“For you shall kneel, and tell me that you love me.
And I shall sleep in peace until you come to me.”
– Danny Boy. Traditional Earth Ballad
Sync was in his quarters getting ready for bed when there was a knock on his door.
“Who is it?” Sync asked.
“It’s me boss—uh, Sync.”
Reflexively Sync reached for his shirt, and activated his synthskin holo with a flick of his wrist. “Come in Dri,” he said, pulling his crumpled shirt over his head. Ain’t it a little late for visiting though?”
Drimi sighed as he stepped through the door, letting it snick shut behind him. “It is, but I thought you needed to see this,” he said, holding out a small, framed holo.
“What is it?” Sync asked, taking the frame.
“This is a holo of Anar and your wife.”
Sync stared down at the holo, thoughts clamouring in his head.
“It is her, isn’t it? That is Beatrice?”
Knees suddenly weak, Sync sat back down on the edge of his bed. “This can’t be right. This isn’t possible. She… I mean…”
“I didn’t recognise her immediately, but I remembered going through your wedding photos and…I just thought you should know.”
The lights in Sync’s cybernetic implants flashed red. “I need to go speak with that hanar,” he said, his knuckles turning white where he gripped the frame.
“He doesn’t know, boss,” Drimi pointed out. “You told me he—and she—are from a different universe.”
Rising from the bed, Sync stormed out, heading towards the elevator, Drimi hot on his heels.
“Boss are you sure you need to—” Drimi stopped when Sync shot him a look. “Okay, okay, just…try to think before you speak, all right?”
He found Anar in his mech in the cargo bay, tentacles crossed before him, as if waiting for something.
“This is you in this holo?” Sync demanded, holding the frame out towards the hanar. “How do you know this woman?”
“Why do you wish to know?”
“Just answer the question.”
“Very well. That is indeed this one in that holo. You can tell by the scar. The woman is Beatrice, although everyone calls her Tricey, including this one.”
Sync let Anar take the holo and then reached forward, grabbing two of his tentacles and all but yanked him out of the mech suit. “Is she happy?”
“Is she happy, damn it?”
“This one requests you relax your grip.”
“Answer the damn question!” Sync demanded, giving the hanar a shake.
“This one has been drinking and would like to not have any accidents—”
“I’ll give you accident,” Sync said, pulling back his right arm to give that hanar a solid thumping.
Suddenly there was a pistol in his face. “Get off me!” Anar said, his modulated voice strangely placid yet angry at the same time.
“Whoa, whoa,” Drimi said, stepping forward and trying to push the two men apart.
“This one apologises,” Anar said in a calmer voice and the pistol lowered. “It does not react well to being grabbed.”
Sync took a deep breath and forced himself to relax his grip. “Please answer the question, Anar. Is she happy?”
“Last time this one checked, yes. She is happy.”
Sync’s cybernetics faded back to their normal pale blue. “Thank you. That’s all I needed to know.” Then he turned and took the lift back up to the main deck, passing through the common areas where Cicepia and Arkara were both loitering, attempting to look unobtrusive. He walked past both of them, ignoring their furtively curious looks and used his cybernetic eye to stare into the digital lock on the last room, slipping in through the door and letting it lock behind him. Drimi would tell them what they needed to know. He knew that.
The room was as it was when he’d left it. The way he always left it. A double bed was pushed up against the far wall, next to a sealed display case containing a floor length emerald green dress in a classic cut that apparently never went out of fashion. On the port side of the ship was a rack upon rack of computer chips, and on the starboard side was a small desk, a shelf of expensive, leatherbound journals, the kind you had to write in with pen and ink, all full of words he usually couldn’t bring himself to read. There was also a trophy case. He knew without looking what was in there. Accolades for contributions to science. For advancing knowledge for…
Beatrice lay on the bed, cold and unmoving.
His omnitool enveloped his hand in a shimmering encasement of kinetic energy as he smashed the case, sending glass fragments and trophies falling to the floor. He stared at them for a moment and then crawled onto the double bed, onto the quilt cover that had lain without crease over the mattress for years. The sheets didn’t even smell like her anymore.
According to his internal clock it was 1000 hours ship time when a knock on the door roused him from a fitful doze.
Stumbling over to the door, he managed to avoid the shards of broken glass and used his omnitool to unlock it, and the door slid open to reveal Cicepia.
“Oh,” he said. “It’s you.”
Sync saw Cicepia’s eyes dart around the room behind him, and he resisted the urge to walk out and close the door behind him.
“We were just deciding where to go next,” Cicepia said. “And we thought the Captain should be involved in that decision.”
Sync opened his mouth to say ‘I’m not the Captain’, but the words stuck in his throat. “Sure,” he said, stepping out and locking the door behind him.
“Hey,” Cicepia called as he strode through the common area. “You can drop the attitude. I get what you’re going through, it messes with your head, but we have a mission and we need to get it done.”
Sync paused. “What do you know about what I’m going though?”
“You lost someone you love,” Cicepia said. “And now you find out they’re alive in a different universe, but they’re not yours? I know how that feels.”
“It’s not the same, C-Sec,” Sync said as he walked off. “Not at all.”
When everyone had gathered in the conference room, Sync motioned to Cicepia to speak since she seemed to have an idea of what was going on.
“We seem to have two courses of action open to us,” she said. “We can jump back to Elias’ universe and retrofit the ship now, or we can jump over to Arkara and Anar’s universe in case there’s any loose ends to tie up there?”
“How long will it take to upgrade the ship?” Sync asked.
“Days,” Drimi said. “At least two or three given the amount of things we want to do.”
“Yes, but we don’t know what sort of reception we’re going to get in Anar and Arkara’s universe,” Elias pointed out. “I’m not really comfortable going there without a stealth drive.”
“We don’t attack people on sight just because Shepard destroyed synthetic life, you know,” Arkara said.
“You might not, but do you think we can just jump an unregistered ship into the Citadel’s space and not be shot to pieces?”
“This one was meant to pay rent yesterday,” Anar said. “It would like to not be evicted from it’s apartment.”
“I probably have enough eezo stashed away to build that drive if I have some help,” Drimi said.
Sync looked at Elias. “You have schematics for that?”
“Absolutely,” Elias said, waving a hand over the conference table. “It looks like this,” he said, and a complicated engine sprung up in the centre of the table’s holo projector.
“We can have that done by dinner time if we can minifacture a few key parts,” Drimi said. “I assume you can integrate it into our system though? I can build it, but I’ve no idea what we’ll need to run it. Well, not much of an idea.”
Elias nodded. “I’ve worked on these before so I shouldn’t have any issues.”
“What about the rest of us?” Arkara rumbled.
“Oh don’t worry,” Drimi said. “There’ll be plenty of heavy lifting for everyone.”
“And um…do you think you can sweet talk the right people into giving us flight clearance over the theatre?” Elias asked Cicepia. “We might also need you to do some fast talking when we get to Anar and Arkara’s universe.
“That could be tricky,” Cicepia said. “Arkara am I even a C-Sec officer where you’re from?”
“I don’t know,” Arkara replied blandly. “I haven’t exactly encountered you in my universe.”
“Well, I guess I’d better go and find out when we get there,” Cicepia said.
Nearly six hours and several solder burns later found Sync at one of the terminals in the engine room, with both Elias and Drimi underneath the eezo core of the engine.
“Okay, boys, do you have it right this time?” he asked.
“Yes, I think so,” Elias said a moment later.
“Think?” Sync said. “Do you remember what happened last time?”
“Hey, I’m a software guy not hardware,” the quarian protested. “I’d like to point out my emergency shutdown worked perfectly.”
“Requiring a manual restart of half of our systems,” Drimi grumped.
“Triple check the wiring?” Elias suggested.
“All right, all right, point the flashlight over here would you?”
Sync drummed his fingers on the edge of the screen as he waited. “Come on guys, less making out and more work please.”
“I’m wearing a helmet,” Elias said.
“Well, safety first. Well done.”
From beneath the engine there was silence.
“Was that a joke?” Drimi asked. “An actual joke? Elias did he just make a joke?”
“I’d say that was a joke, yes,” Elias agreed. “Doesn’t he do that?”
“No.” There was the hum of thrusters and Drimi’s hoverboard pulled out from beneath the engine, followed shortly by Elias. “Wiring’s fine. Now who are you and what did you do with Sync?”
“Don’t listen to him, man, it was a good joke,” Elias said, wiping his hands with a rag. “Now…”
Sync hit the start button and both Elias and Drimi jumped away from the engine with alacrity.
“Goddess, give a guy some warning,” the asari said.
Sync grinned and clapped his hands together. “Look at her boys,” he said. “She’s humming.”
Indeed, the drive lit up like a Christmas tree, gentle white lights playing over the room.
“This calls for a drink,” Drimi said, opening one of the engine cooling thanks and pulling out two bottles of asari honey mead and a Turian Muslam cider for Elias. Taking the bottle, Sync toasted their success as he leaned back against the console, watching the lights play over the metal surfaces of the engine rooms. The mead was sweet on his tongue and the deck thrummed beneath his feet. He closed his eyes and half listened as Drimi and Elias chatted on about music—something about jazz. A warmth washed over him that was only partially due to the alcohol, and he basked in it like a cat when he realised that someone had asked him a question.
“Beg your pardon. I was…miles away.”
“I asked what we do now, Boss,” Drimi asked, draining his beer.
“That depends on whether Cicepia’s got us our flight clearance yet,” Sync said. “Once she gets that, we jump to Arkara and Anar’s universe and get things squared away there before we go hunting reapers.”
Drimi shuddered. “You say that so casually,” he said almost accusingly.
Sync shrugged. “Running around and screaming about it won’t help us none. Besides, we’ve all done it before.”
“I was personally hoping not to have to do it again, myself,” Elias said. Watching the quarian drink wasn’t as interesting as Sync had hoped, as it seemed to involve a straw. He was looking forward to seeing how eating solid food worked.
“I’d drink to that, but no more than one in the engine room,” Drimi said. “How does this universe jumping portal thing work, anyway?”
“We get mimic and the reality collider into the silver sun theatre and use a computer program to activate both,” Elias said. “Then we link the ship to coordinates on the far side of the wormhole and jump through.”
“And the people in the theatre?”
“We’ll literally walk across into a different universe.”
“Well, I’m assuming I’m going to be one of them to make sure the portals open and close correctly.”
“And what about getting mimic down there? You know, until you showed up, I honestly thought mimic was a glitch in Sync’s synthetic eye.”
“Oh thank you so much,” Sync said. “Now the truth comes out.”
Drimi grinned. “I didn’t want to bruise your delicate male ego.”
Both Sync and Elias stared at the asari. “What?” Sync asked eloquently.
“What, I can’t say that just because I’m transitioning?”
“I’m going to be flying the ship,” Sync said, carrying on the conversation as if nothing had happened. “How do you plan to get mimic down to the theatre?”
“Oh you know,” Elias said. “The obvious way—I thought I’d bribe it.”
Arkara stood patiently in the carpeted theatre, plush and red underfoot as it had been when they arrived. There were still no body outlines in the holographic chalk C-Sec used these days. Stepping up to the centre of the room, she held up a handful of seeds and forced herself to remain still when a holographic image of mimic nuzzled at her fingers. It looked like a fanged, lizard with a spiky ruff, a bit like a tiny flying thresher maw even. She knew it was a hologram, but the idea that it was there even when the hologram wasn’t present was a thought she tried very hard to forget, especially when she was in the shower. Admittedly, she didn’t take her seeds into the shower, but still.
The strange construct was tame compared to the crackling lightning show that would have made her hair stand on end, had she had any. As it was, it made her teeth itch and crackled across her armour before earthing itself into the ground through her boots. As Elias stepped forward with the reaper artefact, a circular portal opened, edged in red and expanded until she couldn’t see the edges anymore. Following the quarian as he walked forward, she blinked, and there was a holo-chalk outline of a single body. Probably turian. She squinted up at the catwalk where she had been lurking, aiming her sniper riple down at her universe’s version of Officer Altus. Definitely turian.
“Someone got shot here,” Elias said as he turned around, and she saw red lines of energy crisscrossing their way over space like embroidery.
“Only one, and not much blood. Not reapers.”
“Still,” Elias said. “Let’s leave by the stage door to avoid notice by the public—or C-Sec.”
“You know where the—of course you do.”
“Captain, you through?” Elias asked through his helmet comm. “Right. Find a dock and I’ll make my way over. I think Arkara has some things to do?” he turned to her for the last sentence.
Arkara nodded, her omni-tool was already pinging madly with messages
“Okay,” Elias said. “Sync will send you the ship’s docking port once he finds one. I’ll see you back on board.”
He led her out a side door and left without adding ‘and if you don’t come back I’ll track you down and drag you back’, and she found herself blinking in the artificial lights of the Silverlight Strip. Arkara hadn’t met many quarians before, but they were decidedly strange. Trusting. Or possibly he just judged she’d rather not sit by the sidelines as the reapers poured out to complete their grisly harvest of intelligent life. Correctly, if that was the case. Quarians were weird. Which wasn’t the point. The point was that there were at least twenty messages from Mridi—her Mridi—that were fast pinging her inbox.
There was also a sedate message from an unknown number that simply said “Arkara darling, congratulations! Come see me as soon as you can.”
That would be Shias Lazeen. The Salarian had always been good for the odd job here and there, and Arkara was looking forward to the credits. In this case she might well end up spending it all though. If she was going up against reapers it might finally be time to replace her crappy out of the box omni-tool with something with a bit more grunt. Heading back along the familiar corridors of the wards to her apartment, she called her best friend, who picked up on the second ring.
“Girl! Where the fashkh have you been? I’ve been worried sick for two days. Two whole days! I thought they were going to pull your body from the presidium lakes, or you’d end up in the keeper protein vats or something! I went and filed a missing persons report and everything—not that they’re looking very hard.”
Despite herself, Arkara smiled. “Mridi, I can take care of myself, you know that. I just had some business to take care of and I had to drop out for a bit. You didn’t need to file a report.”
“Well you didn’t reply to my texts, you didn’t answer my calls, what did you expect me to do?”
“I’m sorry, Mridi. I didn’t mean to worry you, but you know what radio silence means.”
“Yeah, but you could have given me some warning first! What was so important that you have to radio silent anyway?”
“That’s…a bit of a story actually. I’m not sure I can talk about it like this-”
“Fine, I’ll be right over,” Mridi said, and Arkara could see her friend’s expressive hands waving through the air in her mind’s eye. “Are you hungry? I was just going to get some food and I know you never have decent food at yours.”
“There’s a new human place that opened up recently—Chinese I think? You love spicy, don’t you.”
“Don’t answer that girl, I know you love spicy. I’m just talking to hear myself think you know that.”
“Do you have any requests? Anything you really want to eat? Do you know Chinese food at all?”
“Well, no, but-”
“Okay, that’s fine, I’ll figure out something.”
Arkara sighed. “I’ll see you soon,” she said, a smile tugging at the corners of her mouth.
Arkara had been home for half an hour before the knock on her door came, and she’d had time to gather a few changes of clothing, her spare weaponry and a few other essentials she’d packed into a footlocker before beginning the transfer of music to her new omni-tool. She’d bought it on credit, but she knew she was getting paid shortly. Besides, if things went badly, she might not even be footing the bill.
Mridi breezed in, all bustle and dramatic hand gestures. “Girl, I am so sorry I’m late. This matriarch in front of me was taking forever to order. I mean, lemon chicken or sweet and sour? What’s the big deal? It’s the same chicken with different sauce right? You could at least go a Gong Bao Ji Ding or a Chicken and Cashew, right? And then she found out that the sizzling platters were only an eat in thing unless you have your own platter at home and I wanted to be here as soon as I could and I completely forgot to get chopsticks. Wait, you don’t use them, so that’s fine. You still have forks right?”
“It’s all right, Mridi,” Arkara said, getting out the plates and cutlery. “You’re not late at all.”
“I have been freaking out so much,” Mridi said, as she sat down and scooped half of a spicy white noodle dish onto Arkara’s plate, a layer of chilli oil and mince pork tumbling out after, coating the noodles with its reddish sheen. “You have a lot of explaining to do. In fact, you are going to sit there, and explain everything to me—and you know why you’re going to explain everything to me? Because we are best friends, and best friends tell each other everything.”
“Fine,” Arkara said. “You won’t believe me though.”
Mridi popped a crispy wonton into her mouth, crunching through the crisp skin with satisfaction. “Try me.”
*NB: This chapter has been posted without art as my artist, Mistiannyi is busy with real life. Art will be included as it becomes available.