CHAPTER 8 OF THINKER TRAITOR SOLDIER SPECTRE
Okeer woke up to the sounds of grunting and belching. His vision was swimming and he had only a very vague awareness of his body. When he tried to speak, some wretched, gurgling noise came out instead, and there was nauseating pain in his throat.
The fucking turian whelp shot me.
He sat up—no, he had to push himself up with his arms like a pregnant female. Disgusting. A small dark room came in and out of focus. There were no windows. It stank of mold and urine. Two young men were at a tiny table, drinking. When they saw Okeer was awake, they first froze, then exchanged a meaningful look, and finally one of them got out through the door. The other one faced Okeer with an absent stare so typical for his kind. Somebody had told him he wasn’t supposed to fight, so he didn’t know what to do.
“Where am I?” said Okeer. The words came out as a mix of hissing and gurgling.
“Your voice is fucked,” the young krogan said and laughed. “Krago will come in a minute. Better not waste your breath.”
Okeer looked down, as far as the throat pain allowed. He was still in his armor. Good. He touched his omni but decided against turning it on. Apparently Wortag had kept his word and brought him to the Blood Pack base, but that was far from what Okeer would call safety. He brought up his hands and felt his neck. The bandage was firm and dry, albeit crude. No matter. He’d recover soon enough.
“How long…” he started. He didn’t continue. The young smartass was right, there was no point in wasting breath on him.
When the door opened again, muffled echoes of varren barking and someone yelling came through, carried on the smell of smoke and rubbish. If not for the pungent stench of the vorcha and all the moisture, it would have almost smelled like home. A large man wearing heavy armor and an impressive amount of weaponry stepped in and measured Okeer with beady eyes that indicated more intelligence than those of the youngsters, but just by a tiny degree. Krago was between three and four hundred, judging from the tone and roughness of his skin.
“Follow my fingers,” Krago said, and started waving a hand in front of Okeer’s face. Okeer snatched it and tried to accentuate the point by growling, which sounded miserable. Krago laughed. “So, you’re really awake.” He started to shake Okeer’s grip and soon found he couldn’t. “Let go, old man. Don’t make me put you under again.”
Again? Really awake? Okeer didn’t like what he was hearing. He let go of Krago’s hand and gestured a question.
“You have no idea what happened, eh? Not surprised. You were as good as dead when we picked you up. The turian cunts didn’t give chase. You woke up in the gunship and made a fucking mess. You killed one of my men before I put you down. Pumped you full of medigel, but you lost too much blood. That’s what happened.”
So, the wound had been lethal and his primary organs had failed. He slipped into a blood rage when the secondaries kicked in. The rest just made him angry. He was half a man now, that was what Krago was telling him. Lost too much blood. The primaries could not be salvaged, and his body would metabolize them into shit. His chances of living another five years, let alone another hundred, were cut in half by one fucking round shot by one trigger-happy turian little bitch.
“Yeah,” Krago said. “I know the feeling. Lost my first liver two months ago.”
You don’t know shit, son. “When?” he managed to squeeze out. No pain, no gain.
“You’ve been out for ten hours. Not bad for an old geezer.”
At that, Okeer pushed himself on his feet and head-butted unsuspecting Krago in one slick motion. Krago swayed. He didn’t exactly fall, but he leaned against the door behind his back, and the youngsters laughed.
“Yeah, yeah, I get the point,” Krago said, rubbing his forehead. “Apologies… warlord.”
That was a bit better. “Where?” said Okeer.
Krago turned on his omni and produced a map of the area. He placed a pin some thirty kilometers north of the river. “We’re here.” Then he pointed out another place, about twenty kilometers south from the first. “That’s where your ship crashed.”
That was too close for comfort. Saren was surely out looking and sniffing already. Okeer’s mind wondered back to the Wisp. Did the ship self-destruct as instructed? He had thought so after landing but he couldn’t recall having seen solid evidence. His memory was a bit fuzzy. He’d realized that Saren was broadcasting logging worms during the chase, but hadn’t found a way to disable them without screwing up the VI’s higher functions. There hadn’t been enough time. If the Wisp somehow survived…
No matter. Okeer only learned the location of the Blood Pack base now, so that information was safe. The only other thing of any value to Saren was his communication with Wortag. But that was Wortag’s problem, not his.
“Wortag,” he said. It hurt, but that was the best way to make the body try harder and heal faster.
“What of him?”
“You want to talk to Wortag? That’s complicated. He’s not here, you see. Never set foot in the jungle, the fat bastard. And we don’t get to contact him—only he can contact us.”
“I’ll do it myself,” Okeer tried to say, but it was apparently too complex a thought for his throat and came out incomprehensible. He pointed to his omni, then to himself. How degrading.
“No no no. You can’t do that. They must have tagged your frequencies. No. Just wait. He’ll call during the day. I’m sure he’ll want to see the famous warlord Okeer.”
There were dozens of ways to get past the turian military tagging systems, but Okeer wasn’t in the mood to teach. He shrugged and lowered himself on the cot again. He knew how to wait.
“Right,” said Krago. “I’ll wake you up when it’s time. Come on, boys.”
The second the door shut behind them, Okeer sat up again and turned on the omni. He scanned the room for surveillance, then overrode the lock on the door so that nobody could come in without his permission.
It had been a hell of a ride getting here, with the priceless treasure attached to his hand, and he hadn’t had a single moment of peace to study and admire it. There was also a pressure to commit as much of it as he could to memory, because he’d done his homework, and he knew how Saren worked. He’d nuke the entire damn planet before letting Okeer get away with it.
He wasn’t giving up. Not at all. To admit Saren’s upper hand here, on a turian world, wasn’t surrender—it was laying grounds for an orderly retreat. If worst came to worst, he’d give up the data or destroy it—and then run for his life, run with everything that he’d have learned.
His pulse quickened as he listed the files. Where to begin? Should he follow their timeline, start from the beginning and see how their ideas developed, or look at the most recent entries first, and go backward only if he needed clarification?
One thing could be said about salarians without a hiccup: they knew how to keep files. It was all so neatly organized that he’d have no trouble finding his way around—always the same forms, the same structures, the same strict compliance with the same, consistent standards. Okeer’s own work was messy, dirty, full of deviations, always piling up in no particular order, and he was the one person in the Galaxy who could sort through it. In retrospect, it was safer that way. But also slower. He grinned, thinking how far his research could have gone if only he’d been a bit tidier, a bit more eager to accept new conventions and procedures—if he’d been a bit more of a sissy. Too old to change those habits now.
He opened a file at random. Columns of numbers. That’s nice, but where are the pictures? Ah. That’s better. Population versus time. Presumably, krogan population. The scale was microscopic, but there was a trend to it, no doubt. Okeer felt chills run through his body. A growing trend.
He scrolled lower, opened a more recent file of the same class. And there it was, the same trend again. No wonder they had a Spectre on the case. This was why the Spectres existed. He peered into the small letters. The trend seemed linear in both samples, but the time scale was too short for conclusions. There had to be a summary somewhere. He scrolled more, studied the file-naming patterns, found a good candidate. Indeed, this one covered a longer period and although it too appeared linear, the salarians had made predictions based on it. Okeer’s eyes flied across the columns furiously until he found the fit and dragged it into the plot. Huh. It remained linear.
So his people were slowly adapting to the genophage.
He took a minute to digest the idea.
It wasn’t exactly a confirmation of his own predictions. It wasn’t exactly a refutation either. Okeer had witnessed his people’s extinction; he was among the few surviving veterans of the Rebellions, and he hated the genophage with a teeming passion. But it wasn’t the same sort of hate that most krogan felt, nor the same sort of sorrow upon seeing the stillbirths. He harbored a sorrow of a different kind—not for those who were supposed to live and didn’t, but for those who lived when they should have died. The loss of potential lives was depressing, yes, but the loss of culture was what sat heavy on Okeer’s hearts. The ideological profile of his people was turning from a sharp knife into a blunt toy, because the genophage made them act as if every individual was suddenly worthy by birthright.
If the genophage was to be taken out of the picture by whatever natural mechanism that was apparently at work… that would certainly help in rebuilding the krogan pride. But the growth was too slow. Centuries before the population doubled. And the salarians would find a way to stop it—these statistical studies were probably a part of an ongoing project to do just that.
Fascinating and invigorating as this was, it wasn’t what Okeer was after.
He continued his search, looking outside the growth-related naming pattern. There was a whole section with reports from drug trials on varren. Of course the salarians were looking for the cure themselves—the best way to make sure nobody else would ever find it was to discover it first, and then develop counter-measures. The trials showed varying degrees of promise; most were no different from what millions of laboratories in Council space and beyond were trying out every day. But some approaches bore the signature of malignant genius specific to the STG, and those Okeer looked into with some interest—but wasn’t what he was after either.
He had spent over six hours going through the data, memorizing ideas and angles, when somebody tried to open the door from the other side. Although he had no luck so far, Okeer was far from hopeless—he’d only managed to skim through a tenth of the material. He put it down with a sigh and blinked the dryness out of his eyes before he lifted the override.
Krago stumbled in. “Wortag is waiting to speak to you.”
Okeer was already feeling much better, but he tried not to make a show of it. If the Blood Pack decided to betray him at least he’d have a surprise in store for them. Not that he expected them to try killing him. But they might try to sell him. Saren would probably have no qualms about paying a lot to get his hands on him. Okeer hoped it wouldn’t be his first line of thinking, though.
Being ‘goods’ wasn’t a very opportune position. Being ‘goods’ with a fucked-up voice was even worse.
His cell opened into a long, dirty, concrete tunnel. Underground, but not very deep—there were grates on the ceiling at regular intervals, and jungle growth was dripping and winding through them. Okeer walked behind Krago, and the two youngsters who had kept watch over him earlier walked aft. A dozen doors, identical to his, lined the walls. Some were open, and Okeer made note of everything he could glimpse. Mostly, it was the chaos inherent to a krogan settlement. Varren pens that smelled like shit; people lying in the dirt, drunk or bleeding; people fighting; vorcha pens that smelled like shit. Okeer chuckled at his wit. He hated the vorcha. All krogan hated the vorcha. It was one of the few things that everybody agreed on. But they were useful, and when they weren’t, they were tasty.
That reminded him he was hungry. He wondered if the Blood Pack grew their own food here, or if they had a supply line. Fucking dextro planet. He sniffed, hoping to make out a scent of something edible, but the smells of organic waste and wet greenery were overpowering. Just as he was about to ask about it, a large varren shot out of one of the rooms, carrying a vorcha arm in its teeth. It ran past them, and a second later, two krogan ran after it. Talk about a waste of breath. As they passed by the door, Okeer saw that the room behind was larger than the others, and had a fighting pit dug out in the middle. The unfortunate owner of the arm was lying there in a pool of blood, his remaining hand clutching a long knife. There was a noxious pile of body parts near the door—some varren, some vorcha, some krogan. He wondered idly why there were no flies and other vermin swarming around it, and then he remembered. Fucking dextro planet.
“Food,” he said. His throat was better.
“Yeah, yeah, we’ll feed you as soon as Wortag is done with you.”
Okeer checked himself before attempting to growl. The disrespectful little bastard was starting to get on his nerves, and he had a pleasant fantasy about cutting him up in little bits and adding them to the pile in the pit room.
The tunnel ended in a T-intersection and they took a right turn, then entered a room to the left. This one was relatively clean and twice as large as Okeer’s cell. It even had its own grating on top and enough greenish gloom entered through it to render artificial lights unnecessary. A room with a view, he grinned to himself. There was nothing inside but a workstation and a chair. Krago instructed the youngsters to stand guard outside and gestured at Okeer to take the seat. The console came to life, projecting a large holo of some fancy place with a big glass window and turian furniture. Okeer inspected the console and set it up for manual input, should the need arise.
He waited for some seconds, and then Wortag filled the view, grunting and panting as he took a seat. He was a fat son of a bitch, clad in an expensive civilian outfit and wearing the totems of a tribe leader, no less. What a joke. Okeer had never seen Wortag in person, though they’d had several dealings in the past; all had ended well. We’ll see about this one.
“You look good for a dead man, Okeer,” Wortag said, huffing. “I heard you lost something. Several somethings.” He laughed in a series of short guttural bursts, then grew serious. “Well I’m fucking glad you did. What were you thinking, bringing a Spectre along? Like I don’t have enough shit on my plate without those fucks poking their noses into my business. You lied to me, Okeer. If I knew there was a Spectre involved…”
“My ship.” Enough crap.
“So, you can speak,” Wortag said to hide the confusion caused by the interruption. “They found it, of course. The Spectre led two teams to study it last night. They blew it up in the end. What of it?”
Okeer frowned. His words were too complex. “If the Spectre has the logs from the ship, he knows about our deal,” he typed.
Wortag’s face sagged down, changing from bored to annoyed to threatening as his greedy, shiny eyes flew over the text once, twice, thrice. “You messed up, old man,” he squeezed between clenched teeth. “Do you have any idea what kind of a shitstorm you just brought down on me? You do realize that there’s nothing you can offer now that’s worth what you’re going to cost me? Fuck! I knew I shouldn’t have listened to your tall tales!”
“What’s going on,” said a turian voice from Wortag’s end of the line. Its owner was hidden from the camera.
“The Spectre knows I dealt with Okeer,” Wortag related.
“That’s not good,” said the turian voice.
“I’ll make it worth your while,” Okeer typed.
“Yeah, I heard that one before. Enough with the vague promises, then. Let’s see what you’ve got.”
“Not in front of your turian friend.”
Wortag rolled his eyes, popped the joints in his fingers, and started typing himself. “What’s it to you, old man? He can’t see your text anyway.”
“I don’t trust turians. If you want to talk business, tell him to get the fuck out.”
Wortag looked up and cleared his throat. “Let’s continue this some other day,” he said to his guest. “I have some… family matters to discuss with the warlord.”
“This changes everything,” the turian said. “You don’t want to trust me with the details? Fine. But don’t knock on my door when things blow up. I warn you.”
Okeer heard the door swish open, closed. He had no way of knowing if the turian had really left or not, but there was nothing he could do about it. “What was that all about?” he typed.
“He thinks I should just turn you over,” Wortag said, shrugging. “It’s the simplest option for me right now, although I already wasted resources on you. Risked exposure. Shit, Okeer. You were supposed to be the smartest badass out there.”
“I am,” Okeer said, and his haggard voice made Wortag jump a little. “Our deal is still good,” he continued in type. “You get me off this rock, and I give you troops. Infinite troops. Young, healthy krogan. As many as you need, and more. It’s a chance of a lifetime, Wortag. Be smart and take it.”
“That sounds like a pile of crap. Besides, even if you can do that, I don’t have a century to wait for delivery. If you have something to trade, I’ll consider trading now. Not interested in buying visions.”
Which is exactly how dumbasses like you brought our species to the brink of extinction. “Fine,” Okeer lied. “I’ll give you the tech, and you can sell it for credits.”
Wortag huffed. Inclined his head, thinking, and Okeer could read the glacier-slow process right off his forehead: if I don’t want this tech, why would somebody else want it? How much would other groups pay for a krogan army? How much could I earn if I kept the army after all?
“Fine,” he said at last. “Send the data over.”
Okeer laughed, and it sounded like choking. “You’re out of your mind. I’m not sending anything till you get me a nice untagged ship I can use to get out of Council space. When I’m inside and sure that it’s all well and clean, I’ll send the data.”
“I can always take it from your dead body,” Wortag said, and Okeer heard Krago shifting from foot to foot behind him in anticipation. I’d like to see you try, son.
“You can’t,” he typed. “It’s encrypted and if I die, nobody will ever be able to recover it.” Bless Marash and his crazy, dead brain. “Just think, Wortag. Use your head instead of your quads for a second. This data is worth trillions of credits. Will you risk it just because of a little misunderstanding? After all, if I try to run with it, you can always shoot me down.”
“You may be a brilliant scientist, Okeer, but you suck at business. If you make me get you a ship and then make me shoot it down… that’s a lot of credits for something I can’t see or hear or smell. And you already owe me for dragging that Spectre behind you.”
“Kill the Spectre. Solves all your problems.”
Wortag seemed to consider this, pinching the meaty folds under his chin. “Yes. I guess I’ll have to do it in any case. And that will bring more of them. Shit. They’re a fucking pest, that’s what they are.”
Okeer nodded in sympathy. “Let me give you a taste of what you’re buying, to seal the deal,” he typed, then made a dramatic pause.
“I can give you the cure for the genophage.”