Chapter Twenty-Four - Getting to Know You
Therum, Knossos System
April 11, 2183
Therum was not a kind planet. It was a scorched ball of rock that was just a bit too close to the sun for comfort for the majority of species in the galaxy, but archeologists were not normal. They were willing to brave environments that no sane person would get anywhere near, all to dig around in the dirt for any Prothean artifacts. Therum just happened to have one of the larger groupings that anyone had found. There had yet to be any beacons discovered, but what had been found had lead to small, but significant advances in technology.
Liara T'Soni couldn't have been happier to leave her mother's clutches and escape to the planet as soon as she had graduated from the University of Serrice. She had been there ever since, and she hadn't spoken to her mother ever since.
In other words, it was nice.
At least, it had been nice until the machines had invaded, killed the rest of her archeology team, and she'd stranded herself in one of the holding cells to keep the same from happening to her. There might have been a Krogan there somewhere, but she wasn't sure. Her memory was getting… spotty.
Surprisingly, it was the boredom that was getting to her most. Liara had thought in the first day that it would have been the hunger or the thirst, but that had proved not to be the case. The first day she'd been too scared and full of adrenaline to be bored, but after that, she'd lost all sense of time. She'd bet that it had been maybe six or seven days since then, and she knew that she was getting close to the end.
After the adrenaline had worn off, Liara had spent the next three days or so just staring at the mass effect field that was keeping her suspended in… whatever the hell this room was. The shimmering patterns had mesmerized her more than she'd ever be willing to admit if she survived. It was at that point that the most embarrassing thing about the entire situation reared its ugly head.
Simply put, she had no choice but to relieve herself where she was suspended. It only took another day to get over the smell.
Whatever day it was, it didn't even matter to her anymore. She had at most another day, maybe two, and then she'd become part of the dig as a more permanent addition.
"Little Wing, why do you fight against me?"
Struggling to focus, Liara looked up to find her mother standing before her, flanked by two of those damn machines. It took her a moment to even make the connection that her mother was there.
"What…" She licked her chapped lips. She sighed, feeling more tired than she ever had before. "Why are you doing this?"
"You always were such a rebellious child." Benezia looked at her like one might view the exhibits at a museum. It made Liara feel unsettled, and she had to look away from her mother's piercing eyes. "Always pushing at the boundaries and leaning on the rules. You never were content to just follow the path set before you. Look where your actions have brought you now."
Liara was too tired to fight. Too tired to argue.
"You will submit." Her eyes narrowing, Benezia pursed her lips. "You will join me."
Liara wanted to cry, but she had no tears left to waste.
An explosion above drew their attention, and Liara wondered for a moment whether she was hallucinating it. It wouldn't be the first incident.
"Someone is fighting you," Liara said, glancing at her mother. She said it as a fact, with no gloating involved. There was no reason to gloat. Her mother never travelled without her commandos, and Liara had seen them training many times when she still lived on Thessia. She wasn't going to bet on anyone if they were against the commandos.
"They will fail." Benezia tightly smiled, clasping her hands behind her back. She had a vaguely smug look on her face. "Your fate is already sealed. Even now, the Geth are coming to retrieve you."
"I'd rather die." Liara was surprised to realize that, that was the truth. What was wrong with her that she would rather die than return to her mother's clutches?
"You will never get the chance." Benezia sniffed, turning her nose up ever so slightly.
Gunfire, violent, and constant. It slowly trickled away, before falling completely silent. Benezia smirked, proud in her victory. "Your 'savior' has already perished. It is only a matter of time until we get through the barrier, and then you will come with me."
Liara had nothing to say. What could she say? Her mother was always right, after all.
The next thing she knew, Liara winced at the screeching of gears and metal scraping against metal.
Footsteps on the scaffolding above. Liara tried to peer up, but that was a futile attempt. The bubble held her completely immobile. A minute passed, and her mother had wandered off somewhere else, leaving her alone. She cherished every moment of the quiet. A bit of peace before she rejoined Athame sounded nice to her.
Before she could ponder that thought any further, Liara could only blink when a group of nearly every common alien in Citadel Space walks into her view. Human, Equestrian, Turian, Quarian, and a Krogan.
Obviously, she was hallucinating. "Oh... Well, this isn't good."
"Liara T'Soni?" One of the humans asked, a female, if Liara wasn't mistaken.
"I didn't think I was at the hallucination stage yet…" Liara mumbled, frowning. A shiver passed up her spine, and she had the sudden urge to itch the small of her back.
"Liara," The human repeated.
"How long have I been in here?" Frowning, Liara chewed on her bottom lip, trying to puzzle it out. "I thought it was only six days…"
"Has it actually been that long?" Liara scrunched up her nose, wondering if her math was correct. Being underground, there was no way to watch the movement of the sun. It was an infuriating thing.
"Liara!" The human shouted, and Liara focused her attention fully on her for the first time. Meeting the human's eyes, she frowned as something ran through her, a shock of recognition. Her heart jumped just a little, and she felt scared, though she could think of no reason why.
"I'm Commander Riley Shepard, a Council Spectre," the human, Riley apparently, said, with no concern for the world shattering feelings that were filling Liara. "I'm here to take you into protective custody."
Riley stared at her.
Liara blinked again.
"There aren't any human Spectres," was the only thing that Liara could think to say.
"It's a recent development," Riley said, half scowling. She glanced away, but looked back to meet Liara's eyes quickly. "But it doesn't matter. Are you working with Benezia T'Soni?"
Liara blinked again, totally out of it. A wave of dizziness overcame her, and black spots filled her vision.
Riley looked Liara up and down, and the young Asari suddenly felt embarrassed by the state of her cleanliness. Well… the lack of, at least. She must have been such a sight. If she wasn't on the verge of oblivion, she was sure that she would have thrown up at the sight of herself.
"How do we get you out of here?" Riley asked, a tone of long suffering filling her voice.
"What does it matter?" Her tone was as good as a shrug. Liara looked away from her vision. "You're just a hallucination anyway."
Riley turned to look at the rest of her squad. Though she wasn't talking to Liara, the Asari still listened in to what she was saying. "Right, she's not going to be any help. We'll have to find out own way to get her out."
Riley and her squad walked out of Liara's view, leaving the young Asari on her own once again.
Liara was silent for a moment, staring at where her hallucination used to be. "Huh…" She unfocused, staring at nothingness. It was just a hallucination after all. It was just better to get back to her own thoughts, and the regrets and dreams she would never fulfill.
Silence. Blessed silence.
The gunfire started again, and Liara flinched at the sound. It went on for what seemed like forever, until a massive explosion ended it all. It shook the ruins so hard that Liara's bubble was jostled by the movement. She cried out in surprise, eyes wide, unable to look around and see what was happening.
Silence again. For once, Liara wasn't content to let her hallucinations ramble through her mind, but she was powerless to do anything about it.
Small tremors started to shake the world around her, the ruin destabilizing. Death by starvation and dehydration was one thing, but being crushed too death… it was not something that she ever wanted to experience. The ruins were unlucky enough to sit above several magma tubes, and before the attack, the archeology team had had several close calls with almost awakening the volcano.
She could do nothing else but whimper, terrified for her eventual fate.
"Who's there?" Liara asked, startling at the unexpected voice, trying to look over her shoulder to see who had spoken to her, but failed miserably. "How did you get past the barrier?"
"I just spoke to you, T'Soni." The voice, Riley, if Liara wasn't mistaken, said. "I'm Commander Shepard, Spectre."
So she was right.
"How did you get past the barrier?" Even as the question passed her lips, Liara wondered just why she was asking that. There were so many other pressing things that needed to addressed. The foremost in her mind being, 'by the goddess, you're real?'
"Mining laser," Riley answered, still behind her and out of view.
More tremors shook the dig site.
"Probably not the smartest idea," a new voice spoke up, feminine as well, at least to the best of Liara's understanding.
"This is a strange hallucination." Swallowing, Liara regretted doing that instantly. She had no saliva in her mouth, and it felt like sandpaper rubbing violently down her throat. "I must be nearing the end."
"I didn't think it would be like this…" She frowned.
"Liara, focus." Riley's voice cut through the din of confusion in Liara's mind. "How do we get you out of here?"
"On the panel there," Liara managed to point with her finger, curling the rest of her hand into a fist, one of the few movements she could make, at the control panel. "One of the buttons should release me. Not that it will do anything. I don't know why my mind is being so cruel to myself."
"She's crazy," the other voice spoke up again. She sounded annoyed, like the very effort of being in this situation was a boredom to her. "We should just leave her. She's not going to be any help. Again."
"I'll decide that, Rainbow," Riley said, firm. She shut up the other voice without a problem.
Riley stepped into Liara's peripheral vision and started fiddling with the console. She was really nothing more than a blob, but it was one of the most welcome sights that Liara had seen in the past week. A flickering holo display flared to life and Riley pressed the largest button.
Liara screamed at the sudden return of gravity on her body, and she plummeted to the ground. She hit the floor hard, and the air was forced out of her lungs. Before she could even catch her breath, she vomited all over Riley's shoes, mostly just bile.
To her embarrassment, she started to pass out.
Just before she blacked out completely, she felt the pressure of a being far vaster than her encompassing her mind, and a sense of the cold deep.
Riley pulled off her helmet, taking a deep breath of the cool, recycled air of the Normandy. Her armor had a personal climate system, but no amount of technology was going to keep out the heat of an exploding volcano.
"That was a little too close Commander. Ten more seconds and we would've been swimming in molten sulphur." Joker's voice rang out over the ship's intercom. "The Normandy isn't equipped to land in exploding volcanoes. They tend to fry our sensors and melt our hull. Just for future reference."
The sound of something solid hitting flesh echoed over the intercom, and Riley snickered to herself, picturing what just happened.
"Please forgive my partner. He means you're welcome," Spitfire said over the intercom. Her annoyance was as plain as the day for everyone to hear.
Behind her, the rest of her team was following Riley's example as she stripped out of her armor to her body suit underneath, everyone except for Wrex, who had Liara slung over his shoulders.
"Where do you want sleeping beauty, Shepard?" He grumbled, glancing at her. The Asari's slight weight was nothing to him, but he would like the chance to get something to eat. It was a little difficult to grab food with someone on his shoulders.
"The infirmary." Riley glanced back at him, before nodding at him to follow her. "We'll let Dr. Chakwas deal with her."
"Works for me." Wrex shrugged, shifting Liara's weight as she started to slide from his shoulder.
They left the others behind to secure the Mako as the doors to the elevator slid closed. With a push of a button, Riley started the elevators laborious journey up to the crew deck.
"Sweet Celestia!" Within ten seconds, she was already growing bored. "I'm going to make someone pimp this damn thing out."
Wrex said nothing. He just shifted Liara's weight on his shoulders again. She was deceptively slippery on his armor.
Riley thought for a moment, staring at Liara's face. The Asari was young, without any of the facial tattoos that others of her species often gathered over the course of their long lives. It was more than a little adorable how she had a pair of what appeared to be eyebrows above her eyes, but closer inspection just revealed them to be natural coloration in her skin. Her skin was a pale blue, finely scaled, but how much of that was because of her ordeal, and how much of it was her normal look was something that Riley didn't know.
"Do you think it was a bad idea to bring her onboard?" Riley asked, turning her attention to Wrex.
"She is the daughter of one of the most powerful matriarchs on Thessia, who by all accounts is loyal to Saren and whatever cause it is he's decided to follow." Wrex grunted, thinking it over. "It's a little crazy, yeah."
Wrex bounced Liara on his shoulder until the Asari's face was turned as if she was looking at Riley. "On the other hand, she's barely out of her teenage years with almost no social skills to speak of, and from the looks of it, the geth weren't too happy with her refusal to come with them."
He paused, meeting Riley's gaze. "Whatever happens, I'd say you should talk to her first. She's young and naive. It won't take long to find where her loyalties lie."
"You say that like it's easy." Rolling her eyes, Riley crossed her arm under her breasts.
"It will be." Wrex sounded completely confident. "I've had to deal with little pyjaks like her before."
"You know I'm going to blame you if this all goes wrong, don't you?"
"I've had worse." Wrex shrugged, not at all worried.
Riley snorts, shaking her head and rolling her eyes.
Liara snorted, startling Riley, and she dry heaved all over the front of Wrex's armor. Nothing came out (the by product of having eaten nothing in the past week), and she blinked blearily, struggling to shade her eyes against the 'blinding' light of the elevator.
"What…" She groaned, feeling queasy again already.
"Dr. T'Soni, are you alright?" Riley was careful to keep her voice quiet. She didn't know whether Liara had a headache or not, but she knew how she felt after not eating for a few days. Loud noises were never good.
"I don't... What…" She blinked, squinting her eyes as she tried to focus on Riley. "Where am I? What's happening?"
"You're safe, Doctor." Riley smiled, trying to be a friendly and comforting as possible. "You're on an Alliance ship and we're taking you to the infirmary."
"Infirmary?" She rolled the word over in her mouth, like she'd never heard it before. "Alliance ship?"
"You're safe, Doctor," Riley said, stepping closer, meeting Liara's crystal blue eyes with her own. "And you're in shock. Just stay with me and everything will be alright."
"Who…Who are you?" Liara asked. She wasn't able to see much more than blurs.
"I'm Commander Shepard. I was leading the team that rescued you from the ruins."
Liara whimpered, a chill passing through her. She remembered the cool nights on Thessia, and she reached out instinctively, placing a hand on Riley's shoulder. Where was her mother? Where were her comforting words, the warmth of her embrace. Her mind sitting on the edge of consciousness and unconsciousness, she reached out for childhood comfort, and melded!
Her sleep wasn't peaceful, but she was resting like only those who had been exhausted beyond human capacity could. A deep, dreamless sleep—
I see the moon,
The moon sees me.
God bless the moon,
and God bless me.
She screamed as she was pulled from her bed, grabbing hands stripping her naked and dragging her through the darkness. Before she could even think to react, a biotic restraint was slapped around her neck, and she growled in anger.
Before she could gather her wits, she was lifted from the ground and tossed into a dark room. The smell hit her first. The stench of death and blood and rotting meat. Blood filled her mouth as she tried to scramble up on the slippery floor, struggling to get any traction as she felt stringy meat dragging over her.
I see the stars,
The stars see me.
God bless the stars,
and God bless me.
This is what death tasted like. There were things you did not talk about in "N" school.
Her leg couldn't stop bouncing, a cold cup of coffee in her hands. They had been waiting for hours, and there hadn't been so much as an update from any of the doctors or nurses. Beside her, Rainbow was preening one of her wings, busy work.
The piercing cry of a newborn echoed from through the closed doors. Somehow, she just knew.
She jumped out of her chair, Rainbow following suite. They both watched the doors, waiting. Sure enough, her father emerged, still dressed in his scrubs, a triumphant, proud smile on his face.
I see the world,
The world sees me.
God bless the world,
And God bless me.
The small, orange pegasus filly cradled in her hands gave a quiet coo, and she felt her heart melt. Running her fingers through the short purple mane, the filly nuzzled closer to her chest, an ear listening to the gentle thump of her heart.
Baby sister. She would protect her with her life. No one would ever make her cry.
She lay motionless on the top of a steepled church, a strange thing to find on a colony planet. Elysium had a surprisingly large religious gathering. It wasn't important, but she was thankful for the buildings design. It had already saved her more than a few times.
The butt of her sniper rifle was tight against her shoulder.
She took a deep breath.
"This group is alone," Rainbow said, her voice crackling through the comms they had managed to scrounge up.
She glanced up at a lone cloud loitering over the town several hundred feet into the air. The raiders hadn't even thought to suspect mother nature might work against them.
"Roger that," she responded, voice just a whisper.
She let out all the air in her lungs, relaxing.
Through the scope, she watched as one of the raider's heads burst like a melon, the bullet continuing down through him and through the chest of the turian behind him.
She sat at the kitchen table, a pile of waffles sitting defiantly in front of her. She watched her mother and father, flirting near the stove. Next to her, Rainbow was pulling seconds onto her plate, pouring even more syrup over them.
I know an angel
Watches over me.
God bless the angels,
And God bless me.
Darkness surrounded her. Looking up, she found the Citadel hanging above her, the ward arms burning. Protheans died by the billions around her, screaming in terror as their flesh stripped itself from their bodies.
Billions and trillions of stars disappeared from the night sky, until all that was left was darkness. The Mass Relays were all that were left, silently spinning in the forever void.
A ship, massive and unsettling, like a great creature of the deep, reached out for her with the great arms under its hull.
A ROAR shook her to her very core as the ocean crashed over her, pulling her into the deep and the cold, and the dark.
Everything turned to black…
Riley jerked back as the meld ended, her heart pounding as she stared at Liara in confusion and a whole bunch of other emotions that she didn't quite understand.
Liara managed to look up at her with wide, admiring eyes, her mouth open as if she wanted to speak, but before she could, she fell unconscious again.
Riley looked to Wrex for any idea of what just happened, struggling to get her breathing back under control.
"A meld." He helpfully supplied. "It's an Asari thing. They can merge their nervous systems or something like that."
"Huh…" She looked at Liara cautiously, not at all comfortable with the idea of having someone else rooting through her mind. "Can they…"
"What, control your mind?" Wrex laughed, shaking his head. "No. That'd be magic."
"And that wasn't?" Riley asked disbelieving, pointing at Liara.
"It's science." Wrex shrugged. He sounded far too comfortable with what had just happened. Damn krogan. "Weird science, but science all the same."
"Right, freaky brain magic is science," Riley said more to herself than to Wrex.
"Just be on the lookout for if your brain starts to ooze out your ears."
"That happens?" She asked, suddenly feeling a lot less comfortable with herself than she did a moment ago.
"What do I know?" Wrex shrugged. "I'm just a krogan."
"Real comforting there, Wrex." Riley scowled at him. If looks could kill… He'd probably just have a bad sunburn.
Wrex just laughed as the doors finally opened to the crew deck.
"Dear god!" Riley exclaimed, raising her hands in disbelief. "Whoever designed this thing deserves to get shot!"
Relieved, Riley and Wrex stepped out onto the crew deck, taking a left to go to the infirmary.
Dr. Chakwas looked up from her book and pulled off her reading glasses as the three of them entered, looking them over with slightly judgmental eyes.
"Commander." Chakwas greeted, sounding both welcoming and long suffering at the same time. She stood, walking over to look at Liara. "Is this the good doctor?"
"Say hello to Doctor Liara T'Soni, Doctor Chakwas." Riley set her hands on her hips, stepping aside so Wrex could lumber further into the infirmary.
He set Liara down on the closest med-bay to Chakwas, and the Doctor walked over to start examining her.
"She was stuck without food and water for at least a few days." Riley watched as Chakwas fired up her omni-tool and started scanning the Asari.
"Should I use restraints?" Chakwas asked, looking at Riley. She might have been a doctor, but the Normandy was an Alliance vessel. Some of the patients she had to treat required a… different level of care.
Riley had to think about that for a moment, before shaking her head. Whatever that meld was… she somehow just knew that Liara wasn't going to be a problem. "She's not going to be able to hurt a fly for awhile... And she's not a threat to us."
Chakwas studied her, before nodding in understanding. "Yes, Commander."
"Let me know if she wakes up. I need to speak with her as soon as possible."
"Of course, Commander." Chakwas nodded in understanding, but she was already turning her attention fully to her new patient.
Riley lingered for a moment, before turning and leaving the infirmary.
They were just in time to see the rest of the ground team emerge from the elevator, having had time to change into their regular clothing. A bead of sweat made its way down Riley's back, and she remembered that she was still wearing her under suit. Changing into real clothes would have to take a back seat until after the mission debriefing.
"Briefing room." Together, they headed up the stairs to the CIC, heading into the briefing room.
Riley was the last to enter, strolling to the front of the room, past all of the others seated in the chairs around her.
"What's up with the Asari?" Rainbow spoke up, stretching her neck and then her wings, before adjusting the fit of her uniform.
"She's an innocent." Riley didn't even have to guess Rainbow's response. She knew exactly what it was going to be.
"And how do you know that?" Rainbow Dash scoffed, confirming Riley's knowledge of her.
"The sins of the mother aren't the sins of her children." Leaning back against the railing at the back of the room, Riley crossed her arms, staring down her little sister.
Rainbow looked skeptical, but she didn't argue any further.
"Any thoughts from the mission?" Riley asked, turning her attention to the rest of her team.
"What does Saren want with the Doctor?" Kaidan leaned forward, resting his chin on his hands. "Do you think she knows something about the conduit?"
"I'll have to ask her when she wakes up." It was a good question. "I think we can safely assume that Saren is interested in what she might know about the Protheans."
"Seems a pretty safe bet," Wrex said, his voice a deep rumble.
"Saren knew you used the beacon on Eden Prime," Garrus spoke up. He leaned back in his seat, one of his legs casually crossed over the other. He massaged the spine of his leg, rubbing out the aches from his armor. "It makes sense that he would go after Dr. T'Soni if he had as little understanding of it as you do. He probably thought she could help him."
"I agree." Riley nodded. It was good to know her team was on the ball.
A ding on the console behind them alerted them to a call coming through from Joker.
"The mission reports are filed, Commander. Do you want me to patch you through to the Council? We're approaching a Comm Buoy."
"You're dismissed." Riley looked at the rest of her crew, before turning to face the holo-display. "Patch me through, Joker."
As the rest of the crew left the briefing room to get food, a hot shower, and rest, Joker patched Riley through to the Citadel Council. The holograms at the front of the room flickered to life, before showing the Council logo, spinning slowly in midair.
"Please hold for the Council." A soft voice spoke, feminine. Riley had a feeling she'd be getting very familiar to hearing it now that she was a Spectre.
Thankfully, the hold signal lasted only for a few moments, and the logo was replaced by an aide to the council, an asari.
"Spectre Shepard," she greeted, nodding to Riley.
Riley nodded right back, but she didn't say anything.
"Patching you through to the Council, Spectre."
The Council logo appeared again, and Riley wondered at why the aide was even needed. It seemed a bit redundant to her. She sighed, shuffling on her feet as she waited.
With another quiet ding, the logo was replaced by the three Councilors.
"Spectre Shepard, we just got your reports," Councilor Tevos said, calmly meeting Riley's gaze. "I understand that you've brought Dr. T'Soni onboard?"
"I assume you're taking the necessary security precautions?" Of course Sparatus was concerned about mission security. It was practically in his job description as a Turian.
"Dr. T'Soni is on our side." Riley didn't have to prove herself or how she ran her mission to anyone, but it wouldn't hurt to keep the Council informed. "The geth were trying to kill her."
"Benezia would never allow Saren to kill her daughter." Tevos frowned, confused by that information. "They've never had a particularly close relationship, but she would protect her to any end."
"Maybe she doesn't know," Valern suggested, rubbing his chin.
"Or maybe you don't know her as well as you think you do, Tevos." Sparatus shot a glare at the Asari councilor. "We never expected that she could be a traitor."
"At least the mission was a success." Valern interjected before an argument could erupt, probably a frequent thing considering the speed at which he spoke. Riley got the feeling that he played the mediator to Sparatus' and Tevos' more explosive personalities.
"If you call a success the utter destruction of an important prothean ruin. Not a shining start to your career, Spectre Shepard." Sparatus was such a cheery fellow.
"The geth were crawling all over the ruins. We were all lucky to make it out alive." Sparatus didn't intimidate her at all. He might have been powerful, but he was all posturing.
"Of course, Spectre. The mission must always take priority." Valern nodded, understanding. He shot a glare at Sparatus. Both of them knew that other Spectres frequently caused more collateral damage on their missions. What reason was their to call out Riley?
"We have new information for you, Shepard. Matriarch Benezia was spotted traveling to Noveria, and she has yet to leave." Thankfully, Tevos moved on from the argument.
"Thank you for the information, Councilor." Riley nodded.
"Good luck, Spectre." Tevos gave a nod.
"Remember, Shepard. We're all watching you." Sparatus couldn't resist a final parting comment.
The Council disappeared from the holograms, leaving Riley alone in the briefing room. She scowled at the spot where Sparatus was standing moments before.
"What an ass," she muttered, before taking a deep breath and letting all her bad feelings disappear.
Opening her omni-tool, Riley opened a channel to Joker. "Joker, set a course for Noveria."