Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Multiverse Desperado: A JumpChain Fiction Chapter 20

 Writer's Note: This particular chapter is basically two chapters smashed together in celebration of N7 Day and to double up on the missed deadline of last month's Multiverse Desperado. Enjoy!

Chapter 20: One Last Heist

The planet Bekenstein is a particular accomplishment for the human race. It has been compared to be on par with the asari industrial paradise of Illium due to its grand luxury goods production. Every major installation in the galaxy wanted their product, even the Citadel. It has since evolved into a resort of opulence for humanity's wealthy elite, where they indulge in excess and pay no mind to beings of lower stature. More glittering than diamonds, and more expensive than surgery.

And Kasumi and I were getting ready to rob the suckers blind.

Our shuttle was rocketing through FTL space, en route to the party being held on the jewel of a planet, us touching up our make-up and adjusting our dress the entire way.

“What is the optimal way to deal with targets in our way until we get into the vault?” I asked while applying onyx black lip gloss.

“Make it look like an accident and make sure you're alone. Bekenstein has a high suicide rate due to local inflation for standards of living cost and high job stress. But due to me not having a full layout for security patrols and camera placement, let's err on the side of caution.” Kasumi replied, adjusting some tasteful earrings and checking her trimmed but lightly decorated nails.

“Right,” I casually opened a pocket mirror and started applying eye shadow and blush. “Our cover just so I remember is that I am visiting Bekenstein in the hopes of establishing some sort of joint venture with our mark, some kind of elite security equipment for the fat cats worried about assassination or uprisings. And you will be...” my voice trailed off, my mind drawing a blank, flickering to other minute details about the plan like windows of opportunity and the logistics of getting our gear through security hoping that would fill it in.

“I am a simple nobody who you've brought on hand as eye candy and a symbol of your dominance for appearances' sake. People in the Bek pride themselves on having power over others by being smarter or quicker than most.” She closed my pocket mirror and planted a kiss on my lips, her hand going to my thigh. I felt a shiver shoot through my body as her lips touched mine, her warm body pressing against my dress. I clamped down on the impulse to punch her in the throat, thanks a lot Morinth, and tried to relax. But I did feel my hand push back on Kasumi's shoulder, breaking the kiss. I took a moment to compose myself.

“Considering the nature of what we're trying to lift from Donovan Hock's vault don't you think that's a little inappropriate?” I gasped.

“Oh, I haven't forgotten, but appearances are everything. And some smudged lipstick says a lot with no words wouldn't you say?” She replied with a sly wink, leaning back.

I had to reel back in my lizard brain on wanting to “make the illusion more genuine” so I turned to look out the space port, streaks of blue across a canvas of black greeted me as we maintained FTL, and took some deep breaths. Maybe I should get Dr. Lissandre on the horn ASAP....

“So getting our weapons and armor through security?” Kasumi replied, breaking the awkward silence.

“Oh.” I snapped back to her with a devious smile. “Trust me, I know how to reach our gear when we need it.”

“I certainly hope so. You just told me to hand you my outfit and tools then made a big deal about hiding them somewhere later. Back on Omega.”

“Oh don't worry, as long as we have easy access to a door, we'll be fine.” I replied with a smirk.

Kasumi cocked an eyebrow.

“What? No follow-up question?”

“Nope. I might be a thief, but I do have some professional integrity.” she gave me a coy glance.

“Alright, so here's how it'll go down...”

Donovan Hock's estate was indulgently excessive, a look always in vogue on Bekenstein. There were armed guards for sure, some of them even sporting my product which would imply privately contracted; just another way for Hock to show off his deep pockets. Kasumi and I made our greetings, glass smiles all the way as we made our way past the fountains and manicured gardens heading inside the party proper.

There was the usual scans for weapons, hidden tools, data pads or data chits that could be used for blackmail, and of course a full body scan. Kasumi went through first, and as we discussed, all she was wearing was her clothing and a smile. Aside from a slightly accelerated heart rate the scan turned up negative. I went up next, and of course the body scan pulled up the key to my warehouse inside my bra.

The guard pulled me aside and demanded an explanation.

“Do you really think I was going to try to steal an old earth vehicle or something?” I quipped, twirling the key in my fingers, it resembling an old twenty-first century house key, hoping my faux ignorance of its use would put him off guard.

“Miss T'Som, glad to see you are becoming acquainted with my staff.” An Afrikaans-accented voice from the party projected into the hall. Donovan Hock had stepped out to greet me.

I turned to face him, holding out my hand in greeting. He took a low bow and kissed it. I seriously considered amputating it afterwards. I decided instead to flash a smile and give slight nod.

“Donovan, what an awkward first impression.” I giggled, slipping into my fancy party persona.

He looked up with a smile and cupped my hand in his. “Oh I do so apologize for the security measures that weren't mentioned in the invitation. Can never be too sure in this day and age.”

“Mr. Hock there is still the matter of her item. It can be used as an improvised weapon and we were told to have a zero tolerance policy for weaponry save for approved staff.” The guard interjected.

I shot a sideways glance to Kasumi, she looked worried. I motioned her to join me.

“Oh I do apologize Donovan. The key is actually a keepsake from a friend of mine. It's a bit of a good luck charm that I keep with me. Sorry I didn't fully think about how deadly it could be.” I shrugged.

Donovan's mind went to work and I could see it. He could tell me to put the key back on the shuttle, or turn me away completely on a technicality. Either way he was going to lose favor with me, and he needs my business.

“How about this then Miss T'Som,” his face of concentration snapping to one of faux concern, “we leave your keepsake here with security. For you to pick up when you leave. And I swear on the lives of my men that if it goes missing I will personally see to their termination.”

I left him hanging for a while, putting my hand to my lips, eyes moving between Donovan and his guards. I was expecting to see sweat on his brow, but to Donovan's credit, his smile never faded.

“Alright then.” I handed the key to the guards and they promptly put it into a clear storage tub and sealed it. “But if I see it isn't there, heads will roll, kay?” I slipped an arm around Kasumi's waist and pulled her close.

“But of course Miss T'Som,” Hock replied, gesturing towards the party proper. “May I offer you and your...friend a drink?”

“For me, yes. None for her, she got a little...out of hand on the trip over here.”

“Ah.” Donovan moved towards the refreshment table, leaving the two of us to his personal section of the party. A small circular area full of elaborate art exhibits and people in fancy suits pretending to care.

“Think you can get him to roll over?” Kasumi retorted.

I moved close to her and whispered in her ear, “Find a bathroom stall in the lady's room with no cameras then get back to me. I'll keep Donovan busy.”

“I'll stay quiet in the meantime. What's the cover?”

I kissed her neck. “Oh.”

“Humans feel nervous around public displays of affection. Perfect cover.”

Kasumi broke away from me, but not without making a bit of a show of it with a coy smile and a giddy jump in her gait.

Donovan arrived later with a tall glass full of bubbling dark violet drink.

“The latest blend from Thessia, the best of home I'd say wouldn't you Miss T'Som?” He took a sip from a glass of his own drink. I tipped the glass but didn't take a sip, double checking for unusual smells or something off around the rim. Kasumi gave me a small primer about poisons and truth-telling serums from her past infiltration experiences and how it was always a good thing to fake a sip first and check the target's reaction. This unfortunately wasn't Donovan's first rodeo either, his face still formed into a wax smile.

“Well you know how to make someone feel at home.” I replied. “Shall we get to business?”

Donovan gestured me to a small circle of luxurious chairs, complete with fancy pieces of modern art and servants holding out trays of drinks. It would have looked like a throne among the already impressive display of exquisite exhibits and laughing party guests... if the row of seats weren't already occupied by another man.

“Miss T'Som, allow me to introduce you to another interested party in this venture. Mister Jack Harper.”

I could feel each blood cell in my body turn to ice at the name. To everyone else, Jack Harper was an unassuming man of advanced age, bits of dull silver tucked away in his brown hair, wearing a sharp business suit and casually smoking a cigarette. Despite getting looks from the guests, he puffed shamelessly, just because tobacco-related diseases have been wiped out by advanced medical science doesn't mean the social stigma around smoking magically vanished as well.

But to me I knew who he truly was: the mysterious head of the militant humanity-first organization Cerberus. The Illusive Man. The leader of the group that has been giving Shepard and The Alliance so much trouble. The ones who were racing to uncover the secret agenda of The Collectors themselves for their own personal ends.

And he was ten feet – and a quick biotic snap of the neck – away from me.

I smiled through clenched teeth. “Pleased to meet you Mister Harper.”

He simply shot me a look of disdain and blew smoke in my general direction. “We were in the middle of discussing some business Mr. Hock?”

“Why yes of course. But as you can tell, there is a third interested party,” Hock mollified, offering me a chair. I slipped into it and took a slightly deeper drink from my glass, I was going to need it.

“So now that you're both here, I do wish to discuss your individual proposals. As you can tell-”

“Considering the fact that I reached out to you at this venture and was the first to arrive, wouldn't you say Miss T'Som's claim in your affairs are now moot?” Jack interrupted, shooting me a look of disdain.

I straightened my back and put on my Ice Queen look. Alright Jack, you wanna play character assassination? Bring it on.

“Technically Mister Harper, I reached out to Hock a day before the party started. With the express purpose of wishing to do business with him. So silly of me, but either you tried to pitch a proposal to him unannounced at a party, which if I recall from human customs is ostensibly a leisurely activity in which case how dreadfully uncouth of you, or you called Hock before me and he didn't tell me, in which case,” I shot a mild pout towards Hock, “shame on you.”

Jack looked embittered by my accusation, looking away to take another drag on his cigarette; Hock turned pensive. “It was more a matter of context Miss T'Som.” he finally said.

My smile turned venomous. “Ah, I see what is going on then Donovan. You were expecting a bit more of an under-the-radar nature of my visit. Since what you do isn't exactly smiled upon by the Alliance.”

“I am merely a curator of the arts Miss T'Som, and sometimes collecting those pieces can lead to dangerous situations.” Hock justified.

“And due to the more aggressive crackdown of those sales by the Alliance, you were hoping to get some more firepower to even the odds. I had a criminal record once, Donovan, I know the game all too well.” I snapped.

“All the more reason then to hear my proposal since it has no... prior association with the Alliance.” Jack chimed in, smelling blood in the water.

It was before I could follow-up on Jack's regained control that Kasumi put her hand on my shoulder, her breath warm in my ear. I flashed a toothy smile to the two slimeballs and rose from my seat.

“If you gentlemen will excuse me, I do believe I am needed elsewhere. Please, by all means discuss in my absence. That was clearly the plan from the beginning.” I then made a bit of a show of storming off towards the ladies room, Kasumi pulled close to me the whole time.

I had to stop myself from vomiting in the sink or splashing cold water in my face. It would be on camera for one and it would ruin the make-up for two. I had to keep my facade up a little while longer. The rich mahogany stall doors, marble sinks and gold-decorated towel dispensers looking more and more gaudy as my mood soured. Instead, I opened a stall door with my partner in tow and closed the door behind us.
“So what now?” Kasumi asked, curiosity seeping into her tone.

I slipped a hand down the front of my dress and pulled my warehouse key from my bra and twirled it between my fingers and smiled.

“But how did-”

“Shhh.” I put a finger to her lips. “A magician never reveals her secrets.” I then lightly flicked her ears and made circular gesture around the stall. She nodded in understanding. She might have been a Master Thief, but her professional cool was clearly obliterated by trying to suss out a miracle of a lift that didn't happen. Jump made it clear to me that this key was mine and no one else's. If it gets taken or is out of my possession for anything north of five minutes, it will return to me. Simple as that.

I turned to the stall's lock and awkwardly pressed the key into the electronic lock. To my surprise, the key slipped inside the interface, a dull white glow surrounding the metal of the key. I turned the key and opened the stall door. A column of white light filled the stall, and the grand majesty of my large warehouse awaited.

Although it was diminished somewhat by me taking a few tentative steps at the entrance to grab the equipment bags. Kasumi's armor, Omni-Tool, SMG and cloaking device were handed over promptly. As for me, I would have to wait a little while longer to suit up. All the same I kept my bag of stuff a few crucial milimeters away from the exit's threshold and motioned Kasumi to come inside.

“Alright, this is new, and I've seen quite a lot behind closed doors.” Kasumi gasped in delight.

I closed the door behind me. “Don't worry, there's a kind of time dilation effect while we're in here. Think you can take a moment to stop gazing at this and give me a sit rep?” I snapped my fingers in front of Kasumi's face.

“Oh. Right.” She shook her head. “So there aren't many guards but they are armed to the teeth. Should be easy to sneak past them with my cloak but I will need a distraction to get access to Hock's vault. Also a re-routing for its security systems which I can do easily with my Omni-Tool, and a voice profile of Hock.”

“Which means I'll have to get him to talk.” I replied, slipping a small chit under the sleeve of my dress. “And considering how desperate he is looking for some sort of reprieve from the Alliance's raids to the point that he's willing to get into bed with Cerberus, I think I know just where to apply pressure.”

“My Omni-Tool is linked to the recorder. Wait for two quick vibrations then start recording. My program should do the rest.” Kasumi commented as she slipped into her armor, hitting several glowing icons on her Tool. “Wait, did you say Cerberus?”

“I...can't exactly prove it with hard evidence but let's just say I have a sixth sense about some of the guests.”

Arguably the biggest problem when it comes to knowing the true identity of The Illusive Man is he does a fantastic job of hiding his goings on. Shell companies, hundreds of officials paid off to lie for him, a paper trail that's iron clad, you name it. The Illusive Man wasn't a title he gave himself after all.

“We'll rendezvous at the vault door once my distraction goes live.” I followed up.

“Just one question...” Kasumi gestured around my warehouse.

“Do you wanna rob this bastard or not?”

She nodded.

“Then don't ask anymore questions.”

When the door to the bathroom stall opened again, Kasumi had activated her cloak and followed me out. I then washed my hands and stepped outside, taking some deep breaths to keep myself under control. This wasn't Kasumi's first rodeo, but this was mine.

I then stepped back into Hock's party...and into the face of Jack Harper.

“Excuse me, Mister Harper, you may want to give me my space. I'm not exactly in a good mood today.”

“I'm on to you Variza.” He said, his voice emotionless and tactical.

I felt goosebumps shoot through my body. If I had any hair on my head it would be standing up. He leaned close to me, his notably artificial lightning blue eyes piercing me with cold precision.

“You might have everyone else fooled but I know exactly what you are.”

I readied some biotic power. Jack does have a network of spies, maybe even a greater connection to the network of spies held by The Shadow Broker. And C-Sec's arrest of me is on record, any detective could in theory punch incongruities in Garrus' fabricated record. I prepared for the worst.

“You're nothing but a mere thief.” He practically spat the words.

“Not according to the asari patent offices Jack.” I sneered through my teeth without missing a beat, dispelling my built up power. His nostrils flared in anger but he slowly backed off.

“You might have helped Commander Shepard save the Citadel, but your blatant theft of others' work for your own benefit tells me you are nothing more than a parasite. You will not stand in the way of humanity's progress. One way or another your secrets will be found out.” His eyes motioned to a guard nearby, an Inquisitor pistol at his hip, “And the day that happens is the day the galaxy will be in complete order as it should be.”

“Let me guess, with humanity as something greater than before?” I remarked. “Jack, humanity has some of the greatest minds of the age and some of the most talented warriors in the galaxy. You've already done so much, but something tells me you've forgotten the galaxy is more than just a place to house your ego.” I snapped back. “But I know one way to truly make it better...”

I walked past him, running into his shoulder, which would have been a bit more imposing if I wasn't in the body of a lithe blue woman with a soldier's build doing it to a six foot tall man in his sixties, and said under my breath in his ear.

“ can do without snakes in the grass like you.”

I didn't bother to look back at The Illusive Man as I returned to Donovan. Whatever deal those two made, it was one I'd have to handle elsewhere. Not my circus, not my monkeys. But I did get some looks from party guests when they realized I entered the bathroom with my date and returned without her with a look of confidence. Might as well lean in to those notions....

I sat back down at my chair, my purple drink still there, and gave Hock my best empathetic expression.

“So Donovan, now that I'm a bit more relaxed now, do you mind if we try this again?” The device on my wrist vibrated twice. I took a sip from the glass and placed my hand under my glass-holding wrist, my index finger ready to press record.

“You don't have to worry about this being a sting operation or some nonsense. I'm just focusing on expanding my business, and you know what they say about businesses and bedfellows right?” I darted my eyes back towards the bathroom and managed a coy smile, taking even more smaller sips from the glass. Hock seemed more nervous than anything else. I set my glass down and gave him my best look.

“The point is, I am simply looking at you as a client who wants more security with what he holds dear and that is all I care about. Saving the world was just a means to get out of jail between you and me. Honestly, the galaxy is more interesting when it comes to things people don't know about. So consider this for exactly what it is. Off the record, no strings attached. I have product, you have demand, let's talk turkey as you humans say.”

Hock's demeanor slowly changed to something more friendly. I hit the record button and proceeded to nod and smile. He went on about how raids by the Alliance and the resulting pressure has been leading to hectic conflicts among the major PMCs in the galaxy: Eclipse, Blue Sun, and the Blood Pack. Which meant a lot of contracts being terminated. Eclipse particularly losing a lot of pull and manpower after the Geth attack on Purgatory Station. In-fighting translating to higher rates for clients, more clandestine meetings due to them usually being hired for high-end crime, leading to the more white-collar scum like Hock desperate for choice. His solution was to simply hire his own men and kit them out with the weapons and armor from my company. Making his key business ventures of smuggling, art dealing, and arms dealing to go by a little smoother. I did bring up the absurdity of a black market arms dealer making deals with a weapons dealer but he merely smiled. After what felt like an eternity my wrist vibrated again. I put my hand up to my ear to scratch my temple, Kasumi's voice coming at a barely audible whisper with two simple words, “we're ready.”

“So Miss T'Som, what would you say would be a sensible order for an operation as...modest as mine?” Hock asked.

I rose from my chair, “If you don't mind I'd like to get a better look at what my guns will be protecting, care to show me around?”

And so Hock gave me the tour of the party. A lot of turian paintings, asari abstract sculptures, and even a few human pieces of modern art. I'm no art critic so I simply ooo'd and ahh'd as Hock showed off what he had. Then we got close to the checkpoint and I deployed my distraction.

“Donovan, where's my key?” I asked, eyes wide and staring at the translucent tub under heavy guard.

“What do you mean Miss T'Som? It's right th-” he froze mid-sentence, seeing what I saw, his face white as a sheet.

He stormed towards the checkpoint and started yelling, raising hell. And I joined in. Spinning a story from whole cloth about how the key was the last of its kind and a keep sake from a friend that taught me so much while I lived my life on a colony among humans. How I've had it for well over a century and that it was irreplaceable. The Blue Bitch demonstrated her namesake in full regalia in ten hellish minutes.

“I am going to head to the bathroom to collect my date Donovan. And if I don't see that key waiting for me when I go to leave you can forget so much as getting a knife from me!” I bellowed, purple in the face.

I stormed past the guests, some asari shaking their heads in disdain like I was some pampered spoiled brat. Let them talk, Donovan's security were scrambling around looking for a tiny piece of metal under threat of termination, distraction deployed at the cost of face is a price well paid.

I slipped past several guards as they ran towards the commotion caused by Hock threatening to throw half his staff into the vacuum of space and made my way down a staircase towards a large intimidating steel door. I stepped up to it and tapped in quick succession. The door opened and Kasumi awaited.

“How much time do we have before security gets back online?”

“I'd say about five minutes. What about your distraction?”

“Oh I'd say based on Hock's desperation somewhere between five to ten minutes tops.” I smiled, slipping off my shoes. She smiled back.

“I like your style, Variza.”

“Well I do my best.”

Everything afterwards moved by at breakneck speed. Kasumi and I moved through countless corridors of dull gray highlighted by simple industrial lights, slipping through doors with some good old fashioned elbow grease and breezing past security checkpoints abdicated by Hock's men.

It was after what felt like an eternity in a maze we finally made it to his Vault proper. A large open area full of some of the most precious pieces of various cultures under secure glass. Da Vinci, Monet, some more eclectic and alien talents I knew little about. There was even the head of the Statue of Liberty hanging in the back of the room. But Kasumi made a beeline for a particular artifact in the room, a small plastic looking box with a handle and a gray cylinder coming from it. It took me a minute, but I knew what it had to be.

“That's a graybox isn't it?”

“One that holds the memories of my old partner, yes.” She could barely contain her excitement as she cut through the glass in a rote motion with her Omni-Tool.

“Well now I know how far you'd go to get closure with someone,” I quipped, waiting for her to remove the graybox completely from its cage before putting the key into the electronic lock of its case, opening a small door to the warehouse. I then gestured Kasumi to throw it in. She complied.

Her Omni-Tool gave out several rapid beeps. She turned her arm to me, revealing a timer of thirty seconds. I looked around for something, anything that could fit through a small display door. Sadly Hock's private stash was full of large and delicate pieces so handling them into the warehouse was out of the question.

I motioned to Kasumi to get out back through the vault door. We got what we came for, now it was a matter of getting out.

It was after roughly ten seconds of getting through the vault that security clattered back on again. Laser grids crisscrossed over the open threshold, klaxons started to shriek, and red lights began flashing left and right. Kasumi cloaked and made her way through. As for me, I kept my heels off and ran back into the hall.

It was after I stormed back up the stairs that I found the party in total disarray. Hock's guard now went from scrambling on the ground looking for a key to being on high alert from a vault breach. Also the windows and exit were sealed with blast doors. Great.

I slipped on my high heels and pinched the bridge of my nose while moving as bristly as I could towards the checkpoint.

“And now I have a splitting headache from all of this commotion! Are you trying to piss me off to get a better deal or something Donovan!?” I yelled over the klaxons. Hock might as well have seen the devil in my eyes with the expression he gave.

“Miss T'Som, there appears to have been a security breach. For everyone's personal safety you must stay with the others until my men have secured the area.” He studdered, sweat beading on his brow.

I grabbed him by the collar and pulled him close.

“How's this for secure? I walk out of that door right now, get on my shuttle and leave right the hell now and when you find my key you hand deliver it to me with a bouquet of red roses and a handwritten apology note.”

“But I-”

“And maybe I won't rip every single one of you apart with my mind in the next two minutes.” My anger was boiling, and I tightened my grip on his throat to drive my point.

“Wait a minute...where is your partner? The girl you came with?”

Crap. I hate not thinking this stuff completely through. And my reputation as an ex-criminal only goes so far.

Several of Hock's men aimed their rifles at me, demanding that I unhand their boss. After a few crucial seconds I sighed and loosened my grip....

Then I grabbed one of the guards in my biotic grip and threw him in a wide crescent, forcing him to collide bodily. The party guests screamed in shock at my violence. I quickly changed my grip and used Hock like a body shield, telekinetically grabbing the downed guard's pistol into my open hand.

“Alright boys, put the guns down and your meal ticket gets to live a lot longer!” I bellowed.

“As for the rest of you, I suggest ducking for some cover!”

A sharp bang filled the air and I felt something whiz past my ear, causing my heart to stop. Whoever these guys are, Donovan trained them well. They weren't standing down, and they were trying to take me out. And I'm in a dress.

A second thud filled the room and a small cylinder rolled towards me and Hock. I closed my eyes and pushed Hock while running the other way. Then I felt hands clap over my ears and drag me to the ground. A loud bang shortly followed!

I looked up, half expecting Jump to greet me with a sad grin and a star-shaped sticker with “You Tried!” written on it. Instead, it was Kasumi beaming with mischief. It was a flashbang, clever girl.

“We don't have much time! I'll try to hack the security system but I need your help!” She screamed, projecting over the cacophony of panic. I nodded, and with a quick wink of acknowledgment she vanished once again with her cloak.

I scanned my environment, looking for a door. And there was... on the other side of the room leading to the balcony. I only had so much time so I called on my biotics once again after taking a standing leap, this time channeling the energy behind me, pushing me forward with great force. I felt the effects immediately, my body whipping through the air like it was launched from a catapult and my arms feel like they just got smashed with a press. The balcony door was a few precious feet away. I landed in a roll and moved as quickly as I could, slipping my key out and reaching towards the handle.

By the time the door to my warehouse opened, Hock's men had shaken off the flashbang, but weren't expecting me to be further inside the building. As I stepped through the threshold I heard Hock yell out my position to his men. Then the door closed and it was just me and my equipment bag.

When the door opened again, the guards were clearly not expecting me in full armor to greet them. Especially a fresh prototype from the boys in R&D. I pulled out my pistol and called up some more power in my hands.

The fight was over in about ten seconds all told. Kasumi appeared from behind enemy lines and struck several of the guards, exacerbating their already considerable confusion. A biotic slam from me and several well placed phasic rounds through their shielded helmets was the cherry on top.

Hock was scrambling on the ground, baffled and rattled by what just happened. I simply picked him up and pinned him to a wall with one hand.

“What...are you?” He managed to choke out.

“Haven't you heard? I'm the Blue Bitch.”

It was on the trip back that I finally contacted Shepard about what had happened through a local station's private Extranet chamber.

“So what exactly happened to Hock?” Shepard replied, remaining stoic throughout the extravagant tale.

“Oh he's been arrested by Alliance officials. I kind of let slip I was undercover as part of an operation for a Spectre, mentioned your name and everything, and they took it as is.”

“But I didn't authorize his arrest.”

“I also wasn't lying. It was a favor for your latest recruit for the Omega-4 mission. Miss Kasumi Goto. Plus I think a few preservationists would love to get a hold of that Statue of Liberty head he has.”

Shepard shook his head in bewilderment at that last statement. “Alright, I'll speak with the Council and say you were working for me to deal with a possible weapons deal between Hock and Cerberus. Sound fair to you?”

“Well, reality's stranger than fiction...” I mumbled under my breath.

“Well between what you've provided for me and some of the... interesting company I've managed to convince to join me, I think we're just about ready to start that operation. We still need a way to protect ourselves from the Collector's tactics and a way to go through the relay unharmed. Hopefully Doctor Solus and our Engineering expert can come up with something.”


“Was it really that obvious?”

“Come on, she's brilliant even by other quarian standards. If she wasn't on the team I'd vouch for her myself.”

Shepard smiled. “Speaking of which, you know there's still a place on the Normandy for you, Variza. I know you've been vocal about it but the door's still open.”

“Sorry Shepard, not my circus, not my monkeys. I'm too busy getting things bunkered down at home for you. But by all means good luck with your suicide mission.” I said with a laugh at the end.

When I returned to the shuttle, Kasumi was sitting in the corner, a visor over her face with the graybox attached to it, tears streaming down her face.

“Keiji-san...” she whispered under her breath, wiping away the tears.

“I'm sure he was a good man,” I said softly, sitting next to her, hand on her shoulder.

The visor slid away and Kasumi looked away, not wanting to show how puffy her eyes looked.

“He wants me to destroy it. That he found secrets so dangerous that every cutthroat in the galaxy will be after it. Something about Operation Ascension.... But it's all I have to remember him by...” She held the box close.

I pulled her close as the shuttle's auto-pilot returned us to Omega. The rest of the trip was in silence. It ended on a professional handshake and a thank you.

I've done all I can for Shepard's team, now it was all on them.

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