Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Multiverse Desperado A JumpChain Fiction Chapter 24

Chapter 24: The Keys To The Kingdom

“You cannot be serious.” Liara exhaled, loosening her grip on the pistol she had pressed into my forehead.
“Yeah, well it's the truth.” I responded. “Sidebar, can you stop pointing that thing dead center on my forehead? I think I'm getting a bit cross-eyed.” I shut my eyes, trying not to think about what I just said.
Her grip tightened. “How in the world are you able to be so casual about this?”
“Liara I served with Commander freaking Shepard. Every other mission he took us on was suicidal. It might also be the adrenaline talking from us surviving a yahg. You know, six of one, half dozen of the other.” I heard her seethe through her teeth. “If it makes you feel any better once this is over I'm gonna have a spa day and just stay inside a hotel doing nothing. It won't get rid of all the stress, but it'll be a start.”
She looked like she was about to yell, but Liara ultimately bit her tongue. After a beat of silence she gave up holding me at gunpoint and returned to the Broker's chair, pouring over his files.

“Calm down, doc. At least you can still move.” Jack called in the distance from a makeshift gurney, waiting for proper medical treatment. Liara insisted; better safe than sorry.
“If it's any consolation Jack, this is exactly what I wanted to talk to you about back at Grissom Academy. You know before...all this happened.” I called back. Then after a beat of self-awareness I got up and closed the distance.

“That's what you wanted to tell me? That you weren't actually an asari but some guy from the early twenty-first century on some sort of interdimensional roadtrip? Variza your name even Variza!?”
“You can keep calling me that if you like.”
“I'd rather call you asshole!” Jack screamed, then choked in pain.
“You might want to refrain from yelling, might knock something loose.” I replied softly.
“Alright then smartass, then how about you answer me some questions if you're really who you say you are.”
“Well, I'm all ears. Not much we can do until the security outside clocks out of their shift. Suspicions and all that.” Jack stared daggers at me. Even with possible spinal damage, she could kill me with her mind. I slowly sat down next to her, legs crossed, resting my aching right arm in my lap, the pain now reduced to a dull throbbing.

“If, and I'm not saying it's true, you really came from a world where everything that ever happened to us was from a bunch of video games, why didn't you just kill anyone who would be a problem in the future and stop the Reapers before they became a threat?”
“Jack, that is what I've been doing. What we literally just did was thanks in part to nondiegetic information.”
“Smaller words!”
“Stuff I only know from sources not available to anyone else in this universe. The plan was to assassinate Saren years before Shepard would get involved. Then I was going to make my way towards the leadership of Cerberus and take them out. Then get the resources needed to uncover the Prothean artifacts on Ilos and Mars to get a headstart on the invasion half a decade in advance.”
Jack snorted. “Way to go little miss high and mighty.”

“Jack, I showed up in this world with a small case of deadly weapons and a crapload of cash. Assassination was the only avenue I had. I had no political pull or military allies to call on, so I'd be written off as a lunatic if I just ran around saying ancient machines were gonna kill us all. Exactly like what you are doing right now.”
She looked away at that comment. “So why haven't you been able to predict everything exactly?”

“Multiverse theory.” Liara interjected.

I traded looks with Liara. “I was going to go with the Butterfly Effect but...that's usually more applicable to time travel.”

“But it also can be applied here.” she responded, flipping through the Broker's files. Her eyes lit up, probably found something important.

After thinking over it for a moment, she was right. “Because the games were RPGs, my experience was one of multiple variations. Shepard is a woman, Shepard is a complete asshole. You and him are together. Liara and him are together. Civilizations live and die. Some news reporter on the Citadel gets punched in the face for asking too many questions. The list goes on and on.”
“What the...why did you bring up relationships so quickly?” She growled.
“It's a... side mission in the series.” I looked away, embarrassed at how it came out.
“Well that doesn't sound creepy at all.” Jack sneered, her sarcasm thick as concrete.
“The point is what I played and what is actually happening right now is so vastly different because of choices big and small. Because of that I only have a rough idea as to what is currently going on right now in the galaxy.” I didn't realize my fists were balled up in rage until the pain in my arm reached me.
I decided to get up and look outside at the churning storm, choosing my next words carefully after taking some deep breaths.
“I know that the Collectors are abducting human colonies but I don't know exactly when and where. I know what they're doing with them and that Shepard's mission to assault their base through the Omega-4 relay is integral to stopping them, but finding the right people and tools to make sure they come back alive is volatile at best. I know that Cerberus will get it in their heads to try to control and manipulate the Reapers in a bid for galactic supremacy, but because of what I have done to this timeline they might as well be unknowns to me. And because of just how dense and detailed the entire Milky Way is and how those games took up hundreds of hours of my time and were completed years ago I cannot actively remember every single detail like Feron or the Crucible blueprint's locations.
“That has been the definition of my time here. I know exactly what has to happen if we have any chance of surviving, and I've been struggling like a drowning man in a flood to get it all together because I'm just some no one.”

Silence followed. It was only after I felt my protesting voice box form a lump in my throat did I realize how loudly I had yelled those final words.
Jack finally broke the silence. “This Jump sounds like a real bitch to do all of this to you.”

My hands were shaking. I punched the display window in response. I'll have time to break down when I'm dead.

“It's part of her game. Like I said, you choose some tools, get some abilities, then you get ten years.”

“You seriously chose to be an asari? Now I know you have to be crazy.”

I chose to ignore her barb. “What did you think was wrong with me? That I had a terminal disease or something?”
“Well after seeing that footage of you muttering how many years you had left, yes.” she chuckled. “I mean all the reckless risks, the suicide missions, you having like no patience at all.”
“The fact that I kept sending out Christmas cards to the Normandy crew with overly sentimental shmultz like “Hold On Tight To Those You Care About?” I interrupted.
“Pffff,” Jack suppressed a chuckle. “You actually wrote those? I thought it was one of those generic office things that get sent out for diversity's sake.”
“After all we've been seriously thought it was just lip service? It was always Christmas. Not Honor to Kalahira or the turian spirits or the asari goddess.” I couldn't help but smile. “How thick can you get?”
“How much of a bleeding heart can you be!?” Jack tried to snap back, but her face was also straining against something. It finally came out as laughter. And like a dam breaking, I was laughing too.

It was only after Jack started coughing in pain that I managed to reel myself in.

“Well...when you spell it out like that it does make some sense.” She finally exhaled. “So where did the name come from?”

“It was a character I made for a...tabletop RPG. She was an enforcer for Fist back on the Citadel and suffered from an addiction to red dust. It was a one-off campaign.” I scratched my neck nervously. “It was the first name that came to mind.”
“Ha, like Fist could afford asari muscle.” Jack sneered.
“It was a spitball. Not one of my better creations.”
“Jack...she's telling the truth.” Liara spoke up. Her expression aghast.

A few moments later a holo display appeared in front of us; Liara was considerate enough to put one to Jack's level. It was a playlist of vids from the Broker's private folders. He had his own dedicated obsession file on me along with copious amounts of wild speculation in text. The first vid was the shuttle I was on en route to the Citadel four years ago. One moment, empty cabin; the next I was there with my weapons locker freaking out over my new asari body. In a separate tab was the ship's manifest, the name I would eventually give to C-Sec customs appeared there the instant I arrived.
The next vid was back on Noveria; me with Shepard's crew against Benezia's asari commandos. Liara saw firsthand what had became of her mother. She looked like she was about to tear up when she heard my last words to Benezia was that her daughter loved her very much before pulling the trigger.

There were a few brief clips of my sessions with Sha'ira and Dr. Dren, but there was no audio. Thank goodness for the consult's sensory pods. But my body language and actions spoke greater volumes about the stress I was under than any throwaway conversation.

The vid after that was Morinth's attempt on my life, I got some judgmental looks from Liara and Jack when it came to how it started, and how I managed to break hold of her mental domination. It also gave me a moment to appreciate the wonders a military regiment and good diet leads to great muscle definition. I don't exactly like looking in the mirror but I did appreciate how my figure now resembles more of an Olympic strongwoman or a marathon runner now.

Then there was the footage of my rant with Jump. Just like before, she didn't show up in the video, but there was a secondary feed showing the hallway outside: the door to my room. In comes Garrus on camera two, through the door, in comes Garrus on camera one. He talks me down, doesn't see Jump on the bed, leaves camera one then two. Then the Warehouse key going into the door. The door opening to a column of light; door on camera two stays closed. And silhouetted in the light was...Jump? There for a few brief seconds then gone. Liara looked like she saw a ghost.

The last shown was some very brief footage from Donavan Hock's estate. Lot of mingling, talking, my interaction with Hock and Harper. No footage of the bathrooms, thank god, followed by the vault breach. Chaos in the party room, Variza in a dress. Flashbang goes off, vision clears, Variza in power armor.

The multiple text files didn't come anywhere close to the truth. Everything from experimental teleportation technology using the same quantum entanglement principles as QEC communication to portable mass relay technology was speculated when it came to my arrival and how my Warehouse worked. All were written off as impossible or technologically unfeasible. A side effect was a lot of highly classified projects from every single Council race was unearthed and poured over extensively by the Broker's networks. Anything and everything related to transportation and weapons development was bugged.

“Goddess... you really aren't from this world.” Liara breathed.

“Yeah. Looks like the secret is out...” My eyes lingered on the R&D in the Broker's obsession file. “in more ways than one.” My heart began pounding with excitement.

“Variza, what are you doing?” Liara demanded as I moved next to her chair and got a better look at the projects. Seeing what principles they acted upon, how resource intensive they were.

And how they could help my guys at my own personal R&D wing.

“Liara, I have a proposition for you.” I said, grinning ear to ear. “You have plenty of experience as an information broker?”

“Not as much as I like but yes.”

“And while it's not as reliable as it was before, I do remember a few key things that would be integral to our survival and to Shepard's future missions. Project names, persons of interest, et cetera.”

“Are you proposing that-”

“Yep. The Shadow Broker is dead.” I placed a hand on her shoulder. “Long live the Shadow Broker.”

“Why, that would mean we would be working together constantly. On this station. Forwarding information to Shepard and the Alliance,”

“He uses his Spectre status to cut through the bureaucracy,”

“and we get a hold of it so we can use it.” Liara beamed.

“This could be just what we need to put an end to the Collectors and keep Cerberus in check” I let out a cheer, a triumphant “finally!” bellowing out of my gut. “After four long years in this galaxy I can really start derailing some shit!”

“By the Goddess, we could even use these resources to further construction of the Crucible and lend resources to your company's R&D to help the war effort. What is the earth saying? We've hit the jackpot?”
That got a wide toothy smile from her. By asari standards she might as well have jumped up on the console and started singing a soulful rendition of Queen's We Are The Champions. I'll take it as a win.

“Oh yeah that's great, call me when the sleepovers start, but what about me and my back!?” Jack yelled!

The sealed doors then blew off their hinges and a group of armed soldiers barged in. On reflex, Liara and I drew our pistols. Oh yeah, outnumbered and outgunned and the two of us are still wearing helmetless borrowed armor that's barely being held together. Two pistols was gonna stop them.

“Two hostiles detected! Awaiting orders.” A male voice rang out.

“Stand down, Thane, they're friendlies.” A familiar voice called out through the ruckus. And out walked Commander Shepard, motioning for the rest of his team to stand down, his black and red-accented N7 armor marking him center stage.

Oh right. The SOS signal in case things went wrong. I may have forgotten to turn that off. Drat.

“I recognize this one. We have met before.” A female voice piped up.

“Take your buckets off people, we're among friends.” Shepard declared. Everyone holstered their weapons. We did the same.

The woman pulled off her helmet, revealing Justicar Samara. Her suit noticeably more armored and pulsing with power. Probably some biotic mods built in. The second to remove their helmet was the named Thane Krios, his black eyes focusing on me in curiosity. He was arguably the best suited warrior for the Omega-4 Relay mission. As a drell he had absolute perfect memory, down to details, emotions and sensations, which translated to him being deadly with all forms of weaponry and martial arts. Though it did come at the temptation to “lose” oneself in old memories forever, just letting them play on repeat in your head and remember the good times all the way to the grave. Also, he had an incurable terminal illness native to his people, Kepral's Syndrome, and only one next of kin, his son Kolyat. If you're going to die, best to do it while trying to preserve life. I find it ironically quite honorable a stance for a hired killer.

“Variza T'Som. You have twenty-seven bounties on you last I checked. Most from business rivals. It is unlikely to find you here in the Shadow Broker's lair.” Thane responded.

“Finally saying what we're all thinking, Thane,” a psuedo-Polish accented voice spoke as another one stepped forward. She didn't take off her helmet so much as remove a shell of sorts from her hermetically sealed helmeted head. The quarian Tali Zorah had revealed herself.

“Glad to see the Normandy still has the best damn engineer in the galaxy.” I declare to Tali. She turned her head in modesty.

“Tali Zorah has been instrumental to our overall performance.” A mechanical tone droned from the final soldier. Like Tali, it removed a mechanical shell, but the result was much more dramatic. Instead of a humanoid face, it was the all too-familiar singular bright eye of a geth. “Her title, however, can be contested within five percent margin of error.” Tali's posture stiffened, I even saw her stop going to her Omni-Tool to unleash some technical wizardry. Old habits die hard I suppose.

“I'll...just take the compliment if you don't mind, Legion.”


“Oh you've gotta be kidding me? You're working with geth now?” Jack protested.

“It's a long story. I'll fill you in while we get you to med bay.” Shepard spoke up, motioning Thane and Samara to carry Jack.

Then there was a moment where Shepard had a hand to his ear.

“De-activate the bombs, Garrus. The situation has been handled. Yes, Joker wind down the assault cannons as well.” He removed his hand and looked somewhere behind me. “Kasumi, stop fooling around and get back to the ship.”

I heard a cloaking device power down behind me. Then felt a hand squeeze my shoulder as Kasumi Goto strolled by.

“Nice seeing you again, Variza.” She said in a sing-song way while returning to her group.

My god, Shepard's crew is terrifying.

An hour later it was just me, Liara and Shepard in the Shadow Broker's base.

“So where's the Broker now?” He asked.

I pointed to the pile of ash. “Physically there. Metaphorically speaking, you're talking to them.”

“But Variza, you're just the head of a weapons company.” Shepard gave me some leading looks. “You wouldn't really have a place in such a demanding field as-”

“Shepard, I know the truth.” Liara replied as deadpan as possible.

“Oh.” he rubbed the back of his shaved head nervously.

“Anything you'd want to bring up before we leave? Mordin is almost done modifying a Reaper IFF signal so we can make our way through the relay so we're making sure everything is perfect.”

“Based on the scans we got from the Normandy...a few things.” I said with a smile.

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