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Well, well, not too much to say here. Solidly-written all the way, the scenes gel nicely and it all reads as smoothly as you like. The ...


Well, this chapter certainly lived up to its name! Some stunning developments here, delivered one after another in short order, with so...


Another great piece of work, filled with some intriguing elements. The dream sequence was suitably disturbing and intense, with just th...


And as the new year begins, I kick it off in just the right fashion - by plunging into one of the best ME fics around. Right away, I'm ...


An interesting take on the Blitz. I must admit, the way the games spoke of Elysium they made it sound like a one-man (or woman) Alamo, ...


You know, a few months ago I never would've thought I'd say this, but I have to say now that reading James Vega is simply a joy. You've...

The boy also reads! I try to offer support and critical advice to fellow writers whenever I can (and yet not as often as I would like...). If you would really like an unbiased and honest opinion on your work, please don't hesitate to send me a note. If I have the time I'll be more than happy to help!

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mothbanquet
Moth/Moff/Grand Moff/Moffles
Artist | Professional | Literature
United Kingdom
My name is Mothbanquet, author and creator of Mass Effect fan fiction for over four years. I pride myself on writing good quality Mass Effect fiction, both original and canon, as well as offering advice and critique to other writers in the community. I have released two full-length stories so far, Mass Effect 2: Dark Rendition, a gritty and emotionally complex retelling of Shepard and Tali's romance, and Interceptor, a riveting espionage thriller set months before the first game. There are two more projects in the works, the details of which will continue to be posted in my journal entries.

I believe in a few simple things; quality writing, deep characters and well-constructed plot lines. I do not write fluff or fan-pleasers. Instead, I try to bring something new and fresh to the Mass Effect audience, something they will enjoy and always remember.

Thank you for visiting my page and remember to check in often - content is updated on a regular basis!

If you like my Mass Effect stories, please feel free to check out my original work under pen name J J Grimshaw. Be warned - this profile is a little threadbare, pending a big overhaul during late 2015!

Finally, these are some of my favourite DA peeps, so please check them out and give them lots of love and support:

:icondementedassassin::icondeliriumgothique::iconriocyan::iconripleynox::iconopheliabell::iconezri-krios::icongodzilla2003:

Keelah se'lai!
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  • Mood: Zeal
  • Listening to: Mozart
  • Reading: I, Partridge - We Need To Talk About Alan
  • Watching: The Simpsons
  • Playing: The Witcher
  • Eating: Various
  • Drinking: Tea
...I'm doing this. I'm thinking about how to touch up a certain scene or tweak a certain character. I'm thinking about the future, what I'll be writing and wondering if it'll be worth the effort. Nothing I've written so far hasn't been, but I'm not one to rely solely on past experience.

We all worry, don't we? We have those moments, as creators, when we twitch and fidget in our chairs, panicking because we haven't been pumping out the work we promised ourselves we would. Our minds are constantly on the go though, even if our hands aren't. We don't stop creating, even if the results don't end up on a page or screen.

So, while I'm at work I like to spare a thought for my creative fellows - whether professional, amateur or something in between - and the shared stresses that plague us at every moment of every day.


As for the mandatory update, Mass Effect: Interceptor's revision is coming along nicely, with about a third of the story now brought up to code. Enjoy it will you can because believe it or not, I am actually still writing things Mass Effect, and I've had to resign myself to releasing this project a bit closer to the new game. That said, it will at least be as near to completion as I can make it, so there will be regular, uninterrupted updates when that time comes.

Also, my brand-spanking new novel is now only a few weeks away from total completion, so expect news to follow in the next couple of months.
Mature Content Filter is On
(Contains: violence/gore and strong language)
The Presidium was dark and silent. The sky had drawn into its night cycle hours ago with a reluctant lethargy, as if the Citadel itself sensed the pressing need of its politicians and financiers for another precious hour of daylight.

That time had long passed, however and Garrus felt the emptiness of the place as a presence of its own. While the bureaucrats slept, a string of cleaning cycles were carried out by an army of scuttling mechs, and Garrus had to step around each one as it bustled with its task.

His eyes shifted behind the blue veneer of his targeting visor. It had been so long since he’d spent a night shift in the Presidium. It was a different place without the energy of its working crowd and he couldn’t decide whether he preferred it as such. He didn’t care much for the politicians but the place simply felt wrong without them, eerie in its stillness.

Udina's office lay ahead, down a short corridor off the main embassy route. He wondered why the office was so close to the diplomat’s lounge before berating himself for asking such a stupid question. The politicians and dignitaries that flooded through the area all visited the lounge at one time or another, and they weren’t much cleaner than the scum who drowned themselves in the ward clubs. Those individuals needed a place to ply their sordid trades, to meet ‘off the record’ and dictate the fates of millions over an asari cocktail.

Garrus walked gingerly in the shadows. He leaned into the wall, flattening himself as a beam of violet-tinged light erupted from a panel mere inches from his face. The beam twisted and scanned the width of the corridor before disappearing, leaving Garrus clear to proceed.

He knew every security protocol and environmental control mechanism in the area and he deliberately skirted around whole swathes of flooring to avoid them. During the day, the devices were dormant or operated at minimum capacity to avoid disruption but during the darker hours they sampled the air, tested humidity levels and released bacteria-cleansing agents into the atmosphere. Any disturbances, with the obvious exception of the keepers, would be logged and monitored.

He stopped, his feet skidding beneath him. He held his position, his breath barely a whisper. The door to the lounge was closed at the far end of the passage behind him but he could hear the soft hum of music beyond, along with a swell of laughter.

For a moment he considered simply playing the authoritative C-Sec officer and ordering the bar shut down for the night. Shaking his head, he dismissed the idea. No one could be allowed to see him. It was the very reason he’d so carefully evaded the Presidium's automated systems. If even the slightest anomaly were detected then it would be something, no matter how small, that could lead back to him.

His grey skin was striped with red as he reached Udina's door and leaned close, the light of the lock panel throwing a soft crimson hue over his ridges and mandibles. The omni-tool around his arm added warm amber to the spectrum, and his fingers moved swiftly to hack the mechanism.

The voices in the nearby lounge rose and fell. The beat of the music mirrored his own heart, the sound of his own breath a tense melody. Every small noise seemed to be magnified as the seconds stretched out and it took an effort of will not to jerk in response to each one.

A faint hiss of breath left Garrus' lungs as the door slid aside.

The dark office beyond was almost sterile in its neatness. He almost smiled at the thought of the mountains of paperwork littering his own.

‘All right. Mantius Twenty-Three,’ he murmured to himself. His omni-tool was unusually slow to respond. He frowned at the sluggishly rotating symbols and watched Udina's terminal flicker to life as the two devices interacted. Everything was automated, though the lack of urgency grated on his nerves.

Thousands of lines of information began to tumble down Udina's screen and Garrus' eyes followed them. The symbols cascaded like glowing rain, silent in their descent. It was an oddly soothing rhythm, and he had to blink hard to stop his attention wavering.

‘Don't move,’ spoke a cold voice behind him. Even colder was the touch of the pistol on the back of Garrus' neck.

He froze as ordered, though thankfully his voice was still confident. He knew they could not gun him down without alerting the entire Presidium.

‘The barrel's a little narrow for a C-Sec issue Striker. I'm guessing you're not part of the night shift.’

‘You guess right,’ the voice said.

Garrus strained his ears to catch every small nuance in the man's speech. It was light and even, salarian possibly, and they made no effort to hide it.

‘So,’ they said, ‘are you going to tell me what a turian C-Sec officer is doing breaking into the office of a human ambassador? Considering the political situation at the moment, it seems something of a risky endeavour.’

‘I should ask you the same question.’

Garrus felt the pistol twist slightly as the salarian peered over his shoulder. ‘I see you're leaving the ambassador a gift. I take it you're not here on patrol either.’

‘You guess right,’ Garrus replied and the aggressor chuckled at his mirrored words.

‘Well, I suppose since we're both not supposed to be here, it'll be safe for us to talk in a more civilised fashion.’

The icy pressure on Garrus' neck receded and he straightened. To his surprise, he found himself calm. Perhaps it was because he had been caught and for a moment, the entire scheme had been exposed and brought to an end, no matter the consequences.

Gathering his senses, Garrus turned and immediately frowned. His attacker was indeed a salarian, one clad in pearl-white armour who holstered his weapon in a single, smooth motion. Though it was dark, Garrus could easily distinguish the murky green hue of his skin, fading to a dull yellow around his mouth.

‘I didn't hear you enter the room,’ Garrus said, uncertain of what to make of his fellow intruder, ‘If the circumstances were different, I'd be impressed.’

The salarian inclined his head at the compliment. ‘It takes years of experience and training to move as silently as we do. Just so, we were here before you arrived. It may even be that our goals are one and the same.’

We were here?’ Garrus asked, his frown deepening.

The salarian smiled and raised his hand. At his signal, several shadows detached from the surrounding gloom and Garrus' blood ran cold.

‘Who are you people?’

‘My name is Captain Kirrahe,’ the salarian answered proudly, ‘of the Third Infiltration Regiment, STG. We're here to get some answers on the Legion’s terrorist attack.’

The chill in Garrus’ veins worsened. The Special Tasks Group was one of the deadliest Spec Ops outfits in the galaxy. That they were here of all places was bad enough but their presence could only mean the situation was more dire than anyone realised.

Kirrahe smiled subtly. ‘It appears we may be able to help one another. We have a safe house nearby where we can continue this discussion.’

It was not a request, Garrus knew, and he was mindful of the way Kirrahe's hand remained over his pistol.

Glancing at Udina's terminal, it only took a moment for Garrus to agree. He did not doubt the famously ruthless operators may kill him if he refused but more than anything, he felt the pull of his own curiosity.

If STG could provide any new information on what was going on, it was worth Chellick's wrath.


 ~~~ME-I~~~


Every inch of Arlen's body was rigid with tension. He took short, sipping breaths like his father taught him, both controlling his hammering pulse and firing his blood with heady bursts of oxygen that would slow those first precious seconds to a crawl.

Beside him, Olansi piloted the shuttle, having taken manual control to guide them into the heart of Torkessa district. Beyond the windshield, the great urban centre was ablaze. A sickly orange glow had wrapped itself around the district like a grim halo as fires raged unchecked while thin streams of weapons fire arched into the sky.

Against the darker background of Omega it all seemed isolated, an inferno of violence that would only stop when there was no one left to kill.

‘I'll gets us as close as I can,’ Olansi murmured. His tone was missing its usual lightness and his eyes were narrowed, fixed solely on their destination. ‘Once we leaves the shuttle, stay on me. We don't stop 'til we reaches the warehouse. Return fires only, minimum three metres spacing at all times. Remember, we’re not here to fights a war, only finds our target.’

‘Understood,’ Arlen replied.

He felt the ingrained pull of his training and realised that it had not been so long since he’d left boot camp. The drills that had been burned into his instincts were still fresh and to his surprise, he found he was looking forward to putting them to the test.

‘Once we get to the warehouse, then what?’ he asked.

‘The place is run by a batarians named Alharu Bashik. We don't have times to go hunting through all of his records so ideally we needs to take him alive. If the places is still standing, that is. When we catch him, we ask him who paids for the Jamestown Virus. If he refuses, we make him tells us.’

Arlen stared out of the window. It was clear now why Olansi had always placed an emphasis on speed, on being quick in their dealings and actions. War had come to Omega, a strange war that Arlen did not understand and was not a part of, yet it pressed them all with an urgency that was almost painful.

‘What if Bashik doesn't know anything?’

‘He'll know. Peoples don't make those kinds of deals without remembering every little details. It's not every days someone in Omega buys a highly advanced, weaponised computer virus, is it?’

Arlen looked at him doubtfully. ‘You're leaving a lot to chance, don't you think?’

‘Take a good looks, genius,’ Olansi barked, nodding at the war zone in front of them, ‘The entire friggin’ districts is going up in flames. If you wants to stand around all day looking through every files on Bashik's system then be my guest.’

Arlen glared at Olansi but he dared not answer back. There was no mockery in the Spectre's voice, nor any trace of his usual humour. His voice was harsher and far more serious than Arlen had heard before and the change in demeanour made any response he had die in his throat.

Instead he looked down to his lap, where he fumbled with his Striker. The weight still bothered him, though he reminded himself with a sense of irony that it had not yet been fired. His eyes moved across the barrel and, with a frown, he rubbed at a blue spot above the grip. Crixus' blood. He scratched at it but the blot remained, and he quietly resolved to scrub the weapon clean when they returned.

The shuttle swerved around a bulky transport hauler and burned a bright streak across the sky as Olansi jammed the throttle as far up as he could. Moments later, they passed into Torkessa and Olansi took them between the crumbling habitation blocks, threading the craft nimbly through strings of gunfire and columns of black smoke.

Arlen held his breath in sick anticipation. It was too easy to imagine a slug hitting the shuttle, driving through the bottom and into their bodies.

He looked nervously across to Olansi, who was almost serene by comparison. The Spectre's dark eyes flickered from side to side, registering threats as they came. Finally, he nudged the nose down and Arlen's stomach heaved as they tore into a wide street, mere inches from the ground.

Around them, the vicious conflict rumbled, muted by the shuttle’s thin canopy. Blurred figures rushed by Arlen's window, too quickly to make out the details. Snaps of rifle fire could be heard and a nearby explosion shook the floor beneath his feet. He closed his eyes, feeling each sound and silently praying to the spirits the next one would not be the last.

‘Not sure where the front lines is,’ Olansi said without taking his eyes from their path, ‘Looks like a running battles, pockets of resistance here and theres. The aggressors look far more organised. See?’

He nodded to their front and Arlen followed his gaze. A checkpoint had been set up ahead, a makeshift gate flanked by glaring red lights. As the shuttle slowed to a crawl, he noticed those who guarded it, a motley assortment of different species brandishing weapons that had been outlawed in every major system in Citadel space. Some of the guns he remembered vaguely from recognition exercises in boot camp, others he had no idea existed.

Arlen watched as a team of militia ran past his window. The fleshy brown skin of batarians ran alongside turians branded with markings that he did not recognise. Likely the Omega-born of his people had invented their own patterns in the absence of a turian colony to call their own.

The squad fled out of view, though another scene in the grim tableau caught Arlen's attention.

Several vorcha kneeled in the muck of the street, their hands tied roughly behind their backs. A human stood over them, conversing with a turian before turning to his prisoners with a pistol in one hand. Arlen did not want to watch, yet could not look away as one by one, the snarling vorcha were executed with cold indifference.

A cold lump settled in Arlen's stomach at the sight and he spoke out of sick fear, ‘What do we do if they stop us?’

‘They will stop us,’ Olansi said with certainty, his hand drifting to where a Tempest sub-machine gun lay at the edge of his seat, ‘If they ask us to gets out then we'll have no choice but to runs for it. We can't affords to let them hold us up while this districts tears itself apart. You remember your drills for this sorts of things, yes?’

‘Yeah,’ Arlen replied, more confidently than he felt.

Olansi nodded. ‘Good. Keep your eyes and ears open for my signals.’

Nausea swept through Arlen, mixed with a pounding rush of adrenaline. The checkpoint drew closer, each second nothing more than a set of frozen images as they passed. Dead krogan and vorcha lying in neat rows at the side of the road. Ragged milita scowling as they spoke to one another. The menacing glares of those on the checkpoints, their fingers resting instinctively on the triggers of their weapons.

The shuttle droned noisily as it was forced to stop, as if it knew the danger and wanted to keep moving. It met the ground with a shudder as one of the gate sentries, a human by the look of his helmet, ambled over to them. He seemed in no particular hurry, content with his easy duty as his comrades stormed the buildings around them.

Olansi's window slid down as he approached and Arlen almost gasped as the hot, oppressive Torkessa air flooded in.

‘Hey there!’ the Spectre called out, ‘Like what you guys have done with the places, very nice!’

Arlen closed his eyes in frustration. Of all the times for Olansi to act the fool, now was not one of them.

His annoyance lasted only a heartbeat however, as he saw the salarian's hand curl gently around the grip of his Tempest, relaxed and in complete mastery of the situation.

‘You guys don't look like regular civilian traffic to me,’ the guard grumbled, ‘The only people we've had through here have been families running scared, and even then only those who can afford a shuttle. I see two armoured men in front of me and I think either mercs or militia. Which one are you?’

‘Neither,’ Olansi answered lightly, ‘We're employees of Aria T'Loak, doing a little businesses over here. You milita types have some interesting weapons and gizmos. The bosses, she's been quite interested in what's been passings through.’

The gamble was a dangerous one. Arlen's eyes flickered between each of the checkpoint guards but none seemed to be listening and every moment felt like an agonising eternity.

The sentry huffed and glanced back his comrades. A muffled shout passed through the air and he stepped back to hear their reply.

Olansi's grip on the Tempest tightened. He eased his gaze to his front slowly as his other arm rested naturally against the door, his elbow pointing through the open window.

Arlen ached to ask him what to do. The militia were discussing them, unheard above the thrum of the shuttle's engine and the crackle of gunfire outside.

The human raised his arms as two others jabbed their fingers in their direction, shaking their heads. It did not look good.

Arlen readied himself. He counted. Five guards in total, many more militia behind them. His head moved as he took everything in. An alley to the left and right, relatively close. No cover beyond the checkpoint. He tried to guess what Olansi would do, knowing full well that he would have only seconds to react to his lead.

‘Get out!’ the human yelled as he stalked back towards them, ‘Are you deaf? I said get out!’

Olansi's hand moved, a mere flicker.

‘Now!'

The first moment seemed to last forever. Arlen brought up his pistol as Olansi aimed his Tempest out of the window, putting several rounds into the sentry with a dull crack.

The shuttle doors swung open with a hiss, the sound marred by the thump of Arlen's Striker. He fired as he had been trained to, the rounds puncturing the wind shield, leaving three white scars to mark their passing.

The nearest guard crumpled into a heap and Arlen moved immediately, picking his next man as he slid out of the shuttle. Olansi was already clear and the Spectre fired two bursts, each catching their target with unerring accuracy as the last one fell to Arlen, the guard’s rifle chattering as it hit the ground.

They did not stop. No one fired at them from behind and Arlen could only assume the surrounding battle had engulfed the sounds of their weapons. Still, for all they knew they had only seconds before the slugs began to zip past them.

Olansi loped forward, heading towards the right-hand alley and Arlen followed closely, mindful to keep a distance between them. The narrow space welcomed them, concealing them from the view of the militia in the street.

Arlen had almost begun to feel relieved when sudden shouts rose from the direction they’d come. He turned for a moment, his pistol outstretched in anticipation of pursuers. His breath rasped from his lungs, almost painfully loud in his ears. No one came but he kept watch regardless, his feet moving of their own will in perfect balance, as his father taught him.

‘Don't bother,’ Olansi called out, ‘Just keep moving!’

His words were accompanied by a slight motion and Arlen saw an omni-tool blossom to life on his left arm.

A colossal bang split the air, almost making Arlen trip in surprise. He looked up as a gout of orange flame reached above the buildings around them, sending pieces of their shuttle in every direction.

Despite himself, Arlen smiled. The Spectre was full of surprises.


 ~~~ME-I~~~


Alharu Bashik's hands slipped as they desperately tried to fasten the catches of his combat armour.

He had paid well for the suit, a matt-black set of Elanus-issue plating, but it took an age to put on. Twice the batarian had to readjust his gauntlets and in his growing panic, he had almost forgotten to activate the kinetic shielding.

‘Make sure that door is sealed!’ he shouted to his subordinates as they scrambled around him, ‘Get the fusion torches and weld it shut if you have to! I want every entrance locked down!’

They were all as frightened as he of the war that had descended on the Torkessa streets, despite their preparations. The warehouse was barricaded against the onslaught, every one of his six employees armed with weapons bought from his friends in the black market. It would take an army to storm that building but the knowledge did not stop Bashik from worrying. If something happened to any one of the goods held within it would likely mean his death at the hands of those who’d paid large sums to store them.

Thin streaks of light flickered through the slits of windows that had been roughly covered, casting narrow bars across the floor. The fighting was close.

One of his employees muttered an oath as a nearby explosion rumbled against the walls and debris raked the outside of the building. It was maddening for them, to hear the sounds of battle and yet be so helpless against it.

Bashik turned and cursed as he knocked his helmet from his desk, sending a pile of OSDs clattering across the floor. He leaned down to pick them up first, taking care not to damage them in his haste. Each one contained secrets that an information broker would have paid a small fortune for.

Fear swirled in Bashik's mind, and he stumbled over his helmet in his distraction. Swearing loudly, he kicked it across the floor of his office, suddenly aware that his mind was racing with every distant gunshot.

‘Damn you, Yanus,’ he said aloud, rubbing each of his eyes in turn.

He cast his mind back to when the voice had first come to him with promises of technology and wealth. It had only been a year ago and Yanus had asked one thing in return.

Bashik grumbled to himself as the thought of that hard drive flashed in his mind. He still did not know what it was, but ever since he’d sent it to the Citadel as instructed, things had gotten unstable in Torkessa. If he didn’t know any better, Bashik could have sworn the militias had resumed their campaign of violence from the moment the device had left his hands.

Moaning in helpless frustration, Bashik slumped into the chair at his desk. His terminal lay in a broken heap on the floor, knocked aside along with the helmet and OSDs. Though angry with himself, he shrugged apathetically. He could afford another.

‘Alharu?’

A fellow batarian stood before him, waiting anxiously for orders. His skin was a murky yellow with deep brown stripes running across his glistening forehead and cheeks. He trembled, both with fear of the noise around him and the uncertainty of what his master would do.

Basik knew the others always went to Milath with their complaints in the hope that he would be able to voice them. They all saw Bashik’s orders to dig in as suicidal and yet they also knew that even if they lived through the onslaught, Bashik would ensure they would not survive the aftermath if they abandoned him.

‘Alharu, we need to talk about this. The militias are burning everything they come across and even with the barricades, I don't see how we can hold out for long if they decide to attack.’

Bashik threw Milath a look of naked disgust. ‘There's nothing to talk about. Nobody's going anywhere. If you don't think the barriers are strong enough then maybe you should be finding a way to reinforce them instead of crying to me like a babe to his mother!’

‘This isn't fair, Bashik!’ Milath argued, puffing out his chest as he forced a little strength into his wavering voice, ‘None of us signed up for this! We're here to guard against thieves and gang raids, not a damn army!’

‘I don't care what you signed up for!’ Bashik roared, sweeping his desk clean in his fury, ‘Nobody leaves! If I see any of you cowards trying to make a run for it I'll make you pay! I'll make your families pay, all the way back to the Anhur pits you crawled out of!’

Milath paled, his resolve fleeing. Behind him, the other batarians seemed to redouble their efforts and hurriedly dragged sheets of metal across the floor to bolster the windows. Milath watched them for a moment, grimacing at their lack of courage.

Bashik’s face was without mercy and his fingers drifted to the pistol at his side, daring Milath to object further.

Sighing, Milath bowed his head meekly. ‘Forgive me, Alharu. I was wrong to question you.’

‘Yes, you were,’ Bashik responded with a cruel smirk. He was not a good shot but it was impossible to miss at such a range.

Milath gasped as the slug ripped through his abdomen, and blood sprayed into the air as his body slumped to the ground. Milath twitched as the life bled from him and the workers beyond simply stood, too horrified to move.

Bashik rose to his feet, raising his voice for them all to hear, ‘The rest of you better take a good look at this piece of shit the next time you even think about questioning my orders! If anyone gets out of line again, I promise it won't be as quick for you!’

For a second he thought about having the body removed before it began to stink but quickly dismissed the idea. It would be a useful enough reminder to the rest of them, at least until the storm had passed.


 ~~~ME-I~~~


Hundreds of footsteps thundered down the street, making the ground quake beneath Arlen's fingertips. He laid perfectly still next to Olansi, pressing himself into the dirt of the road until he could almost taste it on his lips.

They were hidden beneath a large sheet of thin, rusted metal, undetectable amid the trash and detritus strewn across the length of the street.

Olansi stared out in grim concentration, completely silent save for his quietly hissing breath, drowned out by the roar of the bloodthirsty crowd marching in their direction.

The resident militia had finally gathered to repel the enemy attack and it was clear they intended to do so with huge, crushing numbers. They were nearly all vorcha, each one a twisted, sneering mass of pale brown flesh and sharp, pointed teeth. They strode forward in a wave, urged on by bawling krogan, the bulks of their blood-red armour easily visible above their smaller servants. The white paint splashed across their shoulder pads seemed vaguely familiar to Arlen.

‘I've seen those markings before,’ he whispered hoarsely, caught between the need to be heard by Olansi and the more immediate need to remain unheard by the militia, ‘When I first got here I saw a krogan with the same patterns on his armour.’

Olansi sniffed. ‘Blood Pack. Terminus mercenary gangs. Usually steer clear of this kinds of troubles though, only takes on small, easy jobs or those with high capacities for violence. Never known them to fights for territory.’

Another memory crossed Arlen's mind. ‘Those Blue Suns in the neighbouring district; could they have been helping the other militia group?’

‘It's possibles. Hell, it's more than likely now I thinks about it. Just a few credits and weapons in the right places and you can end up extendings a war from a few weeks into a few years. They could have plans to take over themselves once the Blood Pack is gone, or they can just be out to bleed their rival mercs dry. Impossible to tells.’

Arlen looked on, fighting the urge to crawl back deeper under his cover as the crowd swarmed past. Further down the street, directly in their path, two teams of invading militia took position. They kneeled and lowered themselves until they were prone, each one taking aim with steady care.

Something was oddly regimented about their movements, the discipline belying their rough, battered appearances.

Olansi seemed to notice it too and he nodded in their direction. ‘If they're militias then I'm a damn asari weddings planner. Looks like the Blue Suns really are taking these krogans by the balls; all four of them.’

A great howl went up as the vorcha charged. There was precious little cover on the road and dozens fell in the first moment as the Blue Suns opened fire. Puffs of red mist dotted the heaving mass and the beasts returned fire, though without the punishing accuracy of their enemy.

The Suns barely flinched as stray rounds bounced harmlessly from their shields, their gazes and weapons locked firmly on the horde to their front.

The krogan yelled and waved their soldiers on. Each one was a hulking tower of flesh and armour plating, and they stoically trudged onwards as they beat the vorcha with the butts of their shotguns. They did not care how many fell and used anything they could to bully their smaller charges forward.

The swell seemed to shudder as a Revenant machine gun opened up, its distinctive golden tracers tearing through the crowd. The Blue Suns operator expertly fired in short bursts, each one finding its mark and felling vorcha by the score.

Arlen watched with guilty fascination, silently applauding the gunner's skill and control.

‘They can't take much more of this,’ he said.

‘Oh no?’ Olansi replied with a cunning grin, ‘Watch now.’

Even as the road became slick with blood and many were forced to climb over their dead, a ripple went through the vorcha lines. It began as a single war cry from a krogan master and the sound was echoed by those around him. The other krogan carried the call, rapping their fists against their armoured chests to create a pounding, thunderous rhythm. Even the Blue Suns held their fire, stunned at what they were seeing.

Then, as one, the horde surged forward again.

The vorcha seemed to regain their purpose and ran, hopping nimbly over the bodies of their brothers without a moment's pause. The Suns shook off their disbelief and opened fire but their panic began to grow as they saw how little effect their weapons were having.

The vorcha staggered as slug after slug tore into them but they did not stop. They drew near with terrifying speed and Arlen's mouth hung open as he witnessed the infamous krogan blood rage first hand.

He lost sight of the Suns as they began to fall back in pairs. The manoeuvre was carried out efficiently, each team firing as the other retreated before switching roles, though they were clearly growing more anxious with every passing moment as the Blood Pack surged towards them.

‘They won't make it,’ Arlen murmured, utterly transfixed by the bloody spectacle.

As the words left his lips, his mouth remained open. A piercing screech rose above the roar of the onslaught and he suppressed a gasp as behind the Blue Suns, an enormous armoured vehicle drove into view.

Arlen knew the distinct profile of the Alliance Mako, though the vehicle had been modified beyond recognition. Extra armour plating had been crudely mounted and jagged, savage-looking spikes protruded from its front, ready to annihilate anything it ran down.

The vorcha slowed and some were trampled in their hesitation as the krogan renewed their rage and screamed their defiance.

When the Mako fired, it was like the breaking of a dam. Scorching torrents of fire ripped through the horde, the heavy rounds gouging a trench through the masses of flesh. Even the krogan masters looked at one another then, gauging their chances.

The retreating Suns, meanwhile, had stopped falling back and resumed their withering storm. Under the weight of fire, the Blood Pack slowly began to disperse, disappearing through side alleys, maintenance hatches, anything that would take them away from their impending death.

The vorcha scrambled to escape and Arlen winced as a large krogan tried to rally them only to fall seconds later, a sniper's bullet cutting a ragged hole through his eye.

In just moments, the street was clear. Frantic skittering cut the air but it quickly disappeared to leave only the lonely, palpable silence of the dead.

The ground was barely visible. Bodies littered the street in a field of red and brown. Something twitched but the motion was instantly lost in the mass, and Arlen grew increasingly anxious as the seconds stretched on. The stillness of the scene made every one of his own movements agonisingly obviously, no matter how small.

The Mako rumbled as it proceeded down the road slowly, flanked on both sides by the cautious infantry. Arlen ground his teeth in disgust as the tank reached the first of the vorcha corpses, which cracked audibly as they were ground under the heavy wheels.

‘Don't moves,’ Olansi whispered.

As if I need to be told, Arlen thought sourly.

The hum of the Mako was joined by the tapping of armoured feet as the patrol drew alongside the hidden agents. Arlen dared to let his eyes drift up and watched the nearest Blue Sun stroll past, his head twitching from side to side, scanning the environment with well-practised skill.

Only when the Mako had disappeared and the sound of its engine was a distant thrum did Olansi begin to shift.

The movement startled Arlen, who rose alongside him, stretching stiff muscles. He opened his jaw wide and dug his fingers in behind it, massaging the sore flesh. He still bore the injuries from his fight with Crixus but they would not slow him down.

‘So long as we can avoids the bulk of the hordes, we should be fine,’ Olansi said as he brought up his omni-tool, Not fars to go now.’

Arlen gave a brief nod. His heart still hammered in his chest with frightening force and his eyes constantly flickered across the ruined street, as if he expected the Blood Pack to return in a tide of angry, snarling maws.

‘Let's just get going,’ he replied, his voice dry and husky, ‘I don't want to stay in this district a second longer.’
Mass Effect: Interceptor - Episode 15
Six months before the events of Mass Effect, a crucial summit is due to be held between the Citadel Council and the human Systems Alliance. On this important day, a young turian named Arlen Kryik is recruited into an elite C-Sec unit known as the Interceptors, a small cadre of agents responsible for hunting wanted fugitives throughout the galaxy.

Partnered with veteran agent Garrus Vakarian as part of the summit's security detail, Arlen quickly becomes embroiled in a terrorist plot to destroy the Council and reignite tensions between the turian and human races.

Nothing is as it seems, however, and as Arlen and his C-Sec comrades race to uncover the truth one of the Council's oldest enemies watches from the shadows...

---

Next Episode

Previously on Interceptor...

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(Contains: violence/gore and strong language)
A single light flickered on, illuminating one end of the room. It played across the windows running the length of the wall in murky waves but the glass panes were themselves saturated with a darkened film, deepening the shadows that seeped from every corner.

Dirt caked the floor, and as he stepped forward Arlen realised it glittered; asteroid dust brought in from the cave outside. From the gouges carved in the thick filth, it appeared that whatever office had once been set up there had been shut down long ago.

'So, this place really is as abandoned as it looks,' said Keller as she turned her head slightly to check out the area, 'Judging by the state of the floor, they must have cleared out at least six months ago, probably longer. This place is a mess.'

Arlen clenched his fists. To have come so far just to be met with a dead end was more than he could bear.

'No,' he murmured, 'There's something here. There has to be.'

'Well, so long as we have blind optimisms then everything'll be all right,' Olansi joked.

Arlen shot him a sour glance and the Spectre placed a placating hand on his shoulder.

'Come on. Let's sees if this VI of theirs still works.'

With a deep sigh, Arlen walked forward, Olansi and Keller closely in tow. Their surroundings were ghostly as the asteroid dust layered everything in the room with a pale veneer, and their feet sent up light clouds that swirled gently in their wake.

As promised by the sentry, there was a lone terminal set into the floor ahead of them, placed directly beneath the lone blinking light.

'Power's still on,' Keller pointed out hopefully, her fingers drifting toward the terminal's main control panel, 'All we need to do is turn this thing on and-'

A sudden hiss split the air and her hand pulled back in surprise. The noise whined for a moment, a shrill sound that made them all wince uncomfortably and reach up to cover their ears. After only a second, the sound disappeared and with a hum, the stark red hologram of a VI phased into view.

Arlen frowned immediately. The VI's avatar was that of an asari, her head pushed firmly down with her chin nestled against her chest. Her arms were crossed, her hands clutching her shoulders in an awkward embrace.

He had never seen a VI begin an interaction in such a way and though it could have merely been slight oscillations in the projection, the huddled figure appeared to be shivering.

Arlen glanced at Keller, who shared his own troubled expression, and then Olansi who simply shrugged. Not even the salarian could offer an explanation for what they were seeing. With a deep breath, Arlen stepped forward.

He wondered for a moment what he should say. Usually a VI would prompt a new user, asking them to issue a command but this one just ignored them, seemingly content to remain in its quaking stance.

'VI,' he began uncertainly, 'Can you hear me?'

'Voice pattern recognised - turian, male,' it replied in the same tone Arlen had heard in a hundred programs across the galaxy. The voice was odd, however. There were added nuances and a deep scraping that tinged every syllable with a manic edge.

'Error. No turians employed in lab staff, unrecognised. Searching available sources. Error; data corrupted.' Arlen opened his mouth slightly as more words spilled from the VI, 'Turians. Old species come to roost, foiled by the usurpers. Never see reason, only hate.'

The VI raised her head slowly and gazed out at the trio of visitors. Her synthetic eyes shimmered with something Arlen had never imagined he would see in a VI. It was the distinctive look of fear.

'I am Petra,' she said coldly, 'I am the thing that remains, always alone in the cold places, in the dark places. I hold the answers but I would not know the questions if they were asked. Always, just...waiting...never asked if I would like to ask...just once. But never comes, always alone.'

Arlen narrowed his eyes in confusion. 'What questions? What are you talking about?'

'I am Petra,' the VI said again, her voice becoming more agitated, 'Welcome to Bithcon Dynamics, proud partners of the Synthetic Insights group, here to assist you, always waiting to assist. Always waiting.'

Petra's ramblings faded suddenly into a deathly silence, her listeners too stunned to speak. She reached up as if to touch her face, but was unable to raise her arms past her shoulders. It was no surprise to the others; VIs were not programmed to move beyond simple, subtle movements. The most she would be able to manage was a brief gesture to her side.

She gave each of her limbs a pitiful glance before looking at Arlen pleadingly.

'I...cannot move. Turian, male, please...tell me why I cannot move. I am waiting, always waiting but always...here. I know these words, I want to move, to know why these words are here. Knowing nothing, it...I want to cry...but no tears will come! Why? You wish to ask your questions but I too have mine!'

A breeze passed through the room, lifting a fine mist of dirt from the ground. The cloud passed through Petra and she watched it with an expression of both curiosity and horror, as if expecting it to attack without warning.

'What is this?' Arlen murmured, as much to himself than anyone else.

Keller stirred at his side, her eyes fixed on Petra. 'This is supposed to be Bithcon Dynamics' Virtual Intelligence but I...I've never seen one display this kind of behaviour before. It's acting like one of the junkies you'd find in the ward slums, or those babbling wrecks they pull out of eezo poisoning zones. Either way, it's sure as hell not a VI anymore, whatever it is.'

The virtual asari narrowed her gaze at the strangers, her face twisting indignantly. 'I am Petra, VI assistant for Bithcon Dynamics, proud partner of Synthetic Insights group! Am not junkie or wreck!'

Arlen blinked in disbelief. The thing was certainly interacting with them consciously and her voice held an obvious note of annoyance, impossible for an ordinary VI to possess.

Keller placed a hand on Arlen's arm, turning him away.

'This is crazy,' she whispered, 'Whatever we're seeing, it's more than a software bug. The damn thing's getting angry with us!'

'Hardly matters,' Olansi hissed back, 'The behavioural datas is probably just corrupted, so what? All we need is informations. Just hack the things so we can gets out of here.'

Arlen pursed his lips. Caught between them, he realised they expected him to make a decision and to his surprise, the answer came quickly. Gently pushing the others aside, Arlen approached Petra once again with as much confidence as he could summon.

'Petra. Petra, can you hear me?'

The VI's eyes glittered with streams of pink-hued data patterns, each one falling down her cheeks like synthetic tears. She had resumed her slumping posture and now Arlen had no doubt she was shaking, her body rocking back and forth on the spot.

'Petra,' he repeated softly, as he would to a frightened child, 'Petra, please talk to me.'

'Voice pattern recognised,' Petra said again, this time with a sullen, wounded quality, 'Turian, male. Ready to process transaction. Here always, ready, waiting. Always.'

'Petra, please. I don't want to process a transaction, I just want to talk. Can I talk to you?'

The VI said nothing and Arlen held back an impatient huff. Patience was needed here.

He took another slow step towards her, wincing guiltily as she jerked away instinctively. She was not used to company and his movements had to be careful to avoid frightening her. He spoke again and kept his voice down, allowing the soothing thrum of his turian vocal chords to carry into the air.

'I know you've been alone a long time, Petra. I know they left you by yourself and you can't move, can't get away from this place. I understand that and I want to help.'

Petra's head rose slightly and her tone was pitiable, 'I...want to move. Can turian, male help me move?'

Arlen shook his head sadly. 'No, Petra, I can't help you move any more than you already can. But I can help you leave.'

The construct's face came alive in a spectrum of emotion. Hope visibly mingled with fear as the idea ran through her mind and it took many seconds for her expression to settle.

'Leave? Outside these walls? Outside this cage?'

Arlen hesitated before bobbing his head. 'Yeah, outside.'

Slowly, as the concept of freedom started to take hold, Petra grinned at him. She giggled childishly as her hands fidgeted in front of her, her limited range of movement allowing at least that, and her eyelids fluttered and twitched excitedly.

Keller reached out to Arlen and whispered to him again, 'This feels wrong. It...she's...alive, isn't she? Is it okay to shut her down, just like that?'

Olansi bristled at her side but Arlen answered before he could interject, 'I don't know what the right thing to do is. All I know is something's happened to this VI and I just...I have the feeling Krassus is involved somehow. We don't have time to study her but once we have what we came for, the only decent thing to do would be to turn her off. It's either that or leave her alone again and, well,' he paused as his eyes glimmered with distant pain, 'Nobody deserves to be left all alone.'

Petra watched their exchange with fascination, her mouth still spread in a playful grin.

'If turian, male can help me then I will do what I can for him!' she exclaimed happily, 'New user! All new, no more come, error; previous user information deleted...but new user verified!'

'That's all right,' Arlen replied, 'I'll just connect to you via omni-tool. Can I do that, Petra?'

'I...suppose,' she responded nervously, 'Opening data access ports. Feels strange...feels like stratching...scratching, scratching...'

Petra continued to mumble as Arlen's omni-tool flared into view, casting deep shadows on the walls.

Olansi leaned in to speak to him, 'First times I've ever seen someone asks a VI for permissions to link their omni-tools.'

'I thought it'd only be polite,' Arlen answered with a shrug, 'After all, we need to keep her on our good side and we're not going to do that by intruding on her privacy, so to speak. Besides, if she's aware of what we're doing then hacking her might not even be a possibility.'

'And hows could you even tells what she was sayings? All I heards was crazy gibberish.'

Arlen brought his eyes up to stare at him directly. 'I have to listen to you, don't I?'

The Spectre smiled, baring his teeth with pleasure and he clapped Arlen roughly on the shoulder.

'Now you're gettings it!' he said merrily before turning away, 'You finish up in here, I'll keep watches.'

The clatter of armoured feet faded after a few seconds, leaving only the soft chiming of Arlen’s omni-tool to disturb the quiet. Petra waited patiently, swaying gently as she hummed a warbling tune, one that Arlen vaguely recognised from the Citadel elevators.

Do all VIs come with that annoying music? he wondered.

As the moments passed, Petra turned her gaze to Keller and her lips lifted into a sneer. 'Visual profile identified. Human. Female.'

'That's right,' Keller said anxiously, starting as the VI let out a piercing shout.

'User turian, male is connecting with me! Me, Petra, not human, female! Do not stare, no matter how jealous!'

'I am not jealous!' Keller yelled out, mortified by the outburst.

'Jealous jealous, human, female!' Petra cried out teasingly, 'Mine, user recognised! Turian, male mine, ugly human female!'

'Why you!' Keller roared before Arlen snatched her wrist.

'Please, Detective, stay calm! She's just being a little protective, that's all.'

Keller's mouth curled angrily and she pointed at Petra. 'She's doing it on purpose! Look at her!'

Glancing over his shoulder, Arlen groaned inwardly at the sight of the VI making rude expressions and gestures, instantly disappearing the moment his eyes rested on her.

Sighing ruefully, he turned back to Keller. 'She's just confused. I don't even think she realises she's being possessive.'

'Oh, she realises,' Keller bit back, glaring at Petra's tongue as it protruded spitefully from her mouth.

Arlen's grip relaxed and suddenly, Keller laughed and shook her head. 'I'm sorry, you’re right. I don't know what got into me. It was just unexpected, that's all.'

'I know,' Arlen said, smiling, 'Why don't you go find Olansi while I contact Lina? I shouldn't be too long.'

'Are you going to be all right?' she asked, glancing at the pouting VI behind him.

Petra's lithe figure twisted slightly as she craned to hear what the detective was saying and in spite of the undeserved aggression, Arlen could not help but feel another pang of remorse for the construct. It was no fault of Petra's that she seemed to be feeling organic emotions and no one would be more confused than she.

Arlen thought for a moment before finally answering Keller’s question, 'Yeah, I'll be fine.'

Keller left him again, and did not look back as the door slid shut behind her. Arlen watched her go before turning back to Petra, whose eyes glittered mischievously. His mandibles twitched as he looked down to his omni-tool and opened a comm channel to JSTF.

Something about the way Petra looked at him unnerved him greatly, even if it was no longer the pathetic, sorrowful gaze that first greeted them. The strange light in her eyes was unsettling and he silently begged the omni-tool to hurry.

'What do you need, turian male?' she asked cheerfully.

Arlen blinked, considering the possibility of simply asking her for the information he needed but curiosity stayed his tongue. He didn’t doubt Petra would offer him anything in return for his help but he needed Lina to see her. He needed to know why Petra was the way she was.

'Just a moment, I'm going to speak to someone,' Arlen told her. A vexed look passed over Petra’s face and he moved quickly to ease her concerns. 'Don't worry, she's just a friend. She can help us. She can help you.'

The idea appealed to Petra and she beamed at him. 'I am sorry, no friends...I do not have friends, do not know anyone who helped before so I do not say things that are right...but I like that you want to help!'

The line connected with a crackle and Milo's voice echoed cleanly from the omni-tool, taking Arlen aback. He had not expected the young human and he felt loathe to disclose Petra's existence to someone who may not understand.

'Arlen?' Milo asked keenly. No doubt he was aware of the Interceptor's importance and was straining to hear him above the constant fizz of the comm-buoy signal. 'Arlen, is that you?'

'Yeah, it's me. Is Lina there?'

'No, she's taking a break. She was up all night so Chellick told her to get some shut-eye. What do you need?'

Arlen let the seconds stretch out, his mouth firmed in indecision. He trusted Milo as much as any other member of JSTF but this was something that only Lina, with her wealth of technical knowledge, could possibly comprehend.

A small part of him argued ferociously that his feelings were misplaced, that he should simply retrieve the intel, close the terminal and leave. That was the voice of ruthless practicality and under normal circumstances he may have done just that.

However, his mind flashed with the first moments he’d laid eyes on Petra, his thoughts filled with her terrified, almost animalistic fear. He knew he could not find it in his heart to abandon her while so much still lay undiscovered.

With a deep breath, Arlen closed his eyes. 'Sorry, Milo. False alarm.'

Without waiting for a response, he severed the connection and Petra gazed at him questioningly.

'Why did turian male-'

'I'm taking you with me, Petra,' Arlen interrupted, his arm flashing brightly as his omni-tool worked, 'I'll also need any shipping information related to computer hardware supplied by Bithcon over the past year, anything that can help us link them to a turian organisation called the Forgotten Legion. Are there any portable storage devices we can use to transport you?'

'Of course!' Petra replied. She grinned at him enthusiastically as her voice shook with excitement, 'I can fit on your omni-tool! So many days spent compressing, organising, compressing and more compressing! So, so bored of tidying, cleaning, turian male! So bored of it all but all comes in handy now. Now I go on a trip, away from this place!'

Arlen stared at her, dumbstruck. A VI alone needed a vast amount of storage capacity, far more than a mere omni-tool could provide, and an AI needed even more than that.

'How long will the transfer take?' he asked, masking his disbelief.

Petra shrugged indifferently, a gesture more organic than anything Arlen had seen so far. For the first time, he felt an awkward frustration with her and yet the irony of such a thing made him want to laugh aloud at the same time.

'Fair enough,' he muttered, 'but no more baiting Detective Keller. She's trying to help too.'

The VI snorted her disdain before flickering out of sight. With a gentle beep, the omni-tool's various icons began to cycle, indicating the transfer of data. The 'time remaining' bar looked very long indeed, Arlen noted with a mild touch of despair but it could not be helped. Petra could well prove to be more valuable than anything they had hoped to find in Torkessa.


 ~~~ME-I~~~


Pale grey smoke hung in the air like a blanket, highlighted solely by a single light in the middle of the kitchen ceiling. It had been dimmed to prevent glare across the multitude of datapads that lay spread across the table, but each of the grim faces surrounding it remained easily visible.

Four men and two women hunched over the table, scattering cigarette ash and leaving wet rings under glasses of strong beer. Though the meeting was informal, as much a gathering of old friends as a military briefing, they were all focused on what lay ahead. Every pair of eyes were fixed on the maps, profiles and reports in front of them, occasionally jumping to the large picture of General Krassus that formed the centrepiece of the display.

One of the soldiers, a hulking beast of a man, growled across to one of his female comrades, 'Three days to find him, give or take. Another four or five to hunt him down, then back to Sol by the end of the week.'

'Optimistic guess, Miller,' Winterbourne replied with a sly grin. Her black hair was cut even shorter than the man who’d spoken, though it stood out more against her pale skin. 'I'd agree with you if it didn't involve tracking him through Hierarchy space. We'll have to move slowly and carefully to avoid the turian patrols and even then, if he's gone to ground somewhere other than an urban centre it could take even longer to pinpoint his location.'

'What makes you think the bastard's in turian space?' Miller asked, matching Winterbourne's grin with one of his own, 'Sure, it's safe but it's also predictable. If I were Krassus, I'd be hiding out on a nice, quiet human colony like that backwater dump Eden Prime. Last place anyone would think to look.'

'When was the last time you saw a damn turian on Eden Prime? I can't think of a place in the galaxy where he'd stand out more.'

Shrugging, Miller took a sip of beer and replied, his lips coated with creamy white froth, 'Like I said, last place anybody'd expect.'

Chen's light voice chipped in at Miller's left shoulder, making the big man frown, 'Anybody except you, of course. This is why I'm glad you're still here, my friend. Ain't no corner of this vast galaxy is safe from your imagination!'

A murmur of laughter rippled through the group and Miller shook his head, smiling.

They had all known each other for a long time, having suffered through the most horrific battles of the Skyllian Blitz together and it was those shared agonies that had kept them united despite the passing of years.

Only the two most recent additions to the team did not have that connection, and yet they had been in the Alliance military long enough to prove their worth.

One of them stood by with a datapad in one hand as he held a cool drink in the other, sucking noisily on a straw. 'More to the point,' Hammond began, his brow furrowed deeply in annoyance, 'No god damned allowances, those cheap sons of bitches. They want us to keep the receipts for everything and claim it back when the job's done. Do black marketeers even give receipts?'

The point was a valid one but that did not stop the others chuckling. The Alliance could not supply any weapons, equipment or ships for Corsairs. They would have a small fund with which to purchase the basics but after that, they were on their own. The sums they would claim back from the Alliance paymasters would be astronomical but every member of the team knew none of the bean-counters would dare complain, not after the first visit Dukov paid to their offices long ago.

Winterbourne raised her eyebrows. 'Back to matter at hand. As the designated pilot, I feel I should point out to you that operating a pirate vessel requires a little more tact than your average junker. A hard burn to escape a Citadel frigate could add days to the mission time and a few thousand to the expenses. I'd be surprised if we were back within a month.'

Miller raised his finger to object but his response died away at the sound of an opening door cut.

Major Dukov strode into view and in a heartbeat, every man and woman in the room straightened. His grey eyes shifted between them for a few seconds before the corners of his mouth rose into a small grin.

Though he held the bearing his rank required, his tone was fond as he spoke to his people, 'Morning, ladies and gentlemen. Thanks for getting here on such short notice.'

The thanks were not needed, he knew. Every member of his team were always poised and ready to stand to. It was more than a professional requirement. For them, it was a point of pride.

'Kristen, what do you have for me?'

Warrant Officer Kristen Weiss stepped forward. As usual, she had left the banter to her subordinates while she took in what she could, formulating plans and mentally organising what would be needed in the hours to come.

Her blonde hair was almost white as it shifted across her forehead in a sleek curve and her eyes were like cold steel behind it, a hard beauty that suited her demeanour well.

'A bloody mess is what I’ve got for you, Sir,' she replied sharply, 'Intelligence has its head up its arse, as usual. Had to pull in some favours with the lads in Arcturus to get this, even then it's not much more than a beginning. We traced the Jump Zero saboteur to Illium and so far, everything fits the bill. Turian by the looks of it, no bloody surprise there. Illium’s not the cleanest of places, so lucky for us, personal privacy’s not their biggest concern. Name, current address, gambling debts, they’re all in the local police records. All that’s left for us is to knock on the bastard’s door. Appointment for ship purchase has been made for the second we arrive on Beckenstein, while heavy weapons and kit can be sourced locally from vendors in Nos Astra. Edge of the Terminus and all that.'

She handed Dukov a small datapad and he clutched it eagerly, showing his gratitude with a brief nod.

It was a good start. Weiss was one of the most competent soldiers he'd ever known, completely devoted to her job and with a mind that never stopped thinking. Like most of them, she held a rank that had been preserved from the old army rank structures of Earth's special forces, protected from the Alliance's sweeping post-Blitz reforms and unique to the Corsairs. They wore the old ranks like medals on their chests, with humble pride and the knowledge that they continued traditions that were centuries old, taking them into humanity's next age.

Taking a deep breath, Dukov brought his hands behind his back and spoke clearly, forcing the tone of command into his voice, 'You've all read the files by now. General Jardan Krassus is our man and we're going to take him in, alive if possible, a corpse if not. Obviously, with the current political situation, the brass isn't going to be sending in the N7's any time soon and the Citadel authorities have already begun their search.'

'Don't wanna risk the poster boys, after all,' muttered Chen.

Dukov shot him a stern glance. 'Don't want to risk intergalactic war, after all. Bullshit aside, this is one job we need to do right first time. If we can't get this guy before the Council do then before we know it, he'll be sentenced to some cushy minimum-security civvie prison and let out with a bad hip in six months. We take him down and all those people who died on the Jamestown get a little justice.'

Justice was a strong word and it resonated visibly with each of them. The Jamestown Incident, as the media had begun to label it, now filled the headlines of every news agency in Citadel space. Though the details had been suppressed by the Council, the Corsairs knew it was a personal attack on humanity and it had to be answered.

They looked at Dukov, each committed and proud to be part of the response to the attack. The sight of their determination still lifted the major's spirits, even after all these years.

He cleared his throat. 'The day before the attack, the Jamestown went alongside at Gagarin Station, where she underwent routine maintenance. During that period a turian contractor gained access to the ship and infected the nav computer with a virus; the same virus that locked the ship on a collision course with the Council chambers. I don't need to tell any of you what happened next.'

A voice sounded from the back of the room, from a tall, athletic figure. He leaned against the wall, his arms folded casually. The gloom hid his face well, but his eyes were clear enough against his dark skin. 'What I don't understand is why the terrorists went to trouble of attacking the Citadel. Would've made more sense to just infect the nav computer, program the virus on the Jamestown to activate itself once through the relay. Why infect Citadel Control at the same time?'

Weiss looked at Sergeant Jacob Taylor with stern disapproval, as if he spoke out of turn. Jacob paid her no mind. Instead, he watched Dukov carefully, as if in grim assessment of his commander.

Dukov coughed into a fist before answering, 'That's for C-Sec to figure out, not us. We have our target and our orders. The only detective work we'll be doing is tracking down that contractor and following any leads he gives us.'

'What do we know about the contractor, Sir?' asked Winterbourne.

'Turian,' he replied, taking a quick look at the datapad in his hand, 'Works for a company named Bithcon Dynamics. Whoever runs the checks over at Jump Zero screwed the pooch on this. Searches on the company name pulled up a minor tech supplier based out of Omega that went out of business over a year ago. The contractor himself, on the other hand, has been ID'd as Coleran Vastra. Ship's systems engineer for ten years, before that a member of the turian navy. Part of the Seventh Exodus, whatever that is. Right now he's got a permanent residence on Illium, though if he's smart then he's already bugged out. We just have to follow the trail.'

'How is the Council's own investigation going?' Jacob asked.

Dukov smiled thinly at him. 'They're investigating Bithcon Dynamics, scrambling around Omega for a lead that probably disappeared along with the company. I think we can safely say that we have the head start here. They have one agent, an 'Interceptor', whatever that is, out there with minimal support.'

'And if this Interceptor becomes a problem?' Jacob pressed. This time even Weiss put aside her dislike and turned to Dukov with obvious interest.

'We'll cross that bridge when we come to it,' he replied, 'The Interceptor isn't our enemy here, and neither is the Council. They're simply our competition.'

Jacob nodded, and Dukov paused to take in the young man. Taylor had been highly recommended by his previous CO, Major Izunami, and so far the Corsair commander had found little to fault. Taylor had a keen mind and possessed all the fitness and skill Dukov expected of a soldier with his record. Still, there was more to being a Corsair than what the Alliance taught their men and Dukov knew the true tests were still to come.

'Do you have any other questions, Taylor, or am I free to continue?' he said, testing him.

'No, Sir,' Jacob responded obediently, 'Just wanted to clear the air.'

'Stow the bullshit, Taylor,' Weiss snapped, unable to contain her irritation, 'Leave the bloody thinking to those who're paid to do it. You just worry about doing your job and that's it.'

Narrowing his eyes a fraction, Jacob straightened respectfully. 'Yes, ma'am.'

Dukov brought his thick arms up, relaxing slightly as he crossed them over his chest. The formal part of the briefing was over and Miller took another long sip of his beer as they waited for the major to continue.

'I don't want any of you to stop being suspicious,' he said, 'Taylor's right, there is something more to what's happening, more than the politicians care to admit. Who knows, maybe we'll find the answers to those questions in time. Still, the warrant officer is correct too. It doesn't matter. All we have is the target, so don't get distracted by wild conspiracy theories. Krassus is the only thing we care about right now, so I want all of you to lay your doubts aside for the time being. Once the turian is in our custody, then we can start piecing together what's really going on. Am I clear?'

The group mumbled their assent and Dukov threw the datapad onto the table with a clatter.

'Team Alpha ships out in ninety minutes on the passenger ship Maryland, Bravo forty minutes later on the Atlanta. Both leave from Citadel docking ring D. Get there at least an hour before departure. Yesterday's attack stopped all traffic going to and from the station and these will be the first ones out. Customs alone is going to be a nightmare.'

The others shared a knowing, humoured look and Dukov allowed himself a quick grin.

'I'll see you all on Beckenstein. Dismissed.'


 ~~~ME-I~~~


The distant traffic was little more than a blur from the lofty balcony of Arlen's apartment. The shuttles stole across the Omega city scape like a column of glowing ants and beyond them, he thought he could see Torkessa district as it sat smouldering in its filth and violence.

He took a breath through his nose, relishing the relatively clean air. Though he never thought he’d be so grateful to breathe Omega's atmosphere, at least it did not make him burn and itch as it did in Torkessa. That vile place made the rest of the station seem like paradise.

He sat back and watched the desk terminal in front of him, where the small image of Petra twisted and giggled, spreading her arms out gracefully in a dance that would occasionally falter as her limbs met their natural limits, unknown until that moment.

'I still can't believe it,' Lina gushed through Arlen’s omni-tool. Her voice was sluggish with sleep when he’d first called but once Arlen told her about his discovery, her lethargy had lifted instantly. 'What you have there is an artificial intelligence, something unique and totally unprecedented.'

'Did Bithcon Dynamics create her?' Arlen asked, oddly mesmerised by the construct's flowing movements.

'Yes, but not intentionally. Believe it or not, Petra is a result of the very virus used to attack the Jamestown! I don't think Bithcon knew what they were creating at the time, or maybe they did and shut down the company before their terrible secret could get out. AI development is illegal in Citadel space but it's just as frowned upon in the Terminus Systems. I think if Aria T'Loak got wind of it, she would have seized their lab at the very least.'

'Probably why they set up shop in Torkessa,' Arlen muttered, 'It was completely cut off from the rest of Omega. Nobody to watch, nobody to ask questions. All they had to do was pay the local merc gang for security and they could work in peace.'

'Still, that was over a year ago. The company apparently closed its doors and sold off all its remaining assets. We can only assume the Jamestown Virus was part of that sale.'

Arlen sniffed and toyed with a small OSD, admiring the spectrum of colours reflecting across its surface as he turned it between his fingers.

'Petra managed to track down the sale of the device used in the attack. It was purchased just before the company went under, as you said, but they only shipped it to the Citadel a week ago. I assume the virus was already on the device when they sold it.'

'That must be it,' Lina responded hopefully, 'I take it you have the location of the warehouse they shipped it from?'

'Yeah. Both Detective Keller and Olansi agree it should hold a record of who requested the shipment. With luck, we may even find invoices, receipts and transfer documentation. The Legion probably has a number of shell companies to purchase their hardware through but all we need is one name, one lead and we'll have Krassus.'

He stopped and closed his eyes. 'The bad news is the warehouse is back in Torkessa District.'

'Oh come now, surely it's not all that bad?' Lina joked, 'I mean, yes, there's the perpetual fear of sudden and terrible death but you're used to that by now, right?'

Arlen grunted his annoyance, the sound floating through the quiet air for a moment before succumbing to Petra's distracted humming.

'Hey Lina,' he began hesitantly, 'you said Petra wasn't created intentionally?'

The quarian did not answer at first. Her own people had suffered greatly at the hands of synthetics in centuries past, Arlen recalled, and he sensed the difficulty she had in relating to Petra as anything other than a tool, or worse. In fact, he had to hide his surprise that she hadn’t asked him to erase the program on principle.

'Petra...' Lina finally said, choosing her words carefully, 'Petra was a VI to begin with and for a long time she served Bithcon Dynamics as she was designed to. From what I can tell, it all started just before the company shut down. It seems they were testing the Jamestown Virus on their own systems, a live-fire exercise, if you will. Put simply, Petra was created a year ago with all the knowledge, appearance and in-built parameters of a VI. Bithcon introduced the virus code and it fused with the VI, creating a sort of ‘AI from scratch’.’

‘Then why is she...’ Arlen paused to consider a term that wouldn’t offend. ‘...like this?’

‘Her behaviour? Well, look at it this way; an organic being is shaped by their collective memories and experiences. They learn slowly, over the space of decades. Petra, on the other hand, has only known loneliness and confusion since the first moment of her existence, and came into the world with no idea of how to use the knowledge originally programmed into her. You and Detective Keller are likely the only life forms she has come into contact with since she was born. That's why she seems so...naïve.'

Arlen looked again at Petra and noticed how everything seemed to fascinate her. She had ceased her dancing and now simply stood, transfixed by the lines of traffic crawling across the horizon. She turned and smiled giddily at Arlen before returning to the lights, and the young turian ran a tired hand down his face.

'How did this happen? How can a computer virus of all things turn an ordinary VI into...this?'

Lina answered slowly, as if she were figuring it all out as she went along, 'I don’t want to dive into technical jargon, but remember what I told you about the virus when we were in Pallin's office after the attack? About how the virus is actually the beginnings of a simple intelligence?’

‘I remember something about it learning and adapting, but not much else.’

‘Well, Petra is what can happen if the virus is allowed to take root and mature for a whole year without outside interference. Perhaps even calling her an AI is inaccurate, but even so, I don't know what else we can call her.'

'Call me Petra!' the spritely image proclaimed, jumping in the air with childish elation, 'Petra is who I am! Look at all the lights, turian male! Pretty! Way more pretty than boring old lab!'

Ignoring her, Arlen murmured quietly, 'Is it safe to keep her? I mean, am I spreading the virus by carrying her around?'

A series of beeps sounded across his arm. 'No, I'm not picking up any anomalies in your software setups, or any physical memory discrepancies. I'll keep an eye on things from here but something tells me if Petra was contagious, you'd know it by now.'

'That's reassuring,' he mumbled, 'Thanks, Lina. I'd better get ready. I'll report in after we've searched the warehouse, all right?'

'All right, Arlen. Take care of yourself out there.'

The signal cut out with a soft crackle and Petra looked at Arlen curiously. 'That lady, voice pattern not recognised. Will I meet her?'

'Maybe,' Arlen answered with a weak smile, 'Do you feel better now?'

'Yes!' Petra replied, bouncing lightly on her feet, her head breaching the top of the terminal display, 'Feels so good to move! That room terminal, projection unit so small, like living in a tiny box. This place so big and wonderful! I do like your omni-tool, though, nice and cozy, snug. Feels like home!'

'I'm glad you're happy,' he said honestly, 'Come on, we need to get moving.'

Petra disappeared with a pulsing flash and her voice emanated from the omni-tool, the girlish tone made harsh and tinny by the speakers, 'I reconfigured some stuff in here, just enough to get comfortable. When you want to talk just call, okay?'

Rolling his eyes, Arlen mumbled his agreement and the omni-tool faded away to reveal the dark lines of his suit. He did not protest the changes wrought to the device, and trusted that Petra would not make too drastic a modification. The very idea that it equated to her moving into a home still seemed laughable, and yet the reality was slowly sinking in.

He felt Olansi's presence before the Spectre spoke. The bulky salarian was leaning against the door frame leading back into the apartment, blocking the light beyond.

'So, you've let her moves right on in there, eh?'

Arlen wanted to snap back an answer but his strength seemed to have deserted him. Instead he bore the slight with indifference, his flexing mandibles the only sign of his irritation.

'How long have you been skulking there?'

'Not longs. I just cames to see if you were ready. I also wanted to ask you something.' He waited for Arlen to face him before his voice filled with a seriousness Arlen was not expecting, 'This warehouses of ours is back in Torkessa, in the heart of locals militia territories. Word is, the Blue Suns are making a moves on their turfs and the two sides are goings to clash any moments now. I won't lies to you, it could gets hairy out there. You, I'm not so worried abouts. You turians are trained for combats the second you can walks upright but your detective, she isn't.'

Frowning, Arlen stood and leaned back against the balcony. 'What are you talking about? Keller's a seasoned professional, she can take care of herself.'

Olansi grunted. 'She's a C-Sec officers, not a soldiers. You have the benefits of extensive turians military trainings. Personally, I'd rather haves an asari huntress but I'll takes what I can gets. Point is, I feel pretty confidents with you at my backs. Keller? Not so much. I can't affords to be distracted, always watching out the corners of my eyes to make sure she's safe.'

Though he hated to admit it, Arlen had to agree. They’d barely scratched Torkessa's surface last time and the threat of sudden, cruel violence had hung over them until the moment they crossed the bridge back into Blue Suns territory. The thought of bringing Keller back to that place alone was hard enough, but with the militia roaming the streets she could become a target for any batarian with a rifle and a grudge.

The decision was made in moments and Arlen nodded slowly. 'I'll tell her before we leave. She won't like it but I'm sure she'll understand.'

'Good,' Olansi said, letting out a breath of relief. It seemed he’d been apprehensive of making the request, and he slunk forward to lean over the balcony, his bony elbows propped on the edge. 'Another thing I wants to ask you, Interceptor...'

Arlen turned and mimicked the position, his eyes travelling the far horizon of the station. 'What is it?'

'This General Krassus of yours. Does it bothers you that you're being sent out to brings down such a man?'

'I don't follow,' Arlen said, narrowing his eyes.

'I read his files. He seems to be a man who thinks he's working in the best interests of his peoples, of your peoples. Military leaders are the most respected men in turians society. Almost all the Primarchs are chosen from the senior ranks. Under other circumstances, Krassus woulds be a man that embodies everythings about being turians.'

'He's a man who uses violence against the innocent to get what he wants,' Arlen muttered, 'He thinks terrorism is a worthwhile means to his ends. He doesn't give a damn about the turian people, just his own petty revenge.'

'Ah yes, revenge,' Olansi said lightly, 'The oldest excuses in the books. When someone is wronged, doesn't it makes sense to want to exact a measures of vengeance? Do you really think you would acts so different if something had been taken from you?'

'I wouldn't use it as an excuse to kill those who had nothing to do with it,' snapped Arlen.

'So you say but that lines is not always so clear.'

Arlen continued to stare out, his eyes moving without thought. ‘There is no line. The fact is there; Krassus killed hundreds of civilians and he’ll continue to do so, all in the name of a cause that went extinct when peace with the Alliance was declared. The First Contact War is nothing. A footnote in history, a minor conflict, nothing more.’

Olansi exhaled, his lips twisting slightly as he considered his next words.

'You know, there is a legend among those in the salarians Special Tasks Group. Long ago, before my species discovered the Citadels, our unified governments called upon an espionage units named the League of One. They were the most experienced, intelligents and highly-trained operatives in the galaxy at the times. Though the STG likes to takes the credit, I think the Spectres had far more in commons with them.'

'I've heard the name. Didn't they go rogue?'

Olansi snorted. 'That's the officials story. Truth is, nobody knows what happened. When we joined the Council, the asari pressured our governments to disclose the identities of all of the League's agents. There were those politicians who protested, but most were so enamoured with the ideas of being part of the Councils that they happily gave away anythings the asari wanted. The League found itself hunted ruthlessly by its enemies and, in the midst of the chaos, the inner cabinets of the salarian government went missing. They were presumed dead, and they may as well have been, since they were nevers seen again.'

'So, the League of One got their revenge?' Arlen asked.

'Who knows?' Olansi replied with a shrug, 'My point is, could you blames them? They were betrayed by the peoples they trusted to protect them and left for dead, only to be hunted down by STG a few years later, right to the last man. There's always room in the heart for vengeance, Interceptors. Always. You may soon finds yourself with more in commons with Krassus than you’d like.'

Arlen said nothing but his brow was knotted in thought. He didn’t believe half of what Olansi said was true, but then he started out the day with the assumption that an AI couldn’t fit on an omni-tool. Nothing seemed impossible at that moment.

'Well,' he announced, rising to check his weapon one final time, 'That's enough philosophy. Let's see if we can track down who bought that virus.'

The excitement of the coming mission thumped in Arlen’s heart. He looked forward to donning armour again, if only for the feeling of safety he’d taken for granted since coming to Omega. He turned back to the apartment, but stopped as he felt the pressure of Olansi's hand on his arm.

'One more thing,' the Spectre said, 'Don't forgets your helmet. Carry it with you at all times, especially on a space stations. I can't tell you how many times that advice saved my lifes.'

Arlen dipped his head gratefully before passing back through into the apartment. The gentle aroma of scented soap passed into his nostrils from a case Keller had left open on a nearby table, reminding him of the previous night.

He did not relish telling her he wanted her to stay but Olansi had made it clear that they would be walking into a war zone, and even the Spectre had sounded unnerved by the prospect of going back to Torkessa.
Mass Effect: Interceptor - Episode 14
Six months before the events of Mass Effect, a crucial summit is due to be held between the Citadel Council and the human Systems Alliance. On this important day, a young turian named Arlen Kryik is recruited into an elite C-Sec unit known as the Interceptors, a small cadre of agents responsible for hunting wanted fugitives throughout the galaxy.

Partnered with veteran agent Garrus Vakarian as part of the summit's security detail, Arlen quickly becomes embroiled in a terrorist plot to destroy the Council and reignite tensions between the turian and human races.

Nothing is as it seems, however, and as Arlen and his C-Sec comrades race to uncover the truth one of the Council's oldest enemies watches from the shadows...

---

Next Episode

Previously on Interceptor...

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Lina stretched out in her chair, unable to contain her relief as she sighed quietly. Arching her back, she raised her arms into the air with her fingers interlocked, wincing as a twinge rippled through her left shoulder.

She tried to remember the moment she'd first arrived at the command centre the previous morning, before the chaos of the Legion attack had unfolded.

They had all expected the Alliance talks to go ahead with only a minimum of disruption and some had been idly discussing the possibility of grabbing drinks after their shift. Had it only been twenty-six hours since? She supposed it had, though it felt like an eternity had passed.

The night had drawn out as she continued to work, her team disappearing one by one as exhaustion claimed them, and only the arrival of a fresh and rested Milo made Lina suddenly aware that she was the only one who had not yet slept.

The stretching barely helped, waking up her mind only for it to crash back into dull listlessness mere seconds later. The colours of her terminal screen swam hazily, running into one another like drops of lurid water. She tried to blink the drowsiness from her eyes but it would not budge, and for a brief time she simply stared ahead, willing her stubborn mind to sharpen again and allow her at least another hour of focus.

The soft shuffle of footsteps snatched her attention and she smiled beneath her helmet at the sight of Garrus holding a cup of water. She could tell it was enticingly cold and fresh by the beads of moisture quivering on the cup’s side.

‘Thought you could use something to take the edge off,’ he explained, lifting the cup slightly, ‘Sorry I couldn't get you anything stronger. They don't have any dextro-based coffee here yet. Not that I'm surprised, my kind haven't quite gotten used to the taste of the stuff yet.’

‘Thanks, this will do nicely,’ Lina replied gratefully as she thumbed the catch to her helmet's external valve.

Quarian suits usually had a built-in straw to take in liquids but the one C-Sec had provided her with had an airlock-style system that filtered out contaminants and even added a small amount of disinfectant to the drink, a level of sophistication she had no doubt would create a buzz of excitement back on the Flotilla. Not that she had any inclination to tell them.

With infinite care she poured the water in and immediately felt a cool wave pass through her body, tingling her senses and clearing the fog from her mind. She nodded in appreciation, pleased to regain some clarity, no matter how little.

‘Better?’ Garrus asked, a grin spreading his mandibles.

Lina shook her head. ‘Hard to say. Nothing feels real right now, like I'm day dreaming. Or maybe I'm dreaming for real, I can't tell.’

‘So why don't you get some sleep? You've earned it after a day like yesterday.’

‘I don't know,’ she answered lazily, ‘Arlen reported in an hour ago, said he'd linked up with the Spectre and was about to check out Bithcon Dynamics. So, of course, I stayed up a little longer to see what I could dig up on the local extranet but…’

‘But you got side tracked after that?’ Garrus finished.

‘I can't help it,’ she moaned, ‘I've got a million things to do and time's always short, always ticking away. As soon as I’m done with one task another pops up without warning.’

‘It's the nature of the job but that doesn't mean you have to burn yourself out. You won't be any good to anyone that way. Why don't you grab a nap? I'll watch over the section for a few hours.’

Lina tensed. It was true that her body had long since grown sluggish and even now her voice had gained a slurry quality that she detested. Still, she was reluctant to simply hand over her work, not when so much still needed to be uncovered. The virus analysis was not yet complete and even though she had other things to occupy herself with, she could not help but steal expectant glances at the research terminal at regular intervals, as if doing so would rush the analysis into completion.

‘I'll be fine,’ the quarian said finally.

‘Suit yourself.’ Garrus hesitated, his lips playing with his next words. ‘How's Arlen doing over there?’

‘He's knee-deep in the worst of Omega. Bithcon set up shop in one of the worst districts, a real war zone by the sounds of it. I’ve read the report he sent over a dozen times already and I still can’t believe it. Militias, warlords, bombings, it’s hard to accept such a place exists any more outside the krogan DMZ.’

‘I almost wish I was there with him,’ Garrus replied distantly, ‘Not that I'm worried about Arlen. He's a good kid, a little green but his instincts are sound. I’m just thinking of all the scum allowed to run loose in a place like that, without laws or restraint. Give me a few months and I could clean up that mess.’

Lina tilted her head, the quarian equivalent of cocking an eyebrow. ‘You mean you'd run around with that rifle of yours like a damned lunatic.’

‘Well,’ Garrus shrugged, ‘not a lunatic exactly, but all the rules and regulations of the Citadel wouldn't apply to Omega. They couldn’t apply, not in a place like that. Harsh action would be needed to deal with problems and I'd be free to handle those problems exactly how I want. No due process, no warrants, just clear, decisive action.’

‘You’re talking about vigilantism,’ Lina retorted, ‘I’ve heard you talk about this before, Garrus and you always say the same thing. Omega’s too big a place for one man to take on and besides, you’re simply replacing one kind of thuggery with another. It wouldn’t work, not in the long run.’

Lina paused. Garrus seemed lost in thought for a moment, as if the mention of Omega had turned the wheels of his mind.

She sighed and leaned over her desk to prop her chin on a hand. As fond as she was of Garrus, she had to suppress a shudder at the thought of him running loose on with nothing but a rifle and enthusiasm. It was something that seemed to appeal to him more and more since his ordeal with Doctor Saleon not long ago.

It was with relief that Lina saw Chellick enter the command centre and immediately, he locked eyes on the pair. Garrus set his jaw as their commander made his way over to them, his expression unreadable.

‘Lina, can you excuse us?’ Chellick asked smoothly, ‘Go take a nap in the common room if you must, even with the suit I can see you're tired as hell.’

The quarian leaned forward to object, but something in Chellick’s eyes stopped her. Meekly, she rose from her chair and locked her terminal. Her body swayed slightly, grateful for the rest it would soon receive and she cast a final, silent glance at the turians as the growing noise of the command centre washed over her.

Perhaps just an hour or so, she thought to herself sleepily, just enough to keep her sharp.


 ~~~ME-I~~~


Garrus watched Lina leave and smiled tightly. The quarian would have worked herself into oblivion if he'd let her. The smile disappeared as he noticed Chellick was still staring at him with a pleased expression.

‘What’re you so happy about?’ Garrus asked suspiciously.

Chellick did not answer immediately, content instead to sweep his gaze over their team. Garrus could only wonder what had happened to give the commander such satisfaction, and yet part of him didn’t want to know.

Finally, Chellick turned his eyes back to Garrus.

‘Come with me.’

Garrus was not given a chance to reply. Immediately, he was forced into a brisk walk as Chellick wove between desks and the agents and analysts milling around them. A sickly feeling lodged itself in Garrus’ stomach as he recounted the debt he’d been forced to accept the previous day. It was a fair consequence of his actions, he reasoned, though the whole sordid affair made a move to Omega even more palatable.

They eventually came out of the open area into a corridor, barely lit by the small spotlights dotting its length. Doors marked every few feet, leading to server rooms, storage units, the very bowels of JSTF itself.

Chellick stopped abruptly at a door labelled 'PCT Centre'. Private Comms Traffic. It was where the most vital, top-secret information was decoded, decrypted and prepared for reports to the highest echelons of C-Sec and the Citadel Fleet. It was not a place in which Garrus was authorised to be.

The door moved aside to reveal a room that was dark, almost pitch-black, save for the soft glow of a set of terminals at the far end. No one stood watch, which instantly struck Garrus as odd.

‘I've dismissed Anders and Patravias to get some refreshment,’ Chellick said, guessing his thoughts, ‘They won't take long but then again, neither will this.’ He picked up a datapad, unseen in the inky darkness until that moment. ‘Ambassador Udina wants to play hardball. He's hiding something that may be crucial to our investigation, all because we won't let the Alliance run amok in Citadel space.’

‘Can you blame him?’ Garrus asked sarcastically.

‘Not in the slightest,’ Chellick replied, ‘but that's not my concern. As it stands, JSTF is officially leading the investigation into the Legion attack and I don't appreciate being prevented from doing my job.’

Like you prevented me doing mine? Garrus thought, bitterly recalling how Chellick had blocked his order to destroy Saleon.

‘Withholding evidence alone would be enough to bring sanctions down on the Alliance,’ Chellick continued, ‘perhaps even ruin their candidacy for Council membership. At least very least I don’t want to leave any stone unturned. No good detective would.’

‘What's any of this got to do with me?’ Garrus snapped, his temper fraying.

Chellick's lips parted to reveal sharp teeth. ‘You're going to find that evidence for me, Garrus. You're going to break into Ambassador Udina's office and tear that information right out of his terminal. You're also going to plant a remote observation worm directly into the embassy servers, so we can keep a close eye on what the humans decide is or isn’t important enough to share with us.’

What?’ Garrus hissed, his eyes wide, ‘Do you realise what'll happen if I get caught?’

‘Of course,’ Chellick responded smugly, ‘but you're not going to get caught. Are you?’

The last two words dripped with malice and Garrus felt his stomach tighten further. This was it, he realised. He was to be Chellick's pawn and nothing more, to be used in his games of politics and intrigue. If Garrus was discovered, Chellick would release the evidence of I'Layna Naris' killing and with Garrus’ credibility in tatters, no one would listen to anything he had to say.

He ground his teeth in impotent fury and clenched his fists at his side. ‘So, after all this, you're just using me to do your dirty work?’

‘Oh come now, Garrus,’ Chellick replied as he thrust the datapad into his grasp, ‘You talk like what you're doing isn't important. In a way, you're more valuable to me than any of those people out there. I'd certainly be very sad to lose you.’

‘I'm sure,’ Garrus replied as he looked down at the datapad. The screen responded to his touch and he cycled through a list of files, mostly executables.

‘The one you need is Mantius-Twenty-Three,’ Chellick clarified, ‘Transfer it to your omni-tool and hand it to Anders when you're done.’

The door opened to allow the comparatively bright light of the corridor to spill into the room, making Garrus wince.

Chellick grinned as two human officers stepped inside, each with a steaming cup of coffee in their hands. ‘Ah, speak of the devil. Agent Anders, please escort Agent Vakarian out once he's finished. His presence here is an exception, given his clearance level.’

One of the officers, a thin man with olive skin, nodded and Garrus glowered at him resentfully. Chellick's grin remained as he made his way from the room, Garrus’ baleful glare following him all the way.


 ~~~ME-I~~~


Udina's desk was clean, the surface gleaming in the Presidium's false sunlight. Upon it sat a lone terminal and little else, no ornament or pictures of loved ones. It was as stark and serious as Udina himself.

The ambassador sat behind it, his chin nestled thoughtfully in his hand as he stared at the man he’d summoned to the office, considering him carefully.

‘I've called you here because we are facing a crisis, Major,’ Udina said finally, ‘You and your unit have been personally recommended to me by Rear Admiral Mikhailovich of the Fifth Fleet. He speaks very highly of you.’

Major Alexei Dukov was a hard man, despite his advancing years. It was written into his body language and physique, the very way he held himself. His white hair was shaved almost to the skull above a neck that seemed impossibly thick with muscle, as was the rest of his body, one that had grown strong in a life of war. None of his thoughts were reflected in his dull grey eyes as he looked at Udina impassively.

‘I worked under him while serving on the Perugia during the Blitz,’ Dukov answered, his voice coarse and heavily accented, ‘A hard fight, but the batarians were no match for us.’

‘I've read the reports. Seven high-profile missions, one of which took place on Torfan. Compared to some of the other teams assigned to take the moon, I see you sustained minimal casualties.’

‘That is correct, Sir.’

‘You also managed to achieve every one of your objectives before moving on to help a struggling platoon of marines meet theirs.’

‘Also correct, Sir.’

‘And how was it that you were able to perform such miracles? Everyone else on Torfan describes it as little more than a bloodbath,’ Udina asked, fastening him with a questioning look. It was one he normally reserved for people who were hiding something and, though he knew that the after-action reports for Torfan were nothing if not accurate, he could not help but probe Dukov a little.

A hint of accusation was always enough to test a man, to find a measure of his true character. For some reason, he found himself irritated when Dukov merely shrugged.

‘The reason is simple, Sir. My men were superior to any of those found on Torfan that day and they proved it. I am not an easy man to work for. I've always demanded everything from those in my charge but in return, I make every man and woman in my unit a thing of metal - unbreakable. I train them to withstand every torment an enemy could possibly inflict upon them, in ways they don't teach in the academies. I put my people through things that made Torfan seem a picnic in comparison, trained them until even the worst realities are simply repeats of exercises that came before. That is why those same men and women are with me even now, even when they had plenty of chance to retire to easier, softer lives.’

Udina nodded slowly and shuffled a little in his chair, his brow twitching. He was used to the company of Alliance officers but Dukov's raw, battle-tempered demeanour made him nervous, as if the man himself radiated menace.

Quickly, he masked his discomfort and smiled. ‘It may be that you are just what we need.’

He gestured for Dukov but the major shook his head slightly.

‘I'd prefer to stand,’ he explained.

Udina was forced to consent, and he wondered if Dukov was testing him in turn. The position gave Dukov a chance to look down on him and Udina strongly suspected the move was intentional as he felt major's eyes bore into him forcefully.

‘No doubt you have heard by now of the attack on the SV Jamestown?’ he began, waiting for Dukov's nod before continuing, ‘The attack was carried out by a rogue turian general named Jardan Krassus. His organisation, known as the Forgotten Legion, is pursuing a vendetta against humanity that extends all the way back to the First Contact War. We believe he will continue his campaign of violence unless he is captured and brought to justice.’

Dukov arched his eyebrows a fraction in surprise. ‘Do we have any leads? Any intel?’

‘All the information you need can be found here,’ Udina replied and tossed him a datapad.

The major caught it cleanly and read through it, his brow creasing gently as he took in as much as he could.

Udina spoke again, if only to fill the ominous silence, ‘I cannot say too much. Obviously, we are on the Citadel and I don't know how many ears the Council has in the Presidium. All I will say is that we may have discovered our leak in Jump Zero. A turian contractor was hired to help maintain all ships going through last month. We believe our terrorist may have hacked the Jamestown's navigation VI during its brief stop at the station.’

‘Do the Council know about this?’ Dukov asked, raising his eyes from the datapad.

‘No,’ Udina replied icily, ‘I had the evidence removed as soon as it became apparent the Council were unwilling to let us handle the investigation into the attack. I am a reasonable man, Major but a Council-led investigation will result only in procrastination, if not downright inaction. There are far too many sympathisers in the turian camp for us to be sure they will handle this fairly, and if they will not work with us then they are against us. I will not allow Krassus to be coddled by a turian or asari judge and allowed an honourable punishment. He has killed our people, Major. I want him brought before us to be disgraced and humiliated like the terrorist he is, then locked away out of the Council's sight.’

‘If the Terra Firma party get wind of this, it could generate a lot of political capital for them,’ Dukov responded, nodding gently in agreement, ‘Not to mention Cerberus. Rumours are they've gone off the grid, possibly even rogue, much like this General Krassus himself. If they take it upon themselves to retaliate then things could get messy.’

‘I'm glad to see that you understand the situation,’ Udina said with some satisfaction, ‘Our only option is to handle this ourselves. After all, your unit was formed to take on tasks of this nature. You are all aware, of course, that if you are captured we must disavow all knowledge of your identities. As far as the Alliance is concerned, you and your team are pirates and mercenaries. You have no ties to us, and there will be no aid for you if you are captured.’

‘That won't be necessary,’ Dukov answered without hesitation, ‘If the worst should happen then every man knows what to do. The Corsairs complete their mission, or die trying.’

Udina allowed himself a small grin. He had done well finding such a man and it was easy to feel confident under Dukov's cool stare. The major had the air of one who rarely tasted failure - though without the brash arrogance of someone who believed he never would. More than that, he was an asset in the truest sense of the word. The Corsairs were akin to sanctioned privateers; deniable and utterly expendable. Even if his mission met with disaster, there would be no political fallout to reflect poorly on the ambassador.

Despite the consequences of failure, Dukov was a professional through and through, and men like him were what the Alliance needed to give them the real edge in the galaxy.

Udina stood to conclude the meeting. They had said enough and his instincts had begun to prick already, as if the Council would be able to taste their intentions in the air.

‘Your ship will be waiting for you on Beckenstein. You will have to take a chartered civilian transport out from the Citadel docks to avoid drawing attention. You know what to do, of course. I look forward to meeting with you once your mission is complete and Krassus is in chains.’

Dukov saluted sharply and turned to march out of the office. Udina watched him go with a small grin, the only sign of the confidence he felt.

The Corsairs were more than just skilled veteran soldiers. They were volunteers who accepted the risks of death and imprisonment without trial or reprisal, for no other reason than because such work was a true chance to take their skills beyond the petty luxuries and conveniences of intergalactic law. Their actions made or broke nations and defined the course of galactic history, and they did it all without promise of reward or recognition.

Udina’s grin widened at the thought of what was to come. With Major Dukov and his men at his disposal, he could not lose.


 ~~~ME-I~~~


It did not take long for Arlen to see why Olansi had been so damning of Torkessa. The place was beyond anything JSTF, or Arlen himself, could have possibly anticipated.

He’d first realised something was wrong when the shuttle's VI dropped them off in a neighbouring area, seemingly unwilling to go any closer. They were forced to take a connecting bridge into the vast pillar that construed the entire district, and the bridge itself had invoked another, larger spike of worry.

An entire platoon of Blue Suns held the end, manning a reinforced gate bristling with firing holes and mounted emplacements, ready to cut down anyone who tried to cross without their approval. Grim testaments to their vigilance had littered the span itself. Scores of rotting vorcha, batarians, even humans lay in scattered piles amongst the gutted shells of mechs, all felled as they tried to make a push on the Suns' position.

All that destruction was now behind them. Now Arlen looked ahead, down a street that burned under a harsh, bright light. He did not know what generated Omega's distant solar body but he judged they were close by the deep, stark shadows that were thrown up around them. The air itself also seemed thick and stifling, always tinged with an unpleasant odour he could not quite place.

The stench was hardly the most disturbing feature, however. Beyond the buildings lining the street rose immense residential blocks marred by bomb and fire damage. Many of the taller structures were missing windows and even entire floors, rusted girders jutting from the ragged holes like bones from a desiccated carcass. Even from that distance, Arlen could see tiny figures squirm inside like maggots; scavengers come to loot the gutted homes.

‘Not fars now,’ Olansi muttered cautiously at his side.

Arlen could barely contain his relief. The false sun seemed to twist his senses, making him feel both anxious and tired in equal measure. He glanced upward and marvelled at how the light thinned just enough to make out the twinkling lights of distant districts, like stars burning through daylight. It was an oddly beautiful thing, yet a sudden sound snapped his attention back desolate present.

Loud thuds echoed against the grimy walls as ahead of them, four figures beat a heavy cloth sack with kicks and bars of iron. As Arlen drew closer, he recognised the gang as batarians, each one dressed in rough attire that looked as if it had been crudely sewn together from other garments.

One of them stopped his savage blows and began to stare silently at Arlen's group. One by one, the others slowly halted and did the same.

His breath suddenly catching in his chest, Arlen quickly eyed Olansi and saw the salarian was staring straight ahead, completely ignoring the gang’s menacing glares. Arlen inhaled sharply through his nostrils and prepared to mimic the action, but he then noticed how distinct the shape of the sack the gang so ruthlessly ravaged was.

It was impossible to tell whether it contained a turian, human or a fellow batarian but Arlen knew it contained some poor victim, a rival gang member or someone they’d robbed or worse. He instantly realised he did not want to know. After a quick, nervous look in Keller's direction, he focused purely on the path ahead and tried to push the nightmarish scene from his mind.

It took some time before they could no longer feel the eyes of the batarians on them. The entire district seemed to watch, whether or not there were eyes to witness their passing. It was a hollow, itching feeling of dread that Arlen felt, a constant sense that his presence was unwanted and could be punished at any moment.

The intense heat and light did not help, and more than once he found himself scratching a sore spot behind his left mandible. Small pains and irritations made themselves known, old injuries and new sapping his patience and his tugging on his nerves.

Even the ground beneath his thin boots scraped with pieces of filth and dirt, forcing him to endure the grating sensations with growing displeasure.

‘Here we are,’ Olansi finally proclaimed as he spread his arms dramatically, ‘The black markets of Torkessa districts.’

Arlen stood perplexed at the building in question. To him it looked no different from the rest of the dilapidated slums they’d spent the past hour picking their way through. A murky door was set into the faceless construction, exactly the same as those around it.

What caught Arlen's eye, however, were the five batarian guards standing watch. They wore no uniform or insignia and carried ill-maintained shotguns and assault rifles that bore heavy scratches and scuffed paintwork.

The mercs were chatting idly until Olansi approached them, prompting one of them to point and mutter amusedly at his outlandish armour. Olansi offered them a returning smile and the nearest guard spoke first, suppressing the urge to laugh.

‘Not often you see someone with the guts to wear something like that in Torkessa. I can tell you’re a man who doesn’t have a problem standing out.’

The Spectre shrugged. ‘Hey, at least it stops peoples gunning for me. No one would be caught dead stealings armours like this!’

The batarian chuckled and gave a nod, conceding the point. ‘A sound strategy, considering how many mods you got wired up to that chest piece alone. So what brings a trio like yourselves to the black market?’

The polite words hid a thin, yet unmistakable note of suspicion. Still, Arlen was glad to see these batarians did not glare or even glance at Keller, and their apparent calm eased his fears that he would have to defend her from a sudden attack.

‘Why else does anyone comes to this quaint little corners of the galaxy?’ Olansi answered, grinning as he gestured to Arlen and Keller, ‘My associates here are searching for good weapons, good tech, good deals. Sure, they can gets nice, flashy contracts back on Illium but yeesh, the hidden taxes! The smalls prints, the red tapes!’

‘Yeah, tell me about it,’ the batarian replied vigorously, ‘Like I always say, you want legal, go get your licenses and let the manufacturers rip you off. You wanna pay what this crap is really worth, you go to the Terminus markets; and here's the best of them all.’

‘Do you find yourself the target of any attacks or attempted robberies?’ Arlen enquired as he looked around, noting the destruction scarring the cityscape, ‘Things don't look too safe around here. Reminds me more of Tuchanka than Omega.’

Of course, Arlen had never seen Tuchanka, but the batarian seemed to believe him and slowly bobbed his head in agreement. ‘I hear that. Still, nobody's crazy enough to try and storm a place where every merchant is better armed than they are. Plus,’ the guard added with a smirk, ‘it's the main source of arms for the militias. They know too well that if they attack this place, they're cutting their own supply lines.’

‘And of course, there's the very frightening guards that hold the doors!’ Olansi added and the batarian smiled, oblivious to the sarcasm.

‘Well, I can see that you guys are here to do business,’ he said before opening the door with a single pass of his omni-tool, ‘A word of advice though, human.’

The group stopped and Arlen's throat tightened. He felt his hand twitch, edging slightly toward his pistol. He didn’t know what to expect and was surprised when the batarian merely folded his arms.

‘I don't have the problem with your race others have,’ he told Keller, ‘but some people will jump on you over the smallest thing, the slightest insult, real or imaginary. You'll be safe in the market, more or less. Just don't mention the Blitz, Torfan or the Council or you’ll find yourself staring down the barrel of a Rosenkov before you can blink.’

It was difficult to read Keller's expression but she gave a curt nod, if only to show she understood the risk. That the batarian had bothered to warn her at all was far more than Arlen expected from one of his people.

The guards waved them through and Arlen immediately gasped at the oppressively humid atmosphere within. A damp, barely-lit corridor lay ahead, though it was actually more a tunnel hewn into the very asteroid rock from which Omega itself protruded. The roof was propped up on thin girders that looked far too flimsy for the job and the walls glistened as they passed, with condensation dripping from the craggy surfaces.

‘Quite claustrophobics in here, eh?’ Olansi called over his shoulder.

Arlen clamped his jaw shut, unwilling to respond to such a statement of the obvious. Still, he could not help but notice how at ease the Spectre was as he slunk fluidly ahead of them. Nothing seemed to faze him and Arlen attempted to emulate his calm as best he could.

Even Keller seemed to be doing better than him, though beads of sweat etched her forehead and every few moments her eyes would nervously travel the weak-looking support beams crossing the ceiling.

‘Are you all right?’ Arlen asked, as much to distract himself from his own anxiety as out of concern for hers.

‘Yeah,’ she responded quietly, ‘I was just thinking, I can't even remember the last time I saw or touched real, natural stone. It's a shame it has to be in a place like this.’

Arlen's eyes too passed over the porous rock before quickly returning to Keller. The colour had returned to her skin after the bout of space-sickness and she seemed to have completely forgotten about the shower incident only hours before.

That makes one of us, at least, he moaned to himself.

The tunnel came to an abrupt end before leading out into a vast, misty cavern that stretched out in all directions. They stopped for a moment to take in the sight, from the distant ceiling tipped with bulbous growths of rock and minerals down to the grubby stalls and kiosks that swam with noisy customers of all species.

Asari mingled freely, showing flashes of brilliant blue among the more earthy tones of elcor and batarians. Arlen wrinkled his nose as he caught the stale odour of sweat mixed with the familiar, almost nostalgic smell of gun oil, while his ears rang with the voices of hundreds as the merchants declared their wares to the passing crowd.

The stores sold everything, from illegal missile launchers to land mines and the traders did not discriminate in their clientele. Vorcha stood pawing over assault rifles on one counter while a pair of dour, scarred humans occupied the next, haggling with a volus over the price of a LOKI mech.

It was a vibrant place, and yet it did not lose its dark undertone. Those very merchants kept one hand beneath their counters and the customers took pains to ensure their own weapons were displayed to all. It was still a place of danger, Arlen realised and he kept his senses sharp.

‘I'd like to see Morlan try to run a business here,’ Keller murmured to him, ‘If he didn't get shut down in a week, chances are he'd get his head blown off.’

‘No kidding,’ Arlen replied. After seeing how easily the cowardly salarian had broken, he was inclined to agree. Discreetly checking his omni-tool, Arlen nodded to his right. ‘Local net says Bithcon Dynamics actually has an office here, as opposed to a kiosk, over the other side of the market.’

Olansi sniffed. ‘Wonders how much the company pays for such exclusives real estates?’

‘Who knows? Judging by the rest of this place, anything bigger than a few squared feet would be a luxury,’ Arlen replied as he reached up to scratch his neck. The skin under his suit was quickly growing irritated in the dank air and he felt his own temper prickle in response.

It seemed to take an age to pick their way through the masses of buyers and it was with a dull feeling of surprise that Arlen stumbled to a halt, stopped by Olansi's hand placed gently on his chest. Opening his mouth to complain, Arlen quickly stifled the urge and instead followed the Spectre's gaze.

Beyond the closest nest of kiosks lay several hab-blocks of solid stone and metal construction. All were well-lit as they stood against the immense wall of the cavern and some even displayed the logos of well-known arms manufacturers such as Kassa Fabrications and Elanus Risk Control Services.

Armed guards strolled around the perimeter and rigorously searched a thin trickle of the wealthiest-looking customers that had broken away to approach them. At the forefront of the complex, in large red text, the name Bithcon Dynamics was emblazoned on the side of the closest building. Every few seconds the sign would shift and flicker before disappearing momentarily to return in a different language, evidently catering for all local dialects.

‘Well, that looks like a set of corporate offices if I've ever seen one,’ Keller remarked, ‘I'm guessing Bithcon Dynamics operate out of this building? Seems pretty flashy for an illegal tech supplier.’

‘Looks that way,’ Arlen said distantly as he wondered how they would be able to glean any information on their connection with Krassus.

All they had to go on was a single manifest obtained from Morlan. It would have been enough to get a search warrant on the Citadel but on Omega, such things were meaningless.

‘First of all,’ he began thoughtfully, ‘we need to get past those guards and gain access to their servers, covertly if need be. I've got a direct link to Lina back at JSTF. She can hack her way inside if-’

Arlen’s words were clipped and his mouth hung open as Olansi strode ahead without warning, his head held high as he loped across to the nearest sentry; a turian mercenary with old, dirty armour. After an astonished glance at one another, Arlen and Keller hurried to catch up.

Arlen sized up the merc as they drew near and noticed his slouching gait and the way he let his weapon rest idly in one hand at his side. This was no former member of the turian military, likely he was born on Omega and managed to find his way into the market's own private security force through some turn of fortune. Certainly, the job seemed far safer than trying to make a living on the streets.

‘Is it just me or does our Spectre look like he's enjoying himself?’ Keller whispered.

Arlen shrugged. ‘Probably. He has that same stupid grin on his face every time I look at him. I don't think he even knows how to take a situation seriously.’

Olansi gave no indication he’d heard them and kept his eyes on the sentry, who seemed to shy away slightly from his determined stride at first.

His voice was firm as he challenged them, however, ‘Hold there. These are private grounds. If you have business here then report to one of the checkpoints for scanning. These premises are patrolled regularly and we don't take kindly to people wandering off the marked pathways.’

Olansi offered his thick, oozing smile. ‘Relax buddy, these are just a couples of prospective clients from Illium, here to spend a huge amount of credits. We're talking eight-figure numbers here, a lot of cash to sink into this places, you know what I means?’

‘If they're such big shots then they can afford to follow the rules like everyone else,’ the guard insisted, his voice strengthening as his sense of authority grew, ‘Now get back to the compound entrance and wait for an escort. I won't ask again.’

Olansi seemed unperturbed by the threat. Instead he leaned closer, until the turian's helmet misted slightly with his breath.

‘Let's be straights here,’ the Spectre murmured, ‘My clients are only in town for a couples of days and those days are busy ones. Always new peoples to meets, new deals to makes, no time to be waiting around like the smalls time gun-runners ‘ya usually get round here. All we needs is an appointment with one of these companies...an immediate appointments.’

The last word was accompanied by a slight gesture and Arlen saw a small credit chit appear in Olansi's hand. The guard almost flinched at the movement but his head tilted with obvious interest once he realised what was being offered. Slowly, the curved helmet twisted from side to side, checking for witnesses until finally he took the chit and hid it carefully in a suit compartment.

‘Where do you want to go?’ he asked brusquely.

Arlen stepped forward before Olansi could answer and after a moment of confusion, the Spectre stepped aside, paying him deference with a gentle tilt of his head.

‘Bithcon Dynamics,’ Arlen said evenly, ‘As quickly as possible, if you please.’

‘Of course,’ the guard answered and immediately set off, his pace slow but unsteady as he kept watch for any who may stop them. It was all too easy to imagine one of his superiors halting them in their tracks and demanding an explanation.

With this in mind, Arlen loosened his pistol in its holster, making certain it would draw smoothly if needed.

The guard's head moved constantly, like a small animal watching out for predators and it was some time before they finally reached the vault-like door of the Bithcon Dynamics building.

Moving his hand up to the main control panel, the guard waited patiently as a pink scanning beam wrapped itself around his arm. It only lasted a moment but the door approved with a beep and a clear synthetic female voice rang out.

‘Identity confirmed. Please enter. Ensure any weapons are holstered at all times and please adhere to any instructions given by our security personnel. If you have an appointment, be sure to register your omni-tool at the front desk.’

The guard turned his head. ‘The building’s central VI, Petra. She handles all the business that comes through the corporate compound. These buildings here are just for show, really, only a few of the offices are actually manned. Ain't no company gonna find employees that'll work in Torkessa.’

‘Interesting,’ Keller murmured as she gazed around at the famous names on display across the rest of the complex, ‘So there's nobody inside right now?’

‘Only a few LOKI mechs,’ the guard answered before quickly adding, ‘Organic rights don't apply out here so if we catch someone it's never, ever pretty. That’s usually enough to deter break ins.’

Arlen’s fingers rested on his pistol grip as the door groaned. Every few seconds he would glance at Olansi, wondering what the Spectre would do. What was his plan? Did he even have a plan?

After what seemed an age, the door slid aside. Rust speckled the inner edges while the gears seemed to scream in agony at being forced to do their work. It was clear Bithcon Dynamics had not seen any visitors for some time and Arlen's heart sank at the thought of finding nothing but an empty office.

Ahead of them at a small reception desk, bare and unmanned. Beyond that lay a sterile-looking corridor, striped with cold blue strip lights.

‘Looks like nobody's home,’ Arlen remarked and the guard shrugged.

‘BD ain’t had any customers for at least a year. Not even sure they’re still running. Still, Petra's around, though. She'll be able to process any transaction you need. Check upstairs, her terminal should be in the main room. If it's still operational, that is.’

Olansi's lips twisted in irritation and Arlen had to stifle a triumphant grin. It was the first time he’d seen the salarian express anything other than mindless irreverence and it brought him an admittedly frivolous sense of satisfaction. Olansi had invested a large amount of credits in that bribe, all to visit an abandoned building, to be given priority over clients that did not exist.

His mouth firming in disappointment, Olansi slapped a hand on the guard's shoulder.

‘Thanks buddy,’ he said with forced cheer, ‘We'll looks for you if we needs anything else.’

Keller too pursed her lips, trying not to show her amusement and once the door had rumbled shut, Olansi brought a hand to his face as if struck.

‘Three thousand credits!’ he whined, ‘I could've broken into this places quicker than it took to walk here! That little bastards jerk-offs! I'll get him for that!’

‘Come on,’ Arlen said as he made for the corridor, his face tight with suppressed laughter, ‘Let's see if this Petra can shed some light on Bithcon's activities. With any luck, we can find a trail that leads right to Krassus.’
Mass Effect: Interceptor - Episode 13
Six months before the events of Mass Effect, a crucial summit is due to be held between the Citadel Council and the human Systems Alliance. On this important day, a young turian named Arlen Kryik is recruited into an elite C-Sec unit known as the Interceptors, a small cadre of agents responsible for hunting wanted fugitives throughout the galaxy.

Partnered with veteran agent Garrus Vakarian as part of the summit's security detail, Arlen quickly becomes embroiled in a terrorist plot to destroy the Council and reignite tensions between the turian and human races.

Nothing is as it seems, however, and as Arlen and his C-Sec comrades race to uncover the truth one of the Council's oldest enemies watches from the shadows...

---

Next Episode

Previously on Interceptor...

Back to the Start
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  • Mood: Zeal
  • Listening to: Assorted
  • Reading: Homer's Oddyssey
  • Watching: The Simpsons
  • Playing: Alien: The Locker Simulator
  • Eating: Noodles
  • Drinking: Tea
Election.

Is there a word that conjurs up greater feelings of dread and confusion? I don't think so but here we have it - yet another general election in the UK, and all the horror it entails.

I've often thought of myself as politically principled; conservative-leaning with a dash of liberalism and a massive dollop of realism. Then political fervour hits and I find myself drained of all enthusiasm - my apathy soaring like the decifit (a joke for the right-wingers) or bankers' bonuses (for the left).

It's part of the reason we all turn to fiction, isn't it? To get away from the rhetoric, posturing, name-calling and toadying. We long to escape and immerse ourselves in fictional ideals, in the politics of other worlds, whether it's the Republic Senate, Citadel Council or the Iron Throne.

There's a facsination with crafting governments and leaderships of of the past, present and future. Nowhere is this more evident than in sci-fi, where we dally with omnipotent totalitarianism or idyllic uber-Utopias. We like to stare through the looking glass at what may become of us and how we administer our vast and sprawling civilisation. It even allows us to forget for a brief, fleeting moment that we humans love to disagree with, backstab and kill one another - giving us insights into worlds where politicians are things of the past and we all get along famously under rainbow skies.

The business of running a country, a kingdom, an empire, is an exceedingly tricky and complex one. Honestly, you couldn't pay me enough to be a prime minister or president. You go in with impossible expectations, everybody hates you for a few years and you come out looking eighty years older than before. It's customer service on a grand, grand, grand scale and when you're done, history will likely remember you as a hated fool.

Given the option, I think I'd continue restricting my level of personal involvement to the Federation and the Twelve Colonies.

I'll do my bit and vote. Enough generations of my family and countrymen have expended their lives over the past thousand years of English history bringing us to this point that to not vote seems...well, a bit of a dick move for me.

But mark my words, as soon as I return I'm getting right back to rubbing shoulders with the Jarls of Skyrim...


What's your favourite fantasy, sci-fi or generally fictional government (no partisan jokes allowed)?
  • Mood: Zeal
  • Listening to: Mozart
  • Reading: I, Partridge - We Need To Talk About Alan
  • Watching: The Simpsons
  • Playing: The Witcher
  • Eating: Various
  • Drinking: Tea
...I'm doing this. I'm thinking about how to touch up a certain scene or tweak a certain character. I'm thinking about the future, what I'll be writing and wondering if it'll be worth the effort. Nothing I've written so far hasn't been, but I'm not one to rely solely on past experience.

We all worry, don't we? We have those moments, as creators, when we twitch and fidget in our chairs, panicking because we haven't been pumping out the work we promised ourselves we would. Our minds are constantly on the go though, even if our hands aren't. We don't stop creating, even if the results don't end up on a page or screen.

So, while I'm at work I like to spare a thought for my creative fellows - whether professional, amateur or something in between - and the shared stresses that plague us at every moment of every day.


As for the mandatory update, Mass Effect: Interceptor's revision is coming along nicely, with about a third of the story now brought up to code. Enjoy it will you can because believe it or not, I am actually still writing things Mass Effect, and I've had to resign myself to releasing this project a bit closer to the new game. That said, it will at least be as near to completion as I can make it, so there will be regular, uninterrupted updates when that time comes.

Also, my brand-spanking new novel is now only a few weeks away from total completion, so expect news to follow in the next couple of months.

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:iconcatelee2u:
catelee2u Featured By Owner Apr 21, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
Happy Birthday!! :party::beer::love:
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:iconmothbanquet:
mothbanquet Featured By Owner Apr 21, 2015  Professional Writer
Thank you very much! :)
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:iconexileblaze:
ExileBlaze Featured By Owner Apr 21, 2015
Happy Birthday!
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:iconmothbanquet:
mothbanquet Featured By Owner Apr 21, 2015  Professional Writer
You're too kind! :)
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:iconrainetenerelli:
RaineTenerelli Featured By Owner Jan 31, 2015  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Thanks for the watch!
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:icongodzilla2003:
Godzilla2003 Featured By Owner Nov 2, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Oh, bollocks.
I forgot to wish you a happy Halloween. :B
Ah, bugger it!
Happy belated Halloween, moth! Hope you had a good one! :D
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:iconmothbanquet:
mothbanquet Featured By Owner Nov 10, 2014  Professional Writer
And a belated thanks! I did bugger all for a whole week save attend a party dressed as a Payday character. Hope you too had a good 'un!
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:icongodzilla2003:
Godzilla2003 Featured By Owner Nov 10, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
I did indeed, thanks!
Nothing for a whole week besides a single party?

Sounds like my kind of shindig!
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:iconopheliabell:
OpheliaBell Featured By Owner Jul 4, 2014  Professional Writer
Warning... I've tagged you. I hope it doesn't hurt too much.
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:iconmothbanquet:
mothbanquet Featured By Owner Jul 7, 2014  Professional Writer
Ouch...
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