Monday, January 22, 2018

Multiverse Desperado: A JumpChain Fiction Chapter 23

Chapter 23: End of the Shadow Broker

The shuttle swerved, ducked and weaved through the arcology towers of Thessia before taking a plunge into the hostile heat below, environmental shields kicking on to prevent us from being boiled alive. Liara and I were all but taped to the interior by crash webbing, both of us bracing for Jack's evasive piloting while recovering from the initial shellshock.

“You're trying to tell me you let your company get bought up by the Broker just to get to him!?” Liara yelled over the muffled explosions and gunfire. “What exactly were you going to do then!? Were you going to storm the fortress and kill him yourself!?”

“No!” I replied defensively. I couldn't exactly meet her gaze with the follow-up though. “The plan was to have us storm the fortress and kill him ourselves.”

“That's much better!?”

“Between the geth, the Thorian, Saren and the multiple mercenaries we've taken care of I'd think we have it under control!”

The shuttle shook and rattled as the door opposite us quickly dented in. Jack's swearing could be heard from the cockpit.

Variza, you're a century older than me and you're acting like some hotheaded infant barely in their forties!”

Another loud bang rang out and the entire shuttle rattled violently, causing us to jerk forward sharply. I swear with a little more pressure my eyes would have popped out.

“Dammit Variza! Does this ship have any weapons at all!?” Jack demanded!

“It's a Kodiak shuttle, Jack! It's basically a metal box with engines!” I shouted back.

Jack screamed incoherently in response. A beat later she spoke up. “I think I can lose them! Hang on!”

The shuttle kicked into a new gear and shot forward, practically pinning Liara and me to our seats. I twitched in pain from the warped parts of my blasted armor needling parts of me. It was designed to be highly resistant against bullets and small arms, not artillery. If it wasn't for the fact that the targets of those rockets were three skilled biotic users, we'd be paste right now. It was a small consolation.

Still I really need to settle on names for these prototypes.

Unfortunately, any attempts to start workshopping were cut off by the ship sharply going ninety degrees up. Blood rushed and my insides were getting ready to come up in protest.

“By the Goddess, what exactly are you doing up there?” Liara projected over the high-pitched screech of the engines.

“Lost them in foliage! Gonna try to breach the atmosphere!”

“A mad dash for a Mass Relay? Do you have any idea how reckless that is?” Liara continued. “It would be more prudent if we used the foliage as cover, cut our engines then waited them out.”

“Too late. We're already doing it!”

Several large bangs shook the back of the ship. We were then hit with at least several different flavors of aileron rolls, jukes, and dives as Jack tried to outpace the gunfire aimed at our precious engines. Note to self, buying a shuttle from Omega means they cut corners when it comes to overall safety regulations like personal gravity emitters.

“Am I the only one on this ship who thinks more than ten seconds ahead!?” Liara finally screamed in pure exasperation.

“I'm almost to the exosphere!” Jack yelled back. “If we turn back now we're sitting ducks!”

“Go for it Jack!” I yelled back. “Now or nev-reeecchh!!”

Ralph called. He had a lot to say. Then the ship turned and tilted. Ralph had something to say to Liara too. She didn't like it.

“Mass Relay in sight. Looks like they broke off! Probably to get aid from a larger class cruiser. Not gonna chance it though. Making the jump now to the Sowlio system!”

After twenty seconds of blood-chilling silence, we all heard the low whoosh of a mass relay launching our ship beyond light speed through the cosmos. I let out a sigh of relief, then turned to a vomit-covered Liara and offered a pensive apology. She looked like a single mother that got handed the short end of the straw with two newborns, begging for an excuse to go on a rampage.

I decided to undo my crash webbing and search the footlocker for something to clean up the mess. The closest thing I could find were some blankets for long distance trips and a small bottle of mouthwash for hygiene. I used it to cover up the smell and clean up the sick as best as I could, though I let Liara handle personal clean-up herself. I had to let her have some dignity, otherwise she'd probably try to strangle me.

After about five minutes of clean-up, Jack joined us, the room now smelling less like vomit and more like mouthwash and vomit. “Alright, so now what are we gonna do?”

“Head to Hagalaz, storm the Shadow Broker's fortress, put a bullet in his head.” I replied while gingerly removing my armor, the broken shreds of it finally proving too much to tolerate.

“Alright I'm putting an absolute hold on anything Variza proposes as a plan because that is not a plan, those are goals.” Liara snarled through gritted teeth. “You have a ship that is barely being held together by utterly reckless piloting-”

“Hey! We're alive aren't we!?” Jack interjected.”

“- along with untold damage to the hull and engines,” Liara continued undaunted, “ Damaged bordering on useless armor, and there is the fact that we would undoubtedly be outgunned and outnumbered the minute we land and the ship ID doesn't match Tela Vasir's.”

“... plus there's a chance that when Tela's dead trigger went off it sent a signal back to the Broker, letting him know that something was up.” I added.

Liara nodded in agreement. “One way or another, he's expecting us.”

I let out a sigh. I can't let the Broker squander away all the weaponry at T'Som Manufacturing. And if he wasn't waiting at his base with an entire army ready, chances are he's getting ready to move shop to another secret facility in the galaxy where I wouldn't be able to find him.
Liara was right, I needed help. And I needed a plan.

So I pulled up my Omni-Tool and contacted Admiral Hackett, stepping away from Liara and Jack as the two of them started arguing over our predicament. Practically speaking I couldn't get a full dialogue with the guy, that would require a dedicated computer terminal with Extranet access, and that kind of stuff is usually only found on larger more advanced spaceships. But a quick message with a small priority tagline should be enough for him to forward an SOS to Shepard along with where we'd be after finishing our relay jump. It was a decent back-up to have in a worst case scenario.

After sending the message off I sat back in a seat and started rubbing my temples, Liara and Jack's dialogue a mere dull roar a mile away. I was honestly starting to think about what I could do if the worst case scenario happened. The absolute worst case scenario when the life-exterminating machines arrived. The quickest most efficient plan was start pulling as much funds as possible, set up a bunker on some remote world in the Terminus Systems and wait out the Reaper extermination, pray that my decade is up before they find me.

But I knew that was impossible. Their widespread ultrasonic Indoctrination would slowly break away at my sanity, make me slowly believe dying by them is the right thing to do; a big blue lamb to the cosmic slaughter. It's also very clear that whatever the heck happened due to me popping up in this universe, they've become a lot more aggressive and devious with forceful cybernetic enthrallment.

Better to die fighting than hiding I suppose. 

I got up and joined Jack and Liara. I still had a few tricks up my sleeve, the impending mecha-cthulhus throwing me back into overdrive.

“I sent out a message to Shepard. If he's nearby I'm going to see if I can get his help, take full advantage of the Normandy's stealth system.”

“You do realize that's a complete shot in the dark, blue?”
“Yeah, I do.” I exhaled.
“What about that video chit from Feron's place?” Liara spoke up.

“Do you still have Tela's Omni-Tool?”

Liara held up the apparatus.

I flat out cheered, pumping my fist, “Jackpot!”

“Excuse me?”

“Hand me the chit and her Tool. If I pull this off I might be able to give us a shot at the Broker's base, just the three of us.” I replied. Jack flashed me a sinister smile, Liara stared at me like I started speaking Latin backwards.

I slipped Tela's Tool on and slipped Feron's video chit inside. I then made my first risk by linking my biometric data to the Tool to de-activate Tela's dead switch. The red beeping light on it shut off. Thank god DNA ID is weirdly uncommon in this galaxy. I then let the video play. A holo display popped up, revealing a shakey first-person view of some green scaled humanoid hands fiddling around before settling into the image of a drell. Black, featureless eyes scanned over the camera, his expression turning resolute once it was clear the device was recording. He began to speak....

And then I shut the clip off.

“What are you doing?” Liara interjected.

“Had to be sure it was genuine, but had to ensure nobody else knows the vid's secrets yet.” I smiled.

Liara's eyes widened in realization. “You're actually going to masquerade as Tela and get us into the base that way?”

“Delivering Feron's crucial information to the Broker while also declaring the death of Variza T'Som, but only after performing a fake-out death to throw off her bruiser biotic partner.” I gestured to Jack at the last comment.

“You do realize that will fall apart the minute Illium's authorities find her body right? And that Illium is basically covered in cameras all the time?” Liara questioned.

“Sweetheart, when it comes to lies, context is everything.” I started opening the Tool's communication and re-opened the text conversation with the Shadow Broker and started typing. "Tela may have been a Spectre, but she was no stranger to corruption or going dark when need be. It wouldn't be completely unheard of to switch out some bodies at the morgue and stage an entire thrilling escape to slander my name post mortem. Just have to make sure the lie is just big enough for the big guy to fill in the blanks himself."

Liara actually smiled in respect to my proposal. "Behavioral psychology. I'm impressed."

“Sweetheart? What you some cowboy now?” Jack quipped.

“J-J-Just get ready to land once we drop out of FTL!”My face flashed purple in embarrassment. I turned my back to them and typed faster.

The planet Hagalaz isn't exactly a planet you casually make plans for. A garden world in the Hourglass Nebula known for being a planet of two extremes at all times. Aside from the local flora, nothing can sustain the constant shift from boiling heat and bone-shattering cold. But the storms that rage across the planet due to those disparate changes in weather is what makes the Broker's base here so fascinating. The station is constantly riding the storms, collecting the lightning discharged in the clouds in order to power and sustain the station while also using it as natural camo and defense. If it wasn't for the coordinates the Broker sent to Tela's Tool, we never would have found the place.

As expected, the landing pad was expecting us, complete with armed guards. I sent out the ID and codes the Broker forwarded as Jack started landing procedure. Our borrowed time hadn't run out yet....

“Alright, phase one of Operation Tee Kay Four-Two-One is go.” I said, taking off my helmet and turning my back to the shuttle doors as they slid open. “Jack, Liara, you know what to do....”

The three of us entered the base, our steps quick and precise, our stolen armor a bit tight in certain spots, the doors wide open for us.

“Goddess this is crazy. If they spot us we're all gonna end up dead.” Liara muttered under her breath.
“Oh don't get your panties in a bunch, princess. Variza knows what she's doing.” Jack replied.
“Does anyone know how to get the map to this base from this terminal?” I asked. Jack facepalmed.

After about five minutes of fiddling we continued our way through the facility. A bona fide labyrinth of data banks, energy storage units for all the lightning outside, and makeshift barracks for the Broker's personal mercenary squad. We doubled our pace to the Broker's main room, the invisible seconds ticking by before he either called my bluff as Tela or the guards put two and two together.

The bodyguard was a krogan who asked us for clearance codes, citing that security was going up since the guys outside discovered what happened to the poor saps we robbed and left knocked out back at the ship; our one flavor of time was up. Jack and I gave our password by slamming the krogan into a lightning pod with our collective telekinetic power. There were enough gigajoules packed in there to turn him to ash. Liara then began working on opening the door. It would have worked a lot better if we got the datapad off the krogan before we immolated him. Either way, by the time the doors opened, the hallway behind was beginning to fill with armored mercs set to kill.

We slipped inside and Liara braced the door behind us, smashing the control console and beginning to warp the metal of the door with her biotic strength, bracing it against a breach team.

The room was large and circular, a window looking out to the raging swirling chaos that was the perpetual storm dominating the entire right wall. The left, a collection of large pipe-sized wires pumping power to another large collection of data banks. In the middle, a dull silver light illuminated the metal floor, coming from a large storage vat on the ceiling coursing with raw power.

And in the very back was the Shadow Broker. A large intimidating silhouette of something large, tall, and possibly horned, the only light there coming from several holo displays.

Jack and I aimed our pistols at his head and fired several rounds, a personal biotic shield hummed online to block several shots, the phasic rounds from my gun passing through and...more or less annoying him. Either way, he looked up and finally gave us his undivided attention.

“Miss T'Som,” his voice was a deep booming bass, “perhaps you should take some advice from your people...” He slowly stood up. He was at least fifteen feet tall, looking like he could eat a krogan and still be full, “...and think about your future.”

“Blue, what the hell is that thing? Where is the Shadow Broker?” Jack seethed, clearly trying to drown out her fear with bluster.

“That is the Shadow Broker. Were you expecting some spindly scrawny bookworm with a god complex?” I maintained my stance and kept my pistol level, even while my legs threatened to quake like jelly.

The Broker growled in disgust at my leap of logic, clearly wanting to relish in the terror of the unknown. Still, he continued forward, his steps rumbling throughout the room. I even heard Liara gasp “goddess” under her breath as she turned back from her bracing the door.

“Let's see who thought it wise to enter into my domain. An insignificant asari scientist out of her depth, trying to bring the galaxy together for a science project. A reformed criminal turned Alliance black ops agent who thinks she has a chance at being more than the terrible past she was saddled with.”

“Hey fuck you!” Jack yelled.

“Who despite doing everything possible to destroy her history, blowing up her old home on Pragia, blowing up Cerberus facilities all across the Milky Way, still desperately craves anything that makes her feel human again. Even if it's something as simple as her real name....”

“I'm serious! I will rip you to fucking pieces!” She was practically foaming at the mouth and I could feel her summoning up a lot of raw biotic might, her hands shaking in a mix of anger and fear.

“Then...there's you.” the Broker pointed a large leathery finger at me, it highlighted partially by the lightning battery above, his steps getting ever closer.

“The asari with no past. No history at all. Yet winds up center in almost pre-cognitive coincidences. Your attempted assassination of Saren long before he was declared rogue by the Council. The completely unfounded discovery of advanced weaponry you used as a base for a weapons company. A weapons company you have deliberately not built to last by the way it's been burning through resources and being selective about its clientele just enough to keep the lights on.”

“Tell me something I don't know, you overgrown sack of crap.” I balled up my fist with biotic strength as well, keeping my pistol steady with one hand. Or at least trying to, it was shaking like hell.

The Broker chuckled and motioned towards one of his monitors. And some audio played. It was from my conversation with Jump on Omega...he had spies recording it. I could feel Jack and Liara looking at me in disbelief after hearing my own angry ravings about wishing to have a man's body again, my frustrations with attracting the Male (Female? Anything With a Mind and Pulse?) Gaze and corporate boot licking, and declaring that the whole T'Som persona was an act. That I was only here to stop the Reapers.

There was even videos of me in my penthouse from the inside, somehow. Spliced together footage of me either lazing on a couch or relaxing in an herbal bath repeating phrases like "screw you Jump" or "Come on, just a few more years."

“Blue...what the hell have you been keeping from us?”

“A question I'm not the only interested in having answered....” the Broker finally stepped into the light. He was large, tall and wide respectively, wearing a suit of armor that looked more like repurposed ship plating than standard armor. Also being carried lazily by one of his massive arms was an assault rifle. Actually calling it an assault rifle would be like a saber a toothpick, it was more like an assault canon from a scout class ship jerryrigged together for personal use.
“I had a simple deal with the Collectors for your precious head, Miss T'Som. Someone like you has been an unbearable thorn in my side for too long, and they were willing to work with me. Either I hand you to them dead or alive, preferably alive, and I get left alone. Your company and its assets
“Since you've made it this far I offer you a choice. Lay down your arms right now, and I will allow your friends to leave, and allow you to live before I deliver you to the Collectors. Refuse, and I will take great pleasure in scrubbing your entrails out of my quarters within two minutes.” In his right arm, a shield formed out of holographic light. He then held it front of him with the barrel of the rifle sticking out like a Spartan phalanx.

“Variza, I mean...whoever you are. Maybe we should think this through. We can call Shepard, we can stage a rescue we can...” whatever Jack was about to say was forgotten as the Broker took two more steps toward her. The power coursing through her fists vanished in disbelief of what she was seeing.

“Listen to Jack!” Liara yelled. “You throw this away and you'll doom us all for nothing.” She slowly approached Jack, clearly getting ready to make a sprint for the exit.

“Sorry, already had this argument in my mind on the way over here. And I say no.”

The Broker snarled and stepped forward, aiming his rifle right at me.

“Second offer. Won't happen again.” He growled.

I took a deep breath and stared him dead in the face.

“Do you really think the Collectors will just let you go? You're a yahg. Your entire race are a bunch of brutes with less sense than the Krogans, hell your first reaction to being invited into Citadel space was attack the delegation. You're beyond a shadow of a doubt a major glitch in their system. They would love to just snuff out. Another piece of worthless flesh to be stomped out by the Reapers. Hell, the only reason why you're even useful to them at all is because they want me. Which means I hold all the cards here.”

“Variza!!” Liara and Jack yelled in unison.

“So let me give you a counter-offer Mister I Thought Of Everything. Release anyone you've captured in an attempt to leverage info on me. You let us go. And when Shepard and I stop the Collectors and the Reapers... we'll let you live. Or you can try to kill us and see how long the Collectors are willing to allow an oversized monguloid like yourself survive when the purge happens. And trust me on this, you want to take the former, not that you would know a good deal from a bad one you overly pampered, entitled, man-baby!”

The Broker roared, its bellow rattling throughout the facility. He disbanded the shield, dropped his rifle and came charging straight at me... right under the lightning battery.

I unleashed every ounce of biotic power I had in me and started pushing back against the yahg, my hand outstretched pouring wave upon wave of dark power into a continuous push. It wasn't slowing him down at all. I then aimed my pistol at the lightning contained above him and fired like mad, using the power already flowing from my hand to push me away from the Broker instead of the other way around, moving me away from the incoming pain train.

After several shots the containment pod breached and large arcs of white light spiraled out of control, showering the Broker in raw electric fury. His roars quickly turned to pure anguish.

“Jack! Liara! Hit him with everything you got!” I yelled over the deafening booms and crackles of the arc storm ripping through thick yahg flesh.

Jack didn't hesitate, she was practically begging for a chance to cut loose. She threw out her hands in furious determination, and more biotic power poured on him. If the pain wasn't keeping him in place, two adepts pinning him to the ground just might.

Then Liara joined in, adding her strength as well. Three powerful tethers of mass effect fields pinning this brute down as he slowly gets vaporized....

Then the safety kicked on the device, an insulated panel covered the burst pod, the lights and displays flickering off then on again signaling a switch to back-up power. The Broker got up from one knee, his body charred and smoked but still very much alive.

He turned to collect his Liefeld-esque assault rifle...only to see Jack already there. Propping up the entire barrel on her shoulders to tilt the thing upwards towards the Broker's midsection, her body coursing with biotic energy in an attempt to disperse the ungodly recoil. She must have broke off the connection once the unit repaired itself.

She screamed as the rifle's barrel started to wind up, it was then quickly drowned out the ear-shattering rapid fire of the rifle cutting through his flesh. If it was affecting him, he didn't show it as he charged at Jack like a bull.

“Liara go low!” I bellowed out as I summoned dark energy into my right arm and broke into a dead sprint.


“Aim for his legs!” I was about halfway to intercepting his assault on Jack.

“Got it!” And with a thought Liara threw a powerful wave of power, cutting through the air in front of me in dark blue waves as it struck the back of the Broker's right leg, causing him to bodily fall to the floor, completely hopeless against Jack's improvised artillery strike. Then the barrel overheated and started to wind down, Jack screamed in protest from the heat cooking her shoulder.

A beat later, I ran, using the Broker's knee as a step up to give him a big mass effect uppercut. It knocked him to the ground and blasted all the plating off the right arm. There was also the all too familiar heat of a pulled muscle in the forearm from overtaxation. But what else was new with me?

Before the Broker could start getting his bearings again. I gestured to Liara and Jack while holding out some grenades that were on the armor belt. They all detached several as well.

“One potato, two potato, three potato, let 'em fly!” I yelled while chucking my payload at the big lug.

One, two, three large bangs filled the room, all aimed at the thing's face. The floor was quickly covered in blast marks and streaks of orange blood. Then silence....

I kept my pistol trained on his face. Liara and Jack followed suit.

“Is he dead?” Liara belted out, her voice shakey.

Jack walked over to him and unloaded her entire clip into his head. Spraying more blood everywhere. She then callously ejected her clip.

“Well, he is now.”

Then the Broker screamed in bloodcurdling fury and grabbed her in his hand. He started to squeeze hard, Jack's armor cracking like peppermint.

“Jack!” Liara screamed.

My body moving on its own, I dove towards Jack, propelling my body forward like a missile, my hand reaching out to the insular plate on the lightning pod at the same time. And with a thought and a twist, I corkscrewed mid-air, pulling off the plate with what little strength I had left. The arcs of energy struck down renewed, the currents forcing the Broker's hand open on biomechanical reflex, just in time for me to tackle Jack out of the rest of the blast. But not before some of the electricity cooked me, the current causing my limbs to spasm and jerk about. If it weren't for the insulation given by the security armor, it probably would have stopped my heart.

We collapsed in a crumpled heap while the Broker let out his death rattle, the unleashed lightning finally finishing the job reducing him to a large blast mark on the ground, the only sound left filling the chamber was the crackling of the breached battery and the groan of the station beginning to lose its vital systems. Liara quickly began using her telekinesis to re-attach the plate while Jack and I slowly climbed off of each other.

I then heard muffled voices on the opposite side of the braced door. “Screw it, let's just cut through it!”

Time was up. Liara was busy fixing the generator I just messed up. Jack is most likely in traction from the Broker's kung-fu grip, or my desperate body tackle. And I only got a messed up arm.

I dashed to the monitors the Broker was looking over before we barged in. Scanning over the multiple screens I finally found the settings for base-wide announcements, and a voice modulator. The same one he used to mask his voice before. I turned it on and spoke.

“This is the Shadow Broker. The intruders have been dealt with. You may all return to your posts. Any defiance of this order and you will be ejected from this base. Attention everyone on Engineering decks I expect a full status report on all systems within five minutes. If so much as two percent of my servers have been corrupted, there will be consequences.”

I remained silent and muted the mic. I finally heard a dismissive “well, serves them right the crazies” from the other side of the door. I let out a sigh of relief.

Finally, it was over. Now I just needed to figure out how to transfer his ownership of my company back over to me and my trustees, invite Shepard over to let him have his pick of this treasure trove, and just relax.

Then I heard another thermal clip being slotted into a pistol as Liara loomed over me.

“Alright...I think you owe both of us a major explanation. Right now. Whoever you are.”

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