Monday, June 19, 2017

Multiverse Desperado: A JumpChain Fiction Chapter 14

Chapter 14: Catching Up

I made my way through the threshold to my penthouse apartment, doing everything I could to deflect and shut down the volus banker speaking to me.

“Please Miss T'Som, Your company has made leaps and strides in weapons development and R&D, but if you keep burning through credits with those ventures, you'll go bankrupt,” he pleaded, taking a break only to take a deep inhale through his suit's respiratory supply, “please let me go over the books and see if I can provide a more steady form of long-term revenue and growth in other sectors.”

I honestly wanted to punt the little runt into the nearest taxi and run off. Instead, I simply giggled and turned back towards him, putting a hand to my hip. “Well I never knew you cared that much about my earnings my friend. Maybe I will look you up,” I then leaned down and patted down the long stretches of my black evening dress casually and looked up, “But as you can see it has been a long night and I must take my leave. I'll be sure to let my people get in contact with you. Call my office in the morning and we'll see if I can pencil you in for an appointment.” I then flashed him my best glass smile.

The volus seemed to have bought it, his eyes lighting up and his clawed hands fumbling on each other. “That is good to hear Miss T'Som,” he states, taking another breath, “you will not regret this.”

If he talked anymore after that, I already tuned him out. As I walked past, my human secretary hailed me.

“Miss T'Som, I overheard your conversation, when should I pencil in your appointment with Mr. Zeng?” She interjected, overeager as ever.

“I don't know some time in 2187. If he asks earlier, deflect and tell him I'm overbooked.” I said casually, practically running to the elevator.

Finally, when the doors closed and I was truly alone, I finally unfastened my high heels and pulled them off. I hate putting on appearances, and I hate these damn torture devices even more. I leaned back against the wall of the elevator and took some deep breaths.

Then the elevator music turned on. I pulled my pistol out of my thigh holster and shot the speaker until my clip was empty.

“Erika, why is the speaker still working on this elevator?” I asked through clenched teeth into my Omni-Tool.

“Oh. The repair team came by after last week's incident, apparently someone shot it up due to an alterca-”

“I thought I made it clear to leave the elevator as is.” I interrupted.

There was a pause. “But Miss T'Som, guests might complain about the marks. Inquire about safety regulations.”

“Well you can worry about that once you get elevator music that doesn't suck.” I blurted out.

“Leave it as is!” I yelled then hung up.

Then the doors opened up to my apartment and I was home free. I practically jumped out of my dress, took a refreshing shower, then jumped into yoga pants and a simple black t-shirt. But not before having the windows tinted and the lights turned on. The last thing I needed was the paparazzi calling me an uncouth slob or something.

But screw them, I needed this. I pulled a bottle of water out of the fridge and drained in one sitting then got back into my training regiment while listening to the news on my flatscreen. I could have easily searched the Extranet or had a VI just tell me what I missed, but I was feeling a bit home sick and just wanted something resembling normal.

There was the usual guff on the news. How it was the second anniversary since the attack on the Citadel by Saren, but was prevented thanks to the dedication of the Alliance fleet and the heroics of one Commander Shepard. Also his team. I hate hero narratives in journalism. A lot of business scuttlebutt about the rise of my weapons manufacturing company, how I've been burning through cash to make my somehow top of the line weapons even better. Claiming I'm incompetent and should resign, some psuedo-science bullcrap about how my “criminal mind” isn't meant for the long-term thinking and business practices of asari corporate culture, and the usual mollification that I've gone through great strides and hardship to make what I have.

It was more a matter of me throwing out prototypes left and right then hiring those who improved the design thanks to a generous grant from the Council's covert Hephaestus Initiative, but thankfully that stuff is buried in the books. But hey, tomato and tomato salad.

But other than that mention of Shepard, nothing else recent was discussed. That's what worried me. There was more than one way for the Reapers to return to the galaxy to finish what they started, and I still had nightmares of Sovereign's last chilling words through Saren. But not even fluff pieces about Shepard traveling through the galaxy and eliminating the remains of geth forces, taking back lost colonies and stations.

It was about an hour of jogging later that the news started going on about celebrity news, something about an asari pop star running into problems with her polyamorous relationship and a drunk aristocrat showing her ass by pissing off a Justicar. I didn't care, so turned off the monitor.

On reflection I should have showered after my workout. So I showered again. After I redressed I justified it as me washing off my corporate persona, the other for actual bathing.

It was around the time I believed I was finally going to get some sleep that my doorbell rang. I groaned and walked to the door. Erika went home a few hours ago so I couldn't chew her out, but my VI should have turned away anyone who didn't have an appointment. Unless they were someone I knew....

“Hey, blue bitch, you gonna invite me in or am I gonna have to break this door down?” called a familiar voice from behind the door. It was better than coffee.

I threw open the door and there she was. Good old Jack, still looking like the embodiment of that chick you do not mess with unless you have a death wish. Rocking scars and multiple tattoos, but also a slightly more conservative outfit. A black and white striped tube top, dark leather pants, what I have to assume are knuckledusters of some kind on her left hand, and there was even the beginning of a ponytail.

“Well, if it isn't the psychotic biotic herself here to steal my guns and drink my booze.” I said with a chuckle. “Since I'm unarmed I guess I'll have to let you in.”

She strided past me and looked around, Taking in discount corporate opulence.

“How do you deal with this eyesore Variza?” she spat, gesturing to the expensive home theater, the bar, and the fancy modern art pieces.

“By reminding myself that I put it on top of a company full of deterrents. I have asari commandos on security detail two floors below me at all times, and some Loki mechs a floor below ready to deploy at the last second.” I rattled off casually while walking to the bar, pouring a tall glass of strong scotch. “Plus you know, if push comes to shove I can probably throw them out a window with my mind.” I added with a shrug, handing the glass to Jack as she sat down on my couch.

She took several sips, her face scrunched up a bit at the taste, “Goddamn that's some strong shit,” she said with a chuckle, “don't you dare tell me you stopped being a feather weight after Saren, blue. There are a few things in the galaxy that have to stay normal.”

I casually mixed myself some grape juice and seltzer water and sat in a couch opposite her, a tasteful coffee table separating us. “It's more a tactic for prospects and marks to get them to invest in my company. Trick is they think this is sparkling wine.” I respond, tapping my glass with a wink.
“Trade secret. Don't tell anyone,” I added with a smile.

“Always with the angles, Variza.” Jack laughed.

“What can I say, it's how I lived so far!” I shot back with a snort.

We both shared a hearty laugh after that. Just two ex cons in a penthouse laughing about lying and cheating. The awkward silence afterwards undercut that unintended poignancy.

Jack's smile finally turned back into that steely no nonsense scowl I'm too familiar with. “So what exactly is being done about the Reapers?”

“Really? We're going right into that?” I say with a tone of exasperation.”Hey Variza how's it going? Wow your apartment is gaudy and dripping with excess in a vain attempt to mask the true ulterior motives of a corporation that makes death machines. How are you planning on helping us kill a bunch of genocidal supermachines?” I sigh and sink into the cushions. “Most people ask about the weather or at least how they're doing first. Speaking of which ho-”

“I'm fine.” Jack cut me off. “I've been keeping my nose clean ever since the Alliance started calling me in on certain assignments I'm not allowed to talk about. Very hush hush stuff but it's mostly been shutting down illegal experimental facilities by Cerberus.”

“Hard to believe those guys used to be Alliance Black Ops.” I mutter.

“Yeah, before they thought it would be a fantastic idea to put humanity first and go all mad scientist.”

“Let me guess, something in the vein of cybernetics? Biotic enhancement? Radical behavioral conditioning?” I improvised.

“Sorry, blue. Not on the task force, not allowed to know.” Jack remarked.

“Careful there Jack, that sounded like responsibility for a second there.” I playfully scolded, flashing a toothy grin.

“You still haven't answered my question though Variza. What are you doing to stop the Reapers?”

For a while the only thing I could hear was the clinking of the ice in my purple drink.

“Well my company is working with the Alliance to reverse engineer the armor and weaponry taken from Sovereign's remains. Plus a lot of arms manufacturing for the STG, any asari mercenary unit that bothers to ask unless they work for the criminal underground running out of Omega, I have standards after all Jack, the Turian Navy and of course the Spectres. I've also been buying shares in the company that has been making better armor in the field to counteract the punch of my weapons just to be sure I can cover my bases and keep prime product in mind when it comes to referrals.” I paused to take a swallow of fizzy grape.

“Also, a lot of corporate double talk and fancy parties. Lot of fake smiles, ego stroking, and walking around in a backless dress and fashionable heels.” One of my hands goes to my left foot and rubs at its soreness. “Honestly I'd rather be shot at by geth.” I added after a while.

“Then why aren't you, Variza?” Jack shot back with cold ruthlessness. “You got battle scars just as much as anybody else on the Normandy. You rubbed shoulders with us and shed blood across the galaxy to stop that fucker. Why aren't you arming up and helping us?”

I finished my drink and slowly got up. “You haven't heard from him, have you? Shepard? That's why you're coming to me.” I asked, chasing a hunch.

She took another sip, put the glass on the table, then got up to meet my gaze. “Nothing. For two years. I mean at least that other girl is out doing Prothean excavations again on Ilos and Mars. Looking for that Crucible Project of yours. Doctor whoever-”


“Whatever. Wrex is at least trying to get his people to stop killing each other so they can go kill the Reapers. Tali is helping her people push the geth back. But Shepard? One of the most capable badasses, someone I thought I could trust just vanishes. And you? You're up here drinking sparkling grape juice, sweet talking guys in suits to swindle them out of cash rather than blowing shit up!?” The last few words came out like a roar, her arms shaking with biotic power. “Where the hell was that hard-boiled blue bitch that fought her way out of Purgatory Station so long ago?”

“I'm fighting smart Jack!” I barked back, Getting right in her face, my anger outweighing my fear at what she could do to me. Our noses micrometers apart.

“You saw what I was capable of at the Citadel. That was my peak! I got shot and almost paralyzed while everybody else fell back to help me. I am not meant to be in the field!” I raised my fist and channeled my biotic strength through it as well, my forearm glowing a light blue with latent dark energy.

“Purgatory Station was a fluke with a bunch of chaotic nobodies. Those missions with Shepard was me staying away from combat, making sure innocent people weren't getting hurt. The Reapers have been doing this shit for millenia! You want people on the front line facing that? You need the most deadly, the most ruthless, and the most capable. And since I'm none of those things I'm giving them better boomsticks to help them live a little longer! This is the best I can do!” I spat those last words at her, daring her to call my bluff.

She slowly dissipated her power. She then tried to punch me. I blocked it. She followed up with a headbutt. I saw stars as I clattered into my couch, my head singing a symphony of pain.

“Well if you need some actual people to use those boomsticks, you can call me at Grissom Academy. Enjoy your fancy parties, blue.” She seethed with venom, spitting on my polished wood floors before leaving the room.

I didn't sleep well that night. Jack's visit was some pretty sour grapes but her words didn't exactly leave me either. What the hell can I do other than be a weapons mogul? No matter what justifications I gave myself, the number of people I stepped on and double crossed to get to this point could have hired multiple assassins to get rid of me months ago, the danger of being underequipped for an enemy of this size, it still stung me in my stubborn pride.

I wasn't there helping them fight. Plain and simple. And no matter what I told myself, it was out of fear.

The following day was another in a long stretch of my routine. Get up, work out, catch the latest stock information, get dressed, go through the various wings to check on production, board meeting, a quick stop by the firing range to keep my skills sharp and to take some photo ops for marketing, fancy party with a lot of shoulder rubbing or a scheduled meeting with another executive, then stumbling back to my place to wash off the shame and repeat.

But then something unusual happened during my lunch break. I was at my desk enjoying my lunch, I didn't know the actual name of it but it reminded me a lot of korean barbecue, then I got hailed by Erika.

“Miss T'Som, you have a visitor, someone from the Spectres here to talk about a requisition.”

I rolled my eyes and finished my mouthful of goodness and responded.

“If the Spectres want specialized weapons we have a system for that. So if this is a professional query of an investigation it can wait until after lunch.” I responded.

Then my doors opened and Commander Shepard walked in, bold as brass.

“Hello Variza” he said with a smile.

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