Monday, August 28, 2017

Multiverse Desperado: A JumpChain Fiction Chapter 18

Chapter 18: The Scientist Salarian

The elevator opened, revealing the full extent of the damage done by the plague wracking Omega Station. Garrus and I donned our helmets and activated our hermetic seals. Better safe than sorry. With confidence we made our way towards the Quarantine Zone.

As quickly as we could we dropped the phrase Aria gave us to the guards and slipped through, making our way towards the makeshift medical facility among the sick and bodybags.

I stepped through the threshold to meet Mordin Solus, ready to shake his hand and start explaining what was going on. That is, I would have if he even formally addressed the fact he had guests. The salarian was pouring over a work desk full of samples, test tubes and beakers, scanning over the whole thing with his Omni-Tool and making several adjustments to multiple instruments scattered across his immediate area while mumbling to himself. He also looked like he hadn't slept in a few days.

“Perhaps this vaccine? No. Would make Batarians blind and leave human males impotent. Gas maybe? Through the air perhaps? No, no, no. Too dangerous and too many factors. Unless, maybe if I- yes! Yes!” He finally exclaimed as several instruments started glowing green and chiming. He shot upright, his face triumphant and his eyes slammed shut, clearly drinking in his scientific victory and not seeing the two armored individuals standing in front of him.

He spun around and ran to several other work zones, looking more like a college student whipping together a Masters' project at the last second than a scientist trying to stop a plague under duress. The singing didn't help this illustration.

“I am the very model of a scientist salaran. I've studied species turian, asari and batarian,” He pattered, quickly punching in complex formula into a machine while mixing together several chemical batches.

“I'm quite good at genetics as a subset of biology,” he sang on, his eyes darting back and forth between his Omni-Tool and the device mixing and pressurizing his sample, all with his back to us.

“Doctor Sol-” I tried to interject.

“Because I am an expert which I know is a tautology.” He carried on, completely undaunted, ignorant of the presence of others, drawing the notes out in a melodic tenor.

“My xenoscience studies ranges from urban to agrarian,” his tone dropping an octave and his notes going from quarters to whole.

“I am the very model of-ahh!!” He exclaimed, finally discovering he had an audience; Garrus remaining neutral in his body language, me on the verge of clapping.

“Doctor Solus, as much as I would love to comment on that rendition of Gilbert and Sullivan we do wish to talk with you on an urgent matter.” I insisted, walking over to him with a hand outstretched.

He just stared at the armored hand in front of him, his black eyes darting all over me. Then back to Garrus, then back to me.

I slowly blinked in disbelief.

“Aria sent you. Explains how you got past the guard. Your pistol is from T'Som Manufacturing, which means you don't work for her. Pirate raids deemed too risky.” Mordin muttered, speaking so fast I only registered half of what he was saying until after he finished speaking.

He took a quick breath, then gave me a wide smile. “Which means you must be here to help with plague cure.”

I took advantage and forcefully gave him the handshake he was holding out on giving me. “You got that right. And I may just know who devised this thing to begin with.”

“One problem at a time.” he let go of my hand and turned back to his labs. “The cure is ready, but we need to reach the ventilation systems further down to distribute it. Criminal element too extreme, unfettered. Too many factors.” He took a beat to catch a breath. “Will need your help.”

“Glad to give it, doctor.” I responded with zeal.

“That's all I needed to hear.” Mordin exclaimed as he reached into a nearby footlocker, pulling out an SMG, a handful of thermal clips, a helmet designed to fit his unusual salarian head, and a small shield generator module. He loaded up the SMG with rote familiarity, put his bucket on, and slotted the module into his suit, a quick distortion of the air around him and the faint smell of ozone the only indication that it was now live.

“A geneticist and a trained gunman? Something tells me he's going to get along famously with the others.” Garrus glibbed.

We traveled further into Omega's bowels in almost complete silence, the harsh red lights, industrial sounds and unfeeling sheet metal being more lively than any attempts at conversation....

At least until we hit the third elevator reaching the atmospheric circulation area and I decided to finally rip the band aid off.

“So care to talk about how you helped sterlized the Krogan, Doctor Solus?”

I began to feel Garrus' stare burn through my helmet along with his armored hand ready to punch me.

“It was necessary.” Mordin replied tersely.

The comment slowed Garrus' hand and took his gaze off of me.

“That's a bit of a bold statement to justify such an act.” Garrus chimed in. “The turian Primarch and military were of a retaliatory mind against the krogan, wanted to use it in response to their rampant expansion, while the Salarians were thinking more long-term. Yet you said it was necessary without hesitation?”

“It was simple. Krogan given opportunity to breed, given privileges on Council. Reward for fighting in Rachni Wars. But krogan population too unwieldy, unwilling to negotiate. War inevitable. Famine. Loss of resources. Then rebellions began. Genophage would keep numbers in check. For the good of the galaxy.” He grabbed another short breath. “Had to be done.”

“The ends justify the means.” I replied. “A very easy response to be made when we're talking about events that happens hundreds of years ago. I was referring to the new Genophage strain you developed recently.”

If Mordin was shocked at this bit of insider knowledge he didn't show it.

After a few beats where we could hear a pin drop he spoke again.

“During routine evaluation of krogan specimens there was a possibility that they were developing a resistance to the Genophage. Adapting. All work would have been for nothing. My team and I had to develop new strain, suppress threat of new rebellions. Once again. Had to be done.”

I readjusted my gauntlets and double checked the settings on my pistol as the elevator doors opened.

“Whatever helps you sleep at night doctor. But the way I see it, the crimes themselves aren't where the nightmares come from, it's the lies you tell to make them seem right.”

“Poetic, but not applicable. It was a solution to a problem, nothing more.”

“Pretty easy to say when that problem isn't staring you in the face.” Garrus interjected.

The doors opened to reveal several major problems aiming guns at our faces. Bullets rained down on the threshold, ripping and warping the metal frame of the door. Adrenaline rushed through and in a roar of effort, I erupted an energy shield to disrupt the gun fire.

Whoever these people are, they chose a good place for an ambush. The entire room was a giant open expanse, any chunks of cinderblock or large metal pipes that could feasibly be used as improvised cover were either destroyed or occupied by our armored and masked assailants. To make matters worse, there was even a squad on a catwalk above their improvised row of death.

“Break their height advantage!” Garrus yelled, slotting in something into his assault rifle and aiming at the catwalk, firing in short concentrated bursts.

I was barely hanging on where I was, my eezo reserves emptying into my improvised defense, sweat beading on my forehead.

“Integrity of walk is weakest at center! Enough force should break it!” Mordin yelled, holding out his Omni-Tool as an orange streak of flame came and struck several of the attackers up top, their armor catching fire and the people inside losing their collective cool.

I had to think fast. If I kept putting the shield up, I'd be a sitting duck. Garrus might be a crackshot, but even he has his limits. As for Mordin, his SMG is useless at this distance and that incendiary charge from his tool wasn't exactly something you could do nonstop.

Which meant I had to take another gamble and pray that my armor is as tough as those ass-kissing “partners” back on Thessia told me it was.

I began channeling as much of my power as I could, my arms flaring up in gooseflesh as I called upon more and more telekinetic force. Then I took full advantage of the power of a mass effect field and propelled myself at the speed of a bullet towards a poor soul on the walkway, funneling the remains of my shield into a battering ram.

It all happened in a frightful second. One moment I was pinned down by a bunch of armed mercs, then in a deafening roar I was on their catwalk with my arm going through the final movements of a sucker punch, my target flying through the air with his helmet shattered to pieces. I didn't have time to see his body hit the ground as I dropped to a firing stance and drew my pistol, taking advantage of the element of surprise. 

With several well placed shots, my Inquisitor pistol shredded past the remaining three mercs' shields and punched through their helmets like tissue paper. I efficiently ejected the spent thermal clip from my pistol then moved to the center of the catwalk and called upon my biotic power one more time. I compressed as much of the lawbreaking energy as I could into my arm, then with a savage blow I struck the support structure of the bridge. The old, unkept metal began to gave way, preparing to rain down upon the bewildered firing squad below. Before the last of my ground gave way, I leapt off the catwalk to land behind their firing line, activating a burst of power to slow my descent, and in an elegant mid-air turn, returned to face my would-be executioners with my Locust SMG readied. 

If any of then had enough sense to turn and run away from several hundred pounds of industrial debris, they were about to get a face automatic gunfire. Two of them did, they went down before the last bits of guardrail rang out through the cavernous chamber.

“Is that enough force for you?” I panted, sliding another thermal clip into my pistol.

“Sufficient, yes. Quite effective.” Mordin replied with amusement.

“Spirits,” Garrus said, looking at the results of my unfettered assault, “remind me never to get on your bad side.”

I quickly dropped to my knees and tried to catch my breath. My endurance has at least gotten better in the past two years. But it was when I ventured a look at one of the bodies that I realized something was wrong.

“Mordin...when exactly did the people in Omega started using guns covered in chitin?”

“They don't. It appears to be...” he performed a quick scan, “ as suspected. Collector tech. Makes sense. The plague holds signs of Collector origin. Must have left allies nearby to ensure it spreads throughout station.”

“That also raises another question.” Garrus mused while taking a closer look at the armor worn by the corpses. “Usually the lower levels are covered with gangs of Vorcha and varren attack dogs, striking in quick and harsh ambushes of shotguns, teeth and claws. This was much more disciplined for such simple-minded folk.”

A cold shiver went down my back as I remembered how things have gotten worse since I arrived. I didn't want to tempt fate any more than I have already.

“We can speculate once we get this cure pumping through these vents.” I readied my pistol while Mordin followed.

The following few minutes actually resembled normal, giant pile bodies and the smell of burning space fiberglass notwithstanding. We started introducing the cure into the atmospheric pumps and, thanks in no small part to Garrus' technical acumen, we were able to re-activate the fans. If the Collectors were planning on wiping out Omega Station to use as a base of operations for their Reaper overlords, it failed.

Then some gunfire ripped through my shields and punched me hard in the spine. I dropped to a knee and pivoted with my pistol at the ready, firing off one or two hip shots in the direction of my attacker. But that attacker in question wasn't a new threat. It was one of the bodies from before, I could tell because he was still wearing the shredded remains of the helmet I punched to hell and his right arm was jutted out at a wrong angle.

“You cannot prevent this.” The mangled assailant spoke with a distorted unnatural timbre. His arm began to pop back into place with several sickening cracks.
“The Collectors are preparing you for your next stage of evolution.” He raised his Collector rifle, it beginning to glow with an energy we didn't see used before. “A future that has no place for unknowns such as yourself, Variza T'Som.”

His use of my name forced me to look into the bloodshot eye peering behind the half-helmet, and it wasn't a face I wanted to remember. Underneath was the distinctly stretched and warped sinew of a Vorcha, except wrapped in a cocoon of cybernetic enhancements. Vorcha have short life spans of maybe twenty years but they have a regeneration and adaptation factor that rival the krogan. Looks like the Reapers decided to hijack that to make some discounted super soldiers.

“Prepare yourselves for their arrival, as we purge those that resist this inevita-” the cybervorcha's evil monologue was cut off by a hail of flame erupting from his exposed face. He dropped his rifle in pain as the flames continued to spread into the rest of his body under the suit, smoke pouring from it like a demented kiln. I looked over my shoulder to see Mordin holding his SMG, the barrel glowing white hot red from the use of incendiary rounds.

Then the dropped rifle expelled a large beam of green energy across the wall, tearing chunks out of it with the ease of a missile assault.

“Get back to the elevator!” Mordin exclaimed. He didn't have to tell me twice. I ran for it at a dead sprint, trying not to think about the shifting of rubble, the oncoming reanimation of the vorchadroids. I didn't stop until I hit the back the elevator, panting heavily. As I turned around I saw Mordin and Garrus closely behind, a giant fireball erupting behind them.

Okay, I didn't see that coming.

In my stunned state Garrus hit several buttons on the display. The doors closed, the elevator rose, and we were safe.

“Alright, whose idea was it to go full action-hero back there?” I finally managed to gasp out.

“My idea.” Mordin replied. “Vorcha regeneration robust but makes them vulnerable to severe burns to their muscle tissue. Enough acclerant is applied and they become quite flammable. Or inflammable. Forget which. Doesn't matter.”

I couldn't help but chuckle. In this one instance, I was okay with the ends justifying the explosions.

The rest of the day played out in fastforward. Garrus and I gave Mordin a briefing about his mission. How the Collectors were tied to the vanishing of human colonies, and how it is towards some unknown project for the Reapers. Using his engineering and genetic know-how, he would be integral to figuring out how the Collector's have been causing thousands of people to vanish overnight and protecting Shepard's team from any other biological based attack. After discovering how large of a threat the Reapers were to the galaxy, Mordin gladly accepted.

Then came the waiting for the other shoe to drop: the arrival of Kasumi Goto and the rendezvous. I couldn't sleep that night, and it wasn't because I was afraid we were gonna get shot. Aria's word might as well be law on Omega, and I managed to play out of my depth well enough to make her overlook any direct retaliation. But it was just how serious things had become. No matter how much I try to help against the threat of the Reapers, it's almost as if they are one step ahead of me the entire time. Becoming more bold, harsh, and far-reaching with their tactics and methods than anything I experienced before in front of a computer screen.

I splashed some water in my face and returned to the pitiful mattress that was my bedroom. Except I had company. A very familiar looking woman in an alluring black dress with the smile of someone who just got away with a practical joke.

“Having fun, yet?” Jump said coyly.

I pulled out my pistol without hesitation and fired at her several times.

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