“Hard to see big picture behind pile of corpses,” – Mordin Solus
Getting into the compound had been easier than expected. After cautioning Otto about his speech patterns, they had set out, the storm dying down enough that sand wasn’t an issue. The voice modulator had helped them talk their way through the front gates, but Arkara was surprised the others had gone along so quickly with the gate guards comments.
“And these aliens are your servants?” he’d asked. “You’ll have to chain them.”
“I’ll deal with them once we’re inside,” Elias had said as the krogan threw down some electronic locking collars with long chains.
Sync was visibly suffering in the heat of the afternoon, but had waved off any offers of assistance.
The layout inside the compound hadn’t changed, and Arkara didn’t need the map Elias generated from his scans of the area to know that the market was in the south western quadrant near the warehouses and the main living areas were in the east. The large dormitory style buildings to the northeast were new, but they were built of stone as reinforced plascrete just like the older buildings. Anar’s mech strode towards them as she took in the number of females and children that were evident in the camp, but the women sat quietly or walked with their eyes looking down, shrinking back whenever one of the men walked past.
“This one is glad to see you all again,” Anar said, even as Cicepia yelped.
“Stand still,” Elias muttered. “These locks don’t respond well to wireless commands.”
“They have a wireless interface?” Cicepia asked.
“No, but they have an electromagnetic field,” Elias said. “If I can get the right opposing fields nearby I should be able to trigger them to unlock.”
“Or you could just re-program them,” Sync suggested.
“Not out in the open without being obvious, I can’t.”
“Do it later,” Arkara said. “We need to go speak with her,” she added, and walked up to one of the females, who was seated on a bench rocking an infant in her arms while several youngsters played on an sturdy playground nearby.
“Why her?” Elias asked.
“Because she’s closest and not under armed guard,” Arkara said.
The woman was dressed in civilian clothing, with a structured robe, hat and veil in an off white colour with red embroidery, and cringed away when Arkara tapped her on the shoulder.
“Sorry,” Arkara said. “I didn’t mean to startle you. I just wanted to know what sort of processing you go through for this cure—and what are the tests they put you through first.”
The woman lowered her eyes and clutched her baby to her chest. It was clear that she understood the question, but for some reason was unwilling—or unable—to respond.
“What have they done to you?” Arkara asked, her eyes narrowing.
The woman looked around, glancing sidelong at some of the nearby males, who were regarding her with some interest—and a watchfulness that Arkara could only describe as threatening.
“Otto, come over,” Arkara said through her communicator. “Make it look like you’re asking the questions.”
The cook walked forward, bringing the others along give the leashes weren’t very long.
“With understanding: What can I do to assist?” he asked.
“Just stand there and try to look imposing,” Arkara hissed. “And stand between her and those males to block their view.”
Otto bristled, loomed forward and folded his arms. “With Anger: You must keep your hands to yourself and know who is boss.”
The female stared at him for a moment, uncertain fear warring with amusement on her face.
“It’s okay, he’s with me,” Arkara said. “We just want to know what’s going one here.”
“I’m not allowed to say what happens during processing,” the female said, and Arkara was shocked to hear her own voice being spoken back at her. She heard Sync gasp and stared at the other woman, noticing that she had Arkara’s amber eyes. If not for her helmet, the other woman could well have thought she was looking into her own face.
Arkara took an involuntary step back, nearly bumping into Anar, who was standing just off to her right. “What have they done to you?”
“Find us in the dormitory after sundown,” the female said glancing towards the large, new building complex. “When there are less of them around,” she added meaningfully.
“I’ll need a face veil,” Arkara said. “I don’t normally wear one.”
“The men insist,” the woman said softly, and Arkara didn’t think she’d ever get used to hearing herself. It was bad enough listening to recordings of her own voice. The woman got up and walked over to a building, returning shortly with a pile of cloth that she pushed into Arkara’s hands before walking off towards the playground.
By now, the sun was sinking low on the horizon. “We should find somewhere to sleep for the night,” Arkara said to the others. “I need to find out what’s going on here.”
“Was that…you that we were just talking to?” Sync asked. “It sounded like you.”
“Looked a bit like you too,” Cicepia observed.
“Cloned tissue?” Elias suggested.
“I don’t know,” Arkara said. “And I can’t begin to guess.”
“This might make it easier to blend in though,” Cicepia said.
They holed up for the night in an empty storage shed, and the cool of the desert night gave them all some respite, especially Sync.
“You need a better cooling system if you’re going to run around with those cybernetics,” Elias said as he popped the lock on Sync’s collar.
“I’ve never been somewhere this hot before,” Sync said. “How do the geth manage heat like this?”
“Venting,” Elias said. “And thermo regulation built into their platforms. It’s not dissimilar to the one I use in my own suit.”
“But I thought your people created the geth before your immune systems weakened—before you needed the suits.”
“Sure, but we still had work suits,” Elias said. “These modern suits are just refinements of the technology we already had.”
Sync nodded, and munched on a muesli bar that Anar had distributed to the levo-protein people from his mech. “I’ll have to look into that once we’re back on the ship.”
Elias nodded and walked over to Arkara, holding out a two clear hemispheres that were as delicate as flower petals. “Here,” he said. “I don’t know if you’ll need them now, but I made you some contact lenses. They might help if you run into someone you know.”
“Like the Clan Chief?” Arkara said, picking them up. They looked tiny in her large hands, and felt strange going into her eyes, but it felt even stranger being out of her armour. She wasn’t used to going without it in enemy territory, and the Thek compound was definitely enemy territory.
“Like the Clan Chief,” Elias agreed, pulling up his omnitool and making a few adjustments to something on her new omni tool. “All right, I’ve linked you up so that you’ll be able to relay video to me and—” Elias stopped as a presence loomed in the doorway—the guard from the gate was staring in at them. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Anar slip into the back hatch of his mech, and was thankful the hanar had parked so that the hatch should have been out of sight from the doorway.
“Has your female presented herself to the Chief yet?” he asked.
“She is resting,” Anar’s augmented voice came. “She will present herself in the morning.”
“So she is weak?”
“She is to perform the Rite of Purification tonight,” Anar said. “Does Clan Thek take a change of clan fealty so lightly as to forget the rites of all Krogan?”
The guard bristled. “You dare insult clan Thek?”
Otto charged up then, and smashed his forehead into the guard’s helmet, sending the smaller male stumbling backwards. “Do not speak to my lady in such a tone!” he said with a fair approximation of emotion in his voice.
“You dishonour Thek with your presumption,” Anar said. “Tell the Clan Chief our female will present herself in the morning.”
As the guard scrambled away and Anar closed the door, Otto rubbed at his headplate. “Painfully: Ow.”
Arkara laid a hand on his shoulder. “Well done,” she said.
“With slight regret: That was a rash action. I am not sure why I did it.”
“Well it seemed to work,” Arkara said with a smile. “I’d say there’s a fair bit of krogan in you after all.”
“With feelings of turmoil: I am not sure if I have just disappointed my parents or made them proud.”
“I think you made them proud,” Arkara said, and Otto blushed. Then she slipped out the door and headed over to the women’s complex.
As she joined the women as they were herded into the dorms, Arkara noticed that a lot of them had the same eyes as her, although not all of them. Once inside, the women were able to remove their veils, and Arkara found that many of them had her face. Indeed, she could see that there were only about six different faces amongst the twenty or thirty individuals who were tucking in their children. She also noticed that each one had a number tattooed on her right wrist. Looking around, she approached one of them that looked like the woman she’d seen earlier.
“Did I speak to you earlier today?” Arkara asked.
The woman stared at her in confusion. “No,” she replied in Arkara’s voice.
“Show her your hands,” Elias’ suggested quietly. “You don’t have a number.”
“Can I get all of you together please?” Arkara asked. “I need to speak to you—all of you.”
The woman backed away. “Why? What are you planning?”
Arkara held up her hands, trying to appear as non-threatening as possible. “I just want to work out what they’ve done to you all—and why you look and sound like me.”
The woman peered at Arkara’s wrists and her eyes widened. “Are you the original?” she asked.
“What do you mean original?”
“You shouldn’t be here,” the woman said. “If they find out you’re here they’ll kill you.”
“That’s nothing new,” Arkara said with a shrug. “They’ve been hunting me for years.”
“We came—well, some of us came—from you.”
“I left years ago,” Arkara said. “How is this even possible?”
The woman looked down at the floor. “We are not true krogan,” she said, shame dripping from every word. “We were made from you.”
“Made? You mean…created?”
“They wanted more fertile krogan, so they made more.”
“Who did? Who is this ‘they’?”
The woman looked around, almost instinctively it seemed, and then lowered her voice. “Mr. Cyrus,” she said. “He’s a salarian.”
“Anar? Did you know about this?” Arkara asked through her omni-tool.
Through the video link she saw Anar drift into view, stuffing the mouth under his belly with cheez puffs. “About what?”
“Elias, do you have any idea what this means?”
“It sounds like they’re cloning fertile females—including you,” Elias said. “And I suspect these tests are simply a ruse to find more fertile females to clone. But more to the point—Sync can you isolate Dr. Lennox in the med bay?”
“On it,” Arkara could hear the human’s voice even though she couldn’t see him. “Hopefully he’s still in there.”
“Is that what they’re doing?” Arkara asked. “They’re not helping women overcome the genophage?”
The clone shook her head. “I believe they’re only looking for fertile females. But if this is what it takes to survive, we have to do it.”
“Not this way,” Arkara said. “There has to be a better way.”
“Change of leadership?” Cicepia suggested.
“Cicepia’s right,” Elias said. “The technology itself isn’t bad. Just perhaps the way it’s being used.”
“Do we have the right to impose a leadership change just because we find the customs here objectionable?” Anar asked.
“To end the enslavement of these women, I’ll act first and debate later, thanks,” Cicepia snapped.
Elias sighed. “We still need more information—and our best source is sitting on board the Endurance.”
“Are you sure it’s the same Cyrus?” Anar asked. “This one has never heard of Cyrus being familiar with cloning technology.”
“He’s salarian and a medical doctor,” Elias said. “Chances are good.”
“But he’s on the ship,” Anar protested.
Arkara turned back to her clone, who was staring at the video from Arkara’s omni-tool in fascination. “Is Mr. Cyrus here? On Tuchanka?”
“I don’t know,” the woman said. “I was made years ago.”
“How many years ago?”
That was two years after Arkara had left Tuchanka, burning down the Thek science facility in the process. It made her wonder if she missed anything. Through the video screen a stream of chatter could be heard.
“Drimi, keep Cyrus locked in the med bay,” Sync said.
“Uh, sure thing boss—um, Sync,” Drimi’s voice was softer. “What’s this about?”
“I’m not sure yet. I’m isolating the med bay systems so he can’t override the lockdown. Keep an eye on things up there, okay?”
“As far as this one knows, Cyrus seeks redemption for something that happened during his time with the Eclipse Mercenary gang,” Anar said. “Both of us did things we aren’t proud of in those days.”
“Then I’d say his past just caught up with him,” Elias said. “Once he’s contained we can ask him about it.”
“This one would appreciate that,” Anar said. “Cyrus has always been good to this one, although he does tend to be impolite when directly questioned.”
“With surprise: Doctor Lennox has always been very kind to me,” Otto said.
“I think we should deal with Cyrus after we’re done here,” Cicepia said. “One problem at a time.”
“But if this is the same Cyrus, he may have information as to what’s been going on here,” Elias pointed out.
“Assuming he’ll tell us—can we trust him?”
“This one has found him trustworthy in the past,” Anar said.
“Look, we have two options,” Elias said. “Either we get information from Cyrus and possibly find a back way into this cloning facility, or we go straight through the Clan Chief. We might have to deal with him anyway, but it could get bloody. I don’t know about you but I’m not keen to go up against a battleline of charging krogan.”
“I want to take out Targev,” Arkara said. “He’s a lousy pyjak just like his brother was. I just don’t know if we could walk out easily afterward.”
“It’s your call, Arkara,” Sync said. “These are your people.”
“Politely: if the women in that building are clones of you then they are your family,” Otto said. “They are your sisters. What do you think is best for them?”
“To be free to live their lives,” Arkara said promptly. “To be their own persons. That’s not going to happen under Targev’s watch.”
“This one believes the Clan Chief will use his numbers to take over Tuchanka once enough krogan are born,” Anar said. “You are looking at the future of the krogan if we let things be.”
“I don’t know,” Elias said. “That’s a highly limited gene pool. You need more than six females to repopulate a species even with redundant systems like the krogan have.”
There was a pause as everyone stared at the quarian.
“What? I was looking into livestock farming methods as potential data to bring back to Rannoch.”
“Thoughtfully: I doubt the minds behind this enterprise are thinking scientifically.”
“No,” Elias said. “I’m also wondering whether they built in other traits into the cloning process.”
“Such as?” Arkara asked.
“Um…pliability?” Elias suggested. “None of the women have your feisty nature.”
“Targev probably wanted people easier to control,” Arkara said.
“That trait could get passed on to their children,” Elias pointed out. “Between inbreeding and a change in temperament, I’m not sure we’re looking at the salvation of the krogan race.”
“There’s something to be said for constantly replenishing numbers though,” Anar said.
“It’s not going to win against reapers,” Elias retorted.
Arkara sighed. “No, it isn’t,” she said. “Let’s talk to Cyrus.”