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MASS EFFECT: DECEPTION

ONE

The Citadel

“I don’t want to go,” Nick said stubbornly. “Why can’t I stay here?”

David Anderson didn’t have any children of his own, and had the matter been left to him, the ex- navy officer would have ordered the teenager out of the apartment with possibly unpleasant results. Fortunately, the woman he loved knew how to deal with such situations. Kahlee was in good shape for a woman in her forties, or thirties for that matter. As she smiled tiny creases appeared around her eyes. “You can’t stay here because David and I may want you to tell the Council what happened on the day Grayson invaded the Grissom Academy. It’s important to make sure that nothing like that ever happens again.”

Nick had been shot in the stomach during the attack and sent to the Citadel for advanced medical treatment. So he knew about Grayson firsthand. Nick, with shoulder-length black hair and a relatively small frame for a boy his age, looked hopeful. “Can I go to The Cube on the way back?”

“Sure,” Kahlee replied. “But only for an hour. Come on—let’s go.”

A crisis had been averted, and Anderson was grateful. As they left the apartment the door locked behind them. An elevator took them down to the first floor and out into the hectic crush of the lower wards. A monorail loomed overhead, the pedways were crowded with individuals of every species, and the streets were jammed with ground vehicles. All of which was normal for the huge star-shaped space station that served as the cultural, financial, and political hub of the galaxy.

Anderson had been an admiral, and the Alliance’s representative to the Citadel Council, so he had spent a lot of time aboard the habitat. Everything was organized around a central ring. It was ten kilometers across, and the Citadel’s forty- kilometer-long “fingers” pointed from it to the stars beyond. The total population of the station was said to be in excess of thirteen million sentients, none of whom had played a role in creating the complex structure.

The asari had discovered the station 2,700 years earlier while exploring the vast network of mass relays put in place by a space-faring species known as the protheans. Having established a base on the Citadel, the asari learned how to create mass effect fields, and made use of them to explore the galaxy.

When the salarians found the space station a few decades later the two races agreed to form the Citadel Council for the purpose of settling disputes. And as more species began to travel the stars, they had little choice but to follow the dictates of the technologically advanced Council races. Humans were relative newcomers and had only recently been granted a seat on the Citadel Council.

For many years it had been assumed that the protheans were responsible for creating the Citadel. But more recently it had been learned that the real architects were a mysterious race of sentient starships called the Reapers who conceived of the space station as a trap, and were responsible for annihilating all organic sentients every fifty thousand years or so. And, even though Reapers were trapped in dark space, there was evidence that they could reach out and control their servants from light-years away. And that, Anderson believed, was a continuing threat. One the Council should deal with immediately.

The problem being that day-to-day interspecies rivalries often got in the way of the big picture. That was just one of the reasons why it had been so difficult for Anderson and Kahlee to get the Council to look beyond historical grievances to the greater threat represented by the Reapers. Anderson and Kahlee were certain that the Reapers had been in at least partial control of Grayson when he invaded the Grissom Academy, but they were still struggling to convince certain members of the Council. And that had everything to do with the presentation they planned to give. Hopefully, if they were successful, the Council would agree to unify behind an effort to counter the danger that threatened them all. Otherwise the Reapers would do what they had done before—wipe the galaxy clean of sentient life.

As Anderson led the others aboard a public shuttle he was reminded of the fact that the Reapers had created the Citadel as bait for a high-tech trap. One that had been sprung so successfully that now, two years later, some of the damage the sentient machines had caused was still being repaired.

The vehicle came to life as Anderson settled himself behind the controls. The contragravity speeder was powered by a mass effect field and would carry them from the lower wards to the vicinity of the Presidium where the Council’s offices were located. Kahlee was sitting next to him and Nick was in the back, fiddling with his omni-tool. The device consisted of an orange hologram that was superimposed over the teenager’s right arm. It could be used for hacking computers, repairing electronic devices, and playing games. And that’s what Nick was doing as Anderson guided the shuttle through a maze of streets, under graceful pedways, and into the fl ow of traffi c that ran like a river between a pair of high-rise cliffs.

Ten minutes later the shuttle pulled into a rapid-transit platform where they disembarked. A short, tubby volus pushed his way forward to claim the speedster for himself. He was dressed in an environment suit and most of his face was hidden by a breathing mask. “Make way Earth people—I don’t have all day.”

They were accustomed to the often rude manner in which the Citadel’s citizens interacted with each other and weren’t surprised by the stranger’s contentious tone. The volus were closely allied with the raptorlike turians—many of whom still felt a degree of animosity toward humans resulting from the First Contact War. And that was just one of the problems which prevented the races from trusting each other.

As Anderson, Kahlee, and Nick walked toward a bank of elevators they passed a pair of beautiful asari. The species were asexual, but to Anderson’s eye they looked like human females, even if their skin had a bluish tint. Rather than hair, waves of sculpted skin could be seen on the backs of their heads and they were very shapely. “You can put your eyeballs back in your head now,” Kahlee commented as they entered the elevator. “No wonder the asari get along without men. Maybe I could too.”

Anderson grinned. “Just looking, that’s all. I’m partial to blondes.”

Kahlee made a face as the elevator started upward and the salarian standing in front of them lost his briefcase. It had been tucked under his arm but suddenly slipped out and landed on the floor. Like all of his kind the salarian’s head was narrow and crowned with two hornlike appendages. As he bent to retrieve the object it scooted away from him.

“Nick!” Kahlee said crossly. “Stop that . . . Give him the case and apologize.”

The teen looked as if he might object, saw the expression on Kahlee’s face, and apparently thought better of it. Having removed the folder from the floor, he gave it back to its owner and mumbled, “Sorry.”

The salarian had seen biotic pranks before and wasn’t amused. “You have a talent,” he snapped. “Use it wisely.”

Nick was one of the rare individuals who could manipulate the gravity-like force found in all of the otherwise empty spaces in the universe. The boy had been working to refine his biotic skills of late and the subtle combination of energies required to dislodge the briefcase and then move it around was quite impressive. It was also annoying and made Anderson frown. Fortunately for Nick, Kahlee was more patient. Maybe too patient.

The elevator doors opened smoothly and the passengers spilled out into a lobby that opened onto the Presidium. In marked contrast to the densely packed wards it was almost entirely open. There were artificial clouds in the blue sky, sunlight streamed down from above, and, as Anderson accompanied the others out onto a curving walkway, he could feel a light breeze touch his neck. The parklike area was home to a lake, clusters of trees, and a large expanse of well- manicured grass. People representing various races were constantly coming and going. Some appeared to be in a hurry while others strolled along or sat on benches.

Anderson’s pace was more purposeful as he led the others toward the Citadel Tower, located at the very center of the massive space station. It was difficult to appreciate the structure by looking straight up at it, but Anderson knew it could be seen from many kilometers away, and was the most important landmark on the Citadel.

The Council Chambers were positioned toward the top of the spire and it wouldn’t pay to be late, so Anderson set a brisk pace. The Council’s agenda typically remained in flux right up until the beginning of each meeting. So Anderson had no way to know if their presentation would be first, last, or somewhere in between.

But before the threesome could enter the tower it was necessary to check in with the Citadel Security Services (C-Sec) kiosk located outside the main entrance. The person in charge was turian. Bright eyes stared at Anderson from bony sockets that were surrounded by a tracery of scarlet tattoos. A flat, thin-slitted nose was flanked by hard facial plates. The officer’s mouth formed an inverted V and wasn’t designed to smile. “Yes, sir . . . What can I do for you?”

“My names is Anderson. Admiral David Anderson. This is Kahlee Sanders and Nick Donahue. We were invited to appear before the Council today.”

The turian said, “One moment please,” as he scrolled the list of names on the monitor in front of him. “Yes, here you are. Now, if you would be so kind as to look at the scanner we’ll confirm your identity.”

The device was built into the kiosk. And as Anderson looked into it he knew that it was scanning his retinas. From there the data would be sent to the Citadel’s central computer where it could be checked and confirmed. All in a couple of seconds. The turian nodded. “You can proceed to the elevator, Admiral . . . Welcome to the Citadel Tower. Miss Sanders? Please look into the scanner.”

Once all three of them had been cleared it was time to enter the transparent elevator that would carry them up the outside of the tower to the Council Chamber. They were alone and, as the platform shot upward, a broad swath of the Presidium appeared. A view so remarkable that it earned a “Wow!” from the normally taciturn Nick.

The view was no accident, of course. It was meant to impress visitors and did. Way off in the distance Anderson could see all of the space station’s widespread arms. They were frosted with lights that glittered and faded into the hazy distance.

Then the trip was over as the elevator slowed and stopped. Doors parted and Anderson followed Kahlee and Nick out into a hallway. A broad staircase could be seen at the far end. As the threesome approached it they passed between eight honor guards, four to each side of the marble-lined corridor. There were two turians, two salarians, two asari, and two humans. The latter having been added once humans were granted a seat on the Council.

An asari in a beautifully draped floor-length gown was waiting for them at the foot of the stairs. “Good morning. My name is Jai M’Lani. The meeting is about to begin. You are fourth on the agenda. Please go up the stairs and follow the pathway to the right. It will take you to a waiting room where you can watch the proceedings. Refreshments are available. Approximately ten minutes prior to your presentation I will come to get you.”

Having thanked M’Lani, Anderson followed Kahlee up the stairs and off to the right. The waiting room was a luxurious affair equipped with two dozen seats, all facing a large screen. About half were filled. As the humans entered the other petitioners turned to stare at them. The group included turians, salarians, and a human female. After satisfying their curiosity they turned back to the screen.

The threesome found three chairs and sat down. Nick consulted the glowing omni-tool attached to his left arm as Kahlee leaned in to whisper in Anderson’s ear. “They put us halfway down the agenda. Not a good sign.”

Anderson knew what she meant. The Council had a well-known tendency to tackle the items they believed to be most important first. And their number one priority quickly became clear as the huge wall screen came to life and a wide shot of the Council Chamber appeared. Viewed from the back of the huge amphitheater one could see that all of the spectator seats were filled, signaling that something of interest to a significant number of people was up for discussion.

There was a raised platform off to the left where the Council members were seated. The Petitioner’s Stage was located directly across from them with a male quarian ready to speak. The quarians were a nomadic race who were typically a bit smaller than the average human. As was typical for his kind, the petitioner was dressed in a motley collection of clothing, held together by a variety of straps and metal fasteners. His face was obscured by a reflective visor and breathing apparatus. The essence of the quarian’s request became evident once he was given permission to speak. “My name is Fothar Vas Maynar. I appear before you as a duly authorized representative of the quarian fleet.”

“Duly authorized scum is more like it,” one of the turians seated in the waiting room growled. And Anderson knew why. It was the quarians who had created the artificial intelligences known as the geth three hundred years earlier. Later, in the wake of the hard-fought geth rebellion, the quarians had been forced to take refuge on a collection of starships called the Migrant Fleet. And because of that history other races looked down on the nomads.

The audience seated in the Council Chamber uttered a chorus of boos which garnered a stern warning from the human master-at-arms. Her voice boomed over the PA system. “There will be order! My soldiers will clear this room if necessary.”

The noise died away and the asari Council member spoke. She was in the matriarch stage of a very long life and known for her reasonable nature. Her bluish skin seemed to glow as if lit from within. “Please accept our apologies, Representative Maynar. You may proceed.”

The quarian delivered a half bow. “Thank you. The matter I wish to put before you is simple. While it’s true that my race unintentionally loosed the geth menace on the galaxy, it’s also true that we have paid for that mistake and continue to do so.

“The Council may recall that many years ago, in the wake of the geth rebellion, we were ordered to close our office in the Presidium. And we understand why. But a great deal has changed since then and we believe the time has come for a new relationship. That is why I come before the Council seeking permission to reopen a quarian embassy on the Citadel. After all, even the batarians have such an offi ce in the Presidium, so why should the Migrant Fleet be excluded?”

That brought a roar of opposition from the crowd and, true to her word, the master-at-arms sent troops in to clear the amphitheater. That took ten minutes and the quarian had to stand and wait until the process was completed. Then the debate began in earnest and it soon became clear that the Council was split. The salarian and human members were in favor of the proposal while the others were opposed.

After fifteen minutes of give-and-take it was the asari who offered a compromise. “I oppose the concept of reopening a quarian embassy, because it implies the existence of a cohesive government. And Representative Maynar has yet to prove that such an organization actually exists.

“However, that being said, he has a point. I believe that the creation of formal linkage through which the quarian fleet can communicate to the Council would be a positive development. So rather than an embassy I suggest that we authorize a quarian consulate. Then, when and if conditions warrant, that presence can be elevated to the status of a full- scale embassy.”

Both the salarian and the human agreed to the suggestion, leaving the turian to scowl powerlessly as Maynar expressed his thanks. There would be no embassy, but a step had been taken, and the fleet would be pleased.

The next hour passed slowly for Anderson, Kahlee, and Nick. But finally, after three additional presentations, the asari named M’Lani came to fetch them. As Anderson stood Kahlee took the opportunity to admonish Nick. “Wait here . . . And be ready in case we need you.”

Nick was playing a game on his omni-tool. The puzzle was designed for biotics so there were no physical controls. Just receptors through which dark energy could be channeled. “Yeah, yeah,” he said without looking up. “Then we’re going to The Cube. Right?”

“Right,” Kahlee agreed, as she got up to leave. “Wish us luck.”

Having returned to the main staircase Anderson and Kahlee followed it up to the Petitioner’s Stage. It was one thing to see it on-screen and another to actually stand on the platform and look across fifty meters of empty space to where the Council members were seated. The asari was on the far left. The salarian came next, followed by the turian and human. A five-meter tall holographic likeness of each person could be seen over the Council members’ heads, making it possible for petitioners to see their facial expressions.

Though not in uniform, Anderson stood as if he was, with his back ramrod straight and his arms at his sides. He had black hair, a rounded face, and olive-colored skin.

Kahlee had served in the military many years earlier but had spent even more time as a civilian. Nevertheless she understood that appearances were important and was careful to maintain eye contact with the Council members. The asari was the first to speak. “Greetings Admiral Anderson and Miss Sanders. First, before you make your report, let me say how much we appreciate the work you’ve been doing. Who will speak first?”

“I guess I will,” Anderson replied. “As you know, Miss Sanders and I agreed to follow up behind the investigation of what took place at the Grissom Academy and, after considerable study, we believe that the Reapers were involved.”

“The Reapers?” the human Council member inquired cynically. “Or Cerberus? Frankly, I feel the Reaper angle to be a bit far-fetched.”

Knowing the man as he did Anderson had attempted to lobby the Council member in advance of the meeting, but with no success. So, being unable to rely on support from that quarter, Anderson chose his words with care. “Both, actually,” he replied. “There is evidence that Paul Grayson, the man who invaded the academy and murdered a number of staff members, was a Cerberus operative at one time. Then, for reasons we aren’t sure of, the Illusive Man turned on him. At that point he was imprisoned on a space station and subjected to a series of experiments that placed him under Reaper control. We know because we saw the lab with our own eyes. It’s difficult to say exactly how much influence the Reapers had over Grayson, but we think it was extensive.”

“Oh you do, do you?” the turian Council member inquired. “Based on what? I’ve read the reports. And the man was a red sand addict. You admit that he was employed by Cerberus. Why concoct elaborate theories regarding the Reapers when his motivations are so obvious?”

“What you’re saying is true,” Kahlee admitted. “Grayson was an addict. But he was also the parent of one of my students. A very talented biotic named Gillian. And Grayson doted on his daughter. So to attack the place where she went to school ran contrary to his interests. But he did it anyway. And where did he go? To our research lab. The place where all of the data pertaining to our students was stored. Then, after killing three staff members, he entered the OSD library, where every readout and every test result were stored. Moments later he began to send the data out.”

“You have evidence of that?” the human demanded. “Calls that went out over the extranet? You can prove that Grayson sent information to the Reapers?”

“No,” Anderson admitted. “We can’t prove it. But Grayson’s body had been extensively modified and we believe he had the capacity to transfer information without using conventional communications technologies.”

“Even so,” the asari said reasonably. “Isn’t it more reasonable to assume that Grayson was acting on behalf of Cerberus? And that the data was sent to them? No offense Admiral, but the person in question worked for Cerberus. A pro-human organization that’s willing to do just about anything to advance its cause. And you are human. Therefore it would be understandable if you sought to shift the blame away from your own kind. Not consciously, I know that you’re too professional for that, but unconsciously.

“As for Miss Sanders,” the asari continued, “there is evidence to suggest that Grayson liked and trusted her. And perhaps that was enough to influence her judgments.”

Anderson felt a rising sense of resentment. It took all of the discipline acquired during a career in the navy to keep from snapping at her. “Cerberus is a threat,” he said tightly. “But if you read all of the material that Miss Sanders and I submitted prior to this presentation you know that Grayson’s body was examined by three independent scientists, and they agreed that his implants were of unknown origin. Plus, to the extent that they could be tested, the mechanisms installed in his body are far too exotic to have been created by Cerberus. But seeing is believing. So with your permission I would like to call for Exhibit A.”

The human Council member produced a look of pained exasperation before leaning back in his chair. “If you must you must. The sooner this farce is over the better.”

A spotlight came on and a gentle hiss was heard as a glistening metal column extruded from the floor below. It rose until the display positioned on top of the piston was located halfway between the Council members and the Petitioner’s Stage. And that was when the Council members saw the thing that had been Grayson. The body was enclosed in a transparent stasis field. It sparkled as dust motes came into contact with it.

Grayson’s body was naked and his skin had a grayish tint. There were two blue-edged projectile holes near the center of his forehead and his eyes were disturbingly open, as if looking up at the person who had pulled the trigger. Considerable damage had been done to Grayson’s torso as well. The implants that had been installed in his limbs were dead now, bereft of the energy that once animated them, but could still be seen running snakelike under the thin semitranslucent covering of his flesh. It was as if his entire body had been systematically repurposed.

“My God,” the asari Council member said feelingly. “I had no idea. The poor man.”

“The poor man indeed,” her human counterpart agreed soberly. “One can only imagine his suffering. But, much as it pains me to say it, there are no observable limits to man’s inhumanity to man. I can’t explain where Grayson’s implants came from, or what their purpose was, but Cerberus is known for its cruelty. And I still don’t see a credible connection to the Reapers.”

“I agree,” the salarian put in. “But I don’t think we can afford to simply dismiss the possibility of Reaper involvement. I suggest that Admiral Anderson and Miss Sanders be encouraged to continue their investigation. Assuming they’re willing, that is.”

Anderson looked at Kahlee and saw her nod. His eyes flicked back to salarian. “We’re willing.”

“Good,” the asari said, as if glad to dispose of the matter. “Please remove the body. We’ve seen enough.”

***

Even though the public had been forced to leave the amphitheater dozens of the Citadel’s employees were still present. As the spotlight was extinguished, and Grayson’s body rode the gleaming shaft down into the staging area located beneath the main floor, one of the uniformed functionaries took a look around. He had two employers. And the second had an unquenchable thirst for information. He slipped away.

***

Kahlee entered the waiting room and scanned the seats. Nick was nowhere to be seen. Most of the other petitioners had left by then, but a salarian was present and still waiting his turn. “Excuse me,” Kahlee said. “We left a teenage boy here . . . Do you know where he went?”

The salarian looked up from his omni-tool. “He left about fifteen minutes ago. I haven’t seen him since.”

Kahlee thanked him, activated her omni-tool, and spoke Nick’s name. What she got was a recording. “This is Nick. Leave a message. I’ll call you back.”

“No answer?” Anderson inquired.

“Just voice mail.” Kahlee was worried and it was visible on her face. “I told him to stay here.”

“You know Nick,” Anderson replied. “Chances are he got bored and took off for The Cube. He’s been talking about the place all morning.”

“You’re probably right,” Kahlee agreed. “But let’s make sure. The Cube is on the way home.”

Anderson thought Kahlee was a bit too attentive where Nick was concerned. The boy was eighteen for god’s sake. But she’d been responsible for Nick’s well-being at the academy and agreed to serve as the boy’s guardian during his stay on the Citadel. A responsibility she took very seriously.

They took the glassed-in elevator down to the ground floor and left through the main entrance. The same turian was on duty so Kahlee paused to speak with him. “We passed through security earlier with a teenager named Nick Donahue. Have you seen him?”

The police officer nodded. “He left fifteen or twenty minutes ago.”

Kahlee frowned. “And you let him go?”

The turian was clearly annoyed. “My job is to keep people out—not in. And if you lost the boy whose fault is that?”

Anderson chose to intervene before Kahlee could reply. “We understand. Was he alone? Or with someone?”

“He was alone.”

Anderson looked at Kahlee. “That’s good. Come on.”

It took a short shuttle ride and the better part of fifteen minutes to reach the workout facility called The Cube. It had been built by biotics for biotics as a place where they could compete with each other and sharpen their skills. In order to join a person had to have a proven ability to throw, pin, or block objects. Or to use spatial distortion to destroy targets with rapidly shifting mass fields.

The asari were natural biotics although some were more skilled than others. But for other races, including the krogan, turians, salarians, and humans, biotic abilities were the result of exposure to element zero, or eezo. And most if not all biotics were equipped with implants called Bio-amps that served to amplify and synchronize their talents. Such individuals were classified as Level 1, Level 2, or Level 3, according to their strength and stability. Nick was an Level 2 and had been working out at The Cube in hopes of qualifying as an Level 3.

The gym, if that was the right word, was located on a dimly lit commercial thoroughfare and identified with a glowing sign. A reptilian krogan was stationed outside the front door to keep the merely curious away. He was about two meters tall and weighed upwards of one hundred and fifty kilograms. Like all of his kind the doorkeeper had a slightly hunchbacked appearance as a result of the shell-like layers of fl esh and bone that rode his powerful shoulders. His face was flat, brutish, and notable for the absence of any discernible ears or nose. A pair of small, wide-set eyes regarded Anderson with a brooding hostility. His voice sounded like a gravel crusher in low gear. “Members only.”

“Our son is a member,” Kahlee lied. “We’d like to watch him work out.”

“Name?”

“Nick Donahue.”

The krogan eyed his terminal, located what he was looking for, and uttered a grunt. “You can enter.”

The door gave access to a cramped lobby from which members could access the locker room and the area beyond. A narrow flight of stairs led up to a small balcony where spectators could view the action below. “Come on,” Kahlee said. “We’ll watch him throw people around.”

“And then we’ll chew him out,” Anderson said sotto voice, as he followed her up.

The viewing area was empty. So they followed a ramp down to the front row where they had a good view of the cube-shaped space for which the gym was named. The walls were padded and divided into softly glowing squares so that when a salarian was “thrown” across the room he was able to bounce off and land uninjured. One of the boxes lit up, a tone was heard, and a computer-generated voice delivered the score. “Five, three, advantage Atilus.”

But the match was far from over as became apparent when the salarian’s turian opponent was “lifted” off the cushioned floor and brought back down with considerable force. “Five, four,” the voice proclaimed. “Advantage Atilus.”

“I don’t see Nick,” Kahlee said, as she peered over the edge. At least a dozen biotics were down on the main floor sitting or standing along the walls. Some of them clapped as the point was scored, but were forced to scatter when the turian took his revenge, and the salarian came flying their way. “I think the office is in the basement,” Kahlee added. “Let’s see if he checked in.”

Having made their way down to the main floor, and from there to the basement, the pair found themselves in a dimly lit office. A roly-poly volus was ensconced behind a messy desk. “Earth-clan biotics are welcome here. One membership or two?”

“None,” Kahlee answered. “We’re trying to locate our son, Nick Donahue. Has he been here today?”

The volus turned to his terminal, entered the name, and turned back. “No, he hasn’t. You could extend his membership though. Two hundred and fifty credits for six months.”

“Thanks, but no thanks,” Anderson said firmly. “Tell me something . . . Does our son have friends here? People he tends to hang out with?”

The volus shrugged. “I don’t have time to track personal relationships. But I have seen your son with Ocosta Lem and Arrius Sallus. They work out together.”

“Who are they?” Kahlee wanted to know.

“Lem is a salarian, and Sallus is a turian. Both are listed as Level Threes.”

“Have they been in today?”

The volus consulted the terminal. “No.”

“Where do they live?” Anderson inquired. “We’d like to speak with them.”

The volus hesitated as if reluctant to part with the information, but when Anderson placed both fists on the desk and frowned, the volus complied. Three minutes later the humans were back on the street. Kahlee eyed the slip of paper. “Lem and Sallus share the same address.”

Anderson didn’t like that. Not one little bit. But he decided to keep his concerns to himself as they dropped two levels down and made their way through increasingly claustrophobic streets lined with bars, strip joints, and sim clubs. Some of the people who swirled around them watched the couple the way predators eye their prey. But appearances were everything. And thanks to the fact that Anderson and Kahlee looked like they knew what they were doing they were allowed to pass unimpeded.

“Here it is,” Kahlee said as they arrived in front of a seedy-looking structure. The sign out front read Sunsu Electronics. A commercial building seemed like an unlikely place for the biotics to live.

Anderson opened the door and they went inside. A middle-aged woman was seated behind the front desk. She smiled. “Can I help you?”

“Yes,” Kahlee replied. “We’re looking for Ocosta Lem and Arrius Sallus. We were told they live here.”

The receptionist frowned. “There must be some mistake. Nobody lives here. Other than the duct rats that is . . . and they don’t have names.”

“You’re sure?”

The woman nodded. “I’m sure. There are three employees and we all go home at night.”

They thanked her and left. The moment Kahlee was outside she made another call and got the same result. Nick was missing.