It was just after midnight, Tuchanka time, when dreams of warm sands and warmer blood spraying from exploded enemy bodies were abruptly interrupted.
"MEEEOWOWOWOWOOOOOOOOOOOOOWMEEDLYEEDLYMEEDLYWOOOOOWOWOWOOOOOW! ANSWER THE CALL YOU BADASS MOTHERF***ER!"
"Crap," he grunted as his ECHO blared the ringtone he equally loved and hated. He sat up, grunted and pushing his way out from between the females sharing the creche with him, and they made unpleasant and sleepy noises in reponse. The ringtone repeated twice before he managed to reach the ECHO device. He was naked, so he just activated it instead of attaching it to his armor.
"Yeah, what," he muttered, and fumbled around for his pants. He glanced around his darkened home, and determined the quickest route to the bathroom in case he had to make a hasty escape.
"WAKE THE F*CK UP, HUMPADUMP!" screamed the other half of their insane partnership, and he winced. Too early in the morning, after too much ryncol last night.
"Why haven't I shot you, yet?" the krogan growled, finishing with the pants and hunting for his shirt.
"MALIWAN IS GETTING THEIR SH*T WRECKED HERE ON ILLIUM!"
His eyes widened, and he stood up, yanking the shirt down.
"Live feed?" he asked, and the ECHO beeped with a link a moment later. He grabbed his omnitool and activated his HUD, while shuffling toward the kitchen. As the extranet connection synched up, he grabbed fried pyjack sticks from the refrigeration unit in the next room and threw them in the scorcher.
"Who's involved? Anyone we know?"
"NO IDEA RIGHT NOW," came the reply. "THERE'S A BUNCH OF KROGAN, AND SOME HUMANS, AND A BIRD WHO IS ON FIRE, AND A SIREN, AND SOME KIND OF TINY BIOTIC PINBALL OF PURE GODD***N BADASS!"
By now the feed was active, and he could see the Dantius Towers partially ablaze, gunfire ripping through the middle levels, a small flotilla of Nos Astra police vehicles hovering outside the perimeter. The scorcher beeped as it finished burning the pyjack sticks, and he took them out and started chewing.
"You're not joining in on this?" he asked as he sat down and watched the show. Judging by his history, the krogan expected his partner to throw everything he had just to watch the fireworks.
"I WAS GONNA SEND OUT THE FISTING BOOMING-SH*TPUNCHER," came the reply. "THEN I REALIZED WE HAD TOO MANY CHARACTERS AND I DIDN'T WANT TO OVERSATURATE THIS PLOT ARC!"
The krogan rolled his eyes at his partner's insistence on following narrative conventions in real life. What did he think this was, some over-the-top sensory vid or a terrible extranet fanfiction? The krogan then shuddered as he remembered his companion's Blue Box Adventure crossovers.
"SO I DECIDED TO JUST SIT BACK AND PUMP SOME IRON WHILE I WATCH THIS PLAY OUT!"
"Good idea," the krogan replied, sitting back, relaxing, and crunching on charred pyjack. "Just keep the livestream going. I want to see someone toss Dantius out of her office."
Chapter Ten: A Surplus of Bullets
The upper levels of the Dantius Tower were far calmer than the middle levels. Signs of corporate wealth and power were more common at these floors, with grand offices and rich furniture and expensive artwork from a dozen species lining the hallways. The fusion of elegant asari curves and Maliwan's sleek designs became more pronounced the further one rose, as form ambushed function in a back alley. The walls were lined with blacks, orange, and blue colors, corners and borders marked with faintly glowing red and blue lines. The further up one went, the wider the corridors became and fewer the number of rooms, which themselves became grander and more opulent. Corporate apartments, penthouse suites, and wide galleries of art and technology dominated these levels.
Eclipse troops had secured strategic points along the upper levels. Past a certain point - just above the main labs - central elevators stopped, and anyone wanting to ascend further would need to use hallways to reach other elevators. Maliwan's mercenaries were covering these elevator access routes, holding intersections and stairwells, throwing down glowing red-gold kinetic barrier projectors and sealing doorways. Automated turrets, sleek, curving gun emplacements that glowed with their elemental loadouts, were set up to lock down corridors with rivers of firepower. If the krogan, the mercenaries, or the crazy biotic volus came this way, they would face brutal resistance.
With four separate enemy groups rampaging below, and none of them doing much to be subtle, the Eclipse troops were ready for any direct assault.
They didn't see the shadow moving around them with steady, silent grace. It slid from shadow to shadow, hiding from helmet scanners and turret sensors via electromagnetic masking. It flowed from one blind spot to another, and crawled from one inexplicably-clean air vent to another. He bypassed locked doors entirely, climbed up through elevator shafts to each secured level. And in the rare moment where he could not maneuver around a guard position, he acted quickly and ended them with as little pain and sound as possible.
The lunacy in the levels below served him well. It kept Eclipse jumping, confused and uncertain as to what was happening. Confusion opened gaps and offered moments of weakness to exploit. He advanced steadily, an unseen predator closing on his target.
After all, Seryna wanted Nassana Dantius dead. And the asari was a woman who hedged her bets. Why sell access to four separate attackers, all highly motivated to kill her old boss, when she could sell it to five?
The elevator doors opened a few moments after Roland's team started their descent. A dozen Eclipse soldiers were waiting in the corridor outside as the doors opened, and they unloaded a storm of multicolored violence down the hallway. Shock bullets sent twisting bolts of lightning across the metal. Corrosive ammunition splashed over metal and hissed as it tore through the elevator's contents. Brilliant red-gold incendiary munitions set the interior of the car ablaze. It was a blinding, sizzling, burning barrage of high-velocity murder, and the Eclipse troops had purged the concept of "overkill" from their personal lexicon in light of what was invading the building. Nothing could have survived inside that elevator.
Fortunately, the only living things in the elevator were microbes.
"Those boys are going to be disappointed," Zaeed remarked as he and the rest of the team stood on the elevator's rooftop, listening to the barrage below. Behind them, Roland and Seryna were using their omnitools to unlock the door to the next floor.
"How long do you think they'll take to realize?" Conrad asked. Zaeed listened to the river of bullets below, and shrugged.
"Staggered fire, elemental weapons, shitty discipline, pure panic, auto-opacity in their visors," he said. "Unlikely they stop for at least thirty seconds."
The door hissed open behind them as they unlocked it, and Roland raised his rifle as it hissed open.
A krogan hand grabbed him by the top of his helmet, lifted him up with a bone-shaking roar, and tried to crush his skull in the half-second it took everyone else to snap up their guns and blast the berserker. Under the assault of five point-blank weapons, the krogan was reduced to splattered orange meat and broken armor plate in the span of a couple of seconds. Roland dropped to the deck as the body flopped into the hallway beyond the doors, and another krogan leapt over the corpse.
Seryna's biotics flared, and a blue spear slammed the alien into the ceiling. Lilith vaulted up into the hallway, pouring incendiary bullets into the howling berserker, reducing his helmet and head to a charred mess.
Roland was on his feet, hauled up with a helpful arm from Conrad, while Zaeed was leaping up into the hallway after the Siren, his purple-grade Dahl assault rifle shouldered and firing into another charging krogan, with two more right behind it. Zaeed pressed himself against the wall, putting three-round bursts into the krogan's face, the alien's shotgun blasts bouncing off his shields. His position put him just out of the blast radius when Lilith Phasewalked and then reappeared a second later in the middle of the rear pair.
One was knocked to his knees by the Phaseblast, and the other stumbled back, lightning gouging dark furrows in his armor. Lilith slammed her fist into the krogan's face, and the armor imploded. The krogan fell backward, screaming in pain at the impact, and Lilith sprayed bullets into the berserker's face.
Zaeed's target stumbled and fell, armor and skin burning, and the krogan Lilith had sent to his knees was cut down by Roland and Conrad, firing from inside the elevator.
The abrupt moment of mayhem came to a close, and weapons clicked and hummed as magazines were switched.
"Didn't think we'd be fighting the krogan yet," Roland muttered as he moved over the bodies.
"Was kind of hoping we wouldn't fight them at all," Seryna added. Lilith was already moving down the passage, the air around her wavering as heat rolled off her armor. Roland jogged after her, Seryna and Conrad in tow.
"Just hope there's no guddamn krogan Siren in there, too," Zaeed grunted, and shot each body in the face a couple of times as he followed them. "That's always a mess."
"How many Sirens have you worked with?" Seryna asked, curious.
"Lost count. Like I'm a guddamn magnet for them or something," Zaeed grumbled as they moved down the hallway.
The yellow-armored figures on the camera feeds were running toward the Decisive Deception's airlock as Joker frantically worked the haptic display beneath his fingers. Error messages and warning lights came back when he tried to bring the Deception's guns online.
"He seriously left the guns unpowered!" Joker shouted as he worked. Claptrap screamed something in the background. "Its like he knew we were going to steal his ship!"
"Working on the engines," Angel reported. "I've got power to the kinetic barriers! But they're already at the airlock, I can't shut them out!"
"Can you detach us from the dock?" Joker asked. Claptrap rolled past, waving his arms in panic.
"Dock is under emergency lockdown," came Angel's worried voice. "And if I force a detachment before the engines and ME drive are online we'll drop like a rock!"
"We gotta do something," Joker hissed. "Dump everything into the GARDIANs! Forget the mass accelerators!"
"Trying that!" Angel replied. "Reactor's powering up but-"
"They're breaching the airlock!" Claptrap screamed. He was still connected to the sensors, apparently.
"Joker, get out of there!" Angel shouted, and outside he heard the exterior airlock slide open. "I'll take controls!"
"Shit, shit, shit!" Joker hissed, clambering to his feet and drawing his pistol. He grabbed Claptrap with one hand and hobbled out of the cockpit. As he limped by the inner airlock door, a bright white light flared along its seam.
"Angel, seal the Ops door behind us!" Joker shouted as he ran through the door and into the long corridor that held the Ops stations. The door slammed closed behind them and hissed as it was locked down. A few seconds later Joker heard a low detonation, and the clatter of heavy boots on the deck outside.
Hyperon troops were inside the ship.
The lab floors were as heavily defended as everywhere thus far. In the face of Okeer and his krogan warriors, that meant not enough.
Okeer stepped over slain krogan and Eclipse, walking into the main laboratory and archives. He could still hear distant gunfire as his warriors, both tank-bred and naturally-born, battled the Eclipse troops trying to hold this level, but ignored the shooting as he walked through the white-and-orange walled labs, weaving around chambers and through short corridors connecting each cavernous chamber.
He was in familiar ground now, especially once he entered the genetics and biohazard containment facilities. The placement of dissection slabs, morgue lockers, waste incinerators, and cryogenic vats was comfortable. He strode among the familiar micro-imaging equipment, gene-compiling supercomputers, sample testing and collection equipment, and growth pods. Nevermind that much of it was stained with the blood of Eclipse's soldiers and his krogan berserkers; Okeer was only vaguely annoyed at the dirtied nature lab, as his own on Tuchanka had not been in perfect condition either. Of course, he maintained proper sterilization where it mattered, but he didn't go out of his way.
"Archives secured, Warlord," reported one of the Battlemasters. "We're still waiting to clear out Specimen Storage and some of the non-genetics labs on the other side of the level. Eclipse holds several of the outer rooms on the level as well. They are regrouping for another attack."
"Good," Okeer replied. "Limit your fire in Specimen Storage. Keep the berserkers clear of that section if possible. If you have to take the other Battlemasters in to secure it without undue damage, so be it, but I need that part of the building intact."
"Understood, Warlord," the Battlemaster replied.
Okeer stepped over the bodies littering the doorway into the archives, and walked among the data servers. Frigid steam curled around him as he walked among the humming machines, and he paused before the main data entry terminal. His omnitool lit up, and he ran the salarian-engineered hacking programs he had purchased at significant expense. It took a mere few seconds for the hacking tools to bypass the internal security, and in a flash of digistruct motes, Okeer produced a ruggedized optical drive and plugged it into the terminal's transfer port. The drive auto-executed and began downloading the relevant data. He had specific target information, and the drive's search programs quickly trawled through the archive to find the relevant experimental data on krogan genetic modification and genophage research.
As the Maliwan information began to download, Okeer ran a separate search among the research reports and specimen data. He ignored the vast reams of genetic information which his drive was downloading. There was a specific target he had in mind, a target which he hoped to abscond with that Dantius had stolen from his previous lab.
Several minutes passed as he sifted the data, ignoring the gunfire raging outside and in the adjacent floors. Then, he abruptly found what he was looking for: the flowing, natural swirls of Eridian script. He doublechecked the data, and nodded to himself, then copied the serial number on that specimen tank. Okeer's teeth showed as he downloaded everything relating to that particular specimen to his omnitool.
"Warlord," one of the other Battlemasters reported, jarring him from his gleeful mood. "We have new contacts on the lab perimeter. Multiple mercenary teams. They aren't Eclipse!"
"Freelancers?" Okeer asked, curious. If they were, Nassana was either desperate and throwing whatever idiots she could hire at them, or she was desperate and sending in elite mercenaries from outside of Eclipse.
"No, Warlord," the Battlemaster replied. "Another raid force. Maybe two. They are engaging Eclipse as well as our own."
"Hm. Unsurprising," Okeer said. Freelancers carrying out their own mission? Perhaps Seryna had opted to sell out Dantius to anyone who wanted to wreck her tower. No matter. Multiple assault teams raiding the building at the same time would inflict massive chaos, and the chaos caused by their presence would only help him.
"Keep them away from the labs," Okeer ordered as he continued to gather the data he needed. He paused, and then adjusted his hacking tools to target internal security. "Maintain a flexible perimeter, at least until I am finished. Then we will have words with Dantius herself."
And as he continued gathering data, Okeer began patching into the data feeds from Maliwan's internal network, hunting for information on these mercenaries. He would not let an unknown potentially foul up this assault.
Both James Vega and the berserk krogan roared, reared back, and smashed their helmets together in a furious crash of testosterone and muscle-laden violence.
There was a tremendous impact that shook glass, and their heads jerked back. Both human abberant and crazed krogan stumbled, momentary victims of deadly Newton and his generally-immutable laws. The krogan recovered first and lurched at James, intending to bowl him over. James reacted with startling speed for his mass, and snapped both arms down, shifting his center of gravity to take the impact. His arms wrapped around the krogan as it met him, and he lifted and spun.
The krogan's charge turned into a flying body slam that ended with James straddling the alien and punching it repeatedly in the face, armored gauntlets bouncing off its helmet.
The krogan rolled, clamping both hands on the front of James' patchwork armor. The distinctive hump and the rounded backside of the species made it nearly impossible to actually pin them, yet another evolutionary advantage from their homeworld, and the berserker pitched James off of it. A shotgun digistructed into its hands as it rose, but James slammed his forearm into the barrel, and the Torgue-Urdnot weapon belched a storm of micro-rockets into the ceiling. He clamped a fist over the krogan's faceplate, kicked out one of its legs, and levered the top-heavy alien into the floor.
The leverage and abrupt impact jarred the shotgun from the krogan's fingers, and Vega flipped it over, pumped, and shot the krogan in the chest.
He blinked a moment later, and started wiping the front of his body, his helmet and armor covered in unidentifiable orange squick.
"James, done dancing with your girlfriend?" Axton yelled from down the hallway. His rifle spat out a couple of bursts at another krogan, and he was joined by La Torreta's booming cannon.
Further up the hallway, a krogan toting a grenade launcher was blasted off its feet by a single round that cracked its faceplate apart. Garrus shifted aim and shot out a charging berserker's kneecap, and Axton and his Sabre made sure it didn't get back up. There were more krogan beyond them, some stomping down the hallway heedless of the incoming fire, while others were holding further back, firing heavier weapons as they moved from cover to cover, whether that cover was alcoves in the halls, doorways, or inexplicably resilient artwork. Bloodwing was diving and striking among them, unable to stick with any of the krogan long enough to put them down, but definitely keeping their attention locked on the flaming cybernetic chainsaw bird trying to rip their eyes out.
James shook off the worst of the krogan gore and put the new shotgun away in his SDU, before picking up his dropped machinegun and running back toward the fray. The machinegun roared as he charged, and he cut down another berserker as it tried to rush into their position like the one James had just tangoed with.
When the quartet had first met the krogan outside the lab levels, they had been caught off-guard, but it only took a few moments of desperate violence laden with the words "point-blank" and "exit wounds" to deal with the initial assault from the berserkers. The krogan were tough, but their gear was mostly rugged, cheap white and green-quality and the berserkers had blunt, unimaginative tactics. They fell hard against the quartet's deadly combination of skill, firepower, and flaming chainsaw cyber-hawks.
The last of the berserkers fell, and the few remaining krogan in this group did something James didn't expect: They started falling back up the corridor, laying down suppressive fire and bounding backwards away from the quartet. Axton's Sabre was almost out of its current charge, so he held up a fist, and the rest of the team did not pursue. They traded fire with the krogan, dropping another of the aliens, and a moment later the krogan had retreated around a corner toward the labs.
"Didn't expect to run into the krogan," Garrus said as they regrouped Axton continued trading shots with the krogan remaining up the corridor. "They're right in our route to the executive levels, though."
"You sure we need to go this way?" James asked. "Because there's a ton of krogan."
"Yes, I'm sure," Garrus said quickly. "The quickest route to the executive level is right through this passage."
"No way around them?" Axton asked, and Garrus shook his head. He opened his visor's ECHO and checked the maps anyway, just to be sure. Enemy fire was intensifying as more krogan hurried to reinforce the group they had just fought through.
"Maybe," Garrus said. He checked the maps again. Bypassing the central corridors would take them around the outer edges of the floor, where Eclipse still held strong. The labs themselves were a hotly contested area, from the snatches he was getting off Eclipse's network, with the Biolabs and the Research Archives being completely overrun. And the high-security executive elevators to the upper levels were dead center in the labs.
"The fastest way through is right down the middle," Garrus said. "We could circle around them, but we'd be fighting Eclipse the whole way and then still have to fight krogan."
"Fewest bullets wasted is right down the middle, then," Axton said, and James grunted an agreement.
"Was worried we'd take the easy way," the bruiser added, and Garrus exhaled. It was a terrible burden to be the less-insane one on this team.
"James, prep an Odomo charge," Garrus said. He highlighted a point on their local map where a wall intersected their path. "If we're going down the middle, then we need to go in hard."
The krogan in the doorway recoiled as Zaeed put bullets through its faceplate, and then was covered in a sheet of lightning as Lilith passed it. She exploded into reality inside the huge lab room, submachinegun firing, and the wounded, twitching krogan was bowled over by more concentrated fire. The room, one of the primary labs on the floor and close to a central elevator that led to the executive levels, was filled with over a dozen krogan, and every one of them roared and raised weapons at Lilith as she reappeared.
Roland charged into the lab behind Lilith, throwing out his Scorpio and sliding into cover behind a wide, long experimentation table. Bullets roared past in both directions, and Lilith was advancing, fire rolling down her shoulders and spreading in wings that melted plastics and glass around her. Her eyes shone even through her mostly-opaque visor. Robotic arms from one of the machines on the ceiling overhead crashed to the ground, throwing off a shower of sparks and debris.
The krogan inside the lab were charging right back, several of the yellow-armored berserkers roaring and spraying shotgun fire indiscriminately while gray and red-clad krogan laid down rapid-fire barrages from Torgue-Urdnot or Vladof machineguns. The reports from their weapons were a constant stream of deafening violence, though most of it was trying to track Lilith as she sprinted around the room, moving far faster than anyone expected. The ignited air around her was partially shielding her from view and throwing off the enemy's aim. Zaeed managed to push into the lab in the chaos, trading fire with the enemy and dropping one of the krogan.
"Circle around them! Take the berserkers first!" Roland shouted as he maneuvered around the lab to flank the krogan, bullets and glass and ceramic shrapnel bouncing off his shields. He downed a berserker, and saw another of the yellow-armored krogan fall to Lilith fiery submachinegun. Seryna and Conrad bolted into the room as the team's more heavily-armed members drew fire from the doors, and the pair took cover behind lab tables. From her position, the asari was able to seize berserkers in biotic fields to let Roland, Zaeed, and the Scorpio to deal with them, while Lilith inflicted flaming, electrical chaos on the krogan shooters.
The team was too much fury in too small of a package. The majority of the berserkers died in burning, electrified violence, and as they fell, the remaining krogan surprised Roland by starting to retreat, laying down intense fire from their fast-shooting Vladof weapons.
"These krogan are smarter than the usual," Zaeed shouted as they continued trading fire. "Know when they're overmatched." Lilith exploded into one enormous warrior's face, immolating it where it stood, and concentrated fire from Zaeed and Roland put down another before they could retreat to the doors leading out of this lab.
"You don't sound happy about that," Roland said, switching magazines as the exchange of bullets slackened and silence fell over the ravaged lab.
"Dumb krogan are predictable, have a leader that isn't bright or strong," Zaeed muttered. "Tactical krogan means there's a serious Battlemaster leading them."
"Great," Roland muttered. "Conrad, can you use this lab?"
"Definitely!" the scientist called, emerging from cover. He glanced around for a moment, nodded, and hurried to a terminal in a corner. "Normally you'd need direct access to the archives in the server room, but my backdoor should get us access."
"Explains why the krogan are all concentrated deeper inside around the main servers," Seryna said, following Conrad. "They don't have a backdoor, so they have to hack into the archives directly."
"Krogan and hacking don't go together," Lilith said, and Seryna shrugged.
"The krogan I dealt with seemed smarter than the norm," she said as Conrad got to work on the terminal. His omnitool lit up and his, hands moved over the haptic display that flared to life under his fingertips.
"How long will this take?" Roland called, while making quick hand gestures to get Zaeed and Lilith in position to cover the entrances. According to their networked ECHOs, the krogan who had retreated were regrouping, with more berserkers and regular troops moving up to support them. And Eclipse markers were moving through the outer rooms and hallways.
"Not sure," Conrad said, his voice distracted. "Five to ten minutes!"
"Copy that," Roland said. They just had to hold this perimeter for a few minutes. The krogan and Eclipse had each other to deal with now, and-
Red hostile markers abruptly appeared on his ECHO on one side of the lab. A doorway burst open on that side, and a dozen Eclipse soldiers led by a pair of Lightsuits rushed in.
The door on the opposite side flew open as well, and the regrouped krogan charged into the room, howling and firing.
The wall opposite Roland's position exploded in a torrent of ruined architecture and whipping shrapnel. Through the gaping hole in the wall burst a hawk wreathed in flames, a human hurling out a box that unfolded into a Sabre turret, a looming bruiser in junkyard battle armor, and a turian shielding a sniper rifle.
"Damn," Roland breathed, raising his rifle and opening fire as the lab descended into complete chaos.
"Find them! Surround them! Kill them!" Nassana's face was turning a deep shade of purple as she looked for something in her office to destroy. "I don't care if you have to destroy entire floors of my building! Collateral damage is no longer an issue! Just kill them!"
She was paying the premium for a small army to defend her headquarters to stop precisely this kind of profit-ruining madness. Nassana was the one who launched raids at other people's assets on Illium! This was an asari colony, and Maliwan was an asari-aligned corporation. There shouldn't even be competition, let alone from human and krogan corporations!
Snarling and fuming and breaking what she could see and crush, she still kept enough presence of mind to check on her personal arsenal. And escape craft was on standby, but she did not intend to flee. Her armorers were bringing her personal weapons to the penthouse while they still had control of the upper levels, and if the enemy got this far, she would kill them herself. Let her employees prove themselves or die trying in the meantime.
Nassana Dantius was the Aria T'Loak of Illium, and she'd prove that herself if her soldiers couldn't stop these mercenary scum.
Her ECHO lit up as another report came in.
"Are they dead yet?" she shouted before the one on the other end could speak. She blinked when a slurred voice replied.
"You cannot kill the messiah!" the volus said. "I ride the-" A blast of feedback and the crashing noise of debris drowned out his words. "A great, BIOTIC WIND! I and my cohort of dancing hurricane pyjacks are coming for you!"
Another one on her ECHO network? Nassana smashed some floor tiles in frustration at the ineptitude of her IT personnel.
"How the hell did you get this frequency!" she screamed in livid rage.
"I am a BIOTIC GOD, mortal!" Niftu Cal shouted. "And I can SMELL YOUR FREQUENCIES!"
Nassana stopped for a moment, rage replaced by confusion.
Handsome Jack raised an eyebrow, mouth slightly open in confusion, his drink halfway to his mouth.
"Uh, yeah, seriously? What."
Roland ducked behind an overturned lab table, a truly ridiculous amount of bullets slamming into the other side as three four groups of absurdly well-armed lunatics tried to kill each other. Thankfully, the table was as well-engineered as most corporate furniture, and so long as no one took a rocket launcher to it he expected it to hold it up.
Considering who was shooting up the lab, those might be standard issue, though.
He leaned out to fire quick bursts, spending only a moment finding a target and shooting it. He didn't have time for anything else, and the environment was so target-rich that he could shoot blind and still hit a hostile. Lilith was exploding in and out among the Eclipse and krogan, biotic pulses surged from Seryna, and even Conrad was blindly firing shots from his pistol in the general direction of the enemy while crouched and working behind his terminal.
Zaeed slid into cover a few steps down, a grenade in hand.
"Masher out!" he yelled, chucking another shock MIRV over the top into the middle of the fray. The cascading detonations a moment later bought a brief slack in incoming fire, and Roland took the chance to redeploy his Scorpio and then lay down more suppressing fire. A krogan tried to vault over their table, only to get shot apart by Roland and Zaeed and hurled away by Seryna's biotics.
Roland switched magazines and rose to fire again, his weapon tracking toward one of the other team of freelancers shooting their way across the room. He targeted the baseline human commando wearing a dark brown ballistic weave jacket, who was redeploying the enormous Sabre turret. Zaeed tracked Roland's target, but abruptly waved a hand and hissed.
"Hold your fire on them!" he yelled, and the commando pivoted toward them raising his own weapon. Just before he pulled the trigger, he stopped. Roland raised an eyebrow in confusion, and then saw Zaeed and the commando meet eyes. Their gazes locked, and then narrowed with equal amounts of recognition and antipathy.
"Hey, you little shit!" Zaeed snarled, barely audible over the gunfire. A burning krogan ran past, tackling an Eclipse soldier. "Truce?"
"Yeah, truce, asshole!" the commando yelled back, and then both he and Zaeed spun to open fire on the Eclipse and krogan. As they did so, the commando yelled something to his companions, and they nodded.
"Okay," Zaeed yelled. "Don't shoot those bastards! They're on our side for now!"
"Copy that," Roland agreed with a shrug, and the rest of their team yelled acknowledgements, though Lilith's was partially drowned out as she punched a hole in the universe and reemerged a moment later.
"Zaeed, what was that?" Roland asked as he started pouring bullets into a Lightsuit that was bouncing around the room.
"Me and the guddamn prick know each other," Zaeed replied, and hurled another MIRV across the room. "Axton's got his reasons for being here, and I doubt they conflict with ours. Changing mags."
Roland covered him as he dropped back and switched his Dahl rifle's ammunition. Body parts went flying over his head as the bruiser among the other group blew up a pair of krogan with a rocket launcher.
"Besides, I'd rather we both walk out of this one alive," Zaeed added, standing up to shoot. "Because no one's going to kill that little shit but me, dammit."
Garrus sent Bloodwing swooping after an extra-heavily-armored krogan with a gesture of his arm and a transmitted order, and then put a bullet through an Eclipse trooper's head, all the while listening to his squad.
"So we're not shooting the other team, Loco?" James shouted as he reloaded his rocket launcher under the covering fire of Axton's turret.
"Exactly!" yelled the commando between bursts of his rifle. "Keep them alive, because I plan to shoot out that scarred asshole's other eye myself!"
"Fair 'nuff," James said with a shrug, and then blew up a Lightsuit with his rocket launcher as it landed. The echoing howl of the explosion drowned out all other noise for a moment, and chunks of slagged metal whipped around the room, forcing the saner people in the gunfight to duck for cover.
"I've got no problem with it," Garrus added as he sighted a krogan mercenary laying down heavy fire on the other team, and sent a bullet through the eyeplate on the enormous alien's helmet. As long as they weren't attacking one another for arbitrary, idiotic reasons that seemed to exist solely to test their respective skills, he was fine with it. Because it seemed that every other time they happened across a ragtag team of uniquely-dressed commandos on raids like these, they always got into a fight for the stupidest of reasons.
"Move up to flank," Axton called, pushing ahead and firing. "Crossfire with Zaeed's team!"
The others followed suit, and the other group reacted to compliment them, the dark-skinned human barking orders. They set up a roughly L-shaped firing line that let them pour fire into the krogan and Eclipse, who were too embroiled in the violence to reposition themselves. With Bloodwing's diving, incendiary attacks and the other team's Siren - seriously, they had a Siren backing them, even more of a reason to not get into a fight - was exploding in and out of the battle, blowing apart hostiles and setting them ablaze.
But the chaos was controlled, at least on the side of the ragtag team of mercenaries. More krogan and Eclipse were charging into the room, but the moment they entered they were stuck neck-deep in the chaos. Garrus figured that their two teams would wipe out most of the enemy long before they ran out of bullets.
That was when the floor in the middle of the lab exploded straight up, debris chased by the wavering blue aura of biotics. Gunfire slackened as debris careened around the room, a couple of unlucky krogan standing directly over the blast hurled apart into several bloody orange pieces. Dust rose around the hole, and a moment later the gunfire resumed in earnest.
Garrus was about to ask what the hell was happening, but then a shimmering blue sphere rose through the hole in the floor, and he heard the filtered voice of a volus shouting at the top of his tiny lungs.
"-is not an old man with magical powers!" screamed the rotund creature in the middle of the whirling blue sphere as it ascended into the room. "It is a force! It warps reality just by being there!"
A surge of power, and krogan went flying.
"It doesn't have to want to!" Eclipse soldiers were smashed. "It doesn't have to think about it. It just does!"
The volus wreathed in the biotic sphere turned his eyes upward.
"My mind may be gone," the volus yelled, and then the sphere glowed brilliantly, before a bolt lance dup and tore apart the ceiling above the battlefield. Chunks of masonry slammed into furniture and combatants below, and the volus began to ascend again. In the momentary silence, they heard him shout again.
"BUT THIS GOD STILL DREAMS!"
Garrus watched the volus rise up through the hole and disappear, and another explosion sounded above them a few moments later.
The silence spread for another couple of seconds, until a krogan shrugged, turned, and headbutted an Eclipse trooper. Then the gunfire resumed.
"So," Axton called between bursts. "Anyone else feel like converting?"
"HOLY F*CKING SH*TBALLS, DID YOU SEE THAT?"
The krogan crunched on another pyjack stick as the females gathered around the tank-sized holotank showing the live feed from Illium. It dominated the entertainment wall of his home's main floor.
"Yeah, pretty good for a volus," he said. "How did you get a live feed from Maliwan's own security cams?"
"I HAD MY IT GUYS SPLODE-HACK THEIR SECURITY!"
That was a thing? The krogan frowned, and was afraid to ask.
"Really," he said, keeping his words neutral.
"I'M PRETTY SURE MALIWAN'S PUSSY-D*CK IT TEAM WAS SURPRISED. EXCEPT THE ONES THAT WERE SCREAMING 'CAUSE THEY GOT THEIR FACES SPLODE-HACKED!"
Angel hovered in the center of a vast, swirling, mind-breaking sea of information, and her awareness tightened to one tiny speck of that data.
Every sensor on the Decisive Deception fed her a river of data that constantly raged around her. It was a chaotic storm: reports from internal monitoring systems, dozens of types of sensor readouts, internal and external cameras, mass effect field sensors, data connection protocols. Her peripheral awareness extended beyond to nearly every feed from the surrounding docking station. Most people would be overwhelmed by so much raw data, but Angel had... advantages when it came to processing. The information hurricane was familiar to her, and for all of the data pouring out of the ship's myriad systems, what drew her attention the most were the internal sensors around the frigate's combat information center.
The Decisive Deception's CIC was a testament to Handsome Jack's design mentality. It was a long, oval room with a roughly hexagonal shape to the bulkheads and ceiling. Two lines of waist-high consoles ran around a central holographic display, and overlooking the whole room was a platform with a big, opulent leather chair that looked ideal for sitting in while overlooking the minions and stroking a big fluffy cat.
And hobbling for cover behind one of the terminals was Joker, a pistol in white-knuckled hands, and followed by a panicking Claptrap.
She bit her lip, furiously working through the data, trying to find something to help him as the doorway into the CIC lit up, Hyperion engineers cutting into the door on the other side. There were so many ways she could act, if she moved directly. Every single combat engineer, Loader, and soldier in the boarding team were linked to the local Hyperion network, which she owned. She could jam comms, shut off optics, corrupt IFF systems, scramble SDUs….
But Jack was watching. And there were orders. No direct intervention, he'd said. He didn't want her to "interfere" with one of his sick "tests."
Hyperion's engineers finished cutting through, but it had taken some time. Jack didn't want them blowing up parts of his ship. The first thing through the door into the Deception's CIC was a Hyperion GUN Loader. The utilitarian robot was painted in black and yellow warning stripes, a wireframe of spindly metal limbs connected to a central body shaped roughly like a horizontal cylinder with a single baleful red eye in the center. The right hand of the Loader toted an assault rifle, and it moved fast in spite of its clumsy, half-drunken gait, stomping through the doorway. The Loader's cyclops eye flicked around the CIC, hunting for Joker, and it raised its rifle when it spotted him.
She expected him to cower behind cover. It was what Claptrap was doing. Instead, Jeff grit his teeth, lurched up, and shot the GUN Loader in the eye. He was using a Dahl pistol - low recoil, high accuracy, burst fire - and the rounds smashed through the Loader's optics. It stumbled back, and Angel caught a flash of garbled damage reports from the machine right before the Loader behind it violently shoved it out of the way. Another burst of bullets struck the next robot, most bouncing off its armor. One round managed to hammer the optics cluster, and it froze for a moment in the doorway.
Angel had only a moment to consider it. Jack was distracted by the violence in the Dantius Towers. Maybe, if she was careful, picking the right access point to send her signals though….
She overpowered the door's mechanisms, disabled the overrides that prevented closing while someone was inside the doorway, and sent an emergency depressurization warning to the locking mechanisms, trying to disguise it as a malfunction. The door had just been sliced open by cutting torches, after all.
The door slammed shut, right on top of the Loader, and the overpowered mechanisms crushed it and trapped the machine in place. Angel winced at the damage reports it sent, and hoped Jack was too distracted to notice.
Joker stopped for a moment in surprise, and Angel tightbeamed a transmission to him and Claptrap as the Hyperion troops tried to reopen the door.
"Run!" she hissed over the ECHO. "When that door opens you're dead! There's an elevator behind the CIC!"
"Right, right, shit!" Joker hissed, and started limping away from the consoles and around the platform where Jack would watch his weekend bombing runs. He rounded the platform and another bulkhead behind it, and hurried toward the elevator doors looming before him. Claptrap, ever the source of calm, dignified rationality, was screaming and spinning in circles behind Joker, arms flailing wildly.
Angel watched them run, and covered her tracks as quickly as she could before Jack noticed what was happening. She prayed he wouldn't notice her intervention; when someone ruined his sport the laughter ended and the screaming began.
Jack was unlikely to hurt her, but that didn't mean he wouldn't punish Angel if he knew what she'd done.
But she couldn't let that worry her. Joker was still only a single well-placed bullet from death. She had to find a way to protect him and the rest of the team, both from Jack's twisted games and enemies who just wanted them dead.
In the executive levels, the shadow moved through an executive penthouse toward the elevators, flitting from cover to cover, a ghost unseen and unheard, unnoticed by patrolling Eclipse soldiers who were more worried about the battle raging below. He advanced in utter silence, invisible in an art gallery that connected to the next set of elevators, a predator flowing like steady, inky liquid from point to-
Floodlights came on, illuminating him from overhead, and a dozen Eclipse troopers flooded into the room.
"There he is!"
"Blast the son of a bitch!"
As they rushed in, weapons raised, he exhaled.
"Figures," he grunted, and a revolver digistructed into green, finely-scaled fingers.
The rail-thin, black-clad figure snapped up the weapon before Eclipse's troops could start shooting, and he spun, fanning the hammer. Three pairs of shots sounded, and three Eclipse died with bullets smashing through their shields and then glowing yellow optical port each.
The revolver vanished even as he vaulted backward, skittering behind a massive statue of dancing asari. He ignored the bullets slamming into his cover, and a long-barreled rifle appeared in his fingers in a whirlwind of blue motes. It was a fine, synth-wood and metal Jakobs sniper rifle with intricate filigree patterns embossed on the metal, a marker of their purple-grade weapons. He raised the rifle and squeezed off three quick shots into the air, finger moving the bolt-action that loaded each enormous round into the barrel.
Jakobs was old-fashioned almost to a fault, but he couldn't slight them on raw power. Each round smashed through the floodlights overhead with absolute destructive force, andkept going, One actually ended up wounding an unfortunate Eclipse soldier two levels higher up, though he didn't know it at the time.
The bright lights were snuffed out, and the gallery went dark again. Another revolver flashed into his hand, and he spun out of cover int he momentary confusion and shift in enemy optics.
Three more dead mercenaries, and he bolted to fresh cover, reloading on the run. A passing thought flicked through him as he dodged multicolored return fire, corrosive and flame rounds bouncing off his shields.
The Broker had better pay him well for a job this risky.
The Specimen Storage lab was a few corridors down from the Research Archives, and was not quite as bullet-riddled or corpse-strewn as the rest of this level. Okeer moved around the corpses of Eclipse troopers and krogan, noting with satisfaction that the interior of the Specimen Storage rooms had been cleared with little damage to what mattered.
He strode down a long hallway lined with refrigeration and bio-growth units, all containing metal and armor-glass cylinders. Cool mist curled around him, and the dim light had a faint blue cast to it, supplemented by the holographic readouts hovering over every specimen unit. His ECHO highlighted the objective he'd found after poring over the notes, the HUD displaying a shaded yellow diamond over an otherwise unremarkable storage unit.
He doublechecked the lot number and accessed the data on the unit. He nodded with satisfaction when he saw rudimentary Eridian script on one of the log files. A DNA comparison also matched what he was looking for, and the energy readouts matched the ones from his lab on Tuchanka with exact precision.
This was what had been stolen.
He sent the order, and began unlocking the unit. As the containment doors slid apart, a pair of krogan pushed in a mobile growth locker, a cylinder large enough to hold a . He reached into the storage unit and delicately removed the cylinder inside. It was warm to the touch, but the life inside was still embryonic. Wombless. Tank-bred. Not the same as what he had lost, but… an infant was much more useful in many respects than a full-grown female.
Ideal for his purposes.
He loaded the cylinder into the armored growth unit and nodded. The krogan warriors turned and began hauling the precious cargo out of the labs. They and a large detachment would return to the ship, while Okeer….
Okeer would remain. He activated his SDU and a Torgue-Urdnot rifle with a rotary barrel and reflective chrome housing formed in his waiting fingers.
He checked the feeds from the surviving lab cameras. The mercenary teams, including the Siren, were still locked in battle. Good. It would give him time.
Okeer had wounds to share with Nassana Dantius, and more than enough krogan to slaughter anyone who stood in his way.
Despite the presence of the volus god that had passed through the room, the march of science did not falter, and nor did Conrad Verner's need to exposit while he worked. Lilith had retreated to his spot for the moment to cover him and reload her weapons, most of which had been emptied in the gunfight so far.
"Huh. That's funny," Conrad said, ducking for a moment as a grenade flew past.
"What's funny?" Lilith asked. She'd learned from long experience that when a scientist said those words, things were likely going to get a lot worse, or at least more complicated.
"Most of this data is encrypted, no surprise. Nassana has the key on her, if I know her. Paranoid." He leaned back, an Eclipse body tumbling over the terminal. He continued typing while Lilith shot the merc's legs out with a shock pistol and kicked him in the head to make sure he stayed out.
"Okay, so we still need to kill Nassana, no surprise there," she remarked.
"I know, but the funny thing is what wasn't encrypted," Conrad continued. "There's a bunch of reports here with titles that look like research into specific Sirens. Abstracts indicate that their interest was in figuring out how Sirens are created. Determining how when and how the power leaves a Siren's body upon death, and how another gets born immediately somewhere else."
He paused to let a krogan charge past and tackle a Lightsuit. The roaring clone started punching and stabbing the prone powered armor, and the Maliwan soldier extended a shock blade and jammed it into the krogan's armpit, which just made it angrier. Lilith hurled a couple of grenades after them.
"Okay, so they want to know where Sirens come from?" she asked. Conrad nodded.
"I think that they think it can be replicated," Conrad said. "At least, the Siren transition process might be able to be guided. But they'd need a larger sample pool…."
"Right, and there's not many living Sirens, gotcha," Lilith said. She wasn't surprised that this was why Maliwan wanted her. The very small number of Sirens in the galaxy meant that they were always a hot commodity.
"Okay, got most of the Vault-related data downloaded!" Conrad said. He stopped to fire his pistol a couple of times, and Lilith joined him, downing an Eclipse soldier. "But its still encrypted."
"Fall back!" screamed one of the Eclipse soldiers, and the last few of the mercenaries began to retreat out the door they'd left. The majority of the krogan - including all of the berserkers, unsurprisingly - were dead too, and those that were alive were also barking for a retreat. Within less than a minute and after a few fitful bursts of gunfire, the lab was empty of Eclipse and krogan, leaving only the heavily-armed mercenary teams remaining.
"Guys, we've got the data!" Lilith shouted once the bullets stopped flying.
"But the bitch still has the key, right?" Zaeed called back, reloading his rifle.
"Yep," Lilith said.
"So we're both going to go kill Nassana?" said the turian sniper on the other team, the robotic bird latching onto his shoulder.
"Looks like," Roland agreed. "Continue the truce?"
Zaeed and Axton glared at each other, and both men nodded grimly.
"Good," Roland said, hefting his assault rifle. "Let's go kill before some else gets to her first."
Laughter filled the office overlooking the vast red star, and Handsome Jack poured himself another drink. He reached across the haptic command console and touched a marker indicating the Dynamic Incident. It was in position and was standing by.
"Better hurry, Roland," he said, and the assault order went out.
The Dynamic Incident had stood by in orbit over Illium for the last few days, as an emergency option. It was a cruiser, built on classic Hyperion lines: long, sleek, with diagonal lines and flat, blade-like shapes to its engines, weapons, and main body structure. It was painted yellow and red, and gleamed with reflected light off its hull plating.
And, over the last few minutes, it had been station keeping over Nos Astra. Some were upset that the five-hundred meter lon cruiser was sitting in the middle of a major traffic lane, but most of those lacked the stomach to voice their anger at a heavily-armed Hyperion warship.
On the planet-oriented side of the Incident - in this case, the keel of the ship - a series of tubes slid open, and the cruiser adjusted its aim slightly to make sure they were on target. It kept maneuvering, centimeters at a time, and the self-guiding projectile sheaths around the payloads adjusted their descent patterns.
Then the fire order shot across the galaxy from Handsome Jack's own office, and the Dynamic Incident opened up on the Dantius Towers.
Normally Illium's defense network would have detected the shots fired by the Dynamic Incident and begun scrambling a counterattack, especially with shots heading directly into the heart of a massive trading city to impact one of the headquarters buildings of the planet's majority corporation.
But Angel had been very busy even while working with Roland's team.
Hyperion owned the automated defense network, which didn't even register the incoming shots. No one knew the attack was coming until two dozen streaking, blue-white comets screamed out of the sky over Nos Astra and slammed into the executive levels of the main tower. With Angel's infiltration, the anti-ship-grade shielding systems around the city and the tower itself were… encouraged to not respond to the incoming Hyperion ordnance.
Were they actual weapons payloads, the upper floors of the tower would have been blasted apart and sent crashing down, collapsing lower levels and hurling thousands of tons of metal and ceramic into the streets. Instead, the impacts blew through the outer armorglass and armored walls of the tower and ground to a shuddering halt amid ultra-rich executive suites and sleek, gleaming asari architecture.
Then they unfolded. Weapons emerged from shoulder mounts. Cyclops eyes lit up, hunting for targets. Massive metal feet stomped through reflective tiles.
Thirty heavily-armed Hyperion Loaders, a mixture of lighter GUN- and much more massive and armored WAR-variants crunched and stomped forward into the tower, their cannons blasting at anything that moved. Glass shattered, walls were blasted apart, and startled Eclipse soldiers died in the onslaught.
And behind the Hyperion war machines came another volley of orbit-to-surface assault units. And then another.
A squad of krogan were blocking the route out of the labs to the central elevators, covering Okeer's force as it advanced to the executive levels. They were among the best, none armed with anything less than green-quality equipment, all with decades of combat experience at the minimum. Hardened veterans of the hardest species in the galaxy.
They lasted about thirty seconds.
The enormous, heavy cannons of a Sabre and Scorpio turret bracketed the krogan in the elevator access room, blasting apart shields and punching through armor plate. The flaming, screeching terror of Bloodwing dove and tore, scorching flesh and slicing into hardsuits. Biotics tore them from their hiding places, and precision marksman rounds blasted through faceplates, inflicting damage even krogan would have difficulty recovering from. A volley of rockets blew apart a hulking Battlemaster's barriers, and the flaming wings and lightning-wreathed detonation of a Siren immolated him into an unrecognizable mass of metal and meat. Three heavily-armed commando-trained killing machines cut down anything not slain by the aforementioned. Conrad fired in the krogans' general direction.
Rent bodies and orange blood covered the walls, and the two mercenary teams piled into the room, sweeping it and making sure the krogan were down for good. A quick check showed that someone had disabled the elevator, but Seryna determined within moments that someone had used a rudimentary bypass to shut them down. The rest of the team policed the enemy weapons and gear while she worked.
That was when Lilith had an idea.
"Hey, Roland," she called. "Why are we fighting the krogan?"
"They shot first," he replied with a shrug. "And they're stopping us from taking out Nassana."
"Yeah, but…" Lilith looked over toward the asari as she hacked the elevator. "Hey, Seryna, what were those krogan after, anyway?"
"Lab samples, I think," Seryna answered. "Not sure what he wanted beyond that. And he had a serious grudge against Nassana too."
"Join the team," Garrus grunted, and James nodded in assent. "These krogan must have been protecting him while he went after her."
"So you guys," Lilith said, gesturing to Axton, Garrus, James, and Bloodwing, "want Nassana dead. We kind of want her dead."
"Definitely," Seryna called. "Remember my terms."
"Right. We definitely want her dead," Lilith continued. "And this krogan, Okeer, wants her dead. Right?"
"Yeah, sounds like," Roland said with a nod, his tone thoughtful. Garrus then sighed, shaking his head.
"Damn," he muttered under his breath. "We got into another completely pointless shoot-out, didn't we?"
"Bloody mess, yeah," Zaeed agreed. Lilith's omnitool lit up.
"Can someone get me this krogan's ECHO frequency?" she asked, and a moment later half a dozen haptic interfaces appeared as Roland, Axton, Garrus, Conrad, Zaeed, and Bloodwing got to work.
"Your bird has an omnitool?" she asked Garrus, and he shrugged. Bloodwing looked up, holographic display wrapping around the cyberhawk's eyes. It warbled in annoyance, turned away from Lilith, and went back to work.
The warlord strode among the bodies littered around the executive suites and mused on how many corpses he waded through today, all while listening to the savage gunfire overhead and the periodic shuddering whenever another Hyperion war machine crashed into the building. He could hear shooting both above and on the same level, though the latter was sporadic. Okeer's krogan were only meeting stragglers and survivors of whatever had passed through these levels ahead of him.
Whatever it was, it had been both discrete and thorough. Okeer crouched among a group of dead Eclipse in one of the art galleries. Some of the mercenaries' necks were broken, others had their throats cut with surgical precision, and a few were shot with precision bullets delivered to the head or neck that resulted in instant death.
Impressive work, whatever it was, and definitely not Hyperion. Asari commandos, perhaps, or Atlas Omega assassins? A lethal, eltie assassination team was the only possibility, but hose were they?
Okeer shook his head. Whoever it was mattered little. His krogan would find out soon enough, and probably kill them.
The warlord rose from his investigation of the dead, and motioned for his warriors to move on. It would not do for Nassana to be killed by Hyperion after all the work he had put in so far to kill her himself. The Handsome One would not steal his prize.
Okeer's ECHO lit up as they moved through a shattered penthouse apartment and the elevators beyond, picking their way over dead mercenaries and a few broken Loaders. Okeer expected one of his Battlemasters to be reporting. Instead, he got an image of a human female with gold eyes, red hair, and blue Eridian markings on the left side of her neck. He didn't precisely recognize the face, but the other characteristics made it clear who she was
"I wondered when you would contact me," the warlord said. "Lilith Shepard. I did not know which of the gifted you were."
"Uh-huh," the Siren replied. "You want Nassana dead."
"So do we. Stop shooting my people and we'll stop shooting yours. Deal?"
"You show me your IFF, I'll show you ours."
With that anticlimactic conversation finished, Okeer regrouped his troops near the next set of executive elevators, several dozen regular soldiers and berserkers. A few minutes later, the eclectic group he had observed tearing apart his soldiers previously were moving through the remains of this floor. Their mismatched equipment and the rainbow of color markers on their gear identified them as much as their friendly identify-friend-foe readings. They clumped into two distinct groups, which matched what he had seen from his soldiers' video feeds.
"Hyperion, now?" a hulking human in a heavy, patchwork hardsuit muttered.,as they approached. Okeer's krogan soldiers bristled at the armed group's approach, but they exercised basic discipline. Okeer quickly picked out Shepard from the group, both from the way she carried herself and the slightly wider space everyone afforded from the female.
"Just more targets," replied the scarred human male, who kept glancing at another male in the other group. Both men glared at each other, and Okeer saw restrained hostility in both of them.
"You Okeer?" asked a dark-skinned human male leading one of the two groups.
"Correct," the warlord replied. "It would seem Hyperion is taking advantage of the chaos to decapitate one of their rivals. We should not dawdle. They are occupied with Nassana's elite guard, but Eclipse will only slow them down."
"Agreed," the human replied. "We need Nassana's personal encryption keys."
"I will make sure to keep her intact until that time," Okeer said. He hefted his rifle. "Shall we?"
The elevator doors opened into a wide penthouse lobby that could have doubled as a parking garage, complete with a pair of gently curving, silvery staircases led in a spiraling pattern up three levels, with balconies and landings at each floor, opening into wide galleries filled with precious art. An inverted waterfall used mass effect fields to send a column of water spinning up into a grating in the ceiling overhead. Softly glowing lines, forming curving, flowing shapes and images of asari mythology ran along the stairs and highlighted sculptures and paintings.
"OH MY GOD THE BURNING!" screamed an Eclipse soldier as he flailed past, ablaze. A WAR Loader fell from the second floor, riddled with bullets, and crashed to the bottom floor, throwing up debris and dust. The Lightsuit that rode it down, blade embedded in its torso section, tore the weapon free, stood up, and faced the four elevators that opened into the lobby.
Every one filled with krogan and mercenaries.
"...fuck," the asari pilot of the Lightsuit said, before she evaporated.
Lilith charged out of the elevators, Phasewalking the moment she was clear. Krogan charged into the room, berserkers screaming, and the air was filled with micro-rockets and spraying bullets. Seryna's biotics flared, wreathing her in a mass effect field, and she seized a GUN Loader turning toward them, allowing the krogan to shred it. Conrad stumbled out into the lobby amid the charge, but James grabbed him and pulled him back to safety with one hand while spraying machinegun fire into Eclipse mercs on the second floor. A crack sounded over the din, and an Eclipse sniper tumbled from the third floor with a scream. Garrus shifted aim toward another target.
On the second floor, the ground exploded, and a blue sphere containing a dozing volus ascended. A dozen weapons turned toward him and opened fire, and he jerked awake. Behind the pressure suit's mask, the rotund deity raised an eyebrow, and flicked a finger. Bodies went flying. He turned in place, and his eyes narrowed as he touched down, and he waddled down the hallway.
"I have a rebuttal!" he shouted at a water cooler, and he clenched his tiny fist.
Roland and Axton's turrets went up on one side of the rampaging assault, and they directed their fire up onto the second level to suppress Eclipse. Zaeed picked out WAR and GUN Loaders and put precision shots into joints and optics, stunning and disabling them. A cris-crossing river of elemental rounds and tracers slashed back and forth over the combined mercenary and krogan assault. Jets flared as Loaders and Lightsuits leapt back and forth. Rotary barrels spun and sent spears of bullets into enemy positions, and rockets flashed back and forth. Smoke, blood, and scattered hologram light filled the air, and bodies and bullet casings rained in equal measure.
It was total and complete chaos.
The barbells gripped in the mighty fingers of Mister Torgue High-Five Flexington twisted in his grip, and a single, solitary tear crept down either side of his face from behind his sunglasses. The sandstorm of brutal violence reflected off his polished mirror-shades, and he set down the broken weights to watch the battle unfold before him.
"THIS SH*T GIVES ME SO MANY MOTHERF***ING FEELINGS!" he wailed in joy.
Codex - Technology - Hyperion Loader
"Loader" is a term for the ubiquitous Hyperion robots that serve as utility and combat units. Loaders are used primarily as worker units; as the name implies, they are adept at lifting and moving freight, to the point that they have completely replaced Hyperion's previous organic cargo worker force. Loaders are also commonly used in maintenance, construction, and agricultural roles.
Loader design is both modular and inexpensive. Legs and arms and attachments for both can be quickly removed or replaced. Many Loaders are deployed with sentry and repair drones that carry SDU systems loaded with replacement arms and legs. In case of accident or enemy fire, these drones can replace these damaged limbs in seconds. Armor plating provides defense against enemy attack and hazardous environments, although as with many types of armor it is vulnerable to modern, militarized corrosive compounds.
Most Loaders are also programmed and armed for combat. "Civilian" Loaders, commonly designated EXP-type Loaders, are programmed to self destruct in dangerous situations by detonating their internal power core in proximity to threats. GUN-type Loaders, commonly deployed in high-risk zones as security supplements, are equipped with a small SDU that carries ammunition, a primary weapon, and grenades. Heavy-duty SGT-type Loaders are equipped with heavier armor and mounted weapons, and BUL-type Loaders carry a heavy digging blade that is rated to defend against anti-tank weapons and is used as a shield in combat. Beyond these types of Loaders are models designed expressly for combat. WAR Loaders carry integrated weapons system and heavy armor, while RPG Loaders carry anti-vehicle missile racks. MAS-type Loaders can use mass effect fields to launch objects, deploy cover, shield other units, or expose hostile units to enemy fire.
The low cost and efficiency of Loaders, coupled with their tactical flexibility and durability, makes them ideal for Hyperion security and military operations. Loaders can be collapsed into a very small space, and their durability enables Hyperion to load them into an ablative projectile coating and fire them directly onto a target from orbital platforms. Loader programming is limited for security and cost purposes, and by themselves they are tactically inflexible. Without direction from Hyperion military personnel Loaders can only carry out basic orders such as "secure this area" or "kill all hostiles."
The Cancel was a popular Illium site, at least by its standards as a dive bar. Inside, there could always be found a few dozen patrons, making smalltalk, watching the vidscreens on the walls, or just drinking quietly. The bartender and owner was a heavyset baseline human who kept his patrons happy with full glasses of their choice of intoxicants, and they never caused him any real trouble.
Brief inspection would show the Cancel as a small bar with a malfunctioning neon sign in the front window, a cadre of completely unremarkable regulars, and a bartender who had nothing for defense but a Jakobs double-barreled shotgun. In other words, an easy site for a quick smash-and-grab.
Three Eclipse Sister burst through the door, two covering the customers while the third shoved a rifle in the bartender's face.
"Reach for the gun and die," the asari barked. The bartender shrugged, as if the gunbarrel hovering near his chin wasn't any real cause for alarm.
"Alright," he said with a distinctly offworld drawl, "'S not even loaded." If the sister was at all offput by his lack of concern, she rallied quickly and continued.
"Where's your cred deck?" she demanded. The bartender tilted his head slightly towards an old-fashioned currency register that had been modified with a storage deck where the cash drawer had once been.
"Show me." Something caught in the corner of her eye. A quick glance showed her a door off to the side of the room.
"What's in there?"
A customer snorted at this. He kept smirking even when one of the two other Sisters trained her rifle on him. Normally such insolence would be a death sentence, but they'd already made their initiation kills. Today was just about money. Besides, none of the bar patrons had visible weapons, and the time it would take to digistruct any from their decks would be plenty of time for a Sister to put them down.
"Darla. See if there's anything worth taking," the first Sister ordered. One of the other two broke off towards the door while the first turned her attention back to the bartender, taking a step or two back to compensate for the partial loss of coverage of the customers. The bartender had the cred deck in one hand and was offering it to her, though she was out of reach now.
"Before you're gone, kid, let me take a guess," the bartender said, still offering the deck, "Someone told you about this place, right? Gave you the idea for this job?"
How could he know that? The trio had been given this address by a senior Sister as a way to make amends for their role in a botched 'sand deal. In the Sisters, opportunities to make up for mistakes were few and far between, so they'd snatched it up. That was a day ago.
The surprise must've crossed the asari's face because the bartender sighed and shook his head.
"Figures," he sighed, "Catch." He tossed the cred deck in a lazy arc. The Sister's eyes instinctively moved to it, as did her companion's, if only for an instant.
That instant was long enough for the patrons. Every one of them had been watching the Sister covering them. None had taken their eyes off her to watch the cred deck, and they all saw when she was distracted.
The Sister covering the customers was hit with eight concealed firearms, six augmetic-concealed guns, and four thrown blades of varying shapes. No one was sure which of the patrons had struck the killing blow, but they were all sure that she was quite dead.
The first Sister had managed to turn her gaze back to the bartender. She had no idea how he'd managed to emerge from behind the bar so quickly, and her attention was torn between the looming human and the storm of gunfire and whistling blades. Indecision meant weakness, and the bartender didn't even need to worry about overpowering her as he flipped the muzzle of her rifle up and under her chin. She pulled the trigger by instinct a heartbeat before she realized where it was pointing.
The third and final Sister burst from the 'coat check' just as the cred deck hit the floor.
"Watch it! They're all-" She froze mid-warning, seeing that she was both too late to warn her comrades and also about to die herself. She didn't even try to raise her weapon.
"Oh, goddess damnit."
Brief inspection would show the Cancel as a small bar with a malfunctioning neon sign in the front window, a cadre of completely average-looking regulars, and a bartender who had nothing for defense but a Jakobs double-barreled shotgun. In other words, an easy site for a quick smash-and-grab.
Closer inspection would show that as friendly as the patrons seemed with one another, none of them referred to each other by name. This was because most of them did not know them, nor would they likely ever.
Closer inspection would show that the cred deck contained a variety of currency. There were traditional credits, sure, but there were also Jakobs greenbacks, Torgue tokens, and Tediore semi-edible currency stamps.
Closer inspection would show that the garage-deck our the back door held Atlas APCs, Vladof half-tracks, and even a Torgue monstertank.
Closer inspection would show that virtually all the items in the room labeled 'Coat Check' were megacorp paramilitary uniforms and enough heavy weapons to fight a war.
And a casual blow to the flickery neon sign would temporarily light up enough letters to change the bar's name to 'The Canceled Op.'
The megacorps were always running operations against each other, ranging in subtety from 'covert' to 'Torgue.' But for every operation launched, a dozen others are canceled because of unforeseen factors, usually another raid beating them to the punch. Nobody wanted to get mixed up in a multi-corp raid event. Overlapping corporate raids were technically classified as natural disasters by Illium insurance companies.
Everyone in the Canceled Op today had a raid dismissed in light of the growing madness at the Maliwan building. Third-party raids were a fairly common cause for cancellations, and this one apparently had at least three, maybe more. The news dominated every one of the vidscreens, and the patrons always enjoyed seeing what they hadn't gotten themselves mixed up in.
They always kept their names to themselves. Their day jobs made actual attachment to each other nearly impossible. So tonight, they enjoyed their drinks in like-minded anonymity in the company of tomorrow's mortal enemies.
And with the three bodies dumped out back, the patrons of the Canceled Op went back to watching the chaos unfold at Maliwan
Author's Notes: This bit was written by CharNobyl, and with his permission I made it canon. A sort of interlude that doesn't fit with the above narrative but which fits the universe too well to not make it into the story.