Chapter 50: Shadow Storms
Cerberus had seeded operatives through nearly every branch of the Alliance government since its inception. There was almost no place in Council space any target could run where they wouldn't eventually be tracked down. Their agents were everywhere. Even though the Illusive Man never managed to gain a foothold on the enormous space station of Omega he had positioned a few lower rung agents.
They had to maintain an exceptionally high cover for Cerberus's well-known radical pro-human agenda did not make them popular amongst alien warlords, gang leaders. Still there were a few lingering on the station who were sympathetic to The Cause. Still word of Lawson going AWOL might have reached even their ears by now. It wasn't a risk worth taking, not with Oriana's safety teetering in the balance. As it was she only had a very small window before the Illusive Man sent agents after her.
If she had anyway of finding where Shepard had hidden herself, there was little option for Miranda Lawson to do anything but go to the Pirate Queen Aria T'Loak. Going to T'Loak was a very dangerous maneuver. But if anyone knew where Shepard was and what the Spectre was up to it would be her. Nothing happened on Omega without T'Loak knowing about it. This meant Shepard had to have dealt with her. If the Illusive Man taught Miranda anything it was that when dealing with criminal elements that if a deal was stuck then a great one could be made. The only one easier to manipulate than the greedy was someone who was altruistic with emotional and personal ties.
Time and again the Illusive Man cautioned his top agents from creating connections, attachments to anything but the Cause. And Lawson had agreed there was effective wisdom in those words. That wisdom was more evident now more than ever. Lawson would never call herself altruistic but she was a fundamentalist, and she believed fully in the Cause. But she had been easily manipulated because of her unwillingness to let go of Oriana.
Everything she had done since she was sixteen had been for her little sister, to give her a normal life, to see her protected. All of which the Illusive Man made happen. He allowed Miranda to become part of something greater than herself, gave her a cause to believe in. The Illusive Man never said something couldn't be done; he gave his people the resources and expected them to do it. He once told Miranda, missions could either be talked about or done. He preferred they be done. Let the Alliance military brass-monkeys talk all they wanted about their missions, the true dogs of war knew how to do things.
So did Pirate Queens.
Her men were looking for Miranda. No sooner had the operative's transport docked than she was confronted by a batarian demanding that she accompany him to see Aria immediately. To enforce the Queen's proclamation he brought with him two turians and an asari. The former held assault rifles the latter glowed with the cyan of biotics.
Considering she wanted an audience with the Pirate Queen she found the show of force overplayed and unnecessary. No doubt T'Loak had facial recognition surveillance equipment targeting her specifically, which was why the goon squad was on her tail so quickly. Of course she could have done what several agents did and utilized a disguise but that would have been counter productive to her ultimate goal which was to find Shepard and reclaim her sister.
She half expected to be paraded through the lower bar like an inmate on death row. 'Dead woman walking.' Instead she was led though a darkened alcove hidden by being right out in the open and made to be unimportant and unassuming. The corridor opened into a private room where an ancient krogan was speaking to a couple of asari patrons. From the snatches of conversation Miranda heard the old male seemed to be reminiscing about the good old days about how to murder someone's entire family in front of them just to make sure they came out mad and easier to kill.
"The Patriarch," scoffed one of the turians. "One of Aria's trophies. Maybe she'll collect you too, Cerberus." Apparently the others found this comment to be immensely funny given their boisterous laughter.
Little ceremony was spent with introductions. Aria was lounged upon the sofa as if she were sat upon a gilded thrown. Her arms stretched over the back of the settee with the air of an empress or a goddess from descending from Mount Olympus. Or given her species from the arms of Athame. Her violet skin had an unearthly glow cast from the neon lights of her dominion. The Heart of all Evil.
"Cerberus bastards are no better than petty thieves on my station" Aria's voice was a low whisper. "You come into the galaxy, thinking to dominate it and what you cannot dominate you corrupt, destroy. No, your kind are not petty thieves, you are far worse than the vorcha."
"The vorcha are vermin. They have no cause save for their nest pay check. They have no loyalty not even to their own kind." Miranda countered. "Cerberus has a cause, we insure humanity is protected. We are guardians."
"So tell then why is humanity's first Spectre hunting you?" Aria challenged. "Humanity pushed for Spectreship for two decades, now that you have one you want her destroyed. Why?" the queen smiled as she answered her own question with more. "Because she refused to be corrupted by you? Or is it because she took an alien as a bondmate?"
Miranda had no answers.
"The killing of her daughter was that another punishment for breeding with a non-human?"
Again no answer was forthcoming, Aria didn't expect one. "If I were Shepard and had it been my daughter executed, I would not have bothered with such an elaborate scheme to trap you. I would have allowed you to walk through the doors of my dominion. I would have allowed you a single glimpse of your sister just before I snuffed out her life making you stand helpless and impotent to stop her blood from spilling."
"Of course there is nothing stopping me from administering a little Omega justice upon you. But first I will have answers. How did you get the vorcha to carry out your will? What promises did Cerberus make them?"
Miranda expression of distain for the Pirate Queen's threat over Oriana changed into to frown of confusion and denial. "Cerberus has had no dealings with the vorcha. We had nothing to do with this plague, I assure you."
"Assurances? Do you think your guarantees mean anything? You are apart of a prohuman hate-group! You were here for nearly a month: time enough to make certain alliances, certain promises to very gullible vermin. Of course the likelihood of the vorcha coming out of the quarantine zone in force was minimal at best. And when the Blood Pack emerged who would believe their claims that a purely xenophobic pro-human group made such promises? Clever of your Illusive Man.
"As for the plague…are you going to stand there and tell me Operative Lawson that Cerberus does not have a bioweapons division? Are they not working on the manufacture of devastating weaponry to deploy on any nonhuman colony or as you Cerberus folk like to call us…freaks?"
The expression held in the human's blue eyes turned to shame; her hand strayed to her left collarbone scratching just under it. "There are some in the organization that use that term yes. And we have many divisions devoted to ensure humanity's survival. But Cerberus had nothing to do with the plague…"
"SILENCE!" Aria snarled. "I will hear no more of your lies, human" Aria quickly threw a stasis bubble around Miranda. "Anto, Liselle seize her. If the human Spectre wants
Lawson, she can have her. After I have my answers." a coy smile slipped on the purple-blue face. "I warn you, I will not be gentle."
Liara woke with a soft touch of her lover's hand caressing her scalp and tender lips pressing against her cheek as the subtle scent of her bondmates's musk filled her nose and she smiled. For a moment she thought she was in her own bed in their quarters on the Normandy.
But the wisps of sleep were swept away as the waking world seeped intrusively in. The sounds were all wrong, the acrid scent of stale air brought Liara back to full reality. She was in the apartment complex given to them by Aria. Why did Samantha have to wake her up? She was having such a beautiful dream. She and her beloved were aboard a single ship getting lost within the Great Void, the Reaper War long over and truly behind them. The floor of their quarters littered with children's toys, which Liara was busily picking up. Samantha was stretched out upon the sofa with two little girls identical to each other. They were nestled on either side of their arda as she read to them from an old Earth storybook titled 'Green Eggs and Ham.' It was such a lovely gentle dream.
The eyes Liara woke to were welcoming; the setting was not, the reminder of why she was here was not. Liara snapped up suddenly recalling another fact. "Samantha! You're…"
"Better." Shepard finished for her bondmate. "I'm okay. Really. And Mordin is safely aboard the Normandy working with the science team to find away to circumvent the seekers." she touched her lover's cheek and pressed her forehead against Liara's. From their bond Liara could sense the truth in this. She found herself relaxing and yet perplexed.
"Samantha what was it that you did? How did you accomplish such a feat?"
The human shook her head. "I don't fully understand it myself. I just knew. Something from the Cipher. I knew what to do…to reave energy from the enemy and send it out in a great shockwave or rather a very broad annihilation field. "
"It was a tsunami." Liara corrected.
Shepard nodded her head conceding the point. The way it swept through the masses of the enemy was a biotic equivalent of a tsunami. There was no other way to put it. While similar to the biotic annihilation field in which the user creates a damaging 360 degree area of effect field that harms enemies that step into it and detonated to blast enemies. What Samantha had performed was beyond that. It was as if this rediscovered technique combined the effects of a biotic storm and annihilation field and empowered not simply by the user's own biotic prowess but by reaving the enemy's life-force. The greater the number of enemy combatants the stronger the tsunami force became.
If Shepard had not been linked to Liara there would have been far greater consequences. As it was, it had knocked both Shepard and Liara down for several hours before they managed to recuperate the physical and mental drain the use of the power left upon them. No wonder Prothean practitioners only preformed this technique with a full company of soldiers, for they would have been utterly vulnerable after unleashing it. Had the protheans several squads of these tsunami casters they would surely have decimated whole platoons of enemy lines. The question was - could it be used against the Reapers?
Liara for a moment thought of her people. She envisioned whole companies of asari commandos utilizing the tsunami tactic against the onslaught of Reaper abominations. They could rip tides though entire legions. "By the Goddess, Samantha you must share this knowledge!" she said suddenly. "Teach it to the commandos on the Normandy."
Sam's face contorted into an indefinable expression. "I…I don't think I can." she held up her hand to forestall words of protest that were already forming on her bondmate's lips. "It's not that I'm unwilling to, I don't know how to. It's like Shiara said it is like trying to explain colour to someone without eyes. I know how to do this only because of the memories within the Cipher and those of the Vinculum."
Liara stood up abruptly, her mind working at a whirlwind fury even as she started pacing. "A knowledge bond! You already shared one with Shiala. If you were to do so again you can show her how you able to create the tsunami, she in turn can share this with other commandos." she grabbed Samantha's hands and held them tightly. "Tell me, you will do this. You will give my people this knowledge. When the time comes to face the Reaper hordes it will give us a fighting chance."
"Of course I'll share it with Shiala," Shepard squeezed the hands holding hers captive. "She must already possess this knowledge via the Cipher. The Vinculum only gave me a better understanding of it. Or at least I think so. I don't know." Sam rubbed the back of her neck and shrugged. "All I know is that one moment we were being overrun by enemy numbers and in bad positions with no true cover. They had us hemmed in a perfect kill zone. And the next I simply knew what I had to do. I knew it was a prothean adept's technique and how to do it. But if Aleena and Wrex hadn't been there to create a bubble the team would have fallen." Shepard looked away clearly disturbed that she nearly killed her own people.
Liara took her bondmate's chin into her hand and turned her face so blue eyes met blue eyes. "But they didn't because you took the necessary precautions Samantha. You knew the risk of using the tsunami. And now we know the consequences to the user after deploying it."
"And then some." Again the Spectre's face was awash with an expression Liara knew well: Shepard's internal battle with guilt.
"It is a risk that needs to be explored now we know the dangers of using such a powerful technique. Asari who share such powerful bonds will need to take care to give strength to one another and to share the burden of aftereffects. You have seen first hand on the Normandy. The commandos do not have the bonds of marriage, but they have all melded with each other. It was one of the reasons asari commandos are so effective. They share intimate knowledge of each others minds."
That was true; Sam had seen the asari commandos share meldings with one another on a regular basis. This was not to say they had casual sexual intercourse with one another, far from it. But some acts of the mental bonding could be just as close. She also noted that to other squadmates they tended to be more tactile where as if an asari commando was interacting with another species personal space was well and truly respected.
Sam conceded to her bondmate's logic that teaching the asari the tsunami technique would be advantageous in the long run against their war with the Reapers. However teaching it to other races such as humans, turians and krogans and whether or not they could sustain such power was another point. Yes most of Shepard's physiology was still human, but she was bonded to an asari, and her mind forever altered by prothean technology. Had this made a significant difference? The Spectre highly suspected it was so. Could an unbonded or rather an unconditioned mind wield this power?
Then again an argument was that prothean adepts used this technique very skillfully. Were the practitioners bonded to another as Shepard and Liara were? Or were their physiology and mental capabilities enough? Liara said that like the asari all protheans were biotics so more than likely the answer to the latter question was yes.
The conversation took a different turn at this point with Shepard needing to inspect the security measures complex. She trusted her troops explicitly, she knew without a doubt her orders were carried out to the letter by Liara, Garrus and Tali. The shutters to underground arteries had been shut off. On the opposite side of the shutters Garrus had planted proximity mines, which would detonate as soon as enemy forces came within range.
On their side, Tali had programmed Alliance assault drones to hold the line should the minefield be crossed and shutters breached. The same measures were taken for the bridge: the only access point to the apartment complex. While the mercs no doubt would send expendable troops possibly freelancers across first thus clearing the landmines, the measures would decimate enemy numbers. No assault drones were used on the front picket line for it was to be held by a triad of snipers, namely Garrus, Williams and Zaeed.
The biotics would hold the ground floor while Tali took the stairwell with her combat drone Chikkitika and as well as the defensive drone she had yet to name. Her role would also have the task of hacking mercenary mechs, sabotaging and overloading their tech via her omni tool..
During the inspection Liara kept a close eye on the newcomer Zaeed Massani. She gave the human male no trust and was relieved to see that same mistrust reflected in the eyes of Garrus and within the body language of Tali. She knew her bondmate didn't fully trust Massani, either. From Samantha she got a vision of what could only be called a parable. Samantha trusted Zaeed in as much as one could trust a scorpion. It was in their very nature to sting, it was only a matter of when. He had a face well lived in and deeply as scarred as Wrex's. His voice was deep and gruff possibly from far too much whiskey, but that was only speculation on the asari's part.
From his accent Liara knew he hailed from London. Had she asked Samantha, her bondmate would have told her the reason why it wasn't as refined or cultured as others she had heard from the city was because it was Cockney-the slang dialect of the lower classes born sometime in Earth's nineteenth century.
"I've been wondering something, Shepard. Maybe you can help me out here?" the object of Liara's attention spoke.
"Why all this trouble to trap one woman? Clearly you're expecting an invasion. But hell if you want Lawson why not just let her turn herself in, in exchange for her sister's release?"
"You are overlooking one thing, Massani. The very reason I choose Omega in the first place. This is the one place in the whole galaxy that has all three main mercenary companies in one place at any given time. The Blood Pack, Blue Suns and Eclipse are all here. There are also a fair few independents as well. With a single battle I can cull the hordes hunting us significantly.
"I can't fight whole companies of mercs on the Normandy. What does it take for mercenaries to decide that mark simply isn't worth it, despite the bounty? I purposely let it be known that I 'took care of Aleena.' I was deliberately vague on how this was done; making sure people drew the wrong conclusions. Battlemaster Urdnought Wrex is already known to be on my 'payroll' and now rumors will spread that he is uniting the krogan clans to later fight under my flag against my enemies. What they don't know is that I intend to use that united front against the one foe that truly matters: the Reapers.
"Now you have joined my crew. Again, it is another strategic strike against the morale of the remaining bounty hunters. I want them…need to them to falter. They are not the true enemy; they are but a symptom, but one that needs to be contained.
"By now word has leaked out as to where Dr Liara T'Soni and her human bondmate are. We already engaged the Blue Suns and Blood Pack in the Gozu district. Radio contact was not cut off in the quarantine zone. What we did there to their numbers will equally spread. Rage and greed will motivate them into reckless action."
"Stirring your enemy into an unthinking lather. Smart." Zaeed nodded his withered and scarred head. The kid had something going on in that brain of hers.
Shepard displayed an expression, Liara had long ago termed as 'that's the idea' look.
"Have to say Shepard, takes a real cold-stone set of balls to use your own wife as bait." Zaeed's voice seemed to sound as if he approved of Shepard's tactics.
"It is a ploy I do not like, but it is necessary." Shepard surprisingly admitted. "Lawson is bound to follow the pack of rabid dogs to the kill zone. Whether she joins them under false pretences as a freelancer or simply trails in their wake is an unknown. But she will be here when we engage the enemy, if only to insure her sister is safe from overzealous hunters her organization hired to kill us."
Released from Aria's custody with only the words 'Omega is mine, Cerberus. The only law here is mine. Had your people released the plague the Spectre would not have her prey despite what she paid for you."
Miranda was shoved towards one of the private rooms on the lower-floors of the nightclub. A Blue Sun batarian male recruiting freelancers at five hundred credits a head to aid in the storming of the base of the Spectre's asari whore. In turn the operative was pointed to another Blue Sun batarian name Sulki who took her and a couple of others including if Miranda wasn't mistaken the twin salarian egg-sisters known as the Mournful Blades. There was as well some punk kid with a fifty credit pistol trying to make a name for himself. Live or die that was up to the kid, it wasn't Miranda's problem. Way she figured it if he was dumb enough to join up he was doing the human genepool a favor by dying.
A spiteful part of Lawson's mind imagined Shepard pausing at the door of the recruiting room, taking the gun from the boy's hand smashing the side so that the thermal-clip chamber was inoperable making the gun useless. She'd then tell the kid to take a hike. Oh yes a paragon of virtue and yet she kidnaps an innocent girl from her bed just to enact revenge! Shepard paid that tyrannical asari bitch off like some slaver to aid in Miranda's entrapment. Was she behind what the Pirate Queen had done during the forced meld of the interrogation? Somehow Lawson figured that act of depravity was all the alien cunt's doing. But had she known, Miranda believed Shepard would not have made one note of protest. In fact Lawson could see humanity's first Spectre turning to T'Loak and asking for the Pirate Queen to share what she had learned from the mental violation. Miranda's heart became cold. Let the kid die because Shepard would have saved him.
Lawson prowled the merc base sussing out their numbers, fortifications, resources and power. The first barricade was held by the Eclipse. They were dominated by salarians ran by a man named Jaroth. From Cerberus Intelligence, Miranda knew that The Eclipse held twenty percent of Omega and had the corner of eezo market. Apparently this fight was personal for the man as much was it was for Lawson. Jaroth's brother had been killed by the Spectre's turrian bastard.
Stationed just a little further up the road was the second barricade controlled by the Blood Pack. The snarls of the vorcha led Lawson to a great behemoth of a krogan calling himself Garm. He made the claim that the Blood Pack were the true muscle on Omega. Everybody loves them and everybody hates them. Lawson figured Shepard and her crew mostly just hates them.
Garm had a personal beef with the Spectre and her crew. Shepard utterly decimated entire ranks of the Blood Pack in the Gozu district when the plague was still hot. The vorcha wanted her eviscerated. The krogan wanted her head as a hood ornament for his shuttle. Shepard was doing the same in Kima district as she had done in Gozu. Not only had the Spectre been thinning the Blood Pack ranks with her snipers but she had been cornered by Garm and slipped away just as the krogan's reinforcements arrived. It was as if the Spectre had deliberately taunted the krogan battlemaster into a blind fury.
Lawson left the seething practically rapid Blood Pack armed with more knowledge than the Blue Suns or Ellipse had given to her. What was Shepard up to? This was far beyond trapping Lawson, this was a culling. Shepard had gone out of her way not only to turn on a neon sign saying human Spectre here; she was deliberately provoking her enemies into a carefully choreographed confrontation. The enemy forces were going attack but they would so on Shepard's terms and exactly how she wanted them to, when she wanted them to. Her intention was too wipe them out. All of them.
Lawson fond herself once again admiring the Spectre: her tenacity, her machinations, and the sheer simple brilliancy of manipulating her enemy to do what she wanted them to do. It was how the Illusive Man had mentored Miranda. Find out what provokes, stimulates, encourages and demoralizes your opposition and never be afraid to use it. In fact use it with impunity. While it was the core of the Illusive Man's teachings it was not his originally. The manifesto belonged to Sun Tzu.
Apparently Shepard had pushed the three heads of the merc groups into such desperation they had grudgingly forged an alliance with each other. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. Apparently aliens used that philosophy as well. However the truce was ever steadily uneasy. Was Shepard counting on that? Hungry mad hounds leashed only by a very thin rotten lead would soon turn on one another despite the scent of their prey on the wind or perhaps because of it. A truce forged in hate is an uneasy alliance at best.
The need to find out more drove Miranda to seek out this Tarak, the leader of the Blue Suns here on Omega. But because she was considered a freelancer the bastard would have nothing to do with her. He sent one of his commanders, a redheaded human woman named Jentha to deal with her.
"This is a lot of fire power to go after one Spectre and a handful of her people. She has what four or five with her?" Lawson said attempting to feign ignorance. "It seems your bosses intend to use us freelancers as fodder. Is Shepard really that powerful?"
Jentha said. "Never put much stalk into myths before, but what they say about Spectres is true. And there is a reason they made Shepard one of them. She and her crew took out several of our troops, not just here but in the Gozu district as well. Yeah she helped to cure the plague but she cut a bloody swatch through our numbers doing it. Not just us the Blood Pack too. Utterly decimated 'em. Not that anyone is going to miss the vorcha but it pissed Garm off someth'em fierce."
"First couple of days the plan was working. But most of you freelancers were either so ill-equipped, inexperienced, or just plain inept, it allowed Shepard's people to easily pick 'em off. It's forcing us to rethink the plan. Most of your kind will be cannon fodder, but you appear to be far more competent. Sulki said you'll going with the Mournful Blades as apart of the infiltration team."
Days! The word hit Miranda like a wrecking ball. She had been out for days?! It seemed like one maybe two hours since Aria forced her way into Lawson's brain stealing information, not days. Miranda had been able to block a great deal of Aria's probing. But each block was awarded with unrelenting migraine pain. Aria was surgically precise in hunting for information about the plague and what Lawson knew of it. She also seemed intent on ripping out information about the Collectors. Even with the special conditioning Cerberus high level operatives were given to withstand such torments, Lawson was unable to fully resist. In the end Miranda was forced to give up what she knew about the elusive beings that called themselves Collectors. Why Aria wanted that Intel, Lawson never knew, she was never told.
When it was over she was dumped into a room with a cot, minimal facilities and three MRE packs and told she could leave at anytime. Anto the batarian thug laughed at her and wished her luck when dealing with Shepard. She was going to need it.
Schooling her face, Lawson continued fishing for what she could learn from the red-headed Blue Sun woman. "Yes he said something along those lines. He wasn't very clear on a lot of details though he was less vague than that recruitment officer back at Afterlife. But if I'm in a job I need as much detail as possible."
Jentha nodded. "Good to see we gained a few brains this new batch. The freelancers are to attack first in conjunction with the infiltration team, followed by the Eclipse and their mechs. Whereas the Blood Pack are going to launch an attack through underground tunnels concurrently with a strike over the bridge, and finally an airborne assault by us supported by Tarak in his Gunship."
"Gunship? Impressive firepower." Miranda said. "So let me get this straight. Shepard decimated your troops and now you're sending more after her? It seems like a suicide run."
"You don't want to be here, freelancer, don't be here." Jentha chided. "But ch'ya. There is a reason for her great success. Being a Spectre's part of it but she has Zaeed Massani on her side. Eyes in Aria's club saw him joining up with her. Even went into the plague zone with her. She has hell of a quad on her to make him do that."
"Massani?! He's very big in the biz and he's what on her payroll?" Miranda was shocked at this.
"Yeah. Tarak says he remembers seeing him at that little shindig Cerberus held to hire a shit-load of bounty hunters and merc bands to go after that T'Soni woman. Shepard already offed that asari huntress Aleena, another big name. And she has Urdnot Wrex assembling an army on her behalf back on that fallout world of the shellbacks. And now she has Zaeed following her like some muzzled junkyard dog."
"Wait. I heard of Wrex." Miranda's duplicitous voice became pitched just right to milk the information from the other human. "She has him assembling an army to what fight you guys? Last I heard she was fighting the geth and Cerberus."
"Geth…and those imaginary Reapers she goes on about and yeah Cerberus. Killing Shepard's kid in her woman's belly may not have been the best move the Talons made; they should have finished the job. But the idiots let the little blue bitch swim away in the Citadel Lake. Yeah Shepard's mad with blind-rage but it's that T'Soni chick that has the real bite.
"According to rumors she has some heavy hitters in the asari underworld now working for her. Entire legions of asari commandos just waiting in the wings on Illium to hit Cerberus hard. Real hard. Not only that but some of the surviving freelancers swear before they tucked-tail and ran like the pussies they are, that T'Soni's able to flay people alive with her mind. That's bullshit. No biotic can do that, not even them asari. It's just scare tactics, nothing more. But her getting troops from Illium? That I can believe."
Miranda took stock in this. Could it be true? Illium was just like Omega only with a better fashion sense. There were a number of underground elements there, not just the Eclipse Sisters. T'Soni's influence ran deep. Of course the young prothean expert would trade on her mother's connections both in the underworld and in the more influential areas within the government. Even Aria was openly dealing with Shepard and T'Soni! The interrogation...Miranda visibly winced in pain for the bitter still very fresh wound of its memory. Once more the operative pondered the very distinct possibility that Shepard or T'Soni ordered it or was as it seemed that Aria done it on her own initiative? Now Miranda wasn't so sure. It was quite possible that T'Soni and not Shepard had made the deal with the Queen of Omega.
And the krogan battlemaster…it was true that Urdnot Wrex was completely devoted to Shepard. It wasn't difficult to believe that on her say-so he'd do just as Jentha said and amass an army. Fuck an army of krogan? How closely paralleled was Shepard to Saren! Did the Spectre even see it? He too had krogan warlords at his beck and call as well as scores of asari commands under another T'Soni's command all doing as the rouge agent ordered. Wrex was more than a mere battlemaster however, he was a clan leader. If he could convince enough krogan clans to unite under him, Shepard would be unstoppable.
Miranda looked over her shoulder to the man leading the Omega Blue Suns. Tarak was the unofficial coordinator of the entire operation, his gang having the most amount of manpower and resources, including the aforementioned gunship. He also seemed to be the most paranoid. A handy tool.
"Look, I have to get back to Tarak. Check in with Sergeant Cathka, he's in charge of the freelancers and infiltration team." Jentha said and walked away.
Miranda left feeling more perplexed than she had when she first started her Intel gathering. For days, (the Cerberus operative still didn't know how many had passed) Shepard and her squad had held out against overwhelming odds and not only held off enemy forces but had them in a panic. Then again this was the same woman who single handedly held off an entire platoon of slavers on Elysium. Now she wasn't alone, she had a number of snipers and biotics with her.
Garrus Vakarian, Zaeed Massani and more than likely Lt. Williams, okay that made three sharpshooters.
Biotics. Shepard was a very powerful one, then Liara who was even stronger than Shepard, that was two. No doubt Shepard had a couple more with her. Since the attack on T'Soni's life the young asari didn't go anywhere out of Shepard's view without a whole contingent of asari commandos. But from what Miranda gathered from the mercs, there seemed to be only Shepard and T'Soni. But there might be the very distinct possibility there was either one or two others-probably asari. And Shepard would have tech experts as well. No doubt that quarian kid Tali'Zorah was tagging along.
'Six confirmed.' Lawson looked around her at the small army amassed. 'She decimated their numbers with so few numbers. And yet she has them bathing in their own fears and paranoia. The Illusive Man is right, there is a reason the Reapers fear her. Shepard will not stop, she will never stop.' She slipped past the second barricade just as two men fell, taken out by snipers. 'It was a mistake to goad her into this course. How much easier would it have been to simply tell her the truth about the colonies, to ask for her help? It's gotten completely out of hand. Her child died because of it and now Oriana is trapped because of it.'
Miranda looked around her dozens of men and woman in varying degrees of hardsuits, and weapons, many belonging to the three main merc bands, dozens more independent. It was a mess. And her little sister was caught up in all of it.
Perhaps there was something to be done to even the odds. Miranda recalled seeing a few mechs in a bay and then there was the gunship.
"Shepard!" Garrus called out. "We've got more organized moment at the barricades. Looks like their going to be sending a wave of those freelancers."
Shepard sprinted to the balcony to where the turian had positioned himself. He handed her his sniper rifle so she could look through the scope. "Mechs too." she said before pulling the trigger and popping the head off of one of the automatons with a single shot. "One less now." The rifle was handed back to Garrus. "Take your positions people, the enemy is making their final push."
"Hey Skipper you think they got that gunship fixed?" Ash asked with a small hint of satisfaction as it had been her rocket that had grounded the beast in the first place.
"Hard too say. Let's hope not but count on it showing up eventually." Shepard answered.
"Count on it. That son of a bitch Tarak will have had his man Cathka working all hours to get her to fly again." Zaeed piped up. "You can bet your sweet tight ass it'll be here with that old bastard at the stick too."
"Then it is fortunate that we have Tali here." Liara countered confidently. "She took down its shields before; she will be able to do so again."
"Yeah so how'bouts she starts with them mechs down there?" Zaeed pointed below the balcony to a line of mechanoids clanking their way past the barricades blind to their organic comrades falling to sniper fire on all sides.
"I'm on it." Tali called out. Three fingers dances across her omni tool. The Eclipse had such a sheer number of battle-mechs with them they hadn't bothered to shield all of them from being hacked. Tali hacked into one CPU then another and another altering their IFF causing the clankers to turn on one anther.
"Ah crap we have a 'stompy!' Garrus shouted the warning over the hardsuit radio. "Heavy mech at your three Shepard!"
"Copy that!" came the reply. Even as Shepard narrowed the behemoth mechanoid into the scope of her assault rifle the thing turned on its masters and began opening fire. "Excellent work, Tali!" the Spectre complemented.
"It wasn't me." the quarian said.
"It wasn't me. I didn't do it. Something must be corrupted with its IFF. As soon as it was online it turned."
"Take the window!" Shepard ordered meaning for her people to take advantage of chaos caused by the rogue mech as it wouldn't last long.
Shepard and Aleena tossed flash bangs into swarm of mercs, just before they and Liara deployed shockwaves into the cloying smoke, further spreading the chaos as the plague had spread Gozu. From above the sniper's nest rained down hellfire on mech and merc alike.
Miranda remained on the sidelines shielded by a cloaking device. Watching. Waiting. She heard Jaroth growl out that 'if you wanted something done correctly it had to be done yourself.' Not long after Shepard put a bullet into his horned head.
The Spectre's team pulled back, seemingly to assess their new situation and regroup. For a moment Lawson relished the idea of throwing the fact she had reprogrammed the heavy mech's IFF in Shepard's face. Instead she watched, she had to understand, had to see Shepard in action. According to the plans the Blood Pack was next up, Miranda was anxious to see the Spectre up against such voracious numbers.
An alarming blast from below rocked the earth. Antiquated bookcases along the far wall screeched balefully from their moorings and toppled to the floor sending up plumes of centuries old dust. So that's how Garm was going to come up from behind. How long had they been tunneling? Surely such activity could not have gone unnoticed by the Spectre? Or Aria, if what the Pirate Queen claimed was true and there was nothing that happened on Omega that she wasn't aware of. Miranda had learned from Garm that the Spectre had collapsed the tunnels below the complex but the operative had underestimated and undervalued the tenacity of the Blood Pack. She could not help but wonder if the Spectre had hubris.
Miranda like any high operative serving Cerberus knew how many of the famous or rather infamous mercenary bands were organized and started. It was imperative the Illusive Man said to know the organs of your enemy so when it is necessary you can strike a blow to their heart with devastating precision.
The Blood Pack originally a vorcha gang was transformed into a mercenary legion by visionary krogan battlemaster Ganar Wrang. Exiled for striking a female in anger, Wrang obsessed over reclaiming his lost status.
Obsession could be easily exploited; you just had to know how. Clearly Wrang knew how for he did so with the thuggish barely-sentient vorcha. Leading the vorcha pack as a pirate crew, Wrang cultivated recruits and infamy for a decade before incorporating his fighters as a security company across the Skillian Verge. His notoriety ensured his initial public offering for investors made him rich beyond most krogan's dreams. Wrang returned triumphantly to his clan, rallying elders, krogan hordes, and their firepower and biotic support toward professional violence in the Terminus Systems. They had an extraordinary presence on Omega and habitually recruited any krogan or vorcha who wanted to serve. It also seemed that they regularly bred enslaved vorcha, inducting them into service directly from the egg. Disposable shock troops in other words not unlike the tank-bred clone troopers Cerberus had developed.
And just as effective. The vorcha troops cropping up were but a prelude for what was to come.
Still safely concealed behind the cloak Miranda navigated the battlefield, miraculously dodging the firefight from both sides. Tucked away in a corner of the lower apartment's basement she watched as Shepard and T'Soni worked in synchronized harmony. Never before had she seen such phenomenal unity at work. The whole of the team worked in compete unison but it was the two lovers that interested Lawson.
One would place a stasis-field around an enemy the other would use a warp or a shockwave. Singularities and lifts, and pulls tore through the ranks. Lawson witnessed T'Soni fling a pull at a krogan charging at them only to be shot point-blank in the face by Shepard's M-77 heavy pistol.
Almost as if sensing her presence the Spectre turned to the spot Miranda had hidden. Still concealed by the cloaking device, Lawson was almost afraid to breathe lest she give herself away. Shepard shook her head apparently deciding she had not seen what she thought she had. She turned away but the instant she did T'Soni turned and pinned Lawson's shadowy corner with a cold stare and what could only be described as a playfully cruel smile. Not unlike the one Aria had displayed when Lawson was brought at gunpoint to the Pirate Queen's court.
They knew! Somehow they knew she was there! They left her where she stood without so much as a word or a raised gun.
"We go in teams of three and three. Stay alert, stay alive. Move out." Shepard barked the orders. Then she turned back to Miranda's corner and mouthed the words: 'You coming?'
Shepard was deliberately tormenting her, Lawson saw it clearly. It was as if she wanted Miranda to witness the forthcoming battle. But why? Posturing? That seemed most likely. But somehow Miranda didn't think being dragged down into the bowels of the complex to show-off battle prowess was so cut and dried. There was another motive at play here. One she could not see. It was like staring at an extreme close up of a paused image on a vid. Look too closely and all you saw were pixels rather than the whole picture.
Lawson was surprised to see how extremely well prepared Shepard's team was to confront the enemy. Within the sub-basement there were three chokepoints that could be shut off by shutters. The one directly off the stairwell had been welded closed, guarded by swarms of Alliance assault drones. They hovered in place, weapons at the ready.
Miranda saw Shepard activate her omni-tool and scan the door. "The seams are holding for now." she proclaimed. "But that blast was big, we need to ensure the other two arteries are secure. Liara, throw a singularly at starboard side. We'll go portside first; it has the largest ground to cover."
T'Soni obeyed without question and seemingly without effort summoned the sphere of dark energy, a nebula that would entrap and suspend enemies helplessly above the ground. Once ensnared the effect of the gravitational pull would not last long, but long enough for either the drones to pick off the invaders or for Shepard's team to return and do it.
The emerald skinned asari sprinted ahead of the others, leaving Shepard behind. Once more the Spectre pinned the darkened recess Miranda had chosen to conceal herself with a hard stare. Liara darted past following in the wake of the huntress before Shepard picked up the tail-end. Once more she gave the corner a predatory glance, smirked and disappeared into the shadows of the corridor ahead.
Shepard was defiantly toying with her now, Lawson knew it. The fact the operative was wearing a cloaking shield seemed almost moot. Miranda felt like a swimmer in the ocean just after spotting the dorsal fin of a shark. It peeks up every so often getting closer and closer before disappearing back into the murky depths of the vast waters, leaving behind its trail the cold dread fear of when the beast would strike. You tread water, knowing in the next few moments you were going to feel the jaws snap around you and pull you under.
Shepard was circling. Drawing ever closer. When was she going to close her jaws and drag Miranda into the depths? Shepard's anger was great, her wrath greater still but whose blood was going to be spilled Miranda's or her sister's? Had it been Aria's decision it would have been Oriana's but would the Spectre do the same? How much coaching had the Pirate Queen given Shepard? Had Shepard listened to Omega's matriarch or had she ignored those words of dark wisdom and gone her own way?
Miranda felt like she was drowning in the waters she had been treading. She had never known this kind of fear before, this dread was so completely alien to her but she was far from incapable of coping with it. The shark was closing in.
Lawson scrambled after the Spectre and her asari huntresses. Her hindbrain tripped on that last part. Huntresses. That was exactly what Liara T'Soni had become. Before the death of her baby, Dr. T'Soni was the leading prothean expert in Council space, content with being the scientist and bondmate to humanity's icon of heroics. When her child was murdered the soft-spoke socially awkward woman had been utterly replaced by a huntress. Baptized in the blood of her unborn daughter Dr. Liara T'Soni rose with a heart burning with the cold fire of vengeance. Debts would be repaid, debts T'Soni placed solely at the feet of Cerberus, at Miranda's feet because she was a part of that legacy.
The great depths didn't just have one shark. The one you could see. But there was a larger one, darker one, a more dangerous one because it had been overlooked. Shepard allowed her silhouette to be seen, to rise and fall above the waves as it were all the while the shark you didn't expect ambushed you from the side. It wasn't the Spectre's bite Lawson had to be concerned with, it was T'Soni's.
Shepard's orders were given. Miranda followed the companions into the portside avenue. She expected Shepard to use the highly strategic staggered approach when confronting enemy combatants. What she didn't expect was such an extremely novice mistake of aligning her team behind one of the defunct trucks for cover.
Shepard turned to S'thasa and called out a single word sharp and curt. "Bubble!"
The command was headed immediately. In theory any biotic could cast and maintain a biotic barrier bubble to protect herself and or her comrades. But while her full concentration was locked onto maintaining the bubble she was incapable of performing any aggressive counter action.
Shepard and T'Soni seemed to have some communication shared between them beyond radio contact. Not that Lawson was privy to private radio frequencies used by the Normandy crew but in the manner of their countenance it was a telepathic union that united Spectre and huntress.
Scrapes of bare clawed feet padding across ancient cement echoed more loudly than any shot fired from a gun. The shutters were breached. Waves of vorcha and varren poured through. Relentless bestial blood rage soaked through higher cognitive senses of the enemy causing berserker madness to spread like a disease.
She didn't know what Shepard was planning, but she knew one thing, it was going to be explosive. Following Dr. S'thasa example Lawson generated a biotic bubble to shield herself. She didn't need to know the particulars to know that there was one hell of a storm brewing and she was fuck damn in the middle of its eye.
Bubble erected. Just in time. Both T'Soni and Shepard pulled in the power of a reave from all enemies and not just those within a certain radius. Death was in the air. They reached outside the scope of even the more practiced of this discipline and touched every heartbeat that was not protected, drew it in and consumed it utterly.
What Lawson witnessed next she would later describe as a biotic backdraft. Not unlike the explosive event resulting from rapid re-introduction of oxygen to combustion to environment starved of it, the biotic backdraft had the same deadly result. Only this ever-consuming fire was birthed from twin souls working in the perfection of harmony.
Shepard and T'Soni. It will always be Shepard and T'Soni until the ending of the galaxy. There would never be one without the other.
Even as Shepard and her biotic squadmates pushed back the hordes, many of their numbers had filtered through to the upper level. The snipers nest was nearly overrun by the remnants of the Blood Pack but they could not take the seasoned warriors of the Normandy. Tali continuously sabotaged their shields and overloading their weapons and barriers. Garrus and Williams held their positions felling one after the other.
Zaeed not yet fully integrated in the team had not found the harmony of the squad's momentum. He had always shifted in the mercurial and danced on one side and then the other. He'd lie; change his priorities with the single one necessity of remaining alive.
Shepard's crew was different. They were like the cells with in a single body, separate but part of a greater whole. They worked in perfect tandem and in the camaraderie that comes with a lifetime of serving together. It had been it seemed eons since the old mercenary witnessed such a thing let alone been allowed to take part of it. But he wasn't a part of it. Was he? He was still very much the outsider, only allowed to have a glimpse. Shepard had compiled one hell of a team.
"Scoped and dropped." the turian cheered out.
"I'm still ahead by two, Vakarian." Williams countered.
"Don't get cocky Williams, those two were varren. Put down two bloodraged vorcha with one bullet then you can boast."
"Humph, that was a lucky shot, you didn't intend for that to happen."
"Still takes skill to take that shot girl." Zaeed quibbled. "Give due where it's due."
"Yeah it was good." Ash agreed. "And look you've got the chance to do it again. We've got more coming through."
"Shepard better get those goddamn shutters closed soon." Grumbled Zaeed "We'll get overwhelmed."
There was a sudden ear-splitting-teeth jarring-ka-boom from the ground floor. All heads turned to an energetic little quarian who had just did a fist pump in the air. She shrugged playfully "What?" and there was a smile in her voice. "You can't hang around a woman like Shepard and not pick a few things up."
Ash was the first to recover. "What did you do?"
She pointed to the one of the pyro-troopers. "When they were all packed up like that I thought what would Shepard do? She'd use an explosive. I overloaded a sticky grenade and flung it at the tanks and…"
"…Boom!" Garrus laughed finishing the young engineer's sentence. "I knew there was a reason I fell for you." He hadn't realized he blurted that last bit out until Ash turned to him and did a double take to Tali.
"Wow, you two hooked up?" Ash was a bit amazed in discovering this.
"Now aint the best time to talk'n about who's shagging who." Zaeed said. "That little girl bought us some time, but not much. The Blood Pack aint finished with us and Tarak is still coming."
Garrus took a determined step forward taking exception to the older human's words against the woman he loved. Ash slipped between the males and placed a hand on the turian's breastplate and hoped she wasn't making a huge mistake. As much as she wanted to see the old codger get a lump or two for his comments against Tali, the scarred bounty hunter had it right; there was a time and place for everything. "Let it go, Garrus. You can pop him one later."
"You're a very lucky human." Garrus growled. "Tali'Zorah vas Normandy deserves more respect from you, Massani. Maybe you should try to remember that if you intend to stay on the crew."
Below Tali smirked behind her helmet no one other than Shepard had charged to her defense so quickly. Garrus doing it, felt different than when Shepard had done so on the Citadel. It made her feel…warm inside.
Another rumbled. Another explosion but not from below, it came from not so far above. "We've got company." Massani said. "Right on time."
"Shepard!" Ash activated her radio. "Get up here; we've got movement on the HUD. SHEPARD!"
The last of the shutters fell. Broken bodies of varren, vorcha and krogan littered the avenue. Three women fell to their knees breathing heavily, regaining their strength. The shadow drifted along the corridor, the occasional crunch of rubble lost along with the symphony of sounds made by any battle. There were whispers of gentle explorations; the sort that portrays cunning and power. It was answered a sudden and sharp blast, a scream instantly cut short: Miranda was pinned once again by a stasis field.
Unlike Aria who commanded her minions to seize her, Lawson was held firmly by the throat by the Spectre's hand. Her body aglow in the cyan power of biotics, her eyes as white as an asari huntress's. She had sprinted to Miranda's shadowy corner so swiftly Lawson had never even seen her move. It was as if Shepard blinked from one spot and existed in the next in the silent break between heartbeats. Shepard had become a shadow. Miranda hadn't even known what hit her until the Spectre was on top of her.
"Let me tell you how this is going to be," said Samantha Shepard, as urgent sounds suddenly filled the corridor. She leaned over the body pinned on the floor. "You will be humanely handcuffed and a neurocollar strapped around your neck for the duration. I understand that operatives of Cerberus are under orders and hypnotic suicidal compulsion to avoid capture. But I'm betting right about now you're fighting that compulsion for the sake of your sister. But just in case you feel the need to carry out that drive, precautions are in play. You will be watched carefully by a team of asari commandos, who apart from being damn fine huntresses are not also burdened with being on my ground team." She intensified the biotic pulse's power and went on in a conversational tone.
"If I put my ground team on you, they'd make a very messy end of you and I'd have to discipline them for doing what the average member of the public might do if they were brave enough and if they had cradled their dead child in their arms. They would do it if only restore in their mind the balance of terror." Shepard flared her biotics, nearly suffocating Miranda. "Often the law treats them gently, if it worries about them at all.
"It's said the anger of a good person is not a problem. Good people have too many rules. They say I'm a paragon of heroic virtue, implying I'm a good person." The biotic warp intensified. "I say a good woman doesn't need rules. Today's not the day to find out why I have so many." Shepard momentarily changed her hold, "You and your organization are nothing but bullies who found it easier and easier and decided that anyone not human wasn't a real person, not like you, and when you know that, there's no crime too big, is there? No crime Cerberus wouldn't do.
"Being a Spectre is what's stopping me from squeezing the life out of an agent of murderers who slew my daughter. Why will I biotically squeeze her only into unconsciousness while despising myself for every fragrant breath I begrudge her? I'll tell you wretch of Cerberus, that what stands between you and sudden death right now is the law you don't acknowledge. And now I'm going to let you go, just in case you die on me, and I can't have that. However, I suggest you don't try and make a run for it, because my ground team is not bound by the same covenant as I am, and some of them can be quite tenacious and are not very fond of Cerberus, especially the quarian. Understand? Then there is my bondmate who has a considerable amount of biotics and knowing the T'Soni temper she will quite probably do things to that would make a batarian slaver-breaker say, 'Whoa, that's going a bit too far.' She has a grudge to pay back; it's a debt she will have paid. You or TIM it's all the same to her."
Miranda was bound as the Spectre promised with only with wrist restraints but with a neurocollar that plugged into the port at the base of her skill where her amp had once been. The collar was a means for law enforcement agents galaxy-wide to apprehend and confine biotic convicts.
*Shepard! Get up here; we've got movement on the HUD. SHEPARD!* Williams' cry belted over the radio.
"Copy that, on our way." Shepard answered. She spun around, her attention for a moment given to another. "Aleena secure Lawson! Take her to the Normandy, take all security precautions. Liara with me."
END BOOK ONE
AN1: Inspiration taken heavily from Sir Terry Pratchett, and of course the Bioware's wonderful ME franchise, and .
AN2: I love the new N7 shadows! In fact all the new N7 character in the MP of ME3. Thinking anyone's Shep in any fanfic despite class should have this training, i.e. shadows and slayers for biotics adapt/vanguard types. Destroyers for Soldiers so on and so forth. Or even a mix and match. So yes I gave Shepard the Shadow ability I love their shadow-strike and sword-warp thingy! Why is she displaying only now? (forget the fact we only just saw what they could do) well I have had her training with asari commandos. So I'm going to go with she picked up a few things from them including the echo game and how if you recall Velars taught her to 'see' with biotics. Going to have her had some of that training already being an N7 it's just we were cheated in-game with not having these abilities for Shepard. Oh and the sword…. cue evil maniacal laugh!
AN3: The story is continuing only that if I go on from here the chapter numbers will get ridiculously long as I still have ME3 to hit as well and I'm only in ME2 so BOOK 2 simply is there to restart chapter numbers back to 1