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A note from Cammy Deer

I forgot to crosspost this chapter after it was released, so my sincerest apologies! I've been swamped with work for the past couple of months, trying to put everything together, and working on a lot of different writing projects- most of them behind the scenes. So, uh, forgive a haggard writer?

They stretched, testing their limbs and the armouring that encased them, examining the building through a combination of cameras and their own eyes. Here and there, their attention flicks from place to place, picking out sentries walking their routes along the outside, bored and unprofessional and not keeping a very good eye on their surroundings in the slightest. Of course, it was perfectly obvious that this was a ruse, something of a smokescreen wrapped around RJ’s property, a lowest bidder pulled up on a contract because they would very obviously look to be precisely what they appeared to be: a lowest bidder guarding something not considered of great import.

 

Within the walls of the compound were the actual threats: PMC mercs with near-milspec hardware, highly trained in its use. Heavy shields, power armour, the more quality guns and even a mech or two were not entirely out of the question, something that would most definitely be challenging for the Turian and Quarian combo that was seeing their first trial by fire tonight. The figure, crouched atop a crate, nodded to itself. Hopefully, it would see them establish a closer camaraderie that would lead to more efficient cooperation in future, something that would both make them individually more effective as a team and serve to bring Kaynor closer to the rest of them.

 

They glanced through the trees, thermals lighting the environment, noting the position of the duo as they approached the outer perimeter wall from the figure’s elevated position. They appeared to deliberate, quickly and quietly, before approaching a small and disused gate towards the back of the compound itself, a maintenance door hidden by shrubbery and watched by only one camera. One of them, easily identified as the Turian, Arctus by his temperature and shape, approached the single security camera from the side, pressing himself against the wall, then draped what looked like a sheet of cloth cooler than nearly everything else. They watched closely as it began to warm slightly, Arctus giving his ally a signal to continue a moment later.

 

As they began working on the door’s security, a job that primarily involved Kaynor, the figure, almost a dark hole in the surrounding environment, suddenly made their move. A single leap, timed perfectly to the Quarian’s work, carried them from their elevated position atop the crate to the top of the wall. Just before their hand touched the wall, the current going through the entire structure that would alert those within to anyone touching the top was interrupted for a fraction of a second. This was more than long enough for them to get a purchase on the tall piece of concrete, mounting it in one smooth motion, levering themselves over the side and landing silently in the loam of a planter, in the precise blind spot of a patrol just coming around the corner.

 

They were in. Another quick glance of their visored head, and they confirmed that the team of two were following right behind.

 

That was the only movement they made, for a time, sitting silent and still amongst the plants, almost unnaturally so. Then, the slightest breeze ruffled the trees above their head. The small movement drew the eyes of the patrolling guards, allowing them to slide through the deep and shifting shadows under the tree’s limbs, towards a series of storage sheds separated from the main building. As they slid into one of the small alleyways between them, their head turned, visor pointed towards a gap between the storage sheds and the main building, seeming to consider it.

 

The distance was very specifically designed and placed there in order to provide open ground between the main building and any cover infiltrators might find. A wide stretch of unadorned concrete that clashed openly with the decorative planter not so many meters back, something of an eyesore, which did nothing to reduce its practicality when it came to matters of security. Regular patrols, and two cameras, made it so that it was nearly impossible to cross the distance from this side, and the complete disconnection of the building from the wider network made it impossible to remotely ensure that the cameras couldn’t mark the passing of any intruder attempting to cross it.

 

However, nearly impossible wasn’t impossible. Their head tilted slightly, reviewing something, then they stepped right out onto the concrete, walking straight up to the building. The cameras on either side did not move to track them, for indeed, it appeared that they couldn’t see the figure walking so brazenly towards them.

 

The specific model of camera that RJ had used for this building was something that was easily picked up on from blueprints and paperwork looted from this or that database, and that combined with building blueprints gave one a fantastic idea of exactly where the cameras were located, and that, in turn, gave a very precise idea of the exact line of sight the cameras had. It was a well-designed system, but even the best system had its flaws. In this case, it was someone finding the little diagonal line that one could walk between the gazes of the two cameras. Syncing one’s approach to the building with a fifteen second gap in patrols, cameras now accounted for, was child’s play.

 

A quick glance confirmed that the two were through the door, had closed it behind them, though not before leaving another scrap of what looked like fabric in the actual latch. A piece of material that would signal to the locking panel for the door itself that all was well, the door was closed and the latch and deadbolt were very firmly locked, even though neither was true and a simple push would open the door wide. The dark head and its black glass visor watched as the two of them approached the guard from their blindspot, pausing a moment so that they could raise their radio to their mouth and report in. Distracted, focused on his radio, the guard didn’t notice them use him for cover from a camera as it swung their way, then slide into the shadow created by a short outcropping on the outside of the building.

 

An air of smugness radiated from them for a moment. The two would find their way in on their own, and accomplish what had been planned for them. It was not a question, now, but a certainty.

 

That done and confirmed, they turned back to the door, pressing their palm to the panel for the door on the side of the building. This one had a camera of its own, meant to examine anyone who approached it in order to make sure that they were meant to be there, and hadn’t somehow accidentally waltzed through the security net thus far, but it had a fatal flaw. Namely, the camera and panel combo, whose manufacturer had designed them this way, wouldn’t actively begin observing until someone actually waved their identification card at the screen for entrance. It was made this way specifically so that every passing security guard didn’t trigger the camera and require the people in the monitoring office to manually ignore the alert every time. Instead, when it wasn’t being interacted with, it stored the video to internal memory with a backlog of one hour, which could be accessed from the console at any time.

 

Typically this wasn’t an issue for any sort of security system. If someone tried tampering with the device in any way, it would instantly dump the entire backlog to the central server it was linked to and set off an alarm in security. On top of that, the internal memory was all but impossible to access without tampering with the device in a way that would definitely set at least several alarms blaring. Fortunately, though, there were most definitely ways around this.

 

After a few moments of working, in which the screen flickered and flared slightly, it returned to normal and the door’s latch clicked open. Internal memory would show nothing, as they had approached the door from an awkward angle, the small gap between camera’s views allowing them to slip to one side of its viewing range. The panel itself was below the camera, but their hand had been on the panel, outside of its field of view. On top of that, they hadn’t actually triggered the protocols that would put the camera in active recording- they had triggered the latch, certainly, but there would be no indication of such.

 

They nodded to themselves once, the visor glistening slightly. Then, they pushed the door in, slipping through and to one side in order to dodge the view of another camera as it swung from one hallway, looking down the one they found themselves at the end of. Of course, by the time it looked, they were quite conveniently inside a small blindspot caused by a legally mandated exit sign mounted just at the right angle.

 

The figure paused for a couple heartbeats, waiting for the camera to pan back, then crept down the hall, sticking to the second line of tiles and occasionally skipping one. Other floors might not have quite the type of surveillance given to this one, but the pressure sensors that littered it spelt potential trouble for either themselves or the two following more or less in my wake, tipping all three of their hands before they were ready to play them. Avoidance it was.

 

As the camera panned back, they stepped forwards to the corner, swinging around it and standing just outside of the camera’s view. This small alcove contained only the locked entrance to a janitor’s closet, but it was just enough to shield them, outside the view of the camera. Far down the other hall, on the other side of the juncture they’d just passed through, there was another camera panning back this way. Quickly, they passed under the camera whose view they’d just dodged, making their way down the second hall and sliding to the right hand wall, avoiding the very edge of the camera’s view as they did. At the very end of that hall, there was a series of elevator doors, with the entrance to the stairwell on one side. They didn’t even glance in the direction of the latter, knowing it to be jampacked with sensors and cameras, and instead focused on the touchpanels next to each of the sets of elevator doors.

 

Carefully, and ensuring that they were below the view of the camera with a glance, they tapped the corners of the touchpanel in a quick and rapidfire series of points of contact. This specific code had been something that, for all intents and purposes, did not exist. However, trawling through the files of a contractor that had worked for a subsidiary of the company that maintained these had rendered up a maintenance code of sorts that was meant to work on these models- unless, of course, it was specifically disabled. Here, where the work had been dubiously legal at best, no one had bothered to remove the code- in all actuality, the owners of this particular building might not even have known about it in the first place.

 

With a soft clunk, the doors unlocked, allowing them to slip their fingers into the crack between them and pry them apart without setting off yet another brace of alarms. A quick glance down the shaft, where the elevator car was, confirmed that it was both immobile and unoccupied, with no movement through the grate set in the roof of the car. In a swift movement, they tapped the lower half of the touch display, and as the doors began to close, they coiled like a spring and leapt across the shaft.

 

They attempted to cushion their landing against the opposite wall as much as they could, bending their arms and legs to absorb the energy of the impact, but ultimately, there was little they could do about the noise of metal on metal that rang out as they made contact with the wall of the shaft. Which is why the elevator cars had needed to be empty, or anyone in them might have heard it. As it was, magnetic surfaces stuck them to the side of the shaft, and after a moment of testing, they began their climb upwards.

 

It wasn’t hard to guess that RJ kept all of its data on airgapped servers, inaccessible from the outside. Against an enemy like Mudanma, who had broken some of their best encryption, it was common sense. From there, hints and bits and pieces pinned said servers at around the fifteenth to seventeenth floor, changing it up with each building to keep infiltrators guessing. In this case, however, the architectural plans that they’d gotten ahold of, plans of the type that RJ typically disposed of after their use and replaced with more palatable ones that were vastly fabrication, pointed out exactly where the heavier data and power lines necessary for a core of servers like the ones RJ would be using here. In this case, it was the south-western quadrant of the fifteenth floor.

 

One long climb later, they had positioned themselves opposite the doors labeled ‘15’ in large, bold white lettering. Climbing around the shaft wasn’t that much harder than climbing up it, but what was difficult was locating the exact patch of shaft that they needed. In the end, it came down to a lot of feeling around with a sensor to locate the wires and circuitry of the panel on the other side of the metal wall. The shaft lit up blue as they activated a plasma torch, leaning away and beginning to cut into the wall of the shaft, careful to avoid anything sensitive on the other side. The steel was relatively thin, easy to cut through, but they didn’t cut through it on one side, instead waiting for the rest of the rectangular piece of steel to cool before warming the last side and bending the whole thing out of the way. After all, it wouldn’t do to have a piece of steel fall all the way down the shaft, echoing the entire way; that’d be as good as an alarm.

 

They shifted their body, pressing their shins to the side of the shaft as they locked in place, then took two electromagnets with straps threaded through attachment points on them and slapped them to the shaft wall. That done, they turned off the magnetics in their palms and shifted their arms, then plunged them into the shadowed cavity that they’d unveiled.

 

Accessing the elevator call panel was easier like this. The doors themselves were armoured to some degree, and thick steel besides, and that combined with the fact that the panel would see any unauthorized attempt to remove it from the wall as alert-level tampering, meant that it would be basically impossible for anyone to mess with them or the elevators. Unless, of course, someone had the override code, used it to get into the shaft, then attacked the access panel through a plasma torch burned hole in the elevator shaft.

 

In only a few moments, the doors had been opened, then shut again, and the figure stood in a fifteenth floor hallway.

 

Security up here was lighter than in the lower levels. Less cameras, no pressure pads, no guard patrols. A combination of miserliness and the assumption that if you were able to get this far, you were authorized to do so, had led to a lack of proper measures this high up in the building. After all, when your elevator shafts are supposed to be impenetrable and your stairwell is so full of sensors and cameras, why would you ever assume somebody could get up this high? They stopped below a camera positioned just above the elevators to bask in a moment of smug amusement, and to wait for it to pan to a more advantageous position, before continuing on down the left hallway.

 

It wasn’t difficult to dodge the rest of the cameras on the level, except for the last one. The server room was behind two sealed glass doors, bulletproof and ringed in titanium, like an airlock. There wasn’t an alternate way in unless you could somehow shatter the equally bulletproof and reinforced plateglass that made up the windows ringing the server space, and anything that would do that would be alarming enough to tip off every one of the security personnel patrolling. In this case, there was no way around it: the figure removed a piece of cloth from a compartment, draping it gently over the camera, a piece of cloth identical in function to the one that Arctus and Kaynor had used outside. They stepped back, waiting for a few moments as the cloth analyzed the hall and made a good recording of it, then swapped from clear to opaque as it displayed the recording to the camera’s lens. A nod, and they moved forwards to the airlock doors.

 

The doors were designed to slide to the side, opening one at a time to allow someone in, close behind them, then open access to the server room itself. Currently, the outside door stood closed, awaiting a keycard from an authorized person. This part was easy: a swipe of a programmable keycard, using codes lifted from a manufacturer that put the system into diagnostic mode. This was a feature that was only present on a limited number of models, specifically manufactured in the same few month span before the company realized that they’d left the manufacturer diagnostic mode in the systems themselves, and then privately went to the companies that had purchased them for a firmware update that closed the hole. Once again, purchasing things ‘under the table’, as it were, put a giant hole in RJ’s security measures, one they took full advantage of as they accessed the system from a small data port that was typically internally disconnected. After a moment, the doors both opened at the same time, and they walked through and into the server room.

 

Bank after bank of computers, arranged in racks that surrounded and filled the entire room. It was cold in there, colder than it had been in the rest of the building, but if it bothered them, they didn’t show it. A moment of examination, turning their head to look over the server racks, and they seemed to make a decision, approaching one of them and plugging into a data exchange port. It took only seconds of work to look it over, and they had what they wanted, did what they wanted to do. The probe was returned to its slot, and they exited the room, closing the doors and settling in to wait just outside the server room itself, visor pointed towards the end of the hall.

 

And I waited.

 

TTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTT

 

Kaynor gritted his teeth as he pulled the already-cut panel away from the elevator shaft, levering it open with a grunt of exertion, and noting how the steel was strained from being bent open once. Obviously, he didn’t have the luxury of possessing a plasma torch like the one the Spook had obviously used to cut this hole. Arctus was himself clung to the wall of the shaft next to him, one talon on his sidearm and eyes fixed on the elevator doors, ready to whip it out and plug something if they were unlucky enough to have someone on the other side of the doors, either patrolling or looking to call for an elevator. After a few muffled curses, however, it proved unnecessary as Kaynor finally disengaged the door’s locks and opened them from this side. Briefly, he considered closing the hole again, then dismissed it, poking his head through the doors and glancing around.

 

“No contacts. Camera directly between the doors.”

 

Arctus clicked his acknowledgement, the exchange entirely going through the line of sight comms built into their suits. Kaynor levered himself through the doors and onto the carpeted floor outside the elevator doors with the huff, then padded to one side, removing the SMG from his back and unfolding it, head swiveling back and forth. Arctus reluctantly removed his talons from his sidearm, carefully climbing around the hole and its rather sharp edges, following Kaynor into the hall in a crouch. They nodded to eachother once, then Arctus fully drew his pistol and glanced at the camera, creeping down the corridor once it had turned away, Kaynor following right behind him.

 

They reached the corner right as they heard the swish and motor noise of doors opening. As they came around the corner, Arctus took it in in a moment: the camera with the optical cloth draped over it, the doors to the server room wide open, and the barest glimpse of a figure disappearing into them.

 

“Seems like we were right behind the Spirit.” He muttered into his mic.

 

“Mm. Let’s not keep them waiting.”

 

Arctus nodded, moving quicker down the second hall now that he didn’t have to worry about the camera. A quick double check, and he moved into the server room, Kaynor right behind him. And then he froze, upon full sight of the figure that occupied the server room.

 

Short. Definitely shorter than him by more than a full head. Large ears, poked up above its head. A tail that seemed partially wrapped in steel, large legs, digitigrade, which ended in things that were more paws than feet. It seemed to be wearing some sort of chest plate and helmet combination, but as it turned slightly towards them, he realized that they were smoothly integrated into it, a part of it. And then he saw one of the small screens to one side of the visor, and the symbol it held.

 

“Mudanma!?” Kaynor hissed behind him.

 

In a moment, Arctus had his pistol up and pointed at the… geth? Robot? Android? Something, that was standing before him. It raised its… talons? Paws? In a surrendering manner, but the smirk it displayed on the muzzle-like visor told a different story.

 

“Well, now, it seems you have me at a disadvantage… and what a surprise!” Its digital eyes flickered, roving over them. “You’re most definitely not Jurraut. And yet, here you are, in the very room that supposedly contains at least a copy of all information they’ve attempted to gather on me.`` The simulated smirk seemed to widen a little. “Curious.” it caught their glances at its body, glancing down, then back at them. “Oh, this? This is simply a proxy, a little prototype I nabbed from a laboratory- first generational tech, if I’m to understand it, and good stuff besides. Easier to work remotely, when doing risky things like this.”

 

Arctus felt Kaynor shift at his back, wondered for a moment what that could mean, keeping his weapon trained on… well, on Mudanma’s proxy, he supposed. He wasn’t precisely sure what the protocol was in this particular situation, but he was sure that if they could capture the proxy Mudanma worked through, they may very well be able to trace the connection they used to control it.

 

“Well,” spoke Arctus, the speakers in his helmet relaying his words through the soundproof seal. “If you know so much about this facility, you know that there’s no way out of this room but the airlock we’re standing in. You’re not carrying the amount of explosives needed to bring down one of the windows, and even with whatever strength that platform might have, you’re not getting by us.”

 

The proxy’s face flickered again, and Arctus was bewildered by the fact that it almost looked… sheepish.

 

“Ah, well, about that…”

 

Suddenly, something struck one of the plateglass windows. Flash compensators in his helmet’s visor meant that he wasn’t blinded by the explosion, but the KRUMP that resounded in the room still surprised him. The window itself fissured, glass cracked and buckled inwards slightly, but it held. Mudanma, however, had not been idle.

 

“STOP!” Arctus yelled, darting into the room, ensuring that he stayed out of Kaynor’s line of fire as the Quarian hustled in behind him.

 

Mudanma’s proxy shot across the room ahead of them even as they both drew a bead on its back. It leaped forwards and THROUGH the shattered window, heedless of both of their shouting. Arctus fired his sidearm once, and heard Kaynor fire a burst behind him that he saw stitch up the proxy’s back. However, neither of their rounds seemed to slow it any, as it turned in midair and gave them a sarcastic salute before falling out of sight. They ran to the window, and Kaynor swore under his breath as they saw the proxy land so hard the concrete cracked, then sprint across the courtyard and leap the wall, automatic fire from the facility’s security personnel following him. They dove back into the room a moment later as a hail of bullets struck around them, pinging off the glass and embedding themselves into the ceiling.

 

“Sitrep.”

 

The one nearly toneless word in his ears made Arctus grunt, taking cover behind a cart full of server components. He put the sidearm to the side of his leg, where the magnetic holster grabbed it, then yanked an assault rifle off of his back and unfolded it.

 

“Reached server room, Mudamna was present in proxy. They blew out a window, long gone now.” He heard Kaynor’s reply through the comms system. There was a bare moment of silence as the spook processed this.

 

“Radio silence lifted, lethal force is authorized. Be aware, they will be mobilizing mechs.”

 

“Understood, sir.” The two of them replied in tandem, already moving towards the open airlock doors. Both grimaced as they heard the noise of boots and shouting down the hall.

 

The first RJ thug to round the bend caught a face full of SMG and assault rifle fire. They skidded to a stop, surprised, and hesitated for a bare moment- which was enough for the weapons to penetrate their low-quality shields. They went down with a cry of pain that faded to a gurgle, and Arctus dove across the hall, nailing a door set in the opposite wall with a burst from his assault rifle and smashing bodily through the door, taking cover in the room beyond.

 

A quick flick of his gaze over the room in question revealed an IT space, bits of computer hardware and dangling wires hanging from racks everywhere. Thankfully, nothing living, which meant that he could turn his full attention to the hallway.

 

Across the way, occasionally hissing in displeasure, Kaynor had a sidearm in his left hand, his SMG laid on the floor at his side as his right hand tapped a rapid series of commands into his omnitool. ME rounds ricochet around the hall, creating sparks as each landed and rebounded, pinging off the walls, floor and ceiling.

 

“Working to shut down their weapons- ah! Ready!”

 

Kaynor held up a hand, all three fingers extended. Arctus nodded, once, and palmed a grenade, crouching in the lee of the doorway and coiling like a spring. The Quarian ticked down the numbers, and as he made a fist, the fire from down the hall ceased as a large amount of loud swearing rang out. Without hesitation, Arctus poked his head out, took in the foolishly bunched RJ security personnel, and lobbed the grenade into the center of them before ducking back again. Distracted as they were with their suddenly non-functional weapons, they didn’t appear to notice the grenade until it bounced in the center of them. And then, the screams of surprise were quickly drowned by a loud WHUMP.

 

They both darted around the corner, SMG and rifle raised and blazing the moment they had line of sight, picking off the few dazed stragglers that hadn’t been taken out by the grenade. They quickly checked over the bodies, making sure they were either dead or incapacitated. Arctus kicked the last one over, nodding in satisfaction at the whimper of pain the grunt made, then took a single step down the hall towards the stairs when he realized Kaynor wasn’t following. When he looked back, the Quarian was staring down the hall towards the server room, and Arctus nodded to himself.

 

“Know what you’re thinking. Mudanma was here, even in proxy, for a very good reason.” Kaynor glanced at him, then nodded.

 

“Definitely. Whatever RJ had on them, they wanted it, wanted it bad enough to risk infiltrating themselves. Whatever it is that Mudamna wanted, that RJ has… we definitely want it.”

 

Arctus grunted once, then stepped back into the mass of bodies and started salvaging grenades and anything useful. “Go on, I’ll make sure they can’t get to you- just hurry, yeah? The longer you take, the dicier it’s gonna be to get out of here, and I doubt that either of us want to follow Mudamna out their way.”

 

Kaynor nodded, once, then took off down the hall, practically skidding to a stop in front of the server room door and darting in. Arctus, in the meantime, blew the door handle off another door, giving the room a glance and nodding at it, an office with a pretty heavy and solid looking metal desk. Grunting with the effort, he grabbed the thing and dragged it out into the hall, setting it sideways and blocking the center. That done, he stripped the thugs of any of their thermal clips, making a neat stack of them under the desk as he did so. He paused for a moment, listening, but all he could hear was distant alarms blaring… which meant that the more elite of the security forces were most likely still scrambling, or had attempted to chase after the sighting of Mudamna. They’d be up here soon enough, but in the meantime… Well, Arctus had a lot of grenades, and a bit of time to do something with those resources.

 

He grinned with his mandibles. It wasn’t the friendly sort of Turian grin.

 

TTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTT

 

Kaynor practically danced from server to server, tracing data lines and muttering. Despite himself, he was somewhat impressed by RJ’s lineup of computer equipment. It wasn’t the most top of the line stuff out there, certainly, but it wasn’t far behind, and it had an absolute ton of data storage. If he was to hazard a guess, he would say that they were most likely trying to correlate all the data and guesswork they had on Mudamna, and assemble it into some sort of more complete picture, the machine picking out the threads and patterns among the chaotic ocean of data and assembling something out of the digital muck.

 

“Number five, number five… yes!”

 

Kaynor popped the cover on the data port, jacking his omnitool into it. Given the security surrounding this thing, and the fact that it wasn’t even connected to the internal data network, all that came up in response to his attempts at access was a password prompt. At that, Kaynor simply grinned, slapping the little adhesive-backed paper labeled ‘DON’T FORGET’ in all caps. Thank the gods for lazy sys admins in illegal ventures.

 

His fingers flew across the projected keyboard, and in a moment, he was in. Quickly, he started cross-referencing the file names, trying to find anything that related to Mudamna in any way whatsoever. Thankfully, while the sysadmin had been a lazy prick, whoever had actually organized the machine’s files had been attentive and industrious, and running a search on file names was already turning up results.

 

WHOOM

 

Kaynor jerked, looking towards the server room doors. The sound had been nearly a solid wave, and he’d just about felt it even through his suit.

 

“What was that!?”

 

“A bunch of grenades stuck together with packaging tape going off all at once. Nothing too major.”

 

Kaynor blinked at that. “I’m assuming that…”

 

“Was mine, yes. Also mixed a directional EMP mine in there, and I’m glad I did, because these guys decided to play it smart and have the mech go first. Now they have one inoperable and rather shredded mech sitting in front of the elevator doors, which ought to stop them from bringing up more, at least for a moment-” Arctus stopped, and Kaynor heard a burst of assault rifle fire. “Sorry, they were poking their heads out of the stairwell. Anyway, whatever you’re doing in there, hurry up please?”

 

Kaynor glanced at his omnitool’s display, grimacing at the 68% that was there. Because this, after all, was just searching the files, and actually copying them over would take a while longer.

 

“I’ll try, but this isn’t exactly going to be quick.”

 

Anxiously, he watched the progress bar tick upwards, percentage point by percentage point. The servers were fast, and their storage was some of the higher tier stuff, but ultimately it was still combing through a couple hundred terabytes of data at the least. No matter what your speed is, that sort of thing takes time. Another explosion echoed down the hall, followed by rapid exchanges of fire, and Kaynor grit his teeth, willing the bar to move faster.

 

“C’mon, c’mon-” it dinged, and he let out a small cheer. “Hah! Alright, let’s see what we have.”

 

Much of it was files that his omnitool flagged as low-priority, things that it thought were not particularly important when compared to the entire body of data present on the server array. Swiping his way through it, Kaynor jumped into the high priority stuff. And one file in particular caught his eye.

 

“Fairy hunter?”

 

That… wasn’t a particularly reassuring thing to read. If RJ wasn’t just trying to uncover information, but actively hunting Mudamna as an individual, it didn’t mean that they wanted to pressgang them or make an example of them. No, this was just about the level of the good old head-on-a-pike routine. Internally, Kaynor shuddered at what RJ’s upper echelons must be thinking of doing to Mudamna if they got their hands on them.

 

Still, he had a job to do. With a glance, Kaynor reviewed the files, then selected everything his omnitool could hold and started the copying process. That done, he detached the omnitool from his arm, setting it down on the server cabinet as he took up his SMG, pressing the stock into his shoulder and hustling out into the hall. It could copy on its own, and it’d tell him when it was done. Until then, he was better off out there, giving Arctus an extra gun and helping him hold off RJ’s security.

 

Bullets played across the junction between hallways as he hustled down to the corner. Arctus had barricaded it, at least partially, with a desk and a couple of benches he’d dragged over from somewhere. Kaynor slid in next to the Turian as he ducked down after firing a burst towards the security taking cover behind a sparking and fizzling mech.

 

“Download done? That was fast.”

 

He shook his head, peeking over the metal furniture and yanking his head back with a hiss as a round bounced off his armour’s shields.

 

“Not yet, just started the actual download.”

 

Arctus sighed. “Yeah, knew it was too good to be true when I saw you hustling down here.”

 

His eyes played across Kaynor’s arm, then up towards something over his head. Glancing, Kaynor realized that, at some point, Arctus had propped a mirror up with a good view of the hallway and the grunts taking cover behind doors, as well as the mech centerpiece for the chaos cake. Bodies, blood and burn marks were splashed liberally across the hall, clearly from multiple explosive traps. Vaguely, he wondered how many of the bodies out there in the hall were rigged to erupt if jostled wrong, and decided it didn’t bear thinking about. Arctus’ voice shook him out of his thoughts.

 

“Not wearing your… ah, the download’s going without you. That mean no fancy tech tricks like the one you pulled with the first squad?”

 

Kaynor shook his head. “Encryption and cybersec on their guns is hot garbage, but it’s still enough to beat the armour’s integrated computers. This is kind of why techies have their own brands of omnitool.”

 

Arctus grunted, then squinted at the mirror. Kaynor glanced up, watching a group of mercs shift up the left side of the hall, creeping up on their little barricade. Kaynor’s hands tightened around his SMG and he made to get up, but a talon on his shoulder stopped him in the middle of it. He settled back onto the floor, giving Arctus a quizzical look, but the Turian merely gestured at the mirror. Kaynor looked up at it, just in time for them to nudge one of the bodies… and have it turn out to be what appeared to be empty armour stuffed with a few grenades sitting on top of an armed mine.

 

The whole lot went off at once, shredding the mercs, who let out shrieks of pain. Arctus grinned a grin that was very distinctly Turian, would’ve been even without the mandibles, then popped up with his assault rifle in hand to make full use of the chaos. Kaynor followed suit without hesitation, pounding the mercs with crossfire from his SMG. He rapidly burned through the first heat clip, and kept running the gun until it overheated, ducking back behind the desk as the mercenaries got their act together, hauling their wounded out of the hall and into the stairwell as they pelted the two of them with covering fire.

 

“So, something I’m wondering-” Arctus paused to retrieve a thermal clip from a stack, pop the old one out and put the fresh one in. “Ah, there we go. Anyway, I was wondering… turrets are part of this place’s defenses. But we’re not seeing any.”

 

Kaynor blinked, then peeked over the desk. Shooting a glance along the ceiling, he saw at least two places that turrets would likely come down from, but both were closed and entirely inactive. He raised his eyebrows, ducking back down as a burst rattled against the desk, one ricochet striking his shields.

 

“They’re… not activated, apparently.”

 

“You’re welcome.”

 

Both of them twitched at the crackling of their respective radios, and Arctus let out a laugh.

 

“Hah! I suppose the spirits really are watching out for us, in one way or another.”

 

Kaynor nodded, smiling, though he tilted his head back slightly, thinking about something else. He measured the hallway in his mind, made a guess at how many turrets were between them and the exit, put that together with…

 

“Sir, do you think you can reactivate the turrets to cover our escape when we’re good to go?”

 

“... Affirmative. When mission objective is achieved, contact Lex for exfil.”

 

“Hey, any use of the enemy’s weapons against them is something I can get behind-”

 

Arctus popped up over the desk, then blanched and hit the deck, hard, uttering a swear in Turian that Kaynor didn’t understand. He opened his mouth to ask what was wrong, only to have SOMETHING make a loud BOOM, and something else punch straight through the desk right where the Turian had been, leaving a slightly glowing and smoking hole straight through the metal. Kaynor leaned over, looking through the bullet hole, and watched as a merc carrying a frankly gigantic rifle, its barrel steaming, drew back into one of the siderooms.

 

“That… that’s a big gun.” he murmured to himself.

 

Arctus just answered with a string of Turian swearing, with a couple of what sounded like Krogan words mixed in. Then, he jammed the barrel of his rifle into the bullet hole, and let loose with automatic fire until his gun ejected its thermal clip. And then a little more, as his own rifle steamed with heat.

 

“We can’t let that rifle stand, it’ll tear right through our cover every single time, even if they do need to pause for it to cool down! We have to take it out, or we’re dead meat!”

 

“What’s your thinking?”

 

Arctus, as a way of answering, held up two flashbangs with a grin.

 

“How much you wanna bet RJ didn’t shell out for flash compensation?”

 

Kaynor glanced between the two grenades, then smiled back. “Oh, I’ll bet that they’re going to wish they did.” He shifted into a crouch, coiling himself and preparing to leap the desk. “Once they go off, I’ll rush them. Give me covering fire?”

 

Arctus huffed. “Of course I will. What do you think I am, a savage?”

 

“Savage is as savage does.”

 

“Quite.”

 

With that, Arctus threw the grenades. Kaynor took a breath and let it out, waiting a heartbeat, two, three- BANG! The chemicals and explosives made enough light that it visibly shone through the hole the sniper had left in their cover, a shaft of light for just the instant that it lasted. It wasn’t blinding for them, their own flash compensation dealt with it easily, but judging from the yells of surprise and pain that came from down the hall, the mercs hadn’t been that lucky.

 

With a huff of effort, Kaynor levered himself over the desk, hitting the floor of the hallway and sprinting down it as the mercs at the sides of the hall were still in the process of recoiling from the flash. He skidded to a halt at the door the sniper had ducked into, glancing in to find them clawing at their visor and groping for their sidearm blindly, rifle dropped by their side. In a moment, Kaynor had downed their shield with a quick burst, slapping them on the shoulder with the palm of his suit and sending an electrical shock through them. Shooting a defenseless, unarmed enemy… it just didn’t feel right, to him.

 

“Sniper down.” He radioed, then glanced at the rifle laying by the unconscious merc.

 

It was actually a pretty high quality piece of kit, a valuable piece of armament that must have cost them quite a bit. Kaynor leaned over, picking the thing up, surprised by its weight and thickness as he did. With a start, he realized that it was incapable of folding, meaning that it was most likely a custom piece and not an actual product line. Indeed, he didn’t recognize the corporation that had manufactured it- he imagined this Maliwan most likely did, well, custom jobs and small batches.

 

He hefted the rifle, then slid it over his back, where it locked to his armour, then slid over to the doorway, looking out into the hall. The mercs in cover had started recovering a little from the grenade, though a couple of new bodies in the hall clued him into the fact that Arctus hadn’t wasted any time taking advantage of the confusion. He raised his SMG, preparing to move out into the hallway and put a couple of bursts into them before hopping back into cover with Arctus, when he heard the elevator ding. A moment later, the corpse of the mech was kicked to the side of the hallway, and Kaynor felt a sinking sensation in his chest as he heard something clomping heavily down the hall.

 

“I thought you said they couldn’t bring up any more!?”

 

“Well, I guess they decided they could!” There was a pause. When Arctus spoke up again, his voice sounded slightly strained. “I don’t have another EMP mine on me, and this thing… it’s heavier than the last one. I don’t know if I have the penetration to kill it.”

 

Kaynor’s mind raced as he sank deeper into cover. Most likely, none of the mercs knew he was here, only that their sniper was down- which he hardly thought they noticed. This meant that they, and the pilot of the new mech, most likely thought that he was still in cover behind the desk with Arctus, keeping his head down now that the mech had come out to play. How could he use this? What did he have?

 

A couple grenades, not anything that would do much more than scratch the armour of the mech. His sidearm, which he dismissed without even really thinking about it: it just didn’t have the punch to overcome the shields the thing no doubt had, and that was before even getting to the armour. The armour and shields were thinner and less effective towards the back of the unit, yes, but he rather doubted that his SMG could do anything significant before he was either forced back into cover with the element of surprise lost, or simply squished by the mech.

 

And then his head jerked up. Quickly, he slid his SMG onto his back, locking it there, then drew the long, heavy sniper he’d taken off the unconscious merc. No slot for thermal clips, meaning the thing was one or maybe two shots before it overheated and had to vent the excessive heat. However, judging by the massive hole it had punched straight through the steel of the desk… he rather thought he might have a plan. But he needed a shot in order to pull it off.

 

“Do you think you can focus the pilot’s attention on you? Draw him further down the hall?

 

“Oh, yeah, no problem, just draw the focus of the thing with multiple huge guns and big stompy feet.” A pause. “Hell yes I can. What’s your plan?”

 

Kaynor hefted the rifle in his hands, feeling its weight, how it balanced, and checking the optics for damage. He nodded to himself, satisfied.

 

“I’ve got a very big gun, and that mech is a very big target. Though, ah, I’d rather have a shot at the back, because I’m almost certain that this thing either has one or two shots in it before overheat, and I’d rather not fire, find out it’s the former, then get pasted for my trouble because the bullet just took down the thing’s shields.”

 

“Understood. Attracting attention now.”

 

The mech clomped closer and closer, and Kaynor tightened his grip around the sniper as it seemed to slow just outside the frame of the door to the room he was hiding in. Before the pilot could sidle into the room and make a smear out of him, however, something impacted its shield in a bright display of light and sound that highlighted its shadow across the hall in a brilliant flash. Kaynor heard the quick chatter of assault rifle fire, and the mech’s shield sparked and spat as it resisted the bullets, already partially drained from the grenade’s impact. In a moment, the mech turned down the hall, clomping much faster than it had before.

 

“Now now now now!!!”

 

Kaynor grit his teeth, then leaned out into the hall. The mech was big enough that it looked like it had to have leaned down to fit through the elevator doors, and it just about brushed the roof of the hall. Through the shifting shield, he could make out the actual mech itself, and the thinner, though still existent, back armour plating. Arctus hammered the thing’s shields with his assault rifle, continually chanting that single word and looking very unhappy as the mech raised the weapons it had on its arms. Kaynor raised the sniper in his arms, pointing it straight at the center of the mech’s back, and pulled the trigger.

 

BOOM!

 

Kaynor swore, the recoil of the weapon more than he’d thought. It practically drove him up against the doorframe, and he rather thought that if he’d not been wearing armour, it might have left a bruise. Still, as he looked up, he realized that it had done quite a bit more to the mech.

 

The huge, black thing teetered on its legs. It turned towards him, still raising its weapons, then teetered one last time and fell over, crashing into the floor with a noise that sounded only slightly quieter than the rifle had been. The hole that had been punched straight through the chest, and the chest of the pilot within, smoked gently, the ribbon of grey twirling in the air.

 

“Kaynor! Move, dammit, get over here!”

 

He snapped out of his reverie, sprinting down the hall and swearing again as bullets screamed around him, a few bouncing off his shields. He threw the rifle onto his back, then pumped his arms, leaping over the prone and twitching mech lying on the ground and sprinting all the way back down the hall, throwing himself bodily over the desk and landing hard on the floor beyond. Arctus ducked behind the desk, laughing aloud even as they were pounded with fire from the mercs down the hall.

 

“Holy Spirits, that was the must stupid brave thing that I’ve ever seen anyone do! Damn, one shot, straight through the chest- Spirits, must’ve saved my life there.”

 

Kaynor uttered a shaky laugh, then stopped as a notification pinged on his HUD. He brought it up, worrying that he might’ve damaged some part of his suit or his weapons when he dove across the desk, or maybe that something had gotten through and hit something important. A quick read, however, and he was grinning.

 

“It’s done! Let’s blow this place!”

 

Arctus answered with a grin of his own, and removed a detonator from a pouch. Kaynor realized that, at some point, Arctus must’ve hid a brick of explosive somewhere in the hall. He clapped the Turian on the shoulder, then both of them moved behind cover to the hall, then sprinted for the doors to the server room as Kaynor spoke into his radio, Arctus lagging behind a couple of steps to toss one last grenade down the hall before keeping pace.

 

“Lex! We need pickup! Southwestern corner of the building, the blown-out window!”

 

“Hah! Gotcha, pup, I’ll be there in twenty! Was bored making doughnuts around the local aircops, anyway!”

 

“Affirmative.”

 

Arctus sprinted past him, running into the room, and Kaynor turned, tearing his SMG and aiming at the junction of the hallway, only to find the turrets there sliding out of the ceiling and pointing themselves down the hall, firing rapidly at unseen targets. He blinked in surprise for a few brief moments, let out a ‘hah!’ as he realized that it was the Spook making good on their promise of turret cover, then was brought back to reality as one of the turrets was smashed into shards of metal and circuitry by a hail of bullets. Quickly, he practically dove into the server room, and the doors sealed behind him tight. Probably more Spook doing, he thought.

 

“Wait for my signal to arm the explosive.”

 

He shared a glance with Arctus at that, then ran past him and to where the omnitool sat. He went through the rapid process of checking to make sure the files had transferred correctly, then wiped the originals from the servers and unplugged the thing, settling it back on his wrist.

 

“We’re good to go!”

 

“Acknowledged.” A bare two seconds of static, then “Detonate.”

 

Arctus hit the detonator, and a BOOOOOOM shook the entire building. The outer door of the server room airlock cracked, but held against the wave of overpressure rushing through the halls. Kaynor turned towards the windows, watching as an aircar he didn’t recognize barreled over the edge of the compound, pulling to the side and stopping dangerously close to the side of the building, bullets pinging off its shields.

 

“Get over here! I’ll live through a rocket strike, but I don’t think either of us wanna test whether you will!”

 

Kaynor marvelled at the cheerfulness of Lex’s voice, even as he was under fire, then sprinted down the length of the server room, leaping out of the window and into the open side door of the vehicle, feeling the vibrations of Arctus landing right behind him.

 

He turned, and the last view he had before the door closed was the shattered window, and the servers beyond.

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About the author

Cammy Deer

  • Man in the Van with a Plan

Bio: Writer of many fics, reader of many more.

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