Chapter 18: Illium adventures part 4
"What makes you think I care?" August asked the Turian indifferently.
The stupid xeno actually looked uncertain for a moment before he spoke again. "You're good, human but you can't fool me. I've watched your actions carefully yesterday and I know that you do care, because if you didn't, you would've already taken your the shot."
It took August some time to realize what the Turian meant and when he did he almost burst out with laughter. The Asari clerk, he accidentally saved her yesterday in the process of executing Captain Enyala. Emperor help him, the moron thought that Gallardi was some kind of noble hero who saved xenos in distress all the time, svelte Asari damsels in particular.
Needless to say, the Turian was mistaken. He was not some novice conscript, August had taken his time and assessed the situation. A man who went in guns blazing with no thought to consequence died fast and was forgotten faster.
He had to give these mercs their due - the ambush was well executed. Their only mistake was that the mercenaries didn't kill him while they had the chance. They'd given up their element of surprise to negotiate with the man they presumed him to be.
August glanced at Shepard, catching the determined look on her face. The Alliance officer knew all too well this would end in bloodshed. He would be best to leave the burden of that violence in her hands, it was her right.
"Orders, Shepard?" Gallardi asked quietly.
"Actually, I'm open to suggestions," Victoria replied.
"We shoot them till they die?" August offered simply.
"That was my plan B. Obviously we're not giving them your stuff," Shepard whispered. "But I wondered if you had a plan where we actually try to save the hostages."
"I don't," Gallardi whispered back.
"I was afraid you'd say that," Victoria muttered.
"I'm getting tired of waiting," the merc shouted. The Asari hostage screamed as Turian digits tightened about Asari's throat. Beads of purple blood appeared where talons broke the delicate blue skin.
"You are a dead man, Turian," Anaya swore.
August gripped his lasgun tighter as he aimed it at the Turian's head. "Come on, August, she's just a xeno," Gallardi thought to himself. He wasn't responsible for her capture. What xenos did to each other was none of his affair.
They weren't human.
August glanced at the ageless Asari face. The Asari could be any age, a centuries old matron looked the same as a teenage pup, but somehow Gallardi knew that she wasn't older than he.
"Help. Please," the Asari pleaded quietly as tears rolled down her blue flesh.
And suddenly he wasn't there anymore. He was years away, looking into the face of another crying girl he'd tried to save. She probably graduated from Schola only a couple of months ago. A foolish girl talked into service with offers of adventure, Gallardi was certain that she didn't expect her first boarding action to end up like this.
No one ever did. He remembered countless young faces, barely old enough to know a woman's warmth, glassy eyed and dying on some Emperor forsaken scrap of nowhere. The fools were always young, too young.
"Help. Please," the ensign pleaded.
"Yess. Help. Pleasse," the abhorrent Eldar pirate mocked his hostage as he slowly backed away. His ugly blade was constantly pressed against the ensign's throat.
"It's over, xeno. Give up," August said coldly, his lasgun constantly trained on the Eldar's head as he slowly crept up on the pirate. He could just see the evil cheshire grin of the xenos raider as he peeked around the sides of his human shield.
Indeed, for the xenos it was already all over - the raid failed. They underestimated the resolve of the ship's defenders and now the Spirit of Tanith was littered with bodies of both ship's crew and Eldar raiders, their mingled viscera staining the deck.
Only a few xenos stragglers remained, those too wounded or too crazy to escape with their fellow raiders. Not enough to win, but enough to make a bloody mess of things.
August and his team stumbled upon this pirate playing with his hostage, toying with her in anticipation of their coming. The accursed xeno probably hoped to hide in the deepest bowels of the ship, in one of the innumerable and unmapped chambers of The Spirit of Tanith.
.Gallardi, Sergeant Sorenson and Guardsman Atkinson, two of Gallardi's fellow storm troopers, patiently followed him waiting for a chance to neutralize the xeno before it reached the service elevators it was subtly edging towards.
"You have nowhere to run, scum. Let her go!" August ordered.
The Alien's manic cackle was his only response as he bend down to lick the curvature of his hostage's face with an unnaturally forked tongue, eliciting a whimper of disgust and fear from the ensign.
"Foul wretch!" Atkinson spat. The man wanted to rip the xeno apart with his bare hands.
"Steady, boy," Sorenson tried to calm the angry guardsman.
August thanked him mentally - they needed to stay cool for this. One shot, a single precise shot was all Gallardi needed. The Eldar were faster than a man could blink, but a lasbolt moved at the speed of light.
"Please, I don't want to die!" The ensign begged, her eyes bulging with fear.
"Everything is going to be alright, girl," Sorenson soothed her, his ginger tones in stark contrast to the deliberate menace in his slow steps forward.
And then it happened, his chance.
In a spilt second the Eldar turned to shield himself from the advancing sergeant, exposing a greater part of his head to August's sight.
August had a chance and he took it.
Gallardi's aim was perfect - a single lasbolt went right through the Eldar's eye and into his brain, killing the alien instantly. The Eldar's body twitched in reflex, pricking the woman's flesh with his blade and leaving a narrow nick in her flesh.
It was the right choice for the ship, but the end of the Ensign.
It wasn't his fault, not really. August had no way of knowing that the dark Eldar liked to poison their blades, or how insidious the poisons of the Eldar pirates were. The poison was not instantaneous, the vile creatures liked to enjoy their kills.
The ensign's death had been slow and exceedingly painful. Painful enough that August had taken it upon himself to administer the Emperor's mercy upon her, ending with a second lasbolt what he'd started with the first.
And suddenly he was back, willing away the memories of his past failure even as he watched it replay in front of him in grotesque parody of his own failures long past.
"Everything is going to be alright, Larsea." Anaya tried to assure her colleague, looking to August for affirmation.
"Focus, Gallardi. This isn't the same thing." August assured himself. "The hostage was a fellow human back then. This one's an alien. You shouldn't care. No one would shed a tear if she dies."
It was a lie.
It was a lie he could no longer believe in. He saw how the aliens lived and August knew that in many regards their lifestyle was not so different from the one the imperial citizens had. The Asari officer before him was no exception.
Her trade in life was to uphold the laws of this hive city and to protect the safety of its citizens. When she woke up today, she probably expected this to be another ordinary day. An Arbites just going about the business of keeping people safe, she was respectable in her own right.
Yes, she grew complacent and ended up being a hostage. But the mistake was not entirely hers. The whole situation could have been avoided if Gallardi stayed on the ship.
Now it was up to August to decide how it all ended.
Gallardi's training told him that he should just shoot both Asari and be done with it, to show the mercenaries the error of their judgment. However, Gallardi's conscience, something August was used to ignore during his service in the Guard and the Inquisition, rebelled against such actions.
Somewhere out there, there was a family that waited for these two Asari to return. Probably even children. And those children will wait in vain for their mothers to return, just because one man wasn't able to step on his convictions.
They would become orphans, just like August once had.
It is with great sadness that I must inform you of the fact that your esteemed mother, Arcadia Dominica Livingston the Fifth, honored Captain of the venerable light cruiser 'Wings of Harakon in service to His Most Divine Majesty's Most Vaunted Imperial Navy, has laid down her life in the service to the God Emperor and the Imperium of Man...
Gallardi remembered how hollow he felt that fateful day when his caretaker gave him the death notice. Still young and naive, he made himself a promise that he would destroy all the enemies of the Emperor so that no other child had to relieve what he did.
It was an impossible task, but he'd never stopped trying. He never would.
Now August wondered if these aliens should be an exception to his promise and if so, why? Just because these aliens had tentacles instead of hair? Because their skin was different? Because they ate different food?
As one of the great Imperial heroes once said: Under the skin. What matters is on the inside. In the heart. In the mind.
Aliens would always be aliens, but a heart could always be worthy of honor.
"Emperor damn it, why does everything has to be so difficult!" Gallardi cursed under his breath, even though he had already made his decision - he was not going to give away his weapons but he would be damned if he let another pirate kill a hostage in front of him.
Solutions to the predicament were less forthcoming. Shooting the Turian in the head wasn't an option - the xeno would likely reflectively pull the trigger on his gun, killing the hostage. Gallardi needed a distraction, asap.
After a few moments, he realized that he actually had one.
"Forgive me, old friend." August whispered to his gun as he patted its stock lightly and slowly lowered the weapon.
"Gallardi, what are you doing?" Shepard asked him incredulously. "We can't..."
"It's the only way, Shepard and you know it," Gallardi told her and added quietly. "Just be ready for everything."
To her credit, Shepard didn't ask any other questions as she picked her targets.
"See, that wasn't so hard, was it?" The Turian asked sarcastically. "Now, slowly pass all your guns..."
"Should I wrap it up and put a pretty bow on it as well?" Gallardi countered. "If you want it so badly then catch it!"
And with that August threw the lasgun towards the alien, making sure that the weapon flew at the highest altitude possible. His expectations were justified - most of the mercs looked up at the precious weapon.
Everyone froze for a couple of seconds watching it soar through the air. Well, everyone except for Gallardi. The Imperial soldier had already begun to move while the weapon was still in the air.
First, he needed to remove the most obvious threat to him. To his right was an Asari merc with a shotgun, who thought it was a bright idea to stand three or four steps away from an imperial storm trooper and threaten him with a gun.
August's right hand gripped his saber and with one fluid movement the blade was free from its scabbard. Gallardi managed to close the distance between himself and the merc and with a single slash he sliced off a great part of merc's weapon along with her left wrist. The Asari never had a chance to scream in pain because August immediately performed a 360 degree turn and used his momentum to deliver a second strike, this time at the Asari's neck.
Her headless corpse fell and within a moment all hell broke loose.
Gallardi watched as Shepard overloaded the shields of two mercs to her left and shot them in the face with her assault rifle. Miranda used her biotics to lift one of the Turian mercs and then slam him into the ground. Zaeed unleashed a barrage of fire against another couple of mercenaries, forcing them to take cover behind an aircar. Then he just threw a grenade over the vehicle and both enemies disappeared in a fiery cloud.
Grunt gleefully emptied his shotgun into a trio of mercs while Tali created a drone to provide support for the young Krogan. Mordin completely surprised a Batarian merc next to him as using an omni-tool to shock the alien before using the haplessly dazed creature as a living shield whilst firing upon another mercenary dead. After that, the Salarian simply placed his gun against the Batarian's temple and pulled the trigger.
To their credit, the rest of the mercenary group returned fire before the Asari Merc's head hit the pavement. However, that one second made no difference. It was already too late to stop Samara from creating a powerful biotic barrier around Shepard's team. The mercs fired volley after volley into the barrier but they might as well have been shooting at a concrete wall.
Emboldened by their advantage, Shepard's team unleashed their own barrage of bullets, forcing the majority of the mercs to take cover. Gallardi used this opportunity to close in with his chosen targets.
Just as he expected, the merc leader's greed took the better of him as he pushed away his hostage and grabbed the lasgun. Even though her hands were tied, Larsea managed to crawl away and hide behind one of the aircars. The Turian merc gleefully picked up August's lasgun and pointed it at Samara.
Gallardi ignored him - if the alien attempted to use his weapon, he wouldn't be a threat to anyone, August made sure of that. Instead August focused his attention on the second hostage. The Krogan who held her was slowly advancing towards Samara's barrier, most likely hoping to get inside where he could fire for effect. Gallardi took the opportunity to the Krogan, moving silently to the behemoth's side.
Unfortunately his advance was noticed. The Krogan turned to face the Captain and with a savage snarl, pushing his hostage between them. The Asari fell to the ground, rolling over onto her back only to see a shotgun leveled at her. Small biotic tendrils appeared around the terrified Asari as she tried to erect a barrier.
It didn't help.
When the Krogan fired the police officer screamed in pain and curled up into a fetal position. Unable to help her, August leapt over her prone form, rushing towards the Krogan.
The ugly lizard brought up his gun and fired at Gallardi, too close to miss. Gallardi's shields collapsed and he felt sharp pain in his chest and abdomen where he'd been hit. The force of the shot slowed August a little but his forward momentum propelled him past the shot.
With a defiant roar Gallardi sped forward to deliver a powerful overhead swing. The Krogan merc instinctively leaned back and attempted to use his weapon to parry the attack but August simply cut the shotgun in half.
The Krogan staggered back a little as he looked at the two halves of his weapon, dropping the useless weapons as he charged towards Gallardi. Gallardi couldn't help but smile as the dumb brute did precisely what he wanted.
August performed an Eagle Strike, a fencing move that consisted of a small jump quickly followed by a powerful thrust which he aimed at the Krogan's head plate.
Head plates were considered to be one of the toughest parts of Krogan's body but it was nothing against a relic power saber. The blade easily pierced the alien's hide and combined with the momentum of the Krogan's charge, piercing the merc's body up to its hilt. The Krogan blinked a couple of times before his body realized that its brain was long dead. The alien slowly sagged down in a mess of confused gore.
Gallardi wrenched his blade clear from the Krogan and turned to face the merc leader as he fiddled with the sabotaged weapon. The merc leader dropped it, finally realizing the lasgun was useless. The Turian grabbed the assault rifle on his back and opened fire, irate at having fallen for the human's ruse.
Dodging the hail of projectiles, Gallardi managed to jump behind cover just in time.
His hand instinctively went to his plasma pistol before he remembered that the gun was already dry. "Damn," Gallardi muttered to himself, reaching for another holster. He reluctantly unholstered his Carnifex pistol. Taking a slow breath to steady himself, August peeked over his cover, gun at the ready.
The Turian was already running away. The damned xeno had finally realized that this was way over his head and decided to bail out. Gallardi popped up from cover, opening fire with his pistol.
He scored a couple of hits but the Turian's barriers soaked them in. The merc leader turned around and opened fire once again, forcing August back into cover. As he reloaded his weapon, Gallardi looked back to assess the situation.
The fighting was almost over. The mercenaries were now completely outnumbered thanks to the sudden arrival of police riot teams. Biotics were flying everywhere. Detective Anaya was crouching beside her hurt colleague and was screaming for a medic. Mordin appeared beside her and started working on the wounded Asari.
"Good," August thought to himself. It was clear that the Asari would live, Mordin would not waste his time and expertise trying to save the deceased. "Time to finish this."
He left his cover and started shooting once again at the fleeing merc. The Turian's shields finally gave in, his second successful shot piercing the back armor of the alien. The Turian grunted, trying to return fire.
August fired another shot and hit the leader's left elbow before the merc even managed to raise his rifle. The xeno cried out in pain, losing his grip on the assault rifle. The Turian tried to reach for a side arm with his good hand, fingers grasping at an empty holster. The pistol was long lost, upended in the scuffle beforehand.
Out of other options the merc reached for his last weapon - a short serrated blade. August stared at the alien, briefly not sure if he was serious. A pregnant moment passed Gallardi decided to humor the xenos.
"If you insist," August muttered in disbelief, holstering his pistol and advancing with his humming power weapon. The merc, apparently finally coming to grips with the gravity of his situation, dropped the blade and backed away with palms raised in surrender.
"Alright, alright, alright, you've made your point, human. You won," the merc said with a nervous chuckle. He held up his hands amiably. "Let's talk this through, it was just business, nothing personal..."
Gallardi ignored him, chopping off the alien's arm lazy swipe of the blade.
The Turian screamed as he fell to his knees. He started at his mangled arm for a moment before looking up at Gallardi with a hateful expression on his face.
The last thing the Turian would ever see was a descending power saber.
The blade sliced the Turian's head and neck into two halves, lodging into the merc's upper torso. August placed his leg on the alien's chest and pushed it away, freeing his blade.
The battle was over. Those mercenaries still uninjured enough to do so dropped their guns and raised their hands in surrender. They were quickly brought down and cuffed by Asari police.
Shepard's team remained alert, especially the Commander herself. August watched as she switched to her missile launcher and started watching the sky.
"What is going on, Spectre?" Detective Anaya asked, confused by Shepard's behavior.
"Unless these mercs were immensely dumb, they would've had some sort of quick extraction plan," Shepard replied. "They must have either a gunship or a shuttle on standby somewhere close."
As if to confirm her words, the roar of jet engines filled the air and a Mantis gunship appeared from behind one of the buildings. Shepard quickly took aim and fired a single missile at the aircraft. The gunship's shields soaked in the blast but instead of retaliating, the gunship backed away and turned to fly away from the place of battle. The gunship pilot's actions were immediately explained as Gallardi heard a second set of engines, closing fast.
A different gunship appeared, sleeker than Mantis. This was an obviously Asari-made aircraft that carried the crest of the Illium Law Enforcement. The police gunship immediately went into hot pursuit with its mercenary counterpart and in a few moments both aircraft disappeared from sight.
"Sky is clear," Shepard announced. The woman then turned and approached Mordin and his patient. "How is she doing, Professor?"
"Patient stabilized," the Salarian replied briefly. "However, surgery must be performed within an hour or else her survival is problematic."
"There is a hospital two blocks away from here," Anaya noted and turned to one of her subordinates. "Keiri, warm up the shuttle, we do not have time to wait for the ambulance."
"Already done, detective!" The Asari officer reported.
"Good, someone find me a stretcher then!" Anaya ordered.
"Step away, detective," Samara said calmly as she approached the group.
The Justicar's biotics flared and she gently raised the wounded Asari in the air.
"Thank you, Justicar. The shuttle is this way," Anaya said and led Samara away.
"Well, if the Emperor wills it, the Asari will make it," August thought to himself as he watched the scene. He had to immediately remind himself that the Emperor will have nothing to do with the wellbeing of an alien. The Asari will have to rely on the mercy of whatever 'Goddess' they worshipped.
Gallardi looked back at the mangled corpse of the mercenary leader. "It didn't work as you thought it would, huh?"
He switched off the power field on his saber and then kissed the blade near its hilt.
"Three for the Emperor," Gallardi muttered as he placed the saber back in its scabbard. He then started walking back to the group and as he began moving his wounds began to seriously hurt.
"Dammit," August swore as he examined his chest plate and saw three punctures with blood seeping out of them. Gallardi stopped near one of the benches, sat down and took out his medi-gel dispenser.
"Gallardi, what's your status?" August heard Shepard ask. He looked up and saw the woman approach him. In the next moment, Shepard finally noticed that Gallardi was wounded and rushed towards him. "Mordin, up front! Gallardi's been shot!"
"I'm fine," August mumbled.
"I'm sure that you are," Shepard said sarcastically as she examined the holes in his armor. "We'll have to take the chest piece off."
Shepard looked around and shouted to her team. "Secure the perimeter! Miranda, call the Normandy and tell them to send the shuttle to extract us. As soon as the shuttle takes off, tell Joker to initiate a complete lockdown. No one is to leave or board the ship unless I say so."
"Copy that, Shepard," Miranda replied and began hailing the Normandy.
The Commander returned her attention to August's breast plate and helped him remove it. Mordin appeared nearby and immediately run a scan of Gallardi's chest.
"How bad?" Shepard asked simply.
"Punctures not deep, no damage to internal organs. Armor and shields soaked in most of the punishment," Mordin replied as he started applying the medi-gel. "Still, two day suspension from duty is recommended."
"Two days it is. Are we clear about that, Gallardi?" Shepard asked August.
"Yes, Shepard," August said grudgingly. He was never the one to sit his duty out in the infirmary but Gallardi knew that he had his limits.
"Good," Shepard nodded. "You know, I understand that you're trying to impress us ladies but you should really stop doing that."
"I'm not doing all this to impress the ladies!" August protested.
"You don't? Well, let me tell something about women - even in our advanced age a lot of them love dashing swordsmen," Shepard said with a smirk. "And I'm not merely talking about human women."
With that, the Commander looked at something in the distance and August followed her gaze. His eyes stopped at the group of Asari police officers that were standing not too far away. They were obviously discussing him and the rest of Shepard's group and while most of them were either slightly scared or in awe of him, some of the Asari looked at him with undisguised curiosity, the type of curiosity that Gallardi would ordinarily have welcomed from human women but definitely not from aliens.
August sighed heavily and hung his head. "I'm digging myself a bigger grave, aren't I?"
"I wouldn't mind having such a grave," Zaeed said as he approached the trio. "I really don't get you, Gallardi. Do you know that there are millions of punks out there that would kill to have a pussy magnet like yours?"
"They can have it. Free of charge," August said sourly.
"Ain't working that way," the old mercenary chuckled and handled August his lasgun. "Nice trick by the way. Was wondering why that asshole didn't use your gun on us."
"What trick is he talking about?" Shepard asked Gallardi.
As a way of response, August took the gun from Zaeed and then gave it to Shepard.
"Uh, thanks?" The Commander said as she took the lasgun and started to examine it. She stopped after a few moments. "Wait, where is the trigger?"
August raised his mechanical arm and flexed his fingers. "You can easily break a lot of things with this."
"Oh, very clever," Shepard smiled. "It's not damaged beyond repair, right?"
"No, it's just a steel trigger," Gallardi replied. He then nodded to Mordin who by the time finished treating his wounds. "Thanks, professor." August added as he fixed his battered chest plate back in place.
Gallardi stood up slowly and saw as both Samara and Anaya approached the group. While the Justicar looked absolutely serene, the Asari detective was obviously really pissed off.
"Justicar Samara, detective," August heard as Shepard greeted the Asari. "How is officer Neira?"
"The shuttle is on its way to the hospital," Samara replied. "If the Goddess is willing, it will arrive shortly and the young Neira will make it."
"Let's hope for the best…" Shepard said.
"I am sorry but can someone please explain to me just what the hell happened?"
Detective Anaya interrupted the Commander. "Two of my colleagues were nearly killed, and I've three more lightly wounded just because a group of well-armed mercenaries wanted to get a gun from one of your team members, Spectre. What is so special about it?"
"It's a laser gun," Shepard replied simply.
Anaya's mouth opened and closed several times as she tried to form a coherent response.
"As I see you already understand why these mercs wanted the weapon so badly,"
Victoria continued. "The reward is astronomical."
"Great," Anaya said with a snort and turned to Gallardi. "You know, human, if you are mad enough to wander around Illium with that kind of equipment, that is your choice. But did it not cross your mind that you might endanger others?"
"It's not my fault that someone placed a bounty on me or that you allow mercenaries to walk freely upon your world," August replied angrily and stepped closer to Asari. "Be thankful that I didn't simply shoot your colleagues!"
Anaya also stepped closer. "Just who the hell do you think you are?" she hissed.
"Enough, both of you. The last thing we need is more casualties," Shepard said as she placed herself between Anaya and August. "Detective, before you cast blame on someone, let me inform you that said bounty was posted by each and every corporation that might be interested in such a weapon, including those that are located here on Illium."
Anaya looked like she wanted to argue but then the Asari simply threw her hands in the air, turned around and left.
"Would you have really shot the hostages?" Samara asked Gallardi all of a sudden.
"I was well within my rights to do so," August replied.
"Is there a personal quarrel that you have with my people?" The Justicar queried.
"I have no personal quarrel with Asari species. I have a quarrel with all aliens," Gallardi told her.
"How so?" Samara persisted.
"Justicar, this is neither a right time nor place to have this conversation," the Commander intervened. "We're going to discuss this once we're back on board our ship."
Samara simply nodded. "As you wish, Commander."
"Shepard, the shuttle is approaching. Goldstein just sent me the coordinates," Miranda said as she approached them.
"Good. Lead on, Miranda," Shepard nodded and the whole team departed.
As they walked, August felt Shepard once again match her pace with him.
"Thank you," the woman said simply.
"For what?" Gallardi asked her.
"For not killing the hostages. I'll be honest with you, I fully expected you to do exactly that," Shepard explained. "And what's more important, I would not have stopped you from doing it; the stakes were indeed too high. So, thank you. For finding another way out."
"Well, you seem to be the only one grateful here," August said darkly.
"Don't be so hard on them, they have no idea who you are," Shepard said. "Unlike me or the rest of our team, these people don't understand why it's so difficult for you to make such decisions. You probably had to go against a lot of rules today."
"Yes," August nodded somberly. "Ever since I came here, I've made a lot of things that would have seen me executed several times over."
"But you still decided to save these two," Shepard noted.
"I guess you could say that this place is finally rubbing off of me," August said with a shrug. "These two Asari were innocents that got caught in crossfire, and I could no longer say with a clear conscience that I don't care whether they live or die despite being aliens."
"You're a good man, Gallardi. Don't believe anyone who would say otherwise," Shepard said and patted his shoulder.
They heard the familiar sound of Kodiak's engines and saw as Normandy's shuttle landed nearby on a free landing pad.
As they went to board the shuttle, Gallardi heard a sound of someone running behind him.
"Mister Gallardi, wait!" A familiar voice said and as August turned around, he saw officer Larsea running towards him. The alien already had a light bandage around her neck.
Gallardi involuntarily took a step back because he expected to be embraced by an Asari once again. To his immense relief, Larsea stopped at the respectful distance away from him.
"Thank the Goddess you have not left already," the officer said as she panted lightly.
"You needed something, officer?" August asked neutrally.
"I just wanted to thank you, sir," Larsea said. "And... Well, to apologize - if I and Neira were not so complacent, this whole mess would not have occurred in the first place."
That actually took August by surprise. He expected gratitude but not humility. Not sure at first how he should reply, August decided to be diplomatic about it.
"None of us is beyond failure, officer," he said plainly.
"That is kind of you to say but my apology still stands," the Asari said. "Because of me, Neira is in Intensive Care and you got shot, as well as some of my fellow officers."
"Your apology is welcome then," Gallardi said with a nod.
He turned around and took another step towards the shuttle. However, his curiosity got the better of him and he turned to face the Asari once again.
"Do you have family, officer?" August asked.
The alien smiled shyly and answered. "Yes, I have a bondmate and a daughter Siara. She will turn fifteen in a couple of months. Thanks to you, I have a chance to watch her grow up."
Gallardi simply nodded. It was good to know that his actions were indeed justified.
"Stay sharp out there, officer," August added.
"I will," the Asari said. "Good fortune to you, sir"
Larsea touched her forehead above her brow and Gallardi realized that it was some kind of salute. He saluted her back and then finally boarded the shuttle.
The doors closed and August fell as the craft took off.
"They aren't so bad, are they?" Shepard asked. She obviously saw the whole exchange.
"Some of them are not," August agreed as he strapped into his harness. "We should alert the second team just in case, although I'm sure the Farseer already saw the whole thing."
"You're right," Shepard said and activated her com. "Garrus, this is Shepard. Come in."
August heard a muffled reply from inside of Shepard's helmet.
"We're alright, Garrus. Well, for the moment at least," the Commander continued.
"Listen, we're returning to the Normandy. The Justicar is with us, she agreed to help but that's not what's important. We were ambushed by a group of mercs a short time ago. Gallardi has been shot but it's nothing life threatening. I just wanted to… What?"
Shepard stopped talking abruptly as she listened to Turian's reply. "He did what? What happened?"
Earlier that day, a different part of Nos Astra…
Maeteris followed Garrus as they searched for their informant. Jack walked beside her, flanked by Kasumi and Jacob.
Even though Garrus expertly kept his image of a professional soldier, the Farseer could feel his growing agitation.
"Perhaps it would be best if you simply ask the question that bothers you so much, Garrus Vakarian?" Maeteris finally asked him.
The Turian let out a slightly relieved sigh. "I suppose you're right. Look, Farseer, I just want to know who is in charge of this operation."
"It was my understanding that Commander Shepard appointed you as a team leader," Maeteris replied. "I have no desire to question her leadership."
"That's… Good to know," Garrus nodded. "I'm just not very comfortable with the idea of giving orders to someone who is older than the entire Vakarian family line."
"Do not let it concern you," the Farseer said as they walked through the crowd towards their objective.
Very soon they approached one of the large office buildings and Garrus checked his omni-tool. "This looks like the place."
"Indeed it is," Maeteris agreed. The building matched her visions. She pointed at one of the Asari office workers that could be seen through the window. "And this is our informant."
The Turian checked the photo on his omni-tool, nodding in agreement. "Yes, it's Seryna. I'll go talk to her, shouldn't take too much time."
"Might I suggest a different approach?" Maeteris asked him.
Garrus looked at her curiously. "Uh, sure. What do you have in mind?"
"Let Jack give it a try," the Farseer said and looked at the young psyker.
"Nah, I'm not good at talking…" Jack began.
"I never said you should talk to her," Maeteris said simply. "Her thoughts should tell you all we need to know."
Jack understood what the Farseer was talking about and turned to look at Seryna. "Okay, but she is an Asari. Is she going to… feel my presence or something?"
"Not unless you try to force yourself deeper inside her mind," Maeteris said as she shook her head. "And that is not required here. Simply brush against her surface thoughts."
"You already know everything we need to know, don't you?" Jack asked her.
"Perhaps I do. But it is an opportunity for you to learn," the Farseer told her.
"Fine, let's do it," Jack closed her eyes for a moment and took a deep breath. She then opened her eyes and carefully reached out with her mind.
And immediately backed off.
"Fuck. No, no way it's going to work," Jack said as she shook her head.
"You need to focus," Maeteris told her simply.
"I'm not ready for this!" the young psyker argued.
"I alone will be the judge of that."
"Is there a problem?" Garrus asked carefully.
"Yes, there is a fucking problem," Jack said heatedly. "You and everyone else really like to think a lot. Trying to hear the thoughts of one person is like trying to hear a voice of one man in a crowded stadium."
"On both occasions the only thing you will need is to focus on the person you are trying to hear," Maeteris said. "Focus on the Asari and try again."
Jack snorted but complied. She took several deep breaths and then tried once again. After a few seconds of struggle she gave up again.
"No, it's not working, there are too many people here," Jack said.
"Focus," Maeteris said sternly and crossed her arms.
Jack threw her an angry glare. Some part of the woman, the part that never accepted any authority, wanted to rebel against Maeteris' insistence. But of course there was another part of Jack, the part that never backed away from any challenge. Despite her constant attempts to prove the opposite, Jack was still very young and like all young people, she always desperately wanted to prove herself to those who were older and more experienced than she.
Therefore, instead of arguing further, Jack prepared to make another attempt. She steadied her breathing, opening her mind. This time, she didn't try to immediately reach out towards the mind of Seryna but studied the flow of thoughts all around her.
"Good. You finally understand," Maeteris spoke with her mind. "Your spirit is strong but against the collective strength of the minds of this world, you are nothing. Do not try to force your way through these thoughts. Instead, see them for what they are – a turbulent sea with its winds and currents. You cannot change the current and you cannot change the winds. So instead of trying to change the nature of things, go with the flow. Go with the flow and allow it to carry you towards your goal."
Jack didn't reply but Maeteris knew the human understood her. Slowly, the human allowed the ethereal winds to carry her forth. The temperature in the real world dropped a little as Jack's hands curled up into fists but she didn't back down.
After a few silent moments, Jack let out a contented sigh and closed her eyes.
"Alright… Alright, I think I got something," Jack said and then went towards a nearby wall. Once she reached the wall, she leaned against it and slowly sagged down.
"Jack, are you alright?" Garrus asked as the group quickly approached her.
"Yeah, just give me a couple of minutes," Jack waved her hand. "Look, this Seryna, she is bored out of her mind and she can't wait for this day to over. I think she is getting transferred today, I don't know. Anyway, there one thought that improves her mood very much and that is, I quote: I hope that Krios is going to get that bitch Dantius."
"Dantius? Nassana Dantius?" Garrus asked her.
"Didn't get the full name," Jack shook her head.
"Are you familiar with this Dantius person?" Maeteris asked the Turian.
"We crossed paths with her two years ago, she managed to manipulate us into killing her sister," Garrus replied. "At first she told us that her sister was being held captive by a bunch of slavers. However, it turned out that her sister was the leader of said slavers."
"So, the rumors are true," Kasumi said as she touched her chin thoughtfully. "I guess that the rest of the rumors about her are true as well - a lot of her business competitors are either dead or out of business for good."
"And now someone sent Krios to assassinate her," Garrus noted. "Ironic, isn't it?"
"Well, if our mysterious Drell is going after Nassana then there is only one place for him to go," Kasumi said as she looked at the city vista.
"Where's that?" Jacob asked her as he looked in the same direction.
"The Dantius Towers, of course," the thief said as she nodded towards the two large skyscrapers in the distance. "She started building them a couple of years ago. Word on the street is that she got paranoid and rarely leaves the place."
"Then it looks like we have a new destination," Garrus said. He then turned to look at Jack. "Nice work, Jack."
"Fucking A work, if you ask me," Jack said and looked at Maeteris. The Farseer simply gave a short appreciative nod.
"Ri-i-ight," Jack said as she picked herself up. "It's really not so hard to say: Good job, Jack. You're making good progress."
"Had you not wasted so much time arguing with me, perhaps I would have said so," Maeteris replied simply.
Jack sighed and muttered. "Why do I even bother?"
The group assembled and went to look for a transport that would get them to the Dantius Towers. They rented one of the available aircars and Garrus took the wheel.
"What kind of opposition should we expect?" The Turian asked as they approached the towers.
"The guards will wear the uniforms that are similar to the ones worn by the mercenaries Commander Shepard faced yesterday," Maeteris replied.
"Eclipse," Garrus nodded and turned to address the rest of the group. "Watch out for enemy mechs and automated defenses. Jack, Maeteris, you will take care of any Asari biotics."
"Certainly," the Farseer said simply.
"Alright, I'm bringing us to the unfinished building. There should be less outer defenses there."
The aircar turned and flew towards the highest landing pad available. As soon as they landed, Maeteris left the car and dismissed her illusion.
"Huh, I kind of forgot than you were wearing the armor," Jack said as she stopped beside her.
Maeteris didn't reply as she affixed her helmet, its sophisticated sensors informing her of gunfire not too far away from where they'd landed.
"It seems that the guards are already on alert," the Farseer mused, looking at the source of the sound of gunfire.
Through a large transparent baffle several Salarians running were running away from incoming gunfire. The unarmed civilians were no match for the combat drones chasing them. Maeteris winced as she felt the death sensations of an unfortunate Salarian as the drone fired projectiles ripped through unarmored flesh.
"We must help them! Move in and engage!" Garrus shouted and opened fire on the baffle, Jacob following him immediately. The screen turned out to be made of glass and after a few hits it broke and collapsed. Jacob and Garrus immediately dashed forward through the breach with Kasumi and Jack running behind them.
It was then that the Salarians' attackers finally appeared. They were one of those many clumsy automatons Maeteris saw several times in her visions.
The Farseer knew that they posed little threat and her team members would have little trouble deposing of them. It didn't take much time for the team to dispatch the mechs and after that Garrus went to check the closest Salarian body.
"Check the others, see if any of them are still alive!" the Turian ordered and the team dispersed in search of the survivors.
It was an unnecessary command, Maeteris knew that only one of the Salarians survived, but it would achieve nothing for her to say so. Slowly, she approached the wounded alien. He looked up at her with pleading eyes as he desperately tried to stop the blood flowing from his abdomen.
"Help me, please!" the Salarian begged the Farseer weakly.
For a moment, Maeteris wondered why such a short living creatures as Salarians would waste their precious lifetime on something as mundane as a job of the construction worker. Then again, not everyone was destined to be born with a bright mind like that of Mordin Solus.
Maeteris took pity on the creature. Salarian life was hardly an instant by Eldar standards, but there was no reason to end the life of any being prematurely. Maeteris touched a certain set of runes with her mind, summoning them to float around her hand in ethereal floating circles of balefire. She extended her arm towards the Salarian and started channeling the healing spell through the runes, healing his broken body.
The wound began to knit itself and in a few moments only a small scar and fresh blood were the only reminders that the Salarian was wounded recently. The alien stared at his scar then he looked at Maeteris with a mixture of awe and disbelief.
"But... how?" The Salarian asked.
"Consider it a revolutionary healing technology," the Farseer replied simply. "Can you tell us who you are and why you were attacked?"
"I… we're night workers. Nassana… sent the mechs to round us…" Salarian replied as he slowly stood up. "The mercs were telling us to leave immediately but we were too slow… Most of us just wanted to pick up their things… Then the mercenaries simply ordered the mechs to start shooting…"
"Do you know why they did all this?" Garrus asked once he got closer to Maeteris and the Salarian.
"I have no idea," the worker replied. He coughed a couple of times and continued. "We knew that Nassana was ruthless but I never thought she would do something like this."
"Trust me, you don't know a half of it," Garrus told him. "We're looking for someone here. Have you seen any strangers around the building recently?"
"No. No, I don't think so." The worker shook his head.
"In that case, that will be all," the Farseer concluded. "It will be best that you leave now, the lower levels are safe."
"Of course, thank you," the Salarian said. He studied Maeteris for a brief moment and then asked. "I'm sorry who are you? I have never seen such armor before. Is this some new Asari design?"
"Your curiosity will have to be sated some other time. Leave. Now," Maeteris said, a little sternly this time. She had no desire to waste her time explaining who she was to this alien.
"O-of course, sorry. Thank you again," the Salarian muttered as he started walking towards the exit. He thanked her couple more times and then thanked the other members of the team, who stood nearby.
The Salarian worker made several steps before he stopped and turned around to say. "There are other workers on the higher levels. Help them, please!"
"We'll do everything we can," Garrus promised him with a short nod.
"Thank you," the Salarian said with obvious relief in his voice. He then turned around and ran towards the exit.
Once the Salarian disappeared from sight, the rest of the team approached the Eldar.
"Wow, that was amazing, Maeteris!" Kasumi was the first to say. "I mean, throwing lightning is cool but healing without touching is just... Wow!"
"Hands that kill can also cure," Maeteris noted matter-of-factly as she dismissed the healing runes and they resumed hovering around her.
"So it would seem," Garrus said and Maeteris noticed a hint of disapproval in his voice. "What about the rest of the Salarians?"
Maeteris looked around at the corpses of the other aliens and then at Garrus. "I am a competent healer but I cannot cure death."
"That's not what meant," the Turian shook his head. "You knew this was going to happen? That these workers will get in the crossfire?"
"No, I did not," Maeteris replied, slightly annoyed with his tone. "The divination is not such a precise craft as you might have thought it is. I only see flashes of what can happen and even then I only focus on things that are relevant to our cause."
She then waved towards the bodies of dead Salarians. "These were not relevant."
"This isn't right," Jacob joined their argument as he stepped closer. "They were living people not so long ago, just like us."
Maeteris was getting tired of this. "Should I remind you all of the reason we came here?"
"To recruit a lizard," Jack replied, obviously bored with the whole argument.
"In a sense," the Farseer said with a nod. "Since it is obvious that he already went after his target our goal is to ensure that he survives after claiming the life of Nassana Dantius."
She turned around and went towards one of the exits from the hall. "It is also obvious that he was the reason this whole unfortunate slaughter happened. So if you are so keen on finding someone to blame for the deaths of these Salarians, take it up with him."
Garrus sighed heavily and spoke. "Look, no one's trying to blame you for this..."
Maeteris quickly stopped and turned around. "If not, then what is the purpose of this conversation?"
"It's just that... Was there really nothing we could do to prevent all this?" The Turian asked as he waved at the bodies around them.
"Perhaps there was, if saving the civilians was our primary goal here," Maeteris replied with a slight shrug. "However, I was focused on a different objective. And so should you. We have wasted enough time here. I suggest that we start moving as soon as possible if you wish to ensure the assassin's survival."
"Yeah, you're right," the Turian finally agreed with her and checked his rifle. "Ok, the Eclipse is probably patrolling all the levels from here to the second building where Dantius is hiding. So if Thane is to reach Nassana safely, he will need a good distraction. And we're his unexpected distraction, am I right?"
Maeteris simply nodded.
"Well, if we're a distraction then let's go make some noise," Jacob said as he reloaded his assault rifle.
"Finally," Jack was obviously bored to death when she said that.
"Let's move out," Garrus ordered and motioned for everyone to follow him.
As they went further into the building, Kasumi matched her step with Maeteris. "You shouldn't be so hard on Garrus and Jacob. They are good guys, the 'to serve and protect' type. They're simply don't like to see innocents die."
"It is a commendable trait but as soldiers they must always remember that many times duty stands above everything else," the Farseer replied plainly.
"I'm sure they know that," Kasumi said. Then she decided to switch the topic. "Anyway, once again, it was really nice of you to cure that Salarian. I should warn you though, it would be better if you don't use it too much in public. The last guy who did something like that started a religion that is over two thousand years old by now. I don't think you would want to be a Messiah."
"I most certainly do not," Maeteris shook her head in dismay at the prospect of being worshipped. "I will try to be more discreet from now on, thank you for the advice."
"Well, that's unless one of our guys gets hit," Kasumi added hastily. "In that case, fire away and consequences be damned."
Maeteris chuckled. She was really starting to warm up to the thief's cheerful demeanor.
"I suppose that is a fair request,"
They encountered the first mercenary patrol shortly. They Eclipse mercs opened fire as soon as they spotted the group. Judging by the merc's radio exchange they were protecting the route to the top of the building.
The mercenaries were using stacks of various construction materials as improvised cover. Unfortunately for them, Maeteris was well versed in telekinesis. Flinging them aside with her mind, the majority of the mercs were exposed to her allies' weapons.
Not foolish enough to fight them on their own, those mercenaries that survived radioed for re-enforcements. Two Asari commandos arrived in short order.
The commandoes quickly realized that Maeteris was the main threat, launching their biotic attacks at her. It was a powerful if uncreative attack. She could perhaps have blocked it, but at times simpler methods were best. Maeteris somersaulted to the left, avoiding the bursts of biotic energy entirely.
Landing catlike upon the ground, the Farseer harnessed her own powers to launch pair of lightning bolts towards the Asari mercenaries. The still convulsing corpses of the mercenaries fell to the ground, a sizzling pile of blue charnel.
"Clear!" Jacob announced loudly, more for the benefit of the rest of the team since Maeteris was fully aware that there were no enemies close by.
"You know, you're not doing it right?" Maeteris heard Kasumi say as the woman approached her. "The whole lightning thing, I mean."
Maeteris looked at her dubiously, wondering how can a non-psyker be any judge of her skills but then Maeteris felt Kasumi's humorous mood and realized that the woman was once again attempting to make a joke.
"Well then, tell me what I did wrong," Maeteris said, doing her best to sound genuinely interested. "I was always under the impression that I was a skilled Seer but one can never know."
"Oh, don't get me wrong, your lightning bolts are effective but they're not flashy enough. I suggest that instead of sending singular powerful bolts you should send a torrent of less powerful ones," Kasumi said, barely able to contain her giggles. "And then you should laugh maniacally and scream at the top of your voice: Power! Unlimited power!"
That caused both Garrus and Jacob to chuckle while Jack stared at them dubiously. "Was that supposed to mean something?" She asked.
"Oh, come on. I'm a Turian and even I know the reference," Garrus replied.
Jack simply shrugged and continued walking.
"I am not familiar with the reference as well, for obvious reasons," Maeteris said, even though she was certain that it was a reference to some work of fictional art. "But even if I was, I would not have resorted to doing something so... childish."
"Hey, the guy who did that pretty soon became the Galactic Emperor," Kasumi retorted lightly. Then she quickly added. "Not that Emperor, the other Emperor."
"Then I pity those who had to live under his rule," Maeteris said simply.
"Well, they didn't suffer for a very long time. He ruled only for..." the thief stopped and scratched her temple thoughtfully. "Actually, I don't remember for how long."
"Luke was nineteen when forth episode started," Jacob said. "So Palpatine ruled only slightly longer than that."
"In that case I shall continue using my old techniques," Maeteris stared simply. "I have been walking the Path of the Seer for centuries, which is a tad longer than the rule of your fictional character, would you not agree?"
"Hm, good point!" Kasumi said cheerfully.
As the group got closer to the elevator, they encountered another group of mercenaries. These were also dispatched with ease. One of the Salarian mercenaries even dropped his weapon and ran away into the depth of the building when he saw his Asari colleague get hit by Maeteris' lightning strike. The team decided not to waste time pursuing him.
They approached the elevator and Garrus was about to summon it when Maeteris raised her hand to stop him and then looked at one of the locked doors nearby.
"What is it?" Garrus asked her.
"There are people hiding in that room," Jack answered for Maeteris. "More Salarians would be my guess."
"Indeed," Maeteris nodded. "It seems like they were locked in there from the outside."
"Not for long," Garrus said and went disengage the lock on the door.
As soon as he opened the door Maeteris saw a small group of Salarian workers raise their hands in surrender.
"Please, don't shoot us. We'll go, we'll go!" One of the Salarians pleaded.
"Wait, look! They are not Eclipse!" The other Salarian noted.
"Oh. A-are you here to help us?" The first Salarian asked as he slowly lowered his hands.
"That's one of the reasons we're here," Garrus replied. "Are you alright? Is anyone wounded?"
"No, thank you for asking," the first worker replied. "We've been sitting here ever since that Drell locked us in."
"A Drell locked you in here?" Garrus clarified.
"Yes. When he found us, I thought he was going to kill us but he just closed the door and sealed us in," another Salarian said. "Not one of the mercs and since he's not a Salarian, he was not one of the workers either."
"Hm, looks like our assassin was trying to keep them safe," Kasumi mused.
"More like trying to fix his own fuck up," Jacob scoffed.
"Assassin?" the first Salarian asked fearfully.
"Here for Nassana, I think," the second one added acidly. "She's got it coming. If you keep treating people like she does, it will one day bite you in the ass."
"If the Drell already passed through here then he is already on his way to Nassana's penthouse," Garrus concluded and asked the workers. "Do you know the quickest way to the top?"
"The cargo elevator behind you should still work," the first Salarian replied. "It leads almost to the last level. From there you should cross the bridge that connects the towers. But be careful – the last level is not finished. Some of the walls are still out and it's a long way down. Also be careful when you're on the bridge, the wind is pretty strong up there."
"And it's cold, I hate working up there," the other Salarian added and shuddered visibly.
"Thanks for the tip," Garrus said with a nod. "You better leave now; the lower levels should be safe."
"Yes, thank you. We are forever in your debt," the Salarian said with a slight bow. Then he turned to address his coworkers. "Let's get going."
The group briefly watched the Salarians running away and then went back to the elevator. However, as soon as Garrus reached the control panel he immediately backed off.
"Someone is coming down," the Turian informed them. "And I doubt that they're friendly. Everyone, take cover!"
Everyone, except Maeteris, followed the Turian's advice and sought cover behind different crates and stacks of construction materials. As for the Farseer, she simply walked away from the elevator and unsheathed her sword.
"Maeteris, what are you doing?" Jacob asked from behind his cover.
"Just be ready to fire as soon as the door fully opens," Maeteris replied and activated her sword with her mind and the graceful blade hummed into life.
"Mezzanine. Have a pleasant day," a synthetic female voice announced as soon as the elevator stopped. As soon as the doors began to open, Maeteris attacked.
The Krogan that stood on the other side of the doors had just enough time to notice both the Farseer and the spinning sword that was flying towards his face. The witchblade pierced the alien's skull effortlessly, pulping the Krogan's skull under the weight of her focused psychic might.
The mercenaries flanking the gory mess of Krogan viscera held together by battle-armor stared in disbelief at its corpse, apparently stupefied by how quickly the hulking alien was killed and the unorthodox manner of his demise. It gave Garrus and the rest of the team more than enough time to gun the mercs down where they stood.
"That was certainly an original move," Garrus noted as he left his cover and approached the Eldar. "Although a bit risky, in my opinion, as it leaves you without a..."
Before he managed to finish his thought, Maeteris extended her arm and reached for her blade with her mind. With a little effort the blade left the Krogan's corpse and returned to Farseer's hand.
"...Weapon," the Turian finished and stared as Maeteris casually sheathed her sword. "Never mind, I guess I shouldn't be surprised by now."
"You and me both, Garrus," Jacob added.
"Teach me the mysteries of the Force, Master Jedi," Maeteris heard Kasumi snicker. When the woman saw Maeteris' questioning look she added. "Sorry, I just had to say that."
"One day you will have to introduce me to the material you keep referencing to," Maeteris said as she started walking towards the elevator. "So that I could finally stop guessing whether I was insulted or complemented."
"It's a deal!" Kasumi announced. "Next time we have a long travel we gonna have a movie night. It will be fun!"
They entered the elevator and Garrus ordered it to go upward and the team continued their ascent.
As the team finally reached the top level they left the elevator and almost run into a lone merc, who seemed completely oblivious to the things happening around him. Instead of watching the corridor and the cargo elevator behind him, the mercenary was looking leisurely through the window while talking to someone over the com.
"No, I haven't seen them. Look, you worry too much," the merc said to his invisible partner. "Yes, I heard what others said but seriously, lightning? They probably just saw some new biotic stuff and lost their shit... Listen, there's no way those guys get through that bridge and I'll notify you as soon as I see them... Yes, I have everything under control. No one gets past me... Sure, I'll contact you later."
The merc switched off his com and turned around only to find Maeteris and the team standing right in front of him.
"Well, shit," the man said nervously. He backed away a little and studied Maeteris. "Nice getup. What, the circus moved on but you got left behind?"
Maeteris studied him in turn. "I would have considered that to be an insult if not for the fact that your legs are shaking from fear. Besides, your attempt to insult me sounds rather ironic considering the fact that you're a human male dressed in yellow armor with a symbol of the sun on your chest."
"That's the symbol of the Eclipse..." the merc protested weakly which caused Maeteris' companions to laugh.
"Of course, how terrible of me to miss such an important detail," the Farseer mocked him with an apologetic tone. "It changes everything, does it not? The symbol of the sun and the moon gathered together is a very... manly symbol."
"Don't play with fire unless you wanna get burned, son," Jacob said as he and the rest of the team laughed at the hapless merc.
"What do you want?" The Eclipse mercenary asked as he backed away. "Wait, I'm not telling you anything."
"No one is asking for you to say anything," Maeteris said and immediately invaded his mind.
The human's thoughts were slightly addled and Maeteris realized that the mercenary was on drugs, which explained why he was bold enough to try and insult her. It mattered little, of course. Maeteris found the information the merc was trying to hide and left the human's mind.
"A barricade with several mercenaries and two primitive missile launchers? Did you really think that it is going to stop us from crossing that bridge?" Maeteris asked the mercenary.
"But how... How?" The merc stuttered, obviously stunned by Maeteris' question.
The Farseer did not grace his query with a response and simply turned to walk away.
"We have learned all that we need. Let us proceed further," she said as she passed Garrus.
The Turian nodded and motioned for everyone to follow him. "Form up, people. We're moving out."
"What about this piece of shit?" Jack asked as she pointed at the Eclipse merc.
"His life is of no consequence," Maeteris said over her shoulder.
"Good," Jack said simply.
The next thing Maeteris heard was a sound of biotic discharge followed by a sound of shattered glass and cry of terror from the mercenary. She turned around and saw Jack stand near the broken window and looking down.
"Have a pleasant flight, motherfucker!" The young woman shouted jovially.
The rest of the group also gathered near the broken window and looked down trying to see the falling merc but at this point it was already impossible to do so without a scope or binoculars.
"Was that really necessary?" Garrus asked Jack, although guessing by his tone he wasn't really judging the young woman.
"I don't know," Jack replied with a shrug. "Felt good though."
"I'm with Jack here. The guy was a jerk," Kasumi said. "I mean, Maeteris' armor is certainly exotic but it's not clownish."
"Thank you," the Farseer tilted her head slightly towards the thief. "Now, shall we finally proceed?"
In the next room they ran into another group of mercenaries, who once again proved to be of little challenge to Maeteris and her teammates. Garrus, Kasumi and Jacob efficiently dispatched the soldiers and engineers while Maeteris and Jack took care of two Asari biotics.
"Negative contact," Jacob reported once he saw the last of the mercenary group fall.
"I don't think so," Jack told him as she looked at one of the sealed doors. "There are some people inside. More Salarians would be my guess."
"Good, let's get them out," Garrus said and approached the door.
"Careful, one of the Salarians is armed," the Farseer warned him. "And he is rather agitated."
"Eclipse?" The Turian asked her.
"No, I do not think so."
"A scared civilian with a gun then. Great," Garrus said with a sigh. "Stay back, I'll try deal with it."
He opened the door and immediately raised his arms as soon as he saw a Salarian worker pointing gun at him.
"Don't… don't come any closer!" the worker shouted.
"Whoa, calm down, I just want to help," Garrus told the Salarian.
"Stay back. I don't want to hurt you... but I will. I'll do it!" The Salarian was obviously hysterical by now. "Please, stay back, don't make me do it!"
Another Salarian raised his head from behind one of the crates. "Wait, Telon, look! They're not Eclipse!"
Telon, the worker with a gun, looked back at his colleague. "I... you think?"
"I'm certain!" The other Salarian made several nods. "Just look at their armor."
Telon studied the group's armor for a moment. "Maybe... I don't know..."
"He's right, Telon, we're not part of Nassana's mercenaries," Garrus told him calmly. "We already helped several of your colleagues downstairs to leave the building safely, let us help you as well."
"I... I just want to go home," Telon said.
"I'm sure you do, Telon. And you will get home very soon, I promise you," the Turian assured him. "Simply give me your pistol and you and your friends can leave immediately."
Telon looked at his gun briefly and asked. "Uh, why?"
"Because you're a construction worker, Telon, not a soldier. You weren't trained on how to handle a weapon and you might get someone hurt," Garrus explained. "You said it yourself that you don't want to hurt anyone, am I right?"
"Yes," the Salarian replied quietly.
"Please, Telon, give him the gun!" The other worker urged him.
"Um, okay." Telon said and slowly handled his gun to Garrus. "Here, take it."
"You did the right thing, Telon," Garrus told him as he carefully took the pistol and switched the safety on.
The Salarian stepped back and scratched his head as if he had a powerful migraine. "I... don't feel so well." He managed to say before he fainted.
"Telon," the other Salarian shouted and rushed to check on his friend. Garrus also bent down and checked Telon for injuries.
"He is my brother. Is he going to be alright?" Telon's sibling asked.
"I think he's just exhausted from too much worry," the Turian told him when he found no serious injuries. "Give him a few moments."
"Thank you. Were you the one who... shot the merc?" Telon's brother asked.
Garrus looked at the Salarian briefly and then saw what he was referring to - there was a dead Eclipse merc in the room.
"No, it wasn't us. We just got here," Garrus replied. "What happened exactly?"
"I'm not sure, it all happened so fast. We hid here when the shooting started but one of the mercs found us. He shouted at us to leave but we panicked. He shouted more and pointed his gun at us and then his head just... exploded. Telon took the merc's gun but we were too afraid to leave."
"You didn't see the shooter?"
"No. We didn't even hear the gunshot."
"A clean head shot with no collateral damage. And no one heard or saw him." Garrus mused. "Impressive."
"We would not be here if he was an average thug for hire," Maeteris noted.
"True enough," the Turian nodded and addressed Telon's brother. "We need to go. You people should leave as soon as possible; the lower levels are safe and the cargo elevator still works."
"Thank you," the Salarian replied and shook his brother lightly. "Telon, can you stand? We're leaving."
Telon's eyes opened slowly. "Can we go home now?"
"Yes, Telon, we're going home." His brother replied and helped Telon to get up.
In a few moments, the rest of the Salarian workers left the room and went towards the elevator.
"Nice work in handling the whole thing with the Salarian, Garrus." Jacob said. "This could have gotten really ugly."
"Yeah, you never know when your C-sec negotiator training might prove useful." Garrus said with a sigh of relief. "Right, we should be close to that bridge. Let's move out."
They went towards the stairs that would have taken them to the last level of this building, but before they managed to reach them a loud shouting from one of the terminals attracted their attention.
"Can someone give me a report?" an angry feminine voice demanded. "What is going on down there?"
"That's Nassana," Garrus said but was immediately shushed by Kasumi. After that, the thief quietly crept towards the terminal and after a small pause she pressed the reply button.
"Help! They are slaughtering us!" Kasumi screamed theatrically. Then she let out a blood chilling shriek and immediately switched the terminal off.
After a brief awkward pause the team burst with laughter, Maeteris included.
"I wish I could see her face right now!" Kasumi managed to say between the fits of laughter.
"I'll be very surprised if she didn't jump out of the window by now," Jack said as she approached the thief. "That was pretty cool. You're alright, Kasumi."
"Thank you, I do believe I am," Kasumi said. Both women raised an arm and then slapped each other's palms, which Maeteris believed was a sign of camaraderie.
"Alright, let's go before this whole mission gets more ridiculous than it is already," Garrus said as he went up the stairs.
"Hey! It gets the job done, isn't it?" Kasumi asked rhetorically as the rest of the team followed the Turian.
They finally reached the last level and just like the Salarian workers have said it was not finished and most of the walls were out. Through the gaps they were able to see the other tower and the bridge that led to it. A group of Eclipse mercenaries gathered at the edge of the bridge.
"Forget about the explosives, he has already passed us," an Asari shouted, a group leader judging by her tone.
"Explosives? That can't be good," Jacob noted.
"They probably intend to blow the bridge and cut us off from the other side," Garrus said as he prepared his sniper rifle. "And we can't let them do that. Prepare to engage on my signal."
The Turian took aim and shot one of the Eclipse sappers.
"The other group is behind us!" One of the mercs shouted. "Run!"
"Turn back and fight, cowards!" the group leader shouted and used her biotics to hurl her retreating men back to the fight. It didn't help her much because the dazed mercs immediately became easy targets for Maeteris' companions.
Maeteris once again used telekinesis to throw a heavy crate at the enemy leader but to her surprise the Asari managed to evade the Farseer's attack by turning herself into a biotic projectile and swiftly moving to a different location.
"Neat trick," Maeteris thought to herself. It was somewhat similar to the teleportation devices of the Warp Spiders although it was not near instantaneous as the Warp Spiders were.
Content with her observations of this new biotic ability, Maeteris returned to the task of dealing with the mercenary leader by hurling another crate at her. Just like the last time, the Asari managed to avoid the attack. Slightly annoyed by her target's elusiveness, Maeteris prepared to cast a lightning bolt.
She never had a chance to use it because as soon as the Asari merc reappeared for the second time, a seemingly random flying crate slammed into her with great force. The merc died instantly and her broken body fell limply to the ground. Maeteris was about to ask who threw that crate but Jack's triumphant hoot gave Farseer the answer prematurely.
"You shouldn't think so loudly, bitch!" Jack shouted. "Man, I'm really getting good at this, am I not?"
"It was not bad," Maeteris replied simply. Jack indeed seemed to be naturally talented with both telepathy and divination to a certain extent but the Farseer had a feeling that her main talent is yet to manifest itself.
"Not bad? Not bad?! That was fucking impressive!" Jack protested.
Maeteris sighed and simply went towards the bridge without uttering a word.
"Um, Maeteris, I think I remember you saying something about missile launchers," Kasumi said as they approached the edge of the bridge.
"That I did," the Farseer replied, staring at the contrails of a pair of incoming turret fired missiles.
"Crap. Take cover!" Garrus shouted.
Once again, Maeteris ignored his warning. Instead, she extended her arms towards the two swiftly approaching projectiles and reached out with her mind. It took a good deal of concentration but Maeteris managed to grasp the missiles. And then, with a little additional effort, the Farseer forced the missiles to turn around, despite the protests of their guidance systems.
In a moment, the two launchers disappeared in fiery explosions, destroyed by the very missiles they had fired. Now, all that stood between the team and their objective was a single barricade manned by a handful of mercenaries.
Maeteris lowered her arms and looked at Jack. "No matter what your achievements are, Jack, always know that you still have much to learn."
The human rose from her cover and looked at the pillars of smoke that rose from the remnants of the two destroyed guns. Then she spoke. "You know, I think I'm gonna agree with our Imperial boy scout - you're a showoff."
Maeteris could only sigh heavily to that.
Jack on the other hand simply grinned and then dashed forward all of a sudden. "Last one to the other side is a pussy!" She shouted.
"Jack, wait! Ugh, what did I do to deserve this?" Garrus asked no one in particular.
"I will handle it. Just follow us and do what you do best," Maeteris said and immediately dashed after Jack.
Using her psychic abilities, the Farseer overtook Jack with ease. And since she moved with increased spread, the mercenaries had trouble aiming at her and the few successful shots that actually hit Maeteris were easily deflected by her barriers. As soon as Maeteris reached the end of the bridge, she surprised the mercs for one last time by easily vaulting over their barricade.
Mid-flight, Maeteris unsheathed her sword and as she landed the Eldar used her momentum to strike one of the mercenaries. The man died instantly as the powerful strike sheared him almost in half. Maeteris immediately flipped her blade around and delivered a backward strike at the female merc behind her. The blade pierced the woman's heart and one of the lungs. Maeteris twisted the sword a little and wrenched it out as she turned to face the third mercenary, a Salarian.
The Salarian almost managed to draw a bead on Maeteris' helmet but not before she sliced his head off at the neck. That left Maeteris one on one against the last merc, an Asari and an experienced one judging by her aura. Experienced though she might have been, it would do her little good. The life of even an Asari was nothing by comparison to the Eldar and Maeteris was a mistress of melee.
The Asari seemed to realize that she should try to keep the Farseer at bay, unleashing a biotic shockwave at the Eldar. Maeteris reacted quickly, somersaulting twice to her left. Then she dashed towards the walls, jumping at it and then pushing off of it with her legs to propel herself towards the Asari mercenary. While still in the air, Maeteris swung her blade and allowed her momentum to do the rest. The tip of her sword easily pierced the merc's armor and went right into her heart.
The Asari stared blankly at the shimmering blade impaled in her chest and managed to ask. "What are you?.." before she slowly sagged to the ground.
Maeteris wrenched her sword out of Asari's body, cleaning the blade of blood with a practiced flick before sheathing it. The sound of footsteps behind her told her that Jack and the rest of the team finally made their way across the bridge.
"Okay, that was cheating!" Jack said while panting slightly.
"Cheating? That would have been cheating if you bothered to set up the rules for this… challenge," Maeteris countered. "As far as I remember, the only rule was the victory conditions. What was it? Last one to the other side is a…"
"Yeah, yeah. Very funny," Jack waved at her, obviously annoyed that she was beaten but not willing to accept it.
"God, I think I'm gonna be sick," Maeteris hear Kasumi mutter.
"Why? What's wrong?" Jacob asked as he approached the woman. Then he saw what she was looking at. "Oh. Ok, Kasumi, just breathe deeply and think about something else." The man said as he gently led Kasumi away from the corpses of dead mercs.
"What's there?" Jack asked curiously and went to take a look herself. "Shi-i-i-it, look guys, she sliced that dude almost in half!"
"You're not helping, Jack!" Jacob shouted at her.
"Oh, look! A severed head!" Jack continued. "We should get back to the ship and place it on a wall in the mess hall!"
"Jack, that's enough," Garrus said sternly as he approached the woman.
Of course it was too late for Kasumi as Maeteris heard the woman throw up.
"Happy now?" The Turian asked Jack and went to check on Kasumi.
Kasumi coughed several times then took a piece of cloth from one of her pockets and wiped her mouth. "Give me a few seconds, guys." She said hoarsely.
Then she went back to the bridge and looked at the vista around her. Maeteris watched as Kasumi began doing a strange series of graceful movements which looked like some kind of martial art relaxation exercise. And they obviously helped because Maeteris felt Kasumi's heart rate and anxiety started to drop down.
Kasumi ended her exercise with a deep sigh and clapped her hands once. "Okay, done!" She said in her usual cheerful tone.
"Whoa, you know kung fu or something?" Jack asked her.
"Or something," Kasumi replied without a hint of bitterness in her voice. She approached Garrus and Jacob and added. "Sorry about the delay, Garrus. Let's go."
"Are you sure you're alright?" Jacob asked her, his voice filled with concern.
"I'm good, seriously," Kasumi nodded.
"Well, in that case let's not keep Nassana waiting," Garrus said and then went towards the last elevator.
As they began their ascent to Nassana's penthouse, Maeteris turned to speak to Kasumi.
"I feel guilty for making you feel unwell, Kasumi. For that, I offer my sincerest apologies."
She meant every word of that. Ever since Maeteris arrived to this dimension, Kasumi was one of the few people who tried to do their best to make Farseer feel welcome, despite being a complete stranger. In time, Maeteris would gladly call this human her friend.
"Seriously, Maeteris, it was nothing. Thing is, I'm usually not so squeamish but I suppose I was just caught off guard back there," Kasumi mused. "So, there's really no need for apologies."
"I am glad to hear that." Maeteris said with a slight bow.
They rode in silence for several more seconds until the elevator's VI announced that the group finally reached their destination.
They entered the penthouse, guns at the ready however there was no resistance. The apartment was dimly lit and looked empty.
"Trap?" Garrus asked as he carefully scanned the hallway before them.
"No, it seems that we have dealt with most of the mercs. The last ones finally realized that guns will not help them," Maeteris replied. "They have gathered in the room at the end of this corridor - three mercenaries and Nassana Dantius herself."
Maeteris looked at the ceiling. "Trust me, he is around."
Garrus nodded and lowered his rifle a little. "Well, in that case it's time to meet an old friend of mine. Let's go."
They entered the room and just like Maeteris have said, on the other side of the room behind a large table there were three Eclipse mercenaries gathered around an Asari dressed in an expensive gown. One of the mercs pointed a gun at them while others searched for other threats.
"So, you finally got here," Nassana said as she turned away from a large window and faced the group. She looked at them for a moment before recognition dawned on her face. "Wait, I know you. You're that Turian, Garrus Vakarian. One of Spectre Shepard former flunkies."
"Spirits, you actually remember my name. I feel honored, I really do. Usually I'm just 'Hey, you're that Turian, right? One of Shepard's crew!'," Garrus said sarcastically. "And it's not 'former flunky'. I got my position back recently so now I'm one Shepard's 'current flunkies', thank you very much."
"What the hell are you talking about? Shepard is dead." Nassana argued.
"She got better," the Turian replied with a shrug.
"Is that so? And what, she sent you to kill me?" Nassana asked. "Is this about what happened with my sister two years ago?"
"Not everything is about you, Nassana. Honestly, we're here because we're looking for someone."
"You expect me to believe that after you annihilated my security?" Nassana was obviously starting to lose her temper. Then she spotted Maeteris. "And who the hell is she?"
Maeteris didn't bother giving a reply. Garrus looked at her and decided to stay silent as well.
"Hey, are you deaf? I am talking to you!" Nassana shouted.
Maeteris remained silent.
"Aren't you going to blast her with lightning or something?" Jack asked casually.
"Why should I bother? In a few moments she would not matter anymore," Maeteris replied.
"What was that supposed to mean?" the Asari demanded.
Maeteris simply started counting. "In three, two, one…"
As soon as she finished counting a dark shape fell from the ceiling behind one of the mercs. The shape then grabbed the closest merc and snapped his neck. In one fluid motion it closed the distance with a second merc and used him as a living shield against the last mercenary. The third mercenary, an Asari, hesitated for a moment and it cost her life as assassin shot her in the head. Then he snapped the second's merc neck as well.
It all happened so quickly that Nassana only had time to grab her weapon and turn around with a startled "What?". The assassin grabbed her armed hand and twisted it so that the barrel of Nassana's pistol was pointed at her own stomach. Nassana instinctively pulled the trigger and shot herself.
The assassin gently lowered the mortally wounded Asari on the table and closed her arms over her chest. Nassana let out several struggled gasps and then went still.
"Nice entrance," Jack said.
The Drell assassin seemed to be ignoring their presence completely as he clasped his hands together and lowered his head.
"Anyone knows what is he doing?" Garrus asked quietly.
"I am probably the last person you should ask about Drell cultural traditions but I can speculate that he is praying," Maeteris replied.
"Praying? For them?" Garrus asked as he tilted his head towards Nassana and her dead guards. "I don't think they're worthy of it."
"Perhaps he is not praying for them?" Maeteris countered. "Let us be civil and allow him to finish his rites."
"I see no harm in that," Garrus said and started waiting.
It didn't take long for the Drell to finish his prayers. He then looked at the team briefly.
"I thank you for your patience and understanding," Drell said with a slight bow.
"No problem," Garrus said. "There is something that we wanted to discuss with you."
"Yes, you went to great lengths to meet me in person," Thane said as he slowly walked around the table in order to get closer to Garrus. "Well, here I am."
"Good, but first I want to know how much of our conversation with Nassana did you hear?" Garrus asked him.
"Enough to know who you are and whom you represent," Thane replied. "Although I must admit that you diminish your own popularity, Garrus Vakarian. After the Battle of the Citadel, several fan sites appeared that are dedicated solely to you."
"Please, don't remind me of that," Garrus muttered, obviously embarrassed. "In any case, we were sent here by Spectre Shepard to offer you a job. She is gathering a team for a very dangerous mission and she needs the best of the best. For obvious reasons, that list includes you."
"Interesting," Thane mused. "And the reason why Spectre Shepard didn't come here personally?"
"I assure you that she meant no disrespect," Garrus replied. "She's merely busy trying to recruit another individual here on Illium - an Asari Justicar."
"I see. It seems that Shepard is indeed looking for the most capable," Thane said. "I would like to know some details about the mission, if you're allowed to discuss them, of course."
"I am. Have you ever heard about the Collectors?"
"I'm aware of their reputation." The Drell replied simply.
"The Collectors are abducting entire human colonies in the Terminus Systems," Garrus continued. "We intend to stop them for good."
"I see," Thane turned around and stared at the large window for a brief moment. Then he looked over his shoulder and said. "Attacking the Collectors' homeworld would require passage through the Omega 4 relay. No ship has ever returned from that trip."
Garrus shrugged. "They told us that getting to Ilos was also impossible."
"Yes, you've built quite a reputation on doing the impossible," the assassin nodded. "A suicide mission. Yes, a suicide mission would do." He added quietly, more to himself than to anyone else.
"Well, I wouldn't be so fatalistic if I were you," Kasumi said suddenly and looked at Maeteris. "Trust me when I say that our chances are much bigger than they were a couple of weeks ago."
Thane turned around and also looked at the Farseer. "Yes, you do seem to have gathered a very powerful team. And one of you is not even on the list of known alien species."
"Yes, I think my choice of armor and my skills were a dead giveaway," Maeteris said.
"They were but it wasn't just that. You're too slightly built to be either human or Asari or Batarian. Your stance and your posture speak of great experience; each one of your movements is carefully measured and weighted. Even the oldest Asari Matriarchs will be hard pressed to match you." the Drell explained.
"Very astute observation. Indeed, I am neither of the species you mentioned. I am proud to be part of the people who call themselves the Eldar."
"It's strange that I haven't heard about your people before. The appearance of a new sapient species would have attracted a lot of attention." Thane noted.
"A story for another time, perhaps." Maeteris said.
"Fair enough," the Drell returned his attention to Garrus. "I'm interested in your offer, Garrus Vakarian, and I'm ready to see Spectre Shepard in order to discuss the final details of our possible partnership."
"Good, good, let's get back to the Normandy then," Garrus said and turned to leave Nassana's penthouse.
As they approached the elevator, Maeteris decided that it was time to reveal the main reason why she decided to join today's mission.
"I must warn that even though Thane Krios is already among us, our trials for today are not over," the Farseer announced to everyone. "We have one more encounter ahead of us."
Garrus immediately turned back. "What do you mean? Where?"
"At least some part of our stalkers will decide that idle observations are not enough," Maeteris replied. "They will try to ambush us not far away from where we left our transport."
"I like the sound of the word 'try'," Garrus smirked. "I take it that you already have a plan in mind?"
Maeteris smiled inside her helmet. "As a matter of fact, I do."
Agent Murat patiently waited behind cover for his quarry to arrive. As an agent of the Shadow Broker, he learned to expect incredibly strange and complicated assignments but when he received today's briefing Murat had to accept that there were still things that could surprise him.
He was tasked with a kidnapping of a never seen before alien, who somehow managed to slip into inhabited space without attracting much attention. At first, Murat expected this new alien to be something weird like a giant insect or a large formless ball of goo. He was a bit disappointed when he learned that the alien was a humanoid but when he saw the few photos of this "Eldar", as Shadow Broker called her, Murat immediately became very curious. Or at least the man in Murat became very curious.
Even though the few photos that seemed to have been taken by some random bystanders showed only part of her face and despite the fact that the alien was hooded most of the time, it was apparent that these Eldar were extremely similar physically to humans. And this particular alien was also hot, smoldering even. A bit thin, in Murat's opinion, but she had curves in all the right places. "It seems like the Asari are about to meet a worthy rival." Murat thought to himself.
For some reason, the Shadow Broker insisted that Murat used all his available resources to ambush and capture the Eldar because he believed her to be extremely dangerous. Murat ignored the warning. This wasn't his kidnapping and it was never a question of the amount of men you needed to capture one person. You just had to choose the right tactics.
Of course, after seeing the Eldar fight, Murat had to accept that the Shadow Broker was right about one thing - the Eldar was indeed very dangerous. Most of her abilities were unnatural to say the least. Nevertheless, Murat was still certain that he didn't need more manpower because he never intended to do this the hard way, especially after seeing some of the Eldar's other acts. The way she healed that Salarian worker made Murat think that this Eldar thought herself to be some sort of noble hero. And that was something he could exploit. If Murat's plan works out, he will manage to capture the Eldar without firing a single shot.
And of course, there was a backup plan - the Shadow Broker ordered that should capture of the Eldar prove to be absolutely impossible, Murat had to eliminate the Eldar by any means possible. For that reason he had a sniper with a Krysae sniper rifle watching the place of ambush from a good vantage point. This Eldar may be very powerful but Murat doubted that her fancy armor would stop a bullet from a Krysae.
"They're coming," came the quiet report from one of Murat's men. "They seem to be relaxed. I don't think they suspect anything."
"Good. Get ready," Murat replied.
He carefully leaned from behind his cover and immediately saw the group marching right into his ambush, the alien at their front. This will be easier than he thought it would be.
Murat had to immediately rethink his last conclusion because the group abruptly stopped.
"You may finally reveal yourself," the alien said, sounding as if she was bored to death. "That is unless you need more time to muster your courage."
Murat cursed under his breath. How did she know they were here? And more importantly, if she knew about the ambush why she still walked right into it? She didn't consider them a threat or what?
Maybe he should have listened to Shadow Broker after all.
"Orders?" Murat's sniper asked quietly over the com.
Murat considered his options. Maybe he was over thinking it all and the Eldar didn't know about the ambush and simply spotted them at the last moment? And now she simply was trying to talk her way out of it. Yes, that was probably the case.
"Wait for my signal." Murat ordered as he decided to stick to the original plan with a little improvisation. Stepped out of his hiding spot and approached the Eldar while slowly applauding her.
"Well done! Well done. I must say I thought we were well hidden but something obviously gave us away," Murat said in a cheerful tone. "What was it, if that is not a big secret?"
"If you have something to say, human, say it or get out of the way." The alien replied sharply.
"Human, hm? Now that is a curious choice of words for someone who only yesterday did her best to look like humans, wouldn't you agree?" Murat asked.
"My patience is wearing thin," the Eldar said simply. Curiously enough, the rest of her team watched the exchange with a complete lack of interest.
"Fair enough, I see that you're a person who likes to get straight to the point," Murat said and crossed his arms. "Before we start, I want you to know that I'm aware of who you are – an Eldar, member of the alien species no one has ever seen or heard before, so there's really no reason to deny..."
"And you are an agent of the Shadow Broker," the Eldar interrupted him. "Now, get to the point of why you are trying to ambush us."
Murat did his best not to show his surprise. How did she know he was working for the Shadow Broker? Was there a mole in Broker's network?
It looked like there was more to this Eldar than he initially thought. Murat gathered his thoughts and continued.
"I wouldn't call it an ambush really. Just a precaution. And since you seem to know who my current employer is then I shall be brief – the Shadow Broker became very interested in you once he learned of your existence. He sent me to offer you a..."
"Lies," the Eldar interrupted him again.
"W-what? No, I assure you. I'm only here to deliver an offer..." Murat stuttered.
"Lies, again," the alien repeated herself in a condescending tone. "You consider yourself a good liar but you are not. So stop before it gets embarrassing."
"How the hell she knows that I'm lying? Is she a telepath or something?" Murat thought and then realized that he was dealing with a complete unknown here. Maybe these eldar were actually psychics or something. If that was the case, his initial plan was fucked. It was time to try a different approach.
Murat quickly drew his pistol and pointed it at Eldar. This was the signal his men were waiting for as they jumped out of their cover and surrounded the Eldar and her team.
"I really didn't want to do this but you leave me no choice," Murat told the Eldar. "You're coming with us, alien or else..."
"What, you are going to shoot me?" The Eldar asked him.
"You? No," Murat replied and pointed his gun at one of the Eldar's companions, a hooded woman. "But one of your friends might get hurt."
Then Murat once again noticed that the Eldar's friends weren't reacting at the situation around them. They just stared at him passively. Even the hooded woman Murat held at gunpoint.
Something was definitely off.
Murat heard as the alien in front of him sighed heavily and started to talk. "Look, human, you have no idea whom you are dealing with but I shall forgive your ignorance this time. Leave now and neither you nor your men will be harmed."
What was that supposed to mean? This eldar was in no position to make demands. It was Murat and his people who held her at gunpoint, not the other way around.
"This is all a bluff, it has to be!" Murat thought to himself.
"Last warning, Eldar. Surrender or..."
"Shoot. I dare you," the Eldar told him.
If she thought that he didn't have the guts to do it then she was dead wrong. Murat squeezed the trigger, his gun barked loudly and... Nothing happened. There was no scream of pain, the hooded woman Murat just shot in the thigh did not fall to the ground. She didn't even blink.
Then there was a flash and the hooded woman disappeared and in her place Murat saw a small floating rune similar to those that were floating around the Eldar.
"Did you really think it was going to be that easy?" The alien asked him and though Murat could not see her face he was certain that she was smiling.
Then to Murat's dread the rest of the Eldar's companions disappeared in the same matter, each one of them replaced by identical rune.
Decoys. They were all decoys. But if they were a fake, where were the real ones?
As if to answer his question, the Eldar's friends jumped out of their hiding places and rushed Murat's bewildered men, catching them completely by surprise. In a few moments Murat's team was completely disarmed and subdued.
Murat no longer knew what to do. He briefly thought about ordering his sniper to open fire but in the back of his mind he knew that the accursed Eldar probably thought about that as well. He looked at the alien but then he realized three very terrible things.
First. The Eldar was no longer in front of him.
Second. Someone managed to slice off the better part of his pistol without his notice.
And third. Something very sharp was pressed against his throat.
"As I already said - you have no idea of whom you are dealing with," Murat heard the Eldar say and this time her voice came from his right. How did she manage to get there so quickly without his notice? Was she one of those biotics who can freely jump around?
Of one thing Murat was certain - he really should have listened to Shadow Broker's advice.
The only thing he could do right now is to try and talk his way out of this mess. He dropped the useless remains of his gun and slowly raised his hands up.
"Ok, Eldar, you've won this one. Now let's be civil about it and..."
"Silence, human. You are really trying my patience," the Eldar told him and Murat hissed as he felt her blade press a bit stronger on his throat. "I ought to slay you where you stand but, fortunately for you and your men, my accomplices would not look kindly at a slaughter of unarmed people. So instead we are going to let you and your men go and you shall deliver a message to your master."
"Fair enough, what's the message?" Murat asked.
He felt as the Eldar leaned closer to him. "That if the Shadow Broker doesn't change his allegiance, the day we meet will be the day that he dies."
"It's not very healthy to threaten the Shadow Broker," Murat warned.
The Eldar started to laugh and her laughter was equally melodic and blood-chilling. "Fool. Know that I'm not just any Eldar. I am a Farseer. I do not threaten. I divine the future."
"What does she mean by that? That she can see the future? But that's impossible!" Murat thought to himself. Of course, it would have explained how she found out about this ambush but... No, that was not possible; he was simply being tricked...
"You have a very limited perception of the universe, yet you seem to be awfully sure about what is possible and what is not," the Eldar told him suddenly. Wait, did he say all that out loud?
Murat shuddered as he realized that he didn't and the Eldar once again proved that she was capable of reading his thoughts. Just how exactly he was supposed to capture someone like her?
"Now, run along, human. You have things to do and places to be," the alien said and he felt as she removed her blade from his throat.
Not willing to test his luck any longer, Murat turned around and ran, not bothering to check if his team was following him. Judging by the clatter of footsteps, they were not far behind him. Murat knew that Shadow Broker didn't look kindly at failure but whatever Murat's boss might do to him it certainly couldn't be worse than what this weird, sword-wielding, lightning-throwing, quick-moving, mind-reading, fortune-telling alien could do.
Maeteris watched as the last one of the Shadow Broker's minions disappeared from sight and then turned around to face her accomplices, just in time to see Garrus arrive. He was the one who dealt with the enemy sniper and was now carrying a new weapon, most likely taken from the aforementioned sniper.
"Remind me to send a thank you card to the Shadow Broker," Garrus said as he patted his weapon. "I've been itching to get my hands on a Krysae for some time."
"Krysae? Never heard of it," Jacob said as he approached to look at the new gun.
"And for good reason. It's one of the Hierarchy's newest developments. Only Turian Special Forces carry these. Figures the Shadow Broker managed to get his hands on these," Garrus said ruefully. "Anyway, that worked out well, you should have seen the sniper's surprise when I took his weapon from him. I have only one question, Maeteris - how did you managed to get so close to their leader. It all happened so fast that I didn't notice."
"I did," Thane said simply and looked at Maeteris. "You just shifted your position in a blink of an eye. You also managed to sever part of your adversary's pistol in the process. An impressive skill, is it something similar to a biotic charge?"
"No, I did not teleport myself. It was an incantation called the Time Shift," Maeteris explained. "Essentially, for a brief moment I can put myself outside of normal flow of time."
Her team stared at her as if she suddenly grew a second head. "What?"
"Are you saying that you... stopped the time?" Kasumi asked her.
"No, of course not. It is a bit more complicated than that," Maeteris tried to explain. "You see, I did not alter the general flow of time, it is impossible. As I said, I placed myself outside of the normal time flow which actually made me faster to a point where everything around me stands still."
Judging by the expressions of her listeners, they were not getting what the difference was.
Maeteris sighed. "Yes, I suppose I did stop the time in a sense."
"This is going to be my weirdest debriefing. Good thing I'm not working in C-Sec anymore and I don't need to write an official report." Garrus shook his head. "Let's get back to the Normandy."
They boarded their small shuttle, after checking it for any nasty surprises the Shadow Broker's agents might have left for them. As soon as they took off, Maeteris leaned back in her chair with a content sigh. The Time Shift actually tired her, not to a point of exhaustion but still, it was a rather complex spell.
"So... Was it true?" Kasumi asked her suddenly.
"That depends on what you mean," Maeteris replied.
"You know, what you said about the Shadow Broker," the woman elaborated. "That he is going to die if he doesn't change his allegiance."
"Who knows? He or she or they are not going to die in the nearby future, of that we can be certain. My foresight allows me to glance only into the events of the next day, maybe a couple of days at most. Of course, the Shadow Broker does not need to know that."
"I hear you," Kasumi grinned.
"Is it really such a common thing among your people - the foresight of the future?" Thane asked.
"No, only those who tread the Path of Seer can learn to see the skeins of destiny," Maeteris replied.
"Fascinating," the Drell said and leaned forward in his seat. "And your predictions, how accurate are they?"
"It varies but short term predictions can be very accurate," Maeteris replied. "Just like they were with that pathetic attempt of an ambush we saw before."
"That's how we beat the Collectors on Horizon," Garrus added. "We managed to get there before the attack and mounted one hell of a defense. Even with numbers on their side, the Collectors were forced to retreat."
"Amazing," the Drell said quietly. "I pity those who would decide to attack your people, Farseer Maeteris."
This brought back painful memories and Maeteris turned to look at the view outside. "Yet sometimes even foresight is simply not enough."
An awkward silence settled, only to be interrupted by a beeping sound coming from Garrus' omni-tool.
"Shepard is hailing me," the Turian said and opened his com channel. "Garrus here. Go ahead, Shepard."
He briefly listened to her speech and his expression became more and more worried. "What happened? Do you need..." Garrus tried to ask. "Got it. The funny thing is that I was about to tell you the same thing... Yes, we picked up Thane, he has agreed to meet you, and we were on our way back when the Shadow Broker's goons tried to ambush us... Yeah, it appears that he tried to kidnap Maeteris for some reason. No, we're fine, we have Maeteris, remember? We didn't even have to kill anyone... Sure, I'll tell you everything once we get back. See you on the Normandy, Garrus out."
"What happened?" Jacob asked the Turian as soon as later ended the call.
"Some mercs ambushed Shepard and the rest of the group moments after they recruited the Justicar. I don't know the whole story, only that Gallardi was shot, although Victoria says that it's nothing serious."
"Was he?" Maeteris asked, a bit surprised by this development.
"Yes. You knew this was going to happen?" Garrus asked.
"I believe I already told you that divination is not a precise craft. Sometimes there are many possibilities of how a certain event might happen. At times like this it largely depends on the choices some individuals make," Maeteris replied.
She then once again turned to look at the cab's window. Maeteris was indeed aware of the choice Gallardi had to make, but to be perfectly honest, even though his attitude towards aliens changed, she didn't expect him to risk his own life to an alien, a complete stranger no less. It appears that she was wrong.
Maeteris sighed lightly – humans were equally frustrating and fascinating beings. Most of the time they were blindly predictable but they always found a way to surprise her.
A short time later...
Location: Illium, Normandy SR-2, Communications room.
"Well, there you have it, Justicar," Shepard said as she finished telling her the story of Captain Gallardi and Farseer Maeteris. "I know how all this sounds but it's the truth. I hope it also explains the Captain's attitude towards all alien species."
Despite hearing such an unbelievable story, the old Asari remained absolutely serene. "Spectre Shepard, I have lived for a very long time and I have seen many wondrous and unusual things. Yet your story easily eclipses all that."
"I understand but-"
"Do you believe those two people, Spectre?" Samara asked.
"Yes, yes I do," Victoria replied. "It is too unlikely to be a scam."
Samara nodded and turned to face Miranda, who was also present. "What about you, officer Lawson?"
"I was skeptical at first but I agree with Shepard," Miranda replied. "It is simply too unlikely to be a fabrication. They have advanced weapons, far too advanced in some cases. Not to mention that the Farseer's almost godlike powers."
"I assume that the same can be said about the rest of your team?"
"Yes," Shepard nodded.
"If that is the case I see no reason to doubt these two individuals, as unlikely as their stories are," Samara concluded. "Unless someone presents a compelling evidence of them lying to you all this time. I must say that I am rather intrigued to hear more about this 'different' dimension."
"You missed a couple of stories but we'll try to bring you up to speed," Victoria smiled. "Also, our second team along with the Farseer should arrive soon. You'll finally meet her in person."
Samara simply nodded. "There is one last issue I wish to discuss – the Reapers. If I am not mistaken, the official judgment on the matter says that these Reapers were nothing more than a fabrication of the rogue Spectre Saren."
"The official 'judgment' is false, the Reapers do exist," Victoria said. "My arguments were dismissed simply because the truth was too improbable. I don't mean anything by it but you weren't there, Justicar. If you were with us two years ago, you would have agreed with me, I'm certain of it."
"Perhaps," Samara said simply and turned to Miranda once again. "What about your organization, officer Lawson. Do you support Shepard's claims?"
"Absolutely," Miranda replied. "We managed to acquire several pieces of the Sovereign, the Reaper that was destroyed during the battle for the Citadel and after extensive research all of our scientists came to a conclusion that no known sapient race is capable of creating something as sophisticated as Sovereign."
"Have you shared this knowledge with others?" Samara asked.
"They didn't believe Spectre Shepard. Why would they believe us? I'm sure that you're aware of our reputation,"
"Indeed," Samara nodded.
"Let's not forget that Farseer Maeteris also proved that the existence of the Reapers when she learned about the fate of her species in this dimension." Shepard added.
"Yes, you already mentioned that," Samara agreed. "However, we only have her word-"
"That is not entirely true," Miranda interrupted. "We know that as a psyker, Farseer Maeteris is capable of sharing her memories with others. In fact, she has already shared the vision about her people with another person. An Asari Spectre named Tela Vasir."
"I see. That changes things to a certain degree," Samara said thoughtfully.
"I'm sure that Maeteris might share the vision with you, if wish," Victoria suggested.
"That is an interesting option, yes," Samara nodded. "You have given me much food for the thought. I will need time to think everything through."
"Of course," Victoria said, glad that Samara was at willing to think about the Reaper threat and didn't dismiss it outright.
Shepard was about to ask where Samara would have liked to settle on the Normandy but the suddenly Joker started talking through the ship's PA.
"Hey, Commander. Garrus is back with the rest of the gang. Should I let them in?"
"Yes, tell them that we're waiting in the Com room."
Less than a minute later, the door to the Com room opened and the second team marched in.
"Hello everyone." Garrus was the first one to speak. He then pointed at the Drell assassin, who quietly stood in one of the room's corners. "Shepard, this Thane Krios. Krios, this is Spectre Victoria Shepard."
Victoria rose from her seat and nodded to Thane. "Welcome to the Normandy, Mr. Krios. Thank you for agreeing to meet me."
"It is my pleasure, Spectre," Thane bowed slightly.
Shepard in turn waved at Samara. "Everyone, I want you to meet our newest recruit, Justicar Samara."
The Asari also stood up. "Greetings."
"Justicar, this is Garrus Vakarian, Jacob Taylor, Kasumi Goto, Jack and, of course, Farseer Maeteris of the Craftworld Ulthwe."
As on cue, Maeteris finally took off her helmet. Samara slowly approached the Eldar and stopped in front of her.
The atmosphere in the room became still as two very old and very powerful beings studied each other.
"I am honored to meet you, Farseer Maeteris. Spectre Shepard spoke very highly of you," Samara bowed her head slightly. "She also told me of a terrible fate that befell your kin in our dimension. For what it is worth, you have my condolences."
The Farseer was silent as she continued to study the Justicar. "Your words are welcome, Justicar Samara. It is good to finally meet a more... mature and disciplined member of your species. So far I mostly dealt with younger Asari and it was not a very pleasant experience. I, of course, understand that it is a common behavior among your young and I meant no offense to your people in general."
"No offense taken. I do agree that Maidens can be... a bit untoward, to say the least." Samara replied diplomatically.
"In that case I shall look forward to our future conversations. I feel that we have much to discuss. For now, you will have to excuse me but I was a little tired by the events of this day and I wish to retire." Maeteris said and looked at Victoria. "Unless my presence is required for this debriefing."
"No, I'm sure the others will be able to fill me in on the details." Shepard replied. "I only wish to thank you for your help today."
"It was my pleasure. I shall take my leave then," Maeteris bowed slightly and left the room.
"How interesting. Despite her similarity to humans, I have no doubt that she belongs to a different species," Samara mused. "She has a certain unique aura, unlike anything I have ever seen before."
"It's the whole psyker thing. You guys have it too," Jack said.
"I am sorry, I do not quite follow you," Samara looked at her.
"The psychic potential. Ask the Eldar about it, she would probably explain better me," the woman shrugged. "Anyway, since I see that you guys have everything under control so I'm gonna bail. You know where to find me."
With that, Jack also left the Com room.
Samara turned to Shepard. "That woman, she has a-"
"A unique aura? That's Jack. She is human but it turns out that she is psyker as well. A latent psyker, to be precise," Victoria replied with a smile. "You really should ask the Farseer about the whole psyker thing, she knows about it more than we do."
"I see. Thank you for your advice, Shepard."
"Well, since we're done with introductions we should decide where you could stay. There are several empty crew cabins on the Crew deck. You can pick the one you like."
"Thank you, this day has been full of surprises. A place where I can meditate in tranquility on these events is welcome," Samara said.
"Jacob, please show the Justicar to where the cabins are," Victoria told and immediately added. "Also, once you're done, head back to the armory, Gallardi is probably there and he might need your help."
"We heard he has been shot. How is he?" Jacob asked.
"He's better. Doctor Chakwas already released him from the Med bay." Miranda replied for Victoria.
"However, his armor and weapon were damaged," Shepard added. "See what you can do to help him."
"Will do, Shepard," Jacob nodded. He waved Samara to follow him and soon both of them left. However Victoria noticed that Jacob gave Thane an odd look before he exited the room. Shepard dismissed it for now because she was finally free to turn her full attention on her last potential recruit.
"Sorry for making you wait, Mr. Krios." She told him apologetically.
"It wasn't a trouble." The Drell replied.
"I assume that Garrus briefed you on the details of our mission?"
"Yes, and I have already made my decision," Thane said. "I will work for you, Shepard. No charge."
Victoria paused, unsure what to make of that. "That's... A bit unexpected, actually. I mean, people of your profession usually get paid. Especially if it's a high risk assignment like ours. I don't mean to sound ungrateful but why no charge?"
Thane looked thoughtful for a moment. "The assassination of Nassana Dantius was to be my last job. I'm dying, Spectre Shepard. The low survival odds do not concern me. The abduction of your colonists does."
"Dying?" his answer took Victoria by surprise. She looked at her XO. "Miranda, did I miss something from his dossier?"
Miranda also looked surprised as she started typing on her terminal. "No, there wasn't anything about that." She then looked at the Drell. "Is it a disease of some sort? You're certainly not old enough to die of natural causes."
"It is a disease, yes," Thane nodded. "Before you ask however – no, the disease is not contagious. And it will not affect my performance."
"But if you're dying, wouldn't you want to spend what time you have left in the company of friends or family?" Victoria asked.
"I'm an assassin, Spectre Shepard. I have done many bad things in my past," Thane replied. "The universe is a dark place and now I wish to make it brighter before I die."
He paused for a moment. "Many innocents died today. I wasn't fast enough and they suffered. I wish to atone for that and I'm grateful to you for offering me this opportunity."
Victoria looked at Garrus and Miranda for their opinion. Garrus nodded while Miranda simply shrugged. Shepard made her decision and approached the Drell assassin.
"In that case welcome to our team, Thane Krios," she said and offered her hand.
"Thank you," the assassin shook her hand. "Where shall I put my things? I would prefer some place dry, if there are any available."
EDI suddenly appeared on the briefing table. "The area around life-support systems are usually more arid than the rest of the ship."
"Ah, thank you," Thane nodded at her avatar and looked at Victoria. "An AI?"
"Yeah," Shepard smiled. "EDI, tell Kelly to escort Mr. Krios to the life-support systems."
"You will find Kelly Chambers right next to the main elevator, Mr. Krios," EDI informed.
Thane bowed slightly and left the room.
"He seems quite civil," EDI noted and disappeared.
"Ok, now you guys," Victoria clapped her hands and turned to Garrus and Kasumi. "You said you were ambushed by the Shadow Broker. Also, Thane mentioned Nassana Dantius and that a lot of innocents died today. So, start from the very beginning."
Garrus and Kasumi described their adventures in great detail although their story sounded more like a recollection of the amazing things Maeteris could do.
"Ok, stop," Shepard raised her hand. "Did you just say 'stopped the time'?"
"Well, as Maeteris said, she didn't really stop the time. She said the general time flow was unaffected, she 'simply' placed herself outside of the normal time flow." Kasumi tried to explain. "Although if you wish to use the plain English then yes, she stopped the time."
"Right, is there no limit to what that woman can do?" Victoria wondered. "So, how did it all end?"
"We let them go and Maeteris told their leader to pass a message to Shadow broker that if he will not stop being bad, he's going to die," Garrus said. "She said it was a bluff but we can never be sure, right?"
"Well, if it forces the Shadow Broker to remove the bounty from my head then it's fine by me," Shepard said. "Ok guys, we're done here. Go get some rest, you all deserved it."
She returned to her own cabin and finally took off her armor and went to take a shower. Once she was done she put on a clean change of uniform and went to check her terminal. Right now there weren't any messages from the Illusive Man about the Collectors which meant that Shepard and her crew were on standby for a time. Having nothing to do, Shepard decided to go and see Garrus and Tali and ask them about the Thanix cannon.
However as she left her room she noticed Kasumi standing next to the elevator's door.
"Hey Shepard," the thief greeted her cheerfully.
"Her Kasumi. What's up?"
"The ceiling is up, despite my attempts to change that," Kasumi replied.
"It must be frustrating," Shepard said with a chuckle.
"Tell me about it. Anyway, I'm here to ask for a small favor."
"What, another heist?"
"No." Kasumi sighed and continued. "Look, it's about Jacob. He's been a bit withdrawn ever since we came back. Something's bothering him."
"You think?" Victoria asked and remembered how Jacob looked at Thane during the debriefing. "Maybe it has something to do with Krios. There seems to some kind of tension between them."
"No, I don't think so. I mean yes, he doesn't seem to like Thane for some reason. Maybe because he doesn't like mercs in general and he thinks that an assassin is just another type of mercenary, I don't know," the thief shrugged. "What I do know is that he is worried by something personal. And he learned about it only recently. Also, Kelly agrees with me, it was she who told me to go to you."
"If it's something personal then aren't you the best person to ask him about it?"
Kasumi bit her lip a little. "Yeah well, I'm not sure if I reached the level where I can ask about personal things."
Victoria chuckled. "What, you think I reached that level?"
"Nah, he's not your type. On the other hand, you're his commanding officer so he'll talk to you if you order him. Seriously though, it really bothers him and in our line of work that is not a good thing."
"Okay, I see your point, Kasumi," Victoria nodded.
They used the elevator to reach the Combat deck and as soon as they left it, Kelly approached them.
"Shepard, I see that Kasumi is with you. You should really-"
Victoria raised her hands. "Yes, yes, I'm going to talk with Taylor."
"Oh, good!" Kelly smiled broadly.
"Thanks, Victoria! You're the best! Okay, girls. I'll see you around." Kasumi said and switched on her cloak.
"Kasumi," Victoria shook her head and went towards the armory.
She opened the doors and immediately spotted both Jacob and Gallardi standing near the workbenches. The Captain was reassembling his lasgun while Jacob welded shut holes in Gallardi's armor.
"Well, you're a bit wrong there Taylor," Gallardi said as he fixed the gun's casing in place. He looked at Victoria and gave her a brief nod before continuing. "Assassin is a set of skills, a military qualification, if you please. It doesn't make him a merc. The fact that he killed his targets for money does."
"You know any assassins who don't get paid for their kills?" Jacob asked him. He looked up from his work and also nodded to Victoria. "Shepard."
"I knew at least one," Gallardi shrugged. "I mean, sure, Sahi was paid for her service to the Inquisition but I'm sure that she never cared about money. She believed that killing the enemies of the Imperium was her sacred duty to the Emperor. And she was one of many sanctioned assassins in the Imperium."
"Okay, but my point still stands – do you think that it was smart to allow him to join our crew?"
"I see that you're concerned about our latest recruit, Jacob," Shepard said.
"I am. After all that happened today, us getting ambushed by mercs and all, do you think it's safe to let the hired killer join our team?"
"Well, as it turns out, Thane is not your average thug for hire," Victoria replied and told him about the terms on which Krios joined the Normandy's crew.
"U-huh, right," Jacob said and crossed his arms. "Forgive me if I say bullshit to that."
"Maybe, but if you remember, we have a good bullshit detector called Maeteris," Shepard pointed out. "If he meant us harm I'm sure she would have noticed something by now."
Jacob looked thoughtful for a moment and then simply shrugged. "Maybe you're right."
"He's not what I expected from an assassin," Victoria added. "He may surprise you."
"Yeah, and he may not." Jacob said and returned to his work.
"An alien assassin who seeks redemption," Gallardi mused aloud. "Now that is something I didn't hear before."
"I guess we all learn something new every day," Victoria said.
"You can say that again." Gallardi said as he finished assembling his gun.
"So, Jacob," Victoria said as she approached the man. "Word around the ship says that something is bothering you ever since you came back from the mission. And it's not just our new resident assassin."
Jacob was silent for a moment as she continued fixing one of the holes on Gallardi's breastplate. Once he was done he looked up at Shepard. "Kasumi put you up to this?"
"I will neither confirm nor deny her involvement in this," Victoria smiled. "But you just confirmed the rumors. So come on, Jacob. Spill it."
The man sighed and turned to look at the armory's window. "Well, it's a personal matter and I'm not sure if can spend time looking into it but... Well, you could say that I got pinged by a ghost. Family."
"I'm listening," Shepard urged him to continue.
"Once I got back, I saw that my personal log was updated about the status of the Hugo Gersnback, the ship my father served on. It sent an SOS, reporting the crash and requesting rescue. Shepard, that ship went missing ten years ago. I'm not sure it's just some automated distress beacon kicking in. It's been too long."
"You're right, ten years is one hell of a delay."
"Maybe the distress beacon was damaged and the survivors managed to get it to work only now?" Gallardi suggested.
"No, the distress beacons are built to survive the total destruction of the ship. If it was damaged it, it would have been broken for good." Victoria shook her head. "Jacob's right, something doesn't add up."
Victoria turned back to Jacob. "So, you want to investigate it?"
"If we have time to spare," Jacob replied. "I'm sure that the Alliance also picked up the distress signal but it will take time for them to get there. We can get there faster."
"We do have time to spare. And the possible survivors might need help," Victoria said. "Okay, Jacob, give us the coordinates."
"I appreciate it, Shepard. Personally, I don't expect to find anything but dusty bones but it would be good to close the record." Jacob said and used his terminal to send the coordinates to navigation.
"We'll see. EDI, get me Joker,"
"Affirmative." The AI replied.
"New orders, Commander?" Joker asked over the PA.
"Yes, are we ready to dust off?" Shepard asked.
"Just say the word and we're off this planet."
"Then bring her up. We're going to dock with a supply station first and pick up some supplies. After we're headed to Alpha Draconis System in Rosetta Nebula."
"Roger that, I'm going to... What the hell? Hey, cut it out! Scat!"
Victoria raised an eyebrow. "Joker?"
"There's a cat outside and it is scratching my ship's paint job!" Joker shouted.
"Okay Joker, take a deep breath and start making sense." Victoria said calmly.
"There is an unidentified feline scratching the outer airlock's door," EDI replied instead.
"It's a freaking huge cat, like a tiger or mountain lion, I don't know!" Joker was almost shrieking right now.
"It is neither. The animal does not match any known species of the Felidae family." EDI reported.
"Then what is-" Victoria tried to ask.
"Open the airlock!" came the voice of Maeteris. Unlike Joker and EDI, the voice didn't come from PA but rather like it came from inside Victoria's head.
"Bloody Eldar, can you stop doing that?" Gallardi shouted. It seems that he had heard her as well.
"Okay, I don't know if you hear me, Maeteris but do you know what is going on?" Victoria asked.
"Please, open the airlock! I am coming up!" Maeteris said once again.
"Fine, let's go see what this is all about." Shepard said and picked up a pistol from her locker. Gallardi and Jacob followed the suit.
The three of them left the armory and Victoria immediately bumped into Kelly.
"Shepard?" the yeoman was obviously very confused.
"I assume everyone on the ship heard that?" Shepard asked and upon receiving several nods she raised her voice a little. "Alright people, everyone is to remain at their station. We'll handle it."
They reached the airlock and checked their weapons.
"Talk to me, EDI," Shepard said.
"The feline is still outside."
"Okay, let it in."
"Opening the outer airlock. The animal stepped in. Closing the outer airlock. Decontamination in progress." The AI reported.
Victoria heard the main elevator opened and turned to see Maeteris running towards them. She was already in one of her civilian dresses but she looked odd. Odd because Maeteris was grinning like it was her birthday and she just received the best present ever.
"What's going on?" Gallardi was the first to ask her.
"It's a Gyrinx!" Maeteris replied.
"What? Where did it come from?" the Captain asked her, his surprise evident.
"I do not know! Is it not exciting?" Maeteris asked.
"What is exciting?" Victoria asked them.
"A Gyrinx!" Gallardi and Maeteris replied in unison.
"Okay, now with respect to those of us who are not dimensional travelers – what's a Gyrinx?" Shepard queried.
As if to answer her question the inner airlock doors opened and Victoria almost melted inside when she saw a very big and possibly the most majestic cat she had ever seen.
Author's Note: I want to thank my beta readers yuzah, Major Richard Sharpe and Todeswind for greatly improving the original quality of the chapter.
And yes, M'tarr is a Gyrinx, for those of you who haven't figured it out already. I know that I've made them a bit more intelligent than canon says. However, there is very little lore about them so I've decided to be a bit more creative.