Careful Diplomacy

Shepard couldn't understand why the planet was named Amaranthine. Gran had grown amaranth on Earth and later on Mindoir. The species Gran used as a cover crop had golden stalk-like flowers. The planet was shadowed in deep twilight even during midday. The sky was a deep blackish-purple. Its small dwarf star only just barely stood out from the rest of the stars that dotted the sky. In fact, it reminded Shepard of a small moon. Amaranthine looked nothing like Gran's amaranth.

She swallowed as she eased Precious down a ravine. Now was not the time to be thinking about the home she could never return to.

"Be ready for a double cross," she told the crew to take her mind off Gran's farm and her 'victory' garden. "I don't give a damn if Helena Blake lacked the bravado before. She's got power now."

"Blake isn't stupid, Shepard," Wrex grumbled. The krogan was wedged behind Alenko.

"Neither am I, Wrex." She shot him a look over her shoulder. "And while we're on the subject: The next time you decide to bring me into one of your schemes, I want to know about it first."

He rumbled a laugh. "Sorry, Shepard. Habit." He didn't sound the least bit apologetic, but Shepard let it slide. Getting into a fight with Wrex still wasn't at the top of her To Do list. It remained firmly at the top of her Don't Ever list.

The Mako eased to a stop at the coordinates Helena Blake had given to Shepard when Blake's two partners were dealt with. There were only a few large and small crates neatly stacked within view of the Mako's high beams.

"Nice," Shepard said with a sigh. "Be ready for anything."

"There's a wireless signal coming from the coordinates," Alenko told her. "Scanning. No viruses detected. Signal's being routed through a small tower system. Low tech. Simple decryption. …There's a text message for you, ma'am."

"Of course there is."

Shepard looked over at the amber screen, leaning close to Alenko as she read the text message quickly. The musky scent of Alenko's armor combined with his aftershave confounded her senses. She swallowed the feelings quickly. Now was not the time to think about Kaidan.

Spectre Shepard,

You've done a world of service. I've already increased my profits. As promised, no slavery, no drugs.

I have another proposition for you if you wish to chat in person. Just follow the coordinates attached to the message.

As for payment, you'll find Kassa Fabrication armors and a few biotic amps for you and your crew. And Wrex. You know as I do they will fetch a fine price on the Market or the Citadel.


Helena Blake
Le Tigri Gialli

Shepard frowned at the message but made no move to ease back into her seat. Alenko cleared his throat as he read the message. He shifted in his seat but made no other move away from Shepard's presence as she crowded him.

"Kassa Fabrication is top of the line, Commander," he commented.

"Blood money," she responded, easing back. "Did the scan pick up anything other than armor?"

He shook his head. "No, ma'am. We'd have to do individual scans on the software to see if there are any tracers."

"Shepard to Normandy." Her fingers drummed distractedly on her knee. "Requesting pick up of cargo. Have the recon team go through it inch by inch and scan everything before bringing it on board."

"Aye, aye," Joker affirmed. "ETA: Three minutes. Recon team ready to deploy."

Shepard revved the engine. "We won't be here when you arrive," she told him as she threw Precious into reverse and backed over a cliff. Her stomach lurched as she activated the eezo core to slow their decent.

"Uh, okay," Joker said over the sound of the thrusters. "Where will you be, Commander?"

"Giving Helena Blake a piece of my mind." Shepard's voice was hard.

After a moment Joker replied, "With you being a biotic and all, I'm not sure to take you seriously or not."

Helena Blake met them at the airlock of her run-down base. Flanked by Alenko, Garrus and Williams, Shepard stepped through and allowed Blake to give them a tour of the facility.

Not stupid, my ass.

Shepard wondered if the base was permanent. Blake didn't strike her as having much to begin with, but resolved to use Blake to her advantage. The woman owed her.

"Commander Shepard," Blake said with flourish and a smile. She gestured around as her long dress picked up dirt from the base's deck. "I owe you a debt of gratitude. With those two idiots out of the way, this syndicate will do away with anything attached to slavery or red sand dealing."

Shepard didn't return the smile. "And you owe me more than armor and a few biotic amps." It came out more calm than she felt.

Blake's smile faltered. She blinked. It was all Shepard could do to not roll her eyes. Had the woman really thought Shepard was in her pocket?

"With a better foothold on your syndicate, you've got a larger ear to the ground."

Her expression slid into an affronted frown. "Yes, but –"

"Any information you have on Saren Arterius, Matriarch Benezia or geth, I want to know before you take it to an information broker."

Blake crossed her arms defiantly. "Information is power, Commander Shepard."

"Power I just gave you," Shepard argued. "I took out both your partners without breaking a sweat or losing a man, and they had better defenses than this place. All you got for me was some armor and a location for Wrex to a turian smuggler. You owe me more than that for taking my time away from total galactic annihilation."

The woman's left eyebrow rose a fraction. "A little melodramatic, don't you think?"

Not if you knew what I do. "I don't have time for this bullshit." Shepard activated her omni-tool and replayed Saren and Benezia's recording. "Reapers. A rogue Spectre is trying to revive an ancient machine race to destroy all life in the galaxy." She eyed Blake. "You help me, and I don't haul your ass off to rot in a turian prison."

"I would die before going to prison," Blake warned, voice cold. "I would most certainly kill before going to prison." As a warning, the hisses of rifles and pistols opening echoed throughout the small room.

Shepard took a step forward, not even bothering to draw her pistol. She narrowed her eyes. "Geth are attacking human colonies with a fucking rogue Spectre and trying to find a way to destroy the galaxy, and I'm supposed to care whether or not you want to go to jail?" she demanded. She crossed her arms, gestured with one hand. "You're small time, I get that. So here's the deal: Fuck jail time. You give me any intel you hear about Reapers, geth, Saren Arterius, or Matriarch Benezia, and I don't blow your base to hell and back in an orbital strike."

Blake paled. The Commander only eyed her coolly. The woman really was a small fry.

"I'll… I'll take that deal, Spectre."

Garrus paced the length of Shepard's quarters. "You aren't going to turn over the coordinates to the authorities?"

"No," Shepard told him from her seat the conference table. She reached for her coffee cup. It was still warm. "She's a useful informant."

Alenko gestured with his datapad. "There are a few leads we could trace down already."

"But you can't—"

Shepard's eyes narrowed. "Excuse me? I don't think I heard you right."

Garrus looked contrite, stopping short at the end of the table. "That's not what I meant. I—"

"Translator glitch then?"

The turian gurgled something. It wasn't a word the translator recognized, just a sound of frustration as he sat heavily in a human-designed chair that didn't fit his body.

"Damn it, Shepard, she's a criminal!"

"She's a contact I can use. Now she owes me."

"She doesn't owe you. You paid her back for helping Wrex."

"I can pay my own debts, kid," Wrex interrupted. He leaned back slightly. The chair squeaked ominously. "Besides, Shepard's a Spectre. We need informants, pyjaks or nathnaks. It's the only way we'll get an upper hand on Saren."

"Are you really going to bomb her base in an orbital strike if she doesn't cooperate?" Williams asked.

Shepard shrugged. "She's probably in the process of pulling up shop, so it wouldn't matter either way."

"Ah, come on, Commander," Joker groused over the MC. "Just once. A little strike."

"We'll worry about orbital strikes when we meet up with Saren," Shepard told him, took a sip of coffee. "He's on the move, and he's got a geth army. If we're lucky, they'll all be on the ground for you to take out."

"There haven't been any major geth sightings in weeks, Commander," Alenko said, looking through the datapads that were scattered on the table. "Let's hope he's in the Terminus Systems."

"That would be our luck," Williams grumbled.

"Alright," Shepard said wearily, not wanting to worry if Saren was out of their reach. "Garrus, keep on your contacts at C-Sec. Something's got to give there. Anything they find, bring it to me. Wrex, see if you can dig up anything using your contacts. Tali, can the Flotilla provide any intel?"

Tali shook her head. "I can't even contact them until my Pilgrimage is complete." She twisted her hands together nervously. "Though… technically it is complete, but as I said before: I'm not leaving until I see this mission through and Saren and his geth brought to justice."

Shepard nodded. "Thank you, Tali."

"You have something to bring back to the Flotilla?" Garrus asked. His mandibles fluttered, a gesture Shepard recognized as nervousness.

"I gave her a copy of the data from the Armstrong Incursions months ago," she told him.

"I'm still not talking to you, bosh'tet," Tali reminded him. Loudly.

Shepard cocked an eyebrow. "Do I want to know?"

Tali gave a small shake of her head. "Not worth your time, Shepard," she said before Garrus had a chance to speak up. "It doesn't affect the mission. I have some repairs to make on a combustion manifold in engineering. Permission to be dismissed?"

Shepard nodded, filing away the conversation for a later date. There was something wrong and Shepard was determined to find out what. Anything personal could disrupt the mission and she wanted everyone at their best. "We're done here. Final reports are due in thirty minutes. Crew dismissed."

The team filed out of her quarters, Alenko's eyes lingered on her a moment before he turned and left.

Anything personal could disrupt the mission, she reminded herself.

"Commander," Joker's voice said, startling her from her thoughts, "you've got an incoming transmission from Arcturus. Looks like the brass just can't get enough of your help."

So much for handling personal business before it disrupts the mission. She rubbed her brow. "Patch it through to my private terminal."

Trivia/Geekery: There are over sixty different species of amaranth ranging in colors from gold to red. The name of Helena Blake's 'gang' is the very unoriginal name: The Yellow Tigers. The translation should be Italian.