6 – Tests
Tela Vasir was good at what she did. This was a fact. Twenty years working as an agent to the council had honed her to a razor fine edge. She liked to think that she was at the very least competent in all her fields and if not, knew those who were.
But watching Neith as she worked was like watching poetry in motion. They were in the process of gaining entry to Zannex’s main facility and Neith was hacking through several firewalls to get them an entry through the air ducts.
“K, were in” the distorted voice informed her, “Follow my lead and I’ll get you to the mainframe” she added before she slithered into the metal tube. Tela watched with fascination as the human slid silently along.
There was no scraping from the unusual rifle on her back, or her armour. The cape actually softened the small sounds she did make, muffling her movements. Tela had scoffed at it at first, thinking it impractical. But now she could see that it was made for a purpose.
“We will have to shimmy up a vent here” Neith reported as they reached a six-way intersection rocking back a little on her heels to look at Tela. The multiple lenses on her strange mask glowing faintly in the dark.
“How high?” Tela asked and Neith cocked her head, no doubt reading off of her tactical visor. “thirty meters” she reported.
“I have an idea though. Give me a sec” she answered. Tela watched silently as Neith reached into a pouch and withdrew the small globe. “Glados can check if there is anywhere to latch a line on to. That will save us from having to grip the sides.”
The small globe lit up and began to hover. “How nice of you to finally activate me. I was beginning to think that you didn’t trust my use” that chilling synthetic voice drawled quietly and Neith shrugged.
“I was unsure, now quit your pouting and please check to see if my grapple line will have a spot to grip” Neith commanded to the orb.
“To hear is to obey” the sphere snarked before it floated away gently.
“Are you sure that it’s not an AI?” Tela hissed quietly and Neith snorted.
“I programed it to be snarky, but ultimately loyal. I get bored and some witty banter helps with that” she admitted with what sounded like a smile in her voice before Glados floated back.
“There is a small ledge. If you give me the grappler I can hook it on” the sphere informed them in a bored voice. Tela wanted to ask the sphere what it meant but was precluded from that when Neith pulled something from the silver gauntlet on her right arm and hold it out to the sphere.
It popped open and showed that it was a grappling hook attached to a thin line of silver cord. A pair of tiny graspers emerged from the sphere and took a hold of the instrument and floated back up the shaft. More of the cord unspooled from the gauntlet that Tela now recognized as the project that Neith had been working on the entire trip here.
There was a soft pinging sound and Neith looked back at Tela. “I’ll go up then send Glados with the hook and I’ll pull you up” Neith offered and Tela nodded. Neith was professional, rarely spoke with inflection and though she seemed to process a dry wit with a healthy dose of dark humor, she never relaxed.
The hood never came off and the veil was a permanent fixture on the human’s face. Though truthfully, that level of paranoia made sense to Tela. When someone is actually out to get you, then nothing is too much. But she was worried about the hacker, Neith had a habit of hitting her head repeatedly. Sometimes it was a simple slap against the side of her skull, while other times it was a long sessions of thudding her head against walls, tables, door jambs.
It was almost like she was trying to affect a hard reset of her brain, and had resorted to hitting it to make it work. She would also randomly shake her head. Nothing prolonged, just a quick movement, like an animal trying to flick something from its ear.
She claimed afterward that it was a twitch but Tela wondered if it was a hold over from those pain experiments Neith had mentioned. It was also clear that Neith was incredibly angry, though she hid it most of the time. Whenever Cerberus was mentioned she tended to go very still, sometimes barely even breathing.
The venom in her voice when she spoke of the human group and her vow to bring them down had been the first sign of emotion from the human. This thankfully proved that she wasn’t a drone or a Geth, but raised a whole slew of questions about the organisation and led Tela to think that it was probably far more dangerous then most realised.
The tiny drone returned and Neith nodded, letting the winch inside her gauntlet begin to haul her up the shaft, her grey armour and cape causing her to fade away almost instantly. Tela waited in the dark, curious. In truth she was testing Neith. She needed to know if she could work as a part of a team and how she handled herself in tense situations.
So far the cold efficiency had yet to so much as chip. Neith was utterly focused, though she might banter with that stupid drone she had made, Neith plowed on like a shadowy juggernaut. The reason she had gone hunting for the hacker was simple. It was either Neith or the Shadow broker.
The Broker had been making overtures to her, information in exchange for her doing missions for him. She had her pride but she knew that she would sacrifice it if it would complete her mission in a heart beat. Neith had appeared on the scene a year ago. Silent and deadly, barely more than a whisper on the forums.
Other hackers began to mutter about Aria’s newest attack dog. “The Grey Ghost” they called her. They didn’t even know her gender, there were arguments that Neith was an Asari, others declared her a Quarian with a grudge and still more thought she was a group working under the pseudonym of Neith.
The name was so ambiguous the they could have been anyone. What was true though was that Neith would do contract work for a price and they always delivered. Aria had taken to mentioning the ghost’s name, frequently when threatening those she didn’t like and the Shadow broker had a standing bounty out for her.
Any information and/or images of Neith carried a heft price. In the end If she could get Neith to work for her then she would be free of the need to use the Broker, and that was something worth putting up with a few eccentricates. The drone reappeared, startling her from her thoughts and nudging her arm, offering her the grappler.
“Here, this should allow her to haul your not inconsiderable bulk up the shaft. Though I highly doubt that the extremely efficient winch will be able to handle someone of your…Generousness” it drawled at her. Tela gaped at the cheeky little sphere. A series of panels around the eye flicked out in a wave like sequence.
“I would suggest a less accurate drooling idiot impersonation, hard though it may be to rearrange you facial muscles into something that would indicate that you actually have two brain cells to rub together and find a way to attach the grapple” it added in a sarcastic, yet bored sounding drawl.
Tela snapped her mouth shut and glared at the construct as she grabbed the offered grappling hook and attaching it to the repelling harness attached to her belt. She tugged on the line twice and felt it start to retract. It was truthfully a little nerve wracking to be suspended over the seemingly bottomless drop by little more than a silver thread. Neith was braced against the walls of the vent, her right hand extended out to allow the winch to work.
Once Tela had a grip of the edge she reached forward and grasped the specters arm, pulling her up the rest of the way. They resumed their trek through the vents, with Neith calling out their position. They had to repeat the grappler trick several more times until they rested in the vents on the thirtieth floor of the small office building.
Neith slithered over a vent then turned around, facing Tela with the glowing grill between them. She pointed down and used standard Asari military hand signals to communicate that their target was in the room bellow them as well as three guards.
Tela nodded and sent back the signal for Neith to enter and take them out quietly. Neith paused, cocked her head then nodded, asking if she had permission to kill. Tela considered then replied negatively. “alive but quiet” she signaled and Neith nodded. She reached out and gently removed the grill that levered up towards her, setting it carefully aside where she couldn’t bump it.
Then she hooked her grapple into a reinforced strut eased out of vent. Tela watched in silence as Neith lowered herself to the ground. Once Neith had vacated the vent entrance, Tela cautiously extended her wrist with her omni-tool to record what was happening so she could review it latter, watching what it recorded in the visor she slipped over one eye.
Neith landed in a crouch, pressing some hidden button on her gauntlet. There was a soft sound as the prongs holding the grapple retracted and it slid out of the vent. She crept up behind the first guard, all of whom were human. Blow to the back of his head knocked him out with no sound and she eased him to the floor. Creeping quickly behind the next one, she grabbed him.
One hand went over his mouth while her armoured forearm pressing against his throat. He clutched at her forearm, gauntleted fingers scrapping of the matte grey plate and causing her cape to ripple under his struggles.
The third one turned, a yelp on his lips but she released her prisoner’s mouth, not that he could make a sound. She aimed her now unoccupied arm at him. There was a soft thwwwp sound and he collapsed, a silver dart poking out of his neck. Her final victim finally subsided from loss of oxygen and she lowered him to the floor as well.
She looked up and saw the omni-tool poking out and recording. She nodded and signed the all clear. Tela withdrew her omni-tool and dropped down to join Neith at the terminal. “so, this is it?” She asked the Hacker who nodded, cleaning the small drop of blood from the tri-finned silver dart she had retired from her final victim and putting it into a pouch on her armour.
“How long does that last?” Tela asked, nodding to the now silent agent. He was laying in a boneless heap, drooling into the grey industrial carpet.
Neith shrugged “If I measured the dosage correctly then he should be like that for three hours.” she answered. Tela stared at her, curious of her apathy.
“Do you care about him at all?” she asked, trying to get a feel of what she was thinking. Neith shrugged “If I must kill him I will. If not then I won’t. He has a high class medical insurance that will ensure that he will be treated correctly” she replied simply, turning her attention to the terminal.
Tela stared after her as Neith’s fingers began to fly over the keyboard, faster than Tela could even understand. “How do you know that?” she demanded and Neith looked at her and tapped the glowing blue lenses.
“These give me a basic profile on anyone they have a lock on. This includes a person’s health insurance so I know what I can do to them” she answered before turning back to the terminal and continuing to ransack it. I took another minute and thirty seconds before she stepped back, her blue omni tool on the left arm opening and the files were copied onto an OSD that she then ejected and handed to Tela “there you go” she answered.
Tela looked down at the storage devise she now held and nodded, tucking it into her pocket. “Good. Can you get us out?” she asked.
Neith looked at her in what she could only call a curious manner, head cocked a little to the left. “Yes, I assume you want a different way out then how we got in?” she clarified and Tela nodded. Neith grew absolutely still, in a way Tela was beginning recognize as her thinking pose. She remained that way for barely half a minute before she began moving again.
“There are three way to do this: one- take the vents but different rout. Two- blast our way out using all available assets, this will lead to at least five fatalities and possible injury on our part. Three- we stealth our way through, this has high risks of discovery, which in turn would lead to it becoming option two by default.” She answered and Tela was struck by how much she sounded like a mech.
“Option three” she decided, she need to see Neith in action. So far the woman didn’t disappoint, but Tela had a feeling that Neith preferred the shadows. Her gun was also clearly a snipper rifle, unsuited for hallway combat. Tela was sure that the pistols Neith wore would have to make an appearance if they did get into a firefight.
“Option three then” Neith agreed, nodding and flaring her omni-tool. “I’ve plotted us a course through the building that should lead us out, I’ve checked guard schedules and set us on a pattern that should avoid them” she informed Tela. Shutting her omni-tool. “If we get separated, Glados will stay with you and maintain contact.” She informed Tela who nodded.
The orb floated over and took up a position behind her shoulder, still silent. The door opened ad Neith deactivated her omni-tool, slinking out with a cautious confidence. She didn’t skulk from shadow to shadow, but moved with a soft tread through the center of the hall. She would pause at intersections and triple check hallways for hiding places.
They never needed them though. Neith had plotted well, ensuring that they never encountered a single living being. The cameras were also handled, with Neith informing Tela of a program that wiped her digital presence as it was recorded. They slipped out through a maintenance door in the basement and escaped into the tunnels beneath the main tower.
Tela continued her observation, making mental notes on Neith’s tactics and feeling impressed at the accuracy of Neith’s prediction of the guard schedule. The made it back to the ship without incident. Tela felt a slight relaxing in her shoulders as the airlock door closed behind her and their ship took off. Neith however was still ramrod straight.
“Glados, return to primary orbit” she commanded, walking toward the common area. ‘Of course, I am glad that I was not required to aid the subject, as that would have contaminated the test’ the sphere remarked as it drifted back to it’s place behind Neith’s left shoulder. Tela watched her warily, something was off with the hacker, she was far to cautious.
Glados’ bright blue eye remained riveted on Tela even though Neith never looked back at her. “Why am I here” Neith asked quietly. Tela watched her carefully as she walked around the immobile woman, aiming for the central table.
Glados turned to follow her, unwavering in its observation. Tela sat down and looked up at Neith, the human was tall, and the multiple blue lights of her mask’s lenses was slightly unnerving. “I’m going to tell you the truth” she informed the hacker, knowing that Neith would no accept anything less.
From her brief acquaintance with the woman Tela knew that Neith did not trust easily, and she was perfectly capable of destroying Tela digitally. Why she had yet to turn on Aria was a mystery, but Tela had reviewed the hacker’s actions extensively, listening to Aria brag about the brutality and efficiency of the Hacker.
“Have a seat” she gestured to the chair across from her but Neith remained standing. Her body language had all but vanished, something Tela was beginning to realise was a warning sign, it was different than her thinking stillness.
It was a tense immobility. She sighed and leaned back in her chair “I have recently been approached by the Shadow Broker, offering information in exchange for my performing tasks for him. I would rather not be in his pay. But if I have too, I will accept” she admitted, watching Neith carefully.
There was no reaction from the woman and Tela ploughed on. “you were my only other option. It is known that Aria gained a new pet who was very good at gathering information. I had a life debt from the woman so I called it in and got you transferred to me. I’m hoping that after this mission you will either consent to work for me or at least give me information” she finished, steepling her fingers and leaning back.
Neith cocked her head. “you want to use me to avoid the Broker…” she mused, the vocal distorter making it sound like a low growl. She looked up, blue lenses meeting Tela’s eyes. “I want my freedom Vasir. I want to be my own person, free to go where I want and do as I please without having to report back to some boss. My time in the labs stripped me of most of my innocence, my time on Omega took what little I had left.” Neith’s distorted voice had lowered a little, anger tingeing it.
Tela watched cautiously as Neith straightened and Tela all but held her breath. “After this mission, if you let me go free, I will supply you with information. I have no love for the Broker and anything the robs him of a resource is something I condone. If you hold to your word, then I will hold to mine” she answered finally.
Tela felt her shoulders relax. “After we have the information on Cerberus to supply the council. You will be free to go. I swear it” she vowed and watched as Neith’s shoulders relaxed slightly. The Hacker nodded before walking quietly to the lift and taking it down to her hidey-hole on the cargo level.
Tela sagged into her seat, letting out a ling slow breath. Neith was beyond paranoid, and extremely angry, but she had a feeling that the woman’s word meant a great deal to her. She sat up and left in the direction of her cabin, preparing to read through the information they had recived and her report to the council.
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