepia, Elias said you had a vision?”
“Something like that,” Cicepia said. “Talia seems to have the ability to share what she’s perceiving with someone else. She did it with Elias back at McTurians and shes shared some of what’s been happening with me. I don’t know if she knows she’s doing it though.”
“She did at the restaurant,” Elias said. “Horoponia scolded her for it. She couldn’t get Talia out of the restaurant fast enough after that.”
“And you saw a man come and take Talia?” Sync asked.
“I’m pretty sure it must have been the same man. They were in the kitchen, the blood was already there. And he said something about them playing a game. Him and Horoponia. But… ‘the only problem is she forgot to say “Simon Says”’.”
“Simon Says, eh?” Elias said. “Sounds like an old earth game.”
“Yeah, I played that as a kid.”
“I can add it to my search filters, but I don’t know if that’ll turn up anything,” Elias said.
“Sure I—”
The world flickered.

She was cold, and the van had come to rest in the middle of a dark place with high stone walls. The man left the car and came around to her side of the vehicle, opening an umbrella to shield her from the rain. He was tall. Maybe not as tall as mother, but taller than grandma.
“It’s all right,” he said. “It’s all right little one. I’ll get you something to eat and I’ll read you a story before before bedtime.”
The man’s omnitool cast a dim light before them, and what Cicepia first took for a large rock turned out to the the side of an old ship, battered and not well maintained. She wasn’t even sure if it was spaceworthy. The man walked up to a panel, and his fingers went to punch in a code on the numberpad. She strained to see the numbers but the light was bad and Talia looked away into the darkness behind her.
No Talia, look at the panel, the panel—
The world flickered.

“It happened again, didn’t it?” Elias asked.
Cicepia nodded. “She’s still with him. He’s right near some run down ship. I don’t know if it’ll fly. I’m hoping it’s as much of a junker as it looks.”
Elias hit a one of the comm buttons. “Hey Drimi, are you any good with the sensor array on this thing?”
“Sensors, yeah, I know a thing or two about them. Why?”
“We need to find an old junker hidden somewhere in this network of caverns. Can you help with that?”
“I’ll see what I can do. Any idea what class or ship type it is?”
Cicepia pushed forward. “It’s an Athabasca class freighter. Old.”
“Sure… give me a sec.”
From the other end of the comm link Cicepia could hear the rustle of fabric as Drimi worked away on his virtual console. “I think I’ve got something – there’s a metal mass that could be an Athabasca class freighter less than 3 clicks from our ground position. I’ll send you a nav point.”
“Thanks Dree,” Sync said.
“Anytime, bossman. Hey, if this is the ship you’re looking for, we might want to approach discreetly, you know?”
“Noted,” Sync said. “We’ll land back from its position and approach on foot.”
“I’ll suit up.”
“What?”
“I’m coming with you, Sync. From what I’ve heard, you’re walking into an unknown ship with a bunch of potentially deranged biotics. I’m good on both counts.”
“Okay man, it’s your funeral.”
“Hey, you don’t get the monopoly on pulling dangerous shit, boss.”
Sync laughed. “Noted. Just be careful.”
“Same to you.”

Five minutes later, they assembled by the personnel ramp, everyone nervously fiddling with their gear.
“Does anyone else find this ship design strange?” Cicepia asked. “There isn’t an armoury and you’d think the exit would be in the cargo hold.”
“This one thinks this ship was built for civilian use.”
“Technically I am a civilian,” Elias said. “Drimi did you get anything on the scanners?”
“About eight humanoid lifesigns on board. Mostly up the front end or near the centre of the ship.”
“Everyone stay sharp,” Cicepia said. “He could be pushing drugs onto these kids and if he’s got hold of some Minogen X we could be in trouble.”
“Minogen X?” Elias asked.
“A biotic booster, but it’s easy to overdose—and overdoses are usually fatal. It can also induce hallucinations. We had an issue a while back with a ring smuggling it in from Omega.”
“Right, note to self, avoid Minogen X.”
“Good plan,” Cicepia said. “Based on how this man was talking to Talia, I’d suspect he’s building himself a cabal of pliable biotics. I don’t know if he sells them or is creating a replacement family though. If he’s been keeping them around for a while, they may be indoctrin—brainwashed.”
“If they’re lucky,” Sync said. “Brainwashing is often reversible.”
“So, um… anyone have a way of blocking biotics? You know, preventing them from being used?”
Drimi nodded. “I can create opposing fields to damp their use of biotics. I showed Sync how to do it too.”
“I’m not great at it but I’ll try my best,” Sync said.
“I suggest killing them dead,” Arkara said. “It’s the best way I know.”
“Which way are we going in?” Anar asked, his mech creaking as he walked towards the ship exit. “The Athabasca typically has three. Passenger entry, cargo and emergency side port.”
“Did anyone buy that Cison Pro Mark Four toothbrush?” Elias asked brightly. “No? Well, guess the emergency side port is out.”
“Well, if the life signs are up front, it makes sense to sneak in the cargo hold.”
“Going in guns blazing worked well at the factory,” Sync said.
“This madman isn’t a reaper though, and he has my kid.”
“Fair call. What do you want to do?”
“We should go in as stealthily as possible.”
“This one is very stealthy. Especially if this one floats up towards the ceiling.”
“I just got my tactical cloak working again,” Elias said. “I haven’t had time to test it, but that’ll help keep me out of sight, at least.”
“These are kids we’re dealing with,” Cicepia said. “I’d like to avoid bloodshed if possible.”
“Except for the one who took Talia,” Arkara rumbled.
“Except for him, yes.”
“So, cargo hold then?” Elias asked.
“Unless…can you hack into their systems to open the doors and prevent any alarms going off?”
“Well, you’d have to be on the other side of the doors for that typically,” Elias said. “Unless they have really insecure wifi.”
“They might, the ship is really run down,” Cicepia said.
“Or it might just looks run down,” Anar said. “When this one did mercenary work, we liked ships that appeared to be old and battered. It made them less noticable.”
“I was thinking that too,” Sync agreed.
“Well, we won’t know until we get there,” Cicepia said. “Let’s move out.”

The outside of the ship was exactly as Cicepia had seen—as Talia had seen. It was battered with streaks of rust and chipped paint, and there were no external lights on at all. There had been some attempt at disguising the craft with netting, branches and painted canvas, and to the casual observer, it probably would have been enough to disguise the craft, lying as it was in the shadow of a canyon wall. The cargo doors were large, heavy and set to open outward, providing both a ramp in and cover from the elements. As Elias pushed ahead towards the door, his armour flickered and shifted into the grey-blue patterns of urban camouflage. For a moment, he crouched by the door, and then padded over the left and side of the doors. A flash of lighting cast him in stark relief, almost washing out the glow of his omni-tool as his fingers flickered over the virtual display before the doors opened smoothly on well oiled hinges and swung open, the gloom inside the ship only being different from the gloom outside in that it was drier.
The room inside was dusty, and it tickled the back of her throat, making her want to cough. Then the doors closed up behind them, plunging them all into complete darkness.
“Anar, any time you want to start glowing that would be great,” Cicepia said. “Actually, your mech has floodlights, right? You can maybe get in your mech and turn on the floodlights?”
There was no answer. Taking a step forward she heard her footstep echo around the room. No other footfalls fell to greet hers.
“Guys?”

~*~

Continue to Chapter 28

Back to Chapter 26

Mass Effect Collision Chapter 26: PTSAnar

“Reality is just a crutch for those who can’t deal with drugs,” – Robin Williams

“What happened to Anar?” Sync asked as the unmarked white van pulled away. It wasn’t exactly an ambulance, but it was an unmarked police van with a medical kit and basic supplies. He’d never been in a Turian squad car before, but this one seemed to be something like a drunk tank—kitted out both to restrain and to treat if necessary. It might have been worth having the doctors come with them, but Sync had acted without thinking, and taken the vehicle that was offered by the Sergeant as the medics fussed around Cicepia’s father in law, Lucidis. It was something of a bad habit really.
“I don’t know, boss, I didn’t really see it,” Drimi said. “He just…toppled backwards and hit the ground hard. Or his mech did, anyway. I was too busy trying to stop the conveyor belts from dumping everyone into vats of whatever it is they were coating those pills with and trying to stop you from falling to your death. You’re welcome by the way.”
Sync smiled. “Thanks.”
“Don’t mention it, boss.”
“Let’s get this jellyfish to a hospital,” Sync said, changing the subject. “I need to get some scans done—and find a someone specialising in xenomedicine.”
“Are you sure we shouldn’t just go back to the ship?” Drimi suggested. “Cyrus knows hanar medicine specifically and has already treated him.”
“And the med bay is pretty much state of the art,” Sync agreed. “Or was when…I got it.”
Reaching into the his medical supplies, Sync pulled out a small syringe of epinephrine and stared down at Anar’s semi-translucent form. “Here goes nothing,” he muttered as he picked a spot on the hanar’s bell at random and stuck in the needle.
The effect was immediate, and Anar shot off the bed screaming, his levitation pack sending him rocketing to the ceiling where he collided and spread out like a tentacled ooze.
“Make it stop, make it stop!” he yelled, tentacles flailing wildly.
“Anar, calm down, it’s okay,” Sync said, reaching forward as he attempted to guide Anar back down towards the floor. “You’re okay.”
Two tentacles twined around his left hand and another two wrapped around his neck like a python. “Make it stop! Make it stop!”
“Is everything okay back there?” Drimi’s voice came from the front of the van, where a small grille allowed for limited vision and speech through to the back.
“No! Get me to Lennox! Get me to fucking Lennox!”
“Tides, okay, I’m on it,” the asari said, changing the direction of the skycar to head back to the skyport.
Sync grabbed at the tentacles that were threatening to cut off his airway. As he fumbled for a sedative, the van lurched throwing both him and Anar towards the left wall, where they hit with a clang of flesh and metal on more metal. The sedative syringe fell from his hand and landed somewhere in on the floor. As the tentacles tightened around his throat, Sync gave up on medicine and reached out towards Anar’s form, fingers outstretched. Electricity once again sparked between his fingers and he hoped the amount of voltage he was channelling would be enough to stun, but not kill. Anar’s body flashed swiftly through spirals of red and white before the hanar puddled on the floor of the van, his flesh an opaque white.
Sync gasped for breath as Anar’s tentacles loosened, and he scrabbled for the syringe and tugged the cap off, all but jamming it into Anar’s flesh. As the usual translucent pink of hanar skin started to slowly spread across Anar’s body, Anar raise tentacle and weakly grasped Sync’s wrist. “I’m…sorry…” Anar managed.
“It’s okay, I’ve been through worse,” Sync said. “Try to get some rest, we’ll get you back to Cyrus.”
“Sync, what’s going on back there?” Drimi asked.
“Bad reaction to adrenaline,” Sync said, collapsing onto one of the bench-like seats on the edge of the van. “We’re fine.”
“I’m…so…sorry,” Anar mumbled, and then lay still, although Sync’s scans showed his vitals remained strong. That was something at least.

“What happened to him?” Cyrus asked when Sync and Drimi deposit Anar on a bed in the medbay.
“He passed out in the last fight, I’m not sure why,” Sync said. “I gave him some epinephrine to wake him up, but we came out raging and tried to strangle me, so I sedated him.”
“More than sedated. Scrambled his brains with a neural shock, didn’t you? Good move. It probably saved your life.”
“He kept asking for you, so we brought him in.”
“What exactly was he saying?” Cyrus asked.
“I couldn’t really make it out other than your name,” Sync said. “It was mostly loud and hysterical.”
“Sounds like him even when he is awake. Typical.”
“Has he done this before? Can I help with anything?”
“Yes. No. I have this under control.” Moving quickly, the salarian walked over to a nearby drawer, taking out a clean syringe which he filled with medicine from an brown bottle with nothing more than a date written on it, before injecting Anar with the clear liquid. “Let him sleep off the sedative,” Cyrus advised. “We’ll all be better for it.”

Sync was pacing around the conference room when Cicepia, Elias and Arkara returned.
“Welcome back, any leads?”
“You could say that,” Arkara said as Elias walked straight over to the nearby terminal and created a link to a road camera feed that immediately covered one wall of monitors with traffic feeds.
“Elias is working on a lead to see who kidnapped my daughter,” Cicepia said. “How’s Anar?”
“Kidnapped? Cicepia I’m so sorry.”
Cicepia smiled grimly. “We can be sorry after we get her back, Captain. How’s Anar?”
“In the med bay. Cyrus was able to calm him down.”
“Calm him down?” Elias asked from where he was staring at the wall of video. “He was out cold, isn’t that calm enough?”
“I gave him a shot of epinephrine as I wasn’t sure what was wrong,” Sync said, rubbing at the bruises on his neck. “He went from comatose to raging and tried to strangle me.”
“You’re lucky you weren’t poisoned,” Cicepia said evenly. “We had a few cases of hanar poisoning on the Citadel a while back. Took a while to trace it because no one thought to look at sentient races as possible sources at first. He’ll be up and about later though?”
“He should be,” Sync said. “If we need him up we can probably give him something to counteract the sedative.”
“Good,” Cicepia said. “We might need him if Elias manages to track down the killer we’re looking for.”
“Killer? I thought your daughter was kidnapped?”
“She was. By someone C-Sec are referring to as ‘the Sorro Killer’. I think it’s a play on ‘sorrow’ and the human story of ‘Zorro’. He kidnaps biotic teens and kills whatever family gets in his way.”
“I thought your daughter was six or seven?”
“Six. So we’ve either got a copycat or he’s evolving.”
“Evolving?”
“Or devolving. It’s hard to say without access to the case files.”
“I feel like I understand the words you’re saying, but not the meaning. Maybe my translator software is acting up.”
“It’s cop talk about serial killer behaviour,” Cicepia said. “Mainly the question is whether our killer—if he’s the same one—is changing his tactics because he’s more confident and making more effective choices, or is losing his mind and starting to rely more on instinct than higher level thought.”
“Which one’s better?”
“Neither, necessarily,” Cicepia said. “It would just tell me how to deal with him if I knew which way he was going.”
“We have to find him first,” Arkara said. “I’ll go check on Anar.”
“I’ll come with you,” Cicepia said. “We should wake him up and fill him in.”
“Don’t let him grapple you,” Sync warned. “I know hanar toxin is worse for dextro species like you.”
Cicepia nodded curtly and walked out of the room, followed by Arkara.
“She’s really taking this hard, ain’t she?” Sync asked Elias.
“Her kid’s been taken from her,” Elias said with a shrug. “She’ll hold it together long enough to get Talia back or die trying.”
“I guess.”
“You ever thought about having kids?”
“I can’t,” Sync said with a shrug. “This…cybernetics. It’s made me infertile.”
“Talk to Arkara’s friends in her universe,” Elias said with a chuckle. “They’ll have little cloned Syncs running around quicker than you can blink.”
“Now that’s a scary thought.”
“Sure, but—wait, found it.”
“You did? Where?”
“Run down blue skyvan, no plates. Last camera has it heading west into the canyons past…Ulubra, whatever’s in that suburb.”
Sync nodded. “I’ll start the engines, send me the coordinates, and tell Cicepia.”

~*~

Continue to Chapter 27

Back to Chapter 25

Mass Effect Collision Chapter 25: Parenting

“In a universe made out of energy, everything is entangled; everything is one” – Bruce Lipton

She was standing in a house at the top of carpeted stairs, the top of the open banister just at eye level.
“Grandma…Grandma where are you?” It was Talia’s voice, and it was coming from her. Talia looked down as she carefully climbed down the steps, stepping down with one foot, then the other onto each step before moving on to the next, and Cicepia saw the same white shoes on her daughter’s feet that she’d been wearing at McTurians earlier that day. That day. Had it really been less than a day since they’d landed on Invictus?
The prolapsed squeaker in Talia’s not-Blasto-at-all toy squonked sadly as Talia tightened her grip on it, and Cecepia could feel its soft felt under her right arm. Under Talia’s right arm. Somewhere behind her, she could hear a Blasto cartoon.
“What are you going to do, mohawked human lover of anachronistic music, cry on this one?”
As Talia reached the bottom of the stairs, the carpet gave way to smooth plascrete, and her footsteps led into a kitchen. Talia’s footfalls turned from a thud to a squelch as she stepped in something slick but viscous and sticky…and dark blue.
“Turn around,” Cicepia screamed. “Turn around and run!” but the connection appeared to be one way. She could feel Talia’s curiousity. She could feel that her daughter no didn’t connect the puddle of sticky blue liquid to the blood that oozed from the scrape on her knee when she’d fallen in the playground three years ago.
The kitchen was cold, and a wild haired human man stepped out from around the counter. He was tall, although anyone would look tall to Talia, and he wore a green jacket and a long scar running across his face.
“Hey, hey, it’s okay, it’s okay.”
“Where’s grandma?”
“She’s fine. We were just playing a game. She just forgot to say ‘Simon Says’.”

~*~

“Cicepia? Cicepia!”
Cicepia stumbled forward, and found herself half leaning against a squad car and half supported by Elias.
“Talia…I have to find Talia.”
“Are you okay?”
“I had a vision. There was blood. A lot of blood a their house and a man. A human.”
“Whose house?” Elias asked sharply.
“I think it was Horoponia’s – Talia’s grandparents house. Talia…I was seeing through her eyes and feeling what the felt and smelling what she smelled—”
Elias nodded. “She did that to me in McTurians.” He brought up his omni tool and something flashed across the inside of his faceplate. “They’re about 20 miles away,” he said. “1768 Cassia Street.”
“How are you tracking her?”
“I gave her a music cube,” Elias said with a shrug. “It has a tracker built into it. I don’t know if she’s still there, but that’s where the cube ended up.”
Cicepia nodded, took a deep breath and strode over to Sergeant Accius.
“Sergeant I need to commander a squad car. It’s an emergency.”
“Emergency? What kind of an emergency?”
“An attack and possible kidnapping in Creza Ward.”
“How do you know this?”
“I…heard from my daughter.”
The sergeant looked around where his squad were busy taking statements and securing the area.
“What’s the address? We’ll send a force once we’re done here.”
“Let me go ahead,” Cicepia said evenly. “If this turns into a kidnapping case the first hours are crucial.”
“With all due respect officer, I don’t believe you have jurisdiction here.”
“She’s my daughter,” Cicepia said evenly. “I’m going one way or the other unless you’d like to detain me for some reason. Let’s just make it official.”
Sergeant Accius hesitated, and nodded. “Go on then,” he said.
“1758 Cassia Street,” Elias said. “We’ll report in if you give me the channel.”

Above them the grey clouds that had been gathering all evening opened up and drops of rain pelted the windscreen of the squadcar as Elias drove them through the skylanes towards their destination.
“Are you all right?” Arkara asked her.
“No,” Cicepia said tightly. “I’’m not.”
“She’ll be fine.”
“We don’t know that,” Cicepia said.
As the glow of the city lights faded the medium rise buildings eventually gave way to large houses on generous blocks of land, each with landscaped lawns that probably needed daily tending given the speed at which plants grew on this jungle planet. It was a comfortable home, and even within the regimentation with which Turian life played out it was tastefully decorated and there were displays of subtle wealth that set it apart from its neighbours.
“Not a lot of security,” Elias noted as they parked the car.
“The system wouldn’t be on if Horoponia was home,” Cicepia said, pulling her jacket closer around her body as they stepped up onto the footpath and headed in towards the porch, the rain getting heavier as they walked up towards the house.
“Lights are on,” Arkara rumbled, her soft voice barely registering above the roll of thunder overhead.
“I don’t think she’s there, Cicepia,” Elias said. “The tracker’s still in there, but there’s no heat signatures that would indicate people that I can pick up.”
“You can just do that through a standard omni-tool?” Arkara asked.
“Well…yeah, if you have the mods and software and overclock your multi-scanner—”
“That’s not standard, Elias,” Cicepia said as she peered in through one of the front windows. “We should check it out anyway. Maybe we can find something that indicates where he took her.”
“He?”
“He was blond, wild hair—wilder eyes. He said something about ‘Simon says’.”
Elias looked at Arkara, who shrugged. “I’m not from this universe either,” she said.
Seeing nothing in the front room, Cicepia tried the door, which was securely locked.
“Got a key?” Elias asked.
“I’ll break a window,” Cicepia said bleakly, gathering her will.
“Hey!” Elias put a hand on her shoulder. “Let me take a look at it.”
Cicepia forced herself to relax as the quarian hunkered down by the front door, the orange of his omni-tool shining brightly in the darkness. Somehow, it was hard to think of him as ‘Elias the Singer’ anymore. He was…just Elias.
“There,” he said, as the door’s bolts whirred and the lock clicked open. “And I deactivated the automatic alarm that kicks in if the door is hacked. You’d think Lucidis would upgrade his firmware for the door locks.”
“Not everyone is as paranoid as you are, Elias,” Arkara said as she lifted her assault rife and headed inside. She’d left her shield in the car in favour of a bigger gun this time around.
“Everyone should be,” Elias muttered as he gestured for Cicepia to go first.
The inside was a grand entryway of plascrete. Even in luxury homes, the turian military aesthetic remained strong. A faint sulfuric tang filled her nostrils along with the scent of verrum, a spice often used in the baking of cookies. Or at least, if they were chocolate cookies for Talia. The hallway was dark, but a flickering light shone from the back where the kitchen would have been. Above them, the Elias sung jingle for DexToC filtered down the stairs, and Cicepia’s eyes flicked to the wall clock – 1807 hours. The Blasto cartoon would have ended a short while ago. Waving her hand over a nearby wall panel, Cicepia turned on the hall lights, revealing a staircase up to the right, and small drops of blue blood leading from the door into the house.
“They go that way,” Arkara said, pointing into the house. “You can tell by the splatter pattern.”
Cicepia nodded tightly and headed towards the kitchen, following the steps Talia had taken barely ten minutes ago. The house had an open plan living/kitchen area, separated from the hallway by an internal wall, in keeping with the Turian desires for defensive fortifications and grand entrances. Heading once through the doors into the open area, Cicepia could see the kitchen island, upon which stood a metal mixing bowl, and a plastic container of flour. A bottle of verrum lay on its side next to the bowl, a small amount of the spice having spilled into the hard surface. The blood led further in, although it was a mess before the island, where some small footprints—Talia’s certainly—had stepped into it and tracked it across the floor for a few steps. In the kitchen proper, staring up at the ceiling with lifeless eyes was Horoponia, lying in a large pool of dark blue blood. Her chest had been slashed a number of times with a sharp blade, making out a crude ‘S’. Her throat had also been cut. Cicepia felt herself go into case mode. Talia wasn’t here. Horoponia was…family, of sorts, estranged, certainly, but right now, Horoponia had gone to be with the spirits and Cicepia needed to find out why. A flick of her wrist brought the familiar sensation of omni-gel gloves covering her hands as they were minifactured around her flesh. Best sterilising money could buy, really-single use recycled gloves purged of all organic impurities upon disassembly.
“Her throat was cut first,” Cicepia said. “And cut here. You can see the gush of blood from her throat on the base cabinets. But she was stabbed in the chest first—that’s where the blood train comes from. It looks like she grabbed a knife to defend herself with.”
“She didn’t have military training? I thought all Turians did military service,” Elias asked as Arkara carefully prowled the ground floor with military precision.
“She did, but she didn’t carry a gun. She never liked them.”
“Have you seen that ‘S’ before on another case?” Elias asked.
“No,” Cicepia said. “But I can tell you it was cut after she was dead. The wounds barely bled.”
“Hmm,” Elias said, and his faceplate flickered with data, which Cicepia was coming to know as a sign of Elias doing an extranet search. “There’s news of a serial killer working mostly in council space. He—or she—leaves a mark like this on their victims.”
“Any connections between the victims?”
“No, nothing,” Elias said. “But they do all seem to have had family ties to a biotic child. Fairly powerful biotic children.”
“And the children?”
“Mostly teenagers. There’s no sign that he’s ever killed any of them during the initial attack, but they’re all still missing. No bodies have turned up yet. And these cases go back just over four galactic years.”
“Frequency?”
“Eight standard galactic months, at first, dropping to seven, and this would be five if it’s the same person.”
“He’s escalating then.”
“He?”
“Well, I…Talia saw a man.”
“Right. And…escalating?”
“Exactly what it sounds like.”
“The upstairs is clear,” Arkara said, coming into the kitchen. “Looks like a mess up there. Not sure if it’s the lived in kind or the other kind. You might want to have a look. I’ll keep watch down here.”
“Did you see Talia?”
“No, sorry.”
Swallowing hard, Cicepia headed upstairs, Elias following behind her. There were photos on the upper landing, family photos of Talia and her grandparents, and one of a very young Talia with Cicepia and a man she’d tried her best to forget. Octavious. The upper landing led into what had once been a sitting area, but was now a playroom. Toys were scattered across the floor, and on the far side of the room, the television was playing the Humblebees music as the next cartoon went to an ad break. Turning left into Talia’s room, Cicepia found the place in more disarray than she’d ever have thought Horoponia would tolerate. Clothes were strewn everywhere, but cataloging the items against her internal list, she could see that there were a few key things missing. Entering the bathroom, she saw a pink toothbrush holder, but no toothbrush to be seen, and the bathroom itself had been rummaged through. As she walked through it something crinkled underfoot and she looked down to see a cigarette wrapper for those smokers who still liked to roll their own. No one in the household smoked as far as she knew, and reaching down she also found a stray strand of dried tobacco, which her omni tool scanner confirmed to be levo protein tobacco. A human.
Behind her, she heard Elias clear his throat. “Yes?” she asked.
“She didn’t take the tracker,” Elias said, holding up a small data cube. “So I don’t know where she is.”
“He took her,” Cicepia said. “He took her rainbow Humblebee bag, Blasto toy, some clothes, and some toiletries and he took her.”
“She’s alive then,” Elias said. “He wouldn’t take toiletries if he wasn’t going to keep her alive.”
Cicepia nodded. “Let me see if I can find her.”
“How?”
Cicepia shrugged and closed her eyes. “She reached out to me with her mind. Maybe I can reach hers.”
Leaning against the counter for support, Cicepia focused on the feelings she remembered from when her daughter’s mind had touched hers. The way she saw everything from a shorter viewpoint. The careful way Talia moved down stairs, each step deliberate and supported with one hand on the banister. The way her daughter’s mind had felt and processed information. There was a connection there. A memory that was a sense that was a—
A flicker.
A flicker of an image and the softness of the Blasto toy clutched against her chest. A wave of confusion washed over her. She didn’t know where she was going, but she was in a car, a large car, and it was raining. The man from the kitchen was there, sitting ahead of her in the front seat of the car. The Humblebee theme song played through the car’s speakers. Through the rain she could also make out the tall buildings of the city out the window to Talia’s right. And—
That was all.
“Well?” Elias asked.
“They’re heading out of the city. West.”
“West, okay. Anything else?”
“They’re in a vehicle of some description.”
Elias nodded. “On it…Sergeant Accius? Yes, we’re here. It’s become a kidnapping. Best suspect is a human male, heading west with a female Turian child in a small skycar. They could have up to a fifteen minute head start on us. Do you have traffic cameras we can use to track them with? Uh huh. Uh huh. With all due respect, Sergeant the girl’s grandmother has been killed and it appears to be the work of the Sorro Killer. The girl is the daughter of a C-Sec officer and this is a galactic case now. Uh huh. Of course. I look forward to speaking with you in person.”
The quarian looked back up at her. “You’re going to have to pull rank on this one. This is your jurisdiction. Not theirs.”
Cicepia nodded, and placed both the cigarette and tobacco in a hastily minifactured evidence bag. “All right. Let’s go downstairs and meet them when they arrive.”
A few minutes later, three squad cars with lights flashing and sirens blaring pulled up at the house, and Cicepia saw shapes in the windows of the houses nearby as neighbours looked out to see what the fuss was. Let them look. They’d stared for years. Holding her head high she waited for the police to approach, and was only slightly surprised to see Sergeant Accius himself step into the hallway.
“Officer Altus. I’m informed this is a kidnapping and you’re closely related to the victims, you have my condolences. I assure you we’ll do everything we can to find your daughter.”
“Please spare me the pleasantries Sergeant, you and I both know the first hour is critical in a kidnapping case. This ‘Sorro killer’ has taken Talia’s favourite bag, favourite toy, some clothing and toiletries. I need you to give my technician access to the city traffic and security camera feeds.”
“That’s highly irregular Officer Altus, and you and I both know that as someone with close ties to the victims, you shouldn’t be on this case.”
“It’ll take days to get C-Sec or a Spectre out here Sergeant, if the citadel even sends one. We don’t have that time. If you’re going to do everything you can to help, then let me bring my team in. They’ll tell me if I’m overreacting.”
For a moment the words hung in the air between them, only to be broken by a discrete cough.
“Yes Constable Tullius?”
“I have a copy of the C-Sec case files you requested, Sergeant.”
Sergeant Accius brought up his omni tool. “Excellent, please send it to me.”
“Of course.”
Out of the corner of her eye, Cicepia thought she saw Elias tap a few commands on his omni tool and saw his faceplate flicker with information before it cleared back to its usual white-blue glow, but she kept her eyes on the Sergeant, who was scrolling through the files on the virtual display.
“Well, it is a galactic case,” he said eventually. “It’s against my better judgement but I’ll let you bring your team in on this.”
“Thank you,” Cicepia said. “Can you get us information from the city cameras?”
“Better yet, can you get me access to the camera systems?” Elias asked.
“And who are you?” Sergeant Accius asked.
“He’s my hacker,” Cicepia said. “Best white hat I know.”
“I see. So you’re the tech and she’s the muscle?” Sergeant Accius asked Elias, tilting his head towards Arkara.
“Pretty much,” Elias said blandly.
“Ah, we spoke earlier, I recognise your voice. Here. I’ll send you the feed.”
Elias did a strange half bow in response, but Cicepia could see his helmet light up with streams of video footage, moving rapidly and switching camera views so quickly she was sure he couldn’t possibly be watching all of them.
“Well?” she asked.
“Cataloguing and winding back 20 minutes to see if I can find the van,” Elias said.
“How long is that going to take?”
“Oh I’ve found it, it’s dark blue. Trying to get a license plate, but tracking it is hard. I only have so much processing power in my suit, you know.”
“Back to the ship then?” Cicepia asked.
“That would be useful, yes.”
Cicepia nodded. “Thank you Sergeant, I’ll keep you informed.”
Sergeant Accius nodded. “Call for backup when you need it, Officer Altus,” he said. “Preferably before you need it if you’re heading out of the city.”
“We will.”

~*~

Continue to Chapter 26

Back to Chapter 24

Mass Effect Collision Chapter 24: The problem with Elcor

“So the good news: I know where your daughter is, Cicepia. The bad news is I think your father in law just rushed into a factory full of reapers.”
“I’m sorry, I heard good news and then I heard good news.”
– Cicepia Altus speaking to Elia’solor nar Ashru on Invictus.

Before the final push to take back earth, the quarian military had used some of the Cerberus reaper nanite research to build a signaling software into their combat drones. It attracted all reaper aggression in the nearby area, and had proved invaluable in protecting the lightly armoured quarian marines. Pi activated it now as the spherical, slightly translucent drone form rose above the battlefield, blasting out the recently composed Salarian tune Rise of the Kakliosaurs. One heavy gun barrel swung towards the drone, and a slow whine of a charging energy weapon built in pitch. Elias scrambled for the far end of the impromptu barricades, trying not to think how close he was to the fourteen story drop down to the factory floor. The room was still dark, the factory only running on auxiliary power, but the floodlights on Anar’s suit cast areas of sharp brightness and deep shadow, and there was a reaper-blue glow coming from the blue sacs that sat between the elcor’s shoulders. Anar was right, they looked just like the weapons used by the reaper scions. Elias took aim at the sac and pulled the trigger on his sniper rifle. Hopefully they’d explode like scions too.
The shot missed the glowing blue sac as the husk recoiled from Anar’s onslaught, although it still hit deep into the creature’s shoulder. The sound of bullets hitting organic plating rang in his ears and his suit sensors picked up a flare of dark energy as a singularity field flared into existence somewhere on the conveyor belts below.
“Security system online,” a female turian voice came through the speakers, and a number of drones dropped from the ceiling, each projecting a mass effect field onto the husks, which seemed to impede their movement, and over his his HUD indicated the singularity field had collapsed. Risking a glance over his shoulder, he saw Cicepia was dropping a husk down to the floor after having yanked it off the unmoving conveyor belts with a singularity. Its legs flailed in the air as it fell, back first, and dropped out of view in mere seconds. The following explosion rocked the entire factory, and sent Elias tumbling to the floor as two heavy cannon shots rung out.
“Drone down,” Pi said. “Twelve seconds. A new record. Well done.”
“Was that a joke?” Elias asked as he rolled onto his stomach and crawled to the end of the barricade.
“You respond well to positive reinforcement Creator Elias.”
“Shut up and drive the drone.”
Sync’s voice cut through the internal chatter. “Go for the backpack, it’s their weak point.”
“No shit,” Arkara replied. “Stay off the catwalks. It’s a long way down.”
Anar’s mech shrugged. “I can float,” the mercenary said, and took a much more graceful running leap over the husk than any krogan would have been capable of, ending up behind it and all but overloading his thermal clip as he emptied three bursts into the glowing, bulbous, organic capacitor. The clear, shell like container was visibly cracked and the blue-white energy within pulsed and swirled with increasing speed and instability, and Elias scrambled away to the far side of Drimi’s Terminal, where he took aim at the elcor husk that was just coming around from the electrical jolts from his combat drone. He got one shot off, striking the organic capacitor square in the back before the second husk exploded, sending Drimi’s impromptu barricade flying towards the console. The asari looked up as the table spun towards him, surface warped by the blast and raised a barrier of biotic energy, wincing slightly as the metal hit and glanced upwards, through the glass walls that overlooked the factory floor and then fell down into the darkness below amidst a rain of sharp glass slivers. Turning back to the console, he entered a few more commands.
“Activating DexToC conveyor belts”, the automated voice said.
“Neat trick,” Elias said as he rolled into a twisted around to view the rest of the battlefield, watching the first elcor husk out of the corner of his eye and using his omni-tool to track the two crouching out on the factory proper, arms and legs tensing as the heavy duty conveyor belts cranked into motion, thankfully pushing the one grasping Lucidus away from the yellow portal.
“It’s just computer systems,” Drimi said, not taking his eyes off the monitor.
“I meant the shield,” Elias grunted.
Drimi grinned and entered a few more commands into the console.
“Security drones activated,” the female turian voice said, its tone calm and matter-of-fact.
Small blue-white drones that Elias had seen at C-Sec materialised from areas in the ceiling, floating towards the husks, and pulling at them with a mass effect field in an attempt to immobilise. Elias wasn’t sure if they were strong enough to overpower a reaper, but it as a shot punched though the plasteel table Cicepia was hiding behind, barely missing her, he figured every little bit helped.
Heavy, clanking footfalls signalled the arrival of Anar’s mech, but the gait was uncertain, and Elias wondered how much damage the construct had taken from the explosion. He saw two assault rifles rise, slightly unsteady, before the mech’s grip tightened on the guns and the barrels found their mark, unloading six precise shots – three into the creature’s left elbow, causing it to slump down on one side, and three more into the capacitor on it’s back, shattering the clear, organic carapace that covered whatever implant was being used to power the giant cannon.
Elias threw himself to the ground as the elcor started to shake, even as Anar’s mech dropped its guns and rolled defensively into a dome, with a flat bottom and smooth sides. As the Elcor exploded, Drimi threw up a biotic shield without even thinking, and Elias got a up close and personal view of reaperised elcor guts as tubes both organic and synthetic splattered against the biotic barrier inches before his face bore falling at his feet as Drimi let the shield fall, turning back to the console.
A garbled cry came from the throats of the elcor below, a strange, strangled hooting cry that sank into the primeval section of his brain and threatened to paralyse him with fear.
“The Elcor says: Charging,” Pi reported.
“No way was that Elcor,” Elias muttered.
“No, Creator Elias, it is reaper signal. We have learnt much since Synthesis.”
“Wonderful,” Elias grunted as he took aim at a husk on the catwalks as Arkara set her shoulder against her combat shield and ran, using the momentum of the moving conveyor belts to propel her forward and slam into one of the elcor, knocking it off its feet and firing several rounds into it’s head. He couldn’t see Sync, but his battlefield tracking told him Sync had taken to a higher catwalk, probably with the aid of his new grappling hook.
“Cicepia, do you want to save that guy or what?” Sync’s voice came over their comm.
“He’s Talia’s grandfather,” Cicepia said grimly.
“He’s getting away,” Arakara grunted, slamming her shield down on the head of the Elcor before her and pushing past it, only to have one meaty hand reach out and grab her by the ankle. Ahead of her, the elcor dragging Lucidis moved closer to the portal, slowed by the conveyor belt, but not enough to overcome its reaperised swiftness.
Breathing out, Elias pulled the trigger of his Raptor sniper rifle, and the shot took the Elcor’s hand off, allowing Arakara to move forward again. Just before the elcor would have hit the edge of the flickering portal, Sync dropped from the catwalks above, leather coat billowing in the air as he dropped to its head, one hand outstretched and connecting squarely with the elcor’s cranium. A crackle of electrical energy arced between his fingers and the elcor stumbled, empty eyes glazing over as the stun took effect, even as the conveyor belts drew it slowly away from the portal once more.
Unfortunately, the husk wasn’t stunned for long, lurching to its feet and lurched like a drunken krogan, throwing Sync wide and off the edge of the factory system. The security drones swooped after him, even as an orange, omni-gel grappling hook grabbed fragile purchase on the side of a chemical tank. Then Anar was there, his mech coated in the black blood that half the reaper husks seemed to have regardless of what their actual blood colour had been in their organic life. He had retrieved his guns, and stepped up towards the edge of the control platform. The mech was unsteady on its feet, the hands twitching, but the hanar’s aim was true and a for almost thirty seconds the sound of assault rifles on full automatic drowned out the soft clank of conveyor belts.
The elcor husk’s body jerked with each impact, and it slowly collapsed down onto the struggling turian, the blue glow fading from its eyes and the capacitor on its back. And then the slow sctick-schtick-schtick of the conveyor belts reclaimed the air.
“Um, a little help here please,” Sync said.
With the flick of her wrist, Cicepia pulled Sync up to the level of the catwalks with a biotic field as she walked forward, almost stumbling when Drimi turned off the belts. Arkara joined Cicepia in pulling the elcor corpse off Lucidis, and Elias turned to see Anar’s mech topple over backward, assault rifles falling to the floor and the hanar inside slumped against his seat like a blob of jelly.
“Get him out of the suit,” Elias said to Drimi. “I need to close that portal.”

“He’s got broken ribs and a punctured lung,” Sync was saying as Elias walked down the stairs and over to the the flickering yellow portal. Yellow. That was new. “He has minutes.”
“He’s lucky he’s got those minutes,” Cicepia said, but she was soon on her commlink to Sergeant Accius. “Elias hurry up with closing that thing, we’ll have cops on our asses any moment.
“It’ll take as long as it takes,” Elias said, and then opened his private channel with Pi. “You can do this without me, right?”
“Yes, Creator Elias. As long as you remain within the broadcast distance of the drone.
The white drone flickered into existence and yellow lines started drawing across the shimmering space that hung in the air above the central conveyor belt. Moving over to a nearby console, Elias flicked through the factory data and programs, his research bots quickly sifting through information and copying crucial files.
“The drug appears to be legitimate, Creator Elias,” Pi said.
“Yes, it does,” Elias agreed. “Remind me to take a sample on the way out.”
“Steal a sample, Creator Elias.” Pi corrected. “You’re stealing a sample.”
“We just saved the city,” Elias said. “And it’s not like I’m making a rival product in this universe.”
“Just ours?”
“Exactly.”

Thankfully, the yellow portal winked out of existence just before the cops and paramedics arrived, and with Sync’s expertise and the liberal application of medigel, they were able to get Lucidis stable and onto a stretcher.
“Any other survivors?” one of the medics asked.
“No,” Drimi said, appearing with Anar’s mech-suitcase in one hand and the hanar thrown over his left shoulder. “They weren’t so fortunate.”
“Why’d they spare you?” Cicepia asked, looking down at Lucidis.
“I have no idea why they were keeping me alive.” Lucidis said, pushing the oxygen mask from his face. “They overpowered me and that one looked like it wanted to take me back to wherever they came from.” His eyes flickered over to the corpse that until recently had held him in a crushing grip. “Wherever that yellow…glow thing—” his voice broke off as he coughed, spitting up blood.
“Yellow glow thing?” Sergeant Accius asked, his omni tool recording everything at the scene.
“I don’t know,” Elias said from the console. “I didn’t see any yellow glowing thing.”
“You shouldn’t be speaking, you’ll aggravate your injuries,” Sync said. “Especially when the adrenaline wears off.”
“Yes, Sergeant you’ll be able to question him at the hospital. Believe me, he won’t be going anywhere.”
A look of annoyance crossed the sergeant’s face but he nodded. “Vitus, get a guard on the hospital. And I can’t believe I’m saying this, but watch out for reapers. They’re to call in at the first sign of trouble.”
“Yes, Sir,” the Turian saluted and marched off.
“How about your friend?” the second medic said, looking at the comatose hanar.
“He’s still breathing,” Drimi said. “Just unconscious.”
“We’ll take him back to the hospital and check him over there if you’d like?” the turian offered.
Drimi and Sync exchanged glances. “We’ll go with him,” Sync said. “Meet back on the Endurance?”
“Wait, shouldn’t we go with you?” Elias asked.
“Someone needs to talk to the cops,” Sync said with a smile. “And I’m not really good at that.”

~*~
Note: People who have watched AngelArt’s Mass Effect Collision Youtube series will recall that the portal in the factory was listed as orange. It should not have been orange, for a variety of reasons, and the colour has been modified accordingly.

Continue to Chapter 25

Back to Chapter 23

Mass Effect Collision Chapter 23: The Factory

“Your time is precious. Spend it wisely and with those who care for you.” – Justicar Samara

To Elias, factories looked the same the universe over. There was something about factories that made all races tend towards the utilitarian. Actually, to be honest he’d only ever seen about four of the galactic races’ industrial architecture, and he wondered if the Asari tried to make their factories beautiful. They made everything else look amazingly sleek, so maybe one day he’d find out. Turian factories had the strong, clean lines and angular facades of the rest of their buildings, just with the pipework and hum of ventilation ducts that screamed industry throughout the multiverse. The giant plume of purplish-black smoke wasn’t something that was typical of modern industry though—at least not on major council worlds. It was both worrying, and strangely expected.
As they piled out of the skycar, they found themselves at a police line, with local security standing guard—although whether they were guarding against people going in or something coming out was unclear, possibly even to them.
“In there?” Cicepia asked staring at the darkened windows of the structure before them.
Elias nodded. “Yes. Think you can talk your way in?”
The turian stared at him. “I don’t have jurisdiction here, Elias.”
“Well, no, but you talk cop, right?” he said with a grin and gave her a push towards a likely looking officer.
It took barely a minute for Cicepia to find the officer in charge, and picked her way over to his mobile command centre.
“C-Sec?” the burly turian said, his brow ridges rising as he squinted at Cicepia’s badge. “What are you doing all the way out here?”
“Council investigation,” Cicepia lied glibly. “We’re tracking a fugitive and think he might be hiding out Pietas in the Fortis system. We’re actually just staying here a few nights for some R&R before going back to work and thought we’d lend a hand if you’d like.”
“I won’t turn down help if you’re offering. I’m Sergeant Accius. Let me give you a run down on the situation. We’ve had reports of missing employees who worked late shift—and in some cases we’ve found body parts in later days.”
“Any suspects?”
“Initially industrial espionage,” Sergeant Accius said. “But the company’s had no data breaches, no suspicious individuals reported by staff or security or even in the general area. We then started investigating the possibility of an inside job—and then that happened,” he said, gesturing towards the smoke. “I sent in two tactical teams and they were wiped out by…something. Right now my orders are to hold the perimeter, but I know there’s people in there.”
“When you say you found body parts, did you find their heads?” Elias asked.
“In some cases, yes.”
“Are you suggesting what this one thinks you’re suggesting?” Anar asked.
Elias held up a hand. “The staff is all Turian?”
“Mostly,” Sergeant Accius said. “There’s a few quarians who’ve been working to ensure the drug works on them as well, but we checked them all out first.”
“And this image?” Cicepia asked, bringing up a shot of the news broadcast they had seen earlier.
“That’s one of the reasons I’m being told to form a perimeter.”
“You are going to suggest we go inside and investigate, aren’t you?” Anar asked, with what Elias had come to think of as his front end pointing towards Cicepia.
The turian smiled grimly. “You know me too well. Sergeant, permission to investigate?”
Sergeant Accius shook his head. “If you want to go in, you’re welcome to. I don’t have to stop you since you’re not civilians—technically. Here’s a map of the facility,” he said, bringing up a holo with his omni-tool. Our teams were gunned down in the lobby. No one survived—or if they did, they’re not able to report back.”
“Elias?”
Copying the image, Elias zoomed in to the main production line. “There,” he said. “The strange signals are coming from that room. I’ll bet that’s where we’ll find whatever’s causing this.”
“Signals?” Sergeant Accius asked.
“I did a scan for reaper technology. It led us here.”
“But the reapers are all controlled!”
“We have a working theory that some may have evaded the crucible,” Elias said. “Or that some rogue scientists may be attempting to duplicate the husk process.”
“Spirits preserve us. I heard rumours of that back during the war but I didn’t think anyone would be crazy enough to attempt that.”
“Cerberus was,” Cicepia said tersely. “Who’s to say someone else isn’t? Anything else you can tell us about the facility?”
“When our teams went in I heard what sounded like cannon fire. Not hand cannons—heavy weapon cannons. Like missile launchers but less explosive.”
Just then a uniformed officer approached. “Sarge there’s an, um… male asari here? Says he’s with these people?”
“That’s Drimi,” Sync said. “I figured if we’re going into a factory we should take someone who knows machinery. No offense, Elias.”
“None taken. I’m a software guy, remember? Not hardware.”
The asari walked in with a confident swagger and a suit of combat armour that was reminiscent of his black leather jacket. Slung over one shoulder was a large sledgehammer, and Elias fancied he could see some capacitors connected to the head, as well as some crackling lightning jars that caused the electricity to spark intermittently between some of the wiring and the business end of the weapon.
“Where’d you get that getup?” Sync asked, clapping his friend on the shoulder.
Drimi’s answering grin was just a little bashful. “Just something I’ve been working on for a while,” he said. “I’m glad I can fit into it now. So…I take it we’re going in there?”
“Yes, we are,” Cicepia said, rotating her own 3D map on her omni-tool. “There’s a network of ventilation shafts that could get a small team onto the factory floor.”
“Actually that looks like a floor control station,” Elias said. “Drimi and I should get up there.”
“Not without backup,” Cicepia said. “If there’s resistance there you’re toast.”
“Well I can’t fit through the ducts,” Arkara rumbled.
“This one can,” Anar said. “It won’t even touch the sides.”
“All right. You three do that and the rest of us will go in the front and take that elevator up to the conveyor belt systems.”
“This one trusts you will stay on the platforms,” Anar said. “The drop appears to be of a fatal distance for all except this one.”
“You’d think they’d be mixing in smaller vats,” Elias said with a frown. “Oh well, let’s just…not die. I like the idea of not dying.”
Arkara cocked her head to one side. “Is that an order?”
“If you like.”

Some time later, Elias found himself in a confined space that felt strangely familiar, although duct repair hadn’t been part of his universe since leaving the flotilla. “Well?” he hissed.
Anar floated up from where he had lowered his body down through the now open grate in the ventilation system. “This one is saddened to report there are new husks below.”
The benefit of Anar’s prehensile, gelatinous tentacles had been immediately apparent in tight spaces, as was the hover technology that had him moving through the air ducts like a spirit, towing his case up behind him. When the found their exit point, the hanar had snaked out two tentacles to grip the grate and snuck a third through it while Elias had cut through the bolts that kept it secured to the duct itself. In other circumstances, they would have fallen to the ground and clattered on the plascrete floor. This time, they were whisked back through the grate by tentacle and the entire grate soon followed suit. Then, gripping the sides, Anar lowered his body down and had a good look around.
“Anything that explains the bodies the others found with giants holes through their chest cavities?” Elias asked.
“This one suspects these husks are Elcor with human corpse cannons like the…this one believes the term was ‘scion’ officially. This one had other names for them it will not repeat.”
“How many?” Drimi asked.
“There are two below us, and perhaps three or four on the conveyor belts. This one thinks it saw Cicepia’s father in law struggling with one of them.”
A crackle over their comm interrupted their hushed conversation. “We’re in the lift, heading up,” Sync said. “Arriving at floor, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen and…here.” Even from their hiding point Elias could hear the ding of the lift echo through the processing plant.
“That would be this one’s cue,” Anar said, dropping his case to the floor below and dropping down after it, darting through the air the way Bevan pushed through the water after seeing a particularly interesting mollusc to snack on.
Drimi dropped down after him, and used his hammer to flip some of the heavy steel tables into makeshift barricades. Staring down at the drop, Elias felt the familiar surge of adrenaline in his veins and the jumble of nerves in his stomach tightened into a fierce resolve. Dropping from the air duct into a combat roll, Elia’solor nar Ashru stepped out onto the stage and faced his audience.
With the flick of a wrist he and Pi sent a combat drone spinning off towards one of the hulking creatures. It had taken Elias a while to work out that despite the way they presented, the Elcor were really bipeds who had adopted a quadrupedal gait out of necessity due to their high gravity world. They walked cautiously along on feet and knuckles, but if the situation called for it, they could stand up, lean back, and put on clothing, carry loads, drive carefully reinforced skycars, or strap heavy weaponry onto their shoulders. The reapers had clearly loved the idea, and the almost shaggy looking elcor husks sported giant glowing blue sacs on their backs and a giant bony cannon ran from it’s back to where it was welded onto the husk’s head, effectively aiming the cannon at whatever the husk was looking at. The mouth—if it could be called that—was a mass of chitinous growths that reminded him of earth spider legs. Peeking out from his impromptu barricade, Elias could see one in front of the tables, and a second on the far side of a still upright table, crouched over the mangled body of a turian worker. Glancing to his right he could see a maze of vats and conveyor belts and the crackle of purplish electricity that indicated a weak point in the fabric of the multiverse. Heavy shambling shapes could be seen amongst the machinery and he could see them turning towards either the elevator, or towards them, heavy weapons pointing towards the probably untempered glass that separated the control room from the factory proper.
“We need to get those belts moving,” he said as he locked the scope of his sniper rifle into place.
Drimi grunted and swung his hammer in an ascending arc, catching the far table by the legs and flipping it onto its side. “Keep those things off me,” he muttered, and dashed for a console by the window.
Electricity crackled behind them as the drone sent a pulse of energy towards the nearest elcor husk, and there was a thud of something heavy hitting the floor.
“Target incapacitated,” Pi’s voice came calmly into Elias’ helmet.
“That’s a start,” Elias said.

~*~

Continue to Chapter 24

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