Mass Effect: Exodus

Chapter Three

Mali paced the CIC in deep thought. She had believed that catching Adrian Flynn after all these years would bring a sense of closure even though the charges had changed, but that was just not the case. Contrarily, Mali felt confusion, like a homicide detective missing some presumed-obvious clue. She dug through her memories in an attempt to find any oddities in the mission.

At the beginning, Admiral Hackett claimed that Flynn had been nosing around Citadel Space right about the same time the abductions started. Flynn contradicted this by claiming he had not been off Omega in years. He could have been lying, but his case had been something of a pet project of Mali’s for the majority of the Reaper Invasion and the two years that followed. For countless hours, she and her team studied the man’s profile from the methodical to the intricate until it was so ingrained in their minds that it was like they had known him all their lives. “Liar” was not a title anyone attributed to The Prodigy, not because he was incapable, but because he was notoriously bad at it, especially under pressure. It was also suspected that Flynn was quite aware of this flaw. Speculation though it may have been, Mali was convinced that Flynn had no reason to lie about where he had been for ten years.

There was also Flynn’s reaction to the accusation. When Mali mentioned the arrest was because of a suspected connection to the abductions, he was truly shocked. Not even the best vid-actors could mimic the pleading sincerity in Flynn’s eyes.

That left Mali with an even less desirable theory: Admiral Hackett was lying.

No, she could not believe that. There was no motive--at least, not one she could see. At the same time, there was no reason for a civilian technician to get caught up in a crime such as kidnapping...

Why not? Mali asked herself, There was no reason for him to accessorize to murder either, but there are over twenty-million dead citizens on the Citadel that prove he did.

That thought suddenly felt wrong for the first time in ten years as she thought back to the last days of the investigation.

Council Spectre Major Kaiden Alenko was the de facto leader of Mali’s team. They were responsible for searching the northern quadrant of Council Space for the then-elusive Adrian Flynn. As the battle tactician, Mali played the role of Alenko’s first officer, implementing the Major’s orders as well as providing the best strategies for capture should contact ever be made. They were skirting the boarders of the Terminus Systems when the team’s tech proficienato got a positive ping.

“Leftenant!” he called out in a gorgeous British accent, “I believe I have something, ma’am.”

“It’s sir,” Mali corrected.

“Beg your pardon?” The tech asked.

“When you address me,” Mali clarified, “use ‘sir.’ If my mother is in town or we are somehow at a cocktail party, then ‘ma’am’ would be appropriate. Since I neither see my mother, and I don’t have a martini in my hand, well, you get the gist.”

“Apologies, ma—ahem, sir.”

“I like you, Greenbrier, so we’ll work on that. What’ve you got?”

Greenbrier reasserted himself and directed Mali at the radar. “Kowloon-class freighter,” he answered dutifully, “about a hundred knots off the starboard bough. Call sign MSV Imperial.”

“A merchant vessel?”

“No, sir. Not anymore, at least. I checked her history and found she had belonged to a small trade company on Shanxi but was sold for scrap just before the war. I was able to trace the sale to an Arbitus Hatan, a young turian lad who has been making a name for himself by sending ships to evac colonies, specifically non-military personnel and civilian families. Given the current state of the galaxy, I’d prefer to turn a blind eye to such operations, but I took the liberty of hailing Captain Hatan, if only to offer assistance. He was more than willing to share his passenger manifest with me. Take a look.”

Greenbrier called up the list of names onto the display. He highlighted one of the names halfway down the list then pulled up a recent casualty report.

“Do you see it?” he asked, a smirk inching across his face.

“Well now,” Mali responded with a grin of her own, “isn’t that interesting? I wonder how a deceased C-Sec receptionist managed to book passage on a refugee vessel?”

“Miracle from God?” Greenbrier joked.

“For us, at least, but let’s not break out in a chorus of Hallelujah just yet. We need to get more information; hail him again.”

The tech nodded as he input the request. He then signaled to Mali that the comm was open.

MSV Imperial,” Mai addressed the ship, “this is Lieutenant Koverick of the SSV Gettysburg. We have reason to believe you have a wanted fugitive aboard. With your permission, we’d like the opportunity to come aboard and check.”

The line remained silent a little over a minute before Hatan responded. “With all due respect, Lieutenant,” the young turian said, “but every minute of my time you take puts us at greater risk of being indoctrinated--or worse: harvested--by Reaper forces. I cannot and will not endanger the lives of my passengers over a hunch.”

“Captain,” Mali spoke as calm as possible while maintaining an air of sympathy, “I am obligated to inform you that we have a Council Spectre on board and do no require permission to seize and search your vessel; I asked as a courtesy.”

“I’ll acknowledge that, ma’am, and I’ll be happy to oblige once I make my checkpoint at the Terminus boarder. That’s my only offer, Lieutenant Koverick.”

“Then we are left with no choice at all. Koverick out.”

Mali cut the line and called for general quarters.

“The fool,” Greenbrier sighed remorsefully, “does he not realize there’s nowhere to go where these monsters won’t find them?”

“Fear makes people do crazy things,” Mali responded, shaking her head and mirroring the tech’s feelings on the matter, “sometimes for the good of others, and sometimes not so much.”

As she said this, she clenched the silver band that hung on a chain around her neck. Greenbrier had heard about what happened to the lieutenant’s turian husband on Menae, and it sent a chill through his spine to see how she remained so dutiful in her time of grief. Hell, the poor woman did not even have time to mourn before being recruited to this mission.

Mali noticed Greenbrier staring. She quickly tucked her ring under her uniform but did not acknowledge the sergeant. Instead she opened the comm to the cockpit. “Ready EMP, Mr. Ronan,” she ordered, “Disable the Imperial. I’ll take a small squad over and--”

“Belay that order, Ronan,” the voice of Major Alenko echoed through the CIC from the lift, “We’re letting them go.”

“Sir?” Mali signaled for clarification.

“Let them go,” Alenko repeated, “Hackett is recalling all forces back to Earth. The Reapers have captured the Citadel, and the Crucible won’t work without it.”

The reality of those words sunk in pretty quickly for the entire crew as the Major handed each of them new orders.

Mali logged hers into her omni-tool before giving the order to let the Imperial go. As it was carried out, Mali joined Alenko at the Galaxy Map.

“Assuming we survive this,” she said, “I hope the Alliance will make an effort to continue this case.”

Assuming we survive this,” Alenko echoed in response, “there will be other priorities taking precedent.”

“Far be it from me to tell the Brass how to do its job, but I’d like to think bringing a treasonous war-criminal to justice would be among those priorities.”

That was the last thing Mali said to the Spectre before she rejoined the turian fleet.

“Captain on deck!” a corporal shouted, bringing Mali back to the present.

The crew snapped to attention as Knives walked the length of CIC to stand beside her first officer. “As you were,” she acknowledged with a nod before turning her attention to Mali, “Exemplary work, Commander. We did in one day what the Alliance could not accomplish in ten years.”

“Twelve years,” Mali corrected absently, “His first offense was at age sixteen, but as is customary for all Alliance citizens, his record was wiped clean at eighteen.”

Knives waved her hand dismissively. “Regardless,” she said, “the mission was a success. I figured you’d be happier, all things considered.”

“It was too easy.”

Knives’ mandibles quivered in surprise. “Oh?” she responded, “I’ll admit it took less time than even I gave us credit for, but does that really disappoint you?”

“No, sir, not as such. I just can’t get past this feeling that...” she trailed off for a moment and rerouted herself, “Forgive me, Captain. It’s not my place to say.”

“Speak freely, Commander,” Knives assured, “You and I have never seen eye-to-eye, but I’ve certainly never let that blind me to the concerns of my ship or crew.”

“I acknowledge that, but I feel that my eagerness to complete this mission nullifies my right to complain.”

“Probably, but as you said, that’s not your place to say. At any rate, I believe this is something that should be discussed in private. Dress out and come see me in my ready room in a half hour.”

“Aye, sir.”

Mali saluted and departed for her quarters. Lieutenant Cortus filled the vacancy dutifully and stood at rest beside Knives. The captain regarded him with a nod.

“How’s our guest?” the captain asked, a hint of cold mockery in her voice.

“Behaving,” Cortus answered, “much to Dru’s disappointment.”

Knives could not withhold her disbelief. “Really?” she questioned, “After the fuss he put up on the shuttle, I thought for sure he’d continue his ‘injustice’ rant once I was out of sight.”

“No, sir. Once we deactivated his omni-tool and and confiscated his visor and...weapon, if you can call it that...he simply sat down and zoned out. Either he knows something we don’t, or he’s planning a futile escape attempt.”

“Whatever keeps him entertained. He won’t be our problem much longer. Once we hand him off to the Alliance, we can be on our way home. That’s all we need to worry about. In the meantime, our XO has some concerns of her own. You have the deck, Lieutenant.”

Cortus nodded as Knives took her leave.

“Captain,” Valerius Romuli came over the ship’s comms, “encrypted communication coming in on Priority Channel One.”

“From whom?”

“Unknown. They scrambled the transmission.”

“That’s not suspicious or anything,” Cortus noted softly.

“Just what I was thinking,” Knives agreed, “Valerius, send the call to my cabin. I’ll get to the bottom of it quietly.”

She then departed the CIC without awaiting acknowlegment.

The captain halfheartedly returned salutes to her subordinates as she made her way to her personal quarters. Upon arrival, Knives caught sight of the message beacon flashing on her private terminal indicating a waiting call. She sat at the desk and opened the channel. She did not bother activating the visual feed; Priority Channel One was intended for emergencies, but video capabilities were still effectively useless aboard most patrol vessels.

“This is Captain Karina Koverick of the turian frigate PFS Phoenix,” Knives announced, “Identify yourself and state the purpose for your communication.”

“Greetings, Captain Koverick,” a female voice--human, by Knives’ guess--responded, “I am Sigyn Estell, and I am calling on behalf of my client, Dr. Abigail Carter of Exodus Labs. It has come to our attention that you are transporting a very talented young man from the Terminus Systems into Citadel space. Is that accurate?”

Knives scowled inwardly but managed to keep her composure. “What we are or are not doing is classified,” she deflected professionally, “so naturally I am curious as to how you came by this...improbable information.”

“Oh, I don’t want to bore you with the details, Captain, but the long and short of it is: we have our resources. Between plants put in place for the unsavory practice of corporate espionage to ‘arrangements’ with the Shadow Broker, there is very little that gets by us. We’ve even dabbled in the buying and selling of information ourselves. We’ve found it very in point: Adrian Flynn.”

“An odd pastime for a research facility. Just what is your interest in my cargo?”

“My client’s interest is of no consequence to you. However, the stabilization of Palaven is.”

Knives’ mandibles quivered involuntarily, and she knew Estell did not need visual to know she had the turian’s full attention.

“The Alliance can only do so much without hurting themselves,” Estell continued, “I believe you already know that, and that is why Dr. Carter is prepared to make you a counter-offer to Hackett’s deal.”

There was a moment of hesitation as Knives thought through all possible consequences of just considering Estell’s deal, let alone accepting it. On the one hand, her duty as a soldier screamed at her to decline the offer and report the incident to her superiors. On the other hand, she had a responsibility to the turian people; if this Dr. Carter really could aid Palaven better, she had to take that chance. Still, it was one that could lead to a conviction of treason if it backfired...

Knives took in a deep breath and released it as she came to a decision. “Before I agree to anything,” she spoke with great conviction, “I want assurances that my crew are immune to any backlash that might occur if any of this gets back to the Heirarchy--all responsibility is mine.”

“A noble request, Captain,” Estell noted, “though hardly necessary...unless you’re worried about dissension in the ranks?”

The way Estell suggested the idea brought on a new sense of suspicion, but more so, Knives felt it was a personal attack on her ability to command the soldiers under her, including Mali. Especially Mali.

“Just tell me your offer,” Knives spat, “If I decide to take it, I’ll determine how to deal with any potential...insubordination.”

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