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Interesting Times

Coming to terms with being reborn? Doable. Finding out you're in the Mass Effect universe? Slightly more difficult. I know I'm no soldier material but I want to do what I can to help save the galaxy. To that goal I will become one of the worst beings in human society. A businessman and politician. #reincarnation #self-insert #masseffect #kingdombuilding #space #star #scifi #war

Zanarkand_Kido · Video Games
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56 Chs

Interesting Times - Chapter 44

October 26th, 2173

08:37

Illium, Tesale-System

Nos Astra

En route to Illium Financial Cooperation 

Sheryll Olivier suppressed a sigh that wanted to escape her. She couldn't completely stop it, but, in the end, it sounded like she was releasing a long, drawn-out breath. 

It shouldn't bother her so much to be without any armor but a kinetic shield generator hidden within her belt. Yet, seeing her colleagues sitting kitted out in complete armor sets on the seats on the other side of the shuttle and to her side, she felt like she was going to walk into a battlezone underdressed. 

Perhaps she was thinking too heavily about this. It was a simple retrieval mission, and combat was very unlikely. The assault team was only here for the worst-case scenario. 

One of them would escort her as a guard, but that wouldn't be out of the norm, especially since she dressed like a wealthy businesswoman. 

Going anywhere as members of Ad Astra would attract attention due to the current events surrounding the company, so it was imperative to, at least, try to keep a low profile and walking into the building of Illium Financial Cooperation decked out in full gear wasn't the way to do so. 

"We're arriving at IFC's landing pad on the twenty-fifth floor in five minutes," echoed the voice of the shuttle's pilot through the intercom. 

Sheryll nodded to herself and answered: "Good. Bring us in nice and slow. We don't want to look like this is even remotely relevant or out of the ordinary. It's just business as usual." 

"Understood!" 

After giving the pilot his orders, she turned to her fellow security officers to address them. 

"Let's get over the mission one last time. I don't want any misunderstandings to ruin the mission. Mr. Denebren is counting on us to do this quickly and quietly. So, don't go shooting at everything that looks like a threat," she finished with a teasing tone to elevate the tense atmosphere before she could settle in their minds. 

Her simple efforts got rewarded with chuckles, and Sheryll allowed herself a slight smirk. 

"Don't worry, Vice-Commander, we won't. We will wait here and only come out when the situation requires it. And in here, there's nothing we could shoot, not even to dispel boredom. The only one you have to worry about is Donut. He's the one escorting you." 

"I would really, really prefer if you wouldn't call me by my nickname, Deryll. Not during a mission, and especially not in front of the Vice-Commander," whined the one called Donut by his team leader. 

"Oh! Now you're caring about your dignity? Need I remind you that the last time we had to look presentable? And the powdered sugar all over your uniform? The good one? Just because you couldn't resist their call right before the ceremony? There's a reason why we call you Donut," replied Deryll, a teasing smirk plastered over his face, one that didn't waver in the slightest even when Donut looked like a scolded puppy. 

"That was one time! It never happened again! And it's been almost two years by now!" came the complaint that got swiftly ignored. 

By now, even the last vestiges of tension had disappeared with the small laughter that went around at this display of tomfoolery between teammates. 

Yet Sheryll knew she had to return some of it to keep officers focused on their mission. 

"Now that I know that I will be escorted to our target by Donut," she ignored the suffering groan coming from the person in question, "we will go over the plan once again." She looked every security officer in the eye, one after the other, to make sure everyone was listening to her. "We will land on the twenty-fifth floor, make our way into the building, and up to the fortieth floor, to the office of Nisco Ron. When we arrive, we will accept a package that we will promptly deliver back to HQ. The outline of the mission is quite simple, but as we know, situations can quickly change and without any warning. The most problematic thing will not be getting the package but its safe delivery to Mr. Denebren. I don't know what is inside, but it's significant for Mr. Denebren and our efforts against our enemies here on Illium. And because of that, we can assume that the enemy will do their best to hinder us. So, be prepared for anything from the moment we have the package." 

"Why just after that moment? Wouldn't it make more sense for the enemy to prevent us from getting the package in the first place?" asked Thomson, another member of Deryll's team. 

"While they won't swear on it, the analysis teams assume that we won't have any trouble before that because the enemy is trying to keep the fighting limited between our two groups. Dragging in outsiders with enough resources to back them to be a threat to the current balance is suboptimal for them. And an attack on IFC's building wouldn't just drag our benefactor to our side, but dozens of other important people too. That's why we will probably only have to deal with Eclipse or another enemy group on our way back to HQ." 

"Nonetheless, we have prepared a few scenarios if this prediction doesn't hold up," interjected Deryll smoothly, taking over Sheryll's explanation without pausing. "An attack before we arrive, an attack while you're in the building, an attack when you're leaving the building, we're ready to jump into any scenario with a plan ready to be employed." 

"That's good," replied Sheryll, pleased that the team chosen to support her during this mission was taking it so seriously and had prepared accordingly. 

A jerk shook the shuttle, announcing their arrival at the landing pad, and it didn't take much longer after that before the shuttle touched down on it. 

With but a touch, Sheryll disengaged the belt and stood up, her hands gliding over her business suit to ensure she looked presentable and wouldn't shame the company. Furthermore, she ensured that her weapons were out of sight and that the bulge of her pistol didn't show through her suit jacket. 

Not far from her, Donut ensured the same, yet additionally checking if his weapons were fully functional and easy to draw in a pinch. He finished his inspection with a halfway satisfied nod before drawing the pistol from his side with his left hand. His Omni-tool flared up momentarily on his left arm, and his right hand input a few commands. 

"I just adjusted the magnetic pull a bit. It felt a bit too difficult to draw quickly," Donut commented when he saw Sheryll's questioning look. 

"As long as you ensure the magnetic pull is still strong enough. It would be embarrassing if your pistol falls to the ground when you walk around."

Donut turned to his team captain, and even if he wore a helmet that hid his face, Sheryll could picture the indignant look on his face quite clearly. 

"Don't add more embarrassments to my story!" whined Donut. "It's bad enough that you always bring up the donut story whenever we meet new people!" 

The chuckle that went through the group got cut short when a door closer to the cockpit opened, and a short burst of wind swept through the shuttle's interior. 

"All right, guys. This is it," announced Sheryll, confidence in the success of their mission evident in her voice. "Donut, let's get going. The rest, be ready for anything." 

"We won't let you down, Vice-Commander," answered Deryll with a sharp salute, copied by the rest of his team. 

There was nothing more to be said, so Sheryll left the shuttle with Donut following her shortly. 

The sun was peaking out between the skyscrapers, warming her face and blinding her momentarily, unused to the bright light after traveling under the artificial light of the shuttle's interior for around half an hour. The wind was blowing gently, ruffling her hair slightly. Despite being on the twenty-fifth floor, it was unusually gentle and, contrary to belief, not very cold. 

Sheryll decided to take that as a good omen for the success of the mission, as thinking otherwise would only make her paranoid. 

Donut patiently waited behind her as she enjoyed the warmth and gentle breeze, yet despite his willingness to let her set the pace, he asked: "Shall we get going, Ma'am?" 

Without turning to him, Sheryll answered: "We shall," and moved forward with measured steps. 

They approached the end of the landing platform, where two security guards were waiting for them. One of the two Turians held up his hand and called: "Please stop there. We got a notification that a representative of Ad Astra would arrive here. I assume that's you, but I need to see some identification before I can let you go further." 

"That's no problem," answered Sheryll, her voice raising a bit in volume so the two guards could hear her clearly. She activated her Omni-tool, sending an identification certificate showing that she was a member of Ad Astra along with the official notice that they would arrive today. 

The Omni-tool of the guard who asked for the identification flashed up, and the Turian's experienced eyes flew over the information it displayed. It didn't take long before he confirmed to his partner that everything was in order. 

The guards walked out of the way, and the first one said: "You're good to go. Please remember that brandishing weapons within the premises is cause for immediate eviction and legal prohibition from entering again for at least a year for you and your company. Furthermore, depending on your committed offense, your company has to pay an appropriate fine."

Sheryll raised an eyebrow at this sudden exposition of sanctions when someone got caught swinging their weapons around. Sensing the question on her tongue, the Turian decided to explain his actions. 

"It's standard procedure whenever someone shows up with an armed guard. Some people got impudent when they got evicted and fined. They said they didn't know the rules. As if. Anyhow, now it's the procedure to explain everything in detail so that nobody gets any ideas." 

"I see," answered Sheryll slowly, understanding that some idiots always tried to play dumb when they got caught. The one who tried it with IFC was probably paying a far heavier fine after trying than he would have done otherwise. If he had been powerful enough to win this case in front of the courts, he wouldn't have the need to threaten anybody in the first place. 

"Anyway, everything's fine, so you're clear to enter. Have a good day, Ma'am." 

Without much further ado, she walked into the building, Donut following her only a few steps behind. 

The hallway they entered was relatively empty, with only a few people walking around from one office to another. Its decor was chaste and tasteful. There were no overt displays of wealth. That was something that the people who rented offices in the building did in their own rooms. 

Yet, Sheryll had expected at least something more than the few plants and statues placed around. Perhaps she was on a too low floor for that since she knew from talking with members of Ad Astra that had been here on business before that the higher you went in the building, the more wealth got displayed through ancient statues and paintings that would cause art collectors to salivate. 

The group of two didn't speak or even acknowledge anyone they met on their way toward the elevator, walking silently. The few people they met stepped out of their way, the aura of purposefulness surrounding them enough to avoid Sheryll and Donut. 

After walking around for a few minutes, they found the elevators and patiently waited until one arrived. One more person, a tenant with an office somewhere on this floor, joined them during the wait, but the Asari kept her distance from them. 

A soft ding announced the arrival of the elevator, and a handful of people exited it. The mix of Asari, Volus, and Salarians went around the pair of Ad Astra members who entered the elevator afterward. Only a pair of Salarian and Volus were still in it, and after taking a look at the panel, Sheryll noticed that they were moving in the same direction they wanted but would exit two floors before them. She pushed the button for the fortieth floor and moved to the back of the elevator. Donut stood at her side, a few centimeters removed from the wall to not hinder drawing his rifle if needed. 

The Asari that had waited with them for the elevator hadn't entered with them, and Sheryll guessed that she wanted to go down instead of up. 

The elevator stopped three more times on their way up, either to let people out or in. 

Nonetheless, it didn't take four minutes until Sheryll and Donut arrived on the fortieth floor. They left the elevator, followed by a Turian that had entered three floors down. 

Coming out of the elevator, Sheryll could immediately see the difference in decor between this floor and the twenty-fifth, where they had entered the building. While it was still tasteful and not cluttered with displays, the used materials were definitely of a higher standard. 

The small desk at the other end of the small lobby they had arrived in was constructed out of a kind of marble that could be found only in a small, out-of-the-way solar system inside the Terminus-Systems. Its markings sparkling in soft rainbow tones were unmissable and caused by the unique make-up of this particular solar system. 

The cost of mining and transportation could ruin smaller companies,

 yet they were a sought-after luxury good for those inside the Citadel territory who could afford it. 

Sheryll didn't want to know how high the rental fees on this floor were to use such a material for a simple lobby desk. 

Not intimidated in the slightest by the subtle display of wealth and power, Sheryll approached the desk and the Asari behind it so that she could point them the right way toward Nisco Ron's office and let him know that they had arrived. 

"Excuse me," she said quietly, to not let her words echo through the lobby and to let eventual listeners know about their business. "We have an appointment with Mr. Nisco Ron. Could you please let him know that we arrived? He will know who we are. And please, could you point us the correct way?" 

The Asari, dressed in an outfit that hugged her curves tightly, looked up from the computer on her desk and looked at Sheryll and her escort critically as if to decide by their image alone if they were permitted to be here. 

"Certainly," the Asari answered, raising her left hand to her ear while her right tipped a few buttons in front of her. "Good morning, Antilla. Here are two humans who claim they have an appointment with Mr. Ron. No, they haven't told me from which company. They said Mr. Ron would know. Of course, I can wait a moment." She let her hand down to her computer and continued to work, ignoring Sheryll and Donut after asking them to wait for a moment. 

Sheryll's lips twitched in annoyance due to the rudeness the Asari showed them. She didn't know if it was because the Asari thought they were unimportant or because they were humans. Had she known for which company Sheryll and Donut worked, the Asari would have never acted in any way that could have been described as discourteous for fear of it getting back to her superiors. 

Yet, that wasn't possible without drawing too much attention toward them, so Sheryll held her tongue instead of giving the tirade she deserved. 

Thankfully, they didn't have to wait for long before the receptionist held her hand back to her ear and nodded at whatever was said. After she finished the one-sided conversation, she looked toward Sheryll and said:" The office of Mr. Ron is down this hallway," pointing toward the right, "you take the fourth side corridor to the left and walk down a bit further. It's office number 35. They await you. Have a nice day." And as if there was nothing more to say, she returned to her work immediately. 

Sheryll turned around toward the right hallway, not bothering to thank the receptionist. Donut threw her a last dismissive look before following his charge. 

Within minutes, they arrived at the correct side corridor and began walking it down. They were at the door with the number 28 painted on it when Donut suddenly grabbed Sheryll's arm and pulled her back, getting her to stop walking.

"What's wrong?" she asked confused. 

"I don't know, Ma'am," answered Donut, his tone sounding just as confused as she was feeling. "It's too quiet." 

"Too quiet?" repeated Sheryll. She concentrated on their surroundings, trying to find anything wrong or at least something that would explain Donut's hesitance to go further. 

"It seems like you're being paranoid. It's good to see that you're vigilant, but you shouldn't overdo it." 

"Perhaps it was nothing," agreed Donut with a nod, yet Sheryll could still notice that he wasn't absolutely convinced. 

"Besides, we're inside the IFC building. They wouldn't dare to do..." 

She was about to finish her sentence when an explosion happened down the hall around the position where she assumed Nisco Ron's office happened to be. 

Before she could do anything more than blink, Donut grabbed her and threw her down to the ground, positioning himself over her to shield her body from the shockwave and any debris that could be sent their way due to the explosion. 

Yet, it wasn't debris that came their way but another explosion. One much closer to them. The shockwave of the explosion threw them over the ground, and while they were rolling, Sheryll could feel how her kinetic shields strained and finally broke. Donut did his best to shield her body, and Sheryll knew that without his help, she would be worse for wear than the simple bruises she would take away from this. 

She felt the shockwaves weaken, and for a moment, she thought that it was over, but there was a soft rumble that got slowly stronger. Her eyes widened when she understood what was going to happen. Sheryll was about to warn Donut when the ground beneath them started to crumble, and they fell.

The last thought going through her mind before they crushed on the ground was Fuck.

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It could have been seconds or minutes, yet Sheryll somehow knew it hadn't been hours that she had been unconscious. 

Her eyelids fluttered, irritated by the dust floating around. Slowly, ever so slowly, they opened, and the first thing inside her view field was the armor-clad chest of her guard. 

At first, she didn't know why she saw this particular sight, but with the sudden impact of a lightning strike, her memories of the last few minutes returned. 

She pushed herself up from her position at Donut's side and tried to get a picture of the situation as fast as possible to formulate a plan. 

They weren't trapped under rubble, which was the first thing she noticed. Parts of the ceiling were gone, and a few streams of light lit up the place beside a couple of flickering lights. And where there was real light, there also had to be openings for fresh air to get into. After coming to that conclusion, Sheryll could at least drop one potential problem from her list while they waited for someone to rescue them. 

Typically, she would have looked for a way to rescue herself as her pride as the Vice-Commander of Ad Astra's local security forces would have demanded it. After all, she hadn't risen to her position by being a damsel in distress whenever the situation turned worse, but one look at Donut was enough to know that he needed her help. 

Her escort, who had valiantly tried to shield her from damage, was breathing erratically, and one look at his face, after Sheryll had pried off his helmet to let him breathe easier, was enough to notice that he was barely clinging to consciousness. 

It wasn't hard to guess why. A slab of metal and cement lay on Donut's left arm, crushing it under its weight. Against such a force, even the best of armor couldn't do much. 

"Everything's going to be fine," said Sheryll softly, her voice hoarse from the dust she had breathed in. She didn't know if it was to reassure her guard or herself, as she was pretty sure that Donut wasn't in the right state of mind to process anything happening around him. 

Yet, the young man surprised her by chuckling. 

"I can't feel anything from my left arm, so I know it's pretty bad." A glint had returned to his eyes that had been previously absent. "But it's not too bad overall. An arm is much easier to replace than a life. Do you think the boss will pay for one? My bank account isn't full enough to pay for a new state-of-the-art arm."

The fact that Donut could make jokes under such circumstances caused Sheryll to shake her head. "It should be covered by the company's health insurance. Something like that," she nodded towards the slab, "probably counts as a workplace accident." 

Donut chuckled before he winced and grimaced. 

"Probably should stop laughing. It hurts." A small smile played over his lips. "On the other hand, even breathing hurts right now. So it doesn't matter anyway." 

A tense yet relaxed atmosphere surrounded the two. 

It would take a while until disaster teams could be dispatched and Sheryll could get a clearer picture of the situation. 

Meanwhile, the only thing she could do was boot up the medical programs on her Omni-tool to treat the slim cut on her forehead that she only noticed after blood had run into her eye and to stabilize Donut's condition as best as Sheryll could with the feeble materials she had on hand.

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At the same time, in an apartment not far from the IFC building with a perfect view of the destruction the explosions had caused, a Volus and Salarian watched how the first disaster teams arrived at the scene. 

"It had not expected them to go so far as to blow up part of the building. A sniper or an assassin. That was what I had expected, but to go so far? It seems like the Arbiter is getting too sure in their position if she decides that a bomb is the way to go. She could step on the toes of some very powerful people with that." 

"It won't fall back on her," replied the Salarian to the Volus mumbles. "I have ensured that the official story will blame a violent anti-establishment group for the bombing. Of course, your colleague, Mr. Denebren, will probably suspect the Arbiter or Eclipse, but that doesn't concern us. That wasn't why she hired the Shadow Broker's services."

"He's not my colleague anymore," said the Volus. "Nisco Ron died in that explosion, remember? You were hired to accomplish that, after all." 

"And we accomplished that," responded the agent of the Shadow Broker. "Nisco Ron doesn't exist anymore, and as long as you hold your end of the deal, he won't reappear. Because in that case, the Shadow Broker would have no other option but to fulfill the contract, even if the original client is dead by that time. People can't be allowed to think that the Shadow Broker's word doesn't hold true. 

It would shake the system, and something like that cannot be allowed at any cost." 

"I understand," answered the Volus, formerly known as Nisco Ron. "I stroke a deal, and I intend to hold onto it. It helps that most people other than Volus can't recognize us if we wear a different environmental suit. So, where am I going, and what will my name be going forward?" 

Instead of answering, the Salarian handed him a datapad with the necessary information.

"The Citadel, huh?" said Nisco Ron, more to himself than to the Shadow Broker's agent, "At least, I will continue my occupation as a banker and financial advisor. Easy to come across information for the Broker, too. But that name. Couldn't you have chosen something better than Barla Von?"