Disclaimer: The Mass Effect universe is the property of Bioware/Electronic Arts. No infringement of these copyrights is intended as this is a not for profit fan fiction work.
Rewrite Notes: Still inspired by the Beyonce song "Save the Hero," from the album I am…Sasha Fierce.
Author's Notes: The places and events of this chapter rely heavily on the depictions of Omega, Aria T'Loak and Liselle T'Loak found in Drew Kapersky's Mass Effect book Retribution. One of the notable places that differ from the depiction in the games is Afterlife. In the book the club is much larger, compromising a full four stories whereas we only get to see two areas in the game - the third floor (which is where the entrance level is in the book) and VIP area. Speaking of Drew Kapersky, anyone ever notice how the Asari are sort of like mirror universe Drow? Second Esan is still Esan instead of Lorek as the Batarians never took over the planet. There is a modified Codex entry over on AO3 for the planet further detailing exactly what happened there. To find it simply do a search for the following words: who saves the hero introduction background and then go to the Batarian chapter.
Revision History: 05/12/2019
Part 2: Chapter 1::15 Days Post-Awakening: Omega Part 1
Shepard held onto the nearest handhold as she stood at shuttle's cargo bay viewport and looked toward their destination. Omega Station was steadily growing larger as they closed the distance, allowing her to make out more of the details. The massive asteroid into which the station was built had been cracked in half by an encounter with another asteroid long ago, exposing it's eezo rich interior. Initially the mining station had been fairly modest, but over the course of several thousand years of expansion it had greatly increased in size. Inside the station successive levels, or deck's, extended deep into the hollowed-out shell, providing residential, commercial and industrial space that was divided out into districts by deck. The asteroid was still actively being mined, and the station's eezo processing facilities were constructed in a long, cylinder-like structure that extended vertically from deep within the center of the station all the way out into space. Approached from the right angle, as they were now, the station took on an almost jellyfish like appearance in its silhouette, especially with the addition of mass effect shield generators extending in a reddish fringe around its external circumference.
As missions out in the Terminus Systems invariably required passing through Omega, or the Citadel of the Terminus as it was alternately known, at least once or twice for supplies and or intelligence, Shepard was no stranger to the station. It had been about five years since her last visit, but she doubted it had changed very much at all in the intervening years. Omega and Illium were frequently compared to one another, and for very good reason. Opportunists of all types, both the already powerful and rich and those seeking to be powerful and rich, were drawn to both locations due to the general apparent permissiveness of their laws and regulations. The most commonly cited were the drugs and goods, such as weapons, weapon modifications and gene mods, that were normally tightly regulated or illegal in Citadel space, but were legally available on both Illium and Omega once the required waivers were acknowledged and signed. Yet for all the apparent laxness toward rules and regulations, both locations were ruled by powerful asari who made no attempt to hide the fact that they were closely monitoring everything that went on in their respective domains and strictly, and often harshly, enforced those laws and regulations that did exist. 'Big Sister' was an oppressive reality on both Gateway to the Terminus and the Citadel of the Terminus with their ubiquitous monitoring of public spaces. The main difference between the two locations was that on Omega she was likely to put a bullet through your head for your transgressions instead of slapping you with a steep fine or lawsuit as she did on Illium.
It had taken Tela Vasir and she almost four hours to make the trip from the Citadel to the MSV Menrva aboard the Spectre's small courier ship the CSV Kyenio. During that time, they had, as the matron had earlier threatened, yet again discussed the importance of the centering meditation exercise to guard against the effects of the Cipher memories. Fortunately for Shepard's patience with the topic that discussion had been fairly brief. She understood that the meditation exercises were important and intended on incorporating them into her daily routine, but bringing it up over and over again was not that helpful. Fortunately, the bulk of their transit time had been more productively spent discussing Omega Station, Warlord T'Loak and what impact this mission could have - both positive and negative - on any further interactions with the League Warlords.
Warlord T'Loak's domain encompassed the entirety of the Omega Nebula which contained six-star systems: Amanda, Arinlarkan, Batalla, Fathar, Kairavamori, and Sahrabarik where Omega Station, the gas giant Imorkan with its helium-3 refueling stations, and the Omega Nebula's mass relays were located. The Amanda System notably included the planets Eingana and the world over which Shepard had died, Alchera. Eingana was a garden class world whose atmosphere had unfortunately been eezo poisoned by the conflict between the Thoi'han and the Inusannon hundreds of thousands of years ago over possession of the planet. All surviving species on the planet, like the ones on Thessia, were either biotic or biotic resistant and both Warlord T'Loak as well as the other League Warlords used the planet as a training ground for their elite Commando units. Within the tight enclave of the Alliance N-class Special Forces, rumor said that the League's elite Commandos were frequently joined in their training by their sister Commandos from the Republics. Yet another piece of evidence of the strength of the relationship between the two Asari governments.
The Arinlarkan System had only one non-garden class oceanic planet orbiting it, and was infrequently visited by asteroid miners. The Batalla System contained two colonized planets, one formerly owned by the Hegemony, Logasiri, which was nominally a garden class world, and Thunawanuro, a heavy gravity planet colonized by the Elcor which primarily exported uranium, thorium, and gold. The Fathar System included the planets Korar and Esan. Korar was a small airless planet only notable for its significant deposits of thorium, used in radiation shielding and the manufacture of spaceframe alloys, and had several mining installations dotted over its surface. Esan of course, was most famous for being the planet over which the League and Republics had conspired together to thwart the Hegemony's planned invasion of the planet and in the process destroyed their most powerful and advanced fleet of the time, the Second Fleet of the Hegemony commanded by Admiral Sath Crom'korr.
The Kairavamori System contained the planet Uwan Oche, named for the batarian Uwan Consortium which financed its exploration. During and after Warlord T'Loak's take-over of the Omega Nebula the Uwan Consortium found itself besieged by 'pirate attacks' upon its shipping vessels. Normally, the Consortium contracted with a few trusted batarian mercenary companies to have their ships escorted for their protection, however Warlord T'Loak's forces targeted these escort ships as enemy combatants whenever they were spotted within the Omega Nebula. Within the course of a year, the companies holdings were depleted to the point that they had no choice but to accept Aria T'Loak's offer of a one-time payment for all their assets on Uwan Oche. T'Loak's forces landed immediately after the proposal was accepted and escorted all Consortium employees off the planet to ensure that no sabotage of the Warlord's newly acquired property could take place. Lease contracts were quickly made with various League mining and manufacturing companies and the planet's boron mining and omni-gel manufacturing plants were swiftly brought back into production, providing T'Loak with a much-needed revenue stream to fund her further expansion.
Early on in their conversation, Shepard had inquired why they were discussing Warlord T'Loak's holdings and how the nais had gained each of them. She knew this information, not only from her Alliance briefings, but also from the personal knowledge she had gained during her missions in the Terminus Systems. Tela had replied that she needed to know how well Shepard understood League politics, and whether or not she realized the extent to which the overall power balance between the League and Hegemony had altered with Warlord T'Loak's takeover of the Omega Nebula. Prior to the attempt of the Hegemony to invade Esan, the Omega Nebula was a haven for Hegemony backed pirates and slavers who operated quite openly out of Omega Station. These pirates and slavers would frequently target League ships and worlds in the Spinward Terminus, the area of the Terminus Systems between the Coreward and Edgeward Terminus and Illium and extending past Illium into the Attican Traverse, and then flee into the lawless Omega Nebula to evade their pursuers. They would then offload their stolen goods and new slaves on Omega Station where they would usually wind up being re-sold within the Hegemony. In short, a lawless Omega Nebula was a thorn in the side of the League, bleeding them of resources and while adding the cost of the personnel and ships needed to guard their shipping and worlds.
In exchange for their assistance with the invasion of Esan by providing their Second Fleet, the Hegemony had demanded that the Warlords they supported volunteer a substantial amount of their naval forces to take part in it. Thus, the complete destruction of the invading fleet by the combined forces of the Republic's Sixth and Second Fleets as well as another fleet provided by the League was crippling not only to the Hegemony, but also to the Hegemony backed Terminus Warlords. A vulnerability that the League immediately exploited by increasing their raiding activity against them. In the end, the League managed to take several systems from the Hegemony backed Warlords, pushing out from their primary holdings in the Spinward Terminus into the Anti-Spinward Terminus and expanding their combined territory by approximately a quarter before the Hegemony backed Warlords recovered enough to halt their advance.
It was during this time that Aria T'Loak arrived on Omega Station as a mercenary and began working for the krogan Warlord Galvok who ruled it at that time. T'Loak almost immediately began quietly moving her own forces aboard the station as well as very effectively subverting Galok's own forces to switch their loyalty to her. As soon as she had enough of the station within her grasp to take over control of it, Aria openly challenged the krogan and was able to handily defeat him to claim Omega Station for herself. It took her a few months to oust the last pockets of resistance to her rule, but as soon as Omega Station was firmly under her control Aria T'Loak began expanding her sphere of influence. System by system the new minted asari Warlord expanded through the Nebula, locating and destroying the bases and hidden hideouts of the smaller Hegemony backed Warlords, independent pirates and slavers within it. Quite a few of these groups were completely destroyed by T'Loak's forces, but even those that weren't lost access all their former resources within the Nebula.
Once the entirety of the Omega Nebula was firmly under her control, Warlord T'Loak petitioned the League to join their alliance. Her request was immediately voted upon by the League Warlords, and with their acceptance the League's overall controlled territory expanded into the Coreward Terminus. The League's gain was the Hegemony's loss. Not only had they lost Omega Station as a source of resources, goods and slaves into the Hegemony, but they had also lost all their associated forces and holdings within the Nebula itself including two garden worlds formerly under their control and several mining stations. As a result, the balance of power in the Spinward Terminus and Attican Traverse firmly shifted from favoring the Hegemony to favoring the League.
At the end of their discussion, Vasir seemed pleased with the depth and breadth of knowledge Shepard had about the general history of the Terminus, the League and Warlord T'Loak in particular. Shepard had merely nodded her acknowledgment of the praise because the truth was that she knew as much as she did about the League only because they were so tightly allied with the Republics. As much as it rankled the pride of many in the Alliance, the blunt truth was that the only reason the Systems Alliance wasn't just another client race of the Turian Hierarchy was due to the Asari Republic's intervention in the First Contact War. Afterward, the Republics' moved rather quickly to form amicable trading partnerships within the Alliance and this in turn was a substantial part of how Humanity had been able to expand so rapidly after they became an associate member of the Citadel Council. On the Alliance side it was somewhat of a love-hate relationship, but the Alliance government was all too aware that they needed the Republics continued goodwill as a bulwark against renewed aggression by the Turian Hierarchy and an escalation of the pirate and slaver proxy war they were currently waging with the Batarian Hegemony.
The result of this was that the upper levels of the Alliance military and government tended to be rather paranoid about situations which might negatively impact the System Alliance's relationship with the Asari Republics. This paranoia extended to concern about angering the League as they were such tight allies to the Republics. As a result, all operatives and agents scheduled for assignment in the Terminus Systems received two weeks' worth of detailed training about the history and current politics of the area before being sent out on their missions. Since Alliance Intelligence suspected that Warlord T'Loak in particular was an important Republic's asset and Omega Station was a central Terminus trading center, which agents and operatives should expect to visit at least a few times during their missions, especial attention was paid to the Warlord's history and current political status.
As for how all of this was relevant to Shepard's current mission? For the same reason it had been relevant to Shepard's Alliance missions. Warlord T'Loak was important to the League, and presumably to the Republics, and not a person Shepard wanted to anger if it was at all avoidable. As Tela had put it, "Despite the fact that Aria T'Loak is one of the newest Warlords to join the League, she wields a substantial amount of influence within the League due to her takeover of the Omega Nebula. Impressing her daughter during this upcoming mission will garner Aria's good will and make your further missions within League space go that much smoother. Angering her on the other hand…" Vasir's expression turned unusually serious, "well let's say that Councilor Tevos' influence will be the only thing that allows you to continue operating in League space while still associating with Cerberus, but you likely won't get much cooperation outside of that."
"Commander," Crewman Mark Smith called back to her from the shuttle's cockpit interrupting Shepard's thoughts and she frowned at the concern apparent in his tone, "Omega flight control wants us to land in one of the depressurized cargo bays midway along the processing facility extension." Smith was right, Shepard mused, that was an odd request. "Normally shuttles with passengers let off at the Deck B landing bay that's near the entrance to Afterlife," he added and Shepard nodded in silent agreement as that was where she had been expecting to be let off.
"Did they say why?" she scowled absently at the shuttle deck as she waited for him to respond. Was this just Cerberus related paranoia on their part?
"No, Commander," Smith responded after turning all the way around in his seat to look back at her.
That was enough to make her decide that she didn't like this at all. She turned her head to look at him, "Bring the shuttle to a halt relative to the station and tell Omega Control that Councilor Tevos' emissary Huntress Am'da Saria wishes to speak directly to Huntress Liselle T'Loak."
Smith's eyes widened at that before he turned back around in his seat do as she had directed him. After a few seconds, Shepard could feel the shuttle's forward momentum cease and then she listened in as Mark began arguing with Omega Control over her request. It actually took a few minutes before whomever was giving the orders in Omega Control to realize that they weren't moving anywhere until they got an explanation beyond 'because we said so' and were actually serious about talking directly to Huntress T'Loak over the rerouting.
Finally a new voice came over the shuttle's communication system, "Listen up," Shepard's eyebrows rose in surprise at the open aggression in the speakers tone, "Huntress," the feminine voice took on a mocking overtone at that word, "you're fortunate that I'm not threatening to shoot down your shuttle with this new plague that's spreading though the Gozu District. As it is, I'm tempted to disable you and tow you in to imprison you both until I get some answers about how to stop this disease from killing anyone else." Plague? What? And why did the younger T'Loak apparently think Cerberus had anything to do with it? Shepard had originally planned on formally greeting the younger T'Loak, but now was obviously not the time for it. From the Huntress's angry tone, the only thing stopping her from carrying out her threat was the fact that the nais didn't want to piss off Councilor Tevos by attacking her, especially after the Matriarch had personally arranged for Shepard's visit to Omega. "You either land somewhere that isn't connected to our environmental system or you don't land," Huntress T'Loak issued the ultimatum in such a firm tone that Shepard had no doubt that that the maiden absolutely meant it.
Shepard needed only a brief moment to consider her response, in Thessian she replied, "Spectre Vasir mentioned an illness spreading in the Gozu District in her briefing on Omega, but did not mention that anyone had died from it."
"No one had until recently," Huntress T'Loak's voice sounded only slightly less hostile, "and the interesting thing is that no humans have yet come down with it."
Well, that explained why the younger T'Loak suspected Cerberus, thought Shepard as she stated, "You suspect that this disease is actually a bio-weapon then and not natural, and that Cerberus is responsible for it." Out of the corner of her eye she saw Smith frown unhappily at her statement as his translator translated her Thessian into English.
"After what happened on Trident?" the snarl of fury she got as a reply was venomous enough that the shuttle pilot physically flinched away from the dashboard speaker. Shepard's eyebrow winged even further upward at it even as her expression revealed her dismay, that wasn't a good sign at all. Asari didn't feel emotions quite like humans due to the fact that their emotions didn't affect their physical state or vice versa, no churning stomachs for them when they got upset. That didn't mean however, that they didn't get angry, it just meant that it usually took quite a bit more incitement before they showed it. Combine that with T'Loak just having mentioned Trident…not good at all. How had an illness morphed into a plague, how was it targeting non-humans, and was Cerberus really responsible for it?
"I agree," her shuttle pilot's head whipped around and Smith looked at her in hurt disbelief, "it does sound like something Cerberus might be involved in. And as such, I'm sure Councilor Tevos would expect me to volunteer to assist you in whatever way possible with your investigation into the source of the infection, and if it is a bio-weapon, stopping whatever party is behind it."
"Oh no, I don't think so," was the maiden T'Loak's immediate rejoinder, "we're going to escort you to make your request of Dr. Solus and then your leaving Omega immediately afterward. And when I find the evidence of Cerberus's involvement, you'd better not be anywhere in League space because not even Councilor Tevos would protect you after finding out about Cerberus latest attack."
Shepard dearly wanted to argue with the maiden, but Tela had been very clear about the fact that Citadel Spectre's held no official status in the League and had absolutely no extra-Judiciary powers within it. At the same time, she was still an official representative of the Citadel Council and thus expected to treat the T'Loaks as de-facto heads of state. All the responsibilities without any of the advantages…which meant that instead of trying to persuade the maiden to change her mind, Shepard instead said, "As you wish Huntress T'Loak, I will limit myself to the mission given to me by Councilor Tevos and nothing further."
That elicited short, harsh sounding laugh from the nais, "Maybe Spectre Vasir did brief you," allowed the younger T'Loak. "In any case, either land where you were instructed, or leave." The communications channel cut off after that, making it clear that was the end of their conversation.
Shepard let out one long, aggrieved exhale before sternly corralling her emotions. "Follow the flight path in, and then return to the ship until I call for a pickup," she issued her instructions to Crewman Smith in a sternly clipped tone. "I don't want to give them any other target besides myself."
"But," Smith turned in his seat, a stricken look upon is face, "what about you Commander? If I leave, the ship won't be able to stay in contact with or monitor you. We won't know if you need any help, or if they've imprisoned you!"
"Shepard," Miranda's voice came over the shuttle's communications, "I have to agree, the shuttle should remain there so that we can maintain communications with you. It will also act as a relay for EDI so she can infiltrate and monitor their communications and, if necessary, provide you with assistance while you're on station."
"Absolutely not!" Shepard snapped back, her current aggravation with Miranda causing her temper to rise much quicker than normal, "this situation is currently tenuous enough without giving them cause to move to a more aggressive stance against us. As things stand right now, Huntress T'Loak is not going to imprison me. She's going to escort me directly to Dr. Solus so I can speak to him, and then march me directly back to get me off her station. If they detect EDI either in their systems or attempting to hack into their systems however, I'm sure the situation would deteriorate very quickly."
"Then why not have Crewman Smith remain there with the shuttle for you to return? That will allow us to remain in contact with you and verify that things are going as smoothly as you anticipate." Shepard could tell by Miranda's tone that the woman was aiming for sounding reasonable in the face of her anger.
Before she had left the Citadel Vasir and M'Tara had surprised her with a very welcome gift and box of very unwelcome ones. The welcome gift was the complete upgrade of her armor with the exception of the grey and dark blue external Anyodine armor shell. The unwelcome gift was the box containing her old armor component parts as well as the burnt and fused remains of the biometric scanners and signal interceptors that had been embedded into her old armor. Rather proved the point that it wasn't paranoia when they actually were spying on you. As she had suspected all along, Cerberus really had been monitoring her every reaction and recording everything she said or did while wearing her old armor.
Once they rendezvoused with the MSV Menvra, Shepard headed directly to the Armory with the box of armor pieces and destroyed monitoring equipment in her arms with both Vasir and Lawson trailing along behind her through the middle of the CIC giving the crew quite the scene to gossip about later. The asari Spectre using her biotics to float the heavy case for Shepard's new armor while Miranda trailed along behind vehemently protesting Vasir's presence on the ship the entire way. They had all ended up in the Armory where Shepard had all but tossed the box she was holding at Jacob Taylor as he rose to greet her. The man just managed to grab onto it before it fell onto the floor while giving her an astonished look at her behavior.
"Use these to put together an emergency set of armor for me to keep down here, but without the monitoring and spying devices," Shepard clipped out the words in a positively arctic tone. "I'll be keeping my set of primary armor up in my quarters which are off limits to everyone as of this moment. If someone needs access, then they can wait until I have time to let them in myself." She paused to shift her gaze over to the abruptly silent Lawson, "Do I make myself clear to the both of you?"
"Yes, Commander," Jacob replied promptly, while Miranda remained silent, a subtle frown marring her features. Shepard was aware of Vasir taking up a spot next to the Armory doorway, leaning against the wall and crossing her arms with a smirk upon her dark blue lips. She turned toward Miranda and closed the distance between them, getting in the Cerberus operative's face. "Was there some question you had about my orders Lawson? Is there some reason you think your entitled to monitoring me more than the Alliance did while on a mission?"
Miranda stiffened at her closeness, "No Commander, so long as you understand there is a certain amount of monitoring we need to do of your implants and cybernetics to ensure your health."
Behind Shepard Vasir snorted in derision, "Considering she was fifteen pounds underweight and her skin grafts inflamed and irritated when she arrived at the Citadel, I'll have to question your competence at managing that." Lawson's lips pressed together and spots of color bloomed in her cheeks at Tela's smoothly taunting tone as the dark-haired woman's blue eyes shifted to look past Shepard to glare at the asari Spectre lounging by the door who was more than likely smirking at the operative.
"You'll get the exact same amount of data and access to my communications as the Alliance did while I was on a mission," Shepard replied to Miranda, drawing the other woman's attention back to her. "More specific medical related information recorded by the armor's medical VI suite will be kept within its on-board memory. I'll turn that information over to Dr. Chakwas after every mission and the two of you can go over it and then brief me if there are any changes or concerns."
Shepard more felt in her aura than saw Vasir lever herself from the wall and come up beside her. The other Spectre slung one arm around her shoulders and pulled her into a one-armed hug obviously intended to flaunt their newfound comradeship in Miranda's face. "Don't worry," Tela purred, "we took very good care of her while she was at the Citadel. Made sure she ate plenty of healthy food, socialized with caring friends, got enough rest, and even had that nasty skin irritation cleared up by our doctor."
Okay, there was making a point and rubbing another's face in their error, Shepard decided, and they were now well pass the first and into the second. It was time to drop the conversation and leave. Besides, she needed to separate Tela and Miranda before Vasir managed to actually goad the dark-haired woman into attacking her. Grabbing the wrist of the asari's arm wrapped around her shoulders, in one move Shepard shifted out from under it, pivoted and pulled Vasir along behind her out toward the Armory doorway. "I believe I've made my expectations and limits clear," Shepard called back over her shoulder as she and the asari exited the room.
As the Armory doors closed behind them, she heard Taylor say to Lawson, "I told you she'd be really pissed," in a tone that combined equal parts annoyance and resignation.
The events of the day before flashed through Shepard's mind in the instant before she replied to Miranda's oh so reasonable sounding suggestion that Smith wait upon the station for her. "Honestly, I'm ordering him back to the ship specifically so you won't be tempted to order EDI to hack into their systems anyway and spark an all-out shooting war between us and the League." Was she being a bit too frank? Probably. Right now did she care? No, not really.
She immediately turned her attention to the shuttle's pilot who was looking as if he wanted nothing more than to just disappear into his seat. "Crewman Smith, I expect you to drop me off and return directly to the ship until I call you for a pickup. You will not delay, stop or otherwise deviate from the most direct flightpath to the Menvra. Am I clear?"
"Yes, ma'am," he replied, hardly daring to look up at her as Miranda immediately began protesting her decision, her voice through the speakers steadily gaining in volume.
"Good," Shepard responded and then pointed at his console, "and turn that down."
Smith knew full well she meant the volume of their communications channel with the ship. As soon as the shuttle was silent, Shepard said reassuringly to him, "Relax, Miranda will be angry with me not you. Besides, I was serious about T'Loak hurrying this along. You might have time to land and get a coffee before you need to come back to get me."
He looked relieved at that idea and attempted a small smile at her in return, "You're probably right Commander, I won't take off my flight suit."
Ah to be so naive, thought Shepard as she smiled back at him projecting an unconcerned image. Their troubles might just be starting if this plague was actually developed by Cerberus, or even if it was believed to be developed by Cerberus. "Speaking of the younger T'Loak," Shepard commented, "let's get moving toward this cargo bay before she starts wondering what exactly we are up to out here."
"Umm Commander," he sounded hesitant as his hands upon the control panel activated the shuttle's controls to get it moving again, "what about this disease? What if they're wrong that humans don't get it?"
"Don't worry about me," Shepard responded as she grabbed her helmet, "I'll go in fully suited up and stay on my own air supply the entire time I'm on the station. Even if I can't get sick from it, I don't want to risk that I could be a carrier of it and infect someone else. I've got enough air for eight hours at combat usage levels, twelve otherwise with the re-breather technology in this armor. That will be more than enough time for me to do what I need to do and return to the ship."
"Understood Commander," Smith sounded reassured by her response. "I'll stay ready for your call."
Judging that it was time to finish her preparations Shepard slid her helmet down over her head and then carefully locked it into place. Lifting her gauntlet, she activated her new omni-tool, linked up with the armor's VI, and kicked off its standard diagnostic checklist to make sure everything was sealed and working properly. The new Serrice Council made VI flashed up an image of her armor on the omni-tool's haptic display and began displaying the results of its diagnostic checks as it verified that her armor was completely sealed, that the air supply was good, and that every system in the suit was working properly. Even though she really didn't need to, for the VI would let her know if anything was wrong and even suggest steps for remediation, Shepard watched closely as all the function and safety checks were successfully completed one by one. Her therapy sessions with Dr. Chakwas had helped immensely with her reactions to putting on a helmet and being sealed up inside her armor. She no longer had to actively push down thoughts of her death while wearing her helmet and hearing the quiet click of the air supply mechanism right below her ear, but she doubted she would ever be as nonchalant about stepping into an airless environment as she had been before her death.
The new omni-tool and VI, as well as all the other upgrades to her armor were courtesy of Councilor Tevos, who had authorized the team of Citadel Intelligence technicians that had thoroughly deconstructed her original armor looking for any bit of useful information they could glean on Cerberus to substantially upgrade the armor as they put it back together. In Shepard's estimation, they may have gone a bit overboard with the rebuild. The armor's underlay, outer lay, and protective plating were now from the Illium based company Kurinth's Armory, which was known for its exorbitantly expensive upper end armor for biotics, while all of its electronics and integrated virtual intelligence components as well as its kinetic barriers and shield emitters were absolutely top of the line components from Serrice Council. Mechanical augmentations based on spider silk from Jormangund Technology, a very highly respected Human company that produced top of the line sniper rifles and the armor to go with them to steady the sniper's aim when handling such a powerful rifle, had been added as well, enhancing her strength and speed in combat as well as coordinating with the armor's VI to stabilize her aim.
As far as Shepard was concerned however, the absolutely best thing about her armor was the gunmetal grey armor case that they gave her to keep it in. The armor case, which was now located in her quarters aboard the Menvra, was secured with a Security Level Six bio-identity lock. In addition, both the VI and the armor's new integrated omni-tool came with removable OSD's which held the entire code for the software. Without the OSD the VI and omni-tool were essentially bricked, and while she wasn't using them, they were kept within another Security Level Six container within the Level Six armor case. All of this made getting into her armor substantially more complicated, but the peace of mind it gave her about whether or not Cerberus was using her own armor and omni-tool to spy on her was priceless and invaluable.
"Coming up on the cargo bay now Commander," Smith announced and Shepard moved forward to look through the cockpit window. She could see a series of cargo bays extending down this portion of the processing facility, each one protected from stray space debris by a shimmering barrier. "I don't think they use this section much Commander," the pilot commented, "this is further out than you usually see ships arriving to drop off bulk loads of materials for the processor facility."
Shepard glanced over at him, reminded that he had been a merchant ship pilot before joining Cerberus specifically for this mission so he probably did know what cargo was transported to and from Omega and where it was delivered and picked up. The only thing she knew was that the refined eezo produced here was transferred from heavily guarded bays closer to the station itself. She stepped back, "Alright go ahead and raise the cockpit barrier. I want you to take off as soon as I'm off the shuttle to head directly back to the ship."
"Yes, Commander," he replied and a moment later the shimmer of a barrier cut off the shuttle's cockpit from the rest of the shuttle. It would be sufficient to protect him from the de-pressurization of the shuttle's cargo area when the main shuttle hatch opened to the station's cargo bay. Less than a minute later they were in front of the bay, the barrier dropped and Smith guided the shuttle in to land. "Good luck, Commander," Smith said as the shuttle's main clamshell hatch began opening, "I'll be waiting for your signal to come back and get you."
Shepard nodded, her attention more on the five feminine figures in armor she could now see waiting for her at the far end of the bay through the cockpit window. "It shouldn't take very long," she repeated her earlier assurance, "and if it does, I'll get in contact with the ship to let you know." From the way the Huntresses were arranged, four of them arrayed around one in the center, Shepard suspected that was Huntress T'Loak. Once the hatch was fully open, its lower half forming a convenient ramp, Shepard exited the shuttle and then stopped and turned around when she was a safe distance from it. She needed to make sure that the Cerberus pilot actually followed her orders. Fortunately, she didn't have to wait more than a few seconds before the shuttle lifted off and then exited the bay, moving backward on its maneuvering thrusters. That was good, but Shepard knew it didn't necessarily mean that he would actually make it all the way back to the ship.
Once the cargo bay's barrier curtain went back up, Shepard turned her attention to the group of asari waiting for her at the far end of the bay. She made her way in that direction, weaving her way past a few heavy cargo containers that would have provided excellent cover for the asari to shelter behind in case they had proven hostile. Once she was past the containers, she stopped a few meters in front of the loosely arrayed group and took a moment to look over them. Now that she was closer, Shepard could see the face of the central asari the other four were guarding through the faceplate of the nais' helmet. The maiden was bluish-violet in hue and Shepard could just see the distinctive double-lined, u-shaped violet markings above the nais' blue eyes, markings that were the same as the maiden's mother's. She bowed respectfully and said in Thessian, "Saala Huntress Liselle T'Loak. I greet you in the name of my patron, Matriarch Tevos of the Lero Lineage of the Ulee Republic who serves the Republics as their chosen Councilor on the Citadel. I am Huntress Am'da Saria."
To Shepard's annoyance, instead of properly returning her greeting, the maiden chuckled at her, "You do speak like an Armali noble, I thought I noticed the accent earlier. T'Soni's skill as a teacher is apparent in how well you speak our language."
Shepard hadn't been expecting to hear Liara's name and couldn't quite hide her subtle flinch at it. Fortunately, her faceplate was still darkened, providing her some privacy and preventing the younger T'Loak from noticing the heartache in her expression. As Shepard took a moment to get her emotions under control, the maiden apparently took her silence as a sign of disapproval, or at least obstinacy in insisting that the formalities were met.
"Fine," the younger T'Loak snapped out the word, "Saala, emissary of Councilor Tevos. I am Huntress Liselle T'Loak, daughter of Warlord Aria T'Loak ruler of this Station and of the Omega Nebula." The maiden hurried through the formal response in a manner that clearly showed her annoyance with it and by extension with Shepard.
The human Spectre eyed the maiden warily, this was definitely getting off to a rough start between whatever disease was spreading on the station and the maiden blaming Cerberus for it and by extension herself. The younger T'Loak did not give her any time to figure out what she could say to smooth things over however before continuing in a sharp tone. "Now that is done, "Huntress T'Loak said," I want to see your face. See if you are really Shepard or someone else hiding underneath that helmet. Especially since I can feel your aura from here, and it seems unusually powerful for a human." Unseen behind her darkened faceplate Shepard scowled at the maiden, so much for keeping her identity hidden. Before she could say anything though the maiden continued on unabated, "Yes, I know what Councilor Tevos desired, but these are my sworn Huntresses. So long as you keep up your end of the ruse, they will not betray that you are not an asari."
Shepard breathed out an exasperated sigh and then activated her armor's external speakers. "I can keep up my end of the ruse," she assured the nais as she altered the opaqueness of her helmet, allowing the five asari to see her face.
Liselle T'Loak's blue eyes widened slightly upon seeing Shepard's all too human face. After Dr. T'Rani's treatments, she finally looked well on her way to a full recovery, but Shepard knew that you could still see slivers of the synthetic muscles in between the segments of skin. Hopefully they would disappear in another few days, but right now they were still visible. "So, Cerberus actually did it," the maiden seemed a bit bemused by that fact, "mother was certain that they would fail."
From the few details during their call, Shepard hadn't been certain whether or not either T'Loak was aware of Liara's presence or mission on Omega. It now seemed as if they were aware of both; that Liara had been here, and that her own body had been taken here by the Blue Suns so they could sell it to the Collectors. "Yes, they did," Shepard responded, not quite keeping the curtness from her tone as she re-darkened the armor's faceplate to hide her features.
"Don't," the harsh sounding command from the Huntress came loudly over the speakers embedded in Shepard's helmet, "I'm not finished with my questions yet, and I want to see your face while you answer them."
Shepard's eyes narrowed at the maiden's tone, and in the back of her mind she felt both Thalion and Lindariel stir in offended agitation at it. Before she could censor the impulse, she took a few more steps forward as she did as the maiden asked and opaqued her faceplate. Out of the corner of her eyes she saw the two nearest Huntress guards react to her drawing nearer than they liked to their principal by turning toward her as their bodies became sheathed in bluish-white barriers. "Ask your questions of me then Huntress Liselle T'Loak," her strictly formal tone carried hints of Thalion and Lindariel within it, not that the maiden in front of her would know that little fact.
The younger T'Loak glared at her, but there was also a hint of wariness in her gaze as if newly aware of the fact that perhaps she could press Shepard only so far before the human Spectre began pressing back. "Your aura?" The maiden spat out the question suspiciously. "I've never felt any human with such a strong aura, and I've never heard anything about the first human Spectre being an unusually strong biotic for a human."
Shepard frowned at the question, not really wanting to answer it. Unfortunately, her aura clearly advertised to any other biotic near enough to feel it the fact that her biotics were unusually strong for a human. That meant she would be getting this question over and over again, so she might as well resign herself to getting asked it. "A few hundred years ago the Republics did research into whether or not they could artificially enhance your biotics by making your eezo nodules denser faster than would be naturally possible." Shepard took some pleasure in the slight frown of puzzlement that formed on the maiden's face at the start of her explanation, apparently this was not the answer the younger T'Loak had expected from her. "The answer was that it was possible, but the process would kill the asari you were trying to enhance due to the amount of neural feedback it created as part of the process." Shepard crossed her arms over her armored chest as she continued in a dry tone, "Since I was already dead though and couldn't really become any deader from it, Cerberus used the process to make my eezo nodules denser. Thus my biotics are now substantially stronger than before." Shepard could tell from the maiden's expression that Huntress T'Loak didn't know whether or not to believe her answer, "If you doubt me, then contact Councilor Tevos for confirmation, the medical team was able to confirm that was the process used by Cerberus."
Far from appeasing Huntress T'Loak that seemed to only step up the nais's glare a degree. "And the reason why your aura feels as if it belongs to someone much older? I've been around enough humans to know that your aura is unusual in more than just its strength."
Well, well, Huntress T'Loak was well trained in aura sensing, though Shepard sourly, how unfortunate. One eyebrow rose as she gave the maiden a withering look, "Even though I'm not that old I've been through quite a bit in my relatively short life, I guess it's aged my aura." It was definitely worth a try…
"Bullshit," both of Shepard's eyebrows rose at the spat out human epithet from the younger T'Loak. "I've been around humans who have lived through all kinds of experiences. Experiences and loses that rival even yours, and their aura's don't feel the way yours does."
Shepard's eyes narrowed at that, but she knew the maiden was correct, she was hardly the only human to experience what she had during her life. She was not going to even respond to this question however since it would open up a can of worms she wouldn't and couldn't get into with the maiden. It was time to call a halt to this, decided Shepard, even if it did offend the maiden.
"Be as that may," responded Shepard coolly, "are you questioning the judgment of the Council that I am Amanda Athene Shepard? Shall we contact Councilor Tevos' office so you may direct your questions to the Matriarch concerning whether or not I am Spectre Shepard?" Ohhh that was not at all appreciated, thought Shepard in amusement as the maiden's glare grew even more vitriolic. If looks could kill, then certainly she would be dead twice over.
"That will not be necessary," spat the younger T'Loak, "let's get this over with so I can get you off my station."
"Very well," replied Shepard. As she had suspected, the maiden did not in fact want to directly question Councilor Tevos about the validity of her identity. With any luck, she mentally crossed her fingers, refusing to answer her daughter's probing questions wouldn't greatly affect her standing with the elder T'Loak, or at least not enough for Warlord T'Loak to openly oppose her presence in League space.
"You first," Huntress T'Loak made a graceful, exaggerated motion with her entire arm, "I want to keep my eye on you instead of having you behind me."
Shepard smirked, "You'll have to provide directions then until we get to the station proper. I've never been in the processing plant."
The younger T'Loak made a scoffing sound as she responded, "Through the doors and then follow the central passageway toward the station. That's to the right if you need more specific directions," the maiden added with sarcastic helpfulness.
Of course it would be that simple, Shepard groused to herself as she turned away from the maiden, her gaze sliding along the wall of the cargo bay until she spotted the aforementioned doors and headed toward them. How was she to know that the cargo bays opened directly on the processing plant's central corridor?