The Spectre had… not quite insisted so much as ordered him to take up residence in the same space as the rest of their team. Apparently, each of them had their own small space to themselves in addition to the more open common area- those employed by a Spectre got the best, he supposed.
This room, in particular, was meant to be his own living quarters. He’d not quite argued, more politely requested that he be allowed to at least keep his current (former?) residence while working with the Spectre, who’s name he still didn’t know, but they’d sat silently through the entire thing before simply saying that he’d be living here and leaving. Given the looks he’d received from the rest of the team, somewhere between amusement and commiseration, he gathered that this wasn’t the first time the Spectre had gone through this process with one of them.
If he was being perfectly honest with himself, he still wasn’t sure how to deal with all the things that had happened in such short order. But, Kaynor was an undercover officer, and landing on his feet was what he did best- what kept him alive in the field. If he couldn’t do the same here and now, what use was he?
He sighed, placing his hands on his hips and glancing back and forth.
The space that he supposed was his… well, it wasn’t precisely small, if he was being accurate. He guessed that it was the size of a small apartment. An entertainment center, with a couch and a projection unit, a good-sized bed- which was quality, he thought, poking at it. Three doors were set into the walls, which were a pleasing, calming colour: one led out into a hall that connected the residences. He made sure that his bag was stable on the bed, then stepped through the decently-furnished space to the first of the two doors, which opened for him as he approached. He leaned through, curious about what sort of amenities a Spectre thought their team would need.
A desk, silver steel with blue paneling, dominated the center of the room. Holographic display emitters decorated its surface, but nothing else, the desk overall a blank that he thought he might be intended to fill. Plants sat in the corners, under what he thought were UV lamps, allowing them to grow even inside. One wall was dominated entirely by what he thought was a real-time holographic image of the city, but what really surprised him was the fact that it was true colour, the yellow of the sun and blue of the sky, the myriad colours of a functioning city, all coming through the display. He walked up to it, examining it closely, further surprised by the fact that it only barely exhibited the bars typical of holographic projection technology, resolution so high that he could read signs buildings away from what he thought was the camera recording it.
Resolution, quality, colour… these things didn’t come cheap, especially not the accuracy he saw in this display. Glancing back towards the desk, he had the sneaking suspicion that if he turned on the displays there, they’d be much the same. Was this the sort of technology that was available to those working under a Spectre? Had this come with the facility, or… had the Spook outfitted it specifically for them, to their own specifications? He wondered how many of his own files were in the memory of the desk, how many things had been taken from his own systems and imported here.
Unsettled. He been unsettled from the moment a whole region’s worth of RJ had gone down in a single night, and he hadn’t been much less unsettled since. It really did seem like that wasn’t liable to change soon. And all because he’d been in just the right place at the right time, the only person in the entire RJ facility that was law enforcement when Mudanma had carried out their attack. Standing here, hand on a desk that was most likely worth as much as everything in his apartment, looking at a screen that was probably worth just as much… he didn’t know if he wanted to be here, but here he was. And he’d roll with the impact like he had every time before.
Kaynor ran his hand along the bottom of the empty duffel, checking to make sure that he hadn’t left a thing unpacked. It took a moment, but he finally nodded, satisfied that everything was in a drawer or the closet as it should be… and thus, he didn’t have any more excuses. His hand slid out of the bag, other hand taking the top and closing it up. He paused for a moment like that, standing next to the bed, both hands on the top of the bag as he wavered on the edge of taking the next step. But, like coming here once events had been set in motion, it was an inevitability, the result of a chain of actions put into motion that he couldn’t hope to control.
He unsealed the side pocket. The magnetic clasps came apart too easily, he thought, too little resistance in them as he gave them a simple tug. It should have been harder to unseal something like that, something so dangerous. Like a gun, set in a drawer with a cheap lock. The breath he took in that moment, with the tiny opening yawning dark, was bracing and deep as he reached within… and removed the single, little square device that was held within, wrapped in packing material and a single band of adhesive strip. Gingerly, like he was handling an old grenade, he set it still fully wrapped on the bedside table, noting where the packaging was wearing out on the edges. He reflected that he might have to replace it soon. He wasn’t looking forward to it.
With an expression on his face that was something like relief, he stepped back from the table, glancing around the small apartment one last time. He hadn’t really moved places in years- ah, he’d had his various living spaces while undercover with Line Ark, but his actual flat, which he considered truly his and not just part of his cover, hadn’t changed in quite a long time. He wondered how much dust there was in the place, if the cycling systems had taken care of it, or if there’d be an inch of dust when he got home. If he got home, he thought with a grimace: he wouldn’t have put it past the Spectre to have cleared out his apartment, and he wouldn’t be surprised if all his possessions showed up in boxes here at some point in the next week or so. Annoyed, yes, as if there was anything he could do about it, but not surprised.
Regardless, everything he’d brought with him was as put away as it was going to get, and even if the Spook HAD cleaned out his place, the stuff wasn’t here yet. Kaynor swept the bag from the bed with one arm, depositing it in the closet and closing the door, doing one last once-over of the place as he turned, leaning back against the closet door. With a suspicious glance at the light fixtures and the decorative plants, he resolved to purchase a quality bugsweeper. Not… that he thought it would matter that much, the Spook was most likely going to be watching and listening no matter what he did, but at the very least he wanted them to know he knew, if only to make a point.
And, for the first time in a long time… he realized, in a moment of shock, that he didn’t have anything to do.
Kaynor was a good officer- at least, that’s what he thought in his more self-congratulatory moments, after a particularly challenging day of work. He’d spent years undercover with Line Ark, where there was constantly something to do practically every waking moment, whether it was maintaining his cover, doing paperwork, making reports to his handler, managing contracts and clients or actually working with the mercs that made up the small PMC. Regardless, he’d kept himself busy on an ongoing basis, constantly seeking out more things to do and more tasks to complete in service of his work. Even when he’d been undercover, he’d earned the trust of Line Ark’s members by throwing himself whole-heartedly into the work of the PMC, and it’d helped that they were (for the most part) above-board. But now…
Now, he was in a whole different situation, far outside his jurisdiction and comfort zone and thrust neck-deep into something that he didn’t fully understand even now. And, because he didn’t understand it, he couldn’t really do anything about it. He’d been dragged into a world that he couldn’t even have imagined not so long ago, towed along by one of the most singularly terrifying individuals he’d ever encountered, and he was no coward. Gang bosses and criminals didn’t so much scare him as make him wary, a necessary thing in his line of work, but every law enforcement organizations had its whispered rumours and scary stories about the more ruthless of the Spectres. Officers talked in break rooms in hushed tones about spooks that could go anywhere, do just about anything, for whom the ends really did justify the means. Ghost-like individuals who might as well not exist as far as the society around them was concerned, appearing and disappearing on the behest of the Council and their own incomprehensible directives.
And now here he was, part of those directives, in a situation that he couldn’t control. He wasn’t even sure how much input he had on what was happening and, most pertinent to his current realization, he had nothing that he could do. There weren’t reports to file, or clients to speak with, paperwork to do or people to interview. Instead, there was just unpacking his bag, which he’d already done, and…
He’d unpacked. He’d investigated. And, for the first time in a long time, he’d run out of things to do, and now… now he was unsure of himself. He’d been a perpetual motion machine of work, and now it felt as if he’d run out of fuel that he didn’t know he needed. Had he gotten so used to having nearly every hour occupied that now, he couldn’t do without?
Kaynor shook it off. He’d find something to do with himself. Footsteps softened by carpet, he moved to the door of the room, which let him out into the hall. He lingered there in the door for a moment, reflecting on how out of his depth he was, but laughter and voices saying incomprehensible things came down from the end of the corridor, where he knew the common area lay. Feeling uncomfortable, and more than a little out of place, Kaynor resolved to get a lay of the land that he’d been dropped in. At least then he might feel more anchored, closer to knowing his place in events.
He lingered a moment more, fingers on the doorframe, checking both ways down the hall in habit before finally stepping out. He wasn’t sure if this was enemy territory or allied, not just yet… knowing a Spectre, it could be either. Still, with a purpose and a goal in mind and no longer simply tossed about by the waves of causality, Kaynor affected a far more purposeful and confident stride down the hall than he’d managed up it. Purpose had gotten him through before, and by the ancestors, it’d get him through again, even if he had to create that purpose himself. New this place might be, strange the people here were, but he’d keep his feet. He might stumble, be knocked about, but in the end he’d be standing. He always was. As silly as it sounded, even inside his own head, it gave him at least a little more sureness.
The hallway was carpeted, thick enough to muffle his steps just a little, thin enough that he could still hear the softened thump reverberating through the more solid floor underneath. The space wasn’t well worn, the carpet fresh enough that Kaynor could smell the newness of the fibers. The Spook and their people hadn’t been here for very long, not long enough to give the hall any sense of being lived in. He wondered how often they switched from living space to living space. Certainly, if they followed in the wake of the spook that led them, they must have spent most of their time in space between locations. Kaynor remembered a rumour that he’d once heard, which stated that Spectres were commonly given vessels by the Council and the crews to operate: at the time, he hadn’t thought much of it, but if every Spectre came with the entourage that followed the Spook… well, he’d have to assign a lot more significance to it. He had no idea how such a large group of well armed and armoured individuals got from place to place otherwise.
Kaynor paused at the end of the hall, where the edges of the walls screened him at least a little from the room beyond. He paused for a moment, sighing faintly to himself, realizing that he was about to willingly step into the same (albeit large) room as a number of most likely highly skilled and experienced combatants that had proved themselves tough and smart enough to follow an actual Spectre around. In normal circumstances there wasn’t enough money in the star system to convince him to go through with this, but whatever game the Spook was playing, they’d made very sure to eject normal out of the nearest airlock.
A cursory glance as he stepped into the room revealed that the arrangement of people hadn’t changed since the last time he was here, though the Asari seemed to be working a different machine than she was before.
“Hey, pup!” Kaynor turned his head a little as the voice of the Krogan sounded across the room. “C’mere!”
Kaynor sighed to himself. Passing through the main area twice, to retrieve his bag of things and then return to his room, had given him that many chances to see the Krogan interact with the others. Strangely, he seemed… boistrous, almost friendly, compared to the Krogan he’d met before. He didn’t seem like a bad sort, and at first glance, an easy person to get along with- which meant that, if he was really looking to integrate himself with the existing team as it was, the Krogan might be a good place to start. After all, he thought as he glanced at the Quarians watching him from a couple of chairs, the members of his own species didn’t seem nearly as open.
A glance at the couch revealed a light depression in the back where the Krogan vaulting his huge bulk over the piece of furniture was slowly breaking it down, but Kaynor elected to walk around and settle on the cushions in a more dignified manner. He settled into the cushions with a puff of air, mildly surprised when they conformed to him in the way that only quality upholstry could- not that he should be, given where he was, but still. He’d have thought the Krogan sitting across from him would be more hesitant to ruin such a nice piece of furniture, even if it was a slow sort of ruining.
The Krogan in question flashed him another smile, Kaynor feeling a moment of quiet anxiety at the sight of a Krogan with jaws full of sharp, triangular teeth. Was it some sort of mutation? Surgery? It appeared that the hulking figure across the table, still covered with weapons components, had noticed his focused attention.
“Oh, what, these?” The grin widened a little, showing that yes, all the teeth all the way back were just as sharp. “Cows plenty of civilians, but a great conversation starter!”
“... Yes. I suppose I can see that.” Kaynor answered warily.
The Krogan let out a booming laugh, leaning forwards, one of his long arms reaching across the entire table to clap Kaynor on the shoulder, nearly knocking him on his side and leaving him with a complaining joint. He laughed again as Kaynor grimaced and rubbed his shoulder.
“You’re alright, pup. Think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” From the amused expression splashed all across the scarred face, Kaynor knew that this huge creature knew exactly the sort of effect the combination of his loud personality and frankly intimidating appearance had on other people.
“So… why the-”
Kaynor twitched as something told him he’d suddenly become the center of attention in the room, the idling people of varying species littered throughout the various sections of the space focused on him, and focused entirely. Glancing over, he saw anticipation in the expressions of the other Quarians, who had leaned forwards when he’d spoken the words, and he suspected that if he turned around, the Turian, Salarian and Asari wouldn’t be any different. Obviously he’d tripped right into some sort of hazing trap, but if it would endear him to the rest of them… he sighed within the privacy of his head. The things he did to make his job easier.
“Why the sharp teeth.”
The Krogan’s smile widened, something that Kaynor hadn’t thought possible, and spoke with the most matter of fact voice Kaynor thought he’d ever heard.
“Well, I lost ‘em all fighting a Thresher Maw… but I thought its teeth looked like perfect replacements, so here we are!”
A current of amusement flowed through the space, chuckling of various kinds coming from behind Kaynor as the others returned to the tasks they’d been doing. However… maybe it was a temperature adjustment, but there was a faint sense of warmth that there hadn’t been before. Kaynor relaxed a little as the Krogan settled back, like some sort of necessary business exchange had just occurred.
“Barlg Lex.” The Krogan, Lex, spread his huge arms over the back of the couch, grin smaller than before but still ever-present.
“Kaynor.” He nodded respectfully to Lex. He had no desire to start this on the wrong foot, not after gaining at least some ground by being a good sport about whatever in-joke had just been played on him. That… and only a fool was rude to a Krogan without good reason or a lot of backup, even a Krogan as pleasent as Lex seemed to be.
“So-” Lex started, shaking Kaynor out of his thoughts. “Where, exactly, did the boss find you?”
He raised a single eyebrow at that. “The Spook didn’t tell you?” Lex just laughed.
“The Spook! Oh, that’s a good one- knew there was some reason I liked you, pup!”
The slap Lex gave his leg sounded more like a small explosion, but no one looked around at the noise. Though, Kaynor reflected, that might have been because the Krogan’s booming laughter just about drowned it out. Most surprisingly, though, Kaynor found his own mouth quirking upwards in amusement, the Krogan’s mirth nothing short of infectious. He recalled the interaction between Lex and the unknown Asari when he’d first gotten here, and it occurred to him that Lex might do this for every member of the team, drawing them into the group dynamic. Still… he leaned back in his seat, watching as the hulking figure settled into light chuckling. Lex must occupy a higher place in the hierarchy, if he was so comfortable with the responsibility of being the first to approach new… acquisitions.
“So, where did the, heh, ‘Spook’ find you?”
Kaynor started at the question, not precisely prepared for it. He hadn’t expected any of them to ask after that so soon, but given how atypical Lex was already, perhaps he should have.
“I was… hm.”
He actually didn’t know how much of what he’d been doing was need-to-know. His involvement with the Mudanma case had been kept under wraps, to preserve enough of his cover to allow him to slip out from under it. How much did Lex and the others serving- he guessed- at least nominally under the Spook need to know, or were even allowed to know? From the (slightly terrifying) little smirk that crossed Lex’s face, it seemed he’d guessed what was going on the Quarian’s head.
“Ah, don’t worry about keeping secrets. This right here is one of the most secure places on the planet to discuss them, and it’s filled with some of the safest people.” He pointed one large finger at Kaynor. “Whatever you know, we’re cleared to.”
“... Makes sense.” Not that he was going to argue with over two meters and what looked like at least two hundred and fifty kilograms of tank-like reptile. “I was… undercover, with a small-scale PMC nominally employed by Red Jurat- or, at least, being brought in to do a job for them. We got as far as the briefing… then Mudanma hit.”
“You were at ground zero for that?” Lex seemed surprised, and… interested. Kaynor nodded.
“Mudanma locked the place up, shut down all the weapons in the complex, then called in law enforcement to storm the place en-masse while RJ was still scrambling to figure out what they’d done.” Kaynor shrugged. “I got swept up by law enforcement, same as the others- and then the Spook showed up to interrogate me. Thought I was in deep when I realized who they were.” He ran his eyes over the rest of the room, mouth taut as his fingers tapped his knees. “I’m still not entirely sure that I’m not.”
“So why you? Ground zero, yeah, but it’s not like there were any short of low-levels that would talk up, down and around about what happened to save their skins.”
Kaynor turned his head, looking to the Turian that had asked the question, his elbows settled on the back of the couch to his right. The others in the room had drifted closer as they spoke, listening in to the conversation, but apparently they were familiar enough with Lex to feel comfortable interjecting as well. Not… that Kaynor minded- honestly, he was a little relieved that he wasn’t going to have to approach them individually.
“I’m… not entirely sure, to be honest. I think the Spook was testing me, for whatever reason.” The Turian and Lex shared a nuance-filled look that Kaynor couldn’t quite interpret. “Came in, gave me a list of individuals that had escaped the police’s net in the regional headquarter’s fall, asked me to figure out which of them was most likely Mudanma infiltrating the organization.”
“Hn. Well, if they were testing you, you certainly passed- you’re here, after all.” The Turian offered his arm. Kaynor hesitated a moment, before copying a gesture he’d seen Turians make before, gripping the forearm with his hand. He was given a Turian-style smile as his forearm was gripped in turn. “Arctus. Honoured to meet you.”
“Kaynor. And, eh, likewise.” Arctus released his arm, and Kaynor withdrew it. “I’m going to be honest, I’ve gotten a warmer reception than I thought I was going to.”
Arctus let out an amused chuff. “What do you think we are, thugs and barbarians? Sure, teams like ours are oddballs, but that doesn’t mean we don’t remember our manners.”
“Oddballs?” Lex drew himself up, something that would seem almost indignant if it wasn’t undermined by the crooked grin that graced his scarred face. “I’ll have you know, fledgeling, that I am the ultimate in respectable Krogan!”
“You keep telling yourself that, gramps!” The Asari leaning against the treadmill tossed back.
Surprisingly, Kaynor found himself… comfortable, and in more than a physical sense. He watched as Lex began a light, friendly sort of bickering with the tag-team of Asari and Arctus, with the Salarian watching on with an amused expression of their own. Even the other Quarians he’d seen before began tossing in the occasional remark, dancing between the two sides, seeming more interested in stirring the argument than actually backing either party. These people acted… close, like a family, and he wondered if it was Lex’s influence- big, loud, somehow all-inclusive, and Kaynor didn’t miss how the others interacted with him, looked at him, as if he was the patriarch of the strangest little family he’d ever seen.
Kaynor sat straighter as, with the swishing of the doors that formed both entrance and exit to the room, the warm atmosphere subsided into the background, Lex looking over as Arctus stood straight, turned and saluted. Kaynor followed the Turian’s lead, standing and looking out towards the entrance.
The Spook stood there, body language practically non-existent, helmet turned towards them. If it hadn’t been for the noise of the door, Kaynor doubted that he’d even have noticed them enter, so quiet they’d been coming in.
“Welcome back, sir.” Arctus said, picture of Turian professionalism. The Spook gave him the smallest nod in return, watching them, no indication of what was going on behind the black glass of their helmet.
“Good to see you’re integrating with the team.” Kaynor stood straighter as the neutral voice addressed him. After a moment of focus, they turned their helmet towards the hall and practically glided across the floor. “Kaynor, Arctus, with me.”
They both said it together, Arctus easily falling into step behind his- no, their superior. Kaynor hesitated for a bare moment, then turned as the Krogan stood, coming to his full (and quite intimidating) height.
“Well, you heard them, pup- best stop lollygagging with an old man and his children before you make them wait.” The Krogan grinned as the Asari let out a sound of sputtering indignation, waving him off. Strangely, Kaynor found that reassuring.
He hurried a little, falling into step with the Turian, receiving an acknowledging nod as he did. They followed the Spook, practically hovering over the carpet in front of them, all the way to the end of the hall and a door that Kaynor hadn’t looked too closely at before. The Spook waved their hand at a small box with a red light, which turned green as the door opened, then walked through without a moment of hesitation. Arctus gestured him forwards, and Kaynor nodded his thanks, stepping through the opening and into the space beyond.
The difference between it and the living quarters was immediately striking. Instead of lightly patterned walls, designed to be attractive without being distracting, the room was bare metal, traced with cables and holographic displays. The center of the room was taken up by a large holographic table, glass surface glowing lightly with the equipment idling, metal reflecting the recessed lighting of the room. The Spook took their place at the end of the table, a gesture bringing up a keyboard that their fingers danced across rapidly. Kaynor paused a second, then walked to one of the longer sides, Arctus clapping his talons on his shoulder as the Turian walked past to take his place opposite. The lighting of the room dimmed slightly as the display activated, displaying a 3D architectural blueprint of a building, photos arranging themselves in a grid-like pattern near it- mainly Quarians, Kaynor noted.
“Red Jurraut’s response to Mudanma’s strike against one of their primary regional command centers has not gone ignored.” Kaynor and Arctus turned their heads together as the Spook spoke. They didn’t react, instead standing straighter, helmet pointed straight at the hologram. “Multiple regional heads, directed by the Board, have issued bounties for any information on the hacker, and even higher ones for a live capture. On top of this, decrypted data traffic reveals that RJ subsidiaries have moved to purchase a property, a multi-story office building, ostensibly for the purpose of establishing a regional office. However, given personnel moved into the area in the same timeframe, it is intel’s belief that Mudanma has angered RJ’s Board enough that they have directed funds and resources into the establishment of a facility specifically targeted towards tracking Mudanma.”
“Spirits… all this, to hunt down one hacker?” Arctus’ eyes flickered over the pictures and short summaries of lists of individuals. Kaynor tapped the table thoughtfully.
“Whoever they are, Mudanma outright humiliated RJ.” He narrowed his eyes slightly. “More than that… they took out a regional headquarters. A fortress, with practically a small army of security personnel, and cybersec that puts many corporations to shame. They could potentially do this again, anywhere, anytime, and if what we know matches up with what RJ’s higher ups know, they have no idea who Mudanma is. Reputation and pragmatism, all in one.”
Spook nodded once, a tiny gesture Kaynor might have missed had he not glanced in their direction. “Thus, why we’ll be striking this center in eight hours. Information gathered on Mudanma is a side objective, what they’ve been able to gather in what time they’ve had, but we cannot allow them the resource and personnel base to attempt to find Mudanma before we can.”
Kaynor’s grip on the table tightened. Eight hours? Not short warning, at least, but so soon after he’d come on to the team…
Spook stood straighter. “Familiarize yourself with known personnel that may be on site. As I do not want RJ aware of our involvement, this will be a covert mission aimed at sabotage, and I have requisitioned armour and weaponry matching that of a security force that is a known associate of a rival organization.”
“What can we expect for resistance?” Arctus was already sorting through dossiers, flicking talons through the display.
“On-site security personnel armed with standard armaments on the exterior- sidearms and non-lethal only, and the approximate equipment and training of a normal security guard. Interior personnel will most likely be carrying light small arms, primarily submachine guns, with access to a heavier weaponry if alarms are raised. Information on them indicates that these are paramilitary personnel with more serious training, and are thus to be considered the greater threat.” The Spook paused for a few moments, but when no further questions were forthcoming, continued. “Further information, if required, may be gathered from this terminal or by direct requests to intel.”
With that, they swept out of the room, leaving Kaynor and Arctus to prepare.
- Man in the Van with a Plan
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