Thursday, December 7, 2017

Multiverse Desperado: A Jumpchain Fiction Chapter 21

Chapter 21: Grudge of the Shadow Broker


“It's okay... breathe.” Sha'ira said calmly, holding my hands as they tensed up. So I did. In through the nose, counted to seven, then exhaled for an eight count. It was after the third deep breath I was finally able to relax.

“So now you know...” I replied, the words coming out more bitter than I wanted. My entire body released itself of tension as I closed my eyes, feeling only the warmth of her lap on the back of my head and her hand in mine, the sound cancellation of her pod making it feel as if there was only me and this other asari in the entire universe. Of course I wound up telling her everything. My nature as a Jumper, the stress of Shepard's mission, what Morinth had done to me, and my most recent brush with death with Kasumi.

“Believe me or not, that's up to you. But it's the truth.” I finally exhaled, breaking the silence that felt as thick as black smoke.

Sha'ira simply put a hand on my forehead. “Have you told anyone else?”

“Aside from Dr. Dren...just one other.” I hesitated to name Commander Shepard, but something tells me she knew already.

“Well, that explains a lot then.”

I looked up at her with an eyebrow raised.

“You are so closed off that no one is willing to fully trust you. You claim to be what you are but you act like it's something to be ashamed of.”

“Sha'ira, of all the fantastic things that happens in the galaxy, claiming to be a pan-dimensional traveler in an asari skinsuit still sounds like something that would put you in the psych ward.” I retorted.

“And why exactly are you so worried about being seen like that? From the way you talked about Jack, she managed to get her life around and make a living for herself despite having a past far more traumatic and harsh than yours.”

I slowly got up and crossed my arms. She had a point.

“The only reason why I kept it to myself is because I needed people to trust me, so that when I said I was here to help, they'd believe me.”

“And now you're the head of a major corporation leading the front in weapons development with a staff that clearly respects you and you've publicly been seen aiding the Alliance, the Council, and the Spectres.” She place a hand on my shoulder. “What exactly is keeping you from opening up now?”

My session with Sha'ira ended the same as before. With her reading my future, once again claiming it was uncertain and murky despite seeing nothing but the greatest of adversity. Whether or not this was due to me being a Jumper was a thought I tried not to entertain. I donned my quick disguise, complete with a face-concealing mask, and made my way out of the Citadel and made my way back to my shuttle via my Warehouse. After the attack by those vorcha agents on Omega and the Shadow Broker gunning for me with Morinth, I did my best not to stay in one place for long, much to the chagrin of the company's board of directors. I've been applying pressure to Cerberus with my weapon dealing, one of most dangerous information brokers in the galaxy wants my secrets, and for whatever reason, the Reapers were sending out resources of their own to tear me apart in addition to their mass human colony abduction through the Collectors.

Sha'ira was right. I needed some serious confidants and fast if I was going to survive.

So I asked my pilot to take me to Grissom Academy to check up on Jack.

On the surface, the space station that is the Academy is a prestigious place of higher learning for gifted intelligence. Math, Science, Liberal Arts. It's like Harvard or Cambridge in space. But it's also home to the Ascension Project, a dedicated program to help those with biotic power to hone their skills. Not exclusively a military program either. If someone was born with biotic power and just wanted to learn control, the doors were open if they knew the right people. Still feels weird knowing that someone as aggressive as Jack teaches there now.

After docking I told my pilot to stay with the ship and stepped in to the atrium. A security guard stopped me and asked what my business was. I simply told him I was here to see Jack and that I was an old friend, keeping my disguise up. To my delight, he accepted that and let me pass.

A few long hall ways littered with some teen and young adult students later and I made my way to the training yard...

… just in time to dodge someone being flung bodily at the wall. Human woman from the looks of it with short red hair. Before I could even check to see if she was okay, she simply got up, dusted herself off and declared, “That was awesome!” to the rest of the class.

And of course in the center of the yard was Jack, her arms crossed with a smirk on her face; probably because she was the one who chucked redhead across the room. Her hair was still growing out but was now in a decent ponytail, her outfit notably more conservative than her street tattoo tough girl appearance, I couldn't help but smile at how comfortable she looked in the role.

She saw me approach the class, “Alright, what exactly is so urgent that you couldn't wait for our training exercise to conclude?” she growled, her hands already glowing blue with biotic wrath.

I pulled off my disguise of wraps and contact lenses. “Can't an old friend show up out of nowhere and see how they're doing?”

“Variza!?” She yelled in surprise. “What the eff are you doing here!?”

I heard whispers among the students. “Variza? That Variza? The one who fought with Jack on Shepard's crew?”

“Wondering when exactly you started watching your language for one, and wanting to talk to you about something personal and important for two.” I snapped a glance to the students. It was a good mix of anxious excitement.

Jack turned to her students and made several quick gestures to them. They began breaking up into pairs and seemed to go through some basic drills. She turned to me and stuck a thumb over to a small room to my left.

The room was an unused classroom with windows looking into the yard. When I stepped in Jack was facing me, but was also clearly keeping an eye on the students in the yard.

“Alright blue, what's this about?” her tone was neutral, but her stare was piercing.

I cleared my throat and tried to speak. Then a lump got there. Dammit. “Well..I...remember when-”

“It's been close to a month since you and I last talked and I still haven't heard squat about the Reapers or what Shepard is up to, and you decide to show up looking like some weird homeless person crashing my class. So unless you got in bad with gangsters or whatever or you're about to let me in on some Reaper busting operation in the next two minutes I'm gonna chuck you out an airlock.”

My Omni-Tool started beeping with an incoming message. I sent it to voicemail.

“Well Jack. That's the thing. I haven't exactly been honest with you. You see, I've been doing some jobs for Shepard dealing with the human colony disappearances.”

Jack shot me a dirty look of betrayal.

“Oh come on, you've been doing covert ops for the Alliance on the side too, don't give me that.”

“Yeah, but every time those colonies are brought up the Alliance pulls rank and tells me to forget about it. Which means someone hasn't let me in on what Shepard's been doing.” She took two hostile steps towards me. “I thought we were friends, Variza.”

My Omni-Tool beeped again. I simply deactivated it in frustration. “We are, Jack. Which is exactly why this bullheaded act isn't working on me. You wanna know why I haven't told you? The night Shepard told me about the operation, an Ardat-Yakshi tried to assassinate me in my own home. I had to avoid any and all communications that might have given me away while going into the Terminus Systems to recruit a manic scientist and a master thief which involved escaping augmented death troopers and pulling off a major heist under the nose of an arms dealer and an unhinged human supremacist that clearly sees me and my weapons company as a giant black eye to 'his people.'

“So yes, Jack. After getting patched up, speaking to my therapist, covering my tracks and handling a bunch of crazies, I'm now finding the time to clue you in because I still respect you as a friend. So how about you stop foaming at the mouth about Reapers for ten seconds and let me say what I have to say?”

I didn't realize that I took some steps on Jack, calling her bluff. She was now leaning pack, practically sitting on the desk behind her, her expression pensive.

“Alright Variza, alright. Jesus.” she gasped as I slowly backed off.

Then my Omni-Tool activated on its own and began broadcasting audio.

“Variza T'Som. This is the Shadow Broker.” The voice modulated into an unnatural deep timbre.

“How in the-?” I began. I re-wired my Tool to stay off the Extranet, keeping it analog to avoid something like this. Then I found something on the bottom of the Tool. A small black disc attached to it, and by extension the bottom of my right forearm. It turned my blood into liquid nitrogen.
“As you may have noticed by now, one of my agents has managed to bug your Tool so we can have this conversation. You might be trying to be off the grid...but I have eyes everywhere.” I gulped nervously at the emphasis on that last phrase. “You managed to survive the assassin I sent after you, and for that you have a small modicum of my respect. And for that I shall give you a choice in how to handle my offer. You have three days to give up your secret weapon development project research to one of my agents on the asari world of Illium. Do this and I shall allow you to live as a figurehead for the company. You will live and I shall simply take a percentage of your annual earnings from your account. You try to remove that disc or refuse, and I shall simply buy the controlling share of the stocks through my intermediaries and take these secrets myself, voting you out and ending your life to cover my tracks. The choice is your Miss T'Som. The clock is ticking, and I will be watching.”

The silence following the message clicking off was so sudden you could hear a pin drop.

“Alright, what the fuck did you step into?” Jack blurted out.

“Remember that Ardat-Yakshi that almost killed me? She worked for him....”

“Sweet fucking Christ, Variza....”

The ride out of Grissom Academy went by in a haze. I had Jack fly, though I did have to talk her out of killing the pilot for possibly working for the Broker. It literally could have been anyone on the Citadel or Grissom Academy to tag my Tool and I didn't want to work on maybes if I was going to kill someone.

Other than that one altercation my mind was racing, trying to figure out how to stop this deal with the Shadow Broker. There was no way I could exploit a loophole, when someone with his kind of power delivers an ultimatum you have to be able to match him in case it goes wrong and I... can't. At the same time if the Broker got my weapon plans he could sell it to just about anyone, possibly even the Collectors as they've been known to make discrete deals for advanced technology on the fringes of the Milky Way – which would make my entire breakneck arms race against the Reapers pointless. So it looked like I only had one option....

I would have to find and stop the Shadow Broker himself.

Then I lost ten years off my asari lifespan realizing that I may have doomed myself already. The only way anyone was able to pin down the Shadow Broker's base of operations, a space station on some turbulent gas giant, was through a large collection of small but significant circumstances involving an info trafficker named Feron, and a certain information broker on Illium, including them fighting off attempts by the Collectors to abduct Commander Shepard's corpse six months after the Battle of the Citadel.

Except that Shepard never died. And that information broker as far as I know is too busy coordinating the construction of the Crucible Project. Which means Feron might as well be in another dimension as far as me being able to contact him. And even if I could remember what planet the Broker's base is on, the atmosphere is so violent any ship sent would be torn to shreds. Not to mention the issue of precise coordinates.

But Feron's the closest thing to a lead I have.

“Jack, we need to head to Illium.”

“Like hell we are, blue!” Jack snapped back from the cockpit.

“I'm not-” I stopped myself and looked at the tracker on my Omni-Tool. Was it bugged? Was he listening? I don't know, and I can't remove it to find out. I shook my head. “We need information. Illium is the info broker capital of the galaxy. And I have an idea as to who to talk to.”

“How?” She said sharply.

Crap. Think of something, smart guy!

“I have some contacts over there from the bean counters regarding long-term investments and...corporate synergy.” I muttered. Dammit Weird Al!

“Huh. Makes sense I guess.” Jack replied with an implicit shrug.

Smooth, real smooth.

Jack guided the shuttle to closest Mass Relay and we were on our way to the asari world with only a flimsy possible lead to ending one of the most dangerous forces in the galaxy.

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