A Serpent in the Citadel, Chapter 8: Waiting for It All to Blow Over
This is the eighth chapter in what was originally going to be a short intro to the characters and has turned into a much longer story than the original story I planned on telling. Sometimes that’s just what happens. If you’re crazy enough to read it in order, you can find the other chapters here:
It took us a while to get to where I was taking them. I wanted to stick to alleys and back ways and avoid eyes as much as possible. I also didn’t head directly to the destination. Instead we meandered, sometimes doubled back, occasionally stayed put in a hiding spot while Severa got some rest. Lorelei was looking fresher and wanted to talk but the turian wouldn’t let her ask questions, always putting her off for later when we weren’t being actively hunted. I didn’t bring up the fact that we’d be in that situation until we managed to wipe out a large criminal organization that had infiltrated an unknown number of C-Sec operatives. I didn’t want to put a damper on anyone’s chipper mood.
All in all, it was the most effort I ever put into going to a bar, and that’s saying something.
It was the night shift, and Tranquility was as almost as empty as I hoped it would be. There were a couple of tables that had occupants, one with quarians and the other salarians. The krogan Kreeg was the only one at the bar. To say we stood out would be an understatement. I had Severa under one shoulder and an assault rifle in my other hand, and Lorelei still had the pistol out. We made our way to the bar as quickly as I could manage. The turian was only half-conscious and it slowed me down. I was starting to worry I’d taken too long.
Tomyra gave us a quick once-over with her eyes. She didn’t look alarmed or surprised. Instead she looked out at the empty sea of tables. “Bar’s closed, folks,” she said to the half-dozen customers. Her voice could do a good impression of an iron rasp. “Kreeg, show them the door.” He got up and used a lot less friendly words and gestures to make the point.
I made it to the bar and leaned Severa against a stool. The turian was unconscious now, but I could see her breathing. “She’s C-Sec. She’s been shot.” I turned to see the salarians protesting their removal but leaving nonetheless. Bars didn’t close on the Citadel, almost nothing did, but arguing with a krogan about it wasn’t a viable long-term strategy.
Tomyra gave me a look like I was a preaching hanar, mostly contempt and disgust but with a pinch of derision to spice things up. “No shit.” She vaulted over the bar with a grace that took my mind off the trigger-happy gang that wanted me dead. She started checking Severa’s wound. “You think C-Sec could plant a cop in my bar without me knowing? Oh, nevermind, of course you do. You’re human.” She finished her examination. “Bring her around the bar. There’s a room in the back.”
I eased Severa back onto my shoulder and got her upright. She muttered a few things that I couldn’t hear but probably weren’t complimentary. I started the slow shuffle with Lorelei behind me as Tomyra used her omni-tool to shut the doors. The opening was wide and it took a few seconds to close them off. In the meantime I was half-dragging Severa around the long bar until Lorelei put my pistol on the bar and threw the turian’s other arm over her shoulders and gave me a hand.
We got her back into a small room, sparse, with a cot and a couple of lockers and a magazine or two. We got Severa muscled up onto the bed while the asari tapped a code on one of the lockers. She got some medi-gel out and went to work, using her omni-tool to administer it. I stepped back to give Tomyra room since she looked like she knew what she was doing. I dropped the assault rifle on a small table and flexed my hand. I’d been death-gripping it for a while.
After a couple minutes Severa was breathing easier, and so was I. The bartender stopped fiddling with her omni-tool and looked over at me. “She’ll be fine. She’s sleeping now, instead of unconscious.”
I raised an eyebrow. “There’s a difference?”
Like most people, she ignored me. “You,” she said, pointing a finger that looked weaponized at Lorelei , “stay here and keep an eye on her while I have a chat with him.” The thumb she sent my way was even more threatening. I heard Lorelei start a protest as the door slid shut behind us. To my eternal surprise and gratitude Tomyra slid me an Earth scotch as I sat at the bar with the krogan. “Spill it,” she said, and I was too scared of her to ask if she meant my drink.
“After you threw me out last night,” I paused as I looked for sympathy and got none and moved on, “I got picked up by Severa for a chat at C-Sec. They’re concerned my investigation would interfere with a sand operation they’re running. Her partner, Weaver, was there. Know him?” She nodded. “I ignored Severa’s advice and listened to yours. I showed up this morning and talked to Merrin. Weaver was there. Your bartender sent me to the black market and Weaver got a tail put on me.”
I knocked back half my drink. It burned and I knew it would do a number on my empty gut. “I slipped the first bunch but Severa picked me up. I got to the market and spotted her, plus the tail Weaver had put on her. I found the girl,” I jerked my thumb helpfully to the back, mostly for the krogan’s benefit, “and let Severa know she was in trouble. Got into a firefight with some humans, military-grade gear. Turns out one of them was a C-Sec officer that went missing as part of this sand investigation. Severa got hit in the firefight and we came here. The long way. Figured everything else was watched.”
I slugged back the rest of my drink and waited for her response. Instead her omni-tool chirped. The asari narrowed her eyes at me and tapped a hologrammatic button. A voice sounded from it. “Tomyra Dalius. This is C-Sec requesting access to the bar Tranquility as part of an ongoing investigation. If you do not comply within thirty seconds, we will override the locks and enter the bar. We would rather not do that.”
I figured thirty seconds were twenty-nine more than Tomyra needed to kill me, but to my surprise she didn’t. “Guess we were being watched, too,” she said simply, glancing at Kreeg. She looked back at me. “Want to hide with the others, see if I can run them off?”
I thought for a second and shook my head. I figured we’d get found anyway, and I didn’t think they’d have anything to book me on anyway. The asari poured me another drink and made sure she and the krogan had a fresh one as well before she tapped her fingers on her omni-tool. I leaned back in the stool and gave an air of exaggerated relaxation I didn’t feel as the doors slid open.
In walked a troop of half a dozen gun-toting folks in blue light armor. I breathed a little easier when I saw that half of them were turians, but it’s hard for me to relax too much when that many guys with guns are walking toward me. I’d never seen this many C-Sec types in one place outside of their offices. They definitely never needed more than two to deal with me. I didn’t recognize any of them, but I didn’t make knowing cops a priority. The introductions usually came without me seeking them out.
Tomyra spoke up. “Is there something I can do for you, Officer…?” The pause made it clear that she was fishing for a name. That made my unease ratchet up a little higher. I was new to this area and not knowing everyone was expected. An asari bartender not knowing a C-Sec officer in her stomping grounds was a little different. It took everything I had to not glance at my pistol, sitting six feet to my left right on the bar.
The troop stopped about twenty feet away from us. Three assault rifle barrels were pointed at me. The other three were pointing at the ground, for now. The guy in charge was human, crewcut, with a mouth as sour as volus wine. He skipped the introductions. “Why is this bar closed?”
“Private party. Rented out.”
“Yeah? Party’s over.” He jerked his head at Kreeg. “You’re free to go, krogan.”
“Best thing I’ve heard all night.” The big scarred brute sucked down the rest of his drink, eased off the stool, and sauntered past them. No one put their guns on him, but I could tell they wanted to. They were that smart, at least. Pointing a gun at a krogan is a bad idea unless you’re already squeezing the trigger.
“We’re looking for a pair of fugitives involved in the murder of a C-Sec officer earlier today. This man,” his lazily swung weapon made it a fourth barrel pointing my way, “is one of those suspects. We have reason to believe the other is here. If you cooperate, this’ll be over in no more than a minute. Your call.”
“By all means,” she said, and the sweat that was trickling down my back became a river. “The rest of the party is in the back.”
Crewcut looked back at one of the guys behind him, another human, and jerked his head towards the back. Without a word two of the turians followed as Number Two started moving around the bar. Things looked bleak, but at least I was down to two guns pointed at me. Ma always taught me to look on the bright side.
They were rounding the bar, about fifteen feet away from my only gun, when Tomyra spoke up. “Hey, Gallian,” she said conversationally. The turian next to the boss glanced over at her. “I heard you were still with the Darkstar mercs. If you walk out now I’ll make sure Saber doesn’t hear about this.”
Everybody froze. I felt my heart thump in my chest hard. Once. Twice.
On the third, everything exploded.