Monday, May 29, 2017

Multiverse Desperado: A JumpChain Fiction Chapter 12

Chapter 12: Digging and Racing
The Councilors stayed with Shepard as he spoke to the VI known as Vigil, asking the big questions about the Conduit and what had become of the Protheans in the thousands of stasis pods surrounding us. As for Tali and me, we were scanning those pods, looking for a needle in the world's largest haystack with a tiny magnet.

“So let me get this straight, Variza,” Tali opened, “you and I are sitting in a perfectly preserved archive of stasis pods containing the remains of the highly advanced Prothean Empire, and rather than listening to the VI as to why, you're looking around for blueprints to a weapon? Instead of trying to revive them for help?”

I stopped tapping on my Omni-Tool for a moment to stroke my chin, “Yeah, that about sums it up,” I replied.

Tali turned and gave me a look. At least I think so. It's hard to tell with the helmet.

“Don't you think that's a little narrow-minded?” she said, an eyebrow clearly raised behind her visor.

“Well, the problem is the Protheans here are basically lost. Right now, Shepard and the Council are hearing straight from the VI in charge of this facility that to keep things together it had to shut down vital life support for the more disposable populace.” I shrugged, “In a way you could consider this grave-robbing. Don't your people encourage letting nothing go to waste while on the Migrant Fleet?”
Tali tilts her head in contemplation. After a few moments she met my gaze again, “I suppose you're right, Variza,” she started tapping several new tabs on her Omni-Tool's holo display.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Overclocking the CPU while diverting processing power from the background functions in the OS. Of course this means no extranet access but honestly I think that's the least of our worries right now.”

I gave Tali an honest thumbs-up. Quarians, with them if there's a will, there's a way.

She moved her glowing arm across the thousands of of pods strung throughout the walls, allowing the glow of the scan to reach them. She shook her head in frustration.

“Nothing,” she quietly growled,

“Keep going, we only have so much time before Shepard and the Council finish talking to the VI.”

“Yeah, sure, keep going on about looking for a blueprint while the stiffs talk to another stiff. Makes me feel real helpful right now, blue.” Jack hissed behind me, casually sitting on one of the Prothean pods that were a few feet up.

“Oh I'm sorry, Jack. Do you want a cookie for not killing us in that suicide drop?” I chided, flashing her a venomous grin.

“I want something to shoot or something to do.” she seethed.

“She does have a point Variza. Technically she's the only one here not contributing.” Tali chimed in after shaking her head on a second reading.

“What about Garrus?” Jack asked.

“He's doing some target practice on Saren's back guard of geth farther down using a sniper nest he found. Making sure the numbers don't backtrack and overwhelm us.” I responded.

There was the distinct crack in the air, followed by high pitched squealing in the distance reverberating down the halls,

“Three for three.” Garrus muttered to himself, adjusting his sights.

“Oh sure, he gets to do something fun,” Jack retorted.

“Do you know how to scan an area of thousands of pods looking for the document of something with only a vague understanding of Prothean language to go on while using a simple Omni-Tool you have personally jailbreaked for optimization?” Tali threw back.

Jack didn't say anything, she just spat on the ground.

“That's what I thought.”

I pinched the bridge of my nose in stress and sighed, making my way towards Jack.

“If you really need something to do, we need you to get back up top and get the Kodiak shuttle down here.” I suggested.

“Oh sure, why don't you ask me to boil some water and rip up some sheets while you're at it,” she sneered, shooting me a cold stare. I just rolled my eyes.

“Don't you find it a little unnerving that after we chased him through this elevator there aren't more geth trying to kill us?”

Jack looked away, “It crossed my mind,” she admitted.

“Which is why right now either they're up there blowing up our ride, or they have something further down towards the Conduit that will blow us all to gooey bits. Which is why we need a fast ship and a pilot who knows how to navigate tight spaces.” I put emphasis on my last few words, putting all of my flattery into them. Jack flashed my a toothy grin in response.

“Gimme five minutes, blue.” she replied fiercely, running back to the ancient elevator and readying her pistol.

I leaned back against one of the Prothean pods to catch my breath. Alright, I think I got all my bases covered. Now I just need to wait for pay off... and hope that Saren hasn't already started the end of the galaxy yet.

My heartbeat started escalating and everything suddenly got ten degrees hotter. I immediately closed my eyes started taking deep breaths.

Inhale, count to seven. Exhale slowly, count to five. Repeat.

It was after about my fifth breath that my heart stopped doing drum solos on my ribcage. If I survive all of this; no, when I survive all of this, I am so going to give Jump a piece of my mind.

It was after my tenth breath that Shepard came by to with the Council to check up on me and Tali. The councilors looked like someone just told them the exact moment the world was going to end, quite appropriate on reflection. As for Shepard, he was readying his rifle, his face turning into a soldier's steely resolve.

“How goes the search, Tali?” Shepard asked.

“Not exactly the best. It would take at least a dozen other quarian scavengers at least two weeks to scavenge this entire chamber to look for the Crucible blueprints, if it was even here.” Tali sighed, giving her Omni-Tool one last scan. “And according to what scans I was able to get of this place, I've barely covered five percent of this facility.” she added with a twinge of defeat.

“Whatever helps narrow down the search team's findings Tali, my contacts at the STG will appreciate it when they begin their expedition after all this.” The salarian dalatrass interjected.

I tried to force a smile from that comment. At least this wasn't a total loss.

“What about you, Variza?” Shepard asked, apparently noticing how I was still shaking a little.
“Oh you know just unbelievable stress brought on by remembering the full scope of what we're up against,” I chuckled nervously, “and I'm trying not to have a heart attack.”

The asari councilor gave me a quizzical look, “How long have you been a mercenary?”

“How long have you been aware that we are a possible few short hours away from galaxy wide annihilation?” I snapped back. The councilor stayed quiet, her expression penitent.

“So what have you got, Shepard?” I responded, desperately wanting to change the subject.

“Everything I need. An access card by Vigil that will grant me access to all functions of the Citadel so we can shut down Saren calling in the Reapers. Now we just need to get to the Conduit, and we need to get there fast.”

As a response to Shepard's demand for expedience, we all were greeted with the assault on the ears that is metal and plastic moving at high speeds while scraping against ancient stone masonry, followed by the strong hum of the propulsion jets of the Kodiak shuttle. The shuttle doors flew open as it hovered near us, with Jack in the pilot's seat yelling for everyone to get in.

“So what exactly is the Conduit and why were all these Protheans here again? I was a little too busy looking for a superweapon blueprint to get the primer.” Tali asked as best she could through the rocky ride Jack was taking us on.

“Basically it was an off switch for the Reapers pouring in through the Citadel and breaking the Prothean empire. When they last came, they just poured in en masse from their galactic center and destroyed the chain of command, leaving everywhere else floundering with no leadership or info as to what was going on.”

“Which explains why Prothean records of the Reapers were so scarce. They were learning during the extermination process.” The turian councilor mused.

“Exactly. The beacons we discovered were warnings, but got damaged over time, which is why the info was fractured.”

“Which is why we originally wrote them off as unreliable testimony in your trial against Saren before.” The asari councilor said mostly to herself.

The shuttle lurched hard on the left side, accompanying a thunderous ripping sound outside.

“Sorry, following these caverns is starting to get really tricky. Right angles are hard to navigate when you have a time limit!” Jack barked.

“As for the Prothean pods. Their scientists figured out how the Citadel was the key to the Reapers arriving through dark space and spent the last few weeks of their existence working on a device that would allow them to travel across the galaxy back to the Citadel, and with the research they gathered before about inner workings of the station, shut down their way in. To buy the next generation of life, us, some more precious time.”

“Hence, the Conduit.” I interjected. Shepard pointed to me in approval.
“The problem was they had to... wait out the Reapers' extermination of their empire for them to follow through on their plan.” Shepard's tone became noticeably grim with those final words.

“They had to go into deep sleep and bide their time while their worlds burned around them, all just to stop the next generation of the cycle from happening. Well, that's ominous.” Garrus muttered introspectively while checking his weapons.

“So why exactly didn't we just stay at the Citadel and wait for Saren to come to us?” Tali inquired.

“Because where the Conduit drops you off is in a location locked off from the rest of the populace. A sort of command center for the whole station” Shepard responded.

That's... different. Originally the exit point of the cosmic shortcut was back at a seemingly innocuous model of a mass relay back in the Citadel's presidium. Come to think of it, that was a little too convenient....

“And if Saren makes his way there... he can manually shut off what the Protheans did!” Tali exclaimed in shock.

“Which is exactly why I'm trying to get us there without getting crushed like a can of sardines.” Jack exclaimed.

“That still raises the big question, Shepard? Why did you decide to bring us along?” The asari councilor asked.

“Short answer, if you stayed at the Citadel, you would have all died and the galaxy would be without leadership at its most desperate hour.” Shepard responded.

“Long answer, even if you did survive there would still be no way in hell you would believe half of this unless we showed you directly, and I'm completely sick and tired of dealing with cosmic red tape to get the job done. So we thought, let's shove the truth in your faces so we can all get on the same page faster.” I chimed in, trying my best to keep my forked tongue in check.

The councilors gave me a mixed reaction of shock, indignation and anger. Hey, I said I tried.

“Alright! I got some good news and bad news assholes! The good news is I think I found the Conduit!” Jack called out, exclaiming over explosions and the screeches of ripping metal.

“Big, circular and has a giant blue beam coming out of it?” I asked.


“That's it!”

“Great, that's the good news! The bad news is there are about six dozen geth colossi and primes surrounding it and they all have target locks on us!”

Before I could even think about how suicidal it was I spoke up, “Full speed Jack! Everyone else buckle in!”

“Are you crazy!?” Tali shouted.

“Even if we survive the rocket assault, we're basically taking a nosedive at high speeds into a faster-than-light gateway with a sudden stop at the end! That's going to get us killed!”

“Not unless I do this right.” I replied, shaking out my hands and preparing to concentrate.

“Biotics, Variza? Even if you were accomplished, the best case scenario is we don't die nearly as fast.” The dalatrass mentioned.

“Jack, rig the yoke and thrusters for a determined course with the gateway and join us in the back, I'll need your help.” I said tersely, ignoring the dalatrass' worries.

“You got it!” Jack replied eagerly, undoing her crash webbing.

“This is madness! A few broken bones will leave us as sitting ducks!” The turian councilor complained, clearly doing the math in his head as to how much mass, velocity, and kinetic force would have to be directed for this madness to work.

I then turned to the asari councilor and gave her a look, begging for solidarity. She sighed and started concentrating.

“Hold on to something everyone! Gateway is coming in hot!” Shepard yelled!

The last few moments were unreasonable chaos. Jack, the councilor, and I threw up kinetic force barriers, calling upon all of our mastery of the mass effect fields. A forcefield around the shuttle itself, that was Jack's job, to mitigate the force from the impending crash. A second barrier inside the shuttle made by yours truly to prevent the inside from crumpling like a tin can under air pressure, and a third barrier made by the councilor around us specifically to help stop any remaining force that the other two barriers couldn't assuage. Missiles and charged energy blasts rained down on the ship, hammering the barrier Jack threw up, striking the vessel with the force of several consecutive lightning strikes. She managed to hold it together but only just.

Then the shuttle made it through the gateway, and within seconds we were launched across the galaxy at FTL speeds. We still had to maintain the barriers because we had no real ETA about when we would be coming out the other side.

After what felt like an eternity of anticipation and fear, the shuttle flew out the other side of the gateway and hit the metal floor of the citadel like a meteorite. From here, my entire body was a maelstrom of fire and suffering. I let out a torturous scream, joined in a frightful unison by Jack and the councilor. I swear to god at one point I thought my hands were starting to burn right to the bone. Those screams were quickly drowned out the overwhelming force and fury of being trapped in what could easily become a metal tomb at any second.

A second eternity later and everything stopped. The barriers were dropped, and Jack and I fell back into our seats, my body feeling like lead. I ventured to look around.

The shuttle was upright at least but the windows were all shattered. The control console and the pilot seat were shredded and skewered to no end, and the engines had crumpled into a lot of expensive scrap. The shuttle doors were ripped open, and the entire frame was warped to a disturbingly oblong angle.

“Alright, roll call. Whose still alive?” Garrus broke the silence.

A collection of groans was his answer.

“Any broken limbs?” Shepard asked?

“None that I can tell.” Jack responded.

“My suit appears to still be together.” Tali said, breathing a sigh of relief.

“Alright... now we just have to stop Saren from pushing the big red button and killing us all.” I derided, trying to stand upright, readying my pistol.

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