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Mass Effect/AEC: Chapter 16 (c.3): Apocrypha



Security Office 3, Gozu District, Level 33 Omega Station, Sahrebarik System, Omega Nebula, December 22, 2197

The Talon Security office was cramped with computer screens, a tiny desk, three security agents, plus Galeena and myself. Galeena and I sat opposite the desk as we waited for updates on the Matriarchs summit down the hall.

“Five days and nothing so far,” I said.

Galeena smiled, “Standard procedure for the diplomatic corps. This is just the ‘airing of grievances’ part of the negotiations.  Next week we will see the real wheeling and dealing kick off. After that fails, there will be a day or two of vague and not so vague threats and in the last day or so you will see some sort of agreement on the ground rules for the next round of talks.”

A batarian steward came into the cramp space and served hot tea to the occupants. “Here you go, commander,” he said as he handed me a large cup.

As I lifted the cup to my lips, a mini-OSD slipped from between the coaster and bottom of the cup. I pocketed the OSD, “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” said the steward as he left.

“Didn’t expect to spend Christmas in Omega, but that’s part of the job,” I said.

“Christmas was her favorite…” Galeena’s voice trailed off.

“I’m sorry.”

“Not a problem, sir. I do miss the Christmas parties at the old office. And the way you insisted we celebrate all the way to, what was that holiday called?”

“Epiphany.”

“Yes, that one.”

“And then you insisted we throw Chinese New Year party as well.”

“She loved that one to.” She took another sip from her mug.

“Miranda is also fond of the holidays. Maybe we can put something together, a little new year’s eve celebration.”

“Isn’t she scheduled to arrive today?” asked Galeena.

I checked the time on my omni-tool, “In about an hour. I better hustle down to the docks.”

“See you later, commander.”

I walked out of the office and found a quite space down the hall. It made sense to deliver sensitive information through an encrypted OSD. Omega’s communications networks were a fractured mess of cobbled together systems, layers of conflicting software updates, and billions of adware bots.  Plus, everyone just tapped into the nearest network adapter in an attempt to avoid extranet provider’s fees. Omega was the pirate capital of the Terminus systems, in more ways that one. It also made sense to disconnect from the local network to avoid any snoopers.

-Connection to local area extranet network terminated-

-Scanning external media-

-Scanning-

-No intrusive/hostile software detected-

-Alliance cipher key detected-

-Do you wish authenticate cipher key. Y/N-

An Alliance cipher key? Now that is interesting.

“Yes.”

-Key authenticated-

-Decoding in progress. Decoding complete. Would you like to play-

I pressed the yes button. A blurry humanoid figure, cloaked in shadow and with a electronically altered voice came online, “Commander, the Shadow Broker sends their regards. You are to find a salarian by the name of Talrom, on level twenty-eight of this district. Secure him or his data. My employer is sure that you will know what to do once you secured the asset. Good luck, commander.”

-End of recording-

So the Shadow Broker wants me to fetch someone, without any mention of either payment or reward and trusts that I will know what to do with with them? Are they even related to the Shadow Broker? Well, there is only one way to find out,

The nav point on the OSD led to a row of apartments tucked into a dark back alley.

This is it, apartment twenty-eight one. And someone beat me to the punch.

Static scrambled the holographic lock on the front door. A hasty hack job to be sure. Murmurs from within indicated that whoever did it was still inside. I activated my cloak.

-Maglocks disabled. Manual override engaged-

Someone spotted the movement of the door and came to investigate.

Come on, just a little closer.

“Hey, is anyone-”

A quick jab to the stomach with my electrified omni-blade knocked him out. I grabbed the back of his helmet and eased him to the floor. I ducked behind the wall and waited for my cloak to recharge. Whoever else was inside failed to notice the commotion by the door.

“Hurry up, the Talons could be here any minute,” said voice from within.

“This thing has multiple layers of encryption,” said another.

“How long is going to take?”

“Unless you want me to mess this up, it will take as long as it is going to take. Just keep your mouth shut and your eyes open.”

-Cloak engaged-

I stepped over the stunned guard and went inside. Two more armored figures, one with an assault rifle, and another with an active omni-tool, stood in front of a extranet terminal. A third tossed a mattress aside in search of something or someone. Two quick omini-blades strikes neutralized the pair by the terminal but brought my cloak down. The third merc wheeled around, gun in hand and pointed a very visible me.

Theo, you dumb piece of shit.

I drew my rifle and dove away from his line of fire. What ensued was a cat and mouse game as we took potshots at each other. Five seconds later my hardsuit recharged.  I cloaked again.

Time to end this.

I maneuvered slowly around the upturned furniture for a clear shot.  The console beeped as I walked past.  The merc pointed the gun at the machine. I aimed and pulled the trigger. His head snapped back.  Blood spray bathed the wall behind him. I restrained the others before I made my way back to the console.

I wonder….

I inserted the OSD into the drive slot. It took less than a second for the data to download. Sparks and grey smoke poured out of the machine.

“So much for you then,” I said aloud.

“And your sanity, I see,” said someone to my left. I wheeled around to see Miranda, submachine gun in hand.

“Missed you too Miri. How did you, never mind, we have to get out of here before a Talon patrol shows up.”

“After you.”

Back at the Kursk, Pasha and Utah gave the data a once over. “Commander Thompson-Ramos, decryption is complete. No hostile programs detected.”

“Thank you, Utah, have the command staff join me in my cabin.”

With everyone gathered around the main viewer, Utah loaded the data. A haggard salarian came on screen. The holo was timestamped 03/21/2194. He spoke right to the camera, “This is my, what, seven hundred entry? Right, well, here we are, still stuck. Nobody wants to admit it, but we can’t get past the power problem. We need an alternative. If they, no, no if, when they come back, we won’t be ready. This system is too unwieldy as it is. I tried to make some inquiries, but our job here is highly compartmentalized. Everything is filtered and checked. It makes sense, of course, but still, we should have access to as much data as possible, regardless of the source. I’ll keep trying.”

The camera cuts to another scene, timestamped 05/15/2194, “I got a hold of some data from what happened on Vermire. I wished I had this sooner.”

The image shifts to an office with a tropical background. An asari comes into view. “Is this thing on? I can never really tell. Ok, my name is Rana Thanoptis and I am researching the effects on indoctrination on organic minds. My research shows that it has varying results on difference species and even within members of a given species. Some are immune, most others suffer rapid mental decay. Now, one can slow the decay based on the strength of the signal, but the damage is irreversible. Not a very effective way of controlling minds come to think of it, at least not long term. However, in those subjects that have been exposed to a signal pattern of a given strength and duration, I noticed a mirroring of behavior. Their body language become nearly identical. They even have shared speech patterns, with one subject starting a sentence, and another finishing, while a third continues the conversation which is flows back to the first. It is as if they were nodes in a larger network.”

The camera cut back to the salarian, “Nodes in a larger network? Curious.”

The next track occurs on 09/30/2195, “I had to leave project. I had to leave salarian space entirely. The STG is after me. They have some questions for me. But I was getting nowhere. I made contact with the Shadow Broker, or at least someone claiming to be working for them. They sent me a  recording. Something about Cerberus using indoctrination to control the Reapers.” Miranda took in a deep breath. “Crazy, I know. But the project works along those same lines, not to control, but to disrupt. Still, it doesn’t solve the power problem. But I know I am getting close.”

The last recording was from twenty hours ago, on Omega. “Thanoptis was right. It’s not mind control, not really. Her idea about neural networks was correct. The problem is that it is still a hypothesis, speculation without confirmation. But I know am right. There is another problem or problems. STG is still after me and Cerberus and who knows who else. Could turn myself to STG, but that means I couldn’t verify my data.  And to do that I need to go to the Citadel. But even if I get there, I won’t get access to the central command console. So, if you are my contact, as promised by the Broker, you need to take this OSD straight to EDA, she, she will know what to do. As for me, well, I done everything I can, made as many enemies as one salarian can make, but if I am right, and I know I am, this will be a game changer.  We will never have to fear them again. I will, that is, I am going to disappear, for good this time. Don’t come looking for me. Even a red dwarf should be enough to erase a body. Not the way I expected to go but that is not important Take the information to EDA, after that, well, good luck.”

“This is loco, jefe,” said Vega.

“If I may commander,” said Utah.

“Go ahead.”

“This OSD contains a wealth of references, including detailed analyses of post-invasion Geth neural networks. It appears that this Talrom was working on the weapon system known as the Crucible. The power problem might be a reference to the fact that the Crucible can not operate without the Citadel. If he found a way to bypass this requirement, then it would be, as he stated in the recording, a game changer.”

“Well, the Matriarchs will have to look after themselves.” I switched to the ship’s intercom, “Navigator Johnson, prepare to depart immediately and set a course for the Citadel.”

“Aye, aye, sir,” came the reply.

 

 

 

 

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