December 8th

11:37 OST

Several things happened very quickly.

First there was shouting coming from inside, soon followed by a loud crash. A heartbeat later Vilnius was shouting over the comm channel. "Everybody get down! I said get down Erikin!" At the same time the opening gunshot was fired, leading to several more. Three people suddenly jumped out of the building through the glassless wall-opening by me. I pulled out my pistol, but they ran without giving me a second glance. Heart hammering in my chest, I peered into the opening. Hyrn was not too far behind, his gun at the ready and omni-tool active, and I assumed Brek took the other opening.

Looking inside, it appeared that the restaurant had erupted into chaos. Some of the patrons had fled, escaping through the front. Others were armed and firing at the guards and other customers, who were shooting back. They were using tables, booths and the counters in the kitchen as cover. Some of the combatants were biotics, and they were indiscriminately throwing furniture at people. I could barely see my teammates hiding behind a table in the back, along with Erikin and his business partner. It appeared that the fight hadn't been started by the lilac asari, as I had originally thought.

Most of the fighters were preoccupied with each other but two people at one of the center tables, a turian and batarian in simple clothes, were aiming at Vilnius and Javern.

Fuck. Okay, don't think, just don't think. Act.

I took in a short, shaky breath, leveled my gun at them, and fired three times. Two of the three shots hit the turian, and he collapsed. A sudden burst of gunfire from the other opening struck the batarian, and he was down too. Of course, this attracted the attention of the other two people by that table that then turned and fired at us. I ducked behind the wall and cast Hyrn a glance. I couldn't be sure, but it looked like he was in the middle of fabricating something. Once the bullets stopped coming I leaned in front of the opening again. The other two at that table were on the floor bleeding, and on the right side of the room I saw someone else on the ground. The six or seven people fighting over there didn't seem to care.

On the left side, however, there was still a guard and the asari waitress whom were turning their attention to the back table. Vilnius was firing at them from behind the table, but unlike the patrons the guard and waitress had shields. Loading up my overload program, I fried the guard's shield with my omni-tool. Vilnius concentrated fire on the guard and landed a few hits, forcing them to drop and take cover.

I was preparing to use the overload program again, but there was a bit of blue in the corner of my eye and suddenly a chair collided into me. For a moment it felt like gravity had no hold on me, but soon reality reasserted itself and I hit the ground hard. The air rushed out of my lungs and it felt like I couldn't breathe.

Holyfuck I was hit with a chair. That was new.

Once I could breathe again, I took stock. My entire torso was in pain, but it didn't feel deep or internal so I was probably okay. My legs weren't hurting all that much, and my helmet protected my head. I felt a little cold, like I was in shock. But all in all, I was pretty well-off for being hit with a chair.

Said chair was still partly on me. I pushed it off, ignoring the protest of my arms-shoulders-everything. Looking around I spotted my gun a few inches away, knocked from my hand in the impact, and snatched it up quickly. I heard someone running toward me and scrambled up into a standing position, fighting the soreness, but when I looked up it was Hyrn coming towards me. He was shaking badly. "A-Are y-you ok-kay?"

I nodded, still breathing heavily. Something that looked suspiciously like a grenade was in Hyrn's hand, but before I could ask I was distracted by a loud crash from inside and Javern cursing over the comm channel. I looked up and watched as Brek get thrown from the front of the building and landed several feet away from us with a heavy thump. For a moment I was considering whether or not to check on him, but in a few seconds he was up on his feet and charging toward the fighting. I followed him and took position by the left opening again.

The guard whose shields I'd dropped was still down, but a salarian and batarian had exited the kitchen with shotguns raised and the waitress was emitting a blueish glow. Javern had somehow ended up separated from Vilnius and Erikin, and was currently closer to the kitchen. The shotgun-wielding chefs were gunning for Vilnius, who was holding his own for the most part, while the asari was attempting to crush Javern with a biotically-held table. The batarian was able to knock the table aside with his biotics and tried to hit her back with a push, but the energy was redirected with a wave of her hand. Gunfire came at her from the opening Brek was by, but she just turned and sent a wave of blue at the spot. I heard a large thump from behind me. Turning back to Javern the waitress threw a chair at him, and this time he barely kept it from hitting him.

It was very obvious who was the more powerful biotic. He needed help. I only needed a half of a second to consider it.

Grimacing slightly, I opened the biotic dampening program, targeted the asari, and activated it. The asari's biotic glow suddenly vanished and she let out a screech of pain while desperately clawing at a spot on her back. Javern wasted no time in throwing her off her feet. She landed a few yards away and laid there, writhing. He then looked up at me with an unreadable expression, but I didn't make eye contact. I was focused on Vilnius, who was still engaging the chefs. My omni-tool was prepared to launch another program in two seconds, and I overloaded one of their shields. That one went down quickly, and with Javern's assistance the other was taken out.

Seeing as the nearest threats were incapacitated, I looked to the right side of the room. There were more than a few dead bodies on the floor now, most of them patrons. Three guards were fighting one last hostile, a krogan, but soon he was dead too. They then turned and aimed their guns at us. I raised my own weapon and I saw Vilnius and Javern do the same, but before any of us could fire a small object was thrown into the room from the front door. The object stuck to the center guard, beeped once, and promptly exploded.

I had instinctively ducked away from the blast, and when I looked up again that whole side of the building was destroyed. The furniture was in pieces, the walls were damaged and the bodies… I didn't look too closely at them. An eerie stillness took over the area and my mind finally caught up to what had happened.

There were a lot of bodies. Some of them I helped kill, one of them I shot personally.

My teammates appeared to be fine and I saw Erikin was unharmed, so I turned away from the opening and took my helmet off, letting it hit the ground. The soreness from the chair made itself known as I leaned against the wall. I blocked it out and just pressed my gloved hands to my face, trying very hard to not throw up. I could feel my hands shaking, but I just pressed harder and forced myself to take several deep breaths.

God, I hate this.

I heard footsteps exiting the restaurant. Mentally counting to three, I pushed the thoughts away and dropped my hands to face the rest of my team. Vilnius motioned for us to cross the now-empty street and gather by an abandoned storefront, which I did after quickly grabbing my helmet. Said turian was uninjured. Javern and Brek looked mostly fine, and Hyrn was okay besides the shudders quietly wracking his small frame. Erikin and his asari business partner were both alive; the turian looked terrified while lilac asari seemed merely relieved.

"Oh Spirits, what was that?! Why were they shooting?!" The light gray turian was gripping and squeezing each of his talons repetitively, likely a nervous tic.

The asari gave him an almost condescending glance. "Calm down, Mr. Erikin. Things like this happen here on a monthly basis." She then made eye contact with Vilnius. "I am, however, thankful for your assistance." She had that inscrutable look on her face that I associated with politicians and CEOs.

My darker-skinned teammate twitched slightly when she spoke to him, and it took a full second for him to respond. "You're welcome, Ms. T'rana."

T'rana gave Vilnius a short nod and then returned her attention to Erikin. "Normally I would suggest that we schedule this meeting for another day, but I suspect you'll want to leave Omega as soon as possible, yes?"

Erikin nodded, eyes still wide.

She sighed and placed a hand over her eyes before speaking again. "Very well. Tell your people at Resovek Mechanical that if they can get shipments here we'll buy them at the requested prices. Good day." With that, T'rana spun around and left.

Vilnius watched her leave before looking at Erikin. "Shall we escort you back to the docking bay?"

"Yes," he nodded, looking relieved, "thank you."

Vilnius ordered us into the formation we were in on the way here and started back towards Gozu District. I put my helmet back on and reconnected to the team comm channel.

"What the hell happened in there?" I asked, keeping my voice low.

Vilnius responded in a similarly quiet tone. "Some of the customers got into an argument, weapons were drawn, and the guards got involved." There was a pause. "I think those first four mistook us for guards. Then, when we took down the guard by the waitress she started throwing furniture at our position. Javern distracted her."

Javern, who was several feet to my left, scoffed. "If by 'distract', you mean 'get thrown across the room and nearly crushed by a table', then yeah. I distracted her."

He sounded bitter about it. I couldn't help but smile. Sure, I saved his ass back there, but the idea of him getting tossed around like a rag doll was surprisingly humorous. It was lucky that my helmet hid my mouth.

Vilnius continued on as though he hadn't been interrupted. "The last three guards likely would have tried to killed us for attacking the rest of the staff had Hyrn not intervened." I saw the turian's head turn to Hyrn, who was up toward the front with him. "That was a good throw."

Hyrn's reply was slow in coming and barely more than a murmur."T-Thank you."

The channel fell silent after that.

I let myself fall a little behind, wanting to be alone for a bit, but something drew my attention. There were a few dots of what appeared to be liquid forming a sparse trail behind our group. It wasn't green or blue, but a very dark red, darker than human blood. And it was fresh.

What the fuck…

After several minutes, I deduced that it was coming from Brek. He appeared to be walking normally, but I saw what I thought could have been a bullet wound on his left leg.

I had become unfortunately familiar with the sensation of being shot over the past few months and I could safely say I wouldn't be walking on a leg with a bullet in it, at least not without medical treatment or extenuating circumstances. And I would have definitely notified someone I was injured. But Brek hadn't said a word.

What the hell is up with this guy?!

I kept walking, lost in thought, and didn't even notice that Javern had matched his pace with mine and was next to me until he made a small noise. I looked up and saw that he'd taken off his helmet to give me a strangely intense look. He seemed to be about to say something, but I cut him off. "Did you know your friend was shot?" It was oddly easier to keep my voice neutral when my face was hidden.

That threw Javern for a loop, and his facial expression changed to something else I didn't recognize. "What?"

I gestured to the blood trail I was still following. "Your friend. He's hurt."

He looked at the blood, Brek and then at me with another odd look. He muttered "No, I didn't," before moving up again and speaking quietly to Brek. The first few sentences traded were too low for me to hear, but I caught a snippet of the conversation.

"-not a problem." Brek sounded just as unemotional as ever.

Javern more than made up for his lack of emotion. "'Not a problem'? Being shot is definitely a problem!"

I decided to focus on walking, trying to ignore the small droplets of maroon on the ground and the conversation that I could barely hear. Fortunately, the trip back to the docking bay was uneventful. Again, people had cast a few calculating glances at our client, but our presence made them reconsider.

Erikin gazed blankly at the somewhat cleaner walls and floors of the bay, seemingly in shock. He had been silent the whole way back and now he just looked lost. Vilnius gently touched his shoulder. "Erikin? Can you handle yourself from here?"

The light gray turian appeared to shake himself out of his daze and look at Vilnius. "Oh, uh, yes, I think so." He paused and looked at each of us. "Thank you, for protecting me. I likely would have died."

Vilnius let his hand drop and shook his head slightly. "There's no need to thank us. We were just doing our duty."

I heard a huff from behind me, but none of us contradicted him. It was what he had been paying us for, after all.

Erikin just nodded absentmindedly. "Yes, well… I'll inform Sergeant Dyric of your performance. He should already have your payment. Farewell."

The turian businessman left without another word. I watched him go before turning to Vilnius. "Why was he here, anyways?"

"Something about shipments of appliances." He started to leave. "Come on, we should report to the sergeant." The rest of us followed him as I thought about what he'd said.

Wait, appliances? Like microwaves and dishwashers? The fuck?! We killed people for refrigerators?! That's just- agh!

The thought was galling, but what was done was done. Not much I could do to change it now.

I tried to convince myself of that fact the entire walk back to the Blue Suns base.

The team standing guard outside completely ignored us as they argued amongst each other, apparently over the attractiveness of one or more asari.

As soon as we walked into the front entrance, the secretary spotted us and waved us over. The drell, who looked distinctly different from Thane or his son and I suspected might be female, addressed Vilnius. "Sergeant Dyric is currently busy, he'll be available in a few minutes." The potentially female drell had a higher-pitched voice, lending credence to my theory.

Her(?) abrupt greeting made Vilnius pause, but he quickly recovered. "Thank you for informing us."

We moved away from the secretary's desk and Javern asked aloud, "How'd he know who we were? There's a ton of people working here."

The answer occurred to me quickly. "Drell have perfect memories. Someone probably sent them our pictures." My explanation resulted in several skeptical looks, and I just shrugged. "I spend a lot of time on the extranet." Now that I thought about it, a drell was an excellent hiring choice for positions like secretary work.

They accepted the rationalization without comment. Vilnius went to one of the chairs and sat down. Hyrn joined him, but Javern and Brek didn't. The brown-skinned batarian mumbled something about going to the med bay and the two entered the hallway that led deeper into the facility. Knowing their reason, I didn't question it and sat down across from my turian teammate. Casting my eyes about for something to occupy my mind with besides my slowly-growing hunger and aching chest, I started looking at the handful of holographic posters on the walls. The one nearest my seat was just a blue background with white lettering that cycled through different languages every few seconds and the Blue Suns logo in the bottom right corner. After watching it for almost a minute it shifted into English.

Power. Respect. Order. Unity. Duty. What are you proud of?

I blinked. Seriously? God, that sounds just like an old Army recruitment poster!

The words morphed into another alien language in a moment, and I looked away. It wasn't much longer until the secretary caught our attention and gestured for us to go through the door. The three of us made our way to the sergeant's office, which was unlocked.

Dyric looked up from his terminal as we entered, and his mandibles lowered. "Where's the rest of your team?"

I spoke up before Vilnius did. "One of them was injured, they went to get it looked at."

"Hmm. Well, I'll just have to see them later." The tan turian leaned back in his chair. "I got a message from your client just a minute ago. He was very complimentary." Green eyes gave each of us a piercing glance. "How about you me what happened?"

This time I stayed quiet, leaving Vilnius to do most of the talking. He knew more about it than I did.

"The client's meeting took place in a restaurant in Tuhi District." He began, stiff as concrete beside me. "Two of us were with him inside, three stood watch outside. The customers at one table began exchanging incendiary comments with those at another, and they drew their weapons. The guards responded with lethal force. The two men inside took precautions to protect the client, but some of the combatants saw those actions as hostile and opened fire. The three outside began counter-offensive measures and together the five of us were able to eliminate all threats to the client. The person the client was meeting with also survived, and their business was concluded. We saw him safely to the docking bay."

Wow he's fond of using precise terms. Probably something taught in the military for debriefings like this. But why did he refer to numbers instead of names? It's simpler… or maybe he wants to present us as a united front, I don't know.

The sergeant nodded slowly. Something in his tone made me nervous. "That matches the report I was given about incident. Now, I need to ask you something." He leaned in and stared hard at us. "Were you aware that Tuhi District is maintained, policed and controlled entirely by Aria T'Loak's forces?"

It felt like someone had thrown a chair at me again. This was not good by any definition of the word. Hyrn squeaked and started shaking his head rapidly. I shook my head too. "No, I swear!" Vilnius was silent.

Sergeant Dyric looked us over, face unreadable. "So, you were unaware that your actions there could have serious repercussions for yourselves and this company?"

Hyrn and I shook our heads again, while Vilnius continued to not respond. He stared at us for several moments until I actually began to sweat.

Then, to my complete surprise, his mandibles twitched in the turian equivalent of a smile. "Relax. I was just messing with you. The restaurant employed their own guards and refused to pay Aria her dues, so she doesn't give a damn what happens to them."

I sagged with relief. Hyrn whimpered slightly and Vilnius' stiff-as-steel posture softened a bit. We all tensed back up again at the sergeant's next words.

"However, you must be aware of things like this in the future. Right now you don't wear the uniform, so your actions can be disavowed. But when you get promoted, you will be representing this company every time you put on the armor. If you destroyed the wrong building or killed the wrong person, you would cause problems for all of us, not just you. So, please, think about where you are and what you're doing next time, okay?" His tone took on an almost teasing note by the end, but it was obvious he was serious about the message.

We all nodded, and Sergeant Dyric seemed satisfied.

"Alright. Here's your payment, don't drink it all in one place. I'm going to go find the rest of your team." He transferred the credits and smiled again. "Maybe I can pull off the same trick twice." He ushered us out of his office, locked the door behind him and headed off towards the med bay, leaving the three of us alone.

I was exhausted and quite hungry, so I said goodbye and headed back to the apartment complex. I checked the time when I was halfway there.

14:37. Feels like it's a lot later. Taren's probably in bed by now.

When I got there, however, he wasn't. He and his friend Reyik were talking to a krogan in dark green armor. I stopped a few feet away to be courteous and jumped a little when someone tapped my shoulder from behind. I managed to successfully resist the urge to react violently and turned around to find Lera waving at me.

"Hey! It's nice to see you!" I went in for a hug, which she returned, and smiled. "Were you waiting for me?"

"Yes. It's good to see you too!" She took half a step back and looked at me. "Why are you in your armor? And when did you get that rifle?" Her posture became concerned. "Were you working just now?"

"Um, yeah, actually. I just finished getting paid." I felt a little sheepish talking to her about this, but I figured she was my friend and it wouldn't do to avoid discussing my job with her.

"Hey, you're back!" Taren appeared to be done talking with the krogan and had left Reyik to handle it. He came over to enter the conversation. "How'd it go?"

"…decently, actually. I got to be a bodyguard for this turian guy. We were paid a thousand credits each."

Lera's luminescent eyes grew wide. "Seriously? That's crazy." She didn't sound angry, which I had been afraid of, but honestly surprised and happy.

"I know! I haven't had money like that since, what, early September? I don't even know what to do with it!"

"Still, that's great." Taren was smiling slightly, but then turned serious. "Did anything happen? You look a bit tired."

I didn't want to worry them, so I skirted the truth a bit. "I'm alright. There was an… incident, but I'm not really hurt." My upper body was still sore, but otherwise that was completely true. "Anyways, I'm really hungry. How about we go out for dinner, my treat?"

Lera didn't look fully convinced, but Taren turned to address Reyik."Do you think you can watch the place for a bit?"

The turian nodded and went back to talking with the krogan, who gave the three of us a funny stare.

I suppose a quarian, a batarian and a human seem like an odd group.

Lera shook her helmeted head slightly as we headed towards the door. "Are there any good restaurants here that serve dextro-amino food? Kima District doesn't have that many."

"Don't worry, I know a place." Taren replied. "They have great dextro noodles."

Going out to dinner with my friends. I might be able to get used to this.


Merry Christmas! Please don't sacrifice me to the Yuletime Gods!

First off, massive thanks to Rob Zeta, Twisted Platypus and TREBOR117. They were all very supportive of me in my time of difficulty. The combat scene was beta'd by Rob, and Trebor has been awesome for bouncing future ideas off of. Each has written an SI story of their own. TREBOR117's "Stuck in a World of Fiction" is very different than "Lost Effect", but is quite excellent in it's own way. Twisted Platypus' "Transmigration Effect" is massively different than any Si fanfic out there and worth a read. And Rob Zeta's "A Hammer to the Skull" is just starting out but has a lot of promise.

The Blue Suns poster mentioned in this chapter is an actual artwork made by DeviantArt member DocShaftoe. I'd recommend dropping by and taking a look for yourself.

Now, to the pleading. Please, please don't hate me! It would take forever to explain exactly what went wrong with this chapter, but if you want an explanation, or just to revel in my suffering, go to my profile page. I've begun putting up progress logs so that you guys can at least have some idea as to when the next chapter will be out. I'll leave my logs for this chapter up for the next few days before erasing it and beginning the log for chapter 21.

And again, I am so sorry.