They called it a base, and a training ground. The Spectre in grey and blue armor called it a blasted Hell hole that reminded him a bit of the Krogan home world. The comparison made a sick sort of sense, because after Doctor Okeer had taken residence and convinced the Blue Suns to fun his research, the landscape had basically become a training ground for Krogan. Rumors and whispers had hinted at the Krogan being cloned, an idea that made the Turians stomach knot. The last thing the galaxy needed as another uprising of that bloodthirsty mercenary race.
That was exactly why he was here, in a manner of speaking. Shepard was here. The bug he had managed to convince the Salarian Doctor to carry onto her ship was working like a charm, and he had managed to arrive before the former Spectre and her lackluster crew of Cerberus mutineers, a single brilliant but very dangerous Salarian doctor, and a well-known murderer that he simply knew as Subject Zero.
He knew her entire story; at least the story that the Council had provided him when they gave him this assignment. Jane Shepard, former Council Spectre, believed to be dead after an attack from an unknown Geth aggressor, was somehow brought 'back to life' by the Human Supremacist organization known as Cerberus. After swiftly breaking ties with Cerberus, Shepard had gone to the Citadel Council to ask for aid in hunting down what she called a direct link to the Reapers, the Collectors. When the Council offered to reinstate her Spectre status as a token of support, Shepard had said 'Go fuck yourselves.' In those exact words. Then she had run off, with a ship she had stolen from Cerberus, with no support save for a few loyal followers, no real plan, and no hope of success.
There were parts of the story he could see as possible truths, and there were parts of the story that he believed were varren shit. Back from the dead? Reapers? Collectors? As he ran the whole thing through his mind for the tenth time, he almost snorted in derision from his perch in a tall building a few thousand meters from Okeer's lab. As he waited, and watched through the modified scope of his rifle, he went over what he had learned about the human in his time following her.
What he had noticed most about her was her extreme capability in combat and tactical adaptability as a leader. It should not have surprised him; she had stopped the Geth attack on the Citadel, and killed Saren, one of the most respected Spectres of their age. But from what he had seen on Omega when she had come looking for Doctor Solus and Archangel, she had almost no trouble suppressing or outright defeating anyone who stood in her way. It was particularly impressive, because she had been alone until she had reached the good doctor.
After managing to convince the doctor to join her (something which the Spectre had correctly predicted, hence the bug) she had gone on a short but thorough search for the vigilante that the locals had nicknamed Archangel. A silly name, really. Who wanted to be called Archangel? Even though her efforts to find him were unsuccessful, she had managed to find every hideout where Archangel had ever taken refuge, and even managed to help a few random people along the way. This bit surprised him, especially the Quarian mechanic she had gotten out of his debt and sent back to the Flotilla. There had been no been no benefit for her or her squad, and she had not request or required him to join her to work on a ship that was already under-manned. She had done it out of kindness, or a sense of justice.
The Spectre respected her for that. They might have gotten along well, if it wasn't so clear that she was insane.
And there she was, making her way toward Okeer's lab with her team of two. He remembered from his research that a team of two was standard Alliance military regulation for a recon team, but Shepard was known for taking a team of two with her no matter what the mission was. Odd. His scope settled on the one he knew to be Shepard. As always, she wore full armor bearing the marking of the elite N7 unit, but she had changed the design since Omega. Where it had been white and yellow before, now it was almost solid black trimmed with a crimson shade of red. A good change, no doubt made to confirm that her ties with Cerberus were severed. From the lack of thickness to the shoulders, the narrow plates on the chest piece, and the more heavily armored appearance of the legs, he decided that the armor was a custom job. The armor looked to be… Hm… Surprisingly effective for someone with her combat style. And with her narrow waist, the armor plated at the hips gave her an almost Turian appearance at a distance. Until the swells in the chest plate designed to make room for her breasts were added to the picture.
And why was he considering how she looked in the armor? He knew full well what humans looked like under the armor, and like the Asari it held no appeal to him. So… Soft and fleshy.
Focus returned, and he tracked the squad of three through the proving grounds. He watched her interact with a newly 'born' Krogan soldier, and to his complete surprise even managed to gain his help in clearing a path forward before leaving him to his eventual, inevitable death. Interesting.
From there, he lost sight of her for a time. He had chosen this vantage point because it allowed him to cover most of the field from a great distance, but it did have a blind spot. Once Shepard reached it, the Spectre folded the barrel of his Widow and stowed it on his back. He should have no trouble reaching the next vantage point before her team. He had already cleared his own path.
He had not miscalculated his own rate of travel, but he had underestimated hers. Apparently, this biotic named Subject Zero was an impressive addition to Shepard's team, and the Blue Suns had hardly delayed them at all. By the time he had reached Okeer's lab he found it in ruins, with Okeer himself lying motionless near what had once been a tank for breeding Krogan. Now, there was just an obvious clean imprint on the grimy floor, telling the Spectre that she had taken something with her. When he checked the room adjacent, found a squad of tank bred Krogan lying dead on the floor among the scattered parts of heavy mechs. These were all around what remained of the leader of the Blue Suns on this planet. From the torn and bloody state of her body, it was obvious that she had been torn apart by a biotic detonation.
This clarified things. Shepard and Subject Zero seemed to have found a kinship in battle, something that he had not expected to happen so soon after the prisoner had been acquired.
"Damn," he cursed softly, sweeping the view finder of his visor over each corpse to ensure that they were actually corpses. He would have to search the room, look for whatever data she might have found before he tapped into the bug again to find the location of the Normandy. It was time that he stopped underestimating Shepard. He would not make the same mistake again. Turning from the carnage, he made his way into the lab again to start searching the data…
And found that he had underestimated her again. A lesson that he learned staring down the barrel of a shotgun, and beyond that into the face of a red haired human woman with emerald green eyes and look of annoyed suspicion on her face. He figured it was a credit to the Spectres that his first response was simply to stand up straighter, and go very still under that watchful gaze of the ex-Spectre.
"I don't know who you are," she began as she took half a step closer to him so she could press the wide barrel of the gun right up against the faceplate of his helmet with a light tap of poly fiber on metal, "but I have had a very shitty week and I am not in the mood for games. Why are you following me? You get once chance for your answer not to be a lie."
He took in the sight of her as she spoke. Her skin was almost milky white, and peppered with what humans and Asari referred to as freckles. Running along her cheeks were mostly healed scars, with the faintest glow of cybernetics marring the freshly knitted flesh. There was a hard set to her mouth, and the sharp green of her eyes was ice hard as she waited for his reply. He decided to give it.
"Vakarian, Council Spectre."
He had hoped that the simple, honest answer would calm the situation. However, her eyes went from ice to fire in a flash before she folded down her shotgun and stowed it on her back. He almost had time to breath a quiet sigh of relief before her armored fist slammed into his equally armored head. The force of the blow rattled him, and he had a moment to think She's a lot stronger than she looks, before she slammed into him with a full body tackle that sent them both flying over one of the subject beds in the lab.
Grunting as he landed on the bottom, he didn't even have time to voice more than a growl of annoyance before she was straddling him, slamming her fist into his helmet again with enough force the crack the face plate. Finally recovering from the sudden attack enough to react, he bolted upright when she raised her fist again, catching her behind the elbow and forcing his weight forward to throw her off. She rolled with it, but came up short when he rolled onto one foot and lasted out with the other, catching her square in the chest with enough force to keep make her graceful roll a sloppy tumble into a series of shelves.
"Damn it, Commander," he growled as he drew himself to his feet. "I am not your enemy!"
The words seemed to fall on deaf ears as she quickly sprang to her feet and charged at him again. Dropping into a fighting stance, he expected to easily be able to deflect her wild charge when she reached him. However, she only took two steps before dropping into a quick slide that ended with her driving her boot into the joint of his knee. The armor took most of the impact, but pain still flared and he was forced to one knee just as she came up hard with an uppercut that drove him back onto his ass. Spirits, no wonder she became a Spectre. She is amazing. And she's starting to piss me off!
He feinted a bit, taking longer than he needed to to get to his feet. As expected, she took advantage of the open by rushing towards him and striking out towards his gut with one leg. Catching it, he wrenched it to the side sharply in such a way that it forced her to spin around to face away from him or risk a broken knee. Once she did, he rose up and jammed his shoulder into her lower back to send her stumbling forward more than a few steps. Then with a scream of rage, her biotics flared in a bright blue nimbus around her.
He realized that up to this point, it was the fact that he had found respect in her apparent desire to do justice that had prevented him from escalating the confrontation into something more deadly. He had already had ample opportunity to draw his side arms and finish her while her barriers were down. But as she turned to face him with the faint scent of ozone filling the air and her submachine gun in her hand, he knew that the time for playing nice was gone.
Hands flicking to his sides, he activated his shields and sprinted for cover of the door before the hail of submachine gun fire tore into the wall beside it. Drawing the two black pistols from his hips, he braced himself back against the wall and called out, "I don't suppose it would help if I told you again that I am not your fucking enemy!"
"Bullshit!" was her reply, and he heard the tell-tale sound of her shotgun unfolding again. "I was a Spectre, remember? If you're here looking for me, you're either trying to fuck me over or you're trying to kill me! So which is it, Vakarian?"
"I'm just supposed to find out what you're doing in the…" He stopped when he heard the low hum of biotics, and felt a tingle of the air against his plates even through the armor. Shit, she's a Vanguard, he remembered just in time to roll away from the door before her sudden appearance blasted the area around the door with a pressure wave. Luckily, he wasn't there when she swung her shotgun around to where he had been and blasted a hole in the wall almost as large as his head. Training his sights on her as he continued to dash across the same room where she and her team had just dismantled heavy mechs, killed four Krogan, and ended the reign of a merc company leader, he fired a few shots to test the strength of her barriers. When the ripple of energy outward from the impacts seemed to have no major effect on their strength, he knew he would need something a little more… Robust.
Crouched low behind a tank, he unclipped a grenade from his belt; he still used the old disk models that had gone out of style a few years before. Something about the happy hum they made in flight caused his opponents to panic and break cover too soon, or to run for cover a little too late. He thumbed the timer to a three second delay before he came out of cover and flipped the disk in her direction. He came out of cover long enough to squeeze a few shots into her barriers again, and give her a target. The moment he heard odd hum of her biotics building for a charge, he flipped the grenade in her direction. She saw it coming. She might even have been able to avoid it, except he squeezed off another round and caught the disk mid-flight. The resulting blast of electrical discharge ripped through her barrier, and drove her back into the wall with a cry of pain that was just feminine enough to make him consider how out of place it sounded coming from the woman who had just tried pretty hard to kill him.
He didn't give her time to recover, or to focus on getting her barriers back up before he gave her one final chance to understand that he was not there to fight her. Swinging his pistols around, he fired them both, one right after the other. Shepard winced, as if expecting that to be end. He was a little stunned to notice that she hadn't actually tried to avoid, or even curl into herself protectively. Those would have been normal reactions of someone who actually wanted to survive. He watched silently as she glanced at one shoulder, and then the other. It was obvious that she understood the message, and the reason he had only scratched the armor of each shoulder in a near perfect mirror image. Both shots could easily have been fatal.
With a slow sigh, she slid down the wall slowly until she was sitting, the shotgun sliding from limp fingers as she lowered her head onto her knees. "Fine, Vakarian. You're not here to kill me, I get it. But what's the point?" She raised green eyes that were now dull, and the look on her face was… Sadness. Defeat. Even despair. "The Council doesn't want to see the truth, my own military doesn't want to see the truth for fear of upsetting the Council. Neither one of them will look at the evidence. The only people in the galaxy who believe me are the same people whose ship I stole, and I want to be in bed with them as much as I want to kiss a rabid varren. So now I am stuck on a ship where my only back up comes from a biotic psychopath, a Salarian doctor who sings show tunes, a scant few crewmen who decided they would rather work for me than Cerberus, and my only two saving graces; which are my pilot and my doctor. So you tell me, Spectre. When no one in the galaxy wants to trust me, how am I supposed to trust anyone?"
He knew that something wasn't right. He was no expert on humans, or on insanity, but he wasn't even getting a minor twitch to tell him that she might have been mad. He had expected there to be something. Some manic need to spread the word of the Reapers, some pitch about the Collectors, a few words about conspiracy or the universe being out to get her. She should have been trying to convince him right now where he stood. Instead she just looked up at him with questioning eyes that held a terrible sadness, as if he would have the answers.
She looked infinitely alone.
Holstering the twin guns at his hips, he walked towards her cautiously. She had caught him by surprise more than once, and he did not relish the idea of it happening again. But he would show her a little trust, and he reached up to unfastened the seals on his helmet. He was aware that her eyes were following his every move as he pulled the helmet off, placing it beside him as he crouched down in front of her. Her eyes moved over his face slowly, and there seemed to be a curious almost recognition in them. Her lips pulled down in a frown of concentration, as if she were trying to remember something important. He wasn't sure what it was, but sitting here in silence was getting them nowhere.
"Do you have evidence?"
Her concentration broke when her eyes snapped up to his, incredulous and wary. "What difference does that make? The Council has already seen the evidence, and they ignored most of the facts so they could blame the Geth."
He gave a small grunt of dismissal, flanged voice mildly irritated when he spoke again. "The difference is that I have only seen what the Council keeps in the archives, which clearly states that the Geth were behind the attack on the Citadel. The Council it not always right. If you believe you have evidence that says otherwise, I will reserve judgment until I've seen it for myself. That is," he said as he drew himself to his feet easily, "if you were serious about finding someone to trust you."
Patience. It was one benefit of his training as a sniper, and he held onto it now as the human woman held his gaze and seemed to be searching his face for what he didn't know. But it was almost a full minute before she nodded, bracing her feet against the ground and dragging herself to her feet. "All right, Vakarian. I'll let you see what I have." He relaxed just a bit, though he kept his posture straight and his face impassive as he gave her a curt nod in reply. Once she had retrieved her shotgun, she turned her back on him for a moment to place her head on the side of her helmet. "Joker, I'm ready to extract. And I'm bringing a guest from the Council."
Though he noticed the bite of her last words, he chose to ignore it. He choose instead to take a good look at her at close range for the first time. The armor could account for a certain amount of her build, but he somehow doubted it accounted for much of it. With her back turned, he was able to see the curve of her armored waist, and… Damn it, why was he looking at her waist again? Directing his eyes at her back instead, he listened to the (very snarky) reply from who was doubtless her pilot before she closed the connection and waved him forward. "You have a ship, I take it. If it's small enough, we should be able to squeeze it into the Normandy's docking bay for now."
Nodding and trying his damnedest not to watch the way her hips moved when she walked away from him, the Spectre followed.
He was surprised when rather than being escorted to ops for the de-briefing, she instead took her directly to her cabin. A very large cabin that was in a near total state of disarray. Clothing was scattered all over the place, there were numerous data pads laying unsorted on the desk, the bed was unmade, and the general feeling of messy couldn't be avoided. It didn't bother him. He was aware of the fact that she was lacking crew, and that clearly included the crewmen that would have been responsible for keeping the captain's cabin orderly while she handled the more important duties of command.
Watching with some amusement as she scrambled to the bed and scooped up some very small, very interesting looking articles of clothing before shoving them into a drawer, he assumed that they were her underwear. Pink underwear, which had him pulling his mandibles tight against his jaw to keep them from twitching in amusement. "This is an impressive ship, Commander. Though why they would have the command cabin under such a vulnerable section of hull, I'm not sure I understand."
Her gaze followed his to the skylight that offered a view of the planet below, and she shrugged easily. "They managed to bring me back once after being spaced and dropped through a planet's atmosphere," she said, and he clearly heard the anger in her voice when she spoke of the organization. "Knowing Cerberus, they have a backup copy of me somewhere anyway. So hey, if I die again I'm sure they'll find some way to manage."
He still was not fully convinced that she had been brought back from the dead, in part because he didn't want to think of the implications of a race that had found a way to simply resurrect dead tissue with impunity. But he let the subject slide with a noncommittal noise as she turned to face him. Out of her armor now, she wore a simple brown outfit that exposed a surprising amount of shoulder, left her arms fully bare, a left him with no doubt that her armor was not the reason her waist appeared so… Admirable.
Been out in space alone too long, Varkaian, he thought as he lifted his gaze to hers. Walking towards him, she stepped past to the desk and started to shuffle through and sort the pads there. She didn't seem to be aware that he had been looking places a Turian really shouldn't go, and he was grateful for that. "There is a lot of data," she said, tossing some pads aside that clearly showed ship status reports, dossiers for possible crew including one that she lingered on with a light frown. Moving to stand beside her, he could see the name Archangel as the subject. Clearly, she was still disappointed that she had never found the vigilante because she tossed the pad aside with an annoyed tsk. His mandibles twitched once.
"Here," she said finally, backing away from the desk and leaving him with a neat stack of about fifteen data pads. "Starting with Eden Prime, this is most of what I know about the Reapers, the Collectors, and the Protheans. A lot of the data on the Collectors came from Cerberus, but I've managed to gather some intel of my own along the way. Have at it."
His brow plates quirked a bit at the commanding tone she seemed to use so easily, and the odd phrasing that obviously meant she was giving him permission to look over the data. He gave a short nod, and turning to settle into the offered chair, he picked up the first pad.
Jane Shepard slipped out of her cabin shortly after the Spectre picked up the first pad and started to read. Relief was quick, when she saw that he was giving it his complete focus and was not doing this simply to humor the lunatic. Riding the lift down, her brow furrowed as she considered what to make of him. There was something that she couldn't quite put her finger on. Something about him that was familiar. Even the name. She could have sworn she had heard that name somewhere before, but she couldn't place where. She had tried to dismiss it, thinking that maybe she had heard it because he was a Spectre, but it kept coming back to nag her. It was really starting to get on her nerves. The fact that he seemed willing to at least listen and at least look over the data made her annoyance unimportant, and gave rise to a little bit of hope.
She didn't believe for a moment that, even if he did believe her, it would change anything with the Council. Some part of her that pride couldn't touch regretted the fact that she had told the Council to take their Spectre status and shove it. Her anger had gotten the better of her, and now things were much more complicated than they needed to be. She had forgotten how many doors being a Spectre had opened for her in the past. If this Garrus Vakarian believed her, maybe he would join her. Then he could throw around his weight as a Spectre, and she could start getting things done!
But she was getting way ahead of herself. Even if he did believe her, that was no promise that he could follow her without risking his own Spectre status. The uncertainty of the last few weeks was driving her crazy.
And why did she keep catching him looking at her ass?!
She dismissed it as imagination for the third time, and when the elevator stopped on the crew level, she made her way into the mess. She saw Mordin there, humming to himself in that amazingly musical voice of his as he looked over what she could only assume were test results. The damned Salarian was always running tests. She gave him a quick greeting before she went to the drink station, and after a minute of digging through the supplies, found a packet of dextro coffee. Or whatever they called it. She was sure it wasn't called coffee, but it was what Tali had always seemed eager for in the morning. Starting the mixture to heating, she leaned against the counter and tapped her foot as she waited.
"Hey doc," she called without moving from her spot. "Can I ask a question?"
"Of course, Shepard. Happy to help any way I can." To his credit, the Salarian almost instantly set the pad aside and stood to face her. She knew that his sudden shift in attention was more to be polite than any form of military response. He was on the Normandy of his own free will.
"What do you know about Turians?"
He didn't seem surprised by her question. In fact, the look on his face was something along the lines of 'Ah ha, I was wondering when you would ask.' "Turian. Fascinating species. Predatory, militaristic, aggressive by nature. Natural aggression tempered by social code of honor and personal responsibility. All for the greater good of the race as a whole. A fine example of social evolution overcoming psychological and physiological instinct. Not like Krogan…"
"Ok, ok. That's not really what I meant," she said, reaching up to rub the back of her neck uneasily for a moment. She realized that he was watching her intently. Very intently. Waiting for her to continue, obviously. "This Spectre I brought on board. He's a Turian, and I keep catching him…" She struggled for a polite way to say it, and gave up with a frustrated wave of her hand to her lower body. "I've caught him staring at my ass. I'm not sure if that means anything, because Turians don't actually, you know, have asses."
"Ah," said Mordin, and the pause made her blink. He almost never stopped talking, but from the back and forth tick of his eyes, she realized that he was thinking. "Not likely. Muscular posterior not of sexual interest to Turians." She groaned at the term sexual, but felt some relief at the fact that she had clearly misunderstood… "Waist however. Very erotic. Almost free of plates, exposed skin, sensitive to touch. Have noticed a tendency for Turian males to observe the female's waist first before making desire for coitus known. Maybe just curiosity, but not likely. Rude to stare without interest. Code of honor."
Shepard had lowered her face into her hands as soon as he said 'waist.' Oh god, he has been looking at my waist. That's why he kept looking even after I turned around on the planet. What the hell am I supposed to do with that? Then she realized that Mordin was still talking.
"…Could forward advice booklet to your quarters. Valuable diagrams, positions comfortable for both species, erogenous zone overviews."
Feeling a hot blush rush up her neck, Shepard quickly turned to retrieve the mug with one hand while wildly waving the other in Mordin's direction. "Forget it, forget it! Thanks anyway, Mordin."
As she made a quick retreat towards the elevator, she heard him call out after her, "Anytime, Shepard. Always happy to help."