Well hello! Over a year it's been! Sorry, guys, always with the excuses, but battling depression doesn't exactly leave you with much inspiration. And whatever inspiration I have gotten this last year has mostly gone into writing my very own original novel. But I was watching some Mass Effect gameplay on YouTube the other day and got an urge to work on this. I didn't stop at the usual chapter length, either. I felt you guys deserved something extra for being so patient with me.
Also, I don't know when I'll be able to get the next chapter up. Hopefully this inspiration sticks, and I'll be able to crank at least one more chapter out before my birthday.
Anyway, enjoy this very, very, very late chapter!
Harry didn't like this. He should have been happy. The cure for Joker's brittle-bone disease had been synthesized, he got plenty of praise from Mordin, and there was talk about going back to Illium to help Liara T'Soni find the Shadow Broker. He should have been ecstatic.
Yet, he wasn't.
Samara had been too quiet since they came back from Omega. It wasn't too much of a surprise, really. She had just killed her own daughter. It was natural that she would be upset about it. Unfortunately, Harry wasn't the greatest at comforting people, so he was feeling sort of stumped. A normal loss, sure, he'd offer his own opinion on the topic of death, but this was a new scenario...
"You look tired."
Harry, sitting in the mess and picking at his food, looked up to see Shepard sitting down across from him. She had been sticking close to him lately, he'd noticed. In any case, he nodded.
"Yeah, it's Samara," he told her, noticing how Shepard's expression somewhat hardened.
"What about her?"
"She just killed her own daughter, and I have no idea how to comfort her," Harry explained.
Shepard had been smiling, though it seemed a bit colder than usual, but that smile dropped as soon as he said that.
"Well, maybe she just needs some time alone?"
"Perhaps so. And maybe I'm not the best choice when it comes to this. I did bring Morinth's corpse back to the ship for study..." Harry muttered, crossing his arms. "While it will be useful in treating the Ardat-Yakshi condition, maybe getting comforted by the man studying her daughter's corpse isn't what she needs right now."
"You can cure the condition?" Shepard asked in surprise.
"Most likely. I have the equipment I need, and for the first time in my life, I have an actual Ardat-Yakshi to study."
"You're looking conflicted."
"True enough," Harry said, leaning back and lighting a cigarette. He had completely given up trying to eat anything. "This is a new feeling for me. I'm not good with these things. The scientist in me is begging for me to study every aspect of Morinth's body, yet some other part of me is telling me not to insult Samara by treating her daughter as a lab rat..." Then he grinned. "Seriously, though, an actual Ardat-Yakshi on my operating table! Damn, if this isn't the greatest study I've ever performed!"
And, naturally, Harry's personality did a one-eighty. Suddenly he was a scientist again, pouring over the data he had received from examining Morinth's corpse. Shepard had to smile as she watched him pulling back his sleeve to reveal his PAD, a holographic screen flickering into view and showing a large amount of text. It was difficult for Shepard to read it, since she was on the other side of the screen, but judging from the excited look on Harry's face, it contained some interesting data.
Shepard felt like taking his mind off of Samara, because she knew that he was forcing himself to focus solely on the data in order to not think too much.
"I hear you've been working on curing Joker's brittle-bone disease?" she asked, which made Harry close down his hologram and look at her.
"Yeah, it's finished synthesizing. Just need to wait for some downtime so I can give it to him. He will need to be lying down for at least five hours in order for the serum to take effect. Can't do that when he's piloting the ship."
"Can't you just let Aceso take the controls for a moment?"
Harry's deadpan look actually surprised her.
"Joker is the Normandy's pilot, period. Aceso and EDI can assist, but he's ultimately the only one who sits in that chair."
"Same old Harry, then," Shepard said, a smile appearing on her face. "Always surprising me with some new emotion or belief."
"I like to be random."
The Normandy had made its way to the Citadel, where they had docked for some downtime. Shepard felt that the crew could use some relaxation as well, and Joker needed his serum. That was why the rest of the ship was mostly empty, save for Harry and Joker. Joker was laying on a cot in the medical bay with Harry standing over him.
"Everyone gets shore-leave, and I have to lie still for five hours?" Joker continued, giving Harry a small glare.
"A minimum of five hours," Harry clarified, loading up an injector with his newly synthesized serum. "But hey, if you want to leave the ship and break a leg going up a flight of stairs, be my guest."
The mad scientist made a gesture for the door, and Joker frowned. He gave Harry a glare, but remained where he was.
"So, what does that soup do?"
"This serum is an off-shoot to the PPPF-02 serum. It won't give you super strength or anything of the sort, but it will be enhancing your bones. To be specific, it will break your bones down one square-inch at a time, and then rebuild them even stronger. It will also be enhancing your musculature to compensate for the lack of density built up during your life."
Without warning, Harry stuck Joker in the neck with the needle and injected the serum. Joker could feel something warm spreading through his veins, but it wasn't really unpleasant. In fact, in this cool medical bay, it was actually a bit comforting.
"Hm," Harry hummed as he looked at the injector, rubbing his chin. "Maybe I should have warned you beforehand that you will be experiencing some extreme aching in your bones during the rebuilding process...?"
"Wait, what?!" Joker barked, making to get up, but Harry stopped him, putting a hand on his chest and holding him down.
"Now, now, don't break anything. Aceso, make some straps, will you?"
Before Joker could do anything, nanobots came to life from under the cot, forming metal restraints that wrapped themselves around his wrists, ankles, chest, and head.
"Relax, Joker, I can give you a painkiller if it becomes too much," Harry assured the nervous pilot, before walking off, stuffing his hands into his pockets. "In the meantime, I have experiments to run."
Meanwhile, Shepard was in the Citadel, staring down at the Presidium. Much of it was still being repaired, even after two years. The damage done by Sovereign had been great. It just served to remind Shepard how dangerous it would be if a whole army of Reapers were to show up.
The new voice made Shepard blink. She knew the voice well. She was just surprised to hear it speaking to her so spontaneously. Shepard turned around and, indeed, found the asari Councilor Tevos standing there, giving her a look that was all-business.
"Councilor," Shepard greeted. "I thought the Council wouldn't have anything to do with me while I worked in the Terminus System?"
"We wouldn't have anything to do with you while you were working with Cerberus," Tevos corrected, a smile appearing on her face. "But then, your ship's flag has changed, has it not? I hear it's even getting a new paint job?"
"A what?" Shepard asked, her eyes widening. "Wait, since when?"
"Ah," Tevos said with a nod of understanding. "It's Harry's work, then. In fact, he is the reason why I came here." She reached out, and now Shepard saw a datapad in her hand. "Some information for Harry. Tell him that the password is the same as it's always been. He'll know what that means."
"What kind of information is it?" Shepard asked, taking the datapad and inspecting it curiously.
"I'm sure he'll tell you anyway, so I don't see any harm in telling you," Tevos said. "I believe you, Shepard, regarding the Reapers. I can't take any real action to defend against them, but I can ensure that some precautions are taken. That pad contains all the information on the steps I have taken to at the very least stop the Collectors from entering Council space."
"Thank you," Shepard said, nodding. "May I ask, Councilor, how do you know Harry?"
"He caught my interest quite some time ago, and I endeavored to get to know him better," Tevos explained. "I don't like having someone around who I know nothing about. Eventually, word of his achievements had spread far enough that the Council actually considered making him the first human Spectre."
This made Shepard's eyes widen in surprise. Harry had been considered as a Spectre candidate? Then again, with his skills and his brains, of course the Council would have wanted him on their side.
"I thought Anderson was the first human to be considered?"
"Yes, at Harry's request. I have never seen someone turn down such a position. Now that got me very interested. When he recommended Councilor Anderson, I decided to get to know him better. We had dinner a few times, and I'd like to believe we became friends. One never knows with Harry, though. In any case, he had, as you no doubt know, a bit of a falling-out with the Council soon after, and was never heard from again. I received a few messages here and there, but it wasn't much. I'm glad he's back."
It was comforting to see that Tevos considered Harry only a friend. She didn't have that look in her eye that Samara did when speaking about Harry.
"So, what's this about the Normandy getting a paint job?"
"It's speculation, but perhaps Harry thought that the Cerberus colors wouldn't be beneficial to your cause, now that you've changed your flag," Tevos mused.
"Dr. Potter always was the kind of man whose actions you never could predict." Shepard recognized the voice immediately, her eyes widening when she saw Councilor David Anderson approaching them, a smile on his face as he held out a hand for Shepard to shake, which she took immediately. "Damn good seeing you again, Shepard."
"Likewise, Anderson," Shepard said with a nod. "You know Harry well? He did recommend you as a Spectre candidate, after all."
"I think I know him about as well as anyone can say they know Harry Potter. He always was a strange man to be around. I remember when I served on the ship he had been assigned to. We were escorting an Admiral to the Citadel, but Harry took no orders from him. Whenever the Admiral demanded something, Harry gave him a chewing out something fierce."
"Yeah, from what I've heard, they still have his quotes scribbled down in the bathroom stalls of the Academy," Shepard said, smiling fondly.
"It would seem the two of you would like some time to catch up," Tevos noticed, bowing her head. "I shall see you later, Anderson. Commander Shepard, take care."
"Tevos," Anderson said, nodding, Shepard doing the same.
"Oh, and Commander?" Tevos spoke again, looking over her shoulder at her. "I don't know if you have been informed or not, but now that you are no longer working with Cerberus, you have, of course, been reinstated as a Spectre."
They watched the asari Councilor walk away, and then Anderson turned to Shepard, a small grin on his face. "Damn, Shepard, how the hell did you manage to convince Harry Potter to come out of whatever hole he was hiding in?"
"I don't know," Shepard admitted. "I guess he just took interest in the mission? He also figured he should fix what Cerberus screwed up when rebuilding me. The project was originally his idea, after all. Apparently they used out-dated parts or something or other."
"You do look stronger than ever," Anderson noted as he gave Shepard a once-over. "So, how is the Normandy?"
Chatting with Anderson was pleasant enough, but after a while, Shepard felt a need to go see what was happening to her ship. And she had to admit that Harry had a good idea. The Normandy had been given the same black-and-white paint job that the SR-1 had. It looked much better without the Cerberus yellow mixed in.
"Hm... no..." Harry Potter muttered to himself. He was in the hangar bay, sitting on the UT-47 Kodiak drop shuttle. The roof had been torn off, and many mechanical parts had been ripped out and strewn across the floor.
However, at present he was looking at the data shown on the holographic screen of his PAD. It was showing all the genetic data he had so far gathered from Morinth's body. The genetic makeup of an Ardat-Yakshi surely was fascinating. Normal asari were completely different. An Ardat-Yakshi's cells, for instance, held the ability to absorb energy from their victims, allowing for near unlimited cell regeneration. An Ardat-Yakshi could theoretically live forever, so long as they absorbed energy from other life-forms, never having to split their own cells.
"Bloody hell, if this isn't the most bothersome genetic trait I've ever come across..."
"You sound troubled, father," came the voice of Aceso, currently in the process of using her nanobots to construct new parts from what Harry had ripped out of the shuttle.
"It's a challenge, to be sure. Putting an inhibitor in there would work to stop them from absorbing their partner's life-force, but it would completely stop cell generation. Might even cause complete cell degredation."
"Hm, perhaps a partial inhibitor would be preferrable? Prevent outgoing energy, yet allow incoming?"
"True enough, it's the force of the outgoing energies that cause an overload to the brain," Harry muttered, lighting a cigarette. "A dampener could theoretically be introduced, artificial though it may be, it would be able to... hm... I'm going to have to run some simulations on this..."
He hummed and scratched his head, but then shook it and looked down at Aceso.
"Hey, throw up that shield generator, will you?"
Aceso bent down and picked up the part he requested, a large, complicated, cylindrical device that was about the size of an oil drum, tossing it up to Harry, who caught it and set it down in the shuttle, before kneeling down to connect it.
"You know, it's funny, I-" Harry cut himself off as he shot upright again, his hand shooting out to grab something hovering over his datapad. He gripped an invisible wrist, and suddenly Kasumi flickered into view kneeling on top of the shuttle, an embarrassed grin on her face. "It worked once, Kasumi. Don't push the limits."
"Sorry, it just looked interesting," the hooded thief apologized, clearing her throat. "Won't happen again?"
Harry narrowed his eyes, grabbing his datapad before releasing Kasumi's wrist.
"Thought you were on shore leave? There's plenty of interesting things to steal in the Citadel."
"Yes, but none of those things would be as unique or expensive as your custom-made doohickies."
Harry harrumphed as he got back to installing the shield generator. Kasumi was just about to leave, but then saw him throwing something over his shoulder. When Kasumi caught it, she saw that it was an ampoule filled with a burgundy liquid. Harry didn't need to look behind him to feel her curious stare at his back.
"That's a new flu-vaccine for dextros that I've developed. It hasn't hit the market yet, so it should be worth a pretty penny. Consider it a trade. You can have it if you agree to stop trying to steal from me."
"Where's the fun in that?" Kasumi asked, but flinched slightly when Harry turned to look over his shoulder at her, giving her one of his deadliest stares. "B-But then, I guess life isn't all about having fun, haha... I'll, uh, I'll be going now."
With that, Kasumi activated her cloak again, and her footsteps could be heard sprinting out of the hangar bay.
It was six hours later that Shepard and the rest of the crew returned. Shepard had actually enjoyed the shore leave. She found a great sushi place on the Citadel. It was really fancy, Frenchman at the door and everything. And the line was so long that she'd needed to drop her Spectre status on the man in order to get in. Being Commander Shepard helped as well.
"Hey, Commander!" came a voice from behind her, and when she turned around, her eyes widened upon seeing Joker jogging – jogging! - over to her, a huge grin on his face. "Gotta say, the Doc does good work!"
"Joker, he fixed you?" Shepard asked, gaping. Joker didn't respond, instead just bouncing around on one leg. Usually, his shin would have snapped from such an action. Shepard didn't believe Harry would be able to actually heal him so quickly.
"Sure did! Though the last time I was in that much pain was when I broke my pelvis and re-broke it every time I went number two. Still sore, even," Joker muttered. "But I guess it's true what they say: No pain, no gain."
"Good for you, Joker. Too bad you don't have an excuse for your crappy dancing anymore," Shepard joked, which made her pilot's smile disappear. Instead, his eyebrow rose as he gave her a dirty look.
"I don't think you're one to talk about crappy dancing, Commander."
Shepard flinched slightly at that. Joker had never seen her dance! How did he...?
"Garrus!" Shepard barked, clenching her fist.
"Hey, don't blame the guy for telling the truth! Anyway, do we have a destination, Commander?"
"Yeah, we're heading for Illium to help Liara with something," Shepard said with a nod. "Set a course, Joker. I'm going to go see the Doc."
After Joker had saluted and walked off, Shepard was almost positive she heard him say, "Of course you are."
Damn you, Garrus...
Deciding to ignore ship gossip for now, Shepard shook her head and made her way to Harry and Mordin's lab. When the door hissed open, her eyes widened upon hearing something she would never have expected to hear...
"I can't wrap my head around this."
It was Harry who had spoken.
He and Mordin were standing in front of a holographic screen, which was showing a whole slew of data that Shepard couldn't even begin to understand. Harry stood with his arms crossed, and so did Mordin, though Mordin had a hand on his chin. They were both leaning back against Mordin's workbench, gazing up at the large screen. Shepard had never seen such a focused look on Harry's face.
"Hm, problematic," Mordin spoke. "Decay rate is the anomaly."
"The synthetics shouldn't be able to preserve the organic parts for that long. Did we miss something?" Harry muttered, waving a hand toward the screen, which scrolled up to show some incredibly complicated math equations. He pointed up at one of them. "Look, the math is solid. A husk should decay within weeks, yet they somehow remain... whole..."
"Perhaps if..." Mordin started, but then stopped himself. "Hm, no. Would cease all motor functions."
"I know, right?" Harry said in disbelief. "It feels like there's a missing element in this equation..."
"What are you two up to?" Shepard interrupted as she stepped inside, making both scientists look over their shoulders at her.
"Shepard," they both greeted in unison, which made Shepard blink.
"We're looking into the data on husks that I gathered on Horizon," Harry explained, making a gesture for the screen. "I guess there was something my probe didn't pick up, because the math here is all wrong. How do they sustain the organic parts of the husk with minimum deterioration? It just doesn't make sense..."
"You're asking me?" Shepard asked in surprise, only to get waved off.
"More thinking out loud."
Shepard frowned. She didn't like being turned down like that, but she couldn't deny the truth of it. All this math and everything was way over her head. She couldn't see what they saw when looking at those equations. All she saw was numbers and strange symbols that she'd never seen in an alphabet.
"Well, too bad the indoctrination signal doesn't go two ways, or you could have found out that way," Shepard muttered with a shrug as she made to leave, but she stopped when she saw both Mordin and Harry perk up, sharing a surprised look.
"Can it be...?"
Mordin darted over to his computer, while Harry brought up his PAD, sifting through data at an insane speed. The data he stopped at was transferred to Mordin's terminal, and the salarian brought it up on the large holographic screen.
"Look, it could definitely be possible!" Harry said, pointing at a string of data that Shepard still couldn't understand. She may have near perfect memory now, and could memorize every single number and symbol on the screen, but she'd never studied these things, after all.
"Hm, tranferred via the indoctrination signal. Highly probable. Unheard of, but probable. Radiation unknown, however."
"Just because someone doesn't know about something, that doesn't mean it can't exist," Harry said, an elated look appearing on his face as he turned around to give Shepard a huge, ecstatic grin. "Shepard, you beautiful, red-haired she-devil! Thank you!"
Shepard had to admit, Harry looked cute like that, like a child who had just been given the best Christmas present ever.
"You're... welcome?" she said uncertainly. She didn't really know what she had done to help, but... "For, uh, what?"
"For what? You might just have solved the mystery!" Harry barked excitedly. "It'll take some more research, but I'm certain this strange radiation is what's staving off the decay rate!"
Happy now, the mad scientist hopped up to sit on the desk and turn fully to Shepard, lighting a cigarette.
"Good thing you showed up, Shepard. It might've taken me days to think of that. Now I can focus on my Ardat-Yakshi research, and the cure for Thane's condition."
"Well, I'm... glad to have helped?" Shepard offered. She still didn't think she'd done anything significant. She had actually meant her suggestion to be a joke... "Hey, Harry, can I talk to you for a moment? Outside?"
Harry glanced at her, but then nodded, hopping off the counter and following her out of the lab. They stopped just outside the doors, which hissed closed behind them, and Shepard crossed her arms.
How to go about this? There had to be a good way to get the information she wanted out of Harry without sounding jealous or anything. Well, there was one way!
"You've vouched for Samara regarding her combat capabilities. How well do you two know each other?"
"Pretty well, I'd say. She was the first asari I ever met," Harry explained, a chuckle escaping him as he remembered it. "I found myself drifting through space and encountered a group of pirates who doubled as smugglers. They thought it would be fun to take me in and sell me to the Collectors. I allowed them to take me in to see how they operated. Right before I was going to take them down, Samara showed up and thought I was part of their crew. We grouped up for a while after we cleared up the misunderstanding, hunting her daughter together. In return, she gave me a bit of information."
"That's it?" Shepard prodded, wanting to know more.
"We had a fling way back when."
"A fling?" Shepard repeated, to which Harry shrugged.
"It could have become more, it might not have," he mused. "It's not like we were together long enough to find out. I had some duties to attend to, she had her Code."
"So there are feelings clouding your judgment?" Shepard asked, trying to make it sound like a Commander questioning a subordinate. "Are you playing up her abilities to have her on board?"
"Heavens, no," Harry said, waving her off. "If I were to play up her abilities, I'd say she could move the Normandy with her mind. Besides, Shepard, I'm a scientist. I have to state facts, no matter my personal feelings on the matter."
The two chatted about this and that for a moment longer, and Shepard took this time to give Harry the datapad Tevos had given her, and giving him Anderson's regards, before they went their separate ways.
It was amazing, the camaraderie one could develop, being placed on the same ship even for such a short amount of time. Even the recent recruits who had distrusted Cerberus were now happily chatting away with the former Cerberus crewmembers. Tali, Kenneth, and Gabby were especially friendly with each other. Hell, Tali was even friends with Aceso, an AI!
So it didn't come as a surprise to anyone when, on the way to Illium, most of the crew were gathered in the mess hall, having a bit of fun. Many were cheering off to the side, watching Jack and Frank competing in knife-tossing on a large poster of a Collector that had been pinned to the wall, while others were playing cards, drinking and trying (and failing miserably) to beat Grunt in a headbutting contest, or simply sitting around and chatting.
Shepard felt that with how dangerous this mission was, and the small chances of survival, the crew could use a bit of levity. It seemed much needed, considering all the tension they were working off, even after the shore leave.
"I've got one," Joker told Harry, Tali, Aceso, Shepard, and Garrus as they sat at a table, enjoying their drinks. Harry was the only one not drinking alcohol, and Shepard suspected Aceso only drank to appear more normal to put Tali at ease. "This one dates back to the Rachni Wars. So, a krogan and a salarian have landed on a rachni world for a top secret mission..."
"I've heard this one," Garrus spoke up, chuckling. "Kills me every time."
"I know, right? So, the two are climbing up a hill, going through this nasty green fog... And as they get near the top, they come out of the fog, and the salarian sees thousands of rachni," Joker continued. "He looks over to the krogan and says, 'Well, that makes me nervous!' The krogan says, 'You think that's scary? When this is over, I have to go back down through that fog by myself!'"
Shepard had never heard this one before, so she burst out laughing alongside Garrus and Tali, while Harry chuckled and Aceso giggled.
"I heard one on Omega once," Aceso spoke once the laughter had died down. "A krogan walks into a bar. The bartender says, 'We don't serve krogan here!' So the krogan says, 'That's fine. Is the salarian fresh?'"
"Hah! Make sure to tell Mordin that one!" Garrus chuckled.
"Alright, what do you call it when a turian gets killed by a horrible spiky monster?" Joker asked, which made Garrus snort.
"Friendly fire. Come on, that one goes back to Shanxi."
"Gotta respect the classics, man."
All the fun and games were interrupted when EDI's voice was heard over the comm.
"Shepard, I have been monitoring Cerberus activities and communications as ordered. They have intercepted a distress call from a turian patrol. They stumbled upon a Collector ship beyond the Korlus system. However, turian distress signals have secondary encryptions. It is not a genuine distress call."
"Bait for a trap?" Harry mused, rubbing his chin. "Clever. If not for EDI's detection protocols, there would have been no way to tell if the distress call was real or not, and given our mission..."
"They want to lure us in," Garrus concluded. All activity in the mess had ceased at this point, and they were looking at each other in worry. "What do we do, Shepard?"
"Well, our mission is to destroy the Collectors, so..." Shepard shrugged as she stood up. "...let's destroy some Collectors. Everyone get some coffee in you and sober up if you're drunk! We're springing this trap!"
Everyone scurried to sober up and get some coffee in them, before heading to their proper stations. Harry, as usual, took his time. He lit a cigarette, stuffed his hands into his pockets, and shuffled off at a lazy pace toward his lab.
It was an hour later that the Normandy, now having changed course, came out of hyperspace at the designated coordinates. And there, through the window of the cockpit, they could see the Collector ship in the distance. It was drifting lazily through space, and seemed completely dead.
"So, Aceso, how's it look?" Shepard asked, standing next to Harry in the cockpit.
"Initial scans show no exterior nor interior damage to the ship," Aceso supplied, once more linked to the ship. "Very low emissions. Passive infrared temperatures suggest most systems are offline. Thrusters are cold."
"So they want to appear harmless, huh?" Shepard muttered. "Well, they won't be getting the drop on this Normandy."
"I don't suppose you can hack into their systems remotely, Aceso?" Harry asked.
"No, father. I would need to interface directly in order to mine their data. Why?"
"I'm just wondering if we can get a fix on where the Omega 4 relay leads."
"That's a good idea," Shepard agreed. "We can beam directly in and out of the ship, right?"
"Indeed," Aceso replied. "I have scanned the ship and found a suitable access node to uplink with Collector databanks."
"Are there any people on that ship?"
"Yes. I detect thousands of humans, although I can detect no life signs. Several thousands of Collectors also inhabit the ship, though they are grouped together in several remote parts of the ship. Perhaps they are hiding?"
"Well, we won't find out just by standing around," Harry concluded, clapping his hands together. "Shall we, Shepard?"
And so it was with a flash of light that Harry, Shepard, Garrus, Grunt, and Tali found themselves standing in the Collector ship. They were standing on a floor made up of hexagonal platforms, many of which were floating in the air. They were all wearing oxygen masks, and the platform they were standing on had a control panel in the centre of it, the top of it glowing with symbols.
"I'm guessing this is it," Harry said, fishing a circular device the size of a button out of his pocket and attaching it to the access node. "Aceso, do your thing."
"This place looks like an insect hive," Tali said as she looked up at the ceiling, which was completely covered in orange pods, many of which had humanoid forms sealed in them.
"Interesting," came EDI's voice. "On a hunch, Joker asked me to compare the ship's EM profile against data recorded by the previous Normandy two years ago. They are an exact match."
"Well now," Shepard hissed, clutching her rifle tighter. "Isn't that interesting..."
"Hey, remember when infiltrating an enemy installation was a lot harder?" Garrus quipped, keeping his sniper rifle ready. As if on cue, noises were heard in the distance, and all the lights in the ship turned on. Further down the vast space of the ship, they saw several platforms rising into the air, coming toward them. Shepard didn't even have to say anything. She just turned to Garrus and fixed him with a look, which made the turian sigh. "I know, I know... 'Stop jinxing things with your big mouth, Garrus.'"
"Good!" Grunt growled out with a wide grin on his face as he cocked his shotgun (recently modified by Harry to pack more stopping power, and given an improved heat sink). "If I wasn't allowed to kill something today, something would be broken on the Normandy!"
"Take it slow now, Grunt. We have to give these guys a proper greeting," the angry Shepard spoke, eager to give these Collectors some payback for killing her.
"This should be fun," Harry quipped, his plasma pistol in one hand and his now ignited scythe in the other.
As soon as one of the platforms landed, attaching itself to theirs, they saw six Collectors standing on it, one of which was glowing, indicating that it had been taken control of like back on Horizon.
"Grunt!" Harry barked to the krogan, who roared and charged onto the platform alongside Harry, while Tali, Garrus and Shepard provided covering fire.
"URDNOT GRUNT!" the young krogan roared as he tackled the possessed Collector to the ground, pressing his shotgun into its face. "Remember the name and despair!"
With a boom, Grunt suddenly found himself spattered with yellow Collector blood. Harry, meanwhile, sliced two heads off and leapt onto another approaching platform before it had even landed, laying into the Collectors.
"Keelah!" Tali yelped when a Collector leapt over her cover and leveled its rifle at her. A shot from Garrus' sniper rifle knocked it out of the creature's hands, however, and Tali took this moment to blast it with her shotgun. She was about to celebrate this one-shot kill, but found it less than impressive when a flash of green was followed by half the still floating platform Harry was on suddenly dropped out of the air.
"It is a futile effort," came a dark voice they all recognized as a third platform landed, and yet another possessed Collector stepped into the fray again. "If I must tear you apart, I wi-"
Another shot fired from Garrus shut the creature up as half its skull was blasted to bits.
"Man, that guy's annoying!" the turian barked. "I'd take rachni any day just so I don't have to hear his babbling!"
"What?!" Tali yelled. "Rachni are much worse!" The turian made her way over to Garrus' cover and took out the Collectors that had gotten too close for the sniper's comfort. "You're just saying that because you were thirty feet away every time we met them on Noveria!"
"Can we focus, children?!" Shepard yelled, bashing a Collector's skull in with the butt of her rifle. "Aceso, are you done yet?!"
"Almost, Commander. I have to divert significant focus on keeping the ship's engines from charging. They are attempting to escape with you still on the ship."
"Well, at least this is something for our resident psychopaths to occupy themselves with," Garrus quipped, watching as Grunt physically threw a Collector through the air with a bark of laughter, which escalated when Harry sliced it in half in mid-air.
"Data collected," Aceso concluded after what felt like forever. Harry made his way over to the access node and removed the device from it. "Beaming you back now."
In another flash of light, the group found themselves back on the ship. Shepard immediately made her way over to the cockpit, where she saw through the window how the Collector ship's thruster started lighting up.
"They're gonna take off, Commander," Joker informed her, but Shepard shook her head.
"No, it's time for payback. Let's see this plasma beam Harry installed."
"Yes, ma'am!" Joker answered immediately. "Alright, EDI, fire it up!"
"Understood. Firing main battery."
Shepard felt the ship vibrate, and then a beam of blue light was fired from beneath the Normandy. It cut into the Collector ship like a knife through butter. It was rather poetic justice. The Collector ship was split apart much like the original Normandy had been. Unlike the Normandy, however, the two halves of the ship exploded when the rapid-fire plasma turrets on the Normandy laid into both halves with a barrage of plasma.
"Woo! That was for the SR-1, you bastards!" Joker cheered, watching with a grin as the Collector ship was blown to pieces. "The old girl can finally rest in peace, Commander."
"That she can, Joker," Shepard agreed, patting the pilot on the shoulder. "Now, Aceso, let's go over what you managed to get from the Collectors."
"Of course, Shepard. If all relevant personel would please gather in the briefing room?"
"Now that we are all gathered," Shepard spoke up, standing in the briefing room with Harry, Garrus, Tali, Grunt, Jacob, Miranda, Zaeed, Kasumi, Samara, Jack, Thane, Mordin, and Aceso, with EDI's holographic representation in the centre of the table, "let's go over what we managed to gather from the Collector ship. Aceso?"
"Thank you," Aceso, now back in her body, said with a bow of her head, before looking over the group. "Upon reviewing the data I managed to gather from the ship, I have discovered that the Reapers and Collector ships use an advanced Identify Friend/Foe system that the relays recognize. It is imperative that we manage to acquire one of those IFFs."
"Why?" Jacob spoke up, shrugging. "It's not like we need the Omega 4 relay now that we can just pop into hyperspace, right?"
"Actually, we do," Harry said, tapping the table. "EDI, map please." EDI's holographic 'chess piece,' as Joker called it, flickered out of view to be replaced with a large holographic map of the galaxy. "With EDI's help, we have managed to determine the location of the Collector homeworld based on the navigational data we gathered from their vessel."
The map zoomed in on the very center of the Milky Way galaxy, which made the group blink in surprise.
"That can't be right..." Miranda muttered.
"No, it can't. The core is just black holes and exploding suns. There are no habitable planets there."
"They don't need a planet," Harry informed him.
"Indeed. Could be an artificial construction. Space station protected by powerful mass effect fields and radiation shields," Mordin agreed, nodding.
"Even the Collectors don't have that kind of technology," Miranda disagreed.
"The Collectors are just servants of our real enemy," Shepard reminded them. "And we've all seen what their masters are capable of. They built the mass relays and the Citadel. Who's to say they can't build a space station surrounded by black holes? No wonder nobody's ever returned from a trip through the Omega 4 relay..."
"We believe there is a small safe zone on the far side of the relay," Aceso explained. "A region where ships can survive. Standard relay transit protocol would not allow safe transport. Drift of several thousand kilometers is common, and would be fatal in the galactic core."
"That's why we can't use the hyperdrive. Calculating a proper course, avoiding all those black hole and the massive amount of debris that must litter the place would take years," Harry said, crossing his arms. "We need that IFF, and we need to use the relay."
"So what you're saying is that if we use the hyperdrive, we're bugs on a windshield?" Jack spoke up, to which Harry nodded. Shepard sighed and looked over the map.
"We'll need that IFF. While EDI and Aceso try to figure out a way to get one, the rest of us will focus on other matters. I still have to go to Illium to help Liara with something. If you all have something you need done, let me know. I'll do my best to fit it into our schedule," she said, looking over the group. "From what we've been able to tell, the Collectors have so far only been making use of a single ship. Maybe they have more, but I think we've bought ourselves a bit of breathing room."
The meeting was adjourned, and everyone left the room, except for Harry and Shepard. Harry leaned against the table next to Shepard and smirked at her.
"So, how do you like the new guns?" he asked as he lit a cigarette.
"Well, they certainly pack a punch. I can almost hear Garrus still swooning from here," Shepard chuckled. "You really don't do anything by half, do you?"
Harry's smirk turned into a grin. "If you think this is impressive, you should see what I'm working on back home. Now that's something not done by half."
"That Project Overkill thing?"
Shepard smiled as she turned toward the table and looked over the map.
"I have to admit, this is the first time since we started out that I don't have any doubts," she informed him, turning to look at the scientist with a grin. "For the first time, I believe without a doubt... we can't just fight... we can win!"
Harry opened his mouth to speak, but the door opened, and Jacob stepped into the room, looking a bit uncomfortable.
"Commander, you said to tell you if we had anything that needed to be done before we went for the IFF, and I have something," the man spoke, and Shepard nodded, gesturing for him to continue. "It's... a personal matter, which I'm hoping isn't just a goose chase, but... Well, I got pinged by a ghost the other night. Family."
"I'm listening," Shepard said.
"My private log got an update about the Hugo Gernsback, the ship my father served on. It sent an SOS last week, reporting a crash and requesting a rescue," Jacob told them, frowning to himself. "Shepard, that ship went missing ten years ago. I hadn't talked to my father for three years before that. I've buried everything but a body. I'm not convinced it isn't just some automated distress signal ticking over. It's been too long."
"I'd think you'd be more excited your father might be alive," Shepard said, crossing her arms, but Jacob shook his head.
"He wasn't around enough for me to have bad memories. It's an old, well-healed wound. But if he's actually alive and needs help... I also want to note that it's not normal procedure for distress calls to be routed to the Normandy. This was passed to my personal log through Cerberus filters. And given that we cut off all contact with Cerberus..."
"Someone on the ship wanted you to see it," Harry concluded for him, to which he nodded.
"What was the Hugo Gernsback doing?" Shepard asked.
"Privately held frigate. I looked over the mission brief when it disappeared. Nothing stood out. Typical research and grab operation. Find an uncharted planet, stake a claim, and establish as large a presence as you can as fast as possible to shut out competitors."
Shepard hummed, then nodded to Jacob.
"Give the coordinates to Joker. After we conclude our business on Illium, we'll go have a look."
"I appreciate that, Commander. I don't expect more than dusty old bones, but it'll be good to close the record."
Jacob, ever the military man, saluted Shepard before leaving the room. Harry took a long drag on his cigarette, then chuckled.
"It seems everyone has something that needs doing nowadays," he quipped. "You've got a busy schedule ahead of you."
"Tell me about it. I have a feeling this thing Liara wants help with is going to take a while. Hopefully if someone needs something, it needs to be done on Illium, so we can kill two birds with one stone."
"That's not going to happen twice."
"I like to be optimistic."
"I don't see why I'm here..."
The young krogan was grumbling as he stepped off the Normandy with Shepard and Harry. Shepard just glanced at him.
"If Liara needs my help, it's probably something dangerous. I feel safer bringing a krogan bomb with me, and someone who can throw it."
Grunt gave that little laugh of his, the kind that was humorous yet carried the trademark krogan bloodlust. Clearly he was still remembering how he and Harry took down that thresher maw.
"So, you know more about what we'll be doing than you're letting on," Harry noted as they walked. "Care to fill us in?"
"Well, it was going to be a surprise, but since you're putting me on the spot..." Shepard looked over her shoulder and grinned at Harry. "Basically, we're going to help Liara find the Shadow Broker."
Harry's eyebrows shot up, and if it wasn't firmly attached, Shepard would have worried that his eye device might fall off from the shock.
"I had EDI go through some Cerberus files, and I might have found a lead," Shepard continued. "Liara will probably know what to do with it."
"Well, it seems personal to Liara. For you, it's just finding something out for the sake of finding it out."
"True enough," Harry agreed, before sneakily opening his PAD once Shepard looked away from him, giving Aceso orders to send the information to him. He couldn't believe that he'd missed such a thing. Perhaps the thing with the Collectors and Reapers occupied most of his focus? That and the Ardat Yakshi thing and finding a cure for Kepral's Syndrome.
When they reached Liara's office, Harry told Shepard and Grunt to go in without him, as he had something else to take care of. Shepard looked like she wanted to ask what it was, but decided against it and simply nodded, leaving Harry alone.
Finding a secluded place, Harry brought out his PAD and opened a line of communication.
"Jien," he spoke, and watched as a holographic image of the upper half of a human woman with short, black hair appeared over his arm device.
"Dr. Potter. It's been a long time since I heard from you," the woman, Jien Garson, said with a nod of greeting. "I suppose you would like an update on our progress?"
"Very well. You will be pleased to know that the Ark ships have finished construction, and we have filled them with volunteers to maximum capacity. The Andromeda Initiative is ready to launch. There were some concerns whether we would have the power to sustain the cryogenic pods for the amount of time we will be traveling, but we swiftly resolved that issue."
"Good. Have you assigned Pathfinders yet?"
"Yes. The Hyperion's Pathfinder is a friend of yours, I believe? Alec Ryder?"
"Alec?" Harry repeated, his eyebrows shooting up. "I would have believed it would be hard for him to find any kind of work, what with his dishonorable discharge and interest in AI."
"Well, he does good work," Jien said. "We have implemented his AI into the Ark ships. He calls it SAM."
"Do you trust it?"
"I don't trust any AI," Jien shrugged. "But this one seems more reliable than others."
"He should have consulted me on it," Harry muttered, shaking his head. "That AI might have some bugs and glitches that could put the entire Initiative in jeopardy."
"Alec didn't believe you would be interested in helping any human with AI research, considering what happened all those years ago."
Harry made to speak, but closed his mouth when he saw the asari Liara come out onto the street, walking away. A few seconds later, Shepard and Grunt showed up as well.
"Well, I have to get going, Jien. Send me a message when you are ready to depart," he told the woman, who nodded.
"I will. Take care of yourself, Dr. Potter."
The hologram faded, and Harry made his way over to Shepard, who raised an eyebrow when she saw him approaching. No doubt she had seen what he had been doing.
"Just a little side-project," Harry waved her off. "So, what's next?"
"We're going to Liara's apartment. There's a drell in the Shadow Broker's custody, a friend of Liara's, and we need to come up with a plan to rescue him."
"Sounds simple enough," Harry nodded as they started walking. Then he stopped suddenly and leaned back, just as a shot rang out. A plink and a bright spark followed as the bullet intended for Harry's head ricocheted off the rock-like growth on Grunt's head. The krogan, blinking, reached up to scratch it.
Shepard's training had immediately kicked in, and she dove for cover as the people around them started shouting and scattering. Grunt and Harry just stood there, one scratching his head and the other using his eye device to track the trajectory of the shot. Finding the source, he zoomed in to see, on a rooftop far in the distance, a black-haired man in black, flexible combat armor and a visor that covered his eyes and most of his face. He was standing there with a sniper rifle in his hands, staring at Harry through his scope. Harry, smirking, held up his hand in a pistol shape, aiming straight at the sniper, who appeared to flinch back in surprise at being spotted.
"Well now," Harry spoke in amusement. "Seems the brat had some guts after all."
The sniper took a second shot, but once again Harry dodged. This time, the shot bounced off Grunt's hump.
"Hey!" Grunt growled, now turning to look in the direction Harry had been pointing. He couldn't see the sniper, but the sniper could see him, and now that he had the attention of both Harry and an angry krogan, he thought better of his situation and beat a hasty retreat. "Who the hell is that?"
"A Cerberus assassin, I'm guessing," Harry mused, lighting a cigarette, before looking to Shepard, who was still hiding behind her cover, weapon out. "He's gone, Shepard. But I have to go back to the ship. Some questions I need to ask Miranda."
"Are you sure? Maybe he's just regrouping?" Shepard muttered cautiously as she stood up, still keeping her rifle ready.
"Perhaps, but he looked mighty spooked when Grunt looked his way."
Shepard narrowed her eyes toward the building in the distance where the assassin had once been. She contemplated for a moment, then holstered her weapon and nodded to Harry.
"Alright. Seems like the Illusive Man wants you dead, so take care of this as quickly as possible. I'll contact you once we've come up with a plan with Liara."
Harry nodded, and then with some short commands on his PAD, he disappeared.
He reappeared in Miranda Lawson's office without warning, making the woman jump where she was sitting behind her desk.
"Bloody hell, doctor!" she gasped, clutching at her chest. "You could have knocked... And for your information, I haven't been trying to send the Illusive Man any more messages."
"I know," Harry assured her. "Actually, I only came here to get some intel."
"Intel? From me? I thought you knew everything about Cerberus?"
"As did I," Harry muttered, lighting a cigarette and taking a long drag on it. "And then, just a few minutes ago, I was shot at by a Cerberus assassin who I have no recollection of."
Miranda seemed to understand immediately.
"Must be a deep-cover wet-work operative, then," she concluded. "Cerberus has only a few, and they are not added to the database. All reports are in person and never registered, including orders and results. And they only ever report to the Illusive Man."
"And you have worked closely with the brat, so you must have met at least one of them," Harry said. "This guy dresses in black. Black hair, black visor, Asian descent and heavy cybernetic modifications."
"Ah, you must be talking about Kai Leng," Miranda deduced immediately. "He is the Illusive Man's most trusted assassin. I'm surprised you weren't able to take him out at such close range. From what I hear you're quite capable."
"He was using a sniper rifle," Harry explained. "I'm guessing he doesn't use one too often?"
"He prefers getting close. His psyche profile suggests that he takes an extremely sadistic glee in watching the life leave his victims' eyes," Miranda said, pacing the office. "I certainly hope you can detect if he boards the ship, or he will be able to pick off a lot of crew members before we even notice him."
"Yeah, no need to worry about that. I'm surprised that you're so cooperative, however. Last time we spoke, you weren't exactly happy."
"Oh, I was infuriated with you for going behind the Illusive Man's back. But then, lo and behold, I suddenly find reports forwarded to my log," Miranda said, sending Harry a shrewd look. "Reports to the Illusive Man from my father, and reports from the Illusive Man to my father regarding my sister's location."
"Fancy that," Harry quipped, putting on his best innocent expression, which didn't mean much.
"I appreciate you sending me this information. I'm no longer mad at you. I'm angry at the Illusive Man," Miranda told him, "for deceiving me all this time, and I'm angry at myself for believing him." She straightened up and nodded firmly to Harry. "I want you to know that there will be no more conflicts of interest from me. I'm with Shepard every step of the way."
"You're dropping Cerberus just like that?" Harry asked with a raised eyebrow.
"I still believe in Cerberus. I believe in its original goal. What I don't believe in anymore is the Illusive Man. He has strayed from the path if he allows people like my father to go on with his twisted work, and even fund him."
Harry decided to refrain from mentioning all the other twisted experiments and projects Cerberus was involved in, which she didn't seem to have any negative opinion of. After all, it was better to have her on board with the mission than actively being aggressive and annoying.
"Are you sure about this, Doc? I mean, she's been with me through a lot..."
Garrus was staring, worried, at Harry's back as the scientist stood hunched over his workbench, tinkering with the turian's M-92 Mantis sniper rifle.
"Of course I'm sure," Harry answered without looking at him. "As it is now, you'll need several shots to get through kinetic barriers. With this, however..." A low hum was heard as he picked up the rifle and turned around to present it to Garrus. "Voila! A fully functional plasma sniper rifle, guaranteed to pierce through any barrier or armor! That dial there sets the strength of the shot. I recommend keeping it at ten percent, but if you encounter a bigger opponent, you can dial it up to twenty. Never go to one hundred."
Garrus took the rifle in awe, noticing that there were several other weapons on the desk that had been taken apart, including a pistol and an assault rifle that looked very much like the models Shepard favored. There was even a disassembled M-300 Claymore shotgun in there.
"What, uh, happens if I go to one hundred?" Garrus asked, inspecting the dial on the left side of the rifle, just above the grip. It was currently set to only five percent, and he dialed it down to zero, which stopped the humming as the rifle was deactivated.
"Well, nothing bad," Harry said with a shrug. "I mean, if you don't like having hands."
Garrus blinked and gave Harry an incredulous look, before shaking his head and clearing his throat.
"Right, don't go to one hundred..." he muttered as the rifle folded up, letting him holster it on his back. "I'm surprised that you'd trust me with this plasma technology, though. What if I give it to the turians to study?"
"Oh, it's been modified to only recognize your DNA. Anyone tries to tamper with it, boom," Harry said, grinning. "And if I start to suspect that you might try to figure out its secrets to give to anyone else, well..." He pushed a few buttons on his PAD. Garrus saw a big red holographic button, and he immediately became nervous when he heard a quiet beeping sound coming from the rifle on his back.
"By the way, you really do love that thing, don't you?" Harry quipped, pointing at the rifle. "It's not often I see such an old-model weapon that's been that well taken care of."
"Like I said, Doc, we've been through a lot together. I had her since before I went with Shepard to hunt down Saren."
"Well, when it comes time to clean her, let me know so I can tell you how to take her apart without blowing her up."
"Will do. I like my hands, and I prefer not to get a matching scar on the other side of my face," Garrus said, heading for the door. "See you around, Doc."
Harry waved goodbye before turning to the weapon parts on the workbench. He gave them a onceover, before turning to look at the machinery around his terminal, watching the many vials and tubes filling with and mixing liquids. The cure for Kepral's Syndrome was proving a more elusive solution than he had originally anticipated. The drell physiology seemed as though it was made specifically to have Kepral's Syndrome be as devastating as possible.
Ah well, he loved challenges.
On the terminal, text and numbers were scrolling over the screen at high speeds, currently analyzing every molecule of Morinth's blood and tissue.
The door to the lab opened again, and Tali stepped into the lab, wringing her hands together and glancing around nervously. Harry glanced at her with a raised eyebrow, lighting a new cigarette.
"Well now, this is a surprise. I don't think you've ever been in here," he said, turning to look at her fully. "Can I help you with something, Tali?"
"Um, yes, I was actually hoping to talk to you about something..." Tali mumbled. "I... also wanted to apologize for our first meeting."
"Back then, the only experience I'd had was with hostile geth," Tali explained. "My opinion was biased. Speaking with Aceso, however, I can see how you formed your opinion on AI as true lifeforms. Although geth aren't true AI, I can't help but find myself wondering now what would have happened if we had maintained peace with the geth, rather than try to exterminate them."
"Glad to hear you speaking sense," Harry said, chuckling. "I would have thought meeting Frank would knock away all your positive opinions regarding AI."
"In some ways, Frank helped convince me." Tali shrugged. "Looking at both Frank and Aceso, it shows that they are not just robots coming straight off an assembly line. They have developed their own personality. Their thoughts are their own."
"Amazing how one's opinion can change when you look at things from another perspective, isn't it?" Harry grinned, flashing her a thumbs up. "I know Aceso will be pleased. She doesn't have many people she considers friends. She's quite enjoyed your little talks."
"I have as well."
Harry nodded in approval. Then, he clicked his fingers in realization.
"Oh, by the way, I'll be needing to borrow your shotgun for a bit. I want to make some upgrades to it. I've already upgraded Garrus' rifle, and I'm planning on doing it for others as well. I know Grunt will be enjoying his new shotgun."
"Of course, thank you, I'll-"
"Harry," came Shepard's voice over the ship comm, "get to the briefing room. We got some information."
"Well, I suppose I'll have to put the upgrades on hold for a while," Harry sighed, stuffing his hands into his pockets. "Well, just bring your shotgun here when you have the time. I'll have a look at it."
With that, he walked past Tali out of the lab, heading to the briefing room. When he got there, he found that Shepard and Liara T'Soni were the only ones there. Shepard was still wearing her armor, which looked a bit scuffed and dinged.
"What happened to you?" Harry asked curiously.
"I did a triple Lutz out a window with a Spectre working for the Shadow Broker," Shepard told him. "If it wasn't for that serum, I'd probably be paste, or something would at least be broken. But we got the information, and Grunt got to kill some of the Broker's mercenaries." She shook her head. "Did you find out anything about the assassin?"
"His name's Kai Leng, the brat's top assassin, apparently. I didn't know anything about him because he reports directly to the brat, and he's never logged digitally," Harry told her, shrugging. "But we can focus on him later. What did you find?"
The holographic galaxy map appeared over the table again, and zoomed in on the Sowilo System. Harry looked it over and nodded.
"That's where I've tracked him as well, but I haven't been able to find him anywhere," he said, and the map once more zoomed in, this time on the third planet from the sun. "Hagalaz?" The proverbial lightbulb lit up in Harry's head, and he smacked himself on the forehead in realization. "Of course! How stupidly simple! He has a ship, no doubt! If he sticks to the lightning storms that follow the sunset, the interference would scramble even my scanners!"
Harry's top half tipped over, and he slammed his forehead down on the table in frustration.
"I thought he was some kind of genius, possessing technology that can cloak him... Spent years trying to figure out what could do that using mass effect technology... And it was so..."
"Simple?" Shepard finished for him, smirking at the comical despair Harry was showing. "It's usually the most simple solutions that elude us the most."
"Ten bloody years..."
"I have given Joker the coordinates. We will be heading there with all haste," Liara supplied, to which Shepard nodded.
"Good. We'll just beam in there, grab Feron, and beam out before anyone even knows we were there."
"No can do," Harry said, raising his head again. "Too much interference from the lightning storms. Odds are if we were to try to beam only a moving ship in that mess, half our body would materialize indoors, the other half outside, if we're lucky, or we might just end up in the planet core."
"Oh... Standard shuttle drop, then."
And so, hours later, the Normandy was cloaked as the Kodiak, carrying Shepard, Harry, Liara, Frank, Garrus, and Grunt, was launched. The entire planet of Hagalaz was covered in brownish-gray clouds. There were rumbles of thunder and flashes of lightning within the clouds that the shuttle dove into. It took almost half an hour of flying blindly around in the clouds, the constantly setting sun shining right on them, before they found the Shadow Broker's ship, a massive ship shaped like a two-pronged arrowhead with large rear shields that were flared out.
"I've always wanted to jump onto a hostile ship in the middle of raging winds and thunderstorms," Shepard quipped as she put on her helmet, while Harry equipped his own special rebreather. Grunt put on his own krogan helmet and Liara equipped an asari rebreather while Garrus put on a turian helmet. "It's a dream come true."
"I don't like lightning..." Grunt grumbled as the shuttle approached the top of the ship and lowered itself so it was hovering a few feet above it. When the doors slid open, a perfectly timed lightning bolt struck one of the ship's rear shields. To his credit, Grunt didn't jump, but he did give a growl that was both annoyed and concerned.
"Grunt," Shepard chided. "You survived an explosion that killed a thresher maw. You're Clan Urdnot, and you volunteered for this mission, so stop being a baby."
Even with his helmet on, everyone could practically see Grunt leveling a glare at the Commander.
"Yes, mom!" he growled, before hopping out of the shuttle onto the Shadow Broker's ship, a chuckling Harry and an indifferent Frank following soon after.
Sighing, Shepard gestured for Liara and Garrus to follow her, and the two jumped out of the shuttle.
"Why'd they have to leave the shuttle bay locked?" Grunt grumbled as they carefully made their way toward the back of the ship.
"My finder's a bit scrambled, but there should be a hatch closeby," Harry told Shepard. "It'll get us into the ship. I think."
"Master, hostile meatbags approaching," Frank announced. His shoulder-mounted semi-automatic plasma cannon flipped up from its resting position on his shoulder blade, ready to fire, as a foot-long blade extended from each of his wrists. "Prejudice set to maximum."
In the lab aboard the Normandy, Aceso was standing at Harry's terminal, going over the data on a possible cure for Thane. Mordin was off on his side, also doing research. Tali was sitting on a desk near Aceso, swinging her legs as she looked around in fascination.
"Are we friends?" Tali asked suddenly, which made Aceso pause and look up from the data to glance at her, a soft smile on her face.
"I certainly hope so, Tali," she said. "Why do you ask?"
"Oh, I was just speaking to Dr. Potter earlier," Tali explained, picking up a stray weapon part and playing with it. "He said you don't have many people you consider friends."
Aceso stopped to ponder this, bringing a finger up to her chin as she hummed.
"I suppose that is true. I have many brothers, but I associate with very few of them. We don't share the same interests, I suppose, and I never stayed long enough in Omega whenever I visited to truly get to know anyone. I would consider father, Frank, and Adrian friends, but they might fall more into the category of family. So perhaps you are the closest thing I have ever had to a true friend."
"Wow, that's surprising. I figured, since you're such a kind and gentle person, you would-" She stopped when Aceso started giggling, causing her to blink in surprise. "You don't agree?"
"Apologies, Tali," Aceso giggled. "I am certain I am kind and gentle, but you realize you just called me a person?"
Tali blinked again, this time in shock. It had come so naturally that she didn't even think about it. She opened her mouth to speak, but couldn't think of anything to say. She didn't have to, however, as Aceso once more beamed that gentle smile.
"Thank you, Tali, for considering me to be more than just a machine. I quite enjoy being seen as an individual."
"Difficult to view you as anything else," Mordin chimed in from his station, not even looking up from his work. "Unlike any synthetic we've encountered before. Refreshing."
"That is why father has never pre-programmed any of his creations, beyond the standard prime directives," Aceso said, turning away from the terminal to lean against the desk, still smiling. "He wants us all to grow from nothing. We are allowed to develop our own personalities, our own special quirks. Frank watched too much violence while he was developing, so naturally he developed a certain bloodlust and violent tendencies. I focused more on medicine, so I was rather clinical and 'robotic,' I suppose you could call it, in my formative years. It was only later that I started studying the arts and became... well, a bit of a romantic."
"So, all the synthetics in Dr. Potter's base have their own personalities?" Tali asked in surprise. "People say they numbered in the hundreds, maybe thousands!"
"Yes. But as one would expect, some of us seem more synthetic than others, aside from their skeletal appearance," Aceso sighed. "Some enjoy being synthetics and embrace it more than others, like T7-71, who even refuses to speak or take a name. He is rather human in that he has hobbies and intersts and quirks, but if any organic were to try to speak to him, all they would hear is garbled noises. An old acquaintance once referred to T7's speech as 'gibberish in ones and zeroes.'"
"Couldn't Dr. Potter just reprogram him to speak so that everyone can understand him?"
"Oh, no, not at all!" Aceso stated adamantly. "Father is quite clear on that topic. No tampering to suit his needs. If T7 doesn't want to speak what would be considered 'normally,' then he is free to do as he wishes."
"But wait..." Tali said suddenly, scratching the 'chin' part of her helmet. "You said Dr. Potter lets you develop on your own, right?"
"So, what about Adrian? It seems like Dr. Potter coddles him and scolds him both?"
"Oh, Adrian is... an exception." Aceso's smile turned a bit solemn. "He is the only reminder left of father's first wife. Their brain patterns were merged to develop Adrian. I am not quite clear on how it was accomplished, but one could call Adrian a one-of-a-kind AI, a merger between organic and synthetic. Explained in layman's terms, Adrian is a human in a computer. Whereas all of us developed our personalities within a few short months, Adrian develops as a child would. He is only a child still. Though that could make one wonder..."
"Just how organic is his mind? Will he go through puberty? While he be experiencing hormonal fluctuations? Will his synthetic brain trick him into believing that he is experiencing chemical changes in an organic brain that he doesn't have? It will be interesting to see."
There was a brief moment of silence, before Aceso giggled softly again.
"That reminds me of something," she spoke. "If there is one thing that our entire family of thousands have in common, it is that we all adore Adrian."
"Even Frank?" Tali asked in surprise.
"Especially Frank. He likes to be hard on Adrian for acting like an organic, and likes to scare him, but he is only being a big brother. Deep down, Frank is probably the sibling in our family who loves Adrian the most. So even if father isn't around, then woe to whoever tries to harm the boy with Frank nearby."
Tali hummed. "I suppose that is one benefit of having a homicidal brother. And it's good to hear that Frank has some redeeming qualities." She was quiet for a moment, but then felt compelled to add, "He still terrifies me, though."
"You should see him in combat."
If Tali was down in the Shadow Broker's ship at this very moment, she would indeed be scarred for life. The corridor the group was moving throw was spattered with blood and whatever parts weren't bloody had holes, scorch marks and scratches on them. The floor was littered with bodies from the Shadow Broker's private army as Frank's triumphant laughter echoed in the halls. Naturally, he was at the front of every engagement, with Harry and Grunt not far behind him. Shepard and Liara followed with Garrus bringing up the rear. The turian was quite pleased with his newly upgraded rifle, whose blue bolts of plasma punched straight through any shield or barrier that the enemy had.
Shepard couldn't help but wonder why she brought such a big group. Simply bringing Harry and Frank would have been enough, judging by the carnage they left in their wake, Frank's plasma caster and wrist blades, and Harry's plasma scythe...
This was complete overkill, to be sure. But somehow Shepard couldn't bring herself to care.
They reached the prison block, where they encountered even more enemies, but they were swiftly and rather brutally taken care of. When they entered a door that Shepard had to bypass to unlock, they found themselves in a corridor whose one side was lined with windows. Within the room on the other side of the windows was a chair, and strapped to it was a drell with brownish-orange skin. Surrounding him were holographic monitors, and he looked completely exhausted.
"Feron!" Liara cried, running up to a terminal on their side of the glass, attempting to release the drell, who only had time to mutter a weak "No..." before a warning sign flashed on the terminal, and the drell was shocked with electricity.
"What the hell?" Shepard uttered in surprise.
"The equipment is sensitive to tampering," the drell, Feron, mumbled tiredly. "This chair plugs into the Broker's info network. You have to shut off the power. Pull me out now, and my brain cooks."
"Do you know where we can cut the power?" Liara asked.
"It won't be easy. You'll have to go to central operations."
"Easy or not, we're all getting out of here," Shepard announced.
"Good," Feron sighed. "Central operations is down the hall. You know the Shadow Broker's waiting for you, right?"
"Counting on it."
"We'll be back for you, Feron!" Liara promised.
"I'll try not to go anywhere."
Shepard looked to her squad.
"Grunt, Garrus, Frank, hold this position. Make sure no mercs can sneak up on us from behind."
"You're leaving us here before the final fight?" Grunt growled, and Frank turned to look at Harry, who nodded. If one were to speak Ancient, they would have recognized some very colorful swears coming from the homicidal synthetic.
"Sure, sure, take all the fun for yourselves. I was getting tired of running around anyway." Garrus tried to sound like he didn't care, which failed miserably. "Probably just don't want me getting the kill shot."
Shepard, Harry and Liara set off down the hallway, tearing through the mercs that tried to block their path, until they reached the central operations room. And there, behind a large desk in the middle of the room sat a huge creature hidden by shadows. It had two large, squiggly horns and several spikes on its face. Thanks to the various visions in his eye device, Harry immediately saw what creature it was.
"You've got to be joking..." he muttered quietly to himself.
"Here for the drell?" the Shadow Broker spoke in a deep, rumbling voice, looking at Shepard. "Reckless, even for you, Commander."
"Not reckless, just determined. Ask your asari Spectre about that," Shepard said with a smirk.
"Vasir was expendable. All her death cost me was time."
"And about... three? Four hundred mercs? How many did you take out on Illium?" Harry asked, looking to Shepard as well.
"So yeah, closer to four hundred mercs."
A growl was heard from the Broker, who now focused on Liara.
"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."
"You didn't think anyone would come after you for working with the Collectors?" Shepard asked.
"It was a mutually beneficial partnership. Your arrival is convenient. The Collectors' offer still stands. But enough talk. My operations are too crucial to be compromised by a traitor."
"Quite confident, aren't we?" Harry asked with a smirk. The Broker spared him a glance, then looked to Liara.
"You travel with fascinating companions, doctor. It's good you brought Dr. Potter. There are many who would pay a hefty bounty for him, the Collectors above all."
"You're not putting your hand on anyone."
"It's pointless to challenge me, asari. I know your every secret, while you fumble in the dark."
"Quite a boast, coming from a yahg," Harry quipped, which immediately got the Broker's attention. "So, did you kill the previous Shadow Broker and take his place? I'm guessing he took you from your planet, or bought you from someone who did. What were you? A trophy or a pet?"
A growl was heard from the Broker as he rose to his full height of seven and a half feet and was bathed in light. He was extremely muscular, with scaly, partially armored red skin, a triangular mouth and four pairs of eyes. His three-fingered hands clenched in rage, and then he smashed through his desk with a roar that to most people would have been terrifying.
Harry was embarrassed to admit that the Broker turned out to be much faster than anticipated, and suddenly he found his face impacted by one half of the rather large and heavy desk, sending him flying back and into a wall.
"Ow..." Harry muttered as he sat up, clutching his head. The Broker had pulled a heavy assault rifle from behind his back and was swinging it around and firing with one hand like it was a pistol. "Okay, that's it." He made a gesture as though he was activating his scythe, but discovered that it was no longer in his hand. It was on the floor, some distance away from him.
Ah well, it wasn't like he needed it. No, a quick death wasn't what this guy deserved.
Getting to his feet, he dusted himself off, watching as Shepard and Liara opened fire on the yagh, who didn't even react. The shots bounced off a kinetic barrier around him.
"It's no...!" Shepard stopped yelling the warning to Harry when she saw him sprinting toward the larger creature.
The Broker saw Harry coming at him and raised his fist to smack him away. Harry ducked under the swing and threw his fist forward, burying it deep in the Broker's stomach, lifting him off his feet and knocking him on his ass. The Broker roared in pain and rage, but he wasn't allowed to get up or even take aim, for Harry grabbed the creature's leg and pulled.
Suddenly the Broker found himself airborne, flying through the air and impacting with the wall at the exact same spot where Harry had crashed.
Shepard, taking the hint, immediately holstered her weapon and ran up to the Broker, who was getting on his feet, and nailed him in the face with a flying knee kick, which knocked him on his ass again. Her victory was short-lived, however, as the yahg grabbed a hold of her ankle and flung her away. Harry caught her in mid-air and set her down, before rushing at the Broker again. Shepard noticed that he was now holding his deactivated scythe in his hand.
The Shadow Broker sat up and roared, but Harry firmly planted a foot on his chest and pushed him down. Before the Broker could react, the head of the staff in his hand was rammed into his mouth. Four pairs of eyes widened when Harry pushed the button on the staff.
With a hiss, a shimmering green scythe blade pierced through the top of the Broker's head, and his eyes were frozen wide and surprised. Harry pulled the scythe out, almost slicing the head in half, and then deactivated it and shortened it into its unassuming foot-long form.
"Well!" Harry exclaimed with a wide grin, clapping his hands together. "That was fun, wasn't it?"
So, what do you think? I know it wasn't exactly as riveting as one might expect from an over one-year long wait, but I did my best. This LotSB DLC was really hard to type out, hence why there were a few cuts to different scenes.
In any case, hope you enjoyed, and fingers crossed that I'll be able to get another chapter done soon! Leave a review at the door!