"Have the courage to live. Anyone can die." -Captain Kirrahe, 3rd Infiltration Regiment STG, Virmire Campaign
The Piper Maru shuddered underneath Captain Nimarin's feet as the vessel docked. He scowled into the airlock, thinking over the contents of their transmission. Cerberus was a Human terrorist organization. But they did have money. A great deal of money.
The airlock hissed open, and a black-haired Human woman stood before him. She had a pistol on each hip. Behind her were several other Humans in black uniforms.
"Ah. Are you Miss...?" He opened hesitantly.
"Let's skip the pleasantries, shall we?" She said brusquely, shouldering past him. "Show me the cargo bay and we'll be out of your way."
"Of course. But I have questions about..."
She rounded on him, eyes blazing. "Did the transaction clear your account, Captain Nimarin?"
"Yes, of course." And his account had never looked better.
"Then you don't really have the option of going back on your word, so your questions are moot. Lead on."
Captain Nimarin only nodded, suitably chastened. He turned on his heel and led. They wound through dark passages, the Humans' boots clicking on the metal floor. Nimarin shoved the door to the cargo bay open with a shoulder.
The woman slid past him, examining shipping tags on containers. Eventually she settled on one they'd picked up on the Citadel. It was black and nondescript, about two meters long, destination Kahji.
"This is it." She said, dropping the tag. Then she laid a hand on the container, and muttered more softly, "This is him."
The men behind her hoisted it up, and carried it out. The woman stalked out behind them. She didn't even look at him.
One year, three months, and nine days later
Shepard dropped her bag on the ground and closed the door with her boot. The blue call light was blinking on her laptop. She wiped still-greasy hands on her coveralls and crossed her small apartment to check her messages, then looked down at her hands and thought better of it.
She elbowed the bathroom light on and washed her hands. She pulled a towel off a rack and was drying her hands when she heard the noise.
Someone, or several someones, were shuffling around outside her apartment.
Moving silently, Shepard pulled her Carnifex out of her bag and flattened herself against the wall by the door. A healthy paranoia had never done her wrong yet.
Sure enough, in the next instant, the lock exploded and her door slid open.
The first two men didn't make it a step into her apartment, and the next two tripped a little on their corpses. The third, unfortunately, had a shotgun. Shepard dove behind her fish-tank as it went off, and 50 gallons of salt-water and tropical fish exploded all over her.
Roaring, Shepard put two rounds into him as his two friends dove on her. She drove a knee into the first's groin, but the second managed to crack her in the face with his elbow. Her hand shot out as his gun went off, ruining his aim but just barely. It went off beside her ear, and fortuitously, went right through his friend. She took advantage of his moment of realization with her Carnifex, and as abruptly as it had begun, the confrontation was over.
Shepard stood awkwardly. Her ear rang from the pistol going off so close to it. She was covered in axle-grease and blood and salt-water. Her fish had already stopped flopping. She dropped her Carnifex and it landed with a small splash. Her door was hanging open, and two dead would-be assassins were hanging half-way out of it. Her days of keeping a low-profile, it seemed, were at an end at least temporarily.
Her boots crunched on glass as she again approached her laptop. Maybe C-Sec would have some idea what the hell was going on.
When she opened it, someone was already on the line.
"Shepard! Thank the Maker!" Kolyat said.
Her chest constricted painfully. Kolyat didn't look much like his father but the voice was almost the same. She bore down hard on the despair that had threatened so often to crush her. This was not the time. Keep moving.
"Kolyat? What the hell are you..." She hadn't seen or heard from Thane's son since they bailed him out of trouble with C-Sec together, what seemed like a lifetime ago. She'd discreetly checked up on him a few times since...well, she'd kept an eye on him.
"There's no time to explain. Somebody's trying to kill me. Actually, quite a few people. You have to believe me!" He glanced around furtively then clasped his hands on the table, leaning forward. All of his mannerisms were very familiar. Dammit, this was not the time!
"I believe you! In fact, I'm having the same problem. Do you know who sent them?"
Kolyat was looking increasingly nervous. "We can't talk about it on an unsecured channel. Meet me somewhere? The warehouse district. Block 124, ten minutes." He cut the communication.
Shepard sat back hard in her chair, reeling. Half an hour ago, she was finishing a shift at the docks. Since then, five people had tried to kill her, and her dead partner's son had appeared after almost two years with assassins hot on his trail as well.
She looked around her devastated apartment. There was no time now; she'd have to talk to C-Sec about this later. She stripped off, and digging through her closet, found some of her old armor. It was actually dusty. She stepped over the pile of corpses and out her ruined door. It hung only awkwardly closed in the doorway, and would probably never lock again. Luckily, she had nothing worth stealing.
The Wards were crowded at any time of the day or night. Shepard threaded her way through the throng of half-drunk tourists and graveyard shift workers reporting for duty. She didn't have the distinctive carriage that she once had. Shepard had worked hard to blend in with the other denizens of the Ward, and that meant shortening her stride, relaxing her military posture.
The jacket she'd pulled out of the closet was Cerberus prototype reactive armor. It looked like normal fabric, but when compressed by an impact, its molecules contracted and dispersed the impact over a wider area. It was the difference between getting shot in the chest and kicked in the chest. She wore it when she wanted to be inconspicuous. It was knee-length and easily concealed her pistol.
In comparison to the Wards, the warehouse district was abandoned. Her steps were silent on the concrete floor, and she was ever-vigilant for darting shadows and glimmering armor. But there was no one.
Before she actually reached the 124 block, Kolyat melted out of the shadows and fell into step beside her.
"Take a left." He muttered casually. Kolyat had grown since they last met. He probably was now taller than his father by at least half-a-head. Again, he bore little facial resemblance to Thane but the way he clasped his hands behind his back and the timber of his voice made tears well up behind her eyes. Shepard clamped down hard on the feeling. She had to sort this out, for Thane. She had to protect his son.
They reached a dim cul-de-sac and Kolyat put his back against the wall, surveying the shadowy streets, one hand on the pistol on his hip.
"I'm glad you came, Shepard." He said, at last.
"You can repay me by telling me what you know. What the hell is going on?"
Kolyat sighed. "It started yesterday. I was coming home from C-Sec and I got jumped. I thought they were muggers, but they were clearly just trying to kill me. When I got back to my apartment it had been ransacked. Someone stole all my documents about...dad, and some other random stuff, nothing valuable. They came after me again right before I called."
He gulped air. "I killed them, and went through their omni-tools. They're getting directives from somebody called Tazzik. They're looking for my father, or something of his. Apparently they didn't find it in my apartment, and are willing to kill me to get it."
Shepard's mind was racing. She snapped her fingers. "Tazzik...I know that name. A contact of mine knew him."
That was the very short version of the story. Liara T'Soni had tangled extensively with Tazzik after the destruction of the first Normandy. Apparently he'd been working for the Collectors via the Shadow Broker at the time, trying to bring Shepard's then-dead body to them for some unknown purpose. T'Soni had been working for Cerberus to accomplish the same goal. Thankfully, T'Soni had come out on top.
"Tazzik works for the Shadow Broker." She murmured, feeling all the blood draining from her face.
"That's absurd." Kolyat said. "The Shadow Broker knows everything. He knows that dad is dead. He died on the Citadel, where the Shadow Broker has a thousand eyes! He wouldn't make a mistake like that."
Shepard starting walking briskly down the alley, waving at Kolyat to follow her.
"We don't have much time." She brought up her omni-tool. "Here. A fake ID I picked up a while ago. Give yourself a convincing name and identity. Also, 10,000 credits."
Kolyat just looked at his own omni-tool, confused. "Where are we going? What are you talking about?"
"I'm taking you to the transport hub. I've got to get you the hell off the Citadel. Use the new ID and the credits to book passage somewhere far away. If the Shadow Broker is after you for any reason, we can't take any chances."
"Shepard! What about you?"
"I'll work something out. C-Sec has no power against the Shadow Broker, so there's no point going through traditional channels. But I still have some contacts."
Kolyat bought a ticket to Omega, then came back to sit beside her and wait for his transport. Shepard looked at her omni-tool. Something told her she wasn't going to be making it to work tomorrow.
"I'm going in five minutes. It was the first trip off the Citadel I could find."
Shepard smiled wanly, nodding. "Good. I'll contact you when I sort this out. In the meantime, stay undercover. Don't make any new friends. Hopefully this will be over soon."
"I will. And, ah, thank you, Shepard. I know you don't owe me any favors."
She snorted, shifting in her seat. It had been an emotionally difficult day. "Please, Kolyat. You know I'm always...well, you can always come to me if you need to."
Kolyat nodded. "I'm glad dad found you."
Shepard wiped her eyes hurriedly. "Me too."
They stood, and to her surprise, Kolyat gathered her into a quick hug. Then he was gone, disappearing into the throng of travelers.
Shepard debated what to do as she made her way back into the Wards. Her apartment was compromised, of course, but on the other hand if she wanted to get to the bottom of what was going on, confronting the attackers was a good start.
She stepped into the elevator of her apartment building, letting out a sigh as soon as the doors slid shut. She would examine the bodies of the assassins at least, then gather up some things and probably find a nondescript hotel for the night.
When the elevator doors opened, she surveyed the hallway. It was totally silent. Her door was closed. Shepard shivered, for some reason. Every instinct screamed that something was wrong. Shepard drew her pistol and advanced down the hall toward her door, leading with her Carnifex.
At last she reached her apartment. Drawing a deep breath, she pushed the door aside with a boot. Sure enough, there was a man-shaped outline standing in the darkness of her apartment. She saw his shoulders tense when she opened the door.
Shepard's breathing was in danger of running away with her. Something was very wrong. She swallowed reflexively, then stepped into the room and closed the door behind her, her Carnifex trained on the interloper. He very slowly put his hands on his head, but didn't turn around.
Shepard turned on the light. He was Drell. Only slightly taller than her. Dark markings started on the base of his skull and disappeared into the collar of his long grey jacket. Her hands were shaking violently now on the Carnifex. A few burning tears seared down her face. She clenched her teeth.
"Turn around. Slowly." She said, her voice sounding strange even to her.
He turned. Shepard couldn't stop a strangled sound from coming from her throat. Everything was the same. Large, expressive black eyes, straight nose, full lips. His eyes found hers and she saw that he was crying.
Her own tears threatened to blur her vision, and the barrel of the Carnifex danced from how hard her hands trembled.
"What is...the meaning of this?" She snarled.
Yep, the "yeas" had it on my survey, and I decided to write this. I hope you enjoy it! Please tell me what you think, as always. Opening quote re-purposed from Robert Cody.