3 – Trapped!
There is no day or night on Omega. Merely cycles of sleeping and waking dictated by an arbitrary light cycle on a rock that orbits a furnace and happens to carry sentient creatures trillions of lightyears away. Athena’s eyes snapped open and she sat upright with a gasp of shock that morphed into a moan of pain. She trembled as she fought her way free of the clinging memory fragments that had haunted her resting mind, lingering phantom pains, substituted by her memory stands reminded her of the torture from the lab.
They resisted her attempts like thick cobwebs, sticking to her with cruel tenacity. Tears stained her face and shuddering gasps wrenched her already pained muscles further. She shivered in the warm air of the vent that blew past her and felt sobs build in her throat. She let them out but immediately regretted it as the actions made the pain worse. Her body ached all the way to her bones and the dull throb of a migraine pulsed across the top of her head.
Slowly she calmed down, breathing deeply through her nose as she forced her body to cease its fear. Once still, she cautiously lifted her shirt and stared at the mottled bruises that decorated her side from shoulder to ankle. Her ribs groaned in protest and, though the crack in her rib as slowly sealing itself, it still hurt like a white-hot needle. She shook her head gingerly in an attempt to clear it and marshalled her threads together to finish her purge of her systems. She swore that until her mind and body were her own, she would not leave her lair. It was no easier than it had been to begin with, still beyond painful to focus her mind on her task.
Errant thoughts tried to escape, one even attempted to calculate Pi before she caught it and dragged it back into the fire. Time passed but she focused her mind on her task. The final signal that wasn’t her own to command was the Deadman switch. She deactivated it with an almost childlike glee before she set to crafting a set of electronic armor that would encase her hackable systems.
She established programs upon programs. Firewalls upon firewalls. Redundancies for her redundancies. Tripwires and traps. Her mind was hers. No one would take it from her. No one would turn her into a glorified sock puppet. She was her own person. She assigned a thread to monitor her defenses, carefully locking it into place. The thread rebelled at becoming stationary but she remained implacable. Eventually it bowed to her will and took up sentry upon the walls that would protect her. She opened her eyes and stretched out cramped muscles that had locked, hissing in discomfort as her bruises protested.
She shook out her hands to loosen them, biting her cheek as her left arm pulled. Her threads fanned out with a sense of relief as they once again took up monitoring her surroundings. It felt like stretching one’s limbs after being locked into a tight, confining position for too long. The pain of her migraine eased but did not vanish completely. Her back relaxed a little as the burning pain faded and her breathing became easier.
She leaned back against the wall next to the vent before she pulled the folded grey fabric to her and shook it out, laying the bolt out flat. She had some patterns in her head that she needed to help with her flight from Cerberus. Carefully she took out the razor cutter and, after finding and downloading some patterns, began to cut. Hours later her threads alerted her. Cerberus was on this station and they were looking for her.
Beggars were being shaken down covertly, agents were searching the station. She folded herself into her nook even tighter when an armored figure stomped under her hiding place, his comm chatter telling her they were searching for her. She had no choice now, she’d never survive on this station without help. She felt angry at having yet another choice stolen from her. She hissed out a breath in frustration before she began composing a message.
Miranda docked her shuttle on Omega and disembarked with her usual regal stalk. The first thing she needed to do was triangulate her prey’s location. The files identified Subject Metis as a human female, 179.8 cm in height, 177.6 kilograms in weight, black shaved hair, grey eyes and, if she could track them, enough implants in its body to outfit either a starship or a platoon of alliance marines. She read through the files that had been sent to her and fought off a frown.
Project Mnemosyne brought back disturbing memories of her own childhood. Of sneaking into her fathers on site laboratory and seeing the dozens of embryos floating in clear tanks filled with clear fluid. For a moment, she could smell the harsh, clean smell of antiseptic and hear the faint gurgle of the tanks. She shook the memory away and focused again on her task. It was unclear how Metis had made it to Omega station. According to the reports, Metis had been unresponsive since its download. Only the fact that it had shown a consistent low level of brain activity beyond that of a coma patient had saved the subject from termination.
She ignored the beggars and the poverty stricken who shied away from her in fear. Agents had been combing the station for the last seven hours with no results. It was time for her to go to a highest power there was. Aria. Queen of Omega. The throbbing bass of Afterlife mixed with the flashing lights that decorated the club’s façade. The Elcor at the door looked at her with apathy in his flat face.
“Tell Aria that Miranda Lawson would like to speak with her at her earliest convenience,” Miranda informed him in a polite but bland tone. The Elcor looked at her with little expression of his heavy face as he relayed to message into his omni-tool.
Miranda took up and easy stance to wait for the Queen’s answer. “Confused: You may enter. Cautiously: She seemed interested,” The heavy alien told her. She nodded graciously and stepped through the heavy doors into the fire lined entry hall. Her strides were smooth and practiced as she entered the neon lit cavern that was Afterlife. Her ribs shuddered in concert with the techno music that blared from every corner and her eyes blinked rapidly to adjust to the strobing neon and shadows that filled the club.
Dancers gyrated above the heads of patrons and the smell of sweat and alcohol filled the air. Miranda ignored the patrons with icy regality as she headed for the steps that lead to Aria’s throne. The guards scanned her for weapons and she reluctantly parted with her pistol, knowing she would go no further until it had been removed.
“So what brings the Illusive Man’s personal bitch to my station?” Aria queried as Miranda came into view. The queen was sprawled languidly across the leather couch that was her throne, one of the lines painted on in a facsimile of eyebrows raising in curiosity.
Miranda grit her teeth, ignoring the slur and smiled politely at the Asari. “An asset of ours has somehow made its way to your station. I am here to collect it,” She replied, still standing.
Aria snorted. “Asset huh? So another crazy test subject of yours decided that it would rather not suffer under your tender mercy did it?” She a guessed and Miranda held back the urge to sneer at the Asari.
“Perhaps or, perhaps, it was stolen by defectors,” She answered coolly.
Aria didn’t look convinced. “I can keep an eye out for you Cerberus but it will cost you,” She told the agent smugly.
Miranda met her eyes squarely. “How much for a cursory look?” She asked in a businesslike tone.
“Fifty thousand up front as a fee for asking, another hundred for any information. Non-refundable,” Was the answer.
Miranda withheld a scowl at the obviously inflated price. “Twenty-five thousand now, fifty on delivery,” She countered and Aria smirked. “Listen Cerberus. I don’t like you. I don’t like your organization and I most certainly don’t like your boss. Therefore, as a fine for inciting my dislike, fifty thousand upfront. Non-negotiable.” Miranda grit her teeth and felt her manicured nails dig into the palm of her finger-less
“Fine, fifty thousand,” She acquiesced, lifting her omni-tool and transferring the money to the waiting crime queen. Aria’s omni-tool flared as the transaction was accepted and Aria’s smirk grew. “Pleasure doing business Cerberus. Now give me a description of what I’m looking for,” She commanded, gesturing to the opposite end of the L shaped couch. Miranda sat stiffly.
“The subject is a human female, dark hair, that is most likely shaved, grey eyes, 1.79 meters in height. Arrived on this station within the last twenty-four hours. There is a chance that they are a coma patient. If the subject is conscious then it is imperative that we retrieve it,” She told Aria succinctly.
The queen’s eyebrow raised again. “That’s not a whole lot to go off of Cerberus and you know it. Off the top of my head I can think of six human females that match similar descriptions and those are just some of the girls that work for me,” She gestured down to a small stage where a scantily clad human female gyrated for the viewing pleasure of the assembled patrons. Miranda didn’t let her disgust show on her face.
“But one that arrived that recently?” She pressed and Aria snorted. “It takes a little longer than twenty-four hours for me to know about a new arrival,” She told the agent.
“Bullshit,” Miranda informed her coldly, leaning forward.
“True. All I can give you Cerberus is a few eye witnesses that tell me that a small shuttle exploded against the side of my station a day ago. Search the records and you get nothing. That’s all I have for you.” The Asari told her with a shrug before she turned away in clear dismissal and looked out over her domain. Miranda realized that she wouldn’t get any more from the queen and stood. She left the private booth and collected her weapons from the guard.
As she left the club, she caught a glimpse of a heavy set Turian guard escorting a tall, painfully thin female clad in a dark jacket, dark pants with a heavy grey hood that wrapped around the shoulders and attached on the right breast with a simple metal clasp. Their lower face was shrouded in a long-tapered veil of the same material, falling well past their chin. This was not an unusual thing on Omega, where one’s face could be used against them. What caught her attention was that the woman was subtly limping, favoring their left side in a way that only a trained professional would notice.
Her eyes continued to catalogue the petitioner but stalled on the white boots that she instantly recognized as standard issue Cerberus. She blinked and did a double take. She looked up to see the hood turned in her direction before they looked away and continued up the stairs. A wave of the guards omni-tool cleared her of weapons and she vanished up to Aria’s throne. A hunch told her to stick around so she ordered a drink at the bar and settled herself at a table, watching for the hooded woman.
Athena was nervous, though her body didn’t show it. There were too many things happening for her to keep track of, even with her augmented brain. The hood/veil combo hid her face well and didn’t stand out too much among the other residents who hid their faces on this station but she still felt self-conscious.
The Turian leading her pushed through the crowd and she followed quietly in his wake. Movement out of the corner of her eye drew her attention to a human woman in a tight white cat suit with dark hair. Her heart felt like it wanted to begin hammering but she stopped that. Immediately several threads latched onto the woman’s appearance and confirmed what she already knew. Miranda Lawson was on Omega and she was Looking straight at Athena. She forced her body to move smoothly, refusing to show her fear in anyway. All her programs were now on high alert and three were working their way into the brunette’s omni tool already.
All recordings involving her were being erased the nanosecond she was caught, making her invisible to electronic eyes. If only she could do that for biological ones as well. She held herself perfectly still as she stood before the Queen of Omega, the Asari looked at her with curiosity and a small smirk.
“Well it’s not every day I get a message on my personal account requesting a meeting with someone I don’t know. That makes me wonder, what do you want?” The queen asked her with a raised eyebrow.
Athena nodded her head once before answering. “I have a skill, you have the market, one could hope to pool these resources together to make a profit,” She answered and Aria looked her over. “And just what is this skill you hope to sell?” She asked, still covered in a façade of apathy.
Athena met her gaze squarely, even though she knew her eyes were still hidden. “I am a hacker. One of the best,” Her voice was soft, little more than a whisper, but she knew that Aria had heard.
“Really? If I had a credit for every time I hear someone is the best in their field when they are trying to get a job, I could buy the Citadel,” Aria’s voice was mocking but Athena held her ground. “Tell me right here right now to retrieve something and I can do it. A taste of my capabilities,” She offered and Aria snorted in disdain before waving her hand in a dismissive gesture.
“Fine, I want to see what message Tevos received this morning in her personal account,” She declared. Athena brought her left arm up, activating her omni-tool that now glowed blue and began to hack. The omni-tool was mostly for show as she was connecting through it to get the information. She dove a conglomerate of threads into the extranet in search of what she needed. Surprisingly, she was able to piggyback her way into the Citadel through Aria’s private account.
From there she simply slithered through the firewalls and security systems like a ghost. The message was found and copied before she pulled the threads back to her body. The three working on Miranda informed her of the spy program that was installed on the agent and returned to monitoring all surrounding information. Her fingers were still typing with a furious speed that made it look like she was working from her device. She waited a few minutes longer, prolonging it out to ten minutes. Above average for a hacker but well below her top speed.
“Message, sent at 0730 this morning. From: Aria T’loak, To: Tevos. Subject: Again. Main message: Hey girl, last week was great, can’t wait for your next ‘business meeting’ on Illium. Let me know so I can book the shuttle.” She read in a monotone that was strangely frightening.
Aria’s eyes widened and she looked at the guards at the top of the stairs but they hadn’t heard. “How did you get that?” She demanded, a small pistol appearing in her hand. Athena didn’t even twitch as she observed the weapon and the Asari holding it. “I am very good at what I do Aria. I am offering my services as an excellent hacker. All I ask for a salary and protection from those who would hurt me. In return, I work for you as a private contractor.”
Aria stared at her. “And just who would I be protecting you from?” She asked cautiously.
“Everyone else,” Athena told her simply. Aria stared at her in curiosity that slowly morphed into a look of understanding.
“Would you happen to be trying to hide from a certain Illusive gentleman?” She asked and Athena felt another spike of fear. “Because they have already been by asking if I’d seen their latest escapee. Female, tall, and I bet money if I pulled the hood and veil off I’d find dark hair and grey eyes,” Aria’s smile was borderline malicious and Athena felt a stab of pure terror. “I wonder how much they’d be willing to pay when they were willing to shell out fifty thousand just to ask me to look.” The Asari mused and Athena knew that she had miscalculated, miscalculated badly.
Aria smirked to herself at how still the figure before her had become. She stood and smoothly stalked toward her prey, looking for all the world like a cat preparing to torture the mouse it had between its paws. She reached out her right hand and, using only one finger tilted the brim of the hood back, exposing the top half of the girl’s face to the light of the club.
The eyes that stared back at her were downright unnatural. No eyes should be that color of metallic silver or that clearly patterned with the stark black line that rimmed the iris. The soul behind the eyes showed stark terror that she didn’t seem to be able to hide despite her statue imitation. In fact, Aria could barely see if the woman was breathing. “So, what do you think you can offer me that would be worth more than what Cerberus is willing to offer hmm?” She purred as her finger drifted down to the veil that shielded the rest of the girl’s face.
“You already know what I can do, that is all I can offer. Is it wrong to not want to be tortured daily for absolutely no reason other than the scientist who own you decide to see how many dols of pain a mind can withstand when they body is not being damaged?” The trapped woman asked in a flat monotone.
The dead voice and the numb look that was appearing in her eyes pointed to experience in that area. Aria let a smirk dominate her face even as she felt disgust at Cerberus. “I’ll let you stay girl but remember, you now belong to me,” She told her newest pet. She didn’t even twitch at this statement and Aria withdrew her finger from the veil, leaving it in place. Gloved fingers reached up and tugged the hood back over her face.
Aria returned to her throne and looked at her newest acquisition. “So do you have a name girl?” The girl didn’t react for a moment before she bowed her head. “Neith,” She replied quietly in defeat.
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