Monday, July 17, 2017

Multiverse Desperado: A JumpChain Fiction Chapter 17

Chapter 17: Omega's Three

I absently held my aching stomach while swallowing some painkillers. It's been a week since Morinth had tried to kill me, but there are certain things you just don't forget. The doctors were able to patch up my broken ribs and various contusions. There was a gifted neurologist that was able to assess and diminish the brain damage Morinth did to me with her melding, which explained how erratic my biotics were that night. Even Dr. Dren was on call for some therapy sessions, having my first night of intimacy in years turning into an attempt on my life leaves its mental scars after all. But despite their protests for months of bed rest and mental recuperation I had a job to do. I can rest when Shepard has his team.

I took some deep breaths and counted to ten as my shuttle made its landing on Omega station. I double checked my equipment and re-adjusted some parts of my new suit of armor that was tugging here and there. It was a custom order job from some of the people I knew in Thessia, fantastic shield generators able to stop anything short of short range explosives – within reason of course, and the limbs had some fantastic eezo reserves in them to help amplify my biotics in dangerous situations. That last one is a bit of a crutch, but I'm going to need it while I work out the attack on my office.

I stepped out of the shuttle and put on my best tough girl attitude. I was standing in one of the most dangerous nests of criminal activity in the galaxy, I had to look my best. The pilot got out shortly after and joined me.

“What the hell is that?” Garrus asked quizzically, looking at my scowl.

“Tough guy look. Have to give off the look of a predator or else we'll get eaten alive.”
“You look like you're constipated.”
I shot him a dirty look. “You know you could have turned down my offer to stick around right? You did go into the private sector for a reason after all.”

Garrus shrugged. “True, but usually whenever I hear something involving Shepard or you, I can expect danger and some excitement. Despite what the movies tell you, being your own boss as a private merc is incredibly boring.”

We made our way towards the club known as Afterlife, casually walking through the line of batarians, vorcha, and humans, their protests might as well have been birds chirping.

“Why not go vigilante? Go after the crooks themselves on your own terms?” I mused. “Red tape only gets you tied up, am I right?”

“Not a whole lot of need for loose cannons anymore since law enforcement conveniently got more firepower.” Garrus' mandibles twitched in amusement. “You'd almost think someone was just giving them away to the local police and the Alliance.” he added after a while with a sideways glance at me.

I smiled. “Well, military veteran discounts, they buy in bulk, helps keeps the lights on.” We finally got up to the krogan bouncer. “Still, glad to hear you're rolling with the punches as more of a private eye and bodyguard.”

The krogan stepped in front of me, eight feet of muscle, armor, and anger. I finally turned to address him.

“Miss, I need to ask for you and your friend to get to the back of the line right now. Or else I'll have to throw you there myself.” He got right in my face, his breath hot and rancid. “And I can throw really far.”

I activated the right gauntlet in my armor and fed my biotic power through it, building it up to symphony of strength in my fist.

“That's nice.” I quipped before slamming him in the face with the force of a wrecking ball.

He was on the ground, his face bleeding orange ichor and swearing up a storm. He got back to his feet and pulled out a shotgun.

“Variza T'Som of T'Som Manufacturing to see Aria T'Loak. I sent her a message ahead of time. And if I've been told right, she doesn't like waiting. So how about you do me a favor and use some of that krogan regeneration to walk that off and let your boss know me and my friend are coming in.” I spat in my iciest tone.

The krogan turned to look at me and Garrus, for a second or two I thought he was just going to lunge at us in a blood rage. But he slowly lowered his shotgun, turned away from us and muttered something into a headset mic.

“Sorry for the inconvenience, Miss T'Som. You're both free to go in.”

Afterlife was another dark den of flashing neon, bustling patrons and erotic asari dancers. There were two floors to the circular club, with the walls all displaying harsh and bright images of fire and flame, all to help silhouette the profiles of the dancers as they gyrated and showed off. It was also a clever distraction tactic, keeping your eyes away from the security cameras, personnel all in black suits packing heat, and that unsettling suspicion that you were two steps and a few poorly chosen words away from getting knocked out cold and robbed for all you had.

Garrus and I made our way towards the staircase guarded by two mean looking batarians. They let us pass as we approached. At the top, we bumped into two more batarians, asking for us to hand over our weapons. My eyes darted behind me, half-imagining our greeters were already training concealed weapons on us in case we didn't comply. I handed over my pistol, Garrus handed them his assault rifle in solidarity.

We then stepped into the inner sanctum of Omega's queen. Aria T'loak was an asari, purple in tone, and the kind of matriarch that lived hard and never stopped. She offered us seats and we accepted. It didn't help that we were unarmed and she had at least six trained mercs with weapons on us.

“So, the hardened criminal who helped save the galaxy from a madman and made a tower for herself by utterly ruining my gun trade and selling her own needs my help.” She had a toothy grin that would make sharks proud. “Excuse me a moment, I want to savor this.”

“As much as I enjoy amusing your love of irony, Aria, I'm afraid I am on a tight schedule.” I remarked.

“Choose your next words carefully little girl or your corpse will be out the airlock before you know it.” Aria barked, her smile shifting to a harsh register. The armed thugs shifted around, turning their attention to me.

I gulped. Suddenly I couldn't find words.

Then Garrus came to my rescue. “What I think she means Aria is we have great respect for how you have unified Omega from the unruly hive of unprofessional louts it was before. Which is why you were our first choice in helping us to find certain potential candidates for a special project. A time-sensitive project you understand.” He tried to smile. At least I thought he did.

Aria laughed. “I've heard of how brazen you are among our kind Variza but Goddess I had to see it for myself. No wonder there was already an assassin after you!” Her batarian guard laughed in kind.
“But hey, I understand a thing or two about getting things fast. Commodities change hands so fast around here, both legit and otherwise. So please...tell me who you're looking for and we can negotiate a price.”

Garrus and I traded looks.

“Well go on, you have the list, not me.” he said sotto vocce.

I rolled my eyes and fished out my datapad and consulted it. There are three individuals of note that intel says frequents this place. The first is Zaeed Masani, a mercenary that was the original head of the Blue Suns before he was betrayed.”

“Would you care to tell me his tailor measurements while you're at it?” Aria remarked cutting me off. “I'm aware of Mr. Masani, and I'm also aware of how brutal and dangerous he is as a merc. The last job he had was a simple assassination mission. He blew up an eezo processing rig to make it happen simply because some people there had ties to his old gang. He's a mad dog with a grudge.”

“Well that kind of mark against his character isn't exactly a fault. Do you know how to contact him?”

“Hardly. Last I heard he was in the Attican Traverse chasing a breadcrumb trail about his old partners. Why exactly do you need his help anyway?” Aria cocked an eyebrow.

“Simple transportation job for a discrete assignment via my employer.” I said quickly.

“Ah,” Aria relaxed in her expensive-looking chair, “you're just a middleman then?”

“Compartmentalization. It's a bitch.” I said with a coy smile.

“Indeed. Who else are you looking for?”

I scrolled through my datapad and found the next name.

“Alright, what about Kasumi Goto?” I asked.

“The infamous thief. I am aware of her.”

“Then you know that despite her uncanny ability to hide from surveillance cameras and escape artistry, many of the pieces she fences from her heists seem to get traced back here to your personal corner of the galaxy. Maybe you can give me some contacts, see if I can track her down?”

“I'm no rat for the Alliance, Variza, I'm not helping you bring her in.” Aria snapped. Her posture turning confrontational again, albeit in a more rote manner. The kind of posture you see with a career criminal getting grilled by the cops. Well at least she basically confirmed she knows where she is.

“This is not a sting operation, Aria. Trust me. In fact, if you can schedule a meeting with Miss Goto I will gladly do it here in Afterlife, with any and all conditions gladly met.” I reply quickly.

Aria smiled her shark smile again. “Any of my conditions?”

I swallowed my pride, dreading what that would entail. “Yes, anything. To prove my amiability towards Miss Goto for my personal agenda I am willing to meet her with various security restrictions you wish to impose.”

She seemed a bit defeated by my rewording but shrugged nonetheless. It was hard to tell if she was impressed or robbed of amusement.

“I'll see if I can pull some strings within the next few days. Will three suffice?”

“That's plenty.” I lied. Omega is a place you visit if you're crazy enough; you stay if you're suicidal.

“And the last individual of interest?” Aria asked. “I like to know what exactly the items are before we discuss the price after all.”

“Dr. Mordin Solus.” I responded after a few crucial seconds on my datapad.

“The salarian engineer with a brain that operates at FTL speed and a mouth that goes twice as fast?”

“Yes. The reports state that there has been an outbreak of some unknown plague on the station and Dr. Solus is contributing to the relief effort. I want access to the quarantine zone so I can have an audience with him.”

Aria slowly exhaled. “That is a pretty tall order Variza.”

“After he successfully does what he can to help the residents of Omega of course.”

“Well I certainly hope so. I'm the one who brought him here.” she remarked.

“Well, you know what I'm buying from you, Aria, name your price.” I laced my fingers together and rested my chin on the bridge, waiting for her answer.

“Hmm,” Aria looked around with an impish glimmer in her eye, checking her fingers for dirt. It was unbearably quiet, and something tells me she knew it was pissing me off.

“Let's see... how about a shipment of your weapons?”
My face sank, and I swear I saw Garrus catch himself from screaming an obscenity.

“DNA locked to me and my men, and untraceable by the law. Not just the stuff you sell to the locals either. The top of the line experimental stuff you keep for yourself. You do that and I'll get you your precious time with Mordin and Kasumi, and above all, my protection for your continued stay here on my station.”

I shot out of my chair with indignity.

“My weapons are more than just pistols and rifles, Aria!” I protested. Not even half a dozen batarians with guns aimed at my head was going to stop this anger from boiling over. “There are things in there capable of committing war crimes. The sort of stuff that the Alliance would have me arrested for if they even knew I was working on. I'm not putting that kind of firepower in the hands of a bunch of criminals running around Terminus space!”

Aria... got up to meet me, her movements graceful and precise. She got right in my face.

“Aww I'm sorry, is this your first time negotiating with someone who isn't in a backless dress surrounded by drunk sycophants? Those are my terms, so you can either write me down for a crate of your finest and shake my hand, yell at me some more and give my boys the excuse to paint my office violet, or walk out of my club with nothing.”

I clenched my fists and looked down. Aria had at least an extra foot on me in height and at least seven centuries of mileage compared to me, I couldn't help but feel emasculated at what she was doing to me.

“You'll get my specialty firearms for yourself and two others and a shipment of standard product. But only small arms.” I responded through clenched teeth. “You want something bigger, shop somewhere else.”

Aria put a hand on my shoulder and squeezed it. “Sorry, gonna need more than that.”

“What about your advanced LOKI mechs, Variza?” Garrus interrupted.

I shot him a look that could make paint peel off a wall.

“Garrus, shut up!”

“They're much more effective at crowd control than the standard models you can get from other manufacturers, and they have more articulation points to them. Easier to program for more advanced tactics.” Garrus continued, undaunted by my warnings.

“Oh, so you are more than just a pretty face full of piss and vinegar!” Aria chuckled. “Too bad somebody here forgot to muffle their varren dog. That will do just fine. A dozen of your personal LOKI mechs I think will just about make this an even trade.” she took her hand off my shoulder and sauntered back to her chair looking like the cat that ate the canary.

“Thank you for your understanding, Aria.” Garrus spoke up, taking advantage of my boiling anger making me slow to respond. “We shall make our arrangements and shall send the product to your contacts as per your instructions. But it will take a few days.”

“Of course. Which is why, since I'm a generous and understanding asari, I will give you half of what I owe you now, the other half when you uphold your end of the bargain.” Aria motioned to a batarian nearby, he quickly tapped away on his omni-tool. My omni-tool activated, showing a layout of the station and a glowing destination marker deeper into the depths.

“Mordin Solus is there. Tell the guard that red dust is fashionable, they'll know what it means.”

Garrus turned to look at me, then back at Aria.

“Well I think that means we're done here.” He finally said, breaking tense silence.

“For now.” she added with a terse smile.

Garrus made our excuses and we all but ran out of Afterlife. I finally exhaled and relaxed, trying hard not to laugh in triumph. Garrus looked like he was trying not to throw up in his mouth.

“Whew, that was a bit too easy.” I said energetically.

Garrus turned to me, “I still don't understand why you had to make a show out of that if you were just going to give Aria those weapons to begin with.”

“There's a difference between giving something to a thief and letting a thief think they got away with something, Garrus.”

“And that is?”

“The thief doesn't suspect anything if he gets what he wants.”

“So that whole show in there was to get her on our side? Playing the fool for the sake of a longer play.” He added that last statement with a tone of amusement.

“Business transactions lead to strange bedfellows Mr. Vakarian. Ask me about some of my clients sometime, do I have stories.”

Now that the easy part was over, we were on our way to talk with Mordin Solus.
The salarian that helped create the Genophage.

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