The trip home was made in relative silence.
"Hey, Finn." Jake asked, hopping up on the back of Finn's seat, "What's wrong?"
"You've been quiet for about an hour now. I'd think you'd be excited, seeing as Krieger gave us everything we need for practically nothing. What's up?"
Finn shook his head. "I'm just thinking about that ship we saw outside Krieger's place. A shame you couldn't hack into it."
"Believe me, I tried. You thought my internal security programs were impressive? I've got nothing on that thing. Wouldn't surprise me if there was some sort of A.I. installed in there."
"Maybe. Did you happen to record any video of the pilot?"
"The turian? Yeah. Hang on a sec."
One of the display screens switched to an image from Jake's perspective as he watched a hooded figure walking silently out of Krieger's place. Finn tapped the screen to pause the footage.
"Hmm." He squinted at the figure. "Something about her just rubs me wrong."
"Yeah." Jake shook his head and said, "You really need a girlfriend, man."
Blushing, Finn deactivated the video. "I guess it doesn't really matter. We'll be back home soon enough."
After a few minutes passed, Jake said, "You know, Darsan owes us a vacation; we should go back to Earth."
"We can't go back to Earth." Finn reminded his friend.
Jake pouted. "Why not?"
Sighing, Finn said, "First off, you're an AI. Synthetics aren't exactly popular in Council space."
"So we'll go for the old dog VI routine."
"Second," Finn continued as though he hadn't heard Jake, "It'd take a load of credits to secure passage."
"We've got plenty of credits, even with your little secret donations. I'm your accountant, remember? Come on, Finn; what's this really about?"
After a few moments of silence, Jake asked in a softer tone, "You can't still be thinking about-"
"I don't want to talk about it."
Jake backed down immediately. "All right, man. So not Earth; what about Ilium? Lots a pretty blue girls, lotsa nice shops to-"
The communications console began to beep. "One sec, Jake." Finn said as he reached forward and activated the array.
"-immediately! Come on, Finn, pick up already!"
"Krieger?" Finn said aloud, his brow furrowed. "Kreiger, I can hear you. What's the emergency?"
"Finn! Oh, thank the Makers! Finn, my station is under attack! I don't know how they got past my defenses, but they're through the debris field and attempting to break into the station!"
Finn traded a worried glance with Jake. "Don't worry, buddy; we can get back there in a few minutes and scare them off."
Finn's hand froze, moments away from finalizing the course change.
Krieger continued, "Get to Omega and look for a quarian named Kyra'Shor at the Rigger's Folly parts shop. She'll know what to do with the-"
A loud metal clang sounded on Krieger's side of the transmission.
"Get moving!" Krieger shouted as the transmission grew harder and harder to hear until it finally died altogether.
"Krieger!" Finn said, now very worried. "Krieger, can you hear me?"
When no answer was forthcoming, Finn let out a sigh and activated the coordinates on his navigation console.
"Hey, what're ya doin'?" Jake asked as the ship turned back towards Krieger's station. "He said not to go back!"
"I heard him." Finn replied, readying the Gradisian's weapons. "I just don't have enough friends to let one of them die."
The Gradisian's sensors didn't pick up any other vessels as Finn returned to the debris field surrounding Krieger's station, but that didn't stop Finn from flying the quarian fighter through the debris at an even more reckless speed than usual.
"Whoa!" Jake exclaimed as an uncomfortably large piece of debris flew overhead, missing the cockpit by mere inches. "Slow down, man! We ain't helping anyone if we get trashed before we get there!"
"Just another minute." Finn said. He heeded his friend's warning, however, and slowed down a bit.
As they drew near the station, Finn felt his heart sink; the station was a wreck. Several of Krieger's additions had been blown completely free of the station, exposing parts of his collection to the vacuum of space. The docking area was in relatively good shape, but the Gradisian's sensors showed the kinetic field to be at less than half-power and fading.
"Jake, grab the portable shield emitter." Finn asked as he docked the ship.
Jake gave him an odd look. "You're still going aboard? Forget Krieger, man; there's no way he could've survived this."
"I have to try." Finn said grimly. "Now are you gonna get me the emitter, or not?"
A hurt look on his face, Jake leaned over and allowed a panel on his back to slide open, revealing a metal band with a small monitor on it. Finn took the band and clamped it around his arm.
As he configured the field, he said, "Stay in the Gradisian; if something happens to me, get back to J-27 and let Darsan know what happened."
"Forget that, man! We're buds! I ain't letting you go in there alone."
"I said forget it." Jake gave Finn an uncharacteristically stern look. "I ain't abandoning my little brother."
Finn stared at Jake for a long moment before a smile crossed his face. "Okay. Activate your shield emitter and come on … but be careful."
"Careful, shmareful. I see a slaver, he's gonna get blasted."
As soon as the cockpit opened, Jake leapt out, an energy buster-cannon emerging from his back panel. Finn followed, pistol in hand. It was just an old Carnifex module, long since retired from active use; still, the feel of its weight in his hand was comforting. He checked to make sure the heat sink was properly seated before hurrying towards the entrance to the station.
No hacking was needed this time; the door slid open at his approach, albeit erratically. Finn stepped inside the station slowly, his eyes carefully scanning the wreckage for anything suspicious.
Jake let out a whistle as they entered the lobby. "Man, someone let a bomb off in here or something?"
It wasn't an exaggeration; every single case had been shattered. The contents were strewn about the room in a fashion that made it clear someone had been searching for something.
"What were they after?" Finn asked, staring around at the mess.
"I dunno, man. Seems silly they'd blow the place up and leave all this swag." Jake nudged the cover of a comic book. "This was a first edition; even damaged, it's worth a small fortune."
Finn picked up a baseball bat autographed by some ancient player long forgotten by all but the most devoted fans.
"Sorry, Babe." Finn said sadly. He started to put the bat down when he heard something creak in the next room.
He hurried forward, pistol in one hand and bat at the ready as he took up position beside the door to Krieger's office. He glanced back at Jake only to see his friend slipping more Blasto comics into one of his storage panels.
"Jake!" Finn hissed, not bothering to hide his annoyance.
"Hey, I'm a registered Blasto Scout! I can't let an artifact like this be lost!"
Rolling his eyes, Finn took a deep breath and rushed into the office. It was even more of a mess than the lobby; the filing cabinets Krieger kept so meticulously maintained had been torn apart and the files dumped on the floor. The aluminum bat was lying on the floor in a pool of blood, but there was no body.
Finn started to shift through the piles when he spotted a smear of bright red blood on Krieger's chair. He followed the trail to the floor, where a puddle had formed among bits of what could only have been part of Krieger's environmental suit. The trail of blood continued into the depths of the station, the pattern indicating the poor fellow was limping.
"Krieger!" Finn said, quickly activating his omni-tool as he continued to follow the trail of blood. "Krieger, if you can hear me, just sit tight!"
The blood grew thicker as Finn went deeper into the bowels of the station. He spotted several other collection rooms along the way, all as trashed as the lobby. Even the magnificent fish-tank Krieger had shown him when they first met had been shattered, the once-beautiful fish now dead on the floor. Bits of material from Krieger's suit lay near the trail here and there, far too small for Finn to tell what part of the suit they came from.
The blood led Finn to the shuttle bay. He ran through the doors and spotted Krieger almost immediately, mere feet from the entrance to the Ulasomorf.
"Krieger!" Finn called out as he ran towards his fallen friend.
Krieger had seen better days; the leg of his suit was completely gone, exposing the pale split skin on his leg and foot. There were a few bullet holes in his suit hastily patched with tape and solder. He had collapsed just a few feet from his ship, a surprisingly new pistol in one hand and a soldering gun in the other.
Finn hesitantly shook Krieger's shoulder. "Can you hear me?"
For a few moments, Finn was sure that the volus was dead. Just as he started to pull his hand away, Krieger grabbed Finn's hand and took a rasping breath.
"Finn!" He whispered as though he couldn't believe it. "What are … you doing here? I told you … not to come."
"I never was one for following orders." Finn said, forcing a grin. "Now hang on, buddy; we'll get you patched up in no time."
"No!" Krieger batted Finn's arm aside seconds before Finn could apply the Medi-gel. "Finn, they know about you. They know about J-27."
"I don't understand; what do they know about us?"
"They know …" Krieger suddenly began to convulse. "The … omni-tool …"
Krieger began to cough, his breathing heavy. Pursing his lips, Finn applied medigel to his wounded friend."This should keep you alive until we can get you to a medical facility."
"Omega." Krieger whispered faintly as his consciousness faded away. "Get to … Omega …"
A shudder ran through the station. Finn steadied himself until it passed, one hand on Krieger to keep him from moving too much.
"Finn!" Jake's voice called through my intercom. "Where the heck are you?"
"I'm in the shuttle bay. What's going on?"
"You need to get back here, bro! The kinetic fields just went down! The debris from the field's gonna crush this place to dust!"
"Damn." Finn muttered. He glanced at the Ulasomorf, an idea forming in his mind.
"Finn?" Jake asked as another shudder ran through this place.
Finn hoisted Krieger off the ground and stumbled towards the salvage ship. "I'm gonna take Krieger's ship. Get to the Gradisian and meet me outside!"
"But Finn! I can't pilot the Gradisian nearly as good as-"
"There's no time!" Finn grunted as he carried Krieger up the entry ramp. "Krieger's half-dead, and I don't have time to reach the outer docks. Get in the ship and try to stay in one piece until I get out there, okay?"
"Okay. I sure hope you know what you're doing."
"Me too." Finn muttered.
After securing the injured volus in the Ulasamorf's med bay, Finn made his way to the salvage ship's bridge.
"Huh." Finn muttered as he strapped himself into the helm station. "Guess Krieger wasn't lying about trading with turians."
The ship came to life with a rumble that would've shaken him out of the chair had he not strapped himself in. He grabbed the flight sticks as the holographic consoles burst to life around him.
The Ulasamorf rose from the floor of the shuttle bay. The station shuddered multiple times as the first wave of debris closed in on the station.
"Ugh. This thing flies like an overloaded pallet." Finn muttered as he maneuvered the ship towards the bay doors. As he drew near, he tapped the door control.
"Oh, crap." Finn tapped the button again, to no avail. Sighing, he activated his radio.
"Jake, I've got a problem; the shuttle bay doors aren't opening."
"Hang on; I'm on the way!"
Finn waited anxiously, trying to ignore the loud bangs and crashes echoing through the station. He scanned the bay for other exits, but he knew it was unlikely; this was the heart of Krieger's station. The only way another opening was likely was if the debris destroyed the station, and that would be of little help to Finn while he was in said station.
"Okay, I'm outside the … oh, there's the problem. Some of the debris smashed part of the opening mechanism."
"Can you fix it?" Finn asked anxiously. The corridor leading to the shuttle bay had just collapsed.
"Maybe. Give me a second."
After a few seconds, the right shuttle bay door was blasted free, exposing the Gradisian and the rest of the debris field. The metal bulk flew by the Ulasomorf close enough to rock the vessel.
Finn quickly regained control of the ship. His temper was a different matter. "What the heck, Jake?"
"Move over so I can get the other door!"
Swearing beneath his breath, Finn moved the Ulasomorf out of the way. With another blast of the Gradisian's weapons, the other door slammed open.
Finn piloted the Ulasomorf out of the shuttle bay. He was still a little annoyed at Jake, but he had to admit that Jake's plan had been effective. Glancing back, Finn whispered, "Hold on just a bit longer, Krieger."
Flying the Ulasomorf was a different experience from the Gradisian. The bulky ship responded sluggishly to the controls, like some great lumbering beast that would much rather go back to sleep than go anywhere. More than one ship remnant smashed into the kinetic barriers because of the inherent delay.
Still, Finn wasn't about to let any craft crash while he was at the helm. The hull received a few dings from larger objects that the kinetic field simply couldn't deflect, but he made it through the debris field intact. He turned his sensors back at the station to find it was completely destroyed. What remnants were left were swept away with the remaining debris and ship fragments.
The Gradisian made it through in good shape as well; though Jake wasn't fond of flying, he was a decent pilot.
"Good job, Jake. I'll open the rear hatch so you can get outta there."
A few minutes later, Finn heard the unmistakable clomping of Jake's metal feet approaching the bridge.
"Hey, man." Jake said, hopping into the copilot seat. "I saw Krieger; looks pretty bad."
"I know. Don't worry; we'll hit J-27 for gas and be on our way to Ilium within the hour." Finn sighed. "I just hope he can make it that long."
"Who would target Krieger like that, man? I mean, I could see some other collector with all his rare stuff, but-"
"But they left plenty of valuables."
"They left all the valuables. I checked with the station sensors; everything in his collection was accounted for. Messed up and out of the case, but he had everything tagged; none of it was missing."
Finn was silent for a long time while he contemplated this turn of events. Eventually, he just shook his head. "We'll worry about that later."