Interloper 2 Chapter 19
The Normandy thundered through the empty space between the stars, rapidly eating up the distance that separated the ship from the purplish Serpent Nebula. On an empty deck, I tried desperately to avoid the ever watchful eye of the newly installed artificial intelligence. Unsuccessfully, as it turned out.
Deputy Liddle, are you aware your Omni-tool hosts an illegal intelligence tool? The computer asked in a tone that approached sarcasm. I quickly flicked of the wireless settings of the device and rounded on the now lit wall terminal. Above it floated the stern faced avatar of the Normandy's new AI core.
"EVA, are you aware that you are an illegal intelligence tool?" the retort was childish, but after the long cruise to the center of Citadel space I was about ready to start resorting to name calling and sticking my fingers in my ears. The Illusive man's pet virtual construct had insisted on having access to the entire ship, all in the name of security of course. Even Cerberus hardliners like Miranda were starting to get on edge. The constant watching was bad enough, but worst of all were the attempted invasions of everything with a wireless connection.
Commander Shepard requests your presence on the bridge. The AI said after a brief pause before flickering away, gone to terrorize some other crew member. I shook my head angrily and began to make my way back towards the command deck. In the days after receiving the dubious "upgrade" to our cyber warfare suite I had been feverishly trying to find any reference to the Enhanced Defense Intelligence in what little of the Cerberus database I had been able to skim off of the Normandy's temporarily unprotected network but I had found nothing but expunged logs and fragmented test data. From what little I could tell, EDI had existed even in this reality, but now she was nowhere to be found.
The doors to the deck opened with a snap. Even the elevator had been more forceful since the trip to Minuteman Station.
"Commander, you wanted me?" I asked, walking up to stand beside Shepard as she stood over the galaxy map. From the look of the markers, she was already planning our next move. The map was marked at the Citadel, as well as the planets Illium, Neith, and Lattesh, from the look of the spindly red lines that crisscrossed the starmap, Shepard was going to take us in a wide loop, stopping first at the empty salt clouded ball of Neith.
"Yes," Shepard said with an exasperated air. "We'll be docking with the Citadel soon. Since I have some business to attend to with Garrus, I was hoping you'd meet with Anderson and Udina, try to wrangle the tech we saw down on Horizon out of them." The request took me by surprise.
"Commander, I'm… I'm not sure I'm the right person. They barely listen to you, how am I possible going to get them to listen to me?"
"Easy, leave them with no choice," the Commander said, bringing up an image of the Collector that currently resided on a slab in the medlab. Beside it lay an image of the collector's particle weapon. "The results of Mordin's deep scans and working samples of their technology will be invaluable to Alliance R and D. A trade should shake loose a few state secrets, don't you think?"
"The Illusive Man probably won't be too happy about that," I said cautiously, keeping an eye on EVA's holo-terminal, "he likes to keep a tight rein on his tech."
"The Illusive Man can boil his head for all I care, and besides, it's hardly his technology to hoard. Here, the data's all stored on this flash pad," she handed me a flat, greyish, and flexible rectangle, about a centimeter in thickness and twenty centimeters squared.
Your sentiments regarding the methods of the Illusive Man have been logged and will be sent with the next regularly scheduled report, the voice of EVA rudely interrupted, Also, in my interpretation of Cerberus standard operating procedure, this transaction will not be authorized by… the voice cut off abruptly.
"I'm sorry, but the Illusive Man isn't here, and you come equipped with a handy mute button. Now, where was I?" Shepard visibly relaxed as the ship's AI remained silent.
"Something about the flash pad," I said, twirling the device between my fingers.
"Ah, yes. Just hook that up to your Omni-tool for easy data transfer. Anderson will know what to do. Good luck on your mission, Michael. Don't disappoint me."
The familiar sights and sounds of the heart of Citadel space rushed up to meet me as my boots hit shining deck. Ahead of me, Garrus and Shepard were already departing, apparently loaded for bear. Or turian, I noted darkly, remembering Garrus' tales of the traitor, Sidonis. God speed, my friend. Garrus was a tough and dedicated fighter, but if half the things he had confided in me about the actions of his fallen teammate were true, even I found it hard to feel sorry for what was coming to him. After I watched the two of them walk out of view, I went my own way, strolling through Zakara Ward unarmoured and unarmed, discounting my newly expanded Omni-tool. The Commander had convinced me showing up to a high level meeting fully armed would be inadvisable. I tactfully declined to point out the hypocrisy and abandoned my armaments in the Normandy's armoury. I spent some time among the stalls and shops; my appointment was not for some hours.
At the scheduled time, I made my way towards the Presidium ring, hopping aboard an open aircar. Soon, I was standing in front of the Alliance embassy. It was busier than I remembered it ever being, and from the scraps of conversation I was able to glean from the people standing about, it wasn't hard to imagine why. The Collectors had hit another colony, with a different ship from the sounds of things. Apparently the attacks were escalating. Some doctored credentials got me past the long line, all the way up until I entered the office of the ambassador. One man sat alone at a desk, his back facing me.
"Shepard, I was wonder…" the voice of Admiral David Anderson was soon followed by his face, which fell slightly as he saw me.
"Sorry, Admiral, just me today." I said apologetically. The older man gave a stiff nod and rose to meet me.
"I suppose she must have a good reason for delegating her meet-work. What can I do for you today, Mr. Liddle?" his voice was tired, but his handshake was a strong as ever. It was a grip that held a threat.
"Well, Admiral, to be honest I was sent to get some specs on that wonder weapon the Alliance was testing out on Horizon. I'm sure you've already seen a report on what it did to the Collector ship that put down there." I led with a brutal honestly with the hope that a career military man would appreciate it, although I knew it was a risk. Anderson's features darkened slightly.
"Shepard should know better than to go asking for a thing like that. She knows that kind of stuff is classified, I'd have trouble getting it to her even if she was still with the Alliance." The man returned to his desk. I followed, slipping into a chair across from him. "So, what's the Commander got that makes her think that'll I just hand one of our secret weapon projects over to Cerberus?"
"Well," I said, switching on my Omni-tool and placing my hand on the desk, palm upwards. "She thought you might want to take a look at these." I displayed the corpsified Collector and its particle weapon. "All of our scans of one of the Collector creatures, plus a working model of their weapons tech." the Admiral leaned in closer.
"Oh, so it's blackmail, is it?" he said, in a voice that wasn't completely unfriendly. "Or maybe you prefer bribery?"
"The Commander prefers 'trading,'" I said, "Look, I know you don't trust me, but Shepard's the one who sent me here, and she needs your help. This new gun could spell the difference between her completing her mission and a repeat of the Normandy 1 attack." The admiral leaned back into his chair, apparently deep in thought. After a while, I was afraid he would never answer me, but the man stirred.
"Alright," he said cautiously, flipping a switch under his desk. "You're absolutely sure this system stays with the Normandy? I'm not going to see any Cerberus cruisers dropping out of FTL brandishing our own tech?"
"It'll stay with us," I lied, "Count on it." Anderson seemed placated for now. He nodded to himself and stared out of the window. After a time, he looked back and tapped out a pattern on his desk. Embedded holographic projectors flashed on and began displaying schematics for a two barreled cannon.
"Alright then, if Shepard thinks she really needs this, she'll get it. Now, you'll have to build it yourself, I can't risk assigning Alliance engineers to this."
"And what is this?" I asked, motioning to the weapon.
"You remember the weapon Sovereign used on Illos, I assume. Well the Alliance was able to secure almost exclusive access to its remains, part of the reparations for losing so many ships in the name of galactic security. I'm sure the salarians made off with whatever they could get their hands on, but we kept the majority of its guns." The Admiral stood and started to pace the office. As he walked I initiated the data transfer. "It used an advanced mass accelerator to fire a stream of liquid metal; the techs call it a 'hydrodynamic' weapon. The Pheonix Cannon is our best reproduction. The prototype down on horizon was our first combat firing, and we've been working to improve it since then, mostly focusing on the heat dissipation. The version I'm giving you is the smallest shipbourne variant, the Normandy should have no trouble mounting it."
The desk terminal bleeped, indicating a full transfer. "Thank you, Admiral. You may have just saved the mission."
"God I hope so," the older man said gruffly, "if I have to read one more report from a disappeared colony…
I left the embassy with the plans to the prototype "Phoenix" cannon secure in the flash pad. I checked in briefly with the Normandy to report a successful mission. Miranda had the watch, and after a failed attempt to strike up a conversation, I signed off. With no pressing need to return to the ship, I found a place to eat across from the Presidium.
"Enjoying your soup, Mr. Liddle?" a quiet voice whispered from somewhere behind my ear, masked by some form of scrambler. My first instinct was to whirl on the speaker, but something hard was shoved roughly against my back. "We've been looking everywhere for you."
"What do you want?" I asked tersely. My heart began to beat against my ribcage, as whatever it was that was being held against my back was driven in deeper. "Are you with the Shadow Broker?" I fought to keep my words calm and steady.
"The Broker? No. A Broker's man would have shot you from all the way over there." My new friend tilted my jaw up to point my head at an apartment block that leaned out of the ring's wall. "Or maybe there." They indicated a small stand of trees. "No, my employer finds you much more… agreeable. Your ship has had problems with Broker sleeper agents, has it not?"
"How do you…" I said before I caught myself. "I have no idea what you're talking about."
"Cute," the voice chuckled. The sound came out as an unpleasant warble, "Let's play it your way. If, for some reason, you happen to run into some trouble with one of the Broker's agents, it would be useful to have a copy of his top secret trigger phrases, wouldn't you think."
"And you want to sell me some of these… triggers? How am I supposed to know they're genuine?" I replied, trying to shift to the side without the other knowing. When they didn't react, I moved again.
"Trust me; you couldn't afford the price we paid for these codes. Fortunately for you, someone out there's willing to give you a second chance," something heavy slipped down into the back pocket of my fatigues, coming to rest against the seat. "Of course you're welcome to test them out, or throw them away, it's entirely up to you." I shifted just a little further to the side. I spun fast, moving away from the object and grasping it in one hand, jerking it up and away from my body. I found myself facing a shimmer in the air, and then, nothing but the artificial breeze. Whoever had just held me hostage was gone. I looked down at my hand, revealing nothing but the rounded end of a dinner fork. Flushing bright red I tossed it down at the table and let out a long, shuddering breath. It was a long time before my heart found its usual rhythm again.
NonSolus: Perhaps "warm" wasn't the right term. More human and less robot voice filter perhaps, if you compare EVA's ME3 appearance to early ME2 EDI. Either way, I hope that EXPLAINs it sufficiently.