Deus Ex Human Revolution is the property of Eidos/Square Enix

Mass Effect is the property of Bioware and Electronic Arts

Mass Effect: Human Revolution

Chapter 17: Deal with the Devil

~[h+]~


Early author's notes: This chapter is where I'm experimenting with writing elaborate fight scenes. I have to admit with me being detail oriented and a bit of a martial arts film fan, well... It kinda got out of hand. My apologies if a thousand word blow by blow aren't your cup of tea. If it is, well uh... Surprise!

I wrote the fight listening to The Subway Fight in the Matrix Soundtrack. I recommend you put that track up while reading this. ;)

~[h+]~


Lawson deflected Jensen's left-right punch combination and burst at him, landing a punch on both Jensen's sternum and abdomen, pushing the cyborg away into the mirrored wall. He immediately followed up with a biotic punch straight to the face. Jensen ducked and slipped under it and let Lawson's fist destroy the mirror and crack the wall behind it. As he slipped, Jensen countered with a knee strike to Lawson's kidney. The hit landed, but the Alliance Intel agent's Barrier soaked ninety percent of the blow's energy. Considering Jensen was powerful enough to punch out a brick wall, the knee strike still managed to make Lawson wince and grunt a little. He had increased his mass considerably to avoid being thrown around by Jensen's strength, so he only stumbled a very short distance in the direction of the toilet stalls.

Four minutes, Jensen thought, I have four minutes to subdue the bastard before the Patrolmen arrive on the scene. Jensen knew that almost all of the patrolmen on the Presidium were rookies, and they typically called for backup straight from the vets at the academy before going into a situation. Taking the long elevator rides into account, that left Jensen with a little time to finish this fight. Barrier can block physical attacks, so arm blades won't work. Need to go with blunt force trauma to overcome it.

Jensen followed up the knee strike by raining down flurry of blows - combinations of jabs, hooks, knee strikes - upon Lawson, who deflected or blocked every single one with a perfect, biotically enhanced Krav Maga defense. Each blow did almost nothing to drain Lawson of his stamina or concentration, and his Barrier held fast.

"Is that all you've got, Jensen?" taunted Lawson, smiling that arrogant boyish smile of his.

Jensen shifted tactics, and attempted a powerful heel kick to Lawson's diaphragm. Lawson caught it with both hands, and before he could attempt to twist it, Jensen followed up immediately with a flash kick with his other foot that landed on Lawson's chin. The hit dazed him, causing him to release his grip on Jensen's foot and making him fly in an arch in the air and into the steel door of a bathroom, which bent inwardly under Lawson's weight. Jensen landed on both feet and approached his opponent's slumped form, ready to make sure he wouldn't wake up anytime soon, but then he felt an invisible battering ram slam into his stomach. The Biotic Throw pushed him all the way to the much, much sturdier washroom door, and Jensen's back slammed into it. He fell on his posterior, and slumped against the door.

Lawson rose- no, floated back up- by lightening his mass signature and striking the floor with both hands at once. His body crackled with biotic energy as he landed on his feet. Jensen got up, but he quickly locked the door to give himself a few more seconds of non-interference and to make sure neither two fighters would leave this place until the other was well and truly down. At this, Lawson simply tilted his head left, then right, his neck stretching and popping each time.

"My turn." Lawson said menacingly as his body's glow intensified. Sensing a projectile duel and lacking a gun, Jensen dashed for the glass sinks and ripped the closest one from it's moorings, causing the pipes to rip out. Water sprinkled all over him as Lawson began his own one-two biotic combination: a Stasis attack followed by a Warp bolt to detonate the field. The Stasis bolt surged out of Lawson's hands, and as the energy bolt left Lawson's open palm Jensen threw the glass sink at the Stasis attack. The sink found its mark, and it stopped in mid hair, suspended in time. Lawson loosed the Warp bolt anyways, intent on detonating the glass sink.

It exploded in a flare of blue light, and Jensen was showered in glass shards. His shields stopped all of the ones that struck him, but his shield-belt beeped, signaling that its capacitors were completely drained. Unwilling to risk getting hit by another 'glass bomb' Jensen took advantage of the flare's bright flash to cloak and rushed Lawson. Unfortunately for Jensen, the water that had been spilling into the floor splashed with his every stride, signaling his presence. Lawson biotically ripped one of the stall's doors from its hinges and telekinetically swung it at Jensen in a wide arc like a huge fly swatter.

"Nice try, Jensen!" shouted Lawson.

The swing only succeeded in giving the invisible cyborg a weapon: Jensen decloaked and swung the door back at the agent, who ducked and weaved under it. He threw a biotic punch at the improvised weapon when Jensen swung again, causing it to crumple like wet cardboard. Jensen discarded the useless piece of metal and attempted to side-kick Lawson's left foot away. Lawson simply raised his foot and let Jensen's kick fly under it, but the cyborg used his side kick's momentum to do a full spin and land the very same kick on the side of Lawson's head just as he set his left foot down. Lawson's barrier soaked the hit again, but he found himself slammed against the wall, and his Barrier-covered head broke several ceramic tiles. Barely fazed, he immediately started another onslaught, a flurry of punches alternating between wide swings and quick jabs. Jensen, likewise an expert in the 360 degrees defense, deflected every single one, and occasionally threw counter jabs at Lawson's head. They were barely strong enough to phase him.

Lawson attempted to daze Jensen by striking both of his eardrums at once with open palms, but Jensen blocked the attack with both arms. Before Adam could seize Lawson's wrists, the agent grabbed Jensen's head and pulled him down for a biotically accelerated knee strike to his abdomen, then another, and then another. Jensen grunted under every strike as they knocked some wind out of him. Unable to resist, Jensen's head was pulled in and slammed three times against the wall.

Deciding that enough was enough and sensing an opportunity to finish this, Lawson pulled Jensen into an over-the-shoulder throw. He then straddled him to pin him down with his increased mass signature, grabbed him by the throat and activated his incendiary Omni-Blade. Jensen recovered his sense quickly enough to grab Lawson's left wrist and catch his right fist, keeping the left hand away from his throat and the right one with the blade away from his head. Lawson, eager at the imminent kill, increased the mass signature of his right fist to match a full ton...and slowly increased it to two. Jensen could feel the heat coming from the small tongue of flame being projected from between two flash forged superheated blades getting closer and closer to his face. He grunted desperately as he exerted all his willpower into his arm to delay the inevitable.

Lawson leaned in, his face full of vicious eagerness.

"Shhhh...Give it up! It'll be quicker that way..."

The white hot blade was getting closer...

"Aw, look at you! What's the matter Jensen? Afraid of a little fire?"

Afraid? Yes, Jensen had become afraid of fire, and he also hatedit. There had been fire on the day his body was mangled and ruined, when he thought he had lost Megan forever. There had been fire in Neo Kobe, when he had heard the screams of a thousand machines built to understand pain, and there had been fire the day he had lost Fahl and Sunny.

And with those last few words, Lawson had made a terrible mistake. The way he emphasized the last word...he knew! and he had reminded Jensen of that horrible day on Elysium.

He had made Adam mad.

Jensen bared his teeth, and Lawson's expression went from eagerness to disbelief as his two-ton fist was pushed back, then pain as Jensen twisted his hand. Losing his concentration, Lawson's mass went briefly back to normal and Jensen took the opportunity to wrestle him away and throw him into the handicap toilet stall. Both men wrestled on the ground until Jensen got the upper hand and forced Lawson's glowing right wrist into the toilet, breaking the ceramic bowl in a dozen pieces and bathing Lawson's arm in water. The incredible heat coming from Lawson's Omni-Blade flash-boiled the water, and he felt the terrible agony of his hand's skin being peeled away by the heat.

"AAAAAARGH!"

"What's the matter, Lawson?!" shouted Jensen as he raised his other fist. "Can't take the heat?!"

Lawson, in intense pain and desperation, pushed his opponent away from him with a biotic blast and pulled his hand out of the water. He got back on his feet and stared at his enemy, clenching his fists hard. Bryce dismissed the blade and channeled the pain in his hand and fed it into his will, making his fists glow in distorted blue flames. Jensen dismissed his shades as he raised his guard, staring into Lawson's eyes, silently goading him to come closer and finish this fight.

Lawson happily obliged and dashed forward, throwing jabs and crosses at Jensen's head, eager to pulp his skull. Jensen deflected and slipped past the first few strikes, until he blocked a left straight, twisted it, and locked Lawson's left arm under his armpit. With Lawson trapped and unable to evade, Jensen wailed on him with three overhand strikes to the skull. The shock to Lawson's brain caused his Barrier to start flickering, and he attempted to counter Jensen's onslaught with a right swing. Jensen deflected it, and locked Lawson's right arm under his armpit. Lawson countered with a knee strike to the stomach. Jensen replied with a headbutt. They went back and forth like this, inflicting incredible pain on each other, but neither men were willing to back down.

Lawson lightened Jensen's mass signature, lifted him up, roared, and tried to toss him like a rag doll, slamming him left against the thin metal wall of the stall (causing it be knocked off its moorings), and then to the right, against the ceramic tiled solid concrete wall. Not once letting go, Jensen kneed Lawson the the face, again and again. Lawson's concentration faltered, and Jensen's mass signature returned to normal, and Jensen took advantage of this to land another headbutt on Lawson's forehead with the added kinetic force of gravity. As the agent desperately tried to pull away, Jensen released the locked arms and Lawson stumbled backwards, discombobulated, but still not ready to yield.

Jensen took a deep breath, buried his anger deep inside his mind where it could fuel his focus. He triggered his Quicksilver, and the world slowed down.

Time to finish this.

Target will attempt a Biotic attack with good hand and resume ranged biotic attacks. Kick hand away, follow up with a side kick to the ribs at long range. Target will catch the foot, attempt to twist it. Must use the twist's momentum and counter with a jumping kick to the side of the head to ruin concentration further. Barrier output will be reduced. Land and crush foot, crack ribs. Target will lean forward in pain, will most likely attempt a clinch then a point blank Nova - Disable Biotic Amp. Barrier disabled - Dislocate Jaw. Back away. Strike genitals, then solar plexus.

"This is your last chance." said Jensen, his voice cold. "Surrender."

Lawson's answer came with the flare of his Biotics: "Fuck you."

Lawson attempted to fire off a Throw, and Jensen executed the attack perfectly. Lawson screamed in pain during the whole eight seconds Jensen spent to kick him in the head, stomp on his foot as he landed, unleash a flurry of punches at his ribs, and rabbit punch him in the back of the neck (and the amp) just as Lawson was about to clinch. The agent's screaming turned to a lame groaning as Jensen followed up with an uppercut into his jaw, took a step back, kicked him in the groin, then executed a flying knee into his solar plexus. In intense pain, Lawson was slammed against the wall, his back cracking the tiles. Some of them fell on him as he slumped down, physically crushed and spiritually defeated.

Jensen had won.

"You're under arrest." said Jensen flatly as he knelt down by Lawson and took his Omni-Tool. Lawson, incredibly, was still conscious, and snapped his jaw back into place with his masseter muscles alone. He grunted and winced, exposing his bloodied teeth, then spoke:

"For what?"

"Assaulting a police officer with intent to kill."

"Hah!" Lawson coughed out some blood. "You had a gun trained on me...it was self-defense! Once the cops get here, I'll make sure I'll have your badge for this! And then, you're going to spend the rest of your life in a tiny room blind and limbless!"

When he was done flash cuffing Lawson, Jensen pulled Sasha - the real one - out from his shoulder holster. "Did you mean this gun?"

"Wh-?!...what?! I knocked that gun away from your hands!"

"Yeah, you knocked away a toy." replied Jensen as he holstered his weapon. "Didn't you think it was a little weird that I let go of it so easily? It's amazing what you can make with Omni-Gel, these days. And before you even think about lying..." Jensen pointed at his artificial eyes. "I recorded myself making the replica just before I entered the washroom, and I've been recording this whole exchange too. You're going to look very stupid at your hearing when you tell them you couldn't tell the difference between a toy and the real deal... And you're going to have hard time selling self defense when you tried to stab me in the brain when you had me at your mercy."

Lawson fell silent and humiliated as the implications of what Jensen said sank in. If Jensen had wanted to, Lawson would have found himself with a big hole in his skull, and then he had been fooled into incriminating himself on the Citadel. His superiors would be furious. Jensen let him stew in his humiliation as he scanned the agent's Omni-Tool with his Smart-Vision to see if it had been damaged in the fight. The tool was a modified Nexus X, and the modifications weren't meant to enhance performance. Four small incendiary charges wired to the outer casing to prevent tampering with the device did not boost CPU speed, after all. Jensen was switched it on, and was faced with a login prompt. With no clue as to what the password was, Jensen was tempted to jack into it, but...

"That thing is full of Black ICE, isn't it?" asked Jensen.

"Why don't you -ah!..." Lawson tried to smile, but winced as pain radiated from his broken ribs. "...jack in, and see for yourself?"

"...Thanks, but no thanks." Jensen noticed something with his smart vision, the jewel that hung from Lawson's neck.

It was a rosary.

Jensen ripped Lawson's shirt partway and grabbed the jewel, snapping its chain of engraved thin, narrow plates. It was a silver cross the size of a coin with a blue, tear shaped sapphire in the middle.

"You're a member of the Order." Jensen said, accusingly.

"...Is being a believer a crime?...Give it back..."

"...You're lucky it's not black steel with a red lozenge, Lawson."

Jensen could spot tiny electronics inside of it: four holo-emitters mounted on each cardinal point of the cross. They were all linked to a switch under the sapphire. Jensen pressed it, and a holograph appeared. It was Lawson and the real Walker, happily smiling at the camera. Had they been lovers? Spouses? Siblings? Had this been the real thing or just another cover identity?

"...Give it...Back..." begged Lawson as he reached out for the rosary with his bound hands. "Please..."

Lawson looked so pitiable now, and Jensen considered giving the jewel back. After all it wasn't his. But then, Lawson's body flared with blue energy.

"...Give! It! BACK!"

Before Lawson could fire off another attack, Jensen casually punched him in the head, knocking him out cold, then put the rosary in Lawson left pocket. Behind he could hear the sound C-Sec patrolmen trying to open the door. Jensen got up and looked at the damage he and Lawson had done.

Pallin is going to kill me, he thought, and then the door opened. Guns were pointed, questions were asked, but in the end Lawson soon found himself in C-Sec Academy's secure infirmary, comatose.

~[h+]~

In the Executor's office at C-Sec academy, Pallin tried to stay calm by focusing on his view of the five Wards. But he failed miserably: He was the Executor. Only station chiefs had to deal with the crap Jensen put on his table. Pallin swiveled his chair around when he heard Adam enter his office. His calm had been ruined immediately.

"Jensen! By all the Spirits of Palaven what in the HELL were you thinking sending an AIA agent into a COMA?! I've got a repair bill with too many zeroes on it! I've got Udina sending me complaints of police brutality and calling for your suspension! I am THIS close to indulging him!"

"I can explain..."

"You damn well better explain, and you better make it good!"

Jensen shared with Pallin his theory of the true masterminds behind the death of Junko Shepard, how he had confronted Lawson about it, and how the agent had tried to kill him over an Omni-Tool. Jensen plugged in his Tool to his data jack, and shared with Pallin his audio-video recording of the conversation, and the fight that ensued. It was fairly obvious that Lawson had attacked Jensen while under threat of a toy, and went far, FAR above what was considered acceptable force when it comes to self-defense. Still, there was enough ambiguity here and there for lawyers to have a field day with this evidence. And Lawson had verbally admitted nothing.

Pallin was dead silent the whole time, processing every word and blow. When the video ended, he sighed, and massaged his eyelids.

"First the council blames Saren and the Geth for Shepard's murder, then the AIA comes in and subtly blames the Shadow Broker, and then YOU come along and blame AIA. Spirits, who's the enemy, here?"

"I think we can safely assume that the Shadow Broker having Shepard killed is complete bunk, considering the source. As for Saren...well, I'm not entirely convinced his hands are clean of this either. If anything, Saren was already on the run for Eden Prime, and making use of assassination synthetics that resemble sentients should have brought down the full might of the Spectres down on his head. Blaming the Shadow Broker shifts the heat OFF Saren. Why would the AIA do this unless..."

"...Unless Saren and the AIA are allies. Wait, that doesn't make any sense! Saren attacked an Alliance colony!"

"I've learned never to underestimate how many innocents the people in power are willing to sacrifice for their plots. Maybe Saren's just a pawn. Maybe the AIA is. Maybe they're both working for the same mastermind and neither of them knows it. Either way..." Jensen set Lawson's Omni-Tool down on Pallin's desk. "This may provide the lead I need to find out who in the alliance is pulling the strings."

Pallin looked at the metallic box and scratched his chin. An orange light on it declared it was in sleep mode. "If the AIA is anything like the STG, that thing's casing is booby-trapped, loaded with Intrusion Countermeasure Electronics, and its data is encrypted. Am I right?"

"It's got a few small incendiary charges. As for the ICE and encryption, I'm not sure, but it's very likely. Think anyone down in C-Sec labs can crack this?"

"If we're talking STG level security then...no. Any clues as to what the password is?"

"None. I'd ask Lawson, but..." Jensen shrugged. He had intended on bringing in him in alive and conscious, but that last punch has caused enough trauma to Lawson's brain to send him into a coma (Pallin was not exaggerating). Of course, it's not like Lawson would have been cooperative anyways.

"Then we have no choice but to give this to the Spectres. They might be able to crack it, and it's now their case, after all.

Jensen took the Omni-Tool before Pallin could. "Yeah...I don't think I want to share this - or my theory - with the Spectres."

Pallin glared at him. "Jensen, I wasn't asking."

"Let's suppose the Spectres find just enough evidence to implicate the Alliance. What then?"

Pallin leaned back into his chair and sighed. Spirits, did he ever hate talking about politics. "They'll report to the Council that humanity is experimenting with Artificial Intelligence to create infiltrators and assassins. The Council would cut off all diplomatic ties with Earth and its colonies and would impose severe economic sanctions. The Council doesn't screw around when it comes to AIs."

"And do you really think Earth is just going to sit back and take it? Let's be honest here: It's going to mean war."

"Humanity hasn't got the military power required to take down the entire Hierachy's Navy, Jensen...They wouldn't dare." As he uttered the words, Pallin knew he wasn't terribly convinced of their veracity.

"There are more ways to fight a war. How many Turians soldiers and sailors died at Shanxi, Pallin?

Pallin didn't answer.

"How many, Pallin?"

"Too many." he said as he covered his face with his hand. "Too many to starvation. Too many to poisoned food. Too many under the heels of walking tanks. Too many to the tricks of Yan Lo and his damned Shadow Fleet..." Pallin understood what Jensen was saying. Things would get bloody fast. The Humans could be just as unyielding as the Turians, as powerful as the Asari, or as insidious as the Salarians. It didn't matter who would win: the death toll would rival the Krogan Rebellions.

They might even become desperate enough to make more soldiers like Jensen. The thought being whispered in the back of Pallin's mind was horrifying.

"As you've said," continued Jensen. "The Council thinks in incomplete, racialist terms. They'll just punish all of humanity instead of punishing those responsible... Unless I bring them the full picture, there will be nothing but a bloodbath, and absolutely no justice. I have to investigate this myself, and neither the Council nor the Spectres can be made aware of it."

"You're asking me to lie to the Council, Jensen. I can't do that."

"You'll have to. It's either a lie and peace, or the truth and war."

Pallin sighed, and for a while minute, he said absolutely nothing. Then he typed on his laptop.

"You and Garrus have got 6 months of paid vacation time saved up. I suggest you both take advantage of it -"

"Pallin!"

"- and whatever you two do during that time is... absolutely none of my concern... Do you understand?"

"Yeah...I understand."

"Excellent." Pallin swiveled his chair around, turning his back to Jensen, and got back to admiring the moving lights of the Wards. "You're dismissed, Sergeant."

As Jensen turned to leave, Pallin said one last thing. "Jensen...if the Spectres come for you and you don't -or can't -cooperate with them...I won't be able to help you. Keep that in mind."

"I know." said Jensen as he left the office.

When the door closed behind him, Pallin muttered: "Good luck."

~[h+]~

At his apartment, Jensen put his damp clothes in the washing machine save for his leather coat (it was waterproofed), and took a quick shower, just to get the faint scent of...washroom off of him. He put on a similar outfit than the last (only with a black tie), ate a quick meal, and focused his attention on his Onyx B4 body armour laying on his work table. When he had saved Tali from the fall, Jensen's Icarus landing system had completely misaligned the element zero micro-cores and fried its projectile sensors. The boys at Maintenance had just finished repairing the damage and the hardened the suits electronic components again electromagnetic emissions. Jensen chided himself for not picking it up before confronting Lawson: The torso protector would have come in handy when the agent started kneeing him in the abdomen.

And then he chided himself for the confrontation itself. He could have simply followed Lawson and spied on him, eavesdrop on him as he communicated with his superiors... but he had gone in there practically hoping for a fight. Why? Jensen pondered on the answer for a bit, and realized that he wanted to beat Lawson into a coma because he hated what he represented.

Humanity.

Or at least, humanity as the rest of the galaxy saw it. Young and arrogant, demanding and insulting... Powerful and dangerous. Jensen had to deal with all kinds of human stupidity since he left Elysium, mostly from Udina, and Lawson expecting that Jensen would assist him after calling for his arrest was the straw that broke the camel's back.

Another thought popped into his head. Would he have beaten Lawson into unconsciousness if he had been a woman? Walker - No, Brea - was young, arrogant and hadn't exactly been diplomatic on their first meeting...Well, actually, she had tried, but Jensen has insulted her 'perfume' and got her to drop all pretense. After that, she had made his opinions about him pretty clear.

...

"Maybe I should have approached you that way." taunted Walker. "Knock at your apartment door drenched in rain water, my clothes torn, my body shivering, my eyes red and my lip quivering... I suspect you'd have caught the killer in minutes had I put on my battered housewife routine."

...

Jensen wondered if Brea was right: that he was an outdated fossil not just in body but also in spirit. He wondered if he would have felt more at home in the Middle ages as a knight-errant, rescuing a damsel in distress from some dark armored fiend. They'd would have written songs about his deeds and sung them all over Europe back then... but then Jensen shook his head, reminding himself that he probably would have hated the Middle Ages. Knights went to war for some lord's dispute with another, the women never bathed, the medicine was barbaric, and everyone and everything was covered in shit.

The phone rang. It was Garrus, calling from his hospital room.

"Jensen here," Adam answered. "Getting better?"

"Oh yeah, the docs told me they got all the panacea cysts in my lungs and wanted to keep me in for observation, but then I get an email from Personnel saying that my application for paid vacation time went through."

"But of course you never sent any application, right?"

"Nope. I asked Pallin about it and he told me to talk to you. So what's going on?"

"I don't think I should be talking about this over the phone."

"Really? Well, okay then. Let's meet somewhere; staying in for observation is more a suggestion anyways...and I can't stand the hospital food."

"I don't want to risk you getting sick...I should just drop in."

"Bah, If I was in any real danger the docs would have told me so. Warsaw Diner in half an hour sound good?"

"Yeah, s-" Jensen's door bell rang. "I gotta go, someone's at the door. Warsaw in half an hour, got it."

"See ya then." said Garrus, and the connection closed.

Jensen being Jensen, he always used his Smart-Vision before answering the door... It always paid to know if your visitor was armed, after all. The six foot tall woman standing behind the door was indeed armed, but...

"No, it can't be..." Jensen immediately opened the door, revealing Sarah Walker (aka Aya Brea), wet, shivering and barefoot, dressed in a hospital gown that smelled of disinfectant and a old, torn raincoat that stank of piss and booze. She looked like hell, and still came off as attractive...even as she almost fainted, stumbled and fell forward in Jensen's arms. She managed to groan out a warning:

"Blacklight...Twelve of them...They're coming!"

~[h+]~

This was the part that Sergeant Xander Cross loved the most: cornering his prey. His Blacklight squad was composed of twelve patriots (himself included) dedicated to eliminating the enemies of humanity lurking in the shadows, handpicked from the finest marines in the Alliance Navy. Their names were known only to themselves, their identities removed from all records. They wore dull, black and unmarked personally customized heavy armour to ensure their survival, and carried the finest weapons humanity had to offer. As a final proof of their devotion, they were fitted with a set acid injector implants, designed to completely destroy their bodies to ensure that their bodies would not be taken by the enemy. Even dead men could tell tales, these days...

Right now, they were busy securing the building and cutting off any escape route that this Brea could take. Why she came here of all places, Cross had no idea. The building obviously wasn't trapped, and the security was laughable, so a last stand was out of the question.

Something's not quite right here, Cross thought to himself as he put on the black bucket the eggheads liked to call the Command Helmet. Where it not for the sensors that dotted the featureless black ceramic, Cross wouldn't be able to see a goddamned thing. The augmented reality display reported the health and shield status of his eleven men. One hundred percent on all counts.

His team, Team 1, secured the main Lobby. Team 2 went up the elevator to the seventh floor, where the it had stopped last. Since no one but that Vat-grown monster went in the building, and no one came out, it was logical to assume that was where she was hiding out. The plan was to go through every apartment on the floor to find and capture her.

Team 3's job was to keep the fire escape secure. Once Team 2 captured Brea, or somehow the whole mission went FUBAR, their job would be to go up the stairs and set up a Flash-pack in the building's main ventilation system. Plasma fire would pour into every room, sanitizing the place, ensuring no one knew Blacklight was here.

There would be no witnesses. They might even manage to put the blame on the Batarians... Everybody hated them, after all. Perfect scapegoats.

"Team 3 reporting, some kid wanted to take out the garbage."

"Did he see you?" asked Cross.

"Well...Yeah."

"Is he human?"

"Nope. Kittybird."

"You know what to do. No witnesses."

"Roger that. Sorry kid. This just ain't your lucky day." A scream of protest, a silenced gun blast, and then nothing but the sound of the acid round's payload eating at flesh came through on the Command Helmet's internal speakers. "Witness sanitized." said Team 2's leader.

"Sir," said Cross' second in command, the gearhead of the group. He was typing at the receptionist's desktop computer (said receptionist, a Salarian, was lying in a puddle of smoking flesh). "I've disabled the cameras, the wireless and landline comms, and wiped the hard drives as you asked, but before I did pulled up a list of the people that live here...One of them is Adam Jensen."

"Ah...that makes sense." said Cross to himself. "Looks like she turned to her knight in shining armour for help. What apartment is he in?"

"Room 451, sir, fifth floor."

"Black Lead to Team 2, are you on the seventh floor?"

"Team 2 Leader here, we just got here...goddamned Citadel elevators are so goddamned slow - They're on linear rails for fuck's sake!"

"Quit your bitching... go back down to the fifth floor, the target is probably recruiting the aid of Adam Jensen. Be warned, Jensen is covered head to toe in CNT, can cloak at will, and can see you through walls and in the dark. He favors non-lethal tactics, but use caution anyways...your sanitizer implants won't care if you're dead or just napping."

"Ugh... another long ride down. Roger that, Black Lead, moving down...Hey boss man! That Brea is one fine piece of ass, if her pictures are anything to go by... thing me and the men could, you know..."

"...Pull a train on her?" Cross frowned. "You do realize we're in the middle of an op against a killer robot, right?"

"Exactly! You can't rape a machine, sir. Or whatever the fuck she is..."

Cross was genuinely disgusted that Black 5 would actually consider putting his dick inside that thing. "Just focus on the mission, idiot."

"I knew there was a reason I loved you, sir." Team 2's leader said sarcastically, and Cross thought that boy was overdue for some flogging. "Oh well! I still get to kill Adam motherfucking Jensen today! I'm gonna take one of his arms as a souvenir. What do you want as a souvenir, Nine? The eyes? The shades?"

Black nine, the third team's leader, ignored Black five."Team 3 lead here, sir... Didn't Jensen take down Lawson? The agent's a Biotic Bastion - practically invincible..."

Team 2's leader laughed. "HA! Lawson ain't us! We're Blacklight, not some magical pretty boy! This is going to be easy, man!"

"Yeah well...I'd feel better if we had an Exo-Suit on this op, now. Or a Wanzer."

"That shit won't fit in the stealth pod, you know that..." All of a sudden, Five resumed his professional demeanor. "Ah, we're on the fifth floor now, sir. Coming up on door 451...Black 6 and 7, stack up on that door. Permission to breach and clear, sir?"

Cross didn't think breaching the door would be worth the attention. Screaming civies would alert someone. "Nah, hack the door, go in quiet."

"Roger that, hacking door...Door's open, going in... switching to EM vision. There's Brea nice and asleep...but no sign of Jensen in the living room. Everyone clear the apartment."

"Bedroom's clear." said Six.

"Bathroom's clear," reported Seven.

"Kitchen's-" A loud bang came through Eight's mic, then nothing at all. His status window went red - KIA.

"FUCK! HE'S ON THE CEIL-" Bang. Team 2's leader flatlined.

"I see him, I see him! die you augAAAARGH-" Black 6 flatlined.

"Oh no oh no oh god oh god, please PLEASE NOOOO-" Cross heard a distinct slicing noise, and Black 7 flatlined.

Four of the finest men in the Alliance military, killed in six seconds... This mission had officially gone to hell. Cross said nothing for what felt like an eternity, and then: "Team 3," said Cross. "Flash pack the place. We're leaving."

"Roger that, sir! Everyone, we're going up to sanitize the place, move it! move it!"

"Sir? There's an EM spike above us! It's Oh SHIT!"

~[h+]~

As Jensen fell into the gap between the stairs with his head upside down, his nearly useless Icarus system blinding the men in black armour, he triggered his Quicksilver and fanned Sasha's hammer four times, hitting each soldier in the neck with one of Amnon's special explosive rounds, and their armoured buckets for heads popped off. He twisted and landed on his feet and free hand. Above him was the sound of Flesh being eaten by acid, but he wondered where the smell of it came from... He stood up...and saw the molten figure of a turian boy next to a garbage bag. He was almost unrecognizable, but it definitely was Atia's son, Mettius... He was looking forward to his fifteenth birthday, when he'd have to join the military. He often pestered Adam for war stories and about his mechanical hands, thinking he lost his real ones in a war. He wasn't entirely wrong.

Jensen silently loaded four more of Amnon's Specials into Sasha. There would be blood for this.

~[h+]~

In the lobby, Team 1 heard a door opening down the main hall. Before that, they had heard the report of chemical rounds, muffled by the thick concrete. Cross wondered why the residents weren't coming out of their apartments to check out the noise, and then remembered that Aliens probably never heard a chemical gun blast in their entire lives: just the whine and flash-hiss of mass accelerators.

"Sir, that came from the stairs." said Black Two.

"I know. Team 3 is gone." said Cross, flatly. "Three and Four, Stack up on that hallway. Two, you're with me. You're going to scan for him."

"...Sir, weren't we-"

"That's and order, soldier. Move out." There was no point in escaping now. Eight men dead and nothing to show for it? Their superiors would have their heads. Might as well try and bring them Jensen's...

Cross and Two slowly made their way to the staircase's door, with Two keeping an eye on his Omni-Tool, looking for anything out of the ordinary. They were half way there when Three and Four flatlined.

Black Two completely lost his shit. It wasn't supposed to be this way: "How did he get behind us?! Oh god...We're all gonna die here!"

Cross ignored him, keeping his gun pointed down the hall, towards the main lobby. "Keep an eye on your Omni-Tool, damn you!"

But Two wasn't keeping an eye on his Omni-Tool, and when Jensen dropped behind him from the air vent above, he barely felt the arm blade enter his heart. Two let out a death rattle, and Jensen kicked him in the back and right into Cross. Knowing that Two's acid charges would kick in, Cross pushed him off and brought his rifle to bear on Jensen, who was now standing above him. How did he get to me so quickly? thought the Blacklight sergeant as Jensen kicked his weapon away. Crawled away and went for his pistol, and then Jensen kicked that one away too. All he had left were his LAMs, but before he count even THINK of going suicide bomber, Jensen grabbed him by the neck with one arm, removed all his explosives and tore off his helmet's faceplate with the other. Cross only had one thing left to do now. He laughed:

"Heheheh...my men, you didn't even try to take them alive! So much for you being a pacifist - urkh!" Cross gurgled as Jensen squeezed his neck a little harder.

"Do I look like a man of peace to you right now?" Jensen's voice was low and menacing. He spoke as he walked all the way to the lobby. "Your men had it coming. I know something about wetwork teams...and their ideas of 'collateral damage' and 'acceptable civilian losses'."

"We're patriots!" Cross spat. "We do what's necessary to keep humanity safe!"

"Yeah...That's what they all say."

"Can you say the same about Brea?! Do you know how many men and women and children SHE has killed, just to line her pockets? Nah, she just quivered her lips at you and that was enough to fill you with rage and start with the self-righteous killing! I killed for the sake of my nation! You just killed eleven men for the sake of PUSSY!"

"And I killed twelve men for the sake of Mettius."

"What? Wait, no! NoooOOO-"

Jensen threw Cross through the thick polarized glass of the inner door, and then Cross's back broke against the thicker glass of the outer door. The trauma triggered Cross's acid implants as he fell onto the outside walkway, and he melted before the eyes of passers-by, who screamed and panicked and immediately called for C-Sec.

There would be many witnesses.

~[h+]~

When he heard over the news that Jensen's apartment building had been attacked by twelve unidentified mercs, Garrus had bolted for the Warsaw Diner's door without ordering anything, but stopped once he got a call from Jensen himself, telling him to stay put and wait for him to pick him up.

That was why Garrus was waiting outside the diner in the fake rain (damn those floating sprinkler cisterns, thought Garrus) for his partner. After a few minutes of waiting, Jensen's Spinner landed nearby. The passenger's door opened, and inside Jensen beckoned his partner to get in. Garrus got inside the vintage car, happy to get away from the spray. Thank goodness his Agent mk I was waterproof.

He was just about to ask what the hell was going on when he saw Walker lying down on the backseat in a hospital gown and Jensen's favorite blue coat wrapped over her like a sheet. She was feverish and shivering, her brow covered in a cold sweat, and barely conscious.

"What in the... Is that Walker?" Garrus closed the passenger door. "What's wrong with her?"

"From she's been able to tell me," said Jensen as he drove around nowhere in particular, "and it's not a lot, the hospital gave her the wrong kind of blood plasma and it's making her sicker instead of better."

"Well then let's take her back! I'm sure they can fix the problem."

"It's not that simple...I don't think normal medicine will work on her: She's not really human."

Garrus took another look at her. "She looks plenty human to me..."

"Yeah, about that... let me bring you up to speed on current events..." After a few minutes to relay the events of the past day, Jensen finished with: "...And now here I am driving around randomly with a sick robot woman in the back of my car and a locked up AIA Omni-Tool burning a hole in my pocket and no idea what to do next."

Garrus threw his hands up in mock exasperation."Aw, damnit! I knew this paid vacation thing was too good to be true. Couldn't be just some good fortune, no, Pallin wants me to take down an Alliance conspiracy. Fantastic!"

"...You're free to bail out if you want."

"What? Hells no! I'm not letting you take on those murderers by yourself! I'm in."

"Thanks...I was kind of hoping you'd be able to give me some suggestions? I'm kind of at a loss as to what to do, now."

"Well, the way I see it, we need to get Wa- I mean, Brea - some medical help, and then get this AIA tool cracked. The former I'm at a loss... as for the second, well... how about Tali'Zorah? If she can extract data from a Geth memory core then I'm sure she can manage to do the same to an Omni-Tool..."

"Problem: she works for Hein, now."

"Does she? Huh, must've missed that part when you snuck aboard his ship." It must have been when I gave that Serpent a try, thought Garrus. That was a fun gun to fire. Pretty accurate, too. Too bad the only ones that would get to use it were the boys and girls in Special Response. Just then, something occurred to him. "You know, I don't think that's actually a problem: Hein's got this thing for weird science, right? Who better to fix a Bioroid than him?"

"No!..." protested Brea, weak and delirious. "He'll...he'll cut me apart. They always cut me apart...I'll be good...I promise...ah..."

"...Well, that settles that." said Jensen. "The Durendal's out of the question. We'll contact Zorah some other way."

Garrus shook his head. "Look, if we take Brea to the hospital, the docs screw up, and she dies. If they manage to save her. Those 'Blacklight' goons find her in her hospital bed, and she dies-

"-I killed them all."

"There could be more, and we can't endanger the public. You KNOW what happens when we get into a firefight. We do nothing, and she dies. The Durendal's our best hope right now."

"And he's supposed to do that for free?!" snapped Jensen. "We've got nothing he wants!"

"We'll work something out! It's worth a shot, damnit!"

Jensen looked at one of his hands, and clenched into a tight fist. Garrus would have given up a lot just to hear what Jensen was thinking at that very moment, but he could guess it was a painful memory. Finally, Jensen said, "I just...I just hate dealing with his kind." The bitterness in his voice was palpable.

Brea coughed up blood, and Jensen put his foot on the accelerator. The decision had already been made. "Goddammit..."

~[h+]~

In the cargo bay of the Durendal, Hein stood in the middle of the entry ramp, sucking in the artificial air. He honestly wished the floating cistern spraying water towards the wars would spray some rain his way, but Alas! the cisterns didn't pass over the docks that poked out of the Presidium Ring. Oh well.

Hein actually got a kick out of breathing the Citadel's air: after all, all it took was one catastrophic failure of the station's artificial gravity systems and the atmospheric bubble that wrapped the station would just pop, and everyone outside would be sucking vacuum in a matter of minutes. The idea made breathing exciting!

Neil Fleming, The Deep Eyes' designated marksman and their pilot (pressed in the role of the Durendal's helmsman) walked besides Hein and took a deep breath. "Ah, smell that fake, artificial air... Tali says that the drive core won't be giving us any problems and Ryan's got the supplies loaded up. We're ready to go to Caleston on your word, sir."

"Hm hm..." Hein barely paid any attention to what the pilot said.

"Are... are we waiting for something, sir?"

"Passengers."

"...We're taking passengers, now?" Neil scratched his head, confused. "Are they paying fare?

"Oh, they don't know they're passengers yet. But they'll be here in about...10, 9...

Hein counted down from ten to one, and then a Vintage aircar painted in blue approached the Durendal, bypassing the space port building completely.

"And, there they are. Get the other Deep Eyes, and make sure they come bearing Serpents," ordered Hein.

Neil acknowledged the order, ran in, whistled, and before long four heavily armed (if a mite unarmored) marines flanked Colonel Hein. The car flew under the nose of the Durendal, and parked itself not ten meters away from the cargo bay's entrance. Out of that car came the infamous Adam Jensen and his equally storied partner Garrus Vakarian. They pulled out of the rear seat a blonde woman clad only in a hospital gown and a dark blue leather coat. Jensen carried her bridal style while Vakarian took the lead. The trio approached the cargo ramp, and the turian flashed his badge.

"Garrus Vakarian, C-Sec. It's an emergency: We need to make use of your medical facilities."

Hein smiled and said simply: "Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm... No."

For a second there Vakarian was at a loss. "... Do I need to show the badge - I think I'll show you the badge again - You see this badge? That means that when an officer of the law asks for your assistance you..."

"I am well versed in the law, Mister Vakarian. I am also aware that unless you have a search warrant I have every right to deny you entry... Unless of course you're Spectres. Are you Spectres, hm?"

Vakarian sighed. If it hadn't been for his father... "No, we're not Spectres."

"Hm-hm, And not only that I have every reason to deny you entry, with no less than oh... two? three? Blacklight squads nipping at your friend's heels, and all that. I'd prefer not give the AIA cause to give me trouble."

"And how did you know about that?" asked Jensen.

"A little bird told me." answered Hein with a shrug, "They also told me that SHE..." he pointed a finger at Brea. "...sent a cyborg to steal from me! You wouldn't know anything about THAT, now would you?" He lightly shoved Vakarian aside and strolled casually up to Jensen and Brea, and took a good look at the sick woman. "Ah, Mrs. McKay. Or was it Royce? Or Veronica? So many different names..."

"Brea," said Jensen, his voice neutral, betraying almost no anger. Brea was wheezing now, barely aware of her surroundings. She didn't have long...

"Ah yes, that's her favorite. A rare animal, this one. Proud, and regal and strong and...brought low by disease, like the lions of pre-collapse earth. Did you know I am a good friend of her employer? She could have come to me for help any time she wished but she just. Wouldn't. Trust me. Isn't that right, Brea?"

Brea simply wheezed again in response. The sight of her greying, veined face made something inside Jensen crack...

"Oh, tsk tsk tsk... she doesn't have long, now, does she?" said Hein in fake empathy. He eyed Jensen meaningfully. "This soon-to be corpse... she makes you feel something, yes? I just to have to know what you're feeling."

Jensen clenched his teeth. "How do you think I feel, right now?"

"Oh ho-ho! So you DO feel something for this... soft machine, don't you? Does it break your heart to see... it, like this? Does your soul die with its every straining breath? Does your heart fill to bursting with righteous fury as I dangle the elixir that can save its life in front of your face like a cruel child? Because I CAN save her, you know. The evil wizard can make your princess all better... But guess what? There's a price for everything, Mister Jensen, and I do NOT come cheap."

"...Name your price."

"Jensen!" protested Vakarian. "You were right! To the hells with this asshole, we can-"

"My price, Mister Jensen, is you." answered Hein as he put his hands on the sides of Jensen's head. "And what's inside your mind. For you see you've taken something precious from me, but instead of driving you completely mad it has taken root, and that makes you a very, VERY valuable specimen." He let go of Jensen. "Decide quickly, Brea's life hangs in the balance!"

At that moment Jensen felt he had been manipulated into this very moment, this very situation. He felt trapped, as if all of his avenues of escape had been barred. He felt as if he had no choice.

"There's always a choice, son. Always more than one option." Adam recalled his father telling him, a century and a half ago. "Yes, or no. Either, Neither, or Both. The trick is, you have to make the right one, the choice that helps everyone..."

"...You have a deal."

Hein smiled as the devil did when he savored a fresh soul, "...Fantastic!" He motioned the Deep Eyes to stand down. "Officers, Walk with me, Would you kindly? Mister Fleming! Tell Ms. Zorah to warm up the fusion drive and get to the helm, we're leaving!" Hein activated his Wrist Halo and spoke into it. "Dr Ross? Prep the infirmary: we've got a Bioroid to fix!"

~[h+]~

In the captain's quarters aboard the Normandy, Anderson sat at his desk, staring at his desktop computer's camera. Before that he had stared into an empty page on a word processor, trying to come up with the words that would gently break the news to Alenko's family that he had died at the hands of... something. C-Sec had not been forthcoming in the details, citing restrictions due to the Citadel Official Secrets Act. Pallin had taken him aside and shared with him that the killer had been dealt with once and for all, but that was all that he could share with him, and that's was all Anderson would be able to share with Alenko's parents and his two sisters.

It wasn't enough, and he knew it.

Anderson had met Alenko's family last year, when Kaidan had invited both he and Shepard over for a Christmas eve dinner. His father was a big, happy boisterous bear of a man, who could not stop talking about how proud he was of his son and the fine warrior woman he had claimed for a bride. His kindly if fussy mother doted on everyone at the table, making sure that they had sampled at least one of every dish (and there were many). His two sisters were barely out of their teens, and Shepard had a grand time sharing embarrassing stories of Alenko's misadventures in the military with them.

Anderson pictured them all, weeping over a closed casket, and the thought broke his heart. He threw the computer against the wall in frustration, believing that no words he could type onto it or say into it would be enough for the Alenkos. They had a right to know why and how their son died, and the damned council had denied him the answers.

A chime, and Navigator Pressly's voice echoed in the darkened room. "Sir? There's some Salarian Spectre by the name of Jondum Bau here to speak with you. He's waiting for you in the conference room."

Anderson leaned back against his chair, sighing as he rubbed his eyelids. "Any idea what he wants?"

"I think he's... commandeering the ship, sir."

Anderson couldn't leave his quarters fast enough. What the hell was going on?

~[h+]~

Jensen waited patiently at Hein's desk, wondering exactly what he had gotten himself into and how he could get out of it. He considered punching out the whole crew, but he realized he didn't know how to fly a US navy cruiser, and the ship was now well on its way to the Relay.

The place had been cleaned up

He heard a thud behind him, and then the door opened. Jensen turned around and saw Hein, rubbing the pain from his nose as he walked up to his desk and sat down. "Ow," he said. "stupid door NEVER works right. Wait a minute, how'd YOU get in here?"

"You told me to wait in your office."

"I told you to wait AT my office not- oh never mind it's not important." Hein sniffled. "Dr Ross is monitoring Brea's status, but she expects she'll recover and regain consciousness in about three days." Hein leaned back against his cushy chair and rubbed his hands. "Now, as for the matter of my repayment..."

"Fine. Is it my turn to go on the operating table?"

"Oh? Whatever for?"

"So you can cut open my head and take out my wet drives?"

Hein looked at Jensen, dead serious for about two seconds before he started laughing.

"BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAhahahahaha..." He wiped a tear off his eye. "Ooooh man. You're actually serious." He chuckled a bit, and then: "Please, mister Jensen, believe it or not we've made some advances in cybernetics since 2028...All I want you to do, is that when it's your nappy time, you report to Dr Ross. She'll give you a special sedative that will guarantee you eight hours of REM sleep, and she'll set you up in a Dream Catcher that will stimulate your memories of when you plugged in to the Soulcatcher. Don't worry - She's an expert at using the machine. You won't feel a thing."

Eight hours of nightmares. Eight hours of some amoral Howard Hughes wannabe poking inside his unconscious thoughts. He almost preferred being cut open.

"So that's it? You did this whole Bond villain song and dance and put a woman's life in danger to get me to your infirmary and sleep?"

"Well, now that you put it that way that does sound a like too little a compensation for my services, doesn't it? What I'm also interested in is both your talents as an agent and your construction. I have some hardware I'd like to field test and you'll be the perfect-"

"-Guinea pig."

"Hm... More like crash test dummy. Tell me, how does a Shinkawa Model-108 sound to you?"

"...I have no idea what that is."

"Oh you'll love it! It's a powered hard-suit, lined with CNT muscle fibers and fitted with no less than 24 separate kinetic barrier projectors and an integrated Omni-gel fabricator system..." He winced. "Problem is the performance is too much to handle for a normal human being and anyone that tries wearing the thing inevitably gets mangled. Since your bones are made of a reinforced titanium alloy, I suspect you'll have a better chance of getting the VI to calibrate itself properly to human's movements... But of course, that's only a secondary goal."

"There's a primary goal? I'm confused, here."

"Ah! of course, silly me." Hein fished out a dossier. "Do you know where we're headed? Never mind, I'll just tell you: We are currently on course for the lovely backwater of Caleston to find and rescue..." He slid the dossier over to Jensen "... This lovely young Asari."

Jensen picked up the dossier, and foremost amongst sheets of digital paper were the side and front pictures of a pale-white Asari Maiden. Her alabaster skin was flushed with the reddish-purple color of Asari blood, and her eyes, surrounded by darkened irises and black eyelashes, were the color of raspberries, with a lighter shade of red for the irises. The tentacles on her crest were longer than usual, with the two closest to the temples curling around the ear-holes and tickled her jaw, while the rest covered her nape. The name printed on the digital paper read as such:

Manah T'soni.

"Who is this?" asked Jensen, confused. She was strangely beautiful... but something just wasn't right about her.

~[h+]~

"Manah T'soni." said Jondum Bau again, answering Captain Anderson.

Anderson was still trying to process what he had just been told. Both Junko and Kaidan had been murdered by a machine imitation of a human being, and Jensen (bless the man's heart) had hunted down the machine and retired it a great risk to himself and his partner. The Council believed that 'Nielsen' was a fusion of Geth and Prothean technology, and they wanted to stop Saren from getting his hands on more Prothean relics, or at least making sure he couldn't figure out the ones he already had: the man was, apparently, an avid collector. When Anderson had been told the name of the expert he and Jondum Bau were to extract out of Caleston, the thoughts echoing in his had drowned out her name, and he had asked: "I'm sorry, who?"

"Daughter of Matriarch Benezia T'soni," continued Bau as he continued his holographic presentation, "the woman seen at Saren's side during his grand speech before the Eden's Prime attack. Doctor T'soni has made some very interesting observations on Prothean relics. Her expertise on Prothean art has allowed her to identify actual devices from what other archaeologists have dismissed as statues or artwork. Because of her relationship with her mother, we suspect Benezia will try and recruit her in Saren's organization. My mission - and by extension, yours - is to secure T'soni and deny him that potential asset."

"It's good to know the Council is doing something." said Anderson, bitterly. "So, it's a simple milk run close to the Terminus, I can see why you need the Normandy."

"I'm afraid it's not that simple. You see..."

~[h+]~

"Caleston's main colony hub is run by the RedWater Mining Corporation," said Hein. "And if you read anything about them, you'd know that's it is run by a bunch of corrupt fuck-ups. And in a lovely example of history repeating itself, the workers rebelled and now Caleston has no central government whatsoever. The leader behind the uprising died, and now the whole Hub is run by gangs. It's calm now, but the place is divided and it won't be long before hostilities flare up. Not a good place to be if you're a hundred and four years old Asari Maiden."

"Why are you so interested in her?"

"Did you ever wonder why all we can get out of the Prothean Beacons is just the most basic principles of Mass Effect fields? That's because it's the simplest thing a sentient mind can handle... and that alone tends to drive anyone that interfaces with a Beacon completely bonkers. The wealth of information that we've found in the Mars cache remains untapped because everything else on it is just too damned complex... or so current wisdom claims. T'soni may very well be able to provide me with the insight necessary to pull the TRUE secrets of the Protheans from the archives found on Mars."

"Alright, but that doesn't explain why you need me to help. You've got four soldiers."

Hein winced. "Eh, the Deep Eyes? Make no mistake - they're excellent soldiers, but their talents lie in killing, not saving people. If the Deep Eyes go in there they might very well spark another bloodbath and T'soni will be caught up in it. You on the other hand... Your first instincts are to be discreet and preserve life, and you've got the training, the skills, and the experience to pull off a rescue with minimal bloodshed."

~[h+]~

Jondum Bau continued: "The Normandy's logistical support will prove invaluable should things take a turn for the worse. Its complement of drones will provide reconnaissance and close air support, and its long range armaments will deal with anything heavier than a Geth... what did you call them?"

"Juggernauts," answered Anderson.

"Yes, Juggernauts." Finally, you will provide me with a fireteam of your best marines for assistance."

"That's a lot of demands, there... Are you expecting a war?"

"Nihlus' mistake was not expecting one, and I do not intend to follow him to the grave. Do you have a problem with my demands? I would think that the chance to thwart Saren Arterius would be...compensation enough?"

"...And you would be right. Almost. I have one condition."

"...Fair enough. Name it."

"I get to accompany you on the ground."

"I... was not aware that Human ship captains took part in groundside missions. Is this some kind of Human naval tradition?"

Anderson shrugged. "It worked for Starfleet."

Bau became confused. "I don't know what that is."

"Never mind, it was a bad joke."

"I see. In any case, between your N7 training, experience and your Spectre candidacy, I doubt you'll be a hindrance. Your condition is fair, I accept." Jondum held out his hand. "I look forward to working with you, Captain Anderson."

Anderson shook his hand. "Likewise. I'll order my helmsman to set course for Caleston immediately."

~[h+]~

Jensen still had one issue to address. "I have one condition-"

"The Turian?" asked Hein.

"Garrus Vakarian, yes. I want him watching my back on this op."

"Hm, I'd much rather you took on this operation with my stealth specialist. You've met her. Ponytail, likes knives?"

"...Your bodyguard."

"Yes. Jane Proudfoot is as quiet as a mouse and knows how to stay out of sight: she will have no problem keeping up with you in the dark. On the other hand, the Deep Eyes' designated marksman, Neil Fleming, will be preoccupied with flying the Copperhead, so they'll be needing someone to take his place. I'm thinking Mr Vakarian will be more than adequate for the job?"

"...There's nobody better."

"Then there you have it! He'll pull his own weight around the ship and I won't have to toss him out of the airlock! So, to sum it up: Room, board, transportation and healthcare for you and your friends, in exchange you give me your body (for science, naturally) and your services, and as a bonus I get a high-caliber marksman and you get to play Don Quixote! Everybody wins!" Hein held out his hand. "Do we have accord, mister Jensen?"

Jensen looked at Hein's hand as if he was eyeing a venomous snake, but shook it anyway. There were now two lives depending on him cooperating with Hein, after all.

"Excellent!" exclaimed Hein. "I can feel this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship, mark my words!"

~[h+]~

In the dark reaches of the Terminus systems floated the Sovereign, and deep within the mighty vessel sat Saren, meditating in the Shrine. The orb's voices whispered in Saren's mind, promising the power to take revenge on the race that had taken so much from him... If only he'd let them in.

If only...

No.

He would not surrender all of his will to them.

He could feel Benezia's presence behind him. She had something to tell him, something important, and he pressed a button, wrapping the huge dark sphere in a thick layer of liquid metal. Benezia politely cleared her throat, and he swiveled his chair, turning to face her.

"My lord," said Benezia, taking a short bow out of humility, "My spies have confirmed Manah's presence on Caleston. The University has called upon the Justicars to... loan them my daughter for her insights. They have found something that confounds them."

"What sort of artifact? A beacon?"

"An obelisk of unbreakable alabaster, engraved with bas-reliefs and decorated with silver insets. It does not emit the energies of a Beacon, and attempts to interface with it has yielded no success."

In other words, of no use to him. Still, Saren wished he could personally see to this extraction, if only to lay claim to this artifact... On the other hand, the map to the Shibboleth was still being deciphered, and the five Grimoires had already been gathered, their secrets yet to be uncovered. Satisfying his curiosity and his greed simply was not worth waking the Council from its slumber. A shame. "Hmph, no matter. I take it you wish to fetch her yourself?"

"I do. I do not trust that Wreav's Krogan will be able to contain her. Only I can do it."

"Are you certain of that? You two did not leave on the most amicable of terms."

Benezia said nothing, betraying nothing of her feelings for her wayward daughter.

"Go, but take the Mask," commanded Saren, "just to be certain. Oh... and once she is under your thrall? See about bringing me this artifact. If nothing else it would be a welcome addition to my collection. If not, well... a pity. Let nothing distract you from bringing her to me. Take as many Geth platforms as you need. Destroy everything that gets in your way and kill anyone that dares pursue you."

"As you wish, my Lord." Benezia bowed and took her leave.

Saren leaned back into his chair and relaxed. The only person that could have stopped him was dead, thanks to his allies, and soon he would have the means to unlock the true secrets of the Protheans. The Conduit would be his, and revenge would at last be within his grasp!

"Soon, brother." Saren said to the darkness, hoping that Desolas' spirit was listening to him, somehow. "Soon I will make the humans pay."

~[h+]~


CODEX ENTRY: HISTORY: COUNCIL SPACE: WAR: THE RETAKING OF SHANXI

Shortly after General Williams surrendered Shanxi to the Turians after days of orbital bombardments, the Turian occupying force suddenly found its supply lines (along with its patrols) constantly attacked by what appeared to be an invisible pirate force, and several of their frigates had disappeared without a trace. A month later, the Turians over and above Shanxi were facing the prospect of starving to death. When several of their supply freighters returned under mysterious circumstances, the desperate, starving crews immediately distributed the food, which turned out to have been laced with a nearly undetectable time-delayed poison that killed hundreds of Turian soldiers. Having become suspicious of their food, many more began to suffer from malnutrition, and some even died of starvation. When a small fleet of reinforcements came in from Palaven along with even more supplies, it found itself under attack by captured turian frigates on suicide runs and was nearly destroyed. Many an officer wondered who was responsible for this catastrophe.

The answer: Admiral Yan Lo of the Coalition Star Force. While the Alliance parliament was busy convincing the governments of Earth to marshal a response to the Turian policing action of Relay 314, Yan Lo, eager to prove his theories on space warfare using Snowblind particles, gathered a fleet of forty frigates and one command cruiser, and immediately set out to begin a campaign of intelligence gathering and asymmetrical warfare that threw the Shanxi occupation fleet into complete disarray. Among his most controversial acts was the cultivation and modification of a potent and extremely contagious disease within prisoners, and then allowing them to 'escape', causing them to spread the disease. Reinforcements from Palaven only seemed to add to the chaos, providing Lo with more officers to torture and more targets to steal or destroy.

When the combined fleets of Earth's supranational unions finally arrived on Shanxi, they were outnumbered 3 to 1 by a fleet of 750 ships with crewed by Hierarchy sailors barely holding on to their sanity. When Yan Lo struck with the Snowblind bombs, all hell broke loose, and the turians found themselves surrounded on all sides and unable to provide fire support to their ground forces, who were being annihilated by an onslaught of Wanzers, powered armors, and unmanned drones. The Turian defeat was complete, calls for surrender were ignored, and the few prisoners that were taken had been interrogated, tortured, and lynched to death. Such was the fate of the famed General Desolas Arterius, whose dropship was shot down by Wanzer pilot Major Edgar Hein as it attempted to evacuate some wounded soldiers.

Shortly after the battle, Yan Lo would activate Relay 314, and exploration vessels from every union on earth followed him into the then unknown Sirius clusters. In the months that the Council brokered a peace between the nations of Earth and the Turian Hierarchy, humanity had laid claim to hundreds of new worlds and discovered at least five new sentient races, including the Fiera, natives of Xytegenia.

~[h+]~


A/N: Manah is "voiced" by Laura Bailey. Just picture her performance as Serah Farron in Final Fantasy XIII-2 and you'll know exactly what Manah sounds like. Yes, it's an Actor Allusion. :)

Yan Lo is meant to represent a sharp contrast to other Mass Effect crossover fanfics and how the Alliance handled Shanxi. While, for example, the GDI in Peptuck's Renegade won the battle by the virtues of being badass and posessing overwhelming firepower, the Earth forces in this fic won by virtue of being COMPLETE AND UTTER BASTARDS.