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Paul Grayson knew the Illusive Man was still looking for him. It had been almost three years since he had betrayed Cerberus for the sake of his daughter, but even if thirty years had passed he knew they wouldn’t give up the hunt.
He had changed his name, of course: Paul Grayson was gone; he went by Paul Johnson now. But creating a new identity for himself was only the first line of defense; it wouldn’t hold up should any of the Illusive Man’s agents come across his credentials. And his agents were everywhere.
Since its inception, Cerberus had seeded operatives throughout nearly every branch of the Alliance government. There was almost no place in Council space he could run where they wouldn’t eventually track him down. So he had fled to Omega.
The Illusive Man had never managed to secure a foothold on the enormous space station that served as the de facto capital of the Terminus Systems. Cerberus was well known for its radical pro-human agenda, making its agents extremely unpopular among the various alien warlords, gang leaders, and despots who held sway on Omega. Even if they suspected that Grayson was hiding here, it wouldn’t be easy for them to get to him.
It was something of an irony to Grayson that the skills he had learned while working for Cerberus— espionage and assassination—were proving so useful in carving out a new life for himself as a mercenary on Omega. He had been trained to kill aliens; now he was working for one.
“We’re wasting time,” Sanak grumbled, setting his sniper rifle to the side. He tugged at his combat suit as he shifted to find a more comfortable position behind the stacked crates that were concealing Grayson and him from view.
Grayson kept his own weapon trained on the ship on the far side of the loading bay. He was acutely aware of how careful his batarian partner was to not make any physical contact with him as he rummaged around.
“We wait for Liselle’s report,” he said flatly.
The batarian had turned his head to glare with all four eyes at the man crouched beside him. He blinked the uppermost pair, but the lower set remained still as stone.
“You always want to wait, human,” Sanak snarled. “It’s a sign of weakness.”
“It’s a sign of intelligence,” Grayson snapped back. “That’s why I’m in charge.”
Sanak knew only one way to deal with problems: charge into them headfirst. It made working with him difficult at times. His general dislike of humans—and Grayson’s deeply ingrained mistrust of batarians—didn’t help matters.
The two species had a checkered history. Humanity had expanded quickly after bursting onto the galactic scene, pushing the batarians out of the Skyllian Verge. The batarians had retaliated with violence, triggering a war between the two cultures—a war the batarians had lost. Now they were outcasts and pariahs in the civilized worlds of Council space—hardly ever seen, regarded with suspicion and mistrust.
On the streets of Omega, however, they seemed to be on every other corner. Since leaving Cerberus, Grayson had worked hard to overcome the xenophobia that had been drilled into him by the Illusive Man. But old habits died hard, and he was in no hurry to embrace the “four-eyed menace.”
Fortunately, he and Sanak didn’t have to like each other to work together. Aria had made that clear to both of them on several occasions.
“Seven targets in total,” Liselle’s soft voice chimed in his earpiece. “All members in position and awaiting orders.”
Grayson felt the familiar rush of adrenaline coursing through his body in anticipation of the kill. Beside him he sensed Sanak training his weapon onto the ship, mirroring Grayson’s pose.
“Go,” Grayson whispered, the single word triggering a barrage of gunfire from the far side of the warehouse as Liselle and her team went into action.
A second later four turians stumbled into view from around the far side of the vessel. Their backs were to Grayson and Sanak, their attention and their weapons focused on Liselle’s ambush.
Grayson released the air in his lungs in a long, slow breath as he squeezed the trigger. One of the turians dropped, the kinetic barriers of his combat suit too drained by Liselle’s opening salvo to stop the sniper round that took him in the back of his bony skull.
An instant later two more went down, courtesy of a pair of perfectly placed shots from Sanak.
I may not like the bastard, Grayson thought as he took aim at the final adversary, but he gets the job done.
The last turian had just enough time to take two steps toward the cover of a nearby crate before Grayson took him between the shoulder blades.
There were several seconds of absolute silence before Grayson spoke into his mouthpiece. “Four targets neutralized on our side.”
“Three more over here,” Liselle responded. “That’s all of them.”
“Let’s move,” Grayson said to Sanak, leaping out from behind the cover of the crate and racing toward the fallen aliens.
The turians were members of the Talon gang, and the warehouse was a building deep inside Talon territory. Given the time of night and the remote location, it was unlikely anyone had heard the shots. But there was always a chance, and the longer they stayed the more likely they’d have to deal with reinforcements.
By the time he and Sanak reached the bodies, Liselle and the two batarians that made up the rest of her team were already rifling through their victims’ clothes.
“Five kilos so far,” the blue-skinned asari informed Grayson, holding up several plastic bags tightly packed with a fine, rosy powder. “Ninety, maybe ninety-five percent pure.”
From personal experience, Grayson knew it took only a small pinch of refined red sand to get a human high. Five kilos was enough to keep an entire apartment complex floating for the better part of a year. A stash this size could easily fetch six figures back in Council space. Which was precisely why Aria had ordered this hit.
There were no actual laws on Omega, no police force. Order was maintained solely by the gangs that ran the space station. But though there were no laws, there were rules. Rule number one: don’t cross Aria T’Loak.
“Two more kilos on this one,” Sanak said, pulling another tightly wrapped brick from inside the vest of the corpse he was searching.
“This one got caught in the cross fire,” one of the other batarians said, holding up a bag so Grayson could see the grains of sand streaming out of the tiny hole in the side.
“Patch it up!” Grayson snapped angrily, taking a quick step back.
Red sand had no effect on batarians or asari, but one good whiff and he’d be dusted for the rest of the night.
“Aria wants it all,” he reminded them. “The whole shipment. She’s sending a message.”
Known as the Pirate Queen, Aria had been the de facto ruler of Omega for over two centuries. Every other gang paid tribute to her in some form or another for the privilege of doing business on the station. Those that tried to cut Aria out—say by refusing to give her a piece of their red sand trafficking business—suffered the consequences.
“That’s it,” Liselle declared, standing up as she finished her examination of the last body.
Even though his mind was focused on the mission, Grayson couldn’t help but be struck once again by the ethereal beauty of the woman before him. The asari as a whole were gorgeous by human standards: the mono-gendered species closely resembled human females, though their pigmentation was typically blue. Instead of hair they had sculpted, flowing folds of skin covering their scalp, but that did little to take away from their sexual appeal.
Liselle was considered extremely attractive, even among her own kind, and her form-fitted combat suit accentuated every curve. The part of Grayson’s mind that still harbored the Cerberus-bred mistrust of aliens couldn’t help but wonder if it was merely her physical appearance that was so stunning, or if it was something more.
In addition to being a species of biotics, the asari were known to have subtle yet powerful empathic—almost telepathic—abilities. Some believed they used these talents to influence the perceptions of others, making themselves appear more attractive than they actually were. If that was in fact the case, then Liselle was exceptionally skilled at the art.
“Secure the sand and move out,” Grayson ordered, snapping his mind back to the task at hand. “Stay tight, stay alert. Remember—we’re still in enemy territory.”