Authors note: Celisk is the only orginal character mentioned. All others belong to either the Honor Harrington or Mass Effect universes.
Frigid water splashed across his face and Celisk gasped to wakefulness. He found it strange he couldn't remember falling asleep. He tried to blink his eyes to help clear the fog from his mind. Then he winced and screwed them shut again. For some reason there was a blinding light pointed at his face. He tried to raise a hand to block out the source. Something pressed down on his arm, holding it in place. Panic began to well up in him. Adrenaline swept away the last of Celisk's mental cobwebs as he desperately tried to piece together what was going on. He had obviously been captured. That much was certain. And it would explain why he never remembered losing consciousness. His kidnappers must have drugged him at the bar or knocked him out somehow while he was on his way back to his quarters.
As he got a grip on his predicament, Celisk began flicking through his mental files of possible perpetrators. It was a short list whose candidates did little to settle his nerves. It could be one of the rival slave gangs. There were plenty of independent operators out in the Terminus who were hoping to get a leg up on the competition. It was possible but unlikely. Most of the independents knew who he was. And they all knew what would happen to them if his bosses found out what they'd done. Next on the list were internal competition. Celisk's success had made him plenty of enemies. Those who had lost status, prestige, or a promotion as his accomplishments carried him past. Again, possible, but unlikely. His restraints meant somebody intended to extract information from him. There would be no need for that unless his competition planned to carry out his current mission and orders. It would be far easier for them to just kill him in some back alley and slide into his position once word of his demise got back home.
That left two possibilities. The first was that, for whatever reason, some Council Spectre had picked him up for questioning. Celisk doubted it was specifically about his work. The Council had been turning a blind eye to Batarian sanctioned slaving for centuries. More likely some VIP or their close relations had accidentally been scooped up in a colony raid. Such things happened occasionally and Spectres were quietly sent out to track down the missing persons. Celisk doubted it had occurred under his operation. It was more probable that some unfortunate colleague of his had picked the wrong planet to raid and now the Spectre wanted to know who it might've been. If that was the case, Celisk would enthusiastically cooperate. His bosses wouldn't be happy, but they would understand. Spectres were bad for business. So the faster you gave them what they wanted, the faster things went back to normal. Celisk hoped that was who had grabbed him. If not, that left the last option-
"Wakey Wakey, four eyes." The gruff, gravelly voice announced behind him. Celisk tried to turn his head, only to realize that was restrained too. Panic began to build. The voice was not turian, salarian, or asari. And as rough as it was, it wasn't deep enough to be a krogan. The race of who his captors were narrowed to one option. Unfortunately, that still left several sub-choices as to who specifically had grabbed him.
"What's going on? Where am I? Who are you?" Celisk demanded as he fought to keep the fear out of his voice. Maybe his captors might let slip who they were. He desperately hoped they weren't who he feared.
"Questions, anywhere, and you first." Another voice answered. It wasn't quite as gravelly as the other. And there was a certain accent to it. Celisk flipped through his mental files to pinpoint its origin. While he searched, he tried to buy time.
"I'm Erhan Drelsk, captain of the Syrvi. We're just a tramp freighter! If this is some sort of convoluted ransom scheme, you're going to be disappointed." Celisk growled out, trying to sound outraged and exasperated. The first man barked a short laugh.
"Good thing we're not kidnapping you for money." He said. Celisk could almost picture the sneer of the man's face.
"And I'm afraid you'll have to do better than that line of garbage." The second man said. "If there's one thing we know you're not, it's that you're a tramp freighter's captain. Why don't you try telling us the truth?" Celisk fought to keep his heart under control
"I'm telling you this is all a mistake! I have no idea who you think you grabbed, but-GAAH!" Celisk yelped as he was interrupted by a mild shock.
"We don't have time for this." The first voice grumbled. More to his partner then to Celisk. "Bring the trash in." The request was muffled and not directed at him. Celisk suspected he was talking on a commlink. A door to his right opened and the blinding light dimmed to a reasonable level. Celisk blinked spots away as his eyes adjusted. When he could properly see again, he wished he couldn't. In front of him stood a tall, imposing figure. His armor was bloody. No doubt from the fresh corpse he was holding. The armored man let the body drop to the deck with a wet thud.
One glance was enough to tell Celisk the corpse was his former first officer, Vato Karsk. It was also enough to tell him that Karsk had been tortured. The eyeless sockets testified to that. Celisk fought to keep himself from vomiting. Removing the eyes had special meaning in Batarian culture. Your soul would be trapped forever inside your rotting corpse. It was probably the obscenest defilement one could heap upon a batarian. Celisk's own eyes traveled back up the armored man's figure. A prickly ball of ice formed in his gut when they reached his face. It was impossible to mistake him.
"I trust you fully realize your predicament?" The second voice asked. For a moment, Celisk was too stunned to speak. Zaeed Massani was a famed bounty hunter. Intelligent, cunning, ruthless, and persistent. When the topic of Zaeed came up, most people focused on how he got his facial scars. It made for great bar gossip: A man too stubborn to die after catching a shotgun blast to the face. But Celisk was looking past that particular tidbit. Before Zaeed had become a bounty hunter or even founded the Blue Suns. Back to when he had been a former Torch Marine captain. And after which he'd served the Courtyard as a ruthless hitman.
Torch Marines were bad enough. Nearly all of Torch was comprised of freed slaves or their descendants. Hating slavers was practically the Star Nation's official pastime. Nowhere was that passion more concentrated than in their Marine Corps. But Courtyarders were a completely different ball of insanity. The Torch government, and by extension their military, understood there were interstellar rules and procedures to be followed. Torch personnel knew it would paint their kingdom in a bad light if they simply blew apart stations, merchant ships, and individuals simply suspected being involved in the slave business. So, they did their best to obey interstellar procedure when it came to dealing with possible slavers. The Courtyard didn't really care about all that.
Torch might spend several months and millions of credits setting up an operation to covertly eliminate a prominent Terminus warlord who was secretly working with slavers. The Courtyard would blow his shuttle out of the sky with a missile and take credit for it on the evening news. They only exercised restraint if it meant avoiding civilian casualties. Other than that, all bets were off. Even Celisk had lost a few friends and contacts to the lunatics. About the only person they hadn't gone after was Aria T'loak. Partly because she didn't actively engage in the slave trade. And partly because being allowed access onto Omega, and all the information and transit opportunities that came with it, was too important to risk going after her. Unfortunately for him, Celisk was not T'Loak. And while she didn't like any overt Courtyard activities occurring on her station, Aria probably wouldn't mind a discreet abduction of someone like Celisk. If this was Torch or the Courtyard, Celisk didn't doubt that Zaeed knew what Celisk did for a living.
"Let's start from the top. No games." The first voice spoke up, breaking Celisk out of his terrified thoughts. "We know who you are, Captain Dir'ka Celisk. We know you're running a slaving operation for the Batarian government. One that's been targeting human colonies in the Skyllian Verge. Your first officer told us that much before he was put out of his misery." Celisk felt his stomach fall out from under him.
'Vato you fucking Idiot!' He mentally cursed his dead subordinate. If Vato had said that much, it probably meant he had shared even more. But how much? They probably understood that Vato knew less about the operation then he did. More important, Celisk knew certain names and locations that Vato wouldn't. So what they probably did was milk Vato for everything they thought he knew and then disposed of him. Then they would use that as check to see if Celisk was lying to them. A sudden thought struck him.
"What do you want?" Celisk rasped out. This might be a Courtyard operation. But it might be somebody else's too. And they might want something besides flaky intel provided by two dead Batarian slavers. There were only a few human governments out there who had the time, the resources, and the inclination to launch a black ops intel gathering mission on Omega. And if Celisk played his cards right, he might walk out of here with his eyes safely inside his head.
"We're glad you're starting to see reason. Though our friend would probably rather you persist in being stubborn." The second voice replied. Zaeed flashed him a cold smile and cracked his knuckles. Celisk swallowed audibly. "Getting back to business, we know who you are and what you're doing around here. Your first officer provided that much. But he was a little fuzzier on the details. We were hoping you might fill in the blanks."
"No doubt. But how do I know you won't kill me after I tell you everything?" Celisk responded evenly. Or at least he hoped it sounded even. He was starting to regain his balance though. Celisk was nearly recovered from the shock of seeing Vato's eyeless corpse. And he was becoming convinced these weren't Courtyard butchers either. Which also put Zaeed's presence in a different light as well. This wasn't some favor he was pulling for his old friends. This was a job. His captors doubtless knew Massani would impress on Celisk the severity of his situation. And they would doubtless let Zaeed break Celisk if the batarian proved uncooperative. But it was possible they needed him far more then they needed Vato. Celisk planned to use that to his full advantage.
"Even if you told us everything you knew right here and now, we'll still need to verify it." The first voice replied. "That'll take time. And if it turns out you're lying, we'll just have to start this little song and dance number all over again." The first man explained.
"We know you're a smart batarian, Celisk." The second man started. "Answer us truthfully, and we'll find you a comfortable place to…cool your heels as it were. No torture chambers, no chains, no beatings. Just a few long interview sessions that end with you getting an evening meal and a restful sleep in your new quarters."
"Or-" Zaeed pipped up. "-You can keep your mouth shut like a good little loyal batarian soldier and I can work out some repressed anger by beating you til you shit out your kidneys." The towering merc said with a manically feral grin. A handful of "pops" filled the air as Zaeed rolled his shoulders and cracked his neck. "Here's hoping for a little stubborn patriotism. The girls could use some exercise." Massani flexed beefy hands into fists under Celisk's nose.
Celisk tried to look at his captors again but the restraints held him fast. "I don't suppose you're going to tell me which intelligence organization you work for?" He asked. The first man chuckled.
"What, are you worried we're TIS?" He laughed again. "What would keep us from lying and telling you we're the Manties, Havenites, or Andies? You're just going to have to take us at our word that we're not going to skin you alive."
"Rather unpleasant when you realize you're completely helpless Isn't, batarian?" The second voice said in a told of dark, cold mirth. Massani flashed an ugly smile. Celisk kept his face still but mentally glowered at the remark. There was silence for a few moments and then Celisk sighed.
"Anywhere is better than here." He grumbled out. "I'll answer what I can. But don't expect me to know the pass code to High Overseer Callor's private computer."
"Ah, well it's just wonderful you decided to see things are way." The first voice said.
"That's a matter of perspective." Zaeed groused, obviously unhappy that he wouldn't be able to pull Celisk's lungs out through his rectum.
"Nighty-night, then." The second voice remarked. Celisk's eyes widened. What did that me-.
The batarian slumped over as the stunner blast engulfed him. The two men checked to see if he was truly out, then set to work untying him. The second one looked at Zaeed. "A pleasure as always, Mr Massani. You'll find the rest of your payment in your account by the end of the day." He said, as he and his companion dragged Celisk out of the chair and dumped the batarian into a countergrav-equipped cargo container.
"Likewise. Honestly, getting paid is just a bonus if it means I get to kill scum like this." Zaeed replied as he toed the corpse of Vato Karsk. The first man flashed him a grin as he sealed the container and activated the life support systems.
"Well if you don't mind doing it for free…" His smile grew wider as Zaeed scowled at him.
"Hold your hexapumas. I never said I'd do it for free. I just said I enjoy the bonus. Word gets out I'll work for free if there's slavers involved, and I'll be harassed by every sobbing mother who lost their kid ten years ago." He grumbled.
"Just thought we'd clarify that, old boy." The second man replied. He and his partner had finished stowing their "cargo" away and were ready to have him taken back to their ship. He looked at the dead batarian. "Do you want us to take care of that, or….?" He trailed off. Zaeed shrugged.
"There's enough damned vorcha on this station that I can find a handful to toss in here. Walls will be licked clean by tomorrow. The only DNA traces you can find will be from their tongues." The merc said with a wolfish grin.
"Ah, Omega. How I shan't miss this armpit of the galaxy." Replied the first man. He turned to his partner. "Ready for that last bit of business then?" He asked. The second sighed and nodded.
Aria T'Loak looked coolly at the two figures sitting across the conference room from her. They were not in her usual VIP booth at the Afterlife. Meetings like these were best held in a secluded and secure location. Far from the wandering eyes and loose lips of clubbing drunkards. "I trust your 'expedition' went as well as you'd hoped." The first man, who she knew only as "Green" nodded his head.
"Indeed it was. Thank you again for availing your station to us." The man said.
"Omega is open to all." Aria replied in a magnanimous tone. She leaned back in her couch and crossed her legs. "Especially to such well-paying organizations like your sponsors." She added. The two men nodded slightly. It was an open secret that Aria knew the duo worked for Manti intelligence. Which particular branch might allude her. But she knew who was feeding her varren at this particular moment.
"To be honest-" T'Loak continued, "-I was hoping they'd eventually send one of their more notorious spies. Perhaps Anton Zilwicki. Maybe he could bring his friend Victor Cachat. I've heard so much about them and would simply love to see them in action." The crime boss said almost longingly. Aria's eyes slid over her guests. They didn't seem bothered by her "playful banter" or the implications that came with it.
"Well obviously you would say that now." The second man, who went by the alias of "Brown", replied. "But I have a distinct impression you may sing a different tune if they ever did show up." He explained. The asari raised an eyebrow.
"Indeed. Perhaps you might have a high opinion of them, but I suspect they would have different things to say about you." Green added. Aria's eyes narrowed. Green continued hurriedly. "I'm sure you realize both Anton and Victor hold some…strong, shall we say, moral and ethical convictions. Such beliefs might cause them to view certain activities that occur on you station in a dim light. And since nothing occurs on this station without your blessing, well…" He trailed off.
Anger flashed through T'Loak's eyes and a scowl settled on her face. "I don't allow slaves on my station. Buying, selling, and holding them on Omega is strictly prohibited." She spat out in a dangerous tone. But it was true. Omega might once have been host to such activities. But T'Loak had rapidly cleaned house after humanity entered the galactic scene. It wasn't because she had developed a sudden conscious, of course. Rather it was the realization that most human governments did not tolerate any form of slavery anywhere. A policy they backed up with countless warships patrolling the spaceways of Terminus and Verge systems.
Aria didn't think an Alliance wall of battle would simply hyper in one day to blast Omega to rubble if she had continued to allow the practice. But she wasn't going to bet her fiefdom on it. And there was that small matter of what those Courtyard lunatics might do. Many a slaver-backing terminus warlord had met a violent end at their hands. Again, Aria wasn't worried about her own personal safety. Plenty had tried to kill her over the centuries and obviously failed. What really worried her is what collateral damage might be done to Omega.
Brown held up his hands in a placating gesture. "Of course, I never meant to imply you did." He explained. "I'm just saying Omega isn't host to the most…savory practices in the galaxy. There's plenty of other things the two might take offense to."
"Zilwicki is intractable, but I honestly think Cachat might be just a bit worse than him" Green added. "I don't suppose you've heard any tales of his early exploits?" Aria slowly shook her head. "State Security Special Investigator Victor Cachat, of the People's Republic of Haven. Or as he was referred to as the time: The Fanatic." The asari crimelord raised an eye at Green's emphasis at the last phrase. "Long story short, Haven used to be ran by a dictatorship called The Committee of Public Safety." Aria nodded. There were plenty of terminus systems who couched their totalitarian rule with friendly sounding titles. "The Office of State Security, or StateSec, were their jackbooted enforcers. And Cachat was a rising star amongst their ranks."
"He was sent out to investigate the murder of a StateSec chief in a nearby sector. What he discovered was that the chief had been entertaining himself by abusing naval ratings, sexually and physically." Green's voice turned cold. "Cachat was none too pleased with this finding. He was even less pleased with the officer's co-conspirators. Once he determined they were indeed guilty, he shot them all. Personally. The fact they were all StateSec didn't bother him much."
A terse pause filled the conference. "I…hadn't heard that particular story yet." Aria admitted.
"Not a lot of non-humans have." Brown shrugged. "Hell, it's not too widely known outside of Haven, either. Most humans know about his exploits on Torch and Mesa. Quite a few even know about the famed 'manpower' incident that really launched his career. Neither Haven or Cachat went out of their way to publicize it." He explained.
"The point is-" Green leaned forward. "-Cachat is as cold blooded and ruthless as they come. If he decides something's in his way, you can bet it won't be for long. Between him and Zilwicki, things around them tend to…come apart." The covert agent shrugged. "I'd hate for a pair like them to be set loose in place like Omega. I know you keep everything in nice and tidy but those two have a way of upsetting the balance of things." Green finished.
Aria pursed her lips. "I see…" She mused. There was another tense pause before she stood up. "Well, if everything is order, I believe that our business here is concluded." She said. There was a hint of frost in her tone. The two humans rose from their chairs.
"Indeed, it is. Again, we thank you for allowing us the use of your station." Brown responded courteously. Aria merely fixed them with a glare and gestured to the exit.
"Think we should've rattled her cage like that?" John Mullins, known to Aria T'loak as "Brown" asked
"Well old bean, she certainly started it." Charles Gonzalvez, or "Green" as he sometimes went by, retorted. The pair had made a polite, if hurried, exit from Aria's conference room and were rapidly navigating through the guts of Omega to reach their ship. "You don't just insult a man's skills at tradecraft by opining for someone else to his face." The modulator imbedded in his vocal cords managed to scrub most of the Manticore Aristocrat accent from his speech. Had it not, John knew Charles would've sounded haughtily annoyed.
"Well I can't disagree with that." John admitted. "But I'd rather not piss the bed, either. What if Aria tells the rest of the community to fuck off and drops our names as the reason? I'd have to imagine the boss would be pretty pissed at us. And that's for starters!" He fretted. Charles snorted.
"T'loak is a smart customer. She's unlikely to keep others out just because we might've hurt her pride. It's an unspoken agreement, you see. Aria lets goons like us futz about Omega. And in return, she doesn't have to worry about an anti-slavery taskforce dropping by unannounced to inspect this dump." Gonzalvez explained as he stepped around a foul-smelling puddle. The man's nose wrinkled in disgust. "I'm sure she'll get back at us in her own way. Probably additional docking fees or longer wait times to see her."
"Well I just hope she takes it out on us and not some unsuspecting bastard from ONI or SIS." John groused as he ducked under a low hanging pipe.
"Don't worry your pretty head." Charles admonished. "The chaps at ONI are more than capable of handling whatever mild inconvenience the Queen of Omega might throw their way. SIS too."
Mullins sighed at Gonzalvez's devil-may-care attitude but didn't press the issue further. To be honest, most of his concern stemmed from the fact that neither he nor Charles were officially Manticoran intelligence agents anymore. They simply let Aria think they were since it made their job easier. Although, in a roundabout way, she was correct. While the two didn't work for any Manti intelligence, they were part of a private agency the Manticoran government contracted out certain jobs to.
Hackenbush Security and Consulting, independently owned and operated, was their official employer. On paper, HSC worked with budding human colonies in the Verge. Colonial leaders and security teams were briefed about local threats and received training and advice from HSC agents. True enough, John and Charles had fulfilled that exact roll plenty of times. And with their credentials as "officially retired" Manticoran intelligence officers, most civilians didn't think to question them.
Of course, HSC fulfilled an unofficial roll as well: performing clandestine intelligence gathering and wetwork for both the Manticore Star Empire and the Republic of Haven. The arrangement would've been exclusively with Manticore had John been calling the shots. The CEO of HSC, however, was Yuri Radamacher. The man was a Havenite who had served as an ambassador to both Torch and envoy to Erewhon. In fact, his service to Haven extended back into the bad old days of the People's Republic of Haven. Back then he'd been a StateSec commissioner assigned to monitor a Havenite admiral. Eventually, Yuri had decided to retire after years of loyal service.
Strangely enough, he'd gone on to found HSC mere weeks after he'd left Havenite employ. As a complete coincidence, Yuri had managed to find and hire the two manti spies scant days after they themselves had retired. Even more of a coincidence, this had all happened shortly after certain star nations began pushing into the Verge. Obviously, such "coincidences" wouldn't fool any Council Spectre or a Salarian STG worth their salt. But it did provide Manticore and Haven with certain "plausible deniability." Especially when the Batarian government was looking for someone to blame for "terrorist attacks" against "military personnel and civilians operating lawfully" in the Verge systems.
Any qualms John might have had about working for a Havenite had been put to rest long ago. Lucrative pay certainly helped. But the fact of the matter was Yuri did fantastic work. The man was a champion administrator who liasoned flawlessly with the two governments and their intelligence agencies. Yuri also made a decent spook when he put his mind to it. There was a certain eccentric streak to him, though. His love of ancient literature, history, and entertainment provided a never-ending fountain of bizarre operation names.
Personally, Mullins enjoyed his time in HSC. He got paid to see the new parts of the galaxy while training colonists to kick slaver ass. It was practically a dream job. Of course, with the good must also come the bad. HSC employees occasionally found themselves sent to galactic cesspits to root out important intel or secure certain "packages." Like the one Zaeed had brought to their ship while they were talking to Aria.
John didn't know much about the Batarian they had been sent to collect aside from a few important details like name, rank, and habitual resting stops. He did know Celisk worked for the Batarian Hegemony in the same way he and Charles worked unofficially for Manticore. Celisk had held a naval command before his government had cut him loose to terrorize human colonies and shipping. And they obviously gave Celisk his marching orders despite no official ties to Hegemony leadership. Privateers like Celisk were part of the Hegemony's strategy to push humanity back out of the Skyllian Verge. Or at least keep them off balance. After a joint task force of humanity's major star nations had crushed Batarian assets at Torfan in response to the Skyllian Blitz, it was clear the Hegemony's navy was completely outclassed. So the Batarian government was forced to pursue more asymmetrical strategies. What they settled on was an unofficial policy of commerce raiding vis-à-vis proxies like Celisk who they provided logistical support to.
All that still didn't explain why either Manticore, Haven, or any other star nation might want Celisk. From what John could tell, he was relatively low-level player in the Verge. Celisk was the defacto leader of a squadron of "decommissioned" Batarian destroyers that were good for raiding unarmed cargo ships and lightly defended colonies. But not much else. There were certainly more juicy targets he could have been pointed at. Then again, HSC was a contractor agency. ONI and/or SIS probably felt Celisk was a growing thorn had to be addressed. But not so much that he couldn't be farmed out to HSC while they trawled for bigger prizes. If John were of a different mind, he might feel slighted for being thrown a smallfry. Instead he contented himself with the fact that, minor player or not, Celisk was still a pirate and a slaver. Removing him from the board might just save a few thousand colonists down the road.
Mullins paused his musings as they approached their docking berth. Standing near the access tube was a squad of thugs sporting the livery of Aria's crime syndicate. His hand casually drifted to the concealed pulser in his waistband. Charles did the same. While Aria was thoroughly ruthless in punishing criminals who pretended to be her men for personal gain, plenty were still desperate or ballsy enough to try it. Given John's line of work, it was entirely possible this was an attempt to ambush them with deception. Strangely, as they got closer, John also spotted a quivering salarian hunched over what appeared to be cleaning equipment.
The lead thug, a turian in full armor, noticed their approach and called out to them. "Hey, you the owners of this ship?" He said, gesturing down the docking corridor.
"Who wants to know?" Mullins replied.
"I just want to make sure I'm billing the right people for the damages and clean-up." The goon said matter-of-factly.
"Damages and clean-up?" Charles asked incredulously.
"See for yourself." The goon responded, gesturing down the boarding tube. Charles peered around the corner and his eyebrows rose.
"I say…" He muttered. The corridor was a charnel house, plain and simple. Shredded bits of meat and bone littered the path to the duo's ship. Scraps of armor and damaged weapons were scattered amongst the mess. John looked around him and noted some larger chunks that might've belonged to vorcha and krogan once. On the far side of the corridor, next to their ship's airlock, stood a human in Heavy Scorpion armor. He was casually slouched against the ship's airlock door with a Havenite light tri-barrel cradled in his hands. The ammo tank was marked for flechet and HE rounds. He spotted the two men and a smile spread across his face.
"Hey, hey, Green and Brown! My two favorite traveling companions have returned!" He bellowed cheerfully.
"Damnation Red, what the hell did you do?!" Charles called to him, gesturing to the mess between them. The man called Red shrugged.
"Well I went out to pick up that cargo from our friend. On my way back, some unsavory types started telling me I owned them a toll. I told them to shove it where the sun don't shine. Anyway, they followed me back to the ship and said if I didn't pay, they'd come and take it by force. I told them 'wait right there and I'll get what you need.' Then I got what I needed and gave it to them." He explained.
"And by 'it' you meant a full tank from a light tri-barrel." John quipped.
Red flashed him a vicious smile. "You got it in one, buddy." He gestured to the mess. "I've been waiting for more to show up. Nobody has though. Too bad, I was hoping to have a little more fun with Diane." Red hefted the tri-barrel.
"Oh Lord, he named the damned thing." Charles muttered. John heaved a sigh.
"Well we're about to shove off. Get onboard and tell the crew to get ready." The man nodded and headed through the ship's airlock. John wondered how the man had ended up serving in a spy outfit. If Yuri was to be believed, he was a retired Havenite marine. Radamacher swore by the man. The two had apparently served together in the bad old days of the People's Republic of Haven. Ned Pierce was his name. And he was completely unsuited for spy operations. Which, as Yuri explained, made him the perfect cover.
"We're a security consulting agency." The man had explained in HSC's office back in Nouveau Paris. "Obviously if we're going to be zipping around the Terminus teaching colonists how to defend themselves against pirates, we're going to need a serious pipe hitter with the credentials and attitude to back that up." It made sense in a way. Nobody would ever look at Ned and assume he was a spook. Maybe a bodyguard for an info broker, but that was the extent of it. The man was brash, bombastic, and ever eager to dispense violence. Ned was also very good at his cover job. The man had spent over 30 t-years in the Havenite Marine Corps. He'd moved up the ranks from enlisted to officer before finally retiring as a Lt. Colonel.
"I would've stayed where I was if they hadn't told me to move up or out. Lt. Colonel is the last rank where you can really get stuck in with the men. Once you make Colonel and above, you're a damned desk jockey. I smash heads, not push papers." The man had explained when John had asked him about it. In short, Pierce had the perfect background to raise, organize, and train local militias. Maybe not to his exacting Corps standards, but good enough that they could send most pirates and raiders packing.
If you took the time to observe Ned during these training cycles, as John had, you'd soon realize beneath Ned's bellicose surface was a competent leader with a keen intellect. He was a capable strategic and tactical planner who was aware of his surroundings and his own abilities and limitations. There were times when John wondered why Pierce even stayed with HSC at all. With his talents and ability, he could've made three or four times the salary with other organizations.
Then you had days like today. And John realized Ned was the type to work for free if it meant he got to visit places like Omega and pulp scum using ludicrous amounts of firepower. Ned may be smart, capable, and experienced, but he was a man of simple desires. Pierce worked for Yuri for the same reason he had initially joined the Havenite marines: he wanted to be "stuck in and smash heads."
John and Charles were just about to follow Ned when they heard a polite cough. The duo turned to see the lead Omega thug holding out a datapad. Charles took it cautiously and read through its contents. Then he read through it again to be sure. "I say ol boy, this is bill is awfully high. Even for…'cleaning, refurbishing, and maintenance.' " He remarked. The goon shrugged.
"The docking space is gonna be closed while we clean up your friend's mess." The armored turian gestured to the gore surrounding them. "The fee includes lost revenue from vessels that may have potentially used this berth."
" 'Potentially used this berth' my left foot." Charles was about to launch into a protest when John waved him down.
"Let's just pay the fine and get off this stinking rock." He said. A grin split his lips. "Besides, I'm sure Red won't mind footing the bill from his paycheck." Charles pondered that for a moment then nodded.
"A point well made." He agreed, authorizing the payment.
Soon, the HSC courier boat was streaking away from Omega and towards more civilized regions.
Celisk awoke to find himself cuffed to a hospital bed. He felt groggy beyond words and it took him a few minutes to even realize the state he was in. As reality came into focus, he was aware the back of his head hurt. Thanks to his bonds, he couldn't reach back to feel the damage. With nothing else to do, he surveyed his surroundings. He was in a small room, about four by five meters. The bed and the medical equipment surrounding it ate up about a third of the space. At the far side of the room was a door. No doubt it was locked. Celisk couldn't even see a haptic interface or a latch so it probably couldn't even be opened from this side even if it wasn't. Other than that, the room was bare. Sterile white walls connected the metal ceiling and floors. A single row of halogen lights hummed above him. He shifted in his restraints again. To keep himself occupied, if nothing else. There wasn't a chronometer in the room so he didn't know how much time had passed since he woke. But it was beginning to wear on his nerves. When the door unexpectedly hissed open, Celisk was almost relieved. It soon faded as he got a good look at the newcomer. Or Newcomers, as it were.
The human male was perhaps the most bland creature Celisk had ever laid eyes on: Dull brown hair, dull brown eyes, a medium build, and an undistinguished face. The matte grey jumpsuit he wore was devoid of any identifications or markings either. If Celisk weren't focused on him, he probably could've passed the man a hundred times in the street without ever noticing him. In this place and these circumstances, however, the man practically screamed "intelligence spook."
Of course, Celisk's attention was quickly drawn to the creature riding the man's shoulders. It had black fur, a tail, and six limbs. The beast's eyes focused on Celisk and stared him down. The batarian swallowed. A spook and his mindreading pet treecat. Fantastic.
Celisk wasn't actually sure if treecats could read actual minds if he was being honest. Batarian intelligence had done their very best to collect solid intelligence on the creatures. But most of what they knew came from the bare-bones descriptions that Manticore and Haven had produced. According to them, Treecats were a race of sapient arboreal feline analogs native to Manticore's home system. They were tool users and could communicate with other races via a type of sign language. The humans had grudgingly admitted treecats used a type of telepathy to communicate with each other. No other information had been publicly admitted. However, it was clear they were capable of…something.
Treecats had attended alongside human diplomats when the Council had first begun negotiating with them. From what he had heard, the cats and the Asari had not gotten along well. It had been such a sticking point that the Council had conducted following negotiations using salarian and turian diplomats. Then there was the rumor that the treecats strongly disliked the Citadel itself. Celisk wasn't sure of the reason. But it was enough that most of the human star nations hosted their embassies in converted ships that orbited the massive space station. Such ponderings wouldn't do Celisk any good here and now though.
Celisk stayed silent as the human approached his bedside and reached into a jumpsuit pocket. He steeled himself for the worst. He was somewhat confused when the man pulled out a vial filled with pinkish fluid. "You're welcome, by the way." The human stated. Celisk blinked at him.
"Excuse me?" Came the confused reply. The man shook the vial and placed it on Celisk's chest.
"When you first got here we pulled that out of your head. Took us a while to find it. Batarian neurophysiology is a bit different from humans."
Celisk squirmed a bit, not sure what the human was getting at. "I don't understand." He admitted.
The human ignored him for a moment and pulled out a datapad and a stylus from another pocket. "Apologies. Allow me to inform you of your situation." He gestured to the cell. "You're currently being held in a secure facility. Your actions in the terminus has made you a person of interest. So you've been brought in for a thorough interrogation. My name, as far as you're concerned, is Firebrand." He pointed a thumb at himself and then at the treecat. "My associate's name is Clean Killer. I'll let you guess how he got that name."
Celisk swallowed. While the Hegemony didn't know much about treecats, there was plenty of recorded footage involving them literally slicing apart would-be attackers who threatened their human friends. Celisk had no intention of being on the receiving end of that. "So what do you want from me?"
"A comprehensive run down on all batarian slaver operations in the terminus systems would make a nice start." Firebrand remarked. Celisk grimaced. That was a lot of classified material to spill. True it would be irrelevant soon. The Hegemony was smart enough to realize the human star nations had great intel collecting capabilities and adjusted its operations schedule often enough. The knowledge he currently possessed would be obsolete shortly, if it wasn't already. Still, nobody likes a blabbermouth. The Hegemony least of all.
"I would need…assurances that my cooperation would merit protection." He replied. The treecat growled.
"I hope you're not thinking you can buy your freedom with lies, Captain Celisk." Warned the human. "My partner here hates liars. He views them as rodents. And he's very adept with dealing with rodents." The treecat flexed its claws at the batarian.
"Of course not." Celisk responded. "But like I said, bad things happen to people like me when I talk to people like you. I just want to make sure I'll survive the process."
The human nodded. "I understand. You want assurances of safety in exchange for cooperation." He gestured to the vial of murky pink liquid. "Consider that a down payment. A show of good faith on our part." Celisk stared at it.
"I…don't understand." He replied.
"It's all the nanovirus we flushed out from the inside of your brain. A parting gift from your 'other' employers." Firebrand said with a shrug. Celisk's guts clenched. "You think we'd waste our time on a two-bit Hegemony captain whose knowledge is going to be worthless by the time we question him?" The human was now looming over him with a cold look. The treecat jumped from his shoulders to the bed and sauntered onto the batarian's chest. Celisk hadn't realized he was flinching away until he felt the pull of the restraints on his wrists. "We want to know everything you ever did for the Mesan Alignment." Silence filled the air and stretched out for what felt like an eternity. Then Firebrand blinked and poked the murky vial. "Huh, I guess they did get it all. And here I bet five credits you'd drop dead."
Author's note: Hope you guys enjoyed it. I'll have a ME codex in the next chapter. Gotta say I love the Mass Effect series because, in my opinion, its perfect for crossovers. I would put the setting for this story about 30-40 years after the current events in the Honor Harrington Series. John Mullins, Charles Gonzalvez, Ned Pierce, and Firebrand (Damien Harahap) would be about 60-70 years old. Yuri Radamacher is probably around 80 or 90. Keep in mind, the HH universe has the medical technique called Prolong, which extends a human's lifespan to 200-300 years. Which I'm assuming all these characters have received as Prolong is available to most citizens in technologically advanced star nations.