Knowledge is the ultimate weapon. It always has been.
The Transmigration Effect
Postscript - Locus
1. a central or main place where something happens or is found.
Ilos, sleeping world of wonders, thought STG captain Arrana. It was beautiful, hauntingly fascinating.
Of course, he wouldn't hesitate to turn the planet to ash if he had to.
He'd said as much to the leader of the Council research team accompanying his men, as much to make his intentions clear as to enjoy the Asari's face go as pale as a human.
To be fair, the idiot doctor had it coming. The stupid woman had been blathering in his ear for hours without stopping for breath, despite his ignoring her completely. If it were up to him, there wouldn't even be any researchers on this mission. They should have gone in, secured the Conduit, moved it to a secure location for study and that would have been the end of it. If it weren't for the tenderfoot scientists, they could have been in and out by now.
Their orders were clear. Secure the Conduit, sic the scientists on the thing and wait for the secondary extraction team. If the mad scientists could clear the thing for transport, they were to grab it and go.
The prospect of standing around guarding something nobody else could get to was a supremely boring one. Becoming an STG captain had taken two decades of service, gruelling training and devastating experience. Now he was expected to guard a relic. Oh, a Prothean relic, and that made it all any different? Nothing good would come of blindly following the Protheans example, in Arrana's opinion. After all, they got wiped out.
If it were up to him, they would have dropped the Citadel into a star and made their own way.
But in the end he was a soldier and soldiers follow orders. It didn't mean he had to like it. And that was before he'd learned he'd be babysitting a bunch of civilian 'experts'. Before they'd tried to talk his ear off.
It had taken all of his self-control not to space them and claim it was an accident. He could have gotten away with it, too. There were only five of them, three Asari, one Turian and a Salarian.
Well, the Turian was bearable enough, he supposed. At least he knew how to keep his mouth shut. Not for the first time, he wished military service was mandatory for all races. How to shut up would be a valuable lesson for a lot of people.
One of his men's voices crackled over the airwaves, out of breath. A young corporal named Driss, the captain remembered, and their advance scout. "Sir," Driss panted breathlessly, probably from sprinting all over the damn complex. The place was massive. "I've found something. It's a VI of some kind."
Arrana frowned. A VI? This place should have been abandoned since the Protheans bit the bullet. The idea that something would be able to survive for fifty thousand years with no outside support was ludicrous. Then again, other Prothean relics had survived and were usable. It wasn't totally out of the question.
"It's status?" the captain asked. A few members of the research team turned in surprise, hearing the STG captain speak for the first time.
"Active, but badly damaged. It looks like there's a backup power source that's been jimmied into it, keeping it running. Parts are Alliance make, for a vehicle of theirs."
Arrana cursed quietly. Someone else had been there before them. Then he cursed again, this time at the politicians for cutting his squad size down. He could have had a full fifteen agents with him, if he hadn't needed five of his bunks for non-combat personnel. Ten STG operatives should be enough to handle just about any threat this far out, but the absence of a third of his veterans left him feeling exposed.
But the Alliance? How could they have gotten here? For that matter, where did they go?
Arrana shook his head. No point in wondering. Get to the objective.
"Driss, see if you can get anything from the tech. It might have information. We'll move forward to meet you. This place looks like an R&D lab, and I've never heard of a tech that hides his best stuff near the front."
He flicked out his hand and grabbed the collar of the Salarian researcher, dragging him closer. The idiot had been gazing at the roof, nearly tripping over. The roof could wait. "Get your people moving," Arrana growled. "We're on a timer. Understand?"
The STG pushed forward, shepherding the researchers behind a wall of armour and flesh.
"Driss?" Arrana's second asked. Visda was old STG to the core and once upon a time had been Arrana's superior. She'd been offered command, but chosen to stay at the rank she was at, instead of becoming an officer.
"It's pretty insensible," the scout responded, a tinge of frustration in his voice. "There's a lot of static. I'm only getting every fourth or fifth word. If we could spare one of the techs to try and repair it, it's not too far gone-"
"No," Arrana said, cutting over the young agent's voice. "We're here for the Conduit. Nothing else. I won't risk the mission failing because of a VI. What about the Alliance tech?"
"It's strange," the scout replied, and Arrana's teeth ground together.
"I know it's strange," he snapped. This is what he got for taking a rookie. "What can you tell me about it?"
"It's recent," Driss replied, chastised. "The last few days. Potentially the last few hours. A week, at the most."
Arrana flicked his gaze over to Visda, and she nodded fractionally. "Alright. Pull in the picket, Driss. I want you closer in. Listen up, people," he growled, flicking channels to include the scientists. "This is now a combat op. As a result, you must obey me unconditionally and at all times. Is that understood?"
"That's preposterous," an Asari snorted, preening her fringes vacantly. "You can't just say that and expect us to obey you, we-"
Visda drew her pistol and blasted a hole next to the Asari's foot, and she squeaked in terror, falling silent. "Silence," she said, just loud enough to be heard.
Explanations, thought Arrana bitterly. Civilians always want explanations. Can't they just shut up and do what they're told for once? "We aren't the first ones here," he snapped, angry at the vacuous scientist for her lack of common sense. "So until we find out who they are and what they're doing here, it's combat conditions. That means you will follow my orders and the direction of any STG personnel, or you will be left behind. Is that clear?"
The Asari stared into his black, unblinking eyes and nodded mutely. Good.
The party moved quietly through the empty trenches; Arrana ground his teeth together. This wasn't at all what he'd been expecting or what the Council had led him to believe. Alliance teams at the site faster than him, he could deal with and blame the bureaucracy if need be. Piles of Geth corpses were not.
As much as he hated to admit it, the Alliance being here made his job a lot easier, assuming they hadn't taken the Conduit first. If it was the Alliance that killed the Geth, that was. His head ached, though he gave no sign of it. There were already enough unknowns in the air.
"What is that?" the Turian researcher exclaimed, the tallest of the party. A moment later, as they crested the hill, the rest of the mission saw it as well. Lit from within by its pure element zero core, the Conduit sat like a stationary god amongst the rubble of battle.
"Objective in sight," Arrana recorded stoically, eyeing the artefact not as a relic of a long-dead species, but as a weapon. "Repeat, the Conduit has been located. It appears to be an inactive Mass Relay sized for personal or vehicular traffic. Its partner relay in unknown."
To the scientists staring slack-jawed, he motioned forward. "Tell me what you can find from it. If we can move it, we're leaving."
The various PhD researchers, overcome by a surge of curiosity and desire, needed no more encouragement. The five of them surged forward, all racing to be the first to touch the last legacy of the Protheans.
"Like two-cycle children in a sandbox," Arrana commented dispassionately. "STG, set up a barricade. We might be here a while, so make it to last."
"I don't understand," Driss murmured. "If it's a Mass Relay, what does it connect to? Every Relay has a companion."
"That's right," the captain agreed, watching the trench. "And this one was the exclusive interest of a rogue Spectre who allied with the Geth. The Citadel would be his first priority. Have you ever seen another Relay sized for foot traffic?"
Driss was a rookie but he was still STG. He could connect the dots and analyse the meaning of his captain's word as well as anyone else in the organization. "The Relay Monument. Well. That changes things."
Visda nodded. "The implications are horrifying. I wonder if any of those geniuses have figured it out yet?"
"Figured what out?" the Turian researcher said, his gaze split between the Conduit and the STG. "Where this Relay goes? It has to be the Presidium. I've never heard of another relay the same size as this one, unless the Relay Monument isn't just a statue."
Arrana smiled very, very slightly. At least one of the scientists assigned to the mission wasn't an airhead. "Then tell me. What are the implications of such a Relay?"
The lab-coated Turian paused for a second, considering his thoughts. "It would be devastating," he summarized quietly. "With the element of surprise and the current state of the Citadel's defences, any attack through this relay would be incredibly effective. With a Spectre's knowledge and resources, the Council could even be in danger before C-Sec could respond."
The Salarian nodded to himself. The Turian's answer was exactly correct, of course; but it was the answer of a soldier, not an intelligence agent or even a strategist. Well, it really was all you could expect from someone who only did the requisite compulsory service.
The Conduit was exactly that, but it was so much more. It was potentially even more effective as a threat than as a back door. The Council would never be able to remove the Relay Monument, vain and dependent on polls as they were. The Conduit represented the possibility of entire armies appearing on the Presidium matter of seconds, at any time. It was blackmail, a permanent threat. If you had to leave a fleet and an army to defend the Citadel from an attack that could come at any time, it would give you an advantage on any other fronts of battle.
That was how an STG thought. Potential, threat, blackmail, extortion. Confront your enemy with a shadow of a giant, then stab them in the back.
Arrana shook his head. It was just a thought experiment, after all. He wasn't really planning on bringing down the Council, even if Salarians could run the galaxy better alone. Even if his training demand he see the possible applications of the device, it was only to prevent an enemy from using it against them.
"What branch did you serve in?" Arrana asked, covering his curiosity behind small talk. At this point, information gathering was a habit more than a conscious decision.
"Logistics and history," the researcher replied. "25th Parthian Legion."
Nodding, the STG captain occupied himself with the growing defences. The head of the researchers, the Asari, had informed him that the Conduit was movable, but that there was no feasible way of extracting it. For a moment he contemplated ordering his men to blow the roof off, but even if they had enough demolition charges he'd be crucified for destroying part of the ruin.
Hours passed in slow, monotonous fashion. The silence was frequently punctuated by gleeful exclamations of joy from the researchers, every fifteen minutes a new discovery or so it seemed. Arrana didn't really care, and that was the reason he'd been selected for this mission in the first place. In his mind, it was hard to forget information you never knew in the first place. So the STG captain ignored his charges, let their voices fade to background noise.
It was so much more peaceful that way.
"Night Passage to Ground Team, Night Passage to Ground Team. Come in, Ground Team."
Arrana cocked his head curiously, holding a hand to his head to press the speaker closer to his ear. He'd only left one operative with his ship, the Night Passage, and he hadn't expected to hear from him until their relief arrived. Really, he was only there to watch the skies, as it were.
"This is Ground Team," Arrana responded. "Go."
"We're reading activity around the Mass Relay," his sentinel reported. "Two ships, frigate weight. Scans reveal two different types. Turian and Batarian."
Arrana bit his lip in irritation. Very, very few outfits in the galaxy ran Turian and Batarian ships in cohesion. Those that did were perpetually toeing the line of legality. In other words, mercenaries. How did they know to find this world? It should have been impossible for simple guns-for-hire to find something as hidden as Ilos.
"Can you identify insignia?" he asked, brain spinning at top speed. Despite that, none of the researchers realised something was amiss. Either they had backers or they managed to shadow the STG on the way in. That was theoretically possible, but unlikely… then who could have given the mercenaries the location of Ilos?
The Alliance could have. There was evidence of their presence already, and if they wanted to make a grab for the Conduit it was the right timing for it. If the STG fell, they would have the artefact, express their sympathies and make sure any investigation failed. Quietly, of course. If the STG killed the mercenaries then the Alliance would just claim they had no knowledge, scapegoat one of their admirals and that would be the end of it. Sad, but there will be bad eggs in every organization, nothing more to do here.
The problem was, the same scenario worked for just about every group in the galaxy. The Asari could be behind it. The Turians. The Shadow Broker, probably. Another rogue Spectre or a follower of Saren. Even the Dalatrasses could have put this together, to take the Conduit for themselves. Arrana didn't bother pretending that any Dalatrass would hesitate to trade ten STG agents for the Conduit.
Despite it all, the STG captain didn't begrudge them the chance to try for the prize. After all, that was how the game was played. That was why he'd set his men to building fortifications. If he ever let himself be caught with his armour off, he deserved whatever was coming to him.
"Ships look like Blue Suns," the Night Passage reported. "They're headed straight for the planet."
"Stealth protocols engaged?" Arrana asked. He smiled. Let the Hierarchy and the Alliance think they'd mastered the art of stealth spacecraft first. The STG had been using stealth frigates and cruisers for months, almost a year. What was the point of announcing to the galaxy that you had a stealth craft? It didn't make any sense.
"Of course, captain," the operative said, his own voice wreathed in the same smug satisfaction as his superior's. "All contingencies active. Main power offline, shields on standby. We could stay dark for a month."
Arrana, whose real name was not Arrana, tapped his armour VI into that of his ship. A wireframe model of the Night Passage popped up on his HUD, and he examined it to make sure the recruit hadn't messed up the stealth protocols.
Everything looked in order and Arrana was about to dismiss the connection when he noticed a temperature sensor on the outside of the ship generating a reading. Unusual. A spaceship wasn't cold, but space was quite literally absolute zero or very, very close. All the ship's heat containment coils were reading 100% integrity and effectiveness, but that was impossible if the hull was retaining any heat. So either the sensor was malfunctioning or the coils were.
And if the coils were malfunctioning, Arrana realised in horror, then so was the stealth system.
"Mik, check the heat containment coils. Just to make sure." He tried to keep his voice level, passive. Scaring the green operative would only make him rush in haste and haste would cause him to fumble.
"Roger, captain," the ensign called back. Then the Salarian hesitated, and Arrana could see on his wireframe the operative hadn't left the bridge. "Those frigates; they're changing course. Now on an intercept trajectory… strange."
"Evasive manoeuvres!" Arrana barked immediately. With the obedience beaten into him, Mik reacted on instinct. The rookie STG dove for the pilot's station, fumbling with the console. He was still fumbling when two hypersonic rounds blasted through the unshielded craft, tearing great holes in the STG frigate's superstructure. The shock of impact threw the unarmoured Salarian against the roof, stunning him.
Venting atmosphere, any stealth protocol blown to hell, Arrana could only watch through his VI hookup as the two mercenary frigates fired again. Their spinal Mass Accelerator cannons fired, and the Night Passage, his ship and the pride of his career disintegrated into scrap. Even that scrap blazed for a second, burning up in Ilos' atmosphere until not a trace was left.
The officer swore explosively, painting the air blue in an ancient soldiering tradition. He allowed himself to vent for a full fifteen seconds, before turning his attention to his squad and their charges.
"Special Tasks Group. Prepare for combat. Objectives are as follows: Defend the Conduit at all costs. The Night Passage has been sunk with all hands, and we have no orbital or aerial support. The enemy's forces consist of two frigates with a maximum of fifty Blue Suns mercenaries. We will hold until Council reinforcements arrive for exfiltration. All non-combat personnel will remain behind the fortifications and away from combat operations."
He turned to the scientists, to a man pale. Some trembled, their eyes wide with fear. "You will perform logistical duties to support our combat personnel. Questions?"
"What does that mean?" The head researcher asked. For a brief moment, Arrana was glad for the attack if only because it made the stupid woman quiet.
At the same time, he fought off the desire to strangle her for having no knowledge of military operations. He'd be lucky if the researchers didn't get them all killed.
"It means that you will be required to supply food, ammunition, medi-gel and water to my men while they hold the barricade. You will also be required to remove any wounded or dead in order to allow survivors to move freely. Do you understand?"
One of Arrana's men hauled a crate of supplies forth, dropping it before the five researchers. The box was stacked high with explosives, food, water and medi-gel; everything the STG needed to hold against an extended siege.
"Sir." Visda interjected, the pale scientists left to wish they hadn't signed on for this mission. "What's the enemy's ETA?"
"It'll take them an hour or so to move through the tunnels, if they use standard Blue Suns procedure and sweep for traps," Arrana returned smoothly, recalling the mercenary corporation's charter by memory. Classified, of course. "If they choose to rush us, they could be here in ten standard minutes. No point taking chances. Man the barricades."
It took some time for the Blue Suns to filter through the derelict trenches. Visda called first contact a few minutes short of an hour after the mercenary landing. Arrana bared his teeth in anticipation; the bastards had blown up his ship and killed one of his men. Now he'd see how they liked fighting real professionals.
The first mercenary to poke his head around the corner was answered with a sniper round through his eye. Red blood fountained through the shattered helmet, and Arrana smiled as Visda resettled the rifle in firing position. If they wanted the Conduit, they'd have to fight for it. There was no way to get aerial superiority this far into the planet's crust and while the Prothean research base was large and open it was nowhere near enough to bring in a gunship or any kind of heavy vehicle.
Light tanks like an Alliance Mako could work, but the STG had contingencies for that kind of enemy. Still, Arrana doubted the Suns had brought anything like that with them; frigates could only hold so much. If they wanted the manpower to take out Arrana's team, bringing a tank that could be popped by a few heavy weapons was a huge risk. Even the Suns weren't that stupid.
"Numbers?" the captain asked, turning to his sniper.
"Hard to say," Visda replied evenly. She kept her eyes glued to the scope, but now the enemy was aware of her she wasn't being given any more easy kills. "I've only seen a dozen or so, but judging by troop movements I estimate two score. They must have packed like sardines in there."
"How do they plan on moving the Conduit if they could barely fit their men in there?" Another STG operative commented, grunting as his rifle kicked back against his shoulder.
"Two ways," Arrana guessed. "One, they just tow it. If it's made of the same material as the Mass Relays, dealing with atmospheric entry and exit will be no issue."
"And the second?" Driss asked.
The Salarian smirked behind blank eyes. "We kill enough of their men that they have room."
"Better," Visda said, "but still not exactly a good outcome by any definition."
The STG kept firing, snipers taking a toll on the advancing mercenaries. But now that the threat of the snipers is revealed, the suns are playing it safe. Only one in five rounds actually hit something, and most of the hits are in the leg or arm, and soon enough the wound was treated and nullified.
Seconds of quiet combat turned into minutes, punctuated by occasional gunfire, occasional wounds as the STG snipers fired at any exposed mercenary.
Minutes turned to hours and the civilians started to tire. Maintaining a constant state of awareness and focus began to wear on the soldiers, but elite infiltration units were trained for that kind of strain; it was the kind of state that Salarians usually resided in anyway. One of the Asari stopped first, tripping and spilling a canister of water for the soldiers.
It was a tiny mistake, impossibly small in the context of the battle, but it was the start of exhaustion.
The third Asari researcher misheard an order and delivered supplies to the wrong location.
The Salarian researcher brought a replacement sniper rifle to the wrong operative, resulting in an injury.
An Asari went into shock, failing to move the injured Salarian from the barricade.
Visda stopped the mercenary snipers from capitalizing on the lapse with a well-aimed double tap, but her rifle fell to pieces as the heating coils blew out and seared the veteran's armour.
Arrana gritted his teeth, scowling as he fired off a long burst from his assault rifle. The chances of hitting anything at this range were virtually nil, but it vented some of his frustration. He couldn't even blame the researchers, not really. They weren't trained for this kind of work, and even though physically they could handle it the constant gunfire and ever-present risk of death wore their mental fortitude down until they were useless.
All they could do was hold them off until reinforcements arrived.
Five hours since the Suns had arrived in-system, and Arrana was beginning to relax. The nerves of the researchers had settled, and the confirmed kills of the STG team had reached ten. An average of two kills an hour wasn't all that impressive alone, but those ten bodies comprised a quarter of their enemy's combat force. In exchange, Arrana had lost only one of his operatives and suffered wounds in another four. That left him with five uninjured operatives; all but one of his wounded men were still combat-capable. The last, a veteran named Sym, was being treated and the captain was quietly confident he'd be mobile in another hour.
That was disregarding the fact that every second brought his reinforcements one second closer.
The Blue Suns had played every card in their playbook, Arrana thought. Their morale would be low, medi-gel supplies running low with all the minor wounds Arran's snipers had inflicted. Soon they would have no choice but to retreat and withdraw, or stay and be massacred.
For a second he'd toyed with the idea of pursuing them when they retreated, but in the end he'd discarded the idea. Any kind of aggressive action carried risk and the objective was the Conduit. As furious as he felt for the destruction of his ship and the deaths of Mik and Sel, he wouldn't let that goad him into an overextension.
Fet jerked his hand forward, pulling one of the Suns forward, exposing him to the STG snipers. The mercenary dropped immediately, three separate guns combining to blow his head to pieces. Fet's biotic abilities were used sparingly since he was the only biotic on the squad, but despite that he was an essential component in more than half the STG's kills thus far.
With every passing hour the mercenaries grew less and less bold, and the incoming fire against the STG position diminished gradually until it was barely noticeable.
"Your food, captain." The Turian scientist interjected, once more offering a paste the Salarian military called a meal to the officer. This time, though, Arrana took the tube, reluctantly downing the brown goo. Eight hours was a long time for a Salarian not to eat. To abstain any longer would have been an unjustifiable risk.
"You've done well," Arrana replied, feeling like he owed the man some thanks. Alone among the researchers the Turian hadn't dropped the ball once, and he'd even cajoled one of the Asari back to a semi-useful state when she'd almost shut down. Once again, Arrana wished the Dalatrasses would implement mandatory military service. You never knew when a few season's training would be useful.
The researcher took a breath, steadying himself for a question. "I want to man the barricades with your men," he said earnestly. Arrana's brow sprung up so fast he thought it would fly off his face, and he blinked in surprise.
"Explain." Gone was the grateful captain. As much as the Turian might have done time in the military, such experience alone would never prepare a soldier for true battle. Worse, scum like the Suns could sense weakness as often as not and the last thing the STG captain wanted to do was put vulnerability on the wall.
"You men are beginning to tire," the Turian pointed out, and it was true. Salarians needed very little sleep, but that was while they were living normally. Maintaining complete attention and razor-sharp focus for nearly ten hours straight was nothing to scoff at, even for the STG.
The Turian continued. "Also, the wounded operatives won't be able to fight at peak efficiency. And… I want to. I want to fight."
Arrana eyed the Turian as he finished, continuing to gaze for a long second. His decision was already made, but he needed to be sure. "No. I understand your intentions, but I refuse. As you were."
The Turian's fists balled in frustration, and he stalked away. Arrana turned his attention back to the mercenaries; constant vigilance would ensure that they survived the siege.
A loud snap echoed through the air.
Fet collapsed to the ground, his head twisted at an impossible angle.
The Turian researcher snatched up the dead operative's machine pistol as it fell, jamming it into the back of Visda's head, past her shields, and sprayed her brains across the walls.
The STG reacted immediately, any personal feelings overridden by months and years of training. They opened fire at the traitorous Turian, and the supposed researcher leapt away in a diving roll that betrayed his skills. No researcher moved like that, Arrana knew.
But the STG's strength had never been pure combat, and another STG operative died as a grenade tossed in a high arc detonated above his head, the concussive blast knocking him flat as the flames seared his thin armour. Visda's grenades. White-hot rage flooded the STG officer's body, but he refused to give it control. Calm, precise and deadly was the STG, the berserker rages better left to the brutish Krogan.
Arrana levelled his rifle, forcing his hands to be still. He unleashed a burst of fire as the Turian sighted on Driss, tearing the Salarian apart in a hailstorm of bullets. Arrana's rounds should have stitched a line down the Turian's unarmoured back, protected only by a thin lab coat.
How very wrong he was.
The Turian reacted with the hones reflexes of a hunting cat, rolling aside with a fraction of a second to spare. Even as he rolled he reclaimed Driss's pistol and executed one of the STG's wounded, sleeping off the injury.
Arrana heard another of his men curse, forcing the traitor back with a sustained burst of automatic fire. The Turian slid cleanly into the cover provided by a section of the STG's barricade, snapping up to deliver precise single shots that prevented the STG from closing him down.
Blackwatch tactics, Arrana realised as the Turian tossed a second grenade, flushing another of the STG into the open. Of his ten operatives, only four were still alive, three of them wounded before the betrayal by the Blue Suns snipers...
A team of six mercenaries clambered over the unmanned barricade as he looked up, blue armour with an iconic white insignia. In trying to close down the traitor they'd forgotten about the beaten mercenaries, and now they were inside the STG's defensive perimeter. The first gun-for-hire froze for a second at the sight of the Conduit. Arrana's rifle punched through his shields with a three-round burst, the next burst drilling into the Batarian's eyes.
The next wave of Suns didn't hesitate, unleashing a crushing fusillade of lead at the exposed STG, distracted by the bait of the Blackwatch-trained infiltrator. All three of his men died, though they took another eight mercenaries with them.
Utterly alone, Arrana rolled back behind cover, catching his breath and steeling himself for what had to be done. He couldn't allow the Conduit to fall into the hands of lawless pirates, regardless of the cost. He grasped the erasers hanging from his belt, his last resort. He only carried two with him, against more than twenty mercenaries.
Long odds. But odds have never stopped the STG.
He sat still for a moment, the explosives held ready to throw. Did they think he was dead? In all the chaos, confirming kills would have been impossible for any but the most disciplined forces. He raised his head slowly, until he could see over the top of his low cover.
"I'm afraid not," the Turian said, shotgun in his hands. The empty black eye of the barrel seemed like a black hole, drawing him in.
Then there was a flash of light.
Then there was nothing.
The Salarian's body fell bonelessly to the ground, untriggered grenades rolling from limp fingers.
"We missed one?" One of the Suns asked, the human's voice sounding slightly distorted through the concealing helmet.
"Not anymore," the Turian responded, accepting a magnetic weapon harness from the human. Soon the shotgun was holstered properly against the infiltrator's back, a familiar and reassuring weight. Putting the STG out of his mind, the Blue Suns Commander turned to the only ones left in the Conduit's chamber bit his own men.
The three Asari and one Salarian were pale and trembling, hiding among the supply crates to escape the destruction. Non-combatants to the core, they had reacted as all sensible people would when the blood began to fly.
"I have a moderate grounding in element-zero physics," the Turian spoke conversationally. "But you all have far greater understanding than we do. Now," he said, and raised a hand. In response, a dozen guns aligned themselves with the researcher's heads. "Why don't you share your findings?"
For a second, the foursome seemed to struggle with themselves, debating who was to speak. Finally, the Asari who had spoken so much on the STG ship was elected, shoved to the front of the group. She shivered and trembled as she stood, eyes flicking nervously to the guns aimed at her. "If we do, will you let us live?"
"I'm not in the habit of killing for no profit," the Turian responded coolly as his men brought out his armour, customized as befitted the rank of a commander of the Suns.
The Asari looked back at her fellows, a pleading look in her eyes. The rest of the scientists, more at home chasing down coffee than staring down bloodied mercenaries nod in shock, opening their omnitools and transmitting all the data they have.
For a long minute, the Blue Suns leader examines the data, flipping through file after file. "Excellent," he admitted, folding his arms behind his back with military rigidity. The researchers sigh, two Asari exchanging a tired smile.
Twelve guns fired without hesitation, riddling the unprotected civilians with scores of bullets each. The roar of gunfire echoes endlessly through the trenches, the impact of countless bullets keeping the researchers dancing long after their hearts ceased to beat.
For a moment, the Suns watched to see if any of the bodies would rise. He wouldn't put it past the STG to insert another agent among the researchers, much as his organization had done. The cost of getting him onto the mission had been almost prohibitively high, but as always the corruption of the Citadel provided many opportunities. Besides, despite the investment the mission represented, they were being paid a fortune to carry out the mission.
"Sir?" Another mercenary asked, his armour identifying him as a Turian. "What now?"
"Set the demolition charges," the commander responded, surveying the broken bodies of Sur'Kesh's finest. "Blow the roof off."
For a bare second, the commander looked at the late Captain Arrana, STG. It was the closest he'd come to death in a very long time, and a vague emotion stirred in his chest. Regret? Possibly. Even after so many years, there was still something that wanted to fight honestly.
Maris Phyrgius turned his back on the corpse, sightless eyes seeing everything and nothing.
Arrana never saw the roof fall away.
Never saw the Conduit be lifted into the open air.
Never saw the mercenaries pull out, or their ship linger in orbit.
Never saw the cruiser's broadsides turned towards the exposed Prothean bunker.
And then his sightless eyes never saw anything again.
A/N: The promised finish. While I could have finished The Transmigration Effect with the last chapter, I felt like this would be a good 'bridge' chapter of sorts... and it was fun to write :D
But yeah, who took the Conduit? Were the Suns working for someone? Where did they take it? Why? All sorts of fun things~
I hope you all had fun reading this little drabble and I promise you won't have to wait six months for the sequel, haha. The sequel in question will be an original story that covers what Shepard and Parker get up to in the two-year period between the first and second games and how that all pans out. Also featuring the Shadow Broker, more spy stuff and mercenaries!
Again, thanks to everyone reading and a special thank you to everyone who reviewed. You're all amazing people and I'm so appreciative for each and every one of you. Thank you all so much.
As always, the greatest thanks to my now-fiancé, my editor and beta-reader, the extroverted recluse. I couldn't have done it without you! :3
Finally; any questions or comments about this chapter or the story in general, feel free to drop me a line. I'd love to know what you're thinking!