Noon, April 4, 2187⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀Partly cloudy, 26°C
It took three days for the group to arrive. They rode among the rescue workers of a small relief convoy. Before that, they flown in to Africa from various parts of the globe.
Among the concrete clearing of a former human “beer garden” stood Yarik, the drell adept. Yarik was a diminutive soldier, standing half a head shorter than the average human. The scales of face were still a yellowish-green, which showed his relative youth. His light armor, originally a gunmetal gray, has been worn by wind, sand and explosions. He had been fidgety and anxious. The arrival of Sol Restoration Network’s “specialists” set part of his mind at ease, though only slightly, as he still paced back and forth and frequently checked the display of his omni-tool.
In the clearing around Yarik were sunshades of varying colors. Under the sun shades were crates, cots and dining tables used as cots. About a dozen seriously wounded humans waited in pain. Another dozen not so seriously wounded humans went about attending them, and kept this makeshift camp running. The plain white building behind them, a former pub, was their communication center. A satellite dish sat on its two-story roof, the only operational one left in the city. Hardy desert plants formed a copse around the site, beyond which laid the ruins of downtown Windhoek, or more precisely, a giant crater hollowed out by the explosion of a reaper’s eezo core.
The sudden stop of the convoy kicked up sandy dust all around them. Several humans coughed. Yarik was unaffected. Drells like him were naturally suited to desert conditions. In fact, seeing sand smother the remains of reaper creatures brought a sense of relief to him. As soon as the reaper’s perimeter shields fizzled, sandstorms swept through the city. In the past month, it was as if the human’s home planet hurriedly smothered its ugliest scars.
“Come on.” Yarik notified the engineer, the only capable combatant left, other than himself. “Let’s get them sorted out.”
On the other side of the murk and sand, was a group of individuals so immediately mismatched, that were circumstances better, the visual alone might summon a chuckle.
Each of them stood relatively near to someone else, and yet with a safe distance. The “rapportless foot”of distance, in fact. This would be one of this particular Sol teams first outings together as a newly formed group, and while all honest pleasantries had been exchanged, and while all focus was on the same goal there was always going to be initial unease.
Most of that, seemed to be carried on the shoulders of the grey-eyed human towards the back. This was all open area and was especially uncomfortable for Solveig, a woman who had made cold, lonely shadows her home for the better part of a decade.
Her smudged eyes glanced sidelong to Katya, and the fingers of her flesh hand twitched in nervous anticipation. The arm of steel was still. “Are you sure?” She asked quietly, attempting to gauge their leader’s feelings on the mission. Perhaps on their team too. It was hard to tell.
Beside her, the other human woman was slightly less uncomfortable. She swept the air in front of her with her arms, clearing the swirls of dust and sand. A relief worker ran by her in process, bumping her shoulder. “I’m sure.” Katya reassured her cousin-in-law. Some in their group had apparently put Katya up on the leadership pedestal; probably because she introduced herself as a former Alliance officer. Truce be told, she wasn’t sure how she would lead them, or if these people could be led in the first place. “This seems to be the place, and that must be our ‘client’.” She pointed to the drell approaching them.
“Is your arm okay with the sand?” Katya asked. She gave Solveig a kind smile, hoping to ease her obvious nervousness. “And hey, don’t worry about these people for now.” Katya referred to the injured resistance members and the newly arrived relief workers checking up on them. The makeshift camp was suddenly cramped and busy with activities. “I’ll do the talking, with our client, that is.”
“Sand,” Solveig began slowly, her eyes watching out across the horizon, “is coarse. Is irritating,” she sighed. “It gets everywhere but… it does no harm,” briefly she made eye contact with Katya again, her expression stoic as she brought the other arm to life, it was fluid and fast as her thought to move the fingers made it move to action. She preferred the cold.
“Spent three days once in a pit in a desert waiting for a slaver to rear his head. Buried in the sand…” Solveig explained. “Trigger still got pulled,” she clarified. “I’ll watch your back,” she added, her tone sitting in the uncertainty of a threat, and a promise of genuine protection. “Be careful.”
“Ah, that’s...good.” Katya nodded. She had a momentary pause hearing Solveig’s story. Solveig told something like this before, but just as it had unsettled Katya before, it was a bit unsettling now. “I appreciate it.”
Before they could converse further, the drell and the human engineer were in front of them. Said drell didn’t exactly strike the most menacing impression with Katya. “Looks like our korgan might step on him by accident.” She whispered to Solveig.
“Took you long enough.” The drell immediately started talking. “What’s the hold up? Said you were en route three days ago, why—” His whining stopped only with a look from his companion.
“Anyway, I’m Yarik, biotic specialist.” The drell introduced himself. Without waiting, he began walking back to the building. “We have the target map inside; my colleague will show you.”
“You avoided the crater on your way here, right?” He added, as if suddenly remembering a small detail.
“We did.” Katya replied. She glanced briefly at Solveig, noting how their client wasn’t keen on pleasantries. “The reapers really did a number on this city.”
“No, the reaper didn’t.” Yarik corrected. “The ‘Butcher of Windhoek’? Is that what you called that thing? It used the city as a processing center.” He confirmed with the engineer. “The crater’s from two weeks ago. Bunch of scrappers picked the wrong bit and blew themselves to bits. Idiots. Eezo radiation’s still around, though.”
“Yuh-huh,” the engineer said with a nod. “That was it… The Butcher… Ach. Oh.. And we did try to warn the scrappers too— I mean, best as we could and all,” she shrugged. “Oh- and I’m Erin by the way, Erin Bean. Most folks just call me Beanie.” The short woman stuck out a hand to shake with the new arrivals. “I’ll be helping as much’s’a’can.”
Solveig raised a brow. This woman… Talked too much, and so she locked her eyes intensely with Yarik’s own. Willing him to take over the conversation again. Katya had said she would do the talking. Couldn’t she interrupt the buzzing engineer?
Locking eyes with Solveig immediately caused Yarik regret. The frills on the side of his head twitched nervously. He decidedly avoided looking at her from then on.
Seeing their introduction was already headed to awkward territory, Katya shook Beanie’s hand. She grinned at this engineer; it’s rare (and not unwelcome) to find someone exuberant here. “I’m Katya Serova,” she introduced herself, “and this is my cou—squadmate, Solveig Wistrom.”
Breaking from her dangerous stare, she took to glancing across the camp instead — at the people there in various states of distress; it made her itch across the back of her neck and she frowned, still half listening to some chirpy exposition chatter from “Beanie”. “Where’s the target?” She asked suddenly — forgetting her own rule of staying quiet, after less than a minute of vowing herself to it.
“About 470 klicks to the northwest.” Yarik answered. He opened the building door with his omni-tool. Inside was a mess of cables leading from generators to computers to screens. Device buzzed and hummed across numerous frequencies. The center of which was a large holo table; its glow cast the entire room (with shutters closed over windows) in blue.
“Show them, Beanie.” Yarik motioned for her to start the holo map.
“Wait,” Katya noticed, while their engineer fiddled with the holograms, “can’t you contact allied command with your transmitters?”
“Oh, believe me, I’ve tried. Our hanar ship left the system without us.” Yarik sniggered. “ Humans, turians, asari, all ignored our request for help. Some of them don’t even know there’s still drells remaining here. Beanie thinks the incident with the scrappers scared everyone away.”
The hologram formed a 3D map of Africa, and Beanie zoomed in to Namibia. It appeared to be a pre-reaper war tourist map, with most settlements’ populations updated to zero. Yarik pointed to their current location.
“We have two shuttles in the back.” Yarik started. “Actually, I’ll show you.” He concentrated on a large window behind him. Static and sparks began forming around him. With a flick of biotic energy, the shutters flung open, revealing two kodiaks in an improvised hangar. One of them was a military model, up-armored, painted in the colors of the Illuminated Primacy and riddled with bullet holes. The other one appeared to be civilian and lacked markings.
“Show off.” Katya muttered.
“So, that’s how we’re going to reach our target within an hour.” Yarik stated. He went to the table, leaning against it with one hand and rubbed the back of his head with the other. A brief groan of pain escaped his mouth.
“Everything alright?” Katya asked, a bit concerned.
“Don’t worry about it.” Yarik dismissed. “Beanie, show them the target.” The 3D map shifted to the coast. “I believe it’s called the Skeleton Coast.”
“Lots of wrecks of old human seafaring vessels there. My friend can tell you the history later, if you like.” Yarik tapped on an interface and several figures appeared on the map. “During the war, it was an outpost of the collectors, those bug-like things. They used the spikes, dragon’s teeth, to ‘convert’ captives.”
Yarik closed his eyes and let out what was the drell equivalent of a sigh. “We linked up during the battle and hit the outpost. Beanie’s people provided a distraction while my team sneaked in the enthrallment device from the back.”
“Enthrallment device?” Katya asked, confused.
“Yes, that’s what the officers called it. It’s an orb, about the size of that krogan’s head.” Yarik went on. “Once we took it out of the container here,” the map showed a pulsing spot inside the wreck of a gargantuan cargo ship, “most collectors dropped dead within minutes.”
“Is that some kind of hanar weapon?” Katya had more questions than before. “Solveig, have you come across anything like that?”
Solveig shook her head slowly, finding herself locked back on to Yarik’s stare.
“The officers never told us what it was.” Yarik admitted. “Beanie thinks it relays some kind of signal. Anyway, the collector captain, known as the Locust, survived. It stopped attacking us and even fought with us when enemy reinforcements arrived. Not that it really mattered when the crucible fired.”
Beanie nodded enthusiastically alongside Yarik. “Having the device… Turned the tide for us, y’know?”
“Indeed, though we put it back in the container when the crucible wiped out the stragglers.” Shifting sands on the topographical projection represented the passage of time. “After the scrapper business was done here, we got reports of the Locust active again. So we took the orb back—”
“You didn’t kill it?” Katya was bewildered.
“No. It’s filled with dangerous biotic energy!” Yarik shot back. “What is that human expression? ‘Don’t want to prod it with a three meter rod?’”
“What I’m getting at is that the orb did strange things when we took it back out. Other drells started hearing hums near it.” Yarik took a step away from the holo table. “None of the humans heard anything, and I’m not sure why I didn’t hear anything. If I had to guess, maybe it’s because I’m biotic? None of the others had my level of talent.”
“Ugh, this guy.” Katya rolled her eyes.
“You know the rest from the job description.” Yarik concluded. He sat down on a crate. “There’s about a dozen drells out there. We turn off the enthrallment device, we may be able to save them.”
“What about the Locust, though?” Katya reminded the drell.
“It should be docile while the orb is active. We can kill it once the device is disabled.”
“That’s not a lot of Intel to work with.” Katya crossed her arms. "And it doesn't sound like you have a plan.”
“The plan depends on when we move out!” Exclaimed Yarik. “We have two shuttles, your squad’s got eight people, so two teams of four. If we attack today, the weather will be clear, then we need one team as a distraction. We can be stealthier at night, though I’m not sure if it matters with the Locust. Or we wait until tomorrow. Sandstorm should be hitting the coast tomorrow, right, Beanie?”
“Yuh, and she’s a big one too!” Beanie answered.
“There you go. I’ll leave you to discuss. I need to check on the relief workers.” With that, Yarik had left the building. Then there were just the three human women.
“Look, I’m not so sure about him now. He doesn’t seem to be lying, but we can’t have him do anything reckless.” When the engineer went about powering the holo table off, Katya pulled Solveig out of her earshot. “We have to keep an eye on him out there, more so than her. What do you think?”
“Agreed,” Solveig answered. “Don’t worry, he won’t be out of my sight.” She sighed again, watching Beanie in the background dithering around the room. “Or her.” After a moment she looked back to Katya. “Best time to leave then? Sandstorm could be good cover but dangerous. Daylight is dangerous. Nighttime is dangerous…”
"I would say daylight; least amount of unknown variables. But that also leaves us the least amount of time to prepare." Katya noted. She wanted to have a few hours of rest, but their location doesn't have much amenities for resting. "Night would be my preference, because that sandstorm is going to interfere with our flight. Either way, you're right, there's no getting around the dangers."
“And the groups, then?” Solveig asked with a curious tilt of her head.
“I’ll head the distraction group, while you go with the infiltration group.” Katya reckoned. They walked to a front-facing window, where Katya flipped open the blinds and counted the rest of their group members outside. “Take two or three other sneaky types with you. The rest of us will keep the enemy occupied.”
The interior was a lot brighter with two windows open. Sharp, artificial blue light from the holo table was gone, replaced by warm golden sunlight. The engineer was finishing her inspection of several electronics. Katya nudged Solveig toward her. “Bubbly, but she knows her stuff.”
“Hmmm…” Solveig groaned, before distancing herself without so much as a “goodbye” to anyone.
Right after Solveig came strolling by the engineer; Katya approached her. “So, Erin, Beanie, our drell friend seems to place a lot of trust on you. What’s your story?”
“Well, umm,” Beanie raised a hand to scratch the back of her neck. “Not from round her ‘riginally, but was here when the Reapers attacked. I was on a work job by chance. Got roped into helping out in bringing the sucker down. After that… Well… I guess I never left — not really a home to go back to now,” she shrugged, biting her lip. “But I like it here enough. People are pretty good to me and respect me enough, since I’m just a young’in and that. Earned myself some stripes y’know? Plus I keep things tickin’ round here.” She placed her hands into the pockets of her overalls. “Maybe I’ll tell ye more later, uhhh, think of an interesting tale to tell you and your crew when we’re all done’n’dusted? Say ya to that?”
With a long whistle, she looked out across the team that Katya had brought with her, and she made one final remark. “I absolutely, positively gotta hear how you got this bunch together too.”