The Apollo Café had been exceptionally busy for the past couple of weeks. This was mostly due to the fact it was the only multi-racial service restaurant that was still able to get supplies to suit all the races that visited the Citadel. It was especially suitable for groups of mixed races. The crew of the turian frigate PFS Phoenix was one such group.
Four turians and a human female were sitting around a table at the furthest corner of the café reviewing a manifest of supplies. They were grateful that omni-tools and data pads had finally been repaired after the Crucible had basically crippled every piece of machinery in the galaxy, but even after ten years, there were still signs of war.
“If it weren’t for all the gaps in the data stream,” one of the younger turians was saying, “we’d already have this finished and we’d be halfway back to Palaven by now.”
“Take what you can, Tavian,” the human across from him said, “we’re lucky to even be flying our ships through the relays right now.”
“I’ll be happy when the Avina terminal starts speaking in a language my translator can understand.”
“I thought you hated the Avina,” Tertia, the female turian beside him teased.
“Enough of that,” said the older turian woman at the head of the table, “Commander, if you will?”
The human woman synced her omni-tool into the table’s interface and brought up the manifest for the rest of the team to see. She typed in a few additional commands causing some portions of the display to disconnect from the main screen into five new ones.
“We’re still a long way from finished,” she said, “and the Citadel is running low on supplies. The Systems Alliance and the Quarian Flotilla are working overtime to meet the supply and demand of the species that need it, but ten years just isn’t enough for a single quadrant of our galaxy to repair itself, let alone the rest of it. At the moment, we have enough to return home—for a little while, at least.
“These five screens here show the supplies we were unable to receive. Mostly menial items that we can do without, but ammunition is pretty much a no-go. We’ll have to rely on our own arsenals for that. Food is a little tricky. The quarians have managed to harvest an impressive amount of dextro-amino crops this year, but our hunters planet-side haven’t been able to catch much game worth taking home. Meat is scarce across the galactic map. Then there’s the—um…can we help you?”
Through the haptic display, the group noticed a young human male waiting to be acknowledged. He was dressed like a dockworker, but he carried himself like a soldier.
“That depends,” he answered, “are you Ramar-Koverick, Malikeh A.?”
The woman glanced over at her turian captain then turned back to the man. “Yes,” she confirmed carefully.
“Good. I have a message for you.”
“Excuse me, but—”
“Your ship is ready to go.”
“Hey, are you listen—?”
“If you’ll just sign here.”
Malikeh and the turian woman exchanged irritated looks. The captain then waved dismissively and allowed Malikeh to continue.
“Look,” she said, “we appreciate the update, and while I can understand the lingering mistrust between humans and turians, it is still required that all ship reports and manifests be addressed to the captain. In this case, that would be Captain Karina ‘Knives’ Koverick. She’s the pissed-off looking one over there.”
The young man smiled almost smugly. “I am aware of your chain of command, ma’am,” he said, “but I am neither distrustful of turians nor do I work the docks. I am Lance Corporal Blayne Martis of the Systems Alliance, and I am currently playing messenger boy for Admiral Hackett.”
“Damnit,” Malikeh hissed as Martis tapped a code into an omni-tool so damaged that the haptic display was Swiss cheese, “How does Hackett even know I’m here?”
Martis did not answer. Instead, he waved his hand over the table’s terminal interface. A hologram of Admiral Steven Hackett popped up from the center of the table and addressed Malikeh’s question.
“Because Councilor Sparatus told me you would be,” he said. He turned to Martis, “Dismissed, Corporal,” he saluted the young man as he walked away. When he turned back, he addressed Knives. “I apologize for the breech of command, Captain Koverick, but certain circumstances have arisen that require me to speak to Mali in private.”
“You ask a lot, Admiral,” Knives answered, the flanging echo in her voice emphasizing her displeasure, “and it’s more a than a breech of my command. You’re overstepping your authority. XO Koverick is legally a turian citizen, after all.”
“I acknowledge that, Captain, but you should also acknowledge that I am acting with the authority of your Primarch. You should be receiving the orders momentarily. Having an entire galaxy owing you a favor has its benefits, as you will see. Now, while you’re reading that over, I’ll cut to the chase.” The image turned to face Mali. “We’ve found the Prodigy.”
Mali all but leapt from her seat. “You’re joking!” she shouted, “After all these years?”
“Oh, that’s very interesting,” Knives cut in sarcastically, “a missing Alliance ship…how exciting.”
Mali grinned. “The Prodigy isn’t a ship,” she corrected, “he’s a person.” Her smile faded in realization. “Admiral, I thought this case was officially closed? Statute of Limitations expired…?”
“It has,” Hackett answered dismissively, “However, we have reason to suspect he is involved in a recent rash of disappearances, and we need to bring him in immediately. We tracked him down a couple of weeks ago nosing around in Citadel Space and sent a small task force after him. Somehow, he detected us and fled back into the Omega System.”
“That’s outside of any military or policing jurisdiction,” Lieutenant Ferin Cortus pointed out, “looks like you’re out of luck.”
“Not exactly. Much like everyone else, Aria T’Loak owes the Alliance a major debt after Commander Shepard helped her reclaim Omega from Cerberus. She’s agreed to extradite the target, and by ‘agreed,’ I mean she’s turning a blind eye to any military activity for the next seventy-two hours. We have until then to capture our quarry.”
Knives crossed her arms. “I’m failing to see why you contacted us about this, Admiral,” she huffed, “we don’t have the time to be wasting.”
“It’s all in the orders you’ll receive, but the short version is: the Alliance is formally requesting turian aide in tracking and capturing Adrian Flynn, codenamed Prodigy. As a show of preemptive gratitude, all of your supplies have been loaded aboard the SSV Nostradamus for transport to Palaven. We’ve even thrown in a few things you have been having difficulty finding. Hopefully this is acceptable, seeing as how unlike your battle cruiser, the Nostradamus was actually built for cargo transport.”
Knives seemed to be reconsidering her objections. The rest of the crew waited patiently for her to make a decision, but Mali was clearly in favor of taking the mission.
“Sounds like you’ve got all of your bases covered, Admiral,” she said with an approving nod, “All right, we’re in. Is there anything else we need to know?”
“All relevant data will be forwarded to your ship momentarily. Most of it is highly classified information on the target, so use discretion when viewing it. I’ll be awaiting your call within the next seventy-two hours.”
“It won’t even take us that long,” Knives trilled pridefully, “Koverick out.” She turned and addressed Mali. “All hands, Commander,” she ordered, “the sooner we get this done, the sooner we can resume shore leave.”
“Aye, aye,” Mali acknowledged with a salute.
She stood up and left the table. Lieutenant Cortus followed after her while Knives lingered a bit longer with her other two officers.
“This had damn well better be worth it,” Knives said as she downed the last of her drink, “because the Alliance will be owing us by the end of it.”
Mali had just finished sending out the “all hands” when Cortus caught up to her.
“You know,” she addressed Cortus casually, “despite her ‘willingness’ to take this mission, I get the feeling that Knives and I are going to come to blows over this. You know she’s been looking for a reason since Menae.”
“She’s been looking for a reason since Sovereign,” Cortus corrected her, “but I doubt this will be that defining moment. Besides, I thought you two have been getting along better?”
“Only on the surface. She still blames me for Talon…”
Cortus shook his head in dismay. Talon wouldn’t want this, he thought, hell, he’s probably turning in his grave.
Malikeh Ramar-Koverick, or “Mali” for short, was an Earth-born human from the nation of Iran. She was five feet and six inches tall with softly tanned skin and bright blue eyes. Her black hair was short and wild with streaks of red, and it was stylized to almost resemble turian head fringe. She was one of the last of a family of Alliance Marines, being able to trace her roots to a few years before the First Contact War. It should be noted that her enlistment into the Alliance had been against her father’s wishes as he had made plans for Mali to attend Grissom to tune her biotic abilities. Her older brother helped her falsify her personal records in order to enlist at sixteen instead of eighteen.
While Admiral Farzad Ramar was initially angered by his children’s actions, he eventually came to appreciate Mali’s abilities in combat. That is, until the Battle of the Citadel against the Reaper scout Sovereign, when Admiral Ramar refused to accept turian aide after their ship was crippled by boarding geth troops. Mali ignored her father’s orders and requested help from the turians, inciting a mutiny against her father. Thanks to Mali, over three-fourths of her father’s crew had been rescued and taken safely aboard the turian frigate PFS Phoenix. Not much later, Mali had fallen for and married the turian lieutenant who had been in charge of the rescue party: Talon Koverick.
That was nearly twelve years ago—ten since Talon died—and now she was fully integrated with the customs of the turian people. She adopted the tribal facial markings of her late husband’s colony and worked her way up the Meritocracy, earning great favor with Primarch Fedorian and his successor, General Adrien Victus. Eventually, she was assigned a position aboard the Phoenix as second-in-command to Karina “Knives” Koverick, her sister-in-law and the only turian who was vocally displeased with the situation. Mali, of course, was not concerned with Knives’ opinion of her. She earned her place, and Knives would just have to accept it.
Mali made her way to the CIC of the Phoenix and took her position beside Knives. The turian captain regarded her XO with a nod, and Mali took the cue, opening a comm channel to the rest of the ship.
“All hands, report in,” she ordered.
“All systems go, Commander,” Flight Lieutenant Valerius Romuli reported from the cockpit.
“My board is green,” Chief Engineer Tavian Octus said.
Reports flooded in from all stations signaling that they were ready for departure.
“All stations ready, Captain,” Mali confirmed.
Knives nodded her approval. “Good,” she said, “Valerius, set a course for the Omega Nebula, Sahrabrick system.”
“Aye, aye, sir,” Valerius acknowledged.
Mali smiled. That was one of the many things she was grateful for in the turian military: no gender bias. If you were in a command position, you were referred to as “sir” regardless of gender unless in a formal or civilian setting. The Systems Alliance tended to walk on eggshells around female officers, even after centuries of working as “equals.” In the Meritocracy, it did not matter if you were male or female; if you did your job, you moved up, and to be addressed as “sir” was an honor that was earned. Plain and simple.
The Phoenix disengaged from the mag-clamps that held her in her berth. All of the rookies aboard rushed to the nearest viewport to take in the wondrous view they had heard so much about. Mali smiled, remembering her first voyage aboard the SSV Manchester with her brother Kouroush. The romance of it all had long since subsided for her, but it was refreshing to see the same spark in the eyes of the young. She subtly shifted her eyes up at Knives and saw her mandibles quiver. Mali had learned over the years how to interpret the facial expressions of her turian comrades, and this particular gesture was the closest thing to a smile they could muster.
“I never thought I’d see that again,” Mali commented.
“There is some pride to be taken,” Knives replied, “in the innocence of youth. Let us hope they do not lose it the way we did.” She let that sink in a moment then added: “You have the bridge, Malikeh. I’ll be in my quarters.”
“Aye, sir,” Mali acknowledged as Knives walked away.
The empty space was immediately filled by Lieutenant Ferin Cortus. He had been at Mali’s side pretty much from the beginning. He was Talon’s best man at their wedding and Mali’s crying shoulder after Talon died. He was always there like an older brother providing an umbrella of protection over her. He was a bit overbearing at times, but Mali was grateful to have him around. She nodded at the starry-eyed rookies, and Cortus enacted the silent order.
“All right, men,” he called out, “that’s enough. All hands to stations.”
They all groaned as they tore themselves away from the viewports. Mali and Cortus shared a laugh. Yes, their youthful innocence was refreshing. Knives had been right about that.
“Coming up on the relay, Commander,” Valerius informed them, “Approach Vector Four. We’re clear to jump.”
“Ahead full, Flight Lieutenant,” Mali responded.
The crew could almost hear the whom-whom of the Widow Relay’s dual rings spinning faster the closer they got. A moment later, the Phoenix was enveloped in a blue energy and then fired light years across the galaxy.
Adrian Flynn was studying the schematics of the abandoned supply depot. It was a decent sized hub floating just off Omega and barely tethered to the main rock via access tube. It had done him well so far having been installed with Extranet access, living quarters to shame most dignitaries, proximity alarms, and best of all, it had security mechs he could activate for additional security. This was something Adrian had exploited a lot in recent days, though the reasoning behind it baffled him.
A few weeks earlier, Adrian had been returning home from a rather exciting night at Afterlife. Being the only real source of entertainment on Omega, calling it “exciting” was as much the same as happily drinking piss after days without water. Still, Adrian managed to enjoy himself.
He stopped by a little diner run by an elcor friend of his.
“With genuine delight,” the elcor greeted in that characteristic mono-tone, “Adrian. It is good to see you, friend.”
“Hey, Barlo,” Adrian responded, “what’s on the menu today?”
“With barely contained excitement: I learned a new human recipe. Worriedly: I was hoping you’d be willing to test it before I make it available to other humans.”
“Uh…sure…what, um, what is it?”
The elephant-like alien lumbered to the kitchen as he answered. “With modest pride: I’ll give you a hint. Informative: it is made of strips of fried meat wrought from a porcine creature, a leafy green vegetable, a red fruit that has the qualities of a vegetable, a creamy white dressing, and is served on flattened pieces of wheat.”
Adrian did not need much time to process that. Barlo was not the most educated elcor when it came to preparing meals for humans, but he seemed to always get as close as possible. After a few moments, Barlo returned, pushing a small cart with a covered plate on top of it.
“With reservation,” he said, “I am told it is a delicacy on Earth. Suspenseful: you humans call it a—”
“A classic BLT!” Adrian interrupted excitedly as he removed the cover from the plate.
“With amused disappointment: must you take everything from me?”
“Sorry, buddy, but I haven’t had one of these since I was a kid.”
“Excitedly: please try it. I want to make sure I got it right.”
“Kind of hard to fuck up a BLT, Barlo,” Adrian grinned like a child in a candy store as he scooped the sandwich into both hands.
He was just about to take a bite when his personal communicator went off.
“Dammit,” he cursed as he pressed a button on his visor, “Flynn here, kinda busy.”
“You will make time for me, Adrian,” a familiar voice growled.
Adrian quickly dropped the sandwich and activated the image display. “Shit,” he muttered under his breath, “Aria! Hey! You’re looking lovely…is that a new jacket?”
“Let’s skip the pleasantries, shall we? Would you care to explain to me why the Alliance is after my best hacker?”
“First of all,” Adrian grinned impetuously, “you flatter me. Secondly, I couldn’t say. We’re outside their jurisdiction anyway; they can’t touch me. Why are you so worried about it?”
The asari’s eyes narrowed. “Because I owe the Alliance a favor,” she spat as though the words were poisonous to her, “I don’t like owing anybody anything. They know you’re here, Adrian; they tracked you down. Whatever secret you’ve been hiding doesn’t matter to me, but—”
“Wait…you’re allowing Alliance forces to raid Omega?”
“Don’t be an idiot, Flynn. I am allowing them three Earth days to track you down, but I’m not just going to throw you to the dogs. There’s an abandoned supply depot fully stocked with everything you need to defend yourself. I have faith you can keep yourself hidden long enough for the deal to expire, and when it does, come see me immediately. If they do manage to catch you, I won’t be able to intervene. You’ll have a couple weeks to prepare your bunker. Aria out.”
The image vanished as Adrian sprung from his chair. Despite what he told Aria, he had known for months that the Alliance was looking for him. However, it was the honest-to-god truth that he had no idea why. Sure, he had committed a slew of cyber crimes during the Reaper invasion ten years ago—among other things—but he was certain the statute of limitations had long-since expired for all of them. Could it be about...? he thought briefly, then shook the idea from his mind, No way. That guy’s dead. But what else could it be? He figured he would have plenty of time to think about it over the next few weeks as he turned and headed for the door.
“With concern,” Barlo had called out, “what about your sandwich?”
Adrian did not respond as he snatched his food up and tossed a five-credit chit on the counter. He then ran out of Barlo’s diner without any further explanation.
That was two weeks ago. To Barlo’s credit, the sandwich was amazing. If Adrian’s tear ducts still worked, he would have cried, but the eye implants he possessed rendered them a safety hazard.
Now Adrian sat at a computer console contemplating how he was going to get out of his mess. He had the advantage of knowing Alliance attack patterns, but his paranoia was starting to overwhelm him. Why? he thought, After all this time, why come after me now?
He punched a few commands into the console, and the main menu for the Star of Valor computer game popped up. He hit “continue” on his campaign to ease some of his boredom. Barlo’s screen name appeared, too, followed immediately by a chat request.
“Hey, Barlo,” Adrian greeted.
“Surprised: Adrian? Where have you been?”
“Afraid I can’t tell you, man.”
“With mild suspicion: who did you piss off this time?”
“What? No one; don’t worry about it. You wanna play or not?”
“Relenting: very well, I’ll drop it. Bad-assily: let’s kick some noob butt.”
“Yeah, I can’t take you seriously when you say that.”
Star of Valor was a reenactment war game based on the galactic struggle against the Reapers ten years ago. Players were encouraged to choose one of many different species to play either in a multiplayer setting or a single player story campaign for each race. To this day, it still faces scrutiny and negative criticism by all races for being historically and distastefully inaccurate.
“Are you seriously still playing as the quarians?” Adrian asked incredulously, “How can you even watch that? I mean, I get that they lost, but the game designers made it look worse than it actually was—it’s depressing.”
“In awe: the quarians were and still are a beautiful people. Accusing mockery: it is no worse than making humans appear to be the god-saviors of the galaxy. Annoyed: but I suppose I shouldn’t expect anything less from a human-made game.”
Adrian laughed. “No need to get hostile,” he said, “sorry I asked.”
The two friends joined a lobby and spent the next couple of hours causing other players to randomly quit in fits of rage. They enjoyed that part almost as though they had planned it from the beginning. Of course, the last time they actively taunted another player, a Blood Pack mercenary was hired to “take them out.” It did not go according to plan.
Suddenly, the depot’s proximity alarms went off. Adrian focused on a secondary computer screen as a single ship registering an Alliance signature blipped across.
“One frigate?” he asked, offended, “All this trouble to find me, and they only send one ship? I’m…vaguely insulted.”
“Confused,” Barlo’s voice disrupted Adrian’s musings, “what are you going on about?”
“Don’t worry about it. Listen, buddy, I’ve gotta go.”
“Disappointed: already? It’s only been three hours. Curiously: what could possibly be more important than smoke-checking noobs?”
Adrian stifled a laugh. “Okay, first off, Barlo” he said, “please don’t ever say that again. Secondly, I’m sorry, but the less you know, the better. Gimme about an hour or so and I’ll be back online.”
“With feigned hope: okay, but I won’t be holding my breath on that.”
Adrian cut the connection and focused on his little hideout’s security systems. His eyes flickered, and his Kuwashii Visor kicked on as his fingers flew across four different haptic key panels. The three-dozen LOKI mechs powered up and reported to their respective stations at every possible entrance to the hub. Adrian, who had sealed himself up in the control room, then activated the four massive YMIR mechs and sent them to guard the four entry points to the room. He knew all of the Alliance’s strategies, and they rarely if ever deviated from them. For the next twenty-four hours, he would outsmart them, and when their time was up, he would never have to deal with them again.
“Bring it on,” Adrian grinned, “in three days, you’ll be shamefully crawling back to Alliance space with nothing to show for it. They didn’t name me ‘The Prodigy’ for nothing.”
He made a quick note to personally thank Aria, not only for the heads up, but also for the use of this amazing facility.