His eyes narrowed as he leaned toward the reinforced glass which separated they from the specimens contained within. He leaned one way, then another, and the primitives shrunk back in terror from his approach. Let them. They weren't really sapient, not like he was. They were barely sentient. "So this is the thing which attacked us? They look... small," Sajuuk muttered.

Wex gave him an askance glance. He was a very level headed Vaal, which was to say that a bomb going off in his face wouldn't muss his composure too much. Like his bretheren, he appeared somewhat like the primitives within, only his skin was white, and his head covered in pseudo-feathers rather than cartilaginous tendrils. They both shared a body shape – save for Wex's understandable lack of breasts – and even were both pentidactyl. They were probably the same weight, and both had only a single pair of eyes. "I traced the pods back from the one you recovered. There's hundreds of these things across two facilities. The other one fell to the Reapers months ago."

"So you are saying that these things were... experiments? Accidents?" the professor asked, horror in his tone. "This is unconscionable!"

"It was untimely," Sajuuk corrected. "Had the director been more astute, the specimens would not have been lost. They would have been destroyed before the Reapers could claim them."

Ovar shot Sajuuk a glare, his four eyes almost burning of it. "They are intelligent beings! They deserve better than that."

"They are primitives, and they have no use," Sajuuk concluded. "They are too few, and too weak to fight the Reapers. That is the only use they could serve. Lacking that, let them rot," he turned back to the females, and looked amongst them once more. They were all blue-skinned, naked, and huddled in a corner. One of them was holding a squirming infant. Sajuuk turned back to Wex. "Where are the males?"

"They don't have any," Wex said. Sajuuk gave a grunt of confusion. "As I hear it, they're a monogendered species. No males. Just females."

"Wouldn't that be a boon for you?" Tunu asked, leaning on Wex's hip. Wex gave her a glance, grey eyes unkind. She flinched back. "What? Too soon?"

"Fifteen hundred years ago was too soon. Now it's a bad joke that won't go away," Wex said. The Vaal were, as these, a one-gendered species, but that was not of their choosing, and not anything which their biology, or their evolutionary path, had chosen for. A plague had decimated their numbers, and the Protheans had taken them on as a 'client species' in exchange for their service. They offered cloning technology to the Vaal. The Vaal took it. Somewhere along the line, the females of their species just stopped being viably born.

"Are you telling me those scared ladies are the reason I have a fake lung?" Tunu asked.

"The Reapers turn everything into weapons," Wex said. "You know that as well as I do."

"Are they space-capable?" Sajuuk asked.

"They don't even have a system of mathematics!" Ovar said.

"Then the Reapers will ignore them," Sajuuk said. He gave a look to the armor plated behemoth in the cell nearby. There was a reason the blue skinned pseudo-females were clustered in one corner of their cell; it was as far as they could get from both the Prothean observers, and the rampaging, armored, hump-backed thing which was raging around its containment pod. "These would be more useful. They are at least strong enough to pull carts."

"Species 1138," Ovar said. "They evolved on a 'crucible' world. They are a prey item. The scientists use them to feed 1120."

Sajuuk turned to him. "You have a Thresher Maw here?"

Ovar sighed. "They weren't able to weaponise them. They are too wild, too uncontrollable. Even were they not, it takes too long to cultivate them," he shook his head. "This is folly! We should not be tampering with these species. Species 4512 could develop culture one day, and rise up into the galaxy. They are not our tools."

Sajuuk caught Ovar by the collar of his armor and hauled him close. "They are the tools of the Prothean Empire, or they are the bones which fertilize our crops. They are nothing less, and never more. Is that clear?"

The professor glared, but his resolved buckled under the glare of the Avatar. "As you will, Avatar," Ovar said.

An alarm claxon sounded, and Sajuuk turned toward it. "What is that?" he demanded.

"We are detecting Reapers entering the system," Lampha's voice came through the speakers. "They are detecting the energy signatures of the facility. Estimated time of arrival, one hour, twenty minutes."

Sajuuk turned back to the other scientists, those who were invested in this waste of time. Then, he turned back to Species 4512, who tried to shush a screaming blue infant, watching in fear at the strange beings who in turn watched them. Sajuuk took a moment, to consider what would come. His every decision, now, had a consequence. And every consequence had to lead to one end; destroying the Reapers. They would not help him build the weapon. They would only die in droves against the guns of the Reapers, and give them more bodies for the machines to turn into Ban Sidhe. That was not something Sajuuk could allow.

The Avatar opened his eyes, and faced the researchers. "This place has already been destroyed. It cannot fall into Reaper hands. Burn everything, destroy all specimens, and erase all of the data. I will be leaving in twenty minutes. If you wish not to become an abomination yourself, you had better be on my ship when I do," Sajuuk promised.

"Avatar, this is wrong!" Ovar protested, lunging toward Sajuuk. Wex held him back – barely, since Wex wasn't the strongest – and Sajuuk didn't flinch in the slightest. "We can bring the specimens with us! It won't slow us down!"

"Why are you so interested in these primitives?" Sajuuk demanded. "They are useless."

Ovar blanched. "They deserve better than this, Avatar," he said. "Every one of them is a biotic. We can use that. Please."

Sajuuk considered that, but shook his head. "It is still folly. They are too primitive. Too few, and without males, doomed to die out."

"They are few because somebody has already tampered with them! They don't need–" Ovar snapped. Sajuuk waved his hand, cutting him off.

"I do not care. If you wish to share the fate of these primitives, join them in their containment unit, for none other shall come to them," the Avatar declared. "Is that all, 'Professor' Athame?"

"...that is all, Avatar," the young professor said, defeated. Sajuuk walked past him, and behind his back, Tunu gave the weary Prothean a squeeze of the hand. It was a tiny gesture to her, but more to him, since it brought him a wealth of knowledge about the ditakur, and a fragment of her resolve in the process.

"It'll be alright, Ovar. I promise."

"I wish I had your faith," Ovar whispered.

Of all of them, only Wex remained behind, stone-faced, as the plasma flames leapt into the containment cells, and purged them of life.

Shepard's head started pounding even as she opened her eyes. Another strange dream, and even as she smacked her tongue dryly against the roof of her mouth, it was fading from her recollection. She could remember... asari and krogan... and they were naked... She shook her head. She obviously was getting the worst sort of influence from the pilot if she was having bizarre alien sex-dreams. Otherwise, she simply needed to track somebody down to relieve some... tension. But that was a problem for another time. Because what had awoken her from her bizarre dream was the intercom.

"Ugh... what?" Shepard said.

"Shepard, we've got a situation downstairs in the hold," Joker said with a tone of mild urgency. "I think one of our resident krogan pissed off the other. Can't tell which. I've got my money on the big one, by the way."

"...what?" Shepard asked, rubbing her head. It still pounded, so she kneaded a brow as she looked down into the window which showed the hold below. And true to the Pilot's warning, she could see the two krogan down there, arms locked, smashing each other in the face with their skulls. And it didn't look friendly.

Shepard growled, pulling a shirt over her head and heading out the door still in bare feet. She slid down the ladder quickly, and as soon as she turned, she had to step aside because the two krogan barreled into the frame of the elevator, almost crushing her against the wall. "ENOUGH!" Shepard screamed. There was a pause, which Wrex used to deliver one final head-butt to Adeks, dropping the engineer to the deck-plating.

"Stay down, whelp," Wrex demanded.

"Just 'cause you hit harder, doesn't make you right," Adeks noted, smirking up to the krogan who'd beaten him. "That's a funny thing. If I kill you, I might get chewed out a little. And I've been chewed out by humans. It's not much. But if you kill me, you won't get off this ship in anything larger than a fast-food container. I've got fifty guns who'll raise up as my krannt. You're alone. That's what my friends are worth, Urdnot. That's why you failed."

"You don't know anything about me, you worthless puppet," Wrex snarled. "You gave up everything which made you krogen in exchange for worthless comforts. You gave up your pride for a human cess-pit. You gave up your dignity for slavery. You should be ashamed of your 'friends', not proud of them. You're nothing but a pet to them. A good luck charm."

"Wrex, stand down now," Shepard barked. Wrex turned toward her, scowled, then waved dismissively, and walked over to a spot next to the lockers, and the bird he'd picked up kipped back onto his hump. Shepard leaned down and helped Adeks to his feet. His brow-plate had an oozing crack in it, and he sported a few nasty looking bruises.

"You should get that looked after," Shepard said.

"I've had worse," Adeks said. "I warned you about the Urdnot. That's him on his best behavior. You should see what the others are doing nowadays."

"Duly noted. Are you going to need some time off? To see Chakwas?" Shepard asked.

"I'm tougher than I look, and I look damned tough," Adeks said. "Just keep that rabid varren away from me. He's what's wrong with Tuchanka, these days. Makes me glad there's a spot in this galaxy which won't pitch us out an airlock, Wrex." he said tauntingly.

"Kree! Your mother earned pennies on her back!" the lizard bird squawked

"What did you say!" Adeks shook an angry fist at the bird.

"Adeks, go back to engineering," Shepard ordered. Adeks grumbled, glaring at the Urdnot's pet. Wrex himself was chuckling deeply. "Wrex," She said, walking up to him.

"Shepard," he answered.

"What the hell was that?" she demanded.

"He got on my nerves," Wrex said.

"Not good enough. I hired you on to do one thing. Kill Saren. If you can't keep your aggression in check for when I need it – namely, killing those stupid enough to work for him – then I'd might as well put a bullet through your skull now to save me the inconvenience later."

Wrex raised a brow at that. "You've got a lot more fire in you than most humans. Good. As long as you keep that sycophantic runt away from me, I won't cause any problems."

"What's your issue with Adeks?" Shepard inquired.

"He's a traitor to his species," Wrex said.

"Because he doesn't kill for credits, like you?" Shepard demanded. Wrex sighed.

"Because he turned his back on what makes him krogan. Instead, he tries to be human. We're not human, Shepard. We never will be, and trying to pretend is both pointless and sad. Better to be krogan. At least that way, we face the void with our backs straight."

"That's a nihilistic attitude," Shepard crossed her arms before her chest.

"Eight hundred years in the making," Wrex said. He gave a sigh, his eyes going to the floor. "I might have believed something, once. Grandfather had a way of making you believe you could change things. He talked big words, had big ideas. I tried to make those ideas reality. Didn't work out."

"What do you mean?" Shepard asked. He glared at her. "Wrex, I want an answer."

His eyes burned, but she didn't flinch, even with the massive gulf in brute strength and size. And he was the one who blinked first. "Fine. About four hundred years ago, I went back to Tuchanka. I had a notion that I could change what it meant to be krogan. Actually work to rebuild the homeworld for a change. The genophage might have infected us, but it's not what's killing us. Our ideas are killing us. Our ways are killing us. Instead of trying to settle, we conquer. We make enemies, and we can't breed fast enough to fight them. Instead of hunkering down, focusing on breeding even for one damned generation, we spread out. We hire ourselves onto Merc bands like the Blood Pack, and most of us never come back."

Wrex walked to the Mako, and leaned against it, pressing his skull-late to the armor. "I went to Tuchanka with common sense. And for a while, I thought I was getting through to my people. But I was betrayed," Wrex said with anger rumbling in his voice. "I had my own small tribe, and I was trying to bring some sanity back to the Valley after another pointless war. But the other tribes were against us; they followed Jarrod. He was one of the few Warlords who survived the war with the turians. He was old, and so were his ideas. A lot of krogan liked things that way. He promised them savagery, and he delivered," Wrex let out a growl, then pounded the armor with a fist. The bird on his hump bounced off with an alarmed call, coming to rest on one of the support pillars rather than its temperamental perch. "I just wanted Jarrod to shut up. To stop leading the krogan to their doom."

"You make it sound like you were some sort of reformer," Shepard said.

Wrex turned back to her. "Reformer. That's a good word. It's got no place on Tuchanka. We don't reform. We just fight. The turians, the salarians, each other, it doesn't matter to us, to people like Jarrod," Wrex put his back to the Mako, and crossed his arms before his hard-plated chest. "He didn't like that I was getting as far as I was. So he arranged a Crush with the tribes. At the Hallows, a place as sacred as any krogan place can be. Violence there was forbidden. And so I went."

"You had to know it was a trap," Shepard said.

"Of course I knew. But when your father calls a Crush, you don't say no," Wrex pointed out. Shepard leaned back. "Yes, Jarrod was my sire. Your face is a portrait of surprise. By the time this happened, though, he was only that. The man I though of as my father, the man who taught me how to live, what was important, he was long dead, killed by some asari he had a feud with. I am my grandfather's son, not my father's. Jarrod tried to get me to join him, to fight with him rather than against him and his stupid causes. I wouldn't back down. So he called in his men," he let out a snarl. "They leapt from the graves of our dead elders like the krogan undead! I would have killed him for blasphemy, if he didn't already deserve it for betrayal. In the end, all of my tribe was dead, but so was Jarrod. And with that, there was nothing left for me on my homeworld. As soon as I finish my business with my grandfather, I'll have no reason to think about it again," Wrex said.


"Tell me when you go to Tuntau," Wrex said. "Other than that, I'm done talking."

Shepard gave Wrex a moment of scrutiny. She had a fairly good notion that he wasn't lying. He was too blunt for that. And it did explain his... orneriness. But he might still be a problem. She made a note to keep a careful eye on him in the future. However useful he was, there was no telling how much of a problem a wrathful krogan could be. Shepard gave a nod. "Wrex," she said.

"Shepard," he answered. She turned and moved up the ladder, pausing only to flick the intercom button beside the elevator.

"Helm, what's our ETA to Feros?"

"One hour until we drop out of the Relay Network, Commander," a woman's voice said. Must be the secondary pilot. Which meant that Joker was, for once, not in the cockpit. Strange. But she would live with it. She turned and headed to her quarters, the strange dream now smoke in a gale. She had to get her armor back to working order, because there was no telling what she would find on that planet when she got there.

Chapter 07

Feros, Part 1: The Geth

All hands were on deck, as the saying went, and the airlock was elbow-to-elbow with armed people getting ready for the worst. Given the sheer amount of geth signals which Alenko, who was at this moment manning one of the Normandy's sensor suites, was picking up, they had to assume that they would be overwhelmed the moment they touched down. Joker had retaken his seat at the helm, and dropped them in without so much as a whisper, and now, they were pulling up to the automated docking structure which was built into the outskirts of Zhu's Hope.

"The commanding officer is ashore. XO Pressly has the deck," the computer informed, as it did every time Shepard left the ship. She glanced back. Save Alenko, all of the soldiers and aliens were with her. Given the abundance of Prothean ruins, and a likelihood of Prothean data being their target, Liara was an obvious choice. Shepard gave a scowl at the blue girl, though, and reached back, pulling the girl's finger off of her trigger. No point having her shoot Nilsdottir in the ass accidentally. The presence of the geth meant that Tali was a foregone conclusion. And as for the others? Well, somebody had to keep those two alive, and she saw no reason not to bring all of them.

"Keep your eyes and ears open. We don't know what to expect," Shepard said, moving first out of the opening doors and onto the ill-kept landing area. It was obvious that even in the best of times that this colony didn't see a whole lot of traffic. In fact, the welcoming committee stood at one, standing at the end of the gantry, kneading his hands. He was dark, like al'Wahim, and looked nervous. Shepard moved toward him. "Identify yourself, what's going on here?" Shepard demanded.

"Fai Dan will want to see you," the man said.

"And what business is that of mine?" Shepard asked, no longer pointing a rifle at him, but still near enough that if he started getting squirrely, she could deal with it.

"He's our leader... you should speak with Fai Dan," he repeated.

"...you just said that. Is there som–" Shepard began, but was cut off with a faint pink mist blooming out the side of his head. All turned, guns forward, and were already firing by the time she put a name to the thing trying to kill them all. "Geth troopers!"

That cry was immediately followed by one of the geth gesturing toward her, followed by a burst of electricity exploding from Shepard's armor and knocking her flat on her back as her muscles seized. Oh... that was unpleasant.

"Get down before the toys shoot you!" Wrex bellowed.

"They've got us pinned down!" Tali shouted, peeking her shotgun up to fire almost blindly before ducking back, their streams of fire wearing down the concrete the structure was built from. Shepard was pushing herself slowly to a squat, still trying to get the taste of ozone out of her nose. So, it wasn't she who saved them. No, it was the little bookish archeologist, in her overpriced armor. She rose up out of cover, her shields almost glowing solid blue against the torrent of oncoming fire, and threw out a hand. Shepard expected some sort of shockwave to knock the foremost of the geth down. That wasn't what happened.

A spot of absolute darkness appeared amidst and above the geth ahead. With a sound of air rushing, the geth began to drift up and away from where they had been bunkered down, lazily circling the Singularity. She'd only ever seen one biotic capable of creating Singularities in her life, and Nilsdottir was still trying to get around Wrex for a shot. That either meant that Nilsdottir wasn't that impressive, or that Liara was. Now no longer under absolutely crippling suppression, the attack force rose, and began to send fire into the drifting enemies. To their credit – if such could be given to machines – they did attempt to fire back, even as they were not in control of their own path or velocity. But between the tidal forces of the Singularity and the counterattack, they were quickly losing ground.

And doubly so when Nilsdottir hurled out a Warp, which caused the great spinning mobile to explode dramatically.

Wrex was the first to his feet, looking out at them. "Dead and done. Just the way I like 'em," he confirmed. "Should be a straight shot into the colony."

"Should be, often is not," the Si Wongi woman pointed out.

"Hey, Shepard, I think my cynicism's starting to rub off on people," Nilsdottir said with a smirk.

"Where was the Destroyer?" Tali asked. "Usually, when they have remote ops, they use a destroyer as a safe central server hub. Why isn't there one here?"

"We'll probably find out ahead," Shepard answered. The path inward was claustrophobic, crumbling, and dusty. And she could hear something moving. "Does anybody else hear that?"

"I do," Garrus said. "Everybody hold up."

The turian put his back to a pillar which stood at one corner of a rising stairwell. The others stayed well back of him. For a moment, his eyes shut, and he seemed to hold his breath. Then, the eyes opened, and slowly, slowly, his rifle inched around the corner, pointing almost straight up. Then, a crack, and he spun back around the corner, just in time for a chunk of rebar to fly past him and embed thirty centimeters into the opposite wall, right where his neck would have been. A second or so later, there was a thud as one of the limber geth finally hit the floor.

"Stalkers!" Tali exclaimed. And then, with a pat like throwing a pancake onto a bulkhead, one of them landed amongst them. Shepard bounded and rolled away, but Wrex wasn't so mobile, nor lucky. It's nimble body puffed up, and then a shockwave of electrical pulse shot out, bathing the krogan and bringing his shields down in one blow. Tali, though, didn't seem willing to let this thing bound away. Even as it's legs screwed for its launch, she was slamming something down onto its back. It leapt away, but Tali's omnitool was already glowing orange. With a gesture, she pressed a few buttons. And then, the Stalker was burst in two by the explosive charge she'd planted.

"Any more?"

"Oh, yeah," Garrus confirmed, flinching back from another rebar trying to impale him. "I count four clinging to the pillars near the ceiling. "I can't get a shot on them."

"Then don't bother shooting them," Nilsdottir snapped, sliding against the stone 'handrail' near the stairwell and then casting her hand up. When she did, bursts of blue energy began to race up, in an exploding line straight upward. Shepard peeked out, and saw that yes, that Shockwave did smash the Stalkers from their perch. And sent them falling down. Even as Shepard followed them with bullets, she noted that the 'ground' of the stairwell was actually a cracked glass skylight. So when the Stalkers landed, they smashed through and continued down past the Spectre and her cadre. It was almost anticlimactic when al'Wahim primed a pair of grenades and dropped them down after. The explosion rattled upward, causing another stream of dust to fall before Shepard, but no more.

"Any contacts?" Shepard asked.

"None on my scope," Tali offered.

"Alright. Zhu's Hope is just ahead. Let's double time it, people."

Zhu's Hope was a wreck. One on fire, from the look of it. In fact, the first greeting that Shepard's squad got upon entering the outskirts of the colony was gunfire, followed by stuttering apologies and contrition. It was lucky that Wrex had remained toward the back of the pack. Even though he didn't look remotely geth, they might have fired at him anyway. In its way, it reminded Asha entirely too much of her own childhood. Her earlier years were spent in these first-gen, entirely pre-fabricated environs, dropped onto a planet and left to thrive or starve. Well, not so extreme, truly, but there was still a sense of wildness to that pioneer in the black which appealed to Dad. Not as a place to live, since he had the black of space in his veins, but as a place to raise his children. Space was no place to raise a family, after all.

"Is that all?" one of the women asked, glancing nervously from where she was struggling with a water pump. "Gods help us. There's no way we're going to survive another wave with just that!"

"Shepard, these people seem desperate. What has happened here?" Liara asked, nervously holding her gun. The few hours of training to brush up showed that Liara had some skill with the pistol, but it was obvious to any and all – Asha more than most – that the asari had never pointed it at another living thing in her life.

"I thought from the blast-marks and the bullet holes it was obvious," Nilsdottir pointed out. She was a brazen one, that. Of all of them, only she didn't wear any armor, only a biological containment suit which was scarcely more than a body-stocking under her fatigues, and a helmet attached at the neck. "Shepard, these guy's have been shithammered. We've gotta talk to who's in charge. Or whoever's not gone crazy from terror, at least."

Shepard gave a nod to the biotic, and began to move through the colony. There were fires burning, people huddled against the prefabs which made up the structure of the colony. And there was very little being said. Nothing was left to say, in such times. They skirted the structure, passing by a grounded freighter and a salarian who looked entirely busy trying to spread one treatment of medigel between two injured people. This was a colony under siege, of that there was no doubt.

"Are you Fai Dan?" Shepard asked as she reached the other side of that structure. There were two, and one of them was a woman, thus, likely not the one. The man, who was himself middle aged and shaven headed, gave a nod. "Shepard, Systems Alliance. We hear you've got a geth problem."

"You're with the reinforcements?" Fai Dan asked, eagerly.

"We are the reinforcements," Shepard corrected.

"That's it?" the woman asked, an edge of panic creeping into her voice.

"I'll take whatever I can get right... now..." Fai Dan broke off, and turned toward the threshold just past him. "...oh no..."

A second later, Asha heard it, too. The grinding of geth. One of them slammed into the ground next to the woman, before unfolding into a bipedal shape. Even as it was pulling the rifle from its back, Asha was gunning it down, splitting it from shoulder to synthetic groin with shots.

"Another wave! Protect the heart of the colony!" Fai Dan screamed, and the woman flattened her back against the pillar.

"They're coming in from the tower! Clear them out, Army!" the woman shouted, her eyes pressed shut either in terror or pain. Shepard gave a nod, then started to move, ignoring the fact that she'd just accepted an order from a glorified security guard.

"Wow. A Prothean ruin which isn't stark white," Garrus noted, as he moved up to Asha's side. "I'm going to have to take some pictures," he broke off, snapping a shot which pegged a geth even as it was descending toward the ground. "You know, when we're not getting swarmed by killer machines."

"I think you enjoy this too much," Liara pointed out.

"Everybody's got to find something they love in what they do," Garrus said with a chuckle. Tali, who was bringing up the rear, shook her head.

"Everybody on this ship is crazy except me," she muttered quietly.

"That is a feeling I know well, Tali," Asha said as a note of comfort.

There was a crackle in their helmets, and Alenko's voice entered from the Normandy. "I'm getting a lot of readings from an open structure just northeast of your position. I'm reading a geth dropship over the site, and... I think it'd be a destroyer roughly five clicks out."

"What are we talking in terms of numbers?" Shepard asked, glancing around a corner and getting bullets pinging off her shields for the trouble.

"I'd say between twenty and forty. But one signal is... big."

"Destroyer or Prime. Got it," Shepard said. She glanced to Nilsdottir, then through the door again. Asha couldn't get a good look at what lay within. "I need a hole. Can you make one?"

"Watch me," she said. Then, she limbered her shotgun, and started to run, arcing toward that threshold. But right as she was reaching the point where, reasonably, she would be cut down by fire, there was a thump in the air, a blur of blue light, and then she was gone from sight. Asha took that as her signal.

She burst through the doorway, with Shepard and Wrex on her sides, all of them belching a monumental amount of fire down-range at the disrupted geth formation. The machines flicked hands toward Nilsdottir, but the wisdom of the crazy biotic's plan became apparent, as they were apparently trying to overload her shield generators; the biotic had none.

Asha felt the surge of her adrenaline kicking in even as there was a plat sound landing near her. She turned to see a creepily muscled figure clinging to the wall near her. She could hear a whirring sound coming from its neck. And since she didn't feel like joining Alenko in the Trenches, she willed her body into motion, as quickly as she could possibly move. Thus, when that bolt slammed out, it deflected off of her shields rather than punching through her lungs. The Stalker tried to bound away, but Asha had moved not away, but toward it. So that when its leg screwed up for a launch, she'd already slammed a bayonet through it.

The thing let out a horrendous mechanical growl, and its jump turned into a spin, latching onto her armor and beginning to try to rend. She knew that these things couldn't feel pain, since they weren't really alive, but the way it was acting called to mind a wounded eel-hound, savaging the thing which was killing it. The one advantage Asha had over it, though, was that in her armor, she weighed more. And that meant that she had more mass to throw around. Her legs burned trying to get the movement started, but once started, she wasn't going to stop. She pounded feet against the ground, driving the thing forward with her until she slammed it against the 'rail' which overlooked another stairwell, this one leading up into the tower. It flexed backward, but still held onto one of her shoulders. Her armor was shouting at her that its integrity was starting to buckle. She had to do something fast.

Nobody could say she wasn't practical. With her one free hand, she reached to her back, and pulled out her shotgun. With a twist, she pressed it into the side of the Stalker, and pulled the trigger three times, each one spilling more synthetic guts onto the ground. She pulled back as it went limp and fell over the rail. Then, movement from the corner of her eye. Another geth was turning toward her, rifle ready. Her shields were utterly gone.

Then, so was the geth's head. Another shotgun blast sounded immediately after it, and Tali was at Asha's side. There were no words said, nor needed. Each would have done the same for the other, after all. The machines needed to get destroyed, and it didn't matter who amongst them did it. The melee on this level came to a halt with a biotic explosion, and the glow fading back into Liara's skin.

"That's all on this level," Shepard said, kicking a geth off of the front of her rifle, where it had come to rest in the assault. "Let's clear their LZ."

"No complaints here," Tali said brightly. Entirely too brightly, given the danger they were all in, Asha thought. Then again, she was probably enjoying killing geth more than even Asha. For all they'd killed Asha's friends and companions on Eden Prime, the geth had almost killed Tali's entire species.

It was almost crowded, the way that everybody hustled up the ramp, toward the curved amphitheater-like room. Shepard gave a glance to Asha, then started to count down on her fingers. At zero, everybody rushed in, and they lit up. The first geth dropped like a broken toy. The second stood to weathering fire, even managing to hurl some back at Shepard before it, too was broken and cast down.

The third weathered the assault without its shields dropping for a second.

The forth took advantage of that.

Their advance quickly turned to retreat, as suddenly the geth stopped dying. Their shields stopped failing from incoming fire, and that meant they were effectively impervious. "How do we kill them?" Asha shouted, firing a stream of shots into one, which was knocked onto its back by one of Garrus' sniper shots, but rose without permanent damage.

Tali, fully behind cover, worked her omnitool. Then, she let out a little gasp. "Keelah Bosh, this isn't good," she whispered. She muttered to herself for a moment longer, then let out a sigh. "This had better do. Focus fire as they pop!"

She reached up and swung her arm toward the resilient geth, and each one she pointed at suffered an explosion of sparks and electricity. And when it did, their combined fire finally broke through the shields, and reduced to scrap metal the synthetic within. It was painfully slow going, dependent wholly on Tali, and she could only work so fast, it seemed.

But it was bearing fruit, as it were. The incoming fire had diminished from a torrent to a trickle. Asha rose from her place at Tali's side and moved in, seeing only a handful of stragglers left. She didn't even bother waiting for Tali. She just rushed the nearest of them, shouldered under it and hurled it out a window. While that window did lead to a courtyard, and not a mile-long drop as she'd have preferred, it gave her the moment needed to pull a grenade from her belt. "Here, have some lemon," she joked, chucking it out onto the geth's lap. Notably, inside its shield bubble. When the grenade went off, it created a geth-shaped explosion, and then, nothing.

Asha turned, watching as Shepard tore through the last geth standing with a lightning bolt. Of course that would work. "Are we clear, Alenko?" Asha asked.

"I'm still reading the big one," Alenko's voice was concerned.

"I don't see anything," Shepard pointed out. Then, there came a slam onto the ground, only a dozen meters away from Asha, which almost tossed her from her feet. It was... big.

While she had nothing particularly good to say about the geth, there was an elegance to their design. One could see the quarians in the geth, for example. Their bodies resembled their creators, smooth curves and precise dimensions. This thing had neither. While she had seen the 'Prime' which stood vigil over the Beacon, that thing too had its elegance. This thing lacked that. It was half again as large as the Prime had been, and looked like it had been put together with spare parts and no eye for design whatsoever. And it had two of the laser-like weapons, one upon each arm.

"Djehuti preserve me," Asha whispered.

"RUN!" Tali screamed. Asha felt no desire to be contrary.

With a howl of overtaxed machinery, the two beams belched forward, twinned red beams of death tearing at the landscape and the bits of it that Shepard's squad thought to dive behind. As soon as the beam abated, Shepard was already rising, firing a long stream of metal at the thing. The bullets seemed to rebound harmlessly off of its shields.

"Are all of them immune to bullets, now?" Shepard shouted, as she ducked back behind a crumbled pillar. Lucky she did, because something flew past her head when she did so. Asha tracked it, and noted that it landed with a thud, rather than a bang. And then, it started to unwrap itself. Her eyes went wide when she saw that it was turning into a turret.

"Flank! Flank!" Asha screamed, belching fire at it as the barrels slung under its flashlight-head started to spin. Unlike its larger counterpart, it didn't seem 'immune to bullets' in that its shields did buckle, but her gun gave out, overheating before she could finish it. Those barrels turned toward her.

Even as the bullets started hitting, she knew that she didn't have enough time to move. And if she moved, then it would just turn its attention to Shepard. So much for breaching Lieutenant... And then, her shields burst, the capacitors pushed beyond their capacity. The impacts began to slam against her chest, her arms.

And then, a krogan's chest, and arms, as Wrex tackled the turret and heaved it over his head, gun-barrels first, into the concrete. With a stomp, he smashed the thing out of its arrangement such that it let out an electric grind, and then fell dark. Soothing medigel seeped into her injuries, but she knew that she was going to be facing harsh words by the ship's medical officer when she returned. Even tiny bullets left lasting injuries.

"Everybody focus fire on that juggernaut!" Shepard roared. And as she rose, she'd set her gun aside, and twisted her arms with lightning, before sending it out. The geth was knocked back a step, but its shields held. And it turned those beams toward Shepard. Shepard ducked down, and then rolled aside, as the beams melted clear through the spot she'd been hiding behind. Tali was next up, flicking out her omnitool, to a crackle and a burst of electricity from that behemoth, but even then, Asha's experimental fire showed that the thing still had shields up. Another pop, this one from Garrus, and likewise, little effect.

"It's ugly, but tough," Nilsdottir pointed out. "I'm gonna need a boost!"

"What kind of boost?" Wrex shouted from where he was pressed into an alcove to avoid the deadly beams.

"Warp!" Nilsdottir shouted.

The juggernaut turned toward Wrex, and leveled a gun toward him. Instead of a beam, something javelin-like shot out of the barrel, embedding into the stone. It then exploded, sending Wrex tumbling out of his cover – which no longer existed. Asha's rifle finally had cooled off enough to fire again, and she peppered the thing with shots, but they didn't quite seem able to get through the shields.

"Hell with this. Come at me, ugly!" Nilsdottir screamed, before another thud hit the air, and she was suddenly bouncing off of the massive geth. She looked up at the thing, and fired a blast from her shotgun, before throwing the thing aside and slamming her fist down into the ground, causing a burst of distortion fields which cracked and buckled the concrete, and finally tore down the shields that it reached.

"Focus fire! I want that thing dead!" Shepard shouted, rising up with another bolt of lighting in her hands. And Asha was more than willing to oblige. Unlike the Prime, who's plating was shaped and sculpted to make bullets ablate off, or deflect, this one just seemed to take the hits. And take them it did. The amount of fire that the lot of them levied upon the thing would have taken down whole battalions. Asha kept her fire toward the optics, the big flashlight head. Garrus aimed lower, trying to crack open its chest and the power core which doubtless dwelt within. Wrex fired blast after blast from his shotgun. And the thing stood its ground.

And then, the whirring started again.

"We need more power!" Asha cried. That call ended the plinking shots by the asari, who simply cast a hand toward it instead. Away from that hand flew a distortion in the sky, which slammed into and bathed the behemoth with a iridescent blue light. Alenko would have said that it was the mass effect fields disrupting the molecular integrity of the object at the atomic scale. Asha just knew that Warp made things easier to frag. But that was only part of the picture, since the barrels began to glow red. But then, a thud in the air, and Nilsdottir hurled herself at the thing again.

This time, she impacted with a bass bang. The behemoth geth was staggered back, and instead of melting, say, a krogan with those weapons, they sprayed up relatively harmlessly into the ceiling of the tower. Wrex cast out another Warp of his own, and it struck and bathed the thing just as Nilsdottir landed on the ground, turned, and blasted herself into the thing once again, to the tune of another biotic explosion of mass effect fields tearing themselves apart in a dramatic fashion. This continued, with Liara and Wrex both laying down Warps, which Nilsdottir, bouncing between the ground and that thing, detonated. Liara's was the Warp which slew the beast, though, with Nilsdottir not rebounding off of it, but appearing in an upper corner on the far side of it, before dropping ten feet to the floor with a roll.

"Who's the baddest bitch in space?" Nilsdottir asked, a grin on her face.

Her answer came to the tune of more than four tonnes of metal crashing to the ground, followed by at least a part of it exploding by some self-destruct mechanism. Then, there was silence, save for the wind and the sound of small-arms fire in the distance.

"That's what I thought," Nilsdottir offered.

"Any more geth in the area, Alenko," Shepard asked.

"Negative contacts, Commander," Alenko announced over the comms.

"Good. Let's get back to the colony," Shepard said. Asha nodded, and rose from her position to follow. Shepard turned to the quarian. "What was that thing?"

"I don't know. There was nothing like that during the Geth Uprising," Tali said, concern clear in her voice and the way she clutched that shotgun. "Do you think the geth are building new weapons?"

"After three hundred years alone in the Perseus Veil, I'd be shocked if they weren't," Wrex offered. "That thing didn't look very... geth... though."

"That's what I thought," Tali admitted. "When the colony is safe, I'm going to have to take some scans. Will there be time for that?"

"Depends on whether there's a volcano about to erupt under this colony," Shepard said with a roll of the eyes. "First priority is finding out what Saren was after. Everything else comes after that. Clear?"

"Clear," Wrex said. Tali and Garrus nodded, while the others didn't need to give an answer, since they were either military or else grinning inside nigh-impervious armor.

"You're enjoying that armor entirely too much," Wrex pointed out.

"I thought that I would be more terrified than I am," Liara said. "The armor does help give me a bit of confidence."

"Make sure that you don't get too much out of it," Wrex said, as the lot of them started to descend down that geth-corpse strewn path. "Stupidity is the number one cause of death in your species, after all."

"What? No it isn't," Liara said. "You do not know what you're talking about."

"Oh, I think I do," Wrex offered. But he didn't bother to elaborate, since they were rounding the corner, and Zhu's Hope was returning to their sight.

"The geth, are they gone?" Fai Dan asked.

"For the moment. When did they come here?" Shepard launched immediately into questions.

"A little while. At first, they just skulked out in the ruins, and near the ExoGeni building. But then they started swarming in here, trying to kill us all," Fai Dan said, pointing into the distance, at one of the massive arcologies which dotted the surface of Feros. "But that's the least of our problems. In the attacks, they sent those machines down into our sewer system. I think that's how they keep reaching here from the ExoGeni building. And they've shut down our water as well, so..."

"Just give the secondaries to... al'Wahim," Shepard said, pausing as though she were about to say 'to Alenko'. She wondered about those two. There was something else going on behind the scenes with those two, she was sure of it. Yet, for that surety, she was no gossip, and would not intrude where she had no permission. And she assuredly had not permission to eavesdrop on Shepard's personal life.

"Of course, of course," Fai Dan said. And then, he started talking to al'Wahim. And it turned out, there was quite a bit going wrong with Zhu's Hope.

Kilometers away, a scope flicked between targets. The sighting with it was, as always, perfect. The weapon had proven reliable over the course of three hundred years, from when it was first picked up off the grounds after a fire. The bearer of that rifle, though, hesitated. It knew that organics would react with profound negativity to its presence, but it also knew that there was a gulf in its knowledge. A gulf in the knowledge of its people.

Petals, like eyebrows, lifted up, and it looked through the scope again. Humans, turian, creator, krogan. Organics. But they were fighting the heretics. One geth platform, amongst thousands on this world, stared with a perfect shot at the leader of the squad which was mowing through them, and its finger was not on the trigger. There was no shot to be taken.

Were they fighting the Old Machines? Or was it simple coincidence? Two hundred seven said coincidence. One hundred forty gave no opinion. Of the remaining present seven hundred, the consensus was one of curiosity. The consensus would require more data. More data required closer proximity. Closer proximity increased hazards, both from organics and heretics. A clandestine approach was both preferable and required.

So the geth infiltrated.

"Remind me why we're walking through the sewers?" Wrex asked.

"The colonists said they needed some time to fix that transport named after that Earth predator, so I pointed out that we could spend that time rectifying some of the woes of the colony and..." Liara rambled.

"That was a rhetorical question," Wrex pointed out.

"Oh... I see," Liara said.

"I saw the transport. It looked in bad shape. If they get it ready today, we're in luck," Tali pointed out, clutching her shotgun before her as she moved. "Keelah, I hate sewers."

"Why?" Shepard asked, from the front of the pack with Garrus. "Of all of us, you're the most protected. You probably can't even smell it."

"Spiders," Tali said with a shudder.

"...which can't get at you,"

"I don't care. Scuttling little bosh'tets. I wish I had a flamethrower," Tali muttered under her breath.

"Well, there's no shortage of flashlights to break down here," Garrus pointed out in his usual, chuckling way. "You'd think they were making them half-price by the way they throw them at us."

"Actually, we probably disabled most of their processing power when we broke that enormous Juggernaut... thing," Tali pointed out. Garrus and the others turned toward her, and even Shepard shrugged, indicating that sentence needed a bit of explanation. "They're a lot dumber now," Tali finished.

"Wait, we can kill the geth stupid?" Nilsdottir asked. "That's the best news I've heard all day!"

Garrus, though, looked a little disappointed. Maybe. Shepard was still figuring out turian facial expressions – namely that turians did indeed have facial expressions – and needed more experience to say with any certainty. "Well, at least they still count as mobile targets. Anything to keep the eyes sharp."

"Are you seriously disappointed that they are not as big of a threat anymore?" Liara asked, blue eyes shining in disbelief.

"I like to hold myself to certain standards," Garrus said with a shrug. He gave a nod toward a pipe, and Tali instantly went to work repairing what had been severed.

"If we hadn't brought a quarian along, this probably would have taken all week," Nilsdottir pointed out.

"Fortunate indeed to have an experienced engineer present," al'Wahim agreed.

"Don't give Tali a big head. Her helmet wouldn't be able to hold it," Shepard joined. "Eyes and ears, people. We're not doing practice drops in Dakong. There are machines out here which can and will kill you if you screw up, by teasing a quarian, for example."

"You need to learn to enjoy this a bit more," Wrex pointed out. And as he did, there was the snarl and the 'roooooo' of a varren approaching, and the stamp of feet.

"You need to shut up and kill that thing," Shepard broke off, as the entire squad turned rifles at the Tuchankan predator. Varren, as far as carnivores go, was fairly low on the food-chain of Tuchanka. Considering that they were both eaten by and ate Krogan in their natural state, and both of them were fodder for things like Klixen and Orsark, let alone the Thresher Maws, it meant that they were fairly low rung. The only reason that the krogan had evolved to the point of culture was by the development of weapons, and then guns. Mostly because, even something as low on the food-chain as a varren was a horrifying beast to kill.

The fire was absolutely withering, and dug at the beast as it charged. As had been indicated by the hunter back in Zhu's Hope, this was every inch of it an alpha varren. Shepard had fought varren, though not as part of the N7 training, when she was last on Tuchanka. There was a reason why krogan produced comically overpowered guns. They needed them. Shots dug into the hide of the varren, but it didn't slow its advance. It just closed thick, leathery lids over its eyes and stormed forward, its maw opening wide and pointing its razor-like tusks forward, a lancer preparing a charge with two spears.

"It's getting..." Garrus began, but Nilsdottir cast up a hand, her body pulsing with blue light for a moment. Then, rather than charging through their gathered ranks, the creature was pulled from its footing, and drifted, its legs still pumping and flailing, but no longer directing its movement. As it drifted, al'Wahim and Garrus both took shots with their high-powered rifles, each one bursting a bulging eye. Wrex himself pressed his shotgun to its belly as it passed over, and fired a shot at point blank range into it. The varren drifted past them, over a long drop, which Nilsdottir took as her moment to release the Lift and let the thing drop.

"Who claims the credit for that one?" al'Wahim asked.

"I do. I shot it in the brain," Garrus said.

"I think Wrex does," Tali opined.

"Please, I shot more cleanly through its skull than you did," al'Wahim contended. Shepard put them all to silence by walking to the edge, and looking over. The alpha varren, even though it lacked eyes and had a savaged chest, was slowly limping to its feet. It let out another 'roooo', so Shepard pulled a a grenade and dropped it down next to the beast. The blast was enough to rip the thing to chunks.

There was a glance shared between all those present. "Shepard gets the kill," all agreed, and in perfect unison.

"Tali, where are we on that transmitter?" Shepard asked.

"It should be close by," she said, checking her Omni. "Just past this juncture. Oh, and I think we have the water running again."

"Thank the Goddess for small miracles," Liara said.

"Why would there be varren on this planet?" al'Wahim asked. "They are not native here."

"Varren tend to show up in places you'd least expect," Wrex said.

"Movement!" Garrus snapped, rifle out before him. Shepard joined him, staring down sights, until her expression turned to confusion. There was a human, leaning against a supporting pillar like it was the only thing keeping him on his feet.

"We've got a survivor," Shepard said.

"You shouldn't go down there," the man said.

"Down where? What are you talking about? And what are you doing here? Didn't you see all of the damned geth everywhere?" Shepard asked, taking the man's arm.

"No, no no don't not from here," the man pulled away, moving back to the pillar. Shepard scowled at him. "I'm... doing nothing that I should. And anything that I shouldn't be doing. The machines just ignore me. They know that I can't hurt them. Even if I wanted to... heh heh... if I wanted to."

"Are you high?" Nilsdottir asked.

"NOOOOO!" the human screamed, his entire body seizing and spasming, clutching at his head like he wanted to tear his own scalp off. Shepard half raised her rifle at him before she coached herself not to. "Ooh... that was a good one. Very loud. Very intense."

Shepard gave a glance to Nilsdottir, and took the words from her mouth. "...the fuck?" Shepard asked.

"Just... invoking the master's whip," the man said, his eyes burning with a form of agony and fervor which made Shepard very uncomfortable. "Helps me remind myself I'm still alive. Drowns out the noise," Another concerned glance. If he got much weirder, Shepard was probably going to have to shoot him before it started spreading. "You're here for the geth, aren't you? You're not the only one."

That got Shepard's attention.

"Where are they? Who's looking for them?" Shepard pressed.

He laughed, then, the wild, crazy laughter of the damned. "Not looking for, looking to get rid of!" he contended, rising unsteadily to an unassisted stand. "Those things are the only ones that can't AAAARGH!"

This time, the spasm took the man right down to his knees, which caused Shepard to back the others away, her rifle now nakedly and unashamedly leveled at the man.

"The only ones it ca–AAAAUGH! T-t-tryin' to get t'the URAAAUGH!" he howled at the concrete he had his face pressed against. Then, most unsettlingly, he started to break into sobbing laughter.

"There's nothing we can do here," Shepard said.

"Shepard, please. Sir, do you need help?" Liara broke in, moving to help the man stand.

"I... No help. Nothing can help me anymore," he panted. "Rather... die fighting."

"Fighting what?" Shepard snapped.

"No... not like that. Running through thorn bush... more you struggle, the more it cuts..." he shoved Liara away, which caused the asari to stagger back. "Can't save me. Talk to Fai Dan. He knows about the T–THAAAARGH!"

He crumpled into a fetal ball on the ground. "We're done here," Shepard said. "Tali, where's that..."

She was interrupted by a sound of a rocket launcher. Only timely stomps from both she and Wrex, causing the concrete to leap up into a protective shell, kept them all from being exploded out of existence – Liara excluded.

"Geth?" Nilsdottir asked. Shepard dropped the barricade. And the hulking shapes on the catwalk were decidedly non-gethlike.

"...Krogan?" Shepard asked.

"Who cares? They're fighting with the geth!" Wrex pointed out, before firing an opening blast at one with his shotgun. "That means they're working for Saren!"

"Fair enough," Shepard emulated the krogan, and began to run in. Most species had a very specific doctrine about fighting krogan. Stay at range. Never let them close. If they got close, they would charge, and nobody wanted that. Humans, on the other hand, had a lot more to play with than just mass effect small-arms and explosives. And Shepard was no ordinary human. As one of them swung its head down to brain Shepard, she reached down, and tore up the ground, peeling it back and creating a nice wall for it to smash. The helmet cracked under the effort the krogan gave in its attempt to headbutt her, and she followed up by snapping the water out of the vents in her armor and twisting it around behind her, pressing it down against its own nature until it was as sharp as any blade. Then, with a twist, she sent it through the crack in that helmet, shearing off part of the krogan's head.

The impact of a meaty arm smashing her aside was an unwelcome reminder that Avatars are still human, and that krogan are very good at punching things. She was currently in the intersection of those two facts. She scrambled back as the krogan who'd socked her threw its rocket launcher contemptuously aside and advanced to a pounding of feet. With a thick hand, it closed on the jaw-line of Shepard's helmet and dragged her up and smashed her into a wall, head first. The impact was muted by the strong kinetic barriers of her armor, but she knew it wouldn't take too many more of them. She wasn't sure how many krogan there were, as she was somewhat certain she was seeing double from the hit.

"Squishy human. Dies like the rest," the voice of the krogan at Shepard's throat said, even though she didn't even have the luxury of seeing it sneer, for its head-concealing helm. Its other fist drew back, no doubt to punch through her if given proper force and effort.

Only it didn't. As that fist started forward, white light seemed to bathe it, and it was locked in place. Shepard glanced aside, to see Liara, one hand cast out, almost floating off of the ground with effort as she glowed with blue energy. Shepard wasn't going to let herself get killed by some random grunt. She fished the shotgun off of her back and pressed it to the krogan's helmeted temple, and then let a shot fly. The head jerked aside, but the grip didn't loosen. So Shepard pulled the trigger again. This time, she was sure that it went through, because the other side of the helmet popped open with a orange and red mist. But even though the krogan was now missing most of its brain, it still clung to Shepard, and as the white light faded its fist unsteadily rose again. So Shepard twisted the water from her armor, another blade, and slashed it through the arm holding her aloft. She dropped down and rolled aside, as the krogan dumbly punched where she'd been a moment or so earlier, causing the concrete to crack, before finally admitting that it was dead and falling face first into a pile of its own brain and orange blood.

Shepard took a moment to shake off the blow to her head. She looked up, and saw that Wrex was struggling with one of them in a grapple, while the rest of her squad was trying to deal with a third. Just four of them? Then again, like all things from Tuchanka, krogan were ridiculously hard to kill. Between Tali zapping the thing with its own armor's shield generators, al'Wahim and Garrus both putting shots through its helmet, and Nilsdottir keeping the thing from advancing on them with her shotgun, it left Liara standing shocked and confused, her gun twitching in her hands, eyes wide and terrified. Shepard pushed herself to her feet, twisted the lightning, and sent a bolt into that staggering krogan, frying its head inside its cracked helmet, and causing it to twitch itself to death on the ground. A few seconds later, there was a horrendous crunch from the grapple, and the orange armored figure was rolled off, showing Wrex rising to his feet. Whatever he'd done to kill that krogan wasn't obvious, but it was very, very effective, since it didn't offer so much as a twitch, where as all three of the others still looked like they were trying to keep killing even though their bodies had given up to death.

"That was... bracing," the Si Wongi said.

"Why didn't you shoot the krogan?" Shepard demanded of Liara. "You were just standing there."

"I... never fired my gun at a person before," Liara said, still pointing it at the krogan, finger on the trigger. Shepard slapped the gun from her hands. It flew out, which was enough for Shepard to palm her face. "I... I couldn't do it."

"T'Soni, you've got to get it through your head that there are people in this galaxy who want you to die. And if they try to kill you, you should kill them right back," Shepard said, giving her a prod in the forehead to drive home her point. "It's not all geth and wild beasts. Sometimes the enemy can do mathematics. Still needs to die. Am I clear?"


"AM. I. CLEAR?" Shepard demanded in her best drill instructor tone.

"Yes! Yes, Shepard," Liara said with a squeak in her voice. Big blue eyes flicked down to her gun. "...should I get my gun now?"

"What am I? Your mother?" Shepard shook her head. She turned to Tali, who at least had the decency to have a head about her. "Where's that transmitter Fai Dan was talking about?"

"Just past where those krogan were," Tali said, gesturing across a bridge. Shepard nodded, and started to cross it. Tali kept pace, though. There was a click, and her helmet showed that Tali had entered a private line. "This might not be my place, but did you really need to be so hard on Liara?"

"You're right. This isn't your place," Shepard answered.

"What?" Garrus asked, from Tali's other side.

"Not you," Shepard said. Garrus glanced to Tali, and gave a turian 'ooooh' expression before returning to his own council.

"She wasn't trained to fight people. You should give her a bit of slack," Tali said.


"Because you were once like her, probably. Remember that. Everybody has to start somewhere," Tali answered.

"I was never like that," Shepard said coldly. Tali stared at her.

"Then I feel very sorry for you," she quietly answered, before another click, and the private line terminated.

"Anything I should know about?" Garrus asked.



"Good," Wrex shouldered past them. "So this is the transmitter?" he asked, looking at the device which was standing in an otherwise undistinguished corner of a sewer line. "How should we take it out?"

Shepard answered that with a grenade. But she hesitated, paused, and turned to Garrus. She grabbed two grenades from his bandolier as well, primed all three, and idly chucked them all around the transmitter, and then sauntered around a corner, as the others did likewise, if not at a saunter.

The blast rocked through the sewers, causing grit to rain down from the ceiling. The structure held, though. If it could take fifty thousand years of tectonics, it could take a couple of grenades, she figured. "Any more signal coming from down here?" Shepard asked. Tali glanced at her Omni, then shook her head. "Good. Let's go back up top. I'm sick of sewers."

"If I never see another in my life, it shall be too soon," al'Wahim agreed.

When Shepard moved to talk to Fai Dan and the others, Liara peeled away toward the only other alien in the colony. The salarian was sitting on the ground, his legs tucked underneath him, with his large eyes closed. "Excuse me? Are you alright?" Liara asked.

The eyes slowly opened. "Oh? Yes. I am quite alright," the salarian said. "Forgive me for saying, but you look like you're not from here. How is that treating you?"

"I... guess it could be worse," Liara said. "What is a salarian doing on a human colony?"

"I am a dealer in cargo and wares," he said with a shrug. "New colonies often need provisions. What is your name, young miss?"

"Liara," she said, omitting her surname – as was Shepard's advice – since she both didn't know where Saren's minions were and didn't know what reaction she'd get to Mother's name.

"I am Gorot II Heranon Mal Dinest Got Inoste Ledra," Ledra said. "What brings you to Feros?"

"You seem awfully calm considering the danger you are in," Liara pointed out.

"I have decided to live with a philosophy that death will take me when it wills, and that fearing it is only a waste of time," Ledra said. "There's no point worrying about what I have no capacity to change."

"But you could change! I mean... you're a trader; why didn't you just get onto your ship and fly away when the geth attacked?" Liara asked, her eyebrows raising.

"True, but it would be... cowardly. I cannot make my brand if it's known that I will flee at the first sign of trouble, now can I?" Ledra asked.

Liara leaned back. Her mind twisted what it was getting into shapes it wasn't intended to be, but that was just a factor of her odd outlook on things. It had served her quite well in the past. Her ability to sift through minutia of data and finding the underlying root of it all was what lead her to her theory of the Reaper Cycle to begin with. And she could see a similar sort of distortion in her world right now.

"Why are you speaking so slowly?" Liara asked.

"The humans asked that I pace myself. They found it hard to understand me," Ledra answered smoothly.

"..." Liara continued to stare at him. He stared back placidly. Something was wrong, and it was weaving through the air like notes of a song forgotten during childhood. She couldn't point to any one thing, as was the case often in her life, but she knew it beyond all shadow of a doubt. "What did you come here to sell?"

"A few things colonists need. Also, small arms. I'm willing to offer them at cost, given the circumstances," Ledra said, pushing aside one crate brusquely and opening another, showing a small assortment of pistols and rifles. Liara's eyes brow didn't lower. Why would he be so careless with his own products? But the pistols looked poorer than the one she'd bought on the Citadel, so she shook her head.

"No, thank you," She said. "I... need to talk to Shepard now."

And she desperately hoped that Shepard wasn't going to dismiss her for being such a naïve idiot.

"We can't thank you enough for all you've done for us, Commander," Fai Dan said, leaning against the rock as the security guard painstakingly applied medigel to a burn on his neck. It was a lucky thing that the shot hadn't landed any closer, or it would have likely decapitated him. "Between the water, the power, that transmitter, and the food, we wouldn't have survived without your help."

Shepard nodded. "I also found a human down in the tunnels. He seemed... strange."

Fai Dan nodded. "That would be Nai. He's very sick."

"Seems a bit more than just sick to me," Garrus offered from her side, as he kept his attention ostensibly on his sniper rifle.

Fai Dan sighed at that. "He hasn't been the same since the attack. We tried to help him, but he won't listen to us. We can't help him if he doesn't listen!" he seemed quite upset by it.

"Excuse me, Shepard? I..." Liara spoke up.

"Not now, Liara," Shepard said, raising a hand toward her. "What about that transport up on the skyway?"

"Your quarian technician is a miracle worker," Fai Dan said, before breaking into a hiss of pain. "Careful."

"I'm being careful," the guard said testily. And oddly enough, she was right. Shepard had seen all kids of field dressings on bad injuries; more than a few, she'd had to lay herself, on Torfan. This woman was applying it like an old hand. Shepard doubted that many would have had that much talent or coordination.

Fai Dan turned back to Shepard. "She's doing in minutes what we thought would take days. She's sent a message down. Says it'll be ready by the time you reach her."

"Half an hour and she's done? Quarians haven't lost their edge, it seems," Wrex said.

"Edge?" Shepard asked.

"A long story, from almost eight hundred years ago," Wrex said with a dismissive wave. "I'll tell it some other time, when we're not up to our quads in geth."

"Thank you, Commander, and good luck," Fai Dan said, with a sloppy but heartfelt salute. Shepard didn't return it, instead heading through the threshold and up the stairs. The others fell in behind her.

"Um... I was going to say..." Liara began again.

"Tali, what's the sit-rep on that transport?" Shepard asked, cutting her off again, although this time legitimately by accident.

"The power source is running, barely, but running. I wouldn't run this thing longer than a few hours, but we shouldn't need it that long, right?" Tali asked.

"No, we shouldn't. Barriers and weapons?"

"Fully operational, but are they going to be useful? Anything big enough to need a cannon will be able to blow out the skyway from under us," Tali pointed out.

"Just tell me I have a cannon."

"You have a cannon," Tali said. "But I wouldn't... vre kasa mekt takano? KEELAH! Geth! There's geth coming in the gates!"

Shepard's eyes went wide. "Tali's got geth! Double time up there!"

"You should fly up," al'Wahim pointed out, as Shepard pounded on the jury-rigged control for the elevator. "You could be there long before we."

"Yeah, I'll get right on that," Shepard said sharply. And stood there before the doors.

"...why are you still here, then?" al'Wahim asked.

"I..." Shepard began, but trailed off.

"Don't push her on the airbending. It's a sore spot. And by sore, I mean a bullet hole. In you," Nilsdottir pointed out, as the doors to the elevator slid open, and the squad piled in. Shepard pressed her eyes closed, and breathed through her nose. The smell. There was dust. There was grease and there was rust, but there was no blood. If she opened her eyes, there would be light, and there would be no blood. But she didn't open her eyes as the elevator ascended.

"Shepard, are you alright?" Liara asked, and Shepard could feel a hand on her shoulder. She batted it away.

"I'm fine. Focus on getting Tali out of that cog-pile," Shepard snapped. She didn't open her eyes to see the hurt expression on Liara's face. She had to focus herself. On not panicking.

Gods, could she smell blood? No. No there was no blood.

"Everybody know where they're going to be?" Garrus asked, and there was a click as his rifle extended itself fully.

"...I don't," Liara admitted.

"At the back," Nilsdottir said clearly. "You light 'em up, I knock 'em down."

"Oh. That will do nicely," she said.

"Try not to get killed. I'd hate to see another young asari reduced to a statistic," Wrex said sarcastically. Behind Shepard's back, Liara turned to him with a confounded expression on her face.

"I have no idea what you're talking about."

"Just saying that 'stupid' is the leading killer of asari maidens," Wrex said matter-of-factly.

"It most certainly is not."

"How many asari live to see three hundred?" Wrex asked. "One in four? One in five? Ever wonder why that is?"

"I..." Liara said. "No, I hadn't."

"Give it some thought," Wrex said. Then, there was another clunk as his shotgun came online.

The doors slid open, and Shepard's eyes did as well.

No blood. No darkness. No bodies.

Well, bodies.

They were everywhere. Some piled atop each other in a heap. White fluid ran like blood, but thankfully smelled more like anti-freeze, and had about the same viscosity. There had to be a hundred dead geth in this room. As well, four cowering technicians, and one blast-scorched APC. The turret turned toward her, pointing a huge cannon in Shepard's direction, and her rifle almost went to shoulder, bullets starting to fly, before she reined herself in and thought two things. One, bullets wouldn't make a lick of difference against something that thick-hided, and two, that was probably...

The hatch on the side opened, and the purple visor of their quarian technician peered out. "Well, don't just stand there! The geth have more where those came from," she urged, waving them in.

"Get back to the colony," Shepard said, pointing the techs back into the elevator. She then slid down the shallow incline to where the APC sat. She looked Tali up and down. "Did you do all of that yourself?"

"Well, me and a VI I designed," she said. She opened her left hand, and an orange sphere seemed to pop out of her omnitool. "Shepard, this is Chikkita vas Paus, mark one. Mark one, this is Shepard."

"You name your VIs?" Shepard asked drolly.

"We... aren't allowed to have pets on the flotilla. We barely have enough food for ourselves," she said. She leaned forward. "I've never tasted meat in my life."

"Well, one day, I'll have to get you some spoo-kabobs," Garrus said as he moved past Shepard and Tali both. "Getting some of 'the other blue meat' into you might work wonders on that constitution of yours."

"Quarians used to be some fairly consumate carnivores," Wrex added, as he too piled in.

"How would you know?" Nilsdottir asked, on his tail, figuratively speaking.

"Fought on Rannoch a long time ago."

"You've been to Rannoch?" Liara asked, next in.

"The geth weren't always there," Wrex muttered testily.

"Shepard?" the Si Wongi asked last.

"What what what?" Shepard demanded.

"Are we going or are we not?" the riflewoman asked calmly.

Shepard made a point not to glare. Neither the tech nor the marine deserved it. "We're going. I'm driving."

"Admiral Hackett made his intentions very clear," al'Wahim pointed out.

"He said I can't drive the Mako. We're not in the Mako, now are we?" Shepard asked.

Shepard smirked as she kipped into the APC, and shouldered her way to the front. Al'Wahim palmed her face and took a seat, while Tali strapped herself in next to Garrus.

"Shepard's driving again? Spirits protect us all," Garrus muttered lowly.

"I'm beginning to wonder who is more dangerous," Tali intimated to the turian. "Saren and his Reapers, or Shepard behind the wheel."

Wrex let out a single, bellowing laugh at that.

"Could you clarify something for me?" Liara began toward the krogan, who was quite lucky in that this human designed APC had allowances for krogan weight and bulk, thus had a seat.

"I could clarify a lot of things. You'll have to be a bit more specific," Wrex muttered.

"You keep saying that stupidity is killing asari. I find that insulting!"

"It's true," Wrex said with a shrug. "It's a matter of population control. Before the salarians, Tuchanka took care of that for my people. A thousand born in a day, and nine-hundred ninety-nine die in that same day, red in tooth and claw. It wasn't until our iron age that we even learned that we're effectively immortal. The asari, on the other hand, evolved on Thessia. That planet's about as mild as milkwater."

"I can tell you that Thessia is not as gentle as you assume. Many creatures harness biotic powers. It was only because our foremothers developed sapience that we could survive," Liara said.

"Every spacefaring species says the same thing," Wrex said. "Salarians do too, I'd bet. The fact is, you knew from the jump that you had a thousand years to live. But damned few of your kind ever reach that age, now do they?"

"Our Matriarchs are wise advisors, skilled in diplomacy and the bureaucracies of our democracies," Liara contended. Wrex just gave a laugh.

"You have it backwards, T'Soni. Wisdom isn't something you get by being old. The old are just as stupid as the young, most of the time. Rather, it's that being wise is what allows the young to become old. And that wasn't my question. How many asari are born in the galaxy every day? And now, compare that to how many Matriarchs there are. Right. Now."

Liara leaned back, doing the math in her head. And like with Zhu's Hope, she saw something buried in the numbers she didn't expect. Until it was shown to her by an alien, and proven that it was not only obvious to everybody but her, but so simple it almost slapped her in the face. "...Maidens are getting themselves killed to keep our numbers down."

"And she finally understands," Wrex said. "I don't blame you for not believing it. You look like you were born old. Lucky for you, that means you'll probably see your three hundredth birthday. But I've seen plenty of blue girls either picking fights they couldn't possibly win, getting horizontal with exactly the wrong kind of men – or women – or else just sucking in so much red sand that their lungs turn purple."

Jackie Nilsdottir nodded at that. "'S I see it, every species gets a stretch of time where they're expected to act like idiots. In humans, and krogan, it usually takes us about a decade of stupid decisions and self-destructiveness before we get our shit together. The problem with your kind is that you're idiots for damn on a century."

Liara stared at the scarred biotic sitting beside the krogan for a moment, unable to comprehend that she'd just been schooled on her own species by two of the least likely teachers; a krogan, and Nilsdottir. "I apologize. I just don't really understand how I didn't know this."

"Every species has its secrets," Wrex said. "Some they keep from themselves. Your kind have a year and a half gestation, but it takes sixty years for you to get from a squealing runt to somebody that looks like you. Asari are slow movers, in more ways than they'd like to admit."

"I have to admit, Wrex, from all the things I heard about the krogan on the Flotilla, I expected you to be a lot less introspective," Tali pointed out.

"'The young go out and look for fights to give themselves meaning'," Wrex quoted. "'The old look for meaning in their fights'. One of the last things my grandfather said to me before we parted ways," his head dipped. "I wish I'd listened better. Remembered more. I barely remember anything about that war on Rannoch. Only that quarians are remarkably hard to kill."

"...what was it like? Rannoch, I mean?" Tali asked, her hesitancy clear even to somebody as unschooled as Liara. Wrex turned toward her, and sighed.

"I don't remember. We're not like T'Soni. Krogan didn't evolve to live forever. Just a side effect of being tough enough to survive Tuchanka. We have to pick and choose what we remember. If we don't, the crush of it all drives you crazy; the bad kind of crazy where you think you're still sane. You lose track of your enemies and your friends. You forget the pains you've forgiven, and which you haven't. And you start to forget that you can't fight everybody. That you shouldn't have to." Wrex leaned back, his hump clacking against the plating behind them, as there was another crash, and a laugh from Shepard behind the wheel.

"Shepard, that's a..."

"I see it," Shepard answered.

"It's opening fire!" al'Wahim shouted.

"I see it!" Shepard answered, then another whump, as something else was run over.

Wrex turned back to Tali. "I remember... Grandfather, mostly. The things he said. At least I wasn't a complete idiot, to forget him. We were mercenaries in one of your civil wars, not long after you first reached the Citadel. I remember that... it was dry. Very dry. And I can remember... a smell. Something like fried fish, but sweeter, more sugary. I remember... golden eyes, and a devious little move which actually let the bastard break my spine with a large caliber bullet. I remember that one. But Rannoch?" he shook his head. "I can't tell you. It's all smoke and dust to me, now. It was a long, long time ago."

Tali seemed to wilt in her seat at that. "Oh... Well, thank you for what you told me, at least. I didn't even know Rannoch was in living memory for anybody..." she said, despondantly.

"If nothing else, you can remember from your cinema," Liara tried to point out helpfully. "There are still some of your old historical dramas on the extranet."

"It's not the same. Never the same," Tali shook her head slowly. It was Liara's turn to wilt into her seat.

"How the hell old are you, anyway?" Jackie asked.

"Old enough to know not to look for fights, because the best fights will come looking for me," Wrex answered. He turned to face Tali. "You shouldn't go looking for fights you can't win, quarian. Take T'Soni's example to heart."

"What do you mean?" Tali asked.

"How many quarians in the galaxy? How many geth?" Wrex asked. He shook his head. "My people got wiped out because we were idiots. It'd be a shame if nobody could learn from our lesson."

Everybody was leaned into their restraints as the APC began a sharp climb. "Shepard, should we not stop and find the source of that signal?"

"It's not geth, so it's not my concern," Shepard said.

"...I feel as though we are missing something," the soldier-woman said with confusion.

"Would you rather we stop every time we pick up some strange radio? We've got a job to do, and Saren's gaining ground every time we stop moving. Focus on the bigger picture, soldier," Shepard said, followed by a moment of silence, then another bass whump, which almost threw Liara up off her seat, but for her restraints. "That one had some meat to it."

"It is fortunate that this is not the Mako. The engineering crew would quit in disgust rather than repair the harm you do to this poor vehicle."

"Duly noted," Shepard said. The ascent leveled off, and the thin stripe of light from the front of the vehicle became dark.

"Um... Shepard? Do you have a moment?"

"Driving through geth right now. Could you make it quick?" Shepard asked.

"...Did you notice anything strange about the people of Zhu's Hope?" Liara asked.

"I don't follow."

"They were shell-shocked and exhausted. Hell, if I was fighting geth as long as they were, I'd be on my back, too," Jackie pointed out.

"No, it was more than that," Liara said, trying to explain. "I spoke to a salarian there, and he was acting in a manner most unlike his species and his vocation."

"So you're spooked by a shell-shocked salarian, rather than shell-shocked humans?" Wrex asked.

"No, that is not what I am saying!" Liara said. "There is more going on in Zhu's Hope than is immediately apparent! I know this as much as I knew of the Reapers. I cannot point to any one thing – though Mister Nai should have been a serious clue – but I know that it is true! We are being lied to, on some level. And Zhu's Hope is in the center of it somehow."

"Come to think of it," Garrus said, his eyes narrowing, "I did get some very dirty looks when I strayed a bit too close to that crashed freighter."

"Well, this is fascinating, but ultimately we'll have to store it in the 'sort it out later' bin," Shepard said, as the APC gave a final lurch, this one forward, as she brought it to an abrupt halt. "'Cause we're here."

"The ExoGeni building?" Tali asked. Shepard glanced over her shoulder.

"No. Rannoch. We drove through a Mass Relay. Didn't you notice?" she asked flatly.

Tali stared at Shepard. "That wasn't funny."

"She could work on her timing a bit," Jackie offered with a shrug. Then, she unbuckled herself. "Alright. Let's kick some synthetic ass!"

While Shepard was awarded the distinction of first blood, Tali had the dubious honor of the last. Mostly because the room was filled with Destroyers and Primes, and after Shepard just started hosing them down with lightning, they scattered. Almost like they were hiding. More likely preparing ambush, but between the engineer and an asari biotic who was quite willing to fight at her utmost against machines, they managed to swing the tussle, and then ride the geth into the ground.

It was an odd sensation, that Tali was getting used to being in fights.

"Board is clear, Shepard," Garrus said, as the Prime which had spilled its guts to Tali's 'omniblade' finished sparking. Shepard was already putting her rifle away, though, and heading up a ramp. Tali followed after, with the rest of the press.

"Really? An energy shield? What do they think I am?" Shepard asked, and then, she moved into a broad, powerful movement, her fists thrust outward.

And nothing happened. Shepard scowled at the archway, with its dim blue light filling it, and then made her motions once again. The humans all started looking at each other with confusion and alarm.

"What is happening, Shepard?" al'Wahim asked.

"Let me try it," Wrex said, giving Shepard a push aside. He gave a powerful stomp, and a likewise intimidating shove movement, but as with Shepard, nothing happened. He paused, and scratched at his skull plate. "Strange."

Liara walked up, and laid a hand to the wall, closing her eyes. After a moment, a pulse of blue light wafted out of her. The wall lit up a little bit, too. "I see. There is a small trace of Eezo in the structure of these walls," Liara said.

"What?" Shepard asked.

"Protheans imbue the structural elements of their facilities with Eezo. I am not sure why they do this, but it is a consistent feature of their architecture."

"It must make it impossible to earthbend, somehow," Shepard said.

"That makes no sense. Eezo's not a heavy element," Wrex countered.

"Yeah, well, we're all learning something today," Shepard muttered. She paused, rubbing at her mouth for a moment. "...they didn't want people bending down their buildings."

Liara turned to Shepard. "I suppose that is an astute observation. But it makes things slightly more difficult for us," she said. "We will need to find a way beyond this barrier somehow."

Tali nodded, and turned. The platform they were on had a number of doors, but most were either blown down showing rubble beyond, or else inoperable with anything less than a mining charge. One, though, caught Tali's attention. She broke away from the others, and brought up her Omni, linking it to the locking mechanism of this doorway.

The act of cracking a lock was so rote to Tali by this point, that she did it with less than half of a mind. The rest of it, though, wondered about other things. What her friends were doing right now. On their own Pilgrimages, probably, but she wagered that Kais was probably already hips deep in a salvaged freighter, probably creating ex nihilo an engine to drag it back to the Flotilla. Juna and Prazza were probably... well, now that she thought about it, they were probably just getting drunk on turian booze and spending the money they earned killing things. It was obvious that those two were destined for the marines, and what better way to earn money on Pilgrimage than mercenary work?

She gave herself a little shake of the head. Juna was always such a bully back then. Always teasing Tali. Calling her 'spoiled little rich girl'. Like wealth was even an object in the Flotilla these days. She slept in dormitories like everybody else. That she wore the Zorah Indigoes didn't make her any more privileged, any more arrogant, any more deserving. It took some doing to get Juna off of Tali's back. Mostly by pointing out that Tali could, and would, fry Juna's input systems if she didn't back off. Funny how a bully fell so quickly to a bit of numbness and deafness.

Prazza on the other hand was just an ass. He was a friend by circumstance only. He used to ape around the marines like a... well, a baby ape. If Tali had to listen to one more 'Reegar-fact', she was probably going to punch him. The Reegar family might well be noted fighters, but nobody could 'roundhouse kick a geth so hard its software decompiled'. There was a chime as her Omni informed her that the door was open. She pressed the glowing green pad, and the door, for all its long disuse, slid open with barely a hiss.

Before her, she could see a box, its top opened, and a brand new shotgun lying clear as day upon it. It looked very, very nice.

To her immediate right, she saw a Geth Armature, curled up on the floor.

"NOPE!" Tali said instantly, closing and relocking the door behind her, pausing only to use her Omni to chemically weld the door permanently closed. Then, she leaned her back against it. All eyes fell upon her. She pointed her thumb over her shoulder. "...wrong door."

"Shepard, I think we're going to have to go under," Nilsdottir said, lowering to a squat near a hole in the ground.

"This isn't a sewer, is it?" al'Wahim asked with distaste.

"Doesn't look it," Wrex said. He sniffed deeply. "Or smell it."

Tali walked to the hole, and as she did, she caught just a whisper of something in the distance. "Did you all hear that?" she asked.

"What? I did not hear anything," Liara said.

"Shut up, I hear it," Wrex overrode her. "Hmm. We're not alone."

Shepard nodded, then jumped down. The hole didn't plummet far, all things considered. Maybe three meters. The others had little recourse but to follow her, as she moved to what was... obviously a sewer. Well, storm drain, most likely.

"I thought you said–" Shepard began. She was cut off when a bang went off, and her shields fritzed blue.

"Oh! Oh gods, I'm so sorry," a panicked human woman said, immediately dropping the pistol and raising her hands. It didn't help that of those assembled, only Tali and Liara didn't have weapons now pointed at her. "I didn't mean to shoot you! I thought you were one of those geth, or their krogan!"

"Then you'd better work on your aim, because that kind of shooting won't save you if either of them find you. What are you doing here?" Shepard demanded.

"I... I thought Mother sent you to find me?"

"I don't know your mother," Shepard said, shaking her head. "Identify yourself."

"Oh. I am Lizbeth Bihou. I'm a researcher here. I... I think I'm one of the only humans left alive on this planet," she said, hugging her arms to her chest.

"There are plenty of us down in Zhu's Hope," Nilsdottir said, with a thumb cast over her shoulder. Even though Zhu's Hope was actually forward, down, and to Nilsdottir's left.

"That's... less than good news," Lizbeth said. "I stayed to back up the data, when the power went out and the geth started rampaging through..." she shook her head. "They're trying to cut off access to it."

"...it?" Shepard asked. Her tone made it very clear that she wasn't in a mood for ambiguous answers.

"I can't say for sure, but I think that the geth are here for the Thorian," Lizbeth said weakly. The group all looked amongst themselves.

"What's a Thorian?" Wrex asked bluntly. And with that, any realistic hope of somebody in-group knowing what this human was talking about vanished.

"We thought it was an indigenous life form, so ExoGeni was studying it. It turned out... it was something else," Lizbeth said with a shudder. She looked up at Shepard. "But it doesn't matter. I'm trapped down here, and so are you, unless we can do something to get those geth out of here!"

"Commander," Tali said. "That kinetic barrier is probably powered by the geth frigate. The only way to bring it down would be to destroy that ship, or find some way to sever it from its connection."

"Can we do the first one? It sounds a bit more interesting," Garrus asked with a smirk.

"Any plan that ends in a massive explosion is a good one," Wrex agreed.

"Man, I'm really growing to love you guys," Nilsdottir said with a lopsided grin.

"Sorry. Not attracted to human women," Garrus said with a shrug. "It's the knees that get me."

"They do bend in an odd direction," Tali agreed with him.

"Everybody, shut the hell up," Shepard said quietly, then turned back to the frightened survivor. "Find a place to hide until that field is down. Do you have anything which will let me bypass internal security?"

"Yes! My keycard will let you through most of the doors and firewalls in our system. My password is Zutara4Life," she said.

"...You spend too much time reading crappy romance novels," Shepard said flatly, taking the keycard. "Stay down. I'll deal with the geth."

"And their frigate," Tali added. The group let Lizbeth retake her pistol, if only because they were fairly certain she couldn't kill any of them but accidentally with it, and moved down into the run-off which sluiced past shallow piles of rubble. Tali leaned into Garrus as they walked. "So, anything else you don't find appealing about human women?" she asked with a chiding voice.

"Too many fingers, for one. Who needs five?" Garrus asked.

"Five is a perfectly acceptable number of digits for a hand," Liara said huffily.

"She's just sensitive because only her kind, the humans, and the batarians are pentidactyl. Everybody else is tridactyl, the way we're supposed to be," Wrex said with a smirk.

"Drell," Shepard said without turning back.

"Or tetradactyl," Wrex amended.

"Then there's that hair. It's got no solidity," Garrus continued.

At that, Tali glanced at him. "So? Turian females don't have a fringe either."

"Children, shut the hell up," Shepard said sharply as she tore off a vent-cover with contemptuous ease. Tali let out an 'urp' and did as commanded. Garrus, on the other hand, chuckled and shook his head as he followed after. The ascent was almost immediate, as Shepard lead them through a hole in the 'vent' directly into the base of a stairwell which lead steadily, if dustily, upward.

"Do you think we are coming close to the..." Liara began quietly, leaning in toward the quarian. She was cut off by another voice coming from above.

"Stupid machine! Access encrypted files!" a gutteral roar came, the voice so clearly krogan that it brought a smirk of schadenfreude to Wrex's face. Shepard glanced back, probably to make sure nobody was going to ruin surprise by speaking, then moved up, rifle forward. "No, I don't want to review protocol! Tell me what I want to know or I'll blast your virtual ass into actual dust!"

"Hah! Dorgo's stuck on the loading screen," another obviously krogan voice piped up.

"Shut your eating-hole, whelp," the first voice said, followed by a meaty thwack. Tali was already silently configuring her Omni. Krogan tended to have stronger armor than shields. And while it was a horrible thing to contemplate, the best way to put a krogan down, was to cook them. Thus, her Omni started flash-forging a ball of aqueous white phosphorus.

"User not identified. To gain guest access to this network, please contact system administrator Jeong for a sector four clearance–" the roughly human-shaped VI offered in a neutral tone.

"STUPID MACHINE!" Dorgo roared, to the laughter of two other Krogan standing next to him.

"If there is no further pertinent business, please move aside, as a queue is forming for this terminal," the VI then offered. At that, Tali's heart missed a beat.

The clack of shotguns coming online was the song of Tali's dread. And when the krogan all turned, and saw the squad trying to ambush them, they wasted no time in pounding feet into a charge. This must be what it felt like to be salarian during the Krogan Rebellions. While the humans before her wasted no time opening fire, it was like trying to stop a storm by spitting at it.

The archeologist had a much better time of it. Even as Wrex was rushing to collide with the first of them, a motion of the asari's hand saw the krogan lifted from their feet, bathed in a soft blue glow, until they were grinding to a halt directly overhead, their backs pressed to the ceiling of the passage way. "There. Now we can interrogate them about," Liara began, but the first of the krogan pulled a shotgun from his back, and pointed it down. Tali would liked to have said that she was acting to preserve the life of the asari. Honestly, she just knew that if the krogan killed Liara, then he'd aim at Tali next. So she flicked out a hand, and the blob of extremely flammable volatiles was cast away from her wrist, and splashed over the exposed face and head of the krogan. Then, an instant later, it exploded into furious heat and fire, causing the krogan to scream in agony for the seconds it took to cook his brain.

The shock, the horror of it, caused Liara to falter, her Lift to fall short. The two other krogan, still wearing their helmets, landed on their chests, but pushed up and hurled themselves at the aliens again. This time, it was Nilsdottir who prevented oblivion, by stepping a pace further toward them, casting out her hands, and calling a blockade of blue light into being. Even with the Barrier between her and the krogan, it was not solid, nor stable. The impact of both of them drove the Barrier, and the biotic powering it, back a solid meter, before their momentum was expended. So too, though, was the Barrier. Nilsdottir staggered back, but was caught by Liara, as the other three focused their fire on the closer of the two. Unlike the largest, these seemed much more poorly armored, and the shots burst right through him.

That still left one more-or-less unimpeded, and with a howl, he started pounding toward the ranks once again. He was cut short by a shotgun to the face by another krogan. It caused him to careen into a wall, whereupon Wrex grabbed the smaller krogan and slammed a foot down onto a knee, before firing two more shots at point blank to the chest. The other krogan rose its own weapon toward Wrex, so Tali's fingers became a blur as she activated a weapon jammer program, and then sent it into that krogan's gun. It must have been a terrible weapon, because when the krogan pulled the trigger, part of it exploded, a chunk the size of her finger slamming back through its eye.

Wrex wasn't done, though. While the others continued firing at the first incoming krogan even as it slumped down in its death, Wrex was firing more shots into the increasingly perforated chest of the other, before striding over it, and tearing the helm from its face. One fist was raised high, no doubt to smash its skull-plate through its spine.

And Wrex hesitated.

The guns went silent, and Wrex stared down. "Is that all of them?" Shepard asked.

"I'm not getting any more life-signs in this building, Shepard," Alenko's voice came from the Normandy. "Quite a few geth readings, though."

Shepard nodded, then pointed up the stairs. Garrus took that point and played look out. Tali stayed at the back, near the krogan, and by the pale-faced Liara.

"Are you alright?" Tali asked.

"...That was horrible," Liara said, her eyes flitting to Dorgo, before she forcefully swallowed. "Was that... necessary?"

"He was going to shoot us. I... I guess I did what needed to be done," Tali said. And even still, her words sounded both hollow and false to her ears.

Suddenly, she felt a lot dirtier inside her suit.

"Welcome back, Lizbeth Bihou. Exogeni corporation would like to remind you that all discharge of firearms on company property is strictly forbidden. Please contact security at your earliest convenience."

"You think I'm..." Shepard cut herself off. Come on, Shepard. You only have one shot at this, Tali thought. "Access the data the krogan was trying to retrieve."

Nailed it.

"Security clearance accepted. Accessing. Buffering. Buffering," Tali rolled her eyes. Whoever designed this VI obviously didn't know about the fine-tuning and system optimization that they needed. They should be about as responsive as a conversation. "The previous user was trying to access information on Species Twenty-Seven. Colloquially called, 'the Thorian'. There has been no new data on S37 since last terminal access. Accessing. Contact lost with surveillance equipment at SITE: Zhu's Hope."

"What does Zhu's Hope have to do with the Thorian?" Shepard asked.

"S37 is located in the substructure underlying the Zhu's Hope colony area. Do you require supplemental data?"

"Damn right I do," Shepard said, her arms crossing before her chest.

"S37 is a plant-based life-form exhibiting behavior and sentience unique amongst local flora. Addendum. S37 is not a plant. Addendum. Shamans have been called from ExoGeni Headquarters to the Zhu's Hope site, with a recommendation of full biological containment procedures."

"Sloppy VI work," Tali muttered under her breath.

"Why was biological containment requested?" Shepard asked.

"And why shamans?" Garrus asked over his shoulder.

"S37 possess the capacity to emit psychoreactive spores, which, when metabolized through the intestines or lungs, influence and eventually assume control of subject specimens..." the VI said pleasantly.

"I don't like where this is going," Nilsdottir said.

"...including humans," the VI finished. "At the time when the sensors lost contact, an estimated eighty five percent of SITE: Zhu's Hope was infested with the spores of S37."

Shepard stared for a moment, her face pale. Then, it started going very, very red. "So Exogeni just sold those civilians into slavery to a plant?" she asked, her teeth clenched very tight.

"It was deemed the most cost-effective way to survey the potential of Species Thirty Seven," the VI said without guilt or shame. Because it was a terrible VI.

"That is what I have been trying to tell you!" Liara said. "I knew that the people of the colony were behaving oddly!"

Shepard turned back to her. "I take it that's your version of an 'I told you so'?"

"I tried to warn you!" Liara said. "You kept interrupting me!"

"Whatever. VI, who is in charge of the S37 project?"

"Site Administrator Jeong is acting director of this site," the VI offered.

"When I find this bastard, I'm going to have a few words with him," Shepard promised grimly, before raising a finger to her ear. "Joker? You need to... Joker? Joker!" she shook her head. "That geth field must be scrambling our signal. We need to bring it down."

"Then we need to bring down the geth ship," Tali said with a nod. She pointed through the walls, operating on a sense which was hard to qualify, but almost every quarian shared to some degree. "The drive core is somewhere that way, so we need to cut through the building."

Al'Wahim gave a confused glance at Tali. "How could you know the location of that ship through all this?"

"It's a quarian thing," Garrus offered, which headed off questions. "Why shamans?"

"I am sorry, you are not authorized to access this information," the VI pointed out.

"Why shamans," Shepard repeated.

"Data on site management is restricted to personnel with clearance level SVARGA and higher. Please contact system administrators if you would like a security exemption," the VI offered.

Shepard stared at the VI for a moment, then turned her back to it. "Alright. Assumptions at this point? Zhu's Hope has been taken over by the Thorian. The Thorian is probably a spirit, either manifest or not. We've got geth to kill. Any other issues?"

"Shepard, look at this," Wrex said, his red eyes as hard as nails. Shepard leaned past the others between human and krogan, and moved to Wrex's side. Wrex hoist the dead krogan off of the ground and slammed him up against the wall, making sure that the head was in clear view. "What do you see?"

Shepard glanced at Wrex, but then turned her attention to the krogan. To Tali's eyes, it just looked like any other krogan. But Shepard's eyes went wide as she spotted something Tali obviously missed. She ran fingers along its skull plate... wait, not a skull plate. They were ridges, separated by rough orange flesh. "This one's young. Very young. Thirty, maybe?" Shepard asked.

Wrex nodded, and let it slump. He then tore the helmet off the other one, and showed the same ridge-head profile on that one. His lips skinned back, and then he turned and stomped the burnt face of Dorgo into burnt paste. "DAMN THAT SAREN!" Wrex roared, before turning and punching the wall. Even though his 'earthbending' wasn't working, it still managed to make a hole, just one the size of Wrex's fist. "First his species neuters us, now he comes and steals our children to fight his war?" Wrex was almost panting with wrath. "No. This will not stand. I'm not going to rest until that son-of-a-bitch is a blue stain. I swear on Grandfather's grave!"

"He'll get what's owed him, I can promise you that," Shepard said solemnly. "Now come on. One step at a time. If we're going to kill Saren, we need to get to him first. That means figuring out what he wants, and that in turn means killing some geth."

"Good. Right now, I really need to kill something," Wrex muttered, pausing only briefly to spit into the ruined skull of the late Dorgo. Tali turned to Liara.

"I barely understand humans at the best of times. Krogan, even less so," Liara admitted.

"Great," Tali muttered flatly.

Tali looked askance at the structure which looked to have been plunked down onto the floor. Well, they all looked askance at it, Garrus included, but Tali seemed to have a different amount of 'askanceness' about her. The turian just assumed that it was 'geth technology'. What was going through the young quarian's mind eluded him.

"Funny thing is, you can blow their legs off and they still try to kill ya," Nilsdottir said, manually slathering on some medigel where one of the geth managed to get a shot through her biotic barriers. "Guess I learned something today."

"They're not alive. Why would they care if they have legs?" Garrus pointed out.

"That's what I figured!"

Garrus then turned his attention to the other thing in the room. It was roughly the size of a tree, and slammed through the concrete and metal with equal disdain. A drab purple, the metal of it opened near its tip to allow out wires, of which, one connected to the odd objet-d'art that Tali was so baffled by. "That things in there fairly solid, Commander," Garrus said. "It'd take enough explosives to tear out a quarter of the building to pry it loose."

"Then we find one a little more forgiving," al'Wahim said. "I have seen the size of that ship. Would but one claw fail, the ship would fall."

"Lead the way, Chief," Shepard said with a nod. Garrus, though, trailed a bit, tapping Tali on the shoulder.

"Something on your mind?" he asked.

"I've never known geth to do anything like this. This is almost like some sort of altar," she said with concern in her voice. "Do... you think that this might be Saren or his Reapers that they're praying to?"

"Well, from what I've heard of Shepard's vision from Liara, these Reapers are supposed to be the most destructive, powerful synthetics known to history. If the geth are going to worship anything, it'd be then, I figure," Garrus said. "Come on. We can't let the Levo's have all the fun."

"The what?"

"...the fore-knees? I can't call them the five-fingers, since that excludes Wrex," Garrus said.

"Are you seriously trying to nickname us?" Tali asked, though she started walking.

"Somebody has to. Shepard's not taking any initiative on that front."

"Well, obviously, we are a 'flock'," she said with a finger raised.

"How do you figure?" Garrus asked.

"Who do we follow?"

"...I still don't get it," Garrus said.

"...Shepard. Shepherd."

"Is that like a spoo-whacker?" Garrus asked.

"I have no idea. Only that there used to be flocks of Sheps on Rannoch. And that we herded them," Tali shook her head. "Anyway. We should – Shepard, I'm getting some heavy geth readings one floor up!"

That pulled Garrus back into business-mode. Somebody had to be. Tali stepped aside so that Garrus could move back to the front, and he took a spot beside Shepard. Wrex seemed eager to just go in stomping. Garrus had no desire to be the one to stand in the way of such a spectacle. "What's the plan?" Nilsdottir asked.

Garrus peeked over. There were almost a dozen down there. And a Prime. At least it wasn't a Juggernaut. They were all clustered together near one side of the room, though. "Simple plan. We bottle them at the rubble and then give them a mad minute. Anything still standing gets Nilsdottir'd," Shepard answered. "All clear?"

"What is a 'mad minute'?" Liara asked quietly.

"Fire 'till your gun overheats, then switch to another one, and repeat," Shepard said.

"...I only have one gun," Liara pointed out.

"Then space out your shots," Garrus offered. Quietly, they slipped into the back side of the room. One of the two claws in the chamber had sent a significant portion of the floor above down into the room, creating a streak of rubble which divided the room roughly in half. And with the quiet motions of organics, that streak became a bunker.

Garrus glanced aside, and Shepard held three fingers behind her. Then two. One.

Garrus rolled over, heaving his rifle over the edge, and took a shot. The impact was brutal, and even though the shield took the blow, it cast the geth from its feet. Garrus turned his aim to the one next to it, and didn't bother scoping on the head, just giving a body-shot. With that second shot, the gun screamed and wailed, its components glowing orange. He dropped it at his side and pulled the battle rifle from his back, before opening up with that, too.

Down the line, the same sight repeated itself. Rifles were exchanged for shotguns. Shotguns were exchanged for pistols. Pistols returned to rifles, as the rifles cooled off enough to fire. And even though the fire going across the room was absolutely obliterating, the geth weren't going down! Their shields were holding against the onslaught. So Tali was the first to cast out an omnitool, and her viral attack caused a geth to explode into a lattice of lightning as its shield generators burst. The shock bathed those near it, but only it itself was torn to shreds by fire.

"They're boosting their shields somehow!" Shepard shouted. "Garrus, Tali! Pop 'em!"

"You bet, Commander," Garrus said, turning on his own Omni, and since he'd been killing geth all day, of course the program was already loaded.

Shepard, too, entered the fray, but doing so with lightning from her fingertips. It was the most impressive, by far, but had the side effect of making her vulnerable. So when the Prime wanted a target, it found one. With a grinding howl, the Prime raised its cannon up and blasted out a red ray of death at the Avatar. And the Avatar was caught square in the chest by the attack. The shields burst almost instantly, but Shepard was already being hurled back and down from the impact of it, so it did little but melt a portion of the topmost plating, before she landed roughly on the ground.

"Shepard's down!" Garrus shouted, continuing to pop shields.

"I've got her," Liara said, sliding off of her place to kneel at the Commander's side, her Omni glowing orange.

"We need to distract that Prime. We're sitting ducks up here!" Garrus shouted.

"What is a 'duck'?" al'Wahim asked.

"Dinner, usually," Garrus pointed out, before chasing a pop with some fire. Tali, though, leaned a little bit higher, so that she was probably visible above the rubble. The Prime turned its weapon toward her, next. She cast out a hand, though, and as she did, orange light seemed to coalesce mid-air into a spherical... thing. One which landed behind the Prime, and started to pelt the machine with electric shocks, causing the death-ray to jerk high, melting the ceiling behind them rather than a young quarian's upper torso.

"Go for the optics, Chikkita! Go for the optics!" Tali shouted, even as she laid in with the shotgun once more. And the – drone, he figured – did as she commanded, rising up and taking a spot before the Prime which allowed no vision for it. The other Geth were all down.

"Time?" Nilsdottir asked?

"Time," Wrex agreed. And then, the two of them mounted the rubble, and charged. One did so with a howl of blood-rage. The other did so with a flash of blue light, and a thud of displacing air. Garrus didn't need to watch what came next. He'd seen it an hour ago.

Garrus slid down to where Liara was dealing with Shepard. "Is she alright?" Garrus asked.

"She will be fine. She was simply hit hard. Give her a moment," Liara said. "The medigel is working."

"Good. Can't find Saren if we don't have the 'magical keys' stashed inside her brain," Garrus said.

"Do you ever abandon sarcasm?" Liara asked.

"I wasn't being sarcastic," Garrus said flatly.

Shepard's back flexed, and her eyes flew open, even as they were rolled back. "...you traitor!" she shouted with absolute bile even as her torso levered upright. Her eyes rolled down, and she looked positively ill. "Oooh. That wasn't pleasant."

"You should rest. You took a bad hit, and a bad fall after it," Liara said.

"Is Saren dead?"

"What? No, but..." Liara began.

"Then I can rest when I'm a corpse," she said, before wincingly pulling herself to her feet. "What happened to the Prime?" the sound of a moderate explosion answered that question, followed by a large, mechanical, tridactyl hand landing amongst the detritus. "Ask a stupid question," Shepard muttered.

"You are well?" al'Wahim asked, staggering back over the rubble. "Good. Then I have no call to open my neck for family shame."

"Because that'd be just awful," Wrex's voice came from the other side.

"Ignore the krogan," Garrus said. He pointed up to the claw embedded in the stone. "We need to snap that off. Do you have the high-explosives?"

"What do you take me for? A fighter-pilot? Of course I do," al'Wahim said with a roll of the eyes. She pulled a satchel charge from her thigh and mounted a defunct computer to set it into place. "When this is prepared, we should move into the next room. It has a way back down, and will be clear from the blast."

"You heard the lady. Clear the rubble," Shepard said, rising to her feet. She idly tried 'bending' the stone away, but like the rest in this building, it wouldn't budge. Thus, Garrus had to help pull her over the summit. The other side of the room, after the ruins of the Prime and the corpses of the geth, was the other claw and a panel of some sort. Garrus didn't bother looking more closely. Safety from the blast lay just ahead.

"Are you sure you're alright, Commander?" Garrus asked.

"Stop worrying about me. I've had worse," Shepard said, even though the streak across her armor made it clear how close she'd come to becoming an ex-Commander.

"Yeah, she really has. You shoulda' seen her on Torfan," Nilsdottir said. And for a wonder, it wasn't with prodding humor. It was dead serious.

Garrus' question to that point was cut off when the riflewoman entered the room at a jog. "Eight seconds," al'Wahim said, as she shut the door behind her.

"Cutting it a little close," Wrex noted.

"No use wasting time," al'Wahim answered.

And right around there, there was a great thud, which caused Liara and Tali to jump. The others, not so much. "That should do it," Shepard said, and then she opened the door.

There was smoke clearing, but the claw was still in place.

"Oh, that could be a problem," Garrus said. "Any more charges?"

"One. And if that wasn't enough, I doubt this will be," the dark human said grimly.

"We need to find some other way to dislodge this thing," Shepard said. "Tali, can you figure out some way to jury-rig an explosive?"

"Of course, but the yield would need to be catastrophic. And that might destroy what we're looking for," Tali said. Garrus glanced at Liara, who was glancing to the nearer claw, and then to the panel.

"Well, we can't let the geth stay here. The Thorian might have Zhu's Hope, but they're equally dead if the machines put bullets in 'em," Shepard pointed out.

"I say we storm the ship, plant the bomb in its power source, and blow it on the way out," Wrex said. Ah, the typical lack of krogan subtlety.

Garrus, though, turned back to Liara. "What's caught your eye?" he asked.

"Tali, what does this panel do?" she asked. The quarian looked over and waved her Omni at it.

"It's a hydraulic control panel," she said, dismissing the notion.

"It is connected to that shutter," Liara said, pointing at... the slide of metal under the nearer claw. Tali broke off from her argument with Shepard to face Liara, then, the panel. Then, a glance to the shutter.

"By the ancestors, that might work," Tali said in surprise. At that point, Shepard broke off and glanced at Tali.

"What might work?" Shepard asked.

Tali didn't answer her. Instead, she moved to the controls and began to manipulate them. "I'm overriding its failsafe system, preventing it from recognizing an obstacle in its path. And with sufficiently high pressure..." she rambled, before slapping the last button with a modicum of flare. When she did, there was a great hiss, and then a thunk. Following that, the panel which was under the nearest claw slammed upward, pausing for a moment against the purple metal with a whine of protesting metal. But the geth ship was no match for Prothean technology, even such a basic form of it. The shutter finally crushed its way through, and snapped the claw off, whence it fell to the ground.

It wasn't the only thing which fell.

Garrus kipped over the rubble to look out of the hole the other claw left behind as it slid out with the rumble and shriek of crumbling concrete and protesting metal. As he watched, the geth ship tilted back off of the building, tumbling freely until it landed on its spine on the ground. "Well, that was..." he was about to say anticlimactic, but the ship chose that moment to detonate. "Never mind."

"The barrier is down, Commander," Tali said, her tool providing illumination for the few seconds it took for the building's back-up generators to come online. That they even worked at this point was a small miracle. "Shepard, there's still data in the networks. The geth didn't delete it all, which means they probably didn't decode it. Do you mind if I data-mine it?"

"Do it," Shepard said. "Even assuming Saren was after the Thorian, that data would probably tell me why."

"I think it might be wise to get you to a proper sick-bay," Liara said. Fretted, almost. "People usually die when they are hit like that."

"Not dead yet," Shepard muttered. She didn't look quite so steady on her footing,though. Not quite as ground-eating of pace. "Let's get back to Lizbeth. That girl's got some 'splaining to do."

"Ooh, I call blow torch!" Nilsdottir piped up.

"Damn it, I wanted the blow torch," Wrex groused.

"You seem in a fairer mood," Asha noted.

"I defy you to find a krogan who doesn't enjoy a good explosion," Wrex said.

Lizbeth waited, the gun practically quaking in her hands. She'd only ever fired one of these things once before, years ago during a pub-crawl in university. She'd lost the bet involved in that, which, over the course of that night, cost her a few other things as well. She only wished she'd drunk enough to black out and forget it all. Notably, three shots, drunkenly offered, did not give her much experience with firearms.

She managed to avoid releasing a peep of panic, but only just, as she heard heavy footfalls approaching her. Under her breath, she offered possibly blasphemous, but utterly heartfelt prayers to every god she knew of from Earth's history, both known and unconfirmed. She even threw in off-hand ones to Yue, to Agni, and the Si Wongi Ennead by the time those footfalls came close.

"Yup. Barrier's down," a krogan voice said. She shivvered slightly. There had been krogan with the geth.

"But where's Lizbeth?" the distinctive, tremulous tone of a turian asked on the heels of the first. That caused Lizbeth a moment of utter, absolute relief. She rose, her hands up, her gun pointed at the cieling.

"I'm right here. Thank the gods, you made it out safely," she began, but the commander, who now sported a black streak up her green armor, looked about ready to chew bolts. She strode forward, and Lizbeth shrunk inward as she looked ready to hit her. Instead, the marine grabbed onto the back of Lizbeth's collar and started dragging her, stumblingly until her feet gave out completely, and then continuing all the same, toward the loading bay.

"I don't like being lied to," the Commander said harshly. "You said you knew didn't know about the Thorian. Turns out, you're in charge of researching it."

"No! It's not what it looks like!" Lizbeth pleaded. "They said they'd throw me into the sewers under the colony unless I got in line. I'd be one of them!"

"So you're a self-interested slaver rather than a profit-motivated one," the angry woman said, before slamming Lizbeth against the side of an APC. Now that Lizbeth wasn't struggling against her own neckline, she could see that the marine's squad was arrayed behind her. The quarian and the asari were to her left, the others, all to her right. And then, the marine pulled out her pistol and pressed it to Lizbeth's face. "I have only one thing I do to slavers."

"Shepard, don't!" the asari shouted.

"She's just as bad as the rest of them," Shepard snapped.

"Shepard? Avatar Shepard?" Lizbeth asked. Shepard turned eyes that burned like the fires of an Easterner's vision of hell upon her. "Oh, spirits forgive me."

"They'd better, because I won't," Shepard said.

"Shepard, you don't want to do this," the turian said, slowly circling the Avatar, his voice calming. "She's just a bystander in this."

"She was knowingly selling human lives to that... thing!" Shepard shouted.

"Then take it out on the higher ups," the turian said. "You can't blame a war on the soldiers fighting it. She's just a soldier in a war she didn't start, and had no say on who it was fighting. Blame her commander. Blame Jeong."

Shepard glared, her attention turning from the turian to Lizbeth, and Lizbeth was very glad that she'd gone to the bathroom, since this would have emptied her without any doubt. Then, with a sigh, and those green eyes going from outright flame to simmering embers, the gun stopped pressing into her forehead. "You're right," Shepard said. "She had no choice here. Where is the Thorian hiding?"

"The infested colonists hid the entrance to the underground beneath a Kowloon Freighter that was nearby," Lizbeth said.

"Do you know why Saren would be interested in this thing?" the asari asked.

"I... well... Beyond its unusual mind control abilities, I can't say. It is a manifested spirit, so unless he either is or had access to a shaman, I..." She shook her head, coming up empty. "I'm sorry, I don't know."

"We should get moving," the Avatar said, her tone an obvious dismissal.

"You're just going to leave her here?" the Si Wongi woman asked with confusion.

"Please, take me with you. I need to... clean up the mess I helped make," Lizbeth said.

Shepard glared at her again, and Lizbeth flinched back. She had a very powerful glare. "Get in. I'm driving."

The Si Wongi soldier let out a sigh at that, and entered into the APC right on the Avatar's heels. It was the asari woman who came to Lizbeth's side first. "Are you alright?" she asked, her voice bright, but carrying a tone of breathless eagerness.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean for any of this to happen," Lizbeth said.

"I didn't know that Shepard could be so... rash," the asari said, glancing to the other, paler human who wasn't wearing armor.

"She's been that way as long as I've known her," the scarred woman said. "My advice, don't piss her off anymore, unless you want a new hole in your head."

"I have no intention to," Lizbeth said. She turned to the asari, who looked to the door of the APC with a certain amount of trepidation. "What's wrong? Everybody seems very nervous."

"Shepard is driving," the asari said.

"And that makes you concerned?"


Chapter seven, or, if I was one for Victorian style double nomenclature (which I absolutely am), "the chapter in which Wrex talks a lot". I always liked the character of Wrex, because you always knew exactly where you stood with him. If you dealt with him honestly, he returned the favor in equal measure. He greets you with open arms when the rest of the galaxy regards you with suspicion and doubt. But when you betray him, he gives no shits and tries to blow your head off with a shotgun on the Citadel. He's honest, and that's refreshing. He's also old, and has a lot of stories. I have leveraged both.

Shepard is, at this point in the story, firmly Renegade, as one could tell by her handling of Lizbeth. She's got three angels on her shoulder (Liara, Tali, and Kaiden), but the biggest problem is that all the others are devils, and standing on her other shoulder. The benefits of Liara accidentally peeing part of her soul into Shepard's are already being felt, in that she's being more open and outgoing than she's been in years. Pity the steps are so small.

The biggest change to a character (besides loopy-Liara, who is simply transformed into uber-lateral-thinker Liara) has to be Jack, but the change is a simple flip when you look at it from the proper perspective. Subject Zero's anger was born out of fear. She killed because she thought it was the only way she'd ever be safe. Nilsdottir, on the other hand, has fear born out of her anger. When she fights, she likes it. Too much. And that scares her in a way that she doesn't know how to express. It's the source of every problem she's ever been in, that once you set her off, she just can't stop herself. She's in for a rough time once the 'Cerberus arc' hits. Note that Cerberus will not be called Cerberus. Does Avatar Earth have Greeks? Didn't think so.

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