"… and that's when I realized that you and Sherle might have been hurt." Finn finished with a sigh. "I'm really sorry about J-27, Darsan."
Darsan bowed his head. "Kindly, Don't apologize. It wasn't your fault. Besides, if you had not returned, we'd still have been in danger. You realize of course, I can't pay you anymore."
"Yeah, I figured as much." Finn said, hiding a smile. At the moment, his paycheck was the last thing on his mind.
"I don't get why someone would attack J-27." Ensign Mannon said. There was a definite shakiness in her voice, but it was hard to blame her seeing as she had just woken up and been told her home for years was nothing but dust.
"Proud. We were the only refueling station this far out in the Silean Nebula. If someone wanted to mine the unclaimed planets of the Minax or Mondane systems, our station would be crucial."
Finn shook his head. "That soldier didn't look like a merc or a gangbanger, and I didn't notice any kind of insignia on his uniform. None of the ships had transponder codes either; whatever they're a part of clearly doesn't want anyone to know who they are."
"Ominously; and they were after Krieger's mysterious ship."
Finn sighed again and leaned back against a heavy barrel. "A shame they got to it first. It might have had the answers to everything: what they were looking for at Krieger's place, why they attacked J-27 to cover it up. Something. Krieger might know, but he's in no state to explain anything."
Everyone fell quiet. They had only just managed to stabilize the volus enough to put him into cryo-stasis, and seeing their only neighbor in such a state left them all uneasy. Ensign Mannon rubbed her elbows, her eyes on the floor of the cargo bay. Darsan shuffled slightly; his face unreadable (though to be fair, he was an elcor; he could've been livid and still had the same expression on his face). Even Finn wasn't sure what to say to lighten the air.
"We need to decide on a destination." Finn said after a few moments. "Someplace with a hospital that can treat volus."
"And an Alliance outpost." Ensign Mannon added. "I need to report this. Maybe my superiors can make something of it."
"Confidently; we should go to Ilium. I have contacts there that could help us. I also need to file my insurance claim."
"Insurance?" Ensign Mannon asked, as though she couldn't believe what she was hearing. "J-27 was just blasted into dust an hour ago, and you're already worrying about the insurance money?"
"Reasonably; Life goes on. At some point, I'll need to rebuild my station."
"Ilium would be the logical choice." Finn said quietly before Sherle could respond. "Darsan can take care of his business, Sherle can get in contact with the Alliance, and Krieger can get the help he needs."
Ensign Mannon hopped to her feet. "Then it's settled. We're off to-"
"We're going to Omega."
Darsan and Ensign Mannon stared at him. Even Darsan's face managed to convey disbelief.
Finn stood straight and popped his neck. "Think about it; the people chasing us obviously aren't the sort who give up easily. They know we're going to be looking for help, and Ilium is the largest commercial center this side of the galaxy."
"But if we get there before-" Sherle began.
"This isn't Alliance space." Finn told her. "They don't have to set foot on Ilium to hire an assassin. Pretty much everyone on Ilium can be bought, and I'll bet my right arm J-27's crew dossier has been distributed to a dozen or more groups looking for a quick buck."
Realizing he was dangerously close to shouting, Finn forced himself to calm down. "It's just the way Ilium is, and I doubt even the insurance money would keep us safe. If these guys have more resources, they'll just outbid us."
"Reasonably; But Finn, Omega's just as dangerous, if not more so. Aria's thugs, gangs, criminals, and don't even get me started on those horrible vorcha."
"You're right. There are people on Omega who'd kill us for the clothes on our backs. The difference is that on Omega, money isn't nearly as good as having friends in high places. Even the lowliest street thug wouldn't dare hurt someone connected to one of Omega's big players."
"Friends in high places?" Sherle asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Yes." Finn admitted. "I'm sure at least one of my old friends will still vouch for me if the need arises."
Darsan didn't respond, though Finn could tell he was being appraised. "Curiously; how long did you live on Omega?"
"A little over a year before coming to J-27." Finn paused as unpleasant memories began to awaken in the back of his mind. "Believe me, I wish we had another option. When I left that rock, I swore I'd never go back. We just don't have another choice."
Finn could tell Sherle was still wanting to argue. Fortunately, Jake's voice in his comm implant came to the rescue. "Finn! We're at the relay! Where are we heading?"
With a final glance at Darsan and Ensign Mannon, Finn started towards the bridge.
"Wait! Finn!" Ensign Mannon hurried over to Finn as he turned to face her. "There's another option."
"I'd be glad to hear it." Finn said, though he was pretty sure he knew what she was going to suggest.
"We could go to Earth. The Alliance should be safe enough for us, and between Earth and the Citadel, we should be able to-"
"We're not going to Earth."
"But Finn, we-"
"I'm not going back there!" He snapped. Regret set in the moment he saw the hurt expression on her face.
Sighing, he said, "Please, just … don't. I have my reasons; you may think them stupid or petty, but they're there all the same."
"O-okay." She said, an odd look on her face. "But at least consider the option, won't you?"
"I'm sorry, but we're going to Omega." Finn shook his head, adding, "You're welcome to take the Gradisian and leave; there should be room for-"
"I'm staying." Ensign Mannon said firmly. "Our chances are better if we stick together. Besides, I can send a message to the Alliance from there well enough."
Finn glanced at Darsan. "And you?"
"Reluctantly; I will stay as well. I think it's a horrible idea, but as much as I hate to admit it, Finn is right about Ilium. Cheerfully; besides, I bought my old hat on Omega. You can get me a new one while we're there."
Finn stared at him for a moment before a laugh escaped his lips. "Fair enough. Well, if we're all in agreement, let's get the heck out of this system. You two might as well make yourselves comfortable."
"Actually, I'll head up to the bridge with you, if you don't mind." Ensign Mannon said, stepping forward. "I might as well familiarize myself with the comm systems."
Darsan turned away. "Sulkily; fine. Go ahead. Just leave me back here. Alone."
"Okay. Bye." Without another word, Finn headed for the bridge, Ensign Mannon following behind.
Jake had brought the vessel to a halt at an optimal distance from the relay. Finn didn't bother with the harness as he sat down and took control of the ship. With his guidance, they hit the relay and were soon blasting through the cosmos towards the Omega Nebula.
He turned to find Ensign Mannon watching him with a curious expression.
She blushed immediately and looked back at her console. "I'm sorry. I didn't realize you were such a good pilot."
"That's nuthin', babe." Jake told her. "You shoulda seen him ride the stream earlier. Like he was born there!"
"Ride the stream?" She asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Yeah. You never heard of Streaming?"
"I remember hearing that term as applied to theoretical space travel, but-"
"Nah, you're thinking of quantum slipstream. This is more like riding the wave. You know how there's a little-bitty boost right when the mass effect field collapses? If you manipulate the field so that the ship is nearly touching the edge, you can supercharge the effect with the ship's power and essentially ride the wave as long as you have enough power to keep it going. The boost in speed is incredible; those clowns won't reach us for hours, maybe even days."
"I never heard of this before." She said, glancing at Finn as though she thought they were kidding her.
"It's true." Finn told her. "That's how we got away from the people chasing us."
Her eyes widened. "Is it dangerous?"
"Oh, extremely." Jake replied as though he were merely talking about the weather. "We're talking inches from the edge of the field; it's not something you can see normally, and if you pass it, the ship ends up as a flaming ball of metal and death."
"Even if everything goes right, ships just aren't designed to handle that much speed for sustained periods. You have to balance power between the shields, structural integrity, and the engines. Your attention breaks for even a moment, and …" Finn let his voice trail off.
Ensign Mannon took a deep trembling breath. "So that's why the ship was shaking."
Jake patted her knee. "Hey, don't sweat it. Finn had everything under control. Right, Finn?"
"Yeah." Finn turned his attention back to the controls. "Everything's under control."
"See, what'd I tell you? Finn's an expert at riding the Stream! They used to call him Slipstream at the Academy."
"The Academy? You mean the Anderson Naval Academy on Earth?" Sherle asked, sounding surprised. "You never told me you were in the Alliance, Finn!"
"You kidding? He was the best in his unit! Could pilot anything like an expert in under an hour! He'd probably be piloting a Normandy-class frigate right now if it weren't for-"
"Jake." Finn said, his voice quiet.
"Oh!" Jake's LEDs went red, his equivalent of blushing. "Sorry, man."
Finn was sure that Sherle was going to ask, but thankfully she held her peace.
After an almost unbearable length of silence, Jake hopped off of his chair and nudged Finn's leg. "Hey, man; you should go get some sleep."
"I'm not tired." Finn replied automatically, but the very thought of going to bed brought a yawn to his lips.
"A sleepy pilot's bad news, man. Go on; Sherle and I have it covered."
"Go ahead." Sherle said, giving him a kind smile.
Finn let out a sigh. "Maybe you're right. Wake me up if there's any trouble, okay?"
"I will, I will! Now shoo!" Jake nudged Finn towards the door. Smiling, Finn walked out of the bridge.
With all the chaos, Finn hadn't really had time to check out the inside of Krieger's creation. Much like the outside, the inside of the Ulasomorf was a combination of various styles from species throughout the known galaxy. The cargo room (and subsequently, the docking port) was distinctly Alliance, with cranes set up for moving large pieces of salvage and a smooth metallic look to everything. The deck above was typically volus, and housed a smaller collection.
"At least he didn't lose everything." Finn said, setting the Babe Ruth baseball bat he had brought from Krieger's station into an empty display case.
Deck Three housed the medical bay, the kitchen and pantry, and a small rec room. Finn found Darsan in the medical bay, looking at Krieger's cryo chamber.
"Surprised; Finn! I didn't expect to see you up here."
"Jake's watching the ship so I can get some sleep. You okay, Darsan?"
After a few moments, Darsan bobbed his head. "Uncertain. I'm well enough, considering the situation. Certainly better than Krieger."
"Yeah." Finn stared at the cryo tube in silence for a few moments. "The really sad part is that I got the damn sensor parts."
"Yeah. Nearly in perfect condition, and a much newer model than what we had. He made me a great deal after I unlocked the weird ship's controls and showed him how to pilot it." A suspicion bloomed in Finn's chest. "I hope that didn't have anything to do with the attack."
"Sagely; I'd recommend not thinking about it. Even if you did cause this somehow, you know Krieger would've got it working on his own. As for the sensor array, we'll just add that to parts we won't need to buy for the new station."
Finn grinned at his former employer. "Already making new plans, eh?"
"Confidently; indeed. My insurance coverage should bring a nice payoff, enough to build a bigger station with better parts. We'll get a real cook, and maybe an assistant or two to help you keep the place running too. Maybe we could even get one of those enertrons for people who need a rest to rent. Dreamily; think of it; they'll pay us for the rest, then wake up hungry and buy food from our cook or our new synthesizers. We'll make a mint."
Chuckling, Finn said, "That sounds pretty good … if we can get through this."
"Optimistically; you've managed to get us this far."
"Not exactly the confidence boosting answer I was looking for, but good enough I suppose."
Finn left Darsan there and headed up to the fourth deck. As soon as he stepped out of the elevator, the lights flickered on and a large portion of the ceiling retracted, revealing massive windows. Finn let out a whistle as he stared at the lovely asari design of the central chamber. There were a few sleep pods installed along the walls, but there were also several small bedrooms arranged in a ring around the elevator.
The rooms themselves were cozy, though given my living conditions on CJ-27, perhaps my standards were a bit off. There was one room larger than the others, complete with a private bathroom and one of Krieger's display cases, obviously meant for Krieger himself. Out of respect for his injured friend, Finn decided to take one of the normal rooms instead.
After closing the door behind him, he let himself fall onto the bed. In a matter of moments, the real world faded away, leaving him alone with his dreams.