Chapter 132. The Writing On The Wall


28. May 2417 AD, Ganymede, Site-06

After a long moment of silence, Taylor looked at him.

"Alright. Tell you what. Whatever it is that you've got going on here… I got no dog in this fight. So I'll play ball. I had enough HSA red tape in my life already. No reason to get wrapped up in any more of it. So let's just say I was never here and neither were you, alright?"

That had been … suspiciously easy.

Redford tried studying the dark-skinned man's face for any clues that'd suggest this was a deception. Everything he knew about Taylor suggested that he wasn't a well-practiced liar. While that didn't necessarily mean that he had a bad poker face, it at least left room for the possibility of some tells.

After several moments of observation, he drew a blank.

No glancing away, no subtle sweating, and no other obvious signs of a lie or nervousness.

He'd obviously been in the business long enough to know that you could never depend on something like that… but with the absence of anything else that'd allow him to tell whether or not Taylor was lying or not, Redford would have to take what he could get.

"That's reassuring to hear."

"Because it means you won't have to call you pals to whack me or otherwise fuck with my life?"

The sandy-haired specialist shrugged.

"You staying out of this saves me a lot of paperwork," it didn't, actually. But that was beside the point. "And I hate paperwork."

"Who doesn't?"

"Bureaucrats. Bean-counters. Paper companies. Need me to go on?"

"No, you made your point," Taylor extended a hand towards Redford. "It's been a nice non-reunion, Major Bradford. I was never here."

The specialist threw a brief glance at the inside of Taylor's palm. There were all kinds of nasty tricks you could pull with a handshake. Subdermal needles, adhesive poisons, some weird martial arts move…

But most of them required preparation and would also be detected by the bio-monitoring in his wrist-watch in time to get him to medical. Besides, Taylor had seemed genuinely surprised to see him here. So partaking in the gesture was worth the risk.

"That we can agree on, Mister Taylor," the specialist replied before shaking hands with the biotic who'd sold out to corporate and parting ways with him.

After leaving the private room behind, Redford typed up a brief message to Yo-yo that briefly summarized the encounter and outlined how he'd still use the earlier pretense to leave Ganymede for some time and then decided that he'd use his time outside of Ganymede to get a lock on Taylor.

Just because he'd told him that he'd stay out of his way didn't mean he actually would.

It'd be a nice change of pace though if he did.


Fifteen Minutes Later, 2417 AD, Arcadia, Engram City

"Polls have you at a fifteen percent increase with self-proclaimed Hardliners and another seven around the inner core," the aide stated while looking over her tablet.

"Totaling at?" the dark-haired man asked while inspecting the polish of his leather shoes.

"If Sunday was gameday and you'd run here or on Arcadia, you'd come in at around seven point six, Sir. A direct mandate at Arcturus would be well within reach that way."

"Still not anywhere enough to run for chancellor, though," Henry Lawson observed before turning his attention to the screens in front of him,

"Independent candidates usually can't, Sir," the middle eastern woman stated coldly.

For a second he wanted to tell the bitch that nothing about him was usual and then fire her…

But then he remembered that unlike most of his secretaries, he'd hired her specifically because she didn't sugarcoat shit. While he obviously enjoyed having attractive women say yes to everything and sing his praises all day long (which guy didn't), he was smart enough to know that this little side project of his required a more realistic approach.

Even with the no-man-left-behind facilities firing up around Terra Nova and producing both the publicly desired results as well as achieving PGI's secret aim, Terra Nova was still a SAF-bastion. Even the most anti-Goyle Hardliners weren't just going to jump the Foundation-ship at the vague promise of a Hardline-centric political candidate.

Especially when said candidate wasn't actually a part of their little ingroup and guys like Sizov continued to exist and run for the main Systems Alliance Foundation mandates on Terra Nova.

While the work he was doing with the NMLB-clinics was showing an impact, he was never going to have an argument against an ASOC veteran who'd been Scott's sitting number one and Head-Hardliner for the last decade. The second Sizov opened his mouth about his military career, Lawson knew he started paling in comparison. It was just the way things worked with Terra Novans. They were a simple bunch, after all.

For this reason alone, he was also making sure to keep the option of a campaigning effort on Arcadia open as well.

His home planet was a lot less hardline-y and while that meant that he'd have to put more of an effort into it, it also meant that he had a better chance once he actually started rolling.

While he was busy imagining himself with all the power that'd come from entering politics, the terminal on his desk emitted a sound that he'd reserved for urgent, private messages of the PGI kind. So while his campaign manager was rambling about how he needed to secure the grassroot towns in the Terra Novan savannah, he simply cut her off.

"Let's take five," he said quickly, not bothering with an explanation.

The woman adjusted her glasses, nodded and left without another word.

Then Lawson opened the terminal and came face to face with the most recent addition to his private security detail.

"Mister Taylor," he greeted. The man was on a private assignment in the Sol System right now. The 'tying up loose ends' kind of assignment. While PGI had managed to secure a lot of the Broker's network, a couple of strands were still dangling. Among them, some of the people who'd thrown the spanner in the works.

Since he was definitely one to hold a grudge, Henry Lawson had sent the biotic to deal with them. And although Taylor had no idea what PGI was actually up to, he'd immediately agreed to do just that when Lawson had told him how much money was in it for him.

That told Lawson a lot about the man's character.

Chiefly that he was a rotten bastard driven by nothing but greed.

While a lot of people would stay clear of someone like that, Lawson himself appreciated it. It made Taylor predictable. The biotic would always follow the money and given his immense wealth, Lawson was gladly going to use that.

"Mister Lawson. I'm sorry to disturb you, but something's come up."

"Given the channel you chose to use, I assume it's very urgent?"

"I'm afraid so," Taylor nodded. "You told me to call if I run into a problem and well… they're on Ganymede too."

Lawson raised an eyebrow and tried to remember his precise instructions to the man.

Given the enormous business empire and political campaign that he ran alongside the shadowy, subversive group that was PGI, he'd given a lot of people a lot of secret instructions over the last couple of months.

If he was being entirely honest, the memories were starting to blur together a lot lately and he was having trouble remembering the exact details of what he had told whom, let alone when. Since his regular medicals had come back clean, he was blaming the stress for it.

After a second of thinking about it, Taylor's instructions came back to him however. He'd specifically told the biotic to call in if he ran into the one group Lawson believed to be a credible threat within the Sol System…

"Them being HSAIS?"

"Yes," Taylor nodded again. "They've got field agents here. Maybe two, maybe more, but definitely at least one of them… and to make matters worse, he's Thirteen as well."

Lawson immediately sat up straight.

"Section 13?" he said those words with the utmost caution he could muster. If HSAIS was the rain on his parade and its field agents were the brewing storm on the horizon ahead of his barbeque, Thirteen was the fucking tornado that would flattened his entire damn neighborhood.

When the analogy crossed his mind, Lawson had to smirk at his subtle genius. Given that they usually left behind a trail of destruction, he'd just found the perfect description for Arcturus' premier spooks.

"Yes."

"How do you know?"

"Because I met him back on the Makalu. The big blonde fella I told you about," Taylor went on.

Once again, Lawson remembered the man's story. Before being hired by FutureTech, Taylor had been leading a marine security detail that had engaged some IFS idiots who'd tried to hijack a dreadnought. In the course of that story, a Section 13 operative going by the codename 'Bradford' had crossed paths with Taylor and seen it fit to conscript the lieutenant into his mission. This had set in motion a chain of events that had led to Taylor being discharged and becoming his personal L1 biotic.

"Did you confront him?"

"I kind of had to."

"What did he say he was doing there?"

"He's HSAIS, Sir. He used a lot of words but still ended up saying nothing."

"I see, I see… what about the target?"

Taylor frowned.

"That's where the problem comes in," the man sighed. "I think he's here with a partner. Probably another specialist. A woman posing as a naval officer. And she's been sticking to the mark like glue ever since she got here."

"Do you think they know why you're there?"

"I'm not sure. But as long as she's there, there's no way I can reach Traynor."

Lawson put his hand up to his chin and thought about the new information for a second.

"Since you called, I assume that means that you can't move on without her either."

"Without access to Traynor's personal files and computers, I don't think I can track her down. I'm not even sure if she's on Earth anymore, if I'm being entirely honest," Taylor replied. "And even if she is here… if they've got eyes on Traynor, they definitely have eyes on Wong as well. Hell, if they put a Thirteen on Traynor, Wong's definitely got one too," the man paused for a second, entirely unaware of the fact that the journalist Lawson was trying to get rid of had already gotten some very close personal protection from HSAIS.

While the Final Wave had never managed to confirm the identity of Solomon Gunn, the man who'd picked a fight with the triumvirate PGI had formed with the Wave and the Broker, Lawson was certain that he was a specialist. The fact that they had found nothing on him in any Council or HSA database whatsoever combined with the Spectre-level of damage he'd managed to inflict on their group as well as his complete disappearance after the fact had made his allegiances evident.

"I don't mean to pry, Sir, but this would be a lot easier to manage if I knew why you need Emily Wong brought in. It's obviously something very bad. Otherwise Thirteen wouldn't be here… so maybe if you give me the reason you need to speak to her so urgently, I could just talk to Traynor. She seems like a sensible person. If what Wong did is so bad, I'm sure she'd be willing to help out. Even if they used to be friends."

Lawson narrowed his eyes.

So maybe he'd told a little lie earlier.

While Taylor was a greedy bastard, he obviously hadn't straight up agreed to murder an unarmed journalist in the Sol System. The man was still new in this world and as such Lawson had decided to ease him into it by sugarcoating the act as a bit of a forced face to face.

Some might call it an abduction, but that term was also a bit morally reprehensible, so he'd prefer not to use it until he'd really broken Taylor in.

While killing her was obviously the end goal, the permanently-taking-care-of would occur at a later point, once the person he would've preferred to take on this operation from the beginning was once again available to pull the trigger for him.

He was unfortunately still off the grid right now. As usually, he'd chosen to travel as inconspicuous as possible, which sadly involved a complete communication blackout.

If the guy wasn't so goddamned useful, Lawson probably would've terminated him after the second time of telling him to cut that shit out…

But since he understood that he wasn't just going to find someone that competent laying around the corner again, he couldn't just have him killed.

This sadly left him with only one option: tolerate the bullshit behavior of his favorite operative.

For the time being at least.

Everyone grew useless eventually and he was very much looking forward to the day that was the case for him. Then he could finally show him what happened if you didn't stick to Henry Lawson's instructions.

"Didn't I specifically pay you a bonus not to ask that question?"

"You did… but that was before I was staring down a bunch of Section 13 operatives," Taylor offered. "If you want her brought in, I need more information, starting with the why," as soon as the man finished, a flash of anger shot through him.

He hated insubordination.

So his first instinct was to hurl insults at Taylor and threaten him with death if he didn't comply.

But since he couldn't realistically reach Taylor right now and an L1 biotic was way too valuable of an asset to throw away in what would essentially be a (justified) tantrum, Lawson put on a friendly smile instead and let his more diplomatic side out.

"As I've said before, the less you know, the better…" Taylor threw him a look over the holoscreen. "But if you really must know, Wong used to work for me. Then she violated a confidential contract and I want to talk to her about it. Personally," he folded his hands. "That's really all I can share with you and I think it goes without saying that you asking nicely won't go a long way with drawing out Wong."

"I can see that. But if this is a legal matter, why not just go through the proper channels? Don't get me wrong but this sounds like a lawyer's job."

"Because I've obviously tried the proper channels," Lawson lied through gritted teeth before his diplomatic farce failed him. "Do you seriously think I'd resort to sending a member of my close protection team on some sort of barely legal James-Bond-esque adventure before exhausting every other conceivable option? Fully knowing that I'd create an obvious trail back to me by doing just that nonetheless?"

"James what-" Taylor started before narrowing his eyes for a second. Next he clearly recognized Lawson's anger and put up the bare semblance of a professional expression. "Of course not, Sir. I meant no offense."

Lawson took a breath, suppressed the realization that he'd employed an uncultured plebeian who didn't even know the most famous fictious spy in human history and decided to go back to diplomacy.

"Apologies for that. It's a rather sensitive and very personal matter that shouldn't concern anyone but Miss Wong and a few other select people," he explained, hoping Taylor would assume that he'd had her sign some kind of NDA after an orgy or something scandalous like that. Come to think of it, maybe he should've just told that lie prior to Taylor running into HSAIS. The presence of the intelligence agency obviously sort of torpedoed that farce though. Why would Section 13 of all offices be involved in what billionaires got up to in their leisure time? Lawson took another breath.

"Can I be frank with you for a moment, Mister Taylor? Just one man to another?"

"Sure."

"Alright then… I'm not just an idiot in an expensive suit. I obviously realise how incredibly suspicious this looks," probably because it was, "so first of all let me say this. I'm not going to hold the fact that you're asking questions instead of just being another stupid, order-following yes-man against you," that was a lie. "As a matter of fact, I applaud it," also a lie. "It proves that I put my faith in exactly the right guy… but please, Taylor, for the love of everything that's holy and just on this Earth… just trust me when I say that the less you know, the better," Lawson began friendly.

"I already feel bad enough about sending you on an assignment like this knowing that it could get you into some kind of legal trouble despite having the best lawyers in HSA space on speed dial to bail you out should that happen. So if I now go out of my way and drag you into the utter shitshow Wong pulled me into by giving you the full story…" he trailed off. "I couldn't do that in good conscience. It's just not something I want to be responsible for," he lied again. Taylor could burn for all he cared about if it settled his grudge. But saying that wouldn't get him anywhere, so he didn't.

"You already know now that HSAIS is involved, so you understand that this isn't some run-of-the-mill sex scandal or something equally trivial," he went on before opting for a joke. "Wong seriously fucked me, don't get me wrong, just not in the fun way…"

Despite himself being the funniest person, he'd ever personally met, the biotic didn't react to his joke, so he gracefully moved on.

"I need to speak to her. So find her and bring her in if possible… but don't, under any circumstances, turn this into a federal matter. I do not want you to engage with HSAIS in anyway. Messing with them is simply too dangerous for you," he wasn't actually concerned about his safety mind you, he just didn't want Taylor to drag HSAIS' wrath on him and by extension Lawson FutureTech and PGI. "Is that clear?"

"Crystal, Sir."

"Good. Then get back to work."

Taylor nodded and terminated the commlink without another word, leaving Lawson with a rare second of quiet.

He briefly considered checking up on his other operation preparations, namely the next attempt at getting rid of Shepard. While his inside source on the Normandy was dead, chatter on the remnants of the Broker net suggested that the Normandy had been spotted back in human space with its presumed heading being Arcadia.

From what PGI had managed to gather through various outside sources (it really said a lot about the surveillance grid and 'accountability system' the HSA had put up after the war that the remnant of the Broker's network could get more actionable intel out of outside observers than they could out of human ones) the redhaired bitch was coming to Arcadia for an official inquiry into her actions beyond the Omega-Four Relay.

If his other associate got here in time as well and this time actually decided to pick a fight with her, the N7 might not be around to stand trial.

As he was about to pull up the file containing that particular nefarious plot, a familiar pain shot through his temple.

The stress headaches were back.

So instead of (once again) plotting the demise of humanity's second Spectre, Lawson popped a box of painkillers, watered the medicine down with a shot of expensive alcohol and called for his preferred sort of therapy via a press of the intercom.

"Yes, Mister Lawson?" the voice on the other end of the intercom stated. The slight electric cracking sound of his secretary did the expected, it worsened the pain in his temple.

He groaned and then quickly sorted out his thoughts, remembering why he'd pushed the button.

"Please send up the asari twins, Judy."

"Right away, Mister Lawson."

"Thank you, Judy, you truly are a darling."

"Just doing my job, Mister Lawson."


Five Minutes Later, 28. May 2417 AD, Ganymede, Site-06, Scientific Wing

"And that's it. That's all there is to Ganymede Station," Traynor said as she and Yo-yo looked through the reinforced window dividing the final lab from the hallway of the scientific wing they'd been walking through the last half an hour.

As expected from a place dedicated to the creation of VIs, most of what Site-06 had to offer were servers, computers and more servers. If one came here expecting to see robots running infantry drills, they'd leave severely disappointed.

"Hard to imagine that places like these create some of our most dangerous weapons," Yo-yo stated off-mindedly, well aware that far smaller places had created far more dangerous tech. The small navy laboratories on Cronos Station where she'd supervised Robin and Aiden work on the geth had given birth to humanity's first real AIs, arguably the single most advanced piece of tech in the Human Systems Alliance's arsenal.

"I know right?" Traynor said. "But don't make the same mistake corporate does. The VIs we create here aren't just weapons to be used to blow up some poor batarian sod, they're part of humanity's future," she went on. "The same tech that gives a squad of Vanguards the ability to assess a combat situation and react and adept appropriately could easily be used to create robots that are fully capable of solving any problem without human guidance. Give it five more years and we could be churning out programs that are genuinely evolving with every passing day."

Yo-yo threw a glance at Traynor.

"Wouldn't that just be an illegal AI then?" she asked, fully aware that the proper RnD wing of the military had spent every waking minute since signing on with the Council trying to figure out how to create an AI that slipped through the cracks of the law. Before First Contact, the HSA had spent decades on developing safe, synthetic sentient minds and Arcturus hadn't for a moment considered to just abandon multiple generations of work because of something like the AI Accord.

"No, there'd obviously be safeguards in place to keep them from achieving real sentience. They'd be fully in line with Council regulations too."

"Maybe. But you're still talking about creating a network of learning VIs that communicate with one another, though, aren't you?"

"If you're thinking about us repeating the same mistakes as the quarians, don't worry. Their mistakes are very well documented among VI researchers. If overseen correctly, a network like that would be perfectly save."

Yo-yo glanced at her watch to check the time. Redford should've left the station by now. Then she thought back to her stay with Robin and Aiden.

"Isn't that literally what the quarians said about the geth?"

"Yes but-"

Traynor stayed silent for a second and then presumably remembered who she was thinking she was talking to.

Captain Walker was supposed to be a naval officer representing top-brass, here to interview Site-06 staff on possible security leaks. Given that Yo-yo had been leaning into her for the last hour, the scientist had clearly forgotten that for a second there. On the one hand, that was good. It meant she was closer to exploiting the Wong angle. On the other hand, 'Walker' now had to react appropriately.

"But that's all a hypothetical anyways, right, Miss Traynor?"

"Right. That's what I was going to say," Traynor stated before turning to Yo-yo and looking at the slightly taller specialist. "So, now that we're finished here, do you have any security concerns, Captain?"

Other than Wong and you being pals?

"Not at the time. But I'll have to wait what Major Bradfords reports regarding Commander Krest's department before I can pass a final judgement," she replied seriously before putting on a friendlier face again. She wanted to get behind that Wong-angle and to do so, she needed to lean on Traynor and her intel, hard and fast. Almost immediately, there was one thing that came to her mind to let herself into the scientist's office again and start that process… and it sadly involved that damn asari game.

"I'm afraid I own you an apology. I wasn't entirely honest with you earlier. There's something I've been keeping from you."

The scientist raised an eyebrow.

"Meaning?"

"I play, occasionally," she stated while brushing a strand of hair out of her face.

Traynor blinked.

"I'm not sure I'm following…"

Yo-yo tilted her head sideways and smiled.

"Kepesh-Yakshi? The game in your office? I was thinking that since we still need to pass time, we could see which one of us has the better strategy. If that's what you want, that is," when she offered the challenge with a slightly flirtatious tone, she saw Traynor realise her intend in slow-motion.

"Oh. Oh! Right. Great. That's great. Yes. Yes. We can do that," the scientist stated while the hint of a blush appeared around her cheeks.

The specialist naturally noticed that.

This was going to be so easy that she almost felt bad about doing it.

The keyword here was of course 'almost'.

If it served the mission, there wasn't anything she wouldn't do.

That's why HSAIS had picked her, after all.


Ten Minutes Later, 28. May 2417 AD, Ganymede Station, Site-06, Arrival Wing

"Leaving again so soon, Major?" Redford heard Krest's voice from behind him just as he was about to head to the hangar via the ornate corridor from earlier.

The sandy haired specialist turned away from the clerk he'd been talking to and offered a shrug at Krest. "Something's come up. I'm afraid I'll have to raincheck on exchanging those war stories for now," he added, referring to his earlier promise to the marine-turned-corpo before feeling his watch vibrate. Before he could read the message though, the commander made a move that'd make him looking at his wristwatch a bit suspicious.

"That's a shame, I was really hoping to have a chat with you," Krest said before closing the distance to him and extending a hand. "One Marine to another," he went on with a tone that Redford could only describe as 'off'.

The two men shared a moment of eye contact during which Redford noticed the intensity with which Krest was expecting his answer. After that moment passed Redford noticed how Krest very obviously stared at the surveillance equipment hidden in the ceiling. He'd clocked that earlier, on his way into the station.

"This wouldn't happen to be related to why I'm here, would it?"

"Of course not, Major. I've told you everything HK can tell you," what an odd choice of phrasing. "I was just looking forward to speaking to you personally. Like I said. One Marine to another."

Redford glanced at Krest and then did what the late Grissom would've insisted he do.

He listened to his gut.

If Taylor was going to burn him, he'd do it one way or another.

He'd hear Krest out… if his watch hadn't just given him the abort signal that is.

Under the guise of checking the time, Redford read Yo-yo's message.

'T knows Wong. Commencing with hum-int. Might honey. Cover me if possible,' the brief message read, prompting Redford to put on a poker face. Traynor knowing Emily Wong of all people was a turn he hadn't be expecting. But it suddenly tied Site-06 very closely to what had happened to Morneau on the Citadel.

"Ah what the hell, I've got a couple more minutes for a brother in arms," he said before sending Yo-yo a brief acknowledgement of her request for cover during what might end up being a rather intimate operation and quickly telling his extraction to enter a holding pattern until further notice.

"That's what I like to hear," Krest said. "I know just the place. Come on," he added before leading Redford into a direction that was definitely neither his private office nor the meeting rooms.

The way he saw it, there were two things that could happen right now. Either Krest was about to drop a bombshell on him that he didn't want HK to know about, hence his earlier phrasing… or this was the most blatantly obvious ambush he'd ever seen.

If it was the former, great. If it was the latter… not great.

As they started walking into what looked like a maintenance corridor, Redford was seriously starting to ask himself if HK was going to be bold enough to whack what they either assumed to be an MP officer and blame it on an accident or if Taylor had spilled the beans, told them that he was Section 13 and HK was actually stupid enough to think they could get away with crossing HSAIS like that.

Either way, he was curious to find out what happened next, especially once he passed the 'danger, reactor vicinity' sign and Krest brought up his omni-tool.

"Alright. This is it. We're in the blind spot now," Krest suddenly stated before turning to Redford. "I know how this is going to look like. But it's not an ambush. I just need to show you something. So please don't freak out, alright, Major?"

The specialist looked around the small room they were in.

"How what's going to look?" Redford asked before Krest suddenly popped open a panel near an emergency fire extinguisher and tossed a bunch of alien-looking, white wires at him. On instinct alone, Redford grabbed the damn things even though he'd spent the better part of the last three years being told over and over again to not touch anything alien looking due to the danger of indoctrination.

'Great going, Grant,' he sighed internally before looking at the wires and surprisingly enough recognizing them.

"That's-"

"Geth tech. From Eden Prime I think," Krest said before reaching back into the hidden compartment and pulling out what looked like the remnant of some armor plating. "They've been bringing a whole bunch of this crap here for the last two years and I've been dying to talk to someone who can do something that shit. But since I'm just a dumb grunt and HK monitors just about every drop of piss that leaves this station and probably eavesdrops on you even when you're taking a dump, I couldn't exactly reach out to you lot by myself. So imagine my relief when you just turned up on short-notice. If I didn't know any better, I'd call you freaking godsent."

… that wasn't usually what people called Section 13 when they showed up somewhere.

… it was a nice change of pace, though.

Redford eyed the security commander.

While they hadn't come here looking for geth tech originally, the progress in the Shadow Broker investigation that had occurred while they were travelling to Ganymede had made it a possibility that HK had collected both geth casualties and fallen HSA personal during the Battle of Eden Prime.

Him just being handed it by some disillusioned former Marine who'd apparently been waiting for someone to show up who he could tell it to was a little too good to be true.

"I don't understand. If this is debris from Eden Prime then how'd this get here?" he lied. Given recent intel he obviously had a very good idea.

"Like I said. Eden Prime. They've been shipping that shit between here and the other sites for the last two years using it for all kinds of RnD stuff," Krest stated while locking the panel back up. "And now you know. So you can stop them."

Redford lowered the cables in his hand.

"Why tell me?"

"The geth killed God knows how many of us. There's no way in hell I'm letting anyone use their crap in tech going into our armed forces," the commander replied. "The Vanguards, the Sentinels… I can't proof it, but I know it's all based on this shit."

Redford sat the cables down on a nearby crate.

"What makes you say that?"

"Development on the Vanguards was stalled for a decade. Even that genius Traynor couldn't make 'em work like an actual fireteam. But then Eden Prime happens and before you know it… one breakthrough after another," Krest stated before moving to pick up the cables. "You wanted a security leak, didn't you? Well there it is. And she's part of it too."

Redford shared a look with the commander and then glanced at his watch.

If Traynor knew Wong and had been instrumental in using geth tech to upgrade HK's arsenal, then it stood to reason that Traynor was part of PGI.

If that was the case… Yo-yo was both close to the answer and to the real threat on the station. If he didn't know without the shadow of a doubt that Alec had trained her to the best of his abilities, which was about as good as a specialist could get, he would've left to pull her out right then and there. But since Yo-yo had always been exceptionally good at this kind of covert work, he opted to keep his feet still and not go barging in with the cavalry.

"Just how many geth parts are we talking about?"

"The shipments came in daily at the start. They must've cleaned out a whole battlefield."

Redford thought back to the still missing human casualties from the battle.

"Was there human gear coming in as well?"

"Not that I know of. But it wouldn't make sense either. That's mostly HK-stuff anyway," Krest paused. "Why are you asking about HSA gear?"

"Natural curiosity," the specialist replied before deciding that asking Krest if any of the geth tech had looked odd was pointless.

All geth-tech was going to look odd to a guy like him so there was no way he'd be able to tell Redford if there was Reaper-tech floating around some of the Sol System's most important scientific installations.

Simultaneously, he tried not to think about the implications of that being the case. "I'm going to guess Nguyen is involved too? Which is why you dragged me into the one place on the station where you know the surveillance grid is faulty?"

"Exactly."

Redford grimaced while looking around the cramped room they were in. Just how deep did this go? There were obviously enough people involved to set up a logistical chain. But was this just a few higher ups going rogue in the hopes of profit or was there something more nefarious at work here? He'd been looking for indoctrinated agents within the HSA for the better part of two years and the moment Morneau had reported on them, PGI had seemed like the obvious answer.

What if it ran even deeper, though?

"These shipments, they're off the record, right?"

"The official one for sure."

Redford paused for a moment.

If geth parts got in off the record, the Shadow Broker's gear had probably gone out the same way too.

If that was the case, there was a decent chance that these two problems were deeply connected to one another. Hence PGI also had probably also played a role in picking up geth tech on Eden Prime… which in turn meant they'd also been around enough Reaper tech to start messing with it.

As he put his hand in front of his mouth, Redford wondered just how mad Arcturus would be if HSAIS systematically disassembled the biggest laboratory complex of ifs number one military supplier.

He was about to make a witty comment about it too, but then the lights of the room suddenly went out…


One Minute Earlier, 28. May 2417 AD, Ganymede Station, Site-06, Traynor's Office

"And there it goes," Traynor offered while Yo-yo's final piece went up in holo-smoke. "I thought you said you played."

"Maybe not as regularly as I should be to compete with a pro like you," the specialist responded.

"I'm not a-" Traynor started before Yo-yo threw a look at her set-up. "Alright. I might have dabbled with the idea of going pro. But I'm hardly good enough for the actual leagues. The damn asari dominate those anyways."

"As they do with everything else that's practice-related," Yo-yo noted.

"The perks of living a thousand years, I suppose," Traynor agreed, somewhat bitter in Yo-yo's mind. Then she glanced at the now blinking watch on the specialist's wrist. "You got time for another or is that your signal to go?"

Yo-yo looked at the piece of tech on her wrist and then evaluated how much progress she'd made with her attempt at working Traynor as a source of intel.

She'd obviously built some rapport with her and from her point of view, the whole honey-pot strategy would definitely work in the long-run. But it was a bit too soon to just swoop the scientist off her feet, toss her on the bed and then make her spill all her secrets.

"No that's just-" Before Yo-yo could formulate the full lie, there was a brief moment of complete darkness. For a second, the specialist wondered if she'd just died to some unseen gunman and if the Neomonotheists were right about there being an afterlife and she'd ended up in the bad one due to the numerous infractions her walk of life had caused her to commit… but then red emergency lights lit up and illuminated the room and Traynor.

"What the-" the scientist muttered with rising anger in her voice. "Dammit. This shouldn't be happening."

"What shouldn't be happening?"

"The lights mean emergency power just went on. Probably because of a blown fuse," Traynor responded while restarting her terminal. Then she cursed under her breath. "No, no, no, no, no, no. This definitely shouldn't be happening," she added with a sudden rise of concern.

"What's going on?" the specialist asked calmly despite the increasingly freaked-out demeanor of the station's head scientist.

While it might not be entirely in character for a signal corps desk jockey to not get at least slightly concerned by such a reaction, Yo-yo was currently more concerned with what was going on. Besides, Traynor was so preoccupied with whatever it was that was triggering her like this that she probably wouldn't notice the slight shift in 'Walker's' behavior.

"The emergency power just went on all over the station, which means something shut down the reactors," Traynor stated. "All of Site-6's now running on back-up power and by the looks of it-" Traynor stated before the quiet hum of the ventilation also suddenly cut out, prompting the scientist to turn quiet as well.

"HK happened to cut corners on the life-support system?" the specialist offered before adopting a more serious expression. "Let me guess. That definitely shouldn't be happening either."

Traynor visibly swallowed.

"Definitely not," the scientist responded before the light of her terminal suddenly cut off as well. "Great. And now I got kicked out of the station's system altogether," Traynor pinched her nose. "Seems like you were right about the whole Terminus hacker attack after all," she said somewhat resentfully, blissfully unaware that something far more nefarious was probably at work here.

In between Traynor being connected to Wong and Redford running into someone from a previous assignment, the little inconvenience of their oxygen supply suddenly shutting down marked the third strike in Yo-yo's mind.

Something fishy was going on here and from now on she would assume that it definitely was related to their presence.

Yo-yo looked at her watch and, much to her surprise, found that all signals were suddenly jammed. Even so, if only for the after-action report and on the off-chance that it would somehow get out after all during a second of freak-reception, she transmitted the emergency evacuation code and activated the distress mode on the device, turning its faint blue glow into a red that more matched their current ambient lighting.

With that out of the way, Yo-yo opted to settle for an in-between approach. She wouldn't blow her cover but she'd definitely take charge of this situation before it deteriorated anymore.

"Okay, listen up. We need to figure out what's going on here and fix it. I'm going to guess the best place to do that from is the security hub. Is that correct?"

Traynor nodded.

"Yes."

"Good. I need you to lead me there. Can you do that?" she asked Traynor, who looked at her with a bit of a stunned look. The scientist was probably wondering what someone like 'Walker' would want to do there.

Or maybe she was simply concerned about the whole not being able to breathe part. She wouldn't fault her.

Yo-yo was feeling a bit nervous about that latter part too.

"Hey. Snap out of it," the brunette specialist instructed in a slightly harsher tone. Traynor threw her a worried look. "Standing around here won't help us get anywhere. We need to get to the hub and go from there," she added before hearing what sounded suspiciously like a lone, surprised human scream followed by quite a few, noticeably louder ones.

Traynor shot Yo-yo a look.

"What was that?" she asked while the specialist immediately opened up her omni-tool and shut off the various concealment programs that had kept HK security from detecting the combat programs installed on the tool.

"Nothing good," the specialist stated. "I don't suppose there's a way out of the office that doesn't involve the corridor?"

Traynor threw her a glance.

"There should be a maintenance corridor behind those wall panels over there. But those are built for robots, not humans."

"But we'll fit?"

"Probably. But-" another scream, this one much louder. "But they get… hot."

"Hot's better than whatever's out there."

"I mean like… really hot. Dangerously if you stay more than a couple of minutes."

More screams sounded outside and this time Yo-yo was sure she heard the noise of metal hitting metal. Hence she shot the scientist a look.

"Still better than taking our chances out there. Show me the corridor."

Traynor threw her a somewhat frightful look and then nodded.


Meanwhile, 28. May 2417 AD, Ganymede Station, Site-06, Maintenance Level

Before Redford could activate the night vision mode on his HUD glasses, the darkness was replaced by the shine of Krest's flashlight. As soon as it had appeared, the light cone moved to the closest ventilation shaft, confirming what his ears had already told Redford.

"Airflow's cut off," the security chief commented before bringing up his omni. "Same as comms."

"I take it this is a bit out of the usual?" Redford responded.

"You could say that," Krest stated before around in a circle. "If this wasn't the Sol System, I'd say we're under attack."

"But since it is…"

"… there probably aren't any pirates coming down on us. You don't got any comms either probably, do you?"

"No," Redford replied with a brief glance at his watch. If that thing wasn't getting a signal, nothing handheld would. "Who can just shut off the station's systems like that?"

"Nguyen, Traynor and me," Krest replied quickly. "And I'm here."

And Traynor was presumably with Yo-yo.

The process of elimination thus left only one possibility.

"How confident are you that this little spot is surveillance free? And follow up question, how likely do you think it is Nguyen would go scorched earth if it wasn't and he'd just heard you tell me all about HK's dirty secrets?"

"Honestly? Pretty likely. The guy only thinks about the next shareholder report and one lab accidentally choking to death is probably going to cost us way less than everyone knowing we are apparently in the business of robbing battlefields."

Redford nodded. "If Nguyen shut down the station, can you overwrite it?"

"Yes. From the security hub. But if this is him cleaning up after HK, I doubt it'll be as easy as walking in," Krest stated. "I'd ask you if you're armed but considering our entry screening-"

Before Krest could finish the train of thought, Redford pulled out a concealed monomolecular knife. After getting his hands on one while working with TNI a couple of years ago, he'd traded his trusty hardened-ceramic daggers in for this type of blade in a heartbeat.

While it had hurt him on a deeply personal level to leave behind what had essentially become his calling card over the years, the advantages of going with the times were too great to pass up on.

"… remind me to fire the guy who scanned you for weapons."

"Not his fault. Sheath's coated in the same material that ASOC armor's made from. No way in hell would you find that without physically searching for it," Redford replied off-mindedly before gesturing for Krest to lead him back out of the maze he'd walked him in.

"ASOC gear? Seriously? What did you say it was that you did on Elysium again?"

"I didn't," Redford replied briefly.

"… right," the former recon team leader mumbled as he kept leading Redford through the narrow metallic hallway. "Guess that at least explains why that MP uniform and those Major insignias don't seem to fit you quite that well," he added before the faintest noise caused him to halt and put his hand on the weapon in his holster, all of the sudden ready to draw it. "You hear that scream just now?" he asked to which Redford could once again only shrug.

"Afraid not."

Following the Makalu his hearing was pretty much fixed… the key word here being 'pretty much'.

If he was being entirely honest, he knew that the only reason he was cleared for field work was because HSAIS was severely lacking field operatives and couldn't afford to ground one of them because he heard a bit less than perfect.

Especially if the affected agent happened to be a Section 13 operative with his degree of experience. Despite sixty supposedly being the new thirty, there weren't a lot of pre-Fringe War Thirteens left.

Just about all of the guys who'd already been in when he'd turned up on Cronos had either been medically retired due to service related injuries, moved up to another department or, in most cases, ended up getting killed in the line of duty somewhere in between the end of the war and today's conflicts.

Similarly, out of the six people who he'd started training with back then, all but one were now KIA. Last he'd heard, Dryfy was busy playing pirate king, so despite being equally experienced as Redford, Adrik hardly counted into Section 13's available troop roster either.

Since experience outranked pretty much everything in their line of work, HSAIS was keen to hold on to every last one they still could. So of course they'd give him a waiver on an eight percent hearing loss.

"Maybe we're wrong and this isn't Nguyen but rather the guys you came here for," Krest commented as he moved forward again through the corridor.

Redford stayed silent for a moment, contemplating if it would be wise to tell Krest that those guys did in fact not exist. That way the man could focus on the actual threat ahead and not chase HSAIS's shadows. He decided against it, however. Even if he'd come to Redford, Krest couldn't be trusted entirely.

… besides, the results of the last time he'd chosen to reveal the truth to someone was still presumably walking around the station right now.

Come to think of it, maybe Taylor had just straight up lied to Redford and gone ahead to talk to Nguyen, setting off whatever was going on right now.

"Let's just keep our guard up until we know," Redford finally replied before Krest and him stepped out of the maintenance corridor and into the hallway they'd come from. The first thing he noticed was that the light was flickering between normal and red.

The second thing was… well.

The dead guy to his right.

There, slumped against the corridor walls, was a staff member in a familiar, expensive suit.

After determining that the guy was definitely dead, Redford noticed that the blue walls of the corridor were covered in a mixture of blood and brain matter and a pool of red was collecting on the slightly darker-red carpet underneath the man.

As a rather macabre consequence of the faulty lights, the blood only became really visible when the red light flickered back to the normal on every couple of seconds. But when it did, it was bad.

Real bad.

As usual when confronted with a sight like this, his mind went to a rather dark and quippy place.

As he inspected the corpse, the first thought on his mind was that he hoped that the guy had a good dry cleaner. His head had quite literally been beaten into mush, staining the suit a deep crimson all over. Getting that out would be a bitch.

While it was a strange thought to have, Redford had ruined a lot of government-bought suits and dress uniforms with blood over the years. So he figured he was kind of an expert on that matter.

Thirty years ago, he might've even said all of that out loud to get the image and associated trauma out of his head right away.

But since age had made him wiser and a whole lot less of a disrespectful wanker, Redford bit his tongue, prepped a new mental box to lock all that shit away in and simply put on a stoic expression before quietly getting to work.

"Dammit," was the first reaction Krest could muster while Redford took a knee next to the body of the suited-up HK employee.

He wiped the blood of the nametag on the man's sleeve and breathed a sigh of relief when it ready 'Thorson' instead of 'Ngyuen'.

Not that he was particularly concerned with the station admin's safety. He just liked the fact that this guy not being Ngyuen kept his hypothesis alive for now and didn't necessitate him forming a new one.

"You mentioned some security mechs earlier," Redford remembered while inspecting the injury. "Is there anything else on this station that could do something like that?"

"Other than a big guy with a metal baton or that biotic we got running around?"

"Yes."

"Not that I know off," Krest replied while unholstering his sidearm. "Maybe some secret experiment from one of the eggheads got loose," he speculated.

"I thought you didn't do any mech testing here."

"Officially we don't. Officially we also don't have geth tech here. You see what I'm getting at?"

He did. Krest thought there was a lone geth platform running loose around Ganymede.

Redford inspected the body and remembered the files from Eden Prime.

"Geth drones don't usually go for bludgeoning. They just snap bones. More effective that way."

"How'd you know that?" Redford stayed silent again. "I see," Krest went on before pushing a button on the wall and frowning when nothing happened. "Looks like someone shut off the admin VI as well."

"I take it the whole station's dead in the water?"

"At least the interior is. If Nguyen or whoever's doing this is smart, they'll keep the automated check-ins with the Navy blockade up and running. Otherwise there's going to be a whole bunch of grunts descending on this place real quick," Krest replied. "Come to think of it, weren't you about to leave? What about your flight? Think they'll call it in if you don't show up?"

Redford sighed. "I told them to wait for me to update them before they do anything," he said before throwing another glance at his watch.

Still no reception. He still couldn't call in the cavalry. In retrospect, he defiantly should've done it the second Krest had tossed him those geth parts. Now they had the mess and the dead people that hesitation brought with it. "How do those automated check-ins work?"

"Every hour on the hour Site-06 confirms with the Navy blockade that we didn't get the quarian-treatment. If the automated confirmation fails, they call us. If we don't answer, they come down in force."

"So if no one comes looking soon, we know for sure that this is definitely intentional," Redford concluded before looking at his watch. 18:16 Station Time. This hadn't started until maybe ten minutes ago, so they still had 44 minutes before they'd know for sure and by that point, the people on the station might already be out of air.

As Redford checked the time Krest did the same thing and drew the same conclusion as the specialist. "Timed it good, didn't he?" he commented before tossing Redford a breathing mask from what looked like an emergency station hidden behind the walls.

"You can say that again," Redford said before clamping the mask to his belt and rising from the body. First he looked to where Nguyen's office was. Then he decided that even though he really wanted to get his hands on the guy, there were a lot of people on the station, especially Yo-yo, who might not have an oxygen mask in arm's reach. Hence they had to sort this mess out. "Let's get to the hub."

Krest nodded.

"This way."


One Minute Later, 28. May 2417 AD, Ganymede Station, Scientific Wing

As it turned out, very hot really was very freaking hot.

As Yo-Yo continued to squeeze through the tight corridor, beads of sweat were running down her face and she was reminded of the worst parts of their jungle SERE.

"We need to go left at the next intersection," Traynor heaved from behind Yo-yo.

"Got it. Go left," the specialist responded before squeezing herself into the slightly more spacious t-section. When she got there, she mercifully discovered an exit hatch that looked very similar to the entry one they'd used to get in here. "And this leads where exactly?" Yo-yo asked as Traynor tried to squeeze into the opening behind her and accidentally knocked her head against Yo-yo's in doing so.

On reflex, the specialist pulled in a sharp breath but otherwise remained silent despite the sharp pain going through her temple.

Traynor didn't.

"Ouch. Dammit. Bloody- Sorry 'bout that," the slightly smaller scientist said before biting her tongue. "This should lead to the guest section. From there we can circle around to the security hub.

After spending a second tasting the staleness of the air, Yo-yo threw a look at Traynor and decided that now was as good of a time as any to ask.

"Are there any emergency hull-breach kits stashed around this place? Like on ships?"

"Only in the exterior parts of the station," Traynor stated. "We're right in the middle of the facility right now and corporate figured that the station's going to be a total loss already anywhere if there's a hull breach right in its core. So no vac-exposure kits for the core-section."

"Great."

Considering that it was standard operating procedure in the Navy to store emergency gear for 130 percent of the personal you actually had aboard, meaning you'd never run into a shortage even if you were transporting above your capacity, Yo-yo tried very hard not to role her eyes at the irony of the same company suppling some of that emergency gear not taking the same care with its own employees.

She threw a look at her watch and flicked on the bio-monitoring functions. Oxygen saturation in the air around her was still somewhat satisfactory for now but it was declining quickly enough that they couldn't afford to waste a lot of time if they wanted to fix this before they passed out and died for good.

"We could try and go to the outer section first and grab rebreathers there. If there still are any that is," Traynor offered while Yo-yo carefully opened the hatch in front of her and risked a peak.

When she spotted the flickering lights and several mutilated bodies, she shook her head. "I don't think we're going to have time for that," she glanced at Traynor. "Ever seen a dead body?"

"No. Why would you ask that?"

"Because there's a whole bunch of 'em out there and I need you to not freak out when you see them. Especially not if you happen to know them."

Traynor's face sunk in.

"I know just about everyone here."

Yo-yo stepped out of the hatch and checked her surroundings.

More casualties. A lot of people seemed to have run here when whatever was going on had started. Then the bad guys had caught up with them.

"Alright. In that case I really need you to not freak out now," she said somewhat coldly.

If she could, she'd leave Traynor to shelter in place while she went to the security hub herself. But since she had no idea how to turn the station back on, that wasn't an option. Hence she extended a hand to the scientist who despite her dark skin was already looking deadly-pale before even stepping out of the hatch and seeing the full extend of the casualties. "Come on. We need to move," she reassured her while inspecting the bodies. Most of them had blunt force trauma.

Sorta like they'd been caught in a bad industrial accident.

Given the absence of bullet or stab wounds, it was highly likely in Yo-yo's mind that the security mechs she'd seen get charged earlier had done this.

In a way she figured that this was good news. Ever since the geth had attacked humanity three years ago, she'd had an anti-mech overload program on her omni. And since the mechs weren't armed with guns either, them being the cause of this meant that she didn't need to worry about getting shot.

As Traynor took Yo-yo's hand and stepped out of the hatch, it didn't take all of two seconds before the scientist freaked out at the massacre.

"Oh god… Steph-" seeing the freak-out coming, Yo-yo simply opted to quickly cover the woman's mouth with her hand and stare at her. "You need to stay quiet. The things that did this are still out here. If they hear us, we are next. You got that?" she instructed quietly. Only when Traynor nodded did she withdraw her hand "Where's the hub. Left or right?"

After a few moments of wide-eyed shock, Traynor simply pointed to her right.

Then Yo-yo grabbed her by the hand and started dragging her that way.

They didn't get very far however before they rounded a corner and bumped into a guy wearing a piece of custom-made armor.

Everything that happened next, very much happened fast and on instinct.

First, Yo-yo activated her omni-blade. At the same time, the figure grabbed the smaller specialist and forcefully shoved her into the wall.

Secondly, Yo-yo brought the superheated, flash-forged blade up to the figure's neck and got ready to chop its head off while simultaneously growing consciously aware of the purple-glowing orb floating next to her head.

Third, both the specialist and Jacob Taylor recognized each other and began to evaluate how the other side fit into the picture.

… and finally, Traynor grabbed a fire-extinguisher and smacked it against Taylor's back while Yo-yo and the man were still deciding whether or not to kill each other.

"Let her go!" the scientist declared loudly while striking the piece of metal against the back plating of the set of heavy armor Taylor was wearing.

The biotic, while letting go of Yo-yo, simply turned around in annoyance. As Traynor went for a final strike, the much bigger biotic simply smacked the fire extinguisher out of the scientist's hand and pointed at her with a clearly threatening intend.

His finger alone was enough to make Traynor back off.

Again, Yo-yo wouldn't fault her. Picking a fight with a biotic in heavy armor was bad enough if you were armed and trained. Traynor was neither of those things.

"Next time you try and do that, at least try to go for the head," he commented coldly before turning his attention back to Yo-yo, who still had her omni-blade activated and was still trying to determine whether or not she should kill the guy right here. The odds of him having compromised Redford and therefor causing this chain of events were high… but then again, if he did that, why didn't he try to kill her right there?

"You wanna shank me, Captain Walker, or are you going to put that away?" the biotic asked, taking care to stress the word 'Captain' in a way that told Yo-yo that he didn't believe it for one second. Then he let go of Yo-yo's uniform, an opportunity the specialist used to start moving right away.

"That depends," Yo-yo replied while quickly pacing away from the wall at her back.

"On?" Taylor asked before circling with her.

"On why you're still alive when everyone else seems to be pretty dead."

Taylor shrugged and even with his helmet on, Yo-yo could tell he was smirking when he answered.

"I'm a combat-grade biotic. They're civies. That explanation do it for you?"

Yo-yo paused in her step and glanced at one of the bodies.

"You run into any security yet?"

"Just the mech that tried to kill me in my room about five minutes ago," Taylor replied. "Didn't go too well for the bolthead."

In response, the brunette specialist shut off her omni-tool.

"Do you know how it started?"

Taylor turned his helmet-covered head at Traynor.

"No idea. But I guess one of her pet-projects went all geth on our asses."

"There are way too many fail-saves in place to allow something like this to happen," the scientist protested.

"Evidently not," Taylor said before glancing at Yo-yo. "If you are who I think you are, you're probably gonna try to get to the hub and stop this before it gets even more out of control. Sound about right?"

The specialist noticed the confused look on her female companion but nodded nonetheless. Then she opted to shoot her shot at a situational alliance. "If you're a half-decent biotic, your help could come a long way in making it easier." The keyword here was easy. She obviously fully believed that she could do this without Taylor. Otherwise she wouldn't have gone with this plan in the first place.

"I knew you'd ask that," there was a brief pause. "But considering how shit went the last time I helped you lot, that ain't happening. I am a half-decent biotic and I barely made it out of there as it is. There's nothing but dead people and bots waiting over there and unless you want to join them, I suggest you follow me to the hangars and join me in getting the hell outta dodge while we still can," he pointed to the aforementioned shuttles, all the while Yo-yo remembered the layout from the station. As she recalled it in front of her mental eye, she deducted that he'd in fact walked into the entirely wrong direction if he really wanted to get to the hangar.

Not only that, he'd in fact probably been headed for the laboratories. Unless she was forgetting some major segment of the station right now (which she knew she didn't), the only place that Taylor was for sure going to end up in when coming from the way he'd came were the labs.

Had he been looking for something?

Or perhaps someone?

"How's that for a plan?"

When Yo-yo noticed that the question was directed at Traynor and not her, she drew a conclusion in her mind.

The man had been looking for Traynor and he was now looking to isolate her. She didn't know why but there were no doubts about his goal or intent.

Hence she'd intervene right here.

"Good if you ignore the fact that there's probably nothing getting off the station as long as it's in lockdown," the specialist said before looking at Traynor. "And if you're willing to let everyone else die, that is."

Traynor visibly swallowed.

"I'm staying with Captain Walker."

"That so?"

Yo-yo detected the hint of a threat in her tone and got ready to lash out at a moment's notice.

"Yes. I can't just abandon Ganymede like this."

Taylor stayed silent for another moment.

"If it's the lockdown that you're worried about, let me assure you that I've got a solution for that stashed onboard."

"Ignoring the morale obligation of helping my friends… whatever you brought, it's not going to penetrate Ganymede's security concept," Traynor pointed out. "Reversing the sabotage is the only way nay of us are getting out of here."

"We'll see about that," the man finally stated. "Don't say I didn't warn you when mechs are stomping in your heads, though," he went on before throwing a look at Yo-yo. "Before you get her killed you are going to tell her the truth about Bradford and you though, right? I mean that'd only be proper etiquette really, no?"

Yo-yo narrowed her eyes.

"Didn't you just say you have a non-departure to catch? I'm only asking because it'd be a damn shame if you missed it on my accord," the threat was hardly subtle. She didn't want it to be either.

"Feisty," Taylor commented. "I'd say that I like 'em that way… but you seem like you're about a world worth of trouble," he threw a look at Traynor. "You got about ten minutes to change your mind. Then I'm leaving. With or without you," and just like that, Taylor turned on his heel, walked back into the corridor he'd come from and headed for the shuttles for real this time around. While it was nice to see her suspicion confirmed, Yo-yo now had another problem and she already knew what Traynor would ask before she did it.

"What did he mean about you telling me the truth?"

The specialist sighed, briefly contemplated if she was going to get away with putting Taylor on HSAIS' hit list and then and decided to try the good old delay tactic before contemplating murder out of sheer spite.

"We need to handle the hub first. We'll talk when we don't have to worry about suffocating, alright?"

The scientist glanced at her with dark eyes and then surprisingly enough nodded.

"You're right. Lead the way."


Two Minutes Later, 28. May 2417 AD, Ganymede Station, Security Wing

The second the security mech with bloodied fists decided to clear the corridor, Krest and Redford quickly moved to the next piece of cover.

Ever since leaving the maintenance section under the reactor, they'd stumbled into a literal bloodbath.

The station's security mechs had gone ballistic and murdered they way through Site-06, crushing and tearing and beating every staff member they got their hands, probably under the orders of Nguyen. The specialist had stopped counting after twenty bodies and judging by the hardened look on Krest's face, so had the former Marine.

"Hub's just behind that door. Armory's down the corridor to the left," Krest whispered.

"Anything in there with enough firepower to actually down one of these bastards quickly?"

"There's a couple of Valkyries in there," Krest murmured. "Pistols too. But they won't do shit against 'em. These things are just Vanguards with a different paintjob. Unless we get rifles, we aren't making more than a dent in their armor. All thanks to human ingenuity."

"Usually I'd be happy to hear that but given the circumstances," Redford trailed off while following Krest to the door of the security hub.

"Yeah. I feel you," Krest said before opening the door to the security sector and being greeted by several damaged mechs and a pair of dead security guards quite literally punched into the walls of the hallway. "Fucking hell," he muttered as Redford and him passed the deceased. Judging by the rifles in their hands, they'd had the same idea as Krest.

"I'm sorry about your guys," the specialist offered while simultaneously grabbing a rifle of one of the dead men and making sure that it was still in working condition.

"At least they died with their boots on," Krest replied quietly while doing the same. "Times like these you can't really ask for much more than that."

Redford was about to remark that he could come up with quite a lot of things he'd prefer to going down fighting mechs, for example dying peacefully at incredibly old age while surrounded by his loved ones, but before he could say that, his damaged hearing picked up an electric explosion in the corridor to his right.

"Keep moving!" a familiar voice shouted before first Traynor rounded the corner with her hands covering her head and then his brunette partner appeared, throwing combat programs down the corridor.

Since Yo-yo was clearly preoccupied with the mechs about to come bearing down on them, Redford announced his presence with a loud 'friendlies' and then gave Krest an order.

"Cover!" he shouted while Traynor rushed past the two men taking up position at either side of the corridor intersection. "We got you! Move!" he added the second he'd taken a knee behind the metal walls. In the same manner they had practiced for years, Yo-yo began her retreat and ran Redford's way.

A second after she'd cleared the halfway point between them, the first gun-metal grey, vaguely marine-shaped security mech turned the corner. Since Redford's field of fire was clear and he knew Yo-yo wouldn't lose her cool and accidentally step into it again, the specialist didn't hesitate before he sent several rounds into the center-mass of the robot. The hits produced several sparks, which first slowed the mech down and then caused it to shut down in a rather sudden manner.

"Two more incoming!" his fellow specialist declared as she passed the overwatch position and took cover behind Redford. Not a moment later, a pair of Vanguard-mechs rounded the corner, bloody batons in hand. Redford and Krest opened fire and barely managed to stop them from reaching their group.

When the last mech fell, Redford kept his eyes up front.

"We good?" he shouted back to Yo-yo.

"For now at least," the other specialist replied. "But I'm guessing more are going to come here really quickly. And unless you want to fight all of them on your own, I suggest it's time we call in the cavalry."

Redford nodded. "How many of these things are there?" he asked towards Krest, who was clearly preoccupied with Traynor's presence.

"There shouldn't be more than ten on site. Unless Nguyen flew in more, that is," the security officer replied. Then Traynor called for him.

"Commander, I need your help over here!" the man obliged the scientists request and stepped away, leaving the specialists to themselves.

"Intel was right. HK shipped geth parts here. Krest showed them to me," was the first thing Redford dropped, prompting Yo-yo to raise an eyebrow. "Happened just before the bots started killing everyone too."

"So what you're saying is that this is probably your fault?"

"I'd rather not assign blame before we know for sure what went down here. Even though I already got a suspicion… What about you? Did you get what you were looking for?"

"Negative. The bots kinda killed the mood before I could snare her in," the brunette woman paused. "Let me guess. You think Nguyen did this?"

"Given everything, it's the most reasonable conclusion," Redford replied in turn. "Well, him or Taylor."

"I don't think it's your friend. We ran into him on the way here, he was looking to ditch asap. Only really seemed to care about taking her with him."

"Traynor?"

"Yes."

Redford paused for a moment.

"You think he's looking to get the same thing from her that we are?"

"She's a VI genius. There's a million and one reasons someone could be interested in her. So whatever he wanted, it doesn't necessarily have to be about her knowing Wong and whatever that implies."

"Bradford, Walker!" Krest called. "We're ready to breach whenever you are!"

"Let's sort this mess out first," Redford offered. "We can worry about who's conspiring against whom when we've got bloody air again."

"Hear, hear," Yo-yo replied before she and Redford approached Krest, who'd clearly used the time they'd spent talking to open up the armory.

"I got shields and a rifle for the captain," Krest stated while handing Yo-yo a Valkyrie and each of them a barrier projector too. While the bots would probably just beat them to death, it was nice to know that they'd be at least a bit protected if one of them suddenly pulled a gun.

After equipping the gear, the group of two specialist and two HK employees got ready to open the door to the hub. Just as Traynor punched in the final overwrite and the door opened, Redford somewhat expected a pair of miniguns to pop from the ceiling and shred them or for Nguyen to activate some kind of illegal neuron purge routine that swept the station.

But much to the specialist's surprise, they found the security hub to be empty, barring a destroyed mech and the corpse of one of Krest's officers. Despite the severely mangled state of his body, Redford could tell that he'd been a massive bloke, which was probably why he'd managed to disassemble the mech laying at his feet with nothing but a baton.

After spending a second stuck on the sight of the security officer, the group followed Krest to the central control where Traynor instantly got to work. First she manually sealed the hub, ensuring they wouldn't get jumped. Then she turned her attention to fixing the ventilation. The woman worked in silence for about a minute and then let out an angry chain of curses.

"What's the matter?" Yo-yo asked.

"This was Nguyen. No doubt about it. The whole system's been shut down via his admin access. And if that weren't bad enough, it looks like he's completely deleted the station's VI. All that's left now is just gibberish…" the scientist explained while Redford, Krest and Yo-yo shot each other a look. Before either of them could say something in that regard however, Traynor went on. "Hold on. I spoke too soon. It's not gibberish at all," she said while Redford noticed that something on the screen seemed to have captured Yo-yo's attention, causing the specialist to walk over to Traynor. "It's just multiple alien languages woven together with a baseline that's in-" Traynor paused suddenly…


Meanwhile, Site-06, 28. May 2417 AD, Ganymede Station, Security Hub

As soon as Yo-yo could see the screen, she realized what Traynor had realized. The scientist probably knew it from years of study… and Yo-yo… well… she'd been in a bit of a similar situation a couple of months earlier, way back when Aiden and Robin had plugged a geth into a secured network.

"In Khelish," Yo-yo stated, prompting Traynor and Krest to look at her. Before either could ask how she knew that though, Redford threw her a look.

"No matter what happens here. Ngyuen's not leaving," he stated plainly.

"Agreed," she commented before throwing a final look at the screen and recognizing one piece of the otherwise alien writing. It was the only word that she knew in Khelish. Or rather the only one she could read. It wasn't much of a word either but rather a name.

And a problematic one at that.

There, written in every third or fourth block of words were the same six letters that had plastered several screens of one of Cronos Station's secured laboratories for the better part of a week.

'Nazara'.

Sovereign's 'name' being written all over Traynor's screen meant one thing:

There might be some geth code at work here.

But this was officially a Reaper-problem.

That in turn meant that for right now, no one besides Redford and her were beyond suspicion.

Furthermore, going from there and thinking on a greater scale… No. She wouldn't open that can of worms right now.

While Krest and Traynor kept looking at the odd pair of naval and marine inspectors, Yo-yo pointed at a block of text.

"You see that word there?"

"What about it?" her partner asked while stepping closer to the screen and then looking at her.

Yo-yo locked eyes with Redford.

"That means Nazara."

"As in…"

"Yes. Exactly."

The older specialist sighed.

"Bloody spectacular," Redford looked at Traynor. "Can you undo what he did? We need to call for back-up."

"I can and I'm already on it. Since HK is properly paranoid of someone abusing their administrative powers, all I need to do to overwrite Nguyen's sabotage is to authorize my overwrite via the authority of another person of an equal administrative clearance as Ngyuen and me," Traynor responded before looking at the tall, black-haired Krest. "Commander, a hand please?"

"I'm not sure this is my skillset but sure," Krest said as he walked over to Traynor. "What do you need me to do?"

Traynor pointed at a small scanner next to the console. "It's a biometric lock. I literally need your hand, not your expertise."

"Ah, that makes more sense," the commander stated as he put his hand on the touchpad. A few seconds passed when nothing happened and then the ventilation turned back on.

"Alright. Now for the comms," Traynor stated as she continued to type.

Yo-yo was observing the two of them when Redford nudged her.

"A word."

Yo-yo nodded him and followed him to the other hand of the security hub.

"What's on your mind?" she asked cautiously as she noticed the unusually weary look on Redford's face.

"If there's geth working with the Reapers on-site, then this problem's a lot bigger than we assumed. There's a whole lot of ramifications that we have to consider now."

"You think we'll end up like getting the Akuze treatment?"

"Something like that."

Yo-yo frowned. She'd rather not spent weeks in lockdown if possible.

"Great."

"But that's not what I'm worried about. At least not right now. If Nguyen's still involved instead of just dead, he's got to be indoctrinated. Probably has been for some time."

"And that would raise the question where he got compromised."

"Which hopefully doesn't have the answer Site-06," Redford looked around. "Reaper-agents in the heart of our RnD are about as big of a risk for national security as it gets. That means secrecy's out of the window. As soon as comms are up again, we'll quarantine this place and call Cronos for permission to do the same to the other labs."

"Traynor mentioned that there's a lot of personal fluctuation around these parts."

"That's a problem for big HSAIS to handle."

Yo-yo nodded and was then struck by a realization.

"This place made the VIs for the Vanguards. If they've been compromised by geth working for the Reapers…"

"Yes. The thought had occurred to me. But like I said. That's for the service to handle, not us," her partner offered before Traynor informed both of them that the comms were once again open.

"If I may," she heard Redford say, prompting the two senior staff members to take a step back. The older specialist then opened the comms.

"This is callsign Lal Qila hailing HSASV Giligan's Cape. Do you copy, Giligan's Cape?"

After Redford had finished his sentence, there was a long, drawn-out moment of silence.

Then a voice cracked through the static.

"This is HSASV Giligan's Cape. Reading you five by five."

Redford threw a look at Yo-yo.

"Threat-Con Red. Site severely compromised. Heavy fallout expected. Initiate Protocol 19-07," 1907. The nineteenth of June. The day the Akuze operation had happened three years ago.

There was another pause.

"Understood. Deploying QRF to your location."

As soon as the words had left the speakers, Krest turned to look at Redford.

"What's protocol 19-07 supposed to be, Major?" he asked.

Traynor meanwhile stared at Yo-yo.

"And what fallout is he talking about?" the scientist added.

The specialists shared a brief look that Krest clearly picked up on.

"I think it's about time you told us what's really going on here. I mean it's clear you're not just some security committee folks," he demanded, the knuckles on his hand turning ever so slightly white as he started grasping his rifle harder by just that much.

While it was a subtle gesture, Yo-yo picked up on it and understood that if the wrong words were spoken now, the situation could deteriorate quickly.

"I understand that you have a lot of questions but thanks to the geth code on that terminal, this mess just became a major risk to national security. That's all we got time for to say right now. We'll explain everything else when we've got a positive on Nguyen," Yo-yo offered, watching as the color returned to Krest's knuckles.

Another crisis averted.

Hopefully.

"This is still your station, Commander. I get that you're upset but we could really use your help with securing him," Redford added. "Yours too, Miss Traynor."

Now it was time for the two HK employees to share a look.

Traynor offered a shrug to Krest and the commander then turned to Redford.

"I'm just going to hazard a guess here. You're HSAIS, aren't you?"

"Since I don't think that the answer's going to change whether or not you're down to help us pull this ride off the edge, I'm just not going to answer that" Redford responded.

"If you do that, you just answered my question."

"Not legally, no."

Krest and Redford shared a look.

"His office is this way. There's still a whole bunch of mechs missing though, so we may want to wait for your back-up."

Since she strongly suspected that Redford was going to try and take the administrator alive and inevitably drag them into another underequipped fight that might lead to someone, most likely Traynor or Krest, getting killed, it was Yo-yo's turn to intervene and play the voice of caution.

It was a role Alec had advised her to take on early in their training after witnessing that Magic seemed to fall in the exact same extreme spade of risk-taking as his partner Redford.

She remembered the conversation quite vividly actually. It had been after one of their first paired ops that had ended with Morneau 'dying' in a rather stupid manner.

'The guy's as fierce as they come. I got no doubt he'd walk to hell and back to get you out of a bad spot. But that's ironically the problem you'll have to deal with from here on out. I don't think they equipped him with any kind of breaks at Grissom. So you're gonna have to be that for him. Make sure he doesn't get himself killed over something stupid so he can stick around for when you really need him to fight like there's no tomorrow,' those had been Alec's exact words and they'd been right on the mark.

She'd spent a lot of time pondering why he'd managed to hit the money just like that before coming to the conclusion that he'd simply spoken from his own experience with his own partner operative.

Redford had mellowed out over the years, no doubt about it, but at his heart he was also someone who picked fights instead of avoiding them. In most cases, that was a very bad trait for any spy to have… right until it suddenly wasn't.

And when that kind of situation rolled around, people like Redford and Morneau were the guys you really wanted to have around you to make that call and walk the walk. Sorta like back on Noveria, for example when Magic had rightfully decided that then and there was the time to square up with an asari matriarch.

He'd recognized the situation as their one shot at stopping Benezia and wasted no second with acting on it, even if it meant going through a rachni hive and a bunch of commandos on his own. Similarly, Yo-yo had remembered Alec's words, realized that Morneau was right and not pulled him back and it had all worked out in the end because of it.

… but this wasn't a situation like that.

Chances were Nguyen was already dead and even if he wasn't, an indoctrinated prisoner wasn't going to be a useful indoctrination.

"He's right. Nguyen's not going anywhere. No need to take the risk," she said, refraining from mentioning that she strongly suspected that he was going to off himself anyway if he really was indoctrinated. That's how these things usually went. The Reapers used their assets and when they weren't useful anymore, they had them dispose of themselves.

After voicing her opinion, she watched Redford withdraw back into his thoughts for a second. The older specialist was probably trying to decide whether the risk of running into more mechs and possibly losing members of their group was worth the possibility of a capturing an indoctrinated agent alive.

"You're right. Keep the hub locked down. No need to risk our lives like this."

Yo-yo breathed a sigh of relief and nodded.


Twenty Minutes Later, 28. May 2417 AD, Ganymede Station, Administrative Wing

After making the call to hunker down and wait things out for back-up, they'd done just that. The four of them had stayed inside the security hub until the cavalry had come knocking and led Redford and the others to Nguyen's office. In retrospective, it had been a good decision too. In between the squad of destroyed security mechs and the blood of the deceased admin that had been spattered all over his fancy office, getting to him not only would've been a bitch… it also would've been pointless.

"When?" he asked the N7 standing next to him while both stared at the dead man hunched over the desk, a pair of bullet wounds in his heart.

"He pulled the trigger the second we breached," the man in the onyx armor with red highlights offered. "Bit off an odd choice for shot placement, if you ask me."

"Indeed it is," Redford said while looking at the SIS-9 pistol that had been used in the suicide. Someone who didn't understand humans had made Nguyen shoot himself in the heart. Just like New Canton. "Where can I find your commander?"

"Right outside. Big guy. Can't miss him."

Redford nodded before leaving the office and passing Yo-yo, who'd been tasked with dealing with Traynor and Krest, a task she'd clearly handed off to the pair of N7s flanking the two further down the corridor.

"Exactly what you were expecting?" the brunette specialist asked.

"Exactly what I was expecting," the older man confirmed before looking for the largest N7 he could see. He approached him and addressed him.

"Commander?"

The large Red-Squadron officer stopped what he was doing on his omni and turned around.

"Sir?"

"I need you to rally your men for an in-depth debrief once the station's secured. Tell them that there'll be medical and investigative personal from our service present as well. Not because they did anything wrong but because there are certain protocols affiliated with a situation like this."

The man nodded firmly. "This is about that exposure event we were told about, isn't it?"

Redford nodded.

There was a pregnant pause where the man looked at the specialist through his polarized visor.

"I can hazard a guess at the answer… but can you tell me how worried we should be?"

"It's merely a precaution, Commander" Yo-yo injected from the side with a disarming smile. "Like my partner said, you'll be briefed about it in-depth once you get back to the Gilgian's Cape."

The onyx-armored man nodded.

"And the detainees you handed over?"

"Will be turned into HSAIS proper as well once we're back," Yo-yo offered. "I never asked. Where there any more survivors?"

"Not that we found, no," the N7 replied stoically.

Redford and Yo-yo exchanged a look and both thought about the same guy.

Taylor.

"Anyone look out of the ordinary? Say like a combatant? Maybe a contractor or something like that?"

"Negative. Just dead staff," the Red-Squadron commander replied. "Why? Should I have my men be on the look-out for a merc?"

"Not specifically, no," Redford stated before putting his hand to his mouth in a thinking motion again and pulling Yo-yo to the side.

"If they haven't found him, he got out," he offered.

"Probably… Raises the question of how, though," the woman replied. Then she probably realized that Redford was anything but happy with losing control over Taylor. Maybe rushing for Nguyen would've been stupid, yes, but catching Taylor… that might have just been worth the risk.

Bloody hell.

"I know what you're thinking right now," his colleague offered. "The entirety of Sol is filled with the best surveillance gear Arcturus could think off. He might not be here, but he sure as hell didn't just vanish. This isn't over."

"Damn right it's not," Redford nodded. "I just wish we could do more than guess why he was here. That'd make things a lot easier."

"You can say that again…" Yo-yo stated before throwing a look at Traynor. "I'll go talk to her. Maybe I can work the good old 'I saved your life' angle for a couple of minutes before we hand her over."

"Afirm," Redford nodded. "While you do that, I'll start breaking my head over how the hell we're gonna put all of this on paper…"


Codex: Sol System

Located in the Orion Arm, the Sol System contains eight-planets, five dwarf planets, 289 moons and is home to fourteen billion predominantly human residents.

Besides the sprawling megacities of humanity's homeworld of Earth, major human settlements exist on Luna, Titan and, most importantly, Mars, which is currently undergoing large-scale terraforming operations to render it inhabitable outside of its domed cities.

In addition to the major planetary settlements outside of Earth, several million people inhabit small outposts on most planetary bodies within the system. Meanwhile, atmospheric colonies float in the skies above Venus.

Population estimates regarding orbital stations around planetary orbits list several million station-dwellers as well. While no installations the size of Arcturus Station exist within the Sol System, the total population of orbital-dwellers outnumbers that of the HSA's capital station by several magnitudes.

Of notice here are the various luxury habitation complexes around Earth as well as the Lunar-Belt, a collection of high-end space-habitats circling in an equatorial orbit around Earth's lone moon built by the Luna-Liner corporation.

Despite not being the formal capital of the Human Systems Alliance, the Sol System houses a significant portion of humanity's economic potential.

In addition to being near-leading in every field of industry, the Sol System is home to the largest shipbuilder in human space, All-Martian Drive Yards, the company exclusively responsible for the construction of all human dreadnought vessels. Similarly, Luna-Liner, based in the city of Armstrong on Luna, is the largest civilian ship builder in human space.

Unlike the other planetary systems inhabited by humanity, the Sol System does not represent a singularly unified political entity. Instead of being subsumed under the umbrella of a singular system administration governed by the system's premier settlement as it is the case in the rest of human space, the Sol System, and in particular Earth, is split into various administrative zones, or AZs.

Earth itself, to better represent its disproportionate contribution to the human population and ensure that the people living on it are adequately represented within parliament, is currently split into twenty six administrative zones. Mars meanwhile was divided into two zones of administration. Luna, despite a comparatively small population, also represents a singular AZ. At the same time, the various orbital installations as well as the settlements in the outer solar system despite their distance to one another make up for another AZ alongside Titan and Venus.

Therefore, despite only making up a single system within the comparatively massive territory claimed by the HSA, the Sol System consists of thirty political regions. This unique status has been widely criticized outside of the Sol System, particularly within the Fringe and the new colonies within the Attican Traverse. Even so, the AZs remain an accepted part of Arcturus' political landscape largely due to the fact that the Sol System alone still represents nearly a third of humanity's population. As such the continued existence of the AZs has repeatedly been ruled as a 'constitutional necessity'.

Despite not being the formal seat of governance, Earth and the Sol System still contain a seat of every significant HSA institution as well as major military installations of all branches. For the sake of readability, the full list of installations has been moved to a separate Codex entry (See Codex Entry 'HSA Installations within the Sol System').


A/N:

Another two month break, yay.

First off, a little section about style:

If I'm being entirely honest, this chapter and the one before it are essentially one chapter. But since 31k words would've been excessivly large, I opted to split it in two and also decided to cut out a lot of the going from a to b via splitting up Redford and Yo-yo and having a lot of that happen off-screen. Otherwise this probably would've been three chapters, really.

Now, into the narrative meat of it all:

This chapter, despite not being all that impressive from an action-pov, is actually pretty significant in terms of what it implies. I've spent the last couple years heavily foreshadowing a lot of the stuff that just got spelled out for you. Needless to say, it felt rather cathartic to finally be able to write it out loud and not having to rely on implications and hear-say accounts from non-pov characters! HK is bad news and got mixed up into some bad shit in the wake of Eden Prime. Now we got it in writing! Ain't that a relief to finally hear it out loud?

I honestly don't recall WHEN I first started writing the PGI / HK / Geth Conspiracy. Neither do I remember the exact chapter it first got implied in ... however I am sure of one thing. THIS was a long time coming. Like probaly at least three years...

Have I gotten across how much of a major step in my narrative checklist this was? Good. Okay. Moving on then.

Since I can predict that my schedule will continue to be slowed down (mainly due to the european championship coming up and that sorta increasing my workload by like 10000% and completely sniping my freetime for five weeks), I'll take a page out of any good mid-season finale of some 24 episode ABC-type of tv show and just offer you a little teaser for what's to come via some cryptic words I will now metaphorically throw at your screen:

ARCADIA

ANNOYING FEDS

TAETRUS

ANNOYING FACIUS

*Fade to black*

Feeling sufficiently teasered now?

Good... cuz Idk when I can deliver on that :P

Seriously though. Thanks for sticking around despite the irregular updates.

For the record we're at 1036 reviews, 1676 favorites and 1755 follows.

See you around next time.