Mass Effect Slipstream Book I: The Streamer's Edge

The Principal's Office

Aria stared at the group standing before her. Finn found himself standing in the front of the group, everyone else somehow finding a way to huddle up behind him. Even Darsan looked like he was trying to shrink himself down. Eri was there as well, standing a little ways back to make sure no one made a run for it.

Finn stared back at Aria, careful to give away nothing in his gaze. He wondered if she was a Matriarch or just a Matron; if rumors were true, she was definitely old enough for the former. Then again, he had heard that asari could choose when to phase-up, so to speak.

Asari are widely considered to be a beautiful race. Their blue skin, graceful feminine forms, and unique facial markings have attracted potential mates from every known species. While markedly more ‘human’ in appearance than the other Council races, the rigid blue tendrils that served as an asari’s hair made it impossible for anyone to mistake them as one of Earth’s children. Aria shared most of her people’s more favorable traits, but there was a look of hunger in her eyes that hinted at the predator behind them.

She tossed back a shot of some purple liquor before picking up a datapad from the table beside her couch. "Over a hundred dead Blue Suns, eight crashed shuttles, hundreds of thousands of credits in property damage and rare antiquities, and one seriously pissed off cab driver."

Tossing the datapad back on the table, she leaned forward and gave Finn a smile that did not calm him in the slightest. "This is the second time you managed to seriously piss off the Blue Suns, Finn. It's not a healthy hobby."

Finn blushed, keenly aware of the strange looks Darsan and Mannon gave him. "Well, there are so many Blue Suns these days, I really didn't think anyone would notice if a few were missing."

The smile faded away from Aria's face. "You think this is funny? You think I like waking up to that moron Fuego's screeching voice?"

"They kidnapped-"

"Shut up!" She snapped, silencing Finn in an instant.

She stared at him, her face unreadable. "I don't need this kind of trouble, Finn; I didn't need it then, and I don't need it now."

"Then punish me." Finn told her. "My friends aren't part of this."

Jake suddenly leapt in front of Finn, saying, "Yeah! Let Darsan and Mannon go! They aren't part of this!"

Darsan objected, "Alarmed; I took out the most Blue Suns. I am responsible, not Finn."

Mannon nodded nervously. "H-he was just trying to rescue me. It's my fault-"

"I said SHUT UP!" Aria shouted over the rising din.

The room fell silent.

Recomposing herself, Aria gestured to Darsan. "Go back to your ship and take the human girl and the robot dog with you."

"Firm; I'm not leaving without Finn."

"Really?" Aria rose and approached Darsan, her eyes narrowing. Darsan held his ground, though to be fair, no one can make a stand quite like an elcor.

A smirk appeared on Aria's face. "Nervous?"

"Nervously; no."

She chuckled. "I'll send Finn along shortly. I just need to have a little word with my former bartender, that's all."

"Surprised; bartender?"

"Later, Darsan." Finn muttered, his cheeks red.

Eri started to follow Darsan and the others, but Aria stopped him. "Did I say you could leave?"

"I don't understand." Eri said slowly.

"You gave Finn information meant for my eyes only. Everything that happened can be attributed to you."

"What? But I …"

Aria gave him a warning glance. He quickly nodded, saying, "Y-yes. Of course."

She glanced over her balcony, where Darsan, Mannon, and Jake could be seen making their way through the crowded club floor.

"Normally, I'd just have you both shot." She said casually, pausing to take another sip of her drink. "However, seeing that smug bastard Fuego put in his place is worth something."

Eri relaxed visibly. Finn knew better.

"You're fired." Aria told Eri with all the force and grace of an anvil falling on a fluffy little bunny.

His mandibles dropped. "Fired? But-"

"Yes, just fired. Now get out of here before I upgrade you to being shot."

After standing there with his mouth open for a moment, Eri closed his jaws with an audible snap and left the room.

Once he was gone, Aria rose and approached Finn. "That leaves just you. I almost couldn't believe it when one of my guards told me that Finn Cresste was on my station again. You didn't even stop by to say hello; I'm truly hurt."

"I paid my debts, Aria." Finn told her.

"I don't care about the money or the Blue Suns." She replied impatiently. "I'm angry that you didn't think to mention that you were leaving. What, did you think I wouldn't let you go? You're the only bartender I've ever had who's ever made a decent Salacious Spritzer, but I'm not a monster, Finn; I wouldn't have forced you to stay just for that."

Finn had no response. Nothing seemed appropriate.

She slowly circled around Finn, "So, what am I to do with you? The Blue Suns would love nothing more than to throw you on a deli-slicer on the lowest setting after the stunt you pulled, and quite frankly, it would be easier in the long run to just give you to them."

"Aria, the Blue Suns are preparing to attack you." Finn told her.

She snorted with obvious derision. "They've tried to dethrone me for the last four-hundred and fifty years, to no success."

"Yeah, but this time they're getting help." Finn sighed, and asked, "How much do you know of why I'm here?"

She raised an eyebrow at him. "I know that after spending almost five years on a rundown little shithole of a station run by a strangely charismatic elcor, you came here with an extremely influential and injured volus. I know you spent some time at a bar with a quarian, and then went on to do one of the most stupid and reckless things I've ever seen anyone do since I first came to Omega."

Finn nodded, "That's all true, but it's only part of the story. Station J-27 was destroyed. Someone's after us, Aria; they kidnapped my friends and tried to get me, all because of some stupid ship Krieger found while out salvaging."

"Ship?" She asked, interest piqued. "What ship?"

"A prototype stealth ship with a fully-functional cloaking device."

This gave Aria pause. "Where is this ship now?"

"I don't know. It was either destroyed or stolen when they attacked Krieger."

"But if it's gone, why are they still after you?"

"I don't know. All I know is that they want us dead or alive, and that they promised to assist the Blue Suns in taking you down when they arrived to pick me and the others up."

Aria fell silent for a long time. "Why are you telling me this?"

"Because …" Finn let out a sigh. "Because you were good to me the last time I was here. You had no reason to trust me, yet you gave me a chance when no one else would."

"Then why did you leave?" She asked him.

Finn shook his head, unsure of his own feelings on the matter. "After the Polaski job, the Blue Suns had half of Omega looking for me. Even with your protection, I was bound to get caught; I had to leave."

She looked at him for a long time before finally nodding. "So, now that you've stirred up the hornets' nest, you're just going to leave again?"

"I'll be honest." Finn confessed. "I have no idea who is after us. I don't know anything, other than they are well-funded, and their soldiers commit suicide rather than be captured. All I know is if they're on the way here, I think it's in everyone's best interest if I were somewhere else."

After mulling over his words for a few moments, she let out a sigh. "Fair enough."

She sat down on her couch again. After reading her datapad for a few moments, she made a shooing motion with her other hand. "Well, get moving! Try not to cause any more trouble on your way out."

"Thank you, Aria." Finn gave her a respectful bow.

As he walked past the armed guards, Aria called out, "Finn!"

"Yes?" He asked, turning back to face her.

For a moment, her face softened. "I'm sorry about J-27."

He stared at her a moment before accepting her sympathy with a nod. "Take care of yourself, Aria."

Afterlife was as rowdy as ever. Finn didn't waste time heading for the exit; he never was a fan of all the crowds and loud music. After navigating through the dancers, drinkers, and waiters, Finn stepped out of Afterlife to find Eri waiting.

"So," Eri said jovially. "I see she didn't shoot your silly ass."

"Yeah, well I've gotten pretty good at dodging." Finn replied with a smirk that faded a moment later. "Listen, man; I'm sorry about-"

Eri waved Finn off, saying, "Bah. I never liked the job anyway. Being one of Aria's little bitches never felt right to me. Don't worry; I'll find something. You heading out?"

"Probably a good idea." Finn replied with a glance back at the glowing neon sign of Afterlife. "Look at how much trouble I've already caused after just a day."

Eri laughed appreciatively. "You always had a way of making your presence known. What's the human expression? 'Never a dull moment'?"

"I could use a few dull moments right now." Finn replied. "Life's been too interesting as of late."

"Well, whatever it is you're up to, I'm sure you'll make it out fine. Still, good luck man." Eri told him, extending a hand.

Finn shook his hand, saying, "Thanks. You too.."

He hadn't gone more than a few paces when he glanced back at his friend to find him still standing there, looking lost.

Feeling a twinge of guilt, Finn called out, "Hey, Eri!"

"Forget something?" The turian asked, raising one of his ridge-plates questioningly as Finn walked back to him.

"Look," Finn told him, "I'm not going to lie to you; me and my friends, we're in some trouble. The kind of trouble that we could use some help with, if you catch my drift. I've got a little extra money that I don't need at the moment … if you're interested."

"Wait a sec," Eri said, holding up a hand to stay Finn further. "Are you offering to hire me?"

"It's only fair." Finn told him, clapping him on the shoulder. "I did just make you lose your last job."

Eri turned around, his eyes sweeping over the Omega skyline as though committing it to memory. After a few moments, he nodded and turned back to Finn, saying, "Well, if you simply can't do without me, then I guess I have no choice but to accept your offer, boss."

"Not your boss." Finn told him, putting his arm around Eri's shoulders as they headed for the lift. "Partners in crime, remember?"

"I'm trying to forget." Eri replied, shaking his head and laughing.

Everyone was waiting in the cargo bay when Eri and Finn boarded the ship.

"Hey, everyone." Finn said, patting Eri on the shoulder, "Seeing as Eri just lost his job, I thought he could come with us."

"Approvingly; another gun is always welcome." Darsan said.

Nodding, Finn said, "Just in case Jake wasn't able to bring you all up to speed, Krieger came out okay, but he's not going to be in any condition to help for the foreseeable future. I tracked down Kyra, but she didn't know anything about what's going on, which effectively leads us back to square one."

"We need to go to the Alliance." Mannon said instantly. "Even if we can't figure this out, they should be able to keep us safe."

"Cautiously; perhaps. Who is to say this new organization is not in league with the Alliance."

"You can't believe that." Mannon told Darsan.

"Matter-of-factly; I believe we are being chased. I believe that whoever is chasing us has impressive resources. Respectfully; you may be my friend, Sherle, but you are only a Private. If they are secretly behind this, they may not tell you."

"Well, what else is there?" Mannon demanded, her voice shaking. "We can't just run forever! We need to come up with a long-term plan to deal with this, and the Alliance-"

"There's another option." Finn told them. "New Elysia."

"New Elysia?" Jake asked, his tail wagging. "Really? Hey, yeah! Let's go there!"

"It's safer than Ilium and Omega, and crowded enough that we should be able to blend in quickly while we gather some info on what's going on. I've got some contacts that can secure us a safe place to stay for the short-term." Finn was silent for a moment before adding, "It's not my first choice, to be honest, but like Mannon said, we can't keep running forever."

Mannon gave Finn a look that made it clear she wasn't happy, but she nodded in agreement.

"Satisfied; I've always wanted to see New Elysia." Said Darsan. "Come, Eri; I could use some help taking off this armor."

Eri gave me a questioning glance. Finn nodded pointedly at Darsan, the ghost of a smile on his face. Rolling his eyes, Eri followed after Darsan, muttering, "I'm already starting to regret this."

As Finn and Jake headed towards the bridge, Jake asked, "You okay man?"

"Well enough. I hate to say it, but I kinda missed Omega."

Laughing, Jake agreed. "Yeah, me too. Maybe we'll come back some day, yeah?"

"Maybe." Finn shook his head and said, "Come on, Jake; let's get this ship moving."

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