MASS EFFECT HUMAN REVOLUTION
BEHIND THE CURTAIN PART 4
Written by IgnusDei
Spellchecked by WarpObscura
Adam kept his hands up, and his eyes on her. She, in the meantime, kept the point of her blade pointed at his neck.
Even as he looked at Elsa's porcelain face – her unbelievably perfect, beautiful, blindfolded porcelain face — Adam couldn't stop his mind from trying to process the fact that there was a smelly hobo version of himself behind the counter. He could practically feel Conrad's justifications trying to cut off the myriad branches of his own suspicions: Of COURSE there would be an alternate timeline version of him in all this insanity. It doesn't mean anything. Stop asking questions.
But Adam Jensen was like a dog with a bone, and he kept catching the scent of a big juicy femur, full of fresh marrow. He could imagine this aspect of himself, panting over said bone even as another woman — clad in Neo-Renaissance dark silks — petted him, whispering to him what he had always known deep in his heart and soul.
Everybody Lies, said Eliza Cassan.
Why did he remember her now, of all times? That AI newscaster, that tool of the Illuminati, that machine designed to re-frame the truth to suit the needs of those manipulative bastards he had failed to bring to justice, so long ago?
...she had told him, before giving him an once of truth to send him on his way.
And Conrad, for all the good he did, for all the help he gave, was a liar, just like Everybody else.
You're so close, said the dog in Adam's mind. You can almost taste it, the truth behind everything, what lies behind the curtain. You just need everything to click together.
Adam wondered. Like in Oz? If there's a curtain, who's the wizard behind it all?
Suddenly, one of Fyodor's drawings, some of the first that he had ever seen on the Durendal's floor, came to mind... No, that's stupid, that's impossible. Hein's no wizard, he's a mortal man, he's meat and bones and blood and he's lying in bed on the verge of death.
With a gesture, a small mandala of golden light appeared around the android's wrist, and through what could only be the Mass Effect – or perhaps something else? — the shotgun was drawn into her hand, then kept aloft, inches from her delicate looking fingers. It shone as it turned into a cloud of particles, then a complex prism of ethereal glass. Immediately, Adam recognized the shape and colour: much like those prisms that Hein kept in storage, the prisms that Adam beheld only weeks ago, when he had first set foot on the Durendal.
Then, the Forma dissolved into Elsa's palm. Anyone else would have assumed the weapon had just been destroyed, but Adam — having seen a couple of episodes of Star Trek — assumed that she had stored it elsewhere for later use. He was proven correct when he caught a glimpse of her haptic interface – rings within rings of pale yellow light detailing an elaborate grid of items – and it seemed she 'carried' an incredible arsenal.
Adam tried not to think too hard about how good she looked as a brunette... or with a blindfold, not while her future dead body was wrapped in foil only kilometers away.
Jesus fucking Christ, this is so fucking weird.
"Hey," said Elsa in front of him... the living, brown-haired version of Elsa. The alternate timeline Elsa. Or was it... past Elsa? Was her name even Elsa? It wasn't, but Adam didn't know it just yet.
He had been standing there awkwardly with his hands up for a few seconds, the 108's faceplate hiding the expressions he made when he cogitated too damned hard.
"What are you?" she asked finally, scanning his armour. "Type T?"
"Type T?" Adam responded, more confused than ever.
"Titan," she added, her suspicions growing. She tapped the side of his head with her sword, and Adam could feel the hum of the high frequency vibrations that gave her weapon such absurd cutting power. "You look heavy enough to be one, but..." she said, giving his suit another look in spite of her blindfold. Adam could feel his body resonate with a slight hum. "You've been built for speed," her tone suggested that this wasn't normal for a Titan. "And stealth, and power... you're way too generalized to be a Type T."
She thinks I'm like her, Adam realized. A synthetic.
Elsa let a menacing edge get into her voice. "You're a Type K."
Adam shook his head. "If K stands for what I think it does..." Killer? he wondered. "...then no."
"What are you, then?"
Sensing that he'd need to talk his way out of getting his throat cut, Adam activated his CASIE aug, at which point his AR display glitched and rebooted. Teal and orange made way for blocks of warm grey and black fonts. Gibberish appeared over Elsa's head, a strange alphabet that made way for Latin letters that formed Elsa's ID:
Gestalt 0451 -"Michaëlle"
Yorha Replicant Body Five One Gen-5, Pilot Type
Michaëlle... Adam thought. Now that he knew her name, it felt right then as if 'Elsa' had been borrowed from something; a movie, or a video game, or something. Tacked on by someone with no imagination. Somehow, "Michaëlle" felt right.
And in spite of being synthetic, Michaëlle was so lifelike the Computer Assisted Social Intelligence Enhancer had no problem coming up with a summary of her psyche and her current emotional state: Determined, Violent, Paranoid. Masks it all under a veneer of calm and stoicism. Elevated stress levels and micro-expressions suggest she fears for her life and the other Adam Jensen.
He was just about to say something to put her at ease when he heard it: the rhythmic thumping, the footfalls of a giant beast. He looked outside...
...And saw an enormous mechanical lizard charging straight towards him.
"Oh, merde!" cursed Michaëlle, seeing the enormous war machine. Distracted, she couldn't stop Adam from grabbing both her and his alternate self just before Zero Shifting away. Reflexively, she activated her own Schrödinger organ, part of an enhanced mobility system far more sophisticated than Adam's Promethean-enhanced DARPA augs.
With his own Element Zero cores interacting with Michaëlle's own muscle-integrated Maso fibers, Adam's senses were utterly confused by the input of being in four — no, eight! — places at once, so much so that his Zero Shift was stopped halfway through. The trio appeared in the middle of the street, far from safety. The mental shock of the interrupted biotic charge hit the trio like a truck, and they fell onto each other.
The beast turned its head towards them, and Adam got a better look at it: Bipedal, digitigrade legs, twice the size of an elephant. The white ceramic of its segmented skin-armour was infested with some kind of pulsating mass, red and pink and wet, the stuff CHAOS was made of. Spirals had been drawn on its skin with red paint, matching the same tribal markings of its rider... a naked savage, covered in stitches, bearing a white mask.
Adam's eyes sparked, and a vision of some of Hock's guests appeared in his mind. White masked people, eating him alive. Eating him alive...
The rider screamed, twirling a long, weaponized sex organ — probably a horse's — above his head. The flesh had been cured rock solid, and spikes had been punched through it.
"MEAT!" the Rider bellowed, and let loose a shrill war cry. Elsewhere and not far, the cry was responded to in kind, and a horde of cannibals began to spill forth from around a street corner, then another, and another, and before long close to a thousand half-naked savages came running, eyes full of lust staring straight at the two cyborgs and the synthetic.
Adam had seen this before, this wave of human flesh, powered by hate, when the Pirate Cutters had screamed across the sky to spread the Black Gas on Elysium... and it made his blood run cold.
"GAIANS!" shouted Michaëlle, as she helped both Adams get back on their feet. "RUN!"
Adam sent a rapid codec message to Garrus to warn him, and ran.
For a gynoid and a cyborg in power armour, escaping from a horde of savages had been relatively simple, even with the added burden of a half-starved man with outdated, ancient mechanical augmentations.
Escape had been easy, yes, but hiding from the keen senses of a thousand heads had been far more difficult, especially since the alternate Adam, to put it mildly, really, really stank.
The apartment they hid in, mercifully, had running water and a bathtub, itself as white as anything else in this copied city. Too weak to protest, the other Adam had been unceremoniously dumped by his future self into the hot water. "Thanks," he said, weakly.
"You're welcome," replied Adam.
"Where's Michaëlle?" asked the other.
First name basis, huh? thought Adam. "She's running interference, luring those freaks away from here."
"I hope she's okay," the younger Adam muttered, weakly.
"She's stronger than she looks."
"I know that... but still." His eyes began to flicker: he was struggling to stay awake.
"Hey, are you going to be okay?"
"...I'm so fucking hungry. You have no idea."
"I've got some idea, actually." Adam looked back at the open bathroom door, and thought of the kitchen beyond it. There were boxes of cereal back there, and he thought that perhaps some of the white pellets inside of them might be edible.
"Don't bother," said the bathing Adam, sensing his future self's intentions. "That shit's not edible; I tried." He sighed. "We've been looking for something for me to eat for days."
"The animals outside are pretty edible," said the Future Adam. They had spotted a few of them on their way here. Birds, rodents, a moose... even a giant boar, of all things.
"Tried that too."
"Giant fucking robot dinosaurs ridden by cannibals happened."
"Yeah, if Michaëlle hadn't found me..." he left the possibilities unsaid.
The younger Adam's stomach growled.
Adam thought about signalling his team again and ordering them to rendez-vous at his current location, but he didn't want to expose them to any more danger on his account... or further weirdness, for that matter. Garrus, especially.
Rescuing him from Bekenstein had been more than enough.
Still, he thought, burying his feelings of guilt at Elsa's death... Ramsus should still have that hunk of moose meat.
But no. Run and hide from the cannibal horde. Those had been his orders. And besides... Garrus was stressed out enough as it was. Two Adams would have pushed him over the edge.
Then, he remembered that the 108 came with a small reservoir of Medi-Gel. Bringing up the haptics of the 108's integrated Omni-Tools, Adam summoned a medical app and, using logic that could only have come from Promethean techno-magical bullshit, folded the Gel's proteins into something vaguely nutritious.
When was the last time I ever used an Omni-Tool? he wondered. I must be rusty as hell. Between his direct link to the Omni-Tool and dormant Promethean knowledge, using it had felt as intuitive as flexing a finger.
"Here," he said, handing a makeshift candy bar to his starving self. "That ought to raise your energy meter by a couple of bars."
"Oh, thanks..." even starved, the younger Adam knew better than to just wolf down his meal. Each small bite he took, however, tasted like ambrosia. "I've got questions."
"You and me both. Shoot."
"Who are you?"
"...Promise not to freak out?"
"I'm too fucking weak to freak out."
The 108's helmet opened, exposing its wearer's face. It took a moment for Adam to recognize Adam, on account of being used to seeing the reverse image on his face in the mirror, but then:
"...Okay, freaking out a little bit. What the fuck."
All things considered, the younger Adam was taking this pretty well.
The future Adam nodded. "Yep."
"Are you a clone, or something?"
"Sounds like something Sarif would do, yeah? Cloning us..."
A chuckle. "Yeah, or the Illuminati."
"But no... near as I can tell, I'm future you." Something occurred to the older Adam. He had woken up in a Europa Genomics laboratory, and had never once laid eyes on the Sarif Cache. This version of Adam probably had woken up there.
"What do you remember about the Sarif Cache?" he asked.
"I... I really don't want to talk about that goddamned tomb. Besides, you were there."
"Humor me, please? It's important."
The younger Adam sighed. "Like I said, it's a tomb; all I found when I woke up were thousands of pods, filled with desiccated corpses." He sniffed. "All our friends, all our co-workers..."
The names left the older Adam's lips before he realized it. "Pritchard? Malik?"
The other Adam shook his head. "I'm sorry."
Adam hadn't realized it, but he had secretly hoping to see the both of them again, even if it was a moment stolen from time. "...What happened? Did their pods fail?"
"No. They were shut down."
"What?! By who?!"
"Who do you think?" he said bitterly. "Sarif, that's who! Long before he even put us in those pods. There was a list of expendable personnel, people whose pods were to be shut down to preserve power in case the main generator failed."
"...Son of a bitch."
"You said it."
"Wait, how do you know that's what happened? The hardware could have been hacked, or..."
"Here." The younger Adam grabbed the tub by the edges and pulled himself forward, showing his back. Multiple data jacks had been installed on the sides of his spine. "I was plugged into the system the entire time! I could feel the machines coldly deciding all those people weren't as important as... as me, undeserving of life."
Adam had seen that tech before, a long time ago. "Oh god, is that..."
"Hyron tech? Sure feels like it..."
Those poor girls, thought Adam, recalling that Rifleman Bank, and those horrific experiments.. "What about Sarif? Wasn't he on top of the list, as well?"
"I... I don't know."
"How could you not know?"
"I didn't stop and look for a bunch of conveniently placed datapads, alright? The place was crawling with cannibals and... and I wanted to get far, far away from that place, okay?"
The older Adam felt a tingle in his brain, but this time, it wasn't Aleph. It was himself, trying to recall forgotten memories...
One night you have a friendly drink with Sarif, and the next day you wake from a metal coffin, surrounded by death. You weep, but before you can come to grips with your new reality, or even mourn your two friends, you realize that you're not alone. Other people are here, men and women —naked, safe for strips of leathery synthetic skin — marked with white blood matching their white masks of plastic bone. They are hungry, and this tomb is a larder for them, filled with *jerky*.
Some of them sense you. "FRESH MEAT!" they chant. "FRESH MEAT!" they sing.
There were hundreds of them. Thousands. You hide. You run. You cling to the shadows. As you make your way out. You hear the telltale — but alien — sounds of battle. Bursts of
rapid-fire weapons, the slashing of powered HF blades. Mad screams cut short. Whatever else is in here, it's *their* enemy, but you don't believe it's your friend.
Up the funicular you go. You're almost out. You find the light of day, and as you run into the wilderness, you hear someone call to you... in
French. "Attends!" the voice pleads, before it is drowned out by the mad snarls of savages... and her own.
...Adam shook his head, as the flash of memory passed. That voice... he realized. "Michaëlle. She was there, too."
"You don't remember?"
"Barely. I was running on adrenaline at the time."
"Any idea what she was doing at the Cache?"
"You'd have to ask her. I only remember meeting her..."
Adam waited for his younger self to continue. "Where?"
"At the beach."
"What were you doing there? Fishing?"
"...No," he replied, tersely.
It's been days. You're tired. You're hungry. You can't feel the sand between your toes or the water on your ankles as the water rises and falls. Your life has been stolen from you. There's nothing for you out there. You only see one way out. Walk forward. Keep going. Let yourself sink. Let the air go out of your lungs. Let your body grow cold. Let your mind go dark.
"Attends..." you hear someone call to you, before you can take that first step towards oblivion. "Wait," she repeats.
"...Malik?" You say, entertaining the delusion that she's somehow alive.
You turn around, and you find your guardian angel there, her dark uniform covered in blood both fresh and dry. She's killed hundreds to find you. She reaches out to you, and just by taking that first step towards her... you are saved.
"...It's okay," said Adam. "I won't pry."
"Thanks." The younger Adam relaxed into the tub.
"Still, is it alright if I have a look at your software?" The older Adam deployed a datajack cable from his suit's Omni-tool, compatible with the older ports the younger Adam was using.
"Like you said, you were plugged into the Cache's computers for a while. I might find something. Maybe... maybe Sarif wasn't so cold he'd kill Faridah and Francis, even to keep you... I mean, us alive."
The younger Adam accepted, and let his older self jack into his neck port. A quick look into his neural network revealed a great deal of damage to his firmware, some of it due to bad sectors in the data chips, and some corrupted data. The latter was quickly remedied, while the former was dealt with by flagging the chips as unusable. It took a few seconds, but Adam quickly deduced the cause of the corruption.
"The Cache was using you as a..." he was at a loss for words for a moment. "Like a biological RAM chip," he said, finally.
The younger Adam groaned. "Oh, that's fantastic. What was I in charge of, the air vents?"
"Don't know, but a lot of weird data passed through your wetware, hence the data corruption."
"Can you recover anything?"
"Let me see..."
A minute later, the older Adam recovered a mostly intact log file with thousands of entries, providing a timeline of pod failures and shut downs. None of the logs had names, only alphanumeric codes listed on another file. It took some cross-referencing, but it appeared that Pritchard's pod had been the absolute last one to be shut down.
"...And Faridah?" asked the younger Adam.
That one was trickier. Faridah was listed in the ID code file as FM-451, which meant she was in there, but there was no log entry for her pod failure. Adam kept looking, and found her mentioned in another file: a feedback log.
WARNING — PROJECT REPLICANT FAILED — PROJECT GESTALT AT RISK — SUITABLE HOST FOUND — RELEASING FM-451 FROM...
The rest was gibberish.
"The hell does that mean?" muttered the younger Adam. "Is she alive, somewhere?"
"No, I'm sorry, but judging by the dates, she had had to have been released eight decades ago."
"She probably starved to death. I'm sorry."
A half-hour passed, with neither Adam saying anything. The younger one sat in his tub, occasionally wiping his face with water while cursing David Sarif's name, while the older one leaned back against the wall, thinking about where he had heard the words 'Gestalt' and 'Replicant'.
Peak 15, he recalled. Makes sense. That was an Europa Genomics facility, and EG's had access to the Sarif Cache.
In my timeline, anyway.
The younger Adam quirked his eyebrow at the older one. His eyes were so expressive, on account of his lack of cybernetic shades. "...Are you sure you're my future self?"
"Not really. But it's the only thing that makes the most sense to me right now."
"...How and...why did you get here?"
"Oh, that's a loooooong story. You want the abridged version or the long one?"
"How about you stick to more recent events and we'll go from there?"
"Sure. It started, as many things in our life does, with murder..."
An hour of stories later, the younger Adam could only say, "...Yeah, this is definitely a dream I'm having..."
The older Adam chuckled. "What makes you say that?"
"Besides the bullshit with time travel, space aliens and bioroids?" he sighed wistfully. "Michaëlle..." he said her name softly. "She's too beautiful..." he sighed. "The stuff of dreams."
Hoo boy, thought Adam. Love at first sight, looks like... who can blame him? "I think we'd dream of something more pleasant to do with an impossibly pretty and finely dressed French robot woman than slowly starve in a post-apocalyptic Detroit replica."
Michaëlle. Four Five One. Sarif's favourite code. Michaëlle's designation. And now... Faridah's ID.
Was there a connection?
"Maybe it's not our dream," replied the younger Adam, operating on the logic of a mind both tired and trapped in a starved body.
Ramsus' words echoed in Adam's head: Minds aren't like a novel I can immediately flip to the relevant page and pick out the information I need. It's more like a wiki walk. And I have to start with a random article, and every other word is a hyperlink that I have to tap. As you can imagine, it's a trifle confusing.
As confusing as those trips through time. As confusing as a dream.
"You're getting warmer," said the Warrior, behind Adam. Startled, Adam turned around, but did not see the strange figure that he had encountered in...
The dream machine. Memories.
Adam recalled Echo's words: Have you ever struggled to stay awake, but closed your eyes for just a moment, and in the blink of an eye fully imagined a place you had never visited, or a person you had never met?
Once or twice,
he had replied, likening that trait of the human mind to being like a god, with dominion of all things inside its mind.
Whose dreams are these? Adam wondered. Whose memories are these? Those were the right questions to ask, but who could answer them?
"Is someone here?" asked the bathing Adam, worried at the older one's sudden, surprised turn. "Are we in danger?" He was getting livelier; the candy bar was working wonders.
"No, we're fine," but having said that, Adam still checked the area with his smart vision, just to make sure. No hostiles. Gotta stay in the here and now, he thought. Survive this, or wake up, whatever. There will be a time to figure out this insanity later.
"Symeon-1 to 6O," the android transmitted over the comm channel.
His Operator's response was cheerful, as always. "6O Oberonia to Zero-R Symeon-1, reading you loud and clear! What's your report?"
"We've reached the drop, and confirmed a few thousand Gaians coming through the Quantum Break's fractures. We encountered a hundred or so near the pod." He kicked a cannibal's corpse, causing it to flip and stare blankly at the sky through slits cut into a mask of white bone. "Can confirm: White Mask tribe present in Detroit."
"Oh my!" In the amount of time it took to exclaim those two words, Oberonia had already sent an alert up the chain of command. "Any sign of their chieftain?"
"No sign of Mortimer, no, but we'll be on the look out." Symeon could feel his Black Box heat up. Mortimer had given the Legion the slip at the Battle of Normandy back in '44. As Michaëlle was stabbing Yonah in the skull at what was once Rouen, a Quantum Break — the likes of which only the Reapers could have caused — had opened up several avenues of escape for the Gaian tribes. Symeon had hoped the fracture Mortimer and his White Masks had taken would take them to the airless black of space. But, well... here they are, he thought. Yonah's favourites. The most depraved cannibals GAIA ever made, and here we are in soft, meaty, juicy Gen-5 bodies. Fantastic.
In the time it took Symeon and Oberonia to exchange words, and the split second it took the former to think his thoughts, a digital conference took place between the members of Command. Planning out the response to the Gaian incursion would take a few more seconds in real time, and would have taken less than an hour to execute, assuming the conditions were ideal. With the Quantum Break still fracturing reality over the area, the strike teams would have to wait at least another hour to make their drops. The Break would have died down by then.
"Anything else to report?" asked Oberonia.
"Yeah... some of the drop pod's contents are missing."
"Was it the Gaians?"
"Don't think so. Pod's mostly intact... no, it looks like someone hacked into it."
"The Algol, and a couple of Luciferase vials... oh, and the security logs have been wiped."
"Hmmmmm." Her eyes were smiling. "Curiouser and curiouser."
"Any other strike teams in the area?"
"None that I know of. Besides, the drop pod was keyed to your ID. Nobody else could have opened it unless they had a master key or one hell of a power tool." A pause. "I've put this in the log, but honestly? It's not worth looking into."
"I'll be the judge of that."
"If you say so. ETA of reinforcements is two hours."
"We'll keep scouting the area until they arrive."
Symeon logged out of the comm session, and called out his partner. "Steiner! We're moving out."
He found Steiner sitting on the curb opposite of the drop pod, hugging his knees amidst twenty or so White Masks.
"Hey," Symeon called out again, approaching his partner. "Hey!" he repeated, but the younger android didn't respond.
"...Steiner?" Symeon sat next to him. "You okay?" he asked.
"I..." Steiner hugged his knees harder. "I'm sorry."
"It's okay." He gestured at the dead Thunderjaw, its head turned into slag. "You made up for it."
"I didn't mean to... I just... this was supposed to be the first time I encountered these... things since I got reformatted. I thought I wouldn't..."
"Remember all the other times they got their hands on me."
Symeon said nothing. Could say nothing.
"They keep telling us, getting reformatted... it's a fresh start. Your memories get compiled into a simple text file you're mildly aware of is sitting in your data chips. No sensory data. No emotional data. It might as well have been written by someone else, chronicling someone else's story, you know." His voice was trembling. "But whenever I see a Gaian I... I feel terror."
"In your Gestalt."
Steiner nodded. "I've been reformatted nine times. You'd think the fear would go away. But it... will it ever?"
"Maker only knows, Steiner."
Steiner stared at his small hands, at his slender fingers. "I hate my body, sometimes."
"Whoa there, that's..."
"Do you know why I look like a teenager? My designers thought that if I looked less threatening, the enemy would favor more overt targets, like a Type T, but..."
"That's not how those Savages think, no." Symeon knew better. Gaians preyed on the weak.
"...Is that why you spend so much time plugged into the KG?"
"I like being a KG." Steiner pouted, then looked up, at the craft. "It's great, it's like, being a giant bird."
"Thought about getting sleeved in a new body? Type-T, maybe?"
"My request keeps getting denied."
"Get me an old Gen-2 and I'll let you take this one." Symeon tapped his chest. "Only slightly used."
They had a good chuckle at that, which quickly died. The stink of corpses tended to sour one's mood.
Symeon tapped Steiner's shoulder with the back of his hand, before standing up. "Come on, we got some scouting to do."
"Roger that," Steiner groaned, getting on his feet. "Hey, brother?"
"What about you?" asked Steiner.
"What about me?" replied Symeon.
"You got reformatted once; does your Gestalt still carry... something?"
Symeon shook his head. "It wasn't quite the same. It was the Maker that handled it. I came out with my memories more or less intact."
"Oh..." Steiner looked disappointed.
"...Still, I have the vague regrets of a life before the Legion, back when mankind was still around."
As they boarded the KG, Symeon told Steiner the story of Julien Seed...
Michaëlle stepped into the apartment, carrying over her shoulder a metallic cylinder almost twice her size. "I'm back," she said out loud. "I brought food... I think." Then, after a moment's consideration, she muttered, "I hope."
"Welcome back," said the 'Titan' as he stepped out of the bedroom, his voice flanged by his helmet's speakers. He greeted Michaëlle, and watched as she checked on Adam, who was sleeping soundly on the bed, looking much cleaner and healthier than when she had left him to draw the Cannibals of the White Masks away. It had bothered her, how she had completely trusted the stranger with her charge's safety, but there he was, safe, sound, and exactly where she had told them both to go.
"What's this?" the stranger asked, stepping in besides her as she set the cylinder. Its metal shell was riddled with veins. Crimson fluids dripped from severed tubes, matching the color of the stains on her Type 40 sword. I should kill him, she thought. I can't take the risk, not now. One swing to the neck, a stab in the core, and he's done.
"Brains," replied Michaëlle, as she dismissed the weapon into her inventory. Light erupted from her wrist, forming a powerful cutting tool that flickered like a hologram. "The central processing unit of one of those Thunderjaws that chased us."
The stranger whistled, impressed. "I'm amazed you took one on by yourself," he said.
I do a lot better on my own, she thought. "Had to chase it through a couple of Corridors," she replied, cutting into the cylinder, exposing the spongy, organic material inside. "...Hope it was worth it."
"...What are you going to do with it?"
"Cook it and uh..." she hesitated to explain herself.
"...Feed it to him?" the stranger supplied, nodding towards the bedroom.
"...Yes." She gave him an appraising look, trying to figure out if he thought she was crazy or not. A little difficult, on account of his helmet.
"It's okay," he said, reassuringly. "I know what he is. I gave him a candy bar; it should keep him from dying."
"Will that be enough, though?"
"For a day, maybe."
"Hm... well, then, this should last him a week at least," she said, tapping the cylinder.
"I..." the stranger looked at the open cylinder, and saw that the brain matter was squirming. "...I don't think he should eat that."
"It's organic, isn't it?" asked Michaëlle. "More so than anything in this copied city, so it's edible." She looked at the squirming flesh. "I know, Gaian biotech's pretty gross, but cooking will take care of the viruses and bacteria."
The stranger focused his helmet's scanners on the organic material. A few seconds later, they confirmed his suspicions. "...But then the prions would get into his brains."
"Prions?" she frowned. "...That sounds bad."
"Very bad. Will slowly devour his brain kind of bad."
"...Won't cooking take care of that?" she suggested, lamely, even as she checked her files on human anatomy and biology.
The stranger shook his head. "Prions don't get denatured at normal cooking temperatures. Any hotter, and you'll turn this into charcoal."
The files confirmed it. He was right.
Michaëlle let out a weary, frustrated sigh. "So I killed that Thunderjaw for nothing, then?"
"Well, we can rest a little easier now, I suppose, but..."
"Merde..." she cursed under her breath, as she picked up the cylinder and dissolved it into particles of light. "It's Glimmer, now."
"Glimmer?" the stranger asked, without thinking.
Michaëlle frowned, then sighed. She held up her palm, close to her chin, before a cube of white crystal formed an inch above it, briefly bathing her face with blue-white light. Casually, she tossed it at the armored stranger, who caught it without even glancing at it. "Our currency," she said.
There was a brief moment, milliseconds long, when electricity arced between the stranger's fingers and the cube.
Promethean Macca, Adam suddenly knew, as his own energy passed through the material. Well, their version of it, anyway. He held the cube up with his fingers, let go, and watched as it floated three inches above his palm. Even so, he could alter the programmable matter at will, and he toyed with its shape for a bit before realizing that the material was — through sciences only Aleph could understand — caught between states of being, allowing their atoms, protons and electrons to be configured into anything he wanted...
"Couldn't you have made food out of this?" Adam asked, before restoring the Glimmer into a cube and handing it back to Elsa. No, he reminded himself. Michaëlle.
Michaëlle shook her head, reached out, and made his fingers wrap around the white cube. As if by magic, the cube fused into his palm, vanishing into it, and a set of digits appeared on the corner of his AR display, counting up from zero to five thousand.
"I don't have the integrated hardware," she replied, "or even the software. Before you ask, the vending machines are a no go: They're networked. I touch them, the Triumvirate would find us in minutes."
The Triumvirate? thought Adam. "What does the Triumvirate want with you?" he asked, hoping to glean enough information about this Triumvir from her response.
"Me? Nothing..." That's a lie, the CASIE reported. "But him?" She gestured at the bedroom. "The last human being alive? If they don't take him apart just to see how he ticks, they'll definitely make him disappear."
"He's a threat to them, somehow?"
"Of course he is! If he's alive that means the Maker is bound to awake, and soon!"
Adam quickly concluded that, if the members of this Triumvirate were currently in charge of these androids, then someone known as the 'Maker' waking up would likely mess up their authority. Politics. Even in an alternate future in space full of robots, there was politics.
"And they think that if Adam dies," he began to ask, "the Maker will stay asleep forever?"
"Most likely. The Triumvirate's in charge, they answer to no one else but to each other, and they'll do anything to keep things that way. Whether Adam is the Maker's alarm clock is true or not, it doesn't matter. It's a risk they won't want to take."
"Alright, so what's your plan?"
"I'm going to take him to Johnny Clean."
"Johnny Clean?" asked Adam, dismissing mental images of a bald man in a white shirt on a bottle of cleaning fluid.
"An old Gestalt stuck inside an L-Type Gen-1," replied Michaëlle. "Not a fan of the Triumvirate, and someone I can trust. Making contact with him is going to be the challenge, though."
"Wireless communications is out of the question, obviously."
"Obviously. That means I've got to secure transport back home."
"And? Once you've linked up with this Johnny, what then?"
"Hopefully, he can arrange a trip for us off-world." She gave Adam an appraising look. "Can you help us?"
Adam being Adam, he had to stop himself from succumbing to getting sidetracked — again. More specifically, getting sidetracked whilst getting sidetracked. He wasn't supposed to be here, after all. "I've still got some friends out there," he said. "I need to check on them before I agree to anything."
"Friends?" Michaëlle's tone was suspicious.
"They have no loyalty to the Triumvirate, trust me."
"I..." Michaëlle paused, mentally struggling with her natural distrust.
She can't take the risk, Adam knew. "I just need to make sure they're okay: they haven't checked in for a while."
Michaëlle pursed her lips, and relented.
"Garrus?" Adam transmitted sub-vocally over codec. "Garrus, are you there?"
"What's taking so long?" asked Michaëlle. Communications happened a lot more quickly for her.
"Garrus? Garrus, are you alright?!"
"NO, WE'RE NOT OKAY!" came Garrus' response, over the din of gunfire, Conrad's panicked screaming, and Ramsus' laughter.
Adam's earlier warning had come at a good moment, having given Garrus and the others plenty of time to prepare for an onslaught of cannibals. Had Garrus been working with a couple of turian soldiers, or... hells, the Deep Eyes, they could have dealt with their attackers easily. It was the false Conrad's complete panic at the incoming situation and Ramsus' amusement at the kid's mental state that had nearly squandered it all. Only Hannibal and Teg had the good sense to prepare for a fight.
When the horde of white masked cannibals arrived, even as he shot at them, Garrus couldn't stop himself from remembering something:
Didn't Manah mention those? Hock's party? I forget.
It was weird, the way his combat training could take over to the point that he could kill with maximum efficiency and still have the mental capacity to try to recall trivial conversations with a pretty Asari.
Hannibal had leapt into the fray, using his integrated melee weapons to cut them apart, which Garrus had been thankful for, as they were sorely lacking in the kind of rapid fire crowd control weaponry at that particular moment in time. Teg made up for that with continuous use of his integrated Omni-Tool's Overload, keeping hundreds of cannibals stunned, while Ramsus provided the biotic artillery necessary to scatter the horde.
The last of them got on his knees in awe of Ramsus, sputtering something about reborn dragons. Ramsus being Ramsus, he savored that moment of being worshiped, just before exploding the cannibal's head with a surge of Biotic energy that lanced out of his hand.
They had won.
And then time stuttered and broke, rewound, and the cannibals came charging at them again.
"Goddamnit, Conrad!" yelled Garrus.
"What did I do?!" protested the human, firing his machine pistol into the horde.
"You're the time wizard! DO SOMETHING! Stop these assholes from respawning!"
"That's not how it works!"
Garrus called the group to retreat into the Sarif building, its atrium providing him with an ideal kill zone, while Hannibal and Ramsus took advantage of the escalator to funnel the horde into close combat.
Unfortunately, cannibal reinforcements came in the form of insane, homicidal meat-infested robot animals.
"Friends of yours?!" Garrus yelled at Hannibal, as he shot a tiger made of polymer actuators in its mechanical head. It only served to blind the damned thing, but at least now it was lashing out at friend and foe alike.
Hannibal, always up for a verbal fencing match with Garrus, was oddly silent. Whatever, Garrus thought, before he ordered the group to keep moving up, floor by floor, towards the roof, where he assumed a VTOL craft would be waiting for them. Citadel regulations demanded it.
But this was not the Citadel, and Sarif had had — long ago — the helipad built in the courtyard. By the time Garrus had realized his mistake, they had arrived on the roof, and found themselves surrounded by the cannibals that had followed them – insanely enough – by climbing the outside of the skyscraper, with no way to escape.
Garrus checked his ammo block: he was running low, and those giant, meat-infested, robotic birds looked like they would take a lot of bullets to take down.
Adam's voice came over the codec. "Garrus? Garrus, are you alright?!"
Oh, NOW he calls?!
"NO, WE'RE NOT OKAY!" Garrus screamed into his Omni-Tool. "GET YOUR PLASTIC ASS OVER HERE, NOW!" There was no time to wait for a response: the Tool became a Blade, and he promptly buried the hot glass in the throat of a woman who had wanted to shove something inside of him. It looked sharp, and alive, and he was pretty sure it wasn't dextro.
Then, Conrad's Chameleon system kicked in, and Garrus literally stopped being a turian. Instead, his body assumed the appearance of a grey-haired human male clad in some kind of very comfortable-looking black uniform. Ramsus and Conrad had been affected too, only it was just their wardrobe that had been altered: they wore the same uniform – black velvet, with golden buttons. Hannibal and Teg had new paintjobs, and Elsa's body... had been turned into a crate.
The group, save Conrad, stared at each other in utter confusion, then at the cannibals, who were just as confused, then back at each other.
Before Garrus could ask Conrad what was happening, a flying wing, painted black, streaked by, firing a multitude of sun-colored energy munitions that reminded Garrus of biotic bolts. A few seconds later, the horde was pretty much gone, and the flying wing's two passengers dropped in to mop up the rest. Garrus was impressed at how fast they worked, and at their accuracy – not a single shot was wasted, and the last remaining cannibal died to a perfectly executed Mozambique Drill.
They had won, and this time, it was for good.
"Clear!" Garrus shouted, scanning the area down the sights of this rifle. Nothing was moving, nothing that wanted to eat or rape them, anyways.
"Clear," echoed Ramsus, his own military training kicking in, much to his chagrin. Teg and Hannibal followed suit, with Conrad tapping his green interface for anything out of the ordinary. "Yeah, clear!" he said, nervously.
Garrus eyed their rescuers curiously as they approached them. They were humans! Very pretty humans. Too pretty. Their faces... their skin was so smooth, like Brea's, and their faces just too symmetrical. They couldn't be Snatchers – those things blended in better.
The rescuers' weapons looked suspiciously like those Lancers the Alliance loved so much. In spite of himself, Garrus recalled bonding with Grey over how much of a shitty assault rifle the Lancer was.
Of course, he then thought... Lancers didn't fire beams of energy like...like the Serpents. Huh... weird.
Conrad's voice resounded inside Garrus' skull, and as the turian marveled at his new human fingers – they felt so real! - he assumed correctly that the others could hear it too: "Let me handle this, and whatever you do, don't ask them questions!"
Garrus shared a look with Ramsus: they both knew that Conrad wasn't going to handle this well.
"Hey guys!" shouted Steiner, waving his hand at the rescuees, eager to make friends of them.
"Looks like we arrived just in time!" said Symeon as he approached, slinging his Lancer Assault Carbine over his shoulder. It wasn't a real one, of course, but an imitation packed with the latest tech, a custom job Symeon had put together himself out of nostalgia.
He scanned them with his visor. The grey haired Ranger-Type android — who was admiring his hand, for some reason — was designated 'Gary', according to his IFF signal. The Sorcerer-type, the one that had used old-style biotics against their attackers, was designated 'Jack', while the Support-Type coming forward to speak to Symeon was designated 'Vernon'. Their mechs – two of them? — were tagged "K9" and "RE5".
Varied team composition, thought Symeon, your typical standard strike team, but where's their Titan? He also thought their names were a little... simple. Apparently, the androids running the Baptisms were running out of ideas.
'Vernon' cleared his throat. "Thanks! I thought those Gaians were going to have us for dinner!"
"That was a LOT of them!" exclaimed Steiner, a little too cheerfully for Symeon's tastes. "I mean, I knew millions of them escaped the last battle through those Corridors, but WOW!" Steiner hadn't fought in that battle, had no idea what GAIA's failures were capable of...
"Glad we could help," said Symeon, his tone even, a foil to his partner. "What the hell are you guys doing here, anyways? Why aren't you connected to the Network?"
"Yeah," said Steiner, backing Symeon up. "We nearly missed you guys."
Vernon pointed at the crate slung over the mech's shoulder, and began to explain. "We were delivering some top secret materials to the local re-creation team before the Gaians ambushed us."
"What kind of materials?" probed Symeon.
"The kind too sensitive to Transmat," said Vernon, a little too quickly. Symeon checked the crate again: it was big enough to contain an entire android, and wrapped in warning tape. His visor couldn't penetrate the outer plating, but he could tell the thing had been fabricated very recently.
Symeon eyed 'Vernon' suspiciously. Android's lying, no need for any secondary programs running to figure that out. "Uh huh. I don't suppose you'd have a problem verifying your op with the Tower, right?"
"Oh, we're ah..." Vernon leaned in, conspiratorially, "look, we're on a secret mission by given to us by the Triumvirate. You know how they feel about discretion, right?"
Yes, Symeon knew, and he didn't give a damn. He HATED the Triumvirate. He had no reason to respect their wishes or the people that worked directly for them.
"I'm guessing it's Forma extracted straight from the Maker," continued Vernon. "I can say that much, at least." He winked.
"Is that so?" Symeon played along. "Well then, you won't mind if we have a look anyways?"
"Ah, well, I just said—"
"I know what you said. I also know that my friend here is a devout member of the Order Church—"
"I am?" asked Steiner, confused. A quick, discreet burst of data from Symeon got him to play along. "I mean, yeah, yeah, I am!"
"Right," continued Symeon, "And seeing a relic borne of the Maker would just absolutely make his day."
"I uh..." Vernon stammered. "I misspoke. It's not Forma, I-I-I mean, I honestly have no idea what's in the box. It's top secret."
Symeon shifted gears. "Vernon, right?"
"That's what my ID says!" Vernon laughed, nervously.
"Vernon, I'm not much of a hacker; that's my friend's specialty." Symeon pointed at his partner. It was a lie, he was actually very good, but his hardware wasn't optimized for it at the moment. "But I do have a lot experience with agents of the Triumvirate. For one thing? They're all Type K."
"We're disguised!" Vernon blurted out.
"Second," Symeon went on. "They always maintain an encrypted communication line with their bosses."
"Which, by the way, you don't have," supplied Steiner. He tapped his visor for emphasis.
"And third, they would have killed us the second I asked about the box." Symeon's Kessler Replica pistol formed in his hand, but he kept it at his side. "What's in the box, Vernon?"
The dog mech, sensitive to the implied threat, growled menacingly.
"Are you some kind of cop?" asked Gary. "You need a warrant—"
Symeon cut him off. "All I need is probable cause. I've got a drop pod that's been hacked into and some of its contents are missing." He turned back to Vernon. "What's in the box?"
"We don't have your things!" pleaded Vernon.
One moment Symeon's left eye twitched under his visor, and the next an energy bolt sprang from his Kessler. It ripped past 'Vernon's' shields, melted past several layers of high-tech material, before settling deep inside his foot. In the space of time that it took for Vernon to scream "MY FOOOOOOT!" Steiner had already disabled the mechs' actuators, paralyzing them in place, and had disabled the Ranger type's weapon. Undaunted, the Ranger quickly switched to his handgun, a long blue and grey brick of a weapon, and fired — much to Symeon's surprise — a pair of plain old, two millimeter bullets. Had it not been for their Schrödinger systems, their skulls would have been perforated.
"Don't kill them," Symeon transmitted to Steiner, as their perception of time accelerated to the point where both the Ranger and the Sorcerer almost stood still.
Steiner disarmed 'Gary' easily, before performing a simple judo throw that sent the shootist to the ground. With a gesture, the young android summoned shackles of solid light to secure the Ranger, and and that was that for him.
The Sorceror... proved more difficult to take down. He had a potent energy barrier up, and shrugged off Symeon's attempt to blow away his knee caps. The counter attack, a wide blade of biotic energy, slowly approached the older android. Moving out of its way had been relatively easy, but it cost time, time the Sorceror took to send a bolt of kinetic energy straight at Steiner.
Steiner attempted to disable the Sorceror by hacking into him, but his attempt was met with a big red ERROR message in his AR display. He had only a split second to put up a defense of his own, a shield of solid light and shadow that shattered like glass under the Sorceror's attack, knocking its wielder to the ground. Steiner was then seized by the Sorceror's dark energies, held up, and slowly crushed.
Enraged, Symeon surged forward and grabbed the Sorceror by the throat before he could make any demands, and choke-slammed him to the ground. Between Symeon's carbon-nanotube muscles and the Sorceror's barrier, the ground shattered, sending chips of concrete up. He was down, but not dead.
Vernon had recovered, and reached for his wrist. In response, Symeon loaded a stasis app, and loosed it at Vernon, preventing him from using whatever offensive program he was setting up. He kept his gun pointed at the Sorcerer's head, while Steiner kept his hand pointed at the Ranger, subtly threatening to erase his black box if he made one wrong move.
"Wait!" The Sorceror pleaded, through gritted teeth.
"I'm going to count to five," snarled Symeon, blissfully unaware that the 'Sorcerer' was probing this mind. "And if I don't get some goddamned truth I'm going to get really trigger happy."
The Sorceror sighed, and groaned in pain. "Conrad, you'd think that with infinity at your fingertips... you'd get good at lying." He wiped white blood from his mouth.
"One," started Symeon.
"Really, you should have just told him about Adam straight from the get-go. As luck would have it, they're old friends."
Symeon shook his head. Adam? No... it couldn't be... "Two!"
"Come now, Symeon, try to remember, when it all began for you..." The Sorceror approached.
"Do they sleep within you, the Memories of Neo-Kobe?"
"Go ahead," said the Sorceror, daring Symeon to shoot him, pointing at his forehead. "Blow my brains out... blow ALL our brains out. But then... you'll never lay eyes on Adam Jensen ever again."
The fifth count did not come. "...What?"
"Because he's alive. He's out there, somewhere in this city, all alone. At the mercy of the Gaians, and if the Triumvirate's Type K agents ever find him..."
Symeon just stood there, shocked.
"Symeon?" asked Steiner. "What's going on? Who's Adam Jensen?"
"An old friend," said Symeon, seemingly mollified. The Sorcerer smiled, almost smugly, thinking he had gotten through to him.
"A friend long dead," added Symeon, before signalling the KJ to Transmat the lot of them. They didn't even have time to protest: a flash of golden light, and they were gone, trapped inside the craft's storage unit.
Shortly after that, the two androids found Michaëlle's corpse inside the box.
"What the fuck?" Symeon muttered under his breath.
TO BE CONTINUED
Author's notes: Well, it's about time, eh?
Credits: This fanfic was made possible by the support of 28 patrons. Special thanks thanks to Kalaong, CMY187, ShadowrunnerNex for their generous contribution!