Landing

Chapter 3 of Thinker Traitor Soldier Spectre

Okeer lifted the visor on his helmet and sniffed the moist air, observing the surroundings. Squat trees with smooth, wide trunks were spaced evenly in every direction. Their sturdy, large leaves had played a key role in letting him reach the ground in reasonably good shape, and he saluted them with a chuckle. The darkening sky could only be glimpsed through the gaps between their sprawling crowns, high above. Varied undergrowth—some of it as tall as he—crowded every available patch of the soft, porous ground. There was a heavy, moldy smell coming decidedly from the north. Water. Wortag had mentioned a river.

Satisfied in knowing where he was, or at least, where to go, Okeer checked his omni-tool. He’d calibrated his kinetic barrier to generate a strong field along his arm at the expense of everything else. A dubious decision. If he were to die, the data he’d stolen from the salarians would all go to waste. Marash had made sure of it. He’d acquired the encryption algorithm from batarian slavers and it bore the signature of their evil genius. The only way to generate a key was from the unique pattern of Okeer’s pupil dilation, which couldn’t be replicated in case of his demise.

Too bad Marash had to die. Sure, he had been old anyway—for a salarian. And so guilt-ridden that he had seemed relieved to die by the hand of a krogan. But he had been useful, and he had been a true ally. Last but not least, he had been amusing, which was so much more than could be said about the rest of that bunch. Pitiful charade, the whole deal.

Okeer started moving in the direction of the water, ignoring the symphony of aches in his bruised body. The light was getting dimmer and it would be good to reach the river before dark. He had been to Invictus before. A long time ago, two hundred years or so, but he remembered his unfortunate adventures in the jungle rather vividly. He quickened his pace. The ground gave under his weight, and his foot sunk through the treacherous webbing of roots into the mud beneath. Bah! It was clingy and disgusting, and he felt the chill even through the armor. As he struggled to extract his limb, movement from above attracted his attention.

He froze and peered up, trying to catch it again through the foliage. He knew what to expect or he’d never have found it again: his parachute, with its happy colors, floating down from the sky at its safe, leisurely pace. It too was going toward the river, carried on some wind Okeer could not feel. Perfect. Wortag would know not to touch it, but if there was someone else looking for him (and that snake, Saren, would no doubt arrange it), they’d have a blast. A blast, haha! All in all, this endeavor had been going rather well so far. A nice exercise for his old bones.

After some hurried dragging through the mud, he noted a change in the light. The treeline was near and the scent of water stronger. There were other scents he could tell apart now. Smoke, food, trash. Some village? Wortag didn’t say anything about a village. Okeer proceeded with a bit more caution, touching the shotgun he carried as a side-arm.

He stole to the treeline. Sunlight breaking through the stuffy shadows of the jungle made him squint. Alarmed voices came from the east. He pressed his back against a tree and took a quick look at the riverbank.

There was, indeed, a ramshackle village strewn over a clearing, the first huts no more than fifty meters away. His parachute was just about to touch down near the edge of the water. Long-limbed figures in camo armor were running around, collecting some piss-poor looking folks and herding them toward the trees. Pffff. Turian military.

Not that it mattered. Okeer snickered in anticipation. His “bomb” was actually a MU80 missile from the Wisp, rigged to go off when it stopped moving. He was far enough. Any moment now…

“Down! Down! It’s gonna blow!”

In the last glimpse before ducking into cover, Okeer saw the turians throw themselves on the ground. A loud clank came from the dock when his strawman finally landed, and then it exploded with a satisfying pow-wow.

When Okeer peered out again, there was a nice circular pattern of destroyed huts on the beach. Some wailing ensued, but not much. The turians had managed to remove most of the civilians in time. Still, it was good fun.

He’d simply stay hidden, he decided, and wait for Wortag. Wortag had a gunship. With Okeer’s biotics, that should be more than enough to deal with the turians. Fucking turians everywhere.

“Hello,” said a tiny voice and Okeer jumped. An extremely small human child was standing in front of him. “You’re not a turian,” it said.

No shit.

Okeer weighed his options. The child was out of reach. It would probably scream if he lounged at it. To waste a biotic attack on something so light and squishy would be silly, and also guaranteed to attract attention. Okeer was confident, but he wasn’t stupid: he could not stand against a whole squad of turian soldiers. And perhaps there were more of them out of sight.

“I’m a krogan,” he said, keeping his voice down. “Never seen a krogan before?”

The child shook its head.

“Why don’t you come a bit closer so I can look at you? My old eyes aren’t what they used to be.”

“You look mean,” said the child. “Your eyes are small but your mouth is big.”

Perhaps he should just shoot it. No, no, that’s no good—you’re trying to hide, remember? But as his hand went to his belt during these deliberations, the child started walking backward. It knew about guns. Damn. Okeer leapt with all his might, and almost managed to land on the child, but it jumped away and sure enough, screamed loud enough to wake the dead. Okeer cringed and scrambled up, some adrenalin finally squirting through his old veins to assist his efforts. He caught up with the child, grabbing it by the scrawny throat. It was about the weight of his MU80 and its head was roughly the same size as his fist. Pathetic little thing. It was wriggling in his grasp, and he was about to squeeze and end its misery, when, predictably, a turian voice sounded behind his back:

“Put the child down or I’ll blow your brains out.”

Okeer froze. Several pairs of footsteps closed in, and two skullfaces stepped in front of him, sizing him up and aiming for his head and chest with their rifles. The one who’d spoken was somewhere behind him, but Okeer didn’t need to see his face to know that the threat was empty. Okeer had known many, many turians in his long lifetime. Old and young, good and bad, painted and “barefaced”—he’d seen them all. And he’d learned that they were invariably poor liars, aside from a handful of deviants. The undertones in their irritating, vibrating voices told it all, for those who knew how to listen. And this turian was especially bad at it.

“How about this, kid,” Okeer said. “You put your gun down and call off your dogs, and I won’t snap its neck.” The child was wriggling in his grasp, making hissy noises. He squeezed a bit tighter to demonstrate his intentions. One of the turians in front of him was a female; she didn’t even flinch when the child started trashing. She’d shoot him without a second thought, he concluded. He gave her a wink, and she showed him her teeth.

“I can’t do that,” the turian leader said. “But if you let the child go, we can figure something out.”

Figure something out. Fucking teenager. The child stopped thrashing and its face assumed a sickly pallor. The glossy blue eyes were pleading. Okeer made a grimace at it. He remembered the times before there were humans wherever you turned. Good old times. They were a pest and almost as annoying as turians.

“Listen, kid,” Okeer said, looking at the child, but talking to the turian. “I didn’t come here to make trouble. I don’t want to fight you, and you don’t want to fight me either, believe me. So, how about we just go our separate ways, eh? I’ll keep this,” he dangled the child, “as a guarantee of your good behavior. But I’ll let it go when… uh… when I’m out of your range. What do you say?”

“Yeah, right. Here’s what I propose. Let go of the child, and we won’t shoot you. I give you my word.”

“Fine,” Okeer said. His ears had picked up a hint of the sound he’d been expecting. “I’ll put it down.”

“Slowly.”

Sure. He started lowering his arm, turning around to face his captor, in deliberate slow motion. The turian leader was crouched several feet away with a sturdy stump guarding his back, and a rifle trained on Okeer’s head. As the child’s little feet touched the ground, the turians heard the sound as well and started casting their eyes about.

“What now,” said the female, but the leader still kept Okeer in sight. Okeer smiled at him courtly, opening his hand with a flourish. The child dropped out like a ragdoll. It had stopped breathing some time ago.

“You sick bastard,” the leader growled. One didn’t need to be a thousand and a half to know when a turian was angry, and this one wanted to pull the trigger so bad it was almost touching. But he didn’t, and Okeer chuckled.

“You can still revive it if you care so much,” he said, making the first step away from the trees. It will be easier to board from the clearing. Also, there was a rotting trunk close by that could serve as cover.

“Don’t you move another muscle,” the turian said through his teeth, his aim following. “Pan, help the girl! Mirene, that’s a gunship coming! Spread out!”

Okeer was still chuckling, inching toward the shore. You won’t shoot me, will you, skullface? Saren told you to keep me breathing and you wouldn’t want to act against your orders, would you? That would make you a bad, bad turian. You people can’t shit without being told what to do.

Wortag’s gunship appeared in the west above the river and the roaring of its engines suddenly drowned out all the other sounds. It was painted green and brown and had a mess of branches and shit stapled all over for camouflage. What a joke. Okeer laughed out of the lightness of his hearts. It was all going rather well indeed.

Then the turians opened fire at it, and it fired back, and all of the sudden the air was filled with rounds going in all directions. Okeer’s tactical expertise and centuries of experience shrunk down to two options: jump into cover, or launch a biotic attack? His instinct decided as he noticed that the turian leader was still aiming for him, unfazed by the heavy rain of fire the gunship was laying down. Okeer slashed his hand forward, and a deadly wave of dark energy shimmered in its comforting blues, rolling wide toward the trees. When it hit, it picked up both the turian and his female in the air and threw them back like toys.

But not before the turian’s round hit Okeer. It went into the neck under his chin and all the way through into the spine, a hot lightning streak of pain and disbelief and disgusting weakness that made his knees collapse. Fucking skullface did it after all… should have told him my shields were screwed.

And then the world went blurry as his primary organs shut down one by one.


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