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Salvaging from Strife (Chapter Cover Art)

Salvaging from Strife
Chapter 8

The Pains of Rebuilding[]

Widow Star System

There were times, mercenary commander Montgomery Shephard tiredly reflected, when he really hated the economy.

The Star Hunters urgently needed to rebuild. Spare parts from their reserves were sufficient to bring at least one lance to full strength in the near future, but that was hardly a long-term solution. If his mercenary command was to recover, it needed meat and metal.

In the good old days of just two months ago, military material and recruits were available, if always in short supply. Right now, though, the tools of his trade were scarce, especially on the Citadel. He blamed that on supply and demand in the Inner Sphere, and the idiots behind the Presidium Riots. Lady Arano's inability to assist and the trouble at Tartarus were not helping either.

Which was why he found himself standing inside an IndustrialMech stable in the Wards, watching as another pair of Powerman LoaderMechs ambled out towards a waiting transport. He wasn't so desperate as to deploy the civilian-grade Mechs in battle, but the IndustrialMech sector was still useful. They needed spare parts, Techs, pilots to function. All things the Star Hunters could use. Not quite the quality he preferred, but the economy left few alternatives.

"Impressive specimens aren't they, Monsieur Shephard." the stable master reminisced proudly. "Over a hundred years old and still as reliable as ever. Anyway, the goods are ready for inspection. Come, come, right this way."

Shephard turned and followed the rotund man through the stable, eyes flicking left and right. Most of the Mechbays were unoccupied, albeit with clear signs of use. A few Techs still lingered around the sole remaining IndustrialMech, too caught up in insulting the pilot to pay attention to the mercenary. The stable master soon led him out of earshot and towards several crates laid out in a loading bay.

"Everything as arranged, Monsieur Shephard. Myomers, reactor components, actuators. Five tons of protective plating over there. And, as you requested, anti-fauna equipment."

"This is it?" Only two small lasers, a vehicle-size flamethrower, some other odds and ends.

"I'm afraid that is all that is available, Monsieur. We are a law-abiding civilian business, after all. We don't carry a license for military equipment."

"Mm." Virtanen could probably use the 'mining explosives' for SRMs, and the Inferno missiles were mislabeled as 'foliage clearance devices'. "I'll take everything at one-ten MRB price. Free shipping?"

"Of course, of course. Just so long as you return the deliveryman."

"Naturally." Shephard assured him with a wide smile. He wasn't so crass as to poach talent, or the lack thereof, that blatantly. Most IndustrialMech pilots were complete rookies, but some were ex-militia. There were always a few discreetly interested in a limited employment, looking for some extra funds or chasing one last ride in the cockpit. Rosby had already found several promising candidates in bars and elsewhere, playing up the thrill and profit of the mercenary life. A number of Techs had also been enticed to enlist, provided they met Virtanen's approval.

Only a small step on the road to recovery, but every bit mattered for a mercenary.


Widow Star System

[Scrounging together subpar equipment was only part of the reason he was out here in the industrial districts in the Wards. The Star Hunters needed a contract, something easy to boost morale after Feros and to cover expenses. The capital of the galaxy was a terrible place to fulfill that goal, but the MRB had surprisingly received a job offer right on the Citadel.

The Serpent Utility Mechs' stable master was surprisingly not a human, but an asari. Shephard glanced around the office when he was admitted by the salarian secretary, noticing holos of IndustrialMechs framed on the walls. Matron Helena, as she apparently preferred to be named, was visible in many of them, either seated in the cockpit or leaning against the posing machines. The asari herself stood up gracefully from behind her table when Shephard approached and shook hands with him, a professional smile on her face.

"Mister Shephard, thank you for coming," she politely greeted, before sitting down again. Shephard followed suit. "I was informed you expressed interest in the contract?"

"Certainly, Matron Helena, I wouldn't be here otherwise." With few taps on his datapad, a copy of the MRB contract appeared on the desk. "I'd like to know more about the job and employer first, obviously. According to the MRB, you're looking for Mechwarriors to train your pilots."

"Well, yes," Matron Helena affirmed. "The Serpent Utility Mechs provides a wide range of services on the Citadel and elsewhere. We have been operating in civilized areas so far, where my employees are safe from criminals. Most of them have little experience in handling hostile threats, unfortunately. That's why I wished to hire an expert, to train the pilots to fight and defend themselves."

"The Star Hunters can teach self-defense." They were a bit overqualified for that, actually. "A one-week crash course is the absolute minimum, that should be sufficient time to give the trainees a basic grasp of escape and evasion, and handling a damaged Mech. A longer course with the support personnel included would be better, since we could cover more aspects."

"No, that's insufficient," the asari interrupted. "I was looking for," Matron Helena hesitated briefly, "combat training, with weapons."

Shepard frowned. With as much tact as he could muster, he carefully explained, "An IndustrialMech is not suitable for combat, Matron Helena. You could mount weapons and armor on one, but the weight must come from somewhere, likely its work equipment. Then there is the issue of software, installing neurohelmets, other issues my Techs could list." He would have suggested hiring professionals for security instead, but the asari probably wouldn't be receptive.

"I know the difference between civilian and military Mechs, Commander Shephard. I wouldn't have bought this company if I wasn't interested in such things." The stable master leaned forwards. "However, my pilots and technicians require some competency. They only need to be able to fend off minor threats, like dangerous animals or local gangs, but they may as well receive a more comprehensive training, just in case. Besides," she smiled conspiratorially, "you'd be paid better."

At least that explained the relatively high starting offer, plus why she hadn't simply hired one of the many private security available. "If that is what you prefer, Matron Helena," he accepted, "I'd need some more details. How many of your employees should we expect, and how many have at least some military experience?"

"Twenty pilots, and at least double that in support staff. Two of the humans served with the Elysium Militia in support roles, and the turians, of course, have all served with the hierarchy."

"Hold on," Shephard cut her off. "Turians?"

"Yes, turians," Maton Helena indignantly repeated. "Don't act so surprised. Non-humans can pilot IndustrialMechs equally capably, your species doesn't have a monopoly on the technology. Why, are the salarians and asari also problematic for you? We happen to own a salarian Newbrute as well."

"Aliens cannot use human neurohelmets, Matron, unless some new breakthrough happened which I'm unaware of. That will limit their effectiveness in combat, or even using advanced IndustrialMech equipment. They can be included in the training course, if you insist, but do not expect any miracles."

"That remains to be seen. In addition, I insist on more than theory and simulator time. Practical exercises are non-negotiable."

Shephard pretended to consider the request carefully. "If you cover the extra expenses and legal issues, that won't be a problem." He could put in potential recruits as assistants and gauge their competency, get some practice for free. With his BattleMechs still confined to their hangers, thanks to the current Citadel-wide ban on private BattleMechs, some live action would be useful. "I'm willing to take your contract, Matron Helena."

It was at that moment when the door burst open, a turian C-Sec officer barging into the room with the salarian secretary still clinging to his arm. "C-Sec, stop right now!"

There were times, mercenary commander Shephard tiredly reflected, that he really hated his job.

Opposing Parties[]


There were better ways to make an entrance, Garrus silently admitted to himself. Matron Helena was sullenly glaring at him, while the human mercenary just slumped silently in his seat. The secretary had departed with a furious slam of the door just moments ago, leaving the three of them stewing in silence.

"Officer Vakarian," Matron Helena flatly stated, "you are interfering in matters that do not concern you."

"I disagree." Garrus defended himself. "Your actions are counterproductive to my investigations. I explicitly instructed you not to confront the criminals directly."

"How did you even know about this meeting?" She exasperatedly demanded.

"An anonymous tipoff." A civilian pilot of her company had contacted Garrus when she saw the mercenary enter the office, frantically begging him to save her. In hindsight, his actions were a little hasty, but it was better to be safe than sorry.

Whatever Matron Helena was about to say was cut off by the human's weary voice. "Criminals?" He inquired. "Could either of you tell me what is going on?"

"A pack of brutes."

"It's more complicated than that." Garrus corrected, addressing the human. "I'm investigating a gang of weaponized IndustrialMechs operating in this Ward. They've become more active after the Human Embassy Revolts, including demanding money and free services from the Serpent Utility Mechs."

"C-Sec can't catch a rogue Mech on the Citadel?"

"Like I said, it's complicated. They have connections with powerful organizations, covering their tracks. C-Sec is stretched thin keeping the peace, and there are far too many IndustrialMechs on the Citadel to track all of them. I'm working on the case. Which is why, Matron Helena, I told you not to escalate."

The asari businesswoman scowled and rebutted, "I will not sit back and watch my company be devoured while C-Sec does nothing."

"Officer, uh, Vakarian," the human spoke up again, "Could you explain why you are opposed to the contract? It's only a training program for her staff. If anything, I thought C-Sec would support this."

Matron Helena flung a soft biotic kick at Garrus, out of sight of the mercenary. He ignored her warning and bluntly explained, "Matron Helena proposed arming her Mechs to me first. Her modifications would be a flagrant violation of permitted civilian equipment, and I would rather not arrest her for that. I suspect your training exercise would coincidentally run into the criminals, and that would just lead to more trouble. Vigilante justice is generally forbidden on the Citadel." Unless a Spectre is involved, he added to himself.

"I have a right to defend myself! If the C-Sec refuses to use their Mechs to serve the people, you are responsible for forcing my hand," the Matron declared furiously.

"So, this contract wasn't for training civilians then." The human lowered his head into his palms, before looking up again. "Out of curiosity, is the MRB contract legal?"

"It is technically legal," Garrus warily admitted. "But I would warn you not to take the job. The odds are high you'd end up dead or incarcerated. I know for a fact she tried to hire some ex-military before approaching the MRB. They all abandoned her once they learnt the details."

"Right then," the human stood up as he spoke, "Matron Helena, I'd appreciate it if you could send me all the information available. We clearly will need to renegotiate the contract, if I even choose to take it. You could always try your luck with the MRB again, but I suspect Officer Vakarian here," he nodded to Garrus, "will chase them off as well. And Officer? I'd like to get in contact with you later, to discuss C-Sec's side of things."

"This investigation is confidential and not to be disclosed to the public." Executor Pallin had been reluctant to start the case at all, due to the pile of other more pressing issues facing C-Sec following the Human Embassy Revolts. Only his lack of a partner following Sela's retirement had convinced Pallin to give him the task to keep him busy. "But if you insist on being involved, I'll give you my contact information. What is your name, actually?"

"Mercenary Commander Montgomery Shepard, Star Hunters."

Garrus blinked. "The ones involved in the Feros scandal?"

"The very same."

Spirits, was he being punished for something?, he thought

His answer came when the salarian secretary opened the door again. "Matron Helena, Officer Harkin is here to meet you again."

An aggravating voice spoke from behind the salarian. "I'll see myself in, ma'am, no need to concern yourself." The human C-Sec officer swaggered into the office, turning briefly to smile at the nervous secretary. "Why don't you close up the office, see that we aren't disturbed? Your boss and I have sensitive matters to discuss."

The secretary retreated quietly, shutting the door to the office. Officer Harkin turned back to the three occupants in the room, flicking a dismissive glance at Mercenary Shephard before meeting Garrus' eyes.

"Officer Garrus, my good friend," he drawled, "still working on your pet project? Such a waste of a good little turian. Made any progress so far?"

"I don't have to share my work with you, Harkin," Garrus growled. "Why are you here?"

"Oh, for much the same reason as you are, I suspect." Harkin replied, leaning casually against Matron Helena's table. "I heard reports of a dangerous killer lurking around dear Helen's office, so naturally I decided to check on her wellbeing, as an upstanding officer of C-Sec. Matron Helena, how are you doing, my Lady?"

The asari spat, "I was perfectly fine, until you came in."

"Now now, it is wrong to lie to C-Sec. You might even end up arrested, Matron." Harkin grinned. "I'm just looking out for you. We don't want anything terrible happening to your little shop now, would we?"

Garrus resisted the urge to pull out his pistol.

Harkin turned to look at the other human in the room. "And you," he considered, "your face looks familiar. Are you wanted for something? Murder, perhaps?"

The mercenary kept his face blank, eyes darting between Garrus and Harkin. Coldly, he replied, "The charges against my command have been dropped. C-Sec has no reason to concern themselves with me."

"So that's where I saw you!" Harkin exclaimed with mock amazement, clapping his hands together. "The famous Star Hunters and the Butcher of Torfan. Looking for trouble already? And so soon after Saren? Just think of your poor aunt."

"I have done nothing, Officer Harkin. Just doing my job, same as you."

"No, not the same," Harkin sneered. "You are just a wannabe Periphery mercenary, I'm C-Sec. I have a BattleMech, you have nothing. A word of advice, one human to another. Don't take this contract. It won't go well for you."

He turned his head towards Garrus and Matron Helena. "I'm the C-Sec officer in charge of Mechs here. You're intruding into my jurisdiction, Garrus, without even trying to cooperate with me. And Matron Helena, please take down the MRB offer? You don't want a repeat of the Presidium here."

The C-Sec BattleMech pilot sauntered to the door, adding one last parting comment. "All I want is to keep the peace here and the people safe. It is in your best interests to work with me, you know?"

Then Harkin was gone. The salarian secretary poked her head in briefly, then vanished.

The mercenary broke the silence first. "Matron Helena?" he spoke. "Killing him costs extra."

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