"At first, I did not know the source of my torment!"


Gunfire poured in from multiple directions, assault rifles and shotguns and pistols. Pathetically mortal weapons. He retaliated, and mercenaries were crushed or launched through the air.

"The Eclipse sisters used their drugs and retroviruses and biotics, laughing the whole while. Treating me like an animal. Like I was a human!"


Eclipse soldiers were lifted and launched backward with a wave of his hand. Bodies tumbled through air, and chunks of wrecked masonry and furniture orbited around the waddling, stumbling vform in the white environment suit.

"But they could not imprison the wind! I swept over them, breaking free and hurling them aside like a great wind. A great, biotic wind!"


A red-lined Lightsuit zipped past, cannons blazing a storm of bright incendiary rounds, but in the face of the biotic god, it was an impotent gnat. The Lightsuit was seized and hurled straight up, flying twenty stories through the air and shattered the atrium's roof. Glass rained down and shattered off the barriers surrounding the drunken god.

"And then I found the document, implicating Nassana Dantius in my torment. But also, in my awakening!"

"...kill me…."

Niftu Cal, BIOTIC GOD, stopped in his rampage and glanced at his captive audience, a random human Eclipse soldier hovering in the air beside him. After a moment, the volus shrugged and and whammed him into the floor again, before picking him up in a shimmering blue field and continuing to walk.

"Later," he continued, and threw a different Eclipse mercenary through a pillar with another gesture. "It was after this, that I faced a greater challenge to my nascent godhood: I had to find a taxi."

Chapter Nine: A Convergence of Asses and Kickings

"We have a problem," Roland said as he stepped into the shuttle. In the little cargo bay, he could see Lilith, plus the massively-scarred Zaeed Massani, Joker sitting in an empty crate, Claptrap in a corner with a couple of new bullet dents in his frame, and Conrad Verner looking like he was about to have a stroke in joy at being in the same room as Zaeed and Lilith.

"If we don't move out immediately," Roland said, and Seryna followed him inside, moving to get out of the way and put her back to a wall. "We might lose any chance of pulling this job off."

There was a pause as everyone regarded him, before Lilith spoke.

"I think that's his way of saying "Hi." she said. Roland paused, and gave her a nod in acknowledgement.

"Sorry. Hi." he said. "You've all been briefed?"

"Shepard's been filling us in," Zaeed said. "I've seen half-arsed plans before, but this is more like a quarter-arsed one. That your hacker?" He nodded toward Seryna.

"Security specialist," she replied. "And I'm coming with." Zaeed nodded.

"Long as you can pull a trigger," he said.

"So, what's with the rush?" Joker asked. "I thought we'd have at least a day before diving balls-first into danger."

"We've got a crazy biotic, another team of mercs, and a lunatic krogan warlord with a few hundred of his soldiers getting ready to attack the Dantius Towers," Roland said.

"Actually," Angel cut in, "I think they're attacking right now, going by the emergency reports."

Zaeed grunted and muttered a curse. The others echoed him in their own ways.

"So these other idiots come barging in and trigger a full alert and lockdown before we even get there," Lilith said, and Roland nodded. "And we're going to fly into a four-way war."

"Three-way, likely," Seryna said. "That 'crazy biotic' was a drunken volus who looked like a bit of a pushover."

"Either way, we have a lot of people to shoot if we're going to pull this off," Roland said. "Seryna, would we still be able to get through your security setup if its on lockdown?"

"It would be a shitty backdoor if it wasn't," she replied. "As long as Doctor Verner is able to get us an approach?" She pointedly asked, and he nodded.

"Oh yeah, sure," he said with an excited smile and nod, only wilting very slightly as everyone's attention turned to him. "And my backdoor into the lab security should still be functional. If all these people are shooting up the place, no one's going to have time to dig through the security systems to cut my exploits out."

"Okay then," Roland said. "Joker, Claptrap, you're on the freighter. Angel, I need you to screen them and make sure there's nothing in their way." They acknowledged him, and he turned to the rest of the team. "We'll go in using the shuttle. Will they let a Hyperion shuttle through the perimeter using your access codes?"

"You could get a geth dreadnought covered in bandits and dancing batarians through that perimeter with my codes," she replied.

"Good. The rest of us will ride in on the shuttle and assault the towers directly. Conrad, you guide us into the labs. He's our VIP, got it?" The rest of the team nodded. "Once we've got your data, Conrad, we'll take out Nasanna herself."

Zaeed nodded, but he frowned.

"Killing the bitch isn't likely to pull any heat off of you," the old mercenary said.

"No, but it will slow Maliwan down," Roland said. "Plus killing Nassana is also Seryna's payment for her assistance."

"That and a ride off this pretty craphole," the asari added with a smile.

"You're paying the check," Zaeed replied with a shrug.

Garrus, Axton, and James made good time as they descended. The upper levels of the secondary tower were empty, as they were apparently still being constructed, going by the empty rooms full of construction materials, work lights, and inactive machinery. Nonetheless, Garrus kept Bloodwing in the air and running overwatch while scanning with his visor. Axton kept point while James and his massive weaponry kept to the rear.

"You think we would have run into some kind of security by now," Axton muttered.

Everyone froze. They stood, weapons ready, while Axton cursed under his breath. After several moments, no threat materialized, and they relaxed. Garrus reached over and slapped the human commando in the back of his head.

"Yeah, sorry," he said. "But it is weird, you know?"

"Gotta agree with you, Loco," James added. "No one, not even a construction worker or drone. Somethin' ain't right."

"Local network's a mess," Garrus said, attempting to patch into the Maliwan wireless net. "Something's going on down below, though. There's an open civilian evacuation order, but as far as I can tell that's just for regular workers. There's a second set of channels being used by security, but I can't crack the encryption."

"You think someone else might be breaking in at the same time?" Vega asked.

"I think Seryna was willing to sell that access code to anyone who'd take a shot at Nassana," Garrus replied, and Axton nodded.

"Look, I dunno about you guys," he said, "but I don't want someone else to off her first. This is personal."

"Agreed," Garrus said. He frowned, checking the data from the local network again. "It definitely looks like there's a disturbance on the lobby level of the main tower. Plus something going on at the midpoint of the same. Just above where the main bridge connects the two buildings. We'll have to fight our way through it."

"Then let's get moving," James said, rolling his considerable shoulders, his patchwork armor creaking and clattering with the gesture. "Race these pendejos to the top!"

The krogan did not care about reaching the top, at least for now. Their focus was down, and they did so with rampant glee and a torrent of assault weapons' fire. Krogan warriors stormed through elemental weapons fire, countering a deluge of verdant and azure and bright red bullets with their own high-explosives and massed Valdof bullet-hoses. Some fell; shields and armor collapsed and melted under the elemental weapons of the Eclipse guards, with incendiary rounds burning through krogan flesh and setting Okeer's soldiers ablaze.

It wasn't enough to prevent the avalanche of gleefully furious krogan from crashing through the enemy. They blasted through office cubicle farms, cheap plastic and thin metal walls burning and melting and splattered by myriad blood colors. Corridors and hallways painted in soothingly-bland corporate hues and marked by softly glowing lines and sleek, modern artwork became riddled with bullets and ruined masonry, entire wall sections torn apart by lines of high explosive bullets. Krogan and Eclipse corpses were intermingled, especially where the berserkers had rushed the Maliwan mercenaries' positions and collided in close quarters with furious, desperate clashes of bayonets, head-plates, and omniblades.

Warlord Okeer watched it all with a brutal smile. He walked among the dead, and cared little for the deaths on his side save for their diminished utility. He was krogan, and he had lived among the dead and doomed for millennia, and had long ago learned that compassion for his warriors was a deadly weakness, at least for his species. Instead, he reveled in their conquest, and pride swelled his chest as he walked among the bodies, following his warriors deeper into the building, taking satisfaction in their relentless, ruthless advance.

This was how the krogan had once fought: a tide of hardy warriors, savage and unstoppable, trading lives for territory. The ideal which every warlord since had envisioned, but which practicality and the genophage had forced them to abandon.

The genophage. The worst of the krogan's enemies, a disease which had laid low more korgan than any war in their history, which had robbed them of their glory. Okeer's hated foe - and a foe which Nassana Dantius would graciously grant him the means to defeat in the most decisive and insulting way possible.

Okeer walked after his warriors as they cleared the hallways, one bloody meter at a time. He checked each Eclipse body as he passed, and was pleased to note that even in their savage aggression, his warriors had shown proper respect to their enemy. Each mercenary was definitely killed before the krogan had progressed further into the building. To ignore an enemy was both foolish, for the foe could rise and strike you again if ignored, and disrespectful, for an enemy not worth killing was no worthy foe to begin with. Okeer's soldiers were only a few weeks old, but they had grasped krogan traditions in their birthing tanks well enough.

But birthing an army of tank-bred krogan was an imperfect solution to the genophage issue. It was a workaround to avoid the stillbirths, and did not address the true issues the genophage brought about: the weakening of their society and the loss of true strength and pride. Not to mention a tank-bred krogan force would provoke the usual counterattack by the Citadel, in the form of orbital bombardment and nuclear weaponry. Maliwan in general, and Nassana Dantius in particular, offered him a way to defeat the genophage that would not provoke that response, and more importantly, let him defeat the genophage in most appropriate way possible: by ignoring it.

It was ironic that the means to defeat the genophage would only come about after Okeer's own research had been stolen by Nassana's own Eclipse mercenaries.

Okeer knew of other krogan who had tried to cure the genophage, but who had failed. Other chieftains had ignored it and focused on survival, but they merely endured. They did not overcome. Only one other krogan chieftain had found a way to strengthen the species without fighting, but he had chosen economics as his weapon. And even then, he had chosen alliance instead of conquest. Admittedly, it was an alliance with humans, who deserved more respect than most, but still. Unacceptable.

"Chieftain," reported one of the krogan commanders, a professional, naturally-born Battlemaster like those which made up Okeer's command corps. "Second Company has reached the lab levels. Resistance is increasing, but we should breach within minutes."

"Excellent," Okeer said, but his cheer was tempered by worry about where the majority for the Eclipse troops were. "Maintain the assault."

He frowned as he descended the stairs, accompanied by several of tank-bred. Two hundred krogan raiding a corporate headquarters should have provoked a massive response, with every guard in the building rushing to stop them. Hundreds of Eclipse troops were assigned to protect this building, but scarcely more than a few dozen had tried to stop them so far.

Where were the rest of Nassana's thugs?

The elevator's music was banal and annoying, the typical cheery, generic nonsense that pulsed in every such lift across the galaxy as it slowly trundled its way up. The view, at least, was quite a different matter, as it showed the brilliant skyline of the city, its shining spires of curving asari architecture (plus the garish, jagged spear of the Spike of Badassery), the rivers of lights from the aircars flowing between them, and the golden circuitry of the streets and buildings of the lower levels of the metropolis.

Niftu Cal, BIOTIC GOD, did not notice the music or the skyline. The latter was hard to see through flying shrapnel and muzzle flash, and the former was drowned out by the gunfire from an Eclipse Mantis gunship whose main cannons were pouring fire into the dark blue, roiling barrier that sheathed the volus. The elevator was stopped about twenty-two floors up.

The volus stared at the gunship for several moments, the goggles on his hardsuit's mask slowly blinking on and off in time to his eyelids, ignoring the bullets that rained upon his shields.

"Excuse me!" he finally shouted, his words lost in the gunfire. "I am having a conversation!"

The gunship pilot kept shooting, which was rude. Of course, Niftu Cal was invading their building, but that was no cause for rudeness. The volus turned to his companion, still suspended in the air beside him, but stopped before he could speak. He stared for a moment as the remains of the mercenary, blood dripping from the smashed armor, which itself was covered in impact craters from bullets. The dead mercenary was missing a few other bits - arms, a leg, his head.

"Well, whatever," Niftu Cal said, and pointed. The remains of the mercenary hurtled out of the elevator in streak of blood and mangled armor and organs, and punched through the gunship's cockpit. Something exploded out the back of the Mantis, and it spun wildly out of control, belching fire and smoke as it plummeted to the street below.

He turned around and gestured toward the elevator doors. Dark energy surged around im, and the doors twisted under a tremendous warping field before he blew them apart with a biotic pull. He clambered up, the next floor about head height for him, and after several minutes of furious struggling, he managed to get up onto the twenty-third floor and the hallway beyond.

Hundreds of bullets smashed into his shield as Eclipse troops in the corridor started firing, forming a tight shooting line several bodies deep. They did nothing more to the BIOTIC GOD than the gunship outside had.

"Ah, excellent," he said, and raised a hand. "More mortals to be enlightened and witness my power!"

Mercenaries went flying in every direction, smashing against walls, bouncing off ceilings, and skittering along the floor. Niftu strode forward, or at least attempted to, smiting anyone who rose from the first decisive blow. He eventually managed to stabilize the stumbles into a mostly-controlled waddle.

Niftu stopped in the middle of the passage, surrounded by battered and groaning mercenaries, and turned around slowly.

"As a true BIOTIC GOD!" he said. "I have a command!" He paused, waiting until he was certain he was being listened to. Or fairly certain at least. "Do any of you mortals know where the stairs are?"

One Eclipse merc raised a shaky hand and pointed down the hallway.

"You have the thanks of Niftu Cal, tiny mortal."

The tiny volus god then waddled away from they whom he had smote the shit out of, and the survivors were thankful.

Compared with the madness inside the Dantius Towers, the battered old Hyperion shuttle trundling toward the Maliwan office complex was a bastion of serenity. Roland and his team sat with weapons ready, Lilith and Zaeed at the drop ramp with weapons in hand and armor donned. In the cockpit, Roland stood in cobbled-together armor made up of the remnants of his Lance gear and the chest and back plates of a heavy standard-issue hardsuit. It wasn't vacuum-proof, but it would keep him alive.

Seryna was in the pilot's chair, having traded her corporate-drone uniform for a lightweight suit of ballistic armor which Roland had seen on a few asari commando scouts. Roland hadn't asked where she had gotten it or how she'd been able to get a drone-delivery of the suit to their shuttle so quickly. When you lived under threat of death from paranoid Maliwan CEOs….

Conrad stood behind Roland, struggling to see over his shoulder. They'd already bypassed outer security using his installed backdoors, but he really, really wanted to see the approach. Roland couldn't deny the doctor the chance, though he wished that they had been able to get him some real armor. All they had was a white-quality shield to go with his ill-fitting spacer jacket and clothes, which would at least keep him from getting killed outright.

"Automated tracker is issuing its challenge," Seryna said. "Sending my access codes. Let's hope they haven't noticed everyone else breaking in using the same backdoor."

The specter of the pair of skyscrapers loomed ahead, towering over the Nos Astra skyline. One was only halfway finished, the top levels ragged and incomplete. A wide, open, unfinished skyway spanned the gap between the buildings, and none of the asari buildings surrounding them came close to matching even the unfinished tower. But yet, something was off about the primary building, and Roland leaned forward.

"There. Big cargo hauler crashed into the main structure," he said, pointing.

"Yeah, looks like," Seryna said. "That would be our krogan, I guess."

"Impacted on the ninety-third floor," Conrad added, shoving a bit past Roland to look at the displays. "The labs are on the eighty-seventh floor. I think they might be after the same target!"

"Or their pilot is terrible," Seryna replied, deadpan.

"What do the krogan want?" Roland asked. "Maybe we could reason with them."

"Reason with krogan?" Seryna said, her tone skeptical. "Not sure what they're really after. The krogan leader said something about Maliwan stealing genetic information or research from a lab on Tuchanka. He was pretty pissed about it, said he was going to kill her after he recovered the data he needed." She paused. "Oh, and we're cleared for entry. Got some alerts from security. Big surprise, civilian ships being warned to wave off while military ships are being ordered to land and render any possible assistance." She paused. "Twenty seconds, kids."

"Right. Conrad, with me," Roland said, and they tromped down to the loading ramp. "Keep to the back and cover our rear. And keep your distance from Lilith if possible."

"Oh, yeah, I know about that," he said with a jerky nod as they approached the ramp. "Sirens tend to have random high-energy release events. Its one of the few things consistent about them."

"Not much of a stretch to link up a Siren and everything getting blown to shit," Zaeed said. Unlike Lilith or Roland, he didn't bother with a helmet.

"Yeah, random explosions happen around me all the time," Lilith mused. "Darndest thing. Might be all those people shooting at me."

"Plus I think there's an emotional factor involved," Conrad added, his shield apparently defending against sarcasm as well as bullets. "High emotional states can lead to energy release-"

"Setting down, guys!" Seryna called down. Roland, Lilith, and Zaeed had their weapons shouldered, and Conrad backed away, drawing his pistol. A deep, bone-shaking impact rolled through the ship, and then everything went still. Roland hit the drop button for the ramp, and it descended.

"Got an Eclipse team heading our way!" Seryna called. "Go out shooting!"

The ramp hit the landing pad, and the gaggle of mercenaries rushed down onto the platform. It was a circular pad big enough to hold a shuttle thrice the size of their own. A short corridor tube connected the landing pad to the tower itself, the walls made of armor-glass and gleaming chrome metals. Through the transparent walls they could see half a dozen Eclipse soldiers hurrying toward the shuttle, a mixture of salarians and humans. Only a couple of them had weapons in hand, and the lead mercenary, a gray-skinned salarian, was frantically speaking into his ECHO while consulting his omnitool.

They came to an abrupt halt when exiting the tube when they realized that the landing shuttle wasn't bringing friendlies. The mercenary leader looked up at a shout of warning from his teammates, and his already-enormous eyes bulged to a comical level just before Zaeed and Roland opened fire. Lilith charged straight past them, and as soon as she was a few meters away a blast of force and lightning announced her presence to the enemy, just before she vanished.

Two Eclipse had barely managed to reach for their weapons before they were cut down. The squad leader triggered tech-armor, and glowing yellow-white plates of armor-fluid suspended in kinetic barriers formed over his body. The other Eclipse scrambled back through the doorway, belatedly opening fire with rifles and shotguns. Zaeed and Roland chased them, firing steadily into the enemy, and another mercenary fell before the remaining Eclipse managed to retreat into the corridor and seal the door behind them.

Roland didn't hear her, but he guessed what Lilith said when she blew a hole in reality right in the middle of the surviving mercenaries, having already run past them into the passage. Her Maliwan submachinegun blazed lines of brutal red fire, and he saw a corona of flame and fury washing down off her shoulders, setting the Eclipse troopers ablaze. Even the squad leader's tech-armor lasted only a couple of seconds, and bullets cut through his armor and sent a burning corpse tumbling to the floor.

Lilith unlocked the door, heat blazing off her shoulders in the shape of angel wings of brilliant gold, and they faded as she waved for them to follow.

"This is why I like working with Sirens," Zaeed said as he and Roland moved toward the corridor. Conrad was following them a moment later, and Seryna joined them, a Tediore-issue submachinegun in hand.

"You fought alongside a Siren before?" Conrad asked.

"Sirens," Zaeed replied. "Plural. Trust me, you haven't lived until you've gone corridor-fighting on a disintegrating space station with a cross-dressing vorcha and a batarian Siren." He chuckled. "Hell of a fight, that one."

They stepped over the burning corpses, Lilith on point. Seryna's omnitool lit up as they moved up the corridor and entered a hallway inside the building proper, running perpendicular to the entry. Armorglass windows ran the length of the corridor on one side, showing the glittering evening skyline of Nos Astra.

"Patching through internal security," the asari said. "Okay, I'm in. I've got passive monitoring of the security network and their comms. I'll keep an ear on it in case anything interesting comes up, but I sent you a channel link if you want to listen in, too."

Roland found the link and keyed in as they moved up the passages, following Conrad's directions and the local maps on their ECHOs. The moment he did so, he jerked as female voice's ear-splitting shrieking erupted in his ears.

"Why aren't they DEAD yet? I don't care if they're krogan!" she was shouting. Seryna muttered something ugly behind him. "They're completely uncultured lizards! You have elemental guns designed specifically to kill them!"

"Is that Nassana?" Roland asked, glancing back behind him. Conrad and Seryna both nodded.

"Odd, though," Conrad said. "She hasn't-"

"If they get down to the labs," Nassana shouted, "I will drink your liquefied corpses with my morning tea!"

"Okay, there it is," Conrad added. "There's the crazy bitch we all remember."

"What about the volus?" Nassana added. "That thing is making a mess of my atrium! I want him dead!"

"We lost track of him, ma'am," an Eclipse salarian reported. "He disappeared on the twenty-third floor. I have drones hunting him now."

"How do you lose track of a-" Nassana started to shout, but another Eclipse commander came in over the ECHO.

"Contact near the skyway, second tower!" a human male shouted. "Three hostiles, and oh shit THAT BIRD IS ON FIRE! And it has-" The mercenary's words were cut off by a roar akin to a chainsaw or drill, followed by high-pitched screaming.

"What the hell is going on?" Nassana shouted. "How many of you unwashed savages are attacking my building?"

Slender hands moved across the wall of holographic displays, haptic interfaces shifting at a touch. Reports were read, orders were sent, and brandy was sipped at a steady but swift pace.

"Now don't you worry your pretty blue head-tentacle-thingies, Nassana," Handsome Jack said, and he eyes the sensor feeds from his cruiser as it meandered toward an orbit over Nos Astra. "You'll have a properly-scrubbed invasion shortly."

"Man, it sucks to be down there," remarked Corporal Rojos. He stood with his six-man Eclipse fireteam, guarding an intersection two-thirds of the way up Tower A. The rest of the team were watching the four hallways that met at this point, Maliwan-issue weapons at the ready. "Glad we're up here."

"Its gonna suck a whole lot more if those krogan go upstairs instead of down," replied Sergeant Carmine. He nodded toward one of the corridors. "Cover your sector."

"Yeah, but the krogan want the labs," said another trooper, Private Pula. "I think we're perfectly safe up here. No one is going to-"

"Private!" Carmine said, and spun, leveling his rifle at Pula. "You will cease attempting to finish that sentence or I will shoot you where you stand!"

Carmine did not realize he was too late. An abrupt snapping sound filled the intersection, and everyone spun toward Corporal Rojos. He fell to the floor in a clatter of armored plating, neck bent at an unnatural angle.

"Shit," Carmine sighed, and a moment later another mercenary fell, his neck snapped. A blurring figure leapt over them, and a lashing foot struck one in the throat. In a single flickering movement, the shape struck down Private Pula.

"Shoot the fu-" Carmine started to say, before the figure vaulted over him, hands grabbing the sides of his helmet and twisting, snapping his neck.

The figure landed and turned toward the last Eclipse trooper. The mercenary, his armor marked by glowing blue lines, stared for a moment before throwing down his weapon.

"Hey, man, I'm not getting paid to get my neck broken by a green ninja," Corporal Azure said, before he turned and ran. The figure nodded before leaping straight up into a conveniently-placed air duct overhead.

An Eclipse trooper's head split open, and he tumbled backward over a guardrail, plunging out of sight past the skyway bridging the gap between the towers. Below, Garrus shifted his aim, targeting another mercenary, and whispered "Railing kill" under his breath. He fired again.

A few meters away, down the unfinished hallway, James Vega slammed his shoulder into a mercenary's chest, lifting the Eclipse trooper into the air. The glowing lines on the merc's armor made it easy to track his flight and abrupt impact with the wall opposite the open-air side of the corridor where the windows had yet to be installed. He hit the wall hard, then slumped and went still, alive but unconscious.

The booming of Axton's Sabre sounded just down the unfinished corridor as he dashed between incomplete wall sections and conveniently-placed construction equipment, firing bursts whenever he had an opening. Eclipse troops were shooting back, retreating up the passage and shouting for help. Despite their numbers and the intimidating fury of their elemental guns, the smaller group of intruders had overwhelming fire superiority thanks to the massive turret gun blasting at them.

A blazing, golden streak arrowed down toward the Eclipse troops, and Bloodwing slashed into one mercenary, tearing gaping holes in the man's chest and setting exposed flesh ablaze. A rocket streaked past Axton's position, courtesy of Vega, and detonated with teeth-rattling force in the middle of a group of mercenaries. Bodies and body parts went flying, and in the wake of the blast the survivors were flat-out retreating.

"Keep advancing!" Axton shouted, his words mostly unnecessary, and rose to pursue. "Don't let them regroup!" His turret collapsed back to digistruct space, and Vega lumbered after him, reloading his launcher on the move..

"Seeing a lot of movement on the skyway," Garrus reported as he followed after them. His rifle barked. "A bit less now."

He slowed, scanning the bridge, and cursed.

"Bad news, Eyes?" Vega asked.

"Lightsuits," Garrus murmured. "Don't have a clear shot at them, but I've got their eezo signatures on my visor. Looks like they called for backup."

"Good," Axton said, anticipation coloring his voice. "This was gettin' a bit too easy!"

"Okay, sir, you're cleared to enter," said the smiling asari receptionist wearing the glaring corporate chic uniform of a Hyperion employee.

"Wow," Joker said as the door to the Hyperion-reserved Nos Astra docking section slid open. "That was a bit too easy."

"Sir?" the asari asked, her plastered corporate grin never fading.

"Nevermind, sorry, let's go," Joker replied, walking past her quickly. Claptrap puttered along behind him, mercifully quiet, mostly because Joker had made it clear who he would shoot first if the bucket-on-wheels said something idiotic before they even got inside.

They moved down the hallway beyond the entry desk, passing a pair of yellow-armored Hyperion soldiers who watched them with glowing red optics. Once past them, they found themselves in quiet, empty hallways that spanned the warehouses and docking berths for Hyperion ships.

"Is it safe to talk now?" Claptrap asked.

"Yes," Angel replied over the ECHO. "You should be out of ear-"

"No, no, no!" Joker said quickly, cutting her off. "It's still dangerous. If Claptrap says anything we still might get hit by orbital missiles even inside their facility."

"Crap," Claptrap muttered. "But wait... you've been saying that since we got off the shuttle-"

"I can hear the orbital lasers tracking us," Joker hissed. "Shhh!"

"Yes, he's correct!" Angel added. "Please stay quiet for right now, Claptrap. For all our sakes. You're the only surviving witness to Hyperion's corruption on Eden Prime! They want you dead. Why do you think Maliwan went after you?"

"Ah, you're right!" Claptrap squealed. "Silence!" He went quiet once more, and Joker walked on in peace, hoping the robot wouldn't actually start thinking. He activated his ECHO as he walked, patching into the comm channel that Angel used.

thnx r: clptrp

Her response came back a moment later.

No problem. :p I know how to deal with them.

Joker kept his eyes on the numbers above the doors, navigating the hallways quickly. He counted off, checking his ECHO display and the information Angel had given them. A couple of turns and several doors later, and they were standing in front of the right berth. Angel transmitted the codes, and Joker and Claptrap stepped inside.

They froze the moment they entered the dock.

"Angel, your intel is bad," Joker murmured.

"No, this is the right berth," she said after a moment. "The ship's information matches up, and there's been no transfers in or out. No evidence of an off-the-record launch. Why?"

"You got any cameras?" Joker asked, walking forward slowly. "Patch into my ECHO if you need to."

"Just a second, I-" Angel stopped. "Um. That's... not a freighter."

The berth was a single long docking bay, large enough for a two-hundred meter shipping freighter. The craft they were expecting was a small transport, big and bulky and fat and designed with capacity in mind. Instead, they looked upon hundred and seventy-five meters of flat, horizontal, blade-like starship, painted red and black, all long, sleek lines. A quartet of engines were mounted along the aft section on a pair of short wings, the thrusters vertical to the frigate's horizontal main body. The ship's length came to a sharp point at the bow, and the flat blade widened on the keel section starting halfway to the rear of the ship, giving room for a launch bay for vehicles. Weapons compartments were visible along the ventral and keel sections of the bow, in the shape of long, flat rectangles that were flush with the ship's hull. Joker knew just by looking at them that they would extend from the hull to deploy guns.

On the flank of the ship, in angular, sleek letters, were the words Decisive Deception.

"No shit, Angel," Joker muttered. "That's a next-gen Hyperion fast-attack frigate!"

"Oh. Oh dear," Angel murmured. "I didn't…. Um. Wow. That's…."

Several moments of silence passed.

"So," Claptrap said, his voice very quiet. "Are we still going to steal it?"

"Yes!" both Joker and Angel said at the same time.

Nassana Dantius was livid, and her office was rapidly disintegrating around her as each new report came in. A horde of krogan crashing into her building, and an elegant potted plant from Thessia went flying amid a field of raging biotics. A crazy volus biotic tearing apart her entry atrium, and a statue from pre-Rebellion Tuchanka was warped to powder. Those three mercenaries she'd ordered killed because they knew about her sister had shown up, and there went the main desk, right out the window, and to hell with whoever it hit on the way down. And then there was the Siren, and all her remaining windows had been powered in a flash of dark energy and shifting gravity. And there was… something running around in the towers randomly breaking the necks of her soldiers.

How dare these barbarians barge into her home? She had built half of Nos Astra, keeping it in line with modern asari aesthetics, twinned with Maliwan's own corporate ideology. She'd been instrumental in ensuring Maliwan dominance on Illium, particularly in Nos Astra. She'd tolerated Hyperion's intrusions, accepted that eyesore that Torgue-Urdnot had built, and even turned a blind eye to the muscle-headed idiot's display of ego when he blew up the top floors of his building. She'd accepted the periodic raid on her holdings - and retaliated just as swiftly, of course - as the price of doing business.

But this insanity? Five groups of mercenaries attacking at once? Entirely unacceptable.

"Recall everything," she was shouting into her ECHO. "I want the krogan dead and Okeer's corpse brought to me! I want the mercenaries dead and their heads brought to me! I want that damned volus dead, and his head as well! I want the Siren dead, too, to hell with her. We'll dissect the corpse. Just KILL THEM ALL!"

She'd liquefy them all and put them in jars for this insult.

"Ma'am, we've found the volus!" called one of her commanders. "I have teams moving in to engage!"

"Finally," Nassana said, calming a bit. "Where is he?"

"Level twenty-nine," the Eclipse officer reported. "He's…. Um. Well, he's arguing with a water cooler right now. Sounds like the cooler is winning, too."

"Whatever. Just kill him before he ruins more of my building," Nassana snapped. "And then-"

"Dantius!" boomed a deep, laughing voice. "Finally found your ECHO channel!"

"Who is-" Nassana said, and blinked as she recognized the voice. "Okeer? How did you get this frequency?"

"Ancient krogan secret," the warlord replied, and laughed again.

"Uncivilized lizard!" Nassana shouted. "Do you have any idea what you've done?"

"Killed dozens of your employees, inflicted millions of credits in property damage, and gotten one step closer to saving my species," the krogan replied.

"The entirety of Maliwan will hunt you down for this!" she snarled. "I will personally-"

"Hide in your office and ineffectually throw your furniture out the window," Okeer cut her off. "Nassana, let us stop this madness. Tell your troops to withdraw, hand over the data I need on krogan mutations, and I will leave quietly, with no further violence."

Nassana paused, blinking in confusion. That… made no sense, considering that she'd ruined decades worth of Okeer's work when she'd raided his lab and burned it to the ground after she'd stolen his research. Maybe setting everything on fire and then bombarding it from orbit had been overkill, but she'd needed to ensure market exclusivity….

Okeer abruptly burst out laughing.

"You thought I was serious!" he said, and laughed for several seconds straight. "No, Nassana, after I get my data back I will break your spine one bone at a time and then throw you out the window of your office. I want to see if I can hit your desk from this high up."

"I will crush you myself, you filthy barbarian," Nassana growled. "And I will use the data you developed to sterilize your entire misbegotten kind!"

"And provoke Torgue-Urdnot to retaliation, yes," Okeer said, and chuckled again. "That would be wise indeed. Speak your empty threats elsewhere. If you remain in your office when I arrive, you will die screaming. I'll give you a chance to run and hide. Otherwise, find peace with your Goddess, or however it goes, Nassana."

Axton was on point as his trio of questionably-sane mercenaries (plus one cybernetic death-bird) rushed the under-construction bridge between the two towers. The skyway was only partially finished, with the section closest to the primary tower mostly complete. The walkway was finished, but the rooftop had yet to be completed, and only part of the walls had been installed. The wide walkway was strewn with boxes and construction materials, and at a glance Axton could guess they were rated to deflect small arms fire, like most modern materials.

Eclipse's survivors and their reinforcements, including the bulky Lightsuit operators, were gathered at the far end, and had hastily stacked construction materials into a rough barricade at their end of the bridge. The moment Axton emerged onto the skyway a storm of multicolored bullets raged toward him, slashing across the metal and ceramic of the building like a living thing made of acid and lightning and searing flame. His shields blazed a near-solid blue, and the commando dove for cover behind a stack of wall panels, bullets sizzling and sparking. The wind roared past him as he stepped out in the relatively open air, and he had to fight to maintain his balance.

Over the howl of enemy weapons and the passing wind, Axton heard a sniper rifle fire. One of the Eclipse weapons cut out. A missile screamed past, and the detonation bought a moment's silence. Axton rolled out of cover, assault rifle in one hand, and he threw out his Sabre's deployment box before bolting ahead to a heavy, man-height metal crate that was graciously ignoring all the fuss and bother. He dashed through the wind, bullets cutting past, some bouncing off his shields, and ducked behind the heavy crate.

"Bit too-" Garrus shouted, and then muttered a curse. Over the ECHO, Axton heard bullets burning into the wall he was sheltering behind. "Bit too easy, huh?" More shots hit his cover, and then the booming report of the Sabre's heavy gun joined the battle. Eclipse troops ducked for cover; one was decapitated by a single shot from the turret.

Bloodwing screamed down out of the sky, and an Eclipse trooper cried out as the cybernetic bird tore into his face and neck, setting his head ablaze. The flying, flaming menace disengaged and retreated, evading wild counterfire from the mercenaries.

"Watcha waiting on, Loco!" James added as he vaulted over another stack of wall panels and bounded ahead of Axton. "Letting La Torreta do all the work?"

"No, I'm-" Axton started, and then scowled. "Hey, did you just nickname the missus?"

"Yeah, I did," Vega called back, and started firing a heavy machinegun at the enemy. Axton rose from cover, firing a couple of bursts at enemy movement, and then charged right past Vega, sliding in behind a stack of armorglass panels. "You sure aren't showing her the care she deserves, letting the lady do all the work!"

The Sabre ignored the argument, blasting away at the enemy and keeping their heads down. Garrus' rifle boomed again, and another mercenary went down.

"Hey, we have an equal relationship," Axton said, and shot an Eclipse trooper edging out from cover. "She recognizes that I'm a lot more vulnerable than her."

"So, wait, you bottom, is that it?" Vega mused, and he dashed forward under the Sabre and Axton's covering fire.

"Hey, hey, that's asking a bit much, man," Axton quickly replied. "Some stuff is just private."

"Right, man. Sorry. I should respect your boundaries."

"I'm just saying," Axton added, "that we recognize each other's strengths. I'm a better shot-" He punctuated that by popping off a couple of bursts that burst through a merc's shield and sent him back behind cover. "And she can take punishment a lot better."

Axton broke from cover as Vega laid down a storm of bullets into the enemy position, forcing the Eclipse back into cover. Axton charged past him, reaching the halfway point of the skyway, where the walls were mostly complete and the wind stopped blowing so hard. As he slid into cover, he spotted a Lightsuit with bright blue lines and weaponry leaping up onto the top of the barricades, and pumped several rounds into its shield. The Sabre hit it at the same time, and then a booming sniper rifle shot punched through the shields and bit into its armor. The Lightsuit dropped back out of sight before it could fire.

"Those Lightsuits don't have a lot of room to maneuver out here," Garrus called. "I can keep them pinned down with Torreta's help."

"La Torreta, Garrus," James corrected. "I think your translator might cut out that first bit. S'okay, happens all the time with human languages."

"Hey, not a problem," Garrus replied. "Yours cuts out a bunch of sounds from our language too. There's this trilling sound in-" His rifle boomed again as Axton covered Vega's charge, "-in a bunch of native Palaven dialects that doesn't carry over. It makes you humans sound really weird at times."

"Glad to know I sound stupid in turian," James added. "Grenade going out!"

"Not stupid, exactly," Garrus corrected, and fired again. James' grenade detonated a couple meters short of the barricade. "Repositioning, five seconds. But it alters verb properties in a way that makes us sometimes have to stop and put things together. You only really sound off to someone who doesn't get outside contact very often. In position." Another rifle shot. "Winged one of the Lightsuits, green one. Anyway, it happens to all non-turians. You don't have the organs in your throats to mimic the sound right, so you sound just as dumb as an asari, or a vorcha."

"Good to know I sound as dumb as a vorcha," Axton retorted as the Sabre began to break down into digistruct motes. "Turret charge out! Moving up!" He bolted forward under James' covering fire. A blur of movement overhead from the Eclipse barricade signaled a Lightsuit leaping out of cover, this one marked by green lines. Corrosive.

Axton's left hand went to his SDU, and he drew a grenade. This one was marked by a blue band encircling it, indicating it a was a shock-elemental weapon. He hurled it through the air over the barricade, and it bounced off the Lightsuit, which bolted backward into cover. Blue-white electrical fury erupted over the barricade, and he heard an Eclipse scream in pain.

"Blood's coming down, watch your fire," Garris shouted, and the flaming streak of his attack bird weaved through the incomplete construction to strike another Eclipse trooper. She struck out in multiple directions, clawing and biting, chainsaw beak ripping into armor and sending mercenaries scrambling. Axton took advantage of the distraction to move around the barricade, trying to find a ramp, while Vega fired a rocket over the top. The missile hit the corrosive Lightsuit as it leapt up again, and the explosion blew apart its shield.

Axton pivoted as he saw the suit's barriers fall, and emptied his rifle's magazine into it. Rounds skipped off the torso armor and helmet, chipping away at ablative plating, and the Lightsuit spun toward the commando. The magazine ran empty, and he switched the depleted one for a full one in a heartbeat, and laid down the fire as the Lightsuit snapped its cannon up. He squeezed the trigger as the rotary cannon sprayed a river of corrosive rounds toward him. They exploded across his shields, biting through Axton's capacitor charge, but he held his ground and kept pumping round after round into the Lightsuit.

It juked, leaping back and forth on the barricade, but Axton kept his aim steady. Corrosive rounds burned through the floor and walls and misplaced construction materials around him, but he forced his sights to stay on target. The blue light of his shield flared, and then flashed, and then broke with a sound like shattering glass.

Half a dozen corrosive rounds struck Axton, hitting his ballistic-weave coat and the hardsuit underneath. Sizzling, hot pain erupted along his flank. He shouted, snarled, and kept shooting.

A chunk of armor was shorn off the side of the Lightsuit's helmet, and Axton sent another round through. The powered armor jerked violently, a spray of blue asari blood flying from the injury, and it tumbled back behind the barricade. Axton followed suit, bullets flying past him as other Eclipse spotted him and started shooting. He scrambled to safety behind a pallet of rooftop panels, and grabbed an Instahealth application. He jammed it into the wound in his side where the acid was still burning, and the pain immediately subsided, along with the sizzling of dissolving flesh.

He gasped, exhaled, and then fought off a brief burst of exhaustion and dizziness as the Instahealth went to work. Different people had different reactions to the stuff, and Axton was one of the unlucky ones. He grit his way through the effects and rose with rifle in hand. James was lobbing more grenades over the top of the barricade, and Bloodwing had taken to the air again, evading counterfire.

There was a familiar and welcome beep in Axton's ear, and he grinned. The Sabre had recharged.

The deployment box reformed in his backpack, and Axton grabbed it and dropped it on top of the pallets he was crouched behind, then charged out of cover as the turret formed and began firing. The steady boom-boom-boom forced the Eclipse troops behind cover, and Axton and James hurled their grenades over the top of the barricade. Shock detonations were accompanied by screaming or fleeing mercenaries.

The shock Lightsuit jumped over the barricade, ignoring incoming fire from the Sabre, and rushed straight toward them, jerking and weaving in a frighteningly-fast, serpentine pattern, the cannon spinning up and about to fire, while a curving blue blade of transparent crystal unfolded on the opposite arm.

And the back of the helmet exploded in a shower of green, salarian-blood gore.

"Scoped," Garrus said, satisfaction clear in his voice, "and dropped."

"Over the top!" Axton shouted to James, who nodded. With the Sabre covering them, they charged the barricade, lobbing more grenades over the top, and chasing the shock detonations. They vaulted over the top, weapons ready to engage.

They didn't need to bother. What few Eclipse were still alive had broken and retreated, leaving more than twenty of their number behind, including three Lightsuits, one of which must have been disabled during the grenade bombardment. Axton and James picked their way over the scorched and perforated collection of armored corpses, checking for any survivors while Garrus sprinted after them.

"I was expecting more badguys," Vega mused, pushing aside a few bodies with his toes and looking for anything of interest.

"Totally kicked their asses," Axton added as he kept the doorway into the tower covered.

"They didn't have time to set up," Garrus said as he caught up. "No fixed weapons. Those Lightsuits aren't made for defending a fixed point. If they'd had more room to maneuver, this would have been a lot harder."

"Garrus, stop ruining the badass feeling," Axton grunted. Behind him, James straightened with a grin on his face, and Bloodwing settled onto Garrus' shoulder as he jumped over the barricade.

"Hey, gotta blue pistol here," James added, pulling a gun out from the piled bodies.

"No more time to loot," Axton said. "They'll be regrouping up ahead. Got to keep moving and shooting."

"Gotcha, Loco," James said, pistol vanishing into his SDU. He hefted his machinegun and loped after Garrus. Axton opened the door to the tower, and bullets immediately lashed out, bright red incendiaries cutting past them.

"Next round," Garrus muttered, and Bloodwing let out a sharp, brassy battle cry before leaping off his shoulder, and the quartet plunged into their next firefight.

Multicolored death sprayed back and forth in the cubicle farm on level Ninety-One. Roland moved dashed between the angular, red-and-white walls of Maliwan cubicle dividers, trading shots with Eclipse and what looked like a few people wearing business casual. Off-duty Eclipse, maybe? Or was Nassana sending out the accountants too?

Never thought I'd miss fighting in a desert or jungle or vacuum, he thought.

"Getting tired of fighting through one corporate building after another," he grunted. He heard Lilith blast back into reality, blazing wings spreading out behind her, and she blew apart an Eclipse soldier with a barrage of rounds. Chunks of torn cubicle walls and desks went hurtling past, courtesy of Seryna's biotics, and plowed through another couple of mercenaries.

"Yeah, this job brings me back," Zaeed added over the gunfire. He was holding the left side of their advance, firing controlled bursts or single shots and leaving swathe of dead or disabled Eclipse before him. "There was this time I fought a whole army of clone soldiers in this bigass office complex. Felt like I was in there for a week. Nothing but goddamn cubicles and hallways."

"Really?" Conrad asked. He was behind the main shooting line, periodically firing his pistol whenever he got a clear target, which wasn't very often. Roland had deployed his Scorpio to cover the doctor, and Conrad was smart enough to stay behind its barriers. "When was that?"

"Big shootout a few years back," Zaeed said. "It was on Terra Nova, the big Armacham-"

A Lightsuit leapt through the air, glowing with bright red lines, and flipped over in mid-flight as it reached the ceiling. If kicked off straight toward Zaeed. His head twitched toward it, and he hopped aside, firing on fully automatic while his arm pumped. Bullets hammered the suit's shields, and it hit the floor, extended blade gouging a burning hole through the thin carpet and much thicker floor beneath. The Lightsuit rolled over and jumped to its feet, spinning toward Zaeed.

The shock MIRV grenade Zaeed had dropped while jumping detonated, a flash of elecricity momentarily blinding the Lightsuit's operator before five smaller grenades, launched by the first, exploded in a torrent of lighting. The Lightsuit recoiled, its systems going haywire, and Zaeed shot it three times in the helmet, with the last round punching through and sending it toppling to the floor.

"Where was I?" he asked.

There was a moment of silence, and the old bounty hunter turned to survey the burning, blasted cubicle form, the floor covered in the remains of desks and walls and potted plants and a dozen Eclipse and suicidally-dedicated office workers. The only ones standing were the members of Roland's team.

"What, did you kill everyone already?" he asked, a bit disappointed.

"Yeah, looks like," Lilith added, hopping over a pile of scorched furniture. "I thought they'd send more people after us."

"Just throwing more dead bodies onto the pile," Seryna said. "Eclipse never had the best hiring standards."

"Might as well just give them all bloody red shirts," Zaeed grunted. "So where's this elevator we're looking for?"

"This way," Conrad called, stumbling through the wreckage. "There's a security station over here and an elevator that leads down to the lab levels on Eighty-Seven."

They followed his directions to a hallway branching off from the cubicle farm, and after a couple of turns they were advancing down a long, dark blue and gray corridor that led to a heavy door and a large, black-and-red desk that Roland guessed was rated to deal with anti-tank weapons. A rack of Maliwan-issue weapons was locked in a case behind it, but no guards were present. They must have either been fighting elsewhere or had joined the shootout in the cubicle farm.

"I got the door," Conrad said, his omnitool lighting up. "Codes change twice daily, but they still haven't found my backdoors. Too many krogan for proper IT work right now, I'm guessing." As he worked, Lilith opened the weapons case, which unfolded into a weapons rack. She sighed and shook her head.

"All white-quality guns here," she reported. "Nassana doesn't give her security anything but crap."

"No change there," Seryna said. "Relies more on cyber-security, Eclipse biotics, and her scary rep."

"Haven't seen many asari though," Roland said. "Mostly salarian and humans and some turians."

"Nassana likes keeping her biotic commandos close as her personal vanguard, or sending them out on covert ops," Seryna said. "Everyone else is cannon fodder. We'll be shooting our way through her bodyguards soon enough, so don't get comfortable with these morons we've been tearing apart."

"So we shouldn't expect to keep slapping those Lightsuits and watching them explode, is that it?" Lilith asked, and Seryna nodded.

"Got it!" Conrad called, and the elevator door opened.

"Pile in, keep it tight," Roland ordered as they piled in. "Seryna, get a barrier ready the moment the door opens. Lilith on point. Conrad, you have total control of the elevator?"

"Yeah," he said with a nod. "No one's playing with us on the way down."

"Good," Roland said. " Everyone be ready. We don't know what Nassana's got waiting for us down there, or if the krogan have already beat us. Plus whoever else is in this building. Keep on your toes."

"Got it, Dad," Zaeed grunted as the elevator doors closed.

"Die, you fucking biotic freak of nature!" screamed one of the dozen Eclipse troopers lining the hallway as he fired upon Niftu Cal. Hundreds of bullets poured down the corridor as he stood there, and abruptly stopped in mid-air as they passed through the mass effect field he'd thrown up. Glittering constellations of elemental bullets hung in the air as the Eclipse inexplicably kept shooting him.

Niftu Cal reached up and tried to pick one of the bullets out of the air. He missed, and steadied himself, then tried again. Once more, he missed, and stubbornly tried a third time, ignoring the Eclipse as they kept shooting. The damn bullets were the size of sand grains, so he was having some trouble grabbing them with his hands. The environment suit wasn't made for this kind of delicate work.

A grenade flew toward him, and it also was caught in the barrier. It detonated a moment later with a crack of light, but the shrapnel was halted an instant later, hovering before the volus.

"Meh," he finally said, giving up on re-enacting that scene from that turian remake of the asari remake of the old human movie. He gestured, and sent back all the Eclipse's bullets, and made sure that they were almost as swift as they were when he'd caught them.

TheBIOTIC GOD waddled over their bodies, and crossed an intersection. He turned around, looking up and down the passages. He let out a confused "Hmph" after several minutes of squinting, destroying another Eclipse squad, and thinking really hard. Finally, understanding dawned on Niftu Cal.

"I think I am lost," he mused. "Haven't yet discovered omniscience. Ah, well."

He looked straight up, gathered his strength, and sent a lance of biotic force into the ceiling. Ceramic and metal and plastic and other materials blew straight up, and then rained back down, glancing off his barriers. Niftu Cal gathered up his focus and strength, and altered his own mass and the local gravity, and began to ascend properly.

"Prepare yourself, foul blasphemer!" Niftu Cal shouted as he flew up through the floor, and blew apart the next ceiling section that barred his ascent. "I, Niftu Cal, am no longer bound by your petty mortal architecture!"

The Decisive Deception's airlock hissed open as Angel put in the codes, and Joker stepped inside, pistol in hand and Claptrap behind him.

"You're sure there's nobody inside?" the pilot asked as the airlock cycled and decontamination started.

"Yes," Angel repeated, and sighed. "I pretty much own the ship. Looks like its got a quantum entanglement communicator, so I have uninterrupted access... assuming I can locate the target QEC and isolate it. Until then you'd better get inside and disable outside communication so Hyperion doesn't try to override."

"Right," Joker said as the airlock finished cycling and the decon finished. "Last thing we want is Handsome Jackass to snatch this thing back with an override code."

He and Claptrap stepped through the airlock and into a small antechamber, well-lit with bright white illumination. To his left was a door marked "Command" while to his right was a door marked "CIC/Ops."

"Alright, looks like regular Hyperion frigate layout. Stolen from basic Alliance design, of course…."

Joker turned toward the Command door and it opened as he hobbled toward it. The door split open to reveal a white-lit room with four stations: a central pilots chair, a copilot's chair next to it on the right, a sensor station on the port wall, and the tactical station on the starboard wall. A holotank was set to the left of the pilot's chair, with equipment to link a drone or steward bot.

"Okay, Claptrap," Joker said, "Plug in." He hobbled to the pilot's chair, and paused as he touched the material.

"Joker?" Angel asked.

"Leather seats," he replied, and settled carefully down into the chair. He could feel the leather shifting to accommodate him, and bit back a laugh. "Memory molded leather seats! I've never seen a Hyperion military ship that uses civilian-sector comfort standard!"

"Joker, can you focus on what we need done?" Angel muttered, and the holotank lit up, showing her face.

"Yeah, yeah, sure," he said, shifting his posterior in the incredibly comfy chair and activating the haptic display. "Claptrap, you in?"

"Yes," the robot whispered. Joker nearly told him that he could speak normally now, and then remembered what would result from that.

"Okay, you take tactical-" he started then stopped. No. Bad idea. "Wait, no, you take Ops and Sensors. Angel, are you on Engineering?"

"Working on the reactor now," she confirmed. She'd already agreed to handle that job on the way over, which was surprising; a hacker who was also a trained starship engineer was a rarity, but he didn't toss away a gift when he had one. If Angel could hack with one hand and handle power outputs from a Helium-3 reactor, he would smile and ask where he could get more of her.

Joker looked over the ship's schematics as the piloting and navigation software initialized.

"It'll take an hour to get that thing powered up," he said, marvelling at the size of the drive core. This thing had thrust capacity of a light cruiser in a warship frame half that size. That gave it both slower- and faster-than-light speeds way beyond any frigate of comparable tonnage.

"Normally, I'd agree," Angel said, her tone thoughtful. "But the ship is already powered. Its in low-power mode, but the reactor is active."

"With no engineering team to watch over it?" Joker said, raising an eyebrow. That was setting off alarm bells. "Okay, that's just plain weird. You sure there's no AI on this ship?"

"None," Angel replied. "There is a core capable of handling an AI, but none has been uploaded. Most of the ship's systems are in standby mode."

"Okay, starting preflight check. I'm telling you, Angel, this has got me spooked. I think we're hijacking some Hyperion executive's personal battleship." He shook his head as he studied the schematics. "This ship looks like its built to be operated by a minimal crew, with an AI handling a lot of the work."

"I can write some subroutines to handle most of that work," Angel remarked. "We can have Claptrap automate the rest."

Joker grimaced at that, but he couldn't be picky now. He checked other subsystems, and then shifted to tactical.

"Weapons are cold," he said. "Targeting software hasn't even been initialized. No power to GARDIAN or the gun batteries. That's weird."

"Not sure why they wouldn't be idling," Angel said. "Power draw on those weapons is minimal while not preparing to fire…."

"Oh, crap!" Claptrap suddenly squealed. Joker jerked in surprise, and on his display a window appeared, showing an external camera.

"What the hell are ah shit," Joker muttered.

On the external camera, the entry door to the dock was sliding open, and a full platoon of yellow-armored Hyperion soldiers and engineers, accompanied by rifle-toting GUN Loaders, were rushing into the dock, the human soldiers pointing toward the Decisive Deception.

"I knew this was too easy," Angel sighed.

"Oh, come on," Handsome Jack said, his grin wide enough to threaten his handsome mask's integrity. He waved a hand over his display, watching the soldiers and robots approach the frigate.

"You didn't think I was just going to let you fly off, did you?"

He leaned forward, and pressed pressed a holographic button.

"So, hey, buddy," a voice sounded in the cockpit of the Decisive Deception. Joker's blood ran cold as he recognized that voice.

"Oh, shit," he whispered.

"Whoever you are," spoke Handsome Jack's voice, "I gotta admit, you're either a colossal moron or you have some serious brass balls."

"Oh, crap," Claptrap moaned.

"I mean, you're stealing my ship," he said, and laughed. "Well, I mean, everything with Hyperion's brand on it is mine, but that thing there? The Decisive Deception is one of my personal ships. I take it out on weekend excursions to bomb vorcha colonies!"

"Oh dear," Angel murmured.

"So you got some clankers on you, buddy." Handsome Jack laughed again. "I'm gonna enjoy cutting them off. Then? I'm going to flay you alive for stealing from me."

The channel closed, and Joker squeaked.

"Oh, shit."

"So, Angel, whaddya think?" Handsome Jack asked, as he switched his feeds back to his cruiser over Illium. Excellent, it was just about in position.

"The threat was very… convincing," the hologram of the dark-haired young woman said, her expression uncertain.

"Threat? That wasn't a threat. If my guys get in there, I'm flaying the little brittle-boned failure alive myself."

"But… sir…" Angel started.

"Look, if he can't steal my ship under the threat of painful death, he's no use to me," Jack said, and sipped his brandy. "So he's got incentive to succeed."

"I understand, sir."

"Good, Angel. Keep me updated." He paused. "Oh, and send the order to the Dynamic Incident to open fire."

"Yes sir."

"Oh, man," Jack said, and he started laughing. "So many people are going to die before dinnertime. This is going to be awesome."

Codex - Megacorporations - Maliwan

The Maliwan Corporation was established after the first discovery of Eridian technology on Mars, and was instrumental in much of the research into elemental technologies and mass effect fields. They are also a leader in the field of human genetic engineering, and while Maliwan is responsible for some of the more violent genetic mutations, they are also noteworthy for having one of the highest success rates of stable gene mods, only rivaled by Anshin Corporation with human modifications and surpassed by Binary Helix for non-human mods.

After the First Contact War, Maliwan was able to negotiate a merger with the Eclipse mercenary band in the wake of the severe losses they suffered during their battles with the Jakobs Corporation in the Attican Traverse. This merger led to significant acquisitions of and investments by asari and salarian interests, resulting in the current makeup of the corporation's leadership being predominantly asari, salarian, and human.

Maliwan's corporate ideology is focused on creating advanced, "elegant" devices, with much of their products using elemental and digistruct technology. Maliwan marketing emphasizes this, comparing their technology to works of art, while decrying the competition as "savage" or "barbaric." Maliwan's competitors have in turn referred to them as "war hippies" and their technology as "overly specialized garbage."

Codex - Weapons and Technology - Maliwan Lightsuit

The Maliwan "Lightsuit" is a suit of powered armor designed to serve as a military answer to the heavy weapons platforms and powered armor of competitors, such as the Atlas Devastator or the Hyperion WAR Loaders. Lightsuits are used extensively by the Eclipse mercenary forces, but models are sold on the open market as well. Compared with other heavy power-armor models, Lightsuits are much faster and more mobile, while lacking the heavy armor and raw firepower of competitors. A drawback of this emphasis of speed over armor is that Lightsuits are much more vulnerable to small arms than heavier powered-armor.

Lightsuits are noted for having extensive nanocarbon artificial muscles, which allow them impressive feats of physical strength and speed. Coupled with advanced neural link to implants in their operators' brains, they are able to react with exceptional speed and maneuverability. Much like Maliwan small arms, the Lightsuits are equipped with elemental technology, giving them resistances to certain weapon types and a substantial ammunition supply for their main weapon systems. Lightsuits carry a rotary cannon on one arm that fires ammunition of an elemental variant, fed by an internal SDU dedicated to that weapon's ammunition supply. In addition, Lightsuits carry a secondary close-quarters armament - usually a blade or claws - that are charged with the same elemental technology as their main weapon. More advanced suits incorporate Maliwan "spike" spike in their shielding systems for close-quarters combat.

Lightsuits and variants are becoming more common among asari and salarian militaries. Cheaper knockoffs of the designs are also being sighted among the Terminus, and stolen suits are highly prized, despite their relatively fragile nature.