A Serpent in the Citadel, Chapter 9: Ducking and Covering

This is the ninth chapter in what is continuing to insist on being told for no particularly good reason. God knows if anyone is reading this, but just in case, here’s the one’s that came before:

Chapter 1: The Big Sister

Chapter 2: Long Walks and Short Thoughts

Chapter 3: Time for a Drink

Chapter 4: The Turian Inquisition

Chapter 5: Watchful Eyes

Chapter 6: A Great Plan

Chapter 7: Taking a Few Shots

Chapter 8: Waiting For It All to Blow Over

The fake C-Sec officers snapped up their guns and sighted us down in a figurative explosion of movement. The literal explosion happened at the end of the bar, where the three going to the back were standing. It sounded like a grenade, so I assumed it was. My estimation of Tomyra’s paranoia level deepened, along with my respect and fear. It made me wonder where else she had explosive devices planted for just-in-case purposes. It also helped explain how she might be on a first name basis with murderous mercenaries.

Unfortunately for me she didn’t have any planted under the other trio. What she did have was her biotics, and for the second time that day someone was kind enough to put a kinetic barrier between me and the slivers of metal that wanted to rip me apart. I didn’t figure it would last long under the heavy assault rifle fire so I lunged over to my left, grabbed my pistol off the counter, and flopped over the bar with the grace and style of a boat-bottom fish. Bars on the Citadel were built like bunkers and I counted on it to save my hide after Tomyra’s barrier fell.

The asari was already crouched behind it as I floundered back to my feet. She reached past some glasses and pulled a slick-looking assault rifle out from under the bar. I figured it was an asari special, one of those weapons that didn’t see wide use among the rest of us slobs. I could hear it charge up with an electric hum as she popped up and sent three zapping shots back at our attackers. The crackle and pop of frying shields was audible, so I stuck my head and arms over the bartop and sent a few rounds downrange. I aimed for the guy looking for cover and was rewarded by the sight of armor fragmenting and blood flying. I started feeling hopeful, since if Tomyra could bring down their shields my heavy pistol could punch through their armor, especially at this close range.

Then the barrier dropped and so did my courage. I dropped to a squat as glass shattered above and behind me. I shifted closer to Tomyra, who was also using the bar for cover but looking more like a spider waiting in ambush compared to my look of huddled distress. Our opponents were professional, keeping a constant spray of fire on us to keep us pinned. I knew before long that they’d use the covering fire to outflank us. I moved past the asari, heading towards the far end of the bar opposite the grenade-planted one. I heard the clearly fearless bartender snap off a few rounds despite the fire and shook my head. Even I didn’t know if it was from admiration or disbelief.

I got to the end of the bar and looked around the corner. No one was in sight so I edged around to the short side of the bar and poked my head out for a second. I wasn’t surprised to see one of the goons, the guy I’d wounded, crouched against the bar and making his way towards my position. If I hadn’t gotten there first he’d have flanked us. I swung my pistol out and hammered shot after shot into him. His shields had started to recover, but at this range they couldn’t do much. The heavy rounds slammed into him and before he could get his rifle on me I dropped him.

Before I could feel too proud of myself I saw movement at the other end of the bar. The grenade hadn’t taken care of all three of them. It looked like only one of them was staying down and the others were getting back to their feet. I fired a couple rounds their way without much luck and called out a warning to Tomyra. That caused the turian, Gallian, to turn to me and start pouring rounds my way.

He was behind an overturned table while the spokesperson of the group kept suppressing fire on the bar a few steps ahead of the turian. In short order, Tomyra was forced to stay down, firing at the far end to keep my opposite bookend from filling the area behind the bar with flying metal. They still had the numbers, even with two down, and if they were patient they’d get us eventually. Every time I stuck my head out Gallian would fire. I knew he was trying to bait me out, but if I didn’t do something soon we were done.

I could hear movement as the two free thugs moved their positions, but the turian kept me from finding out where they’d moved to. I was contemplating a foolish dash out to the tables, hoping to tip one over and get into cover, when I felt the floor under me vibrate. It was brief, then repeated, over and over in a rhythm. I had a gut feeling about the source, and I chanced Gallian’s rifle fire to see if I was right.

The turian fired, but not at me. The mini-earthquake I felt was Kreeg running right at the suddenly panicky Gallian. A couple shots hit the krogan’s armor but he ignored them. One of Kreeg’s hands slammed up into the turian’s crotch and the other grabbed him by the face. The big krogan didn’t stop charging through the tables, using poor Gallian as both battering ram and shield. The head of the gang that had talked so tough got slammed into the bar. He and the turian became the inside of a bar-and-krogan sandwich, and neither one was getting up.

The last two mugs standing, both turian, started the spray-and-pray routine, trying to take us all out or at least keep us pinned while they ran for it. The fire was enough to make Kreeg go for cover and kept Tomyra’s head down. I popped a few rounds off but didn’t do much. The turians started pulling back, going from cover while the other used suppressing fire. I’ve always hated people who knew what they were doing. The krogan had a shotgun out and fired a few rounds, but the turians were using cover to well for us to get to them.

The distinctive clatter of a Lancer assault rifle came from my left, and I looked over to see Lorelei leaning out from the back, peppering the turians with accurate bursts from the side. Their last shot at retreating ended when Tomyra used her omni to close the doors again. Kreeg’s big shotgun boomed and sent one sprawling and that was that. The last guy dropped to his face with his arms up. I was tempted to finish him. Getting shot at makes me touchy.

We regrouped and checked to make sure everyone was OK. Kreeg had taken a few rounds but his hide was probably tougher than the scarred old armor he wore. I thanked the krogan and Tomyra but they shrugged it off. All the asari said was, “No one threatens me in my bar, but especially not any  half-assed mercs with delusions of grandeur.” Kreeg just grunted and started separating the living from the dead. Tomyra started eying the breathing ones like she was shopping for a new coat. I guessed she had some questions she wanted to torture someone with.

I was ready to chase down another whiskey but Lorelei wasn’t as kind as the other two. She started in on me. “All right,” she said, sounding like my last landlord on rent day. The assault rifle the girl was pointing at me was even the same model. Lorelei interrupted my stroll down memory alley before it got good. “Give me three good reasons why I shouldn’t shoot you now.”

I couldn’t help but ask, even though her look told me she meant exactly what she said. “Why not just one?”

I could see her finger tighten on the trigger. “Because, first, you dragged me into an ambush. Second, you work for my father. Third, you ruined the best chance I had to help a friend.”

“Fair.” It was. I fished out a cigarette and stuck it in my mouth. “One. I can help you find Cole.” I flicked my lighter and puffed smoke. “Two. I can help C-Sec shut these dusters down.” I took a long drag and looked her in the eye. “And three.” I exhaled a long stream of smoke up in the air and fixed her with my most charming grin. Unfortunately, my delaying tactics hadn’t helped me think of a third reason. My grin gradually curdled at the edges as she stared down the length of the rifle at me.

Lorelei got an even harder look in her eye. “Not good enough, old man.” Ahh, the young. “If I believed you could pull off the other two, I’d be tempted to let you live. Sorry.”

I didn’t have an answer, but I managed to stay steady and take another drag. Luckily for me an answer came all the same. “With my help, he can.” Her voice was rough – well, rougher – and she had to lean against the wall for support, but Severa looked better than she had when we got here. The firefight must’ve woken her.

It took a couple minutes but we got her in a seat and a drink in her hand. Lorelei left the gun on the bar and gave the turian some time to elaborate. After a couple of pulls of some nasty-smelling brew I decided to find out for myself. “Thought you said C-Sec was a no-go.” When I told Lorelei I could get their help I’d been running a straight bluff.

Severa coughed a little, but I think it had more to do with her drink. “Still is. Mostly. Have an idea, though. There’s a guy I think we can trust. If we play it right.”

“When do you want to give him a call?”

She bared her fangs at me in a more or less friendly way. “I’m not. You are.”

I laughed and took a big gulp of my own drink. “You’re funny. I think C-Sec is the last place I should be around.”

“Don’t worry. You won’t get near the place. I’ll give you his direct com line. You’ll tell him that you have a lead on the  Matriarch Enallia case and you want to meet at the noodle place near the STG hideout. He’ll know what you mean.”

I stubbed out my smoke. “Glad someone does, because none of that means a thing to me.”

“It will to him. I’ll tell you where to go. Sit in the back corner and he’ll find you. Tell him everything. He’ll keep it close, but he’ll be able to get C-Sec to help.”

I finished my drink and pondered. “That’s nice. Still have a problem though.” I lit another cigarette. It’d been that kind of day. “We don’t know where the Serpent is holed up.”

The asari cut in. “Leave that part to me.” She was walking towards the back. Kreeg had an unconscious human on each shoulder and was right behind her. “It shouldn’t take long.”

“Might be tougher than you think,” I said. “These guys are former Alliance military. They’re trained to deal with interrogation.”

Tomyra stopped, then turned to me slowly. I felt small all of a sudden. “Yeah?” She gave me a look, the second or third most contemptuous one I’d gotten from her so far. “You know, I’ve learned a few things myself in the last six or seven hundred years. Maybe I’ll just go ahead and give it a shot.” She turned and went into the back. Kreeg’s grin at me as he followed behind was the cherry on my day.

At least I had an entire bar in front of me to improve my outlook.

About Alan Edwards

Former cancer caregiver. Husband of the most magical and amazing person who ever lived.

Posted on October 3, 2016, in Stories and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

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