The Gradisian's FTL engine died as Finn and Jake neared Krieger's Junkyard. They were still a good distance away from the actual station, but the floating debris that surrounded the volus's shop made coming out of FTL any closer a hazardous proposition. Most of the debris consisted of abandoned ships long since defunct, though Finn knew from experience that a few were quite functional; Krieger had set up a fairly complicated security grid that was rigged into the weapon systems of some of the more recent ships.
Finn transmitted the friend code Krieger had given him. "Not long now. You okay back there?"
Jake sat up and let out a yawn. "I'm bored!"
"You wanted to come along." Finn reminded him.
"Yeah, yeah, I know. I just didn’t' think it would take this long. It didn't take this long last time, I'm sure of it." Jake put his front paws on the back of Finn's chair and poked his face over the top of the headrest. "Why does he keep the place so trashy anyway? I thought the volus were all about selling stuff."
"Krieger's more of a collector. He only sells the extra stuff to fund future acquisitions."
"Huh. So he collects junk?"
"Pretty much." The Gradisian's proximity alarm began chirping. Nodding, Finn said, "Better settle back down; this might get a little bumpy."
The nature of the junk field made it impossible to predict a safe path. Incoming pilots had to rely on manual control and fly through a star-borne obstacle course or risk becoming just another junked vessel.
"Whoa!" Jake exclaimed as a bit of floating metal banged off the side of the Gradisian. "Careful."
Finn snorted. "Relax. I've been flying since I was a kid."
Old ships and junk were everywhere, but Finn wasn't lying about his past experience. He maneuvered the Gradisian through the field with expert skill. A few small chunks of debris banged off of the hull, but he always managed to slip his fighter through the more dangerous debris, no matter how tightly packed.
Spinning past the broken wing of an Alliance frigate and the bulk of an old krogan scouting vessel, the Gradisian finally left the debris field and entered the small ring of clear space surrounding Krieger's station. It was much larger than J-27, and incorporated the parts of no less than thirty ships. Some of that power went to maintaining the station's shielding and environmental systems, but most of it was dedicated to the kinetic barriers that kept the junk from crashing into the station.
As the Gradisian drew nearer, Finn spotted another ship at one of the docking ports.
"Huh." He said, squinting at the ship. "Don't recognize that one."
Jake peered over the seat again. "Ooh! Let me see!"
The ship was about the same size as the Gradisian, but shared little in common beyond that. The hull was smooth and tapered towards the tail end, and instead of wings, the ship was equipped with several rings that were seemingly unattached to the ship. Finn looked over the ship for an insignia, a sign, or even a bumper sticker to no avail; whoever it was didn't want anyone knowing with whom he, she, or it was associated.
"Looks pretty slick." Jake said, his tail end wagging.
"Indeed." Shrugging, Finn maneuvered his ship to a different docking port. It was unusual to see someone else at Kriegers place, but not unheard of.
Once the docking clamps locked onto the Gradisian's frame, Finn opened the ships hatch. Jake bounded out of the craft before the side door had fully raised and ran toward the station entrance. Chuckling, Finn unbuckled his harness and followed suit. After a good stretch, he walked towards the entrance at a leisurely pace, idly wondering what Krieger had added to his collection since Finn's last visit.
"Oh well." He said to no one in particular. "I'm sure he'll tell me soon enough."
Tapping the panel beside the station entrance, Finn said, "Hey Krieger! It's me, Finn!"
After a few moments passed with no response, Finn tried again. "Krieger, you there man?"
When there was still no answer, Finn frowned. "That's odd."
"I'll say." Jake agreed. "Usually he can't get out here fast enough. I wonder what's up?"
His eyes fell on the strange craft. Suspicions started to creep into his mind.
"Jake." He asked, not taking his eyes of the craft, "I've got a bad feeling about this. Hack the door."
"You got it!" Jake rose up on his hind legs and pressed his paw against the door's control panel. After a few moments, the door slowly opened.
"Good job." Finn said, rubbing Jake's smooth head. "Now stay here."
Jake's face image pouted. "Aww! Why do you get all the fun?"
"Because you're a lot better at hacking than me. See if you can get a look at that weird ship's computer files without tripping the security system; if something weird is going on, I'll bet every credit I've got that the pilot has something to do with it."
"Ah! Don't worry, Finn! I'll crack it in no time!"
Nodding, Finn turned back to the entrance and stepped into the main lobby.
As mentioned before, Krieger was a collector who basically sold anything he deems superfluous to his collection. The collection itself, however, was as eclectic as life itself; as Finn walked through the lobby, his eyes passed over a sealed case that held a stack of Blasto comic books, several asari musical instruments shaped out of what appeared to be seashells, a collection of baseballs and bats from Earth, and a holo-projector that was playing Francis Kitt's all-elcor production of Hamlet. There were dozens of cases in that room alone, each filled with similarly odd objects. There were hundreds of rooms just like it throughout the station.
Not everything was in a case, however; Krieger kept some other odds and ends on various shelves and stored in containers, typically things he deemed not worth collecting or extras of things he already had. Most of it would be classified as junk, but Finn had discovered a few treasures here and there.
Finn barely spared them a glance that day, as his eyes were on the door on the back wall of the Lobby. Passing by an old wooden barrel Krieger was using to store the baseballs and bats, Finn paused for a moment before picking up an old aluminum bat that was more or less in good shape. It wasn't much of a weapon, but it was better than nothing.
Slowly, he crept towards the back door with bat in hand. As he drew nearer, he was able to hear the sounds of conversation from beyond the door. He strained to hear, but couldn't make out any words.
Finn took a careful step forward, only to have the door slide open, revealing a volus and what looked to be a turian wearing a hooded robe.
The volus stepped back reflexively. It was impossible to read the facial expression behind the mask of his blue environmental suit, but there was definite surprise in his voice as he said, "What the … Finn?"
"Krieger!" Finn said, embarrassed but relieved. "When I found the door locked, I was worried."
"Locked? I never locked the door." Krieger glanced up at the hooded figure.
"My apologies." She said, her mandibles faintly visible in the depths of her hood. "Old habits die hard. Still, I see you managed to get inside in spite of the door being locked, Mister …?"
Sounding a little uncomfortable, Krieger patted Finn on the arm, saying, "This is Finn Cresste; he's the maintenance man on station J-27. Finn, this is Jan’Ce-"
"Just Sara is fine." She interrupted, extending her hand.
Finn accepted her hand a bit awkwardly; either his knowledge of turian physiology was wrong, or she had an extra finger. In either case, it seemed rude to point it out.
"Nice to meet you. I hate to leave so abruptly, but I’ve got another stop to make before heading home." After bowing her head respectfully for a moment, she started walking towards the station entrance.
As she left, Krieger motioned for Finn to follow him into the backroomthat was essentially Krieger's office. Heavy filing cabinets lined the walls, each containing certificates of authenticity, trade receipts, and other such identifying documents. While a datapad would have been a more efficient storage medium, Krieger insisted on keeping actual files on his collection.
"I hate to stick my nose in other people's business-" Finn began.
Krieger chuckled as he sat down at his desk. "She's a representative of one of my clients. Nice enough girl, if a bit odd. Kinda like you, now that I think about it."
"Odd? I'm not odd. Not really."
"Uh-huh. So you found the front door locked, immediately leaped to the conclusion that someone was assaulting me, hacked open my door, and picked up a baseball bat to whack whoever it was in the head. Yeah, that sounds completely logical. Say, how did you get my door open anyway?"
"Jake helped me out." Finn said, hoping his friend had been listening in and would accordingly distance himself from Sara’s vessel before she left the station.
Krieger perked up considerably. "Ah, you brought your little KEI-9 unit again! Have you reconsidered my offer?"
"Sorry, Krieger." Finn said, not unkindly. "But Jake's my buddy. He's not for sale."
"Oh well. Never know unless you ask, I suppose." Krieger shook his head and asked, "So, what does bring you here today? Surely you're here for more than that bat."
"The … oh, right." Finn set the bat against one of the cabinets, saying, "I'm looking for parts to repair an E5-TS long-range scanner and a mark five energy converter."
"Indeed?" Krieger tapped at his keyboard for a few moments before saying, "Well, I've got an entire E5-TS array in my recent haul; pulled it from an old turian wreck I found recently. As for the energy converter, I've got a few scragged Elkoss units I could probably scrape together."
He paused for a moment before saying, "I do have some higher-quality parts on hand, if you're interested. They aren't cheap, but I might be willing to let them go if you can help me with a little something."
Krieger rose from his chair and motioned for Finn to follow. They walked through the hallways of the station. More of the collection filled the hallways, though most of the artifacts were in rooms that opened on either side of the corridor. Finn couldn't help but peek at the other rooms; he had only seen a few during his infrequent visits, and each new room was a treasure trove of forgotten relics.
After winding through the hallways, Krieger eventually led Finn to a door marked 'shuttle bay'.
"You have a docking area and a shuttle bay?" Finn asked as Krieger fiddled with the door controls.
"I have a docking bay for customers and a shuttle bay to protect my own ship and any recent finds." Krieger corrected.
The door slid open revealing a rather large bay. Ships in more or less good shape filled most of the bay, though a large area surrounding a ship much larger than the rest was relatively clear. The make was unusual; much as the station, the ship seemed to have been built with parts of many different vessels.
"The Ulasomorf." Krieger said, pride in his voice. "Took me ages to get her perfect, not to mention how much I ended up trading for parts. Turians can be a bit stingy, but there's no price on perfection, eh?"
"Wow." Finn said, impressed by his friend's work. "How long have you had this, anyway?"
"Well, it's only been functional for a few weeks, but I've already been able to use it to recover all this wonderful salvage!" He swept his arm, indicating the entire bay. "You wouldn't believe how much perfectly good tech is just floating out there, waiting for someone to come and grab it."
They walked through the bay between the numerous parked ships. Finn could tell there was a lot of history around him; some of the ships were practically relics, easily two-hundred years old or older. He even spotted another quarian fighter, this one even older than the Gradisian.
"Where does it all come from?" Finn asked curiously.
"Oh, here and there." Krieger waved his hand dismissively. "They just clump together thanks to the resonant magnetism of the drive cores."
Finn suspected there was more to it than that, but held his piece. It was only natural that Krieger wouldn't want to give away trade secrets.
"In any event, my most recent excursion to the nearest asteroid belt uncovered something of a more unique nature."
Krieger came to a halt and spread his arms. Finn looked at the vessel Krieger was indicating and promptly let out a low whistle. "Now that's a thing of beauty."
The vessel Krieger indicated was sleek and smooth. The sweeping structure of the wings flowed smoothly into the rounded frame with only a single slight fin that ran from the back of the vessel and down the ship's primary engine. The entire ship was painted a glossy black; even the windows weren't visible from the outside.
The most impressive thing of all was that the ship seemed perfect; unlike the other ships in Krieger's bay, this vessel had been perfectly preserved.
Finn's fingers twitched. He very much wanted to take the ship for a quick flight.
To his surprise, Krieger seemed to have the same idea. "Go ahead and climb in."
Krieger pressed a small panel on the side of the plane. Moments later, the outline of a door appeared on the side of the ship and swung open to reveal the pilot's chair.
Finn hesitated for a moment before climbing into the seat and securing the safety straps.
"I've been trying to get it online." Krieger told him. "But these controls are hard to understand. I'm not even sure how to …"
There was a brief hum as the ship's engine came to life. Krieger quickly backed away as the ship rose a few feet from the ground.
Finn flashed him a grin as a multitude of holographic panels sprung to life around the cockpit of the vessel. "Want me to run a diagnostic?"
Krieger shook his head, chuckling. "Be my guest."
Finn tapped at the controls, his hands moving almost of their own volition. His omni-tool activated automatically, syncing to the ship as he ran a full system check.
After a few moments, the screens aligned to show a full schematic of the vessel.
"Everything looks good." Finn said, scanning the data. "Power distribution's stable, weapons are functional, and I'm not detecting any breaches in the outer hull. Engines are offline, but it looks like some kind of safety lockout."
"Can you override the lockout?" Krieger asked, wringing his hands.
After a few more minutes of fiddling with the various consoles, he nodded and said, "Done. Looks like the problem was in the FTL drives."
"Can you fix it?"
"I'd need to crack her open." Finn told him. "And even then, there's no guarantee. Turning it on is one thing, but I've never seen a ship like this."
Krieger asked, "But isn't this one of your people's ships?"
"What makes you think it's a human design?" Finn asked as he continued scanning the diagnostic results.
"Well, the consoles are displaying your language, aren't they?"
Finn's hands froze. Krieger was right; the controls were all in English. The cockpit was designed for a human … even the chair was configured to provide lumbar support for someone of his size.
"Huh." Finn said, sitting back. "Alliance, perhaps? No, there's no insignia. The Alliance wouldn't even let a prototype ship off the ground without slapping a dozen Alliance insignias on the hull."
"Bandits?" Krieger suggested, peering at the controls.
Finn shook his head. "Can't see bandits using something this sleek. Besides …"
The ship vanished. Krieger stumbled back, his voice a squeak as he stammered, "W-what in the-"
The ship reappeared a moment later in the exact same place.
"This ship is made for stealth, not combat." Finn tapped a finger to his lips contemplatively. "Some kind of spy organization maybe? Maybe the Shadow Broker?"
"The Shadow Broker?" Krieger repeated, sounding surprised.
Shrugging, Finn deactivated the controls and hopped out of the vessel. "Just a guess. Doesn't really matter now, I suppose. I can tell you that this is bleeding edge tech; I've seen a dozen ships that can hide emissions, but this is the first I've seen that can cloak its hull too. If you're looking to sell, you'll make a mint."
Krieger appeared very happy at this news. "That is excellent news! I don't suppose you could give me some quick instructions on how to operate it."
Finn merged his omni-tool with Krieger’s long enough to give him a quick tutorial on how to fly the ship. Within half an hour, Krieger was flying the ship around the shuttlebay.
When Krieger finally set the ship down beside the Ulasomorf, he said, "Excellent. Thank you, my friend."
"Not a problem." Finn told him. "Just remember to get that FTL drive looked at before trying to fly it through a relay."
"Understood. Well, you did your part; let's see if we can't find you those parts you were looking for."
Thirty minutes later, Finn was walking down the dock towards his ship as automated robots loaded a brand new sensor array and two pristine Zuontech power converters into the Gradisian's storage bay.
Jake ran up to Finn, saying, "Whoa! You got everything?"
"And more. Krieger gave me a very good deal in exchange for helping him out."
"Must've been some favor. Darsan's gonna be friggin' through the roof."
As they climbed back into the Gradisian's cockpit, Jake said, "Did you see that Turian girl?"
"Yeah. Krieger said she was a rep from some organization. She didn't catch you trying to hack into her ship, did she?"
"She did, but I just put on the old dog act. She gave me a look, but left without a word."
Finn chuckled. "All's well that ends well, huh?"
"I guess. I never did manage to hack into her ship, though; that thing has firewalls that would make a quarian flinch."
"Just as well." Finn said, watching as the automated robots headed back towards the station entrance. "Well, ready to go?"
Jake sat down in his seat, saying, "Yup! Let's get back home!"
As Finn flew the Gradisian through the debris field and set a course back to J-27, he couldn't help but grin. For once, things were going his way.