A Serpent in the Citadel, Chapter 11: Lunch with a Cop
This is the eleventh chapter of this story, which is at least five more than I expected there to be. If you want to read the others first, or if you’d like to read them in random order, here are the other chapter links. If, like everyone else, you have no desire to read this, by all means do whatever else it is you do on the internet.
I tried to be as casual as possible leaving the bar through the back door. I’m sure I failed miserably. Something about being out in the open when I knew a group of heavily-armed ex-military types were looking specifically for me and had already marked the place I was leaving had my usual equanimity buried under a thick layer of well-earned paranoia. The noodle place Severa was sending me wasn’t far but it wasn’t close either. I would have felt less naked in a skinsuit on stage working for tips. I didn’t want to risk the transit service but walking all the way to the meet-up in the open had my nerves on fire. I didn’t make it a tenth of the way before I headed towards the skycar traffic. I decided I’d rather get shot at the depot and get it over with instead of spending an entire three-kilometer walk waiting for the bullet.
I did the usual stuff, doubling back, ducking into shops, that sort of thing. I might have been willing to get it over with, but I didn’t plan on making their job too easy. I made my way to a shuttle depot that wasn’t the closest one to Tranquility and hoped for the best. I got in visual range of it and watched it for a bit, looking for anyone that was doing what I was doing, standing in one spot looking around. I was glad I wasn’t nearer the tourist areas, since that was all anyone around there did. I gave it a few minutes. I saw plenty of suspicious characters but didn’t see anyone that looked like they were there specifically to kill me.
Walking casually over to the shuttle was hard. I calmed myself by picturing how broken up Madeleine would be at my funeral. Since my imagination couldn’t conjure up the image of her looking guilty or contrite or weeping inconsolably I had to work real hard at it. That kept my mind occupied as I approached the kiosk and requested an aircar. Since it could take a few minutes for one to show I sought whatever cover I could. Unfortunately, the only concealment was offered by an advertisement column, which kept exhorting me by name to purchase one of a dozen different products or services that I either couldn’t afford or would be too embarrassed to use in public.
It was just my luck that my skycab showed up just as the ad started on a pre-order pitch for Migration to Desire. It wasn’t due out for a couple of months so I had to keep my excitement damped down. I didn’t even get to see the full preview before I had to climb into the driver’s seat. The clamshell top closed in on me and I felt a little safer. I tapped the haptic keys and pulled out, darkening the windows as I went. It took a few minutes for my nerves to drop from full jangle. I kept looking for a gunship to appear behind me but there was nothing but the constant stream of vehicles buzzing around.
I was glad to park the thing and climb out. Even for short distances Citadel traffic made potential assassins look appealing. Since I’d traveled closer to the Presidium the area was a little nicer, but was still definitely in the Wards. I blended in with the crowd, or tried to, and checked my omni to make sure I was heading in the right direction. I was early, but made my way into the restaurant anyway. It was little more than a kiosk with seating, but the food smelled good and the tables in the back were secluded. I hadn’t been hungry when I walked in but the aroma got to me.
One of the things humans brought to galactic civilization was the wonder and delight of the perfect noodle. They were surprisingly popular, since it turned out to be easily adapted to the dextro-protein races like the turians and quarians. Walking into the place reminded me of some of the dives back in Las Angela-Vegas, the ones that looked like shelters and had the best grub. It was human-run, and in a couple minutes I had a big pile of steaming goodness in some kind of brown sauce with unidentifiable meat and too many vegetables. It was perfection. I hunkered over it in the back corner booth Severa had specified. It was the best I’d felt all day.
Of course it didn’t last. I only managed a couple of bites when the turian sat across from me. His blue uniform had the marks identifying him a C-Sec investigator and matched the coloring on his face. I was early but he’d clearly been here even earlier, scoping out the place before I showed. I didn’t bother wondering how he knew it was me who’d contacted him. He looked as friendly as a rachni and turned out to be almost as charming. “Tell me what this is about and where she is, or you’ll beg me to let the Keepers recycle you.”
I did my best put-upon sigh, and since I had a lot of practice it was pretty good. I gave him the story, leaving out Madeleine and the background details. He wouldn’t have cared about the human angle anyway. I told him all about Severa and Weaver and what had happened, and that we had information of the location of where the bad guys were holed up. It took a bit and my noodles got cold. I finished talking and waited while he digested what I’d told him. The food was damn tasty cold too, and since he didn’t bother giving me his name I didn’t feel the need to be too polite. I slurped them up as he tapped his talons on the table.
It took a couple of minutes. “Officially, there’s nothing I can do,” he said. “It’s out of my jurisdiction and belongs to Internal Affairs.” His sneer made me like him a little. “According to the regulations.” He said regulations like I said vegans. My esteem for him went up. His talons danced a little more as he thought. “However, I have a current investigation that may require a trip down that way. I’ll pick up Weaver and have a chat. Take a ride down to the warehouse. If there’s a disturbance there I’ll have to call it in to the locals. Provided it’s big enough.” He leaned in and looked at me hard. “It will be big enough, right?”
I nodded. “I can guarantee it.” With Tomyra involved, I had no doubt. I had a feeling the explosives in the bar weren’t the only ones she had lying around.
The turian nodded and stood. “Ping me when you get ready to move. It’ll take a little bit of time for C-Sec to show in force. Remember that.” He walked off without asking me to be careful. I felt hurt. I consoled myself with noodles and headed back. I decided to walk this time, since I wanted time to think. I was careful and took my time as I made the long walk, but I didn’t feel as nervous this time. It was probably a mistake, but I needed to let my mind work.
I was starting to get a pretty good feel for the game the Serpent were playing. The way I figured it, a core group got the idea and put it into action, small at first, then expanding as they went. The core probably all served together, trusted each other more than they cared about the Alliance or galactic law. Since the pay was crap they probably figured they were owed some compensation for their service. For a group of well-trained and physically augmented ex-soldiers, muscling in on a couple of gangs and taking over distribution was probably a snap. Over time, they probably recruited a few more ex-buddies as needed.
At least, I assumed they had to be getting big if they were looking for a hold on old Admiral York’s fleet connections. It made sense though, and a little extranet browsing confirmed it. The old man’s ships did most of their trade to planets and stations with a significant military presence. A few well-compensated folks on the inside of those places would make sure the shipments made it in just fine. The only problem would be getting them on board. The way Madeleine made it sound, Cole Montgomery was the apple of the Admiral’s one good eye. No surprise there. It’s easy when someone gets older to see themselves in a young person they admire. Makes their youth seem even better than they remember.
Since I didn’t have better intel, I had to go with my gut. I assumed the core group would be ex-officers and non-comms, like the pair I saw in the black market, with a bunch of grunts doing the heavy lifting. That would be a buzzsaw to run through to get the kid, and it would be so loud and obvious that the kid would either be dead or taken away by the time I reached him. With a heavy heart, I threw out the notion of a glorious suicidal charge into the teeth of the enemy and decided to come up with something with a little more nuance.
By the time I got back to Tranquility, I had a couple of good ideas propped up with a few terrible ones. And a grin.