Legal Disclaimer: As always, Mass Effect, as well as all characters, locations, and dialogue borrowed from the game, are property of BioWare.

A little over two years ago:

He has begun to look forward to their discussions.

He hears her approach, and turns to face her, "Commander. Good to see you."

Shepard smiles a greeting, "You've been with C-Sec a while. Have you seen much action?"

"Well, nothing like what you saw during the Blitz, but yeah, I've seen some interesting things." He replies with a self deprecating shrug, while the memory of one case jumps to the fore. His mandibles twitch and pull tight to his jaw unconsciously in remembered irritation.

Not letting him off the hook, she digs deeper, "I'll bet. Anything in particular stand out?"

"Well, there was this one case involving a salarian geneticist, it was a bit… disturbing. I was sent to investigate and track the black market trade on the Citadel. Most of it was harmless, nothing I needed to pursue." Disgust colors his tone, deepening the flanging effect, "But during the course of my investigation, I noticed an increase in the trade of body parts, primarily organs. We usually get a few of those, but not in the numbers I was seeing. We weren't sure if there was a new black market lab, or if some freak was harvesting organs from citizens." His voice trails off.

"So how did you figure out what was happening?" the commander prompts him.

"First we got a hold of a sample and ran DNA tests. The weird thing was, the match led us to a turian who was still alive and was very convinced he'd never lost his liver. After a bit of digging, I discovered this turian worked briefly for Dr. Saleon, the geneticist." Even now, the name brings a bitter taste to his mouth, "So I went to his lab, hoping to find evidence of cloned organ development. But there was nothing."

"What did you do about the geneticist," she asks curiously.

"I brought in some of his employees for interrogation, to see if I could get them to talk. While I was interviewing one of them, I came across something suspicious."

"You mean threatening," her tone is thick with disapproval. "Was that really necessary?"

"Maybe, maybe not," he admits with a shrug, "Either way, it paid off. One of my detainees started bleeding profusely during the interview. We offered to patch him up and he got frantic. Freaked out. I ordered a full exam, to find out what was going on. Our medics found incisions all over his body, some of them fresh. That was our big break. These people weren't just Dr. Saleon's employees. They were test tubes. Walking, living test tubes."

Her eyes widen in horror, "He was growing parts inside these people?"

Garrus gives a quick nod, "Exactly. He cloned their organs right inside their own bodies. Then he harvested them and sold them off. Most of the victims were poor. He'd pay them each a small percentage of the sales, but only if the organs were good. If an organ didn't grow properly, he'd just leave it in them. Most of them were a mess, but only on the inside – hidden, so nobody could see it."

"I hope he got what he deserved" she replies, her tone laced with venom.

He explains how the salarian found out about the raid in advance and blew his lap. That he'd escaped to a ship, taking several of his employees as hostages. He goes on to tell her about C-Sec countermanding his orders to shoot the ship down due to worries about the hostages.

He's surprised when her next words are to agree with C-Sec's decision, "It's not worth the risk. You pursue the vessel and disable it. That's the best choice."

"They sent the military after his, but he escaped. All they had to do was disable that ship. Stop him from running. Maybe the hostages die, maybe they don't. But at least we stop the bastard responsible for it all."

His passionate exclamation is cut short as the commander interrupts, "If you don't care about the fate of those hostages, then you're no better than he is. You're just a terrorist with a badge."

Her words give him pause. Finally, "Yeah, maybe you're right. It doesn't make it any easier, but I see your point. I just wish I could have stopped him. That's all"

She asks sympathetically, "Do you have any idea what happened to Dr. Saleon?"

"I sent out feelers from time to time, hoping to find something. I thought I'd found him a while back." He replies, remembered frustration causing his body to tense, "He'd changed ships and changed his name to Dr. Heart – his idea of a joke, I guess. I told the military, but they weren't convinced it was him. I got the transponder frequency for his new ship, but I just can't get anyone to check it out."

Shepard appears to come to a decision, "I'll check out the coordinates when I get a chance."

"I was hoping you'd say that," he admits with relief at her offer. "But, Commander, take me with you when you go. If it is Saleon, I want to be there when you find him."

She nods in understanding and heads back to the elevator. Garrus turns back to his terminal, not realizing that this isn't the first time that his was the only company she'd sought out.

On the Normandy:

As Garrus' back hits the mat that had been laid out on the floor of the cargo hold, cheers erupt from the surrounding crew members. He simply lies still for a moment, catching his breath, until a figure approaches him and kneels next to him. "Need a hand up?" A good natured smirk adorns the commander's face as she extends a hand.

He allows her to help pull him back to his feet, and he huffs a laugh, "I still don't know how you talked me into this," he tells her, "I clearly remember saying that I'd rather not add my name to the list of people you've knocked on their asses."

She runs a hand through sweat-darkened hair, and gestures toward the crowd that's gathered, "Completely your fault. The crew needed some entertainment, and it's safer to put on a demonstration than to allow the crew to engage in full contact sparring." A wicked grin crosses her face, "And besides, you know me. I'm always up for hitting things." With a quick pat on his shoulder, Shepard moves back to her side of the floor, "Ready for another round?"

"Of course, Commander."

* * *

"I should have known you were holding back during the first few rounds."

Garrus' eyes shine with satisfaction at Shepard's comment as she mock-glares at him from her seat across from him in the shuttle. After a moment, she shakes her head, not even trying to hide the grin tugging at one corner of her mouth.

As the Normandy had been en route to Illium, EDI had detected an anomaly on an uninhabited planet as they passed through the Lusarn system. Further investigation had revealed that, hidden in the heavy chlorine fog surrounding the planet, a communications relay had been constructed. The message that they'd intercepted mentioned a weapons shipment and was shown to match Blood Pack mercenary protocols, causing the commander to decide that the matter needed looking into.

Unfortunately, the nearest landing site is a fair distance from their objective, and as they exit the shuttle, EDI reports, "The fog on the planet's surface is interfering with your navigation systems."

"That's great," Garrus mutters. He looks around, noticing a nearby beacon. "I think if we activate these beacon towers, we can use them to serve as a navigational aid."

Thane's deep voice adds, "We shall need to be cautious, this atmosphere is toxic."

Shepard nods agreement, "Go ahead and activate the towers, they'll keep us going in the right direction at least."

They move out, each activating their suit's light source to enable them to keep track of each other. As they move deeper into the fog, a large shadow hits the ground before them, a muffled roar rolling over them before it takes off again.

After several minutes, the fog things slightly, revealing stacks of crates, and several corpses strewn about the ground. "Whatever fight happened here, it occurred recently," Thane observes as he examines the bodies. As he stands, another shadow lands nearby, and soon the team is attacked by a klixin. A concussive shot from Garrus knocks the thing off its feet, allowing them time to retreat before its body explodes.

The rest of the push toward the communications tower is uneventful, despite several more of the large creatures landing nearby. Just as they approach their objective, a small ship lifts into the air, its doors slamming shut as it abandons several vorcha. Before they have a chance to recover their footing, they are quickly dispatched. A lone krogan charges toward Garrus, forcing him to dodge. As the krogan turns for a second pass, half of his head seems to vaporize, and he drops without a sound. Garrus looks over his shoulder as the commander snaps her assault rifle back into its holster and moves to the control panel set into the wall of the communications tower.

With the communications tower disabled, the team returns to the shuttle. As the Kodiak heads back to the Normandy, EDI reports that the communications they had intercepted were being transmitted to a planet in the Xe Cha system, and that they indicated that the Blood Pack was planning a large-scale invasion on Illium. "Have Joker lock in the coordinates, if we take out that base, maybe we can prevent it, or at least delay it long enough to give the authorities on Illium time to prepare."

* * *

As the Normandy enters the Xe Cha system, scans show that an extremely high power source is active on the planet Zada Ban.

When they exit the shuttle, they discover stacks of crates containing various amounts of refined palladium and a path leading downward. She takes point, cautiously moving toward the door that's been built into the cliff. All is quiet until they reach a ledge, only to have several vorcha start firing on them from below. As the team duck behind the crates, Shepard finds herself pinned down by concentrated fire, while Thane and Garrus make short work of their adversaries with well placed shots with their sniper rifles.

Once their path is clear, they move across the bridge extending across the chasm, picking off the occasional vorcha as they advance. They come across a data pad that mentions the Garm, Blood Pack leader that she'd encountered on Omega, confirming to them that the site should be shut down. When Garrus hacks the door controls, allowing them access, they move cautiously into a room that hums with power.

Just as they'd expected, an ambush was awaiting them. They quickly take cover as a large krogan charges forward, only to be thrown back violently as Thane directs a pulse of biotic energy into him. While the leader staggers to his feet, Garrus takes careful aim at one vorcha after another, quickly decimating their rear ranks while Shepard sweeps the leaders with assault rifle fire. As the last of the vorcha falls, they turn their attention back to the leader, only to see a mass effect field surround him, his body disintegrating as the warp detonates the residual biotic energy. Shepard glances at Thane, impressed at this demonstration of his skill.

After Garrus examines the two large gas tanks set in the middle of the enclosure, it is determined that the only way to disable the base is to destroy the containment devices. The commander orders her team back to the door as she carefully punctures three of the devices, allowing gas to leak into the room. She then moves to join her team, only then signaling Garrus to use his rifle to puncture the last one. They quickly bolt out of the cave and board the awaiting shuttle, just as an explosion rocks the ground below.

* * *

On the Normandy:

"Okay Commander, why is it always claws and guns? Can't we piss off a fuzzy planet? Still dangerous, but hey, bunnies!"

Shepard chuckles at Joker's observation. "I'll see what I can do next time." She'd come up to the cockpit to get his thoughts on the upgrades she'd had installed on the ship, and the conversation had meandered.

"Oh, and thanks for bringing those ingredients for Gardener. But you know what I could really go for right now? A hamburger. Not vat-grown. An actual, honest-to-god dead cow. With horseradish."

She pretends to think for a moment, "Well, we could head to Ontaram and see if we can track down that shifty looking cow that kept following us around. I still think it stole those credits, I just don't know how!"

Joker barks a laugh and then his expression turns serious, "It's good to have you around again, Commander. Two years and everything hits the crapper. That'll teach you to die on me."

With an understanding pat on the shoulder, she replies, "I'll try not to let it happen again."

"I hope not, because the galaxy's a safer place when Garrus isn't trying to beat folks to death with that stick."

A/N: Just a short one this time, I'm trying to break up the larger main story quests with some of the side quests I rarely see make it into stories. The downside is that it tends to lead to a shorter chapter. Please enjoy reading and review if you feel like it!