Disclaimer: Bioware owns all.
A/N: This chapter rated M for language.
Muscles pulled tight as I heaved again, my stomach long emptied, its contents soaking my clothes and hair. The stench was nigh unbearable. I had always known vorcha stank of shit, but it was nothing compared to the batarian piss that now dribbled down the pipes. I was drenched in the filth, could feel the rank bile seeping into my pores and cursed myself for an unthinking ambitious fool.
I had thought myself lucky when I breached Aria's walls, the drumming of her guards' feet shooting odd vibrations through the metal flooring and into the pipe in which I slithered, but per usual my luck did not hold. The pipe I had chosen was rusted out in several spots, only one of which I could use for an exit. However, that exit was blocked by a grate in a restroom, the source of my current wretchedness. Given the amount of time I had already used to maneuver through the pipes, I doubted I had much more to spare. I'd no intent to stay in such a predicament any longer than possible and so made a decision.
I pushed against the rusted walls with what strength I had, closing my eyes against the debris that fell upon me. Light slowly filtered into my disgusting confines as my exit slowly became a reality. Satisfied with my small success, I switched my attention to the grate, and the shiny new bolts that held it in place. I stifled a sigh, intent on keeping the waste out of my mouth, and switched on my omni-tool. Adjusting the minifacturing settings I unscrewed the bolts, trying to discern what lie in the room beyond. I couldn't help but chuckle darkly in my wet confines; I had found the barracks, complete with lockers, showers, and urine trough.
Pushing the grate aside, I slid out carefully, silently cursing my lack of planning and the fresh urine that further soaked my clothes. I lay in the trough, scanning the room and hearing nothing, I quietly replaced the grate. Rolling out of the filth I made for the back row of lockers, searching each until I found what I needed. Peeling off my dregs I donned the stolen armor, slapping on the helmet as if I was accustomed to such accoutrements. I glanced at the showers with a look of longing, but ignored my desire in favor of practicality. I could deal with the stench, and perhaps it would keep the guards at bay.
I stalked the halls as if I belonged, nodding in greeting at passing patrols and going about my business as if nothing was out of the ordinary. Normalcy did not raise alarms, did not arouse suspicion. Normalcy was the best form of cover and I used it to buy me time. However, it didn't take long to search her apartments; I only need seek those rooms with the most advanced, extensive encryption. Upon discovering my goal I uploaded Vale's shunt bypass program, locked out the monitoring system, and eagerly awaited the results of my reckless venture.
Only a single pair of guards passed by me as I worked and I doubted they recognized the import of what they guarded. Knowing Aria as I did, it was wholly unlikely that her guards had even the slightest clue. Her secretiveness protected her, set her apart from others, isolated her, and I would turn it to my advantage. Their job was to remain ignorant and follow orders, just as mine had been, and as the lock clicked open, I pondered with surprised amusement how interesting the notion of change truly was.
The door opened with a soft hiss and I slid inside, already scanning my surroundings with a practiced eye. I activated my omni-tool and studied what appeared to be Aria's private office. It was decorated in simple tones, clean lines, and not a speck of dust. Shelves lined the back wall and held a stack of datapads, the occasional trinket, and one row of actual books. I ignored to sudden desire to thumb through the pages, to feel the paper under my fingers, the scent of ink on the air, and focused once again on my task. I'd no time to indulge in past fancies.
Furniture was sparse save for a set of chairs and a single, solitary desk which dominated the room and drew my suspicion immediately. I suppressed the urge to rummage through the drawers, the need to uncover Aria's many secrets pressing behind my eyes, waiting instead for the results of my analysis. It was as I suspected. She had set numerous traps throughout the room, ingeniously disguised and impossible to discern without training. Ironically, I had Aria to thank for my training and advanced skill set.
I put those skills to use bypassing her security systems, painstakingly reviewing my work with endless reserves of ingrained patience. While I believed my 'tool could hack her systems, I had no intent to gamble my life on that supposition. My pirate queen was viciously intelligent and I would be unsurprised, and even a little disappointed, if I was able to gain entry into her files without a challenge. And challenge did she provide. I made my way across the room at an achingly slow pace, inspecting the minutia on the wall, imperfections in the matting, always scanning for the details that meant death for the unwary.
A surge of relief swept over me as I finally reached her desk, but I pushed it aside in favor of practicality. Waving my 'tool over the area I scanned again for traps, triggers, anything that might give away my presence, and found nothing more in my immediate vicinity. I frowned and ran the program again with the same results. After my third scan I sighed reluctantly and activated the desktop console.
The display's light showered the room in brilliant iridescence, the flickering shadows across the walls setting my nerves aflame. I halted my work, scanning the room once more for signs of alarm and found nothing. I bit my lip in frustration, certain that I was missing something, but additional scans revealed nothing. Despite the steadily closing window of opportunity, I heeded the warning churning in my gut. Time would mean nothing if I was caught here and now, and on impulse changed the settings of my 'tool, scanning the room one last time.
My suspicions proved well founded as I noted with satisfaction the additional detection systems on the console. Aria's security had yet to disappoint me and this was no exception. While she was fond of practicality, I was surprised to find her files secured only by simple password protection. However, the program installed was one that I did not recognize, and upon further investigation, one that would not sync to my 'tool.
I breathed deep and frowned again, studying the readout before me, my eyes now accustomed to the brightness of the room. I surmised that the program was old, incredibly old and outdated to so thoroughly reject present technology. And so I found myself in a bit of a quandary. I needed a single password. No biological markers were requested, no retina scans, no security key. One simple word and I would have access to her files. After having come so far, after crawling forever through Omega's piss, was I to be thwarted now? The very idea both thrilled and enraged me.
And so I sat and stared, chin in hand, brows creased in thought, sifting through my memories of her.
Time seemed to stand still. The shadows no longer flickered, the ever present hum of Omega retreated, and even the guards' echoing footsteps were relegated to the back of my mind. All seemed distant and unreal, my focus solely on the display before me. What was the connection? What did Aria prize above all else?
A long forgotten memory surfaced, a hint of the familiar as I had found myself in this position once before. My frown deepened as the similarity struck me and I turned to face the back wall of shelves and the row of books upon it. Surely it could not be that simple, could it?
Activating my omni-tool yet again I examined the row of books for biological markers and residue, following the flood of memory. It appeared that Aria had a small, yet extremely impressive collection, including two rare pieces from the library of Asha. I ran a finger lovingly over the leather spine of one, a compilation of essays, but my eyes quickly darted to the modestly bound book beside it. I pulled it from its home, noting the worn cover and yellowed pages, and found my eyes skimming along the ancient text of what appeared to be a treatise on siarism. I scanned the pages with my 'tool, excitement building as I recognized the care with which this particular piece was provided. The corner of my mouth curled into a wry smile as realization struck me: my pirate queen seemed to not only study her people's religion, but at one time she practiced it, specifically the springtime rites.
I allowed myself a moment of elation as the pieces fell into place. Aria had kept her daughter's identity a secret, yet another of her precautions that ultimately backfired. I had no illusions as to the boundless hate Aria harbored toward Cerberus for her child's murder, and it was no wonder the high esteem in which she held motherhood. The pirate queen played her hand close to the chest, close to the heart, and therein lie her weakness.
I replaced the book exactly as it had been before and returned to the brightly lit display, the ghost of a smile upon my lips as I entered one word: Janiris.
Telling Ghosts, Queen B - Puscifer