A Serpent in the Citadel, Chapter 7: Taking a Few Shots
This is the seventh 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:
There was no talking for the next couple of minutes, unless you count swearing. I did plenty of that for all of us. I leaned out whenever there was a gap in the gunfire and fired as many rounds as I could, but the pistol was heating up fast. I had all the ammo I needed, what with each shot being tiny, but the immense speed they were fired built up a lot of heat. Too much and the automatic failsafe would kick in, leaving it inoperable until it cooled down again. Five seconds without a working firearm was a lifetime in a firefight.
The two guys on my end didn’t give me many chances at any rate. They alternated fire in a coordinated way, one firing a few bursts while the other one cooled his weapon off, alternating smoothly so there was practically no break. I couldn’t get a fix on them to use any tricks from my omni-tool since they’d take my face off if I tried. All they needed to do was keep us pinned until someone got here with a way to neutralize us. Time was getting short.
I kept an eye on the others as much as I could. Severa was cool, popping out to snap off a few shots that sometimes landed, based on the shouts I heard. She did give me a look that was a combination of determined and resigned. I think she’d gotten used to the idea of dying here when she realized she was being tailed. If I hadn’t been here she’d probably already be dead, which would’ve made me feel good if it wasn’t for the fact I had merely managed to delay the process and dragged myself and someone else in on it.
Lorelei was surprisingly calm, but as things went on she started looking more desperate. I think she was hoping one of our guns would force an opening. She looked at me and opened her mouth like she wanted to say something, but wasn’t sure what it would be.
Severa’s scream made whatever it was irrelevant. She’d swung around the corner and gotten off a couple of rounds when a rifle burst got her in the chest. Like me, she had shields but no armor on, and the shots took her shield down and a few ripped into her left torso close to the shoulder. She cursed and leaned away from the corner, resting her back against the wall. I started towards her and she raised a claw. “I’m fine,” she said, sounding anything but. “We need an exit. Now.”
“How many over there?”
“Four. One is down and wounded, but one of them is armored. You?”
“Two. About twenty meters down, no cover.” She cursed and I agreed.
Lorelei looked between the two of us. She said, “Can you move?” Severa nodded, and Lorelei moved over to my corner. “OK. Then follow me.” Severa put her gun around the corner behind her and fired off some shots to keep them back before staggering over towards us. Lorelei took a deep breath, put her hands straight forward, palms up, went around the corner and started trotting down the alley.
My shock wore off and I shouted at the woman running into assault weapon fire as I followed her, ready to get torn to shreds in a pointless attempt to stop her from the same fate. I could see the pair at the end of the alley hesitate when they saw the girl. With the lack of gunfire I felt a lot better. I raised my gun at the guy on the right but two sharp cracks from behind me made it unnecessary. Severa’s wound didn’t throw off her aim and the bad guy took them both in the face.
That made the other guy’s math a lot easier to do. He didn’t want to get subtracted so he raised his gun and sent a full barrage of shots down the center of the alley. By the time I shouted and expected to see Lorelei torn to pieces I saw there was no point. In front of the girl’s outstretched hands a shimmering field of blue showed the impacts being stopped by her barrier. She was a strong biotic, alright. She kept moving forward at a jog, but I saw her wince as she got closer. I snapped off a couple of rounds at her assailant but trying to keep up was throwing off my aim. The shots spacked harmlessly into the wall.
Lorelei was about five meters away when she bent over to the side, hands wavering. I could see the grimace on her face from the effort. She made a low grunt that started to build into a shout. I fired a few more rounds rapidly but missed, and in my haste I didn’t pay attention to the heat. I heard my pistol chirp at me to let me know that it was on break. I threw a look back to Severa, hoping she’d cavalry up a couple more deadly shots, but she was staggering. Her right hand holding the pistol was pressed against her chest and dark blue blood ran down underneath it.
I turned around and cursed, feeling like an idiot because I’d forgotten my ace. I lifted my arm and my omni-tool flared to life. Lorelei’s shields gave me time to access the one countermeasure my omni had. My fingers danced as I locked on to his assault rifle and sent a burst of data at it. The assault rifle fire abruptly cut off as I tripped his gun’s heat failsafe and rendered it useless for a few seconds. He said a bad word and dropped his rifle, reaching behind his back for a backup weapon.
In the meantime Lorelei’s shout was getting louder. She took four running steps towards the man bringing up his pistol, her hands clenched into fists as she pulled them back. The gun sighted her down and she threw her hands forward just as her voice reached a crescendo of rage. I could almost see the ripple that flew from her before it launched the gunman through the air. He flew twenty meters and would have gone farther if there hadn’t been a wall in the way. He crunched and flopped to the ground and I vowed to make sure I didn’t piss Lorelei off enough to make her yell at me.
Lorelei looked woozy but remained upright. I ran back towards Severa and put a shoulder under her right arm as she put it over mine. “Got any medi-gel?” I said, not too hopeful. To my relief she nodded. I got her to the corner where the man Severa shot lay in a spreading pool of blood. Lorelei got the medi-gel and administered it as I picked up the dead man’s assault rifle. It was a Hahne-Kedar model, one I was intimately familiar with from my days as a Marine. I found a couple of Mark 14 grenades on him as well and scooped them up.
Severa was on her feet, still hurt but no longer bleeding out. The painkillers in the medi-gel were probably helping too, but she still looked rough. “Go on ahead,” I said. “I’m going to say hello to the others.” She nodded and Lorelei gave her a shoulder, both of them looking ragged.
I waited at the corner for a few seconds. Sure enough the guys from the other end had made it down. The lack of gunfire probably had them convinced it was over. I sent a burst down at them, forcing them to retreat back around the corner and wounding one of them. I took a grenade and popped the fins on it, allowing me to throw it like a discus down the alley and sticking it into the wall. Hearing bad guys yell out “Grenade!” in a panic has always been a favorite sound of mine. I let the fuse run down all ten seconds as I walked backwards, gun up. After the detonation I fired a few rounds then threw the other one.
I turned and ran towards the others. I took back my place as Severa’s crutch. As we passed the crumpled body of the one Lorelei threw the turian stopped me. She bent down and looked closely at the man’s face. He was human and unfamiliar to me. “Huh,” she muttered. “That’s Bhati. Son of a bitch. Take a picture of him, Blake.” She saw my look as I complied and said, “Later. We need to move.” She brushed me off and we left the deserted market. I kept rear guard but didn’t see anyone following.
We needed to get someplace safe. I had Lorelei lead us down the least-used paths she could find, keeping us off the main thoroughfares. After about ten minutes I took us down what looked like a little-used maintenance tunnel. We all needed a breather and my neck was getting stiff from being on a swivel. We settled in and I checked my communicator. Things were back to normal. “Comm’s back,” I told Severa, “want me to call C-Sec or do you want to handle it?”
She stopped probing her wound and looked at me. “Neither. I don’t want C-Sec to know yet.” I didn’t expect that. She looked over at our companion. “Lorelei, right? Those men you were talking to. Are they part of the Serpent?”
The girl nodded, but there was fire in her eyes. “Yes. Look, I don’t know what you guys were thinking, but – “
Severa cut her off. “Later. We’re not safe here. Those guys are going to want us dead and the deck’s stacked against us.” Lorelei didn’t look like someone who was used to being interrupted, but she swallowed her reasonably justified anger and settled for glaring at me instead.
I could deal with that. “So why aren’t we calling C-Sec and getting you some medical attention?”
The turian shook her head. “That guy back there. He was Pratik Bhati. He was with C-Sec. He’s one of the agents that disappeared during the investigation.”
I whistled. That changed the game. It also made sense of what we walked into. “Let me guess. You got a call this morning when I went to Tranquility and got a lead so you could tail me.” She nodded. “And there was a recommendation that you go radio silent to keep your cover.” Another nod. “Weaver?”
“Weaver.” Her voice was flatter than the back of Pratik Bhati’s skull. “He even cut my channel from C-Sec’s end to make sure no inadvertent signal gave me away.” She shook her head.
“Bosh’tet.” My use of the quarian expletive made Severa give me a puzzled look. Explaining that I was halfway through Pilgrimage to My Heart and getting to the good part wouldn’t have improved her mood so I just shook my head at her. I thought about what I’d seen back there. “Tell me, did Bhati have background with Alliance military?”
“I’d have to check to be certain. Why?”
I lifted the assault rifle. “Standard Alliance gear. Our attackers were all human. I noticed the ones Lorelei was talking to looked like officers on leave. These guys. I have a hunch they’re all ex-Alliance.”
She snorted an unfunny laugh. “Like Weaver.”
“Figures.” I know a lot of folks had left the Alliance around the time I did. With the batarians pulling back and cutting themselves off from the Council web and therefore no real need for military buildups or action, a lot of folks mustered out instead of settling on some backwater colony for guard duty. That meant a whole lot of people trained to fight with nothing to fight against. I could easily think of a few men I’d served with willing to join a gang of like-minded people who didn’t care about laws as much as they liked shooting things. There was a disturbing amount of them around.
“The men I was talking to were definitely ex-Alliance,” Lorelei said. “You have no idea what – “
“Later,” Severa said again. I was happy because now she was the target of the glare. “We need a safe spot. C-Sec is out. So is my quarters.” She eyed me. “Yours are being watched, Blake. Lorelei?” The girl thought but shook her head. I figured the Serpent had its eye on her.
“I have an idea.” It wasn’t a great one, but it was the only one I had.
Severa looked at me like she knew my mind. “OK. No cars. They’ll watch the transit systems. We need to keep doing what we’re doing.”
“It’s going to take a while to get there. You going to be ok?”
Her laugh showed off her fangs. “It’ll take more than some human to do me in. Let’s go.”
“One sec, commando.” I tried to adjust the brown robe she wore to cover up some of the blue bloodstains. I couldn’t do much but it was a bit of an improvement. A casual observer hopefully wouldn’t spot it. I collapsed the assault rifle down for transport, took off my pistol, and clipped the bigger gun to my belt in its place. I wanted the big gun in my hands for comfort but wandering around with it drawn would attract too much attention. I held the sidearm out to Lorelei. “Know how to use this?”
She gave me a look I was very familiar with, a mix of disbelief and poorly concealed contempt. It was like looking at my sister. She took it and checked it over before attaching it to her own belt. “You know who my father is.” At least she didn’t use it on me.
I just nodded instead of responding, not wanting to antagonize her. I occasionally had bouts of self-preservation that way. I also knew I’d just put her in a lot of danger, but I believed we’d make it out OK. After all, I had a hundred thousand reasons to make sure she got home safely.