Disclaimer: EVE Online is owned by CCP and Mass Effect by Bioware, I claim ownership of nothing except the storyline.
Well it's been a while again hasn't it. I did warn ahead of time that my update schedule was going to be completely unpredictable. I also took the liberty to reuplode all the previous chapters. There are no changes in the story, just format and spelling updates for readability. In any case I hope the few of you still reading this will enjoy the new chapter and as always any reviews, comments and questions are welcome.
Scenario for Bloodshed
Operation: Eagle Dust
Clearance level: Delta
Threat level: Critical
Risk assessment: High
It seemed simple enough, get in, retrieve any valuable information and blow the place on the way out. Ever since Tibus Heth reignited the empire wars with the invasion of Luminaire they had been working behind enemy lines almost non-stop. Forward Nine as their unit was known had been stalking this particular constellation for almost two weeks now and she didn't like that one bit. Too long in one place and you would get predictable. Thankfully this was also their last mission in this constellation, it was just also on a heavily fortified planet controlled by the Caldari Navy. The prime target was the Priaks Rift command and control facility in the Kaatna mountain range. Internally sighing, she read over the mission details for what must have been the hundredth time. Their Covert Ops frigate would drop them in from low orbit 200 clicks from the target. Any closer wasn't an option due to the Gauntlet, so they would have to approach on foot. The timetable allowed two days to cover the distance and set up any last minute preparations deemed necessary for the infiltration. Initial orbital surveillance showed quite extensive ground defenses. Guard patrols numbering in the dozens, an orbital shield somewhere in the 9000 Gigajoule range, Cloudburst point defense system and a Stackfire anti starship grid, anti armor instillations and minefields. All in all it was quite the death trap, but not something they hadn't done before.
Normally this facility would have been slagged from orbit, being ranked with a high threat level, but also a high risk level. However the facilities location and defences made this virtually impossible. Priaks Rift is right next to the Kaatna mountain range that runs perpendicular to the planets rotation, which takes away prograde firing solutions. Ships would have to drop below five hundred kilometers to use bombardment weapons, even lower to use them with any precision. The approach got the nickname the Gauntlet, because a ship's orbit altitude, vector and speed are predictable, leaving it extremely vulnerable to ground and space defenses. It's location in the mountains meant that a ship would have to be almost directly above the target to strike with any precision. Which wasn't to say it was impossible, just that the Stackfires would probably murder anyone stupid enough to try. This of course meant that a ground attack was the more viable and low risk option.
"Are you reading over that again Blue."
"Never hurts, ma'am."
"And after almost a year of being together I still haven't got you to stop calling me that."
She could hear the smile in the other woman's voice without looking up from the holoreel. "You know the rule, commander on duty and Halen off duty till the day I retire."
Halen just rolled her eyes and sighed. "Yea, yea I know, rules and regulations and all that. You know I should be the one telling you that right."
She just chuckled. "You never were much for rules, besides didn't you recruit me because of my spotless adherence to protocol."
"Actually I hired you because you were a good shot."
She had to smile. "We'll just say that I'm good at multitasking, ma'am"
Halen smirked deviously. "Mark my words I will get you to call me Halen on duty at some point." She turned and called back over her shoulder as she walked away. "Now come on or you'll miss my brilliant briefing."
Evelyne just smiled and followed her commander of three years.
"Just another day in the Navy."
The drop from their Vertigo class drop ship had been silent enough. The local sensor grid had been avoided completely by dropping wide and they had come back in through a section of land situated below sea level . The drop off had been clean and the drop ship was already on its way back to the Covert Ops frigate in low orbit. The twelve man team had been broken up into three squads. Halen and her took Hammer squad of four on the longer route and would circle around the facility and infiltrate from the opposite direction from where the shuttle had took them in. Meanwhile the team's XO Leat, a burly Minmatar, led the six man Anvil squad on the most direct approach and would setup to facilitate and cover the main squad's extraction. The last squad was a two man team, callsign Farscape. Their objective was to set up a suitable vantage point just south of the main extraction route and provide overwatch and fire support if needed.
They had maintained a strict comm. blackout while hiking across the mountain range to avoid any detection, but now they were nearing the entry point and the start of enemy patrol routes. Halen broke the silence as she halted the squad. "This is Hammer 01, close range comms authorized, destination navpoint marked. Jules, scout ahead. Indicate traps found and either evasion pattern, signal to halt for disablement or alternative workaround. The rest of you I want a tight formation. Blue take the left flank, I'll take the right. Vance you close the line"
A chorus of affirmatives and on they went.
Progress was a lot slower now. Jules sensor suite detected all powered traps which then had to either be avoided or disabled. Beyond that taking it's time, there were also non-powered traps. Things as simple as pits covered with kinetic multi-state nanogel. Looks like a hard natural surface and is a hard surface up to a certain weight. When reached it suddenly becomes liquid and whatever is on it falls into a pit. A deep penetrating sonar scan would pick any of these up within a considerable radius. But such a scan would also be picked up by the Caldari sensor grid. Thankfully Jules had other ways of finding them.
Their slow pace was making avoiding the guard patrols increasingly difficult as well, but they soldiered on.
After all, they had a job to do.
They were close now. Infiltration had been a success and they pinged Anvil to setup for extraction. Something was bugging her though, like an itch on her back she just couldn't reach, something just felt wrong. She could name a dozen little things, like the patrols sticking to tightly to the schedule, the door hack working quicker than expected or the fact that no failsafe had been triggered when they piggybacked the secure line. Nothing had gone wrong yet and THAT felt wrong. They were slowly advancing along a maintenance corridor as she decided to look back, catching Halen's eye.
"I know, you're not the only one thinking it. We just have no other choice then moving on. Keep your eyes peeled."
Well at least she wasn't alone with the thought.
"Will you girls stop talking gibberish. Jules managed to get into the camera feed from the room ahead. I'm prepping for breach now. Now if you cryptic lovebirds can get here, we can get this done and get out of here… ma'am."
The ma'am was barely an afterthought. We'll that was Vance for you, extremely competent and extremely lacking discipline. Halen didn't seem to mind, they had managed to reach an equitable working relationship. She tolerated and he didn't question.
"Copy that Vance. Hold there until we catch up." Halen picked up the pace as she looked back at her. "Come on blue, almost done."
They had almost reached the door when Halen chose to speak up again. "Let's keep this tight people. After we breach the door we split up again. Blue and Jules head straight on for the server room. Extract as much data as you can within the time limit and then scram after setting your charges. Vance and I will take the corridor left and then the maintenance shaft down to the local reactor and prep for demolition. On my ping head for exfil at the marked location, Anvil will ensure distraction and extraction. Once set we'll have fifteen minutes to pass the check line before the charges blow. Which leaves us with a two minute tolerance for exfil so make it quick, understood?"
A chorus of affirmatives as the door blew and we filed in under the mute staccato of suppressed fire.
The data room had been easy enough to find, surprisingly so even. Jules had gotten to work cracking it straight away, while she set up the charges to blow the servers on the way out. The facility should have backups but it would buy them some time during exfil by making them switch. The rest would blow later once the reactor went. The server room was sound and blast proof so all they heard was the light sound of Jules typing away and then the loud clunk every time eve attached another magcharge to the server. Once or twice she heard a grunt from the two maintenance crew they had knocked out with a gas grenade. She paid them no heed as she placed the last magcharge only to be interrupted by a gasp from Jules.
"We have a problem. You need to see this right now!" Came the instant reply.
Rushing over and leaned over Jules shoulder to see. "Look there, underneath the standard encryption. I'm detecting secondary and even tertiary encryption layers. This will take me ages to get into, the primary server shouldn't be this encrypted. It would make data access and transfer nearly impossible."
She could tell Jules was frantic without even looking at his face. "Get to the point already."
"This isn't a primary datahub, it's a fake. I'm pretty sure the first decryption level is almost solely silent alarms and we just tripped all of them. This was a trap!"
"Fuck! Alright get anything you CAN use off that thing and hurry, we're moving right now." Turning away from Jules she headed for the door as she tapped into her radio. "Commander this is Evelyne; Tripwire, I repeat tripwire."
The response from Halen was instantaneous. "Copy that, heading for exfil. Dust off incomplete, I repeat dust off incomplete."
Damn it all. That meant they hadn't succeeded in placing all, if any, of the demolition charges yet. "Understood, rendezvous in…"A loud static filled her ear as the comm. died.
"Comm is down ma'am. I'm detecting a massive jamming signal coming from the eastern part of the complex. Caldari comm. chatter just went berserk. They know were here and there coming for us."
"Understood, now let's go." She shouldered her rifle and took point as they started jogging down the hallway towards the exfil point. Jules stuck close behind her checking corners and making sure no one was coming up behind them. Two corridors down Jules spoke up again.
"Ma'am I've got something. I've been analyzing the Caldari comm. traffic and while it's too encrypted for me to decode at the moment I can use it to triangulate their position."
"Make it quick."She replied as she took aim around a corner, firing off two quick shots which resulted in two bodies hitting the floor. "Because they know exactly where we are now."
"On it. Piggybacking the main comm. line now and running it through the algorithm as we speak, should only take around…"
Jules never got to finish his sentence as a massive tremor went through the building, followed by the sounds of a firefight outside. "Where the hell did that come from?"
"Tremors originated from outside, roughly 1.2 clicks due west. Shit, that was the ridge Farscape was on. Tremors suggest at least a .6 kiloton explosive, they took out the entire ridge. Additional comm. traffic shows Caldari forces moving to surround Anvil, they're being boxed in."
"Which means they predicted our plan and are cutting off our escape route. Damn this mission." Then another thought hit her. "The commander will be running right into them without this info. Double time it Jules, we can't afford to be late."
Gone was the jog down corridors as they went into a full sprint. Meanwhile Evelyne could only think about one thing. She had to reach Halen on time. The reactor had been closer to the exfil point than the server room. In the distance she started hearing voices and shots coming from inside the building. Pushing herself to the limit she picked up the pace even more. Rounding the corner with her rifle at the ready, she flicked it to full auto and opened fire on the first target she saw. Jules was only a split second behind her as he started picking off targets with his pistol. Three enemies went down before she had to take cover behind one of the support columns. Taking the time to flush the cyclotron with coolant she quickly took stock of the room, spotting Halen on the far side behind a stone counter of sorts firing of rounds as best she could under the hail of fire. Vance only showed up on thermal, propped up against the other side of the counter, not moving.
They needed to end this and quick.
Priming a grenade she rounded the pillar and tossed it to the opposite corner as she focused her fire on the soldiers closest to Halen. Jules covered her back taking out the ones she missed and making sure they weren't getting swamped from behind. The firefight was short but intense. They cleared all the guards in the room at the cost of three full ammo clips and another grenade.
She had rushed to where Halen was the moment the guards were down. "Are you ok?"
Halen looked up solemnly. "I'll be fine, but Vance is hit. Armor piercing round straight through his thigh. He's not walking under his own power anymore."
At the mention of his name Vance stirred. "I'll be fine. Give me a few clips and I'll hold them off while you get out."
Halen just looked down on him disappointed. "I've never left someone behind and I have no intention of starting now."
Jules found time to pipe in after he had checked the room. "Sorry to butt in but we have bigger problems."
She just nodded. "Indeed, Jules tracked the Caldari comm. traffic. Anvil is completely surrounded and cut off and judging by the amount of chatter won't be long for this world. Farscape is already down and Caldari troops are waiting for us to come through that door. We need a new exit."
Halen just shook her head. The loss of Farscape and Anvil were massive, but they were professionals and they didn't have time to linger on it. Grieving would come later if they got out of this. "Damn it, and we can't radio for help as the jamming tower is blanketing our comms. Alright Blue, take Vance and bring up the rear. Jules and I will take point and move us out through this corridor to the west. At this junction we'll split up, Jules and I will create a distraction and take out the jamming tower with the explosives we still have left. Meanwhile you take Vance out through this northern exit. It should be lightly guarded and they won't be expecting you. Once you get out, you'll set up on this ridge just across the perimeter and cover our extraction from this exit here. From there we should be able to get a signal out to our ship and organize a pick up."
She agreed, it was the best shot they had at the moment. Jules would be able to quickly deal with any doors and fail safes and leaving Vance behind simply wasn't an option. She picked up Vance and threw him over her shoulder, servo's in her armor augmenting her strength enough to make this relatively easy. Her other hand clenched her sidearm tightly as Halen and Jules lead the way. They met some light resistance along the way but it seemed clear that the guards weren't prepared for them to come this way. But thanks to those fights they did now know where they were going and it wouldn't take them long to follow. At the junction they split up with only a "good luck" to each other as they went. She used her last mag charge to blow the door the moment she heard gunfire from the way Halen and Jules had gone and didn't look back as she went into a full sprint across the perimeter towards the ridge, all the while carrying Vance on her shoulders..
She wasn't noticed as she dodged in between equipment on her way out, the Caldari forces were occupied elsewhere. She arrived at the ridge in only a few minutes and quickly found a place to lay Vance down. He had lost conscience on the run over and she tended to his wounds as best she could. A new application of nanite foam would cleanse the wound and begin the healing process. After that was done she slung her assault rifle from her back and found a good vantage point a bit away from where she had left Vance. Adjusting the targeting data on her HUD she flicked the rifle back into single shot mode.
Now all she could do was wait.
She didn't have to wait long. Less than ten minutes after she had laid down Halen came over the comm. "Blue this is Halen, do you copy?"
"I copy. Exfil was successful, I'm outside and waiting to provide covering fire."
She could hear Halen's voice was strained, almost out of breath. "Good, good…. Make sure you get Vance out safely. I used the Caldari comm. tower to radioed the drop ship, its entering atmo as we speak and should rendezvous with you in a little over 15 minutes at these coordinates."
She just felt a heavy ball form in her stomach. "What about you and Jules?"
"We're trapped, they expected us to come here after all. Jules managed to override the doors but that will only keep them at bay for so long. Thermal shows at least 40 men outside and that door is the only way in or out. "
Her own voice sounded tense as well. "So what's the plan?" Halen always had a plan, she came up with the most brilliant solutions when they were needed most. It's what had kept them all alive for so long.
The reply was instant and angry. "I'm going to make these bastards pay for taking out my team. I still have all my demo charges and we're right next to the secondary reactor. I'm going to blow this whole goddamn place to hell!"
Everything stopped for a full heartbeat as she processed what Halen had just said. "That's not a plan, that's suicide!"
"It's all I've got Blue." Came the sad reply.
"No, no, there's something. Air ducts? Blow the charges on the door and use the secondary's to clear a path through their line? Anything?" Even to herself her voice sounded hollow.
"Blue, shush. All thought off and all scrapped, remember who you're talking to."
She had nothing, her mind was just blank except for that overwhelming feeling of dread. Halen just went on talking. "Remember that weekend we spent on the Crystal Boulevard. It cost us like half our months pay, but it was worth it wasn't it. I'll never forget your face when you first laid eyes on it from the shuttle. You were a woman who had seen nearly a decade of combat ops and yet you looked so innocent watching that view."Halen just went on about moments in their relationship. The first time they had met on the Federal Navy station in Dodixie. The time she had to rescue her from an Amarrian detention centre or when they had gone on a holiday on Veare III. Some of them happy, some of them sad and all of them interrupted every so often by the loud clunk of a magcharge being placed. Until finally there were no more charges to place.
"We had one hell of a ride Blue and I wouldn't have traded it for the world."
All she could muster was a barely audible whisper. "Halen….."
"Told you I'd get you to call me that on duty some day. I love you Evelyne."
"I love you too, always."
Finally Jules spoke up. "It's been an honor ma'am."
"Same here Jules." One breath intake the only thing signaling the acceptance of her fate. "See you on the flip side Blue."
A flash of light as the comm. went to static and air rushed passed her over the hill…..
With a jolt she woke up.
She had actually fallen asleep. It had been decades since she had last done that, let alone involuntarily. It was a lapse in mental discipline almost unthinkable for a capsuleer. Then again could she still call herself that after what happened on Heastrom. She had yet to answer that particular question.
There were others to deal with first.
The moment she reconnected with Aura reports flooded her mind. Everything from ship status, current speed and heading all the way to an analysis she had started on the Geth program algorithms. One report stood out though, the standard after action report for Heastrom. Aura was a smart computer, an AI in her world, but not truly self aware like EDI. While outclassing her in sheer processing power she had no will of her own, she was an overpowered version of this universes VI's. So she coldly provided her with a battle report with all known data.
3 Geth drop ships destroyed.
1 Colossus class Geth platform destroyed.
12 Armature class Geth platforms destroyed.
187 bipedal Geth platforms destroyed.
44 Quarian marines dead.
That was the death toll Aura had coldly provided her with and even now the numbers barely registered. She had seen and sent far more people to die in her lifetime than that with no regrets. In essence she should barely care at all due to the last part of Aura's complete battle report.
Strategic objective: Achieved
Operational success achieved, Tali was safe and on board. Material and personnel costs were irrelevant, but then that wasn't entirely true here anymore. Something had changed on Heastrom, awoken memories long buried and thoughts long silenced and they were now fighting the more pressing matter for attention. One thing had been apparently clear from the moment the Geth drop ships took off. This had been a trap and not for the Quarians, they had just been bait. The trap was there specifically for Shepard and by extension for her. The Geth alone had not beaten her; something else had been in that network. Something smarter than the Geth, directing them, strategizing in the background.
For that reason she started pushing her own processing abilities. On the one side she relentlessly kept replaying the last ten minutes of the battle in her head. Reliving every detail, analyzing every fault and every piece of data. Deconstructing patterns and responses, reaction times and tactics. On the other side she was scouring through the Geth data she had collected while running through their network. There was a considerable amount of it, but she was filtering for anything having to do with the battle and that other presence in the system. Somewhere in there was the piece of data she was looking for and she was prepared to relive that moment of fear again and again to find it. Pushing her internal quantum processor to the limit, she was using up every cycle she could spare. Both to increase her efficiency and block any ancillary thoughts. Certain pieces were already starting to fit together and she was not liking the picture it was showing. Still there was much to do, so much data to go over and restore. The Geth had attempted to wipe much as she pushed them back. It would take time and that was the one thing she knew she was running out off. She was beginning to miss her resources back in New Eden. Information was power in their world, more than any other, and it was the one thing she was lacking.
She needed help.
And that was a thought she did not like.
He had spent some time with Tali first as she was understandably upset, though not so much at Eve as the Geth. She had lost almost her entire team just for some data about stars exploding as she put it. Some of the Quarians had survived and they had arranged for a pickup from the Flotilla for them. He was glad Tali had decided to stay even through what happened. So now with Joker burning hard for Illium he had talked to all the others on the team about Heastrom and only she was left.
He wasn't sure whether he should praise Eve or have her shot and thrown off his ship. Granted knowing her should would just shrug it off and board her own ship, but it was the thought that counts. All joking aside he was worried though. Last time they spoke he had managed to break through her wall, in a sense at least, but he had no idea how she would react after being invaded by Geth programs. He couldn't even begin to fathom what that would do to an average person, which meant her reaction was going to be completely unpredictable. On a rational level he completely understood why she had done what she did on Heastrom, but on an emotional level he was torn. He understood and at the same time he couldn't condone.
So he was going to do the only thing he could do.
Talk to her and see from there.
He found Eve where she always seemed to be, in the lounge. She was sitting at the bar, seemingly idle, and she did not look happy. Gone was the normal smile and careless attitude she displayed, replaced by a scowl he wasn't sure he wanted to know the cause of.
"Took you long enough."
He kept his expression neutral as Eve took another sip of her drink. "You know I'm pretty sure that's not meant for humans." Might as well lighten the mood a bit.
"I'm quite sure of that too, but then I'm about as much a human as a husk is."
Or not. Apparently she was not dealing with a near death experience as well as he had hoped for. "Well you look a lot more like one then a husk. Pour me a drink too, just not what you're having."
Without a reply she did as asked and poured him a drink. He silently took a sip before starting again. "Wanna talk about it?"
Her reply came after taking a sip of her own drink. "No, but I don't have another choice."
We'll that got his attention. The near immortal human with a mind rivaling a supercomputer saw no other choice. He decided to remain as neutral as he could. "I'm listening."
She downed her own drink before almost hissing out. "I can't believe I'm saying this, but I have to ask for your help."
He raised his eyebrows at that. "You have to ask?"
She let out a stifled laugh. "Oh I've thought out numerous ways to force your compliance after only a few hours of meeting you, but it would be pointless. For what comes next I need to trust you, which means you need to volunteer." Another stifled laugh. "Looks like our earlier talk has become even more relevant."
He was starting to get worried now as Eve poured herself another glass of something strong enough to knock him in one go. "What do you mean, what comes next? What's going on?"
She just sighed. "You are not going to like this."
"You're starting to scare me Eve."
She just looked him dead in the eye at that. "Good, because you should be scared. This is something that worries even me, so you should be bloody terrified."
"Well spit it out already!"
Another sigh from Eve. "The Geth army on Heastrom, it was a trap and a damn good one too."
He frowned at that. "Of course it was a trap, we knew that before going in. They caught the Quarians completely off guard."
That just seemed to make her angry. "That trap wasn't there for the Quarians, they were just the bait. It was there for you and by extension, me." She got up from her seat at the bar and started walking to the window. "You didn't think it slightly odd that the Geth held a full three drop ships with troops in reserve. If they had committed them right at the start the Quarians would have been done for before we even got there."
"I just assumed they had arrived to the fight late."
"Impossible. The Quarians were fighting the Geth for almost 24 hours prior to our arrival. Enough time for the drop ships to move over from any location on the planet. Additionally they couldn't have come from space, I detected no orbital entries during our stay. I first detected the drop ships taking off from subterranean docks from the next valley over. They were waiting for something and my bet is on us."
Shepard swirled the amber liquid in his glass. What she was saying made sense and it meant he was to blame for the death of all those Quarians. All those deaths just to get to him. One thing didn't quite make sense yet though. "Ok, I get where you're coming from, but where exactly is the part where you need to ask for my help?"
She turned from the window and gave him the coldest glare he had ever witnessed. If looks could kill he would not be standing here any longer.
"I did not lose to Geth!"
She had almost spat out those words, before collecting herself again. She could tell the emotional outburst surprised him. She was losing control slightly and that was not a good thing. It did help her drive her point home though, she could not have him taking this lightly.
"Even with the added numbers after the drop ships got into tight beam range I should have been able to at the very least hold them off, maintain control over the connection. Something else was in that system, something that was stronger and much more prepared then the Geth and from what I can tell it was waiting there for me."
She could see him start drawing conclusions and cut him off before he could. "It wasn't a Reaper, not by a long shot, but something at least as dangerous. Something that knew how I thought, how I fight and what my limits were." She pinned him with another pointed look. "I was fighting another me."
Well that seemed to stop him in his tracks. "Another you?"
"Another capsuleer was in that system, it's only conclusion I can come up with. He reacted too fast and knew exactly where and when to hit me. By the time I realized what I was fighting it was too late."
"He is a male, the data I managed to recover constantly refers to he and him. He fought like any capsuleer would. The attack was quick, precise and brutal and he got exactly what he wanted out of it."
"How so? I mean your still alive."
"That attack wasn't meant to kill me; he knew that wouldn't happen. I had too many ways out, just not enough that also left you all alive. What he wanted was intel and I gave him exactly that. He learned about me, my strengths and my weaknesses, my ship and more importantly he learned about you."
"What do you mean about me? I thought the trap was already there for me?"
"Correct, but he learned that for some reason I can't let you die. You are not an expendable asset for me and that is a weakness he is bound to exploit. Which brings me to why I need to ask for your help. I made you a promise and I intend to keep it, but what is about to follow is going to be nothing like what you've witnessed before. You're about to have front row seats for a war between capsuleers."
"Not that I'm doubting you, but you do know I have been fighting wars for a while now right?"
She couldn't help but chuckle a bit at that. The man had been fighting for decades now, but those had been normal wars. This was something else entirely. "Yes and you're going to need every bit of that experience, but a war between capsuleers is more than a ground war or a space battle. You're generals like to talk of total war, well you are about to see what that really is. Capsuleers don't pull punches and they don't discriminate, everything is a battle field. The only factor that might limit some of the damage is that we both clearly don't want our existence revealed to the rest of universe."
Shepard pinched his nose when replying. "Ok. Lay it on me. What do you know?"
Eve started pacing the room as if she were lecturing a younger child. "He's been here for at least two years, the communication between him and the Geth start shortly after your death. Knowing a capsuleer he would blend in while building up a power base, preferably by taking over someone else's. It's quicker and less likely to draw attention. The obvious question then is who at that time had the largest power base that he could take over without raising any eyebrows? The answer unfortunately is quite obvious."
She just nodded. "Yes, you know him as the Shadow Broker."
Shepard raised an eyebrow at that. "The shadow broker?"
"It's quite obvious. He has a massive information network and power base, yet no one knows who he actually is. Yet for all his information and power he would be completely unprepared against a capsuleer. It would be the perfect cover and from there he could start manipulating anything from stocks to politics in any manner he saw fit."
"How are you so sure that's what he would have done?"
She gave him a small smile at that. "Simple, because it was my plan. I'd already been doing some work to that effect with Liara on Illium, which is probably how he knew I was here. There's a few other clues, such as the type of coding used as well as communications with other shadow broker assets. However that's all I've got at the moment. I have no idea what ship he came here with, what he looks like or even what race he is."
Shepard seemed to nod once before he turned to her. "Alright, so how do we deal with him?"
She supposed she shouldn't have expected any less. He saw the facts and now all he wanted was a solution. "I'm heading for Illium. He learned about me there so it seems only fitting I learn something about him there. I suggest you set a course for Tuchanka. You have some work to do there anyway with Grunt and Mordin and it will throw him off for a while."
Shepard looked a bit skeptical. "You're sure it's a good idea to split up immediately?"
"No, but it's our best option, we need to cover some ground fast while not being too obvious. I need you to go to Tuchanka to make him think I haven't told you this. You're actions need to seem as normal as possible. It allows you to complete something you need to do anyway as well as spread some doubt. Additionally Tuchanka is probably one of the few places where the Shadow Broker should have a harder time tracking you. No rules or central government means no system to monitor, add to the Krogan who notoriously paranoid about aliens; it's probably the safest place for you to show up without raising any red flags. Meanwhile you can't forget that the Collectors are also still running about and I doubt they will stop abducting humans just so you can help me chase a capsuleer."
He still didn't seem to like it but she needed him to agree to her plan. While it was true she was going to need his help, first she needed him out of the picture. Finally he just nodded once. "Alright I'll trust you on this Eve. Just promise me you'll keep me in the loop about what you find on Illium and don't try to do this by yourself."
She had to give him a small chuckle for that. "Don't worry, I have no intention of doing this alone."
Miranda had once again locked her office doors and sat waiting for her terminal to connect. She had sent off another report about Heastrom this time and she expected him to want more information. After all, what happened there had been illuminating in several ways. With a blink the screen connected and the Illusive Man appeared.
This time holding a drink in his hand, foregoing the usual cigarette, the Illusive Man took a sip before continuing on. "I received your report on Heastrom's mission. I gather the end result was beneficial to us."
"It was, we acquired Tali zorah vas Neema for the crew, though the remaining Quarians suffered heavy losses."
He nodded once. "Hmm, inconsequential for us. I'm far more interested on what we learned from our capsuleer friend. I gathered we may have found a weakness."
Her eyes quickly flashed to her second screen showing EDI's analysis. "That's correct, she seems to have connected to the Geth network and attempted to fight them within it. While successful at first we assume the additional three dropships that arrived on the scene turned the tide of the digital battle in favor of the Geth. Left with very little recourse she then launched an orbital strike of the area destroying all remaining Geth."
Lighting a cigarette before continuing. "Did we get an accurate read on the yield of her weaponry?"
Miranda nodded once while answering. "Yes and combined with her voice commands we have been able to calculate the potential yield of her orbital bombardment capabilities. I'm sending you the numbers now, as you can see they are quite staggering. Additionally we are still unsure on the strength of her shielding abilities and how it held against that kind of blast." She quickly glanced at her other screen again. "One more thing is the fact that she reloaded to a different type of ammo for the orbital bombardment so we cannot be sure if the same numbers apply for space based combat. It seems unlikely since we can now confirm the main weaponry of her cruiser is indeed laser based. Accounting for atmospheric diffusion the yield should be considerably higher in a vacuum environment. That is of course not accounting for the fact that any form of mass effect shielding is useless against this type of weaponry."
The Illusive Man tapped off his cigarette before replying. "At the moment that is not of importance, after all we have her cooperation for now. Her displayed weakness on the other hand is something worth looking into. We have a project up and running that could use some of this data, it might lead to some form of leverage should we need it. Forward me the remaining data and I'll keep you posted on their progress."
Miranda nodded. "I will and let's hope they find something. At the moment she is holding almost all the cards and I don't like it. In any case this still does not address the larger issue….."
At that moment the door lock chimed and slid open. Miranda looked up mid sentence; she had locked that door with EDI's override commands. No one should be able to enter without her consent, but someone just had. Eve walked in with a serious look on her face. "We need to talk."
As expected Miranda replied coolly. "Perhaps another time, I'm busy at the moment."
Eve simply raised an eyebrow. "I'm not talking to you, I'm talking to him." She had found the link connection in the system the moment it went live. Now she needed to talk to the one person here who could offer her something she needed; Of course he would want something in return. The trick was going to be guiding this situation while maintaining the illusion that he was in control while getting exactly what she wanted, without giving him what he wanted. Time to put on another mask.
"I beg your pardon?" Miranda was stalling, how bothersome.
"Miss Lawson I know you to be more intelligent than this. You know exactly why I'm here and you also know I'm going to get it. Both of you have seen this conversation coming, if not I might have reconsider my earlier statement about you and my opinion of your organization in general."
After an audible drag of his cigarette came the screens reply. "Very well, Miss Lawson would you give us a moment."
"Of course." With that Miranda got up and left the room carrying a datapad. She would either be listening in directly or at the very least securing a recording of the conversation.
Eve sat down behind the desk, seeing the Illusive Man for the first time. "Now shall we get down to business?"
The Illusive Man swirled his drink before taking a sip. "Of course, now how might Cerberus be of service to someone such as you?"
She couldn't help but smile, such an innocent question loaded with meaning. He appeared appeasing and helpful, while implying that she was the one needing help despite an apparently superior position. She might actually enjoy this conversation, it reminded her of home.
Zaeeds hidey hole was a grimy room next to the garbage compactor. It's wasn't pretty but it fulfilled the intended purpose for its occupant she supposed. Zaeed sat cleaning an old looking rifle and didn't look up as she entered. "Whadda you want?"
As friendly a demeanor as ever, she had read up on the entire crew. She needed to know their personality and history to be able to predict their actions and more importantly use them effectively when required. Right now she had a plan for Zaeed and convincing him of the benefit of it wouldn't be hard. After all she had an ace up her sleeve. "I have a job for you."
At that he did look up, but she could see his disinterest. "I'm already on a job, a mightily well paying one I might add."
The hint wasn't subtle. He was on a job and credits weren't going to convince him otherwise. "I already spoke to Shepard and he agreed to give you a leave of absence once the Normandy reaches Tuchanka. The fee for this job is 25k."
At that the mercenary chuckled and amusement showed on his broken face. "25k? I'd barely get out of bed for that. Why the hell do you think I'd take this job of yours?"
She couldn't help but smile a bit. After all she could have offered him quadruple the price with ease and she would have if she needed to, but she still had her ace. "Because the payment is just to cover your expenses, this job you'd do for free if I'd asked it of you."
Amusement turned to suspicion as he laid his rifle aside. "What are you getting at?"
She let out a small smile. "I found Vido Santiago."
The reaction was immediate. If she had actually found it threatening she might have dodged, but as it was she was pushed back against the wall as a few rifle casings rattled on the floor from the speed at which Zaeed had gotten up. His face was close enough to hers that she could feel his breath on her skin and his expression had once again changed from suspicion to threatening. If she'd been back home he'd be dead already, but here she needed him. How circumstances could change perspective. "Would you care to say that again and this time elaborate." He practically gritted out the words.
If she'd been a mere mortal she might have found it threatening. As it stood she merely found it mildly amusing, but that did not mean that she appreciated being touched. Slowly and calmly she uttered her next words. "Let me go." Coupling that with a cold stare she could see the mercenary cool off. He backed off slightly but remained standing. "Now you will stay quiet, listen and I will tell you exactly what you want to know."
Zaeed nodded slowly, he understood he crossed a line. He might not know exactly what she was, but instinctively knew she was more dangerous than he was. The fact that they could both beat a krogan did not equals make. "Once you reach Tuchanka you will find two squads of krogan bloodpack mercs waiting for you; they have arranged transport which will take you to the planet Narvek. I've ensured they can be trusted as well as a way onto the planet. When on Narvek there is a Blue suns outpost currently busy securing the red sand trade on that planet. Vido is there to oversee the operation himself. Once on the planet this is your show, no oversight, I expect you to get this done within two days."
He started looking through the information immediately. She had expected that much, Vido was his one weakness. To get to him he'd do almost anything, so predictable, not that she minded. She turned to leave when Zaeed spoke up. "Wait!" She turned back to him as he looked up from his omnitool. "What's the price of this and don't bullshit me. The 25k you're offering is nothing, but this isn't for you. What's the goddamn catch?"
He really did see everything black and white. "Consider this a favor and at some point I'll want a favor in return."
She could help but give him a sly smile as she turned to leave again. "Sooner than you think."
She had one last stop to make before she left for Illium. She realized this was going to be a long shot in several ways even as she approached the forward battery. Whether it panned out was dependant on so many factors even she couldn't calculate the odds. But even a capsuleer couldn't fight another capsuleer without taking a few chances, so she was following a hunch and would deal with any possible fallout later. With a hiss the door opened for her and revealed Garrus working on the console in front of him. She didn't pay him any attention as she moved towards the workbench on the right and set down the case she was carrying. Garrus himself was so caught up in his calibrations that he only looked up at the sound of the case hitting the workbench.
"Eve? What are you doing here?"
The case clicked as she unlocked it as she answered. "Did Shepard talk to you about our current predicament yet?"
"If you're talking about the other you that's now threatening the stability of this galaxy and for some reason trying very hard to kill Shepard and you, then yes, he mentioned something like that."
She could see how someone like Shepard would come to depend on someone like Garrus. His innate ability to take world shattering news in a stride and answer with some sarcastic comment to take the edge of it was somehow nice to have around. "Good, then I have something for you; actually I have two things for you. I cannot tell you when or how you will need these items, but I have a hunch they will come in handy at some point. Do not share these items with anyone, not even Shepard. Do not even tell them you have these. You know the bugs Cerberus has everywhere on this ship and while I can jam them you will not be able to be sure whether or not they are listening in at any given time. Do you understand?"
Garrus looked a bit skeptical but undeniably interested in what she had brought along. "I can get behind anything that will make Cerberus life a bit harder and ours a bit easier."
She let out a sigh. "That will have to do I suppose." With another click the case opened at the center and folded out to he sides. "Use these items only when you think you have no other choice." The first item she pulled out, a small cylinder around twenty centimeters high and five in diameter, was brutal in design and purpose. "This is called a flay trap antipersonnel mine. Instead of using explosive power to inflict damage this weapon uses a magnetic coil to accelerate four monofilament wires. Each wire has a single steel counterweight on one end; the other is tethered to a base cylinder that can spin freely in a frictionless hub. Once detonated the cylinder will be accelerated to several hundred revolutions per second. At maximum speed, the outer shell is lowered, releasing the steel counterweights in a tight spin whoose diameter expands up to ten meters as the monofilaments unravel. At the fully extended position, the shell "bounces" back towards the starting closed position angling the weights upward as they spin, repeating until no more movement is detected or the spin energy is dissipated.
The microfilaments consist of tightly bonded metal-composite molecules, making it an especially sharp cutting edge. They pass through flesh, bone, and light metals effortlessly. Anything within the hemispherical killzone of the cylinder is literally flayed to bits. As a bonus the only sound it makes - besides falling chunks of flesh – is the buzz of the steel couterweights zipping through the air at the speed of sound. If set up correctly this can block of any corridor for quite some time."
"That's brutal, but it sounds highly effective." She nodded to confirm which seemed to shut him up for a moment, though only a moment. "So what's the second thing?"
She let a small smile pass her lips as she reached back into the box. "This one you'll like even less, I'm sure." In the palm of her hand was a small sphere no more than a few millimeters across. "This goes into your palm."
Instinctively Garrus took a step back. "Into my palm?!"
"Yes, into. This is a small EMP network generator or S.E.N.G. for short. It looks like a small sphere but it's not. At the moment the nanites are clumped together, but when activated they will disperse enter your palm through the skin and hide behind normal organic are completely undetectable by any form of scans your technology base possesses and when stimulated by a set signal they will produce a small EM field that will shut down any electronics within a thirty centimeter radius."
"Putting unknown alien technology into my body is not my idea of a good time."
She sighed. "I assure you I cannot do anything with these nanites other then what I just said; They were designed to be tamperproof without any form of communication link to avoid detection as best as possible."
He still seemed hesitant but at least interested now. "How will I get it out afterwards?"
Ah, so there was the crux of it. "In your case I will set it to self destruct after four uses. This will cause the bonds to disintegrate and your body will dispose of the nanites as it would any other waste, you won't even feel it. "
Garrus nodded. "Alright then, what do I do."
She walked towards the airlock passing the CIC at a brisk pace, two other people in tow. One silently following, the other sadly not so silent. "Can someone please explain to me why the hell the cheerleader is coming along?"
The response was short. "Because she wants to."
The scowl on Jacks face lasted only as long as it took for her to formulate her next question. "And remind me why I'm still coming along?"
The response was once again short. "Because I want you to."
The not so subtle difference between those answers shut her up again, though only for a while Eve knew. Jack wasn't someone who would keep her thoughts to herself for long. Both of them were coming along with her to Illium, though both for different reasons. Miranda because she was ordered to do so for the Illusive Man, she had reached an agreement with him and her coming along was a part of that. Jack on the other hand was more complicated. Her coming along was to provide a statistical oddity, something that would be less predictable to a capsuleer. Convincing her to come along had required a bit more effort then she had anticipated but a short talk with Shepard and a promise on her side had sealed the deal, mostly. The reason she wanted both of them to come along though was because they provided something she sorely lacked in this universe, biotics. She could serve every other role but had foreseen several scenarios where a lack of biotics would lead to her defeat. This way she could scrap that particular deficit of her list.
The moment her feet hit the deck of her own ship she could sense it. The game is afoot, the pieces are on the board and now we would see who is the better player.
As for the rest, well she would find that out on Illium.