Leave-Taking

CHAPTER 18 OF THINKER TRAITOR SOLDIER SPECTRE

Okeer froze. The sound had come from behind. The safety on an automatic weapon, likely trained on him. Unless he’d managed to breathe in some of the toxin after all and was starting to hear things. The adhesive gas mask he had printed on the workstation in the communications room had already started to disintegrate on his ride up.

But then a shuffle followed, a faint breath of a released vacuum seal, and finally a turian voice. “Turn around, slowly, with your hands where I can see them.”

Okeer snorted. The voice was familiar. He turned, slowly, to find a familiar face with fading white stripes staring at him from a rocky outcrop a few meters away, just a bit above him. “And so we meet again, skullface.”

“Drop your weapon.”

Okeer cocked his head to the side. “Or what?”

“Or I’ll shoot you, again.”

“I’m fresh out of spare parts, kid. Thanks to you. If you shoot me, I’ll die, and your boss will be very unhappy.”

A subtle change came over the turian’s face and Okeer thought he’d nailed it, when a burst out of the turian’s weapon made his hearts—his heart, damn it—seize in surprise. His kinetic barrier blinked out, his right hand burned and something heavy dropped on the ground next to his right foot. He looked at his hand on a reflex. A round had grazed his palm, burning through the soft fabric of the worthless piece of shit Blood Pack armor glove which was now going black with soaked blood. The smells of scorched kevlar and meat rose up in a tiny whiff of smoke. It was nothing. Just a flesh wound.

He looked down. The turian had shot his shotgun. It lay on the ground next to him, hopelessly bent out of shape.

“I can shoot you just fine without killing you.”

“You little bitch,” Okeer spat out. He loved that shotgun. It had been a good companion for well over a hundred years. “I’ll tear you apart!”

He feigned a biotic attack with his wounded hand while actually charging the other one. The turian fired again, but he aimed at the wrong thing and although his shots were on target, they didn’t save him from getting lifted. He flailed helplessly a few meters off the ground but curiously enough, did not drop his weapon. Okeer slammed him back down. He bounced off the edge of the rocky terrace with a satisfying crunch. Okeer released his biotic grip and let the body drop and roll on its own until he stopped it with his foot. The turian lay still. He’d dropped his weapon now, the meddling, insolent little bitch.

Okeer kicked him for good measure, then took stock of his ruined right arm. It was shot bad, both wrist and hand. He had no feeling in his fingers. He hesitated, trying to weigh the pros and cons of taking medigel. It would dull his senses and slow his movement. The wound wouldn’t get infected, not on a dextro planet. But he’d be risking permanent nerve damage, and the pain was a distraction. Damn.

“Okeer?” Jedore spoke in his earpiece. “What’s up?”

What’s up. Bah. Short-lived races and their ever-changing jargon. “Nothing. Where the hell are you?” The hum of her shuttle had been a constant for the past five minutes.

“I don’t see shit through the camouflage. Don’t want to land in the middle of a gunfight with this bathtub. Ping me with your exact location.”

Bathtub? That didn’t sound reassuring. He glanced at the landing zone. The fight was still going. Crazed krogan attacked anything that moved, including vorcha, varren, and other crazed krogan. The Blue Suns were regrouping around Wortag’s ruined gunship. Saren and his turians were nowhere to be seen. In theory, Okeer could screw Jedore over and try to take off in that parked transport. But it looked barely space-worthy itself, and the turians had surely tagged it, and he’d have to fight the Blue Suns for it. No less a risk than Jedore’s ‘bathtub’. Probably more. Damn.

And how was he to do anything on the omni with his fucked-up hand?

“Hold on.” He clubbed the omni until it released a dose of medigel into his arm. The wrong arm, however, as he missed the right button. No matter. It would do. He started to turn on the locator, but found it disabled on firmware level. That’s right. He had disabled it before landing on Invictus because he couldn’t be sure Saren’s worms hadn’t infected it. He’d have to do a hard reset to get it going again. “I can’t ping you,” he said. “Land between the control towers. It’s safe enough.”

“You daft or something? I can’t see the fucking towers.”

Okeer growled. I’ll show you who’s daft, you little shit. He looked up, but he could see her no more than she could see him. He cast around for landmarks, trying to get back into a rational mindset, while something like panic crept up from under his skin. He’d been standing here doing nothing for far too long. “The south edge of camo, then. Can you see that?”

“Yeah. I guess.”

“Then hurry the fuck up.”

“Alright, alright. Jeez!”

Movement attracted his attention. The turian was waking. He tried to sit up, groaned with pain and doubled up on his side. Okeer kicked him on his back again. He wasn’t fully conscious yet. His eyes tracked imaginary figures, showing whites from time to time. He posed no danger, but why risk letting him live? Okeer considered his options. The turian had a sniper rifle attached to the back of his armor but that was too complicated. His automatic was several steps away. Okeer fetched it. A fiddly little thing it was, with a dozen tiny moving parts. It took him for fucking ever to get a good grip on it with his clumsy left. Sweat broke on his face.

“Shot my fucking shotgun,” he grumbled to himself on the way back. “My fucking hand. My fucking neck. Gonna make you eat this, fucker.” He aimed down at the turian’s mouth. “Gonna feed you the whole—”

“Okeer.”

He jumped. Of course. It had all been going too well to be true. The snake had caught up with him at last.

“Drop your weapon and step away from the hostage,” Saren said. He stood near the tower, to Okeer’s left, with his back to the landing zone. His armor was almost black in the dying daylight but his eyes shone fiercely and his left hand glowed, charged and ready for a biotic attack. His right held a pistol trained at Okeer.

Okeer realized he had put himself in a bad position. Sure, he had a weapon in his good hand, but it was his bad hand that normally did the shooting. The hostage was at point-blank range, but there was no hope to target and shoot Saren before getting shot himself. And he didn’t want to get shot again today, thank you very much.

“You drop your weapon or I shoot the hostage.” He didn’t expect it to work. From all he had heard, Saren didn’t care about collateral damage. But he needed to buy time for Jedore to land and get him out of this mess. He had lived a thousand and five hundred years to have his quads hang in the hands of some human pup. It was so ironic he could laugh. Now, where the fuck was she?

“Try it and you’re dead.”

“Kill me and you’ll never decrypt the data.”

Saren stared at him for several long seconds. “Give me the key and I’ll let you go.”

Unlike his turian buddy here, Saren was quite apt at preventing his voice from betraying his intentions. He might have meant it. But it was highly unlikely.

“After all we’ve been through,” Okeer said, “you still take me for an idiot. You can’t afford to ‘let me go’. Why do you think I split in the first place?”

“Because you’re a double-crossing scumbag.”

Okeer laughed. “Please. You planned to dispose of me as soon as I delivered my part of the deal. You wouldn’t have tagged and disabled my ship otherwise.”

“I knew you wouldn’t keep your word. I had to take precautions.”

Okeer grunted, mulling it over. Could the snake be telling the truth? If he could escape with his life—even if the salarian research was taken from him now—he had learned so much from it already. He was leaps and bounds ahead of where he had been before, and had a clear vision of where to go with his work in the future. Perhaps…

“Think about it,” Saren said, as if reading his mind. “All I ever needed from you was that data. Why would I wish you dead?”

“Because of what I know. About you.”

Saren scoffed. “If you think anyone who matters would take your word over mine, you are as stupid as I thought.”

Although he knew he was being played, Okeer couldn’t contain the anger. To retaliate, he kicked the other turian hard in the side and sneered when the little bitch moaned. Saren glanced in his direction, but quickly censored himself and glared at Okeer with doubled malice.

“Now I regret knocking him out,” Okeer confided. “If I knew he was your boyfriend I’d put in a bit more effort to make our encounter memorable.”

The taunt apparently managed to press some button or another, because Saren looked down at his friend again and his face rearranged itself, though not in any way Okeer could make sense of in a pinch. Just then, the droning of shuttle engines became noticeably louder. He wanted to turn back and have a peek at the ‘bathtub’ but he didn’t dare take his eyes off Saren, who also looked up, above and behind him. A gust of wind rose when Jedore fired up the landing thrusters. She must have been pretty close. The air was hot and the noise, deafening. Also, she had to be close enough for the biotic attack Saren was mounting.

Okeer gaped. For a moment, he entertained the thought that Jedore was literally flying a bathtub with thrusters—he had seen people do crazier shit on the extranet—because nobody in their right mind, not even the most powerful biotics among the krogan and the asari, would go against a fucking plane.

A moment was enough. He realized it had been a faint as soon as he felt his gun moving in his hand of its own accord. The other turian was awake. He almost wrestled the gun out of Okeer’s grip. Okeer fired, but the little shit held the barrel and the shots went wide.

Then he got blinded by biotic blues. His body reacted faster than he could think and raised a barrier, but the blast still punched the air out of his chest and made him stagger back. He dropped the gun. The other turian grabbed it and rolled away. To hell with it. It was a fucking toy anyway. With his good hand free, he would show Saren what grownup biotics looked like.

He struck back with all his might. And his might was fucking awesome. Dark energy made the concrete foundation crack and wrinkle. With the corner of his eye, Okeer saw the other turian struggling to stand up and failing hilariously as gravity waves, rippling outward, wrecked havoc with his weight and balance. The thunder of supersonic breakthrough drowned out the noise of the landing shuttle. Saren’s shadow on the tower wall turned from a fuzzy blur to a crisp, black silhouette as the sparks of static electricity turned into forked discharge channels a meter long and growing. They left white trails in Okeer’s vision so he wasn’t quite sure at first but—

Saren was still standing.

Both his hands were up at chest-height and he was leaning forward as if pushing something with the entire weight of his body, while his feet slid back slowly under the force of Okeer’s blast but—the fucker was standing! And not only that: he was pushing back. His own mass effect field formed a bow-shock around him, like a shield, and it was moving forward. Turning into a counter-attack.

Okeer couldn’t wrap his mind around it. His blast should have pancaked Saren against the tower, liquefying his bones and vaporizing his blood. Turians didn’t have the genetic makeup for powerful biotics. The strongest among them were like children compared to the asari, let alone the krogan. Even stupid humans outclassed them. No genetic deviation could explain this. Cybernetics, maybe. Implants. Perhaps Okeer had spent too much time in isolation and missed important technological breakthroughs in this area. He had never had a reason to take an interest in something as dull as turian fucking biotics.

Until now. He growled with effort and pushed harder, drawing from the deep, emergency reserves. Saren’s bubble stalled, then started shrinking. About fucking time. Okeer couldn’t keep this up for long.

“No!” cried the other turian. “Stop it! Stop it or I’ll shoot, I swear to Spirits!”

Even through the light-show, Okeer could see Saren’s eyes widen. “Nihlus, no!”

Nihlus, is it? Well he ain’t shooting anyone ever again. Okeer grimaced in an attempt to sneer despite the strain, and abruptly turned away from Saren. Someone was getting pancaked.

His power was supposed to launch the other turian around the fucking world. But apparently he was ready for it and dodged just in time. The shockwave speared through the trees, splitting the jungle clean in half as far as the eye could reach.

And then Saren’s blast hit Okeer and slammed him against the rocky outcrop behind like a train at full speed.

He blacked out.


“Hold his head up.”

“Easier said than done. I can barely hold my own head up.”

“Hold it still!”

“Yes, sir. Sorry, sir.”

Something poked him in the eye. He saw some incomprehensible three-thronged instrument. He heard himself groan but there was a missing link somewhere between his brain and his body. He couldn’t move. A flash of red light, then darkness again.

“Is that it?”

“Verifying.”

With the utmost effort, Okeer made his eyelids lift by a fraction. He still couldn’t see a damn thing. Echoes of a dream haunted him. Or were they memories?

“Mirene, Pan, report.”

Saren stood next to him at a very odd angle. Okeer had never seen him from below before. His face was weakly illuminated by an orange light. Omni-tool.

“Abandon pursuit. Yeah, we got him.”

That was the other turian speaking. Somewhere to Okeer’s right, outside of his inverted field of view. He remembered now. How they had tricked him, fucking cowards. He must have been out for only a few seconds or he’d be dead by now. Saren had decrypted the data and his life was forfeit.

“You did? Is he alive?”

Okeer tried to sit up but all he managed was to roll over. He was disgustingly weak. Went too far with the biotics, not a gram of juice left in his 600 stones. Concussed too, judging by the nausea.

Saren must have seen him move because his feet walked within a pace from Okeer’s face. A shadow loomed above him, and then he heard clicking of metal and cracking of plastics. Something dropped on the ground and Saren crushed it with his boot. Okeer’s omni. He closed his eyes.

“What are you doing?” said the other turian.

“What does it look like? I’m ending this.”

So that was it. There was no slideshow speed-running his whole life in front of his eyes. Just the stink of failure. To be beaten so close to victory. He fucking deserved to be shot.

“Nah-uh,” said a new voice. A human voice. “Put the gun down, nice and slow, yeah?”

Okeer pushed himself up on his elbows and looked. Jedore was twenty meters away, approaching step by cautious step. She had colorful heavy armor, well-worn but polished to a high shine. A visor glowed orange over her eyes. She was small even by human standards, but she had a ridiculously big gun, easily as long as she was tall, and its targeting laser was pointed at the turians. Some thirty meters behind her was the ‘bathtub’. A fancy civilian racer, shaped like a silver bullet. Probably worth more than all the Blue Suns assets on Invictus summed together. No wonder she didn’t want it scratched in combat. Hehe. Okeer wondered if he would even fit inside.

“I don’t think so.” Saren was already aglow with his biotic barrier. How the hell could he muster it? His biotic debt could have only been worse than Okeer’s.

“I wasn’t talking to you, dipshit.”

Okeer hazarded a sidelong glance at the situation. Saren had a pistol aimed at his head. The other turian—what was his name again? Okeer couldn’t remember—had his rifle aimed at Jedore. He also had a luminous red dot right between his eyes.

“What do you want?” Saren said.

“The old man, obviously. He’s coming with me. Isn’t that right, old man?”

Okeer huffed and puffed and hoisted himself up on his feet, taking care not to step in her line of fire. Saren’s pistol tracked his head as if there was a physical connection between them.

“Sir?” said the other turian.

“She won’t shoot.”

“And neither will you,” said Jedore. “Come on, old man. That’s right. One foot in front of the other.”

It was supposed to be annoying, being hand-held by this… girl, but Okeer was too busy following her instructions and trying not to hope too hard. It sure looked like Saren valued his friend’s life more than he valued Okeer’s death, but he wouldn’t believe it until he was in that shuttle, racing away with the prize of his long life and the most unlikely bride. Hehe. Would he even fit? Hehehe.


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