Orderly Retreat


Okeer had taken permanent residence in the communications room. The first time they had tried to dislodge him, he told them to shut the fuck up and get the fuck out in not so many words. They didn’t listen. The second time, he ripped someone or another apart with a barely charged biotic shock. They grew quiet after that.

He needed the silence to work, to think. The ground was slipping under his feet and although it was not yet time to run, it was time to start walking. Wortag had agreed to his proposal easier than Okeer had expected. Why would he trade when he already had Okeer in custody? He was probably dragging it out while he looked for another buyer. Not that Okeer had ever had more than vague, wishful hopes regarding their deal. He offered collaboration to a krogan organization first as a familial courtesy, risking loss of time for the unlikely possibility that one of his kind would be wise enough to just listen to him. If Wortag had agreed to finance his research, Okeer would have stayed and kept his word. But Wortag was no different from other krogan: greedy, impulsive, aggressive, impatient. Whatever the secret behind his abrupt success over the last couple of decades, it sure wasn’t intelligence.

Intelligence was Okeer’s thing. And it was laughably easy to use it against his own kind. Not that he wanted to. They forced his hand. He had hacked Wortag’s “secure” channels while they were still speaking. He chuckled when Wortag gave the order to go after Saren with two mixed units totaling forty men. Good luck with that! He chuckled again when Krago asked what was to be done with Okeer, and Wortag said, don’t let him leave. Good luck with that too.

He shook off the laughs and glanced at the new message from his contact in the Blue Suns.

“Jerom doesn’t have the balls to do what you’re suggesting,” Arnea wrote. “Talk to Jedore instead. She’s a whelp, but crazy in the right way. More importantly, she has the ear of the management. If anyone can bust you out of there, it’s her. Provided you make it worth her time, of course. You may even like her. If not, fuck you. I consider my debt paid.”

Good riddance. As an asari, Arnea had a better understanding of long-term commitments than all these scurrying, short-lived aliens. Like humans. How the hell had they managed get under everyone’s skin so quickly? They weren’t as smart as the salarians, nor as subtle as the asari, nor as practical as the turians, nor as formidable as the krogan. What then? Maybe a little bit of each? Balanced? Bah. Okeer wouldn’t be surprised if one of these days a human strain of the genophage crawled out of the STG labs. So hungry for progress, so eager to get an edge, they got on everyone’s nerves. On the other hand, it was only a matter of time before one of them said yes to his proposal.

He started typing.

“I can give you the location of the main Blood Pack base and all their slave ranches on Invictus. I need to get off-planet and out of Council space. We can talk about other things later.”

He was hungry again, which was a good sign. A couple hours back, a vorcha had come in and brought him a meal consisting of several dry-pressed rations and a glass of water. He looked at the vorcha, and the vorcha looked back. Okeer snapped its neck then, and ate its arm instead. He needed sustenance if his body was to recover fast enough for an effective escape. Now he ate some more of the back and shoulder. He didn’t mind the company of the corpse. It wouldn’t go bad even in the warm weather. Hehe. Dextro planet.

He intended to rest while waiting, but soon he discovered he was too nervous to sleep, and called up the salarian data on his omni-tool instead.

There was too much of it to cover in a systematic manner, and not enough time. He had skimmed through endless bundles with growing concern and failing patience. At one point, he caught himself skipping whole subsections in a hurry, and had to redo an hour’s worth of reading. The things he was looking for were probably only of minor interest to the salarians, and although he clearly couldn’t hope to read everything in detail, missing one heading could have meant missing his goal completely. Markers, markers, that was all he wanted to find. How to identify the tainted genes? A clue, a hint—anything to point him in the right direction would suffice. But if it was there, it was buried deep, and Okeer was feeling the pressure.

He deployed his search VIs with a disgusted grumble. He had never fully trusted the machines. The most important ingredients of good research—experience from other venues of existence and intuition, oh yes, intuition—were unavailable to artificial intelligence. Delegating it the task of looking for pointers was a desperate measure.

The results were just starting to come in when a clamor rose in the hallway outside. Tired of sitting anyway, Okeer opened the door just in time to witness the passage of a small band of injured men, groaning and limping. One young krogan was so badly burned with biotics that two vorcha had to half support, half drag him. They smelled of wet leaves and blood and roasted flesh, and worse still, of defeat. None of the onlookers offered any help. Krago went behind the group, wearing an appropriate appearance of foul mood.

“What’s this?” Okeer said, although he had a pretty good idea.

“Waste of men and gear, that’s what,” Krago muttered. “But at least the Spectre is dead. Wortag will be pleased.”

“Show me the bones.”

It was a saying so old that Okeer wondered if Krago would know it was a saying, and not a literal request. Nothing is dead until you see its bones.

“One of my men had him on his knees and shot him.”

“One of those men?”

“No. He didn’t return.”

Okeer laughed. “A convincing story. I’m sure Wortag will agree.”

Krago straightened up for a good few inches of extra height. “We caught a prisoner who confirmed it. One of the turians in his escort.”

“Before or after your shooter met an untimely demise?”

“Before. What of it?”

Okeer blinked, trying to keep his face straight. “If you captured him before the Spectre was allegedly killed, how would he know about it?”

At first, Krago’s face was blank. Then he frowned. “You’re saying he’s not dead. And the turian cunt lied?”

Okeer shrugged. He wouldn’t believe the snake was dead until he saw the bones.

“I’ll kill that little piece of shit. I’ll pull every plate off his skin. I’ll make him eat his own—”


Having worked himself up already, Krago growled and took a threatening step forward. But then Okeer straightened up as well, towering above him by half a head. “I don’t care what you do. But keep him breathing.”

Krago didn’t have the quads to challenge him, but he couldn’t just back down either. Too many ambitious young fools just like him were watching, eager to capitalize on any sign of weakness. Instead he grinned, showing brownish, sharpened teeth.

“Want to… ask him questions?” He made an obscene gesture, earning scattered laughs from the crowd.

“Maybe later,” Okeer said, although there was nothing he could hope to learn from the captive. He only wanted him kept alive as potential leverage should he be forced to negotiate with Invictus authorities.

Krago huffed and made to leave, but Okeer stopped him.

“Why didn’t you send the gunship?”

“You tell me, old man. You busted it with your damn biotics. Once it landed, we couldn’t start its ME drive again.”

Okeer hummed. “It was an antiquated piece of shit anyway. You’re better off.”

“Uh-huh. I’m sure Wortag will agree,” he drawled, miming Okeer and scoring some more laughs, then marched away.

One of the young men who had been standing around was looking at Okeer with peculiar zeal. Several such as he had approached him to express admiration and respect on his first day here, hoping to hear his tales about the Rebellions, but lost interest as he had been unable to speak. It occurred to him now that it might not be a bad thing to acquire a… follower.

“What’s your name, son?”

“Jorgal Dagnor.”

“Ah.” Okeer nodded knowingly. “Few remain who remember the courage and sacrifices of your Clan in the Rebellions.”

The young one inflated with pride. “Battlemaster. It is a great honor to be in your presence. Is there anything I can do for you?”

Okeer pretended to think about it. “You could relieve an old man’s boredom. Would you like to hear about the time when Overlord Kredak was imprisoned by Clan K’Ragh?”

The young one’s eyes widened. “You knew the Overlord?”

“Of course,” Okeer lied. He did know, however, that Clan K’Ragh was one of the traditional rivals of Clan Jorgal. He swung the door open and smiled. “Come in.”

A reply from Jedore arrived just as Okeer was wrapping up his story of the young Jorgal hero who helped the injured Overlord escape imprisonment at the cost of his own life. A glorious tale by any krogan’s standard. Fabricated to the letter, of course. But few remained indeed who could tell a true story about the Rebellions from fiction. The young one soaked it up like a dry sponge. He probably heard more words and experienced more emotions in this half hour than he had in his entire life.

“I have to take a call,” Okeer said after the tale was finished and padded with a minute of considerate silence. “Help yourself to some vorcha.”

The young one looked at the partially eaten carcass and wrinkled his nose. The young ones preferred to cook their food because every one out of three was too weak to stomach raw meat. Yet they lived anyway. Disgusting.

“Go on,” Okeer insisted. “You deserve it.”

“Thank you, Battlemaster,” said the young one, thinking, correctly, that Okeer might be offended if he refused. He shuffled closer to the corpse and picked hesitantly at its meat.

Okeer turned on his omni-tool.

“I don’t have the manpower for an all-out assault,” Jedore wrote. “Give me something I can use against the Blood Pack or no deal.”

Okeer sighed. Humans weren’t especially smart, but they were obviously not stupid either. But he had foreseen this. In fact, he’d already laid down some groundwork. In his story, the Overlord sneaked out of Clan K’Ragh camp while the young Jorgal hero impersonated him, and got executed in his stead.

“Fine. Here,” he typed, and attached a bundle files. The slightly outdated turian IFF certificates he had found in Wortag’s mail, and a branch of stolen STG research into things other than the genophage. There was a moment of uncertainty before he sent the reply, a moment of questioning, searching his soul for traces of guilt. But it passed, and he found none, and tapped the send command.

Jedore would need time to understand and verify the offering. Okeer pulled up the guard-duty roster from the workstation and studied it, then hacked into Krago’s account. Falsifying orders would be easy with his electronic signature. Hehe. By the time anyone noticed the inconsistencies it would be far too late.

He got back to work with the salarian files. In the opposite corner, the young one was drowsing.

The reply arrived after an hour. It had only one word.



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