Bzz. Bzz. Bzz...
Lt. James Skinner growled at the non-sounds of electronic galactic commerce buzzing in his ears as he tried to eat dinner. Illium was one of the largest commercial hubs in the Terminus Systems, and hundreds of millions of transactions took place on any given day.
And he was accutely aware of ALL of them. Every last goddamned one.
For every transaction, whether it was the purchase of stock, goods, or people (entirely legal on Illium, provided the right paperwork is filled out), Skinner felt a tiny jolt beneath his skin. It wasn't painful, but it was annoying.
He'd arrived on the planet six days ago, on the pretense of going into rehab for a supposed drug problem, accompanied by his superior officer, Cmdr. Emmanuelle Sharon, who was supposed to be in rehab for an actual drinking problem. For the past few days, he'd kept himself sane by locking himself in his hotel room and hanging up special drapes that prevented electronic signals from reaching him. The commander might have found it odd... if she had been sober.
Tonight, however, he actually did have to leave the comfort of his makeshift Faraday cage and venture out into the city of Nos Astra. He had business.
A particularly long buzz disrupted his chain of thought. He turned and noticed a high-powered asari businesswoman arguing with someone on her omnitool two tables over. With an annoyed growl, he subtly pointed his hand in her direction and gave a minute twitch of his finger. A second later, her call was disconnected, and she stomped out, presumably to complain.
Aye, that's right, laddie. Nice an' subtle, like I taught yeh. Skinner knew the voice was in his head, but his eyes still instinctively darted around the room. He ground his teeth.
More than ten years earlier, he had been identified as a biotic, someone who could generate mass effect fields. Afraid for his well-being, his parents contacted an old friend of his father's, a seemingly genial Scottish scientist who was at the forefront of biotic research. James remembered that day very well.
So, Jimmy, the man had said, a ugly but friendly grin on his face, Yer da tells me yeh been pushin' things wi' yer mind. Is that true?
Yessir, the thirteen-year-old boy had responded timidly.
And how do yeh feel when it happens, eh?
Scared, James answered, but...
James looked nervously to make sure neither of his parents were listening in. A few weeks ago, a bully tried to beat me up 'cos I wouldn't help him cheat on a test, he confided. I was scared... I just wanted him to back off...
And what happened, Jimmy?
Something just kind of... clicked. One minute, he was about to punch me, and then the next... he was on the ground.
Was he hurt bad?
His knuckles were bleeding, and he landed flat on his butt. He wasn't really hurt at all. But it spooked him. He ran off.
And how did that make ye feel?
It was cool, the boy said. Feeling bold, he added, I made him my bitch, just for a few seconds.
The Scotsman smiled. Aye, he said, that's called a 'push'. It's simple biotics. Given a few years of training, ye might be able to push someone a whole SIX INCHES.
That doesn't sound like much, the boy remarked.
Aye, it really en't all that much. But it's the best that most biotics will accomplish. But yeh don't have to be like most biotics. I can make yeh more powerful...
Skinner's reverie was interrupted by the arrival of a skinny man who somehow managed to look both nervous and cocky at the same time. He wore a cheap, rumpled suit that had obviously been worn at least a dozen times without being washed. His shoulder-length hair was greasy and strawberry-blonde. A moustache covered his upper lip, while a small goatee sprouted just under his lower lip, and several days' worth of stubble covered his cheeks and jawline. A pair of wrap-around sunglasses hid his eyes. As he approached Skinner's table, he flashed a toothy grin. "Jimmy! How's it hanging?"
"You're late, Roget," Skinner replied curtly. He motioned to the chair across from his. "Sit."
His dinner guest complied, but not happily. Armand Roget was rapidly approaching that point that all too many information brokers reached, where they'd become so good at gathering information about other people that they realized just how easy it would be for someone else to gather information about them. Roget was an excellent information broker, the best that Skinner could afford, but he was growing paranoid and jittery. "You got my payment?" he asked.
Skinner pulled a worn enveloped from his jacket and slid it across the table. Getting paper money had been a bitch, but the electronic banking industry had been one of the first things to rouse Roget's paranoia. "Twenty-thousand, as agreed," Skinner said.
Roget pulled out the faded dollar bills and took a deep whiff. "Mmm... there's nothing like the smell of real paper..."
"I'll take your word for it. Now where is this 'juicy' information you promised?"
Roget reached into his own coat and pulled out a manila envelope that looked like it would disintegrate if it were touched any more than it already had been. "Here ya go," he said, as he handed it over.
Skinner carefully the folder down and opened it. Inside was a collection of seemingly random documents - shipping manifests, flight records, and photos of a beat-up old starship with the name MSV Dunsinane emblazoned upon its side.
Skinner stared at the photos for a moment. "These are genuine?"
"You wound me. Do you truly think I would sell you fakes?"
"It's his ship. Why couldn't we find it sooner?"
"It's been on Lorek for years. The planet's not easy to scout out. There's batarians and warlords all over the surface and castoffs from Omega in orbit. Luckily for you, the Alliance has been doing deep recon for the past couple of months."
"Lucky..." Skinner murmured. "How far away is Lorek?"
"Couple of hours over the relays, but you'll need someone to get you there..."
"I'm guessing you happen to know someone?"
"I might, but we need to contact him." Roget looked around. "Privately."
"Meet me in my hotel room in an hour, then."