(A/N): Hey all. You probably hate me for not updating for so long. But anyway, here's the Lair of the Shadow Broker mission. Sorry if it got drug out a little. I didn't get an alternate POV in this chapter either, I'm still trying to get back into the groove of this story. Also, you may need to go back and re-read the story cause it's been a year and a half, but that's up to you. Love you all, even if I don't show it well! Enjoy!
Chapter 12: Ice Queen
"Hagalaz. The oceans boil during the day, then snap-freeze ten minutes after sundown." Liara's voice was soft and low in the cabin of the shuttle, lending a creepy tone to the already ominous roaring outside. It was obvious that she was struggling to breathe with any depth, though I could hardly blame her. Years of effort had come down to this one mission. A hit-or-miss, all-in gamble to rescue her friend and overthrow the ruthless yahg.
My blood turned a little colder as I considered the consequences this little venture held for me, as well. This was my chance for answers—real answers. Ones that didn't hinge on the Illusive Man's blessing or honesty. I would figure out who had experimented on me during my stasis and why. And I would figure out where the sonofabitch was hiding.
"The Shadow Broker lives in this?" Shepard demanded, noting the alarming bucking and wrenching sounds that the shuttle was making. Surely nothing could withstand these forces for very long.
But Liara had no doubts about the location. "His ship follows the sunset. Completely undetectable in the storm, unless you know where to look." Silently, I wondered what sort of favors the asari must have called in to analyze the base. Whatever they were must have been substantial, judging by the bite in her voice. Just finding the Shadow Broker had cost her nearly everything. Now, Shepard was all that she had left. Her last option. If this failed, Liara would have nothing except for a long line of debts to pay.
He didn't seem fazed by the pressure. "How do we get inside?"
"The shuttle bay is locked down," was the straightforward answer. Slowly but surely, a tactical analysis of the situation was taking precedence over anxiety. "We'll need to land on the ship and hunt for a hatch. But we can't stay outside for long. There's a constant lightning storm where the hot and cold air collide." Together, they went to the door to watch the weather with concerned expressions.
I loved storms, though. I always had. And I hadn't seen a good one since before I was frozen. Omega didn't have a proper atmosphere so there was never weather of any sort. That was shy I'd loved Illium so much. And now, listening to the sound of something so powerful and natural and…clean. It was exhilarating.
They didn't seem to agree. We'd figure out which one of us was right soon enough.
The door burst open with unexpected force, nearly ripping off of its hinges and allowing a vicious blast of wind to whip around the three of us. This must be the drop zone. Unfortunately, the shuttle couldn't land properly, bucking too wildly to risk setting down. So Shepard motioned to the pilot and we jumped for it, landing unsteadily on the surface of the Shadow Broker's base.
The second our boots hit metal Shepard's weapon was out, scanning for enemies, and I followed suit. Liara paused to examine something on her omni-tool before joining us. "It's hard to pinpoint in this lightning, but I'm picking up signals from a communications array near the back of the ship. There's nothing below but maintenance equipment. We have to find an entrance near the back shielding." Although she was only standing a few feet to my left, I couldn't hear her with my own ears, only over the mic. The gale was ripping her words from her lips and I smiled, feeling it buffet my armor. Even the Shadow Broker's power paled in comparison to this. It was beautiful.
We didn't waste time on my cloud watching, though, and Shepard led the way briskly to the rear of the ship. A couple of maintenance drones appeared not long after that, thinking that we were debris or something, but we took care of them quickly and continued, climbing back toward the center of the ship as our way became blocked.
"Careful!" Liara warned as we came up on a couple of lightning rods. "Those capacitors discharge built-up lighting." And when she said 'discharge', all I could think was that this storm alone could have solved the energy crisis back in the day.
"Thanks for the tip!"
"Shepard, try firing at the capacitors!" Liara suggested, motioning at me to take cover rather than return fire with some of the Shadow Broker's agents, who had appeared ahead. I did so dutifully, feeling the electricity in the air as the lightning, once more free, sought a target and found one. Luckily, it wasn't us.
With those two down, we pressed on, following the maintenance walkways back to the left side of the ship. There were a couple of mechs waiting for us, but once again, it was remarkably easy. I tried to enjoy that while I could. Once the Shadow Broker locked on to our location and our target, things would get much more difficult. As if reading my mind, three more flesh and blood agents popped up around another capacitor. Again, the lightning took care of most of the work, easily overloading their shields and any other electronic advantages their armor held.
The fact that they were already so heavily armored worried me. We had only landed a second ago. And while security had yet to converge on us in substantial numbers, they had clearly been ready. I suppose it shouldn't have come as a surprise that the Shadow Broker knew we were coming—he knew a lot of things—but was he tipped off by someone, or did he just assume based upon Liara's altered course of actions in the last few days?
There was a roadblock after that and Shepard did something that had a large section of the ship retreating. Don't ask me what it was, I knew virtually nothing about spaceships except for some studying I'd done on the life-support systems for personal paranoia reasons. Anyway, after it moved, our path was clear once more. Mostly. Except for the five guys waiting for us. My pistol got a good workout then and I wished that I'd have brought an assault rifle. All three of us were close-range fighters and soon they would figure out how to use our firepower against us. I guess I had my sniper rifle, but with the wind here it would be virtually worthless until we got below decks, where the cramped conditions would likely keep me down to my pistol anyway.
We moved to the right after that, to the very edge of the hexagonal-shaped ship where the wind was at its most impressive and we spent just as much time trying to keep our footing as we did firing at enemies. Shepard found us a way inside after that, which would have been disappointing if not for the capacitors we found there. Huge structures glowing and sparking with energy.
I was speechless, which Liara noted. "This ship is incredible. It must have taken decades to build in secret."
But all Shepard had to say was: "I wonder what happened to the contractors."
Liara gave him a little chuckle. "I think we can guess."
I remember that that line used to hold some amusement when I was playing the game, but now it was kind of sad and a huge mood-killer. How could he look at this and not be in awe? Find no excitement in it? It reminded me of Kaiden's line in the first game about how the final frontier was already settled and the residents didn't even seem impressed by the view. Was there no wonder left in the galaxy to these people? Did they think that amazing things like this ship and the storm were just…unremarkable? Just some irritating obstacle to overcome? I don't think I'd ever felt as disconnected from Shepard as I did in this moment.
At least Liara still had some respect. "Navigating this storm is brutal. If the ship's engines stop even for a moment…. Well, at the least the Shadow Broker will go down with us."
"That's comforting," Shepard deadpanned. And I saw him cast a slightly wary look back at his old teammate. Luckily, she didn't catch it. Her fear would have taken over if she had known how little he wanted to die to achieve these ends.
It was back outside after that, into my lovely storm. I tried to enjoy it and ignore Shepard's grounded attitude. We quickly climbed back toward the center of the ship, where it was safer from the weather, at least. That was when we finally started meeting proper Shadow Broker Lair resistance. Nearly a dozen enemies stood in our way and I took a stunning bolt from one of the capacitors while we were taking them down. It was rough, but quick. None of us were playing around, hyper-vigilant because we knew who we were facing.
We had to stop twice more to make changes to the ship, retracting a couple of shields and one of the lightning rods that I wasn't sure we weren't going to miss later. A short tunnel later, we were at the entrance. Unsurprisingly, it was locked. At this point, I wasn't sure why we didn't just blast through the 'locked up' shuttle bay.
"Hang on," Liara told us, inspecting the door. "I've got a bypass shunt program that can crack it."
"How long will that take?"
She stepped back, the door glowing red. "I don't know, Shepard. I've never broken into the Shadow Broker's base before." She threw me a quick look before clarifying. "Well, not this one anyway." I gave her a good-natured little smile that she returned. Then we bunkered down to wait. They came from the left first and I made sure to keep clear of the lightning rod this time.
"You sure that shunt is working?" Shepard called, taking cover.
Liara's response was less than enthusiastic. "It's illegal even on Illium. It didn't come with a warranty."
He scowled as gunfire began to pepper the metal around us. "But you tested it, right?"
"Here come more of them!" she called, attempting to distract him and force him to focus on the battle at hand. It was not subtle and he didn't miss it.
"Tell me you tested it!"
"No time to talk!" I could hear the chuckle in her voice, even if it was a bit fuzzy over the comms. "I'm sure it won't be much longer!"
He sighed, but accepted that we would just have to wait and find out for this one. Hopefully we wouldn't die in the meantime, pinned down here as we were. "Remember the old days when you could just slap omni-gel on everything?"
"As a matter of fact, I don't," I injected, earning a round of quick laughs right before the Shadow Broker's guys flanked us. There were a lot more of them than I remembered and their shields were pretty legit, which was annoying. We tried to use the capacitors as much as possible to short these out, but they were getting smarter, staying away from the lightning rods as much as possible. They even sent a handful of drones from the twelve o'clock, but the wind proved too much for most of them.
Liara, however, wasn't convinced that we should be holding up as well as we were. "Their attacks are disorganized. They'd be more effective if they all attacked at once."
"Please don't give the mercs ideas."
Another probing attack from the eight o'clock was followed by: "The next wave looks like a big one."
"You just had to give them tactical advice." I tightened my hand on my pistol and re-checked my thermal clips. I would need to go hunting soon, though I was betting that the storm was taking most of them away. Whatever plan they had been making, it was going to start working really quickly here. A glance back at the door told me that the shunt wasn't finished yet.
"But now, there will be fewer to deal with inside." If we ever make it inside.
"Keep dreaming, T'Soni."
The next wave was indeed quite large and I thought I was a goner when one of those asari biotics got close and knocked me off my feet. For a second, I was convinced that I had been wrenched away into the sunset. Fortunately, my flight was shortened by the feeling of being struck in the chest by a wrecking ball. That was Liara, planting me firmly back onto the surface of the ship with her own biotics. Hurt like hell and I was separated from the team by a good distance—speaking to how close my call had just been—but I was alive and spared her a grateful nod as I weaved my way back to their position with a shot of medi-gel to quell the pain. Broken ribs. At least two.
By the time I got back, the hatch was open and Shepard briskly waved Liara and I inside.
It didn't take long for the welcoming party to show up and these guys had the real ordinance. Since they didn't have to combat the storm in here, they could get more bang for their buck. Literally. I dove for cover, trying to stay well clear of the rocket flying past until the medi-gel did its job. I couldn't stay out of the fight for long though and I switched to my sniper rifle for more power in the long hallway.
These guys were way better trained than the others, each very much N-school worthy. Between the rockets and their armor, they must have been well-paid for their services too. They weren't going down easy. The mercs maintained sufficient distance to prevent an effective use of grenades and although their vantage points were not pre-planned, they improvised overlapping fields of fire without hesitation. Because they were so spread out, it took forever just to advance a single step. Bullets spewed out of every nook and cranny of the damn place.
It was a slow advance, but Shepard's reputation wasn't for nothing and Liara was just as deadly as I remembered from the first game. Together, they ploughed on like a steamroller. "I've downloaded the ship's layout. We're headed toward the prison block…and Feron," Liara announced, fire pausing briefly as her aim was disturbed by her speech. It took a lot more shooting to make it to the right door and hack our way through, but it was worth it. Liara's drell friend was inside, only one pane of glass away.
It wasn't as happy a moment as we had hoped. If I hadn't known better, I'd have thought he was dead. But when the asari called for him, he answered.
Relief flooded her face and she took off at a sprint for the monitor. "Hold on—we're getting you out of here!"
I frowned as she began to investigate the system, exchanging looks with Shepard. There was no way it would be this easy. Something was wrong. Our suspicions were confirmed when Feron released a choked protest. We both opened our mouths to tell her to stop, but it was too late, sparks erupted and Feron began to scream.
Liara's face immediately morphed into a look of horror and she backed away, suddenly terrified of setting off the machine again.
It took several moments for the drell to compose himself enough to speak. When he did, his voice was dry and scratchy. "This chair plugs into the Broker's info network. You have to shut off the power. Pull me out now, and my brain cooks."
Alarmed, Liara began to perform scans to examine his condition as innocuously as possible. Her face was the picture of heartbreak. "Do you know where we can cut the power?"
"It won't be easy," he grunted. "You'll have to get to central operations."
Shepard tried to ask him a few questions, but each time he did, Feron would be interrupted by the torture again. So he settled for a comforting: "Easy or not, we're all getting out of here."
The drell took a second to be relieved by that—hopeful even. I imagine it wasn't an emotion that he'd been able to afford for a very long time. "Central operations is down the hall. You know the Shadow Broker's waiting for you, right?"
"I'm counting on it," Shepard growled menacingly as he examined the equipment once more. That was when I noticed that the drell was giving him a strange look. I suppose that made sense, he'd played a part in the recovery of Shepard's body after he died. After two years, I'd forgotten the exact details, but Jacob's words at the lab had been 'meat and tubes'. Seeing the Commander here, whole and very much alive. It must have been freaking him out. Though it was fitting. Feron had rescued Shepard, now we were returning the favor.
"We'll be back for you, Feron!"
When they'd finished their conversation, they moved back to the door, where I'd waited to make sure that we wouldn't be interrupted. I'd heard movement outside so I brandished my weapon, giving a quiet: "At least three." Shepard nodded at me to open it and I unleashed the beast on five poor mercs who were all that stood between him and the Shadow Broker.
The operations room was dimly lit when we arrived, illuminated only by the Eezo tank above. It didn't quite touch the furthest corners of the space, which seemed too large to make an effective workplace The amount of walking he must have had to do between workstations had to have impacted his efficiency. Though, I suppose it made sense, considering he probably lived in this tiny office, in which case it was much too small. He positioned himself behind a desk, huge fingers steepled, though the relatively unthreatening posture did nothing to take away from his imposing figure. He was still massive—a full foot taller than Shepard (the tallest member of our current team) even while seated and several times wider. He must have been at least 800 pounds, and carried it with relative ease, meaning that it was mostly muscle. And he didn't flinch at the weapons we had in his face.
"Here for the drell?" his low, croaking voice inquired. Of course, it was rhetorical. "Reckless. Even for you, Commander."
Shepard met his gaze with a biting glare. "Not reckless, just determined. Ask your asari Spectre about that."
"Vasir was expendable," came the nonchalant reply. "All her death cost me was time."
Liara spoke up next, clearly much more affected by this that the Commander. "Expendable like Feron?" There was grief, anger, and disgust welled up in her normally so gentle voice.
The Broker turned to her next, voice hardening somewhat, like a parent scolding a child. "Dr. T'Soni. Your interference caused all this. Feron betrayed me when he handed you Shepard's body. The drell is simply paying the price." Her heart seemed to break even further when her involvement was thrown back into her face.
But Shepard would have none of that. Feron's pain had been cause by the Shadow Broker and no one else. "Someone was bound to come after you for working with the Collectors."
I hadn't thought that the Broker's voice could get colder, but it did. "It was a mutually beneficial partnership. Your arrival is convenient. The Collectors' offer still stands. Now, enough talk. My operations are too crucial to be compromised by a traitor.
That emotion bolstered Liara. It was weakness. "You're quite confident for someone with nowhere left to hide."
Not to be outdone, he went for Liara's own vulnerabilities. Me. Damn. "You travel with fascinating companions, doctor. The science experiment turned amateur information broker. You friend will be worth quite a lot to the right people."
My eyes narrowed to vicious slits. I was right. He did know who had used me as a guinea pig. "And who might those people be?"
He gave a short, humorless laugh. "Perhaps we can discuss that, after you kill Shepard and T'Soni."
I gave an open snarl that was so animalistic that it took me by surprise. "I will have my answers, Shadow Broker. Your compliance is not an issue."
He tried to brush it off, but there was something in his spine that stiffened defensively. Instinctually. "It's pointless to challenge me, human. I know your every secret, while you fumble in the dark."
I was tempted to steal some of Liara's lines. I was and amateur xenobiologist, after all. But she delivered them so much better than I could. And I watched with mounting satisfaction as she let him have it.
"Is that right? You're a yahg, a pre-spaceflight species quarantined to their homeworld for massacring the Council's first contact teams." His ears twitched in displeasure as he listened to the surety in her tone. "This base is older than your planet's discovery, which probably means you killed the original Shadow Broker sixty years ago, then took over. I'm guessing you were taken from your world by a trophy hunter who wanted a slave…." His every muscle tensed further which each word that slipped off of the asari's smirking lips. "…or a pet. How am I doing?"
Gotta give it to the girl. She was just as good at analysis as I was—better, even, because she was doing it in the middle of a battle. The Broker didn't look impressed, though. Just pissed. As we watched, taking little retreating steps, he stood to his full, impossible height. He seemed to fill the entire room and I felt my breathing hitch with a touch of claustrophobia.
Then, something completely unexpected happened. He broke the desk just like in the games and chucked a piece of it, but something went wrong. He didn't hit me and knock me unconscious. Of course not, I'd been ready.
But he did knock out Shepard and Liara.
I tore my gaze from the alien to throw a few glances at my team, who just lay there, unmoving and helpless among the broken shards of the desk. No…. No, no, no, no, no. It wasn't supposed to happen this way! They were the ones who brawled with the Broker. What the hell was I supposed to do all by myself? I was gonna get creamed! Of all the times for Mass Effect to break script, why now?!
He took advantage of my distraction to pull out a massive assault rifle and take a few shots.
Still panicked, I dove for cover and returned fire. It wasn't any conscious decision to do so—I wasn't sure I wanted to stay and fight this one out. But it wasn't an instinct that I was going to complain about, especially since my normal flight response was inhibited by my unresponsive team and the thought of Feron strapped to that torture device.
And my information.
I wanted that info.
I very rarely gathered my secrets directly. People lied. They lied all the time, about simple stuff that didn't even matter. They lied about everything. Cameras didn't. They just watched. They were safe and reliable. But I had a better interrogation technique now. This prothean thing. It would get me what I needed. I just had to fight for it.
So I made my decision. Loading a fresh thermal clip, I blasted the Shadow Broker's shields and armor, taking them down. He clearly wasn't all that experienced in a fight, not that it was easy. His gear was top of the line. But it was also armor for a yahg. I didn't imagine anyone sold much of those, which meant that the Broker's suit must have been one of a kind, a prototype. One that needed a little testing.
He stumbled slightly as his armor began to fail but I knew that it wasn't over, so I quickly planted a camera in case I needed a different vantage point later and changed to a different covered position. That was when he activated his kinetic barrier. I wasted several rounds of disrupter ammo before getting it through my thick skill that it wasn't even pretending to do damage. The rounds just ricocheted off, leaving scorch marks on the walls, ceiling, and one unnervingly close to Shepard's head. Yeah. That was enough of that. New plan.
The only way to get through that shield was by using a more hands-on approach, so I charge. He allowed it, relying far too much on a barrier that he had only been told was impenetrable. Paper-pusher. But still, a huge, bulky one. My training at Lenny's had taught me a lot about myself, like that my punches were never going to be as strong as Shepard's were in the game. I wasn't going to be beating any yahg's face in, not until I'd had practice using their anatomy against them. So I quickly clipped my pistol back to my belt, clasped both fists together, and brought them up under his chin in a stunning strike. It worked for a second, allowing me to quickly pull out my new favorite little welding tool and drive it into the brain of his shield harness. It fizzled and popped in response, though I had little time to enjoy my success.
I didn't see the omni-shield until I had already slammed back into the pillar I'd charged from. The blow was jarring and I felt my shoulder plate on my armor crack. The air also 'whoosh'ed out of my lungs with a surprisingly audible grunt.
He didn't allow me to recover my breath. With his shields out of commission, he wasn't going to take any chances dragging this out. Besides, I had closed the distance and his size gave him a hefty advantage at that range. He didn't want to lose that. So he charged again and I just managed to roll out of the way of one big foot and claw my way to the next pillar, which proved to be much less helpful than I'd hoped. He slammed into the pillar hard, destroying it and raining pieces of rock down on me.
I tried hiding behind one of his workstations next, hoping that he would be less inclined to destroy that, but I was wrong. Sight turning black, I felt the entire structure shiver and then slide across the floor with the shriek of metal-on-metal. Finally, a gasp let some air in, but it was too-little, too-late. A giant hand seized me by the left shoulder and gave me a toss across the room, dislocating the limb.
I was back, though, and brought my pistol back to bear, taking a few shots before leaping up the stairs at the back of the room. Hopefully, they would slow any more charges he might try to make. I aimed for his right foot, too, for the same reasons. His omni-shield wasn't even getting scratched by my rounds, but I was a pretty good shot if I do say so myself and was able to aim around it. His vitals, of course, were all still well-protected, so that was going to make this fight a little longer.
I didn't take long for him to recognize that he was in trouble, so he powered up his kinetic barriers again and I stood there with one arm useless, wondering if I should fall for it again. I saw his panting start to slow and ceased hesitating. He was just administering medigel to himself, healing up, and the more time I gave him to do it, the tougher this was going to get. So I sprinted forward.
It was a bit of a suicide charge.
There was no real plan, I just dove in. Instinct had me sliding under his shield bash and slamming my pistol down onto his damaged foot. He dropped with a roar of pain and I slammed it into the back of his head next before sticking the barrel to his neck, too close for the kinetic shielding to stop my bullet. He choked and coughed up sprays of blue before collapsing.
It was over then and I didn't realize until I saw all of the blood that I'd just mad a huge mistake. My data! I dropped my weapon and used my teeth to wrench the glove off of my good hand. The coppery taste of the Shadow Broker's blood was difficult to ignore and released a new burst of adrenaline. Leaning one knee on his back to make sure that he wasn't getting up, I reached down and touched his exposed face.
The prothean DNA did its job and, for better or worse, he was still alive…for the moment.
I had expected to see whatever it was that he was thinking—that had been the pattern thus far—but I had underestimated the yahg. His mind was so alien and it wasn't until that moment that I realized that I'd only ever used this little technique on humans before. Dr. Chakwas, Jack, Joker. The Broker's mind was so vast and incomprehensible that I was certain I would never find my way out again. I was utterly lost within him.
Flashes of images and whispers of names hinted that even now, in death, he still thought of work. His contacts, his operations. A massive to-do list of things he would never accomplish formed and he seemed a little sad about this. No. More than sad. Devastated. Everything that he had worked for. It was all gone because of that meddling asari and her pet drell. It was failing, though, the darkness creeping in on the corners of his mind. I felt him dying. I wondered if I would go with him.
I tried to grab onto something solid, something real, but it was difficult. I only had vague awareness of my own body. I clumsily moved my knee up to the neck to put pressure on his wound. "Who did this to me?!" my voice demanded, though it was so far away I wondered if anyone even heard it.
Evidently the Shadow Broker did. There was a complete and utter defeat, like nothing I'd ever felt before. I would find out eventually, going through his files. I had won. And he had lost. Finally, this cruel galaxy that had kidnapped and caged him and tortured him. They'd finally gotten everything they wanted from him. He was a broken yahg. A lifeless sack of flesh. A slave.
The information that floated to the forefront of his mind was obedient and robotic and I felt a resounding disgust at that part I had played in making someone feel this way. I almost didn't want to look at the information.
I did, though. I saw it…and I understood nothing. It was so garbled and unrecognizable that it must have been written—been spoken—in another language. Maybe it was. But there was one thing I was able to catch. An image. A symbol. A white double helix arched over a disk with some sort of little flame in the middle, all set against a royal blue background. I barely got a look at it before it began to pale and fade. The Broker was passing. Quietly. Despondently. Almost dead already.
Again, I felt a deep loathing of myself for crushing this creature all the way down to his soul. What kind of person was I that I was capable of this? I had to do something to comfort him.
So I did the only thing I could think of, I asked him to remember the storm. The strength of it. The wonder. No person was that powerful. No one could ever be that powerful. That was God.
He took the image like it was his lifeline. He clung to it. It spread to be his only focus. The wind raging, pulling at his large body, completely undeterred by his size. The snap of electricity in the air. The feeling of warm and cold at war on the skin of his face. Pure white light tore through the sky blinding.
And then darkness.
We were dead.