Cicepia Altus half led, half followed the nondescript group of C-sec officers that slipped quietly out of the side door of the building. With Elias’ agent out front all of the reporters had scrambled to get the latest scoop, leaving them with a clear path out of the building. Elias had sent his bodyguards with his agent, and the quarian had done something to his suit that had resulted in the glossy colour draining away, being replaced by a nondescript dull blue that she remembered seeing on some of Elias’ staff. So that’s how he did it, the sneaky man. She wasn’t sure if anyone else had really paid attention to what they’d seen, but she filed that away for later. You never knew when a little knowledge would come in handy. So far, none of the other officers had questioned her orders, although whether that was out of deference to the her that existed here or simply the unprecedented circumstances was unclear. As it was, she slipped into the passenger seat of one of the squad cars, the krogan bundled into the back. Thankfully, it was a short drive to the precinct, and it was exactly where she remembered it being—exactly where it was in her universe.
Once there, she took a deep breath and stepped out of the car, straight into the throng of curious and confused law enforcement officials. First things first—take control.
“All right, get the Krogan and the Human processed and into a holding cell. Take a statement from the hanar and the quarian’s with me. I want patrol cops taking statements from every concertgoer we can find and a portable—shielded—containment unit on my desk in the next five minutes. Crime scene’s been roped off, but I need a rotating guard on it to make sure no duct rats sneak in on a dare.”
The nearest C-sec officer saluted. “Yes Lieutenant!” and strode off, barking commands and carving some order out of the impending chaos. Lieutenant, huh? She could get get used to that.
Her desk, when she found it, was…neat. The papers were squared away in precise piles, there was a vase of flowers on the desk, deep red blooms with a rich fragrance. There was also a card.
I hope you have a chance to enjoy these flowers before our big trip. You are the best thing that has ever happened to me and I look forward to spending the rest of my life with you.
Cicepia sat down. “You’re alive…” she mumbled, mostly to herself.
“Ma’am?” a human officer nearby turned to her.
“Just thinking aloud.”
“Yes ma’am. I thought—”
“Yes and I’m back,” Cicepia said hurriedly, closing the card. “It’s been that sort of a day though. You have something to report?”
“Ah, yes ma’am. According to our records, the man who calls himself ‘Sync’ died over five years ago.”
“That’s clearly an error.”
“Yes Ma’am, we’ll fix it,” the officer said. “And we don’t have any record of the krogran Thek Akara. None. It’s like she doesn’t exist.”
Cicepia waved the officer away. “Well sort it out. I’ll want to question her afterward to find out what she was doing with a rifle in the employee only area of the Silver Sun Theatre.”
She was halfway through her second report of the Theatre Incident, and seriously considering setting up a template, when Commander Druin strode in. “Lieutenant Altus! I heard you were back unexpectedly early. Couldn’t stay away, eh?”
He looked the same as in her world. Well, apart from his black eyes now glowing green. She knew that drell eyes actually had an iris and pupil underneath the inky black inner eyelid. The inner lid was just wasn’t typically opened unless the drell was slipping into past memories, but now they looked green. Much like everything else in this universe. Perhaps here he looked less stern, but he was the same lean, fast thinking man she knew from her universe. Her universe. That was an odd phrase to think. She always wondered at his reflexes, which were faster than she’d ever thought possible. Maybe he’d been one of those hanar operatives she’d heard about, but she’d never worked up the courage to ask him. Plastering a smile on her face she answered jovially, “Well, it’s been that sort of a day.”
“What day isn’t around here?” Commander Druin said, clapping her on the shoulder. “I’m glad you’re back though. Now I know it’s only been a short time since your promotion, but you need to clear your desk.”
“Altus, you need to pick up all your crap and move it into your new office. It’s over there.”
Cicepia looked up. A corner office. With a view out over the ward. They’d given her—or her analogue—a fucking corner office. It was pretty sweet actually, and certainly something she could get used to. Picking up a nearby box, she started picked up her datapads, holopicture frame and the vase of flowers and headed into her new office. Sort of her new office. Setting her things down, she turned to find the quarian singer standing at one of the windows, looking out over the ward.
“You should move your desk against the inside wall,” he said. “That way your back isn’t up against a window.”
“Do you really think I’ll be attacked at the precinct?” Cicepia asked.
Elias shrugged. “Old habits die hard,” he said. “Sometimes I still find myself looking for cover the moment I enter a new environment.”
“You served with the Quarian Marines, didn’t you?” she asked.
He tilted his head towards her in amusement. “I wouldn’t know what the Elias in your universe did. I’m assuming so far that he fought in the Battle of Rannoch and won Citadel’s Got Talent, but I don’t know past that.”
“Right, of course. Come on, I’ll get you set up at a remote monitoring station while I go and question the krogan,” she glanced down at her datapad. Apparently the her in this universe used the same passwords as she did. That was…creepy.
“What do you think she did?” Elias asked.
“Probably nothing in this universe,” Cicepia said. “But a sniper rifle in the rafters at a concert? I’d like to know who she was sent there to take out.”
She saw Elias blink—the light from his eyes vanishing momentarily. “You think she was targeting me?”
“I can’t rule anything out at this point,” she said. “Although if she was, she’d be targeting the you in her universe.”
“That’s…not really comforting.”
“Sorry. I deal in facts, not comfort.”
“You must be fun to have around when talking to families dead people.”
Cicepia shrugged. “Turians understand sacrifice for society. Humans are the ones who go all mushy.”
“What about quarians?”
“I don’t know actually,” Cicepia said after a slightly too long pause. “There aren’t many of you where I’m from.”
Leading the way over to a monitoring station, Cicepia started bringing up screens to allow viewing of the interrogation rooms and cells, thankful that she had an excuse not to look the quarian in the face. “Commander Shepard sided with the geth. Their fleet effectively wiped out the quarian people. Just about every soul who was on the flotilla.”
“But not me?”
“The Ashru made it to the system relay and jumped to safety,” Cicepia said. “Only a dozen or so crews survived and even they took casualties. Everyone just knows about the Ashru because you were on board.”
The quarian took the news more calmly than she would have expected. Genocide tended to have a negative affect on people.
“Here, Shepard and Admiral Zorah convinced the Migrant Fleet to cease firing upon the geth before they attained true self awareness,” Elias said. “Turns out we could have avoided three hundred years of vagrancy if we’d just let them be. You want to know the stupid thing?” he asked, taking a seat at the console and reconfiguring the displays with a deftness Cicepia had only even seen in those who had been using the software for years.
“Sure,” she said.
“We could have gone back to Rannoch at any time if we’d just asked nicely,” he said. “How’s that for hubris?”
“I’ll be back later,” Cicepia said, after a pause that was lengthy enough to be awkward. If she was reading the man correctly, he’d just implied that the quarians in her universe had died for insurmountable pride. It wasn’t something she wanted to think about really. She thought about the data packet she had received this morning from Shias Lazeen, the information broker and Shadow Broker agent she had used to get that list of names. It seemed so long ago—was it even really the same day in this place that both fitted like a glove and felt strangely alien? She’d had to force herself to relax when she’d seen a Destroyer parked at a funfair, its green eye scanning the crowd as children climbed up its legs and squealed with joy when it took delicate steps forward and back. She wasn’t a bad cop, although the version of her here seemed like she might be better. She just had…debts to repay. It was both the most turian and not turian thing she’d ever done.
“You can keep an eye on our cyborg here,” she said, pressing a button.
As she left the station one of the other officers stopped her. “Um, Lieutenant, who’s the quarian?”
“VI expert and a tech consultant on the case,” Cicepia said. “Also a witness and potential target, so as long as he’s happy to stay of his own free will we want to keep him around.”
The officer glanced up at a screen, which was still running footage of the impromptu press conference outside the Silversun Theatre. “Oh,” he said, his eyes widening.
“You saw nothing and, no, you may not ask for an autograph,” Cicepia said. “Understood?”
“Yes ma’am,” the man said, saluting smartly. “I have to say he doesn’t look like what I expected.”
“He’s wearing an envirosuit, Officer Meeks,” Cicepia said. “What did you expect exactly?”
She walked off before he could answer, and headed into the interrogation room she had the Krogan put into.
“Thek Akara,” she said, walking into the room and sitting down at the table opposite.
“That’s me,” the Krogan said, looming over her. Krogan were good at looming. It came with the size.
“First things first, what were you doing at the concert? You were spotted on the catwalks in the restricted areas.”
Akara folded her arms before her and leaned back into her own seat. “Let’s just say I had a mission from someone important that I was trying to fulfil.”
“And that mission had something to do with the sniper rifle you were carrying?”
“Yeah. I was being paid to take out some of the…seedier elements of the galaxy’s scummy underbelly.”
“Why pick your target off in the middle of a concert?”
“It’s good cover—lights, sound. If you’re going to take one shot and one shot only you’ll be sweet.”
Cicepia sighed. “Listen, you’re obviously a fine upstanding galactic citizen, helping us clean house like that. Don’t you think you can help me help you? We’re both strangers here, and I know both our…universes are different to this one, so I think it’s important that we help each other under the circumstances, wouldn’t you agree?”
“I can agree to that—within reason,” Akara said, uncrossing her arms.
“Good. So why were you at the theatre? You had one target in mind?”
“You want to give me a name?”
“Sorry, client confidentiality,” Akara said. “I’d never get another job if I welched, now would I?”
“All right, can you give me the name of the person who hired the hit?”
“I was hired by the Shadow Broker—or one of his agents, at least,” the krogan said, leaning forward with soft smile. “If you want his name you’ll have to find someone further up the chain than me.”
For a moment, Cicepia wondered if she should reveal her own information source, then thought better of it. Even on the off chance that Elias hadn’t worked out how to bring up the camera in this room, there was no guarantee that Shias Lazeen was even alive in this universe—or in the same line of work if she was. “All right,” she said. “Play it your way, I think it’ll be safer if I hold you for the forty eight hours the law allows while I get to the bottom of this anyway.”
Standing up, she left the room without a backwards glance. “Put her in with the human,” she said to the officers outside. “Let’s see what they have to say to each other.”
“Are you charging her with anything, ma’am?”
“Not yet,” Cicepia said. “She might not be guilty of anything, but let’s hang on to her just to be safe.”
Back at the monitoring station, she found Elias had indeed tuned into the hallway cameras, and was watching Akara being taken into the human’s cell.
“Any sign of the reaper key?” Cicepia asked quietly.
“Not yet,” Elias said. “Hmm…” he said, flicking the sound on.
“…question you already?” the human was asking the krogan.
“Yeah,” the krogan said, stamping to the other side of the cell and sitting down on the floor.
“I don’t know how much we can trust her. In my universe I saw her kill a man after talking him down. Sure,he had taken a bunch of folk hostage, but he surrendered and then, Bam! Brains all over the floor.”
“Interesting,” Akara said. “Let’s just say that in my universe she’s different according to my sources. Never met her personally, but it’s certainly interesting.”
“Just watch your back. What were you doing up there anyway?”
“I’m a gun for hire,” Akara said with a grin. “I had a hit on a target who was meant to be at the concert.”
“Then I hope you met your mark,” the man her records indicated went by the name ‘Sync’.
“Sadly I didn’t,” Akara said. “Depending on how this turns out, I might get another chance though.”
The two didn’t talk much, and after food was delivered they soon found the bunk—and the human took the top one. “Well that was…less than enlightening,” Elias said, standing. The quarian stretched and she though she heard a crack as he swivelled his head to loosen his neck muscles. “I might head back to…well, my apartment and get some sleep. What are you planning on doing?”
“I’ll stay here,” Cicepia said. “I’m not sure if I…if she lives where I do.”
“You’re sure?” Elias asked.
“I’ll sleep in my—her office,” Cicepia said. “Everyone does it. I’ll be fine.”
For a moment, it looked like Elias might say something, and then he nodded. “It would be less conspicuous than the alternatives.”
“Are all quarians as sneaky as you?” Cicepia asked.
“Only the ones who went through a reality tv show,”
Nodding, Elias turned and walked out of the monitoring cubicle. “Anar,” he said on the way out.
The hanar drifted over to her. “Officer Altus, this one would like to know if the disc has yielded any results. It would like to see it returned but…is it definitely reaper technology?”
“As near as we can tell, yes,” Cicepia said. “We have it contained but without the second part of the key, Elias says he can’t get anything further.”
“The key—the human’s mimic has not appeared?”
“This one would like to request it be allowed to spend the night in your hanger? This one can stay comfortably inside it’s mech suit.”
“Are you sure? I can probably arrange a better bed for the night.”
“This one feels more at home in its suit than anywhere else.”
“Take a left at the next junction and follow the signs,” Cicepia said. “Stay in the main area though. If you try going into the restricted zones you’ll be shot on sight.”
The hanar stared at her, or at least, its front end stayed pointing in her direction.
“That was a joke,” she said. “Mostly.”
“If you need this one, it will be where your ships stay,” Anar said. “This one thanks you, Officer Altus.”
The next morning, after a cup of coffee that was in every respect just as bad as the swill she had in her universe, Cicepia strolled into the interrogation room to face Sync again.
“Ah, I was wondering when you’d show up.”
“Round two,” Cicepia said brightly.
“It’s so nice meeting you again,” Sync said, his smile fixed. “And in such similar circumstances.”
“I don’t know, I can feel a headache coming on,” Cicepia said. “It’s my very special talking to irritating, lying, and gun thieving cyborgs headache.”
“You’re welcome,” Sync said.
Smiling, Cicepia sat down into the spare chair and crossed one leg over the other. “So it appears that we’re from the same universe.”
“Yeah. Seems like.”
“Well, there doesn’t seem to have been a sniper incident at a bank in this universe. Nor the krogan’s. You were there?”
“Saw the vid,” Sync said, his tone sullen.
“Then you’d have seen me with a pistol on the ground,” Cicepia said. “Taemaus was on roof fifty stories up. There’s no way I could have shot him.”
“You didn’t have to,” Sync said. “Everyone knows you’d have a SWAT team covering the roof.”
“None of whom fired,” Cicepia said. “We checked all their weapons. I don’t know if you’ll believe that but…we believe someone else out there knew Taemaus was going to pull that heist—and wanted to be sure he didn’t get a chance to talk.”
“Time will tell, I guess,” Sync said guardedly.
“Hopefully,” Cicepia agreed. “It’ll be one hell of a cold case if not.”
Sync cracked a smile then, the craggy features of his face almost seeming to shift from one expression to the other without passing through any in-between stages. “You lost someone didn’t you?” he said. “All that honeymoon business.”
“Didn’t happen,” Cicepia said shortly. “Not where…we’re from.”
“Sorry to hear that,” Sync said. “I lost someone too.”
“I know, I read your file. Your new file,” Cicepia said. “Your wife Beatrice. I’m sorry for your loss.”
“How many times do you have to say that to people?”
“Too many, these past few years. I suppose under the circumstances we shouldn’t be arguing with each other so much.”
“Suppose not,” Sync said. “Sorry for…assuming the worst.”
Cicepia sighed. “And I’m sorry for coming down more harshly on you than I perhaps needed to when we first met, but well…you lied to me. I couldn’t be sure you weren’t a threat.”
“I’m used to being thought of one without going rounds of twenty questions with cops,” Sync said. “Everyone seems to want me to not exist.”
“So how long do I need to stay here anyway?” Sync asked.
“Let me offer you a deal,” Cicepia said. “You help us get the rest of this device together and I’ll try to help you get back to your universe.”
“That’s what I meant,” Cicepia said, pushing all thoughts of bouquets and corner offices out of her mind.
“And what about my good friend, Akara? I think we might need her.”
“Maybe,” Cicepia said, taking a sip of her nearly cold coffee. “But there’s a lot she isn’t telling us.”
“There’s a lot I’m not telling you,” Sync pointed out.
“You bought a ticket and didn’t bring a sniper rifle into an employee only section of the theatre.”
“Which she used to shoot husks,” Sync said. “Look, you called my bluffs, I’m sure you can work out hers.”
“Probably,” Cicepia said. “Or maybe just send her home and let her be someone else’s problem.”
Sync suddenly stopped and looked past Cicepia’s head. “Where’s that quarian?” he asked.
“Elias, get in here,” Cicepia said, turning to the camera in the corner of the room.
A familiar, if drab, envirosuited alien came into the room at an almost run a few moments later. “Is it here?”
“Sync?” Cicepia asked.
The human was staring at her chest. “Yes, it’s here. Never been able to catch him though.”
“Uh, eyes up here,” Cicepia said, trying to pull the human’s attention away from her torso.
“No, he’s right…inside… You might want to take a step back.”
Frowning, Cicepia took several and Sync lunged at the empty air, an orange net-like projection coming from his omni tool. “Dammit!” he swore and his gaze swept around the room, as if following something, ending up at the open doorway where Elias stood, his own omni-tool at the ready. “He’s going out—”
“Got it,” Elias said, turning and running off down the corridor, Sync in hot pursuit.
Cicepia followed after them, faring the worse out of the three. By the time both Elias and Sync had rushed past the confused staff of the precinct were usually moving just a tad too unpredictably for her to push past easily. Still, she managed to keep up as they headed towards the holding cells, picking up the hanar on the way who emerged from the bathroom and floated along beside her.
“Has something happened?” Anar asked.
“It’s in there,” Elias said, pointing at the security door. “Can you get us in Offi—Lieutenant?”
“Of course,” Cicepia said, looking into the retina scanner.
The krogan looked up from where she was sat on the floor, a small collection of strangely shaped seeds in her hands. “So…are we having a party in here or something?” she asked.
“Akara, don’t move,” Sync said.
“What’s going on?” the Krogan asked.
“Universe fixing stuff, I think,” Sync said.
“Oh, so the thing is here?”
“Right in front of you.”
“Hang on, hang on,” Elias said, tapping out a sequence on his omni-tool and a small red drone zoomed over, and suddenly there was a holographic projection of what appeared to be a spherical, reptilian harvester, about the size of Cicepia’s head. It floated backwards and forwards as if entranced, nuzzling against Akara’s hands. “It’s incorporeal,” the quarian said. “But I think that’s what it looks like.”
To her credit the Krogan barely blinked. “Ugly thing.”
“Where’d you get those seeds?” Elias asked.
Akara looked down at her hands. “Here and there,” she said. “Really, I just pick them up wherever I go. There’s nothing special about any of them.”
“So that’s the thing that’s caused all this trouble?” Cicepia asked.
“No, that’s a projected image of the thing that’s caused all the trouble. I think you’d have to be synthetic or cybernetically enhanced to actually see it.”
“This one thinks it looks harmless,” Anar said. “Or would if one didn’t know what it is.”
“I’m not sure if it just likes Akara or her seeds,” Elias said.
“Akara, could you pass me a few of those?” Sync asked, edging closer.
The krogan’s eyes narrowed. “Okay, but I want them back,” she said, and handed a few over, including one large red one that looked like it had wings.
Sync backed away, “Look mimic, I’ve got some seeds! Here boy!”
Mimic appeared to look at the seeds in Sync’s hands, and then back to the greater number of seeds in Akara’s and nuzzled back against the krogan.
“We need the disc,” Cicepia said.
“This one gave the disc to you, it is still in your possession,” Anar said.
“No, no, we don’t need the disc!” Elias said quickly.
“Yes, let’s not open a portal to a reaper invasion,” Akara agreed.
“Just keep Mimic here long enough for me to complete my analysis,” Elias said.
The five waited while the red drone pulsed gently. “Analysis complete,” Pi said, and this time Cicepia could see the flash of text scrolling up inside Elias’ helmet.
“Well?” she asked.
“We can close them,” Elias said. “With the reality collider and Mimic around we can close the breaches in the universes. Possibly open them too.”
“Why would we want to open them?” Cicepia asked.
“To go home?” Elias suggested. “Also there’s other holes—this isn’t the only one.”
“One is in your universe—on a planet called Invictus, wherever that is. There’s also one on Tuchanka in yours, Akara and Anar,” Elias said. “There’s probably more but those are the most recent ones Mimic made.”
“That is some very powerful diagnostic programming you have, Elias,” Anar said. “This one is very impressed.”
“I’m just accessing Mimic’s memory,” Elias said with a shrug. “It’ll take more time to piece together the others. More time and more study, which means we need those seeds too. Anyway, before we start signing autographs, field trip to see if I can actually close the breach in the Silver Sun Theatre?”
“Worth a shot,” Sync said.
“Then we’re going to be stuck here?” Akara asked.
“No,” Elias said. “We should be able to open a portal again. Only one we control. One universe to one universe, not all four together. But we need to stick those seeds somewhere safe. Without them, we don’t have Mimic and without both Mimic and the disc we don’t have control of the portals.”
“This one thinks the quarian needs better explanations,” Anar said.
“There’s a space in the theatre that’s like a wall dividing the dimensions. Mimic turns the wall into a door. The disc is the key that lets us open the door. With the right programming, we should be able to pick the right wall, open the right door, step through and lock the door behind us.”
“Just us? Against a reaper horde?”
“We’ll need guns,” Akara said.
“How do we know you’re not going to go all trigger happy on us?” Cicepia asked.
“I’m not that kind of Krogan,” Akara said blandly. “I can actually use my head for more than headbutting.”
“How many people do you think you could get through in one go?” Sync asked Elias.
“In theory we could move a small ship through the portal,” Elias replied, his eyes darting across the information screens in his helmet. “We’d just need to be within a few hundred metres of the portal itself.
“If the other portals are in Invictus and Tuchanka, we will need a ship,” Anar said.
“I have one of those,” Sync said. “Or at least I did.”
“On the Citadel?” Elias asked.
“Yes, in my universe at least.”
“First, we make sure that you can do what you think you can,” Cicepia said firmly. “Otherwise we’re just speculating aimlessly while we wait for more husks—or a small reaper ship or two—to slip through into one of our universes.”
Elias nodded. “Then we’ll need to get Mimic and the reaper object back to the theatre.”
The concert hall was still lit by the house lights, and even without the white outlines where the bodies had fell, Cicepia could see enough blood spatter to know where they had lain. The guards at the police line had given them some glances when they had stepped into the building, and she wondered what would happen if they didn’t actually come back for a few days. She’d read enough of the eyewitness accounts to see that many of them had similar motifs—there was an electric light show that hung in midair above the audience and then people were falling into a hole in the air. All up seven people were unaccounted for. The youngest had been thirteen, just old enough, Cicepia thought, to sit through a concert rated PG. At least, it had been rated PG in Cicepia’s universe. She wasn’t sure if both Eliases had the same musical repertoire.
“Did Mimic follow the seeds?”
Elias punched a few commands into his omni tool and the holographic projection of the strange metal dragon coalesced in the air near Arkara, flitting above her head. “I’d say yes,” he said. The red drone flickered into existence, and floated over to the middle of the room.
“Officer, would you be so kind as to approach the centre of the disturbance?” Elias asked.
As Cicepia approached she felt a tug from the disk, and even with the portable containment device she thought she could feel it pulling like a magnet towards the centre of the room. Willing her fingers not to tremble, she flipped open the door of the container and the crackle of energy started almost immediately. Up close and without the distraction of civilians, husks and gunfire, the purplish energy radiated out from a central point, some ten feet in the air. It looked for all the world like an electrical storm, but it passed through the air around her in silence, never touching the plates of her face.
“Akara would you please hold the seeds up towards the portal?” Elias asked.
“You’d better be right about this, singer,” Akara grumbled, although she did as she was asked. Out of the corner of her eye, Cicepia saw the holo-form of Mimic still hovering just above the seeds.
“I’m right,” Elias said smugly as purple lines shot through the air in a crisscross pattern, almost as if space were being stitched together by a giant needle. “That was the easy part. Next question, can we open a portal to just Akara and Anar’s universe.”
“You don’t know?”
“Never tried it before,” Elias said brightly, and Cicepia thought she heard a tinge of worry and uncertainty in the q
uarian’s tone. “All right Lieutenant are you ready? Portal opening in three…two…one…”
The crackling stopped and the energy flashed blue and then and burst open like an eye showing clear space beyond. It opened around them and then…nothing. Suddenly there were crisscrossing lines of red that looked similar to when Elias had run a program to sew up the portal only…yesterday.
“Yeah,” Elias said looking around. “Look, there’s no body outlines. Looks like the attack was only in my universe.”
“So where to now?” Anar asked.
“Ship first,” Cicepia said. “Once we have that we can work out what clearance we need to get out of here. Thankfully I really am C-sec over here.”
“We might need a way to ensure we’re not blasted away by C-Sec when we jump the ship through from here,” Elias said. “I might have something for that on file, but I’m more a programmer than a mechanic.”
“I have one of those,” Sync said. “I’ll get her as soon as we get back to the ship.”
“Well then,” Cicepia said. “Let’s go. What’s the name of the ship anyway?”
Sync smiled—the first smile Cicepia had seen on his face, although it didn’t quite reach his eyes. “I call her the Endurance.”