Chapter 1 – I Am Ardat-Yakshi, Hear Me Roar
"I love clubs. I love the music, the throbbing base, the dark rhythms...it speaks to something primal in me. Something fierce, wild, and untamed."
Shepard was not of the same mind. He hated clubs, finding them to be dens of shallowness and superficiality. That, and the "throbbing bass" gave him a headache. None of that was anywhere near as annoying, however, as the insufferably pretentious woman sitting across the table from him. Her name was Morinth, Samara's daughter, which Shepard found rather unbelievable as the two of them were almost polar opposites despite their uncannily resemblance to one another. Morinth was an "Ardat-Yakshi," which was basically an asari word for "sex killer;" the sort of person who inspired jokes about how her victims "came and went at the same time." Each time an Ardat-Yakshi killed someone via melding, she grew stronger and more powerful, in addition to experiencing a euphoric rush that was highly addictive. Like a junkie looking for a score, Morinth would never not stop killing, not unless someone killed her first. And that was why he was here.
He and Samara had hatched a plan. If Morinth caught sight of her mother she would flee, so the plan was to have Shepard lure her out, entice her to invite him to her apartment, and then Samara would burst in and lay down her righteous fury on Morinth. At least that was the plan. Shepard was fighting the urge to just whip out his Phalanx pistol and drill this wretched woman right between the eyes. It would have been endlessly satisfying, especially after seeing the video diaries of her previous victim. But now he was unarmed, as carrying weapons might tip Morinth off.
"When I travel," she continued, "I go to the darkest, most violent places I can find. Places where anything can happen, and where you can see and do almost anything."
He wasn't quite sure how to respond. "Yeah, I know what you mean. There was this bar on Earth-"
"A violent bar?"
"Er...yes, I guess you could say that. Anyway, I started talking with the bartender-"
"Was he a violent bartender?"
He frowned. "Um, never mind. What was I saying is, dark, violent places are nice, but sometimes you just want something a less...dangerous. Like an ice cream parlour."
"A violent ice cream parlour?"
She leaned back, giving him a smug grin. "I've been to Earth a few times, though it must have been hundreds of years ago."
That made him stiffen up and take notice. "Wait, you were on Earth?"
"Indeed I was. I was part of the Norwegian black metal inner circle. I murdered Euronymous and burned Fantoft Stave Church to the ground, then pinned the whole thing on some pitiful wretch of a man. A few years later I had a brief dalliance with the man behind Bathory. It didn't end the way he'd hoped."
"You have a...thing...for humans, then?" he asked, hoping that Morinth wouldn't see through his rather flimsy façade.
"I seek pleasure from all races – human, asari, turian, quarian, krogan, hanar..."
He raised an eyebrow. "Wait, hanar?"
"They can do things with their tentacles you can't even imagine."
Shepard fidgeted uncomfortably.
"You want to get out of here? I've got an apartment nearby, and I want you alone."
He nodded, and the two of them quietly made their way out of the Afterlife VIP section. Samara shadowed them at a distance, remaining in the shadows. Soon the trap would be sprung.
Morinth's apartment was very spacious and quite well-appointed for being on a hell-hole like Omega. The only thing Shepard could focus on, however, was the overwhelming aura of death surrounding this woman, which was not helped in the slightest by the swords and guns hanging on the wall. Morinth herself was slouched in a sofa near the wall, trying her utmost to look seductive, but it had no effect on Shepard. Being completely honest with himself, he'd never really found asari all that attractive. Maybe it was the fact that their skin looked rough and scaly, or perhaps it was their skin tones that put him off. Either way, Morinth's attempts to entice him were failing utterly.
"I love the bass, the rhythms of the music...but here it's muted, and you're safe. Is that what you want, Shepard?"
He laughed. "People feel safe right before they die."
"It's true. We're never safe." There was a wild, ferocious glint in her eyes that reminded him of Samara's words about how Morinth was "planning to inflict horrors upon him."
"Damn, I sure know about that!" he said. "One day you're just walking along a road, minding your own business, and suddenly bam! Pint-sized meteor out of nowhere! Then you're on the ground with a hole in your head, and a steamroller comes along and runs you over. I know all about that; that's how my father died."
There was a knocking sound from the far wall, followed by a low, guttural growl. "What was that?" Shepard asked, turning his head in the direction of the noise.
Morinth sat up straight, suddenly alert. "Oh, that? That...that's nothing. Pay no attention to it."
"So...uh, nice place you got here," he said, fumbling for words. He wondered where Samara was, for he doubted that he could keep up this game for much longer, and he was beginning to find Morinth's pretentious twaddle intolerable.
"One of many," she said haughtily. "I travel all over the galaxy, to the deepest, darkest places I can find. Some might call me selfish, but what could they ever know? I never understood the fascination with 'restraint' and 'discipline.' We all die eventually, and in that time should we not seek as much pleasure as we desire?"
Shepard wanted to argue that, if everyone followed only their own personal whims without thought to the greater good, then all of society would collapse into anarchy, but that wasn't the role he was supposed to play. Instead, all he could answer was, "Yes, Morinth."
"Independence over submission...I think we share that, you and I."
She started moving closer to him on the couch, and he fought the urge to move away. Just then there was another knocking noise from the opposite side of the room, and what sounded like someone or something trying to claw its way out. "Damn, what the hell is that?" he exclaimed. "You got a varren in the closet or something?"
"It...it's nothing...just a few...exotic pets...I keep. It's nothing!" she said, sounding increasingly defensive. "Like I said before, I think we share a lot in common, Shepard."
Shepard was growing tired of this. What was taking Samara so long? "We've both killed before, but that's where the similarities end."
This seemed to momentarily unnerve Morinth. "Why do you say that I've killed? Let's stop playing games." She then moved even closer to him, closing her eyes and then reopening them a second later, and when she did Shepard saw that they were now completely black. It was something asari did right before they "melded." It had been creepy enough when Liara had tried it with him, and it was downright terrifying when this woman was doing it. He sensed that Morinth was trying some sort of mind-control scheme on him, but he'd be damned if he were going to let this asari sex demon have her way with him.
"Say you want me," she said. "That you'd kill for me. Anything I ask."
Shepard said nothing for a moment. "Sorry, but I'd rather hammer nails in with my face than spend one more minute with you, you worthless, gibbering mistake of evolution. In fact, I am seriously fighting the urge to just beat the blue off your ass right this instant."
Her eyes returned to normal, her expression one of complete surprise that someone could have resisted her so easily. "What...who...who are you? Are you one of Prazza's friends?"
Suddenly there was a great, bellowing roar, followed by a loud crash. An enraged grizzly bear, apparently being held captive inside the closet, had broken free and was now barrelling towards Morinth. She tried to throw the beast aside with her biotics, but the bear was already upon her.
"Help!" she cried. "It's broken free of my mind control!"
Shepard, of course, wasn't going to lift a finger to help her. That, and he was unarmed and in no shape to take on an angry, 1000 pound grizzly bear. Instead he just watched as the beast mauled Morinth to death, at which point Samara stormed into the apartment, her body aglow with biotic energy. She froze when she saw that Morinth was already dead, and while Shepard knew the Justicar as someone who was always calm and aloof, even she seemed surprised at what had just happened.
The grizzly bear, having finished mauling Morinth, turned and looked at the two of them and, in a moment that was truly surreal, opened its mouth and spoke.
"Good day to both of you."
It then leapt head-first out of the nearest window, landing on the street below, where it proceeded to send people fleeing in all directions. Shepard just stared out the broken window, wondering if Morinth had dropped a hallex or two in his drink back at Afterlife.
Samara glanced around the apartment. "An exotic pet she kept, I assume. It is likely she mistreated it."
"Yes, but...bears...bears aren't supposed to talk. It must have been some sort of...genetically engineered...hyper-bear..."
The Justicar looked over at the mangled body of her daughter, and Shepard could that even though Morinth was a monster by any definition, she still felt a measure of pity at her demise. "The bravest and smartest of my daughters, come to such an end. Truly, I have no words. Let us be gone from this place."
And now there's a bear on the loose on Omega, Shepard thought as they quietly made their way out of Morinth's apartment. One good thing about Omega is that no one would be too upset about finding someone's dead body.
"It's been nearly an hour...I don't like this."
Tali knew it was pointless to worry about Shepard. No matter how impossible the odds were, he always prevailed somehow. Unlike her, he seemed to be extraordinarily well-favoured by the universe.
"You needn't worry so much," said Garrus, looking around as if he were just itching to shoot someone. "He told us that there wasn't going to be any shooting or explosions on this mission."
"That is why I'm worrying," she replied, wringing her hands. "I know Shepard could handle that sort of thing. But this...he's going after some...what was it again?"
Garrus' mandibles twitched. "An Ardat-Yakshi," he said. "They're asari with a rare genetic condition. If one mates with you, it's like plugging your brain right into a power outlet. The effect is addictive, of course, so you can see why they have to be stopped."
"Have you ever dealt with one before? At C-Sec?"
"Yeah, I remember one a few years back. She had seduced and killed about twenty people on one of the wards. My superiors dismissed the deaths as 'natural causes;' I was the only one who noticed that the same asari was always with the victims right before they died. But I could never find any incriminating evidence, not until she got sloppy and killed some diplomat up in his penthouse on the Presidium. That was when C-Sec finally started taking what I'd told them seriously."
"Did you catch her?"
"Yeah, but before she could be charged the asari government took custody of her and paid C-Sec a large amount of money to keep the truth about her under wraps. Apparently they don't want Ardat-Yakshi from becoming widely known in the rest of the galaxy. Guess it would mar their 'superior' image."
This wasn't doing anything to assuage Tali's fears. "Well, I just hope Shepard doesn't end up...seduced...by this woman."
Garrus chuckled. "There's not a woman in this galaxy who could seduce Shepard."
For some reason, Tali found that statement very disheartening.
At this point they were doing nothing except waiting by the airlock doors of the Normandy. She supposed that there might have some work to do down in engineering, but that there was nothing that couldn't wait until the mission was over. As for Garrus, he spent a lot of time in the Normandy's forward batteries, claiming that he was "working," although Tali suspected that much of it was spent watching vids or something else that was definitely not "work."
Tali decided to pass the time by listening the news broadcasts and advertisements that played over loudspeakers throughout Omega:
"Now available on video: Paul Nguyen's breathtaking adaptation of Gregory Matthias' fantasy series Aria of Flame and Frost. Step into the world of Grishnoth, where nothing is as you expected, where a terrible fate awaits at every turn:"
"Have you heard? Ser Reginald's wife was taken captive by mad king Washail, and then he had his entire retinue gang rape her in front of her family! Then they cut her body into pieces and fed them to his dogs, and then he had the dogs burned alive!."
"Aye, these are troubled times, Ser Aeldred. Lord Wesnoth had all the prisoners taken in the Battle of Ostar Bridge fed into an enormous meat grinder he had installed in his dungeon, and then he took the thin, gruel-like paste they had been ground into and used it to fertilise his garden."
"That's not all I've heard, Ser Rolf. I heard that he one of his servants caught him bedding his own sister, so Wesnoth had the man's head pulled out through his anus."
"Critics are calling Aria of Flame and Frost the best fantasy series of the decade. "A masterpiece," says Reia Vasali. "Every single character is completely loathsome and unlikeable; a true achievement of moral ambiguity in storytelling." Talus Varon calls it "A stunning, original work...the perfect antidote to all those fairy-tale fantasy series. It's grim, dark, and totally nihilistic...just like life."
A few minutes later Shepard returned with Samara, and Tali breathed a sigh of relief. It must have been terrible to have to help Samara kill her own daughter, and while the Justicar wasn't the sort of person who openly displayed her emotions, it was clear that she was greatly distraught.
With nothing more to do on this miserable station, the Normandy pulled away from the docking cradle and sped away. Their next destination was Illium, which was scarcely any better. To be sure, it was quite a bit cleaner and shinier than Omega, but it was every bit as corrupt and dangerous. The planet was a libertarian's dream – a place with limited government oversight and very few laws or regulations on business and labour practices. Few quarians ever set foot on Illium, as the Migrant Flotilla was forbidden from even entering the system. Not that most quarians could ever afford living there, or even find gainful employment.
If there was one upside to Illium, it was that no one asked too many questions. and thus no one would pay much attention to a Cerberus ship being outfitted with Silaris armour. Such an upgrade would normally cost a fortune, but one particular shipyard offered a substantial discount if you provided the raw materials yourself. Hopefully the new armour, combined with the multicore shielding Tali had installed, would help the Normandy stand up to a Collector attack better than its predecessor. If not, then maybe they'd finally get things right with the Normandy SR-3, provided they didn't all die horribly, which was always a possibility.