“They have a Krogan, why can’t we have a Krogan?” – Cat6 dropout.
There was already a crowd gathered when Arkara strode out into the main compound. There were cries of ‘Where’s the Chief?’ and ‘What happened to the Chief?’ and one of the men behind her pointed towards her and said “She’s what happened to the chief.”
A murmur spread through the crowd and the women gathered around her. Some of the men seemed less than pleased with the turn of events but so far, no one was questioning this turn of events. As Otto stepped up beside her, she felt relieved to have at least one friendly face nearby.
“Last five years,” Arkara said. “What happened after I set fire to this place? And where is the shaman?”
The crowd looked at each other, none seeming to want to speak first, but then the voice of an old krogan rumbled up from somewhere deep within his belly. “Chief Targev took charge of the clan, after the fire, Khel.”
“Why do you call me that?” Arkara asked.
The Krogan looked confused. “Because…you are her? You do not bear the number of a clone, so you are the original.”
Arkara’s jaw tightened, but she let the comment pass. “And where is the Shaman?”
“She is at the cloning lab.”
“Take me there,” Arkara said. “Show me what Targev ‘achieved’.”
The hubbub and murmurs of the crowd rose as they Krogan looked at each other, and then one of the male warriors said “Follow us.”
“What about this trash?” Anar asked, dumping the unconscious form of Targev at Arkara’s feet.
“He may know what’s going on here,” Elias said, resting a hand on Arkara’s arm.
Looking down, she found the muzzle of the shotgun–Targev’s shotgun–that she held in her right hand was pointed directly at Targev’s head. “I want to see him dead,” she muttered.
“The Chief was saving us,” one of the male Krogan said.
“Through enslavement and cloning?” Arkara snapped.
“We don’t have another way,” one of the females said timidly. “We have a purpose.”
“If these preening pyjaks stopped killing each other—and us women—then we could find a better way, a better purpose.”
“Well, yes,” Rayne said. “What did you think I was doing here?”
“Throwing a concert?” Elias asked. “You always did well in Krogan space…if I recall correctly,” he added hastily. No one else seemed to notice the quarian’s slight slip of tongue.
“Well, yes, but the proceeds have been going towards genophage cure research.”
“And why would an asari help us?” Arkara asked.
Rayne paused. “Because I believe that every race has a right to make their own decisions and to live to their best potential.”
“And what if this is our best potential?” Arkara asked, sweeping her arm wide across the gathered krogan.
“I don’t believe that,” Rayne said. “And I don’t know who you are, but from what you’ve just said, I don’t believe you think that either.”
“So you support this?”
“A cure isn’t worth anything if there’s no Krogan left to give it to!” Rayne snapped.
The silence that followed was broken by a small cough. “There um, might be another option,” Elias said.
Arkara turned towards him. “I’m listening, Elias.”
“There already is a cure somewhere…else,” the quarian said delicately. “We’d just have to go fetch it.”
“You said the cure was distributed,” Cicepia said. “There was only ever the one dose.”
Elias shrugged. “So we find the formula. It would be around somewhere. Failing that a sample of cured krogan DNA would kickstart research here—it would become a process of replication and reverse engineering from a known solution.”
“Is that not universe tampering?” Anar asked.
Arkara snorted. “As opposed to everything else we’ve been doing?”
The hanar paused. “This one concedes you have a point.”
“It’s an option,” Elias said. “Or if you’re really worried about meddling we could just go close the damn portal and leave. Or not. We could just leave and let everyone take their chances with the…” he glanced around. “You know.”
Rayne stared between them. “I’m going to need the full story on that one. And you’re Elias, as in…”
“Parallel universe,” the quarian said, and his eyes glowed very briefly green before his mask flickered and the usual white glow Arkara had been used to shone through once more.
“I…see.” Rayne said.
“He’s stopped breathing,” Cicepia said from where she was monitoring Targev’s vitals.
“And Sync?” Arkara asked.
“The Doctor’s life signs are stable, Thek Arkara,” Elias’ drone said. “However I would recommend he gets medical attention in the next two point seven six hours.”
“Our ship’s too far away,” Cicepia said.
“I have a car,” Rayne said. “But I’d need someone to give me directions.”
“I’ll go,” Cicepia said. “You should go with Arkara,” she added to Elias and Anar.
The krogan led her and the others towards an irregular line of parked tonkas, Rayne and Cicepia walked off in a different direction, Sync’s body hovering between them on a biotic field.
The facility was as a squat plascrete bunker, built on the ruins of an old hospital and Arkara noticed there were both krogan and salarians with guns on the fortified roof. They passed at least three gun posts that she spotted, carefully camouflaged in rubble, debris and twisted metal, and when they pulled up to the structure itself, she could still see the scorch marks from the chemical fire that had raged when she’d set it ablaze half a decade ago. There had been a half hearted attempt to patch some of the damage up where there had been structural damage, and the new plascrete stuck out like a sore thumb against the pitted and weatherbeaten fabric of the old building—as did the new second story that sat atop the building, giving it a commanding view of the ruined city it sat in.
“Killing field,” Elias muttered as they drove up to the entrance. “All the fortifications face outward.”
Arkara grunted. “Looks like the sandstorm’s cleared up,” she said. “Any sign of the reapers?”
“No actual reaper signatures,” Elias said. “The portal’s to the southwest of here, some distance off the main road. We’ll have to get it on our way back.”
The tonkas drove through heavily guarded vehicular gate, and then they were led down a ramp into the facility proper. The inside smelled strongly of antiseptic, and there were a large number of salarians inside, most wearing labcoats. In contrast to the outside, the inside of the facility was clean and it appeared that a bit more care had been taken in making recent repairs. There even appeared to have been some attempt at painting, and a natural light well fell upon a rare garden of Tuchanka native plants. Salarian influence no doubt. The aliens stared at their group with some surprise, and she could see groups forming as the news sparked from quick thinking brain to quick thinking brain. There were a number of large, round glass tubes, each surrounded by shiny new machinery and filled with a bluish liquid. About half of the tubes contained the floating forms of female krogan, although none appeared to be moving.
A salarian dressed in a black soldier’s uniform approached them, carrying a datapad. “Hello and welcome. I admit I’m surprised to receive unscheduled visitors—and aliens at that. What brings you all here? You come with guards, so this can’t be invasion. We have no diplomatic ties to Palavan, Rannoch or Kahje. You can’t be connected to the Friends of the Galaxy, I would have heard—”
The krogan guards stepped aside and looked towards Arkara and the salarian started.
“Khel? No, you can’t be Khel, I passed Khel in tank just…” he half turned towards one the largest tank at the center of the indoor garden.
“Who are you, and what is going on here?” Arkara asked.
The salarian’s omni tool lit up and he appeared to be scanning something. “Padok Wiks, former STG. I’m with Friends of the Galaxy now, attempting to save the krogan race from extinction. That doesn’t make sense,” he said, staring at his omni tool. “No records of…” he looked up at Arkara. “You’re the first.”
“The first of what?”
“You’re the first clone of Khel Ghyal.”
“I saved Ghyal,” Arkara burst out. “I burnt this place to the ground to get her away from Targev!”
“I’m sorry,” Padok said. “I don’t have any records of that. I joined this facility two years ago. I would suggest you talk to Shaman, although you would need…permission to visit her from the Chief,” he added, glancing at the guards.
“Targev’s dead,” Arkara said flatly. One of the males nodded confirmation.
“I see. I wondered why you had his shotgun. Very well. Come with me.” The salarian hesitated slightly. “I would like to say I personally disagreed with the…quarters assigned to the shaman. The old Chief insisted. My professional recommendation is that she be removed from facility entirely. The quarters are wholly unsuitable and the precaution of having her here is unnecessary.”
“Take me to her,” Akara rumbled.
“Walk this way please.”
He led them through the garden, past the large tank containing what appeared to be another Arkara. Down a small corridor they came to a locked door. A metal, locked door with heavy bolts and a tiny viewing window, which was shrouded in cloth. On the other side was a room best described as a jail cell. It was small, cramped and although there was some comfortable furniture and pelts on the floor, the walls were rough and there was no natural light. At the far end of the room, an elderly krogan sat on a padded chair, reading a book printed on yellowing paper. A long chain ran from her leg to the wall. Looking up, she stared for a moment, and then pulled out a round spectacle, which hovered over her eye, caught up in a tiny mass effect field that appeared to be generated by the frame itself.
“Is that you, Khel? You are out of your pod. Did they release you? Have they made enough of our people?”
“Shaman? Why are you here? And why are you calling me Khel?”
The shaman squinted at her. “Come closer, child.”
Arkara strode forward, and the shaman looked her up and down. “Arkara? It’s good to see you, but you shouldn’t be here. You must be very confused.”
“What happened here? And why… can someone get her out of that leg cuff? Now!”
“Uh, I’ll get the passcode,” Padok said, just as Elias said, “Done.”
Arkara looked down to see the cuff clink open and fall off the Shaman’s leg, then at the quarian, who was putting away his omni-tool. “What? It’s not like that was an unexpected request.”
“Thank you,” she said.
“You hacked our security systems,” Padok said accusingly.
“You bought commercial software,” Elias said. “And haven’t installed patches for four years. A nine year old could get through your security. I mean, a server administrator username of ‘admin’? Come on.”
Leaving the two to bicker, Arkara turned back to the Shaman. “What’s going on?”
The shaman reached out to cup her face. “How much do you remember from when you left?”
“I remember the fire. You helped me and Khel to the space port. You got me off planet, said you had somewhere to hide Khel.”
“Yes, you helped stem the treachery of Tarak, but after you left his brother Targev led a hunt for you. He didn’t find you, but when he returned he was determined to continue with the research. He wanted to continue Dr. Lennox’s work. Oh. I’m sorry, you probably don’t remember who Dr. Lennox is.”
“Blind salarian. He claims he left and took all of his technology and research when he found Tarak trying to use it to build himself an army, not cure the genophage.”
The shaman sighed. “Ah, then things were worse then we thought. Yes, Dr. Lennox left and took everything, which infuriated Tarak, but I never knew why. You’d already been born at that point though. You were the first clone of Khel Ghyal. You were so close—the best of friends. You talked like each other, thought like each other and…shared some of her memories. You remember her first child, slain by the hand of Thek Tarak?”
“She was named Arkara,” the shaman said with a smile. “You were named in her memory.”
“Why don’t I remember any of this?” Arkara asked, sitting down on the small cot.
“The salarian’s departure sent Targev into a blood rage. He rampaged through the female compound and…Khel was not battle ready. You were. Normally the one who slays the Chief is the next chief, but…you are a clone. None of the krogan saw you as an equal. Not after that Urdnot got his company killed on Uttuko to save the indoctrinated Rachni. So, you had to leave. I reached out to an old friend, an information broker named Shias Lazeen. She forged you a new identity, but to keep you safe, you asked for one more favour. You asked me to alter your memories so you would only know of yourself as Thek Arkara. You were never a good liar, and in order to keep your new life intact, you had to believe the lie. So I used biotics to imprint the new identity into your mind and you left.”
“So that’s why everyone keeps calling me Khel.”
“Yes, but you are your own person Arkara. You made it so through your own choices.”
“But what about here?” Arkara asked. “What’s happened here? If Cyrus left how is this place still running? Why are the cloned females so…docile.”
“Targev found a way to restart the facility with the help of a group calling themselves Friends of the Galaxy. They came to us, saying they wished to help the krogan. I don’t think they have intentionally sabotaged the cloning process, but well… even their best minds are not a match for Dr. Lennox. I think they’re more interested in being paid for their research. At least…” she paused. “Do not misunderstand me, the scientists here have treated me well and I believe they are genuine in wishing to help the Krogan. I’m not sure about the motives of their leaders—especially the ‘Chen’ human who calls the shots and represents the Friends of the Galaxy.”
“Is he here?”
“Usually. Unless he’s gone on one of his ‘business trips’. Be careful around him,” she said. “He used to be…” the shaman’s voice lowered. “He used to be with Cerberus.”
Arkara nodded and rose to her feet. “I will have to meet this Chen. But why were you chained up here?”
“Thek didn’t trust me,” the shaman said with a grin. “But he knew if he killed me he would have a more difficult time convincing the females to go along with his demands. So he keeps me here, and I am escorted to as I go about the rituals of our people. It is comfortable enough, for a prison, but I am isolated from the clan. I can at least keep conditions here comfortable for the women here. But once outside the compound I have no influence. I can’t say I condone what Targev has done outside these walls, but when the alternative is extinction…”
“Targev’s dead,” Arkara said softly, reaching out to take the shaman’s withered hands into her own. “Will you help me fix this?”
The shaman stilled and then nodded. “Yes child, I will. I believe it’s time for you to reclaim your clan.”
They sat a while longer, saying nothing. And then it was time to go upstairs.
Rayne strode through the doors of the med bay, and deposited Sync onto the main operating table. “Hey doc, we have a patient for you.”
From a nearby desk, Cyrus turned around. “Ah, I see. So you need my help now, do you?”
“Sorry, what? I thought you were the ship’s doctor?” Rayne said.
“I was talking to the other one.”
Cicepia sighed. “We’re dealing with the aftermath of your mess. Now are you going to do your job or not?”
“I’m on it, I’m on it,” Cyrus said, and walked over to the bed, and his visor flickered as it scanned Sync’s body. “I see, severe heat stroke coupled with near failure of cybernetic implants. Really should find fix for temperature extremes. Poor thing. No foresight,” he added, tapping Sync on one of the man’s pallid cheeks. “Seems to have cooled down now. The transport had air conditioning?”
“Yes,” Rayne said.
“Also used mud to absorb heat, I see. Still, I should be able to help.” Pressing a few buttons, Sync’s body was suddenly covered with tiny ice crystals as was Cicepia’s purple hood which she’d kept pressed against the gun would on Sync’s torso. “Bringing core body temperature back to normal parameters. You can release pressure now,” he added. “Cryo-stasis should stop surface bleeding. Will need to suture any major blood vessels though. Looks like shot went straight trough. No shrapnel at least. Less complicated.”
Cicepia stepped back, her hood frozen solid in her hand. She’d have to put it through the wash to get all the blood out.
“Have you found the cloning facility yet?” Cyrus asked as he started surgery. “I’m curious as to how it has held up—and who’s running it.”
“The others are on their way now,” Cicepia said, putting her hood into a plastic bag and going over the sink to wash the blood off her hands.
“Jerks wouldn’t let me in earlier,” Rayne said. “Hopefully I’ll get to go in now.”
“What was it like when you were last here, Cyrus?” Cicipia asked.
“It’s Tuchanka,” Cyrus said. “It’s hardly a five star resort.”
“What were you working on exactly?”
“Cloning,” Cyrus said. Suddenly he turned towards the Asari, who was holding up a tattered photograph. “Put that down, that doesn’t belong to you!”
“Sorry,” Rayne said, replacing the picture, and Cicepia saw it was a yellowing picture of a young human girl. “I guess I’ll go snoop somewhere else since you asked so nicely…jerk.”
“Go find the female asari,” Cyrus said as he turned back to the operating table. “I’m sure you’ll have a lot to talk about.”
“All asari are biologically female,” Rayne said with a frown.
“Oh are they? Of course, I suppose you’d know.”
Cicepia sat down on one of the beds, keeping out of the way as the Salarian moved around the table.
Moments later, Rayne stormed back into the bed bay. “What wasn’t I warned about this?” she demanded.
“About what?” Cyrus asked, without looking up.
Rayne pointed at Drimi, who was standing uncertainly in the doorway.
“I didn’t think he was an issue,” Cicepia said mildly.
“Not an issue? You do realise he makes Asari inbreeding look tempting right? No one should be allowed to be that hot.”
“Um…thank you?” Drimi said. “I think.”
“Drimi, you might want to come in.”
“No, I’m good here, thanks,” Drimi said, still staring at Rayne.
“Sync’s on the table.”
“What? Boss?” Drimi pushed past Rayne and went straight over to the examination table
“Use the disinfectant first!” Cyrus snapped.
“What happened?” Drimi asked as he washed his hands.
“He overheated,” Cicepia said. “Then he…looked like he was about to go on a murderous rampage and got shot. Badly.”
Drimi’s omni tool glowed as he ran a scan over Sync’s body, and then there was a whirr as he started loosening some tiny screws Cicepia hadn’t even seen when Elias had been looking over Sync’s medicals back at the Thek compount.
“What are you doing?” Cyrus asked. “I’m trying to work here.”
“You handle the flesh, Cyrus, I need to make sure his implants are still working. If they’re not, nothing you do is really going to help, now is it?”
“Hm. I suppose that makes sense. The blood vessels from the gunshot are sutured or repaired. I’ll pack the wound with medigel to aid healing. I’ll also prescribe some mild antibiotics as a precaution. What’s the status of his technical implants?”
“Some damage to the power circuitry,” Drimi said. “The shielding stopped most of it, but I’ll need to replace some of the neural interfaces. I’m not sure if he’ll be properly registering the implant feedback at the moment.”
Some minutes or hours later Cyrus was wiping down Sync’s skin with a yellowish liquid and applying gauze and bandages to his chest when Drimi put his tools away. “Done.”
“And it looks like pretty boy is waking up,” Cyrus said, and Cicepia saw the man’s good eye flicker.
“Sync,” Drimi said. “Sync, say something!”
“D-drimi? That you?”
“You’re on the ship. You gave us a bit of a scare there.”
Sync grimaced, and tried to sit up, but fell back down against the table. “But I was on Tuchanka… it was hot.”
“You overheated,” Cicepia said. “Arkara had taken down the Clan Chief and it was… you walked like mech and looked like you were going to execute him.”
“No. You froze and one of the bodyguards shot you.”
“Someone hacked your systems and tried to override your cybernetic automated survival subroutines,” Drimi said. “I don’t think they were fully successful.”
“Elias,” Cicepia said. “I wondered what he was doing with his omni tool.”
“I acted like a mech?” Sync said.
“Damn it,” the human swore.
“It’s all right,” Drimi said hurriedly. “Were were able to patch you up and you’ll be as good as new soon.”
Sync nodded and looked up at all of them. “Thank you. All of you.”
“You’re welcome,” Cicepia said.
“Hey, where’s your hood.”
“Got dirty,” Cicepia said with a shrug.
“Right. Where’s everyone else? Was anyone else hurt?”
“Not badly, although I think Anar’s mechsuit will need some fixing. They’ve headed over to the cloning facility.”
“We’re still on Tuchanka? They’re still out there?”
Sync pushed himself into a sitting position an would have swung his legs over the side of the table if Drimi hadn’t pushed him back down.
“No, you need to rest,” the asari said firmly.
“He’s right,” Cicepia said. “You overheated just being on that planet. You need to stay here.”
“Sedative?” Cyrus suggested.
There was a shriek from the back of the ship.
“What was that?” Sync asked.
“I’ll go check,” Drimi said, leaving the med bay.
“I presume the female asari just met each other.”
“Female asari?” Sync asked. There’s more than one. Wait, I remember…”
“Rayne T’kai,” Cicepia said. “She’s been surprisingly helpful considering.”
“Did she recognise Elias?”
“That is interesting.”
In the distance they could hear Drimi’s voice raised to a yell. “You can’t have both Elias AND Rayne!”
“They’re a set,” Mridi’s voice came down the corridor.
“That’s not how it works. They were pitted against each other.”
“But they’ve clearly patched things up and now we can all hang out together…like friends.”
“Oh sure, ‘friends’. I’ve seen you staring at Elias’ ass.”
“It’s the suits. I mean, form fitting right?”
“So not the point!”
“Oh and what is the point then, hun?”
There was a smug pause. “I’m hotter than you are. And I don’t need a push up bra.”
“Well, I’m smarter than you and I don’t need to resort to nitpicking over clothing items to win an argument.”
“You? Smarter? Ha! No chance.”
“Really? Well, I guess I’ll just have to prove it then.”
“Okay. How are you going to do that?” Drimi asked.
“We’re going to do a tech off. We’ll both build something set to parameters set by…hmm… your boss when he’s back on his feet. Rayne and Elias can be judges.”
“You’re so on,” Drimi said.
Cicepia sighed. “Well, at least they’re getting along.”
“If you need to get into the facility, I suggest you go now,” Cyrus said. “Sync is stable, but I advise against planetside activity until countermeasures can be taken against extreme heat.” He paused. “I suggest you take one of the wonder twins with you.”
Cicepia sighed. “I’ll go talk to Rayne.”
Continue to Chapter 20
Return to Chapter 18