A/N: Hello there. So, college is back underway, and new personal issues crop up...again. Still, I'm not dropping either of my two ME stories, and here's an update for you.

Chapter 9: What Sets One Apart

Golo was no stranger to fear. The things he'd done were always risky, and when he'd been caught…well, he was surprised they settled for exile.

But this time, he knew, as they dragged him to a room repurposed for interrogation, they had no intention of letting him go. He sat in the room for nearly twenty minutes before the door opened. Mentally, he prepared himself.

The only reason he was still alive was the information in his head. Without that, the cold impracticality of the need for every inch of space aboard the Migrant Fleet necessitated his execution. The only thing in his favor was that quarians were very much strangers to inflicting torture, especially against their own kind. There was only so much one could do to a quarian without causing exposure and death via infection.

But when he heard the door close, he looked up to see a human. Whoever this person was, he (at least he thought it was a he, Golo couldn't really tell the difference with the hardsuit) was content with just staring at the quarian for a good few minutes before speaking. "Do you know who I am?" the man asked.

"No," was his curt answer. "Should I?"

"Starting now, you should." The human slowly walked closer, his movements measured, precise, but fluid. Military trained, Golo realized. "Major Shepard. Spectre."

No, Golo was definitely no stranger to fear, and that moment was no exception.

Mal and Tali dragged the traitor into the repurposed room. There weren't any actual interrogation rooms in the Fleet, or anything even remotely close. With hardly any visitors and even fewer hostile ones, there was simply no need. But with the proper restraints, they wouldn't need one.

Shepard, Liara, and Legion had assisted in clearing the ship and generally helping its citizens get back on their feet. The Spectre decided to leave his intent to gather evidence from the dead Cerberus operatives unmentioned.

Legion followed, though he didn't really bother to keep a close eye on him. If the geth wanted him dead, he would have done it already.

John stopped his stride briefly as he realized what he had done. He. John was anthromorphizing the damn thing already.

Mal and Tali, having deposited the prisoner in the room, waited back in the hall as two security guards stood watch. "I believe this is where things get complicated," the captain stated with a tired sigh. "I admit I'm not entirely sure how to proceed. Nor am I sure I want to think about it."

"I'll handle it," Shepard said without hesitation. He knew exactly what his options were, and he was prepared to deal with the consequences of each.

Liara stopped John before he could enter. Though her helmet revealed little more than eyes, he could see the concern in them. "Are you sure you want to do this? This is not…your specialty. I…"

He understood what she was really getting at. "It'll be fine. I'll take it slow."

To his surprise, her head shot up from its relaxed gaze at the floor, eyes wide in shock. "You—you're not going to…surely you wouldn't…"

It took a few moments before his thought process caught up with hers. "Oh! No, no. Not like that. Not yet, anyway. We'll see where this goes." He sometimes forgot how easy misunderstandings and misinterpretations happened with cross-species communication. Translators were good, but there were subtleties and connotations that got in the way. Without waiting for her reply, he walked into the room, ready to get this over with.

"Your name is Golo," the Major said, monotone and casual.

Despite his situation, Golo couldn't hold back the sarcasm. "How long did it take you to figure that out?"

"What I don't know," the human continued as if he hadn't heard, "is what your name used to be before your exile."

That was not something he had been expecting. "Why do you care?"

Shepard grabbed a crate and pulled it closer to the center of the room. With surprising casualness, he took a seat and rested one of his legs on top of the other. "Because you were once a respectable person, probably with a degree of empathy. I'd like to know more about that person."

What the hell is this? "Are you asking for my life's story? I doubt that would be worth your time. What kind of interrogation is this?" He was aware that he was hurting his own case by saying that, but his confusion and curiosity got the better of him.

Before Shepard could weigh the possible outcomes of dropping his initial strategy, he decided to get to the point. "Interrogation is about finding information. Torture is an attempt at getting that information through pain and fear despite the will to resist. This," Shepard said, vaguely gesturing around the room, "is a conversation." After a few moments of silence, he continued. "I already know you are working for, or more likely, with Cerberus. They were after the biotic girl. I understand why, and I even understand why you needed to come along. But…I feel like you're here for a different reason. Or at least you wanted to be a part of that mission."

Golo recognized where this was heading. "You know about Cerberus?" he asked, trying to redirect away from more sensitive topics.

Shepard crossed his arms, his eyes squinting. "I've…had a few run in's with them. Long story short, they're an organization that loves doing terrible things for lofty goals. Human-centric goals. Which is why your association with them is perplexing."

Knowing they had reached the point of the matter, Golo remained silent, lest he give up his only leverage.

"You won't talk because that information is the only reason we want you alive," Shepard surmised. The quarian was curious as to why he said it out loud, though. "Which means that, short of torture that makes death preferable, you have absolutely no incentive to tell me anything."

"You're forgetting the part where torture intense enough to break people like me would result in unreliable information," Golo pointed out, hoping the human wouldn't call the bluff.

"Indeed," the human nodded, "that's the case with some people. Whether or not you're one of them…well, it's not like we'd lose much to find out, would we?"

Damn it. "You'd lose the opportunity to learn more about Cerberus. I can guarantee you that."

"Can you, now?" To Golo's horror, the human chuckled. "You think I don't already know the extent of your knowledge? You think I'd buy that you, a quarian, knows useful information about a highly secretive, compartmentalized, human-centric organization?"

Despite the fear creeping its way throughout his body, Golo managed to stay composed. "You'd lose the chance to find out, wouldn't you?"

"Who cares?" Shepard retorted, splaying his arms wide. "You definitely haven't got anything worthwhile. Besides, I have much bigger things to worry about than some terrorist organization. And as for the torture…well, considering what you've done and helped to do today, I can't say I would have a problem doing it just for payback. You can tell us whatever information you have to spare yourself that and get a quick death, or you can go through the hell you've rightly earned. Your choice. That's the situation you're in right now."

He couldn't hide his fear now. Not after that. He tried to think of something—anything—to say to tip the scales in his favor, but nothing came to him.

"Unless…" the human continued, to both Golo's surprise and elation. "You actually do have something useful. In which case, you tell me right now, and you get a life sentence at an Alliance prison. But that offer only stands until I walk out the door."

After letting that information sink in for a few seconds, John got up and headed for the door.


John resisted the urge to smile. He turned around, eying the desperate quarian with anticipation. "What?"

"How do I know you won't kill me as soon as I tell you?"

It was a fair question, but the answer came easily. "Because I'm not like you. I care about who I am and what I become. I don't kill people just for the hell of it. I have standards. I keep my word in situations like these so I can make an offer without lying through my teeth. So I can always know what sets me apart from the people I do kill."

Golo regarded the human for a few moments, strangely calm. Shepard had said the words with such sharpness, such conviction, he decided that taking the Spectre's offer was worth the risk. The alternatives were far riskier, anyway. Not to mention more painful. "Fine. I'll tell you everything."

John hadn't expected things to go quite this smoothly. His strategy had been simple, really. Corner the quarian into a situation where his only choices were death by extensive torture or death via gunshot to the head. As an exiled traitor that decided to associate with pro-human terrorists, he was obviously concerned solely for himself. Without any causes or people in the way, an offer at life imprisonment at a publicly monitored, well-maintained priso was all Shepard needed to get the information. The only remaining obstacle had been to convince Golo that the offer was genuine. Not giving the quarian more than five seconds to think about it was overkill.

John slowly took his seat again, activating his omnitool. "Good. Start from the beginning."

Liara sighed moments after John walked into the room. She knew it was necessary, at least to a degree, but he always felt it was his responsibility to do everything if able. While certainly admirable when kept in check, it often was a self-destructive characteristic.

When torture was involved, she was afraid of what it would do to him.

"He won't do anything rash," Tali said, startling Liara out of her worry. "Torture is something he takes very seriously. He won't just jump into it impulsively."

"I know," the asari replied, the fatigue of the recent events finally beginning to show in her voice. "But he's probably the only one in this fleet that knows what he's doing for this…issue. He's not going to let someone else do it."

Tali lowered her head in defeat. "Someone needs to talk some sense into him…" A moment later, her head jerked up, realizing what she had implied. "N-n-not that you haven't tried, I'm sure…"

"Indeed," Liara said, keeping her tone welcoming. "I even asked his parents about it, but they said it is a hopeless cause." Her head angled down, eyes staring off into memory. "And given what I know about him," she added, her tone distant but nostalgic, "I am inclined to agree."

"Inquiry," an unnaturally toned voice called. Liara and Tali jerked towards Legion, having largely forgotten he was there. A quick glance at the scene informed her that the other quarians most certainly had not.

"Yes?" Liara invited. She was still very wary around it, but Legion had given her cause to second-guess her notions about the geth.

The "flaps" around its head expanded and retracted in an odd pattern, though none of the organics had any idea what it meant. "You stated that Shepard-Major will not let any other individual present conduct torture of the prisoner. Why?"

It took several moments for Liara to process the fact that she was answering a question from a geth, but her professionalism slid back into place in short order. "He would say that he is trained for it, unlike all other individuals present, and that his first-hand knowledge of the situation makes him better suited for the task." Her tone never wavered from its distant professionalism. "While those facts are indeed true and valid, he would not let someone else handle this situation due to his personality." She quickly explained what she meant before the incorrect implications of that unfinished statement could manifest. "Torture is psychologically harmful to both the victim and the torturer. Shepard would not allow that harm to come to others if he is able to take it upon himself."

Legion's head shifted lower, as if lost in thought. A couple seconds later, it returned its gaze back to the asari. "Such a habit would cause severe psychological damage and stress. We find that logical extrapolation of your explanation is contradictory to Shepard-Major's rank and continued status as a respected leader."

A wistful smile found its way onto Liara's face. "Indeed. That's one of the reasons he is remarkable. Still…he seems to rely on his friends for support, though he is rather subtle about it."

"Subtle to people who don't know him, maybe," Tali interjected. Her posture appeared lax, with her arms crossed and her body leaning against a wall. But to anyone who knew her, she was a half-step away from lashing out at Legion should it prove necessary.

Not that she even needed to with three other quarians training their weapons on the geth, albeit from the hip.

A thick cloud of silver drifted lazily about the room. Orange light bathed its barren, pragmatic features, though it somehow still maintained the impression of wealth and status.

A projection hovered several feet in the air, displaying the image of a concerned man. With graying hair and a well-kept beard, he was undoubtedly elderly, but his sharp features eradicated any notion of weakness. "It was a risky mission from the start. Too many unknown variables. They likely failed. We can only hope that the bomb went off to erase any evidence that can be linked back to us."

The Illusive Man didn't reply immediately. Taking a drag from his omnipresent cigarette, his gaze wandered to the star—polarized drastically by the window, for obvious reasons. "We'll know if it did soon enough. But if it didn't, we'll need to act quickly."

The unknown man quirked an eyebrow. "Acting against the Migrant Fleet would be both impossible and too risky. We'd need to intercept the information—and informants, most likely—when they are more…accessible."

"Indeed. I'll have Apollo Cell keep an eye on the situation, with Talon Cell on standby."

A nod was the only reply needed, and the Illusive Man severed the connection. Now alone, he scowled at the turn of events. First, the loss of a large investment, then, damage control for a failed operation.

If he was able to find the ones responsible for the failure…

He cut that thought off immediately. Revenge was not, in itself, practical. Only if it served other purposes would it be enacted. In the meantime, he would monitor the situation patiently.

As always.

A/N: I hope that was up to your expectations. If not, PLEASE let me know why it wasn't, so I can improve. Constructive criticism is something I greatly appreciate.

Okay, a couple notes on this chapter.

1) Golo took John's deal because he doesn't care about anyone but himself. Cerberus was just a "business" partner, and a temporary one at that. He also knows John, as a Spectre, would definitely keep his word about the torture, AND that he has bigger fish to fry.

2) Legion is definitely not trusted by the quarians, but Liara trusts it enough not to keep a gun on it at all times. Plus, her inherent curiosity and optimism influenced her decision to talk to it. Above all, John told her that Legion likely saved them a lot of pain on two occasions in the recent events.

Lastly, starting from next chapter on, I will actually make an outline for this story. You know, actually plan ahead. So ideas (especially via PM, though put them in reviews if you really want) are very welcome. If anyone is free to bounce ideas off of, I'd really appreciate it (though keep in mind, spoilers are a given for that).

Please review! Your reviews motivate my lazy butt to write more! And they make me smile. And I like smiling. So please? :)