At dawn the next day, Lt. Sharon called together a meeting between herself, Lt. Skinner, Cmdr. Ayana, and Kenira Pilasi in order to discuss their strategy.
"Alright," Sharon said, "Here is what we know. One, our forces currently number one-hundred and forty-two heads."
"Of course, Ms. Pilasi and her throroughly useless Esan Liberation Front accounts for thirty-seven of those heads," Skinner chimed in.
"We are hardly useless!" Pilasi said. "You've been helping yourselves to our food supply!"
"And that would not have been necessary had you not come to this damned planet in the first place!" Ayana argued.
"The loss of this planet has been a black eye on our republics for nearly three centuries! We--"
"Enough!" Sharon growled. "You can argue later. The second thing we know is that Operative Dantius left for Nairida three days ago. Do we know why?"
"I know why," Pilasi answered. "Nairida was one of the only cities that the batarians never captured during the annexation. It was the home of some of the greatest minds in asari space, and was fittingly equipped with some of the best security systems ever conceived. When the batarians invaded, the mayor and her advisors had the city walled off--"
"Lot of good that did them. The mayor got greedy and demanded high taxes from the people, and they revolted, and the ensuing violence killed almost everybody," Skinner interjected.
"Clearly, it wasn't the greatest example of asari governance," Ayana cut in, trying to steer the conversation back on track, "but tactically, taking the city would have greatly improved our position under the circumstances. The city's infrastructure was designed to outlast its inhabitants."
"What does that mean, exactly?"
"The city's power source was self-perpetuating, the agricultural district grew crops that could be harvested for a whole asari lifetime, the water supply was self-replenishing, with six extra reservoirs to account for the possibility of drought - you get the picture."
"So it was the ultimate fortress."
"Yes, but that wasn't why Siani went there. She was drawn there by the Relay."
"I take it that's some sort of communications system?"
"Yes. When the batarians invaded, the mayor of Nairida authorized the creation of a system that would allow them to communicate with the other republics. If Siani managed to get it working, we might be able to send a message to Livis Headquarters and get reinforcements."
"Or failing that, the Relay could be used to unleash a massive electromagnetic pulse," Skinner added.
There was a pause. The commander looked stunned. "How did you-?"'
"It's what I would do in this situation."
"Commander, did you give Dantius orders to set off an EMP?" Sharon asked.
"... I told her to try and send out a message. If that failed..."
Sharon turned to Skinner. "Jim, how long would it take someone to turn a communications system into an EMP?"
"Without knowing anything about the setup, I don't know. Could take a few hours, or a few... minutes."
"She wouldn't rush into it. She'd keep trying to send out a message."
"So here's what we don't know. One, we don't know if Dantius managed to activate the Relay. Two, assuming she did, someone still managed to stop the message from getting out - could the batarians have done that?"
"I don't know," Ayana said. "Well, I guess we'll have to go find out," Sharon replied. She quickly ended the meeting before another argument could break out.
The Road to NairidaEdit
Sharon left the Livis camp at sunset that night, accompanied only by a trio of operatives - Arine Leoptos, Mirole T'Shar, and Thedala Visin. The distance from the camp to the old city of Nairida could be crossed in a few hours at high speed, but the road was bordered on both sides by high cliffs, and Emmanuelle suspected that the batarians might be watching for anything that looked like a rescue party, and so she and her temporary companions drove their transport at a crawl at night. During the day, they found places to hide and rest. They had agreed that during the day, they would conduct watches in shifts, with two women watching while the other two rested. Sharon was paired with Leoptos, who, at a mere 113 years old, was the youngest of the three. She took advantage of the long watches to try and gain some insight into the operative they were seeking.
"She keeps to herself," Leoptos told Sharon as they kept watch the second morning of their journey. "I'm afraid she didn't really tell any of the girls about herself."
"Did you know her mother is a Matriarch?"
"No, but it doesn't surprise me. She always seemed like she was trying to escape someone's shadow. Is her mother an admiral or something?"
"Her mother is the Matriarch Eumenidia."
Leoptos nearly choked on her coffee. "You're kidding, right?"
"No. You've heard of her?"
"Everyone in Livis has heard of her. The Matriarch owns nearly half the stock in the company. Ohh shit..."
"So she's an investor looking to bail out her kid. It's nothing to worry about... right?"
"All I'll say is, if Siani is Eumenidia's kid, we better hope she's alive."
Sharon sensed from Leoptos' tone that she did not want to discuss the matter further. Seeking a new topic, she noticed the operative's ring, which was a brilliant gold and decorated by what appeared to be ruby inlays. "Are you married?"
"Am I what?" Leoptos briefly looked like she thought she'd been insulted, but quickly regained her compsure. "Oh, you mean, am I bonded? It's the ring, right?"
"It looks very expensive."
Leoptos smiled. "My bondmate is a fifteen-year old salarian stockbroker, Iluxin Alos Mutiri... fuck, I can never remember the full name. I just call him Luxi."
"He's only fifteen? Isn't that robbing the cradle?"
Leoptos snorted. "He's a salarian, honey. Their lifespan is maybe thirty years, so he's middle-aged." She grinned. "I'm his midlife crisis."
"He's very lucky, then." Sharon had meant it as an innocent compliment, but Arine gave her a look.
An awkward silence followed, broken when T'Shar and Visin emerged from the tent. "Shift's over, ladies," Visin said, "Get your asses in the tent and sleep. We'll probably reach Nairida by tomorrow morning, so you'd better be ready in case there's someone waiting for us." She turned to Sharon, "And you better not try sleeping out here again."
"What was that about?" Sharon asked, as she and Leoptos made their way to the tent.
"They're a couple," Leoptos explained. "This mess came up just as they were about to celebrate their 50th anniversary, and it completely ruined their plans. And then there's you."
"Thedala's got a bit of a wandering-eye problem, and Mirole is... kind of a bitch, whereas you're like a very sexy and approachable human justicar."
"Oh, come on. Thedala can't have been the first person to find you attractive. And don't tell me you're one of those women who only sleeps with men. At any rate, Mirole's been getting increasingly pissed off, so tonight Thedala will be performing damage control."
"They're planning to have sex?"
"Yes." Leoptos motioned towards the tent. "Left side or right side?"
"I was thinking of sleeping outside again, maybe behind the tent."
"Not an option. Mirole will go ballistic if she thinks you're watching her and Thedala. Don't worry, I don't bite."
"What if I snore?"
"I don't wake easily."
"I might roll over on you or kick you."
"I can take it."
"I don't sleep easily."
"We have sleep aids."
"I..." Sharon tried to come up with another excuse, but was struggling.
Leoptos gently pressed a finger to Sharon's lips. "Listen, honey, you're very pretty, and in a couple of years, maybe you might have a chance, but I'm very happily bonded right now. And besides, we have to be ready to leave in a few hours. Nothing is going to happen."
Sharon turned bright red from mortification, but finally climbed into the tent. She borrowed some pills to ensure that she'd have a dreamless 6 hours of sleep. Thankfully, the pills lived up to their promise.
The Unclaimed CityEdit
The final leg of the journey to Nairida took all night. As the sun came up, the small transport crested a hill, and Sharon beheld a massive octagon rising from the ground in the distance. At one point, it might have been gleaming, but after centuries of disuse, the white metal had been stained with rust. Several dozen towers projected upwards from the city, but only the one in the center was intact. Sharon saw something glimmering at the top of that tower, but could not make it out.
"Holy shit..." she said, "Is that Nairida?"
"Oh no, it's some other forgotten asari city," T'Shar responded sarcastically.
"Goddess, it's huge," Leoptos murmured. There was a hint of reverence in her tone.
"How the hell did the batarians not notice that thing?" Sharon asked.
"They did notice it," Visin said. "They just couldn't claim it."
Suddenly, there was something that sounded very much like an air raid siren, and an enormous creature that looked very much like a dragon swooped down from the sky.
"I think we're about to find out why the batarians never claimed this place..." Sharon said.
"What the hell is that thing?" Sharon asked, as the team tried to outmaneauver several hundred pounds of angry flying reptile.
"Hopefully, it's not rocket-proof," Leoptos said, as she pulled an RPG launcher from the team's supply crate. She aimed and fired. It had been almost impossible to keep her arms steady, but the shot was good, aimed right at the beast's nose. They watched as the rocket sped its way towards the beast... and then exploded a few inches to the left of the right nostril. This had absolutely no effect on the beast.
"Shit," Sharon cursed, "What do we do now?"
Visin stared straight ahead, her hands clamped firmly onto the steering wheel. "I see an entrance up ahead," she said between gritted teeth. Everyone else looked forward and saw that she was steering them straight towards a glass wall. "Everyone hold onto something. This is going to hurt."
She slammed her foot down on the accelerator, and the small transport craft gave an impressive roar. She then reach over and flipped a switch on the dashboard. "I've just turned off the stabilizers," she shouted "HOLD ON!"
The craft was now hurtling towards the glass wall, but its trajectory had grown so unstable that it nearly flipped over several times. As they came within a few feet of the wall, Visin slammed on the brakes. The craft turned almost ninety-degrees on its back end as it collided with the wall, shattering the glass. For a few seconds, the glass rained down on them, and then they were within the city. Visin took her foot off the accelerater and reactivated the stabilizers. The craft bounced and turned like a tossed coin before finally coming to a stop.
They watched as the beast came towards them, but suddenly an alarm went off. "WARNING! ARKALLION APPROACHING! ACTIVATE DEFENSES!" There was a pneumatic hiss somewhere far above them, then a crackle of electricity, and they watched as an arc of electricity hit the beast squarely in its chest. It roared in pain and began flying in circles, before finally collapsing on the ground. There was another pneumatic hiss, and a wall of steel dropped into place where the glass wall had been.
After several minutes where everyone was catching their breath, T'Shar spoke. "I swear to the goddess, love," she said, turning to Visin, "If you ever do that again, I'll kill you myself." But there was no anger in her voice, and she embraced the other woman, kissing her full on the lips. Visin's hands moved to fondle T'Shar's breasts through her uniform.
"Ugh," Leoptos groaned.
"When it rains, it pours, I guess," Sharon responded, shrugging. "At least I don't have to worry about their jealousy."
"Let's... give them some space," Leoptos suggested.
They'd crashed into the sunroom of an upper-class residence, and they now moved into what appeared to be a dining room, with a large round table. Almost all of the furniture in the house was made of a smooth, polished material that looked like amber. Sharon ran her hand over the surface of the round table that occupied most of the dining room, finding it cool to the touch. "What is this material?" she asked.
"Alanmaris, I think," Leoptos said, "It's a type of resin. Not very cheap." She had a look on her face like a child in a crypt.
"Are you alright?"
"I'm fine. It's just... my family came from this place... or part of it did, at any rate. My grandmother lived in this city until it fell to the batarians. She used to talk about it all the time, made it sound like something out of a dream. I never thought I'd actually see it for myself."
Her reminiscing was interrupted by a high-pitched ringing. "Hello? Is someone there?" a voice asked.
For a minute, they looked around, confused, before Leoptos spied a glass, Y-shaped device. She carefully approached it and tapped the underside. There was another sound, like feedback from a microphone. "Hello," she said. "This is Operative Leoptos, from Livis Company."
"Arine?" Sharon noticed that the voice was strange, accented.
"Hello, Siani," Leoptos answered warmly, "It's good to see you're still alive."
"What are you doing here?"
"A pair of human soldiers arrived at our camp a few days ago, looking for you. Me, Visin, and T'Shar escorted one of them out here to find you."
"Humans? On Lorek?"
Sharon approached the device. "Operative Dantius? This is Cmdr. Emmanuelle Sharon, of the Systems Alliance Navy. I've come--"
"My mother sent you, didn't she?" Dantius asked, a hint of irritation in her voice.
"Yes. She was worried about you..."
"Worried? HA! Goddess damn her, I should have known she'd sent some jarheaded rube..." She paused. "You can hear every word I'm saying, can't you?"
"Shit. Arine? Are you still there?"
"Yes," Leoptos said.
"Can this woman be trusted?"
"She wasn't sent here to kill you, if that's what you're worried about. She genuinely thought this was a rescue operation. So did I, Visin, and T'Shar."
"Oh, Goddess," Dantius murmured. "I'm terribly sorry, Commander. I was unsure-"
"Come meet me in the Column building. It's in the center of the city. It's a considerable distance, but you should be able to find adequate transportation." The Y-shaped device crackled, then died.
"Is this some sort of telephone?" Sharon asked, looking at it curiously.
"Yeah. Of course, this is stone-age technology..."
Visin and T'Shar finally materialized from the other room. "Sorry we took so long," T'Shar said, "We were trying to salvage the transport."
Leoptos gave a derisive snort. "Looking under the hood, were you?"
"We got a call from Operative Dantius while you two were busy," Sharon explained. "She wants to meet us in the Column building."
They all exited the house and found themselves in an enormous city. An entire neighborhood of what appeared to be upper-class houses stretched out before them. At least a dozen blocks away, the houses gave way to apartment complexes and condominiums of increasing size.
"Good god, this city is huge," Sharon remarked. "How the hell are we supposed to find the Column building in all this?"
"Well, this is just a guess, but I think it's the huge tower in the distance," Leoptos said.
It took Sharon a moment to notice it. The Column building was at least a mile away, and so tall that she had to crane her head upwards several degrees to see the top.