The second Envoy class ship was completed in a timely manner. To be perfectly honest, the second took less time than the first, thanks to my expanding logistic network and the increasing number of Geth platforms I had access to at any one time. Salvaging operations had accelerated, thanks to a larger number of platforms capable of carrying out the salvaging, and now I had enough manufacturing that I was making my own Geth! Which meant that I had to begin the design process for the new generation of Geth units, and- hnn. I added it to the long list of things that I needed to think about and accomplish, tasking a number of instances to testing and design. Right now, I had to worry about the frigate taking space in one of my now thirteen dry docks.With the design finished and thoroughly tested by Two, and the data relayed back to me via courier craft, I was able to tweak the design to solve some issues with the craft itself. Of course, the primary question now was where to send the thing, and the third version of myself. I'd- well, we'd, have to come up with a more clever naming schema than just calling ourselves ascending numbers, but that was for later. At the moment, I was trying to figure out where to send the vessel.
I realized immediately that I would need something that was not precisely accessible to the Citadel races. Regardless of my intentions and my self-ascribed duty of defending the galaxy, I think that my PR might get off to a rocky start at best if I was first discovered because a ship jumped into a system and then realized that it was choked with entirely synthetic comms and space traffic. No, I'd need something that couldn't be stumbled across, which meant going off the grid, as it were. This meant that it would be some time before large-scale manufacturing would be up and running, given that I'd have to locate a system with an inactive Relay that could be connected with its twin and allow the other me to move battlegroups through if need be. As much as I hate slash feared the Reapers and mistrusted the Relays, at the moment they were the fastest and most convenient FTL that I had, which was probably why nobody bothered developing anything else in the first place.
So. Queries, while trying to cover my tracks, trying to locate systems with inactive Relays that had systems with a large number of stellar bodies on the other end. This led me some interesting places, as it appeared that, after the Rachni Wars, the Citadel Council had started an ongoing project that involved observation and remote surveillance of star systems adjacent to Citadel space via Relay, though the project itself had been shut down many years prior. No activity in neighboring star systems made it less and less attractive to political figures with short memories, which was a stroke of good fortune for me, even if it did say something worrying about the vigilance and preparedness of the Citadel races.
This meant that I had access to astronomical data about multiple systems, and could pick and choose from an entire list of Relay-accessible systems containing a variety of sources. Mainly, I was looking for systems with a large number of rocky planets for minerals and ground-based construction, stable mid-range stars, asteroid belts and at least one gas giant. Though... there was one other option. Humanity would be around in about... two hundred and sixty two years, if I was counting to the First Contact War. Two fifty-four, to the discovery of the Prothean cache on Mars. Shanxi-Theta was open and ripe for the taking, a system with plenty of resources and a garden world that was mostly useless to me, as I was. But, it wasn't just that, the offer of a significant system, it was what was connected to it. Namely, Earth.
I would say that human society wasn't ready for contact with the wider galaxy, and I didn't want to interfere in the slightest until they... we? Started properly exploring the Solar system. Was I still human anymore? Hm. Regardless, in about two centuries or so, humanity would establish a Mars colony, and in a little under that, a moon colony. I could leave well enough alone, let things develop as they would as per canon, but then again... the offer of an entirely friendly organic species, not to mention my own species, was a very tempting offer. This wasn't even mentioning the prevention of the loss of life during the First Contact War, primarily by ensuring that it didn't happen period- on top of THAT, steering humanity away from the technological trap of the Reapers was just the cherry on top.
For the most part, I could see no real downsides. Send number three to establish a base in Shanxi-Theta via normal FTL, then begin opening Relays in the direction of what would eventually be Alliance space and, finally, Earth. Feed them what Reaper tech I managed to reverse engineer, and I could definitely smooth over their introduction to galactic society, having hopefully set Harbinger on fire and danced on his corpse by that point. It might cause some awkward questions about my presence on both sides of the divide from Citadel sources, but hopefully I'd be embedded enough in Citadel society by that point that I could just say that I sent out an expedition without activating relays and just happened across Earth in the process. Plausible enough? Maybe. Would have to work out the details over the long term.
I nodded to myself, random platforms making the gesture. I regretted that I had no knuckles to crack as a symbol of my dedication to my newly-established goals, but it was as it was. Ohhh, maybe I could design artificial knuckles that could do the crackling! Thoughts for later designs, doubled as a fantastic intimidation factor... at least among humans. And, after a quick look through some cheesy action flicks, apparently still a thing in Citadel culture even before humanity's involvement. Tough guys are the same the galaxy over, I supposed.
I began the copying process to the second vessel, simultaneously beginning construction on two others in other hidden drydocks and several vessels of varying descriptions and specializations in official drydocks registered with the government of Rannoch. Contingencies needed to be made, of course: a vessel to be sent to a system with no Relay, and another to be sent on a... much longer trip than that. I wasn't taking any chances with this. I'd end the cycle of the Reapers, one way or another.
In the meantime, though, I had one other plan to put into effect...
In certain ancient Quarian cultures, there existed legends and stories about a small fey-like creature known as a Mudanma. Mudanma were a few inches tall, had four arms, and could make themselves invisible whenever they chose- but the main thing about them? They were tricksters. Not, interestingly enough, in a malicious way- no, unlike many, Mudanma helped people. Often, their pranks and jokes led into positive outcomes for their targets, and jokes out of spite or cruelty were anathema to them. This was completely foreign to the idea of the fey that I had from Earth culture, where they were essentially eldritch creatures made of sadism and cruelty, but it was most definitely welcome.
The Mudanma had a function in Quarian society: that is, the legends stated that they hated things like betrayal, sabotaging the community or family, things like that, a cultural sign of the Quarian's emphasis on community. Should someone do one of the above things, the Mudanma would begin to thieve their possessions and use them as part of positive benefits towards people they approved of. Funnily enough, the tradition seemed to be parents sneakily taking things from their children when they did something bad, then telling the kids that the Mudanma would only return the possession if they confessed to whatever they did wrong.
The latter part wasn't of interest to me beyond being an amusing cultural quirk, but the former? The idea of a fey Robin Hood style trickster? Now, THAT was something I could work with, something I could use. And I already had an idea how.
Kaynor followed closely behind the others of "his" crew, stepping practically where they stepped, mindful of alarms in the hall. It'd taken him some time to infiltrate this particular organization, it'd be a while yet before he'd have all the evidence he'd wanted. Telah, a brutish female in charge of their little rang-tag subgang, halted them at a sealed door with a tiny camera lens embedded in the front, covered in reinforced glass. Kaynor noted the tags along the hall, flickering lights, and finally, the symbol that was tagged on the door itself. To most, the thing would be meaningless, but to him? Years of experience and careful investigation told him that this symbol was the emblem of the Red Jurraut.
This particular criminal organization had its roots in organized crime, extending nearly back to the time when Quarians still used blades, in some form or another. Kept alive through the ages, hanging in the background, and leveraging constant control over the darker corners of society, a twisted version of the Quarian ideal of togetherness. This particular little cell had proved itself resilient and paranoid, locked behind barriers innumerable- which is why Kaynor had been working for so long and so hard on his infiltration. The hardest targets to reach are the most rewarding, after all.
Telah knocked once, twice, then stepped back into full view of the camera. Straining his ears, Kaynor heard the very faint 'hiss-snickt' of a focusing camera lens. His eyes flicked to Telah as she shifted, digging in her pocket a moment before pulling out a slip of paper and showing it to the lens. A moment of waiting, tense, during which Kaynor was very aware of the weight of the pistol pressed against his leg, then something beeped and the door swung open. Quietly, he let out a breath he hadn't noticed he was holding, following his 'leader' through the doorway and into the space beyond. The door opened up to a cavernous warehouse space, ceiling rock with lights anchored at regular intervals, power lines hanging and threading their way among the fixtures. He glanced to the left, making eye contact with the mercenary who had been behind the door- there was no emblem on their armour, but the livery matched Pulsar Security Services. The merc held his gaze for a moment before Kaynor looked away, sweeping the huge room with his eyes.
Another mercenary, bedecked in armour near identical to the first, watched them from behind bulletproof glass set in a slab of metal, what was obviously a gun port placed at about waist height. The entrance was tight, a killbox, closed in on either side with high metal walls with more mercenaries staring over the edge at them. After a few moments of inspection, they apparently passed whatever expectations the mercs had, as they relaxed their hold on their weapons. Some turned to other mercs and struck up conversations obviously left off as they'd walked in.
Kaynor stayed in the middle of the small group as they walked into what passed for a small security checkpoint, where they surrendered their weapons to another merc behind glass. Kaynor handed his gun in without complaint, but made no mention of the ceramic knife in his boot, instead stepping back and looking farther in.
Banks of computers, set on table after table, people from all reaches of the galaxy tapping away at keys, under large holographic displays mounted throughout the room. Huge racks of servers near the back, stretching towards the roof, pipes of liquid coolant running off of them and into side passageways, heat dumped where it would be safe to. Racks of weapons, placed here and there among the rows, most likely keyed to the genetic signatures of those who worked here. His face stayed as neutral as he could make it, despite the flicker of excitement he could feel rising within him: he'd expected a briefing with a group of mercs, another mission to take out some rival or merc group that had caused them trouble, be sent to fix some problem that needed physical encouragement. Instead, he was standing in what appeared to be the regional Red Jurraut headquarters. Still, he couldn't stop himself from giving the quickest hungry look at the racks and racks of servers, no doubt laden with enough evidence to cause dominoes to fall across several different cities, if only he could get at it.
After just a moment, he reigned himself in. It wouldn't do to be caught lusting over the trove of data placed just beyond his fingertips, not now when he was nearly there.
"Ah! Line Ark, correct?" His head turned towards the sound.
A Batarian, well dressed and flanked by two more PSS mercs, looked down at them from the top of a metal staircase, leading to a metal walkway that was anchored into the stone wall. He was smiling in a way that he most likely thought was endearing or at the very least polite, but Kaynor was distinctly reminded of the expression a Varren makes right before it tears into its prey. Thankfully, the man's four eyes were focused on Telah and not him, though out of the corner of his eye he could see that she looked about as comfortable as he felt.
"Yes, we're Line Ark. And you are, sir?" Telah was being very respectful. She may have many faults, but being suicidal wasn't one of them.
The Batarian smiled in response. Images of various predator animals flashed through Kaynor's mind.
"Ah, my name is of no great import. Red Jurraut simply wishes to recognize your abilities, and direct you to a matter that we feel is in need of your..." four black, dead eyes scanned them each in turn. Kaynor tried not to shudder. "Talents."
He and Telah shared a glance. After a moment of consideration, he nodded forwards: they were in too deep, and regardless of Kaynor's desire for further information, it would be suicide to back out now. You only disrespected or angered RJ if you wanted to live a short and miserable life after the fact, and he didn't particularly feel like doing so. So, bearing that it mind, the mercenary group tromped up the ringing metal stairs to follow the mystery Batarian down the walkway and to an office hewn out of the rock. Here, the plain stone was covered up with ceiling, floor and wall panels that were significantly better looking, white with trimming, furniture, and a desk with a holographic display placed on it. The Batarian settled behind the desk, gesturing to a collection of chairs arranged in front of him, which Kaynor and the rest of the group quickly took. It'd be rude, otherwise.
"So! Let us get down to business." The Batarian rubbed his hands together. Kaynor's discomfort and dislike ticked upwards. "The Board has recognized your efforts towards serving their interests, and trusts you've been satisfied with compensation for your time thus far?" It was phrased like a question. It very much wasn't. Telah cleared her throat.
"Ah... yes. We, Line Ark, have been highly satisfied with what we've received thus far, and we thank the Board for their generosity." The Batarian's smile widened very slightly.
"Excellent! Then I'm sure you will be pleased to hear that the Board has another job for you, something that must be kept, ah... close to the chest, as it were."
The entire group of them, Kaynor included, stiffened immediately, and his stomach dropped through the floor. It was the same sort of feeling one had when they walked out into the middle of a field, and only then spotted the "WARNING: MINES" sign.
"W-we, uh..." Telah swallowed. "We would be... glad, to accept the Board's offer."
"Oh, fantastic, I am sure they will be enthused to hear. Now..."
The Batarian removed a small data storage device from a drawer, sliding it across to Telah, who took it as soon as she was sure she wouldn't have to actually touch him in the process. She hesitated for a moment, Kaynor imagining that she was deciding whether or not to risk an insult and wipe it on her armour, then she slotted it into her omnitool and began reviewing the files.
"For... clarification, you are to investigate and hunt down an unknown hacker, using any information you can gather from affected computer systems. With your organization's specialization in tech, this should not be a problem for you or your team."
She glanced up. "So, what did this mystery hacker do?" For the first time since they'd first lay eyes on him, the Batarian made an expression other than a smile- in this case, a grimace.
"Whomever they were, they somehow stole information regarding our perfectly legitimate corporate holdings and baited the police into raiding them, setting us back months in this region and others. However, we have information- the source of which is not your concern- that the hacker is most likely located somewhere within the legion here, as it is here that the majority of these digital break-ins have occurred. The Board wishes you to investigate the computer systems of these establishments with help from on-site experts, then find whoever did this and... convince them not to continue." He made eye contact with Telah. "I trust that that will not be an issue?"
They swallowed, and Kaynor could have sworn he watched a droplet of sweat trail its way down Telah's neck. "N-no, sir, we'll not disappoint the Board." Now it was back to smiles, though kaynor almost preferred the grimacing. At least it didn't show as many teeth.
"Good, good. You'll have details on site, and-" his head jerked up as the volume in the outside room suddenly jumped, several different voices yelling. "What in..." he looked at them, then at his own guards, seeming just the slightest shade of perturbed. "Go and see what that is. Report back immediately."
The PSS mercs left first. Kaynor left immediately for the door, though Telah lingered a moment, seeming to be on the fence about what to do. Thus, Kaynor was the first to step into the room and witness a scene of pure chaos.
The orderly room and rows of computers and workers that he'd witnessed just minutes before was gone. People of all species were running around, screaming at eachother, screaming at holographic displays, screaming at inferiors, and just generally doing a lot of screaming in general. And it wasn't hard for Kaynor to figure out why: every single monitor had turned a monotone colour, and all of them displayed the same exact thing.
Words, in Quarian: "thanks for the donation of all your funds! I sent the cops with your charity medals!"
And, besides that, a single image. A four-armed, two legged figure that Kaynor dimly recognized from story sessions on the carpet with his mother's mother.
- Man in the Van with a Plan
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