Tuchanka is colder than he expects.
The effect is mostly psychological, he knows. He's seen the temperature records, he's memorized the Shroud specifications, the current and projected atmospheric anomalies. He knows that at present, the ambient temperature is only very slightly lower than that in his old laboratory.
All the same, Mordin has to suppress a shiver as he steps across the threshold of the Weyrloc agricenter, staring up at the ruined architecture, at the barely functional machinery. The workers have all been drawn off by a distraction at the solar array, which is good, he supposes, although he could certainly do without the smug looks Kirrahe keeps shooting him. Young hotshot. Military bravado, chestpounding. Always preferred working with scientists. Better conversationalists.
He crouches at the entrance, hands Maelon a sample kit, and digs at the dirt that serves as a floor for this facility, feeds it into his scanner. While he waits for the initial results, he wanders over to brush a hand along the dusty, sparking agricultural control panel, its surface made of glass, likely a relic from before the Rebellions. He entertains himself, briefly, with a fantasy of working somewhere like this, of having to research with fewer materials and resources and compatriots. Perhaps alone, with only his wits to sustain him. It's a pleasant thought. Unrealistic. Mission at hand too important to compromise by daydreaming. Soil acidity slightly higher than anticipated, still well within mission parameters. No adjustments necessary.
"This all looks good, Professor," Maelon says, and his tone is hushed, almost reverent. Understandable. Ruins of nearly-dead civilizations take some getting used to. There's also an anger there, something frustrated and quintessentially young flashing behind his eyes. He'll grow out of it. Good kid, bit naïve.
Kirrahe is pacing, which is irritating, but at least he's stopped giving speeches. Jirin and Shenok move past the open door on their patrol around the building, watching for stragglers. Not likely. Krogan have no reason to suspect anything like this. Nobody would.
Strange, distant pang of uncertainty. Not now; not the time.
One of Kirrahe's operatives, Chorel, is crouched next to Maelon, taking whispered instruction about the use of the water sampler, and he passes a similar instrument along to Hishau. Mordin smiles at that. Always good to see military and scientific cooperation in pursuit of a worthy goal.
Something catches his eye, glinting under the dirt at his feet, and he takes a moment to excavate the tool – a simple pitchfork, rusted nearly beyond recognition. The weight of it is strange, coarse after the gleaming, top-of-the-line sensors he's been handling. He turns it over and over in his hands. Nothing new here, no advances, no evolution. Only dust and decay.
"Everything all right?"
Mordin turns, sees that Kirrahe has finally stopped pacing, standing with his hands behind his back. His posture is tense. Anticipating trouble. Good. "Fine," he says, shortly, and drops the pitchfork. "Readings favorable thus far. Cannot be rushed. Consequences could be-" He inhales. "-dire."
"I did read the briefings," Kirrahe says, dryly. "We're doing fine, Solus. Everything according to plan."
Mordin rolls his eyes, returns to his work. "Detection upon arrival all part of plan, hm? How long before Weyrloc scouts realize intentions? Discover our position? Five operatives and two scientists unlikely to provide much resistance to krogan scouts."
Kirrahe's faint smile thins out, becomes predatory. "Like I told you, I determine whether there's been a significant parameter shift. Not you. Comes with being a commander. Mission specialists, on the other hand, have a very pleasant tendency to do as they're told."
"Suggest seeking medical aid for foreign object lodged in cloaca," Mordin mutters, and bends back to his work. "Could be own cranium."
When he glances back, Kirrahe's expression is caught somewhere between a scowl and a startled, half-stifled smile. May be hope for him yet. Everyone else is all very busy pretending not to listen, so it takes several tries for Mordin to get Maelon's attention and wave him back over to compare notes.
"Rentola here. Primary, come in."
Maelon jerks violently at the sound of the voice, but Mordin only hunches his shoulders and exhales, slowly. Distraction team breaking radio silence. Not unexpected.
He turns to look at Kirrahe, standing with one hand raised to his earpiece. His expression is unreadable. "Go."
"Weyrloc agricenter guards are en route to your position. ETA: ninety seconds. We can't intercept in time. Please advise."
Kirrahe clenches his jaw, and Mordin grimaces, pushing off the console with slightly more force than necessary, pacing away from the others. Result obvious. Only one possible response.
"This changes nothing. We'll try to finish up here. Meet us as soon as you can. We'll hold the line."
"Changes nothing?" Mordin's voice is louder than he expected. The other team members are having a harder time pretending not to hear. "Irresponsible! Should have adapted mission to fit changing parameters from the start! Not your chance to prove your worth. Not your chance for glory. No glory in what we do." At his side, Maelon cringes. Troubling. Will have to talk with him later. Assuming survival of all involved, of course.
There is no hint of amusement in Kirrahe's face now. "I don't have time for this."
"Oh," Mordin says, breaking his accustomed patter to draw the word out. Petty, but satisfying. "Have mission parameters shifted?"
"You, Solus, are a walking cloaca. Shut up. We just need to hold the line until-"
A scream from outside serves as their first warning. Their second comes when an armored krogan bursts through the wall to their right, slamming Shenok into the ground with a crack that echoes through the room.
Mordin draws his pistol and ducks behind the console in one smooth motion, dragging Maelon beside him when the boy hesitates. He glances over in time to see Kirrahe throw himself bodily at the krogan, shoving it off Shenok's broken body, ducking and weaving between punches, finally dropping into a graceful roll as the krogan fires a shotgun. Still a cloaca, but hand-to-hand skills impressive.
By this time, three more krogan, just as heavily armored, just as heavily armed, have lumbered into the room. One has its hand wrapped almost entirely around Operative Jirin's head, and Maelon cries out when it squeezes, then drops the dripping mess. Mordin exhales, adjusts his grip on his pistol. Two dead- no. Operative Shenok moving, groaning on the floor. One dead, one neutralized. Four krogan facing three STG operatives, two STG specialists. Survival problematic.
In the time it takes him to reassess the situation, Chorel and Hishau have begun shooting at the three new arrivals, drawing them away from Kirrahe, still locked in a messy hand-to-hand with the first krogan. It takes Mordin a couple tries to break away from cover – irritating weakness, covered in basic training, hardly first encounter with violence – and when he does, he keeps low, moving toward Shenok and activating his omni-tool's scanner. Broken bones, including six vertebrae. Medigel dispenser in armor nonfunctional.
The blast from a shotgun impacts a finger's width from his left leg, sending chips of dirt and pebbles into his face. He tenses his shoulders, but when a second blast doesn't come – distraction likely provided by more dangerous target – he bends to the task of applying medigel manually to Shenok's open wounds. The sedative hits the operative's system almost immediately, and soon his weakening struggles cease altogether. Unlikely he'll make a full recovery – self-inflicted damage after injury probably severed spinal column. Still breathing.
"Professor!" Maelon's voice is a shrill scream.
He turns without thinking, fires his pistol, shifts his weight back and rolls away from another shotgun blast, comes up on his feet already moving, ducks under an outstretched arm, rests his hands on the krogan's back, gauges next motion as feint to right followed by punishing attack from left, responds appropriately with shot to left shoulder, destroying shields, shot to right kneecap, four shots to back of head. The krogan slumps to its knees, then crumples, and he staggers back. His legs are shaking. Irritating weakness.
Something barrels into him, and he squeezes off a wild shot before he realizes it's only Chorel, breathing hard, his face a mask of blood. Mordin scrambles away from the operative, fires a few distracting shots at the krogan cornering Maelon, then turns away as Hishau swoops in to the rescue, slashing a knife at the krogan's flank. Kirrahe is dancing out of reach of two krogan, now, and for a moment Mordin can only see the quiet calm in his face, the smooth center of his actions. Impressive use of mental training. Often neglected by chestpounding types.
Then movement at his side draws his attention, and a great hand clamps down on his armor, lifts him until his feet are scrambling for the dirt beneath them.
He stares into the face of the krogan he thought he'd killed. Ah. Krogan regenerative abilities substantial. Problematic.
It snorts, throws him away dismissively, and before he can even begin to curl in on himself, he hits the sparking glass console face-first with a shattering crash. He loses consciousness momentarily, comes back to himself spitting blood, swiping at the deep gouges running across the side of his face. The pain is more than anything he's ever experienced, and he allows himself a brief moment of fascinated horror before he rolls to his feet, sways, and applies medigel. No time. Suffer later. Assess situation.
The krogan who'd hit him looks to be truly dead, Hishau's knife in its back, and Maelon is cowering behind a nearby console, apparently unharmed. Chorel, slumped against a wall, is obviously dead, his neck at an impossible angle, deep gouges in his throat. Kirrahe and Hishau are locked in combat with a pair of stumbling krogan, maneuvering them expertly into position, taking their shots with grace and confidence. Impressive. Wouldn't have-
Wait. One krogan dead, two others still on battlefield.
He turns, and his legs nearly give way again. For a confused moment, he's certain the fourth krogan is running a soil sample; it's standing at a console, entering commands. No. Not science. Alarm system. Attempting to call for reinforcements.
No pistol. He glances around, gets blood in his eyes, bends down instead to scrabble in the dirt. His hand closes around the pitchfork he'd found earlier, and despite the pain, his mouth twitches into a bitter smile. Will have to do.
With a yell, he charges the krogan, raising the pitchfork. It turns, and he's nearly certain it makes some incredulous sound, and then it brings its shotgun to bear and fires. Mordin lets his forward momentum carry him into the krogan, adjusts his grip on the pitchfork, and plunges it into the krogan's face. Kinetic barriers not designed to repel relatively slow-moving farm implements. Armor already weakened by earlier combat. Tines of pitchfork impact, slip deep into krogan's eye, cranium, brain. Krogan quivers, falls. No alarm sounded.
Even through the haze of medigel, a new agony demands his attention, and he raises a shaking hand to the side of his head, slick with blood and gritty with small chips of bone. He traces fingers up his right cranial horn. It ends in a jagged mess at about half its usual length. His legs give out, so he sits on the ground and watches as Kirrahe dispatches his krogan and turns to help Hishau, who's still staggering and weaving despite a shotgun wound to the gut. Together, they bring down the last krogan, and then there's nothing but heavy breathing, Maelon's whimpering, the strange roaring in Mordin's ears. Everything goes gray for a moment, and then Kirrahe is by his side, applying medigel and bandages, his face closed, tight.
"Mission parameters shifted," Mordin says. Voice too quiet, shaky.
"Yes." Kirrahe leans back, inspecting his handiwork. A new numbness is spreading down the side of Mordin's head, making his limbs feel heavy, his pulse slow and sluggish, but his breathing is easier, and the world wavers into focus. Kirrahe watches him for a moment, then shakes his head, exhaling heavily. "We held the line. The distraction team has arrived. We're getting you out of here."
"Shenok suffering from spinal damage. Should be alive."
"We have him loaded up and ready to go, Solus. We lost Jirin and Chorel, and Hishau's not looking so good, but they've got the bleeding under control. You're the last one who needs to go."
Mordin sniffs, brushes aside Kirrahe's hands to stumble to his feet under his own power. "Mission not yet complete. Injuries not critical. Will complete water and soil sampling at secondary site."
Kirrahe gapes at him. "You just had half your face blown off."
"Am aware," Mordin says, and resists the urge to reach up and feel the strange void over his cranial horn. "Must carry mission through to finish." He dredges up a faint smile. "Must hold the line."
Kirrahe barks a startled laugh, then rests a hand on his shoulder. "You are one tough cloaca."
"Will take that as compliment. Did Maelon survive?"
"Yes. Smart kid, stayed out of the fighting. I think he's freaking out in a corner somewhere. You might want to go talk to him."
Mordin turns to do just that, but Kirrahe keeps the hand on his shoulder, dragging him to a halt. "Solus. I- thank you."
"No need," Mordin says, and pulls away, aiming for a miserable figure huddled over one of the krogan corpses.
"Did you know about this," Maelon says, in lieu of greeting. It's not a question. His voice is cold; it shakes at the edges.
Mordin follows his gaze down to the krogan's helmet, which has split open to reveal... ah. "Suspected as much. Krogan females excellent warriors, often relegated to agricultural facilities to reduce chance of enemy attack. Cultural importance of females transcends clan warfare."
Maelon exhales. "I thought we were doing this to help. Keep their population low so... so they don't rise up again, so the damn turians don't decide to kill them all outright this time."
"Soil and water samples nearly complete. Operation Firebreak likely to be successful."
Maelon rounds on him with a snarl. "How can you say that, Professor? This was meant to be- we weren't supposed to kick them while they're down. We can't just come in here and- and murder and tear up and destroy what they value most. It feels wrong."
"It feels wrong," Mordin echoes, softly, thinking of voids where something solid used to be. No time for that. Not here. Not with work still to be done. "Feelings have no bearing on this. Agreed long ago. Best option. Wouldn't have joined mission otherwise."
There's a dull horror in Maelon's eyes. He shakes his head. "This mission is deplorable. There's nothing good here." His voice takes on a new tone, sarcastic, caustic. "No glory to be had, right, Professor?"
Young. Unstable. Never seen combat. Only one option. "Will discuss this later, Maelon. For now, better that you return with the injured." He holds out a sedative capsule. "Better that you rest. Things will make more sense, after."
Maelon stares at the sedative, picks it up, holds it in the palm of his hand. His shoulders are shaking, but his eyes are dry. "I-"
"Take the sedative, Maelon."
He does, swallowing hard, then sighs, sitting down in the dirt. Mordin stays standing next to him, arms crossed, waiting for the inevitable collapse. Maelon speaks up a few moments later, his voice already beginning to slur. "How can we do this to them?"
Mordin follows his gaze down to the krogan's corpse. Tuchanka, just then, feels very, very cold.
"Had to be us. Someone else might have gotten it wrong."