PRIORITY: HAVANA◢ Cuba, Earth Afternoon, April 9, 2187 Sunny, 24°C
Two days ago, Solveig Wistrom left SRN's crisis response team.
Later that day, Sevipia Paetmus arrived in Havana. Because of travel delays, she didn't get to meet her team before they went to deliver their cargo.
That evening, Solveig and Sevipia both received a message from SRN: a forwarded distress signal. The signal was a momentary blink with no message or location. Whatever Solveig and Sevipia did, they could not find further information. That was the last they heard of the crisis response team.
Yesterday, SRN announced four additional operatives had been dispatched to investigate the signal. Solveig decided to return and help, though she and Sevipia were advised to stay put until they had backup.
Today, Zenn, Zenobia, Amina and Nadara reached Havana at various times in the morning. The city that greeted them was one in celebration, as it had been for the last six days. Colorful stalls formed pop-up markets, antique cars cruised the streets and holographic billboards advertised the last big party, a function hosted by Mayor Bragus Thul himself tonight.
Shortly before noon, a message was sent to all six SRN operatives. The message included descriptions of the missing team's personnel, and directions to meet at Meliá Resort, where Solveig and Sevipia were already staying. The resort, a tall and perfectly undamaged building constructed more than 200 years ago, glistened with its porcelain exteriors. Inside, the newcomers were checked into rooms the were occupied by their missing predecessors.
Zenn was the only one to be given new room. SRN had booked him a specially sanitized and air-filtered suite where quarian guests can safely replace their suit filters. The only catch being Zenn had to pay the deposit with his own credits.
Zenobia got the room previously occupied by another turian biotic, as apparently by a turian bio-amp part in the shower. Said occupant had left a mess of used towels and tangled bed sheets. Though Zenobia would also find a worn-out tennis ball, several packs of dextro rations, and on the reading desk, a letter from a refugee family thanking the missing turian for his assistance.
Amina's room was formerly used by the missing team's leader. The military discipline of Amina's predecessor was apparent. Even though no room service was performed in the two previous nights, the bed was properly made and furniture were in their original places. Amina would find several issues for Fornax and a bottle of laxative in the bathroom.
The first thing Nadara noticed in her room were the smell and stains of omnigel. The person that stayed in her room before was clearly someone who liked to tinker. There were papers on the desk, of a familiar asari make, and they were covered with sketches of various farm animals from earth and beyond.
Next, the group went to the resort's cigar lounge to meet with Lizbeth Baynham, SRN's representative in the city. Surrounded by mahogany panelings and sitting on one of the plush leather sofas was a human woman in a green and gray lab coat. The first few that entered the lounge would see Lizbeth awkwardly lighting up a cigar, taking a tentative drag from it and immediately starting to cough and sputter. It took her a few seconds to notice the arrivals, and when she did, Lizbeth set down the cigar in an ashtray and waved her arms to clear the smoke.
"Ahem, sorry!" Lizbeth clear her throat, though her voice still sounded coarse from coughing.
"Hi!" She held out her hand to shake, and for everyone except Zenn, gestured to a case of cigars. "Help yourselves. The yellow ones should be safe for turians, I think."
With everyone there, Lizbeth began by introducing herself as a former ExoGeni scientist and current SRN associate in Cuba. Apparently Commander Shepard once saved her colony, an act that inspired Lizbeth to join the allied war effort. Now, she believed SRN's philanthropic backers would be earth's best hope for reconstruction.
After the introductions, Lizbeth ordered a bottle of rum. Alcohol seemed to calm her nervousness from earlier, especially with Zenobia. Unfortunately, there's no dextro equivalents available.
Discussed over drinks were the group's next moves. There were three important matters to address, though Lizbeth only recommended tackling one or two of them; splitting into three groups could be dangerous.
The first was the approximate location of the distress signal, something Lizbeth had uncovered while Solveig and Sevipia had been on standby. That area was crawling with gangs, so Lizbeth did not dare to investigate when she triangulated last night. "Though," she added, taking a drink of rum, "I'm better prepared to investigate now."
The second was Mayor Thul's party tonight. Dr. Jelize would be there. Even though the item Jelize wanted to purchase went missing with the first team, perhaps she could be convinced to wait a little longer while they try to find it. In addition, Thul might be able to help find the missing. Thankfully, SRN already had invitations, and there's no need for formal wear (as Thul himself would wear his trademark football jersey anyway).
Last but not least, the missing team's shuttle. They needed to claim it tonight before it would be impounded. Everyone but Solveig had to find their own means of transportation to reach Havana, so having the team's own shuttle would be immensely helpful for getting around on future missions.
Wherever the group decided to go, Lizbeth offered to look into another issue on her own. She sounded more confident after the generous amount of rum drank, but her words started to slur. She picked up another cigar, lit it in one stroke and took a long inhale. She did not cough when she puffed out the smoke; only a faint smirk.
A lone quarian stood in front of the Meliá Resort. Unmoving he stared up in admiration at the 200 year old building. Under any other circumstance it would have been nothing to gawk at. There were more impressive and older structures all over the galaxy, not to mention in other cities on Earth, that would have made this one insignificant. But after the invasion nearly all of them were destroyed or at least horribly damaged. But this resort? Untouched. That alone made this a rare sight to behold. In its presence one could almost pretend none of it happened. That the reapers never came.
The quarian continued to gaze upon the building he would be residing in until his trance was broken by the approach of a well dressed human woman.
“Excuse me.” She said as she lightly tapped on the quarian’s shoulder. “Are you Zenn’Valin?”
Zenn jumped slightly, startled for a moment having not been aware of her presence. But almost immediately regained his composure before speaking.
“That I am.” Zenn replied. He crossed his arms and let out a small chuckle. “Heh. I see my reputation precedes me. I wasn’t aware I was known in Havana, but I guess fighting the reapers comes with that kind of notoriety.”
The woman awkwardly scratched the back of her neck before clarifying. “Uh, no. You’re just the only quarian we’ve seen around here in months and we have a room booked in your name.” She cleared her throat and pulled up her omni-tool. The screen displayed Zenn’s info and a room number confirming his reservation.
“Oh…” Zenn softly let out. His arms slumped to the side as he quickly broke eye contact with the woman “Yeah that- Makes a lot more sense…”
Maybe he had been too distracted in admiring the building, or maybe he was still jet lagged after the shuttle ride from London, but he only now realized the person standing in front of him was a hotel clerk. She must have come out to greet him when the staff noticed he wasn’t coming inside.
“Anyway,” Zenn said in an attempt to move forward from his embarrassment. “I was told my room was a sanitized suite of some sort?”
“Yes, sir!” The clerk cheerily chirped. She pressed a few buttons on her omni-tool changing the image to a layout of the room with several details highlighted. “Our specialized sanitation suite includes all the amenities of our standard rooms along with state of the art air filtration systems and a decontamination field in the entryway so that you and any guests can enter without risk of compromising the area.”
“Wow!” Zenn said through a laugh. “You really pulled out all the stops here.” The quarian placed his hands on his hip and continued in a more confident voice. “The SRN must have been very impressed with my resume if they’re willing to go in for all that just for me. I’ll just have to make sure I live up to their expectations.”
The clerk’s smile vanished as Zenn spoke. She clenched her free hand into a fist and pulled it close to her lips before a quiet “Um…” slipped out.
Zenn dropped his head and let out a long sigh. “Let me guess. They made all the arrangements in my name including the bill?”
“200 credits” The clerk sheepishly answered.
“Keelah.” Zenn cursed, placing an open palm on his visor and shaking his head. “Septis always told me never take a job unless you’ve memorized the contact. Oh well. It’s a good thing I’m not in it for the credits.” He pulled up his omni-tool and transferred the credits without further question. He didn’t like it, but it was on him for not paying more attention to the details. It was just lucky that he had enough to cover the cost.
Once the payment had been completed, the clerk returned to her gleeful demeanor. “Thank you very much! I promise you'll find your stay here more than worth the price! Now right this way and I'll show you to your room."
The clerk led Zenn through the front doors, but before they crossed the lobby, his omni-tool began to indicate he had received a message. Zenn signaled for the clerk to stop while he looked over the instructions he had been given.
"Sorry, but it looks like I've been requested in the cigar lounge. I should be able to find my room on my own. Thanks anyway."
Unphased, the clerk simply smiled and nodded. "My pleasure! Would you like me to at least have someone take your belongings to your room so you don't have to carry them around?"
Zenn glanced around the lobby to see what she might have been referring to. He didn't have any bags or even a suitcase. All he had was on his person. Unless she was talking about his weapons.
“All I really have are my guns." He explained with a shrug. "Do you feel comfortable having your staff carrying guns through your establishment?”
Without batting an eye the clerk responded. “Sir, our mayor is a Krogan.”
“Fair point.” Zenn said, handing his sniper and pistol over without hesitation.
The clerk took the weapons and carefully tucked them into her arms before sending Zenn off with a cheerful “Please enjoy your stay!”
It didn’t take long to find the cigar lounge. The resort had directions posted at every turn that led Zenn directly where he needed to go. He stopped in front of the door and took a deep breath. This would be his first time doing freelance work since his pilgrimage. These days were supposed to be behind him. But at least this time it was different. He wasn’t doing this just to make ends meet. This was his choice. He was here to make a difference. To help rebuild and restore order to the Sol system. Time to shine!
His internal peptalk concluded, Zenn entered the lounge just in time to see the SRN contact light up a cigar for what looked like the first time in her life. A fact made even more evident by her nearly choking to death after a single puff. Was she trying to act tough? If so she wasn’t doing herself any favors.
“Careful. I hear those things will kill you.” Zenn stated as he stepped towards Lizbeth. “Though I’ve heard the same of mercenary work, and it hasn’t gotten me yet.”
He figured a joke would help break the tension, and hopefully put the poor girl’s nerves at ease. Afterall, there was nothing she needed to be worried about. Of course, Zenn had worked with this type of crowd a lot in his youth. He was accustomed to being around people tougher than hull plating and ready to kill at a moments notice. This scientist, however? Probably not so much.
He grabbed her hand and gave it a light but firm shake. "Zenn'Valin vas Konesh. At your service.”
Releasing her hand, he took a seat on the far left side of the couch directly across from Lizbeth and waited for the remaining members to arrive. Once everyone was gathered they spent the next little while going over all the details of available missions. While Zenn was a bit disappointed they didn’t have turian brandy or really anything dextro offered to drink, it was for the best seeing as he’d want to have a clear head for any of the tasks. Once all options had been presented, he quickly spoke up.
“You can leave the distress signal to me. Reconnaissance is my speciality. I could probably investigate the area and be back without the locals ever knowing I was there. And if I’m caught. Well,” Zenn placed his arms behind his head and leaned back in his seat. “I think I can handle a bunch of thugs with guns. Still, if anyone else wants to come, I'd never say no to backup.”
"That being said, if you'd rather someone else look into the signal I could locate and retrieve the shuttle." He suggested with a shrug. "Grabbing an abandoned vehicle before impound doesn’t sound very challenging, but it would be a better than going to a party. I probably couldn’t even eat or drink anything they served anyway."
Amina Galal picked up a cigar from the table, one eyebrow raised as she rolled it over in her fingers. Amina had never been a smoker and only a casual drinker, though she felt it rude not to at least give the rolled tobacco that had been set out for the assemblage a once over. She lifted it to her nose to smell, her nostrils wrinkling and upper lip curling in revulsion at the scent. Amina had noticed their hostess coughing on the cigar that she was so amateurishly sucking away at as well as the fact that she was not the only arrival that did not partake, therefore she eagerly lay the stinking cigar back from where she had taken it. No need in starting a new habit just because the earth as we know it has gone to hell and back. Amina thought.
Amina did not take to the sofa but rather had pulled up a nearby chair with a leather seating and back. She had been the second person to arrive at the little meeting, the first a Quarian male. The human woman had sat silently the whole time, legs crossed and arms folded as she waited for the rest of the people that were meant to come. “People” being aliens as it were, mostly anyway - aside from the Quarian the group at hand consisted of one other human and then an Asari and a Turian. Amina chewed viciously on the inside of her cheek as she looked between the aliens, trying her best to keep her glances and foul expression on the low.
There is no point in letting it burn you up, they are stuck here and you with them - at least for the time.
The scientist woman - Lizbeth - had made her introduction and ordered rum. Rum was not Amina’s favorite but it was better than nothing, so she gladly helped herself to a glass as Miss Baynham proceeded forth with the details. The former ExoGeni scientist laid out the details of what was facing the would-be team at current; investigating the distress signal of the last SRN team, meeting with a contact to discuss an item the last team had with them, and then recovering a shuttle for transport. Amina started to consider all of what Lizbeth had said as she took a careful sip at her rum, then the Quarian spoke up.
“You can leave the distress signal to me. Reconnaissance is my speciality. I could probably investigate the area and be back without the locals ever knowing I was there. And if I’m caught. Well, I think I can handle a bunch of thugs with guns. Still, if anyone else wants to come, I'd never say no to backup.”
Cocky little suit rat. Amina looked over the rim of her glass as she let the sweet rum rush over her full lips. One person going to investigate into the missing status of a whole team sounded foolish to her, no matter how good the Quarian claimed to be at recon. There was no telling what was the cause behind the disappearance. It made more sense for the whole team or maybe two or three people to go at the same time to check things out. The woman finally lowered her glass and licked some of the rum from her lips as she sat forward, placing her half empty glass on the table. The rum was setting in as Amina was feeling a little buzz in the back of her skull and she decided it best to ease off for the moment. Deciding to make her own opinion known she considered her words carefully before speaking up.
Amina looked at Lizbeth, avoiding eye contact with the others, “I say we split into two teams. Half of us go to investigate the signal while the other half go to secure the shuttle. You can handle the politicking at the good mayors’ party. Safety in numbers plus we can accomplish more at the same time.”
“Or,” Amina added, sitting back, “we can all go investigate the signal together if people don’t want to split up and find group transportation later on.”
It was the usual game on a Sunday afternoon when Mother was home. She’d be in her office, reading, filing, sending messages to all the other important people like her that lived up in the stars. Solveig grinned from behind the bookcase, her hand holding her wrist as she held her breath to save herself from chuckling. She could see her father down the hall - halfway through his afternoon tea and open sandwiches.
When Mother was at her most focussed, the child struck - jumping out with the high-pitched roar of a tiny monster. “Raaaaaoooouuur!” she sounded out, raising both arms - Mother at first, jumping, and then wincing at the sight.
“If you keep sneaking up on me like that Solvieg, you’re going to give me a-”
“Heart attack,” said the doctor, the corners of her mouth tugged to one side. “It was a heart attack, Ms Wistrom.”
Solveig sighed, and just glanced down at the table. At the face looking back. With eyes closed, she looked more peaceful than she ever had. Solveig, ever the pale spectre at her side reflected on the steel table.
“With it being sudden, she hadn’t really left anything in particular - but we did find this,” she handed Solveig a wooden box, which was passed to the cybernetic arm - the fingers gripped around it robotically, as Solveig continued to stare down at the body.
“She was a good soldier, your mother. I’m… So sorry for your loss,” the doctor said, sighing before pulling the sheet over the face once again.
Solveig didn’t say a word, instead turning for the door.
The doctor seemed surprised, opening her mouth, her eyebrows furrowing and sending her face into a frown. “Are you sure you’re okay? Not in shock? Perhaps you should sit outside for a while, we have people you can talk to.”
“No need,” Solveig finally answered before heading off, box in hand.
The last two days had been spent almost entirely in transit. Carrying that box from station to station to get back to Earth, the news delivered to her to return to the Alliance immediately, to be taken off planet to the clinic with her mother’s body. All she could think about was Katya. She was missing, unreachable.
And here was Solveig, stood in some stupid cigar lounge listening to someone else with their quiet commands. She understood. She knew the deal. One job, then the next, then the next. Don’t question, just sit and shoot - and shoot to kill. Solveig took no drinks, no cigars. Hell, she hadn’t even washed in the two days - her hair sat oily upon her head in a mess of braids. Yesterday’s make-up smudged around her eyes like shaken outlines on her ghostly face.
As her new party began taking turns to speak - she thought of the box up in her room, how she’d just left it on the desk - how even the room was clinical, unlived in. Katya’s room. Maybe something was there?
Why wasn’t she given that room? She wondered. Her datapad blipped as the only other human spoke up.
”“I say we split into two teams. Half of us go to investigate the signal while the other half go to secure the shuttle. You can handle the politicking at the good mayors’ party. Safety in numbers plus we can accomplish more at the same time.”
Solveig glanced at her datapad, at the message that had been received. Alliance, N7 - a send all, an obituary dedicated to Agnes Wistrom, Decorated Soldier, War Hero. She put the datapad back in her pocket. The cigar smoke was stifling all of a sudden and she raised a finger to her neckline, fidgeting at it before finally speaking up.
“I’ll get the shuttle,” she snapped out, before setting to walk away from the group and head to her room to fetch her equipment, to wash the film of clammy sweat from her face, a pill too. A pain burned behind her eyes, and the old familiar tingles in the arm began to itch - her shoulder writhed and the prosthetic thrummed just so, like it was called to task.
There were such precious few places that offered any semblance of life the way it was before the Reapers. In this system any way. Who knew how many other resort style spas still remained standing in the galaxy? Until the transportation issue was fixed there was no way to know. As Nadara sauntered toward the familiar hotel entrance, she realized her talents may have been better suited elsewhere. Surely, now that the war was over many would be just as curious as she was about where they could escape the reality of post-war life.
I should’ve started a review business, she thought suddenly. One of her parents would undoubtably have a ship she could use, with the promise of regular rental credit reimbursement. As it was, she’d had to hire a chartered shuttle for her journey to Cuba. Their stores had dwindled quite a bit due to the war efforts... In any case, Nadara had the connections to make this venture work, and the number of subscribers to her digital blog had started steadily increasing again recently. She would need to charge a small fee for access to this invaluable information, perhaps perform a side job or two, and the appropriate funding would be secured. People were eager to regain normalcy, and she would gladly provide what they wanted. In return, they would happily provide the credits. Complementary stays at whatever resorts were still functioning in this corner of the galaxy was a given, including unlimited access to all of their facilities and amenities. Once word got out, they would reap the benefits of sold out rooms, and in their gratitude, would offer her a free lifetime membership. The rest of her days would be spent lounging by sparkling pools with a cool beverage, laying atop a comfortable mattress as dexterous fingers and hands massaged the worries from her body, relishing the delectable offerings of five star restaurants, or offering her assessment on resort nightclubs.
All Nadara needed now was to find someone willing to locate these places so she could travel to them and begin her work. There had to be others she hadn’t heard about yet. She’d been pleasantly surprised when the SRN indicated this as their meeting point. Hmm, if they knew about this resort, perhaps they also knew of others? A contact within the SRN would be easy to acquire… As she considered who might best be suited for the role, an attendant interrupted her thoughts.
“Welcome back to the Meliá Resort, señora Nadara,” a short woman with dark hair pulled back into a tight bun greeted with a pleasant smile. She loved the way the locals pronounced her name. It had been years since she’d last been here, but she was registered in their system and had clearly been recognized by the computers when she entered the premises. “I hope you enjoyed your arrival in Havana.”
The woman held out a tray on which sat one of Nadara’s favored drinks, a smooth cocktail that included mango juice, rum, and just a hint of lime juice among other ingredients that she couldn’t be bothered to remember. She took the offered glass and gave a tentative sip before returning the smile. “Thank you, this is delicious! Havana was a welcome respite from my recent haunts, I assure you. I found a number of delightful trinkets among the various stalls that were on display today. A kind gentleman offered to have them delivered to the resort on my behalf, so please deliver them to my room once they arrive.”
The smile faltered from the woman’s lips momentarily. “That is not something commonly offered. Did you get the señor’s name?”
Nadara brought a finger to her chin as she recalled the earlier interaction. Many bags hung on either arm as she struggled to make her way through the crowded narrow streets when a handsome face approached her with the kind offer to help lighten her load. “You know, now that you mention it, I don’t think I did. I was so grateful for the assistance, I handed off my bags to him and immediately made my way here. I was hoping for a little soak before my meeting.”
Distress colored the woman’s features, and Nadara wondered if perhaps the pool had been closed for some sort of maintenance. “We will do our best to locate your purchased items, señora,” she said finally after a moment, seemingly lost for words. The poor woman, was she new? At least she didn’t contradict Nadara’s plans to delve into the cool waters.
“No need to search, I’m certain he said he would bring it directly to the front desk. Now, about that soak… I’ll have a change in my room first. Which suite have I been checked in to?”
“The SRN assigned you to a room previously occupied by your predecessor,” the woman explained with a tentative look behind the Asari. “Señora, did you also hand over your luggage to be… delivered?”
“No, no, I couldn’t take advantage of that poor man... After I gave him all of my purchases, I asked if he provided luggage delivery as well, but he said I’d given him more than enough. Besides, I’m traveling light these days.” Nadara held up the medium sized suitcase she held in her hand. “This is all I’ve brought with me for the time being.” Seemingly satisfied, the woman indicated with her arm towards the hotel and began guiding Nadara inside. “Did you say, ‘previously occupied’?” Her lip curled up at the thought. Of course, staying at a resort meant all the rooms had been occupied by others at some point, but she’d never knowingly stayed in a room of a recently deceased person. Surely, she wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.
“Yes, it’ll be right this way. Please take these elevators to the sixteenth floor.” As if on cue, the elevator doors opened. “Yours will be room 1609,” she said as Nadara stepped inside. Just before the doors closed, the woman uttered a final sentence that stunned Nadara into silence, the doors closing to her gaping mouth. “We were asked not to perform our regular cleaning services, the SRN believes there might be helpful evidence from your predecessors left behind.”
Disillusioned, Nadara drug her feet through the carpeted hallway until she stood before room 1609. She’d received information on the Salarian she would be replacing on the team. What had been his name? Unable to recall, she pulled out her datapad to check only to find an unread message notifying her that she should have been at the cigar lounge 5 minutes ago. “By the goddess, I have to stay in an unclean room previously housed by a deceased person, whose items are likely still strewn about, and now I don’t even have the option of de-stressing at the pool before this meeting!”
With one final pout to herself, she held out her hand to the door scanner, which opened with a low click. The antiseptic smell of omnigel greeted her immediately, along with the sight of what she only hoped were omnigel stains. A quick once over told her all she needed to know, the Salarian had left behind a few trinkets on the unused bed, and papers containing animal sketches, which made no sense to her. None of this would be useful for the mission. At least I’ve confirmed as much and can now ask for the cleaning to be done with a clear conscious. She gently placed her suitcase on the floor, careful for it not to come into contact with anything else, and turned away from the room, glancing into the bathroom before making her way out into the hallway again. Thankfully, aside from more omnigel packets and what appeared to be a used towel, everything seemed to be in order. Her opinion of the SRN as an organization was decreasing steadily.
What a horrible reception, she thought, pulling out a stick of bubble gum to calm herself as she made her way back downstairs to find the cigar lounge.
When she arrived, most others had already situated themselves around the woman she recognized as the SRN representative, Lizbeth, and were chatting quietly among themselves. When offered a cigar, Nadara motioned to the gum in her mouth, preventing her from partaking, though she didn’t pass up the rum. Something had to help calm her after all, the gum on its own wasn’t quite up to the challenge, and the drink from when she had arrived had been downed before she and the attendant had reached the elevators.
When the meeting officially began, it was all Nadara could do to pay attention. Her thoughts swirled with the idea of using the credits she earned from this job to begin her resort review company. Nadara’s Reviews. Nadara’s Relaxing Reviews? Nadara’s Notice of Nurturing Resorts… She would finalize the name later. Did she even need the credits from this job? From the state of things when she arrived, everything seemed mostly untouched by the war here. Perhaps this could be the base of her operations…
Her interest was finally piqued when Lizbeth mentioned Mayor Thul’s party. She’d seen advertisements for the event while exploring Havana, and had been excited to reacquaint herself with high society once more. It had been a number of years since she’d seen Bragus, it seemed like he’d done quite well for himself in his mayoral duties.
After the others gave their opinions, Nadara placed her glass of rum down and spoke up. “I’d be happy to do whatever the group decides, but I think it would be best if I accompany Liz,” her eyes swung to Lizbeth with a small smile, “I can call you, Liz, right?” Without waiting for a response, Nadara addressed the others once more in the same breath. “Well, Liz and I could attend Bragus’ party and get as much information and assistance from him as possible, oh excuse me, I mean Mayor Thul. He and I go a ways back. And I have no doubt I can help persuade doctor… the doctor, to wait a while longer while we investigate.”
A mean looking woman, Nadara had forgotten her name, snapped, “I’ll get the shuttle,” before standing as if to leave, prompting the Asari to blink in surprise. How rude…
The relative tranquility of the Meliá Resort was very quickly disrupted by the shrill roar of an antique engine. Punctuated by the blaring of the horn, the other vehicles on and above the street quickly pulled to the side as a large green sportscar barreled down the road towards the the resort, the tires squealing as it suddenly turned sharply and spun to a stop alongside the curb.
"See? Told you I could get here in time!" Zenobia Vartius declared triumphantly. "Thanks for the lift!"
The Turian patted the side of the incredibly pale man's cheek as she leapt out of the car over his lap, stretching out to her full impressive height before fishing her carry-on bag out of the backseat, slightly deformed from about a dozen impulse buys from the marketplace. Craning her neck to get a better look, the turian took a moment to appreciate the resort, somehow undamaged from the vicious attack by the Reapers. It was still a little insane to her that anyone would let someone like her within a mile of a place like this, but damn it if she wasn't going to take advantage of it. Did they have a pool? She really, really hoped they had a pool here.
Striding into the lobby, Zenobia very quickly made a scene by vaulting over one of the sofas in the waiting room as she went up to the front desk, where a young drell woman was busy filling out a few forms off to the side. Naturally, the turian's eyes drifted in her direction before the woman behind the counter cleared her throat.
“Welcome to the Meliá Resort, señora," the human with her hair in the tight bun said, just barely hiding her annoyance. "Do you have a reservation?"
"Zenobia Vartius," she declared proudly, turning around to rest her back on the counter. "War hero, special agent in the SRN. Kind of a big deal."
"I...see..." the clerk said, eyes widening slightly with surprise as the name came up. "Well uh, here it is. It says you've been assigned to a room belong to a previous SRN agent."
"Such a shame it wasn't yours," Zenobia smirked at the drell woman, who averted her eyes and hid a slight smile.
"I'll have someone show you to your room," the clerk announced. "Just please don't disturb the guests."
A few minutes after the message went out to rendevous in the cigar lounge, something large splashed into the resort's pool, startling the two asari sunbathing there. The two of them glared angrily as Zenobia swam up to the edge and hoisted herself out, looking positively elated.
"What in the world are you doing?!?" one of them demanded indignantly.
Zenobia paused, glancing back at the pool. "I think it's kind of obvious, isn't it?"
"Hooligan!" the other asari huffed as the two stomped away angrily.
"Don't act like you've never thought of doing that!" Zenobia shouted after them, grabbing a towl from a stunned member of the staff and toweling herself off before heading inside and making her way to the lounge, of course already heavy with the smell of smoke. The scent made her nose twitch, and of course she took the yellow cigar that was offered to her as the SRN associate introduced herself, rather timidly at that.
"Zenobia Vartius," she introduced herself proudly, giving a friendly albeit aggressive handshake. Introduced to the others in turn, she sat down backwards in her chair as the details were given and the meeting commenced. With the friendly but professional atmosphere, it was almost kind of comforting. If she closed her eyes, she could have pretended they were all in yellow armor again, and Edarisa was lecturing her about not blowing up every door they came across. God, she missed Eda...
Still, as fun as daydreaming would be, there was work to do. The party sounded really damn fun, but it seemed like the shuttle or the signal would have been more in her wheelhouse, both of which sounded like more of a priority, at least for her teammates.
“I’ll get the shuttle."
The abruptness of the grumpy human's statement and departure was enough to cause a stir, the green asari even making a comment about her rudeness. Knocking the ashes off her cigar, she turned to the others.
"I can go and help Chuckles back there secure the shuttle," Zenobia offered. "She looks like an infiltrator, I can work well with them."
SPLITTING UP◢ Streets of Havana Evening, April 9, 2187 Clear, 20°C
By the end of the meeting, it was decided that Solveig and Zenobia would go to the spaceport, while Zenn and Amina would investigate the distress signal. Initially, Lizbeth was happy to have Nadara accompany her at the party. But at other's suggestion, she agreed that it might be better to have Nadara go with Zenn and Amina instead. They could use more firepower in case they run afoul of gangs, and judging the already growing tension between them, they could also use Nadara's mediation in case they run afoul of each other. Plus, Nadara looked like she might enjoy herself a bit too much at the party.
Then there was the no-show, Sevipia. Just as everyone was about to leave, Lizbeth received a message from Sevipia saying she was helping a sick local. There wouldn't be enough time for Sevipia to join any of her colleagues, so the group determined it was best for her to stay behind at the resort and have a look through the missing team members' rooms. Additionally, Sevipia would be ready to provide medical support should there be an emergency.
Several hours later, each group had set out to their destinations. The sun was setting, casting a golden hue over Havana's historical streets. The hotter daytime temperature had cooled slightly, and a soft sea breeze made it pleasant to stay outdoors. Celebrations were in full swing; lively banners lined the buildings, music blared from clubs and bars, and there were crowds dancing in every plaza. At least, those were the scenes Lizbeth saw on her way to the Capitol. It was an enjoyable trip in her taxi. Speaking of, Lizbeth forgot to arrange transportation for the other two group. Oh well, surely people would be too cheerful to mind a couple of armed to the teeth military contractors sitting in the back of the bus.
At the spaceport, Solveig and Zenobia would see mostly business as usual. Some last minute arrivals were eager to jump into the festivities of the city, but pilots and ground crew were preoccupied as they always were. Past the bustle of thousands of passengers at the terminal, and beyond the roars of aircraft and spacecraft engines on the runways and launch pads, was a closed section reserved for private and military use. The hangar containing SRN's shuttle were in the back of this section. At the front gate, Solveig and Zenobia found their SRN-issued access passes denied by the security VI. Thankfully, Solveig's alliance ID was able to get them through.
Up ahead, the hangar door is just barely ajar. Light inside seeped out onto the darkening fields, and the multiple indistinct shapes move within. As far as Solveig and Zenobia knew, no one else was authorized to access to hangar.
The neighborhood of Cerro was the opposite of the spaceport. Unlike the ultramodern carbon fiber terminals, or the timeless white marble found in affluent parts of the city, Cerro was made of dirty gravel roads and rusty tin roofs covering unrepaired war scars. Nevertheless, residents there were still celebrating, albeit in a more muted manner without the glitz and glamour. Before going into the back alley where the signal originated, Zenn, with his expertise in optical camouflage, noticed the shimmer of a cloaked figure across the street. Then a car drove by, and the shimmer was gone.
However, several locals nearby had taken notice of the trio. They began murmuring among themselves, and casting wary glances at Zenn and Nadara.
Amina sighed through her nose as she adjusted the heavy brown coat she wore over her armor. Moisture was beading around her hairline and the woman found herself breathing harder than usual thanks to the Cuban humidity. This coat certainly doesn’t help either. Walking down the streets of Cerro Amina carried in her right hand a large, heavy suitcase that contained her Vindicator rifle within, her pistol and all other items concealed beneath her coat. The suitcase she had grabbed from her room after emptying it and the coat was from a shop near the hotel, Amina figuring it better to disguise her appearance than to go parading around in full body armor packing a heavy rifle - especially in a neighborhood like Cerro.
The last thing we need is unwanted local attention. Amina thought to herself, then realizing how foolish a thought it was as she glanced at the two aliens accompanying her. Amina could see people staring and talking among themselves as she, Zenn, and Nadara made their way to the target location. A human with a large coat and suitcase accompanied by two aliens all skulking down the street together at night certainly was not exactly common around here.
Well… if anything maybe we’re less likely to be bothered.
Laughter and jubilant chatter carried over the tin rooftops, fireworks popped all around, and people rushed and gathered in yards and alleyways for the celebration. Cars cruised by honking away at people, some in friendly acknowledgment and some in protest for them to get out of the streets. Even as comparably run down and backwater as this area was everyone was finding ways to have a great time and revel the eve away.
“Keep your eyes peeled and stay ready.” Amina said aloud to her two companions. Amina wasn’t too sure yet what to make of either of Zenn or Nadara. The Asari seemed a bit dense and the Quarian like the type to fall down a well in broad daylight. They seemed pleasant enough on a personal level, and were willing enough to get involved in something like this. At the least it could be said they had drive and a sense of involvement and responsibility. But that still didn’t mean Amina trusted them - being aliens aside, they both whiffed of greenness to her regardless of their backgrounds. Maybe I’m just being too critical…
As the three rounded a sharp corner Amina drew in a sharp breath, eager to get to the alleyway in question and check out the signal but also nervous about what they would come across. Would the three of them be able to handle it? Would the Asari and Quarian be able to hold their own and have Amina’s back if something bad went down? All she could do is hope and keep her fingers crossed that this little investigation did not go awry. And if it did, she had enough faith in her own abilities.
Zenn’s eyes shifted back and forth behind his visor as he walked with his new SRN companions. His head slightly turned side to side as he took in all the sights and sounds. To most around him, Zenn would appear as an overstimulated tourist. Well, aside from the pistol hanging from his side. He knew bringing a weapon wouldn’t help him blend in, but he also wasn’t about to go in unarmed. At least this way he could pass it off as having a means of self defense. A much harder argument to make for a sniper rifle.
In truth, the quarian scout’s inability to keep his eyes in one place was him doing his job. If he couldn’t scout ahead, then he would at least make sure he saw everything that was directly in front of them. Every spot in view was under his watch. If there was any movement, any slight change, or even something that felt out of place, Zenn would catch it. He wouldn't let anything surprise them. Especially not after his arrogant display back in the cigar lounge.
However, the first thing to get his attention wasn't any threat. It was the drops of sweat rolling down Amina’s head that he began to focus on. It was hot and humid to be sure, something Zenn wouldn't have to worry about as his suit had internal environmental control. But that wasn't something most humans had. And on top of that Amina was also currently wearing a large coat. In this temperature an extra layer was not only unnecessary, but potentially dangerous. He understood her reasoning for wearing it in the first place, but judging from how people were staring at him and Nadara, it wasn’t doing them any good at this point.
“You know, you can probably ditch that thing.” Zenn gestured to Amina’s coat. “If anyone was looking for us we probably already got made. At least without that we won’t have to worry about you passing out from heatstroke.”
Whatever her response, Zenn would continue with them further into the Cerro neighborhood. The observant quarian still looked in all directions trying his best to analyze every detail with his eyes while not keeping his sight lingering in one place for too long. It was thanks to such diligent scanning that he happened to spot a slight shimmer across the street. To the untrained eye it may have seemed like an illusion of sorts caused by the fireworks, but Zenn knew all too well what it was. Someone or something was using a cloaking device. He tried to keep watch of it, but luck was not on his side in that regard.
A car passed in front of him. Though it only obscured his vision for a moment, by the time Zenn could see the spot where the cloaked figure stood, they were already gone. He stopped in place for a moment and combed the immediate area. Nothing.
Whoever it was could be anywhere now. While Zenn had a few ideas for how to track them down, all of them would involve him breaking off from the group. Not a decision he could make on his own.
The quarian resumed walking and picked up his pace to catch up with the others. Once he had reached them he moved in closer than before and spoke in a hushed voice.
"Heads up. Just spotted someone around here using camo, but I lost visual. Could be nothing, but I have trouble believing somebody using advanced tech in the same spot we're investigating is a coincidence. If we want to avoid a potential tail or ambush I could try and track them down? But if we don't want to risk separating we can just stick together. Safety in numbers and all that. What do you two think?"
As the three walked down a nondescript gravel road interspersed by groups of what might be called “party goers” by some—Nadara doubted heavily whether they were truly celebrating or simply loitering about—all she could focus on was how much happier she would have been had she been able to accompany Liz to the capitol, and subsequently, the party. The heels of her ankle strap platform stilettos left small indents in the uneven ground, kicking up small pebbles that infuriatingly too often found their way inside her shoes. How was she to have known Cerro would be so… unassuming.
In an exemplary display of her stubbornness, Nadara had refused to wear a more sensible pair of shoes.
After seeing the advertisements for Bragus’ party when she arrived in Havana, she immediately sought after and purchased a lovely dress that would complement her heels perfectly. Along with her chandelier earrings and matching necklace and bangles, it would have made quite the ensemble, fitting of a socialite of her status. She was convinced it would have drawn the appropriate amount of attention from the other guests so as to establish a favorable networking milieu, but her purchases from earlier had yet to be delivered by the time they departed from the resort. She regretted giving the courier a tip in advance of the delivery. It’s so difficult to find good help these days, she thought, disappointedly.
In any case, someone recognized the potential implications of searching for a distress signal buried amidst throngs of local gangs and alluded that Nadara’s skill at mediation might be of better use among the ruffians than at an upscale party. Others agreed, and just like that, her chance at a night of revelry was squandered. Liz had seemed to be a positively congenial partner, too… at least after the few glasses of whisky they shared during the meeting.
Unable to enjoy the evening as she would have preferred, Nadara insisted on salvaging at least a modicum of the festivities and wore the stilettos. She was more than capable of engaging in combat effectively regardless of her footwear.
Grimacing, the Asari lifted her left foot for what seemed like the hundredth time to dislodge another stone. Thank the Goddess she had stood firm on hailing a taxi instead of following the Quarian’s advice and taking a bus, or worse, walking like some common street urchin. She scoffed to herself at the thought.
“Can you imagine me on a bus?” She had asked at Zenn’s initial suggestion. “The correct answer is a very definitive no,” she quickly continued. “Honestly, I’d rather die.”
Nadara offered to rent a road car to which Zenn seemed pleased—poor thing, he must not have much means—but Amina reminded them of their need to remain as nondescript as possible. There was some back and forth on whether a bus would be more inconspicuous, but Nadara refused point blank, and Cerro was too far to go on foot. They settled on taking a taxi.
“Keep your eyes peeled and stay ready.” Amina didn’t seem to be very talkative.
Restraining herself from rolling her eyes, Nadara decided the statement didn’t require a response. It was as obvious as pairing a vintage Sassicaia with truffle-infused mushroom crostini topped with shaved parmesan and a balsamic glaze. She longingly wondered what kind of hors d’oeuvres they would serve at Bragus’ soiree.
"Heads up. Just spotted someone around here using camo, but I lost visual. Could be nothing, but I have trouble believing somebody using advanced tech in the same spot we're investigating is a coincidence. If we want to avoid a potential tail or ambush I could try and track them down? But if we don't want to risk separating we can just stick together. Safety in numbers and all that. What do you two think?"
“We can handle ourselves while you go.” Nadara absently fingered the handle of her retractable blade. It was the only weapon she’d brought along, but it would be more than enough.
“I could have gotten the shuttle myself,” Solveig said - tone dry as ever, a small sigh punctuated.
“Probably but I’m pretty sure I’d get yelled at if I spent the mission sleeping in the smoking lounge. Besides, could be fun!” Zenobia responded, not missing a beat with energy and enthusiasm. They would need both of those things.
Solveig sighed again, she’d at least rinsed off in the shower before leaving, it did feel better to wash the last couple of days off, that was for sure. Not one to miss a detail, she spied the shadows under the door of the Spaceport and her brow quirked; “Don’t think that’s what we were expecting, no?” she said, drawing into herself with a slow, purposeful breath as she readied herself. “Tell me what you’re good at,” she said again - the intention to learn about Zenobia’s skills - the execution… simply rude.
The turian cracked her knuckles, sparks of biotic energy flying from between her fingers. “Breach tactics, frontal assault, shock and awe. Pick your poison, so long as I can get my hands dirty.” If the Turian was cautious after spotting those shadows, she didn’t show it. If anything, she seemed eager to jump in and take them on, damn the consequences. She made a finger gun and tracked it at the door. “I say we make this easy; I go in swinging, you go nuts while they’re all running scared. Pop pop pop.”
Truthfully, that was exactly what Sol wanted. She knew battle, and she felt something rising - a feeling, anger, emotions - swirling. She felt the familiar sting of her arm. As if Zen’s energy caught her and brought her to life. “Pop?” Sol raised her brow again, but began stepping back as if to clear the way for the Turian, natural as anything. “Pop.” she affirmed, motioning to the door, and then her tactical cloak was down - she was a ghost.
Zenobia was not.
Taking no care to make herself hidden or subtle, she strode right up to the door, flexed her neck for a moment, then kicked the lock mechanism to blow open the door in style.
The hangar doors swung wide open to reveal five quarians and a kodiak shuttle inside. Bright white lights, from rows on the ceiling and individual stands on the floor, momentarily blinded those entering from the dark runways.
As Zenobia's eyes adjusted, she could see two quarians doing something to the shuttle (at 20 meters away from the entrance), one quarian using a computer terminal, one carting around mechanical tools and the last one in the middle directing everything.
"Keelah!" The cart pusher literally jumped at the sight of Zenobia. The cart toppled over and the quarian tripped on a mess of spilled tools.
The quarians at the computer and the shuttle all stopped whatever they were doing and turned to the turian intruder. The computer user's omni-tool lit up, the quarian at the shuttle engine stood tensely with a wrench in hand and the one fiddling under the shuttle door came up too quickly, bumped their head and fell back down.
However, their leader was the first to act. Unholstering a carnifex pistol and pointing it toward Zenobia, his tone was not one of welcome.
"Who the hell are you?" The quarian leader barked. "This is a private hangar. Get lost!"
While distracted by the turian, a small door at the rear of the hangar was all but forgotten. And neither was anyone watching the ladder leading up to the maintenance walkway.
"With pleasure, but first..." Zenobia, heedless of the gun pointed at her, cranes her neck to get a better look at the shuttle. "Nice ship. Who does it belong to?"
Zenobia could see areas of the shuttle typically marked had been freshly scrubbed.
"That narrows it down succinctly." She takes a few steps forward, barely even acknowledging the weapon pointed at her. "Who's 'us', exactly? Because 'us' looks like they just got done scrubbing the markings off of a shuttle they found." Zenobia's been around the seedier parts of the galaxy long enough to recognize what was going on. Hell, her first job was as a lookout for salvagers trying to claim seemingly abandoned spacecraft at omega for salvage.
"None of your business. What, you never seen people clean their spacecraft before?" The quarian boss grunted.
His finger moved closer to the trigger when Zenobia stepped forward. "That's close enough, any closer and-"
The computer user interrupted. "Boss, truck coming from the control tower!"
"You bosh'tet! Damn snitch!" The boss snarled.
A truck? Zen didn't call for a truck. The boss' choice of words piqued her interest though.
"Oho, what are you up to that can be snitched on, then?"
That was long enough. Nobody had immediately started shooting, and Solveig knew she was still in cover she'd followed Zen slowly around.
The boss was now in a time crunch, and was about to be in another.
Solveig moved silently behind him. Her cybernetic went first, lacing over his shoulder to pin his neck in the elbow.
They had as soon as that truck arrived to get out of here. She knew it. Zen knew it. Solveig hoped the boss knew too.
Her cloak lifted, and fast as lightning she was the ghastly tall form behind him. "It's in your best interest to tell the truth now," she said, momentarily casting a glare to the other Quarians. A warning. "Or..." she tightened her grip just so, "pop."
The wrench wielding quarian was about to charge Solveig.
"Wait, no, wait, everyone!" Boss quarian pleaded. "Please, let's all be reasonable. No pop!"
"Alright, my name is Kenn and we're uh...freelance spacecraft recyclers." He admitted. "But someone hired us to be here; a human called Armistan Banes! Said if we pull the black box for him, we get to keep the shuttle."
Kenn gestured to the computer, where the black box was indeed hooked up to. The computer user's omni-tool shifted nervously between Zenobia and Solveig, but the quarian's real worry seemed to be on the screen.
"Truck's almost here, boss..." Computer quarian warned.
"Hold on, you aren't with the alliance, yeah? Alliance doesn't kick in their own door and hold people at gunpoint. Do they?" Kenn blurted out. "We'll give you the shuttle, if you uh, vouch for us."
"Bad idea." Wrench wielding quarian spat.
"Look, Banes doesn't give a shit about us. He's got those Reds." Kenn tried to reason to both his own crew and the intruders. "We'll quit this job, okay? Do we have a deal?"
"Makes things easy, sure. Get your guys out of here and we'll pretend we never saw you, you won't have to get caught up in...the..."
Zenobia trails off for a moment, then her eyes widen in realization.
"...KENN?" She shouts in surprise. "Holy shit, what are you doing here, dude? It's me, Zenny!"
"Zenny...Zenobia! Lunatic! Wow, small galaxy, huh?" Kenn realized. "Uh yeah so, we were legit contractors, were. Guess now we're unemployed and dextro food's getting expensive, you know?"
"And please tell your scary human pal to let me go?"
Solveig frowned slightly, but did as he asked. Letting the man go but being careful to set her gaze on the jumpier ones of his crew.
"Now, chances of us getting the shuttle, black box, and out of here before this truck arrives is slim..." She furrowed a brow.
"How long before it gets here?"
An alliance-marked M-080 APC stopped in front of hangar 14. Its blinding headlights poured through the doors Zenobia kicked in. Eight heavily armed military personnel emerged from it, six humans and two turians.
"Back door?" Kenn and his crew were grabbing the black box and whatever else they could carry. They were no doubt seen, and the time to leave was now or never.
But running would also be very suspicious. The military personnel weren't messing around.
"Or maybe you can talk our way out of this?" Kenn hesitated.
The eight armed figures strode through the door by two’s, spreading intervals as they entered the hangar. All were fully geared up and ready for action weapons half raised. They wore helmets concealing their faces, including the unit leader who was adorned with a TACC Death Mask. As the seven subordinates maintained a spread between them and remained in a “ready” stance the leader stepped forward to speak, “Captain Riley, I’m here to impound this craft.”
“And while we’re at it,” she added, “you Quarians, you’re all under arrest for looting.” On Riley’s final word the seven other soldiers all raised their weapons to sight, picking a target and holding aim on them. All five of the Quarians were covered as were the two new arrivals.
“Who are you two supposed to be?” Riley demanded of the human and Turian women.
"Damn everyone really wants this thing for themselves, don't they?" Zenobia, again heedless of any weapons pointed at her, steps forward and flashes her identifier. "Well I hate to break it to you Riley Wiley but since this is SRN property I'm here to take it back to SRN."
Things were heating up, that was to be sure, and nobody was getting out of this one easily. Sol took in the details of each of the soldiers, and of the truck. At least they were Alliance. She was Alliance. But she was Alliance now off-duty and at the scene of what they thought was a crime. She took a breath a stepped forward slowly, she knew that name. Riley... Riley...
"Captain Riley... Captain Lee Riley. Commendation for actions on Cyone." She paused, and tried to relax her shoulders, tried to soften her gaze. "Solveig Wistrom, N7 Special Ops. I think there is a misunderstanding here."
Captain Riley hesitated, Solveig Wistrom…, she knew who that was, wholly by word of deed. The Captain glanced at the female Turian noting her ID. Riley Wiley?…
The Quarians were getting fidgety, more than they already were anyway, two of them shuffling their three-toed feet and glancing around. “Everyone stay where you are!” barked one of Riley’s men, voiced warbled by his helmet.
Riley took a few steps closer to Zenobia and Solveig, looking between them and deciding to first address Zenobia, “This shuttle is due for impound, I’m here for it.” Riley looked to Solveig, “No point in tossing around credentials. I have a job to do, two now actually - impound this shuttle and take in these looters.”
“Thanks for tipping me off actually, that elaborate little entrance you made was enough to perk curiosities.”
One quarian wasn't having any of it. The wrench wielder, already on edge before, didn't bother waiting for Kenn's command or obeying Riley's orders.
"Fuck this shit!" The quarian bolted for the back door. "I'm out!"
"And we have the same order to get the shuttle-" Solveig began before the Quarian bolted out. "Jäkla!" She said, turning away from Riley to watch as he escaped.
“Shit!” Riley spat.
One of Riley’s men swiveled around, about to fire his Avenger at the Quarian, “Stop, let him go!” Riley shouted, “Secure everyone else!”
Four of Riley’s men began fast walking towards Kenn and the others, weapons trained directly at their chests. Captain Riley remained where she was as the three others of her squad closed in behind her, keeping their weapons half raised, nervously watching Solveig and Zennobia.
"Damn it," Zenobia muttered, eyes darting between the quarians and the soldiers. "If you're really going to do this you'd better buy me chocolates first," Zenobia says, lowering herself into a combat stance while glaring at the troopers approaching her.
Solveig looked once more to Riley. "We have the same order, there's no danger here Captain. I'm sure we can work this out..." the woman tried to smile, "besides, think of the paperwork we'll both get out of?"
Something clicks and the gears start turning in Zenobia's head. She grabs Solveig by the shoulder. "Hold up, what about the quarians? You're really just going to sell these guys out to save our necks and get the shuttle? Just like that?"
Solveig twitched at the touch and whatever smile she had melted away and made room for a glare. "Who said I'm selling anyone out?" She warned. What was Zenobia thinking? "Back down."
"Oh yes, back down so we can let Stormtrooper Jane over here get to the curbstomping!" Zenobia shouts, playing it up to draw the attention of the soldiers. "Was that your plan the whole time or was fucking me like this a spontaneous decision??"
The Infiltrator scowled. "You're out of line, I'll remind you again to back down, and back off," she glared threateningly toward to Turian, rolling her shoulder slightly before glancing, for but a split second, apologetically toward Captain Riley. "Next warning will be with force."
Kenn was in shock.
He was in shock when Riley's troops showed up. He was in shock when the one of his own took off without a care in the world. Most importantly, he was in shock at how casually Riley let someone fleeing arrest get away, but gave him no leniency when he put up absolutely zero resistance.
Of course, Kenn was in shock when Zenobia and her crude human "ally" were about to turn on one another. His hands started to shake, desperately trying to find something to say. Wait, they said the shuttle was the property of...
"SRN!" Kenn blurted out, loud enough for his words to reverberate around the hangar. "I'm afraid you're mistaken, Captain Lee'Riley vas Wiley! We're all with SRN!"
"There's no looting, just a, uh, sudden maintenance call!" Kenn continued to blabber. "Sorry we didn't notify you, but I'm sure our first-class legal team at SRN will clear up the misunderstanding, and our very well-funded finance department will take care of any outstanding fees!"
"Uh, there's is an SRN legal team, right?" Kenn changed to a whisper for just Solveig and Zenobia. "Hey, we're on the same side,...right?"
Seeing no immediately change in anyone's posture, Kenn lowered his voice to whisper to just Zenobia. "I'm going for the shuttle if shit blows. It's been rigged for snap take off."
Zenobia blinked, a slight smile appearing on her face...
".....yyyeesss....SRN. We're all in SRN. These guys aren't looting anything, we're just overseeing the recovery and repair of our ship." Zenobia slips easily from faux-outrage to faux-professionalism.
"What's an SRN?" Another quarian perked up.
"Enough!" Solveig sighed, too overstimulated and too tired for the hijinks. "I just," she breathed out, closing her eyes, "want to get the shuttle," she said assertively, "and find Katya.
She then dropped down into a low squat, resting her elbows on her knees to place her head in her hands to massage her temples.
"You want to impound the shuttle, let me take the fucking blackbox then. I'll return it to the Alliance." She lifted her head up, her eyes stare as intense as ever in the direction of Riley. "Do we have a deal?"
Captain Riley sighed in exasperation beneath her visor. The lead Quarian was lying in desperation, that was obvious enough to Riley even before his counterpart blurred out their clumsy remark. Between the Quarians and the human-Turian pair before her Riley was at her patience’s end with this whole scenario. Her soldiers kept the Quarians secure, the ones at her back also at the ready. The strange Turian seemed to be the only one that cared about the Quarians while Solveig was more worried about the shuttle, namely the blackbox. Riley was not particularly interested in a heated exchange, much less an outright shoot-out all over a damned shuttle and some scavengers. Not when there were bigger issues to handle these days, to put it lightly.
The Captain shifted her feet, addressing Solveig, “Look, tell you what, just take the shuttle then. With the way things are right now I dare say a shuttle removed late from it’s hangar is at the top of everyone’s worries. But the Quarians are being detained for looting and that’s that. We don’t need vultures picking about right now. That’s my counter offer for you.”
Riley looked to Zenobia, “If you care so much about these five- four… your free to have your ‘SRN legal team’ vouch for them after this.”
Zenobia scowls, dropping any facade she was putting up to try and throw them off. "Fine...we'll take the shuttle," she growls. "But these guys didn't do anything wrong. They got misled and were hired by someone else to take the shuttle."
"What!?" Kenn astonished. "Yeah ok, we'll be released soon, yeah?"
Kenn looked to Zenobia for support, though his focus was also darting between the pistol he dropped earlier and the open shuttle door.
“Don’t even think about it.” Captain Riley snapped at Kenn.
*Zenobia glances back at Kenn with a small smirk.* "Don't worry, I've never left you hanging before."
She then rounds on the Captain, the lightness in her tone vanishing. "We're not done here. I know what you jackboots like to do to 'vultures' like us, and we're not going to leave them rotting in some cell for the crime of trying to survive. So you'd better behave around them or you're going to see me when I get REALLY upset, comprende?" The entire time Zenobia draws uncomfortably close to the captain, though her biotics never spark off once.
"You have my thanks Captain," Solveig said with a relieved smile as she sighed out one more time, standing back up to her full height.
She felt... tense now, around her mission partner. If it wasn't for Katya being missing, she'd have quit SRN on the spot - in saying that, it's not like she couldn't use her own resources to find her cousin...
"Why is the Alliance wanting to impound this anyway? With a whole truckload of soldiers too? Must be important."
“Get out of my face, Turian.” Captain Riley snapped as she stepped to the side. As her men rounded up Kenn and the others, herding them toward the hangar door, Captain Riley looked to Solveig with a shrug, “The shuttle was due for impound, the reason I brought along this whole team was because of all the racket - that and lots of… suspicious and unsavory characters lurking about these days. We have to be careful after all. These Quarians may be illegally scavenging but there is way worse than them to be found around.”
Kenn was in a mix of relief and resignation. Seeing Zenobia standing up to the captain made him feel a little less helpless. He would not leap for the shuttle or reach for his pistol.
"Alright, Captain vas Wiley, you can take us to, uh, temporary detention." He put up his hands and signaled for his crew to do the same. "Until SRN secures our release, of course."
As he was being led away, the quarian nodded to Zenobia. "Sorry I called you bosh'tet earlier, and thanks for having my back. I appreciate having a friend out here."
"Even if it's only one friend." He added for Solveig.
With the shuttle secured, and the team leaving, Solveig wanted nothing more than to call it and head back. Her stare lingered on the shuttle as the Quarians were taken away; she didn't register the comment.
"Let's get moving too," she eventually sighed out. "The other teams will be waiting on us."
"Sounds good! And uh, sorry about shouting at you earlier. Trying to confuse them and all."
There's a distinctive pause.
"I was never the one in charge of...tactics and stuff." She admits sheepishly.
Solveig thought about biting. About cursing Zenobia for trying to instigate with her in front of Alliance members, but the only thing she bit was her tongue.
After a moments pause, after she really thought about what she wanted to say, she met the gaze of her Turian colleague, "I can try to help them from their detention. I don't know what my word weighs to them, but... maybe I can try something else."
She thought of her mother, of her influence and hold in the Alliance. If there was ever a day to them that the name Wistrom meant something, it was today.
"Hey if you can make it work..." Zenobia says, trailing off as she picks up a bit of junk and looks it over.
"Er...sorry if I caused trouble..." she says after a long pause. "I kinda have a low tolerance for the system that chews folks up and spits them out again, ya know?"
"We need to stay together.” Amina commented on the presence mentioned by Zenn.
Zenn looks back and forth between Nadara and Amina. He places his hand beneath his chin to ponder how to handle a tied vote.
"Well, I could run across the street and just do a quick sweep with my omni-tool? I would still be close by and if I find something we can proceed from there. Does that work?"
A dog bark comes from the back alley.
“Go quick!” Nadara turns to Amina with a frown. “We don’t have time to stop and question every decision in times like this.” If they hadn’t stopped to question the decision earlier she wouldn’t even need to be here in the first place!
Zenn nods at Nadara. He makes sure there aren't any cars coming before running across the street to the spot he saw the cloaked figure. He pulls out his omni-tool and scans the area for anything out of the ordinary. Heat signatures, traces of element zero, etc.
“We also cannot split up at every turn and just go running towards every problem without some forethought.” Amina squeezes the handle of her suitcase.
Now Nadara did roll her eyes. “How can you not see this,” she motioned in the direction Zenn had run off in, “makes the most sense in this situation?” Her tone was louder than it should have been, the absentminded sweeping motion of her arm gaining the attention of those around them. “You’re either still too young to have honed good instincts, or you’re too insecure about your own abilities.” Her attention was fully on Amina. She could have been sipping martinis and coaxing information from Liz on other resorts SRN had on file. She didn’t need this.
“I am just speaking generally. I never actually spoke against the Quarian just running some scans. So long as we don’t go chasing shadows down through the alleys.” Amina ended with a hard jab in Nadara’s midsection. “Young? Don’t talk to me about experience. I certainly don’t need a century or two to mature.”
Air expelled from her lips at the unexpected blow, but Nadara quickly turned it into a scoff, hiding her surprise at the strength Amina had used. “Yes, well, that’s only because you couldn’t last two centuries.” Her eyes trailed over to the Quarian. “He hasn’t even gone down the alley, we won’t need to chase him,” she said, misunderstanding Amina’s point. Zenn’s moniker was “Shadow” after all.
“Hey!” Zenn called out to get the attention of the other to the two across the street. He didn’t want to announce to the world and possibly the person they were tracking they were on to them, so instead of yelling everything, he attempted to signal to them what he found. He held his omni-tool up and tapped on it a few times, then pointed to a nearby dilapidated two-story building the trail led to.
“So much for being inconspicuous,” she murmured to Amina.
Amina clapped her free hand against her face, “Fine, let’s go see what he’s found. Then we go check out that signal location.”
Before they went, three locals walked by Amina and Nadara.
"Damn turistas." One of them grumbled.
"Hey," another one said to Amina, "go argue with your alien girlfriend somewhere else."
“We find that term offensive, cabrón. You’re an alien as much as I am.”
"What, she speaks Spanish?" One of the locals was astonished.
Another dog bark comes from the back alley.
"Uh, sorry. We're just not used to seeing some many new faces." The second one apologized. She glanced at the back alley. "Anyway, don't try to pet that one. Stray came in after the gang went through. Smells like all kinds of nasty."
"Come on, let's go. Party's already started at Alejandro's place." The third local waved them along.
“Come on,” Amina nodded across the way, “let’s go check up with the Quarian.” Amina pulled her coat up tight and hustled along towards the building where Zenn had gone.
“But there’s some kind of nasty dog down this way,” Nadara complained. “Besides, Alejandro’s party might be a good place for intel!”
“Come on!” Amina shouted looking back, brow crinkled in a growing aggravation at the Asari.
Nadara hesitated, shifting the weight on her feet. The Quarian could certainly handle himself, but the opportunity to follow the locals to whomever Alejandro was, was fading fast as they continued farther down the street.
“Ugh!” Her hands came down in fists beside her as she definitively turned away from her last glimpses of the three locals and toward Amina and the building Zenn had indicated.
After crossing the street, Nadara crossed her arms over her chest in a huff. “We better not have just given up valuable information from a group of locals for this.”
Zenn waited a moment to see if his teammates had picked up on his signals. However, he also didn't want to lose the trail. It wouldn't hurt to at least make sure the coast was clear, right? Zenn cautiously entered the building, checking all corners and keeping his hand on his pistol as he stepped inside.
As soon as Zenn crossed into the building, the cloaked figure materialized behind him on the left side of the doorway. The figure was a helmeted human, and they went to grab Zenn.
However, Zenn was able to react first, by a split second.
The quarian released his grip on his pistol and prepared for his attackers grapple. His close quarters combat training kicked in as he instinctively reached up to grab their arm with one hand and wrap his other arm around the back of their head. He then attempted to pull them forward, using their momentum and his low center to throw his assailant over his shoulder.
The human was taller than Zenn by half a head and heavier by at least 20 kilos. He was unable to throw them. Zenn was shoved away forcefully, and landed on his ass. The impact kicked up dirt and dust all around the room.
When the dust cleared a second later, Zenn found the human's rifle pointed at his head. Streetlights shined from the window behind them, revealing the human's silver and yellow armor. It was an advanced stealth armor devoid of any markings of insignias.
Then Amina and Nadra came through the doorway. The human's weapon and armor were familiar to Amina.
"Don't do anything stupid." A filtered voice came from the human's helmet. "Or your friend gets it."
“You’re Cerberus.” Amina blurted suddenly. The woman had dropped her coat onto the floor revealing her own armor in full and was just starting to unlatch her suitcase when the assailant gave his warning.
I guess I gave Zenn more credit than he deserved, Nadara thought as she took in the scene before her. Her hand was on the handle of the Asari blade. She was certain she should could end the Cerberus grunt before they pulled the trigger with the speed of her charge.
“Stupid, huh? I don’t think we’re the ones who made the bad call here.” She made a show of counting their numbers by pointing a finger at Amina, Zenn, and herself before pausing and pointing only at the armored figure. Surely, her blade could slice right through it.
“Were you tailing us?” Perhaps if she got them talking, it would be easier to surprise them with an attack. All Nadara needed was for them to point the gun away from Zenn. Safety first and all that. Besides, if the Quarian died now, she really wouldn’t be able to make that party at Alejandro’s later. Too much paperwork.
You stupid bosh'tet! How the hell did you let yourself get captured? Zenn remained still. His eyes darted between the Cerberus soldier and his teammates as he tried to weigh his options. Think. You have to figure something out or else you're gonna blow this whole mission.
"What, how-" There was an almost imperceptible tremble at Amina's words, then the voice was back to its filtered monotone.
"Not tailing you. I've been watching this area." The human's rifle remain trained on Zenn, but they were now sparing glances at the other two.
"You're too sharp for gangsters." They addressed Zenn. "And don't gear like them either." To Amina and Nadara.
"Who sent you here?"
“Eat it.” Amina made a hard forward swinging with her left arm, her large suitcase containing her rifle flew towards the armed individuals’ legs - ideally it would hit the back of their knee and crumple them. At the least it would make them stumble so she could tussle them to the ground and disarm them.
The suitcase missed its mark completely. Though it did hit someone: Zenn. Just when he had regained his breath, the quarian's wind was knocked out of him again.
On impact, the suitcase opened and Amina's vindicator tumbled out to the armored figure's feet.
There was moment of confusion, then the figure realized something from Amina's weapon.
"You're with SRN." The figure planted a foot on the vindicator, to keep it out of Zenn's reach. "Rogue, isn't it?"
Was the SRN letting just anyone join their ranks? Nadara had seen incompetence before, but this was on a whole new level. She supposed her companions were lucky she’d come along. Goddess knows what would’ve happened had she not.
No matter, this was all the distraction she needed. Not bothering to wonder about how the assailant had so much intel on Amina, Nadara charged, pulling out and unsheathing her sword as she did. Hoping to utilize the surprise of her speed, the Asari angled herself to stop just behind the Cerberus grunt, intending to hold her blade firmly at their neck.
Zenn had been focused on the Cerberus operative when Amina made her move. The quarian let out a long wheeze as the brief case slammed into his chest. He was too stunned to even notice the vindicator rifle until after the Cerberus Op had it pinned under his foot.
The human reacted just Nadara charged. She was too fast for them to evade, though they managed to turn their gun to Nadara as her blade pressed up against their neck. In the same move, they kicked Amina's rifle back to the next room.
A millisecond was all it would take for the blade to decapitate, or the trigger to be pulled. But the millisecond passed and nothing happened.
"Easy now..." The human spoke emotionlessly, though their body was clearly tense. "Was scoping out the alley when your quarian friend came. Locals say a firefight happened two days ago. Valuable intel."
"How about we put the weapons down and talk?" Offering a gesture of goodwill, their right index finger shifted slightly off the trigger.
“What is Cerberus doing here?” Amina blurted out. “And how do you know my handle?”
"Ex-ceberus. I am well-informed on SRN, and other ex-ceberus."
"If you're... so well-informed..." Zenn managed to say between deep breaths. Sis arms clutched his chest as he pulled himself up. "Why the hell... did you try to attack us?"
"Wouldn't you do the same when you get tailed while stealthed?"
"Not... If I knew who it was. Seriously... You have knowledge of SRN... but didn't think the one quarian in the city was also the one they hired?"
"Only? You don't know about the batch at the spaceport? Look, I'll share my intel when there's no risk of decapitation."
“How can we be sure this isn’t just an act you’re putting on? Drop your gun, and I’ll sheathe the sword.”
Spaceport? Weren’t the other human and Turian headed there for something?
The figure holstered their rifle on their back.
Nadara sighed, but released the human and sheathed her sword as promised. Apparently tonight would consist of no fun whatsoever.
“Your helmet too.”
"No." They turned to Zenn again and offered him a hand up. "You should know."
Zenn glared at the cerberus op. He wasn't normally in the habit of accepting a helping hand from someone who nearly put a bullet in his head, but then again, one of his teammates had also nailed him full strength with a briefcase. Kind of hard to tell who the bad guys were. In the end Zenn let out a sigh and grabbed the man's hand to pull himself up.
"Alright. Spill. What's going on here?"
Amina kept her lips pursed, saying nothing as she waited for this apparent ex-Cerberus op to spill their guts.
Nadara narrowed her eyes at the human’s refusal to identify themselves. She didn’t trust them.
"I've been tracking a dangerous ex-cerberus agent called Armistan Banes." They looked at Amina. "SRN and I have been...exchanging information, and it seems Banes has recently associated himself with a gang called Tenth Street Reds."
"Locals told me some Reds entered the back alley shortly after several newcomers went through there." They looked out the window. The sun had set. "Then there were gunfire and explosions. Most of the Reds left. But only one newcomer walked out, supposedly a turian biotic."
"Was going to scan the alley when you showed up. We should still do it now. Isn't that why you are here?"
“I wouldn’t worry yourself about why we’re here,” Nadara said. Honestly, she couldn’t remember exactly. There was some signal?
“Show us some proof you’ve been working with SRN. Seems odd they didn’t tell us about you if they knew you’d be here.” Nadara blinked, suddenly hoping she hadn’t made a fool of herself. Liz hadn’t mentioned this ex-Cerberus grunt earlier, right?
They tapped their omni-tool. A holo-projection appears of a secure extranet page for authorized SRN personnel, where members applied for jobs and received briefings. Their callsign appeared on the top: Outcast - SRN Associate. Their account had no profile picture.
Zenn let out a long sigh as "Outcast" pulled up the secure SRN page. That certainly looked legitimate.
"So we almost killed each other because no one bothered to tell us there was someone else monitoring the area?" Zenn asked. He looked at his companions for confirmation. He certainly hoped one of them would correct him. Tell him he was wrong and that he simply missed that part of the briefing.
Nadara looked at him point blank. “With the reception I received at the resort, this doesn’t surprise me, honestly.”
Amina squinted at the operative, stepping slowly around with the intent to retrieve her weapon - coat left on the floor.
"SRN didn't tell you because I work alone, and discreetly." Outcast shrugged.
They watched Amina pick up her vindicator. "Might want to hydrate, Rogue. You're white hot on thermal."
Outcast started walking out toward the alley. The street was a lot less busy now. Though Alejandro's was booming with sounds of merrymaking down the street.
"What should I call you two?" Outcast asked the quarian and the asari.
Zenn hesitated to answer. Not because he didn't feel like he couldn't say, but because it felt awkward giving a callsign like Shadow after being caught so easily. Regardless, this guy was going to find out anyway.
"They call me Shadow." Zenn replied.
“Sunset.” Nadara peeked out over Outcast’s shoulder towards the alley. “There was talk of some nasty dog out there,” she murmured, eyes quickly losing interest in searching for the animal and instead shifting over to the loud party.
Who cares about Alejandro’s, that place seems intriguing enough.
As if on cue, a dog's whine comes from the back alley. Peering past the mangled chain wire fence at the mouth of the alley, the group could see a dirty golden retriever prone next to a row of dumpsters. Clutched between the dog's front paws was a collar.
The walls of the buildings have bullet holes, dark scorch marks and scraped trails of something heavy being dragged through. At Outcast's approach, the golden retriever perked up. It growled. Outcast began scanning with their omni-tool, and the dog's growl became more aggressive.
"Doesn't look like the gangs' guard dogs." Their right hand hovered near their rifle. "And doesn't like me either..."
Zenn kept back and watched as Outcast approached the dog. Even though he was more than protected by is suit, he didn't make it a habit of touch or going near dirty and possibly sick strays. He was close enough to spy the dog had something in it's paws. A collar?
"Hey," Zenn said and pointed to the collar, "aren't they supposed to normally wear those?"
The collar was broken. The bone-shaped tag attached to it read "Ranger". There's also some krogan scribblings on it: "brave little warrior".
The dog didn't show the same level of hostility toward Zenn, so Outcast stepped back behind the quarian.
It's growling eased after a few seconds. The dog turned to a dumpster and started scratching it.
Outcasted scanned said dumpster. "Just bags of trash. Wait, a tick of eezo."
“There’s something familiar about this animal,” Nadara pondered out loud. She couldn’t quite put her finger on why.
“Wanna go check out the trash, Zenn? The mutt doesn’t seem to mind you.”
Zenn really did not want to root around in trash for the same reason he didn’t want to go near the dog, but if he was the only one the animal was hostile with there wasn't really any other options. "Fine..." Zenn groaned "But if I get sick I'm calling us even for the cab."
Amina, readied her Vindicator, raising it up to chest level but keeping her eyes on the dumpster while her finger rested on the trigger. She didn’t like this, any of it - this surprise operative showing up onsite, the look of this dog, the tension in the air. This already unorthodox evening was just getting stranger.
“Go.” Amina nodded to urge Zenn forward.
The smell was nauseating, even through Zenn's suit filters. But it was more foul than just bags of refuse. At the bottom of the dumpster were two corpses.
The first was a krogan clad in heavy armor with decorative bone pieces. Patches of the krogan's armor and skin were burned, but his cause of death was clearly a shotgun blast between his eyes.
This dead krogan was too heavy for Zenn to move alone.
"Help Shadow out." Outcast said.
Once the krogan was out of the dumpster, the golden retriever immediately went to the corpse. It pulled a piece of leather from the krogan's pocket, the missing piece of the broken collar. The the dog pawed, scratched and barked. When it realized there would be no reply, the dog curled up with a defeated whine.
Upon scanning, this krogan matched the descriptions of an Urdnot soldier of the missing team.
Beneath the krogan was another corpse so badly burned that it couldn't be identified at a glance. A scan would reveal the corpse to be an asari, and the tick of eezo was a part of the asari's biotic amp. The amp was the only thing not burned.
Nadara would recognize the amp as a commando grade one tailored for asari adepts.
"Intact amp could be useful." Outcast noted. They took out a scalpel from their bandolier, but after a moment of pause, the scalpel was put away.
Instead, Outcast went to scan the surroundings. "Multiple incendiary grenade impacts; classic Reds tactic."
Outcast proceeded further into the alley. "Prints looked like more bodies dragged this way." They stopped at few footprints. "Though this set is someone running, and not human like the rest."
Nadara was surprised such a high ranking Asari adept would succumb like this. Not to mention the Krogan, and an Urdnot at that. She opened her mouth to object to Outcast’s implication of removing the amp from the fallen Asari then and there, but he must have realized the insensitivity of his action and put it away on his own.
“SRN will need to send a team to collect these bodies,” she said, sending a message indicating as such through her omni-tool.
“One of us should stay back and wait for them. Zenn?”
She didn’t make eye contact with the Quarian, instead moving to inspect the footprints Outcast indicated. Why is he acting like our commanding officer? She thought, further aggravated by the stranger.
Before reaching the footprints however, Nadara paused by the golden retriever. From a closer look, she could tell the mutt had been well cared for until recently. A few baths, and the golden coat beneath should shine through again. She knelt down and placed a hand on his head, not comfortable enough with the grime on his fur for a legitimate caress, but it was probably more affection than he’d received of late anyway.
The dog’s reaction was friendly enough, though he was clearly saddened by the loss of what had to have been his owner. Was Outcast the only one he was distrustful of? This only increased Nadara’s own suspicions.
“Keep an eye on the mutt, too?” Nadara directed to Zenn, still without meeting his gaze. She picked up the colar with the intention of handing it off to him, using the very tips of her fingers to gingerly lift it and the second ripped piece of leather from the ground.
Amina’s brow furrowed as she looked down at the two alien corpses. So this is what became of the last team… she thought, drumming her fingers against her rifle. Amina chewed the inside of her cheek as she processed the scene before the group. “The Reds” it seemed were quite the prepared bunch, Amina wondered if it had been a fair actual fight or just a well executed ambush. Whatever may be they had found the missing team - part of them anyway.
Nadara called in a pickup for the bodies while this “Outcast” ran his scans nearby, noting the footprints. Someone or something had taken off leaving a trail in it’s wake. Nothing to do but follow it.
Nadara requested for Zenn to hang back with the bodies - the dog too, Amina rolling her eyes at the latter. *Now we are animal rescue too?* Someone did need to stay back and secure the extraction of the corpses, though Amina wished the team as it were could stay together rather than splitting and she being stuck with this newcomer. *Better to have him where I can see him…* Amina thought.
Amina remained silent though she took some assertive steps towards the trail, indicating for Nadara to follow along as well as Outcast whom Amina was staring daggers into.
This. Was. Disgusting. Zenn had handled his fair share of bodies, and even a few burned ones before. But burned and buried in a dumpster? He couldn't tell what was a person and what was tossed out leftovers. After this mission he was going to need to change his filters and take a long decontamination shower.
Together they were able to lift the corpses out without much issue, but Zenn remained in the dumpster for a moment longer. He decided this was the perfect opportunity to hopefully get some more info. Crouched down in the garbage and out of sight, the quarian opened his omni-tool and sent a hasty message to Lizbeth
Shadow: Requesting all data on SRN Associate "Outcast".
Outcast hadn't given them any reason not to trust him. But he also hadn't given them much at all. Zenn didn't want to keep second guessing this guy's every move, and having a confirmation he was who he said he was would be enough to put the quarian's mind at ease.
His task completed, Zenn hopped out of the dumpster hoping he would never have to return. In his brief absence, Outcast had found a trail to follow, while Nadara had called for a team to collect the bodies and requested Zenn stay behind with them. Well, less requested and more expected as she didn't even look at him or ask his opinion. Amina seemed to go along with it as well, but it felt less like she agreed and more she just wanted to get all this over with.
Outvoted before he even got a say. Guess he was stuck with the dog. The dirty possibly diseased dog that was currently pawing at a trash covered decomposing corpse… On second thought.
"Are we sure that's a good idea?" Zenn spoke up before the others left. "If these Reds took down a Krogan and an Asari adept then they're clearly a formidable group. Splitting up now could leave us vulnerable."
Nadara finally looked over to the Quarian and raised an eyebrow. “What do you suggest instead?”
Zenn glanced around for ideas. He had one, but it wasn’t really in good taste. The others would probably disagree, but it was all he had at the moment.
"We could put them back in?" Zenn suggested and pointed to the dumpster. "They were hidden there before just fine. All we have to do is let the collection team know where they are stashed and we'll be set."
Amina shook her head and said to Zenn, “We can’t just toss them back in the dumpster. It would be better for you to just wait here with the corpses. We can manage. And this time damn concealment.” Amina wadded up the oversized jacket she had been wearing and stuffed it inside the suitcase, then tossing both into the dumpster.
“As if that oversized rag did much concealment anyway,” Nadara mumbled to herself under her breath. Then, louder, she said, “I agree with her.” She shrugged to Zenn. “Sorry, seems like you’re outvoted. But hey, at least this way you’re less likely to get sick, right?”
The odds of these thugs returning here now that their targets were dead was low. Especially if their prints indicated they’d run off somewhere.
Nadara wasn’t keen on following Outcast to a potential ambush—his presence was all just too convenient—but they had to follow the lead. And truth be told, after they’d walked in on Zenn on his ass, she felt it was better he stay back. Not that Amina inspired much more confidence. I guess as long as she doesn’t try to throw anything…
She took a few steps over toward the stranger and Amina before turning back to Zenn, indicating her omni tool. “Message if anything.”
The quarian lowered his gaze and shook his head. He really did not like this, but Nadara was right, he was outvoted.
“Alright. Just be careful. Don’t let any cloaked figures get the drop on you.” Zenn relented and released them with a wave.
He leaned against the wall and watched as his teammates left to follow the trail. Once they were out of sight he pushed himself off and headed back out of the alley. As he passed the dog laying by his fallen owner and held his hand out towards the animal and said in a hushed voice, “Stay” before activating his cloak and vanishing from sight.
The others may not have suspected anything, and honestly he really hoped they were right. But there was something still bothering him. They were here to investigate a distress signal, and it would be naïve to assume the Reds were oblivious to said signal. If they were smart, they would realize that signal would bring backup for the SRN operatives they killed. If Zenn were in their shoes the first thing he would do is try to kill it. But if he couldn’t stop the signal, he’d find a way to stall the reinforcements so he could get into position, then trick them to split up. Once they were apart he’d strike the weakest groups first, which in this case would be him. Someone had already gotten the drop on him once today, it wasn’t going to happen again.
The squad had decided he would stay with the bodies, and he was going to follow those orders, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t do so from a vantage point. The roof of the building he had followed Outcast into would make a great start. From the top of a two story building he’d have a perfect view of the alley, but more importantly, the surrounding area. If anyone was setting up an ambush on him or his team, he’d see it. Now if only he had actually brought his sniper rifle…
"Are you all done?" Outcast cut in. "No need to get worked up over two corpses, unless..."
"Anyway, trail clearly split into two." Outcast was moving to the other end of the alley. That end opened to another road, a much quieter, much darker and much more poorly paved road. "Bunch of dragging here ended with tire marks near the curb. Reds stuffed into getaway vehicles and drove off."
Outcast highlighted the other trail going across the street. "Runner went through there, but the pursuers stopped."
The threshold in question was a series of sheet metal barriers. Graffiti marred them; one symbol, the letter M, was the most prominent. Just beside the M was a humanoid shaped hole. "Marielitos territory past that point." Outcast pointed out.
"Feel free to go through and investigate. No toughs on the street; most of them must be off partying." Suggested Outcast. "I will go...extract footage from traffic cams; see which way the Reds drove to."
"Here's my comms channel." Outcast revealed on omni-tool display. "Or I can use yours. Or just meet back here when you're done. Go with whatever you think has the least risk of me tricking you."
Nadara made eye contact with Amina before narrowing her eyes at Outcast. “Let’s keep our comms separate for now,” she said, accepting the information from him. Speaking of which…she switched over to their private channel. “Zenn, can you get eyes on us?”
"Already got visual." Zenn confirmed at Nadara's request. "Though that wall of sheet metal will be a problem. Whoever built that did so to block prying eyes like mine. I could try another vantage point, but then I couldn't keep track of the 'dearly departed' or their dog."
Was he being too harsh on the dead? It wasn't their fault he was stuck keeping track of them. Course, this wouldn't have been a problem if they hadn't gotten themselves killed- Nope. Stop. Don't think like that. He didn't know the full story. He couldn't judge them. There was a job to be done and he was assigned it. Gotta focus on that.
Perfect timing, a quick distraction made itself known on Zenn’s omni-tool. Lizbeth had gotten back to him. The info was... inadequate to say the least.
Egghead: Zenn? Sry, was talking to Thul.
Egghead: Anyway, quick search shows they joined 10 days ago. Only thing on file is species: human. Probably logistics/admin. Hired a dozen to prep for new office. Half aren't interviewed yet.
Egghead: Btw, tell Nadara Thul has a present for her. Cigars, "Jack Harper Custom Commission". I'll bring it back to the hotel.
Egghead: Gtg! There's Jelize. Gotta catch her before she leaves!
All it confirmed was species and that they were a recent addition like the rest of the team, but it's what Lizbeth speculated that was concerning. Logistics and admin? Really? Someone like that wouldn't be in the field. Was Lizbeth playing dumb? Or was she just as much in the dark? Whatever the case, he wasn't going to hide things from his team.
"Oh Nadara, just got a message from Liz. Looks like Thul got you a present. Guess you didn't totally miss out on the party. I'll send you the details." Zenn informed her with a cheerful tone.
Zenn forwarded the messages to both Nadara and Amina. He didn't mention the info regarding Outcast over comms just in case he was being nosey and eavesdropping.
It was such a drag to have to take the leadership role when she would much rather be partying it up with the locals. Nadara sighed internally to herself. But it seemed this was just how this mission would go. It did make her question the capabilities of the others on her team, though, the two who had gone to fetch their shuttle. How were they fairing? And wasn’t there another who didn’t even show to the initial meeting?
Was this really the best and fastest way to get things back to normal? It’s not too late to license that review business, she mused to herself until Zenn got back to her.
Well, at least he’d had the foresight to keep a visual on both them and the bodies. And it seemed he’d even had the wherewithal to double check Outcast’s credentials. The lack of information Liz offered was troubling, further confirming her gut instinct not to trust the mysterious human.
“Ooh goodie,” she said at the mention of a present. As she read through Lizbeth’s message however, her smile fell. “Ah. Yes, cigars, how… kind… of Bragus.” She’d forgotten how tactless the man could be. Nadara couldn’t remember how many times she’d told him she wasn’t fond of the noxious sticks. Perhaps they could be of some use, though. She remembered Cuban cigars were considered quite the delicacy to some. But that was best focused on at a different time.
Keeping the private comms open so Zenn could hear, she said, “I’ll follow the runner. Perhaps you should assist Outcast in his investigation.” She directed the last part to Amina before looking back towards where they came from, wondering what vantage point Zenn was utilizing. “I think it’s best we keep eyes on the bodies for now. If anything happens, I can charge back here quite quickly.”
“Right…” Amina said flatly.
*This whole job is getting more and more complex and annoying by the minute…*
The arrival of this “Outcast” had already thrown a knot in things, and now Amina, Nadara, and Zenn had to split up. Splitting up may have been the best course for following the trail of these killings but that didn’t mean Amina had to like it. She wasn’t sure what exactly to make of this armored newcomer but she didn’t trust them.
Well, not yet.
Amina double checked her rifle and kit, satisfied as she could be, and then nodded to Outcast. “Lead the way.”
"If you say so, Rogue." Outcast admonished, but didn't bother otherwise. "Sunset could've used your help."
Anima planned to stay close and at Outcast's back the whole way. And she did relent to herself that she had Zenn and Nadara to back her up. They didn’t seem to be a completely useless pair - even if a bit on the ditzy side.
Nadara nodded to Amina and walked toward the sheet metal barrier.
“Keep an eye on those two, Shadow.”
Just as said, Outcast made their way to the closest intersection. After making sure no one was around, Outcast pried open a panel at the base of the traffic light pole and began interfacing with their omni-tool. As far as Amina was concerned, Outcast seemed to know their way around hacking.
"Don't suppose you're good with electronics?" Outcast said between omni-tool taps. "Could make this faster."
For Nadara, getting into Marieltos territory was incredibly easy. The hole in the sheet metal was barely covered by a plastic tarp. No alarms or traps were triggered. In fact, this space appeared to be the yard of a two-story villa. The only sources of light came from the villa, both through the windows and next to its doors. Several trees and shrubs made the yard even harder to see.
There were two humans standing around the door. One of them had an M-23 shotgun, while the other lugged around a big machete. Both wore patches with the Marieltos' M, but neither wore any armor.
"My cousin's out there partying and what do I get? Guard duty." Nadara could hear one of them complain.
"What do we even need to guard?." Said the other one. "That turian's out cold. Reds fucked him up good, and we even smashed his comms."
"Something about ransom. Bird-man's some kind of spec op." The first one replied. "Anyway, I'm gonna go take a piss."
The human with the machete went inside, leaving only one shotgun-wielding guard.
The entire alley smelled. She hadn't outwardly complained of the stench because so many other factors had been at play, but that didn't mean she hadn't immediately been repulsed by her surroundings when they stepped onto the grimy passageway that existed behind the building. The sheer notion that she was stepping over and on—she shivered—Goddess knows what, was enough to warrant multiple showers as soon as she was back at the resort. They had better have cleaned the room by the time I get back.
Before carefully pulling aside the tarp that crudely hung over the opening in the sheet metal, she found an unknown viscous liquid underfoot. It was nothing like stepping on the smooth, silky texture of the velvet carpet at the last Ambassador’s Gala she’d attended... but during said event, she had spilled some champagne and attempted to cover her faux pas by stepping on the evidence. She supposed that was slightly more similar to the mysterious viscosity she stood on now. Nadara tried pretending she was back at the luxurious ball, but as soon as she was faced with the glorified shack with an extra floor thrown on top that was the villa that lay beyond the tarp, she was mercilessly thrust into the present moment.
She should be grateful the inhabitants had barely enough to fund adequate lighting, much less afford a groundskeeper, for she easily found cover behind some unkempt foliage, but she simply couldn't bring herself to even feign the emotion. A sickly sweet rotting odor of well expired fermented beverages permeated the yard and various pieces of garbage lay strewn about as if someone purposefully dragged a ripped trash bag through the space. At least the foul smell and sight didn't affect her ability to overhear the conversation between the two guards at the door.
"These 'Reds' are keeping a downed Turian inside a sorry sight of a two-story dwelling that doesn't even come close to the grandeur of a proper villa," she whispered into her omni-tool through the private channel she shared with Zenn and Amina. "I'm going in to extract him."
There were many small items around her, and once the second guard went inside, she used the opportunity to toss a small stone to the opposite end of the yard, hoping to distract the first guard so she could sneak inside the building.
A new message appeared for Nadara and Zenn as the latter settled into position.
Saneamiento 24/7 - SRN Partner: WTF two dead bodies?? You need to find a better party, amigos...preferably one without krogans o.o
Saneamiento 24/7 - SRN Partner: Anyway, will be there in 15 with a dog cage.
15 minutes. That was the wait time Zenn was given. It was longer than he’d like to be stuck there, but all things considered it was still a quick response time. Actually, it might be quick enough that there wasn’t any point in waiting around. After all, what were the chances anything would happen to the bodies in the next 15-
“And I get that some supplies are scarce right now, but I could get better food from street vendors.” A voice came into earshot from the streets below. Three humans, all looking rather displeased, were walking down the sidewalk.
“Ugh I know. I’m glad we got out of there, but I really don’t want to walk all the way back home.”
“Well, we could take the alleys? Shave a few minutes off.”
Shit. Okay, don’t panic. Even Zenn knew going down sketchy alleys at this time of night was dangerous. No way they would go for it.
“Can’t we just call a cab instead?”
“Are you kidding? This is the final night of celebration. Traffic all over Havana is going to be a nightmare. Our best bet is to cut through here and avoid any of the main roads. We’ll be home in no time!”
“I don’t know. Is that safe?”
Not at all!
“Come on, everyone's out partying! No one is going to care if a few people ‘trespass’ on their territory or whatever.”
At that point, Zenn had stopped listening to the group and began his descent from the building. If there was even a possibility of them taking the alley he had to get into position to stop them. Luckily he was still cloaked, and the climb down wasn’t exactly difficult. This gave him just enough time to slip undetected into the alley and check his surrounding area. Hopefully there was something he could use to quickly hide the bodies. If not, he’d have to think of a way to keep the party goers away from here.
After a quick survey of the area, all Zenn was able to find was a tarp hanging from the sheet metal wall. Would it be big enough to cover the bodies? And even if it was he couldn’t exactly move them out of the way. He had to think. The voices were getting closer which meant those humans must have decided to go down the alley. Shit shit come on. There had to be something… Wait. The dog! The mangy mutt was a decent size, any pedestrian would try to avoid it if they thought it was angry. Now he just had to get the dog from riled up, but how?
Hold on, the krogan was the owner right? So maybe… Zen raced over to the krogan’s body and began checking the pockets. Thermal clips, rations, what looked to be teeth of some kind, ah-ha! The quarian removed a bag filled with bone shaped biscuits. He opened the bag and dangled it in front of the dog's nose, hoping it would pick up the scent and focus on them. He carefully removed one of the treats and started backing up to the entrance of the alley. He slipped the bag into one of his own pockets and concealed the treat in his hands. With his cameo still on it was the best way to keep anyone from seeing floating dog biscuits, and as long as the dog had the smell it wouldn’t need to see them to know where they were. Now all he needed was for the dog to make some noise.
“Come on, you mutt.” Zenn muttered under his breath. “Start barking! Growl or something! Speak!”
The dog started barking with all of its golden retriever might as its treats bag disappeared into thin air. It was just when the three humans were about to turn into the back alley. At that moment, they decided taxi was the better choice after all.
While they were hurrying back to Alejandro's to hail a ride, the dog was getting tired of barking. It poised to leap at Zenn's scent.
The plan worked perfectly. Zenn could hear the group as they hesitated, then ultimately decided a dog attack was not worth taking a shortcut. He waited a few moments to make sure they were gone before he deactivated his cloaking and relaxed his shoulders.
“Whew. That was a close one. Good work, Ranger… Ranger?”
The dog had stopped barking and was now bending it’s legs, was it about to-
“No, NO! DOWN! DOWN!” Zenn cried out in vain as the dog lept on top of him. “Okay, fine. Fine! Take it!” The quarian released his hold on the treat and allowed the dog to snatch it from his hands.
He laid on the ground defeated as the dog messily devoured the treat over him. His team was investigating clues and infiltrating gang hideouts, meanwhile he just spent the last few minutes scaring a group of humans with a stray dog that had now pinned him to the ground. As he lay there in that moment, only one thought was going through his head.
I’m a migrant fleet marine. I used to fight geth and reapers...
Meanwhile, Nadara's distraction worked perfectly. The shotgun-wielding guard wandered away from the door for Nadara to slip inside, unaware of her movements in the dark.
Inside, Nadara found several pieces of cheap furniture strewn about the villa lobby. There were three doors, and behind one door came the sound of toilet flushing. Thankfully, the lobby was poorly lit by only one old hanging light, which gave Nadara plenty of hiding spots behind sofas and under tables.
The absentminded guard walked by, oblivious to the clatters of Nadara's stilettos across dirty tiles just seconds ago.
Searching through the two remaining doors, Nadara discovered a kitchen behind one, and a storage behind the last one. At the center of the storage was an unconscious turian tied up to a chair. The turian matched the descriptions of a missing SRN member: Kysar "Venator" Proctus.
Kysar had a bruise on top of his head, where the Marieltos knocked him out with something hard. At the side of his torso armor was a bullet hole, shot by the Reds and haphazardly stuffed full of medi-gel by Marieltos sawbones. Otherwise, Kysar seemed mostly healthy.
At one side of the storage was hard case holding Kysar's weapons. On the other side was a table with a tablet. The tablet displayed plans to ransom Kysar to the highest bidder between SRN, Tenth Street Reds and the turian military. However, the Marieltos went to party before enacting their plan.
Upon releasing Kysar from his bonds, Nadara noticed the turian stirring.
“Oh good,” she said in relief. “For a moment there, I was thinking I’d have to carry you out, and I don’t think that would’ve worked out well for either of us.” She frowned as she looked down and noticed her stilettos had been scuffed in the shuffle from the dilapidated yard to the hovel they were in now. Damn it!
She walked over to the table with the tablet and took it, thinking it might have valuable information. Then, to the private channel, she said, “Target acquired, returning to you, Rogue.”
“Roger that Sunset.” Amina finally replied to Nadara.
Offhandedly, she turned to Kysar once more. “You can walk, right?”
Kysar's whole world spun, frantically pirouetting about as the Turian attempted to grip reality. His senses were an utter mess: flushes of pain from all around his body, mixed with adrenaline and bouts of morphine.
What the fuck is going on?
Images of the not too distant past began to flash through his mind.
Earth. Dead Reapers. SRN. Namibia. Cuba. Alleyway...
The Turian coughed, spitting out blood, unable to tell if it was fresh or hours old. Something had corralled him from his slumber, had someone said something? Was it his captors?
Kysar opened an eye, squinting into the darkness of the night. Standing a few footsteps away was a slender figure, decked out in some serious gear. Looking down, the Turian noticed the remains of bindings littered on the ground.
Rescue op? Turians? Rival Gang? SRN?
Too many variables gave way to too many thoughts and the answers weren't going to miraculously come to him.
Hands on her hips, she gave him a once over and sighed. “You’re just coming to after what seems to have been quite the nasty fight, so I’ll overlook it this once.” Goddess, could none of her new teammates hold their own?
Nadara pulled out her handy pack of gum from a back pocket and popped one into her mouth before offering one to the Turian. A gesture of peace.
“Go ahead, it’ll help keep your mind off that,” she said, motioning to the bullet wound.
“I’m with the SRN—Sunset,” she gave a small curtsy. “Came to extract the victim here never expecting it to be one of our own members.”
A noise from somewhere outside, either from within the house or from the yard drew her attention and Nadara paused to listen, hand immediately resting on her blade’s handle.
When no one came bursting through the door, she continued, her tone more urgent, her volume lower, and voice quicker. “There’s two guards at the back door. Not sure how many others, but we need to head back that way to rendezvous with the rest of my team. Can you move? We need to go now before this gets any more complicated.”
Ah, an Asari. What other race could display such arrogance through tone alone.
"No," he pushed the offer of gum away, pausing for just a moment as he ruminated on a thought. To be fair to the woman, she had just saved him from an even stickier situation. "Thanks."
As 'Sunset' went on to introduce herself and their predicament, Kysar stood. Wobbling to his feet like a newborn giraffe he used the chair to stabilise himself. The Turian's eyes widened at the Asari's final statement.
Two of them are still here? Alive?
Kysar's body flared with a deep blue hue for a split second. Rage flowed forth, surging across his body. Revenge was in the air.
Spotting a hard case off to the side of a storage box, he hobbled over. Bringing up his omni-tool, he scanned the case.
Scan suggests it's the right size to hold my weapons. There's a digital lock too. The Turian stroked his mandibles. Could be hacked but it looks as if there's a device connected to it.
He turned to Sunset, "That datapad you're holding, see if it's connected to this hard case. I'm going to collect my gear then head outside and kill whoever is out there. You're more than welcome to join me."
“We don’t have time for this,” she hissed, unsheathing her blade in one quick movement.
There may have been surprise in the Turian’s features as she moved toward him, but Nadara didn’t bother explaining herself as she brought the blade down against the lock. It sliced through easily, and the case split open. Nadara winced, hoping the sound hadn’t been overheard.
As her new teammate began to adorn his gear, his expression was formidable, though she was certain the wound at his side was still smarting. Despite this, he seemed determined to pay back his aggressors tenfold, regardless of how many others there still were besides the two Nadara had outsmarted earlier.
She recognized the look in his eyes. The hunger. The desire for spilled blood. In that moment, her respect for him grew. Even if he’d gotten his ass handed to him.
“Ok,” she said, standing at the door, her sword ready. “Shall we?” She popped a bubble. There was a glint in her eyes as she smiled mischievously at Kysar.
Kysar smiled, igniting his Omni-tool and activating his Tech Armour. As much as revenge was the goal, the Turian needed to make sure he survived long enough to see the light go out in their eyes.
His rifle felt heavy in his arms, perhaps the cacophony of drugs were wearing thin, or perhaps it was the fact blue blood still trickled from his wound. Either way his pistol was the better option.
Taking point he entered the lobby. Sat on one of the dilapidated lounges, snoring away, lay one of the guards armed with a machete. Kysar's free hand drifted upwards, feeling the lump on his scalp. This was the last person he saw before things went dark.
"Time to return the favour." The Turian breathed, his blood boiling over. Kysar's pistol returned to its holster as his electrified omni-blade crackled into existence.
"Oi! You!" He yelled, startling the human into action. The guard began to yell out as the Turian sprinted at him. Bringing up his machete, the man attempted a swing that was easily battered away. Kysar shoulder-charged the guard into the floor, quickly leaping on top of him, bringing down his blade and stabbing the man in three quick concessions.
Suddenly, the front door whipped open. The other guard, brandishing his shotgun, fired immediately into Kysar, wailing as he saw his compatriot on the floor.
Tech armour tanked the initial shot, bursting on impact with the neuron discharge knocking back the second guard. Off balance but not off his feet, the guard regained composure, firing again. The Turian had just enough time to duck back behind the couch, narrowly avoiding the shotgun's spray. He fumbled around in the dark for his sidearm but grew woosier and woosier as the adrenaline dissipated.
Distressed by the sight of a dead comrade, shaken by tech armor explosion and tunnel visioned at the turian, the shotgun guard had no idea Nadara was less than ten meters away. A third shot was lined up toward the couch, and its cushions, shredded by the previous blast, would provide little protection to Kysar.
However, there was a split second for Nadara to act before the guard pulled the trigger.
Nadara was pleasantly surprised by the speed and agility the Turian displayed despite his condition. Even so, he’d only been able to kill the one guard because they’d been asleep on the couch. She doubted he’d be able to survive much longer without her intervening.
The smile she’d given Kysar earlier never faltered as she witnessed the scene before her. The surviving guard firing the second shot was as enticing to her as a dinner bell to a hungry mutt. The excitement within her built to a crescendo as she savored every second of anticipation until her moment of action.
In truth, Nadara would have preferred a more challenging opponent. This one was too easily dispatched with. All it took was a swift charge forward and her sword came down before they had the chance to pull the trigger a third time.
With a low thud the hand, along with the shotgun it still held, fell to the ground. The sound echoed through the room followed by a momentary silence before the subsequent scream of shock and pain.
“My hand!” The guard wailed pitifully.
“Tell me who you’re working for and why you’re targeting the SRN or you’ll lose more than that.” Nadara kicked the shotgun in the direction Kysar had hid behind the couch. She hoped he hadn’t lost consciousness again from the blood loss. It’ll be such a pain if I have to carry him…
Running on empty was an understatement. Kysar slumped to the side, basking for just a moment in the guard's pain. If revenge was a tool for survival, then the Turian was going to need all the sustenance he could get. The shotgun kicked over by his new compatriot slid up next to him, beckoning to be used one final time.
Kysar stood using both the couch and the gun as crutches. The guard cried in agony, mumbling incoherently towards Sunset. The human deserved this and worse but there were more pressing matters. Shouldering the shotgun, the Turian fired a final round into the man’s head. With no armour to speak of, the buck painted the room with brain matter.
The gun clattered to the ground as the Turian grabbed hold of a piece of furniture for stability. “He didn’t know anything,” Kysar said through panted breath. “These animals were nothing but scavenging opportunists, a small-time gang suckling at the tit of the Reds. Let’s get out of here, there’s a lot of work to do.”
Venator clutched his side and began limping to the door. “Tell me,” His voice dropped to a soft whisper. “Did anyone else make it?”
“Figures,” Nadara muttered at Kysar’s revelation that the guard knew nothing of importance. It was then she realized the Turian would certainly have some of the missing pieces to this puzzle.
She nodded at his suggestion they take their leave, and started walking towards the back door but paused at his question.
“We know of at least two who didn’t. We’re having their bodies collected now. Come on.” She began walking again. “You can fill us all in on what happened after we get you patched up.”
Zenn sat on the ground with his back against the alley wall. Ranger lay at his side while the quarian almost begrudgingly pet his head. He still wasn't fond of the animal, but it had helped him complete his job, so this was the least he could do to pay it back. Zenn thought about going back to his vantage point from before, but after the potential crisis he narrowly avoided, he thought it would be safer to just stay with the bodies. Their evac should be there any minute now anyway. And once they were taken care of he would finally be able to join the others in the actual work… Wait what the hell was that?
A muffled bang echoed through the alley. Zenn leaned forward while Ranger's ears perked up, both of them now listening closely. He knew that sound, but he had to be sure. Another bang rang out confirming his hunch. It was the unmistakable sound of a gunshot, and it came from the villa Nadara had slipped into. His first instinct was to jump into action. Run through the fence, kick the door down, and start blasting. But that would probably just get him killed immediately. He needed to slow down, make sure there was even a reason to worry. His omni-tool flashed to life as he called up his teammate.
"Shadow to Sunset. I heard gun shots. Is everything alright? Do you need backup?"
“All fine here, Shadow. I have Venator with me. He’s a bit banged up, but still breathing. He’ll need medical attention soon. Let’s regroup with Rogue at your position.”
Zenn let out a sigh of relief. "Copy that. I'll let Rogue know, but you'll want to hurry. No telling who else heard those shots."
He pressed a few keys on his omni-tool, switching the line to Rogue.
"Shadow to Rogue. Sunset has callsign Venator and it sounds like he needs immediate evac. We're regrouping on my position. Hope you and Outcast had enough time to find something good."
“I copy.” Amina’s voice cropped up. She was still with Outcast, who had managed to interface with the traffic pole from earlier. She was too busy between watching him and watching both their backs to really offer any assistance. “Using the cams to get a bead on our culprits?” Amina guessed aloud. “What have you got? It’s been a good minute there.”
"Yes, rudimentary security. These recordings from two days ago; they're headed to eastern suburbs." Outcast brought up footage of an SUV and two vans. "No cam coverage beyond central city, but I think they went to a reaper processing camp, one of the few left."
“Wait a moment,” Amina threw up an open palm as she tried to process what she had just heard. “A Reaper camp?” Amina immediately realized how ridiculous her surprise sounded. The Reaper War felt like such a distant memory these days but the conflict was not so long past, especially considering the impact it had left on the galaxy as a whole - putting it lightly. Still, the idea of Reaper facilities still standing even now for some reason left Amina feeling a bit perturbed.
Why would any idiot be trifling with Reaper facilities?
Amina knew the answer to that too. With the Reapers seemingly gone as a major threat scavengers, hawkers, and scientists were scrambling to get their hands on Reaper artifacts and technology - even knowing all the harm a single shard of Reaper tech could do.
Thats just it though. With the Reapers no longer perceived as a threat it’s time to harvest all that remains of them and their technology for whatever reason can be came up with.
The traffic footage on Outcast's omni-tool switched to a holomap. "I will go recon the area. Sounds like you need to regroup with your team."
"And for the record, Rogue, I...apologize for the ambush earlier." For the first time, Outcast actually sounded they're speaking to another person. "Been fighting Cerberus alone for too long, and you get anxious. But sometimes we need...allies, you know?"
"Anyway, I forwarded you the footage." Outcast's voice returned to its filtered monotone. "I'm sure we'll be in contact again soon."
“We do have something. I'm on my way back to you now.” Amina notified her team.
REGROUP◢ Saneamiento 24/7, Havana Late night, April 9, 2187 Clear, 17°C
Saneamiento 24/7's white cargo van rolled up to the Cerro back alley just as the four SRN members returned together. Outcast was not among them, having gone off to recon Reds' base. Ranger, however, stuck close to Zenn and Nadara.
Two humans in blank coveralls got out of the van with body bags, a cleaning drone and a dog cage. They wrapped up the bodies of the asari and the krogan and deposited them in the back of the van. They checked Ranger for infections, and after finding none and thoroughly spraying down the dog, gave the option of either caging Ranger or have it leashed.
The ride across Havana was not a pleasant one. Compared to the filthy streets of Cerro, everything inside Saneamiento's van was white with the sterile scents of antiseptics and disinfectants. Kysar lied down right beside the body bags, while Nadara, Zenn and Amina sat on a stiff metal bench next to them. The sounds of celebrations and fireworks boomed from outside, prompting barks from Ranger inside. Within an hour, everyone was at Saneamiento. Zenobia and Solveig on their dinky sidecar, Sevipia carrying her surgery bag in a taxi and Lizbeth in a private car courtesy of Thul. The corpses were dropped off at the morgue for autopsy. At the same time, Kysar went to the adjacent clinic, where Sevipia got to work as soon as she arrived.
Autopsy confirmed the corpses as Urdnot Karnoc "Door Crasher", and Keslia Iessadri "Paladin". A debate reemerged regarding Keslia's biotic amplifier. Her remains were to be returned to her commando unit, but digging out the amp could easily be masqueraded among her burned corpse or chalked up to Reds looting. This military-grade amp could sell for tens of thousands of credits, which was several times the payout of a typical SRN job.
In the meantime, Sevipia had patched up Kysar. He was lucky to suffer no major injuries, Sevipia reported. The shot to Kysar's midsection passed clean through without hitting vital organs, and the bruise on his head would fade in a few days with no permanent brain damage. Still, Sevipia hooked Kysar up to an IV drip, cleaned out the expired medigel from the bullet hole and given him painkillers for his headache. Then the inevitable questions came as soon as Sevipia finished.
Apparently, Kysar's original team received a message from Dr. Jelize to meet at the Cerro back alley two days ago. They were to deliver the fragments of an enthrallment device from Namibia. But according to Kysar, they never saw Jelize there, only a dozen Tenth Street Reds. The Reds seemed to have activated something hidden in a nearby dumpster, instantly incapacitating everyone but Kysar and Keslia. What followed was a blur to him; several Reds threw molotov cocktails at Keslia, one of them shot Karnoc, another took Katya and the case she carried (containing device fragments). Hopelessly outnumbered, Kysar ran and tried to send out an SOS. He barely managed to key in the signal before getting shot, stumbling into Marieltos turf and knocked out by their thugs.
"That's not right! Dr. Jelize never requested any meeting at Cerro." Lizbeth recalled from the party. "She said her location was at the university..."
Digging into the shuttle black box provided the next piece of the puzzle.
"Look! There's unauthorized alterations to the communication data." Lizbeth noted. "Someone hacked SRN's channel to Kysar's old team."
"This doesn't look like Outcast, though. Their profile had no such alterations, and their clearance came directly from management." Lizbeth continued. "I'm guessing the quarians were sent to the spaceport to cover the hacker's tracks."
Whatever the case was, the team updated their current comm channel with every possible security precaution. When they were done, it was already midnight. Some team members wanted to get some rest, while others went to catch the last parties of the night.
Several blocks away from Saneamiento was El Lugar, the most unimaginative and generic nightclub. Still, Nadara, Solveig, Zenobia and Lizbeth were able to get their cheap and flavorless drinks (even in dextro for Zenobia). They made their way to a checkered floor with cheap holo-lights and autotuned Spanish songs blasting. It was a somewhat enjoyable five minute when Nadara's omni-tool beeped. There was a string of messages for her, Zenn and Amina.
Outcast: Took a while to find you. Tougher new security.
Back from the shortest party ever, the SRN team weighed their options. It didn't take long for them to reach consensus. They would raid the Tenth Street Reds' base with Outcast.
Attaching her rescue drone to her red thermal armor and strapping her arc pistol to its holster, Sevipia frowned at the prospect of Kysar joining in on the action. She admonished the prospect of him reopening injuries so soon. She recommended Kysar staying behind with Lizbeth, but he was insistent on getting his revenge. So Sevipia gave up and settled on "no crazy biotics".
At the same time, Lizbeth had returned from speaking with Saneamiento staff.
"You guys can take their van. It's got a self-driving VI." Lizbeth reported. She was also setting up a workstation at a holo-table. "No one wants to take the shuttle instead? Surely flying beats the road."
"And beats the mess when someone wrecks their van..." Lizbeth murmured.
"Right! So, Sevipia, I have your helmet cam linked." Lizbeth tapped the holo-table to bring up Sevipia's cam feed. "Anyone else? Real time tips are, well, real helpful in combat!"
"And helpful for your next of kin should you become deceased." Lizbeth added as if recalling a line from a script. "Had to say that, you know, SRN regulation."
“I’ll take it.” Amina sounded off flatly. Frankly she was looking forward to taking down an honest shootout after the debacle of slinking around shantytown.
Kysar smirked at Lizabeth’s remark. “At least the next team will have an easier time finding us if this all goes south.”
A curt chuckle was stifled by a sharp pain from his torso wound. “Patch me in as well.” He replied.
Accustomed to being observed by others, Nadara held no qualms about linking her helmet cam. “Same here,” she said after Kysar.
Solveig raised a brow at the camera, saying nothing for a moment before looking at Lizbeth intensely, "if I'm not pointing right... feel free to update me. I'll be out of the way."
As she often did, she rolled her shoulder just slightly. "They won't know I'm there."
“The van would be much less conspicuous.” Zenn said plainly. “The shuttle runs the risk of us getting spotted before we get close. But with the van they wouldn’t realize what was happening until we’re driving through their front door! Uh. Not that we plan on actually doing that…”
The quarian nodded at Lizbeth’s request “I wouldn’t mind another pair of eyes behind mine.”
"Speak for yourself, driving through the front door is a hell of an opening move, learned that from the Orgon Raid a few years back," Zenobia smirks, securing her armor in place. Also I call shotg-"
Nadara glanced at Zenn. “If we do take the van, I call shotgun.”
"-DAMN IT." The Turian scowls. "Well either way I'm down with the van, rather not lose the shuttle after the first mission."
Nadara winked and blew Zenobia a kiss. It was always better to keep the wild ones on your good side.
Zenobia pouts in response.
"You can have the driver seat." Lizbeth suggested.
Zenobia gets a look on her face that'd put the fear of god into any rational person. "I'll take it!"
Zenn's eyes grow wide as he slowly turns to look at Lizbeth. "What have you done?"
"Don't worry, it's only...an honorary driver seat." Lizbeth tried to play it down. "The VI's doing the actual driving."
“Riding bitch with four aliens…” Amina mumbled just audibly enough.
Nadara shot Amina a look, eyes narrowed, but didn’t say anything. The woman was no better than the locals they ran into in Cerro.
"Got that bitch part right." Kysar chuckled as he checked the sights of his Mattlock. "Aren't you supposed to have all that fancy reaper tech in your eyes?"
Amina said nothing else, eyes straight ahead as she was not particularly interested in getting roped into an extended back and forth with a Turian.
"Ahem." Lizbeth budged in. "Van is ready to go. Good luck, team!"
"Oh, and Solveig," she added, "if Katya's out there, we'll find her."
"I'll find her," Solveig replied, before heading off to the van first, mumbling something about coffee.
Thankful the VI would be doing the actual driving, Nadara brushed past Amina, not bothering to excuse herself as she made her way to the van.
Zenn let out a quick sigh of relief. He knew there was a self driving VI, but he wasn't sure if the person in the driver seat could disable it. It wasn't even the idea Zenobia's driving that terrified him, it was the potential to have to pay for any damages.
"Sorry, Zenobia. Maybe you can drive the next one?" The quarian said, giving the turian a pat on the shoulder as he too made his way to the van. "Assuming it's one we can afford to wreck."
Zenobia shrugs her shoulders and leans back, kicking her feet up on the dashboard. "Is that how little you think of me, that I'd wreck every vehicle I get behind the wheel of?" She sounds jokingly offended.
Unlike last time, Zenn currently had both his pistol and sniper on hand, which gave him enough confidence to retort in a similarly joking manner.
"Your callsign is Lunatic and you were moments ago in favor of using the van as a battering ram. I feel it's not too presumptuous to think you might get a little too wild if put behind the wheel."
It was an uneventful drive. The self-driving VI required a password to disable, but toward the end of the trip, Zenobia was able to find a sticky note with a string of numbers in the glove compartment.
"Zenobia, don't..." Lizbeth warned through comms.
Outside, parties were still going strong in the city core, but beyond downtown Havana, and after midnight, the roads were dark and quiet save for the occasional taxi or party bus.
While en route, the SRN team received a message from Captain Riley. Either Solveig or Lizbeth had her notified of their plans.
Anchor: Dangerous plan. We are unable to provide support that far from the spaceport. Hope this ally of yours is reliable.
Anchor: Still, we appreciate you thinning the Reds out.
Anchor: Be advised: the Reds' leader, Curt Weisman, is a highly volatile criminal. He is wanted by both the alliance and the turian hierarchy.
Anchor: There is currently a combined bounty of 10000 credits for his capture.
30 minutes later, they were at the coordinates Outcast provided. It was a well-worn dirt road in the wooded city outskirts. Outcast's unmarked Jeep parked in between tall shrubs. The dull gray two-story meat packing plant (formerly owned by a company called Carne Fresca) loomed at the end of the road, surrounded by electrified metal fences (designed to intercept both intruders and munitions).
There were no reaper structures outside, as the locals had cleared them out in the prior weeks. But beyond the metal fences were the unmistakable jagged rows of dragon's teeth. The place had such a terrifying reputation during the war that no civilian dared to step foot inside even to this day.
Outcast was crouched next to their Jeep. In addition to the stealth armor and rifle seen at Cerro, they were now armed to the teeth with three extra weapons and additional armor modules.
"Right on time." Outcast hailed. "Reds are about to load their vehicles."
"And you brought a sturdy van, good." They wasted no time in laying out their plan. "They've already disabled the electric barrier at the front gate. Fastest way in is ramming through it."
"You can set the VI to drive remotely" Came Lizbeth through the comms. "But you guys might be walking after that..."
"Alternatively, there's an energy fluctuation toward the back. Could be overloaded and sliced." A layout of the meat plant appeared on Outcast's omni-tool. "Also a tunnel there. Escaped captives dug it during the war. Partially collapsed, may need some digging, but seems to lead inside the plant."
"I guess this is the stealthy route." Lizbeth commented.
"Dragon's teeth," another proposal from Outcast, "weakened structure from the crucible blast. An array on the eastern side can be toppled with sabotage or explosion. They will collapse onto the fence."
"That's right," Lizbeth confirmed, "a study shown these things are pretty fragile after exposure to the crucible. Their atomic structure-"
"Not now!" Sevipia silenced her.
Outcast cocked their head, but otherwise kept explaining. "Complications," of course there were, "lookout on third-story observation tower top of the plant. Patrol of three wandering the perimeter."
"Topographical approximation says you won't have a good angle once inside." Lizbeth piped in again. "You need to shoot the lookout from here."
"Your call on the approach." Concluded Outcast.
Zenn kept to himself most of the trip. Tensions were already a bit high and he really did not want to do anything that might set someone off. Though as soon as Zenobia found the sticky note, Zenn put his hands together and placed them in front of the mouth piece on his helmet.
“Zenobia. I beg of you. Put it back.”
There wouldn’t be much time to continue the banter after that as they pulled up to the meeting point. Outcast was already waiting for them, and of course his first comment was how sturdy their vehicle was for ramming.
“You too, Outcast? Keelah…” Zenn let out accepting defeat on the matter.
He listened to Outcast and Lizbeth go over all their available options. Knowing the team, most of them would more than likely favor a direct approach. Well, except for Solveig, but she would probably be needed to take out that lookout. All in all it did seem like hitting them fast and hard was the best option, except for one aspect; the hostages. Someone had to get them out of there and preferably not in the middle of a firefight. The tunnel Outcast mentioned would be perfect.
“I’ll take the tunnels.” Zenn stated as he grabbed the shovel that was in the van. “If I can get inside undetected, I should be able to locate and extract the hostages before the bullets start flying. Anyone is welcome to join me, but the bigger the group, the more likely we’ll get caught and have to start the party early.”
“I say we hit them direct,” Amina chimed in as she fussed with her armor and belt, “we should let Zenn have a minute or two to sneak in. While we are engaging the Reds he can be working his way in from the rear and securing any prisoners they have. If he does need backup though I can be the one to go with him and keep infiltration to two.”
"Digging might take too long," Kysar thought aloud. "They're already almost packed and ready to go."
The Turian's three pronged hand stroked his mandibles. "I could overload that back fence, then sneak back around for a frontal assault. But honestly, whatever we do, that lookout needs to go, quietly, and I think we should at least blockade the entrance with the van, even if we don't decide to ram through."
"Don't worry about the lookout." Solveig said while flexing the fingers of her metal arm. She then turned to glance toward Zenn. "You go under through tunnels, I'll go over."
"We need to keep their leader alive, he may have intel that we need, I'd prefer that nothing... too bad... happens to him."
Nadara chewed hard on the two pieces of gum she’d tossed in her mouth on the route over. While she would have preferred to just take action based on gathered intelligence that was handed to her, she couldn’t yet trust her companions to make the right choices and had to think hard about what her own preferences would be.
Her face was covered by the full body armor she wore, but she nonetheless raised an eyebrow at Amina’s comment. “So there are some instances when it’s acceptable to follow an alien,” she mused. Her voice was muffled through the helmet, but her words were audible.
Kysar and Solvieg added their thoughts and things seemed to be coming together even if a solid plan hadn’t yet formed.
“Whatever we do, we need to keep them here and prevent them from making headway to the spaceport.” Using the van as a blockade was a good idea, but perhaps there was something better they could use. “If we blow the teeth, can we rig it so they fall strategically?”
"Shit, if we're blowin' stuff up, my vote is to just straight up bomb the vans." Kysar shrugged. "Cut out the middleman."
“We’re not just 'blowin' stuff up',” Nadara replied, exasperated. The urge to add an insult was strong but she refrained, chewing harder on her gum instead. “I’m asking this question to ascertain whether we have the appropriate materials to rig the explosion so as to have large pieces of debris serve as a blockade.” If successful, it would surely prove more constricting than a single van in front of the gates.
The Turian could help but giggle. He had never known an Asari to be so fiery, maybe it was all that green in her.
"And I'm pretty ass certain that if we have such materials, blowing up their only means of escape will work pretty damn well."
Still grinning like an idiot, he turned to the rest of the group. "I suppose either way, this lover's tiff is pointless if we don't actually have any explosives."
Outcast fished out a bag of grenades from their jeep.
Nadara scoffed at Kysar’s comment, ready to fire back a retort, but pulled up short at Outcast’s action. “That could work.”
If they managed to keep the explosions high enough off the ground it would leave the tunnel intact for Zenn to extract the hostages, and ultimately serve as their own escape route after they’d had a chance to take out any remaining Red goons.
Lizbeth interrupted them. "Outcast suggests the eastern dragon's teeth array, but if you blow the western array, they will drop right in front of the plant."
"And if you time it right," she added, "you can drop them on the Reds."
"Can we ease up on explosions?" Sevipia grumbled.
"How DARE you say that in front of me?" Zenobia says with a hint of humor in her voice as she surreptitiously memorizes the VI override code. "Besides, no better smokescreen then a massive explosion if we want to come at this from two angles. We keep them guessing and we win."
"No wonder you're a merc." Sevipia shook her head and cracked a faint smile. "That kind of tactic would never fly with the hierarchy."
"Still, you have a point." The medic admitted. "Where am I needed?"
Zenn looked at the shovel in his hand. Kysar had a point. Time was short, and digging a tunnel wasn't exactly a fast route. Even if it provided them the best escape route, they had to prioritize speed. However, Amina was offering to go through the tunnels as well. Along with Sevipia's suggestion to be in standby for the hostages, gave him an idea.
"Actually, why don't you and Amina take the tunnels?" Zenn suggested to the human and turian and handed them the shovel. "I'll cut through the weak point in the fence and grab the hostages while you two get the tunnel open. I'll escort them there, then Sevipia can take care of them while Amina and I rejoin the assault team."
“Yes. You should get a move on. Clock’s ticking.” Nadara's gaze turned to Solveig. “You too, we’ll need that guard gone.” Her head swiveled to Amina and the Medic. “Notify us as soon as the hostages have been located so Outcast can detonate the spires. While they handle that, the rest of us will serve as the frontal assault team, with Solveig covering us from above.”
Finally, she looked to Outcast. There was still mistrust there, but they were the whole reason the team was there in the first place. She hoped her temporary alliance wasn’t misplaced. “Join us on the frontal assault once the dragon’s teeth have come down.”
Amina took the shovel, keeping a sigh suppressed. Just as well, Zenn and I can maybe hit the Reds from behind using the cover of their own building. Still, tunneling through a sewage outlet wasn’t the most glorious thing, but this was not about glory. It was about getting the job done.
Kysar's eyes met with Sevipia's. She looked concerned, it was... nice. He smiled slightly and nodded. Too dangerous for her at the front anyway. The turian justified. The tunnel will be much safer.
"Why don't you join us tin man?" He said, turning to Outcast. "I'm sure someone likes you packs some nice toys you can bring along." Admittedly, Kysar had heard that people didn't fully trust the shadowy operative but he figured someone like that was best kept in full view, rather than at their back.
"Point and shoot," Solveig said under her breath as she exited the vehicle. The Volkov sniper rifle sat comfortably across her back
There was something she wanted to work out. "I'll see you from the top. Need to find my vantage before I cloak."
She paused again, "I... Good God... Speed luck." Another pause. "I mean God luck. I... uh. Sorry... skita"
The cloak dropped.
"Very well, I'll head for the western array." Outcast nodded. "Then rejoin your main assault once they are destroyed."
Point and shoot and hit. Solveig saw her shot hit dead on and her target dropped immediately. There's enough distance for the shot to go unnoticed.
No that it mattered, because Saneamiento's white van came barreling just seconds later. Initially, it seemed to Zenobia the numbers on the sticky note weren't the password. But then Kysar and Nadara told her: she's holding it upside down.
Flooring the gas petal and hitting over 100km/h, the van smashed clean through the front gate. The poor red armband-wearing guard behind it went wide-eyed at the incoming headlights, and was promptly ran over.
The van crashed into the side of Reds' cargo truck. Another Red loading the truck barely dived out of the way, but was now a sitting duck for Nadara and Kysar.
A piercing proximity alarm rang across the meat plant. The main assault had the Reds' full attention.
Outcast reported in at this time. "Ready to take down dragon's teeth."
Moments before the van burst onto the scene, over the sudden roar of the engine, cackling laughter could almost be heard.
"DELIVERY, FUCKERS! AHAHAHAHAHA!" Zenobia shrieked with laughter as the van crashed through the front gate and right into the side of the cargo truck, the engine belching an ugly black cloud as it was crushed from the impact. Thrown forward then back again, Zenobia kept stomping on the gas a few times before she gave up and kicked the door off its hinges. Throwing her hand out, she launched the door towards the facility with her biotics, spooking and suppressing the Reds until the team got into cover.
Drawing her guns, one in each hand, she slid into cover last alongside Kysar, breathing heavily with a look of unbridled joy in her eyes. "Yeah, come on, let's blow it up, blow it right the fuck up..." She smacks the barrel of her gun on her forehead before shaking it to clear her head.
Haze from the impact swamped the back of the van. Kysar coughed and sputtered as sirens sounded off from outside. That was the first and last time he’d ever let Zenobia drive again. Ramming through the gates was one thing but rocketing in at 100km/h was another. The Turian shook the horrific memory of the speedometer ticking only up loose from his mind.
Taking point, he shouldered the van’s sliding door, managing to unlatch before stepping unevenly onto the ground. Swaying from side to side, Kysar barely managed to spot the Red right in front of him, only saved by the sheer bewilderment of the human as to what just happened.
The Turian fired a quick succession of three shots with the second finding its target straight in between the eyes of the scrambling gang member. A complete and utter fluke under these conditions but he was never going to admit it.
“Haha! Did you see that? Lizabeth, please inform the team what a crack shot that was!” Moving forward to find cover, he continued. “Tin-man, blow those damn teeth and get your ass in here! At this rate, you might miss all the fun.”
Nadara felt a thrill at having breached the gates, and further at their van successfully ramming the enemy’s transportation. It gave a certain kind of oomph that was just satisfying. Now this was how you started a party. She whooped along with the wild Turian’s cries of joy, glad that despite the rough start, she was able to command the van quite well.
With her shotgun latched at her back, Nadara held her biotic blade at the ready, eager to charge forward into the fray as much as her companions were.
But then there was the nagging responsibility of following the plan they’d decided on. Why must she be the responsible one?
Sighing, she shook her head. “No. Outcast, hold off. We have to get confirmation from Rouge and Godmother that the hostages have been located first.” Not one to lose her balance easily—there had been one too many circumstances of needing to rely on her combat ability while under the influence of.. various substances—she gracefully stepped out of the van and into position beside Kysar and Zenobia.
As she finished relaying the message to Outcast, one of the Red assailants that had avoided the collision crept in from behind, utilizing the black smoke as a cover. Instincts sharp as a fresh manicure of stiletto nails, Nadara easily swung her body, extending the sword as if it were a part of her. As she rotated, the blade sliced through the man’s neck, and she crouched on one knee, facing the opposite direction of her companions.
“We can handle this for now.”
Under the cover of darkness, a cloaked Solveig slipped through the chaos unseen.
"Head to your left, Wraith." Lizbeth advised her. "A ladder should just be around the corner."
Entering Guanabacoa Meat Plant behind Saneamiento's van, Solveig climbed the ladder. "I hope I am given as clean a death as I have given you, nu vila i döden," Solveig said quietly as she approached the snipers body. They hadn't known or suspected the death that had been delivered in the form of a single bullet. It was probably better that way.
In the tower, she crouched low, keeping her cloak up as she surveyed the area slowly only seconds before the carnage arrived. "Lizbeth, share my eyes," she said addressing the woman behind all the screens.
There she remained in silence amidst the chaos, ready to bring down anyone who drew near to the group, and she kept the Reds leader in close thoughts.
In a dirty pond behind the plant, the pungent sewage fumes assaulted Amina with every shovel stroke. The sewage tunnel was clogged with waster matters and human remains at varying stages of decay. If not for her training and experience in digging trenches, Amina would have surely given up. But after several minutes (that felt like hours), she and Sevipia emerged inside a pool of dried muck.
Amina hopped up out of the sewage pit, climbing up the side of a railing and onto a gritty concrete floor. Her boots, shins, and thighs were splattered with brownish water, rotted meaty chunks, and bits of waste. Her nose burned and she had a lingering taste that had entered into her mouth that made her want to toss her lunch. She had left the shovel in the hands of Sevipia who looked up at her expectantly within the waste pit.
“This area is clear.” Amina said down to Sevipia, “Keep digging, try and open up any more room you can while I have a look around.”
There was a single door nearby. Amina slipped up to it and pressed herself against the hard, dusty wall next to the door. Amina could heard the cacophony of combat coming from outside even within the depth of the large facility. “Lizbeth,” Anima practically mumbled, “we made it through the tunnel. Give me a fix on Zenn.”
"Shadow is currently bypassing a guard." Answered Lizbeth. "Looks like he's...climbing some pipes?"
As she spoke Amina readied a flash bang in her right hand, her rifle slipped over her shoulder for her to grab the minute she threw the grenade. Amina tenderly opened the door and cracked it slightly, one brown eye peeking through into the next room. Amina saw no one and could not hear any movement or voices in the area. She opened the door a little wider now giving her full view of the room. Nothing, no one.
Amina put the flash bang away as she slipped her Vindicator from her shoulder, taking it in both hands ready to fire. She stepped through the door and found herself in what looked to be a large packaging area. She kept her finger on the trigger, her eyes darted around like a lizards as she took in the layout and contents of the room.
I wonder if this is where they cut up those poor bastards floating down in that crap hole.
Getting through the fence above Amina was child's play for the quarian. A quick sabotage of the electrical system in the already fluctuating power of the fence and a few cuts from an omni-blade and Zenn was able to slip in without a peep. If only things could have stayed that simple. The moment Zenn crossed through the fence, a nearby guard took notice of the freshly made hole in the fence. If it wasn’t for Zenn’s tactical cloak, he would have almost certainly been spotted then and there. The guard was also standing directly in the way of the nearest entrance to the facility, the door Zenn had originally planned on getting in through.
He had to think of a new plan and fast. He could take out the guard with his omni-blade. It would be clean and quiet, but the guard would see his omni-blade ignite before he had the chance to even attack. Repositioning to get behind him would be tricky and possibly take too long. No, it was best he leave the guard to puzzle over what happened to the fence and look for a different entrance. As luck would have it, there was a set of pipes mounted to the side of the building that led directly to an open window on the second floor. There was no telling where it led, but he was the recon specialist. Going in first into the unknown was what he did best.
Even though he was still cloaked, Zenn kept low as he swiftly ran for the pipes. Once he reached the pipes he gave them a small tug just to be sure they were still secured. This building wasn’t exactly up to code. They seemed to hold firm, so up he went. About half way up, he heard the sound of the van smashing through the gate, and crashing into what he could only assume was another vehicle. Keelah. The assault team was already moving. He had to pick up the pace or the whole stealth plan would be for nothing. On the bright side, the blaring alarm meant he could move a bit more hastily as he didn’t have to worry about making too much noise.
In a matter of seconds he managed to climb the rest of the way up. From there it was only a matter of grabbing the window sill and pulling himself in. Once inside, Zenn removed his M-97 Viper from his back radioed the team to update them on his position.
“Shadow here. I’m inside on the second floor. Searching for the hostages now.” He spoke in a hushed voice despite the chaos going on outside. He hadn’t checked the room he was in yet, which meant he couldn’t assume he was alone in there.
The second story room was a control center. Zenn found old computers alongside fried reaper devices. Most of the computers were not on, and the room was empty. However, there were voices behind a metal door across the room.
"Sod off, Banes! This bloke's a proper vegetable." A gruff human man barked. "Put the poor chump out of his misery!"
Bang! A gun shot.
Thud! A body dropped to the floor.
"Weisman, we can still extract valuable-" Came another human man assumed to be Banes. He spoke in a mechanical monotone similar to Outcast.
"Enough of your science project!" Weisman shouted. "Bring the damn asari with us; move!"
"Tower! Wake the bloody hell up!" Weisman's bellow. Then a flurry of footsteps storming off.
"Tower, we're under attack!" The dead lookout's omni-tool lit up; Solveig could hear the Reds' frantic radio chatters. "There's fighting right outside of the front door. What the hell is going on?"
"Uh, a really big group of them is heading to the front!" Lizbeth alerted.
That... wasn't good. From her crouched position, Solveig turned to the source of the sound. She had less than a second to decide how to handle this, and all she knew was that they couldn't afford to have more Reds breach flood in. She had an idea, sliding to the Omni-Tool, she picked up the still arm of its wearer and reminded herself for all doubts sake that right now, she wasn't Solveig, she was Tower.
"Yeah looks like a breach," Solveig stated into the Omni Tool to the Reds headed to the front. "I'm up here with clear shots," she added. Her voice and accent moderately different to that which was her normal. She had to sell it. This was the job, she told herself between sentences. The strange confidence of being someone else was slightly exhilarating.
"Got sight of another vehicle beyond the compound too, looks like they have something out there for a second wave.... Hold on!"
She took a shot down below, deliberately missing her team mates.
"If you've got a chance to -- you need to get out to that second truck or they're going to fuck us. I've got it from here compadre!"
Zenn paid no mind to the computers and reaper tech in the room as he was much more interested in the voices coming from behind a metal door. He moved swiftly and pressed his ear against the door. He kept his comms open specifically for Lizbeth to hear and hopefully record in case there was pertinent information being discussed. Unfortunately that audio would also feature the sound of an execution.
The quarian cursed under his breath when he heard the gunshot, but made no move to go inside. Not yet. He had learned his lesson with Outcast and instead pulled up his omni-tool to activate a Tactical Scan. With no designated target it couldn't provide any specific weak point data, but it did mark all unknown signatures within 20 meters. It would tell him exactly how many people were behind the door, and which direction they were headed.
Once Zenn had full confirmation he was clear, he got to work hacking the door open. It was a very basic encryption to break. It only took a few seconds for the door to unlock and slide open. Keeping a swift pace he moved through the door and towards the person they had shot. A quick scan would reveal if there were still any vital signs, or if he had to move on.
The room was a decontamination chamber, with white carbon fiber walls and shiny silver tables and chairs. Zenn's scan revealed three humans inside. One dead, one unconscious and one alive.
The dead human had a bullet hole in his forehead; blood leaked from it onto the floor. He wore the gear of a Citadel militiaman.
The unconscious human was tied up to a chair. She's in alliance-issued fatigues, but with no alliance insignias.
The living human is kitted in second-rate armor and a red armband like other Reds. This one was pacing anxiously with an SMG in hand. Hovering near the human was a drone.
It was too late for one of the humans. Zenn had hoped there was a chance the human had survived, but those bosh'tets made sure he was dead. It wasn't all for nothing, though. There was still someone else he could save and possibly that asari Weisman had mentioned. Although those were just the ones Zenn was aware of. He had to know for certain there wasn’t anyone else being kept here. And who would know that better than one of the guards stationed here. He just had to get rid of that drone and “persuade” them to tell him what he wanted.
Hidden by his cloak, Zenn crept further into the room and exchanged his rifle for his pistol. He stayed close to the carbon fiber walls doing his best to keep out of the guard's path as he waited for her anxious pacing to give him an opening. An opportunity presented itself when she turned her back on him to face the stairs the men from before had left from. With a smirk, he pointed his omni-tool at the drone and hit it with a sabotage. Nothing. The drone was unphased. Zenn looked down at his tool, then back at the drone, then back at his tool. That should have given him full control of the drone. Why wasn’t it working? Was it still recharging from the fence? He didn’t have time to sort out what the issue was, his cloak was seconds away from dropping, he needed to act.
Gripping his pistol tight, he aimed at the drone. A soft electrical whir of his pistol charging was the only warning they would get before he fired his weapon. The drone exploded as the bolt of energy collided into it. Zenn’s cloak faded revealing the quarian who now had his gun trained directly at the guard.
"Don’t move. Drop your gun. Kick it over here. Then stay perfectly still." Zenn ordered as plainly as possible. He was counting on everyone else to be too distracted with his team outside to notice the commotion he just made, and with any luck she would follow his instructions. But if not he was prepared to deal with her the same way he did the drone.
The guard froze in fear. She did as Zenn told.
He watched the Red carefully as she placed her SMG on the ground and kicked it away. Once she had completed the tasks, he spoke up again.
"Good. Now listen carefully. I'm in a bit of a hurry, and right now it would be faster if I just shot you. But if you can tell me how many prisoners you have and where you're keeping them all, then I can use the time you've saved me to not kill you. Deal?"
"Ok, ok, deal." The guard hurriedly nodded.
"You're looking at one here." She pointed to the unconscious blonde woman tied to the chair. "Boss Weisman took the asari with him as bargaining chip. That new Banes guy was experimenting on them, and him," the guard nudged toward the dead man, "with some creepy mind control orb."
"Uh, there's three more." The guard continued. "A cook in the mechanical room, across the hall; a safety inspector in the lobby; and a snitch in freezer, first floor near side entrance. Think cook and safety inspector are human. Snitch's a suit alien like you; a scrapper that had their crew busted."
"Shadow, there's no time for all of them." Lizbeth reminded Zenn. "You have to carry her out, and Rogue may need your help taking out those two that split off."
"Understood. I'll get her out immediately." Zenn replied to Lizbeth over the comm then turned his attention back to the guard.
"Deals a deal. Head through that door, out the open window, down the pipe, then go through the hole in the fence and run as far and as fast as you can. Don't try anything smart or I promise you are the only one who will regret it.” Zenn instructed the Red. He kept his pistol aimed and at the ready as she made her way out. Just as she reached the door, he gave her one instruction. "Oh, and do yourself a favor: find a new line of work. Preferably one where you are less likely to have a gun in your face.”
Once the door shut behind her, Zenn holstered his weapon and grabbed the SMG off the floor. He walked over to the unconscious human and set the gun in her lap while he attempted to get her to wake up. He snapped his fingers a few times and even lightly tapped her face. No response. If only there was a bucket of ice water or something, but with no other options it looked like the quarian was going to have to carry her out. That was going to make stealth much more difficult, not to mention any other possible encounters.
With no other choice he used his omni-blade to carefully slice through her restraints and lifted her out of the chair. The SMG he had hoped to let her use clattered to the ground as it no longer served any purpose to hold on to it. Once he felt he had a good grip he made his way toward the stairs Weisman and Banes had used before and radioed ahead to Amina.
“Shadow to Rogue, I’ve got one of the hostages but she’s out cold. I’m carrying her to your location now. Any obstacles I should be aware of?”
On hearing Zenn over the comms Amina felt a rush of relief. Good, the quarian was inside. The large packaging area remained empty but Amina could hear shouts from around and the continuation of the fighting outside. She decided it best to just hold position unless needed otherwise. If Zenn or anyone required help they would call for it.
Amina looked to a large table nearby. At first she had not noticed it but now as she focused she saw what was clearly a body sprawled out across it’s smooth metal surface. Raising her rifle halfway Amina moved closer and saw the body for what it was; a salarian, completely naked and it’s torso split open. Green blood was puddled around the body and on the concrete floor. Upon a distanced inspection Amina could see that the salarians’ organs had been cleaned out and the body left laid out on the table - be that for further use of the corpse or the Reds simply had not had the chance to dispose of it yet Amina could not say. Amina felt her stomach churn as she stepped back, it was still upset from the lingering odor of the tunnel and this only agitated it further.
Amina looked down and noticed more blood stains on the floor. Mostly more green but also plenty of red as well. Organ harvesting? it would explain the miscellaneous body parts that were floating in the sewage tunnel. Whatever was going on they were going to shut it down and could figure this out later.
On a smaller table next to the salarian was a datapad. It contained shipment information:
Proceeding further in this macabre room, Amina saw several humanoid-sized pods of reaper design. They were heavily damaged, but behind their transparent screens were half dissolved salarian skeletons. Acid leaked from some pods. The smell was absolutely rancid.
"I, I heard reapers used these to, to dissolve organics into raw materials." Lizbeth's shaking voice came through. She sounded very uncomfortable. "The Crucible broke them, but the Reds, they, they substituted the process with acid."
"I'm sorry," Lizbeth sighed, "this is...hard to watch."
“You do not have to tell me.”
Amina had fought in the war, she and the resistance cell she had been part of made numerous runs on Reaper installations and outposts. She had seen firsthand the heights of their technologies’ cruelty. Or so she had hoped. Processors where thousands of people were melted down at a time for their genetic material, indoctrination chambers, experimental labs filled with all kinds of abominations, there had been no end to the horrors.
This was too much. The smell and contents of the tunnel had already made her queasy, add this on top of that and wandering through a slaughterhouse geared with Reaper technology and Amina could not hold it in anymore. The operative leaned forward and emptied the minuscule contents of her stomach across the floor, cloudy, sour-smelling vomit spattered around her feet.
Come on, pull it together. Amina instructed herself after she had finished, spitting the last of the foul discharge from her mouth.
“Come on…” she said aloud, forcing her shaky knees to work as she stood up straight. Amina looked over the large pods and the attached technology, avoiding the deformed skulls of the salarians within. What are these idiots doing? Using Reaper tech like this? Using it period? Amina hoped that Zenn hurried up and arrived soon so they could finish off the Reds and then take this place down.
As soon as Amina's stomach emptied out, sounds of rushing footsteps came from the other side of the wall. Among them were the whirls of power armor servos.
"You just saw the second truck!?" Weisman's rant reverberated closer to Amina as he descended the stairs. "Sleeping on the job again, Tower, you lazy cunt! I swear, you'll-"
"On them Sir, yes!" Solveig replied hastily to Weisman. "Not sleeping -" she fired another fake shot, "pickin' em off Sir." She was in disbelief that he would bust her balls so much over it -- until she remembered that he wasn't actually her boss. At which point, she smirked.
"Ugh, you two, take care of it. And take the damn grenade launcher!" Clanking of heavy ammunition being exchanged could be heard with Weisman, followed by footsteps splitting off in opposite directions.
“The room I am in is secure,” Amina replied to Zenn, “but I hear voices and movement in the area around me. Hoof it if you can, but be careful.”
Amina had moved back away from the Reaper pods into the center of the large packaging area, weapon at the ready.
“I can come meet you if you need.” Amina added.
"Focus on the hostiles and other hostages." Lizbeth reminded them. "Godmother can handle the hostage."
The red armored turian medic sprinted across the meat plant halls. Surprisingly, there was absolutely no one in Sevipia's way. She took the unconscious human woman from Zenn. As her medical drone performed scans on her way back to the sewage tunnel, Sevipia reported the hostage was completely unresponsive but her heart was still beating; she might be in a coma.
“Get her to safety,” Amina ordered, “Shadow and I will get the others and be out right behind you.”
Once assured there were no other enemies charging toward them, Nadara stood and surveyed their surroundings. The entrance gate they had rammed through was a few feet behind them, the smoking trucks ahead and between the Red’s truck and the entrance to the facility were a stack of crates.
“Surely more will be sent to our location soon,” she said. But that didn’t mean they couldn’t explore a bit. Using her sword she easily opened the top of one of the crates and was immediately grateful she hadn’t followed her initial instinct to slice through completely. It would have spelled her doom.
“Molotov cocktails,” she notified the other two, her excited smirk evident in her tone.
“Let’s see what’s behind the facility doors before they arrive? If there’s anything like this loot, we’ll be well set for when they finally do show up.”
Nadara walked to the large double doors and found them to be unlocked. Now to see what was on the other side…
Kaya…Huszar… Kysar stood motionless as images and descriptions were passed through the comm channels. He could hardly call these beings his friends and yet, they were comrades in arms, no matter how brief their time together was. More than that, no one deserved this fate. To be tortured and torn apart for something as pitiful as credits…
The Turian's fist shook, a biotic blue hue emanated from his body as rage bellowed up from within. Tightly, he closed his eyes, breathing deeply in and out, allowing his mind to go blank. Yes, they were all going to die but blind anger and hatred was not the answer, not today. A cold calm swept across Venator like a storm of ice.
“Lunatic, you could light one of the crate’s and then lob the entire thing at a mob of enemies using your throw ability. Save a couple to the side for us to throw on stragglers.”
Kysar moved in behind Nadara. “I’m with you Sunset, you take point, I’ll cover your back.”
A talon shot up to his ear as he radioed the others. “Shadow, do what you can to save that hostage. And the rest of you, if anyone wants to claim that bounty, do not let me see their leader. I’m going to kill every last one of them.”
Before opening the door, sniper shots rang out around Nadara, Kysar and Zenobia. Solveig missed her teammates but a generous margin, but one of her shots skidded dangerously close to the box of molotov cocktails.
Behind the door was a brightly lit lobby with an adjacent sales office. Stacked amid the lobby were several boxes labeled delicacies. Opposite of the sales office was a shelf. There's only one item on the shelf: a smooth dark orb.
Toward the back and next to a hall leading deeper into the plant was a reception table. Behind it was a Reds gangster with a shotgun. The gangster fired at the door, narrowly missing Nadara and Kysar.
From the much poorly lit sales office, another Red marched out with a hostage clutched in front.
"Don't make me shoot her!" The Red pressed a pistol to the temple of the safety inspector.
"Weisman, hurry, they're inside!" The shotgun-wielding gangster shouted into the Reds' comm channel. "At least two crazy biotic zoomers! Tower!?"
"I see the biotics!" spoke Solveig, responding to the Red. "They keep ducking into cover but I have my eyes on them and I'll get the damn shot, now gimme some quiet!" She was starting to feel the pressure of the situation as she moved between the comms. Listening to her actual team, and then to the disorganisation of the other.
It sounded like Kysar and Nadara were in trouble, from her point she wondered if she could make the shot. Hell, she'd landed harder ones. It was worth a try, even to distract them.
As she went to pull the trigger, she felt a familiar pain in her shoulder that jolted her, and she felt her arm twitch and seize momentarily, quick enough to not fire a bad shot, but still her rifle fell from her grip. Falling from the tower onto a roof below.
It was a good rifle, as she turned her head - she hoped that "Tower" had a better one (unlikely). But it was as she'd always been taught, it wasn't always the rifle, but the steady hand that held it. She hoped hers would be better.
"Problem up here Lizbeth, dropped my rifle. I am... I am well and armed again. I... I'm sorry. I'll do better," she rambled apologetically. "I have their comms. They're flustered. Sent some guys on a goose hunt. I can keep this up for longer but... I do not know for how much longer."
The rifle Solveig found was in poor condition. Its scope was blurry, the mass accelerator was not properly aligned and getting its thermal clips out is almost as hard as getting a proper conversation out of Solveig herself. Still, it shoots and will kill whoever's on the other end.
In the corner of Solveig's feed, a figure ran across the outer perimeter. Before she could react, it had disappeared from her line of sight, and headed for-
"Lunatic!" Lizbeth called out. "Incoming hostile from the east, uh, your right!"
Just a second later, the Red bypassed by Zenn rounded the corner. He scanned the chaotic front parking lot until he found Zenobia, and his Lancer rifle turned to fire at her.
Zenobia was flanked. She had no cover between herself and the Red, but she was able to react first thanks to Lizbeth's warning.
For a split second, Zenobia turned to face the Red aiming his rifle at her, and under her breath she muttered....
"Come on....let's tango..."
She tosses up a backlash as the Red pulls the trigger, and charges forward behind the reflective cover, nimbly dodging until she can grab and yank the rifle out of his hands.
Bewildered by the ineffectiveness of his bullets against Zenobia's backlash, the Red did the only thing he knew: keep firing. In fact, he was so bewildered that he forgot to move.
His rifle overheated right as Zenobia snatched it away. Reality finally dawned upon him; the Red turned to run, but Zenobia was faster than him.
"Hey Zenn, think you missed one," Zenobia snarks over the mic before flipping the rifle around in her hand and coldclocking the Red with the back end like a baseball bat. "Don't worry though, problem solved. Shame about his gun though."
Zenn stopped in his tracks as Zenobia called him out for missing one of the guards.
“Yes… I only missed one…” He said, slowly looking back at the door he just let the other guard escape through.
"Let's grab the cook in the mechanical room then hit the lobby." Zenn suggested to Amina. "Whatever we do, we should stick together. They may not know we're in here, but with everyone on high alert I don't know how much longer the stealth approach is going to work."
"Well we did just crash a van into the building so I kind of doubt we can go stealth now..." Zenobia points out.
Zenn let out a deep sigh before responding. "Thank you, Lunatic. Your input, as always, has been invaluable."
"Here to help!"
Another shotgun shell ricocheted off the door as Kysar ducked back outside. He had only got a seconds look at the interior of the meat packing plant but that was all he needed to hatch a scheme.
"Sunset, don't ask me how I know this, or why, but that Orb on the shelf, it's some kind of weird reaper tech. If we destroy it, it'll knock both the guard and the hostage out." The Turian tried to peer around the corner again, narrowly missing another buck round before ducking back. "Just make sure you activate a biotic shield, it's the only we won't get knocked out either."
Kysar took a deep breath in.
He popped from outside cover, letting off a quick biotic slam before hiding one again. Inside came the noise of twisting metal and a calamity of crashes.
"Fucks sake. I missed."
Nadara refrained from criticizing the Turian...out loud anyway. Apparently his target needs to be point blank for accuracy, she thought, remembering the ease with which Kysar shot the Red back at the house in Cerro.
“Leave it to me,” she sighed. Apparently everything has to be.
Another round of bullets from the grunt with the shotgun fired, and she waited for the pause that indicated he was reloading before taking action. Swiftly securing her blade at her side and pulling her own shotgun from her back in one smooth motion, she crouched at the building’s entrance.
The pause she was waiting for finally came, and her movements were as graceful as the dancers that had been hired for the last Ambassador’s ball.
It was barely a second from when Nadara pried the door fully open before she fired, but it was enough for her to pinpoint the dark orb, whatever it was.
No sooner had the thing been struck than a wave of dark energy flooded the room, emanating from the object. Both enemies as well as the hostage crumpled to the floor.
It took only a moment for the energy to reach the pair at the door, but Nadara had heeded Kysar’s recommendation and her biotic sphere protected her from the substance. It nonetheless crashed against her as fiercely as an ocean tide.
There was that feeling again. Like being sucked into a sunken plane of existence. Somewhere cold and damp that bound you in place. Something was different this time, however, a feeling that whatever lorded over this place was annoyed, almost on the verge of anger. Like a teacher that's caught you mucking around in class just that one too many times.
Kysar shook the feeling loose as the dark energy wave washed away. "Spooky." He muttered.
“How long will they be out?”
Looking over the hostage, Kysar's brows furrowed. He had no idea who this was. Were they just taking anyone they could find? Or were you important? His gaze then turned to the Reds gangsters, earlier he'd made a promise to the team and it was one he intended to keep. Pulling out his sidearm, he fired two rounds into the criminals heads.
"Well, I can tell you how long one of them will be out for."
At the sound of gunshots from outside, Nadara quickly peeked through the doorway to find Zenobia swiftly dispatching an enemy. She smirked, now that’s someone who knows how to handle herself.
“Looks like you don’t need our help, Lunatic,” she complimented. “Wraith, keep an eye on her regardless, but be careful not to strike the crates. They’re explosives.”
Turning back to the room inside, Nadara motioned toward the hostage’s body and spoke into the shared channel. “We have one of the hostages. Venator’ll carry her to Godmother now.” Then, only to Kysar, she continued, “I’ll keep point behind you.” She motioned to her shotgun that was still in hand. “Better shot, after all.”
Nodding his head in agreement as he watched Lunatic dispatch a guard, he couldn't help but chuckle at Sunset's remark.
"Don't let that head of yours disappear too far up your ass Asari, we still need you to see where you're going." The Turian moved deeper inside towards where the two unconscious humans were. "Besides where would we be without my ingenious plan? I bet you would've tried to rush him."
"Wait, wait!" Lizbeth called out. "That boss guy Weisman and at least three Reds are coming from the next hallway!"
"If you're moving the hostage now, then go around the plant." Advised Lizbeth. "Or get her out of the way, like inside that sales office! Maybe hide in there so you can ambush them?"
It was then Outcast broke their long radio silence. "Tell me when they're near the entrance; I'll drop dragon's teeth on them."
Moving the hostage into the sales office as suggested, Kysar readied himself for their next move. "I agree with Lizabeth, lets hunt down the remaining Reds, save Janiri and double back for old sleepy here."
Nadara narrowed her eyes, though it did little to convey her irritation, given her helmet. Instead, she sauntered over toward him and placed a hand on his chest, walking him backwards into the office. “No need to hunt them down, tzu, they’re heading our way now.” Her tone was condescending, but held a hint of playfulness.
Once he passed the threshold, Nadara pulled the door shut, leaving a sliver open to keep an eye on the foyer outside. “Rogue and Shadow, stand by. Once they enter, I’ll send you a ping. We’ll engage them from both sides at once.” Apparently, this boss, Weisman, and his henchmen had another Asari held captive between them. Her sim’re would be saved, she thought, her free hand balling into a fist. “Lunatic and Wraith, keep an eye on the front doors? If Weisman manages to elude us, you can let Outcast know when to drop the spires.”
Zenn had only taken a few steps towards the stairs when Nadara requested him and Amina be on standby to flank Weisman and Banes in the lobby. There were still hostages in the building, but there was a chance they weren’t guarded and could be retrieved once the area had been secured. But it was also just as likely that they were, which meant Weisman could order their execution if given the chance. Zenn stopped and turned to look at Amina. There was a brief pause before he closed his eyes and gave a solemn nod. Weisman and Banes had to be stopped. If those monsters got away more lives would be at stake. They had to take the risk and just hope they wouldn't have to add two more innocents to the death count.
“Shadow and Rogue on standby.” Zenn confirmed over the comms as he changed course and made his way to the lobby door. “Let’s end this.”
Heavy footsteps on epoxy floor, rattles of equipment through the corridor. and noises of eezo-assisted actuators. The Reds made their presence known.
Up front were three average looking humans, all of whom were equipped with shoddy gear and red armbands. One was a soldier with a vindicator rifle and a harness loaded with molotov cocktails. The second one was a vanguard protected by biotic barrier and carried a baseball bat wrapped in electrified wires. Finally, an engineer was pushing a dolly loaded with a bound hostage.
At the back of the group was the person assumed to be Banes. His gear was in much better shape than the Reds'. His weapon was an M-358 Talon. His armor was sleek and unmarked; in fact, it was very similar to Outcast's armor.
In the middle was Weisman himself. Decked out in a refurbished T5-V battlesuit with crimson stripes, the Reds boss was an imposing figure over two meters tall. Unlike his minions' second-hand weapons, Weisman lugged around a fully-functioning geth spitfire.
They were ready for a fight, but when the Reds entered the lobby, they found none. All they found were two dead gang members and a shattered orb.
"No!" Banes quietly exclaimed at the scene, but he was completely ignored by the Reds in front.
Weisman commanded his three goons forward. Pushing the dolly with one hand and gripping a pistol in the other, the engineer was flanked by a Red on each side. The hostage tied to the dolly was a sturdy-looking asari, dressed in a mix of farm gear and recently scrubbed eclipse kit. She did not appear to be conscious.
"In awe at the size of this lad..." Lizbeth whistled. "Heh, I mean, try lighting their wannabe soldier on fire? Those bottles look volatile."
Just a few steps inside the lobby, the Reds' radio buzzed.
"Uh, boss, there's nothing back here." The duo that split off reported.
Solveig smirked at the two goons meeting her ruse. The next thing they'd meet would be the cold slap of a cryo bullet. Shot one landed, the blur of the scope made it hard to see whichever one it was. "What the fuck is this gun?" She asked, exasperated as she tried her best to line up the second shot.
As she pulled the trigger, something happened inside of it, and the cold that was supposed to fire out fired off inside instead - freezing through the chamber until the whole thing just shattered in her hands, leaving behind a cloud of powdered snow and chunks of rifle. "Okay, what the fuck? Maybe we have a problem Lizbeth, one more motherfucker just ran in. Gun exploded, it's like Santa Claus' grotto in here. I'm heading down."
"You froze the one with the grenade launcher!" Lizbeth confirmed. "Zip down that cable, Wraith, and you might intercept the second one."
Amina peeked around a corner at the group of thugs, Zenn close by. Perfect, she thought. The Reds were bunched together with little interval between them. She reached for a flashbang, nodding at Zenn as she readied it to throw. The position of the hostage made things risky, but if they executed this right along with Nadara and Zenobia they could mow the Reds down in less than thirty seconds with no harm to the captive. The leader in the battlesuit might be difficult to bring down so they needed to focus on dropping the cronies before going for him - thin the ranks.
Amina inhaled sharply, grenade primed in her hand. Leaning around the corner she drew her arm back and threw, the flashbang flying through the air and plunking down perfectly in the midst of the Reds. Amina dropped back behind the corner and covered her ears.
The flashbang exploded, the ear-splitting sound cutting through the air as the flash lit up the lobby. Amina could hear the pained and confused shouts of the enemy. She stood back up, reaching for her rifle as the fight kicked off.
Amina's flashbang landed slightly ahead of the Reds. This meant the three goons caught the brunt of the effect, completely blinding them and making them flail about aimlessly. Weisman seemed less disoriented. He only covered his helmet visor with one hand and shook his head to recover his vision. Banes was too far back. Though the flashbang took his focus away from the broken orb.
Peaking around the corner, Zenn made a mental note of where each enemy was positioned and began to prioritize his targets. The engineer pushing the hostage had to be the first to go. The other soldiers would be too occupied with getting to cover to stop and grab the dolly. Giving the team an opening to secure the hostage and allow them to really cut loose. With his target chosen, Zenn pulled back and readied his M-97 Viper. He looked to Amina, who was already holding a flashbang and waiting for his signal. A classic opener to ensure they took the Reds by surprise. He nodded back to her and watched as she tossed the grenade into the room and waited for it to detonate.
The moment he saw the flash of light emanate from the lobby accompanied by the deafening bang, Zenn pivoted out for cover and aimed down his scope. The engineer had not moved far from Zenn’s mental image and the quarian was able to immediately line up his crosshairs on the engineer’s helmet. He followed the engineer's wild failing until he was certain he could make the shot. He slowly exhaled to steady his aim, then pulled the trigger. The shot echoed through the lobby. A splatter of red mist confirmed the hit as the engineer stiffened up, then crumpled to the floor lifelessly.
Amina leaned back around the corner and raised her Vindicator, bringing her eye to the scope. She had noticed the one man carrying the Molotov cocktails and decided to try her luck. Finding her mark, Amina placed the dot of her scope on the still staggered thugs’ chest. She squeezed the trigger firing off a triple burst. The crapper armor of the Red did not protect him from the hit, all three rounds driving straight into his upper chest, however the Molotovs did not explode - the shot hitting too high. The Red collapsed, Amina ducking back behind her cover.
In mere seconds, Weisman found two of his three underlings dead. Still a little disoriented, he went to grab the vanguard. But the vanguard's blind baseball bat swings caught Weisman square in the midsection.
Weisman shoved the vanguard to the front entrance, unaware of the fiery death he had just sentenced his minion to. Himself stumbled back awkwardly toward the reception counter; Weisman took a step too big for the powersuit motors and fell on his arse.
As the group of Reds entered the room, Nadara pinged Amina and Zenn who confirmed they were in position. Amina acted first. The flash was blinding and had Nadara and Kysar not been hiding behind the door, they might have even been affected by it. A warning would be nice in future, she thought. She would have been more annoyed if it hadn’t worked so well. All the lower ranking idiots were out of commission momentarily and the other two had been distracted well enough.
Zenn’s swift action following the flash bang was a work of genius. Targeting the enemy pushing the dolly that held her sim’re, he easily dispatched him, leaving a glaring opening. It was almost as if they’d planned it. The team was functioning better than she could have hoped given the mistakes from earlier.
Not wasting a second, Nadara used her biotic charge to reach the other Asari in seconds. Her smugness soon dissipated however, because it was only when she was surrounded by flailing enemies that Nadara realized she’d never performed a charge while carrying anyone before. Should she push the dolly or carry the Asari’s body?
The moment of doubt was enough for the enemy who’d been affected the least by the flash bang to take his aim on her. Nadara glanced back toward Kysar, who was already taking aim at the suited figure.
She would have been relieved had she not known how terrible his own aim had proven to be. And just as she anticipated, Kysar’s warp had little effect, taking only a small bit of the figure’s shields.
Out of options, Nadara pushed the dolly, frantically relying on the power of her own legs to run far enough away from them. As she did so, she put up a biotic sphere, covering both her and her sim’re.
It wasn’t enough to stop the overpowered shot from the suited enemy, whose sights had been trained on her from the instant she charged forward. Whatever ammo he was using, it was unlike anything Nadara had experienced before.
The bullet smashed through her sphere, shattering it, and continuing until it struck her right shoulder. Thankful that the sphere had likely slowed and affected the bullet’s trajectory, she made it to the other side of the room.
Nadara knelt beside the dolly with a hand on her shoulder. It wasn’t fatal, but it hurt like hell.
Nadara had vaulted from their hiding spot before either of the two realised that Banes was unaffected by the flash bang.
There wasn’t much time, the turian had to act quick. It was obvious from the look of his armour that Banes was shielded. Kysar lifted his wrist, lining up his omni-tool with enemy and fired.
A flash of light followed by several crackles of electrical bolts shot forth from the omni-tool. His wrist jolted from the malfunction, causing the overload to fire askew.
Ducking back behind cover as Banes released a volley of shots, the Turian swore once more. What was going on? How could he possibly have damaged his…
Kysar’s head dropped with the revelation. The van, the crash must’ve damaged his omni-tool. Peaking back over the cover, he caught the wounding of his comrade. The team member he had swore to protect, just as he had the members of his former squad. He failed her just as he had failed countless others. SRN members, his squad during the reaper wars, his own mother. The turian's head dropped lower as despair took hold. Bareface. Maybe they’d been right about him all along maybe…
“No…” he whispered, “No, fuck this and fuck them!” Anger bubbled forth like a viper shooting up from his stomach. His hands gripped his rifle harder than he’d ever done so. Things weren’t over, not until he said they were. Raising back just over cover he unleashed hell upon those left, emptying a whole thermal clip while screaming.
“Eat this you fucks!”
The vanguard, already pushed towards the door by their bumbling boss, got the hell out of dodge, breathing a sweet sigh of relief, for a moment at least.
Meanwhile, back in the tower - Solveig was to her feet on the approach of the window with the zipline. She supposed a good thing about the implant arm was that it could handle the cable without any pain to her actual body. As she readied herself for the drop, like a hawk she made sight of the other goon as he ran back out. "Oh... unfinished business," she said quietly before falling under her tactical cloak again and pushing off from the window.
The idiot was about to cross right under her - and the noise from inside the building drowned out that of the zipline. Either that, or he was just too damn stupid to notice.
At the point that they crossed, and before he was under her, Solveig let go and fell a few feet down until she landed on his shoulders with a quiet thud, her arm wrapped around his neck almost as fast and she pulled tight in a swivel until she felt the crack. At the next moment her feet met the ground and he dropped under her.
She hoped Lunatic had seen that, it seemed the kind of ridiculous stunt she'd have gotten a kick out of.
"Taken care of him. Back on ground."
"Whoa, good kill, Wraith. That's was straight out of-" Lizbeth's voice changed mid sentence. "Shit, Sunset's hit! Godmother, get to the front now!"
Zenobia was mad, yes. But she wasn't stupid. With a hostage out front her options were pretty damn limited; one wrong shockwave or lance, and it was game over. And with that vanguard out front with the damned bat, she couldn't punch her way that, even without the prisoner.
Ducking out just in time to avoid the flashbang, she peered back up over the barrier to see the hostage scurrying to safety. That opened her options up, and her eyes drifted to the crate of molotovs.
Oh boy, did she have an idea. Combat rolling over behind it, she waited for the guy with the bat to get into position before...
"Hey, who wants a light?" With a wicked laugh, she kicked the crate with a combined biotic push to send it flying into the vanguard. The immediate area burst into flames, chewing through his biotic barrier rapidly and forcing him to run screaming out of the inferno, right into Zenobia's clothesline as she dashed through the fire and into a flanking position, rapidly patting out a flame that stuck to her uniform.
"Going loud!" Zenobia cackles.
Amid the chaos, Banes' focus was singularly on the shattered orb. But the electric current from Kysar's omni-tool shook him from it. He ducked as overload flew wide, grazing him and chipping away a bit of shield. When he resumed his firing position, Banes' hands and his Talon pistol glowed with an azure shimmer, imbuing the pistol with warp ammo.
A loud bang and the crackle of biotic energy trails followed Banes' shot. Pellets ripped through Nadara's barrier and one of them found its way into her shoulder. Recoil kicked up the pistol like a mule, preventing Banes from a quick follow-up shot.
There would be no more shots to or from Banes. Shaking his head at Weisman's clumsiness, Banes suddenly turned invisible.
"Useless bastard!" Weisman cursed. "Don't you dare bugger off now, Banes!"
Banes' invisible form buggered off in the form of a biotic charge, through the back exit and narrowly missing Amina on the way. The gust of air was strong enough to stagger Amina, and when she recovered, Banes had already rounded the corner to the next corridor.
"Pissing wankers!" Weisman tried to get up, only to find the joints of his suit locked by Zenn's sabotage.
Zenn made sure Nadara was able to get the hostage out before he moved his crosshairs onto the next target; the soldier sporting a vindicator and molotovs. However, Amina was quicker on the draw and the quarian got a close up view of him being gunned down. If only she had that kind of aim when throwing. He thought to himself. Knowing the soldier was dead, he simply readjusted to the Vanguard, but before he could get that shot lined up, Weisman appeared in view and attempted to grab the guard. It was almost comical watching the head of this criminal organization stomp around in heavy duty gear just to get his torso caved in with a bat, then push his subordinate away only to slip and fall like the floor was just mopped. Combine all that with an enraged Kysar unloading a whole clip of suppressing fire that forced Banes to hide and the vanguard outside, and that left one of their main targets isolated and completely vulnerable. Time to lock in this bounty.
Zenn removed his left hand from his rifle, his omni-tool lit up as he thrust his arm towards Weisman. Nothing. Zenn looked down at his tool, back at Weisman, then back at his tool. What the hell was going on with this thing? He gave his omni-tool a tap with the end of his gun which seemed to do the trick. A blast of energy launched from his arm and collided into Weisman. Sparks zapped all around his battlesuit and it appeared as though he was fully restrained inside his own armor.
"Weisman is immobilized. Moving in to secure and capture." Zenn informed the crew as he moved from out of cover and slowly advanced towards Weisman. "Alright, Weisman. Just stay put and I promise I'll keep Venator from mounting you on one of those dragon’s teeth.”
"Go to hell!" With whatever little movement left in his arms, Weisman pointed his weapon toward Zenn.
“Vot…” Zenn’s stomach dropped as he found himself staring down the barrels of a geth spitfire. He knew all too well what they could do, and immediately turned back.
He could hear plasma bolts connecting with his shield and shredding everything around him as he raced through the doorway he came from. Just as he was about to round the corner, a sharp shot up from his left leg. The sudden shock while in a full sprint sent the quarian falling to the ground. His shields had given out, and one final shot had managed to nail him in the calf. It hadn’t done any major damage, just a flesh wound. But it had ripped right through his suit, leaving him with an open wound in an abandoned meat packaging plant turned reaper camp. Not exactly a sanitary environment. It was bad, but at least the spitfire had overheated before it could do anymore damage. Zenn used the time he had to crawl back to cover before pulling himself up against the wall and covering his wound with his hand.
“Damn it! I’m hit!”
“Godmother, I’ll be fine. Get to Shadow first!” Nadara shouted before even thinking, and once she realized what she’d said, she surprised even herself.
Why was Zenn’s predicament of higher importance than hers? Clearly, the shot to her shoulder affected her. It had been quite some time since she’d been hit with such powerful warp ammo. That brute must have a great biotic amplifier. If only he hadn’t vanished into thin air, dammit.
“Outcast get your ass back here Banes just escaped.” Under her breath she added, “You waste of space.” The fact they didn’t show themself before any of the Reds had registered, aside from the similarities between their suit and Banes’. Afraid of getting recognized?
There was a tinge of panic when Outcast replied to Nadara. "Escape to where? Rear gate? Moving to intercept."
Zenobia's omni-tool ringed with a gift. "Two dragon's teeth's rigged with explosives. Transferring remote detonation code to Lunatic."
“Wait!” Zenn responded to Nadara. He couldn’t hide the pain in his voice, but he managed to get the words out. “He’s focused on me… If Godmother can get into the lobby, then she can hit him with a neural shock… Won’t even see it coming… Keelah there better be some kind of dextro alcohol back at the hotel…”
“I’ve got Banes!” Amina shouted into her com. The others could take care of the Reds’ leader, the turian medic could handle the wounded - Amina was going after Banes. She ran down the hallway after the fleeing man, adrenaline surging through her veins as her boots clopped across the floor. Amina was a fast enough runner but she felt like she was soaring as she gave chase, she felt a pang of excited anticipation as she caught a glimpse of Banes rounding the corner ahead. She kept her rifle half raised, tempted as she was to grip it in one hand and lean forward, using her other arm to pump and help propel her ahead. The last thing I need is to whirl around the next corner and meet a gun in the face.
"Lizbeth, I have Banes on my left," Solveig spoke through the comms before launching out at him, landing a solid punch to his shoulder that sent him hurtling into a nearby cart. As he rose back up, she could see that his gear pouch had torn, sending data chips flying towards her feet. His comms console too, had shattered. It wasn't until she regained a breath she felt that he too had landed a retaliatory punch to her face. What followed was a quick, unintelligible spitfire of her mother tongue.
"Slowed him down, Rogue, you can catch him. Collecting the intel. I almost had him. He's fast. His punch could use some work, though."
Amina came around a second corner gun raised, Banes just meters ahead of her. Amina saw an overturned cart in the middle of the floor, bloody contents splattered across the concrete. Either Banes had tripped over it or slung it down behind him when he heard someone following - either way it was no obstacle.
“Freeze!” Amina shouted in the strongest voice she could muster. Banes did not even look back, prompting Amina to fire off a burst to the right of him which ricocheted off of a metal sink against the wall. Banes slid to a stop at the gunfire, not turning around.
“Drop your weapon or I will pop you in the back.” Amina commanded.
A clattering echoed in the corridor.
“Now kick it away.”
Banes did as instructed.
“Now on your knees.” Amina stepped forward over the overturned cart. Banes did not comply, standing still as a statue, arms at his side.
“I won’t tell you again.” Amina drew closer, less than twenty meters from Banes now. Banes glanced slightly to his left, there was a large shelf riddled with various items. “Don’t even-“
Banes dropped low, left arm shooting out as he grabbed a heavy meat tray from the shelf. He twisted his around, swinging his left arm as he turned and sent the meat tray flying. Amina’s finger was on the trigger as the meat tray struck across the side of her face. “Ow!” Amina shouted, her rifle firing off and sending three rounds streaking over Banes head. Banes scrambled to his feet and sprinted towards the end of the hallway. Amina felt her left eye swelling in the corner and fumbled to bring her rifle up to aim, by that time Banes had crashed through the rear exit - double doors flailing in his wake.
“Dammit!” Amina shouted, how could she have let him catch her off guard like that? She ran for the double doors, one hand pressed against her throbbing eye, as she heard an engine buzzing to life out back. Amina got outside just in time to see Banes streaking off on a motorbike. She fired two quick bursts at his back, neither bringing the fleeing Banes down.
Back at the lobby, Godmother strode inside with her arc pistol raised. She had instructed her drone to care for Nadara, and at her recommendation, switched to Zenn instead. She delivered her neural shock toward the heavily armored foe sitting against the reception.
Energy collided against energy; Weisman's shield ate up the shock. With Zenn disappearing behind cover, he turned to the turian medic with two chilling words.
A glowing shape flew across the room. Sevipia's drone intercepted the rocket before it reached her. Explosion shattered it to pieces. Sevipia was thrown back by the blast, but was otherwise unharmed.
Kysar had underestimated human ingenuity. He'd read first hand accounts of the Relay 314 Incident and despite human's themselves showing bouts of bravery and even honour, their tech was substandard. A weak point which the Hierarchy exploited to all but steamroll over them. Hell, even their most advanced ship was one intertwined with turian innovation and hardware.
This Weisman was obviously out of his element when it came to his powered armour but even still, the bastard was proving difficult to put down. Between Zenn's injury and his omni-tool being on the fritz, there wasn't much Kysar could do aside from trying to chip away at his shield. At least until Sev came along.
Successfully managing to remove the Red's leaders shield with a neural shock, both turian's celebrated, though it was a moment too soon. Retaliating with a rocket, Kysar eyes widened as his breath escaped him. He could do nothing but watch on as it honed in on the medic. His stomach fell through the floor as she failed to deploy her barricade in time, only to have her drone fly in at the last second.
As Sev clattered away in the explosion, Kysar lost it. A biotic aura exploded around him as he lept from his cover. Hitting Weisman with everything he had, he lifted the hunk of metal high into the air, screaming his lungs out as he did so. Finally, he ended it by rocketing the oversized tin can right back into the floor. Without so much as a second glance at the enemy, the turian bounded across to the medic.
"Godmother? Sev! Are you ok?!"
It was then Amina's warning came through their comms. Followed immediately by Outcast.
"Rogue, what? Never mind; I see him." Outcast wasted no time. "Going in pursuit in my jeep."
"They're just going!?" Lizbeth shouted in disbelief. "Uh, Lunatic, there might be two more Reds coming to you. Right flank, same direction as before!"
Zenobia's gaze shot to her right, and with a smirk she dashed off into the shadows, right as the two Reds burst onto the scene where she was moments ago. The two looked around feverishly for something to shoot before they heard something overhead; a slow, sinister chuckle.
The hapless duo turned fearfully upwards to where Zenobia was perched on the crates overhead, a wicked smile on her face illuminated by the haunting glow of her biotics. Cast in shadows, she looked like a witch with an eldritch flame in her hands.
"Who wants to go first?" She let out a sinister cackle. "Hurry and decide...I want to see you two go pop like your precious boss!" She licked her lips as the two goons stood their shaking. "I bet you'll taste just as good, too..."
Very much not wanting to deal with this, the Reds dropped their guns and turned tail, Zenobia giggling with menace as she flipped her comms back on, still in her 'scary voice'. "I...took care of them..." she whispered playfully.
"Ha, I'm saving that one for the extranet!" Laughed Lizbeth. "Ahem, go patch up Sunset now please."
"Shit, on my way..." Zenobia leaps down from the boxes in a commando roll and runs up to Sunset, drawing her medi-gel pack. "Don't worry, you're not going on the menu yet." She....'reassures' her with a wink.
Nadara offered her a sultry smile, gladly accepting the medi-gel. “No? I don’t think I would’ve minded, if it was you.”
Zenobia is...pleasantly surprised by that reaction. "Duly noted~" she smirks.