"I didn't know Dr. T'soni was an information broker."
Garrus opened one eye and peered at me. Then he closed it and shrugged.
"It was a brief period of her life," he said simply. "Something she felt she had to do once. You know how asari are."
When he offered nothing further, I coughed and asked, "And now?"
"Now?" he laughed quietly, settling further into his chair. "Not anymore. Just a mild-mannered professor now."
The way he was glossing over it felt like it was either more than that... or exactly that. I wasn't sure, so I didn't ask. Besides, it wasn't really part of the story.
"So who did you go after first?"
"The assassin," he said. "Shepard figured he was operating on a tighter timetable. She was right, of course. If Liara hadn't pointed us toward his contact, we might never have caught him in time."
The asari at the desk didn't look up from her terminal. "Who wants to know?" she asked curtly.
Garrus glanced around the dock and made sure no one was listening who shouldn't be. Though on Illium, as Liara had said, that might be impossible.
"Liara T'soni said you might have information on Thane Krios," Shepard said.
There was a slight pause, almost a hesitation. Then the asari smoothly pushed herself up from her desk.
"Tana," she called to a nearby coworker. "Cover for me."
She gestured for them to follow, then led them over to one of the open docks, looking out on the gleaming starscrapers of Nos Astra. The Sunset City, they called it. Garrus mused idly on the notion of a "sunset city" on a planet where the equator was too hot and irradiated to survive. A triumph of marketing, he supposed.
"Yeah, I know where Krios is," Serena said, turning to face Shepard and pointedly ignoring the others. "I may have passed him some information a few times. What do you wanna know?"
"Where is he?" she asked.
Serena laughed a little. "I can tell you, but you won't stop him. The man never gives up on a job."
"I'm not interested in stopping him."
The asari arched a brow. "Really?"
Shepard smiled and said nothing. Garrus bit back a smile of his own. Apparently she could play things cool, when she wanted to. She just... never wanted to.
Serena stared for a moment, then closed her eyes and shrugged. "Alright."
"Krios," Shepard prompted.
"He's after my old employer, Nassana Dantius."
That got Garrus' attention. Tali's too–he saw her head jerk back from where it had been staring out into the dock. Shepard, meanwhile, barely reacted. Her smile cooled a little, and her right hand flexed briefly, and that was all.
"I used to run security for her," she continued. "Then I found out she was having people killed to cover up her dirty secrets. I confronted her, she fired me, and then threatened me. In that order.
"Her loss," Serena said with a shrug. "I might have been good enough to stop Thane from taking her down."
"Exactly what kind of security does she have?" Shepard asked.
"Eclipse mercs. High-tech killers. Undisciplined, but very well-equipped." The asari smiled wryly. "I told Thane all I knew. He didn't seem worried."
Serena turned and walked towards the open bay. While her back was turned, Shepard glanced questioningly at Garrus. He nodded and flicked a mandible. The Blue Suns were ruthless, the Blood Pack vicious. Eclipse? They were just well-funded.
The asari pointed to a particular set of starscrapers in the distance. "Dantius Towers," she said. "One tower's still under construction. If I were Thane, I'd go in through that one and cross over on the skybridge."
Shepard stepped up to the edge and peered at their target, shining glass set against the backdrop of the orange sky. Garrus and Tali moved to Shepard's side.
"Opinions?" she asked quietly.
"They'll have the rooftop covered," Garrus said, scratching idly at his scars. "Won't get in from the top without anything less than a gunship. Best option is to go in through the lobby, take the express elevator before they know we're there."
"Agreed." She turned towards Tali. "You think their security systems that will give you any trouble?"
Tali scoffed behind her helmet and crossed her arms. Garrus couldn't help but smile. She'd always been confident, but she'd come a long way since he'd known her.
"No need for that," Serena said behind them. "I can get you in. Hell, I'll even give you a ride."
Shepard arched a brow. "You'd do that?"
The asari shrugged again. "At the very least, you'll distract security, draw some attention. Maybe give Thane a clear shot. I didn't hire the man, but I'll be more than happy to see him succeed."
Garrus' mandibles pulled into a frown. The sentiment was something he could appreciate, but the words felt mercenary. Like she had something more to gain. It seemed everyone on Illium was always looking to tear someone else down to pull themselves up.
He imagined Shepard thought the same thing, but at the moment, she didn't much care.
"Lead the way," she said, and when she followed Serena towards the garage, Garrus and Tali were close at her flanks.
"You mentioned Dantius before," I said. "Back on the SR-1."
He nodded. "One of the only times I've ever seen Shepard really angry. She hated being manipulated. One of the reasons the whole Cerberus situation made her so... uncomfortable."
I scribbled that down on my pad and regarded the words. A little part of me wished my pen was a pencil. I used to chew on them a lot when I was little. It helped me think.
The lull in conversation grew. Eventually, Garrus opened his eyes and sat forward, groaning a little inside his chest as he gently rolled his shoulders.
"Probably sounds strange for a soldier."
I glanced between him and the page, fidgeting nervously. "Well, uh. I mean–"
"It's a trust thing," he said, elbows on his knees. "You trust your commanding officer has good reasons for the orders he gives you. You trust he takes your safety and the safety of the people under your command into account.
"Shepard was..." He laughed quietly. "A bit of a blunt instrument, when it came to negotiation or diplomacy. She didn't skirt around an issue, she got to the point. She meant every word that she said and every thing that she did.
"So when someone lies to her to get her to do something?" Garrus shook his head. "She's not happy. With them, or herself."
I looked down at the words again. It was getting harder to see as the sun set, but I could still recognize my terrible handwriting. It made a lot more sense, after hearing what he said.
Nodding, I pressed my pen to paper and looked up. Garrus' mandibles flicked in a brief smile, and he leaned back in his chair once again.
"Shepard blamed herself for a lot of things," he said simply. "That was how she was wired. You've probably figured that out by now. It haunted her, sometimes. Mostly, it just drove her harder and faster in the direction of whatever her objective was.
"That day, our objective was Nassana Dantius."
They were standing outside the front door to the Dantius Towers. Reinforced glass doors and massive windows looked into a posh, well-appointed lobby. All marble and metal, sleek asari architecture. Garrus thought it was ugly as sin.
Selena had provided them with a door code which hadn't worked–apparently Nassana had gotten more paranoid since she'd left her employment–and so Tali had to decrypt the lock.
That was two minutes ago.
"I thought these systems weren't going to give you trouble."
"Oh, I'm sorry Garrus, would you like to hack the door?" Tali said indignantly. "Because I'll step aside."
"Well, I do have a few breaching protocols in my–"
"And then you'll trip every alarm they have, and we'll have to fight all the way to the top against Ms. Dantius' private army." She shook her helmeted head. "You wanted subtle, you're getting subtle. Now stop interrupting."
"She's right, Garrus," Shepard said, crossing her arms and giving him a stern look. "This was your idea."
He clamped his mandibles tight against his face and nodded. Shepard went back to staring at the door.
Another thirty seconds passed.
"How much longer?"
Tali sighed loudly. "A minute, Shepard. And your staring over my shoulder isn't helping, either."
Shepard blinked. Then cleared her throat and backed off a bit. Garrus grinned and was about to say something droll when Shepard's eyes went wide.
He followed her gaze and saw two salarians rounding a corner into the lobby. One was cut down by fire and fell into a rolling heap somewhere out of sight. The other was halfway to the door when security bots marched around the corner, guns raised, and fired. He took a pair of rounds in the back and collapsed.
"Are you almost through?" Garrus barked.
Tali's head shook, her three fingers flying across her omni-tool. "At least another thirty seconds–"
"Move!" Shepard yelled, drawing her rifle from her back.
Tali scrambled to the side and Shepard emptied an entire thermal clip into the door, spraying a vertical line top to bottom. She stepped back, slapped in a new thermal clip, and ran straight for it, leading with her shoulder.
Garrus didn't know if it was the construction firm cheaping out on materials or Shepard's Cerberus augmentations, but she crashed through the glass like it wasn't even there. She fell into a roll, came up on one knee, sighted and fired.
One bot fell under a burst from her Avenger. Garrus took the second with a clean headshot. The third froze, shooting sparks out of its joints, and slowly toppled to the ground under Tali's digital assault.
Shepard got up and ran for the fallen salarian while Garrus and Tali moved up to secure the room. A moment later, she was moving again, towards where the second had tumbled. Garrus didn't have to ask about the first. He could see the look on her face.
The second had apparently stumbled into a small service area. Lockers and crates and shelves lined the walls, full of power tools and materials the construction workers must still be using. He had crawled over into a corner, leaving a trail of greenish blood behind him, and collapsed against the far wall.
"Help," he croaked. "Help..."
Shepard was kneeling by him in a second, stripping off a packet of medigel from her belt. Tali ran her omni-tool over him, checking vitals. Garrus covered the door, as usual.
"Hang on, alright?" he heard Shepard say. "You're gonna be okay."
"Can't feel my legs," the salarian said feebly. "My chest... killing me."
"Losing a lot of blood, Shepard," Tali said.
"I can see that," she bit out. Then, more quietly, "Who did this?"
"Nassana..." he said. "We're just night workers... just workers..."
"What happened? Keep talking."
"Sent the mechs to round us up... we didn't hear." He coughed, a wet and unpleasant sound. "They just started shooting..."
Garrus felt his grip tightening on his rifle. He almost hoped some Eclipse would round the corner. Give him something to shoot.
"It was horrible... everyone, screaming..." He coughed again, sputtering. "Then... the Eclipse–"
"Stop. Don't talk."
Garrus turned and found Shepard pulling a small stim off her belt. The salarian was covered in blood on his chest, the two medigel packets already beginning to soak through.
"This'll keep you awake and alive until help arrives." She paused. "It's going to hurt."
She waited for him to nod weakly, then stuck it in his neck. He winced and cried out, seizing her arms and scrabbling his feet against the floor for a moment before settling and taking deep breaths.
"Thank you," he said after a moment. "Thank you, I... that's better."
"Do you know how many mercenaries Nassana has here?" she asked.
"No... not exactly." He coughed again. "Dozens, at least. They were walking around here all day. All over the upper floors."
Shepard nodded. "Alright. That's fine. Stay here. We'll lock the door."
She moved to stand and his hand snaked out and grabbed her arm. "Wait!" he hissed. "Take my codes to the service elevator. It'll get you to the upper floors. But... if you see any other workers–"
"We'll help them."
The salarian nodded his long head, black eyes blinking. "Thank you."
Tali transferred the codes from his omni-tool while Shepard made her way back to the door, picking up her discarded rifle along the way.
"Any movement?" she asked.
"None," Garrus replied.
She frowned. "Too bad."
"There will be," Tali chimed, moving past them with her shotgun ready. "The silent alarms went off after you smashed through that door. They know we're here."
"Good," Garrus drawled, shouldering his rifle. "I could use the practice."
Shepard took point while Tali locked the door behind them. She checked the heat sink on her rifle, shouldered it, and shot Garrus a half-serious smirk.
"Start keeping score, Vakarian."
Garrus shifted a little. "There were times, back in the old days, running into some geth on a nameless world out in the ass-end of the Veil, that turned into a sort of... competition. Of course, lives first, mission first, always. But once I told her my visor could track combat telemetries... she made a point of asking me what the stats were, sometimes. Especially after I started teaching her the finer art of long-range sniping."
He opened his eyes and saw me running a hand through my hair and I realized I must have been giving him a weird look.
Garrus hummed in an amused sort of way and said, "Not the strangest thing you've heard all day, certainly."
I looked down at what I'd written so far, about assassins and rescues and mechs, hacking and impatience and heroics.
And then I looked up at him. Old and scarred and worn, looking at me with one blue eye and his chin on his hand. The most powerful turian alive. One of the men who'd saved the galaxy.
Maybe I was getting used to it. Or maybe I was getting to know him. Or her. But in all honesty?
"No," I said. "It's really not that strange at all."
He grinned and settled back in his chair, tenting his fingers. "Where was I?"
They found evidence of the assassin's passing everywhere they went. Workers barricaded in rooms who told them someone had rushed them inside. Two in particular, who'd been threatened by a merc in one of the corner offices and seen his head explode right in front of them. Never more than a glimpse or a shadow or a single perfect headshot. And no collateral damage.
Shepard, meanwhile, had been about as subtle as a battering ram from minute one. Which was how things usually went.
Fighting through the first batch of Eclipse had been easy. They were better equipped than they had been on Omega, but a shield was a shield, and you put enough rounds into it, it went down no matter how much it cost. Their combat drones were easy pickings for Tali and her own noisy companion—who she insisted was named "Chiktikka vas Paus"—and any of the shock troopers they sent forward fell under combined fire.
But that only got them so far.
"Garrus?" Shepard's voice crackled in his ear. "Hurry up!"
"This weapon can only fire so fast, Shepard," he said quietly, sighting through the scope.
He pulled the trigger, and another Eclipse helmet disappeared. Then he bent down to reload, while the occasional stray round struck the other side of the crate.
Tali's breath heaved, static in his comms. "Yes, Shepard?"
"Be a dear and have Chiktikka go tell Garrus to hurry up."
"Please, no!" he groaned. "Enough of the drone and it's incessant noise."
"Then you had better start shooting faster, Garrus."
He stood, sighted down the scope. Still at least a dozen mercs at the opposite end. Shepard and Tali were in cover halfway down, behind a massive stack of pylons and rebar. Trapped in cover by sustained fire and a particularly irritating man with a missile launcher who Garrus couldn't draw a bead on.
The bridge plan had sounded so clever. In practice, having only one very narrow way forward was a pain in the ass to fight through. Especially once your enemy knew you were coming. If this Krios hadn't already made it to the opposite side, Garrus failed to see how he could get past something like this without a gunship.
And that was when he noticed the canisters.
"If I mark a target, you think you can read my visor's telemetry? Arc a firebomb where I'm pointing?"
There was silence on the comms for a moment. Then, Tali said, "Yes, I think I can."
"Good," he said, bringing up his omni-tool. "I'm sending you the data–"
"I already have it."
Another silence. Garrus shook his head and lowered his wrist back to the crate.
"Next time? Ask."
"Don't worry," she said teasingly. "I won't tell what other interesting file directories you've got in there."
He rolled his eyes and sighted once more on the canisters. "Just throw the damn thing already."
After a moment, Tali's flash-forged omni-tool projectile descended from a high arc into the vision of his scope, right into the canisters. Only one of the mercs took notice, and as he tried desperately to warn his compatriots, the whole thing went up.
Whatever was in those canisters, it wasn't gas. Going over it later, Tali would suggest that it was an accelerant for plasma torches and industrial-grade fusion lasers, and based on the size and flare of the explosion, he'd have to agree with her.
Shepard and Tali were behind cover, so they missed the worst of it. Garrus was lucky that both his rifle's scope and his visor were programmed to dim in response to high quantities of ultraviolet light, or he might have gone half-blind before he ducked behind his crate. The whole bridge shook, and debris and bodies flew into the air and off the side, trailing smoke as they fell to the ground far below.
As the shearing winds this high up the starscraper made quick work of the smoke, the sight of the damaged bridge came into view. There was a great big gaping hole in it, revealing the unfinished interior and the numerous pipes, ducts, and cables of various utilities. Water was pouring out of one, and there was the occasional spark as a dangling wire touched made contact.
Garrus climbed down from his perch and made his way towards Shepard and Tali, who were staring at the smoking crater.
"Yeah," he said slowly, surveying the destruction. "I didn't think it would make that big a hole."
"Well." Shepard shrugged. "I did tell you to hurry."
His mandibles flickered. "I'm ahead, by the way."
She gave him a look and punched him lightly in the shoulder. "C'mon, let's go and find our–"
The bridge creaked beneath them. Loudly.
For the second time that day, Shepard shouted, "Move!"
They sprinted hard for the opposite end of the bridge, up the angled ramp of the roof, and onto the plateau leading into the opposite tower. Ceiling tiles began to give way, and Tali dodged between them shouting, "Oh, keelah, oh, keelah!" over and over again.
They managed to make it safely inside the second tower before the unfinished bridge fell apart, collapsing with the tremendous scraping of metal on metal, and falling to join the bodies and debris that had preceded it.
"Oh, keelah," Tali gasped, hands on her knees. "Oh, fucking keelah..."
"You okay?" Garrus asked, breathing heavily.
She raised a three fingered hand in a very rude gesture. He laughed breathlessly, and Shepard did too. It was the sort of insane giddiness that regularly accompanies a successful escape from a near-death situation.
Once they caught their breath, Shepard took point again. "Alright, people," she said, "let's pay Nassana a visit and go home."
Apparently they'd taken out most of the Eclipse, because resistance was much lighter in the finished Dantius Tower. A shame, Garrus thought. He would have quite enjoyed making a mess of Nassana's far too expensive office space. Shepard insisted that he'd made a very big mess already, to which Tali heartily agreed, and he supposed he couldn't argue with that.
In the elevator up to Nassana's penthouse, he rechecked the heat sink on his Vindicator and booted up the overload protocol on his omni-tool for good measure. Tali reset the choke on her shotgun and stowed Chiktikka "for safety's sake."
Shepard holstered her weapon and rolled her neck on her shoulders.
"No one fires unless they fire first," she said. "Let's see if Nassana is smart enough to want to talk."
The doors opened on an office three stories tall, with windows stretching from floor to ceiling. An asari paced behind a large black onyx desk, flanked by three veteran Eclipse commandos. The sun was at the horizon outside the window, flaring harshly through the half-tinted automatic blinds while skycars flew back and forth obliviously.
They stepped forward, and Nassana Dantius took notice. Her commandos drew their weapons and booted up their tech armor while she stepped forward, squinting.
"Shepard? But... you're dead."
"I got better," she said simply.
Garrus stifled a grin. Shepard always knew how to make an entrance.
Nassana frowned deeply. "And now you're here to kill me."
"Paranoid, aren't you?"
"Don't patronize me," she said with a dismissive wave of her hand. "I'm not stupid."
Shepard shrugged. "I wouldn't say you were smart."
Garrus shifted right half a step, to get a better bead on the Eclipse with the shotgun. Tali stuck closer to Shepard's flank, ready to lay down covering fire with her Scimitar if necessary.
"I'm sure you'll find this delightfully ironic," Nassana said, half-turned to the window. "After killing my sister and I... you'll have been directly responsible for the deaths of more of the Dantius family than me."
Shepard frowned. Nassana turned and stalked forward, pressing her hands on her desk.
"You've come this far," she growled. "What are you waiting for?"
A short pause. Garrus was running through tactical options in his head when Shepard spoke.
"You're beneath me."
The asari's eyes widened. "What?"
"You're petty. Low-rent. Small-time." Shepard shifted her weight onto one hip and tilted her head. "I have better things to do than stage a three-man assault, decimate your security, and gun you down. Quite frankly, I wouldn't want to waste the bullet."
"Then what the hell are you doing here?"
"I'm looking for someone."
"You expect me to believe that?" She started pacing back and forth again. "What is it? Credits? Is that what you want?"
"From what I've heard?" Shepard said, eyebrow arched. "All the credits in the galaxy aren't enough to make this problem go away."
"Who gave you the right to play God?" she bit out.
"Are you really about to lecture me about morality?" Shepard asked. "You're right. This is ironic."
"What do I have to do to–"
There was a thud and a bang from somewhere above. The commandos startled, scanning the walls and ceiling.
"Did everyone hear that?" one of them asked.
"I did," Shepard chimed, raising her hand.
Nassana slapped at the shoulder of one. "Check the other entrances!"
As the commando advanced towards a door to a side room, Nassana turned back to Shepard. "You. Stay put. When I'm through with this nonsense, you and I are going to–"
What came next happened so fast Garrus had to use the playback mode on his visor to determine the exact sequence of eventsa.
A drell dropped from the ceiling. Or rather, through a vent on the ceiling. How he'd managed to remove the cover without dropping it or alerting anyone was beyond Garrus, but somehow, he'd done it. He'd landed behind two of the Eclipse, snapping one's neck with a quick wrench of his hands, disabling another with a precision strike to the throat that must have collapsed the trachea, then grabbed the pistol from her hands, shot the third as she turned around, and spun directly into Nassana Dantius' arms.
There was a pause after this flurry of activity, where Nassana, who'd produced a gun from somewhere beneath her desk, didn't know how to react. Then the drell fired, the shot muffled against her chest, and Nassana gasped, sucking in breath and blood.
As her legs gave out from under her, the drell supported her neck and back, laid her gently on her desk, and placed her hands over her heart. Nassana groaned and gasped, and then went still.
The reptilian man with the round black eyes stood over Nassana Dantius' body. Then he wrapped his hands together, bowed his head, and prayed silently.
Shepard took two careful, measured steps forward. Tali took one. Garrus kept still, his scope trained on the assassin.
"I was hoping to talk to you," Shepard said slowly.
"My apologies," he said in a low, quiet voice. "But prayers for the wicked must not be forsaken."
"You really think she deserves that?"
His brows furrowed, and he shook his head.
"Not for her," he said, looking up at Shepard. "For me."
Shepard blinked. Garrus watched as the drell lowered his hands and slowly stepped around the desk.
"The measure of an individual can be difficult to discern from actions alone," he said, drawing his fingers lightly along the black surface. "Take you, for instance. All this destruction. Chaos. Gunfire and explosions."
His visor was helpfully informing him that the drell's respiratory rate was slightly higher than average.
"I prefer to work quietly. If I have to fight through guards, I have made a mistake. I rarely make mistakes."
He halted at the front of the desk and centered himself. Garrus noted that this kept the sun behind him.
"You disrupted my plans. But your distraction eventually proved valuable. I was curious how far you would go to find me.
"Well," he said, linking his hands behind his back. "Here I am."
"Then I'll cut to the chase," Shepard said frankly. "I need you for a mission."
There was a pause as he regarded her, and then the drell pointedly turned his back. "Indeed."
"You familiar with the Collectors?" she asked.
"They're abducting entire colonies. Freedom's Progress, Horizon... that was their handiwork."
"I'm putting a team together. We're going to strike back."
He half turned, regarding her curiously. "Attacking the Collectors would mean passing through the Omega 4 relay. No ship has ever returned from doing so."
"My ship will be the first," she said with absolute certainty.
The drell turned away once more. "You'd like me to protect humans I've never met, from aliens no one knows anything about, by going to a place no one's ever returned from."
Shepard took another step forward. "That's the gist of it."
He bowed his head again, taking a deep breath. Garrus' visor showed vital signs spiking briefly. His browplates furrowed in confusion.
"This was to be my last job."
Drell weren't too common outside of hanar or asari space, but there were a fair number on the Citadel, and Garrus had even known a few. He had enough experience to realize what Krios was about to say even as he said it.