“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.”
“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.”
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.