"That's far enough." Dakka took a step forward and counted sets of Blue Suns armor the instant they showed up in front of the hospital. She kept her rotary cannon aimed away from them to avoid provoking them unnecessarily, but there was no way they hadn't already noticed it. As much as she enjoyed a good fight, too many innocent bystanders would be hit if everyone started shooting, but at least the sight of this monstrosity should at least make them pause an reconsier.

Thirty-six of them, though. Fuckin' fantastic.

Chula, Lia, both geth platforms, General Kurakova, Sidonis, Kal'Reegar, and even Valeria's parents lined up beside Dakka and stared the mercs down.

"Get out of our way," the pointman snapped. "I won't give you a second chance."

"You're here to murder our daughter." Lithia motioned at Desentos without breaking eye contact with the merc. "You'll have to go through us first."

"You're outnumbered." The merc shrugged. "It's your funeral, lady."

"Not really." Quint's voice. Dakka glanced back and found him stepping between Desentos and Reegar.

"Honey," Dakka said softly, "what're you up to? Weren't you gonna stay inside and guard Valeria?"

"It's cool." He winked at her. "She had an idea."

The voice of Chula's father came from behind the mercs. "Who's outnumbered now, asshole?"

Dakka turned back and found most of the Sulaco's quarian crew and twenty geth units taking position, trapping the mercs between the two groups. The Blue Suns' leader flicked a quick glance left and right before fixing his eyes on Dakka again.

"You've got no business getting between us and our target. Last chance -"

Yutani stepped forward. "We will not allow you to harm a member of our crew."

The red dot of a laser sight appeared on Quint's chest and the merc laughed.

"As I just said, one chance only."

Snipers. Fuck. Dakka glanced around at the nearby rooftops without turning her head. How many did they put in place before these jackoffs showed up? She found dots on Chula, Lia, Val's parents, and Reegar.

A call came through Dakka's Omni-Tool. She glanced at the interface, saw Irving's icon, and accepted the call.

"Six seconds," he said.

"What?" the merc snarled.

"That's how long it'll take my wife to kill all of your snipers." The red dot on Desentos flicked to the left and vanished. "Just an estimate, though. Might be less."

The deafening bang of a Widow anti-material rifle made everyone flinch. Barely a second passed before another shot, then several more. The rest of the dots vanished one by one.

Dakka zoomed in on each rooftop in front of her and found Valeria on a twelve-floor building two blocks away, holding her hand to a Blue Sun's neck and clipping the Widow to her back.

"Huh. Looks like she let one of 'em live," Irving said.

Valeria moved her hand and the merc convulsed and clamped his hands to his neck.

"Oops, never mind. She just slit his throat." Irving laughed. "Okay, seven seconds. I was a little off."

Valeria gave the merc a shove and his body tumbled over the rail, bounced off a ledge, and dropped out of sight. She pulled the rifle out again and Dakka turned back to the mercs as a red dot appeared on the leader's helmet. At the same time, the body slammed into the street with a barely audible wet crunch.

The mercs spun around and took aim. Dakka looked back to the rooftop and found Valeria had already vanished. The pointman tapped his Omni-Tool interface, scanned several nearby rooftops, and his hands suddenly trembled.

"Shit," one of the others muttered, "she got all of 'em!"

The pointman took a ragged breath and turned to stare over his shoulder at the hospital entrance as if weighing his chances of getting inside before his head could be turned into a canoe.

"Huh-uh," Dakka said. "Nope. Don't even think it. She could already be anywhere around us."

"She's only a person." His voice quavered. "She couldn't …"

"You're surrounded," Dakka reminded him. "And even if we weren't here, Valeria would kill every last goddamn one of you and you'd never have any idea where the shot that took you out came from."

"She couldn't possibly …"

"Buddy, she just slaughtered over two hundred mercs in an afternoon. This isn't much of a retirement plan, but if this is how you wanna go out, I guess it's your business."

"You talk about her like she's the fucking Angel of Death or something." The merc shook his head. "She's just a …"

"Not even close," Irving said. "The Angel of Death is Valeria's bitch."

Flashing red and blue lights suddenly washed over everyone. The local police had surrounded everyone with ground and air vehicles. Dakka turned back to the pointman and spoke in a soft tone.

"You still wanna throw down? We're all up for it if you are."

"Shit," he snapped. "Shit. Fuck. Shit!" He lowered his rifle, held it out to the side, and then raised his hands when Desentos stepped forward to grab it. The other mercs sighed or groaned and put their guns down. They waited for the cops to swarm in.

A pair of officers covered Dakka and the others as well. She scowled at them.

"Wait just a goddamn minute."

Every police Omni-Tool received a transmission and Valeria's voice echoed from each, her tone colder than liquid nitrogen. "This is Spectre Operative Valeria Terakkis. The Blue Suns are yours, but you will not arrest the geth, quarians, my team, or my parents. They were acting under my authority and are off-limits. Have I made myself clear?"

The cops backed away from Dakka and the others. One of them held up a hand as if to say, "Okay, okay, we're standing down." They turned their attention on the mercs and herded them into the waiting vehicles. Dakka let a long breath rush out and slipped her hand into Quint's. In the corner of her eye, Desentos passed the rifle he'd taken to one of the police and stared at his shaking hands. Lithia put her arms around him.

Those two actually have emotions other than anger and contempt. How about that? Dakka leaned over to give Quint a kiss and walked over to Chula's parents and the other quarians and geth who'd arrived with them.

"Thanks for the help, guys. Without you, these fuckers might've thought they had a chance and this would've turned into a bloodbath."

"It's the least we could do after the trouble we've caused," Chula's mother said.

"I'm on my way back," Valeria said over the comlink. "We need to get to Tantamus before they can warn her."

"Understood." Chula motioned toward the distant spaceport. "Next stop, Elysium."

"This ship was designed by the geth?" Desentos dragged his stare slowly over everything as he and Lithia and the kids followed Valeria and Irving to the medical bay.

"They copied elements of quarian and Systems Alliance design, but they blended them quite well, I think." Valeria tried not to wince at the pain that came with every movement. The fight with that one sniper, as brief as it was, had only exacerbated her injuries, but it couldn't have been avoided.

"Yes, it's quite … homey," Lithia said. "It's surprising that machines would even think to add chairs and beds."

"Well, they know we have to learn to coexist sooner or later. They don't need conveniences like furniture, but having them around isn't an inconvenience, either. Things like labor and money aren't concerns for them, so they have no reason not to build in things that organics need."

"Assuming they're not just trying to lull us into a false sense of security," Desentos muttered.

"Cooperation is in their own best interests and they know it." Valeria sighed. "Even if the Reapers weren't a factor, continuing hostilities will only result in a pointless war. Even if the geth only cared about themselves, many of them would become casualties and the resources expended in the war would be better spent on progressing as a society."

"What I'm curious about," Galadin interjected, "is how you reached that rooftop so quickly."

"I spotted a hoverbike in the hospital parking lot when Scott and Sixpack brought me in on the shuttle. I used my Spectre credentials to override the theft-deterrent measures, scanned the area, and located the snipers by their bio signs and weapons signatures. The snipers were set up before the ground-pounders moved in, so that gave me a few minutes to get into position." Valeria shrugged. "Then it was just a matter of subduing one of the snipers and taking the rest out."

"And then executing the remaining sniper." Desentos flicked a scowl at her. "Needlessly."

"Merely a tactical decision. If I'd killed all the snipers without any fanfare or threatened the remaining one and didn't follow through if they stood their ground, the mercs might've gone ahead with their attack. But adding a little extra 'fuck you' to the last sniper helped to convince them that surrendering was the only way to survive." Valeria glanced over her shoulder to hold his gaze before stepping into the medical bay. "They wanted to kill you and Actana and Galadin as well as my husband and me. And they would've killed some of my crewmates in the process. I'll always do whatever it takes to prevent that."

Lithia touched his arm and he glanced at her. "It worked and we're all safe, for the moment, at least. That's what matters."

He relented with a sigh and said nothing more. Valeria almost shook her head but stopped herself. At least her parents had shown a little solidarity by joining the standoff, so maybe this was her father just falling back into the familiar pattern. If he and her mother were making an honest effort to do better, snapping back at them would only drive her and them further apart.

"I won't force you to stay on this ship, but you'd be safer here than anywhere else, so I'll ask you to stick around until this is over."

"Very well. We realized recently that … you're our daughter and … we should support you."

I bet that was painful for him to say. Valeria rested a hand on his shoulder for a moment and said, "Thank you."

"I hope you'll actually get some rest now," Irving said as Valeria glanced around the room. A pair of quarians with medical insignia on their envirosuits stood with a geth platform at a bench loaded with instruments. Both of them kept flicking nervous glances at the geth but managed to keep their voices steady while conversing softly about Valeria's injuries.

The man noticed her and motioned at one of the beds. Valeria nodded and trudged over to it. The geth hurried over to another bed, picked up the pillow, and placed it on top of the one on Val's bed. She held in a chuckle.

"Thank you." She sat, wincing at the sharp pains from her wounds and the general aching all over her body, and looked at Irving. "That'll depend on how things go from here. If I fall asleep, I want you to wake me up as soon as we arrive at Elysium. The longer this takes, the more time Tantamus will have to prepare."

"What then?" Lithia stared at her, clearly dreading the answer.

"If she'll see reason and stand down, there won't be a need to carry this any further. But if this is the hill she wants to die on … so be it."

Irving nodded and gave her a kiss. "We'll let you rest, then. See you when we reach Elysium."

She nodded, stroked his cheek, and lay down with a long sigh. The same thought that had crossed her mind numerous times over the past few days came to the foreground again.

I miss the days when Irv and I were just porn stars.

"She's sleeping peacefully," Lona'Falan said as the medical bay door closed behind her. "She needs it, too."

"Rather desperately," Drozak'Relor added.

Irving and his grandmother nodded at the same time. He leaned against the corridor wall and let out a long breath.

"We recommend allowing Spectre Operative Terakkis to sleep as long as she needs to," the geth medical platform said. "She is suffering from exhaustion, multiple physical injuries, and the aftereffects of the hallucinogen the mercenaries used on her."

"There's also possible psychological trauma." Lona held Irving's gaze as if trying to drill the importance of her words into his brain. "I've never known anyone who killed as many people in a lifetime as your wife did in one afternoon. Based on what you and General Kurakova have said about her need to avoid taking lives before this mission, I'd recommend a psychological evaluation and regular therapy sessions until we can determine how this will affect her over the long term."

"I'd also advise against her going back into combat until those evaluations are done." Drozak crossed his arms over his chest. "Even if the emotional trauma wasn't a concern, she's far from peak condition. Her reflexes won't be what they usually are and her attention could wander - even if it's only a fraction of a second, that's all it could take."

A chill ran through Irving's guts. "I've already been worried about that. When this first started, I knew she could handle it, but now …" He took a slow breath and shook his head. "I can't lose her."

"The rest of us can pick up the slack, then," his grandmother said. "She'll be pissed at us if she's left out of the action, but I'd prefer that to possibly watching her get herself killed. She's family."

"Thanks." Irving gave her a quick hug and turned back to the doctors. "Valeria needs time to heal. Let's be sure she gets it. We'll handle the rest, whatever it takes."

All three of them nodded.

"We'll keep you updated on her condition," Lona said. "And for what it's worth, I hope you either convince this Tantamus person to back down or put her in the ground. The last thing we want is more of her mercs trying to assassinate our patient."

"One way or another, Tantamus and her crew won't be a problem anymore." The general smirked and put her hand on Irving's shoulder. "I have some ideas. Took the liberty of contacting some old friends before those Blue Suns showed up at the hospital. They'll meet up with us at Elysium."

"Interesting." Irving glanced at the doctors. "Thanks again." He walked down the corridor with his grandmother. "What did you have in mind?"

"So." Chula sat at the pilot's console and stared at the main monitor as the Sulaco approached Elysium. "Who are we waiting for?"

"Some people I served with before I retired." Natalie Kurakova grinned. "And the only survivor of the squadron I shot down with an anti-material rifle near the end of the First Contact War. Tarsus Parim's father."

"I remember Tarsus telling us about that battle." Chula glanced over her shoulder. "You actually got that pilot to work with you?"

"We've teamed up a number of times over the years. I'm still surprised that we became friends after being on opposite sides, but he never hesitates to back me up when I need it. I try not to take advantage of it any more than absolutely necessary. He's not getting any younger, after all." She winked. "He said he wouldn't have missed this one for anything."

Dakka laughed softly. "Well, you're both setting a good example for Valeria's parents. If you two can be friends after you wiped out his whole squadron and terrified him into surrendering, Lithia and Desentos should at least be able to get along with their son-in-law."

"That's what I'm hoping." Kurakova rubbed her hands together. "We're both planning to regale them with the whole story once this is over just to see their faces."

"Can't wait to see that." Dakka laughed again.

"We're gonna save it until Valeria's back on her feet just so she can enjoy the moment fully." Kurakova fired off a shit-eating grin and looked over at Lia. "Aside from Caesetiria Tantamus, is there anyone else we should be concerned about?"

"They're all typical high-ranking Blue Suns, though one of her lieutenants is amusingly familiar." Lia touched a control and flicked her finger, sending a file to the main screen. Dakka stared at it for a moment and then burst into laughter.

"Hey, that's Candyass!" When several of the quarian bridge crew aimed quizzical looks at her, she said, "He tried to hit on me last time we were on the Citadel. He was drunk off his ass, but that didn't stop me from showing him the error of his ways. Looks like he headed straight back here after a few hours in a cell."

"I'm sure he'll be happy to see you again," Quint said.

"If he even remembers me kicking his ass. He was pretty fuckin' smashed, judging by the ryncol on his breath. I'm kind of impressed that he was able to walk in a straight line." Dakka turned back to the screen. "How loyal to the boss is he and the rest of her top goons?"

"Looks like they'll follow her orders without question, but they're also professionals." Lia flicked through the rest of the files and highlighted their records and performance evals. "They'll likely back down once they find out that Tantamus is putting their lives on the line for a personal vendetta that won't bring a big payout - though, of course, we shouldn't take it for granted." She cocked her head and then focused on the console. "That gave me an idea. I'm going to go over their rules and regulations and see if we can use the personal-vendetta angle to get her relieved of command."

"I like the way your brain works, kid. I'd prefer to get this done without firing a shot." Kurakova nodded slowly. "Val would want us to appeal to the better angels of their nature at least once, but we'll need to be sure we have the upper hand first. Which is where my old buddies will come in. Tantamus and her crew already know what a single Spectre did to over two hundred mercs on Bekenstein, and now she'll be facing a small army."

"And if that's not enough to make her back down?"

"We take a page from Valeria's rulebook and remove Tantamus from the playing field with a little fanfare just to show the others who's in charge."

And hope Candyass and the rest are smart enough to stand down. Chula's console beeped and she turned back around as the files disappeared and a handful of approaching ships were highlighted.

"And here come my old buddies." Kurakova grinned. "Shall we get started?"