Powder Keg


The dead end had a sloped roof at a 46° angle, meeting a short rectangular wall at the back. Judging by the color of oxidization, the composition was an iron alloy. Seven large crates were arranged around the area with two stacked off center crosswise in the center, the lower one Enyala had been sitting on. Support pillars lined the edges with three in a straight line down the middle.

[Rebecca] sped up her perception and the sensitivity of her eyes and everything...slowed...down. She could see the minute twitches of the Eclipse reacting to her statement. That one was going to dodge left. Captain Enyala was just as she should be; a dark blue asari with white face paint in short, waving lines radiating out from her eyes and framing her face with a solid stripe on her chin. She was calm, but irritated, dark blue eyes narrowing.

Edeena was hesitating, in the middle of a second step backwards and hands nowhere near her gun.

Nine hostiles, four painted. Enemy possesses light equipment and armor, biotics.

Priority target: Enril.

Starting timer...

As soon as the hacked mechs opened fire, [Rebecca] spun on her heel and lunged. Edeena's lilac eyes went wide as her hand hooked around the asari's neck and ripped her off her feet. She let the merc's weight slam her into the ground and [Rebecca] pushed just enough at the point of impact to cut off her air. The temptation to go further bubbled up from the conscious layer, equal amounts righteous anger and vindictive impulse to press harder and split Edeena's head open on the ground. To squeeze tighter and snap the spine.

The asari's helmet rolled away as her hands scraped, trying to find purchase as she struggled to breathe. The synthetic muscles held fast.

"Stay down."

Edeena nodded very quickly.

If their yellow armor with the black 'E' symbol didn't tell her that these were professional mercenaries, then the way they responded to the mechs firing on them did. The women scattered, a few lighting up blue with biotics as others found cover behind the large crates littering the dead end. Enyala kicked off the ground with a biotic pulse blowing the turian off his feet, skittering [Rebecca]'s gun across the floor and staggering the hacked mechs by her. She flung her hands out, a barrier slamming into existence as she landed on a crate.

[Rebecca] logged the movements of the biotic members.

The weak little guns the skinny GARD mechs were equipped with couldn't penetrate good barriers. Any other VI might have kept firing anyway, satisfied with cover fire and being a distraction.

Veto had one of the mechs throw its overheated gun at a merc hard enough to shatter his faceplate. Another grabbed its victim in a bear hug, and self-destructed.

Seven hostiles.

"I told you to turn off those mechs!" Enril roared from the ground. The turian was crawling along on his stomach behind a pillar.

"Fucker, they were off!" Enyala screamed back as she fired a Warp. Veto literally skipped the mech out of the way. The biotic ball drilled into the ground with a high pitched keening before it dissipated.

Remote activation protocols. Didn't these people know anything about their mechs?

'[Rebecca].' Aegis pinged her. 'Members of the local Eclipse chapter are attempting to gain access.'

Two-pronged approach, she analyzed. Significant personnel investment for one person suggests that they didn't want to take any chances, this was their move right here and right now. Make sure she was occupied, then move in on the secondary prize. It also suggested that they didn't know what she was.

They were going to be so disappointed.

'Keep them out, will you?'

'Acknowledged.'

[Rebecca] rose and casually walked over to her discarded pistol. Some turned to start shooting at her, the bullets scattering off her kinetic barrier as she bent over, picked it up and inspected it for any damage. She could see the mass accelerated bullets, she noted. She shifted slightly and let a few just skim the kinetic field.

"Don't kill her!" Enril whined. "You get nothing if she dies!"

Enyala grunted. "Destroy the damn mechs!"

Then [Rebecca] took a half step turn and opened the connection between her neural network and biotic system.

Enyala had gestured with her arm to Warp, with a slight twisting of the wrist. She pulled up a file on asari physiology and nervous system. If she could mimic the activation of those nerve clusters right there...

Her first Warp was exactly like the proto-blobs of shredding Mass Effect fields she'd been misfiring after making her body. It just kind of fizzled midair, doing nothing but make the organics start in surprise. The second was better, actually making it to the target and driving her back a few steps.

"That all you got!"

[Rebecca] tweaked her approach.

A black ball the size of a bottle cap surrounded by vaguely blue shimmering air popped the barrier like a bubble, goring the Eclipse right through her midsection and bursting out her back in a shower of plastisteel and purple blood as she fell. It continued on, slamming into the wall flinging chips of metal.

"Fuck!" The nearest one exclaimed, scrambling for cover behind a crate. "Fuck!"

Six hostiles.

She was already calculating the trajectories and necessary force to put the rest down.

[Rebecca] leapt for Enyala, flinging out her hand to trigger another Warp. The asari twisted out of the way. The crate under her split open and [Rebecca] could see the tiny grin that flashed across Enyala's face before her barrier violently burst.

Okay, the conscious layer thought as she hurtled through the air in the opposite direction. That wasn't very nice.

She spun, twisting, and managed to turn the out of control tumble into a controlled landing. She whipped out her pistol, firing until it overheated.

Enyala simply reapplied her barrier and laughed as the bullets splatted off it. The little 'whongs' of impacts highlighting her chuckles.

The mechs were overrun with focus fire, putting them down one at a time until there was nothing left but [Rebecca] and Eclipse.

"I don't know what kind of biotic freak you are, but I can tell you don't have a damn clue what you're doing."

The conscious layer was buried, but a whisper of emotion made her grind her teeth.

"You destroyed my toys," Veto's voice suddenly came out over the speakers of everyone's omni-tool and comm. "Rude. But guess what? I found more mechs!" The VI paused. "And a gunship. Was it yours?"

[Rebecca] smiled a vicious, little smile as Enyala's eyes widened.

"And I spy with my little eye...painted targets."

"Shi - "

For the second time, [Rebecca] lunged for Edeena. She flared every nerve in her body when she hit the ground. A thick, translucent barrier snapping into place as the far wall exploded.

Veto fired a missile at the room I'm in, [Rebecca] thought.

She was going to have to have a talk with that VI.

Chunks of metal bounced off sending ripples through her biotics. She could hear Edeena hyperventilating beside her as automatic gunfire split the air. The glowing 'eye' of the gunship was on the other side of the wall in what looked like a garage. It was hovering, bumping the ceiling as it gunned down Eclipse.

Enyala flinched under heavy fire, then vanished in a blue streak out of the room.

Watching the Eclipse captain escape was like watching a stop-motion video detailing the definition of helplessness. Frame after frame cut apart and dissected the formation of the mass effect tunnel and biotic charge, and knowing that she was incapable of reacting in time. [Rebecca]'s fingers curled into a fist as she cut the power to her biotics and amorphous blob of a 'barrier' around them collapsed. She could have at least tried, the conscious layer realized. Even knowing how bad the odds were, she could have tried.

The numbers aren't everything, it said.

The dead end was almost completely trashed. The far wall looked like it had been the victim of a particularly vicious chest burster with the edges stained with carbon scoring. Whatever alloy it was, it was brittle in nature, simply blowing chunks instead of bending leaving a jagged hole. Hundreds of small divots and holes were in the ground, on the pillars, on the walls and ceiling. Deformed slugs scattered on the floor like marbles. The crates were perforated messes. One of the smaller crates had a corner smashed in and was leaking a dark grey odorless gas in the air. Ruins of the mechs, Eclipse bodies bleeding.

The gunship clanked and groaned. The twin barrels twitched around, searching for more targets. Finding none, it settled back down on the ground with a loud clank. [Rebecca] got to her feet as the door of the gunship popped open, and a skinny GARD mech hopped out of the cockpit.

"Not dead, not dead, not dead," Edeena chanted as she reached for her helmet, gagging. "Oh Goddess."

"Veto," [Rebecca] said out loud.

"Yes?" The pilot mech turned to her with its single red eye in the middle of its face. The call was echoed by more, who stepped in from out of sight to cluster around it, staring at her.

[Rebecca] stopped. In the background, the forms of organic bodies were slumped against the wall behind the mechs. She spent a thought cycle pondering the corpses and Veto's restrictions. Priority targets didn't mean exclusive targets. Obvious distinction, she should have thought of that.

Unfortunate.

Of more interest was that Veto learned how to operate a gunship with a hacked mech proxy.

"Good job."

"It occurred to me that I might be able to bypass the defenses of mass effect wielding individuals by using lethal voltages."

"Might work," [Rebecca] allowed.

"I look forward to finding out."

"That – " came a slightly muffled voice. [Rebecca] turned to regard Edeena who was shakily standing up with her helmet on. "That thing is yours?"

"Oh look," Veto said as if just noticing the asari was there. "A test subject!"

The yellow helmet shuffled almost violently back and forth. "No, no, no, nononono."

[Rebecca] picked her way through the room. The gas didn't have a smell but on the tongue it was numbing and the skin of her face prickled with a warm heat as the nanites repaired the damage. The conscious layer still had a few threads whimpering about the Eclipse she had killed with biotics, so she didn't look at the corpse. Instead, she reached around the pillar and hauled Enril up with one hand.

He groaned. Stray shots had pulped his leg and his breathing was ragged but he was alive.

"Who sent you?" [Rebecca] demanded.

The turian's jaw worked as he glanced down at the arm holding him up off the ground. "Someone…offering…money."

She snarled, drawing him away from the pillar to slam him back up against it. She needed more than that! She could drop her identity. She could change her appearance but she couldn't change the peculiarities that set her apart. Usable Prothean technology didn't pop up every day. It was rare. This could ruin everything – She didn't understand the sudden impulse, nanites released to seep through her armor and burrow into the turian's skull and brain. "Who sent you?"

!̨̻̬̖̜̜́́ͅT̛̕͏͓̦̙̙̯͙é̴̴̗͉l̰͈̦̼̼͖l̴̝̖̗̹̘͖ ̵̨̹̤̩͎͍̖̩͞m̛̺̘͓̰̯̘̟e̴̸̖̱̙̹͕͙!̷̘̜͍̞̕

Enril's pupils were dilating. He chuckled which soon turned into gurgles as a dark liquid seeped from between his teeth. He went limp.

Not enough time – inferior technology – the dead tell no tales.

She checked the conscious layer for the origins of that strange thought.

It was quiet.

Not a deniable asset. An expendable asset. Someone didn't want even the slightest link to them left in enemy hands. She'd listened in to Edeena short conversation with Enyala while she'd been pretending to 'catch up.' It was likely no one in Eclipse knew who this guy had worked for.

She dropped him and hunted for the datapad. She broke into it using the nanites to assemble a small transmitter, and then broke it by snapping the pad in half.

Wiped.

The data was erased so thoroughly not even she could pull more than a few corrupted fragments from it.

She turned back to the sole survivor. [Rebecca] smiled. "If she doesn't answer my questions satisfactorily, I'm taking her off your safe list, Veto."

All of the mechs zeroed in on the asari.

"Lie." The VI demanded.

Edeena's lilac eyes widened before she jerkily nodded, refusing to look at the mechs. "Ask anything."

'I continue to hold the ship,' Aegis chimed in through her omni-tool. '[Rebecca] is still processing. I estimate task completion in one minute, twenty seven seconds.'

'Understood,' she replied. The other [Rebecca] waking up in the middle of all of this wasn't ideal, but she'd cope.

"Eddy," she said, purposefully slow and disappointed. "Why?"

The Eclipse considered the question for several long seconds.

"Because I got too used to doing what I was told to." Good answer. There was no shifting of blame in that answer. No appeal to sympathy or downplaying. It was easy to forget Edeena was several hundred years old, but that maturity was showing through now.

The asari shrugged a little. "I didn't get orders until after our first date." Her words sped up. "So I didn't - ! I didn't…" She screwed her eyes shut. "If that helps….at all…"

In spite of herself, the conscious layer's ragged emotions softened.

"You told me to wear my armor and bring a gun." She said. "Just in case."

"Felt bad," Edeena muttered, shuffling around like a kid owning up to stealing cookies. "I don't really…think things through."

"An attack of conscience?" [Rebecca] clarified as she turned towards the exit. She'd kept track of the path down, why didn't the Nos Astra undercity have a map? 'Veto, help me map out alternate paths to the surface.'

'Shall I leave you a trail of bodies?'

'No.'

'Spoilsport.'

"Maybe you should have more of those," she told Edeena as Veto's mechs split off deeper into the garage and climbing through the hole in the wall to navigate. "That's the only reason why you're alive right now."

"S- speaking of?" The asari raised her hand, tracking the mechs with nervous eyes and tapped her helmet. "Enyala is not letting you go."

[Rebecca] sighed. "Figures."

Her omni-tool lit up with an outgoing call.

"Hey, boss!" She chirped, ignoring Edeena's double take. "So I was wondering. How do you feel about Eclipse poaching your new employee?"

For a long moment, the other end of the call was quiet before Aethyta grunted. "What did you do?"

Why was she assuming it was her fault?

"Walked into an ambush," [Rebecca] replied drily. She chose the light tone on purpose. She couldn't sound desperate or overly concerned because she needed to downplay this. Aethyta had literally just thrown her lot in that day. The contract was so new the digital file squeaked. The last thing she wanted was for the asari matriarch to start regretting her decision. The woman would likely see through it anyway, but the attempt couldn't hurt.

"I don't suppose you have maps of Nos Astra's basement?"

"I wish." Aethyta snorted. [Rebecca] was not surprised by that answer. Every city had its bottom feeders and their dwellings, whether it be New York or the Citadel. It just happened that Nos Astra's bottom feeders were a bit more literal. "Where did you enter from?"

[Rebecca] turned to Edeena, eyebrow raised as she held out her omni-tool. The merc got the hint and leaned a bit closer.

"Century plaza, level three tunnel."

Liara's father clucked her tongue once. "Good news, if you haven't figured it out, crowded places are shit for guns and biotics." In her peripheral vision, [Rebecca] could see the last of Veto's mech walk out of sight back down the tunnel to scout the path ahead. "Bad news is that Eclipse knows that area better than you do."

"Don't walk into a kill box?" She guessed.

"Don't walk into a kill box." [Rebecca] brought up the planetary coordinates of the plaza. It wasn't a replacement for a map, but at least she would know she was moving in the right direction. "Don't get cornered. I'll get there as soon as I can."

"Thanks, boss."

"Don't die." Aethyta snorted again, her voice getting a bit quieter and changing in acoustics by what was probably her moving further away from the microphone. "Fucking Illium…"

"Boss?" Edeena asked hesitantly. "You – you got hired?"

"Talk to me again in six months," [Rebecca] said with a small smile. "What was it you said? If I pull it off you'd be too busy kissing the ground I walk on?"

The asari's eyes narrowed. "Maris?"

"I put you down first," [Rebecca] changed the subject. "Everyone saw that. There is a good chance you can go back to Eclipse."

Even through the faceplate, she could see Edeena's troubled expression at that. "I would just get sent after you again."

She gave the dead end they were standing in a pointed look and then met the asari's eyes. "That's not my problem anymore, is it?"

Forget her, pragmatic threads advised the conscious layer. Cut her out and move on.

There was a flush of self-loathing, regret and longing from the 'Rebecca' personality as she turned away and followed Veto into the tunnels.


[Rebecca] tried to keep her head down and blend in as she moved, but there were a few problems with that. One, her hair was a bright color. Nothing said "stealth" and "inconspicuous" like a full head of long, golden hair, and the Phantom armor was a mixed bag. The dark color scheme was a solid contrast, but the armor itself was not particularly eye catching. The Serrice Council logo on it shining like an LED on the collar however was, and the tunnels this far down underneath Nos Astra the varying quality of the armor people wore made her stand out like a sore thumb.

Therefore, it was to absolutely no surprise that [Rebecca] soon heard the Eclipse main channel light up with someone going, "I see her!"

[Rebecca] shifted her eyes around, taking note of the paths and feeding the directions Eclipse were using to Veto. The map in her head took on a bit more definition as what sounded like full squads on Eclipse began to close in on her.

Right. Okay. Retracing her steps back to the plaza was not going to work. On to Plan B.

She took two more steps at her casual pace and then broke into a run.

She could hear her spotter swear, barking out orders that she was heading for the right tunnel - no, left! Left!

[Rebecca] spun, feeling the ball of her foot dig into the ground as she just brushed a rough looking local and took off down the left most path. Her vision shifted, discarding color in favor of greater contrast and depth perception, red lines drawing and redrawing as she calculated paths and actions.

Thick pipes ran along the walls in this part, the clanking and grinding of machinery echoed down from above as a mess of wiring and smaller tubes hung from the ceiling in bundles weaving in and out of the metal. It reminded her of every under-furnished room ever, like maintenance cubby holes or warehouses where you could freely eyeball the electrical system and plumbing. Like the local Home Depot, or that one room in Cloud City where Luke fought Darth Vader.

'You want to continue in this direction,' Veto told her, highlighting a theoretical path on the mental map.

It looked like she was in a video game. Her path was marked by digital breadcrumbs and detailed up to her line of sight in front of her, where the path abruptly became grey fog of 'Dunno. Stuff.' The fog cleared step by step and way off at the corner was the blinking marker of the Century Plaza's planetary longitude and latitude coordinates.

She wanted to keep going straight north.

The path ahead split East and Southwest. East seemed slightly less counterproductive, so she took it.

And ran into a bunch of Eclipse.

Shit shit shit shit, the conscious layer spat.

She slid to the side watching the first mass accelerated bullets just leave the barrels, the rounds splitting the air as they streaked towards where she used to be. She didn't break her stride, stepping up onto the pipes lining the wall for three steps before jumping off with her hand outstretched.

Her combat skills were too unreliable to get into a straight slugging match with mooks in close quarters. Distraction needed. Her vision isolated a thin metal pipe on the ceiling, not particularly strong but well insulated. The insulation was to prevent heat transferal during short transit, meaning the pipe likely contained a coolant. Liquid?

Her fingers closed around it as she snapped her leg forward. Her knee collided with a yellow helmeted head and she could feel the merc's neck lose. The inertia and her weight succumbed to gravity.

The pipe broke with a loud clang.

What splashed out was liquid for a few quick seconds, and then it evaporated into a thick white cloud.

It was just a momentary flinch, a pause as the mercs tried to adjust for having their vision obscured while knowing that she was close.

She just needed that one moment.

Her feet hit the ground just past two mercenaries, and canceled her forward momentum as much as she could by pushing off backwards, throwing everything her synthetic muscles had into a literal elbow jab into the small of the nearest merc's back. Modern armor was built to defend against small grains of metal fired really, really fast.

But force was force.

The scream from the organic as she felt everything under her elbow just give rang out sharply. Her target's legs gave out in a violent twitch.

[Rebecca] let herself fall as reactionary bullets raked the air and cracked off her shields. A red trajectory line was drawn between two mercs as the ground came up to meet her. She dropped her left hand to her pistol and she raised her right, flaring those nerves.

Her Warp obliterated the gun pointing at her and kept going down the arm, shredding flesh and metal and composites. The Eclipse merc wrenched out of the way, a cry of shock and pain escaping them. That simply allowed the small black ball to finish severing their lower arm and rip into another enemy behind them.

One more.

She reached with her pistol, with just the barrel tip breaching the standard kinetic barrier detection perimeter and fired up into the soft unarmored gap underneath the chin. The shield didn't activate. [Rebecca] flipped to her feet as the body hit the ground. The last living mook was clutching their ruin of an arm, unintelligibly sobbing over their channel.

'10/10,' Veto commented. 'Would kill again.'

A mirrored connection with the same identification tags as her own opened up.

[Rebecca]: What the fuck is going on!?

[Rebecca] directed the mobile platform to reach out. The Eclipse's sobbing renewed, loudly as her fingers clamped down on her helmet. She transferred nanites with instructions to stem the bleeding and gently pried the helmet off. The asari underneath was young, in her nineties at most and the fact that she hadn't put up a barrier hinted that she wasn't trained in biotics either. The conscious layer roiled with nausea.

"I'm sorry," [Rebecca] told her as she crushed the helmet between her palms. The comm chatter coming from it cut out. If she didn't succumb to shock, the girl would live. Hopefully the coolant gas wasn't toxic. "Do not move or you risk bleeding out."

Don't get cornered.

[Rebecca] kept moving as she diverted resources to consider her answer to that question. Too many variables. She didn't know what the backup had been processing for the past three hours and seventeen minutes, for starters. Or what conclusions it had come to. The other [Rebecca] would be thinking at far greater speeds than organics, she couldn't ponder for too much longer.

'Someone put a contract out on me.' Short and to the point with the important information out there first. 'I am avoiding capture.'

Inoffensively stated, in case the other [Rebecca]'s fixation on organic life extended that far. And then to distract her from picking that apart, she followed it up with a question.

'Is the ship still secure?'

[Rebecca]: We are approaching escape velocity.

So she was leaving. The conscious layer felt a pang of betrayal as they came out of the tunnel into a wider hub area, multiple branching paths and a handful of locals in gang colors, crappy guns and patched armor loitered in the corners, watching everyone else with beady eyes. She got a few looks of her own, but they all slid off to glance at the tunnel behind her and she knew the sound of her fight had carried.

'Will you tell me where you are going?'

[Rebecca]: Just to orbit. When hacking didn't work, they pulled out a heavy duty plasma cutter. I told Aegis to book it.

Another piece of the puzzle. Eclipse would have delivered the ship to someplace on Illium. No one in their right mind would fly a ship into space with a hull breach. Either her mysterious adversary planned on repairing the air lock once their paws were on the ship, or the ship itself wasn't what they wanted at all. Not the ship, but possibly what was in the ship.

What was on her ship that wasn't part of the ship?

'Good decision. It probably won't be safe to come back down for a while.'

Processing threads ruminated over that enigma as the rest continued attempting to analyze her map. She took the northbound path, only for it to circle around back in on itself around a block of machinery the size of a house. She was back in the hub again. The gang members were still keeping wary eyes on her, a few had their talons and fingers straying to their guns. She briskly stepped forward, picking out another tunnel with the very pragmatic and scientific method known as 'eenie meenie minie mo.'

[Rebecca]: Why are people after you? What did you do?

It wasn't her fau - !

Someone grabbed the back of her collar so she elbowed them in the face. Only the glimpse of grey on white instead of the certain shade of yellow with the black symbol kept her from putting lethal force into the strike. The conscious layer felt vindicated in their choice of eye design. Without the greater peripheral vision, she wouldn't have seen that he wasn't Eclipse until too late.

"My noseth!" The batarian reeled, hands already clapped over his face in a futil attempt to stem the tide of blood.

"Sorry," she shrugged as she shuffled past him. There was a slight, almost obsessive compulsive twitch as she noted that she didn't know his language and had to rely on the translator. "A bit jumpy."

Actually. She was going about this the completely wrong way. Getting back out the same way she came in was ultimately much less important than getting out. She immediately set Veto on the task of comparing the elevation of the tunnels she had already been through. The VI whined a bit. Not about the task but that it was running out of mechs to terrorize Eclipse with.

Enyala had wised up, ordering people to stop engaging the fucking robots. Why get into a firefight when we have grenade launchers, you idiots!

Veto wouldn't be able to run interference for much longer.

"Which tunnel leads to the surface?"

"Thuck you bitch!"

[Rebecca] smiled politely, and knocked the thug's legs out from under him. His forehead made a peculiar hollow thud as it bounced off the groaned. "I wasn't asking you." She activated her omni-tool so gang members in the small hub could clearly see it. "First one to give me an answer gets one thousand creds."

Fingers immediately started pointing.

"Thank you. Everyone gets a grand." She could see who had reacted first by the millisecond, but singling one guy out for monetary rewards in this crowd seemed like a poor idea.

She pointed at the batarian on the ground. "Except him."

She didn't have to go far for the sensors in the soles of her feet to report a slight elevation pattern. There were dips and plateaus but this tunnel was going up. It was like being in a cave system. No maps, no markers but there was that whiff of fresh air and a pinprick of light.

The conscious layer's happiness lasted until they reached more forks in the path.

I should have paid for a guide instead, it stated flatly.

"Block the entrances!" Enyala barked over Eclipse's channel. "Crowd her out!"

Great.

[Rebecca] missed fighting stupid Geth.

She closed her eyes and shut down peripheral systems for a burst of processing power and crunched through her options. The down sides were obvious, there would be a roadblock of mercenaries at the exits and if all exits back to the surface were of similar structure as the one she came in, it was one long stretch where they would be able to see her coming. The lack of horizontal space in the tunnels meant nothing when it was turned into a firing range.

The entrances would be full of civilians and bystanders. For enough money, Eclipse might not care but she definitely did. Assuming the mercenaries didn't make the most of their time by clearing the obstacles out beforehand. See: firing range.

The positives was that it guaranteed Eclipse was spread out and it would be a very public disruption.

Eclipse was a legal entity on Illium as a 'private security organization.' It was even public on the Nos Astra stock exchange. The Blue Suns were also legal, so long as everyone kept their noses clean for the cameras and had the paperwork, Illium tolerated mercenary gangs. However, it wasn't much for public disruptions. The reasoning was simple.

It was bad for business.

Her chances of survival were higher if she stayed in the tunnels. Her chances of escape pointed towards making a break for it.

[Rebecca] opened her eyes.

She needed to learn how to make a biotic barrier she could move in. [Rebecca] cocked her head and weighed the value of keeping all her secrets against not dying again. Aethyta was going to be suspicious as hell, but there was someone who wasn't nearly as jaded. She rifled through addresses on her omni-tool and waited out the tiny dial tone.

"Y-yes? Who is this?"

"Aethyta's new employee," [Rebecca] said, modulating her voice to cut out the acoustics of the tunnel and editing the sound bytes to reduce background noise of liquid rushing through pipes and machine clanking. "Sorry for bothering you like this, Liara."

"O-oh. No, that's alright! What can I do for you?"

"You wouldn't happen to know how to create a barrier would you?" She asked sheepishly as she started walking again. Take that right turn. Enyala continued to bark orders "Mine needs a bit of work."

"What problem do you have with it?" Liara sounded politely curious.

[Rebecca] just picked one of the many problems. "It's…well, it's a bit sticky, if you know what I mean."

"Like you're swimming a bubble?"

That was her barriers in a nutshell. "Yes! I'm trying to refine it, but I don't know…"

The other [Rebecca] came back with an emotion tag on her message reading 'disturbed.'

[Rebecca]: Veto just borrowed Aegis.

What?

'Go this way,' Veto replied soon after, highlighting a path. It would double back a bit but it also promised to come out away from where Eclipse was setting up. 'Analyzing the city from the above and comparing it to our map, I believe you should go this way.'

'Okay…' [Rebecca] answered. She picked up the pace to a slight jog, tentatively flaring her nerves in certain patterns as Liara chatted over the phone. Her first try at a working barrier had the goldfish in a bowl problem again, but when she put less nerves into it, it lessened to the point where she could actually feel the ground. She couldn't pick Liara's brain too much because even she would be able to pick up that something wasn't right.

"You've been a big help, Liara. I can feel the difference already, I – "

Yellow armor, three o'clock.

" – should really get going. Talk to you later?"

"I –I would like that! Good bye."

One of the Eclipse turned. Their gun was hanging low in that bored Stormtrooper stance with both hands on the gun and the barrel pointing down. [Rebecca] put a smile on her lips as she approached. Underneath her skin layer, her nerves trickled the tiniest bit of power to her biotics. Power up, power down, testing, tasting the threshold for what was just enough for a stable effect and what just looked like heat waves wafting off her.

"Haven't see– " The Eclipse cut herself off and took a diagonal step backwards, twisting. A biotic barrier slammed into place around her with the soft pop of displaced air. Her gun twitched up as if going for a headshot, before flinching away. "Target spotted!" She barked as her partner spun around, omni-tool lighting up seconds before they lit up, glowing outlines of fortified kinetic barriers settling over her armor. "D-13!"

[Rebecca] revised her survival estimates. The ship was out of reach for both herself and Eclipse. For her, that just meant not needing to worry about Aegis and the other [Rebecca]. For Eclipse, taking her in alive suddenly became absolutely vital.

"Don't move!"

That was when she noticed something a bit strange. There was an open network connection. Why was there – [Rebecca]'s smile widened as she traced the origin.

Hello, networked pistol.

[Rebecca] raised her eyebrow and took a step. The right Eclipse's finger pulled the trigger reflexively.

Nothing happened.

"Or what?" Her answer came streaking down the tunnel as a blue ball of shredding mass effect fields. Her response was slamming on her biotic system. Warp hit Barrier. Warp lost. She expected it to be like a water balloon hitting a brick wall. Instead, it was more like a water balloon hitting an eldritch abomination.

Her barrier shuddered, ripples spreading across its surface as the Warp impacted, and was swallowed whole. The ripples smoothed, and it was as if the attack had never happened.

The Eclipse member that had fired the Warp took a horrified step backwards, making a little choking sound. The techy one with the additional armor fired wildly into the barrier. Slivers of metal slurped into the blue convex shape with anti-climactic 'plongs' in between the cracks of gunfire. [Rebecca] could see each slug pierce the bubble only to get all their kinetic energy and momentum stripped away, leaving them floating around in the three inches of space between her and the outside world where physics was her bitch.

The tech Eclipse's gun overheated. She didn't even seem to blink, swapping out the pistol for an SMG and kept spitting metal. [Rebecca] decided to keep on walking like this was all going according to plan and didn't give a single fuck. Not about their guns, not about their armor or biotics and certainly not about that small side path directly behind them.

She was cheating, slightly. She still didn't know how to move with a stable barrier active, so she just flickered it on and off as if she was taking snapshots of her body's movement. All she really needed to do was stall, a bit, on moving for a frame in order to block the bullets.

"Or what?" She repeated.

That time they had a better answer.

The tech dropped the SMG and her fingers flew to her omni-tool. A second later, it launched two small darts attached by a filament wire. Her barrier swallowed them, just like it had the other bullets.

Mistake.

The darts burst into electricity.

She couldn't stop it, but she knew what was going to happen as soon as she saw the spidering white hot arcs of energy reach for her. She had a high fault tolerance. Her mobile platform could use the energy. What it didn't have was the means to control it.

The electricity burned through her skin, seeking the path of least resistance as it flooded nerves, scorched her muscles and zapped through the eezo nodules on its way to her solid metal framework. Red covered her HUD view, error reports, corrupted protocols and she was – she was falling. Balance lost, limb movements erratic. Her face was sending incomprehensible feedback as the nanites surged. Her – her barrier! Bullets slammed into the Phantom's kinetic shield.

Three full seconds of reprieve from semi-automatic fire, before it failed.

Fire lanced through her left leg before the nerves cut the pain responses and she continued falling. Three microseconds for repair protocols…done.

[Rebecca] caught her fall with her hands.

Overload. There was something irritatingly ironic about being hit with an Overload.

Overconfident? The conscious layer asked. No, that's not it. Limited capability to account for variables I haven't encountered. I should be better than this.

She played vulnerable, cobbling together response programs and tweaking parameters to make herself gasp in pain. The leg was perfectly functional, but she kept it still as the two Eclipse approached.

"She's down."

[Rebecca] looked up blearily, hissing through her teeth. "Just…walk away. Please."

Calculating diameters of the tunnel, environmental weaponry that she could use and how, determining vectors, force necessary, last diagnostic check run.

The biotic Eclipse chuckled before gesturing. The tech moved in close as she flipped her gun around, handle outward. She jabbed it forward, expecting a neat collision with [Rebecca]'s left temple. She could see it, the approach vector was on target. They were slow, weren't they? Organics could be so very slow.

She reached out. Her fingers slipped underneath the gun and curled around the Eclipse's wrist. She pulled. The merc weighed less than two hundred pounds, her muscles didn't even strain as they rocketed the Eclipse into the wall behind them head first. There was a wet crunch, then a sliding thud. Her partner still had her barrier up.

That didn't matter.

[Rebecca] kicked out. Hitting the barrier with her foot felt like kicking a bean bag. The barrier squished in then rolled along the top of her toes, and caught off guard, the Eclipse's legs rolled with it. The bitch knew how to fall, reacting the second she felt her feet leave the floor. [Rebecca]'s Warp was barely off target thanks to that, just gouging a huge chunk from the barrier and skimming off the top of her armor.

The Eclipse hit the ground, swearing. Her side was exposed. The indigo skin was covered in angry, bleeding welts that looked like they'd been sand blasted.

[Rebecca] lunged forward and helped the merc's head the rest of the way to the ground before she could reapply the barrier. When that didn't do it, she slammed her again, a little harder. This time she went limp.

[Rebecca] sighed.

The conscious layer was already sick and tired of Illium.

She got up and checked her map. D-13, the Eclipse had said. She could hear comm chatter moving people around and marked it on her map. Now that she had a point of reference, the picture began to clear up.

There. She had a few minutes to slip through that hole in their net.

She checked her leg. The breaches in her armor had a crimson film over it and as she watched, the holes were slowly shrinking. Her nanites. She flexed her foot and satisfied enough, slipped down the side path she had spotted earlier.

'Veto, status?'

'Detonating grenades early.' The VI replied. [Rebecca] fed it her observations and the highlighted path changed accordingly. 'Are you coming?'

The path on the map blinked, almost impatiently.

'I'm coming.'

[Rebecca] took off at a full out sprint.

The side path led to some kind of gigantic boiler room, with large round tanks in the four corners that bristled with pipes and wires like porcupines. A small insectoid droid wandered between the tanks tending to the pipes and valves that dripped into the center of the room which dropped off into a pit with no railing blocking it off. [Rebecca] was reasonably sure that violated an OSHA requirement.

Her vision highlighted the metal grate platform on the other side and tunnel entrance.

Two steps.

Calculating trajectory, the conscious layer chimed in. She crouched on the second step and pushed off.

Airborne.

She touched down on the other side and kept going. The small tunnel rejoined the major bypasses and once again she was among people. She could see their faces as she went by: surprise, anxiety, anger as she weaved through them, before kicking in the grate and slipping into another small maintenance duct. Veto diligently updated the map as she went, adjusting the path for new information.

Enyala was blowing up on the channel.

"You had her surrounded! Where the fuck is she?"

Her method wasn't perfect. She ran into dead ends more than once and was forced was retrace her steps or abandon the current path she was on entirely when Eclipse moved in. Enyala kept barking orders, getting angrier and angrier until suddenly, the asari Eclipse captain stopped talking. It was over a minute before she spoke again.

"You're listening in on us, aren't you?" Enyala gave a low chuckle. "Radio silence."

The Eclipse channel went dead.

Oh, that's not good, the conscious layer said.

It wasn't.

Five minutes and forty two seconds later, [Rebecca] found herself doing exactly what Aethyta had warned her not to do.

Getting cornered.

'Veto! Need a little help!'

[Rebecca]'s feet pounded on the ground as her kinetic shield recharged. Eclipse were hot on her tail after spotting her. The bastards had been waiting. Radio silence, her ass. They just switched frequencies and were still coordinating with each other. She was still cycling through the air waves, trying to find it but there were so many…

'You are almost there,' the VI replied. 'I scouted out this area thoroughly earlier.'

[Rebecca] turned the corner and bounced off something large and thick. The wall moved, turning around and she took in its red armor decorated with white skulls on the shoulder pads as it loomed above her, dark eyes rimmed in red. The krogan's lip was curled, large flat molars grinding as it snarled. The shrieks of Vorcha filled the tunnels.

"Oh shit," [Rebecca] said.

'Veto, you led me into a group of Blood Pack.'

'I led Eclipse into the Blood Pack, after some of their mechs scouted out the territory. And might have shot a few Vorcha. Did you know they adapt to damage? My new favorite species.' Veto unhelpfully stated. 'And I also led you into Blood Pack, yes.'

Incidentally inciting a gang war in the surface tunnels of Nos Astra, with her as the squeaky dog toy in the middle. The conscious layer was sincerely regretting not asking Veto for specifics on where, exactly, it had been leading her.

'I don't like this plan,' [Rebecca] broadcasted.

'Really?' Veto asked. 'Because I love this plan. This plan is going places.'


Detective Anaya sighed as she leaned back in her seat. The squad car was rumbling idle, her partner munching on a dextro pastry as they listened to the idle chatter of the police scanner. One car got called over to deal with a wandering naked elcor high as a shuttle on Red Sand, some bar fights, a dead body in the elevator of a hotel with its omni-tool wiped. Illium at its finest.

She took a small, bitter sip of her caf.

"- Central just blew up in a gang fight between Eclipse and Blood Pack. Requesting backup!"

"Uhh." Her partner said, mandibles wide open and crumbs dropping onto his uniform as he stared at the dashboard.

Anaya hastily swallowed, grimacing as her drink burned the back of her throat. "We're going."

"But – "

"Drive!"