Mass Effect Digression

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Kif White
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Mass Effect Digression

Postby Kif White » Sun Jan 04, 2009 1:15 pm

As some of you who frequent here may know, I'm somewhat of a fanboy of the recent BioWare action RPG space opera Mass Effect, and after reading the two official novels and replaying it through again recently, I came up with an idea for a story set in the universe. I know I have many unfinished projects on at the moment, and this could very well join them, but I couldn't resist at least writing the first chapter (or possibly prologue) this evening and posting it at the official ME forums.

So, I thought I might as well give anybody here a chance to read it too. I don't know who else here has played the game yet, but, much like the official novels, one doesn't have to have to be able to read it, since it avoids spoilers and completely ignores the story and characters of the game and only utilises the universe, history and races that BioWare created. I suspect some knowledge would help, but you (hopefully) won't have needed to play the game to appreciate it. It's possible changes will be made, especially if I discover some violation of canon or something. I can only work with what I know, and hopefully those at the offical ME boards will steer me in the right direction if they catch anything that doesn't work.

So, without further rambling, here it is. Not sure if it'll interest anybody, but I thought that I should at least post it here none-the-less. :)


Mass Effect

Written By Kenneth White

Chapter 1

Elli'Neda nar Geddes drifted out of her once peaceful slumber to the sounds of metal scraping against metal and the rhythmic squeaking of greased bearings and wheels. This was perfectly normal to her of course, for even the newest ships of The Migrant Fleet were rarely quiet, and if they were it meant repair crews would either have it rattling and banging again soon or there might be trouble. Still, when one was used to sleeping in a different ship with different sounds, it wasn't hard to be brought out of the land of dreams and into harsh reality once more.

Feeling a slight chill upon her bare arms, Elli tugged at the sheets and blankets to cover herself some more. She pulled a little too hard, expecting some resistance from the bedding, and ending up with far more than she had expected. Turning her head she noticed an empty space beside her. Rolling over and sitting up a little, her eyes moved from the bed to the far wall. It was dark in the sleeping quarters, but starlight from the adequately sized windows nearby bathed the room in a soft cerulean glow that didn't take her sleep infused eyes long to adjust to. A smile came to her Quarian mouth shortly before words left it.

"You're lucky your ship drifts at the edge of the fleet, or you might give some poor elder a fright."

Her playful words were understandable, for the Quarian she regarded was standing before one of the windows without a stitch of clothing upon him. Yalo'Pala nar Lerta stared vacantly out at the endless expanse of space before him, taking it all in. He let out a sigh, Elli's attempt at humour clearly failing to have the attempted impact. If he thought it was funny, whatever part that did was keeping it hidden within. With eyes still fixed on something beyond, he eventually responded.

"How many billions of stars do you think are out there, Elli?"

The blunt and serious nature of his question seemed to catch the female Quarian off-guard, as whatever remained of her already waning smile dissolved into an expression of uneasy puzzlement. She stammered to try and come up with an answer to satisfy Yalo, but he spoke before she could get out anything coherent.

"Billions upon billions of worlds. And that's only what we know. The universe is endless." A pause. "All that out there, and none of it for us. For we are a race forever doomed to fly amongst the stars and not be one with them."

There was a long, awkward silence between them, during which Elli could only be reminded of the fact that this is why she both loved and hated him. He had always been somewhat of a philosopher, often contemplating the universe and life. He had a unique way of looking at things, almost like that of a child, but wrapped in a maturity and wisdom no child could possess. It wasn't uncommon for him to just come up with a seemingly unrelated comment in the middle of any conversation, or even during moments of silence, of depth and insight about the world around them. Sometimes it would be something beautiful and poetic, with a purity and elegance to it, even if the subject was one that few would find any beauty in. However, sometimes it could be grim, cynical and even morbid, and therein lay the problem.

Elli would sometimes worry about Yalo and the fact his mind would sometimes go to such dark places and explore such horrid subjects. His thoughts would drift through ideas and concepts, theories and practices, and she thought if one were to actually experience some of these for real they'd be scarred for life. He could make what many would consider a worst case scenario seem pleasant by comparison to that of his own. These disturbing moments didn't come up often thankfully, but enough to make Elli feel a little scared. Of what she never quite knew. Of him? Of the thoughts themselves? Of the idea that he might be right? Probably all of these to a certain degree, and more.

"Don't think so negatively," Elli stated. "Now is the last time we shall have together for a long time. Try to be happy while we have it."

"That's what makes these moments all the more hard to live," Yalo responded, finally looking over one shoulder to meet Elli's gaze. "These moments may be the last time we have together at all."

Yalo's heart sank as he looked at his loved one. She had joined him aboard the Lerta that evening and they had made love that night for the first time, and likely the last. That very fact was the only reason such a moment of intimacy had even come up, quarians traditionally waiting until their return before copulating. It wouldn't be long until he was off on his pilgrimage and be alone in the galaxy. Away from his people. Away from her. It was a day he was both looking forward to and dreading at the same time. Unlike many others of his species who went out to find something of value out of chance, he had plans he had been formulating for quite some time. He knew what he was bringing back to the fleet. Aside from Elli, it was all he cared about, and he found himself now caught in the abyss between one love and another. But he had decided that despite what his heart might tell him, he had made the right choice in leaving her. He would always love her, and probably find himself regretting his decision in the future, of that he had no doubt. But sometimes one must give up something precious in order to achieve a goal.

His gaze shifted from Elli to an open locker on the wall nearby, in which sat his environmental suit. Staring at his naked reflection in the thick visor, he attuned his senses to the feel of the room around him and breathed in deeply, savouring it. This would be the last time he'd exist as a pure Quarian, for soon he would put on that suit and it would never come off again. Not while he drew breath.

"Don't say that," he heard Elli say from behind him. His last words had left her speechless for a while. "We'll be together once you return to the Migrant Fleet." She paused. "Unless I'm on my pilgrimage at the time."

A smile came to her mouth, the first in a while. "It's a shame we can't go off together."


Yalo's response was sharp and loud, which made Elli jump. He looked angry as he had spun around, but her look of confused fear caused both his features and his voice to soften again soon after. As he spoke, she noted how full of concern and fear his voice was.

"I can't... I can't let that happen. You have to be free of me. My future is my own, and I won't let you follow the path I've set before me. I can't let you. You must remain pure, as you are."

Elli didn't know how to respond to him. He approached her, sitting on the edge of her bed. She pulled the bedding up to her chest, as if to shield herself from him. As he stared at her with loving eyes that didn't seem to match his words, she could only manage to whimper his name quietly.


"Like all of our people, you mustn't be contaminated," he said, placing one three-fingered hand upon her shoulder gently. "You must be safe. You must be clean. You must be untainted. I will only contaminate you."

"I... I don't understand."

Yalo sighed, rising from the bed and returning to his place before the window. Several seconds passed before he said anything else, with only the dulled sounds of chugging and grinding from the engines around them on the filtered air. When he did, there was a weight to his voice unlike Elli had remembered hearing before. His words were no longer poetic and musical, but blunt and serious.

"There's something I need to tell you, Elli. I don't expect we'll see each other again, and I think you need to know some things about what lies ahead for me. That much I owe you at least."

"Don't talk like that," Elli said, fighting back sobs and tears. "Very few quarians lose their lives out there, despite the danger. You'll be fine."

"You don't understand," Yalo went on, her words seeming to have no emotional impact on him. "My journey will be long. Very long. In fact, I don't expect any quarian will have ever, or will ever, embark on a pilgrimage that will span so long a time." He paused. "I have a purpose. It is my destiny. A destiny of success or failure I do not know, but it is my calling, that I do know."

There was another long silent period. Elli was the one to break it.

"I'll wait. However long it takes, I can wait." A pause. "I love you... Yalo'Pala nar Lerta."

"Again, you don't understand. There's more." Another sigh, deeper than the previous ones. "I'm going to... I'm not..."

Yalo trailed off, then muttered a rare quarian curse into his chest. Another loud sigh followed and he started again.

"Our people are going to hate me."

The statement shocked Elli. She wasn't sure whether it was what he said or the fact that he stated it so bluntly that shocked her more. He turned back to face her, a look of seriousness upon every inch of his face.

"I'm going to be branded a traitor. Probably worse. Every quarian will say that I not only turned my back on our people, but betrayed them."

He paused to let it sink in, then turned back to the window again. The words that followed seemed soaked in venom.

"And they would have every right to."

Once again, only the sounds of engines dominated the room for a while. Elli couldn't fathom thoughts, let alone words. When Yalo spoke again it came out in a very casual tone, despite his revelation.

"How many years have we been out here, drifting through the stars on piles of rusting metal, held together by nothing more than trash and luck? We gave the Geth life, and they proceeded to take ours. We've become the joke race of the universe, seen as nothing more than the galaxy's roving mess of vagrant scavengers. If we were nothing we'd be worth more than we are now. But we're not nothing. We're an annoyance. We're a plague."

He turned back to Elli, and she swore she saw half a smirk on his face.

"Do you know why we're who we are? Do you know why we've been doing nothing but drifting the stars aimlessly in this same pathetic cycle for centuries now?"

Elli's answer was nothing more than a whisper, and came as a question itself. She wasn't sure if he was being rhetorical or not, or whether the answer was the one he was looking for if he wasn't.

"The Geth?"

"Wrong," he said matter-of-factly. "The problem is not The Geth. The problem is us. We're the reason we're stuck like this." A pause. "And before you say it, no... the reason is not because we created the geth. That's only the reason we became exiled and lost. That's not the reason we're still exiled and lost."

He turned back to the window, eyes meeting the bright specks once more.

"How many quarians have gone on their pilgrimage and returned over the years? Gone and returned, with a small gift to earn their way into adulthood. Gone, searched and returned with nothing." A pause. "Nothing at all. Just trinkets. Pointless, useless trinkets. Little things that do nothing and serve no purpose and help us in no way at all."

He turned back to Elli, now fully smiling.

"I'm not making the same mistake, Elli. I'm not bringing back nothing. I'm going to make a difference. I'm going to change the quarians forever. We won't be a joke any more."

He turned back to the window, looking at his own visage in the glass rather than what lay beyond. Seeing his own smile seemed to give him confidence and vigour.

"History is going to repeat itself, Elli. And this time for the better."

And as fast as it had come, the smile disappeared. And emotionless grimace adorned his face as he faced Elli once more.

"And they're going to hate me for it. All of them. They're going to detest me."
Last edited by Anonymous on Wed Jan 14, 2009 11:52 am, edited 1 time in total.
- Kenneth White

"Know the conflict within before facing the conflict without."

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Now Playing: Dragon Age Origins: Awakening, Pokemon Heart Gold
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Re: Mass Effect Digression

Postby Kif White » Sun Jan 11, 2009 12:19 pm

I've already got the second part done now. Guess I'm just in the mood to write this kind of story at the moment or something.


Chapter 2

The Lerta had been a lucky find for the quarian fleet just over two decades ago. Originally thought to have been a casualty of the First Contact War between the turians and the humans, the true origin of the mid-sized turian battleship remained unknown to them since it was discovered drifting alone in space. Its engines, weapons and most of its systems had been damaged by artillery from something, but despite this it had been devoid of any bodies. Most quarians had theorized that perhaps turians had come by it later to recover the bodies for burial, simply leaving it drifting given its state. Others didn't believe it, mostly due to the fact that the hull was mostly intact and it had no real structural damage, suggesting that whoever attacked it intended merely to disable it rather than destroy it. There was also the fact that its systems were completely devoid of any logs or other information regarding its purpose. Whatever the truth was, it was an excellent catch for the fleet, described by the quarian who first saw it as, "a shining bird of hope all alone in the void."

Barely any of the mechanical aspects of the ship were original now though. The engines had been so damaged by whatever had hit them that they were at least three quarters spare parts by the time they were functional again, and the weapons had to be completely removed and replaced. It had been a tough job, with most repairs done while the fleet was still on the move between systems, and several major problems along the way, some of which saw the unfortunate death of an engineer or technician. When all was complete though, she had proven to be one of the more reliable ships in the fleet. If one were to observe the fleet, they would probably just think it was a turian ship flying amongst them rather than a salvaged member of the group.

There, on the bridge of the Lerta, stood its captain: Jinn'Pala vas Lerta. Jinn's environmental suit was a plain grey mostly, with black around the neck, elbows and knees, and he stood with a tall, confident stance. It had been mostly quiet aboard the Lerta lately, being that they were between systems at this time, and although that could make things a little tedious for him commanding the bridge while his crew performed autonomous duties around him, usually if it wasn't quiet it wasn't something good. Being a small military vessel, his ship was usually called on to scout out possible concerns and pick off the odd raider either brave or stupid enough to try and pick off a stray ship. Sometimes they'd wait behind nearby asteroids and pounce upon a smaller, unarmed ship, like a lion picking off a young or injured antelope. It wasn't common, as most raiders saw the folly in it, and even those that didn't would rarely succeed. Still, it happened, and if the Lerta was nearby, it would have to deal with it. It was by no means an important or major ship beyond that, and the average quarian on any vessel more than half a dozen ships in either direction from it would likely not even know of its existence beyond it just being another one of the fleet.

At the moment though, Jinn seemed rather impatient. While his crew manned their stations casually, he would pace up and down the narrow bridge, arms clasped behind his back. After he'd done this a few times he'd usually stop, standing tall and protruding his chest in his normal confident stance again, only to let out a sigh that wouldn't even produce a sound through his mask, but would at least cause it to light up for a couple of seconds. After a few more repeats of this sequence, a door from the rear of the section opened, from which stepped a male quarian in a suit of half grey and half a deep purple. None of the bridge crew acknowledged this, but Jinn turned on one foot as soon as he had heard the door, then approached the newcomer.

"I was wondering when you were going to come and see me, Yalo," he said in a voice deeper than that of most quarians.

"I had some things to take care of before I left," Yalo stated rather emotionlessly. "I've got a lot ahead of me, and a lot of loose ends. All must be tied up."

"Of course," Jinn responded in a voice of warmth that allowed Yalo to hear the smile, even if he couldn't see it. "You've got..."

Jinn trailed off as he spoke, cocking his head to one side a little bit. He had noticed something odd about Yalo's helmet.

"You've got a long journey through places that are dangerous and foreign," he continued, "but I'm sure you'll make it back alive and well."

"Alive, maybe," Yalo said plainly. "I'm not so sure about well."

Jinn placed a hand on Yalo's shoulder, shaking his head a little. He was used to his son being a little pessimistic sometimes, so took it in stride. After a few seconds of silence, he raised his head in his son's direction as if to point with it.

"Your helmet looks different. I can't see anything beyond the visor."

Yalo smiled from beneath. Usually when looking at a quarian in their encounter suit you couldn't see much of their face at all, but could at least make out vague details of their eyes and a nose if close enough. In Yalo's case, it was just a void.

"I've had the visor double-glazed, so to speak," he said. "A precaution in case something were to crack it."

"You're not planning on getting into trouble I hope?"

"The greatest gift one can give is not one of wealth, but one of personal volition," Yalo said simply. "I will do what I must to accomplish my task ahead, whether it put me in danger or not."

"Getting into trouble is one thing. Going out of your way to find it is another."

"Trouble is going to be inevitable from this point on. At least if I find it myself, it can't sneak up and surprise me. I can handle myself out there. I've trained for this."

"Just be careful. The universe out there beyond the fleet is unpredictable and treacherous. Don't underestimate it with overconfidence."

"I won't. But I'm not going to let the universe know that."

The two hugged, Jinn saying, "good luck" as they did. When the embrace was done, Jinn added, "and don't forget to see your mother before you leave. She has something for you."

"Very well, Captain," Yalo said with a nod and the quarian equivalent of a salute, and then he turned and left.

"Make me proud," he heard Jinn say just before the doors closed. He paused there for a moment beyond the doors, knowing they'd probably be the last words he'd hear his father say. Only two words came to mind.

"I won't."

Yalo wasn't sure why his father had to remind him to see his mother before he left, seeing as she worked in the very docking bay he'd be leaving from. Probably sentimentality more than anything, though it may have been because she had something for him, and his father may have been giving him a subtle reminder just exactly how forgetful she could be sometimes. But when Yalo found out exactly what the gift was, he was fairly sure it was something his mother wouldn't have forgotten. To forget something like that would be to forget somebody who had been very precious to Yalo, his father and his mother.

"I cannot take this," Yalo said, holding out one hand. "It is too much. You and father should keep it."

"She would want you to have it," his mother insisted. "She would want it to be used by somebody she cared about. Your father and I have no use of it if you do not take it. If not for you, it would have already gone to the trading deck."

Yalo resigned to the logic in his mother's words, taking the omnitool from her and attaching it to his forearm. Activating it, he noted it had a vast array of useful tools and mods most omnitools common to the flotilla did not. Then again, his sister had visited many worlds on her pilgrimage. She had told them stories of her visits to other worlds. And he was sure she had many more to tell, only for the book to be closed too soon. And the most tragic thing wasn't so much that it was closed, but how.

Everybody who knew her had known her most of her life as Linna'Pala nar Lerta. Linna had been such a giving person throughout her life, always going out of her way to help others around her, even at the cost of her own time, resources or welfare. She had been particularly instrumental in raising Yalo in the years before she set off on her pilgrimage, mainly due to the fact that both their parents had other duties that took up a lot of their time, but also because she was very supportive and wanted to help him learn, particularly about the world outside the fleet. Because of this, Yalo had grown very close to Linna, and the two shared a bond he never really experienced with anybody else. They never quarrelled, at least not beyond her scolding him for doing something he shouldn't, and was always there to answer his thousands upon thousands of questions. When the time came for her to journey on her pilgrimage, Yalo felt a great loss even before she had gone. She had assured him he would see her again and that it was a special moment that every quarian had to go through in life.

"It is the ultimate test," she had said to him, standing in the very same docking bay he was in now. "It is the defining moment of a quarian's life. The journey that sees them no longer as an individual speck of dust amongst billions, but instead a defining part of those billions. There is no greater honour than the day you become a more valuable resource to your people than all the ships in the fleet combined." Those were her parting words to him before she disappeared into her shuttle and vanished into the black.

Days passed. Then weeks. Then months. Yalo spent the time studying all he could to try and keep his mind off the fact she wasn't around, only to find himself actually missing her more and becoming increasingly concerned as he read about the possible dangers she could be facing. At the same time though, he knew his pilgrimage would eventually come too, and he knew the best way to avoid these dangers was to learn about them. And if he couldn't avoid them, at least he should be prepared to deal with them. It wasn't long before he stopped worrying so much about her and instead focussed more on making sure his own journey would be as prosperous as possible, and time didn't seem to pass as slowly. And then, before he'd realised how long she'd gone, she had returned.

The next time he met her, she had already presented her gift, and was now known as Linna'Pala vas Rodus. She had apparently met with a lot of resistance and prejudice in her long journey, and even a little violence here and there. Her gift, in the end, had been acquired through good luck, hard work and kindness. A salarian scientist had apparently been very impressed with her technical and mechanical skills and as a result she'd helped him on a major project that she wasn't allowed to talk about. The end result were some blueprints for a more efficient air filtration system that didn't even need top-of-the-line parts to be created or implemented, which was a fine gift for not only the captain of the Rodus, but for the entire fleet.

"You should always bring back something that will help our people," she had told Yalo the night before she had set out. "Never go for the quick or easy gift. The gift should be earnt and truly be something of value. Something special that not just any quarian could get, because you used your talents and gifts to attain it. That way it truly is a gift both from and of you."

Yalo was pleased that she had returned safely, but knew that now she was assigned to the another ship that he wouldn't see much of her. He wasn't aware of how true that would be.

She had been back only three days, assigned as an engineer when it happened. The Rodus had been known to be one of the less mechanically sound vessels of the flotilla, and Yalo had recalled their father commenting rather dryly that he thought she should have gone to a better vessel considering the quality of her gift. She had laughed that off though, telling him that she felt she was of more use on a ship that needed the help rather than one that could be easily maintained. She had apparently made a suggestion to her captain that she start implementing the new air filtration system in the Rodus as soon as possible, but he had apparently declined. Cruel irony struck on that third day, as Linna was working on the ship's current air filtration systems.

Nobody was sure exactly what happened, but evidence suggested that during maintenance on the systems, sudden high pressure caused some critical mechanical faults, and when one of Linna's team tried to release some of it they accidentally caused an explosion that killed all three of the quarians working there. Worse still, while the other two had been killed instantly due to their proximity to the explosion, Linna's death had apparently been far longer.

Shrapnel from the explosion had been propelled straight at her, piercing her environmental suit in several places, including her mask and visor. Those that struck her body wounded her badly, but while the ones that hit her helmet didn't injure her directly, they did serve to completely negate its purpose. It didn't take her long to realise that the pressurised air spewing forth from the broken machinery wasn't clean, not from her expertise, but from its taste. She crawled across the ground towards the half-crippled system, then, using it to pull herself up, managed to reach a valve handwheel. After several awkward turns, the sounds of hissing and screeching were silenced. Dropping to the ground, Linna worked her way along the floor towards the bulkhead door, not only closing it, but also locking it from the inside. Finally, pulling a piece of eight inch shrapnel from her chest, she wrote backwards on the door's window UNCLEAN and then sank to the floor, leaning ungainly against the nearest wall, never to stand again.

Yalo was shocked upon hearing the news. She had survived her pilgrimage, only to be cut down before her time by the inadequacies of her own ship back with the fleet. It gave Yalo a whole new perspective on both loss and mortality. He had always known he was lucky to even exist, given that few quarian families ever had more than one child. He was fortunate enough to have been the result of a time when births had been low recently, so the restriction had been briefly removed. It wasn't until after Linna's death that Yalo had considered that perhaps there was more to it than that. Perhaps his existence wasn't just luck. Perhaps there was a purpose to it. It was then he decided that he needed to focus even more on his pilgrimage and helping his people, just like his sister had wanted to, but no longer could.

If there had been one moment besides her death that had stuck with him more than anything though, it had been a moment they shared the night before she had left on her great journey. She had just been telling him how important the pilgrimage was culturally, and then for no apparent reason turned away to look out a nearby window and he could hear her crying. He had never seen or heard her cry before, she had always been so upbeat and positive, even when things were dire. She always seemed to see the light shining in the dark, and then to see her just cry like that was rather shocking. After a while she gathered herself, then turned back to him.

"Our people are dying, Yalo," she said, and he could hear the pain in her voice. "They're dying a slow and painful death. I know the Admiralty Board and the Conclave and all the others tell us that everything is okay, but... I can tell. I can see it all around us. I hear it as whispers between others. Not directly, but... if you read between the lines, and see what they're sometimes not saying, it becomes clear. We're too few on unstable ground. Or, we would be if we were on ground at all. We're corpses floating in the ebony ocean of space. We just don't know that we're dead yet."

She was silent for a while, then leant forward to place a hand on Yalo's shoulder.

"Unless we do something, Yalo," she stated, her voice gaining some strength once more. "It's up to people like you and me to change our people's future. We need to stop pretending that we'll all be fine drifting through the stars on nothing but our will to survive. We were a strong people, but we've become weak. It's up to us to find that strength again. If you see a way to help our people, and I mean really help them, you should do it."

With a tear in his eye and thoughts of his departed sister, Yalo hugged his mother. He could see his shuttle, the Spero, over her shoulder now. It was a good ship from what he'd seen, and it would have to be, because it would have a long and hard journey ahead of it. The only doubt he had in his mind was with regards to Linna. He didn't care if the Admiralty Board or the Conclave didn't understand what he was going to do. He didn't care if the entire flotilla didn't understand. He didn't even care if his parents didn't understand. But Linna, if she were alive, would she understand? Would she see what he was going to do and see why if she were still amongst them? And, perhaps more importantly, would she forgive him at the end of it all?

I hope that you would, he thought to himself in the final moments of his mother's embrace, because if you didn't understand, I don't think any other quarian would.
- Kenneth White

"Know the conflict within before facing the conflict without."

Now Watching: Babylon 5 - Season 3
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Re: Mass Effect Digression

Postby Kif White » Mon Feb 02, 2009 12:27 pm

Chapter 3

Credits. Credits were the first step.

Quarians had no real need for currency on the flotilla of course, since personal possessions were meaningless beyond how useful they were. Credits still came and went despite this, and in both cases it was usually related to a quarian's pilgrimage. It was a simple cycle whereby credits would often be amongst the gifts given to a leaving quarian to help them survive in a world that revolved around them, and when a quarian returned, they would usually have credits on them that no longer had any place in the Migrant Fleet; often more than they left with if they had a successful pilgrimage. These would then be bartered on one of the trading decks to a parent or close friend of another quarian due to venture out, and thus the cycle would continue. Yalo was no exception, receiving a good amount of the currency from his father and mother amongst his gifts. But he was going to need more credits if his intentions were to be realised. A lot more. Things couldn't be rushed though, and he knew he needed to get a feel for the universe outside the fleet first.

His first stop was a brief one on the uninhabited world of Elysiala in asari space. It was a small, insignificant planet, and that suited Yalo just fine. He simply wanted to land there and experience exactly what it was like to live on such a large, open world free of walls and boundaries, without a living soul for who knew how far. There wasn't much to Elysiala beyond mountains, hills, plains and rock, but Yalo found the sheer size and scope of it all to be fascinating. It was all natural, no metal, plastic or synthetic materials anywhere. The first thing he had done when leaving his vessel was to kneel upon the ground and simply run his hand across it. His environmental suit separated him from actually touching it physically, but he swore he could almost actually feel the earth and sand running between his fingers. He marvelled as time had true meaning; observing the sun's disappearance beyond the horizon only for it to emerge again hours later on the opposite side. To watch it plunge everything into darkness, then bathe everything in saffron brightness once more, painting all around him in different hues between was a true experience for him. Despite the beauty and wonder of it all, he couldn't help but feel a little bitter at the same time though.

It's all such a waste, he thought to himself. This is but one world out here not even being utilised by anybody. I have no doubt there are millions more like it.

Yalo, of course, realised that not every world was habitable by the races out here. There would be little point in the asari or anybody else inhabiting a barren world whose temperature was too high, gravity was just as bad and with an atmosphere that would need environmental suits to even breathe. That didn't stop it feeling like a mistake to him though.

After leaving Elysiala, it didn't take Yalo long to discover that the quickest and easiest profession to gain credits in was that of a mercenary. Easy not so far as performing the job, but instead regarding how little effort was needed to actually attain it. Becoming a merc was a simple choice, and from there basically meant taking jobs as you came across them. You usually wouldn't have a fixed boss, could choose what and what you didn't want to take on, and would often get paid a modest amount to simply travel somewhere and talk to somebody or give them something. The only thing that really deterred him with the profession was a single rule.

The gift must not be gained by harming another, Yalo's mind pondered. Quarian or not.

The whole thing was a bit of a grey area though. There was a difference, after all, between intentionally harming another out of choice and, for example, killing somebody in self-defence. If you were shot at or attacked then it was only logical to defend yourself, and if that meant harming or even killing another, then so be it. But it couldn't be a premeditated action. That basically meant assassination, kidnapping or any other missions that were specifically of a violent nature were out of the question for Yalo. In fact, if one were to look at the average mission a merc would undertake, Yalo wouldn't have many options left. Thankfully things were never so black and white, and while Yalo was perfectly aware of the nature of choices and consequences, he was also aware of the unforseen with regards to them. He knew that while one could argue that by negotiating a weapons shipment or delivering a mysterious package for parties known for having little regard for ethics could be considered as taking part in something that would likely lead to the harm of another, one can never know the outcome of any action. After all, one could easily perform a seemingly innocent action with no knowledge of the negative impact it may have later.

He knew such thinking was kind of a cop out, and really just an excuse to prevent all the options being taken from him. But in a universe where almost every business is seen to be run by corrupt criminals anyway, one could hardly be too judgemental. One could even wonder who is worse: the criminal who openly admits it, or the one that hides behind doctored paperwork, bribes and mysteriously anonymous investors and clients. He couldn't help but think of the irony that his people were often thought of as thieves and criminals by these races. Yalo knew his options were few, but he figured that as long as he avoided the worst of it he would be okay. But then, when it came down to the end of it all, would it really matter? Thinking about his future, he couldn't help but be reminded of a krogan saying he'd read about that roughly translated to, "the path to success is a trail of blood that only gets longer the further you travel."

Despite his concerns, he was surprised to discover the amount of mostly passive missions he was offered. Bars, clubs and other highly social locations were the best place to find jobs, and he even managed to impress a volus barkeep enough to give him two additional delivery jobs after a successful negotiation with a turian mercenary involving some questionable weapon mods. For just over a Galactic Standard month, Yalo managed to earn a more than decent amount of credits for various species on various worlds just doing deliveries, negotiations and guard duties, with only one of them going sour when some salarian mercenaries decided they'd rather just take the weapons than pay for them. Along with the two turians and one human merc supporting him, Yalo helped things go in their favour in that instance though.

A decent amount of credits wasn't enough, Yalo knowing full well that he had to get a lot more and the faster the better. So when a bulletin came through of the kidnapping of an esteemed salarian scientist by a group of krogan, the quarian knew this was a chance at getting exactly that. Best of all, it was pretty much a humanitarian mission and thus far more morally sound than most of the other jobs he had taken. A good reward was on offer, with certain wealthy parties of the council races adding to the pool to bring it to half a million credits, and that was just for locating the scientist, not necessarily bringing him back. With the reward public though, Yalo would need to use all his cunning to beat others to the punch, especially given they were more used to this galaxy than he was. Looking at the security footage of the kidnapping that bad been made public, he had a pretty good idea what lead to follow first.

"Terrible the way things are going lately," the volus barkeep standing across from Yalo sighed. "Hopefully the reward will offer enough incentive to get the doctor back, safe and sound."

Yalo had been sitting at the bar, despite not being able to drink anything on offer. He was simply cleaning and maintaining his weapon for the moment; a Stinger pistol made by Devlon Industries. Normally individuals weren't permitted to have weapons in the establishment, but Yalo had made the place a regular port of call over the last month, so the rotund owner, Talan Jol, had come to trust him. The quarian had made it almost a home away from home, preferring to stay the night there whenever he arrived on Tieronus. Not only was the place a good source of information from all over the galaxy, but the constant noise of bustling customers made him feel more at home than sitting alone in a small shuttle did. He could sleep easier in the room he regularly rented from Talan than on his ship; the dulled sounds of patrons though the floor beneath him almost mimicking those surrounding his room aboard the Lerta.

"I need to find out more," Yalo stated, closing his weapon and clipping it to his thigh. "There has to be a place I can go to get more information."

"Aside from the place he was taken from, The Citadel itself would likely have information about it," Talan said, hissing every so often as he inhaled some ammonia. "Unfortunate that it's off-limits to simple travellers for the moment."

Yalo sighed. An unfortunate side effect of the rumoured geth attack upon the galaxy's heart. Yalo had no idea that the geth had ventured beyond the Veil when he had left the fleet. He had heard rumours of them present in the Attican Traverse from various reports, but much was supposition and he wasn't sure what was rumour and what was fact. The presence of the geth was something that intrigued Yalo to no end, and he'd be lying if he didn't admit some curiosity in wanting to discover why they were possibly back in Citadel Space after such a long time. But before he could do much to act, there was news that The Citadel had been attacked and that the geth responsible had all been destroyed, though details of exactly what happened and how were vague and mostly supposition, at least to the public. Whatever the story was, and despite Yalo's curiosity, the geth weren't part of his plans. If their apparent presence and attack meant anything it was that he had to work faster than he initially thought. Perhaps they were a sign that he was not only on borrowed time, but that the debt collectors were already getting impatient.

"I wish I'd done more research on the krogan," Yalo muttered, his fingers drumming upon the bar top. "I focussed too much on the asari, turians, humans and salarians. Can you replay the video for me, Talan?"

The volus nodded, turning around to wave his stubby fingers across the holographic interface. Yalo watched, then snapped the word "hold" just as the assailants appeared on the screen. He pointed at them.

"Am I right in saying that it's unusual for so many krogan to be working together like that?"

Talan wheezed in another breath, turning his head to one side as he regarded the scene before him. Making a thoughtful noise, he then turned back to Yalo.

"I suppose, Fleet-clan," the volus answered. "Krogan aren't common as a general rule, and generally prefer to work alone in my experience." A pause. "But then, what krogan there are do tend to be mercs, so the chances of them working together in circumstances such as that are higher than normal." Another pause. "It's hard to say."

"I haven't seen many krogan since I left the fleet," Yalo said, one finger tapping his mask at the cheek. "Certainly not three working together. Sometimes with a turian, or salarian, or human, or batarian. Even an asari in a couple of cases. But not three together like that."

After a few seconds of silent thought, Yalo stood up and activated his omni-tool, his fingers dancing upon it to omit various bleeps and boops.

"Thanks for the room, I've transferred the credits for the last two nights. I might be back in a few days."

"You are most welcome, Fleet-clan," Talan nodded. "Might I enquire as to your destination?"

"To the home of those who keep the peace in this galaxy," Yalo answered before leaving the volus' sight.

Yalo wasn't sure if Palaven held the answers to his questions, but it seemed the most likely place to look first. The turians were basically the law of the galaxy to the salarian's brains and the asari's diplomacy, so if anywhere beyond The Citadel was to have records of criminal activities that affected all the council races, it was going to be the turian homeworld. If not, he at least might be able to get something to eat there besides the rather bland paste he'd been subjected to over the past month. Yalo liked to at least make sure a journey wasn't going to be a waste of time and effort, even if it meant coming up with a rather weak excuse to justify it.

"Unidentified ship," a raspy voice rang through his communications before even entering the planet's atmosphere, "This is Palaven Security Control. Please state your craft's registration and designation, as well as the purpose of your visit."

It suddenly occurred to him that he was piloting a modified turian shuttle right into the turian homeworld. He cursed behind his visor, not so much at the situation as his own lack of forethought given the circumstances.

"I am Yalo'Pala nar Lerta of the quarian vessel Spero. It is without registration."

Yalo paused, just in case that was going to be a problem. If it was, the turian voice at the other end wasn't letting him know.

"I request permission to land for the purposes of investigation regarding the recent geth activities in council space. I am hoping any information regarding the geth may serve as a gift for my people."

There was a moment of silence, aside from what Yalo thought was some whispers or far off talking. He couldn't make out whatever was being said though.

"You are aware that a lot of the information you may seek is classified and confidential?" the turian voice eventually said.


Another short, quiet period followed, and then the instructions of, "coordinates are being relayed to your vessel now. Any deviation from these will be regarded as a hostile action and will be responded to by turian security forces as such. Understood?"

"Acknowledged," Yalo said, inputting the relayed information directly to his autopilot.

The sight of Palaven was quite breathtaking once Yalo's shuttle had penetrated the thick layers of white haze. A large, coastal city of obvious turian architecture spread out beneath him; an ocean on one side and what looked like vegetation on the other. As his craft descended, Yalo could make out that the vegetation was in fact a collection of rather hardy examples of flora that appeared to be covered with a natural metallic skin. This was no doubt due to the high levels of radiation and heat possessed by the turian homeworld, which was also responsible for the rugged nature of the turians themselves. He didn't get to study them closely for much longer as his shuttle dived into a raised docking platform and touched down. It was no surprise to Yalo that upon exiting he was greeted by two armed guards. With them was a third, unarmed turian, likely the one in charge judging from his clothing and the fact he stood between and a few steps ahead of the others.

"Welcome to Palaven, quarian," the dominant turian stated. "The first thing I'm going to have to ask you to do is turn in any weapons, omni-tools or other items indicated on this list to security before entering."

Yalo was handed a datapad, which he read over carefully, scrolling with his thumb whenever he needed to. The list was surprisingly long, but aside from his pistol, omni-tool and some weapon mods, Yalo had nothing on him that was listed. He unclipped his pistol, retrieved his mods and handed them to the turian officer. He kept his omni-tool where it was however.

"I'll require this to download the appropriate data, if you don't mind," he told the officer. The turian's mandibles visibly jerked down at this comment.

"I'm afraid we can't let anybody without official clearance near any electronic security equipment or terminals with an omni-tool, especially a quarian. No offence, but your race are known for their talents with machines and electronic devices. If you have any OSD's you're free to use those to download any relevant data. This is all, of course, assuming you pass all our checks and are allowed access to any information at all. Even then, a security officer will be present at all times."

Yalo relented, removing the omni-tool from his forearm and handing it over. The turian's gaze moved beyond Yalo to the shuttle behind him. "I notice your unregistered ship is a turian shuttle. I would be lying if I say that didn't intrigue me somewhat."

"Usually when we purchase a ship from somebody for the fleet, the registration has been removed or has expired," Yalo answered.

"That isn't the part that interests me," the turian said, snapping just a little to indicate that he realised Yalo knew that. "It's not a common turian shuttle, quarian. These models were specifically designed for turian military vessels. Vessels that the turian government would never sell to anybody."

"Really?" Yalo said, followed by a small chuckle. "I suppose that explains what it was doing inside the turian battleship the fleet has then."

The turian's eyes widened, then narrowed again shortly after. Once again, his mandibles flicked downward. "And how, exactly, did the quarians get a turian battleship?"

"I believe it was found drifting in space," Yalo stated, shrugging. "Though I can't be sure. I wasn't there when they acquired it."

"I thought you said it had been sold to you by somebody?"

"I never made such a claim. I merely stated that when we do purchase ships, the registration is usually not part of them. In the event that we find ships that are registered, we remove them ourselves. It's kind of a symbolic thing. Once the registration is removed, the ship is officially part of the fleet and no longer belongs to outsiders."

A growl emitted from deep in the turian's throat, his head sagging slightly as if his neck had briefly lost the ability to hold it up. He then looked up at Yalo sideways with one eye.

"You're not exactly doing much to increase the chances of being allowed to enter this place, let alone access security data related to the geth."

"I don't see why not," Yalo said. "I've cooperated completely so far and answered all your questions."

"Then answer this one, quarian," the turian said. "What is the name of the ship that your shuttle complements?"

"Why do you want to know? Do the turians plan on taking it back?"

"There would be little point. Aside from the fact that your people have no doubt modified it greatly, from your shuttle's design I can tell that it would be an older ship, and thus obsolete. We would have no need of it now, and any damage that could be done with the ship in your possession no doubt already would have been by now. There are, however, a few missing ships from around the time of the Relay Three Fourteen Incident, and the turian government would be interested in discovering their whereabouts."

"Then how about we strike a deal then?" Yalo put forth. "Give me access to the files I require and I'll give you the name of the ship."

"I'll still have to perform some checks and will need more questions answered from you before I can permit you passage. If you check out okay, I think that such a deal will be acceptable."

"Agreed," Yalo smiled from beneath his mask. Clearly this turian had no idea about quarian naming conventions, or at least hadn't thought to put two and two together.

The questions were fairly straightforward and caused Yalo no further issues with security. Though it took a while for the turians to get back to him with regards to their "checks" as they put it, Yalo was told he was free to access the information via a terminal in the security station itself. The guard who escorted him there informed him that it had a VI interface if he so wished to use it, but also provided simple text-based reports and databases. Before Yalo was actually allowed to use the terminal, the turian with him accessed it with a voice-activated security password and set the level of security and access restrictions on the terminal. From what he said, Yalo had been given a mid-level clearance; one probably not available to civilians, but for most low-level security officers and above he guessed. This access was however limited to only information pertaining to the geth and any recent activities in Citadel Space that referenced their recent visit directly. This was hardly surprising, and Yalo was a patient man. He knew that both patience and opportunity were going to see him through his mission, and this was just going to be another case of that. As he slipped in an OSD, he just hoped there was enough information on the geth to allow for his patience. Most quarians would simply be happy with this information as a gift, he thought to himself as he browsed the information, thinking of both those on their pilgrimages and to any recipients of the information.

As Yalo had feared, the information wasn't in great supply, and he realised that going though it all would only take a few hours at the most, and simply downloading it all if he so chose wouldn't take long either. From what he could gather this was a result from both a lack of information and a lack of sufficient security clearance given to him. Some documents had information there, except that it was hidden from him. After just over an hour of this, Yalo's eyes moved to the guard standing a good dozen or more feet away from him near the doorway. The dark-skinned turian wasn't paying particular attention to Yalo beyond making sure he didn't try to leave the room without escort or tried anything such as damaging or hacking the equipment. The room itself was a small, angular one with the terminal in the centre and plain white walls all around forming an octagonal shape.

"Are you sure you can't give me a slightly higher security clearance?" Yalo asked the guard. "With my information limited to the geth what harm can I do?"

"Sorry, but that's what I was told yo give you. You're lucky to get that, given some of the things that happened. All the council species' leaders and politicians would rather not reveal certain details from what I've heard."


"I don't know," the turian shrugged. "Just rumours probably. Something about the attack on The Citadel being the fault of the council somehow. That they didn't act when they should have or something. A lot of people think they should have taken more action against the geth sooner. But, hey, that's politics. A politician could have a pissed-off krogan charging towards him and instead of running away or shooting back he'll think about all the ways he can somehow get ahead of his rivals or look good from the situation. Of course, there's the fact that that krogan will be on him within ten seconds, but will he take that into consideration?"

Yalo returned to his searching, which at this point was still for the sake of appearances. That was at least until he came across something amongst the information that may just link into his real investigation. Of course, as soon as he tried to deviate off the narrow path afforded to him via an imbedded link, access was denied.

"Is it possible that I could at least have an extension on the material I am allowed to access?" he asked the guard. "There's some information I can't access that doesn't relate directly to the geth, but does relate in a circuitous manner."

Yalo pointed at the screen and stared at the turian, who simply groaned and approached with reluctant plodding. Leaning forward to see what Yalo was talking about he made a reluctant noise in the depths of his throat, then what started as a slight wavering of his head became a definite shake of it.

"Sorry, can't help you."

Yalo sighed at this, shaking his head also. "I was hoping you weren't going to say that."

The turian felt a small prick in the side of his left hand, pulling it away suddenly as he did. He didn't have time to notice the small syringe-like vial in Yalo's right hand, only managing to utter, "what the..." as he looked briefly at his own hand and then slumped to the ground awkwardly, his eyes rolling back into his head. Yalo looked down at him and shook his head again.

Funny how something one species would eat on a daily basis can cause another to collapse into a jellied lump, he thought, twisting the end of the vial to retract the small needle back inside. Then again, it would do pretty much the same to me too.

The turian would be fine, assuming the human who had sold it to him was telling the truth that is. Standing up, Yalo reached around into one of the pouches hanging around his waist at the back and took out his omni-tool. His real omni-tool. He had known full well that the turians would probably take it off him, so had counted on them not expecting him to have a second one, though keeping it in a shielded pouch helped too. Activating it, he attempted to hack into the terminal. Turian security was tight, and it was going to take him some time to get into the system, especially if he was to avoid detection. Thanks to his skill, and he had to admit even more so Linna's well-equipped omni-tool, he managed to get access to the files he had wanted to. As he had suspected, the incident with salarian doctor was not an isolated incident. More scientists had been kidnapped, most of them salarian, and also by krogan. With a little more digging, Yalo found what he believed was his next lead, so slipped in his OSC to download the required data while he reversed the security clearance back to what he had been given by the turians.

Hiding his omni-tool once more, he produced a second vial from another pouch, exposed a needle from it with a twist, and stuck the tip into the side of the unconscious guard's neck. The turian jerked a bit, as if having a seizure, then stiffened up a bit. His glazed, featureless eyes rolled back down to reveal his pupils and irises, and a spluttering sound emitted from his mouth. The spluttering became coughing, and he sat upright and gained sudden control of his limbs. Coughing even deeper, he rolled over, now down on all fours like a varren. After just over ten seconds of increasingly violent retching, hacking and heaving, putrid yellow liquid splattered upon the floor from his jaws in a jerking surge, followed by another two helpings. The turian then just knelt there, his whole body pulsing as he breathed heavily. Yalo tapped him on the back, squatting beside him.

"Are you all right, officer?" he said, trying as best to keep his voice from revealing the smile he bore.

"I... I think so," the turian said, then spat out some remnants of vomit. "What... what happened?"

Yalo's smile grew. The human had also been right about the mild memory loss, not dissimilar to that of extreme intoxication in many species.

"I don't know. You simply... collapsed while I was asking you about these files. Perhaps you ate something today that didn't agree with you? In either case, perhaps you should see a medical professional."

"That's probably what I get for eating at a place that also serves asari and human food," the guard grumbled. "Urgh... look at this mess! I'm afraid you'll have to leave so we can get this place cleaned up. I'm sure we can find you another security officer and another terminal though."

"No need," Yalo said, ejecting his OSD from the station. "I have enough information I think. More would have been nice, but it should suffice. Thank you, officer. I can be on my way, and you can go and see a doctor about, well... you know."

"Sure. Good luck with that," the guard said, his breathing steady once again. "I'll get somebody to take you back to your shuttle." There was a pause. "Oh, yeah... before that, we'd like to know the name of your ship. You know, the turian one your people have."

"Your chief of security already has it," Yalo smiled. "Just look at the first field on that nice little form I had to fill in. It's the last word."
- Kenneth White

"Know the conflict within before facing the conflict without."

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Kif White
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Re: Mass Effect Digression

Postby Kif White » Tue Feb 17, 2009 3:27 am

Chapter 4

Skittering around a corner and into an alleyway, Kriost Palmera was one salarian who'd definitely had better days. Despite maintaining a fast pace as he tore through the narrow passage, he favoured one leg, dropping down a little whenever his right foot made contact with the ground. His left arm appeared limp, though there were no signs of injury to it beyond that and he kept his right arm pumping as he ran rather than use it to support the other. There was a small, but deep looking, gash above his left eye, and while the eye itself appear undamaged, he kept winking it furiously; most likely to disperse the seeping blood that trickled from above. His breathing was fast and loud, and when he didn't breathe we would swallow deeply. He took a couple of glances behind him, then leapt over a pair of crates at the end of the alley.

"Must..." A deep breath. "Must find... a ship." A swallow. "Mustgetoutofhere! Have... to leave. Notsafe, not... safe." Another deep breath. "Musttellthem! Must... expose!" Another swallow. "Need a ship. Need... to tell them! The Council... the Councilmustknow!"

Palmera was now dashing across a wide street, making his way for another alley directly ahead. The place seemed deserted, and without more than the sound of reddish brown dust being blown across the rough road along with assorted other less natural debris. That was until the loud thud of something hitting a stack of plastic containers and crates along with a deep, throaty growl. The salarian's panting and swallowing stopped with a gasp, and his head wasn't even halfway facing the source of the commotion before he felt a jolt of pain sear up his entire right side.

Elkoss Combine assault rifles weren't known for being the best option on the market, but when the intended target isn't far away and lacks biotic shields or any form of armour, the Avenger was more than enough to do the job. The first three shots had sent fountains of dust into the air before the rest penetrated the salarian's clothes, skin and muscle tissue, starting at the right foot and trailing up the leg, torso and shoulder. Only the stumble caused by the early hits saved his head from being struck, and with both arms now out of commission, that was the first thing to hit the ground again. His world was nothing but pain and the taste of dust and his own blood for the next few moments. He coughed up a few mixtures of both, and only once he'd finished could he hear the dull, rhythmic thuds of heavy footsteps getting louder and louder. Something blocked the already dust-muted sun above him for a brief moment, and then he was roughly flipped onto his back. Flicking his eyes rapidly to expel the grit and grime, the large silhouette looming above him spoke in a voice of snarl and thunder.

"Did you really think you were going to make it off here alive, Doctor Palmera?"

The salarian coughed again, blood running down his chin. He was of darker complexion than most salarians, with a deep brown, almost ebony head, save for a dark mottled blue upon his chin that appeared to trail down his throat beneath the collar. His assailant came into focus, his dark blue armour standing out in a world of mostly autumn colours. Unlike the salarian's smooth skin, his was rough and jagged, mostly blue like his armour, except for his pale yellow mouth and neck. He was built like a tank and suited battle and combat, unlike his unfortunate victim.

"No... I didn't, krogan," Palmera wheezed. "But... I had... to try." Somehow the salarian managed a smile. "It... only takes... one... of us... to escape."

"Not gonna happen," the krogan growled. "We're not in Citadel space. It's everyone for themselves out here." A pause. "Even if one of you does, no way anybody'll help you without pay."

"They would... if they knew... the truth!"

The krogan laughed loudly, clearly not caring if anybody in the vicinity could hear him.

"I thought you scientists were smart," he smiled after collecting himself. "The second you or any of the rest of you said anything you'd simply become a commodity. Whoever you ran to would just try to ransom you back to us for credits. You'd be better of dead than letting some batarian get hold of you." A pause. "Do you honestly think anybody here is going to put morality before profit?"

The Krogan then leant in close to the doctor, growling into his face. "But then, morality is a point of view, isn't it, Doctor? You of all people should realise that. That's why you were brought here."

"Well... I'm not much..." a mouthful of blood swallowed down. "Not much use... to you now... am I?"

"Guess not," the krogan shrugged. "Pity too. The boss wanted you all taken alive, if possible. But you had to be difficult." A pause. "So he made an exception for you. Said that if push came to shove, you could be taken out. There'd be no loss. You were more trouble than you were worth." A chuckle. "I can see why after that chase."

"Well... finish your job then, krogan!" Palmera spluttered. But the krogan just shook his head.

"Time will do that. I think the boss would like you to suffer a while. You caused him a lot of trouble, and frankly, I see where he's coming from. It was too important to be screwed up by a bunch of unhappy scientists."

The krogan paused, looking away and shaking his head, his blood red eyes narrowing.

"I'll be damned if I let one of you screw us over. Not again."

He looked back down at Palmera, yellow teeth bared in a wide grin.

"So, you're going to lie there while I watch your life literally seep out of you. What can I say, the pay is good, and this will be like a bonus."

The salarian's eyes narrowed, and he seemed to muster all his strength to pull himself up using only his spine.

"As... the humans say," he wheezed. "Get... f--"

His words were abruptly ended for him, a sharp sound ringing out as the doctor's head spasmed and emptied most of its contents from a hole where his right eye used to be. The krogan leapt back, the smile vanishing from his wrinkled lips as fast as the salarian's eye had from its socket. Light glinted off something in the shadows of the alleyway Palmera had tried to escape to, but as soon as the krogan began to train his weapon toward it, something orange flashed in the shadows and the Avenger assault rifle was beeping loudly. The krogan knew it was out of commission for a good ten seconds minimum, which would be plenty of time for whoever was there to finish him off with even the weakest pistol. A pistol was in fact the first thing to appear from the darkness, though it hardly looked like a weak one, but nor did it fire. An arm began to emerge with it, and at first the krogan thought it must have been a turian, only to be surprised yet again as a species he definitely didn't expect to see was revealed.

"You shouldn't let others suffer, krogan," Yalo stated in a firm, yet unthreatening, voice. "To let somebody suffer needlessly is beyond cruel."

The krogan narrowed his eyes, a snort of contempt flaring his nostrils.

"Hrrmph! If you're going to take pity on anybody, it should be your own people. If ever there was a group that would be better off put out of their misery, it's them."

Yalo turned his head to one side.

"Oh really?" A pause. "How's that genophage going then, huh?"

The krogan gritted his teeth and snarled loudly, his gun aimed squarely at the centre of Yalo's visor now. His weapon was mere moments from being ready to fire again, and the quarian's pistol was no longer even aimed at him directly. Instead though, the corners of his mouth drew up into a smile and a deep chuckle game from the depths of his throat. He lowered his weapon, though kept it at the ready still.

"I like you, quarian. If I didn't know better, I'd say you had four stones under that fancy suit of yours. Not many people would insult a krogan from only five feet away, armed or not. Particularly ones who could die from the slightest puncture in their suits, injury or not."

"I was just looking for a salarian," Yalo said, looking down at the corpse nearby. "I certainly hope that wasn't the one."

"Dunno," shrugged the krogan. "In either case, if you wanted him alive, you were the one that killed him."

"I merely alleviated his suffering," Yalo countered. "We both know that no amount of medi-gel would save him after your assault rifle nearly cut him in two."

A gravely chuckle sounded in the krogan's throat and he smiled. "True. But the real question is, was he the one you wanted. And why?"

"I don't think he is," Yalo said. "His skin is too dark. The one I'm after is lighter toned. Kind of tan coloured from what I saw."

"Funny. I'm after a salarian of a rather similar description myself," the krogan growled, eyes narrowing slightly.

"Are you going to tear him apart too?"

"Only if I have to. I'm supposed to take him alive, but if it comes down to him escaping or him dying, then I'm picking the latter."

"Why do I get the feeling you're not after Doctor Haedian for the same reasons that I am?" Yalo said with uncertainly, weapon training back on the krogan.

"You're not," the krogan responded, raising his weapon too. "But I have to wonder why a quarian would be away from the safety of his ships just to find a salarian doctor."

"I'm being paid to bring him back," Yalo said. "It's all about the credits, nothing more."

The krogan couldn't help but smile again. This quarian was speaking his language. "How did you know he'd be here?"

"I did some research. The first thing that struck me was that three krogan had entered his lab and taken him. That was most unusual."

"How's that?"

"Well, aside from the fact that it shouldn't take three krogan to capture a single salarian, from what I've read and observed, krogan are a rare breed, and generally don't work together. For three to be in one place performing the same mission just didn't seem normal."

"I didn't know there was a book of rules for kidnapping salarians," the krogan jested. "Or for how my people act."

"No, but that's not all," Yalo said. "After looking into some recent events, it appears this wasn't an isolated incident. There have been other salarian scientists, as well as a few asari and turians, who have been forcibly taken under similar circumstances by groups of krogan recently. It's just that they weren't quite as high profile as Doctor Haedian is, and some simply appeared to disappear. All biologists or geneticists too."

"Doesn't explain you coming to Iolciom."

"A human vessel in the Hawking Eta Cluster saw a ship matching the description of the one believed to be responsible for Doctor Haedian's capture use the Mu Relay into the Terminus Systems. Hearing this, I traveled to Omega Four, where a few credits bought me information of a group of krogan having recently acquired a facility and various pieces of expensive scientific equipment here on Iolciom. So, here I came."

"Smart work," the krogan said, sounding impressed. "Sounds like I'll have some issues to settle on Omega Four then. Those deals were supposed to be confidential."

"Does the word even have any meaning in the Terminus Systems?" Yalo said, head turning to one side quizzically.

"All words have a meaning in the Terminus Systems. It's just that they all mean credits above anything else."

"So where does that leave us now?"

"That depends on you. You could just walk away away and forget your scientist. There'll be other jobs and other credits. No need to throw your life away on this one."

"I'm afraid the credits are too good in this case. And my need for them is great."

The krogan's response was preceded by a snort. "And why would a quarian even need a lot of credits?"

"To save my people."

The krogan's eyes visibly widened, his gun drifting for a split second before he composed himself and steadied it again. His yellow teeth flashed in a grin.

"Then you and I may not be so different after all," he stated, and there was a pause before he mumbled to himself, "I wonder..."

As the krogan trailed off in thought, Yalo eyed him carefully, reading every piece of body language he could. He had had minimal dealings with krogan, and so far had taken the chance that by acting strong and confident the krogan may just respect him. So far it appeared to have worked, but Yalo knew that when push came to shove the tactic would only get him so far. And he was a lot less cool on the inside than he was projecting on the outside. This extra thick visor has more uses than meets the eye, Yalo thought to himself, thankful his expressions were shrouded from his adversary. On the other hand, right now Yalo could see the krogan's expressions shifting clearly, and it was a smile on his face when he finally decided to speak again.

"Perhaps we can work out a deal here," he said. "It'll be up to the boss in the long run, but I think somebody like you would be useful. Having a non-krogan aboard might just get rid of some suspicions, and you seem quite capable. I don't know what the reward amounts to when you get it, but I'm pretty damn sure that with a steady income you'd make that and more within a few months. Most of the work would just be wandering around with a gun."

"Just wandering around?" Yalo answered. "I find it hard to believe there'd be no need to shoot it."

"Hey, aside from bringing down that guy, I haven't had to fire a shot in weeks," the krogan answered, jerking his head towards the corpse nearby. "And if nobody else follows your lead, we should be able to keep it that way until this is over."

"Uh-huh," Yalo said, clearly not convinced. If he could find them, he was pretty damn sure somebody else would soon. "And why, exactly, should I help you?"

"Because we share a common goal. You're out here trying to save your people, and I'm out here trying to save mine."


"I'll let the boss tell you about that when I take you to him. Assuming, that is, you're willing to take me up on the offer. But I can't go back until I've brought Doctor Haedian. And I'd like you to help me find him."

"What if I refuse?"

"You won't," the krogan chuckled. "You want him too. So either we work together to get him, or you'll be racing against me to find him. And I bet I know this area a lot better than you do."

"I'm surprised you wouldn't try and just finish me off here."

"Naw. Truth be told, until today, I hadn't had any good fun for weeks. Oh, I could kill you now if I wanted, but the thrill of the chase would be a lot more fun." He chuckled. "Hell... I'd even give you a head start. But the greater truth is, fun or not, I'm here to do a job. And that job would be a lot quicker and easier if I had you with me."

"Your reasons seem noble enough," Yalo said, rubbing his mask at the chin. "But I'm not entirely sure about the methods."

"Don't worry. I'm planning on getting Haedian alive. And even so, sometimes you have to do some pretty bad things to achieve a good cause."

Yalo felt his insides squirm a little. This was something he believed all too well, and now he was pretty much sold. Even if head told him it might not be a good idea, his heart overrode it.

"Okay then. No guarantees I'll help you out completely, but I'll at least help you find the doctor."

"Wise choice," the krogan nodded. "We'll set off again in a moment, if that's okay with you. But first, I have to make a call."

The krogan slung his weapon onto his back, then turned around and held his hand up to the side of his head. Taking a few steps away, he began talking. Yalo listened from afar.

"Boss, y'there?" A pause. "Intarr here. I got Palmera." Another pause. "No, dead. I'm going after Haedian next. I've even got some help." A pause, slightly longer this time. "Nope. A quarian. He was already looking for him. Seems somebody's started to care about these guys and there's a reward out there now. But I made the quarian a better offer." Another pause. "Yeah. And if he doesn't, well... y'know." A pause. "Right. We'll get right on it now."

Intarr turned back around, retrieving his weapon from his back once more as he approached Yalo.

"The boss wants us to find him quickly," the krogan said, clicking open the mod slot on his weapon. "He's planning on moving our operation to a new locale given the news you presented us. If you found us, no doubt somebody else will soon enough. And all the more reason to find the salarian quicker."

He ejected the mod, replacing it with a new one. He tossed one that looked similar to the one he just installed to Yalo, who caught it with one hand.

"Put that in your gun," Intarr said. "It'll turn your weapon into a mostly non-lethal, but still effective weapon. It's got a greater shield bypass, slows the shot down to do minimal damage and stamps a small amount of sedative material. They'll still bleed a little, but if you aim carefully you should just need one shot to bring them down. It takes a little time for the effect to kick in sometimes, so don't worry if you think you hit him and he keeps going for a little while."

"Interesting," Yalo said, turning it over in his hand. "And how well, exactly, does it work on krogan, what with that thick skin of yours and all?"

"The more I talk to you, quarian, the more I like you." Intarr chuckled loudly. "Now let's get going. That salarian already has a good lead on us."

"I suppose you have a fair idea where to look first?" Yalo asked, slotting the new mod into his Stinger.

"I have a fair idea where he might go," Intarr said. "He wants to get off this rock, and there aren't many places you can do that. He'll head for the nearest place he can scab a lift offworld from safely. That would be the docking port a few kilometres north of here."

"Then maybe we should let him then," Yalo suggested. Intarr's eyes widened in shock.

"What? Why the hell would we do that?" the krogan snapped.

"Because I have a ship," Yalo smiled from behind his visor. "And that's where it's docked."

Try as he might, Intarr couldn't stop himself from laughing, as what started as a sinister and gravely chuckle became a loud belly laugh. Yalo wondered if a certain salarian somewhere between here and the port might just be speeding up.

Driving across the dusty plains in Intarr's ATV, it didn't take long for the newly formed allies to reach the port, which wasn't, of course, as professional, safe or friendly as most of the ones in council space. Like most places of similar function in the Terminus Systems, it was a place where you paid somebody a modest fee for the right to land as well as an additional fee for them to keep anybody from messing with it. This never quite guaranteed that should one return they wouldn't find their ship stripped of all useful parts or sold to somebody else, but most who were in the business tended to stick to their agreement. Said fees were high enough for it to be more profitable to remain honest, at least so far as looking after your ship went anyway. Yalo was actually pleased that he could soon get the ship out of there, and thus not have to pay too much. Intarr had assured him that once everything was sorted out that he would be able to keep his ship docked for no charge wherever his boss planned to set up next. Not only that, but Yalo would be getting paid for it. And if Intarr was telling the truth about how much even the lowest paid hired gun was getting, Yalo would earn as much as the reward was worth in just over two months. And that wasn't even including the bonus he and Intarr would get if they managed to bring Haedian back alive.

"How can he afford to pay you all so much?" Yalo had asked Intarr of his boss on the way to the port.

"He's a krogan warlord for one," Intarr had answered. "And he'd made a lot of credits as a merc over the years himself. He was actually making billions through various business ventures without even doing anything, and made even more being a merc all the while. He believes in saving our people and is willing to pay a lot for it."

"Why does he need to? Why don't you other krogan do it for sentimental and personal reasons?"

"Because we're krogan," came Intarr's answer. "And he knows it. He's been there. We're warriors. We need to fight. And if we can't fight, we need a damn good reason for it. That's why he became a merc, even though he was making so many credits already. He needed to get out there and be a krogan. He's hired us to fight for him when he needs us to, but that's it. We're in a situation where we're supposed to keep out of trouble, so we don't get to fight a lot. We're guards, but we go weeks and weeks without firing a single shot. That's the sacrifice we make. We have to give up part of what it is to be a krogan so that future generations won't have to. And it takes a lot of credits to buy krogan willing to do that. The cause helps, but it's not enough. Not for most krogan."

"Is it enough for you?" Yalo asked.

"Actually, it is," Intarr smiled. "I still get paid a lot, but this is something I would do for free. That's why I'm the one out here."

"Because you didn't cost any extra?"

"No," the krogan laughed. "Because the boss knows it. He knows I believe in the cause and support him more than the others, so my reward it to be the one to hunt these runaways down. Like I said earlier, I hadn't had any fun for weeks. Still... he offered me a bonus as well, which I suppose will be our bonus now."

When he has said "our bonus now" there was no sign of bitterness or resentment in Intarr's voice, which led Yalo to believe he was being honest when he said he'd do it for free. The quarian couldn't believe this was the same krogan who had only moments earlier gunned down a salarian without any sign of remorse. But then, there was probably a reason for that. Yalo was shaken from his thoughts of the journey en route as the krogan spoke up again; both now standing before the Spero in the docking bay.

"Here we are. Any ideas how to get him into your shuttle before he can hitch a ride with anybody else?"

"Are you sure he'll come here?" Yalo asked. "We didn't pass him on the way."

"He won't come here straight away. He wouldn't have even known about the place initially, but he'll find out, and he'll come."

"There's nowhere else he could go?"

"Not if he's smart," Intarr grunted. "No other ports for hundreds of kilometres, and pretty much anywhere else he tries will nab him and either kill him, take him as a slave or ransom him back to the boss. I'll bet he's smart enough to keep his head down until the right moment arises at least. If he doesn't show up here within the next few days, he probably won't show up anywhere. Salarians may be a weak, pitiful species, but they're not stupid."

"What about the one back there you killed?" Yalo asked.

"He wasn't stupid," Intarr smiled. "He was just rattled 'cause I'd be tailing him for the last few hours. I'd be the same if I was being chased by me."

"Well, if that's the case, I believe the humans have a saying that basically goes, if you can't lead the horse to water, lead water to the horse," Yalo said. "Or something to that effect. I think it gets a little lost in the translation."

"What the hell does that mean?"

"Well, basically, I'll go out there and present myself as somebody offering to transport anybody back to council space who is willing to pay my high, but fair, fee."

"You actually think being so blunt will work?"

"Got a better idea?" Yalo countered. Intarr frowned, grumbling slightly.

"I'll go and find a bar out of sight. Contact me if anything comes up."

Intarr strode away in standard krogan fashion; confident and as if he'd stop a turian frigate if it hit him. Yalo sighed, then left the docking area, making his way to the main entrance lobby.

The main entrance and foyer to the port would have been large had it not been cluttered with items and garbage; mostly randomly discarded items nobody wanted, but didn't want to get rid of entirely either. This mess made the place feel cramped and dirty, and a little unsafe. Looking around, Yalo was pretty sure every wall around him had weapon damage on it, and there were stains and markings randomly spattered about marking the places where their previous owners last drew breath. The place was actually fairly dark, thanks to a lack of windows and the fact that many of the lights had been shot out and never replaced, and no effort had been made to make it feel comfortable for any visitors. That was only one of the reasons Yalo decided to keep his gun drawn.

He attuned his senses, mostly to every bit movement around him, but also to any sounds. Two batarians stopped talking when he passed him, giving him an odd glance before continuing to chatter in a language of theirs. A turian with a heavily scarred face and only one eye nursed an assault rifle at the back wall, leaning against it casually and turning his head to take everything in like a roving security camera. Another batarian in a ragged blanket was moving from container to container, checking each one out carefully; every eye darting around as if the trash he was scrounging through contained precious stones. An elcor stood behind a poorly constructed stall selling items that looked almost as badly put together, with a shotgun wielding turian wearing heavy armour at his side. There was a bench near the entrance nobody was sitting on, so Yalo decided that was as good a place as any to wait.

For the next hour and a bit nothing really happened. The two talking batarians eventually left, heaving towards the shuttle bays. The scarred turian met up with some mercs and they made a fairly straightforward exchange of something Yalo thought he'd probably prefer not to know about. The ragged batarian disappeared for a while, only to return and check the containers again. Yalo noted he checked them in the same order as before for some reason. A few people approached the elcor, examined his items and made general small talk. Few bought anything. A few other deals seemed to take place, none thankfully turning violent. Intarr had contacted Yalo twice in the time, just to check up. Yalo was just thinking of calling the krogan again to suggest they switch places for a while so that he could rest and have something to eat himself when a particularly nervous looking salarian entered the main doors. He hadn't been the first through there during Yalo's wait, but he was the only one of such a light complexion that had came in from the outside rather than from the port. And he was the only one who looked frightened.

Yalo almost stood up straight away, but then realised he had to act more natural than that. He had to seem like he belonged here and had dealings here before. He wasn't entirely sure how to do that, but he had been given a few clues over his wait just from observing the local populace. The first thing he did was get into a more casual position; leaning forward with his elbows on his knees rather than sitting up rather rigidly. He watched the salarian carefully, making sure he wouldn't leave his sight. To say the salarian hadn't noticed him yet would probably be false, but there was no indication that he had noticed him any more than he had anything else in the room. Much like Yalo himself, the salarian was clearly taking as much in as he could with his bulbous, near-black eyes. The first thing he fixed on noticeably was the elcor shopkeeper, and after a few more glances around he approached him.

"Ex-excuse me," Yalo heard him say. "Co-could you perhaps help me?"

"Uncertain. That depends on the nature of your predicament, salarian," the elcor responded. The salarian looked around again, wringing his hands together.

"I... I need a ship. Or, at least, passage on a ship. This is a docking port, yes? There are people here who will take me somewhere else, yes?"

"Affirmation. If you possess the credits to pay for the passage, there are those here who will take you places."

"Credits. Yes, yes... of course," the salarian said, smiling now for the first time since he entered. "Where would I find such people?"

"Right here."

Yalo was standing right behind him now as he spoke, making the salarian jump with a slight yelp. He still held his pistol, which made the elcor's turian guard ready his shotgun swiftly. Yalo ignored this and kept talking.

"I couldn't help but overhear. Mostly because I make a point of listening in to conversations around here. I have a small shuttle and I'd be willing to take you somewhere. If the location isn't on my no-go list and you've got the credits, of course."

"I... I don't actually have the credits on me, but I'll be able to get you them once we get to my destination. Believe me."

"I've heard that one before," Yalo said snidely.

"What if I paid tw-- No, three times as much as whatever your standard fee would be?"

Yalo pretended to think about it. He figured he'd seem more like the genuine article if he did.

"Make it four times, and you've got a deal. Though you still haven't told me where yet."

"It matters not," the salarian smiled. "Well... not exactly. Where you take me precisely doesn't matter. Just so long as I make it to Council Space. Any major port of call there will be fine." A pause. "And, yes, yes, four times. Fine. As long as I get back."

"Okay, you have a deal," Yalo nodded. "We can leave straight away, if you'd like."

"That would be sublime," the salarian said, his words morphing into a relieved sigh.

"Follow me then," Yalo said, heading towards the docking bays. "I'll just contact my shipmate and tell him to meet us there."

Yalo and Doctor Haedian walked to the shuttle, the salarian noting its turian heritage as soon as he saw it. He also commented on how odd he thought it was to see a quarian in the Terminus Systems, particularly in the profession Yalo had claimed to be in. Yalo simply shrugged the comment of, telling the doctor he liked the pay and that life was more interesting outside the flotilla, neither of which were exactly false.

"Take a seat, we'll take off straight away," Yalo said, indicating a seat at the rear of the shuttle; a quarian addition to the ship. The salarian hadn't even sat down before he asked the obvious.

"What about your shipmate?"

"I'm already here," the doctor heard in a familiar voice of thunder and grinding, and he felt something press against the back of his head. "Time for you to go back where you belong. The boss has missed you."

"So close. So close!" Haedian blurted out, slamming his fists into the chair. Intarr laughed.

"Did you really think you were getting off of here, doctor?"

The doctor looked over his shoulder and past the assault rifle at the krogan, eyes narrowing as a growl seethed from deep within his throat.

"There was a chance, krogan!" he snapped. "And as long as that chance was there, I had to take it. It matters not. As long as just one of us makes it back to Citadel Space, you'll be finished!"

"That's not gonna happen," said the krogan, a slight shake of the head. "We rounded up everybody already. You were the last. And I knew you'd come here. Every one else is safely back at the facility."

Intarr paused, chuckling a little, then added, "Oh, except for Palmera. I'm afraid he won't be joining us any more."

"You bastard! You had it in for him ever since he was taken!"

"Not true," Intarr said, feigning hurt. "Only since he opened his big trap. If you don't want to end up like him, I'd suggest keeping yours shut. And speaking of which..."

Intarr took a few steps back and fired the assault rifle into the salarian's left shoulder. It was just a single shot, but it was enough to make the doctor jolt forward and draw some blood. Haedian swore, reaching over to grasp at the wound with one hand, but instead ended up appearing to attempt a strange shoulder charge as he flopped forward off the chair like a jellied rag doll. Intarr turned his attention to Yalo, who had to this point simply been observing the two of them, having visibly jumped when Intarr had shot the scientist.

"He'll be fine," Intarr said, clipping his rifle back onto its holster."Did you forget the weapon mod or something?"

"No, but was that really necessary?" Yalo responded. Intarr nodded.

"I'll need to take the ATV back, so you'll be heading back to the facility on your own," the krogan explained. "Who's going to watch him while you're piloting the thing and I'm driving back?"

Yalo didn't respond. He didn't really need to, since the krogan made sense. He was still feeling more than a bit guilty about the whole situation though. While he ran the last few hours over in his head, Intarr activated an omni-tool of his own and started using it.

"I've uploaded the coordinates to your navigation system, as well as a code and password you'll need in order to gain access and not be fired upon on arrival. In either case, I'll contact them and tell them you're on your way. I'll see you there."

With a friendly nod the krogan left, the shuttle door closing behind him. Yalo looked back at the doctor, slumped on the floor in a less than dignified position. He was still bleeding at the shoulder a little, but Yalo knew any application of medi-gel might counter the effects of the drug in his system. Sighing, Yalo bent down and pulled Doctor Haedian back up onto the chair; trying to prop his limp form into the seat despite it wanting to keep sliding off. He eventually managed to hold him in place with the two seatbelts attached to the chair, then wrapped a piece of torn cloth around the doctor's shoulder to at least stem the bleeding somewhat.

You know, you could just leave with the doctor and get the reward, a little voice in the back of his head said. The krogan has left you. You could stop feeling guilty about it all by just taking him back to Council Space and getting the reward. That was your original plan after all.

"Plans change," Yalo said to the air. "And if I turned my back on Intarr and his krogan friends, I'd be turning my back on the quarian race too."

How? the voice asked. The reward is generous, and there will be other opportunities later. How would you be turning your back on them? On us?

"Because they're fighting the same battle, even if they're not fighting the same war. And even if their means are questionable, their intent is not. And I'm already on the same path myself."

I hope you won't end up regretting this.

"I will. But not until later. I don't have time for regrets."

Yalo set his destination; his choice made. He didn't like having to fight his conscience. It was never easy. Especially when it spoke to him with Linna's voice.
- Kenneth White

"Know the conflict within before facing the conflict without."

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Kif White
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Re: Mass Effect Digression

Postby Kif White » Thu Mar 12, 2009 2:57 pm

Chapter 5

The place Yalo had been directed to was a large, flat building that was only a few storeys high, but very long and wide. Surrounded by fairly steep hills on all sides except one, it was so far away from anything else that aside from the main settlement where he had come from, hills and valleys were all Yalo could see, even from his vantage point in his shuttle several hundred metres above it. It made him wonder how the scientists had even been able to escape from the place and get very far. He assumed they must have hijacked an ATV like Intarr's, but then he wondered how they got split up after that.

Intarr probably made chase, shot up the vehicle and they escaped and split up before it was run off the road or destroyed, the quarian thought. Or perhaps they abandoned it in the main settlement and split up to increase their chance of escape, rather than be caught together.

It didn't matter now of course. But that didn't stop Yalo from feeling a little guilty about it all as he sent his craft into a descent towards the building. If you can't do this without feeling guilty, how are you going to cope with things at the end? The voice was right. He had to accept what was happening, putting any thoughts of doubt behind him. There was nowhere to go but forward, and for the moment, forward was down.

Upon touching down, Yalo disembarked from the Spero to find himself greeted by two armed krogan; assault rifles their weapons of choice. One had dark red skin and dark grey armour, while the other was brown and donned armour mottled with a grey and white camouflage pattern that would do him little service on this planet. Their stance and walk came across as very no-nonsense and firm, but didn't seem directly threatening or hostile. Clearly they were expecting him, and perhaps didn't fully trust him, but at least were giving him the benefit of the doubt for the moment. Beyond them lay a large ship Yalo suspected was of krogan design, but wasn't entirely sure. It wasn't turian, salarian, asari or human, he knew that much. Perhaps once it was, and had simply been given an exterior design change. It was bright red, though had a dull surface rather than a shiny, reflective one, its shape giving it the appearance a fat lizard with no legs. It matched the description of the ship that had been seen in the Hawking Eta Cluster by the human vessel, making Yalo wonder why such a esoteric design had been used. A ship like that was hardly subtle after all. Then again, in space that didn't matter unless you were really close.

Sitting about the ship were crates and containers, which appeared to be currently in the process of being loaded onto the large vessel by other krogan. Some more krogan entered the bay through a couple of doors, more containers in tow. Intarr was right about his boss wanting to get off Iolciom quickly, that was clear. Considering it hadn't been long since the krogan had informed his boss, they had made excellent progress packing up the scientific equipment and starting to transport it. Yalo didn't get to take in much more that that before the red-skinned krogan spoke up, stopping before him.

"You must be Yalo. The boss wants to see you," he uttered, with a brief pause before adding, "The salarian aboard?"

Yalo just nodded, and the krogan turned to his brown-skinned companion, thrusting his large jagged head toward the shuttle.

"Go and get him. Put him straight in the ship."

"He's been hurt," Yalo stated as the other krogan brushed past him towards the shuttle. "Intarr shot him in the shoulder."

"I don't care about his pain," the red krogan snorted. "He'll live, that's enough. Now hurry up and get to the boss. He's up the stairs on the right. He wants to be done talking with you by the time we're ready to go."

"Why's that?" Yalo asked.

"Because he wants to see whether you're worth bringing along or not. While he trusts Intarr's judgment for the most part, it's still his call."

"And if I'm not worth bringing along?"

"Maybe I should have said it differently," the krogan smiled. "I should have said whether you're worth bringing along alive or not." He paused. "Nothing personal, quarian. Just a security precaution. If you're not with us, you might as well be against us. There's no neutral in this."

"To be neutral is to embrace death," Yalo answered. "We share a common enemy, krogan."

"And what enemy is that?"

"Fate," Yalo answered, then wandered past him towards the staircase.

The room Yalo was directed to seemed nothing fancy, and while one could surmise that perhaps any objects of stature and importance could have been already moved onto the ship, Yalo got the distinct idea it wasn't the case. The room was small and dark, with containers and crates serving as makeshift tables and desks. There were a couple of computer consoles sitting around that stood out by at least being ten years newer than anything else in the room, except maybe for the shotgun that lay atop a crate near the back wall. There were two krogan in the room; one packing some items into a crate, while the other was sitting at one of the computers and staring intently at it. Yalo could tell just from looking at him that this was the one in charge. Looking up from the console, the krogan smiled across the room at Yalo, then encouraged him to enter with one hand.

"Come in, quarian. I need to talk with you."

His attention then snapped to the other krogan as his voice took on a firm, gruff tone. "Certax! Leave us. I'll finish up in here, you go and help the others."

The krogan, who was of similar complexion to that of Intarr, simply nodded and strode past Yalo out the door. The krogan in charge wore a very dark armour, which matched his armoured forehead. Both were almost black. but where the light struck them just right Yalo could make out the slightest hint of brown. His face and throat were a mustard yellow, with splotches of tan dotted here and there, while two eyes of deep red gleamed like rubies on either side of his massive head. The most noticeable thing about him was that a portion of the left side of his natural forehead armour was damaged. Two of the spikes had been removed entirely, and an area the size of a salarian's head looked flattened and rough, almost as it had been scraped across rock for a long time with a lot of pressure. Perhaps it had. Perhaps it was the result of a narrow escape from a shotgun blast. Yalo wasn't going to ask though. At least not yet.

"Intarr seems to trust you, quarian," the krogan stated. "He thinks you'll be an asset to us."

"You disagree?" Yalo asked, deciding that if the krogan was going to get straight to the point he might as well too.

The krogan smiled, then inhaled deeply. Yalo had noticed that every time he spoke he seemed to do this, then let out whatever he as one big exhale. The words would usually run together in a gruff, almost muffled way, but it never sounded rushed. The words were said fairly slowly, just as if they didn't have spaces between them.

"I'm not sure yet," the krogan boss said. "You've helped us out pretty well so far. You helped yet the salarian... brought him here by yourself. You seem willing to give us continued support. But Intarr said you were a little hesitant, which worries me."

"I don't question your cause," Yalo said. "Just your methods, perhaps." He paused. "I can't fully judge though. I haven't seen it all yet after all."

"Do you know what it is we're doing here?"

"I have my suspicions. Given what's happened so far and what Intarr told me."

"He said you were doing something similar," the krogan stated. "He said that's what convinced you. You felt we shared a common goal."

"I'm out helping my people, just like Intarr said he was helping his." A pause. "Yours."

The krogan stood up, and slowly strode away from his console to approach Yalo.

"Do you believe one must do everything they can to save their people in situations like ours?"

Yalo thought about the question. Considering it was the very question he had asked himself more than any other he thought he should know the answer, but he didn't.

"That depends," he settled on. The krogan narrowed his eyes.

"On what?"

"On the cost," Yalo stated.

"Both our people have certainly learned the lesson of cost, wouldn't you say?"

"I would like to think so," Yalo answered.

The krogan made a thoughtful sound in his throat, then turned around and slowly began returning to the console. Just before he reached it, Yalo spoke up.

"I have to wonder, why are you doing it now though? Why not years ago? The longer you waited, the greater the chance you're perhaps too late."

The krogan turned a little, then looked back at Yalo over his shoulder.

"Gonamida," he said.

"Excuse me?" Yalo responded.

"My name," the krogan uttered. "I never told you it. It's Gonamida. Durrlex Gonamida."

Yalo didn't respond. He could tell from the thoughtful look on Gonamida's face he was going to speak again soon.

"There was something of a breakthrough regarding the genophage recently in the Sentry Omega cluster on a small planet called Virmire. Apparently it had even been cured, or was at least pretty damn close to it. Unfortunately pretty much all the hard work was destroyed when a nuclear explosion went off right where the research facility was. Everything was wiped out. Everything except for a few pieces of research I managed to get my hands on."

Gonamida's voice had gotten even more bitter towards the end, and Yalo could hear he was holding back something. Something emotional. It was after this that Gonamida stared right at Yalo.

"We spoke of costs before. Well, I paid a big one to get that information. And I hope it's damn well worth it."

"You had a friend on the planet who knew about the bomb and sent you the information just before it went off," Yalo stated as if he knew. "You lost them right after getting it from them."

"Worse than a friend," Gonamida said. "It was my daughter. She had been hired as a scientist to work on the project. She didn't even have time to say good-bye properly, she just sent me the research notes and that was it. She probably thought adding anything personal beyond that would mean they wouldn't get to me if the bomb went off. She was always a smart one."

"You must have been proud of her," Yalo said. "I imagine few krogan females ever became scientists."

Yalo felt a bit awkward after those words, realising that it might have come across as an insult when it was actually intended to be a compliment. Gonamida just smiled sideways at him and then laughed a little.

"I never said she was a krogan," he told Yalo. "But that didn't make me any less proud of her, that's for sure."

"Sorry," Yalo said. "I shouldn't have assumed."

"Why not, most people do," Gonamida said heartily. "I've always been a proud krogan and proud to be a krogan. And I was too proud to let the genophage get in the way of my heritage and legacy carrying on. I met a beautiful asari during my time as a mercenary who hired me on to do some jobs for her. We ended up becoming rather attached to each other over time, one thing led to another and before we knew it we were a couple. Still are actually, even though she's a Matriarch on Thessia now. She's been the secret of my success and the mother of my three beautiful daughters. It doesn't matter that they aren't krogan."

"Why are you telling me this?" Yalo asked. "We've only just met."

"Because I want you to know why this means so much to me," Gonamida stated. "I may be in charge of this project, but that doesn't mean I expect you to do what I say without knowing why you should. You shouldn't do it out of fear, you should do it out of trust and understanding. I could be a real hard-ass about this, but that defeats the point of it all."

"No offense, but I didn't expect to hear something like that from a krogan warlord," Yalo admitted.

"It's amazing what spending a few centuries around an asari will do to you," Gonamida smiled with a chuckle. "There's beauty to them beyond their outer appearances, quarian. They can be wise beyond your imagination."

"What about the others working for you?" Yalo queried. "Is there a mutual trust there?"

"To a degree, but aside from Intarr, it's mostly the credits keeping them loyal," Gonamida sighed. "Intarr's a rare breed. I'd like to say he reminds me of me when I was a young krogan, but to tell the truth I was a lot more like the others back then. I can't blame them though, they are krogan after all. They hate the genophage, that can't be denied, but they'd still rather bash in a salarian or turian's head who had nothing to do with the thing than actually do anything serious about it. It's not that they don't care, it's that when you're born to fight it's hard to push those instincts aside.

"But you're different. You're not a krogan, and you're apparently doing something to try and help your people too. I know of the quarians and what happened to them. Though I can't pretend to understand what that feels like, I feel both of us are victims of The Council being rather heavy-handed with their punishment. And that's me putting it politely."

"So you're merely trying to right the wrongs of the Council?" Yalo asked.

"That's merely a side effect. I'm trying to save my people. What's done is done, there's no point looking at the past except to learn from it. It's the future that matters." The krogan paused. "And all I need to know is, will you help me with that future?"

"I shall," Yalo said with a nod. "At least until I need to follow my own path."

"I don't know when that will be, but I don't plan on this genophage cure being too far away." Gonamida smiled. "I'm sorry if that'll mean less money for you than if it took longer. In either case, that's a good enough answer for me, especially given what Intarr said about you. But I still want to hear your story."

"I'm... I'm not sure where to begin," Yalo said. "And it all depends on how much you really know about the quarians."

"Don't worry, I don't expect you to tell me now. That can wait. We don't have the time anyway, as we'll be off soon."

"You've already got another location?" Yalo said, clearly surprised at the speed Gonamida had organised everything.

"I had it already," the krogan said proudly. "A project as important as this needs alternatives to all foreseeable setbacks."

"Such as escaping scientists?"

"That particular setback wasn't quite as foreseen as the others," Gonamida said with a slight frown. "But it's taught us not to underestimate the resourcefulness of salarian and turian scientists. And to keep at least one eye on them at all times."

Gonamida got his story from Yalo during the trip to the new research sight, or at least the portion of it Yalo was willing to tell. Some details were still fuzzy even to him, and he wasn't entirely sure how he'd accomplish some of the necessary steps, but it was enough to satiate Gonamida. The planet they traveled to was located deeper into the Terminus Systems, and currently under Batarian control. Named Bersilius, it only had one major city with a few minor settlements scattered around it. As far as the Batarians were concerned it was just a barren rock whose only significance was the high concentration of palladium in the eastern hemisphere and some underground thorium deposits. Unfortunately, there wasn't as much thorium present as was initially thought, and several facilities built in order to make use of the element were shut down within only a couple of years. It was one of these abandoned facilities that Gonamida had purchased, and he was particularly happy with the location of it.

"It's only five kilometers from the city and it's built into the side of a mountain, so doesn't stand out as much as the old place," Gonamida had told Yalo on the way. "There's also a nice little feature before the entrance of the place, though hopefully one that won't bite us in the ass."

While the ship descended Gonamida pointed at the base of the mountains below them. The surface and mountains on the planet were saffron, and where the krogan warlord indicated lay small bulging hills of dust and sand on otherwise flat terrain.

"There's a thresher maw somewhere deep in that," Gonamida explained. "There's no security quite like an eighty plus metre long worm of death on your doorstep."

"I'm surprised you didn't choose this location as your first one," Yalo responded.

"This one costs a little more for one," Gonamida said. "Secondly, there's nowhere to park the ship without it being out in the open. After we drop off all the stuff, it'll have to be flown to the city spaceport and I'll have to pay to keep it stored in a hangar there."

Once the gear, scientists and krogan had been offloaded it only took a few hours to get it all set up again. Yalo was impressed by the efficiency of the krogan, despite many of the scientists complaining about wasted time and delicate work not being able to be rushed. Most of the time the krogan simply brought up the attempted escape on Iolciom as the cause of their problems, and whether the scientists believed it or not they usually kept quiet after that. Shortly after all the setup was complete, Yalo finally saw two krogan leading Dr. Haedian over to a console. The salarian looked particularly displeased, often mumbling something under his breath Yalo couldn't quite catch. The only thing he heard clearly was the irritated call of, "yes, I'm moving! Stop prodding me!" as one of the krogan had given him a swift jab in the back. He seemed to be fine otherwise, and hadn't noticed Yalo, who was observing with Intarr from a raised platform attached to the cavern walls.

The place was definitely different from the old one. Whoever had made it had done a decent job of converting what must have been a large cave into a science facility. Walls and a floor had been put in to make it seem as if it were a properly constructed building, and it was only by looking up and seeing the rocky cavern ceiling one would be able to tell otherwise. Some rooms were entirely self-contained, like little buildings of their own, and actually had an artificial ceiling built atop them. A lot of lighting had been put in to combat the darkness, mostly situated along the top of the walls just as they were about to meet the natural rock. Above it all were several raised walkways and platforms, such as the ones Yalo and Intarr were standing upon, which made observing what was going on below fairly easy. One of the places these led to was a room built onto the cliff face just above the only entrance and exit, where Gonamida had put his own office. Lack of space had meant that there was no room to store the ATV's, so two of them were parked on the surface near the entrance while the rest were still on Gonamida's ship. The two outside were covered with a special vehicle tent designed to resemble clumps of rock the same colour and texture of the hills around it. They hadn't been cheap for Gonamida, but were a necessary precaution and would do the job sufficiently if well treated.

"Should be easier to guard the troublemakers in this place," Intarr said to Yalo. "Only one way in or out for one. The boss says he's gonna reverse their shifts here too."

"How do you mean?" Yalo queried.

"He's gonna have them working when it's night on the surface and they can sleep when it's day. It's underground here so nobody'll notice or care. It's a twenty hour day on this world it's fifteen hours of work and five of rest."

"Gonamida's incredibly fair considering," Yalo said with surprise, his gaze returning to the scientists below.

"They're not slaves, they're workers, and he treats them as such. Their just workers who don't have an option to go home."

"Or get paid," Yalo added.

"They get free food, accommodation and entertainment. That's enough. And they'll get to leave once they've done the job."

"They get entertainment?" Yalo asked, even more surprised than before.

"They get to place some games now and then if they want. They get to read. They can't access anything linked into an external network of course, despite many wanting to hear about what's going on out there. If there's anything important enough the boss'll make an announcement while they're working." Intarr paused. "Sometimes I think he's a bit easy on the bastards."

"Because their salarians and turians?" Yalo said. Intarr snorted, gazing away at nothing in particular.

"Probably. I'm not gonna pretend I'm not prejudice against them. I am. Gonamida thinks that they're stressed enough just being here, and that they'll produce faster results if they're not stressed any more than they have to be. He's a smart man, and maybe he's right. But..."

Intarr trailed off, and Yalo could hear a slight growl in his throat as his eyes narrowed. Yalo thought he needed some vocal prodding.


"But they're turians and salarians!" Intarr spat. "They don't deserve to be treated well. Not after what they did to us."

"Even if they had nothing to do with the genophage?" Yalo asked. "After all, there's no salarian alive that could have."

Intarr turned towards Yalo, his teeth bared. He seemed to get a few feet taller as he took a step closer and for a moment Yalo thought the krogan was going to bite his head off or something. Instead, the krogan spoke in a soft, but firm, rumble.

"Have you ever met the thresher maw that's outside our base right now?"

"No," Yalo answered.

"Then you go outside and run across the surface and see if it doesn't anything else other than what all thresher maws do. If you make it back alive, I'll concede. Hell, I'll even free every last scientist here!"

"That's not the same," Yalo said. "It's an instinct, not the choice of an intelligent being capable of making decisions."

"A thresher maw is a thresher maw," Intarr stated. "And a salarian is a salarian. And a turian a turian. It's all the same."

Intarr turned and began walking away, when Yalo called something out that made him stop in his tracks.

"And a krogan is a krogan. Yet I thought krogan were warriors, not baby-sitters for a bunch of scientists."

Intarr growled deep in his throat, feeling and urge to turn back around. Instead he just grit his teeth a little more and continued along the walkway.

Yalo watched the scientists at work for a little while more, then decided to wander down to see Haedian. He had a niggling sensation that something had to be said to the salarian. Quite what that was Yalo didn't know, but he wasn't going to feel better about what happened unless he did. He wasn't quite sure what Gonamida's policy on talking to the scientists was, though he suspected something along the lines of it being rather frowned upon for reasons relating to distraction and interrupting their work if nothing else. Then again, he couldn't fathom any of the krogan wanting to start up a casual conversation with them. Yalo knew maybe it would be best if he waited until their break, but he still felt the need to talk to Haedian. He wanted to at least get that minor burden off his chest.

"Well. If it isn't the quarian who betrayed me."

The salarian's words were sharp but emotionless, and he hadn't even turned his head away from his console upon uttering them, despite Yalo's approach from his rear.

"How di--"

"A krogan's footsteps are very easy to place," Haedian interrupted. "It was obvious you weren't a krogan, you walked too lightly and your footfalls are quite different. And since you're the only non-krogan who isn't being held against their will here, I made an assumption. It's no surprise it was correct. No do you have something to say, or are you here to mock me or waste my time?"

"I just wanted to say that I'm sorry for the deception, but it was something that had to be done," Yalo explained.

"Sor--" the doctor started, before cutting himself off. "Something that had to be done?"

Haedian turned around, facing Yalo for the first time since he had been shot aboard the Spero.

"Do you have any idea what is going on in this place?" Haedian asked in a voice that Yalo couldn't tell was being sarcastic or not. "We are not doing something that has to be done."

"Seems more like you're actually undoing something that didn't have to be done," Yalo countered.

Haedian responded with a snort of contempt that jerked his head, the action seeming to turn one side of his mouth up into a smirk.

"An impudent one, aren't we. Think whatever you want, but don't complain to me when you won't even be able to go to the most barren world in council space without bumping into a dozen krogan."

"I see. You sent out a bunch of hungry varren, and when the food runs out you complain when they bite you and say it's their fault."

"Our ancestors did what they had to do. The krogan were out of control. It was inhumane, I admit that. But it was a necessary evil."

"The only reason it's not called genocide is because of the nature of it," Yalo said. "It's just delayed genocide, that's all."

"What's done is done," Haedian grunted, turning back to his console. "It won't matter though. Somebody will stop this. You will see."

"What makes you think that?"

"They'll come for me. I'm too important to be left here. My people will want answers. That was the krogan's mistake. They might have gotten away with this if they'd just stuck to no-name biologists like most of the rest. But they had to grab me."

"My, my. Aren't we the modest one," Yalo said. "I'd kiss your boots, but taking my helmet off is kind of fatal. Quarians are particularly susceptible to arroganteria."

"If there's a smile on your face, it will soon be wiped off," Haedian said with a glance over his shoulder. "It may sound like arrogance, but there's more truth to it than you know. Now please leave me alone, I have some complicated biological algorithms to analyze."

Yalo paused to regard the doctor for a few more seconds, then silently turned and walked away. What the salarian had said made a lot of sense. Why else would there be a substantial reward offered for his return and not the others? Yalo figured he must have been working on something very important when he was taken. He had said that his people would want answers, which could suggest he was working for a very important salarian company, one perhaps linked directly to the salarian government, or even the government itself. Salarians were known for always developing the most advanced technology, so if Haedian really had been part of something major, there's no doubt the salarians would want him back. The question was, how badly?

Yalo didn't see Intarr or Dr. Haedian again until it was time for all the scientists to be rounded up and herded into their quarters until the next night. The quarters just consisted of a cavern containing few small cubicles with stretchers in them. Aside from this there were a few large tables surrounded by chairs in the middle of the cavern, a water dispenser in one corner and a couple of portable bathroom stalls at the other end. There were, by Yalo's count, fourteen scientists there. The majority were salarians, at eleven, with three turians making up the rest. After they'd been ushered in by the krogan, Intarr uttered something about food and three krogan nodded and disappeared back the way they'd came. Yalo had been watching this from just out of the way the whole time, and though he didn't know whether Intarr felt like talking to him or not, he wandered over and spoke.

"I was talking to Doctor Haedian today."

"You shouldn't have," Intarr said, his voice firm but not directly threatening. "The boss doesn't like the scientists distracted from the work. Especially Haedian."

"I didn't talk long," Yalo said, half defense and half simple honesty. "He didn't say anything directly about it, but the way he spoke seemed to indicate he was working on a rather important project before he was taken."

Intarr sighed a bit, then looked over his shoulder at the krogan behind him; there were two just inside the natural rock doorway to the scientist's dormitory and another two just outside it, waiting patiently. After giving his neck a stretch, Intarr spoke again.

"This is the best time of the day," he smiled. "Once they're in there, we all get to do what we want for a while. Except for whoever has the watch of course."

"I thought you'd prefer guarding them. Just for that slight chance they might pull something and you get to shoot somebody?" Yalo decided he might as well just go along with Intarr despite him obviously trying to change the subject.

"You'd think that, but when the last lot escaped they actually did it from their quarters at night," Intarr said, a wide grin on his face. "And nobody got to fire a shot."

Yalo was about to speak, but had to step aside as the krogan who had left before returned with several large crates. Once they passed, Intarr spoke again.

"Come on. Let's go for a drive."

"A drive?" Yalo responded as Intarr strolled past him down the passageway. "Where could we possibly be going?"

"Not really sure. I'll know when I see it," the krogan called back.

It was night outside at the moment, though when Yalo commented on it Intarr said the sun would be up soon. Despite this the surface of the planet was still fairly well illuminated, albeit now coloured a dark turquoise rather than yellow. This was thanks both to the clear sky and the massive blue moon sailing across the sky. Yalo watched as it seemed to descend down upon the horizon, it's sheer scale and proximity causing him to half expect the entire planet to shake when one visibly met the other. Another smaller, darker and not-quite-round moon followed it soon after, almost like a baby following its parent. As the ATV sped across the terrain, mountains on one side and the thresher maw nest on the other, Intarr spoke up finally, continuing on the subject from before as if there had been no ten minute gap in the conversation.

"Those sneaky bastards had come up with some kind of soporific gas when we weren't looking, using some chemicals from the lab stations. They knew night was the best time to strike, as there were ever only two of us watching them at the time. One of them put the solution in his drinking cup, and then went to the water dispenser to fill it. Water was the final ingredient to turn the stuff into the sleeping gas, and he threw it at the krogan guards' feet, then put one of the lab masks over his mouth that he'd snuck into his pocket. Unfortunately for him, one of the guards got to him and knocked him unconscious with the butt of his assault rifle, but only just before the gas effected him and he fell down. The remaining scientists all made a break for it and ran straight for the vehicles. It wasn't until we heard the sound of an ATV starting up that we realised what was happening, and before we knew it, they were on their way out."

"Didn't you make chase?" Yalo asked.

"Eventually. Once we'd replaced the wheels on our remaining ATV's. Bastards had thrown some kind of acid on them before they'd taken off."

"Well, I hope you've learned a very important lesson from this," Yalo said.

"What's that?"

"Don't keep the water dispenser so close to where the guards are standing."

Intarr laughed. He turned the vehicle left, now setting it driving up the slope of a moderately steep hill rather than on the mostly flat terrain they were on before.

"I learned what happens when you're too soft on salarians and turians," Intarr uttered. "You can't turn your head away from those guys for a second. The problem is, none of us really know anything about science or biology, so we can't tell when they're trying to cure the genophage or when they're making something to escape."

"At least it wasn't lethal," Yalo said. "I mean, they just came up with a sleeping gas when they just as easily could have probably killed those guards."

"Well, that's the other thing, isn't it?" Intarr said, his voice becoming even more bitter.

"How do you mean?"

"How do we know they'll really cure the genophage? How do we know they won't just come up with some kind of thing that looks like it cures us, but makes things worse in the end? I mean, come on... these guys are smart. You can say that I'm prejudice towards them all you want, but I'm never going to deny that those scientists are on the ball. So how do you know they won't come up with something that seems like a cure, and gets spread around every krogan across the galaxy, only for it to have some kind of side-effect that after a certain amount of time makes us even more unlikely to breed? Or even just kills us."

"Well, that's just life, isn't it?" Yalo said with a shrug that probably seemed a little too casual. Intarr just looked at him sideways, then without a word returned his attention to driving.

The ATV leveled out as it reached the peak of the hill, Intarr bringing it to a halt upon a mostly-flat slab of rock. Looking into the turret's periscope for a while as he tilted and turned it, the krogan eventually smiled and left the vehicle. Curious, Yalo followed, and found him retrieving a large sniper rifle from the back of the vehicle. Looking around him, Yalo realised that the view was quite spectacular from there. The hill might not have been that tall compared to some of the mountains in the area, but it still provided a decent vantage point of the surrounding area. Back the way they'd came from Yalo could see the entire thresher maw nest, backed by the mountains containing the facility. In the opposite direction was a valley winding amongst some lesser hills, and to the left of that a fairly large mountain arched up before joining several others. To the right the land got flatter, and Yalo could see the main settlement with a buildup of vegetation beyond leading into some distant hills. After he was done taking all this in, he looked for Intarr, then found the krogan sitting on a rock holding the sniper rifle.

"I hope you're not planning on having me run down the hill while you take shots at me or something," Yalo said, half joking and half a little worried it might be true. Intarr smiled at the comment.

"If I'd wanted to do that, I'd have brought one of the salarians along," he said. "For the moment, we just wait."

"Well, while we're waiting, perhaps you can tell me why you avoided the subject of Doctor Haedian?" Yalo suggested.

"Funny you should say that, I was thinking he'd probably be the one I'd bring," Intarr chuckled.

"He seems to think that it was a mistake taking him," Yalo said, his tone particularly serious to tell Intarr he wasn't going to let him ignore the subject any more. Intarr let out a weary sigh.

"Look, I don't really know exactly what he was doing when we took him. All I knew was the boss wanted him and that he was working on something for the Salarian Union. I don't know what it was, and neither did the boss as far as I know."

"So he is working for the salarian government directly then," Yalo said. "That's a pretty big risk to take. No wonder there's a reward for his return."

"The Salarian Union has no power here in the Terminus Systems," Intarr responded. "If they sent anything here they'd have a war on their hands. The other council races probably wouldn't even support them if they decided to go in alone without approval, and lets face it, the salarians aren't exactly the strongest in a military sense."

"It's still a big risk to take."

"The boss thought it was necessary. The scientists we had weren't getting anywhere quickly, and he thought we needed the best to get the job done. It had been easy enough taking the others, so he figured that taking somebody a little more renowned would be worth the risk. So he did some research and picked two names: Haedian and Palmera."

"Wait a moment. Wasn't Palmera the one you killed on Iolciom?"

"Don't you mean the one you killed?" Intarr smirked.

"Whatever. Wasn't he?"

"Yeah. That's the one all right. Let me guess... you're wondering why I killed him when he was so important, right?"

"That's pretty much it, yeah."

"He was a thorn in our side for far too long," Intarr growled. "Don't get me wrong, he was smart. Probably not as brilliant as Haedian is, but he had a different perspective on things than most of the other scientists. Unfortunately, that caused conflicts. Not just with the other scientists, but with us. He was always insisting on this and that. He wanted access to special materials. He wanted his own computers. He wanted to work alone. He was a crafty bastard."

"What do you mean by that?" Yalo asked.

"The whole thing was an act. He wanted it to look like he didn't get on with anybody and that he was this self-obsessed recluse who thought the others were beneath him. What we didn't know was that he was really trying to get them all out of there. None of us would suspect the mastermind of any escape attempts to be the one nobody liked. He had each of the others perform a minor task over several days. These would be innocent things by themselves at isolated times by different people. But when put together and coordinated, they became a devious escape plan that was pretty damn close to working."

"How did you find all this out?" Yalo asked.

"From the poor salarian who was left behind during the escape," Intarr smiled. "He told us everything. Once we knew that, Palmera didn't seem quite as essential as originally thought. Haedian is now more important than ever though. Hopefully he won't attempt to be Palmera's successor."

"I doubt it," Yalo said. "He seems convinced that he's going to be rescued and you'll all be stopped."

"Here it comes."


Intarr pointed to Yalo's right and the quarian noticed a brightness on the horizon. It began to grow, both in size and intensity, and in moments most of the surrounding land transformed from dark teal to sandy yellow as the newborn sun bathed it in warm luminance. Intarr bent down on one knee, aiming the sniper rifle towards a far off mountain side to the left; directly opposite the rising sun. He pulled the trigger and fired, making Yalo jump a little, then looked up at the quarian, handing the rifle to him.

"There's some strange plants on the mountainside over there," Intarr explained. "They're basically these stalks with a yellow ball on the top. I found them here when we first checked out the place, and thought they were good target practice, especially since I never get to actually shoot anything that moves. Have a shot or two. They can sway in the wind a little so you'll have to time it right."

Yalo took the rifle, then knelt down, aimed and fired off a shot. He missed the ball he was aiming for, which given the distance looked to be about the size of his head. He took another couple of shots, hitting it on the third try. It seemed to release a puff of bright purple spores upon exploding, which were bright enough for Intarr to see even without the scope. He nodded approval.

"Good job. They can be tricky. Have a few more shots."

Yalo aimed at took another shot, missing the next ball. He aimed again.

"There's one thing I noticed about your story, Intarr," he said, then fired again. Another miss.

"Yeah. What's that?"

"You said that after the escape, Palmera didn't seem as essential as you originally thought," Yalo said. Another shot, another miss.

"Yeah. So?"

"You never said that Gonamida actually said that you could kill him when you caught him."

Yalo fired again. Another spray of pink spores erupted into the air on the mountainside. Intarr grinned widely.

"No. I didn't, did I?"
- Kenneth White

"Know the conflict within before facing the conflict without."

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Re: Mass Effect Digression

Postby c_nordlander » Sat May 23, 2009 10:00 pm

Typoes and grammar problems: “that this is why she both loved and hated him” should probably be “was”. “It wouldn't be long until he was off on his pilgrimage and be alone in the galaxy” obviously needs fixing. “And emotionless grimace” should obviously be “an”. Typoes: “told yo give you”. And a possible typo: “to omit various bleeps and bloops” should presumably be “emit”. “rather than use it” should be “rather than using it”. “the eye itself appear undamaged” and “we would swallow” are obvious typoes. “you'd be better of” should be “off”. “with uncertainly”. “Even if head told him” needs a “his”. “Two batarians stopped talking when he passed him” should obviously be “they”. “shrugged the comment of”. “much more that that”. “then let out whatever he as one big exhale” must be missing a word. “Both our people” should be “both our peoples”. “research sight” should be “site”. “Their just workers” should be “they're”. “place some games” should surely be “play”. “I'm not prejudice” should be “prejudiced”. “No do you have something to say” should be “now”. “there's no doubt” should “there was no doubt”. I believe “the scientist's dormitory” should be “scientists'” in the plural (unless they have one dormitory each). “it's sheer scale”. “they'd came” should be “they'd come”.

“a spluttering sound emitted from his mouth” is a bit incorrect (you emit a sound, a sound doesn't emit). I'd change it to “his mouth emitted”, etc. Also, at one point it says that a krogan “donned” grey and white camouflage armour, but that means “put it on”, so I'd change to “had donned”.

“when the intended target isn't far away and lacks biotic shields or any form of armour, the Avenger was more than enough to do the job” needs to be all in the same tense. (I don't care much which one, both work.)

Also, there are some places where you don't capitalise “Quarian” and other races. Either way is fine to me, but you should be consistent.

I'm enjoying this quite a bit! You start off with a good mystery that will make the reader want to continue, and Yalo is a very interesting and well-rounded main character. I particularly like how you've given him a strong moral code: his having to compromise it for the greater good of his mission gives a nice sense of conflict. Intarr is also interesting: he's a brute with a lot more beneath the surface than you'd think.

The plot itself is hard to say much about at this stage, but it's certainly interesting. I like the way the morality shifts around as more of the situation is revealed, with the krogans not coming off as bad guys despite their plan. No real heroes, and all that. (Of course, I don't know how much of the backstory is already in the game.) The whole “cure the disease” subplot (or not so sub plot?) is intriguing as well. I like that sort of thing.

The writing is very decent. I found your style a bit tough at times, but style is such a personal thing, I wouldn't even know what you should improve, and other people will love it. I do find it slightly waffling at times, though, with a lot of words such as "although" and "still". Reading through your story and cutting the waffle words might be a good idea in the future. It feels a bit short on description now and then, though I get a decent amount once Yalo gets to Bersilius, and I do like the descriptions we get. There are some very well-written observations, like how Yalo's conscience has his sister's voice. The dialogue is good. It occasionally seems a little infodump-y, but it gets the characters well across. A fair amount of nice witty lines, too.

As someone who hasn't played "Mass Effect", I must say I found the story accessible, though I could have done with a bit more descriptions of things that are probably obvious if you've played the game. (Of course, then "Mass Effect" fans would probably be put off by too much description, so I'm not saying you should do that. Just my own view as a newbie.) The only bit of lacking information that impeded my understanding of the story was about the genophage. It wasn't until the end of Chapter 5 that I understood that it was a disease or disorder that was rendering the krogan sterile. Again, I don't know how you could make this clearer without a blatant infodump for the reader, just pointing it out.

So far, a good science fiction story with an intriguing plot and a nice lead character. If you'll write more, I'll read more.
The noose draws tighter;
This is the end;
I'm a good fighter
But a bad friend;
I've played the traitor
Over and over;
I'm a good hater
But a bad lover.

Elinor Wylie, "Peregrine"
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Re: Mass Effect Digression

Postby Kif White » Wed Dec 02, 2009 1:19 pm

Chapter 6

The first week on Bersilius passed slowly for Yalo. The pay was good, as Intarr had told him, but time seemed almost nonexistent most of the time. The fact that only Gonamida had access to the one terminal linking beyond the underground facility meant he couldn't even find out any goings on beyond the planet. The quarian wasn't sure how the krogan were coping, given their lust for battle and the fact that coming from the flotilla at least gave him somewhat of a tolerance for moments of monotonousness. Aside from the odd conversation with Intarr if they shared a patrol, the only moments of any real interest were when the two of them drove out with the sniper rifle for some target practice; a mere hour every couple of days that felt like about ten minutes. It was about to tick over to another week when something interesting happened.

The scientists were all at their stations, with just under three hours to go until it was time for them to rest. The surface outside the mountains was lit only by the faint blue glow of its larger moon, the sun about five hours away from changing it back to a warm yellow, but few inside were paying attention to this. Yalo was currently promenading around the lower sections of the facility, checking each room as he wandered a travel path he shared with another krogan, albeit not simultaneously. Two more krogan covered the railings above, while another stood in the middle of the main research cubicle amid the scientists. One guarded the door out, another guarded the door to Gonamida's office, and somewhere beyond the former Intarr and another krogan covered the entrance, just inside the main front door.

Yalo had been going over recent events in his head, currently in a state of fledgling doubt as to whether this was the right way to go. Part of him realised he was perhaps merely being impatient, and the overall boredom of the job was getting to him, while another part of him thought he might have been wasting time and needed to choose another way of reaching his goals faster. His internal battle didn't last longer than a few minutes before he heard a sound that shook him out of it. A dull and distant thud, the noise sounded as if it had come from somewhere beyond the door that led back to the surface, but when Yalo swirled around he noticed that the guard standing before it hadn't even moved, nor had anybody else in the vicinity reacted in any way. Making a small noise of indifference, Yalo resumed his route. A few seconds later he heard one of the krogans above cough, but thought nothing of it. At least not until he heard the second elevated guard join him. Yalo looked up in time to see the first one drop to his knees as the coughing became worse, while the second one leaned forward on the railing before him.

"What the..." the guard near the main entrance uttered, stepping closer before coughing himself.

The attentions of some of the salarians and turians shifted from their work to the hacking krogan. A salarian holding a beaker of liquid in one hand and a test tube in the other looked at both items, placed them swiftly on the bench before him and reached for a nearby filter mask, only to cough a few times before he could reach it and collapse to the floor. While everybody else began to start coughing, the first victim above fell onto his side, and the second slumped forward against the railing he was already using as support. Unfortunately, with the full weight of his body now pressed upon them, the metal bars began to creak and bend. Before they could even snap, the now unconscious krogan toppled over the edge and smashed headfirst onto a desk with several science terminals, taking out the thin cubicle wall it was positioned against as well. Yalo rushed to the fallen krogan, knowing that the thick natural armour upon his head and back probably meant he wasn't seriously injured, but making sure anyway.

It was then that Yalo got a sensation that he wasn't alone, and upon hearing what sounded like a careful footfall behind him he spun around, gun at the ready. The whirrs and clicks of two separate pistols rang in unison between the quarian and his adversary, both finding themselves with their respective guns trained upon the other's head, neither at the advantage or disadvantage of the other.

"Well," a muffled, distorted voice said. "Looks like we have a stalemate."

It was hard to tell precisely, but the voice sounded female, and given the rise of their chest and narrow of their waist, it likely was. Her species wasn't immediately clear, her helmet concealing her face entirely with even the tiny gap where eyes peered between guard and bill obscured by darkness. Like her helmet, the body armour she wore was completely black, appearing to be a light armour consisting of a lot of straps and buckles, particularly around her arms and thighs.Yalo guessed she was either human or asari given her build, with the latter being more likely given the style of armour.

"What do you want?" Yalo asked. She cocked her head to one side.

"Well, aren't we the direct one," came her response. "I didn't know quarians were so forthright. But then, I haven't dealt with many of them." A pause. "I certainly didn't expect to find one here."

"I suspect if you had you would have thought of a better solution than some kind of gas in the air filtration system."

A wry chuckle sounded from beyond the helmet. Yalo felt an ironic sense of frustration at not being able to see her face and read her expressions.

"I was hoping that anybody who didn't succumb to the gas quickly would simply think it was the result of one of the scientists' mixing of substances," she explained. "Doesn't quite work when there's somebody with a permanent mask on. Especially one with something inside it, unlike the krogan."

It was Yalo's turn to turn his head to one side now. There were too many factors in her last sentence to make things as simple as they initially seemed.

"That's a rather odd gamble to make," Yalo said.

"What is?"

"The fact that the scientists here were working on something involving chemicals. You must have had some foreknowledge to know that."

"Of course," came a proud response. "That, and experience."

"What do you mean by that?"

"I've been here before," came her immodest answer.

"What? When?"

"Two days ago. I observed the area briefly, then left."

"Impossible. How could you have even got in? You would have been stopped."

"One cannot stop what they cannot see," she answered. "Speaking of which, I don't remember seeing you either."

Yalo thought. If she had come relatively the same time yesterday as she had now he'd have been off with Intarr shooting at the spore podules. He was trying to contemplate how she got in undetected when he noticed red flashing appearing at her wrist. This was immediately followed by her tightening the grip on her pistol and a change of attitude from flippant and casual to direct and serious.

"Where is Doctor Haedian?" she demanded. "Tell me! Now!"

"You're hardly in a position to order me around," Yalo said. "My gun is at your head just as much as yours is at mine."

Yalo could just hear the smirk on her following words. "Not as much as you think, quarian."

Yalo didn't know what to make of this. Did she have backup somewhere he couldn't see? Given her earlier comments it could be the case, assuming her claims were true. But he didn't even know who she was. He suspected a mercenary out for the reward he had once chased himself. But did that mean she worked alone, or with others?

"All I need to do is pull the trigger and my problem is solved," Yalo said.

"You'll hit the ground before I will," she countered. She sounded confident, but Yalo decided that if there were any bluff there, he may as well call it.

"I don't think so. You've clearly decided to release a harmless gas into the ventilation system. I suspect you'd rather not kill anybody. And that includes me."

"I can't kill the one I'm after. The reward is pointless if he's dead."

"You could have released a compound that would only harm krogans."

"Assuming I could acquire such a substance."

"You could have shot me in the back long before I turned on you."

"And who would tell me which salarian was Haedian if I had done that?"

"Who would have had I not been here?"

"I would have found out eventually."

"You're a fresh-off-Thessia rookie mercenary who has some skills in stealth but can't bring herself to take a life."

"You're a piece of lowly flotilla trash who probably bought that gun less than a week ago with some spare parts."

"I took a life with this thing less than three weeks ago."

"Then you'll have no problem pulling that trigger now then either."

The room fell as silent as the deepest of space. Was she bluffing? Would she pull her trigger? Yalo didn't know what to think. She sounded confident enough, but was her face twisted in doubt beyond that visor like his own? One thing was for sure, if she managed to succeed in her plan, Yalo's ones would be hampered. He made a call, hoping he wouldn't regret it later.

A single shot rang out, echoing through the caverns. Yalo's finger had squeezed, sending a sliver of mass accelerated metal right through the asari's helmet and out the other side, where it blasted a hole through the wall behind her. The only problem was that the tiny projectile appeared to have never made contact with the helmet in the process, passing through it as easily as it did thin air. Yalo was briefly startled, giving her a chance to counter with a deft blow to his chest, startling him even more as her hand appeared to pass partially through his chest before he felt any impact. He was sent soaring backwards, the gun slipping from his fingers midair before he made contact with an empty desk and reduced it to a pile of splintered plastic.

Sitting up with a groan, Yalo looked up to see his adversary standing before him, her pistol aimed squarely at him. He noticed the once blinking light on her wrist stopping, then found himself surprised once again as she disappeared before his eyes, only to appear about a metre to the left in the exact same pose.

"Stand up," she ordered.

Wincing a little at the pain, the quarian reluctantly got to his feet, watching as the gun stayed trained on his head. Beyond the asari lay his weapon, definitely out of reach. But he did spot a shotgun belonging to the once lofty krogan just to his left. With a groan, Yalo arched his back, reaching behind with both arms as if to rub it. Instead, there was a brief flash of orange and the asari found her weapon beeping loudly.

"You sneaky--"

Her sentence was cut off as Yalo swiped the gun from her hand, sending it flying over a broken section of wall into where most of the stunned scientists lay. Yalo pulled his fist back in preparation for another blow, but there was a blue flash and a wave of biotic energy rippled from his opponent, sending him flying backwards in a similar fashion to before. While Yalo made contact with the floor and rubble once more, the mystery asari rolled backwards, collecting Yalo's own weapon from the ground in the process. As she rolled back onto her feet again, she swept the newly acquired weapon towards him, discovering he had a shotgun trained on her, despite still being sprawled on the ground. He held it in one arm, which would probably injure him if he fired it given his odd position, but would no doubt hurt her more. A slight grunt of resigned interest sounded beyond her helmet.

"Another stalemate I see," she said. "I really do have to find another opponent to play with who's not quite so... vexatious."

"I thought you'd be the type who likes a challenge?"

"I prefer outclassing my opponents completely," she answered. "I look better that way."

"I hope your biotic shields are good," Yalo said. "Actually, that's not true... I really don't hope that at all."

A derisive laugh of sarcastic disbelief sounded from beyond her helmet. "Do you expect me to believe you'll actually pull that trigger?"

"I did last time. And as far as I can tell, you're out of tricks."

The asari was silent for a few seconds, before abjectly uttering "indeed" and lowering her weapon. Yalo got to his feet carefully, grasping the shotgun properly as soon as he got a chance to.

"So. What do I do with you now?" he pondered aloud, taking his pistol back from her.

"You could help me."

Yalo laughed, not sure whether it was the suggestion itself or the rather flippant way she'd said it. "If you're hoping to make me drop this gun with laughter, you're mistaken," he stated.

"Why not? We can split the money, right down the middle. The reward doubled a few days ago. The salarians must really want him back. They might even throw in a bonus for delivery."

Yalo thought about it. Assuming she was telling the truth and all worked out well, that was a decent amount of credits. Combined with what he had already earned, it would be a good start to things. The thing was, could he earn more staying where he was? And what about his loyalty to Gonamida and the other krogan?

"That might have been tempting," he told her. "But I've got a good thing going on here. I'm loyal to these krogan and if Haedian goes, it puts a big damper on that."

"You don't have to leave," she said. "I'll take him back alone, and then aside from him going missing the krogan will know nothing. They'd probably believe he concocted something to knock them out and escaped on his own. I'll send you your part of the reward and the rest of you will carry on as normal."

Yalo's mind analysed the proposal. It could possibly work. And in a sense, if Haedian was gone, things may take longer and result in a longer period of payment, netting him even more credits in the long run. The only thing getting in the way of these thoughts were his conscience when it came to betraying the others. That, and one other factor.

"If I agree to this, what guarantee do I have that you'll hold up your part of the bargain? How do I know you'll even give me half of the reward at all?"

"What if I gave you a portion of it now?" she put forth. "As a token of good faith."

"But you don't have it yet."

"I have my own funds. I'll give you what I have in exchange for the doctor. When I return to Council Space and claim the reward, I'll send you the rest."

"How much would this portion be?"

"I could give you just over two-hundred thousand right now as a direct transfer. That's slightly under half of what you'll get total, but that's the best I can do."

"And I can trust you to deliver the rest?"

"As much as I can trust you to not tell your friends what happened and send them after me as soon as they wake up. Yes."

There was a fairly long pause from Yalo. His right arm extended out to his side, the shotgun held in it pointing at one of the sleeping scientists. "That one there."

The asari's head turned to observe the salarian, then half-turned back to Yalo.

"Indeed," she answered, then activated her own omni-tool. "Activate yours and I'll give you the money."

Yalo did, and sure enough he received 200,150 credits from her. He looked up to thank her, but she was gone again. Turning his head he noticed her stooped over Doctor Haedian. In one had she had a small device Yalo recognised as a medicine injector, not too dissimilar to those used to apply medi-gel. She pressed it into the salarian's neck, and and after a few seconds of his eyes blinking rapidly he coughed a few times and looked up at her. Confusion mingled with fear adorned his facial features before he asked the obvious question.

"Wh'...who are you?"

"My name is Lylanya," she revealed. "I'm a mercenary and bounty hunter. The Salarian Union are paying me to return you alive and that's what I intend to do."

"I don't care what you are!" Haedian smiled broadly. "Just get me away from these brutes and back to Mannovai. Or any place in Council space will do."

"Can you walk?" the asari asked, helping him to his feet.

"I... I think so," Haedian said, and then he looked up to see Yalo standing there and frowned, his speech patterns suddenly accelerating. "The quarian? What is he doing still conscious? You're not planning on trusting him, are you? He's the one who brought me to these ruffians the last time I tried to escape."

"I'm not going to stop you," Yalo stated flatly. "Not for the cut I'm getting."

"I'd almost swear there was a human under that mask," Haedian mocked, starting to find his feet now with Lylanya's help. "You don't appear to be loyal to anything except credits."

"I'm loyal to my people," Yalo defended. "And that means getting credits... for the moment. I do whatever it is I need to in order to succeed, just like anybody else. It's as simple as that."

"You're willing to betray your krogan allies then... just like that?" Haedian asked.

"If it means I'll save my own kind in the process, yes. I'm loyal to them first and foremost. Anybody else takes a back seat."

"Not that I really care, but those krogan will tear you apart when they find out about this you realise?" the Salarian stated.

"Don't worry. I'll make it look like I was taken out too and that you were taken without my help. As far as they're concerned, you'll have been the one who gassed them all. It wasn't the first time after all."

"We have to hurry, Doctor," Lylanya said impatiently. "The effect of the gas will wear off in only a few minutes."

"What about the others?" asked Haedian. Lylanya shook her head.

"I was only hired to take you back. The others are insignificant and will only hamper your escape."

"But we can't let this continue!" the Salarian protested.

"Then you can tell your government when we get you back to Council space," the asari argued, then tugged on his arm. "Now let's move!"

"But they'll have moved on by then, just like after the last escape attempt!" Haedian said, struggling as she pulled him towards the door. "It won't be enough!"

Letting out a loud sigh, Lylanya took another medicine injector from her belt and pressed it to Haedian's neck. After an incoherent objection from the Salarian, his whole body wilted, and she hoisted him over her shoulder.

"That's better," she sighed, looking at Yalo. "It should be easier this way anyway."

"And quieter," the quarian added.

"Indeed," came a rather dry response. "Thank you, quarian. Do not worry... you shall be paid soon. Avoid flaunting your new wealth and your krogan friends should be none the wiser."

And then she was gone almost as quietly as she had left. Sighing and still wondering if he'd made the right decision, Yalo looked around for a good place to fake unconsciousness, deciding the remains of the desk he'd been slammed into with the asari's first attack to be as good as any. There he lay, and waited.

You were very quick to betray your friends, he heard a voice chastise in the back of his head. It was Linna's.

"I made a choice," Yalo defended, whispering back to his own mind as he gazed up at the buckled railing above and the rock ceiling beyond. "It wasn't easy, but it was the best one."

So you abandoned those who took you in and gave you opportunity for the sake of getting there faster?

"I did what I did for our people. They're more important than this."

I thought you considered Gonamida and his krogan to be the same? I thought you considered them your brothers, fighting the basic same cause? Both of you helping your people?

"They do what they need to do to help their people and so do I. If Gonamida or Intarr saw a means to speeding things up by getting rid of me they wouldn't hesitate to do so."

Do you really know that?

"Yes. Everybody does what they need to do in order to get what they want. That's just the way things are. Besides, it's not as if the whole situation is a loss."

We'll see then, won't we? Yalo heard as her voice drifted away. Her voice was gone for now, but her words and the doubts and guilt they had brought remained.
Last edited by Anonymous on Thu Apr 08, 2010 2:20 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Mass Effect Digression

Postby Kif White » Sat Dec 05, 2009 2:12 pm

Chapter 7

Lying in the pile of desk debris felt like an eternity to Yalo, but he'd only been there just over five minutes when he sensed a presence looming above him. He'd heard noises around him, but had been too deep in thought and had pretty much ignored the ambience until now. It was a low and familiar voice that brought him out of his own thoughts and back to the real world, along with a firm kick to his left leg.

"Rise and shine."

Yalo opened his eyes to see Intarr staring down at him with those blood red marbles that shone like droplets of freshly spilled blood. It was never easy to tell with a krogan glaring at you whether he was angry, sad, happy or in any other emotional state. But after spending a few weeks with Intarr, Yalo had learnt that with some careful observation and by noting their body language, one could soon discover that it didn't make things any easier. What Yalo had learned was that a krogan's emotional state was more often determined by the way they spoke to you. Or, failing that, the way they didn't speak at all and then simply attacked you. Seeing as he wasn't being attacked and words had been spoken, Yalo assumed his actions only moments ago were still unknown to the krogan. He still had to remain completely still of course. After all, he'd been "knocked out" by an "escaping" salarian.

"Hey! Get up!"

A far more forceful kick accompanied the second encouragement from Intarr, and that was enough to convince Yalo a false stir would be better presented sooner than later. Groaning, Yalo perched up on one elbow and rubbed the back of his head, despite a preference for rubbing the side of his leg.

"Wha... what happened?" Yalo moaned to Intarr. The krogan snorted.

"You're asking me what happened? I was knocked out cold like the others. I was gonna ask you what happened. Gas couldn't have effected you."

Yalo made another sound of discomfort, then shook his head. He brought one hand up to his visor in a motion as if he had a headache. After a few seconds of this he responded.

"It was... it was Haedian. He came at me... surprised me." A pause and another groan. "He hit me... I fell backwards. And then... nothing."

"The salarian took you down?" Intarr said, brow raised slightly on one side. Yalo noted he sounded very unconvinced.

"He... he did something to... me..." Yalo answered, then remembered something. "He... injected me with... something."

Yalo crawled onto all fours, then looked around the floor amongst the debris and stones. Or at least that's what me made it look like he was doing. Moving behind some broken chunks of desk and still making it look like he was searching, Yalo produced the small vial with the needle he's stabbed the turian on Palaven with. With a noise of triumph he then held it up to show Intarr.

"This. He... he stabbed me with this."

Intarr took it from the quarian as Yalo carefully got back to his feet. Taking in more of his surroundings, Yalo noticed a few of the other krogan were up and about, either helping others wake up or keeping any freshly woken scientists in check. His attention was soon drawn to another familiar and prominent figure standing directly ahead and above him atop the walkway.

"What happened here?!" Gonamida growled, a hollow metallic ring sounding out as one of his meaty fists came down upon the handrail before him, misshaping it significantly in the process. "I want answers! Now!"

"Seems that Palmera's apprentice has been taught well," Intarr called up to his boss loudly. "He somehow gassed us all and escaped. This time without any of the others. All the others are accounted for. There's an ATV missing though."

"We found this," another krogan announced, entering from the entrance. He gave Intarr the object he had referenced.

"What is it?" Gonamida asked. Intarr shrugged, and Yalo could swear the floor shook a little when the krogan's shoulders dropped.

"I have no idea," came the answer, and he held it up for Gonamida to see. The krogan who had brought it in spoke up. "It was in the main ventilator."

"It's a remote gas dispenser," Gonamida explained. "A very specific one too. I've seen them before. It has three chambers which each have a different substance in them. It carefully mixes them to programmed specifications and then releases them when ready. Small and compact, so as not to need much of each substance to work effectively. Instead each one is very concentrated. That way it can be easily hidden and placed into a small area. In the main ventilator it spread the gas throughout the entire place within seconds."

The krogan warlord's attention turned to Yalo. Yalo had expected this, as well as the question that came with it.

"How did this effect you too then, Yalo?"

Yalo didn't even need to answer, as Intarr raised the object that Yalo had given him into the air.

"Haedian stabbed him with this."

"I've seen those too," Gonamida said. "It's probably filled with something that salarian scum knew would effect Yalo without actually harming him. Could even be a liquefied version of the same stuff we were exposed to."

"Considerate of the little bastard," Intarr snorted, eyeing the liquid in the vial. A growl sounded from Gonamida.

"I doubt he'll be so considerate keeping this place a secret though," the older krogan muttered. "Probably thought he'd have a better chance escaping alone rather than organise an entire escape like Palmera did. All he needs to do is to get back to Council space and it'll be all over."

There was a moment of pause from the krogan warlord and then his attention returned to Intarr and Yalo again.

"Intarr. Take Yalo and see if you can chase that salarian down before he can get to the spaceport. He's probably there already or close to it, but you might be able to stop him before he can get anywhere." His attention shifted. "The rest of you... be prepared to have to move out once again. Chances are we'll need to find another base soon."

Gonamida turned around and disappeared back into his office, while the other krogan began to bustle around. Intarr turned back to Yalo, flicking his head in the direction of the exit.

"Come on. We'll have to hurry if we're going to stop that slimy bastard."

Yalo and Intarr found it was still dark outside, with over four hours until sunrise. It was less than ten minutes drive to the city and they'd been out for about the same amount of time, so if the salarian wasn't already there, he soon would be. They just had to hope that he'd need more than ten minutes to find a ship and get out of there. Or at least Intarr had to hope that; Yalo wasn't quite sure what to hope. Intarr clearly didn't care about finesse when driving, making for an almost straight path towards the city once they'd sidled around the maw pit and only avoiding rocks bigger than their wheels. Yalo was actually worried when approaching some of the larger ones that he might smash his visor against the dashboard or something in the process, bringing his pilgrimage to a premature and rather unsatisfying end.

About halfway there Intarr brought the ATV over a rocky crest to reveal the city lights there before them, just over a kilometre away. Unfortunately the city wasn't the only thing they saw besides rocks and dirt, as something zipped directly overhead their vehicle from beyond the city and towards the way they had come. They only got a brief look at the object, but Yalo had a fair idea what it might be. Intarr did too, instantly spinning the vehicle about-face and kicking up a wave of dust as he tore back to make chase. He and Yalo both knew there was no way they were going to ever catch the airbourne entity, but that didn't deter the krogan from giving the ATV its all to return home. It was something he never expected to see in the Terminus Systems that was for certain.

Intarr stopped the vehicle about half a kilometre away from the base, parking on the edge of a small mound of dirt-covered rock that sloped away from the scene before them. There was the object that had streaked above them, hovering a few metres above the ground right near the entrance of the krogan base. It appeared to be bluish in colour, but that may just have been the tint of the light reflected from the moon, and was smooth and rounded. It was fairly long and noticeably flat, with a pointed front that branched off into two sweeping flukes that made up the rear. From his research prior to his pilgrimage, Yalo knew the ship was salarian in design, but also knew it was like no vessel he'd ever seen. Beneath it, at the entrance itself, he and Intarr could make out five figures. Intarr growled, leaving the vehicle and going to the rear to retrieve a sniper rifle. Yalo got out too, watching and wondering what the krogan was up to. He half expected him to run to the top of the mound and just start shooting down at them, but was pleasantly relieved when Intarr got down on his stomach, crawled to the edge and simply looked through the weapon's scope.

"Salarians," he grumbled. "Take a look."

Intarr held out the weapon, so Yalo got low and took it from him. Peering through the site wasn't easy with a sloped visor in the way, but he'd got used to using the weapon thanks to practicing with Intarr, and it didn't take him long to pick out each individual down there. With another having left the ship to join the ones there, there were six salarians, all armed with guns. One in particular seemed more prominent; wearing a bulkier armour than most salarians Yalo had seen and appeared to be directing the others.

"That bitch," Yalo whispered.

"Huh?" Intarr asked.

"I said, 'son of a bitch,'" Yalo lied.

"We could take them out," Intarr said, sounding rather confident. "I should get another rifle, then we can get at least two at once before they even know what hit 'em."

"Are you insane?" Yalo said, lowering the weapon to glance at Intarr. "There's at least six of them... perhaps more. Plus they've got an entire ship. For all we know it has weapons that could level this entire hill."

"Are you suggesting we just watch and wait while they haul Gonamida and the others out of there and just let all we've strived for go to waste?"

"At the moment they don't know we're here. We should keep it that way."

"So we escape while the others all get captured?" Intarr growled. "I'm a fighter, Yalo... not a coward!" A pause. "I'll bet if it was your people down there you wouldn't just abandon them!"

"Getting caught ourselves isn't going to help them. While we're unknown we're not a problem and we're safe."

Intarr growled again, his attention turning back towards the invading salarian forces. Two of them had disappeared into the main entrance now.

"That conniving bastard must have had this planned out far more than we had thought," Intarr said. "No way a salarian special ops ship could have been here so quick otherwise."

"Indeed," Yalo added dryly, responding only to the latter portion of the krogan's statement. He heard a heavy sigh from Intarr.

"So what do we do then? Just wait until they're all taken away? That doesn't sound like much of a plan."

Yalo paused for a moment; one slender finger tapping the side of the sniper rifle. Eventually he turned to Intarr again and posed a question.

"How much does it take to rouse a Thresher Maw from its nest?"

"I dunno... it depends I guess. I can't honestly say that I've made a point of testing the limits of Maw nest tolerance."

"So if I were to shoot the surface of the nest from here with this, do you think it would pop up?"

"Probably not," Intarr said. "Plus it would give away our position most likely." There was a pause. "But I might have another idea."

Intarr turned around and snuck back to the ATV, heading around to the back of it. After opening it up and a few grunts, Yalo saw him holding a large wheel.

"Good thing I always bring a spare," he smiled. "Now all we need to do is get a good slope with a good angle."

The scientists left the caverns to the welcome sight of several armed salarians standing with a modest sized slip whirring above them. One of these soldiers was Agent Vaetorals of the Special Tactics and Reconnaissance branch. While the other salarians under his command all wore a light armour in a brilliant white, Vaetorals bore a slightly heavier armour in jet black with dark blue trim and grey inset; the Spectre symbol gracing his left breast in contrasting silver. Like the others, his helmet covered his entire head, hiding it from anybody who would wish to glance upon his facial features. While the newly freed slaves marched out into the light cast by the ship above, one of the armed salarians approached Vaetorals, saluting him.

"What do you have to report, lieutenant?" the Spectre asked, arms crossed casually. His voice was slightly slower and deeper than most of his species.

"All but two scientists appear to be accounted for, Captain," the lieutenant answered swiftly. "According to one of the scientists one was killed and the other escaped just recently. As in very recently."

"And the krogan?"

"We're not entirely sure how many of them there were all together. We have the one in charge though: Durrlex Gonamida. The scientist I mentioned earlier said that one of them and a quarian left to chase down the escapee and hadn't yet returned."

"A quarian?"

"Yes, sir. Apparently he was working for the krogan for some reason. Wanted the credits to save his people, or something."

"A quarian and a lone krogan aren't enough to concern me, Lieutenant," Vaetorals said, impatience creeping into his voice. "We can't afford to spend any more time here than we need to here in the Terminus Systems, and the proximity of this place to the main settlement has us in danger enough as it is without us chasing down stray fugitives. We have the scientists, we have the ringleader and we have most of his men. That's enough. Get them in the ship as quickly as possible so we can get out of here as quickly as possible."

"But sir... what about the scientist who just escaped?" the lieutenant protested.

"You have my orders," Vaetorals stated firmly. "Carry them out."

With a nervous affirmation and a salute, the salarian lieutenant returned to the entrance and disappeared. Shaking his head a little and muttering something inside his helmet, Vaetorals turned around towards the ship, only to pause for a moment to regard something in the distance beyond it. There was something moving out there, slowly coming closer along the ground, but it was too dark to tell what it was. It looked almost as tall as he was, and appeared to be rolling.

"What in the--"

Vaetorals cut himself off as the ground exploded where the mysterious object previously was, sending up a spray of dirt and dust along with a mighty roar. The large airbourne wheel glanced off the right side of the salarian ship then flew over the salarian Spectre's head, forcing him to duck slightly before it bounced off the rocky surface behind him and rolled away harmlessly. Another roar drew Vaetoral's attention back to the cloud of settling dust, and then to the gargantuan creature that loomed out of it.

Four blue eyes stared menacingly at the salarians and their ship, glaring from almost forty metres above the ground. A mostly dusty-brown complexion and with twitching insectoid arms, the wormlike beast's tentacled mouth gaped towards them with a long blue tongue that seemed to glow. The Thresher Maw was a formidable creature indeed, but this was not the first one that this salarian Spectre had dealt with.

"Keep the scientists from harm!" Vaetorals yelled to his men, his shotgun snapping into readiness as he produced it from his back. "Take them back into the cave if you have to... I'll deal with this!"

The frantic movement of his men and the scientists began to draw the attention of the Maw, but Vaetorals soon brought the focus back to him by sending a volley of mass-accelerated projectiles at the beast from the barrel of his weapon. The creature's head drew back with a noise of discomfort, then drew back even more a second time before flicking forwards towards the salarian captain. A ball of swelling emerald acid hurtled from the creatures mouth towards Vaetorals, forcing him to leap and roll to the side. A hissing splash sounded from the rock behind the Spectre, leaving a hole of steam, smoke and melted rock in its place. Vaetorals fired at the creatures face again, but knew that despite its flinching he wasn't doing terribly much damage: the range of his shotgun was too limited, despite its power. While his ship had weapons, they were meant for space combat, and he didn't want to risk using them with his men and the scientists still in such close proximity, not to mention himself. Stealing a quick glance towards the entrance to the base and noting all the scientists were now inside it again, he called out to two of his men who were waiting outside and watching.

"You two! Draw his attention away from me for a moment!"

The two salarians nodded without hesitation, then immediately ran to their left. Vaetorals found himself again having to leap out of the path of another projectile of thick acid spit, but this time didn't fire back. After the two soldiers were about ten metres away from the cavern entrance, they began firing with their light assault rifles at the beast. Roaring and swaying, the Thresher Maw rotated around to face its new attackers, who kept running and firing in bursts. Moving suddenly and then stopping to confirm that the Maw's attention was fully drawn, Vaetorals moved quickly again, compacting his shotgun and slapping it onto his back before making a leap at his ship. His slender fingers grasped onto the front of it and he hoisted himself up onto the nose of the craft. Engaging the magnetic soles on his boots, he deftly ran across the top of the ship and brought shotgun to bear once more. Smirking inside his helmet, he noticed the Thresher Maw was facing in the opposite direction and was only a few metres away now. Now was his chance.

Reversing the magnetism charge on his boots to literally repel him off of it, Agent Vaetorals leapt from the hull of his ship skyward and onto the creature. He landed on the final upper armoured section of the creature's back where its body joined to its head, which was thankfully at a mostly horizontal angle thanks to the way the beast curled up out of the ground. The Thresher Maw's thick armour stopped it from even feeling the Spectre make contact, eliciting no reactions from it. It was another story entirely however when he held the tip of his shotgun right up to the base of its skull and pulled the trigger.

With a tremendous roar, it bucked wildly, throwing Vaetorals into the air once more. The Spectre found himself spinning and then descending back down towards his ship. With a clattering crunch he hit the top of it, thankful that his armour was heavy rather than light, and began to slide across the smooth hull. He managed to gain enough grip to stop himself going over the side, just as his shotgun thwacked against the ship about a metre away and disappeared behind him. Pulling himself up and clamping his magnetic feet back onto the metal surface, he glared up in horror to see the Thresher Maw facing him once again. As it drew it's head back in its familiar pre-splitting motion, Vaetoral's right hand quickly flicked to his belt and spun a small grey disc with blue lights at the monster. The device whirred straight into the upper portion of the creature's mouth then exploded in a fireball, severing the large tentacle on its upper right lip and making it screech in agony. Flames and smoke still pouring from its face, the Thresher Maw threw it's head back, severing and flicking most of it's own elongated azure tongue into the air before finally descending back under the ground with an earthshaking rumble.

Vaetorals sighed with relief, then allowed himself to slide off the side of his ship and into the soft sandy Maw pit below. Collecting his shotgun and shaking the dust and sand from it, he left the edge of the nest to be met by his two assistants. They were about to congratulate the Spectre, but he spoke before they got a chance to say anything.

"Now that that's taken care of, let's get these guys out of here and back home."

"Wow!" uttered Yalo, moving his face away from the sniper scope for the first time in what seemed like hours. "That's certainly something one doesn't see every day."

"Yeah. Impressive," Intarr agreed, watching the two salarians jog from Vaetorals back to the base entrance through his own scope. "Shame it totally screws up pretty much any chance we had of stopping them."

There was a silence between them, and then Yalo turned his head to look at his krogan ally.

"Maybe... maybe we should have shot at them while they were busy with the Maw," the quarian stated.

Intarr looked at him, not saying a word, then looked back towards the salarians. Eventually he sighed, looking down at the rocky ground before him.

"Dammit," he uttered.
- Kenneth White

"Know the conflict within before facing the conflict without."

Now Watching: Babylon 5 - Season 3
Now Playing: Dragon Age Origins: Awakening, Pokemon Heart Gold
Now Reading: Catch 22
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Kif White
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Re: Mass Effect Digression

Postby Kif White » Sun Dec 06, 2009 1:44 pm

Just a little cover I worked up after work tonight. I know it's not writing, but it's not strictly art either (much of it is edit images, cut and pasted etc) and it fits in with this topic.
- Kenneth White

"Know the conflict within before facing the conflict without."

Now Watching: Babylon 5 - Season 3
Now Playing: Dragon Age Origins: Awakening, Pokemon Heart Gold
Now Reading: Catch 22
User avatar
Kif White
Senior Executive
Senior Executive
Posts: 1402
Joined: Thu Jun 19, 2003 10:20 am
Custom Title: Decepticon Commander
Location: Middle Earth

Re: Mass Effect Digression

Postby Kif White » Thu Dec 10, 2009 11:52 am

Chapter 8

Once again Yalo had found himself at Talan Jol's bar in Tieronus; perched on a familiar barstool he'd once found to be a comfort that now only represented defeat and disenchantment. It was here that he'd found his first real steps to success in his goal, and here he had returned after fate had tossed him away thanks to one bad choice.

Perhaps the voice of his sister within his head had been correct. After all, in betraying Intarr and the others he'd also betrayed himself. But then, it was not the moral nature of his actions that had brought everything crashing down. Other races sometimes believed in the concept of a fate based on choices. Humans, for instance, called it "karma." But Yalo did not believe in such things. What happens in life is determined by the many choices and consequences made by millions of individuals all over the universe, and not by some divine being or some mysterious force trying to set things right or making sure everybody who did a bad deed was going to be punished. Even though he knew he would. And he would accept that. He was counting on his choices, no matter how bad, at least paying off for the quarian people. Where karma would fail to restore them, he would succeed. No matter the cost.

"I hope your friend there doesn't decide to attack the machine," Yalo heard a voice say, followed by a hissing breath. "My hospitality has its limits."

Yalo stopped the flow of purified water he was intaking through the tube in his helmet to turn his head and regard the gruff cursing and yelling coming from a small collection of Quasar machines. He made a noise then turned back to the volus barkeep.

"Maybe if your machines didn't cheat it wouldn't be causing Intarr so much... irritation," Yalo answered dryly.

"My machines don't cheat," Talan Jol defended, his attempts to sound both genuine and hurt less than convincing. Yalo snorted from beyond his tinted visor.

"You can't fool me. I've observed the things closely over time. They're at least twenty five percent less likely to win than a standard machine. The damn fool is wasting his money and we both know it."

There was a loud krogan curse from across the room, followed by the sound of a machine being shaken.

"If you knew that, why didn't you tell him?" the volus asked.

"It's more fun this way," Yalo said dryly, and Talan could hear the smirk. "Besides, consider it Intarr's way of paying for damages."


"Yeah. Damages to your Quasar machines."

"If he does, you'll both be finding someplace else to call your home away from home," Talan warned.

"Relax, Talan... I'm joking." A pause. "At least that's the intention, I really don't know how mad he'll actually get. He's got a lot of credits still left."

"Perhaps this will placate him." A deep breath. "At least for a while."

The portly little bartender accessed a small holographic interface somewhere beneath the bar and there was a ringing and bleeping sound from Intarr's direction.

"Hey! That's more like it!" the krogan said.

Yalo looked on, thinking back to the events that led them back here. It still puzzled him even now that the krogan had decided to follow him. Puzzled, and made him feel uncomfortable.

All Yalo and Intarr could do was just lie there on the dusty rock and watch as the salarian invaders rescued the captives and rounded up the krogan responsible. Both knew any attempt at rescue would be be met with less than ideal results, especially given how well the salarian leader had taken care of the Thresher Maw almost single-handedly. It only took the salarians a couple of minutes to get everybody into the ship and then rise up and disappear into the darkness again.

After they were sure the ship had gone, Yalo and Intarr returned to the ATV and headed to the former scene of the crime. Things were pretty much the way they had left it it seemed, though obviously without Intarr's kinsfolk and the servants. None of the debris and damage had been attended to, and the first signs of packing were present. Gonamida's office was also noticeably bare, save for his desk. Yalo had remembered seeing the krogan warlord himself being forced at gunpoint to carry his own computer terminal into the salarian vessel. Some of the physical examples of the scientific research that had previously been intact were also destroyed in what had obviously been swift and brute force Yalo considered ironically more suitable to that of a krogan than a salarian. There weren't really any signs of a struggle, suggesting the krogan had probably been taken by complete surprise or had thought any resistance wasn't worth it.

The only other thing of note that Yalo had discovered was a single pistol hidden amongst some of the debris, which he'd recognised as the asari mercenary's. It was jet black, save for a dark green stripe slashed across the side that angled down the handle of the weapon. Thankfully Intarr had been checking out the scientists' former sleeping quarters at the time, so retrieving the weapon and hiding it from sight was easy. The last thing Yalo wanted Intarr to know was that he had had an indirect hand in what had happened. It was this shame that made things even harder for the quarian when Intarr returned shortly after and spoke to him for the first time since they'd entered the ruins of a once hopeful endeavor for the krogan people.

"I guess this is it then," Intarr sighed heavily. "Gonamida's gone. The scientists are gone. And any chance of the krogan curing the genophage are gone with them."

"I'm sorry, Intarr," Yalo said. The krogan had no idea of the true scope of the quarian's apology, but then Yalo preferred it that way.

"So once again my people are doomed to fade away slowly over time. I'm sick of the salarians and the other Council races getting away with this crap and us being the ones treated like the villains. What Gonamida did here was nothing compared to what they did to us in the first place. We didn't want to take over the galaxy. We didn't even want revenge. We just wanted to set things right again. We just wanted to live again for the first time in years."

Intarr looked at a half-packed crate.

"And it was all brought crashing down because of some smart-mouthed salarian who couldn't keep his stupid mouth shut!"

Intarr kicked the crate as if it were a salarian's face, sending it and its contents flying effortlessly into a rocky wall and splintering into dozens of pieces.

"Life isn't fair," the krogan growled, surveying his victim's scattered remains.

"You're wrong," Yalo answered simply. "Life is fair. And that's the problem."

Intarr looked up at the quarian, the mix of sorrow and anger upon his rough features shifting to confusion. Yalo dropped the piece of desk he'd been holding and walked over to the krogan.

"The problem is people believe that life judges them," he began to explain. "There isn't some divine being or force out there that evaluates and judges you and your actions and determines whether you are worthy of blessings or curses. There's no balance to things, and there's no universal rule that the good prevail and the evil are stopped. Because there is no good and no evil, just choices and consequences. Everybody does what they believe they must in order to prosper in the manner they wish to prosper. Success or failure is not determined by the morality of the means they use to get there."

"How does that make life fair?" Intarr asked.

"Because life isn't biased," Yalo said matter-of-factly. "Life doesn't pick and choose how it deals out fate. You have just as much a chance of having something good or bad happen to you as the next person, be they krogan or salarian, Spectre or criminal. Life is fair because everybody gets the same odds as everybody else. Fate doesn't pick sides... only moments and places."

Yalo turned away, looking back at the remains of once was. He didn't see the smile form on the krogan's face.

"So, what road lies ahead for you now, Intarr?"

"Funny. I was going to ask you the same thing," the krogan said.

"I'll probably hunt up some mercenary work, just like I did before I found you," Yalo answered. "I need to find some way to get credits, and time is not my ally."

"Good. Because I want to go with you."

Yalo was honestly shocked by the statement Intarr had made. He slowly turned to regard the krogan.

"You... you what?"

"I want to go with you," Intarr repeated. "I've got nothing here, and nowhere else to go at the moment. And aside from that, I feel like I owe you somehow."

"Owe me?" Yalo was flabbergasted.

"I'm not sure exactly why. I mean... I don't trust many people out there. Gonamida was one of the few. But I feel I can trust you. You tried to help me and my people, even though you didn't really have to. It seems only right now that that's no longer possible to at least try to help you help yours."

Yalo's stomach twisted and convulsed. He was half expecting Intarr to point at it physically squirming and comment it felt so bad. Intarr trusted him? He had, of course, already betrayed that trust before he knew it was truly even there, but the krogan didn't know that. If he had, then he wouldn't be saying this now. How could he allow Intarr to come along with him knowing how much he betrayed him before? He already felt bad enough, and having Intarr there all the time would just remind him of what he'd done. Was it fair to Intarr to pretend none of this was his doing? How could he look the krogan in the eye like this?

Yes, you must, a voice said from within. It was not Linna's, but his own. And yet, also not his own. There was something darker about it. Something sinister. And yet, he didn't shut the voice out.

He would be useful. He can help you attain your goals. You must use every resource you can. He is no different. It's not as if you're going to hurt him, and telling him the truth would serve no purpose. Besides... what is one krogan compared to the entire quarian race anyway? You know you must do whatever you can to get what you want, just like everybody else.

"Sure. You can come," Yalo said eventually. In truth it was only a few seconds, but it has seemed longer. "I could use the help."

So despite his guilt, Yalo allowed the krogan he had betrayed to continue to travel with him. The salarians had thankfully come and gone so quickly and acted so purposefully that they had completely ignored Gonamida's ship that was still docked in the main city's spaceport. Perhaps it was because they didn't consider it important or didn't know about it, but Yalo suspected it had more to do with the fact that the salarians were acting outside their station and had no jurisdiction in the Terminus Systems, so going to get the ship would be a very bold move that could backfire in so many ways. The main point was since it was there, so was Yalo's shuttle within. Yalo didn't have the need for such a big cumbersome vessel, and selling it off could provide a good amount of additional credits. Once he and Intarr had gone over the ship from stem to stern to find anything of value that may still be left, the ship was sold to the very batarian who owned the hangar it was in, and they flew to Tieronus.

That was almost week ago, and nothing work-wise had come up since. The only thing that had come up since leaving Bersilius was a question from Intarr kept asking Yalo. It was a question he wasn't quite ready to answer yet, and yet the krogan still insisted on bringing up the subject at least once a day.

"So, how exactly are you going to save your people?"

And there it was again as Intarr sat there with him at the bar, drinking something from a large mug that looked more like something that should leave the body rather than enter it. The krogan had decided to quit playing Quasar while he was ahead. Or at least while he wasn't quite as behind as he was five minutes ago. Yalo once again answered as he had the last half a dozen times.

"I'll tell you when I feel the time is right. I'm taking things one step at a time, and I haven't even completed the first one yet."

"Which is to get a lot of credits," Intarr said followed up with a deep echoing burp. "I have to wonder exactly how much you need. Sounds to me like whatever it is, it's expensive."

"I don't even know if I'll ever get enough," Yalo said with a sigh. "How's that for 'expensive?'"

"In the end you're still just one person," Intarr said. "And even the best of us can't make a whole heap of credits alone in a short amount of time. Perhaps you're about going things the wrong way."


"Perhaps what you need isn't money, but power or information that can get you stuff that only a great deal of money otherwise can," Intarr explained.

"It's funny you should say that," Yalo said.

"Oh? Why's that?"

"If we make it that far, you'll see," the quarian stated.

There was a brief moment of silence. The whole place was quiet in fact, since it was pretty late there now and most locals were at home. Aside from a couple of turians and one human sitting at some tables out of earshot, Yalo, Intarr and Talan were the only ones in the bar. It was a simple little establishment, with the main bar in the centre and the quasar machines set up to the left of it and some tables and chairs on the right, all bathed in the bright lights of deep blue and pinkish red that adorned most bars. Music played from a jukebox, but there was no real room to dance, and of course a large holographic screen above the main bar displayed the news and any other information patrons may find interesting directly from the network. Intarr gulped back some more drink and spoke.

"It's a shame we can't just capture that stupid scientist Haedian again and get an even larger amount of money than they were offering the first time. That'd get us some credits."

Something clicked in Yalo's mind, and he looked sideways at Intarr.

"Perhaps we can," Yalo said with a voice more confident than it had been in a long time. "You never found out exactly what Haedian was working on?"


"But it was important... we know that much. Important enough for a sizable reward and for a squad of salarians led by a Spectre to enter the Terminus Systems for. If they were caught they'd be risking galactic war."

"But they didn't even get Haedian. He was already gone."

"We both know it was all linked," Yalo said. "Haedian was rescued too, he just made sure the others were as well and that your people were stopped. The point is, he's important and we know where he is."

"Yeah. Somewhere on Mannovai, deep in salarian territory. Probably in a very secured facility that's even more secure now. We only got him in the first place because we nabbed him a night while he was asleep in his own home, and even then we were caught on a security camera. We won't get that chance again, and there's no way they'll let any krogan anywhere near the place now."

"I'll think of something," Yalo said, standing up from the barstool. "It's a start, and you were right... I'm going about this the wrong way. No amount of mercenary jobs is going to get me what I need. Things must be taken to a whole new level." A pause. "And speaking of sleep, that sounds like a good idea. I think I may actually get a good one tonight for once. I've finally got an idea of where to go from here."

Thanking Talan Jol, Yalo began to head towards the staircase that led to the rooms upstairs. Intarr called out to the quarian from the bar before he could disappear.

"So you are going to tell me how you plan to save your people eventually, right?"

"I'll tell you when I feel the time is right," Yalo called back. "I'm taking things one step at a time, and the end of step one is only just on the horizon."

Before Yalo even entered his room, he sensed something was wrong. He wasn't sure what it was, just some kind of feeling or presence. Drawing his pistol slowly, he approached the door. Waiting for a moment and listening, he pointed his weapon squarely at the centre of the door; holding it in his right hand while he worked the access panel with his left. The door slid across with a whoosh, and Yalo's suspicions were confirmed, for there stood a lone figure in the darkness, backlit by the modest window that looked out onto the street below. The room itself was rather small, with the only other features besides the window being a simple bed on the left as you entered, a set of bedside drawers, a closet and a storage container. The only other thing in the room at the moment was the trespasser.

"Don't move!" the quarian warned. "Who are you and what are you doing here?"

The intruder was tall and female, wearing clothing that hugged her slender figure all the way from the neck down, leaving only her head exposed. While this attire appeared very dark, light gleamed and reflected from it in places without hesitation, suggesting a smooth, hard substance rather than any fabric. She seemed in no way threatened or influenced by Yalo's actions, merely standing there and gazing out through the glass, her arms clasped at the small of her back. The back of her head was not hair, but folds of skin which curved together like a delicate blue rose in that stage between bud and flower. Eventually she turned her head to the side, looking back at Yalo over her shoulder with one eye, and while he did not recognise her face, when she finally spoke he did know her voice.

"You are a resourceful individual, Yalo'Pala nar Lerta, but you don't keep your room very secure."

"You!" Yalo hissed.

Briefly slammed his left hand upon the light panel on the inside wall, Yalo strode towards her with determined purpose. She turned around full just in time for his left forearm to slam into her throat and push her back until she was up against the wall and window. Yalo's gun rose into her vision, mere millimetres away from her left eye. Yalo finally got a look at the face that was hidden from him in their previous encounter.

Some asari were a very deep blue with a hint of purple, while others were a lighter, almost green colour, and some were in-between. She was the former, though her face was a lighter blue than the back of her head. Above her lips of deep purple was a tall, slim nose, framed by high cheekbones. Like many asari she had lighter markings and stripes upon her face, the most prominent ones surrounding her eyes and upon her forehead. The most notable thing was her eyes though, which seemed so bright and blue that they didn't seem real. It was like staring into the centre of a mass relay or two orbs of concentrated biotic energy, and Yalo could swear they were almost shimmering and glowing.

The look of shock upon her features didn't last long, her violet lips curling up into a smile. That was enough to let Yalo feel less at ease and less in control.

"Come now, Yalo," she said, her voice becoming smooth and innocent, with a playful inflection. "I thought that we were on good terms. I thought we made a good team and worked well together."

She licked her upper lip, her eyes looking and voice became sultry. "Very well together," she breathed.

He felt one of her legs starting to move up between his own, stroking up the side of his inner thigh. Her tongue reached out towards his helmet, making contact with it right where the speech light was located. Yalo twitched uncomfortably, and that was all it took. In a flash her face disappeared, Yalo found his helmet hitting the wall just to the right of the window and his body being pressed up against it. His arms were being squeezed into his own back, and his weapon fell from his hands. He heard the pistol sliding away from him across the floor, just as the asari's face appeared from over his shoulder out the corner of his right eye, her visage a victorious smirk.

"Sorry," she said. "But I prefer to be the one in control. Hope you don't mind?"

After a brief but pointless struggle, Yalo made a grumbling noise. "What do you want, Lylanya?"

"I came to see you, of course" the asari responded. "I have something for you. And I see you had something for me too"

She held something up for him to see. It was her pistol, unmistakable in its colour and design. She must have taken it from the drawer beside his bed, making Yalo wonder what else she'd found or taken.

"Thanks for holding onto this for me. I forgot all about it, what with the rush to get out and all."

"You sold us out!" Yalo accused, ignoring the subject she'd brought up. Lylanya laughed.

"And why wouldn't I? I'm a mercenary after all. Getting Doctor Haedian back to the salarian people was a nice enough little package, but why stop there when I can sell the information of the whereabouts of the rest of them and bring down a bunch of krogan criminals forcing them to cure the genophage? Information like that is worth a lot of money to the right people. I have to admit though, I didn't expect you and your friend to escape. I guess the salarian strike team were a little slower than I had anticipated. Their loss I suppose."

"Why do you care?" Yalo grumbled. "Come to take me in too? Or are you here to simply get back your credits from me?"

"On the contrary, my dear quarian," Lylanya said, and Yalo felt her release the pressure on him. "I came to give you the rest of what I owed you."

Now free from being sandwiched between an asari and a wall, Yalo turned around to look at her properly. She must have known the look of confusion and scepticism on his face even if she couldn't see it.

"You're kidding, right?" An awkward laugh followed. "You're meaning to tell me that after you betrayed me and left me to be captured and damned to know knows what fate that you tracked me down and broke into my room just so you could give me some credits?"

"Don't sound so shocked," she said, rolling her eyes and spinning around. "You betrayed that krogan you're with and he doesn't even know it! If he did, there's no way he'd still be with you. Don't justify your petty moral values to me."

So confident was she that he wouldn't try to attack her again that she turned her back to him. That, or confident in her ability to stop him if he did. Even her gun was clipped to the holster on her thigh rather than in her hand any more. Yalo didn't know whether to be impressed or insulted.

"That may be why you came, but it can't be the only reason. Why would a hardened mercenary out for credits be so willing to give them up when she doesn't have to? Why would she bother to track me down without getting something in return?"

"Maybe I just feel an obligation due to our deal?"

Yalo laughed. "I find that hard to believe. You'll set me up to be captured, and yet there's a side of honourable goodness to you too, is that it? Some kind of strange 'Honour Amongst Mercs' thing or something?"

"Okay, perhaps there is something more," Lylanya answered, turning back to face Yalo. "Perhaps I'm simply curious."

"Curious? About what?"

"Lots of things. Perhaps I'm wondering why a lone quarian decided to join up with a bunch of krogan mercs? Perhaps I'm wondering exactly why you are willing to betray so easily for the promise of credits?" A pause. "And perhaps I'm wondering how a seemingly naive young quarian who has barely left The Migrant Fleet managed to track down and infiltrate somebody far quicker than I could?"

"Oh, I'm sorry... did I bruise your ego?" Yalo sneered.

"Of course you did!" Lylanya snapped, arms flicking into the air briefly. "I've been doing my job for almost a hundred years, and you've not even been alive for quarter of that. How could that not bruise my ego?"

"Maybe I got lucky," Yalo answered. "But I don't really care about your curiosity, and my reasons for doing what I did are my own."

"I came all this way willing to give you your fair share when I could have just ignored this and kept on with my life," Lylanya said firmly, crossing her arms roughly. "The least you can do is indulge me a little."

"I told you that my reasons are my own. If that's not enough for you, then you can keep the credits for all I care."

Lylanya's jaw dropped slightly and her eyes seemed to grow twice as large. "You're kidding? You'd be willing to just refuse three-hundred thousand credits simply because you don't want to answer a few simple questions?"

"Yes. The answers aren't for you to know. Now, if you don't mind, I'd like to get some sleep, and you're still here." A pause. "Annoying me."

"You're not getting rid of me that easily," she answered with a laugh. "You're not the only one who can be frustratingly stubborn, you know."

"Why do you even care so much?" Yalo sighed, the frustration clearly present now. "You're a mercenary... there's no credits in it for you."

"Oh, of course!" Lylanya replied sarcastically, her eyes rolling as she started to pace back and forth between the door behind her and the foot of Yalo's bed to her left. "I'm just a mercenary. All I care about is credits, fighting and how to outwit people. I can't have interests in anything else. I can't simply be curious about something... enjoy a little mystery here and there." A pause. "I'll bet your the same. You became a merc just for the credits and the challenge. I'm sure you have no motives at all beyond the lifestyle of it. It's all just about the money and the danger."

"Okay, I get the point," Yalo said. "I just think it's kind of... odd you'd be interested in my personal affairs."

"You're an anomaly, Yalo," she said with a tone that sounded more genuine than anything he'd heard from her before. "There's something about you that I can't describe, and I can't help be drawn in. I have a curious nature, and I can tell that there's more to this than there seems. There are things going on inside your head... cogs and gears turning and grinding. You've got something up there simmering away that you've told nobody."

"Even if that's true, if I haven't told anybody else, why would I tell you?"

"Because I suspect you need all the help you can get," she smiled, perching herself on the end of Yalo's bed. She leaned her elbows upon her own lap, her hands clasped into a ball at her chin. "You agreed to take the krogan with you because you knew you might be able to use him, and even if you haven't earned his trust, you have it."

"For somebody who seems to want to know more about me, you already seem to think you know a lot already," Yalo said. She smiled.

"I'll tell you what I do know. I know that you only left your fleet a few months ago at the most and are on some kind of quest to save your people. I know you took on mercenary work because it pays well and somehow managed to track down where the krogan had taken the kidnapped scientists. I know that you were hired by them because they felt they could use your skills and that you shared a somewhat common goal. And I know that despite this connection you were willing to betray them for your own needs because you consider them to be more important." Lylanya paused for a moment and her grin grew. "And I know that salarians have big mouths. Which doesn't have much to do with you beyond the fact that Doctor Haedian pretty told me all of that while we were flying back to Citadel Space."

"And you want to help me just because you're curious and feel like giving me a hand?" the quarian asked.

"Aside from the fact I simply can't stand not knowing things that intrigue me, I suspect there could be a lot of credits in this too somehow," the asari answered. "From what I can gather, you've already made more in the short time you've been at this than most professionals would make in a year. I know that the more help you get, the less credits there are for whatever you need them for. But I think I can provide you some skills and opportunities that could be very useful."

"Speaking of that, there's something about you that intrigues me too," Yalo said. "And since you know so much about me already, I think it's only fair I at least get something from you in return."

"You have a question? Go ahead then."

"That neat little trick you pulled back in the krogan base... where you were there, but you weren't. How did you do that?"

Lylanya chuckled, shifting her position to leaning back on the bed casually with her arms angled back to support her. She crossed her legs, letting the top one swing and bounce a little as she explained.

"A rather neat little device tied into my biotics actually. One of the benefits I got from a job I did a little while ago. It's an experimental device, which I not only get to use for my own benefits, but am also actually field testing at the moment for additional credits. Like I said... experimental. Now, I can't actually say who made it or tell you any specifics as to how it works of course, but the basic functionality is that it uses biotic energy to bend light, making whoever uses it appear not exactly where they really are. While it can't actually make me invisible, I can adjust it so that my image is in a position an observer wouldn't be able to see. For example, when I was sneaking around the krogan base the first time, the reason nobody saw me was because I carefully projected my image beyond the walls of the caves. It has a limited range too, at least so far, but that was okay for small, tight spaces like those caves."

"Impressive," Yalo said. "Any other limitations?"

"Well, you already saw that it didn't take long before the effect wore off. That's actually more of a weakness of the biotic implants than the device itself though. It's hard to maintain for too long, and although it doesn't take long to recharge it, you'd still be left vulnerable and possibly discovered for a few moments. Other than that, I guess if somebody saw your image clipping through something it could give it away. Even the slightest thing like the ground rising a bit around you could give it away to the careful observer. It's also currently limited to purely horizontal image projection, though that's mostly for ease of use, since controlling it in two dimensions is fairly simply, but three would be rather hard. Lighting can give it away too. Oh, and if you do shift your image to the other side of a wall or other solid object, it's best you're sure what's beyond it. I was lucky in the caves because I knew there was only solid rock there. In a building or something... not quite as easy. The main hitch is actually getting used to interacting with the fact you're not really there and adjusting appropriately."

"So, are you going to milk it for what its worth and then sell it off to a rival company or something?" Yalo said. She couldn't tell if he was being sarcastic or serious.

"Perhaps... if circumstances were different. But the, how shall I put this... affiliate who created this device is a steady employer. They provide me with plenty of credits and work. Something I'd prefer not to mess up."

"Then perhaps it's best if you go and help them and let me be on my way," Yalo said, walking closer and indicating the door. Lylanya frowned.

"That's hardly fair. After I told you all that you're still just willing to throw me out and be on your way without my help? I don't offer my services easily, you know."

"Or cheaply, I'll bet." Yalo scoffed. "Sorry, I can't afford to have anybody else draining the profits. Beyond that, how would I know that could I trust you?"

"I don't trust you either. But I'm willing to help you on this. Whatever it is you have planned."

A smile returned to her face, and she bit her bottom lip. Sensuality returned to her eyes.

"Perhaps there is another way I can convince you," she said. She extended one foot out to brush it slowly up Yalo's right leg. "I can be very, very convincing."

Yalo took a step back and crossed his arms. He was thankful, once again, that his helmet hid the look that must have been on his face. He had heard about the asari and how much of an effect they could have on almost any species out there. It was said that nobody could resist the charms of an expert asari seductress, and he was starting to discover why. Upon first reading about them while still with The Flotilla he figured they may have released a special pheromone that assaulted without bias, but he was completely sealed away from any external influences of that nature in his suit, and Lylanya's allure was undeniable. She was beautiful and graceful, there was no question, despite being a different species, but there was something enigmatic beyond that, and Yalo had to resist it. He couldn't let things like that get in the way of what he had to accomplish. That, and there was Elli back with the fleet. He could do a lot of things that would make her hate him. In fact, he definitely would do things that would make her hate him. He couldn't betray her. At least not like that. He still loved her, and that wasn't going to change.

"Sorry," Yalo said. "But you're wasting your time there. And even if I was interested, you and I both know that I'm not exactly in a position to be taking off my clothing."

"A pity," she said. "It would be one hell of a way to go out though. Perhaps you don't know the asari as much as you think though..."

She stood up from the bed and slunk up to him. With a smile she continued, looking at his darkened visor as if to try and peer right past it.

"You see, we can meld with others. And this melding can be an incredibly... enjoyable experience." She paused and began tracing her finger across his chest. "Even a quarian like yourself could experience the full force of an asari meld without leaving the safety of their suit. I could take you to an existence of pleasure unlike anything you could imagine."

Her hands began to move up towards his helmet until her fingertips caressed either side of it. "All you need to do is open your mind to me."

Yalo grabbed her wrists sharply with both hands. She jumped at this and looked hurt, but Yalo simply guided them away from his helmet and let go.

"I told you, you're wasting your time. I don't need some arrogant asari bitch trying to manipulate me."

She gave him a scowl, her face no longer as beautiful as it seemed a few moments ago. The expression shifted into one of curiosity though. "What about an arrogant asari bitch who can manipulate others?"

Yalo thought about it for a moment. She was talented in that respect, he gave her that. Then a thought occurred.

"You took Doctor Haedian back to Mannovai, correct?"

"Yes. What of it?"

"That must have been a fairly long trip. Did you ever try to... manipulate him?"

"No. I had no need to. And aside from the fact that it could have interfered with my work, salarians are one of the hardest species to seduce anyway."

"So, you don't know what project he was working on for the Salarian Union?"

Lylanya crossed her arms, raising one brow with a smirk on her face. "That depends... if I answer, will you take me with you?"

"That depends on your answer," Yalo countered.

"I can't tell you exactly what he was working on, but he was working on something to do with colonisation or something. Some kind of research into something that will help the salarians colonise planets quicker. Beyond that, I know nothing."

"He told you this?" Yalo asked.

"Not exactly. He said a lot of different things on the way back, and I just added them up to draw my own conclusions. Just little comments now and then were enough to get a basic picture of that much at least."

"If Haedian is one of the foremost salarian experts on genetics, why is he working on some kind of project that's to do with colonising planets I wonder?" Yalo thought aloud, walking over to the window to stare out.

"Sounds like you've got quite an interest in the doctor," he heard Lylanya say. "You want to talk to him again, don't you? You want to find out what he's working on for some reason. Credits no doubt factor in." There was period of quiet before she added"I could get you to him."

Yalo's attention was drawn to her like a magnet to iron. He didn't even need to say anything as she continued without prompting.

"I can get us to Mannovai without problems, and from there we should be able to find wherever The Union has him working. We sneak in and you can get Haedian or whatever you want from him."

"You make it sound so simple," Yalo dismissed. "It won't be. You realise how tight their security will be, right? And that's assuming we can even find the place."

"I think the two of us, and that krogan, will be able to pull it off. I must admit, I do wonder why Haedian and his work is so fascinating to you beyond the mere mystery of it all."

"You'll find out soon enough, now that you're helping me," Yalo said. "And don't worry, there'll be plenty of credits in this. If all goes well, you'll find out everything you wanted to in time. But for now, I need some sleep."

"Of course," Lylanya smiled with a curt nod. "When would you like to meet again?"

"In about nine hours or so at the bar downstairs, if that's okay?"

"I will be there," she answered, then made her way towards the exit. She stopped less than a metre away from the door and looked over her shoulder at Yalo. "What are you going to tell the krogan?"

"I'll just tell him you're an old friend," Yalo stated. "One of the many mercs I worked with before I hooked up with him and the other krogan."

"A good enough excuse," she said. "I will remember to keep up the charade while we are in his company."

She disappeared from his sight and he sighed, closing the door and then stooping to retrieve his pistol from the floor. Wandering over to his bed, he plonked down onto it and lay there, staring at the ceiling. Things had just taken a very interesting and unexpected turn. He was taking a big risk by letting her join him, and he had a feeling that her presence was either going to be something that helped him immensely or something that would come to utterly destroy his plans entirely. He didn't know why, he just sensed that where Lylanya was concerned, there was going to be no in-between.
- Kenneth White

"Know the conflict within before facing the conflict without."

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Kif White
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Re: Mass Effect Digression

Postby Kif White » Sun Dec 20, 2009 2:29 pm

Chapter 9

Intarr wasn't sure how to take it when he saw a beautiful asari sit on the barstool beside him and automatically order a drink for him. He wasn't particularly lucky in the past when it came to women, krogan or asari, and had usually just ignored the issue of love, be it emotional or simply physical. Instead he chose to just focus on his work most of the time, and it was an attitude that had served him well. At the moment though, work wasn't exactly much of a factor, even if Yalo had some idea of what to do next, even if he himself wasn't entirely sure what it was. His drink arrived and he observed her again. The asari smiled at him, rising a more elegant glass filled with some bright pink liquid into the air before it met her lips. He looked at his drink, then at Talan Jol's assistant behind the bar; another volus who was tending bar while his boss slept.

"I didn't know you guys had your own whores," he stated. The asari laughed.

"Oh come now, that's a little unfair," she said, swiveling around on her stool to face him. "I mean, I've been with a lot of different people, but I think whore is going a little too far. I prefer the term 'amorist' myself."

"Oh, I'm... I'm sorry," Intarr stammered. "I-I-I didn't mean... that is... I was just wondering why you were buying me a drink?"

"Because you," she gave him a slight poke on the chest, "are the krogan Intarr. And you," another poke, "know a good friend of mine who I'm here to see."

"This friend of yours wouldn't be a quarian now, would he?" Intarr asked, glancing at her sideways.

"Yes he would," Lylanya responded, raising her glass a little again. "My name is Lylanya. But before I meet up with him, I'd like to know more about you."

"Okay... I guess," Intarr said with a shrug. "What do you want to know?"

"What do you know about him?" she asked.

Intarr chuckled a little, then downed a mouthful of drink.

"Not much, really. A quarian on his pilgrimage involving some quest to save his people that he's told me nothing else about."

"So he hasn't told you how he's going to do it either," she said, more to herself than him.

Lylanya's eyes drifted away from the krogan in thought as her right index finger twirled around the top of her glass. Intarr recognised the black asari mercenary armour she was wearing; he'd seen asari mercs before throughout his travels.

"So how do you know Yalo?" Intarr queried. "You guys do a bit of work together before he came after me?"

"Something like that," she replied, and then a devious smile briefly crossed her lips that Intarr missed as he took another quaff. "We met up while working for opposite sides actually. There was a scuffle where neither of us really won and we ended up coming to a compromise in the end. I think we both kind of grew to respect each other somewhat during that little incident. And now, here I am."

"Come to pay him a visit?"

"More than that. I've come to help both of you."

Intarr snorted. "Great. Credits split three ways now." A pause. "And what are you helping with exactly?"

"I'm supposed to help you track down a salarian doctor. I can get you to Mannovai without problems. The rest will depend on exactly what Yalo has planned of course... I'm not even entirely sure what he wants the doctor for."

"I know what I'd like to do with him!" Intarr growled. "I'd ram my fist up 'im and rip off his bulbous salarian head from the inside out!"

"Charming," Lylanya said with a forced smile. "Unfortunately for you, I'm guessing Yalo will probably be wanting him alive."

"I wasn't planning on him already being dead when I did it," Intarr stated firmly. Lylanya made a face.

The sound of footsteps coming down the stairs drew the attention of the two new acquaintances, and Yalo found himself stopping mid-step as he saw them; one footfall away from making it to ground floor.

"Oh. I see you two have met each other," the quarian stated. His voice wasn't quite as confident as he had hoped.

"I'd say she's as beautiful as you'd said she was, but you never mentioned her," Intarr said with a grin.

"And I'd say I'm as beautiful as you said I was," Lylanya said playfully. "But we all know words can't do my beauty justice."

"I take it since you told Lylanya to meet us here that you have some kind of plan?" Intarr asked.

"Sort of. It depends on circumstances though. I can tell you both about it on the way if you like?"

"Sure. My ship or yours?" Lylanya asked.

"I don't know. Which would you prefer?"

"Mine. There's more room, and it's probably faster than yours anyway."

"Yours it is then," Yalo agreed.

"Does this plan involve killing that bastard?" Intarr queried.

"I'm afraid not," Yalo responded.

"Not even a little?"


Yalo walked over to the others and pulled up his omni-tool, manipulating it briefly and adding an orange glow to the sapphire and rose colours that usually dominated the room. He looked at the volus behind the bar.

"I've transferred the credits for the last week into Talan's account," Yalo said. "Give him my regards, we may be back soon. We may not."

"I'll pass on the message," the volus said. He breathed deeply. "Good luck."

"Well, while we're at it, maybe I should transfer those credits I owe you, hmmmm?"

Yalo made a face at Lylanya's comment, thankfully hidden. She didn't even wait for an answer, activating her own omni-tool and setting up the link at her end. He couldn't believe that she was going to transfer it when Intarr was standing right there. She was purposefully trying to get to him, she must have been. He half-expected Intarr to ask about the payment, but then realised that they'd probably been talking for a while before he even arrived. This made him even more uneasy. What had she said in that time? She was giving him a look that said "hurry up" so he brought his omti-tool back online.

"There. As promised," she said, an innocent smile on her lips that Yalo knew wasn't. "Shall we go then?"

"Ladies first," Yalo said with a polite gesture.

"As it should be," Lylanya said, striding ahead towards the exit; her gait strong, confident and feminine. Intarr left his stool, stopping by Yalo briefly before following the asari.

"That one probably melds with her own mirror," he whispered gruffly. Yalo couldn't tell from the way he spoke if he was joking or not.

Lylanya introduced her ship as Karina, which while not huge was at least twice the size of Yalo's little shuttle. It was asari in design, it's surface comprised of shiny silver and steel-blue panels broken up by curved recesses, like a smooth, symmetrical puzzle. At the rear were two thin wings that curved back from the sides of the ship, but were flat all the way along the back of the craft, save for an oval hole in the centre where the engine could be seen. While these wings were flat along the underside, on top they curved up towards the centre slightly, then suddenly angled steeper to form a vertical tail as tall as each wing was wide. While flat at the back of the ship like the wings, the the tail sloped down towards the front of the vessel, where a fairly large windscreen curved down event further to the nose. About halfway along the left side of Karina was a door; the only one on the ship.

Lylanya opened the door with her omni-tool, stepping up into the craft to enter it. Without any invitation, Yalo and Intarr went inside too. After passing through the small decontamination chamber, the section of the ship they entered was dark and rectangular, with shiny charcoal coloured panels and seats on either side, lit only by a neon blue strip down the centre of the ceiling. Several lockers adorned the wall heading towards the main cockpit, framing a single door that no doubt led there. At the other end were three doors, which Lylanya explained led to the cargo hold, engine room and her sleeping quarters from left to right respectively. Going through the door heading to the front of the craft they found a small section that comprised of a table and chairs on the left side and a small area for food preparation and cooking on the right. It was slightly brighter than the first room, but not by much. They went through another door heading even further to the front of the ship which led them to the cockpit. It probably would have been dark in here too, but morning light was streaming through the large windscreen and lighting up the dark surfaces. Two comfortable seats lay before the currently dormant main control panels at the very forepart of the ship, with some more chairs along either side of the outer walls behind them.

Lylanya brought the main controls to life, adding an artificial beams of saffron to the room to join the already natural ones. Taking the seat on the right, her hands waved and motioned across the glowing panels, bringing further life to the ship, particularly in the case of the resounding hum now emanating from the rear of the vessel. She glanced over her shoulder at the others as the entire ship seemed to waken from a deep slumber.

"I suggest you boys sit down and strap in," she said. "After all, I don't want krogan dents in my ship."

Intarr just grunted, lumbering towards the set of seats located behind Lylanya and dropping into them. Yalo sat to Lylanya's left, appreciating the comfort and support that her chair had that his own shuttle lacked. She seemed to notice.

"Hey, if you're going to sit and fly for hours on end, you might as well be comfortable."

"On the flotilla we have to make do with what we've got," Yalo stated. "We don't have the resources to waste on or care about unnecessary comforts."

"A pity," Lylanya said. "Comfort makes rough living all the easier."

"We'll just have to wait for the asari to go to war so we can harvest some of these from your crippled ships I guess," came Yalo's response. Lylanya simply countered with a face unbecoming her age.

Blue sky soon became grey mist, then a deep blue fading into speckled black. Lylanya made some final adjustments and then leaned back with a satisfied sigh.

"We're still almost an hour from the mass relay," the asari informed. "Now's as good a time as any to tell us what you have planned."

"Well, I basically need you to deliver a package," Yalo stated. "One addressed to Haedian."

"Let me guess, it asks him really nicely to just come talk with us?" Intarr rumbled from behind the others.

"No, we use it to track him," Yalo explained. "We don't know exactly where he is, since he'll be no doubt somewhere secret, but it will show us."

"You do realise that any tracking devices will no doubt be scanned and detected by security, right?" Lylanya said. "And the best security that the salarians have to offer at that."

"I never said the package would contain a tracking device," Yalo noted. "Or, at least not a standard one."

Yalo produced a datapad and handed it to Lylanya. "That's what we send him."

"The salarians will scan and read this before letting it into a secure facility," the asari noted.

"That's fine. The datapad is seemingly harmless," Yalo said. "Go ahead, read it."

Lylanya did. "To Doctor Haedian. I represent Westerlund News and we are interested in doing a story on your ordeal with the krogan. We would very much appreciate it if you would be able to give us an exclusive interview in the near future if possible. We were informed that it would not be easy to get hold of you through standard communication methods, so we decided to send you this datapad instead. Please contact us as soon as possible if you're interested. Contact details follow."

She looked up at Yalo. "It could do with some cleaning up, but it could work."

"Writing letters has never been my strong point," Yalo admitted.

"Don't worry, I can embellish it for you... make it seem more genuine," Lylanya said, her eyes scanning over it again.

"Don't forget to kiss his ass a lot," Intarr suggested. "He'd like that."

"Of course," Lylanya said dryly. Her attention returned to Yalo. "But how does this help us?"

"It's simple. When he inputs that contact data into any computer terminal in the facility it will send a small virus that will spread to all computers in their network. This virus will be dormant until data is sent outside the network, after which it will go dormant again to avoid detection. During that brief moment where it's active, any message or data send outside the network will be accompanied by a small tracer that we can use to track his location. This will appear as just a small blip of additional data on the end of the message, but with a very specific frequency in a specific pattern. We'll be monitoring the communications lasers here on the ship and be able to detect the tracer and track it back to its origin."

"So to the salarians it'll just seem like some interference or something," Intarr said.

"If they pick it up at all... that's the brilliant part," Yalo said. "The thing we'll be using to pinpoint his location will seem perfectly normal to the salarians, but to us will be obvious."

Yalo looked out into deep space beyond the craft. "It's like constellations. When you look out there, you pretty much just see a whole bunch of stars. But if you're looking for it, you can make out shapes by connecting them, until you have a clear picture." He turned back to the others. "All the salarians will see is stars, but we'll be looking out for the constellations."

"And what exactly stops the salarians from detecting the virus in this pad," Lylanya asked, waving the object in question in front of Yalo. "They have some of the best electronic security in the galaxy."

"The virus itself isn't on the pad, but located in a replacement chip within the device that is only used when data is sent from the pad to another system," Yalo explained. "The chip looks exactly like the one it replaces, which is normally used for password encryption security. We won't be encrypting the pad, so the only way they'd know is if they tried to themselves. And even then, they'd probably simply deduce it was a faulty chip and replace it."

"If we don't know where he is though, how do we deliver it to him?" Intarr asked.

"Mannovai has a consulate where the Dalatrass rules like most Salarian worlds," Lylanya explained. "If Haedian is into something as important as we suspect, only certain individuals within will know about the facility in question. I'll deliver the datapad to the consulate myself and, assuming it passes security checks, they'll sent it to Haedian at the facility."

"And what do I do?" the krogan queried.

"Nothing for the moment," Yalo said. "In fact, it's probably best you stay on the ship for the entire trip."

"He's right," Lylanya nodded. "The mere sight of a krogan on Mannovai would be enough to have half the salarian fleet after you. Especially after your little kidnapping incident."

Intarr snorted. "If I'd known that I would have asked the volus if I could borrow one of his Quasar machines. Then I'd have something to do to pass the time."

"Speaking of which, I might go into my quarters and clean up this little message a bit before we get there," Lylanya said, waving the datapad. "It definitely needs touching up."

She left her chair and made her way to the rear door, stopping halfway there for a moment and tapping the pad on her chin.

"And I'll need to pick a nice dress out too. Something that says how important I am, but in a more official sense."

Yalo and Intarr watched her leave and the krogan turned back to Yalo as she disappeared from sight.

"Bet you her quarters have walls that are very, very reflective."

"Perhaps, but you seem to be getting alone with her fine beyond her vanity," Yalo noted with a chuckle.

"She seems okay. I didn't used to think much of asari a long time ago to be honest. But after hearing Gonamida talk about his mate and learning what she taught him, I began to realise that there's a depth and wisdom to them that no krogan could ever possess. Our strength is physical, while theirs is up here." He tapped his forehead with one finger. "And perhaps the krogan could use a bit more of that."

"But not as much as salarians have?" Yalo said slyly. Intarr chuckled.

"Yeah. Definitely not that much."

"Sorry you don't get to crush any salarian skulls," Yalo told him. "I know you were looking forward to it."

"Especially on a place like this," Intarr smiled. "If it wasn't for the security, this place would be salarian skull crushing paradise."

"Well, I'll make sure to mention to Haedian that if he messes up or turns his back on us, his skull is yours to do with as you please."

Intarr's expression shifted from mirth to concern and confusion. "You make it sound like you're bringing him into this thing of yours too."

"That depends on circumstances," Yalo reassured. "I just hope he's as selfish and arrogant as Lylanya is narcissistic."

It was about half-an-hour later when Karina made it to the mass relay. The massive device thrummed in what was otherwise a void, with two long metal prongs stretching out in one direction and meeting at two rotating rings in the other. One spun vertically, the other horizontally, but within both was the star-bright core of element zero that bathed the otherwise charcoal structure in a brilliant blue light. The ship approached the relay, it's sheer size dwarfing the small vessel like a capital ship dwarfs a fighter, and a tether of blue energy joined them as one. An electrical buzzing sound built up in intensity and frequency for a few seconds, finally culminating in a sharp burst as the ship was hurtled into obscurity; guided by the two colossal prongs that pointed to its remote destination and leaving only streaks of sapphire light that dissipated almost as soon as they'd come.

It wasn't long later that a mass relay in salarian space began to whir and spin wildly, the intensity of the element zero's brightness growing. The rings were almost in at a speed where the naked eye would no longer be able to see them when there was a flash and trails of lazuline luminosity with a ship at the head of it. The relay slowed down instantly, returning to its natural speed as the glow faded and Karina pulled away from the transit device in the direction of its next destination.

One of the salarian's first three interstellar colonies, Mannovai was no longer as prominent and important in current times as it used to be, yet remained a solid salarian settlement and a place of distinction and pride. Lylanya had no trouble getting clearance to dock at the port. Yalo knew why, of course. Intarr had just accepted that she'd been there before, as she stated just before arrival, and didn't think more of it beyond that. The asari had now switched her ebon light armour for a formal black dress in the asari style. Like her armour, it too was mostly black, though rather than smooth and hard it was made of a soft textured material adorned with geometric patterns. The neckline was high and the hemline low, covering her feet. Her shoulders were exposed and her forearms covered in dark purple fingerless gloves that came up just above her elbows. The centre of the dress consisted of a strip of sleeker material the same colour as her gloves that trailed from her throat down to her waist, perforated by two oval holes that exposed her skin: one on her upper chest that revealed a hint of cleavage, and the other on her stomach. With the datapad in her hand, she left the ship and made her way towards the consulate.

Thankfully when she'd been here last time to drop off Doctor Haedian, few had witnessed her or known about her presence. The port authority did of course, but beyond that there were a few specific salarian diplomats that dealt with the issue. She had always preferred a good amount of anonymity in her travels because of the work she did. Her strength came from being an unknown most of the time, for secrecy and stealth were the best way to get what you wanted, where you wanted, without anybody even noticing you were there or you'd gotten it. She worked best as just "another asari in the crowd" and not a known entity. And while it was true that she had a certain presence that, combined with her beauty, drew attention to her, she was an expert at making it seem that she was just another pretty face and nothing more. The simple fact of the matter was, the less people who knew who you were, the greater your chance of success. However, this was a rare case where success was far greater in the exact opposite case.

"Hello Miss Alanthios," a tan coloured salarian greeted Lylanya as she entered his office. "I didn't expect to see you back here so soon."

"Greetings, Minister Kalahao," Lylanya responded with a small, polite bow. "It is good to see you again."

"Please, sit down," Kalahao invited, indicating a chair before his silver desk.

"Thank you, but I can't stay for long I'm afraid. I have a simply request regarding Doctor Haedian."

"By all means, Miss Alanthios," the minister said, leaning forward on his desk with his hands clasped before him. "Though I can't guarantee I can grant said request. You are aware of the general nature of the doctor's work."

"That's why I'm here. I have a message to deliver to the doctor," Lylanya said, holding out the pad. "Knowing that I couldn't actually deliver it in him in person, I thought it best to deliver it to you in person . Could you make sure it reaches him?"

"I'm sure that can be arranged," Kalahao said, taking the bad from her. "Assuming it passes security checks that is." He paused. "And who was it from, exactly?"

"Read it yourself, it's all there."

Kalahao tapped the pad with his thumb and his bulbous eyes twitched back and forth as he regarded the contents of the pad. "Hmmm... so you're actually willing to offer Doctor Haedian your services as a personal bodyguard?"

Lylanya nodded. "I like to have steady work when I can, and I feel after the last incidents he'd be willing to pay to have the reassurance that the one who rescued him is there to keep an eye on him."

The salarian rubbed his chin and made a thoughtful noise.

"It could be a viable option for him. We've had him spending his entire time in the facility since he got back and I understand he's been getting restless. If we had somebody like you to watch him we may be able to let him return to his home again. The main problem is clearance, you understand. Despite what you've done for us and what you already know, we still can't let you actually witness any of the research going on. It's not a matter of trust, it's a matter of strict protocol."

"I understand," the asari nodded. "We can work something out if it comes to that."

"Yes, indeed," Kalahao smiled, placing the datapad onto his desk. "No promises on what comes of it, but I'll make sure he gets the pad personally. I'll he heading there for a progress report in a few hours time and deliver it then."

"You are most kind, Minister," Lylanya smiled. "May Athame see your spirit within you for years to come."

Back on Karina, Yalo sat in the cockpit quietly glancing over a datapad in his hands. The quarian didn't even notice when Lylanya entered the room behind him, having returned from her mission. This was something Lylanya did notice however. Biting her bottom lip, she carefully crept over to him to glance over his shoulder. Perhaps she'd get a clue as to what Yalo was planning in whatever he was reading. All she made out was the image of a planet, with several pieces of data listed. She saw his head move, so quickly stood upright as Yalo turned around to face her; clearing the datapad and putting it away. Beyond seeing the planet, she never got to read anything.

"That was fast," the quarian said.

"What are you implying?" Lylanya joked with a smirk.

"I take it all went well?"

"Very well," she said, leaning on the backrests of two chairs before her. "The pad should be delivered in the next few hours. Then it all depends on what Haedian does with it." A pause. "Where's the krogan?"

"Sleeping in the cargo hold. I hope you don't mind. He was up all night drinking before we left."

"I hope you have something for him to do soon," Lylanya said. "You've already been how long without work?"

"A week."

"A week," Lylanya repeated. "Krogan can get restless enough not attacking something for a day let alone a week."

"He's been tailored to that type of lifestyle more than most krogans already though," Yalo reassured. "But if this Haedian thing works out, I'll have something for him to do soon."

"And what exactly is this mission supposed to accomplish?" Lylanya asked. "You say it's helping your people and that there's credits in it for us, but you haven't even outlined what we're doing. If you just want to talk to him, I could probably arrange it somehow without all this."

"No," Yalo said, his voice firm and adamant. "We have to find out what he's doing. And he won't just tell us. If we find out, we can hold it over him and it will give us the edge."

Lylanya narrowed her eyes, looking at Yalo sideways. "You're planning to blackmail him, aren't you? No... wait. You're planning to blackmail The Union?"

"Of course not," Yalo said. "Blackmailing wouldn't work... it almost never does. Especially when you try and do it to a government oganisation. The key here is knowledge, not credits. Credits come later. Knowledge is power, but actually possessing knowledge is even greater power. I'm planning to take it from them. And, if possible, take a source of that knowledge too."

"You're going to take whatever it is they're working on?" uttered Lylanya, her eyes now wide with disbelief.

"And Haedian too," Yalo smiled.

"You're going to kidnap him?"

"Nothing so crude. No... he's going to come with us willingly. Because if he joins us, I can give him things his government can't and won't."

Hours passed as Karina drifted in orbit above Mannovai, scanning the signal traffic leaving the surface of the planet for the nearest comm buoy. Lylanya, back in her usual armour, was standing in the small alcove she called a kitchen preparing something to eat when a small alarm sounded from the cockpit next door. Popping something into her mouth that Yalo described as "unnaturally orange" when he'd passed by a few minutes earlier, she strode towards the source of the noise and began manipulating the holographic panel with her hands. A rectangular holographic display appeared above the main console, with the planet displayed along with a few objects marked on it. One of the key ones was the settlement of Mannovai itself, while another was an icon representing her ship. A third red blip appeared partially overlapping the square that represented Mannovai, and with a dotted line joining it to the ship's icon. With more operation of the controls, the display image zoomed in to provide a closer and more specific representation of the locations and objects. It seemed whatever the place was that the signal originated, it was almost ten kilometres from the centre of Mannovai in the northwest portion of the colony. Lylanya smiled, turning around just as Yalo walked in the door.

"We have him," she said with pride. "Now all we have to do is get to him."

"You up for casing the place?" Yalo asked.

"Ooooh, another chance to test my little toy," the asari responded, examining her right wrist as if she was wearing and admiring an expensive bracelet. "There's just something so... exciting about sneaking around potentially dangerous places."

"I'll take that as a 'yes' then," Yalo said, activating his omni-tool. "Once you've done that, perhaps we can find a secure way in. I think I have enough tools and mods on this thing to get us past any alarms and electronic security they may have, but we still have to avoid guards and personnel. Are you okay with taking out guards if we have to?"

"I prefer to keep blood off my hands if possible," Lylanya admitted. "I can if absolutely necessary, but I do have several means of getting rid of them that are humane. Or at least non fatal."

"For how long?"

"It varies. Depends on the method. Several hours if you like."

"The longer the better," Yalo said. "We'll wait until a couple of hours after nightfall, which will be about four hours from now."

Nightfall descended on the colony, followed soon after by Lylanya's sleek vessel; diving down from the dark scintillant emptiness of space into the equally dark scintillant voluminosity of nocturnal Mannovai. Lylanya was not alone leaving the ship and docking port this time. Yalo knew that it wasn't uncommon for quarians on their pilgrimage to visit a salarian world, as quarians prized technology and knowledge. This was particularly true with regards to ships, and the salarians were almost always the ones on the cutting edge in new ship technology. While she had not come to Mannovai, even his sister Linna had spent time in salarian space. Yes, he would stand out a little bit, but not enough to raise suspicion, unlike if Intarr had joined them.

The two decided to rent a car and drive there, using the navigation system in the vehicle in conjunction with Yalo's omni-tool to gauge where to go. Their destination seemed fairly obvious once it came into view, and they pulled up a few hundred metres away and disembarked. The building was large, about seven storeys in height and spread over an area of approximately 200 metres squared. There were windows all over it, but the ones they could see had no light beyond. The entire place was surrounded by a high wall about half the height of the building itself, with examples of lush, tropical vegetation scattered here and there between them, reaching skyward as dark silhouettes rustling in the warm night breeze. There was no signs of life beyond the flora, but both observers were not convinced this was the case.

Looking around, Lylanya found a nearby tree much like some of the ones beyond the wall and immediately began to climb it. Despite a lack of branches on the tree, she did a remarkable job of scaling the thing all the way up, stopping just below the fronds at the summit. She unclipped a set of binoculars and, using them, looked in the direction of the building. After a short while she paused, smiled, then slid down the tree even faster than she'd gone up.

"There's at least one guard near the front door," she said. "A turian it seems. Aside from that, no other protection I can see, but there's probably a surveillance system in place too."

"Any ideas then?" Yalo asked.

"Perhaps the idea isn't to break in. Perhaps the idea is to find a way for them to let us in," Lylanya suggested. "Surely there must be at least something that goes in there, even if it's only food and basic supplies."

"How would we find that out?" Yalo asked.

"The guard would know. He'd have to to allow anything in after all."

"And you think he's just going to tell us?"

"I'm pretty sure I can get him to tell me," Lylanya smiled. Yalo recognised the carnal look in her eyes and the confidence in her voice.

"What... you think you're just going to slink up to him, maybe show some blue skin, and he'll just talk?"

"I didn't say anything about him talking," Lylanya said, her grin growing as she shook her head. "I said that he was going to tell me."

"You can't even get to him, let along get anything from him."

"He'll end his shift and come off duty eventually."

"Yes. Which is when he goes inside and doesn't appear again for several hours," Yalo countered. Lylanya shook her head.

"I doubt it. He's a turian, and judging from his armour a member of a private security force known as 'The Terrestrial' as well. So if The Salarian Union really do have highly classified material and activity going on in there, he's probably restricted to guarding the outside of the facility. Members of The Terrestrial are hired to do the job and that's it. He'll only know what he needs to know, and that'll be enough for us to get in."

Lylanya turned around and opened the vehicle door again, getting inside.

"All we need to do is watch and wait."

Yalo joined her and she closed the canopy again to enclose them. After sitting there silently for a while, Yalo spoke up.

"So, how did you become a mercenary, exactly?"

The initial response from Lylanya was a short snort of laughter. "What, you expect me to just tell you all about myself even though you won't tell me anything about you and your plans?"

"Well, we could just sit here quietly all night if you'd prefer," Yalo said, followed by a brief pause before mockingly adding, "besides, I figured that you'd probably like talking about yourself."

Lylanya let out a chuckle. "You've got me there," she admitted.


"There's really not much to tell," she shrugged. This time it was Yalo's turn to make a noise of disbelief.

"You've been alive for hundreds of years and you're telling me there's not much to tell?"

"You make me sound old!" Lylanya defended. "I'm only two-hundred and twenty seven."

"Well, even in as 'little' as two-hundred and twenty seven years you must have something to say?" Yalo pressed.

"Well... I was born and raised on Thessia. My mother was a fashion designer, believe it or not, and my father was a turian businessman of some renown. I rarely saw him though as he and my mother parted ways shortly after I was born, so mother raised me alone, which isn't uncommon for asari. It was through her and her work I developed my love of beautiful things and attention to detail. She taught me that if one does something, they should get it as close to perfection as possible.

"When I got a little but older I would often help out my mother try out various designs whenever she worked at home. By this point she was designing some of the premier Thessian fashions and had become rather well-known herself, so I actually started to become quite proud of the fact that I was often the first one who got to wear these beautiful clothes intended for the finest asari women. Eventually I got it into my head that I wanted to model some of them myself professionally, and with the connections my mother had I realised I could. She was against the idea at first, but eventually gave into my wishes."

"So... what made you go from fashion model to mercenary?" Yalo asked.

"There was... an incident, shall we say," Lylanya answered, clearly somewhat reluctant. "The lifestyle of somebody on the side of the fashion industry is a turbulent one. I won't go into details, but I'll just say that involved a big fashion event, a tight dress, a lot of strong liquor and somebody wouldn't take 'no' for an answer. I defended myself, and the person on the other end of said defense never walked again. My mother was furious, because my actions didn't only make me look bad, but made her look bad too. And it didn't help that the victim of my attack --assuming you can call him the victim-- was a rich investor. She gave me a lecture... told me that she warned me about this before and that she knew I was too young for such a occupation. She felt I needed to get out of the profession and learn some discipline. So, I was enlisted into military service, where I learnt to fight and control my biotic abilities.

"I felt divided about it all personally. There was something about the combat and the training and using my biotics that was near intoxicating for me, but I absolutely hated the discipline. I never liked being told what to do, when to do it, how to do it, or anything else. When I was training I was fine, but I loathed everything else. I missed the freedom I had in my old life, but learning how to become a formidable force made up for it. That was until it was discovered that by biotic abilities were one of the strongest of the group, and I was soon transferred to commando training. The discipline was even stronger here... it became overwhelming! I needed freedom to live happily, and what little I had had been pretty much taken away entirely now. Eventually it just got to me and I left. And not properly either, I just took off in the middle of the night."

"And then you became a merc?" Yalo asked.

"Yeah. I couldn't return home after deserting and I wouldn't go back to the military. I figured I had learned enough from both my time with mother and my time being professionally trained to use the best of both worlds and create a life out of it. I could have everything I liked about both aspects of my life beforehand without any of the stuff I hated. So, I became a mercenary. First joining a few outfits, then eventually going freelance."

After Yalo requested a specific tale from her, Lylanya was about halfway through telling him a story about some batarian smugglers she and her first outfit had to deal with when they observed a small car pulling up outside the main gates of the salarian facility. The canopy opened up and out stepped an armoured turian from the front passenger seat, while the salarian driver remained seated. The main gate slid open to reveal another turian. The two talked for a short moment, then the one who was on the other side of the gate got in the car while the one who had just arrived disappeared as the gate closed again. The car drove off, and Yalo and Lylanya made pursuit.

They followed the car, carefully staying far enough behind to avoid suspicion in the quiet areas, but not being afraid to drive closer when traffic was more dense. This lasted about five minutes before the trailed vehicle stopped and parked. The top opened, the turian exiting and walking into a building. The area was fairly crowded here, both vehicle and pedestrian wise, so Yalo and Lylanya had no problems deciding to park the car a little closer themselves.

Lylanya leaned forward and looked up, a huge smile forming on her lips. "Oh... this couldn't be more perfect," she said.

Curious as to what she had meant, Yalo too tilted forward and craned his head, and knew then that he didn't even need to ask what his companion had planned.
- Kenneth White

"Know the conflict within before facing the conflict without."

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Kif White
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Re: Mass Effect Digression

Postby Kif White » Sun Dec 20, 2009 2:30 pm

Malveena Polimnya had been a dancer at The Sapphire Suite for only a few years of her life, but enjoyed the fact that it was far less busy and noisy than her time at previous establishments. Being a salarian colony, Mannovai wasn't filled with as many patrons whose appetites got the better of them. Members of other races came and went --which was a good thing because without them she'd probably be out of a job-- but they were fewer, quieter and less rambunctious here. This meant she could concentrate more on her performance and less on having to keep an eye out for those who decided to get a little too friendly.

With bright green eyes and pale blue skin, Malveena had left the main stage and entered the dressing room she shared with the other asari and human dancers at the club. She had just finished her first few hours of working the stage and was on her first break of the evening. Parched from her performance, she approached a dresser and grasped a bottle of water from it; drinking it down soundly and letting out a satisfied sigh. She also relished the darkness and quiet of the room compared to the intermittent flashing of lights and thumping from the ambient music. Here the lighting was dull in the dark purple room, with only a soft light around the mirror on the far wall providing illumination presently.

Taking another sip of water, she leaned forward to look in the mirror, checking that the imitation markings on her face were still in pristine condition; a slight inconvenience due to not possessing any natural facial markings of her own combined with the fact that most patrons apparently found them appealing. They seemed intact, but as she checked she noticed something in the mirror out the corner of her eye. Spinning around, she found herself not believing her eyes as another asari stepped out through the wall behind her as if it were thin air. Dropping her water bottle, Malveena's mouth was left hanging open as she backed up against the dresser behind herself and the asari newcomer spoke.

"Your clothes... give them to me. Now."

"Y-y-you... you want me to take off my clothes?" Malveena asked, sounding scared to begin with, but then more confused and disturbed than anything else.

"That's what I said," came the response.

"Look... I don't know what you're into and what kind of place you think this is, but you can't just come back here and make the dancers give you some kind of... kind of... private sexual favours!"

Lylanya cocked one brow, then her eye caught something beyond the dancer.

"Never mind... there's another back there. Looks more my size too."

"You're really weird!" Malveena uttered, and she began to move slowly towards the door. "And you shouldn't be back here... whoever you are."

"Don't worry. I'll be gone by the time you wake up."

"Wake up?" Malveena queried, fear creeping further into her voice and her body creeping further to the exit. "What are you going t--"

The shorter and paler asari was cut short of finishing her next question, as Lylanya swept her right hand up into the air and Malveena's entire body shimmered with a bright blue glow. The dancer was thrust up off her feet and into the air, her entire body going limp just before the top of her head made a significant impact with the ceiling above. For a moment after this she floated there just below the ceiling, still radiating biotic energy and twisting in the air slightly like a crippled ship adrift in space. Then, the light left her, and gravity took hold to bring her crashing to the floor in a wilted heap. Lylanya approached the body, then stooped and dragged it into a nearby closet. Malveena was merely unconscious, and Lylanya knew she would only have a certain amount of time before her victim woke again with a strong headache and a loud voice.

Lylanya stepped out onto the stage, her usual armour switched for the same type of lustrous, skintight suit of dark purple that Malveena wore. While the outfit covered her from neck to toe, the material tended to conceal flesh that didn't really need to be, while failing to cover flesh in more risqué areas, namely the thighs, buttocks and a good portion of her breasts. The lights in the place were dazzling, flashing off her attire and getting in her eyes. It took a little while for her vision to adjust to the constant transition from the dim red glow of the ambient background lighting to bright flashes of the intermittent stage lights, but once she did things were clear as day. She strode up to the pole at the end of the stage before her, scanning the tables, chairs and lounge seats before her to find who she was after. The constant mess of lights would hopefully be enough to stop the fancy-dressed salarian she assumed was the manager from seeing that she wasn't one of his dancers. She found her target in the distance to her right, sitting at a table alone and thankfully at the opposite end of the room from the bar when the presumed manager was. Swinging smoothly around the pole, she observed the area further though, to gather more intel on the workings of the place. After all, if she were just to wander up to the turian and give him a "private dance" in a place where it wasn't allowed, then she may as well pull out her gun and start shooting wildly into the air. Thankfully, not only did she spot a human woman giving a one-on-one performance to a human male, but also some private booths at the far right of the room.

Sliding off the pole and easing herself off the stage to the main floor, she swung her hips and twirled her way towards the turian in question. Without giving him a chance to even react to her approach, she eased herself down onto his lap and wrapped a single arm around his shoulders. Aside from an initial jump upon contact, he didn't appear to object. She smiled, both at the acceptance and as part of the act, ever the fan of the double entendre.

"Hi there," Lylanya sibilated seductively. "You look like you've had a hard day."

"Boring would be more accurate," the turian responded with frustration. "But that is the way things are for me lately."

"Sorry to hear," Lylanya purred. "If there's anything I can do to help... just ask."

He paused, then looked at her carefully. "I've never seen you before. New here?"

"Very much so," she smiled. "I only just started. Though don't let that misguide you... I am very, very experienced."

"I'm sure you are," the turian responded. To Lylanya's frustration he sounded more doubtful and dismissive than interested. She stroked his jaw gently.

"So, what's you're name, handsome?"

"I prefer to keep that to myself and my employers," the turian answered.

"Oh my! A man of mystery," Lylanya said, running one hand across his chest. "I find that very exciting." She paused. "Are you sure you wouldn't prefer to be somewhere a little more... private?"

Lylanya jerked her head in the direction of the booths on the far wall, and the turian looked at her with wide eyes, his mandibles dropping noticeably.

"My, you are a direct one, aren't you."

"You have no idea," Lylanya responded. "And trust me... we go in there, and the next few moments of your life will be anything but boring."

The turian was hers now, and she knew it. She got off his lap, taking his left arm in her hands as she carefully, but assertively, led him to the room. Once they were beyond the blood-red curtains, she twirled him past herself towards the large, soft chair that lay at the back of the booth. Pushing him gently into it, she began to dance before him for a while, smiling, winking and flirting every so often. After about half a minute of this, she leaned down towards him.

"Maybe you should remove that hard, nasty armour from yourself," she suggested. "It looks uncomfortable. And besides, wouldn't you rather have me wrapped around you?"

The proposition startled the turian. "I... I didn't know that such, well... intimate options were available here."

"They generally aren't," Lylanya uttered, and she straddled herself across his lap. "But, what the boss doesn't know won't hurt us, will it?"

Her hands moved over him and he could her the sound of his armour being unfastened. At this point he was paralysed.

"I'll show you some techniques that would make the other girls here blush to death," she hissed in a steamy voice from lips only centimetres away from his. "Special asari methods that will blow your mind... amongst other things. For one thing, have you ever melded with an asari before?"

"III um... I, ah... that is... um..."

"Don't worry, it doesn't require much from you at all," Lylanya soothed, and he felt her hands on either side of his face. "All you need to do is open your mind. Give your mind freely to me, and I'll give my mind -- and my body-- freely to you."

Lylanya closed her eyes, lowering her face slightly. She paused for a moment, then spoke.

"Are you ready?"

She heard a few short breaths from the turian, before he finally uttered, "yes."

"Good, " she answered with a smirk. "Then open your mind. And embrace... eternity!"

Lylanya's head jerked upward as she uttered the last word, her eyelids flashing open to reveal orbs of pure black. The turian briefly spasmed in her hands and threw his own head back against the backrest. A large smile formed on the asari's face, and she spoke aloud, not to the turian, but to herself.

"Yes... yes... that's it. What have we here? Yes... yes... Hmmm? That is interesting. But I need more. More!"

The turian's head twitched some more, Lylanya biting her bottom lip for a while before smiling again.

"Aha! There it is. You thought you could hide it from me... but you opened up just a little too much, didn't you? Well... let's see what else I can get..."

Another spasm rocked from between Lylanya's hands, along with a small turian gasp. Lylanya gritted her teeth a little, then the tip of her tongue poked out one side of her mouth. She smiled again after a little while.

"That's good to know too. My, my, my... we do have some secrets in here. But I think I've dug enough for today."

Lylanya's eyes closed and she released the turian, who just sat there in the chair completely still. Opening her eyes to again reveal two deep blue irises surrounded by white, she left the turian's lap, adjusting her clothing as he just stared up at her.

"There. Was that good for you?" she asked.

"What... what did you do to me?" he responded, hostility growing in his voice.

"Something that didn't hurt as much as this," she answered, and he saw a flash of purple as her foot made contact with the middle of his face. Lylanya turned around and departed back through the curtains, leaving the guard slumped in his chair.

Outside The Sapphire Suite, Yalo waited in the car, going over things in his head as he usually did in moments such as this. He was prepared for success, but knew he had to take into consideration that at any time things could go wrong and lead to failure or, even worse, utter disaster. That had almost been the case back on Bersilius after all. Though at the same time, events there had helped get him closer to his goal, assuming that his current objective was going to actually achieve that. Not only did he have to rely on Lylanya's actions in the club paying off, but he had to rely on things going his way from there.

One key factor was that he had to rely on the notion that Doctor Haedian would be willing to join them. Convincing somebody to do something is one thing, but convincing them to do something that one isn't even fully convinced of themselves is another. Yalo just had to remember that the ultimate result had to be success. Thankfully he didn't have to worry about the success of Lylanya's efforts, as the asari tapped on the top of the car. Yalo opened the canopy to see her smiling broadly.

"I take it from your expression that you succeeded?" the quarian asked.

"More than that," she responded. "I can get them to literally take us in there."
- Kenneth White

"Know the conflict within before facing the conflict without."

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Re: Mass Effect Digression

Postby c_nordlander » Tue Apr 06, 2010 8:15 pm

My opinions on Chapter 6.

Typoes and grammar problems:

“It was about to tick over to another week though when something interesting happened.” The “though” doesn’t seem to add anything.

“producing a cough” sounds bureaucratic. You can just use “coughing” again.

“While everybody else began to start coughing too” firstly, “began to start” is redundant (unless you want to emphasise just how gradually it’s taking place), and the “too” doesn’t add much.

“taking out the thin cubicle wall it was positioned against as well” The “as well” could go, or it could stay. I’m fine either way.

“The whirrs and clicks of two separate pistols rang between the quarian and his adversary in unison,” I think this sounds better if “in unison” is placed after “rang” instead.

Some nicely involving descriptions here. The description of the woman is very good.

“Yalo felt an ironic sense of frustration and not being able to see her face and read her expressions.” “And” is obviously a typo for “at”. Excellent sentence, otherwise.

"I was hoping that anybody who didn't succumb to the gas quickly would simply think it was the result of one of the scientists' mixing of substances, "she explained.

Wrong spacing around the last quotation marks in this quote.

“came her immodest answer” feels a bit over-written, but not much.

“when he noticed red flashing appear at her wrist” I think “appearing” would be better.

“out for the reward he once chased himself” should be “he had once chased”

“The only problem was the tiny projectile appeared to” Good description, but sounds a bit clunky. I’d change it to: “The only problem was that the tiny projectile” etc.

“He noticed the once blinking light on her wrist stop” Again, I think “stopping” is better.

I think it’s “hold up your part of the bargain”, not “hold up to your part of the bargain”. English isn’t my first language, so you might have to ask someone else’s opinion on it.

Typoes: “happend” should be “happened”, and “those use to apply” should be “used”.

Well, I’ll keep reading this story when I have the time. The action scenes are well paced, and the plot continues interesting. All the banter between Yalo and Lylanya feels a bit Hollywood-like in a combat situation, but not enough as to stretch my credulity. Haedian’s principles make a nice contrast to Yalo’s pragmatism (and probably Lylanya’s as well).


The whole theme of Yalo’s moral… development... continues to intrigue me, and still manages to avoid preachiness or easy solutions.

Aside from the typoes and grammar issues above, this chapter is great. I shall continue with my review.
The noose draws tighter;
This is the end;
I'm a good fighter
But a bad friend;
I've played the traitor
Over and over;
I'm a good hater
But a bad lover.

Elinor Wylie, "Peregrine"
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Re: Mass Effect Digression

Postby Kif White » Wed Apr 07, 2010 3:56 pm

Thanks for the review of Chapter 6, Chris. Many thanks. I'll make those edits tomorrow after I get back from work.  :)

Chapter 10

Yalo stared past the infinite reflections of himself at the stars beyond Karina's main viewing port. Draped casually in the primary passenger seat of the cockpit, the quarian relaxed in the darkness, the only illumination coming from the thin blue light that streaked down the centre of the section's ceiling and the subtle luminescence beyond the window. The relaxation he was experiencing was purely physical though, with his mind anything but. Like Lylanya and Intarr he had settled down to sleep a few hours ago, but had been kept awake by thoughts that had become too loud and too insistent to let him slumber; even more so than the krogan's deep snoring that seemed to vibrate through the entire cargo hold. That's partially why he was in the cockpit now instead: to get some peace.

The krogan had actually been something that had been on his mind. How long would he be able to keep Intarr in the dark regarding what happened on Bersilius, particularly if Doctor Haedian were to join them as he had planned? Even if Lylanya planned to keep things secret the entire time, there's no guarantee the salarian would at all. It all seemed insignificant in the grand scheme of things though. Yalo's attention returned to the stars and thoughts of his last moments with his love on the Lerta came flooding back. Thoughts more about what he had said to her than of her directly. All those stars and systems out there, and not a single one for his people to live on. His unseen eyes narrowed in contempt and determination at this recollection.

Part of him wished that his task was all over and done with, but another part found it hard to look forward to anything. Looking forward to things was a selfish notion, and that was something he couldn't afford to be. To wish time to fast-forward was to wish people's lives away, for time passed for everybody just as it did for him. It would be best to let things simply play out as they are meant to and that those who need it get as much time as they can while they still have it. It also gave him more time of course, but that again was a selfish thought. He was dedicated to helping his people and not helping himself. It was why he had to give up a standard quarian life, it was why he had to give up Elli and it was why he would have to give up a lot more in the future. That's why he considered himself to have no time at all. As far as he was concerned, his life had ended the moment he'd left the Migrant Fleet.

Will it be worth it?

Linna's voice drifted through his mind, as clear and soft as if she had been right there with him. In fact, he could swear that it was her staring back at him from the window instead of his own reflection. He answered aloud, talking to the image in the glass as if it were her. "If it succeeds... yes."

And if it fails?

"It won't."

You don't know that.

"If I succeed, so will it."

You of all people should know that nothing is absolute. That nothing is certain.

"Then at least I'll have tried to do something."

Will those you cause to suffer along the way make that enough to justify it all? Or does only success determine that?

"And what would you have me do? Let morals guide my path? A path that leads to a place where morals have little meaning anyway."

You've forgotten one of the most sacred rules regarding the pilgrimage: that no harm should be brought to anybody to attain your gift.

"Maybe our people wouldn't still be homeless drifters in space if more of us hadn't adhered to that stupid rule!"

It took a few moments for Yalo to realise he was standing up now and had just yelled his response loudly at the reflection that had once seemed like his sister, but was now just his own. Breathing heavily for a few seconds, he composed himself and was about to sit back down when he heard a voice from behind him. It was female, but not that of his sister. "Who were you talking to?"

Yalo's head snapped around to the rear of the cockpit, where Lylanya stood leaning in and against the door frame, a mixed look of amusement and confusion on her face. Yalo just sat back down, looking away from the asari. "Nobody," came his answer, which he knew to be unconvincing to the point where he wondered why he had even given it.

"And I thought I was the only one who talked to my own reflection," he heard her respond, her voice getting louder and closer with each word. By the time she'd ended her sentence she was leaning on backrest of the pilot's chair looking down at him. "I admittedly tend to generally agree with myself rather than argue though," she added playfully.

Yalo didn't speak for a while, and Lylanya's grin had long dissipated by the time he did. "I sometimes like to... go over things with myself. It helps me put things into perspective when I have my doubts."

"You doubt whether saving your people is a good idea?"

Yalo turned and looked up at Lylanya. The asari shrugged and uttered, "I overheard a couple of things you said."

The quarian sighed, looking down for a moment before leaning back in his chair and staring up at the ceiling. "I don't doubt what I'm trying to do in the long run. I just sometimes wonder about the way I'm going about it. But I shouldn't. I need to put my own concerns aside and just focus on the task at hand."

"We all do things that aren't always considered to be right by a lot of people to get what we want," Lylanya said, sliding around the side of her chair to take a seat beside Yalo. "I suppose the only thing that separates the good from the bad are that the bad never worry about it. They tend to have less noble goals in the end too."

Yalo snorted from behind his visor, looking out at the stars. "Yes... noble," he uttered with bitter sarcasm. Lylanya's forehead twitched at this in a manner that would raise her eyebrows if she possessed them. Instead it merely made a few of the markings on her face seem a little larger than before.

"What's not noble about wanting to save your entire species?"

Yalo sighed and turned to face her. She sat there in her chair, her deep blue eyes looking both very sincere and very curious. She was hugging her bare legs to her chest in the seat, and Yalo only really then acknowledged that she was only wearing a tight black tank top and and some underpants, despite her being that way since she'd walked into the cockpit. It was like she didn't acknowledge it either, but then she never did seem to care about modesty that much.

"Let me put it this way," the quarian started. "Would it be noble if saving your entire species required the extermination of another one?"

Lylannya frowned a bit, her purple lips twisting up into her left cheek. Her gaze fell to nothing on the ground. "I... I guess not," she eventually managed, and then her eyes trained on Yalo with a direct urgency."I hope you're not planning to--"

"No, nothing quite like that," Yalo interrupted before he could be accused. "It was just an example. I was merely illustrating that seemingly noble goals don't always mean a noble means of attaining them."

"Well, I can't really help you if you won't tell me what it is you're up to beyond the next step and the result you're after."

"I guess that's true," Yalo sighed, his gaze returning to the window. After a few seconds of silence he added, "I know what you were trying to do there, by the way."

Lylanya just poked out her tongue and made a face that Yalo saw as a reflection, followed by her leaving the chair and heading back towards the rear of the ship.

"You'll find out eventually," she heard him say from behind her just as she reached the exit. "When the time is right, I promise that."

"I might be more useful if I knew now," she responded, not even looking back over her shoulder, but pausing in the doorway. She heard him chuckle.

"No. If I told you know, you'd probably leave."

"Why? Because what you're planning is so awful?"

"Perhaps," Yalo admitted. "But more because I know that its likely your curiosity that's keeping you here more than anything else." Lylanya closed her eyes and smiled, eliciting a slight chuckle only she could hear. She then simply returned to her quarters.

The waiting was the hardest part for Yalo right now. It would be another two galactic standard days until and the others could enact the next part of their plan, and until then they were to remain in Karina on a barren moon basically just waiting. Yalo had been concerned about how much the turian Lylanya had got the information from might know, but she assured him that her victim likely only had the vaguest idea of what she had done, and that he'd probably be too proud and cowardly to admit what happened to anybody. Learning of this ability of hers also made the quarian realise just what she had probably been trying to do to him back at Talan Jol's. The fact that she could switch between a ruthless manipulator and a friendly ear so easily made Yalo nervous, but she had been an invaluable ally thus far, and he had no doubt she could be very useful for his plans in the near future.

It was almost forty galactic standard hours when Lylanya's ship descended upon Mannovai once again, though this time it didn't land at the main docking port, and probably given its rather common visitations the authorities didn't seem to care. If they even acknowledged its presence, they certainly didn't let Lylanya or anybody else aboard Karina know. This time the ship wasn't going to land, instead merely dropping off Yalo and Lylanya on the surface before leaving, and asari was going to be trusting it to the krogan; an idea of Yalo's. Intarr wasn't needed for this mission, and by piloting the ship he could get them in and leave quickly. It also meant that, all going well, Yalo would hopefully be able to talk with Haedian about Intarr and perhaps explain some things without tipping off the krogan about earlier dealings. The fact was, Intarr's immanence at this time was more of a hindrance than a help, but the krogan was stubborn and far more loyal that Yalo deserved. And part of him felt that Intarr's constant presence was a good reminder for him of not only what he had done but what he was going to do. Perhaps future guilt wouldn't hit so hard if he were tempered by that which he already felt.

"Are you sure you can fly her? She's a more complex ship than your clumsy krogan land vehicles."

Intarr snorted at Lylanya's concerns so much the holographic interface before him wavered and rippled. "I've been driving vehicles and flying craft for almost as long as you've been alive," he snarled. "You'd probably trust the quarian with it, and by both our standards he's a child."

"Yes, but he's also got more intelligence at his young age now than you'll probably ever have," Lylanya answered back. "And he didn't break my seat."

"Not my fault your flimsy furniture can't take a krogan ass," Intarr shrugged. "Now are you two getting off or am I going to leave this thing floating here all night?"

The asari narrowed her eyes and left the cockpit, and shortly thereafter the ship itself as she joined Yalo outside. The two just gave each other a glance and turned away, both walking swiftly in opposite directions without a word. Their target would be along soon and they'd have to both be prepared and in position at the right moment. Yalo had to get to a particular road intersection about two blocks away while Lylanya needed to occupy a hopefully secluded alleyway almost half a kilometre away. Assuming the information Lylanya reaped from the turians mind was accurate they should have about twenty minutes to get ready.

It took less than a couple of minutes for Yalo to reach his destination, but there was more than just his presence needed for his part in the plan. First he had to make sure nobody else was around to see him, which was one small factor that could be enough to screw up the entire endeavor. Fortunately despite being a well-lit convergence of roads, at this time of night the intersection was deserted. It probably didn't hurt that it was near the edge of the colony in an area that was mostly industrial zoned territory. Checking his surroundings one more time to be certain, Yalo approached one of the traffic lights and knelt before it, sliding a small object from a thin holster on his right angle into his palm. He turned it about in his hands a couple of times before unfolding something small from it that was thin and long; the way the light gleamed from it suggesting it was metallic. The unfolded protrusion was inserted into several holes in the traffic light's control box, a soft whirring sound sounding from the device each time.

After the four holes on each corner were each probed, Yalo flicked the tool away and removed the front panel of the control box, placing it gently beside him on the ground. Activating his omni-tool, the quarian manipulated it, looking up as the lights above him reacted. He deactivated his omni-tool after a few seconds of this, then unfolded amother different device from his ankle tool that began to spark at the tip. Touching it to some of the connections in the control box, he switched some of the wires around, then deactivated the welding tool and reactivated his omni-tool once more. Looking up to see two sets of lights flashing red and another two sets with green arrows pointing to the right he made a satisfied noise, then worked the omni-tool again.

There was a flash along the roads as two bright yellow holograms activated, stretching between three of the poles. Almost two metres in height and pulsing from yellow through orange to red and back again, the two light-signs formed an L-shape that blocked off two of the roads and left only the one behind Yalo and the one to the right of him unobstructed. Bordered by spinning chevrons above and below, the holographic words "WARNING: ROAD CLOSED" drifted back and forth between the traffic light poles as if perpetually bouncing off them. Yalo nodded with satisfaction, then contacted Lylanya through his omni-tool with a simple message of "it's done" and received an even briefer acknowledgment in return. Deactivating the tool, he replaced the front panel on the control box, reattaching it with the same tool he had removed it with, then casually wandered away.

It wasn't long before a large truck approached the intersection, slowing down as it approached. The vehicle was tall and long, with twelve fat wheels and a very boxy shape at the rear, indicating it was a transport of some kind. It was a dusty, sandy colour and tapered at the front to contrast the back. The driver was a bluish-grey salarian who looked as if he wore a permanent frown, the dying remnants of a cigarette hanging out the side of his mouth. He appeared to have a greater upper-body strength than most salarians and as he slowed down at the lights before him his forehead crinkled into a deeper grimace than before. With a grunt and some mumbled curses he encouraged his lumberous vehicle right, taking the detour that would lead him and it down a side-street long the edge of Mannovai rather than deeper into it. As he brought the vehicle level again, he snatched another cigarette from a crumpled packet upon the dashboard, poking it into the lighter before wedging it into the opposite side of his mouth than the one already there. Leaning one elbow on the open window frame, he twitched his lips to send the remains of his erstwhile cigarette out onto the sidewalk below, and accelerated again down his new path, unaware that he'd picked up an unwanted passenger at the nadir of his vehicle's speed during the turn.

"It's on its way," Yalo spoke into his communicator from the back of the truck.

"Acknowledged," Lylanya responded, standing on the side of an isolated street with the road on one side of her and the entrance to an alleyway on the other. There she just watched and waited, not even blinking as she gazed down the road ahead, her seemingly unnatural blue eyes appearing even more vibrant and luminescent in the night glow. It wasn't long before a vehicle appeared in the distance, coming around a corner from the left. Lylanya smirked, reached across to her right wrist with her left hand, and disappeared from sight.

The truck roared down the road, going faster than it probably should be given the urban area it occupied, but then there was nobody else in sight and the detour was going to delay him by at least a few minutes. They liked everything to be precisely on time at his destination after all. He didn't notice the young asari standing on the sidewalk ahead of him, but nobody would when her physical image was being refracted into the alleyway nearby. As a predator stalking its prey she anticipated and endured until the perfect moment to strike. Like the instant in time when the present becomes the past or when the experience becomes the memory, that moment saw the salarian driver with nothing in front of him becoming a screaming asari in the middle of the road. His foot slammed down, wheels locked and skidded, and rubber screeched and pierced the once dead night air. He knew that there was no way he'd avoid hitting her going at his speed, but what he knew was wrong. Despite seeing his truck make contact with her, there was no loud noise or sense of impact against the front of the vehicle. The cigarette had dropped from his gaping mouth and landed on the seat, and he might have smelt it singeing the leather if not for the overwhelming smell of burnt rubber wafting in through his window. As the wafting dust and smoke began to clear, the driver caught something out the corner of his eye, then jumped as he turned his head to see gun poking through the window at his head, and a smirk of purple lips beyond it.

"Out of the truck, if you please," Lylanya said, hanging from the driver-side door almost playfully.

The salarian took a few moments to collect himself, blinking his bulbous eyes frantically a couple of times before reaching for the door. This motion saw Lylanya hopping backwards onto the pavement below, just in case he tried to give the door a hefty push or something. When the door was open he could see her looking up at him with her pistol still trained on him. Leaping out of the seat in front of her he looked her in the face and his left brow twitched upwards as he uttered his first words."But... but I hit you!"

"Are you sure?" Lylanya mocked. "I don't feel splattered all over the front of your truck. I might have broken a nail though... perhaps you did that to me when you ran me down."

"What did you do? Did you use a hologram or something?"

"Ooooh, nice guess, but wrong," Lylanya said. "No more guesses I'm afraid, just the access to the back door of the truck and your name." A pause. "For you to give to me that is."

"Actually, I've already got the back open," the asari heard a familiar quarian voice say as Yalo hopped off the back of the truck, waving his omni-tool before him. "Wasn't as complicated as I thought."

"Oh, then we just need your name then," Lylanya said.

"What, all of it?" the salarian answered.

"The shortened version will be fine," Lylanya answered. "I don't need to know where you first wet yourself, what school you failed at or how inbred you are."

The salarian frowned and Lylanya shrugged. "Sorry, but there must be some reason why you're the one taking this stuff to the labs and not one of the ones working in them," she explained with obviously feigned apology.

"My name is Kayoad."

Lylanya snorted a laugh at this, making the salarian look at her sideways. Yalo too was curious at her reaction.

"Why so amused, asari?" Kayoad asked, his eyes narrowed slightly.

"Is that really your name?" she queried further, her lips stretching up into a large smile.

"Yes. Why does this make you laugh?"

"Well," Lylanya started before trying to cough the amusement out of herself. "Let's just say your name is going to be very appropriate shortly. Now turn around."

"Excuse me?"

"Turn around," Lylanya insisted, waving the gun in the direction of the truck behind him. With an indecipherable mumble the driver complied, turning only his body to start with before his head joined it about halfway around; his eyes the last thing to shift in the opposite direction. Reversing the pistol in her hand, Lylanya swung it to crack him across the back of the skull with the weapon, and the salarian slumped forward into the wheel before him and crumpled onto the pavement.

The asari folded and holstered her weapon, about-facing to the alleyway behind and focusing on a trash disposal container at the rear of one of the buildings. Blue energy coated her form, washing across it like sapphire liquid as the calm silence was interrupted by a soft buzzing hum. She swept her left hand up into the air before her and the container shook and jostled for a second, the lid raising up. Then with her right arm she motioned towards the salarian's body and gently rose it and him up and sent him drifting towards the dumpster. His limp form slowly floated about two metres above the ground, twisting and turning in the air as if rolling through the void of space. Lylanya then concentrated on him, drawing her left arm back behind her as the brightness surrounding her increased. There was a burst of light and sound as Lylanya snapped her arm forward and the energy seemed to slide around her and up her arm into a bright ball at her fingertips before it shot from them. With a warping sound the pulsing orb made contact with the adrift salarian, and jettisoning him in into the open container with a clatter; the force causing the lid to creak and slam shut again.

"A bit rougher than I'd hoped," Lylanya cringed in assessment, "but it did the job."

"I hope you got his security card before you did that," Yalo commented dryly.

"Crap!" Lylanya responded before striding briskly back into the alleyway.

It wasn't long before the two of them were underway in the truck; Lylanya driving while Yalo looked around in the back. They didn't want to be too late and hadn't taken the time to check out the cargo before setting off, so Yalo took the opportunity to quickly glance at it now before they arrived. Flicking on a light on the ceiling revealed a whole bunch of carefully stacked crates that all looked almost identical. They were probably about two metres in length each and about half that in width and height, with a row down either side of the hold and two more rows in the centre, stacked three containers high in each case. All were glossy white with a dark grey stripe horizontal stripe around the middle, and looking more closely at one of the containers, Yalo could make out something written on it: beryllium. He looked at the crate under it, which read 'polonium' and the one under that had 'thorium' on it.

"I've been looking at the cargo," Yalo said to Lylanya through his communicator, knowing that he'd probably have to yell a fair bit towards the cab for her to hear him otherwise. "It appears to be crates full of various minerals."

"Anything particular of note beyond that?" Lylanya's voice responded through his helmet.

"Not really," Yalo answered, wandering through the gaps between the containers and reading more. "Some are fairly rare, but there's some stuff you'd find pretty much everywhere too." He paused, reading one crate again carefully. "There's even some eezo in one of them."

"Do you think you could hide inside one of them?"

"They seem quite heavy," Yalo answered, his voice coming through a little strained as he tried moving a couple of them. "We'd have to empty one first I'd say."

"Then I'll pull over somewhere secluded and we can do that."

"Alright," Yalo agreed. "So long as I'm going into one that's holding something safe."

"Don't tell me you only wear that suit for looks," Lylanya responded, and he could hear the smirk.

Lylanya pulled the vehicle over near a block with some vegetation on it. Despite being a rather heavy crate to haul out, it was the titanium one that seemed like the safest one to open and have Yalo crawl inside. While both were fairly sure the others would be properly packed and sealed on the inside too, they preferred to take no chances with minerals and elements that might just react poorly to exposure to an oxygen-nitrogen atmosphere. The two of them threw the titanium within into the flora then reloaded the container onto the truck. Yalo crawled inside and Lylanya sealed it on him. It was pressure-sealed and airtight, so anybody else would have suffocated in there without some kind of breathing apparatus and air supply. Fortunately Yalo's environmental suit had all that built in.

Just over five minutes later they made it to the facility, which on the outside looked more abandoned than a krogan's hope to have triplets, but which the two new visitors knew was likely thriving on the inside. Perhaps not at this time of night, but in a few hours time it would be. When scouting the place earlier Lylanya had noticed a large gate around the eastern side of the wall, though there appeared to be no visible guards or anything there at the time. Knowing that was the likely place where their delivery would be made --as well as the fact the truck wouldn't fit through the front gate-- Lylanya rolled the truck towards the large movable barrier. As it slowly approached she began to decelerate, but found the gate start to slowly slide across to grant her access. Driving beyond the walls she found a large flat area at the side of the main building that was pretty clear, save for a few stacked crates piled up against the outer eastern wall of the building. The ground here was firm and dusty, almost like driving on concrete, and for all Lylanya knew there could have been some under the tan powder beneath the wheels. Here she stopped and waited, looking around. She heard a noise behind her and noticed the gate behind her was grinding closed again in her rearview mirror. About halfway through that another metallic noise joined it, this time a creaking one. Lylanya's eyes followed the sound to find a large garage door opening near the stacked crates, and she squinted as if a sun itself burst between the widening gap to drown her vehicle in yellow. Three silhouettes bordered by streaks of light emerged and approached, clearing up and forming familiar shapes with each shadowy step; two armed turians and a salarian. One of the former approached Lylanya's open window, his proximity allowing the asari to make out the rest of his features now.

"Who are you?" he asked sharply, dark-brown mandibles flaring back and his gun held more firmly than before; raised a little, but not directed at her.

"I'm Kayoad's replacement," Lylanya answered, leaning back casually and slipping into a insouciant drawl. "He couldn't make it today... bad headache. They'd a called, but it was a last minute thing."

"Do you have authorisation?" the turian asked, the light flaring off the pale vertical stripes that draped down his face as he looked at her sideways.

"Sure... just a sec..."

Lylanya leaned over, pretending to look for something on the seat and around the dashboard. The turian lifted his gun, turning it towards the door. Lylanya made some feigned grumbles and mumbles related to searching, then made a noise of content.

"Was wondering where you guys got to... don't mind if I do."

She grabbed the packet of cigarettes, whisking one out and lighting it. She drew the roll of paper and dried leaves to her lips and inhaled deeply, sighing with ambrosial satisfaction. As she exhaled a cloud of smoke, the turian raised his gun even higher.

"If you don't find that authorisation in the next ten seconds, I will shoot you," he warned.

"Okay, okay... keep your armour on," she grumbled, then leant over again and shuffled around some more, then with a "here we are" produced the card she'd taken from Kayoad. The turian examined it and then glared back up at her.

"This security card grants access of this facility to Kayoad, not you."

"Of course it does, they didn't have time to make one for me, so they just gave me his one... they said' you guys wouldn't care."

"Is there a problem, Varinus?" a nasal voice uttered as the salarian approached the turian. Unlike the turians who were decked out in Terrestrial armour, he wore a very tidy suit, and carried a datapad rather than an assault rifle.

"This asari claims to be Kayoad's replacement, but only has his security card and not one of her own."

"As I just said to him, he was indisposed at the last minute. There wasn't time to get a new one sorted out, 'cause they said you guys wouldn't want your order delayed by the formality and bureaucracy and the like."

"They'll do anything they can to avoid doing paperwork if they can avoid it," the salarian muttered, examining the card. 'They know if they were late that I'd have them filing a whole bunch of it if they were any more than an hour late with their deliveries. As it stands you're lucky and had ten minutes to spare before that time limit would have expired, so you're lucky."

He handed the identification back to Lylanya through her window. "This is acceptable. Just back into the garage and we'll unload the items into the garage."

"I must protest!" Varinus interjected. The salarian frowned at him.

"We don't have time for delays, Varinus! She has his card, and where else would she have gotten it if she has it? It's not like she could have hijacked his truck on the way here and made all that up... nobody would be stupid enough to believe that she could have done that! Now get ready to unload that cargo. We don't pay you to make the decisions around here, that's not what you're paid for."

"Yes sir," the turian said reluctantly. The salarian nodded curtly, then turned around. After taking only three steps he turned back again.

"You turians are just nervous about asari because of that asinine story from Galen about that asari exotic dancer the other night that's clearly made you nervous," he added.

Lylanya grinned victoriously at Varinus who just sneered and then shook his head, by her estimation likely more at his salarian overseer than at her. Flicking the cigarette out the window, she began reversing the vehicle carefully around, backing it into the garage with the help of the two turians directing her. There she stopped and waited in the truck as they dealt with the cargo themselves, hoping like hell the crate with Yalo inside didn't feel wrong when they lifted it up. Thankfully they likely wouldn't notice, as she took note of a salarian in her mirror approaching with a forklift.

"These crates are not in the right order!" she heard the salarian supervisor say sharply, making her heart skip a beat. "Just like every other time." A sigh of relief from Lylanya joined one of frustration from the salarian. "Is it so hard to organise things properly and put things in the right order?"

Lylanya continued to wait, feeling the bumps and jostling in the back and noticing how the truck gradually seemed to rise up with each group of crates loaded off of it. After about ten minutes they were done, and the salarian in charge made his way towards Lylanya's window. As he did though, she heard Yalo through her communicator.

"Don't go yet!"

That was all the quarian said in a rather urgent manner. She couldn't respond though, as the salarian was right there looking up at her.

"We're finished here, you may leave now that we're finished," he said as if shooing her away. "I'd say 'give my regards to Kayoad' but I never much cared for the lout, so I won't give you my regards to give to him."

"I've got a pick up to take with me as well though," Lylanya responded. "I assumed you knew about that."

"I wasn't aware of any outgoing deliveries," he frowned. "And I'm in charge of all incoming and outgoing deliveries. There must be some mistake because otherwise I'd be aware of this."

"I'm pretty sure I've got something to pick up," Lylanya insisted. "Something from a doctor..." She trailed off and pick up a datapad from her seat, reading off of it. "A Doctor Haedian."

"What? Let me see that!"

The salarian snatched the pad out of her hand and looked at it. He narrowed his eyes at her and his lips curled up a bit. "This only has his name on it."

"Yeah. I wrote it down in case I forgot," she shrugged. "It's not like that's orders or a manifest or anything."

"Then why'd you..." the salarian started, then sharply followed with, "Never mind! Because I asked for it, right?" A deep sigh. "Even on my homeworld I'm drowning in simpletons."

"I just know what I was told," Lylanya with another rise and fall of her shoulders.

"I haven't received word from Doctor Haedian about anything, and there are no packages or crates here to go out," the salarian said. "He never said anything to me."

"Look, you just said that there's a Doctor Haedian working here," the asari pointed out, the corners of her mouth turned up into a tiny smirk. "How would I know that unless he has something for me?"

"You raise an interesting point," the supervisor responded, looking at her sideways with one raised brow. He rubbed his chin, looking down for a brief moment. "I will look into this. After all, Haedian did receive some important messages from both Minister Kalahao and Dalatrass Narra herself recently, and you do raise an interesting point. Wait here until I return."

Lylanya peered into the reflection at her right to see the salarian stride over to the two turians, who were currently topping off the one incomplete pile with the final crate. He pointed at Varinus.

"You. Come with me," he barked at the turian, then turned his attention to the other. "You. Stay here and keep an eye on things here. Particularly the asari in the truck, keep an eye on her in particular."

The unnecessarily verbose salarian disappeared with Varinus from her mirror, while the remaining turian who had been mostly silent up until now nodded at his supervisor and slowly began to walk towards the front of the truck, drawing his weapon from his back again. While he wore the same armour as Varinus did, his face was unmarked by stripes and he was a dusty tan colour, almost identical to that of the ground at his feet. As he approached her, Lylanya heard a muffled voice in one ear. "Are you being watched still?" spoke the quarian.

Lylanya eyes flashed to the mirror to check the proximity of the turian and then she responded with a whisper. "Yes, but only by one armed turian guard who is approaching me now. The others are gone."

"I... I have a situation here that we didn't take into account despite our best efforts at planning for every eventuality."

Yalo's reply sounded like a rather embarrassed one. The turian was, however, right at Lylanya's window now. She decided perhaps the best solution was to do one of the things she did best: improvise and turn a potentially risky situation to her advantage.

"What is it?" she asked, speaking louder this time and looking directly at the turian. Yalo noticed the change in her voice and held off responding.

"Nothing really," the turian answered with a shrug and slight shake of the head. "Boss just told me to keep an eye on you."

"I'm stuck in the crate," Yalo answered in Lylanya's ear. She paused and thought, turning her head away from her observer slightly to regard him with one eye.

"And why is that, exactly?"

"I don't think he quite trusts you," the turian said. "Despite what he said to Varinus."

"Because they put at least a couple of crates on top of my one," Yalo sighed.

"Well... what do you expect me to do?" Lylanya asked. "Go and take away the crates I just brought here?"

"Yes," Yalo said, answered quickly this time to get in first.

"I have to admit, that would be rather silly," the turian said. "I personally think they're both being paranoid. You seem okay to me."

And there it was, that look in his eyes. She'd seen that look many times before, and knew then that the door was open, if only a crack. Lylanya smiled down at him, as sweetly as she could. She knew from experience that was often all it took to get the proverbial foot in the door.

"Would you like me to come closer then?"

The turian jumped a little at this while Yalo answered "yes" in Lylanya's ear.

"I... I guess I... wouldn't mind," the turian eventually answered. "I can keep a better eye on you that way too."

Lylanya smiled again, letting out a little giggle. "Oh, I bet you'd like that."

"Sure would," Yalo said.

"Uh-huh," was all the turian could utter, his eyes growing wide. He didn't seem to notice, or at least care, that her accent had completely slipped since that first saccharine smile. She slowly opened the door and slid off the seat onto the ground before him, then slunk up to him. He looked her up and down and then spoke.

"Is it normal for asari truck drivers to wear armour like that?"

His voice was a little shaky, and the question didn't seem suspicious at all. If anything he seemed genuinely intrigued by it, probably a little too much if anything. She took this opportunity to pose a little, then for added effect ran her hands down the front of her body from her neck to her thighs.

"I just like to be safe and secure, just in case of unforeseen circumstances," Lylanya replied. "One can never be too careful, especially with big tough men with guns around."

Yalo just listened silently to this while she gave the turian a playful poke in the chest with one index finger, making him jump a little bit. His weapon remained casually lowered still though. Not removing her finger from contact with him, she ran it down the front of his armour and then extended the rest of her fingers and stepped forward to brush her palm across the glossy ceramic protection.

"I like what you're in too," she said, biting her bottom lip slightly as her sapphire eyes stared into his own iron-grey ones. "Is it as comfortable as it is stylish?"

"No, it's not, it's very cramped in here actually," Yalo responded in her ear. The turian was stammering nothing intelligible for a while before he managed to get out some recognisable words.

"I-I-It's not b-bad. Some... sometimes it starts to feel uncomfortable after a long day."

"Is it uncomfortable now?"

"Yes!" Yalo answered from his box.

"A... a little," the turian said.

"Well then... maybe its about time I got you out of it then," Lylanya breathed, leaning into the guard.

"I-I-I don't think that's a good idea right now," the turian said, taking a step back but finding himself unable to go back any further, despite there being nothing behind him but flat dusty ground for at least a dozen metres. For some reason the asari's eyes were stopping him from retreating and keeping him there, as if the bright blue irises themselves were orbs of biotic energy holding him in stasis. Even when she closed them he was held in place, her face now so close he could feel her warm breath against his chin with each word she spoke.

"Relax, you will enjoy this," she cooed. "Just let go and..." Her eyelids darted up as she paused, revealing obsidian eyes and finished her sentence. "...embrace eternity!"

Night seemed to become day for a split second for the turian and then all reality left him. Lylanya's mind's eye swam through his thoughts, drifting easily through the ones on the surface before delving just a little deeper. The experience wasn't a harsh invasion against the turian's will or mind or anything like the mental equivalent of hacking or decrypting a computer or interface terminal. Through her prior attempts at seduction, Lylanya had managed to open his mind and allow her to roam freely through his thoughts and memories. His mind was just as susceptible to her now as it was just before the connection took place, and all she had to do was subtly suggest and ask his mind what she wanted to know and it would take her there. There were limits though. The turian's mind was only so open, and there would be barriers up she wouldn't be able to penetrate, or at least not without a great deal of mental effort that would take time and a great deal of mental will, and could do him harm in the process. Had he been somebody she had gotten to know well over a long period of time who had come to trust her she would have almost free reign of his thoughts, but since he was somebody she only recently met that she'd only been able to gain easy access to using her charms as means of a key, she would only have limited access. She would know resistance when she hit it, and through practice she had a pretty good idea where such resistance would lie, though it is something that can alter and depend on an individual. Most people in this turian's line of work would still be more likely to keep their more personal thoughts and memories hidden away, but that's not what she was after, and most thoughts about ones occupation would likely be floating amongst the surface thoughts, with the more important ones not far beneath them. This made Lylanya's mental trip more akin to that of a mental vacation.

When the vacation was over the turian blinked at her, but didn't even manage to speak a single word before the butt of his own gun rammed up into his jaw and the taste of his own blood was the last sense he perceived. The salarian who had been driving the forklift earlier ran over, making an urgent query as to what was going on, but Lylanya pulsed with biotic energy and thrust her left hand out to propel him backwards into one of the piles of crates, which where heavy and sturdy enough to take the impact without much more than the top half of them swaying a little before clacking back into formation. He flopped to the ground, but began to get up again, one hand going to the back of his head as he groaned in pain. He looked up only to see the turian guard's assault rifle darting at his face barrel-first, briefly feeling a surge of pain between the eyes before passing out at the foot of the crates.

Lylanya knew she didn't have much time to find Yalo and get him out before the supervisor and Varinus returned in probably a rather agitated state, which the presence of two bodies would only serve to catalyse. Unfortunately the salarian witness had complicated matters and as such their plan had gone off the rails. She may have been able to talk her way out of the situation with the turian and claimed she'd knocked him out in self defense when he'd tried to get too friendly or something, but explaining away both unconscious employees would be trickier. The best she could hope for now would be hiding him in Yalo's crate once she had the quarian out of there and hoping he simply wasn't missed. It didn't take long to find said crate, and she used her biotics to carefully remove the two stacked on top of it and grant Yalo freedom.

"You don't have much time," she told him as soon as he sat up. "From what I got from the guard's mind the place Haedian is located in isn't that far, so that annoying salarian and his turian lackey will probably be back any minute."

"About time you got me out," Yalo uttered, standing up and stepping out of the container. "It was getting cramped in there."

"Well, well, well... we don't have a rare case of a claustrophobic quarian, do we?" the asari smirked.

"That's pretty much impossible," Yalo said contempt. "I was just annoyed because of the inconvenience. What now then, since our plan has been messed up somewhat?"

"I can sort this mess out," Lylanya said, her eyes drifting past Yalo to the floored salarian, but even she couldn't hide from him the fact that she wasn't entirely convinced this time. "I got a brief look at the place from the turian over there. Just go through that door and then go immediately left, then take the second door on your right, then the fifth door on the left from there. Beyond there he doesn't know as its restricted, but the restricted area itself is apparently fairly small in comparison to the overall building size. The main issue will be avoiding the others in there."

"It's a shame you can't go, you're better at this sneaking around stuff than I am," Yalo said. "Especially with your little toy."

"Yes I am, but you're better at hacking your way past secure locations and decrypting terminals," Lylanya countered, stooping to start dragging the salarian into the now empty container. "And I suspect that will be far more useful. Now go... while you still have time."

Yalo nodded at this, turning towards the door she had indicated earlier. Opening it a crack he listened for a few seconds, then peered in before disappearing inside entirely and out of Lylanya's sight. The asari sighed with relief that he had at least got in without detection and before the others had returned, then sighed again as she dropped the salarian into the crate. Unsheathing a slender dagger from her right thigh that until then merely resembled a piece of her armour, she poked a couple of holes in the side of the container so its inhabitant would be able to breath, hoping they would be large enough to give him sufficient air yet small enough to not be noticed. Now she just had to rely on them finding him before he starved to death. Sometimes she couldn't decide whether avoiding killing those in your way was harder than simply doing it, but she'd killed enough in the past to know now that it wasn't her way. Not any more. And the thing that concerned her was that it was a sentiment Yalo didn't necessarily seem to share.
- Kenneth White

"Know the conflict within before facing the conflict without."

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Kif White
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Re: Mass Effect Digression

Postby Kif White » Mon Apr 19, 2010 2:59 pm

Chapter 11

While it had the appearance of a run-down warehouse on the outside, on the inside the facility more resembled a modern hospital. Not that Yalo had ever been inside a hospital before, with the closest thing being the medical bay aboard the Lerta he'd been to a few times for minor infections. The hallways seemed sleek and clean, with bright white floor covering and equally pearly walls and ceilings. Yalo took note of their reflective nature, knowing that while sneaking around it could give him away, even if he himself couldn't be seen directly. On the other hand this was something that worked both ways, and Yalo could use it to check around corners without the risk of physically poking his head around them. Thankfully the lighting wasn't particularly outstanding, probably mostly due to the lack of windows and the fact any that did exist were covered up from the inside, so that gave Yalo at least some advantage.

Checking the second corner quickly, Yalo flashed his omni-tool active and waved it around for the few seconds. Like he had done when the truck entered the place from the outside, he made sure any security cameras in the immediate vicinity would be out of commission for at least the next minute or two. He hadn't been sure if it had worked from within the crate earlier, but he hadn't heard any alert yet, so assumed if there were any cameras he'd got to them or security was simply being ignored for the moment. With the area clear, Yalo quickly dashed down the corridor.

Fifth door on the right, Yalo remembered. But it's restricted from there, so I'll likely need to hack through.

Yalo had just passed the third door when he stopped in his tracks. He could hear footsteps; two sets of them. He turned around and the door behind him didn't appear to be locked, though at the same time he had no idea what would be on the other side. The steps were getting closer, so he had to risk it. He hit the green panel to the door's right and it whirred and hissed open, allowing him to whisk himself inside and close it again. Yalo didn't take much note of what was in the room, though it was hard to when it was completely dark in there. He could sense it was fairly small, but at the moment he was paying too much attention to the approaching sounds beyond the door. As they passed by he heard them speaking and recognised the voices.

"...problem with this whole thing is the lack of communication, that's the problem!" the salarian delivery supervisor ranted.

"I still think that asari was trying to pull something," Varinus responded. "She would have at least had a manifest or some..."

Their conversation muffled and trailed off again as he heard them round the corner at the end of the hall. Yalo sighed with relief, then switched on the light and took in his surroundings properly. It appeared to be some kind of preparation station, with lab coats hanging from hooks around the walls, long-sleeved salarian gloves in a pile atop a series of sinks, several lockers and a couple of large clothing bins. Most importantly there was nobody else in here at the moment.

At least if I get caught and have to take somebody out, I can hide the body in here, he thought, noting the laundry hampers.

He was about to turn back to the door but stopped, noticing something above the hampers on the far wall: a vent cover. And judging from its positioning, it looked like it was heading towards the restricted area he had to get to. If he could crawl in through there, he could avoid having to hack the security door entirely, and on top of that the option would be far stealthier. There would likely be only just enough room to move in there, but he was a quarian: he was used to small, cramped spaces. Perhaps not as much as some of his kin, but he'd done a few minor pieces of maintenance upon the Lerta along with his sister in vents, tubes and conduits.

Climbing atop the hampers, Yalo reached up and carefully eased the vent cover out of the wall; inching the left side out a little, then the right, then the left again, and then finally the right a second time as the fixture came free. He hung the object on a nearby coat-hook fixed to the wall nearby by jamming the hook in a gap between two of the louvers then peered inside the shaft itself. It went dark from about a metre in, so where it went was a mystery. Nonetheless, Yalo reached in and hauled himself inside the duct. Yalo powered up the light on his helmet, just enough to give him a small amount of vision about a foot ahead of himself so he didn't end up pulling himself face-first into a wall or corner or in case there was a sudden drop. After all, if anybody was out there he wouldn't want their attention to be drawn to a bring light shining out of the vent-holes he was passing by.

Yalo found himself at an intersection forcing him either left or right only a couple of metres in and made a turn left, hoping that it would take him where he wanted to go. He came across another passage leading left again fairly soon, and assumed that led to whatever was behind the fourth door in the last corridor he was in. Moving further down the shaft led him to a corner that forced him to either turn right or turn back, so right he went. After about a minute of crawling he found another vent cover on his left, so he stopped, dimmed his light and peered out through the metal slats.

The room beyond was larger than any of the others he'd seen in here thus far, and while still dark at least had some illumination from the many monitors, computer terminals and holographic displays in the place. Yalo could see three doors leading into the room: one from the direction he'd crawled from, one on the wall opposite that and another on the wall opposite the one he was in. There was likely a door beneath him too he guessed, given that the room seemed completely symmetrical. The various computers and terminals were all situated in the middle of the room and seemed rather clumped together, since the walls and the area around them were pretty sparse and wide, Yalo suspected so that objects could be easily moved through that area without anything getting in the way.

They'd be able to bring those crates through here without any problems, Yalo thought.

Beyond that there were some coloured lines along the floor that split off from each other to lead through the different doors, and there was a desk and some monitors near the door on the wall behind him. Behind this desk sat the only person in the room: a rather bored looking salarian with a dark-brown complexion --save for a red chin and throat-- wearing light armour. Unlike the dark brown protective covering the turians who were part of The Terrestrial wore, his was a bright white with black trim and no logo on it, complete with the design feature Yalo liked to think of as 'The Salarian Handle' on the chest. Ever since meeting Intarr he imagined the large krogan picking two salarians up by them and then bashing their heads together over his own. The idea amused him, even though he knew it shouldn't. The problem now was getting into the room without the salarian noticing. Sure, he could keep going and see where the vents led him, but he was pretty sure there'd be at least something of use on the computers down below.

Find somewhere else, a voice in the back of his head said. It's not worth the risk, there's bound to be other terminals around here and if there isn't you can always come back. The voice was right, so Yalo sighed in temporary defeat and carefully crawled on.

The next room looked rather interesting. It was three times as tall as the previous ones, and consisted of a large tubular object in the centre with a console before it and several other terminals around two of the walls. There was a platform elevator on the left side that appeared to simply take a person up to the next two floors, which basically consisted of nothing more than walkways surrounding whatever the cylindrical object in the middle was. It looked like metal and/or ceramic at the bottom third, but the middle portion was transparent and there was some kind of protruding metal prongs poking down into it from the ceiling. The diameter of it had to at least be fifteen to twenty metres, and if there was anything inside it Yalo couldn't see it from his position. This place was well lit by bright lights on the ceiling and upper walls, but there was nobody in the room using the object. There were two doors, one that led back to a small corridor that linked it to the previous room Yalo had observed and one on the opposite wall in the direction the ventilation shaft continued. Yalo thought about investigating this room, but was first curious about where an intersection in the ducts just ahead and on his right might lead.

His curiosity paid off. The next room he found was a small, empty office, with a desk and chair and a terminal sitting upon the former. There were another couple of seats and a few filing cabinets, but beyond that the room was fairly simple and neat. Yalo waved his omni-tool to disable any cameras the office may have, then carefully removed the vent cover and lowered it softly to the ground as much as he could without falling out. Crawling out, Yalo approached the desk, taking in his surroundings properly. The only door in was locked judging from the red light on the panel to its right, but all the same Yalo took his gun and placed it on the desk facing the lone access, just in case anybody tried to come in while he was at work. Sneaking inside in the middle of the night was mostly a convenience due to the delivery, but it also had its other advantages.

Sure enough, activating the console revealed that it was password-locked, so Yalo's omni-tool joined the holographic interface in lighting up the otherwise darkened room. The security was fairly heavy in the system, but Yalo was an expert, and thanks to the enhancements on Linna's omni-tool he made short work of anything that got in his way. The information was good too, and he managed to get a complete layout of the facility as well as a list of the personnel and to which departments they were assigned. It seems Dr. Haedian was the head of a department called 'Biological Research and Analysis' and was, funnily enough, assigned to two areas called the 'Biological Research Laboratory' and 'Biological Testing Stations' that weren't too far away.

And what exactly is this research and analysis all for? Yalo wondered, as he began to dig deeper. With a little more effort, Yalo came across something that made him stop and take a step back. He leaned forward and read the information again, just to be sure.

"Keelah!" he exclaimed for behind his visor. "This is... perfect. This is beyond perfect."

Yalo realised he'd not only used an exclamation he tried not to since leaving The Flotilla, but that he'd spoken aloud. Shaking his head as if to dislodge his stupidity, he quickly downloaded some crucial information to his omni-tool, memorised the layout to make sure it was correct, then logged out of the system and shut it down. Now he had a choice: go directly there and hope to avoid being seen, or take the vents again and take a longer, more uncomfortable but less risky route. He regarded the opening in the wall and sighed --he really didn't want to have to go back in there. He only had to go down two corridors to a room about twenty metres away, and it was night and the place seemed virtually deserted. He thought he may as well risk it, even if the ducts had served him well so far.

Yalo unlocked the door with a tangerine flash from his arm, then peered out both ways. The coast was clear, so he carefully snuck out, reactivating his omni-tool and waving it around to disrupt any security cameras along the way and hoping nobody was around the corner who might wonder what the orange glow was. The quarian quickened his pace, seeing at the entire place seemed devoid of staff. He switched off his omni-tool as he approached the door he needed, having noticed it wasn't locked. Pressing the button, the panel bleep and the door clunked and whisked open.

Yalo stepped inside, finding himself in a large a room about thirty metres or so long and probably just over half that wide. It was filled with various pieces of laboratory equipment, with a few computer terminals and a rectangular bay in the middle surrounded by a glowing blue forcefield. There was also a desk with a computer terminal to the far right side of the wall, at which sat a tan-hued salarian with dark grey eyes; his face lit up by the holographic image before him. He looked up with a frown at Yalo.

"Who are you? What are you..."

Dr. Haedian trailed off, one eye seeming to get larger while the other shrunk as he twisted his head to the side slightly.

"Wait, I know you! You're that quarian who was with those krogan!"

"That's right," Yalo said, walking slowly towards the doctor as if approaching a cornered beast. "I've come in search of you. Lylanya's here too."

"The asari? What does she want? Something about that message I got a few days ago?" A pause. "How did you even get in here?"

"We snuck in. We hijacked a delivery truck and then I snuck in through the ventilation shaft past your security and into the restricted area."

"So that's why that redundantly verbose idiot came here asking me about some kind of outgoing package," Haedian realised. "But enough of that... why are you here? What do you want me for?"

"I know what you're working on," Yalo said straightforwardly. "I want you and I want the research and the prototype you have."

"Assuming you're telling the truth, what makes you possibly think that I'd be so willing to just go along with this?" A pause. "Or are you planning on holding me at gunpoint and forcing me into it?"

"Recognition and credits," Yalo responded with confidence. "You're working along with a bunch of other scientists on a top secret project for The Salarian Union. This isn't going to get you fame or money. You're not going to be considered up there amongst the best and brightest of the salarian science community, because you're just one of many working on something that'll always be under the rug your government keeps it under." A pause. "But if you take the data and come with me, we can use and sell this technology, and you'll be the one that gets all the credit and fame for it. Your name will be forever etched in history as the mind behind one of the greatest technological leaps the galaxy has seen in years."

"Except for three things, quarian. First, I'll be a traitor to The Salarian Union and thus considered a traitor to all salarians everywhere. Secondly, I'm not the project leader, just the head of the Biological Research division. My expertise only covers about a quarter of the total project... a third at the most. And finally, I've already hit the silent alarm. Armed guards will be here soon."

"Don't do this, doctor!" Yalo said urgently, expecting the main door to open and guns to be trained on him any moment. "The Salarian Union won't admit to what happened, since the project is secret and it would be too embarrassing to admit they lost it and you. I also know that this project is being kept secret from The Council."

Doctor Haedian narrowed his eyes, and Yalo nodded in response. "That's right. While you probably only intend to use this for colonisation, the potential for its use as a weapon is viable. The Council wouldn't approve of it, despite its intent. On top of that, they would likely want to share the knowledge with the other races, which would no longer give the salarian's an edge out there."

"Stop right there!" Yalo heard from behind him, and he raised his hands after looking over his shoulder and observing two salarians with pistols pointed at him. One of them was the guard he saw sitting at the desk only moments earlier.

"Put those guns down, it was a false alarm," Haedian said with vexation. "I'm tired from working all night and accidentally hit the wrong button. Go and shine your guns or something... I have work to do."

"Who is this then?" the closer one asked, flicking his head in Yalo's direction. Haedian let out a frustrated sigh.

"Are you new here, or just stupid? This is a quarian I brought in for biological studies related to the project. I can't do proper tests and research on how it will effect quarian physiology and genetics without a test subject. Now please leave... we have many important tests to still do."

The guards lowered their weapons slowly, looking at each other with puzzled expressions. Both simply said "yes Doctor" and left the room. As the door slid shut behind them, Yalo lowered his arms and cocked his head at Haedian.

"You seem to know quite a lot, quarian," Haedian sighed. "And a lot of what you say is right. But that still doesn't negate the fact that I'm only a small part of this overall project. That and its not even finished, there's still months of work left to go, despite the fact we have a small working prototype. I am curious as to exactly what you plan to do with this knowledge though... assuming I did agree to go with you."

"That depends," Yalo said. "At first I was just planning on selling your services and whatever this was to somebody with a lot of credits. But after seeing for myself what you were working on, things started working in my mind and my plans changed. This is now something I can use myself for my own purposes and not just a means of gaining a lot of credits. Assuming it works how I think it does. It's basically a super fast terraformer, right?"

"Your analogy there is beyond inadequate," Haedian responded as if insulted. "It's much more than that. To put it in layman's terms, it contains a unique scanning device that analyses a planet in every possible manner that one would need to know in order to tarraform it. Not only does it scan the planet itself for its composite of elements and minerals, it takes into account the size of the planet, its density and gravity, any satellites it may have, the topographical features, its distance from the star it orbits, its orbit itself, what type of star it is, other planets in its solar system, and so forth until it paints a complete picture of exactly what would be needed to terraform the planet in order to colonise it. It then calculates the perfect mathematical formula's automatically using the V.I. system within to do this the quickest and most efficient way possible. It technically does nothing that hasn't been done for years already for the purposes of terraforming and colonisation, it just does in mere months or only a couple of years what would otherwise take decades. If course, it could also be used for the opposite effect, by scanning and evaluating a planet and ascertaining the most subtle way of creating planet wide destruction with minimal effort. But for that to be a problem the device would still have to be in a planet's orbit for days without being detected, which would be highly unlikely."

"That's all I needed to know," Yalo said, and the salarian could hear the quarian's grin even if he couldn't see it.

"Wait a minute... I know what this is. You want the device for yourself. For the quarians. That's it, isn't it... you want to use it to help create a new homeworld for your people."

Yalo was silent for a few seconds, looking around as if to find help from somebody else, yet finding none. Eventually he just caved.

"That's part of it, yes." The quarian paused, his voice becoming emotionless. "There's more to it than that though."

"Oh?" Haedian asked curiously. Yalo abruptly became evasive and impatient.

"Look... I'll tell you later, once we're out of here and on the ship. I owe the others an explanation too. That is assuming you'll come with me?"

Haedian brought one hand up to his chin as he leant back against the wall behind him and his eyes narrowed in thought.

"I must admit, the prospect of actually getting credit for this is very appealing. For too long I've been overshadowed by lesser minds like Finnigus and Solus, merely because of the nature of my employment. So succeed we would need not only my data on the project, but the prototype itself and data from the other two departments and from the project lead. We would then want to wipe it all to ensure we had the only copies of all the data. Some may be backed up, but I can take all mine with me, which will put them back significantly even on the unlikely chance they manage to recover their own stuff." He looked up at Yalo. "Wait, you said 'others' before. Lylanya you mentioned, but who else is there with you?"

"One of..." Yalo sighed. "One of the krogan." A pause. "Intarr, to be exact."

"The krogan you hunted me down with?!" Haedian exclaimed, his eyes seeming to want to burst out of their sockets. "The one who shot me, and then you later betrayed so I could escape?"

"It's complicated," Yalo answered, rubbing his arm awkwardly. "Let's just say he's not exactly familiar with some of the events that went on."

"So it seems," Haedian said, his brow raising as he said the last word. "So then how do I know you won't betray me if it conveniences you to do so?"

"You don't," Yalo admitted. "And if it came to that, I would. At least you know that. But keep in mind that I have no interest in fame or credits beyond the ones I need to save my people. And if this all works out, I won't even need them. I'll just use the information on the project itself. If you agree to this, of course. Think about it... you wouldn't even need to develop it fully, just sell the research and the prototype and offer your services to continue your work on it."

"Very well, I accept," Haedian nodded, and he sat down at his console and began running his hands across the glowing interface. "I haven't exactly been happy here, and it would be extremely interesting if I could manage to get it to make a suitable planet for your people to live on. But we must hurry if we want to get the data before the others wake up and begin their work."

"Good," Yalo said with a firm nod, clapping his hands together. "What do we need to do then?"

"I've already begun to download all the data from my own terminal into an optical storage device," he answered. "You'll need to do the same in the other departments and in the project lead's office. Do you know where they are?"

"I believe I found the lead's office and already hacked the terminal. That's how I found your location."

"Good," Haedian said as he handed Yalo some OSD's and the quarian slipped them into a pouch on his hip. "In the meantime, I'll get the prototype itself since I have access to it already."

"How big is this prototype?"

"One quarter the size of what the final design is intended to be. It was made for small scale direct testing in a controlled environment, while the real thing would need to be far larger in order to deal with the appropriate scale. Even then there would be a limit to the size of the planet this device would be feasible to function with, but its not far beyond that limit that a planet's mass becomes too big to realistically be properly colonised anyway. Needless to say, it's not so prodigious and ponderous that a mass-grav lift wouldn't be able to tow it."

"Okay. Where will we rendezvous, and how will we actually get out of here without drawing attention?" Yalo posed.

"When you're done, come back here. I'll bring the prototype here and we'll put it and you inside a container. I'll take it to the warehouse and say that this is the package that I had originally intended to be picked up, and that the previous altercation was a misunderstanding and I really did have a package, it just wasn't ready at the time."

"Uh-oh!" Yalo called out.

"Uh... oh?"

"Lylanya. I have no idea what happened to her after the others got back. Especially since she had to knock out two people so that I could get in here. I should contact her and make sure she's okay."

"Don't be a fool!" Haedian snapped reaching over to grab Yalo's arm before he could open communications. "If she isn't okay and they captured her, then they in all probability have her communications device. If you contact her they'll know something is up, especially since we don't use comms in this place ourselves for security reasons. The observation that no alarm has been raised yet means that all they've done is either tell her to vacate the premises or locked her away somewhere."

"Where would they put her if the latter was the case?" Yalo asked.

"We don't actually have any holding cells," Haedian admitted, rubbing his chin and tapping one foot. "They'd probably just lock her in a storage room or one of the old empty sleeping quarters nobody uses." The salarian frowned. "But this matters not... we have more important things to do now."

"That's true, but if we get to the warehouse and she's not there waiting, we're going to have to find her."

"I'm surprised given your previous track record that you wouldn't just leave her behind for 'the greater good' or something," Haedian answered snidely. "But very well, if you feel we must. But I suggest we get moving."

The two left the room in two separate directions; Yalo heading right and back towards the office he'd been in earlier, while Haedian took a left. It didn't take Yalo long to get back and reacquaint himself with the layout of the place again and find the other two major departments: Geological and Astronomical. He then downloaded the remaining project data from the main terminal onto the OSD, which thanks to his earlier hacking success was effortless. When that was done he deleted the data from the system, then as an additional measure transferred a nasty quarian computer virus to ensure any attempts to retrieve the data would be as difficult as possible. Astronomical was the next closest department, not that much farther than Haedian's had been, just down a few corridors to his right rather than his left. Waving his omni-tool all the way to take out surveillance cameras as usual, Yalo found the department he needed and unlocked the door.

Like most of the rooms he'd been in it was fairly dark, though there was some illumination from what appeared to be a giant holographic galaxy map rotating in the centre of the two-storey high room. This made it easy to find the main terminal, which was actually attached to and part of the controls of the star chart itself. There were lots of other computers and electronic devices around, but Yalo had no idea what they were for or what they did, but he could tell they were expensive.

I'm surprised he's agreed to come with me at all, Yalo thought. It'll be hard for anybody to beat this level of state of the art equipment.

Yalo hacked the computer as quickly as he could, which still took him a while. There was a lot of data in this terminal too, which only made things take even longer for it to download to the OSDs. As before Yalo deleted the data from the computer when he was done and put a virus in, which led to the galaxy map disappearing and leaving only Yalo's omni-tool to light the room. He quickly left and proceeded to the third and final department, which was unfortunately a fair distance away. Yalo had to navigate six long corridors, lighting the way and darkening the cameras with his omni-tool as usual. He encountered nobody the entire time, and he wasn't sure whether to think that was a good thing or a bad thing. It certainly made him feel uneasy, though at the same time with each passing second he was closer to success.

Yalo arrived to find the door unlocked, which made him wonder if anybody was in there working late like Haedian had been. He could see through the frosted glass that the lights were on inside, but it wasn't translucent enough for him to be able to tell whether there was anybody inside; everything beyond was a blurred mass of various colours. To be safe, he drew his pistol carefully, letting it unfold and snap to readiness as the door blooped open. Yalo's pistol entered the room first, with its bearer following and happy to see that there was nobody within. Like most of the rooms he'd been through, the walls had the same plain, reflective surfaces in bright white and the floors were smooth and yet not slippery to walk upon. Like Haedian's lab, this one also had a few terminals and lots of scientific equipment around, but it also had several large containers at one end of the room on a series of study shelves. In the centre were four large glass tanks filled with what just appeared to be dirt of slightly different shades and hues, each with a tube extending from the top of them to the ceiling where they all ran along it to meet another large machine at the back wall. This machine had a large console as part of it, and since it was the most prominent one in the room Yalo decided it was probably the one he was after.

Yalo interfaced with the terminal, hacked it and began downloading all the relevant data be could to the next OSD. He guessed he was about halfway through when he heard the door behind him open again and he spun around to see a large crate sitting on a mass-grav lift entering the room. Thinking it was Doctor Haedian having tracked him down with the prototype, Yalo raised the gun back up that he'd trained on the door, only to find that the two salarians that entered with it were ones he'd never seen before.

"What the--! Who are you?" the one pushing the grav-lift said.

Yalo didn't think he had much choice now, so he squared his pistol at the salarian and fired. There was a burst of dark green at his throat, and his scream of pain soon became a gurgle as he brought one hand up to the fatal wound and reached out towards a fictional saviour with the other. He stumbled forward against the handle of the grav-lift, hitting the forward control and sending it whizzing across the room into a table filled with various scientific equipment, a lot of which contained glass. There was a thud and then a ringing clatter and tinkling of breaking and falling metal and glass. In reaction the other salarian took a step back in horror, looked at Yalo for a moment and then fled, calling for help at the top of his lungs. Yalo took a shot at him, but he had already been standing in the doorway when he'd made the first shot, so it hasn't taken long for his intended target to disappear on him.

Yalo uttered a quarian curse into his chest and took off after the escapee as fast as he could. The salarian's yelling was a pretty clear indication of which direction he was heading, which was in the opposite direction that Yalo had entered the place from. Yalo thought he saw his target in the distance and fired again, only to notice his mistake when the shot struck the wall.

Just a reflection! he chastised himself mentally.

Yalo swung around the next corner and saw the salarian about to reach a door at the end of the hallway. Without taking too much care at aiming, Yalo fired his weapon and saw the material of his prey's clothing shred near the centre of his back shortly before he stumbled and fell forwards, his head hitting the door on the way down. His target was down, but Yalo knew the damage had likely already been done. Without wasting time to see if his target was actually dead, Yalo raced back to the main Geological Lab and quickly ejected the OSD from the console, despite knowing full well that he hadn't quite gotten all of the data. There wasn't time to implant the virus either, so Yalo simply flashed his omni-tool at terminal to overload it, summoning a spray of sparks and a small cloud of smoke from the piece of equipment.

Yalo took off for Haedian's lab again, hoping the doctor would be there waiting with the prototype and that he could get there before any more salarians were alerted to his presence. He still had another three hallways to traverse when he was forced to stop dead in his tracks and dart back around the last corner he'd taken, as he heard a door opening up ahead and some muffled voices. There were at least two salarians and they were talking about finding him and splitting up. He could see in the wall the reflection of one approaching his position, and he was hoping that his own reflection wouldn't be seen too. Unlike the two workers he'd dealt with earlier though, this one was armed and kitted out in armour. He had to take this guy out, but as quietly as possible. So for now, just around the corner, he waited.

The salarian reached the turning point and twisted with shock to see Yalo right there. The quarian lunged out with a fist and caught the guard across the jaw, sending him stumbling into the wall to his left. Acting fast before he could make too much noise, Yalo charged him and caught his throat in his hands, then squeezed it tight and pinned him against the wall. The salarian gurgled and tried to get out some words, but didn't manage to get out anything beyond some raspy, unintelligible and panicked noises before the gun fell from his fingers and his eyes rolled into the back of his skull. As he went limp, Yalo let go of his throat, and for good measure pulled his face forward before thrusting the back of his head into the wall behind and leaving him in an undignified heap on the floor. Checking both corridors at the intersection carefully, Yalo continued sneaking towards Haedian's lab.

Managing to avoid another patrol of two armed security personnel by ducking into a room he recalled as simply being a supply closet, Yalo made it back to Haedian's lab without any other problems. There the doctor was waiting with a large crate on a grav-lift as promised, but he looked more than a little irritated.

"About time you got here, quarian!" he muttered. "I assume all the guards up and about is your doing?"

"An unavoidable mishap," Yalo sighed. "But I at least managed to get most of the data before I had to run. I'm surprised this room wasn't under guard, especially with you in here."

"It was," Haedian responded, and he stepped aside and pointed to his right at the floor behind a large terminal. Yalo stepped closer and peeked around to see two unconscious guards lying there.

"They were sent to guard me," Haedian explained. "Terrible shame they had chosen to do so just as I was mixing some chemicals that happen to release several toxic gasses, including chlorine and carbon monoxide. Guess I forgot to mention that, along with the fact I only had one mask."

"We need to get out of here quickly," Yalo said. The salarian nodded, opening the crate.

"Crawl inside, I'll take you out along with it as we had planned. There's enough room for both you and the prototype. Just try not to touch it while you're in there."

"What if they stop you and want to take a look inside?" Yalo asked. Haedian sighed and rolled his eyes.

"They trust my judgment at this place and I outrank all the security personnel. They have to follow my orders, and if I tell them I'm taking something away for security reasons they'll just have to trust me. Now stop arguing and yet inside!"

Yalo held his hands up as if to say "I just asked, take it easy" and then stepped into the container. He didn't know what the salarian scientist was so concerned about when it came to him touching it, since the object was wrapped and packed in something that looked like foam rubber. It was a bit of the tight squeeze, but Yalo managed to curl up and fit inside, and soon all was dark as Haedian closed the lid on him. Yalo felt the initial jerk of movement as Haedian started the journey, but the ride itself was incredibly smooth to the point that Yalo couldn't even really tell if he was moving or not. Things seemed fine for the first couple of minutes, but then he heard a muffled voice in the distance call out and felt Haedian stop in his tracks with a jerk.

"Sorry Doctor, but the corridors are off-limits until we can catch the assailant," a voice said, getting slightly louder with each word. "Weren't two guards assigned to protect you anyway?"

"I told them to guard the equipment in the lab," Haedian responded in his usual miffed way. "I have a piece of important equipment that I need to get out of here. I'm armed, so can take care of myself."

"Sorry, but the whole place is on lockdown. Nobody gets in or out until we catch the intruder."

"All the more reason for me to get this out of here," Haedian retorted. "If I take this outside when the intruder is trapped in here, he can't get it now, can he? If it stays here, then there's a greater chance he'll get hold of it."

"I... suppose you're right," the voice answered sceptically.

"Of course I'm right!" Haedian muttered. "That's why I'm the brilliant scientist and you're just some gun-polishing toady doing the work usually reserved for braindead krogan who think 'argon' is the state you reach when you run out of things to shoot. Now move aside before this assailant of yours sneaks up on one or both of us because you were messing about."

"Yes, sir," the voice responded, and there was a slight bump as they went on their way again. It didn't take long before they made it to the exit where Yalo had come in, and the Doctor used his authorisation to open the door and push the crate outside. As he locked the door behind himself again, he was approached by the supervisor.

"You can't leave, this place is off-limits, Haedian!" he grumbled. "Don't you know that we're in lockdown until they find this intruder, that's why you can't leave."

"Oh, shove a krogan quad in your tedious, word-wasting mouth, Chortan!" Yalo heard Haedian snort. "I have a container to go out, and I don't have time for you to waste hours on end just saying 'hello' to me repeatedly. You take orders from me, and I say this container is going out."

"In this delivery truck?" Chortan asked, just as two salarian workers and Varinus approached to see what was going on. Haedian frowned.

"No, I was going to get you to carry it on your back and run all the way to Jaëto. Of course in this truck!"

"The driver is a chief suspect with regards to the intruder," Varinus interjected. "Unless you can drive it yourself, this truck isn't going anywhere. Not that we'd be opening the back of it to load your container any time soon either."

"Why not?"

"Because that's where we put her," Varinus explained, cocking his head towards the vehicle. "Seemed the best option at the time. I think she tried using her biotics to get out, but so far all they've done is make the thing rock a bit."

"Can't you put her somewhere else?" Haedian muttered.

"Like where?" Varinus replied laconically.

"I dunno... throw her in an empty crate and seal it or something," Haedian said flippantly, one hand swishing the air in a gesture of indifference. The turian seemed to smile, or at least as close as a turian could get to one, looking across at Chortan.

"I wouldn't mind doing that. The bitch could use some time in a small, enclosed space after what she did to the others."

"Good, hurry up then," Haedian said. "Get your gun pointed at that door and I'll open it up."

Varinus gave a firm nod, raising his Banshee assault rifle to aim it directly at the door. Haedian pushed the mass-grav lift closer to the truck, then let go of it to unlock the rear doors, revealing a rather annoyed looking Lylanya standing there with her arms crossed. She looked down at Haedian who simply gave her a wink the others couldn't see. She didn't acknowledge it in any way.

"Okay, little miss infiltrator smuggler, out you come," Haedian ordered. "And if we see so much as a spark from you, Varinus here will empty his entire block into you."

Lylanya scowled, raising her arms and stepping out onto the dusty surface. Her eyes moved from Haedian to Varinus.

"That's it. Move that pretty blue ass of yours this way," the turian instructed with a flick of his gun. "We'll see if you still don't talk after you've spent a few hours in a space so small you'll barely have room to blink."

Lylanya slowly walked towards him and then passed by, heading towards the long crate that the two salarian workers were bringing over. As Varinus and Chortan turned to watch her, Haedian reached down and carefully unfastened the lid on his own crate. As soon as it hinged back, Yalo popped up like a Jack in the Box, his pistol clasped on one hand. He leapt out, grabbing the unsuspecting Chortan from behind, who squealed as he felt Yalo's left arm warp around him and the point of the quarian's pistol pressed into the side of his right eye.

"Stop right there, Varinus!" Yalo yelled, and the turian's eyes were on him. "Let her go, or your loudmouthed boss gets it."

"Y-Y-Your loudmouthed boss wouldn't like that!" Chortan gulped.

"And let you lot get away?" the turian growled, his eyes narrowing. "I don't think so. Kill him... I don't care. But if he dies, your pretty blue friend here will join him soon after."

Varinus elevated the barrel of his rifle up at Lylanya's head, and his eyes challenged Yalo once again.

"You'll let your boss die just to stop us escaping?" Yalo asked.

"He's just one man on this project," Varinus responded matter-of-factly. "He dies and we stop you, the project goes on. You escape and the whole thing is completely written off." A pause. "I've heard reports on what's happened in there. Sabotage, possibly thievery as well. The reports are vague, but they still paint a dark picture."

"Your call," Yalo said. "Sorry, but it was the wrong one."

The arm Yalo had wrapped around Chortan's chest flashed saffron and Varinus' assault rifle bleeped loudly. He cursed, looking over with wide eyes at Yalo to see the quarian's pistol facing him and a flare from the muzzle. For a fraction of a second he was blind in one eye as the grain of metal perforated it, but that didn't really matter beyond that short moment once it had coursed through his head and out the other side. Varinus was dead before his body even began to topple, or before the two salarians behind him had even looked up to stare in shock at what had happened to their guardian. Lylanya side-stepped out of the way, looking back at Yalo as her quarian companion then pushed Chortan away; the salarian stumbling and falling to his knees. Yalo turned to Haedian.

"Get that on the truck quickly, there'll probably be more of them here soon."

Haedian nodded, while Lylanya directed her attention to the two workers who were still by the crate. Flashing blue light, she reached out with both hands and lifted them up into the air a few feet, just holding them there for a while. She turned to regard Yalo.

"What do you think I shou--"

Lylanya cut herself off as she witnessed Yalo with his gun trained on Chortan, who was sprawled on the ground, leaning back on his arms in an attempt to quickly back away from the quarian. Another shot flared from his pistol, Chortan's head spasming as one eye exploded in a mess of thick olive liquid. The back of his skull slammed onto the ground and he lay there motionless, dark green fluid squelching out of the moral wound. Yalo looked across at her and Lylanya was so shocked that she lost control of her own powers, sending the two salarian workers back to the ground.

"Dammit, Lylanya," Yalo muttered as they tried to scramble back to their feet. His gun-wielding right arm swung around, then the other joined it to grasp the wrist for support. Two more shots rang out in quick succession, and the two workers dropped to the ground with yells, leaving small clouds of dust where they landed. Lylanya just looked at him again, her large blue eyes even more immense than normal and all muscles in her jaw completely effete.

"Come on, we have to leave quickly" Yalo said, clipping his gun to his thigh again and heading for the passenger door of the vehicle.

As Haedian finished loading the crate, Lylanya took a look at the miniature battlefield around her. She glanced at each body carefully, biting her lower lip as the markings on her forehead distorted in a doleful wince. She cursed quietly to herself, blinking quickly to dismiss a few small tears that had tried to form, then ripped her head away from the scene and swiftly marched to the front of the truck.
- Kenneth White

"Know the conflict within before facing the conflict without."

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