Saturday, December 23, 2017

Multiverse Desperado: A JumpChain Fiction Chapter 22

Chapter 22: Trail to the Shadow Broker

The asari world of Illium isn't exactly the kind of place you go to for a vacation. Due to the high intensity heat on the surface, many of the colonies are established in arcology skyscrapers to make it livable, so good luck relaxing and going to the beach. In fact, the planet's greater significance in the galaxy is as an entrepol between the lawless chaos of the Terminus Systems and the Asari Republics. It's also a place meant for asari elites, complete with palatial estates full of luxury and some of the best surveillance around. Their prime commerce is either biotic-oriented pharmaceuticals, or information brokering for high-end corporate maneuvering.

And Jack and I were showing up to look for a needle in a haystack.

It didn't go well.

Despite my pull as the head of a very young but ambitious weapons development company, I wasn't given the time of day. Other information brokers had waiting lines going as far back as twenty years and you needed a form of membership with them. Some just flat out didn't like my bullheaded short-term approach to business and saw me as a major financial liability. There was even one who threw in a barb that my choice of business dress was gaudy and uncoordinated. Ouch.

It was at a small cafe where we were grabbing a drink where we caught a lucky break.

“Do these girls ever not think their shit doesn't smell?” Jack spat, nursing some green fizzling soda.

“What do you expect? They think in terms of centuries and decades, not years and months. Playing the long game is their whole thing. Plus it makes them more demanding of their clientele and staff.” I mentioned, taking small sips from a cup of some local soup. Tastes like an especially peppery lobster bisque curiously enough.

“Oh yeah, sure I'll take the time aside to rack up fifteen different Masters degrees and get right to kissing your ass for money.” she rolled her eyes. A moment later though she drew her attention back to me. “I mean, no offense blue. You're not like these others. I-”

I waved my hand and gave a small smile, “Don't worry I know what you mean, Jack.” She smiled back and went back to her soft drink.

Now was my opportunity. I had to tell her the truth.

“Uhh Jack. There is something I have been meaning to tell you.” she turned to look at me, her expression curious with a mix of cold defense. “There has been something about me that I think you need to know.” My lips started to get dry. Dammit why is this getting so hard? Just tell her you're some interdimensional visitor from another world already rip the band-aid off! Tell the closest thing to a long-time friend this big bombshell that might fundamentally alter your relationship forever.

“You have a crush on me. Yeah, I noticed, blue. You aren't exactly subtle about it and I told you already, not interested.” Jack replied.

“That's not the thing!” I blurted out.

“I am actually-”

“Variza T'Som!” A third voice bellowed from across the cafe.

I turned towards the source of the shout, scrunched up in anger. Who the hell had the spine to interrupt this conversation?

A dark green asari apparently. My frustration dissipated immediately. She quickly sat down at our table, her face noticeably giddy.

“I never thought I'd see you again and officially thank you for what you did back on Feros!” she said, holding out a hand to me.

“Oh right, the Thorian. Shiala right?” I shook her hand lightly while trying to smile through gritted teeth.

“Yeah. Thank the goddess I bumped into you. ExoGeni has been making some interesting strides in their research after that incident, half of which wouldn't have been possible if you didn't save as many colonists as you could.”

“Still makes my skin crawl that that giant thing was mind-controlling people and cranked out clones of you to defend itself.” Jack replied, rubbing her arms nervously.

“Speaking of which, the uhhh,” I did a quick gesture pointing at Shiala's green skin.

“Oh right, aftereffect of that plant monster messing with me. I'm...oddly popular now because of it.” she mused, looking at her right hand wistfully.

“So, what exactly are you doing here now? Shouldn't you be busy with security or working on some R&D project or something?” I asked.

“Well that's the thing. I've been meaning to get in contact with Commander Shepard after things winded down from the battle of the Citadel and haven't been able to. I wanted a way to thank him and his crew for what they tried to do on Zhu's Hope, yet here are two members of his old crew right here.” Shiala explained.

Jack and I traded looks.

“Can you help us find a certain information trafficker?”

Shiala's contacts at ExoGeni paid off. Feron was currently living at a temporary penthouse in Nos Astra, Illium's capital city. Made plenty of sense since the place was full of surveillance to both cover his tracks and crib information for his employers. I made sure Jack violated some speeding laws getting us there, we already lost a day or so getting to Illium anyway.

After reaching the landing pad and suiting up with armor and weapons ready, concealed and with safeties on of course, we were introduced to a pretty grizzly sight. The doors were torn off their hinges with blaster fire, several plate glass windows shattered. The only light source being the bright neon signs of nearby buildings and the occasional shuttle lights casting dark shadows across the interior.

I turned to Jack. “I'll take point. This new armor design should be able to tank most of what an infiltrator might have on him.”

“Your funeral, blue.” she quipped, readying her pistol and watching my six.

I stepped through the threshold and noticed something about the windows. No shards on the floor; they were blown out from the inside. The living room was clear.

I motioned to Jack, “Look for signs of a struggle.”

She moved up and started scanning the area. I slowly continued to what appeared to be Feron's bedroom. Sheets thrown off and personal belongings scattered or broken. It was also where I saw a figure in the dark aggressively opening up a dresser drawer, desperately searching for something important.

“Don't move.” I spoke firmly, readying my pistol and taking a firing stance. The figure froze.

“Back away from the dresser and head towards me. Slowly.” The figure slowly complied. Hands up; actions slow and deliberate.

She then turned on her heel and quickly drew a pistol from a hip holster and fired several rounds. My shields resisted them and my armor caught several of the blows, all while I focused my pistol and disarmed my opponent with a single pull of the trigger. Four bangs, four flashes of the barrels, and the flying visage of the pistol through the air happened within roughly two seconds. I knew there was a reason why I installed recoil dampeners in the arm guards.

“Alright, gimme one good reason why I shouldn't put one in your skull right now?” I demanded, keeping my distance while focusing my gun on my would-be assailant's head.

The hotheaded warrior stepped into the neon light. She was an asari. Purple-skinned and wearing some pretty impressive dark blue armor.

“Asari captain Tela Vasir, Council's Special Operations Tactics and Reconnaissance” she replied.

“Blue, we have a bit of a problem.” Jack declared from a room adjacent.

“Oh I'm aware.” I muttered under my breath.

“I was sent here to investigate a disturbance. Shots being fired, furniture thrown out, signs of a struggle.” Tela replied. “Something that you're actively infringing upon.”

I smiled slightly. “So you were digging through Feron's unmentionables looking for evidence about a shooting?”

“Might have been a lover's quarrel. Never rule out any possibility.” She replied quickly.

“Seriously, blue, things just got complicated.” Jack projected again.

Yeah, it did.

“Well, at least you can kill two birds with one stone now, right Tela?” I replied, holding up my Omni-Tool.

Tela slowly smiled.

“Well, good to know you still have some common sense after all, Miss T'Som.”

“Yeah...I do.” Then I shot Tela in the face, her body falling over in a crumpled pile.

Just in time for Jack to show up looking utterly shocked.

“Variza, what the fuck!?” she yelled.

“You just killed a Spectre!” Another voice declared from nearby.

“She was the Shadow Broker's contact and was looking for information on Feron. Clearly that means he was on to something. Trust me, I know what I'm talking abo-” I stopped mid-sentence, the fact that there was now three people in the room finally registering.

I turned and saw Liara T'Soni, wearing a practical flexible white and blue suit of armor with long coat, holding a pistol to Jack's back.

“'re making contact with the Shadow Broker as well?” Liara asked. “Wait, she was working for him? We were looking for Feron because he claimed to have a contact with a middleman for the Shadow Broker.”

“Check her Omni-Tool, chances are you'll find a blocked contact with the info you need.” I replied casually.

“Wait a minute... Variza?” Liara gasped in recognition, slowly releasing Jack from captivity.

“Yeah, it's me.” I said as I removed Tela's Omni-Tool. I then tossed the Tool to Jack.

“See what you can do with it, I'm gonna keep searching for signs of Feron.” I gestured to her.

Jack gave me a quick thumbs-up and began to tinker. Which left me and Liara alone...near a fresh corpse. It's weird how despite being in a new world in the somewhat distant future I somehow manage to find new levels of awkward situation.

“So...I guess the Crucible Project is coming along nicely?” I asked while searching between couch cushions.

“Technically it's a joint venture between the Alliance, the Turian Navy and representatives of the Quarian Flotilla Fleet, I'm just on hand as consultant. I've been actually trying to negotiate with some of the wealthy asari elite to assist in the funding of the project. The Hephaestus Initiative was just a stopgap after all if you know anything about quantitative easing.” She rattled off in a clinical tone.

“Wait, isn't that basically an economic nuclear button?” I replied to her last statement, looking back in surprise. She didn't seem to get it. “You know...basically make galactic credits worthless?”

“Well, the Council was so swayed by what you and Shepard pulled off at the Citadel they were willing to deal with something that devastating after they dealt with the Reapers.”

“Oh...well that's...practical of them.” I managed to choke out.

“Alright I got a big question.” Jack finally interjected, thank you you beautifully tactless tough girl, “how come I'm the one trying to crack a Spectre's Omni-Tool when there are literally two centuries-old blue women with way more experience than me sitting right here!?” She barked.

“Good point, Jack. Variza, you get to work on the Tool, the two of us will search the rest of Feron's place. Should be a pretty basic code break if she was planning on getting in contact with the Broker.” Liara mentioned. Jack chucked the Tool at me with a grin on her face.

“Yeah smart ass get to it.” she added.

“Yeah...just a...simple code break...” I muttered under my breath looking at the glowing orange tool of floating icons, bits of plastic, and nothing even remotely looking like a simple DOS screen.

Oh sweet cheese and crackers....

The next five minutes were beyond annoying. Tapping, swiping, poking and prodding all to no avail, all while Jack and Liara poured over Feron's penthouse. Then I got a terrible idea as I caught a glimpse of my own Omni-Tool in my peripheral vision.

I can't figure out how to crack Tela's Omni-Tool and dig into her contact info on the Broker, but I can rip off the tracker on my own Tool and goad the Broker into calling the Tool himself. Assuming that the tracker wasn't also keeping tabs on me and the others, which I am slow to believe since we haven't been utterly swarmed by his personal death squad the minute I put down Tela, it would be the perfect way to at least narrow down or even play personal psychology with the Broker and get information.

But it would also doom my company to his agenda and leave me with nothing before the Reapers show up. It was another longshot of a Hail Mary.

And it's the best idea I got.

“I think I might have cracked this guys, anything on your end?” I called out, my eyes darting back and forth between the Tools.

“Yeah, we found a vid chit hidden behind the monitor. Labeled as “Contingency,” so I think that's worth a watch.” Jack replied.

I took a deep breath. “Alright...I got a way to get some info, but you're not gonna like it.” I activated a keyboard app on Tela's Tool and adjusted the audio settings to my armor.

And with a thought of biotic power I crushed the tracker on my own Tool to scrap.

Within ten seconds, Tela's Omni-Tool sprang to life, the Shadow Broker's modulated growl coming from the speaker.

“Tela Vasir, it appears that Miss T'Som has chosen poorly. Send your forces to eliminate her immediately and bring her Omni-Tool to my base. I have already begun acquiring her company.”

I put up a hand to silence Liara and Jack and began typing into the Tool.

She is in the room with me, I'll handle it. Which rendezvous point should I use?

My outpost on Hagalaz. I shall forward you our new coordinates for you to dock safely through the storm. I expect you soon.”

Then the Tool went silent.

“Liara, planet Hagalaz ring any bells to you?” I replied, cutting off the audio feedback.

“It's a garden world in the Sowlio system I think.” Liara mentions.

“Good, some coordinates are gonna pop up soon, copy them and we got ourselves a destination.” I said with a smile, tossing her the orange glowing device.

“Alright,” Liara commented with a skeptical eyebrow raised. There was a brief moment of silence, “And what about the red alert message saying “Dead Switch Activated, Kill on Sight?”

I didn't even have time to declare “oh shit” before the bullets and rockets started flying.

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