AN: I'm back!
Sorry for breaking my promise and not finishing the Meolin miniarc before scampering off. But onwards!
Ah, I missed writing badass!Liara!
Liara was pacing in front of the freighter's exit hatch. She had made sure her armour was strapped on tight and her weapons in perfect condition – three times. Feron was standing a few steps away, observing her pacing. Suddenly Liara stopped.
"We can't delay any longer. If Shepard comes she will just have to join us on the ground," she told the empty space before her. Turning towards the Drell she asked, "What can you tell me about the facility?"
"Not much, I'm afraid. I've been there only two times and both visits have been rather short," he answered for the third time, bringing up a hologram of a crude map on his omni-tool. He continued pointing out various areas of interest. "There is a big cargo area where ships can land. It is shielded by a Faraday cage that has to be opened in order to land. Or..." he grinned impishly. "Well, I suppose we could just land anyway. It's not as if a few wires can hold back a space ship.
"Then we have the communication hub. It's the main building. Can't miss it as it has this huge antenna array up top. There are a couple of secure rooms inside, as far as I know. Probably the place where Meolin is held.
"Last we have the barracks on the left and some offices on the right side of the main building. There are some twenty staff on base at all times but only about ten are guards. Double that for Bato and his goons. But no promises."
"So, there should be about twenty armed mercenaries down there, thirty to be on the safe side. That doesn't sound too bad..."
"What?! Did you not listen Liara? I am talking about twenty, maybe thirty trained and armed mercenaries in the Shadow Broker's employ!" he shouted, exasperated at her depreciative disregard of their odds. "I told you, I will help you get Meolin and his data. I didn't sign up for a suicide mission!"
"Come on Feron. I have faced worse odds before. Between landing on Ilos and killing Saren there had to be at least two hundred Geth in our way," Liara tried to appease him.
"That's all well and good, but I'm not Captain Bloody Shepard!" he retorted.
"Of course you aren't," she deadpanned. "If you were we would already be down there and the base would be in shambles. There might be explosions involved.
"But believe me, twenty guards are nothing to be concerned about," Liara said with a finality that let any retort die on the Drell's lips.
After a few seconds of intense staring, the last of Feron's resistance crumbled. "Fine, but I still believe crashing the front door will not work. We need a distraction."
Liara's wicked grin sent chills down his spine.
"Remind me again why I have agreed to this!" Feron screamed against the loud gale. He was riding piggyback, while Liara was doing her best to keep her balance. It wouldn't do to fall out of the freighter just yet. Flying on autopilot the ship approached the base on a low vector. Thankfully the magnetic storms that ravaged Alingon made any active defence next to impossible, so they weren't worried to be shot out of the sky.
"Because you owe me Feron. You tried to betray me and the Shadow Broker. Making amends is your only way out and I am prepared to give you that chance – the Shadow Broker will not," Liara responded evenly. Not a small feat considering their situation. "Now be silent, this takes a lot of concentration."
The ship slowed down to make the final turn before landing, still a hundred meters above ground. Just as the main building appeared below them Liara jumped; Feron – doing his best not to scream – hung on for dear life.
To say their descent was rocky would be an understatement. Not only had they still some momentum from the ship, the fierce storm whipped them this way and that. Add to it that Liara more or less invented biotic flight some hours ago from scratch... Under normal conditions gliding through the cables that formed the Faraday cage should have been easy, but conditions were hardly normal – they never were. The cables were separated by several meters, but with the current gale it felt more like fiddling twine through a needle's eye. It was a near thing. Liara lost her focus for a couple of seconds as Feron bumped into a cable whipping them around even more savagely than the storm.
"Remind me to never do that again," Feron panted, clutching his side, as they both were sprawled on the flat roof of their destination.
"Agreed," Liara acceded. I will never tell Angie about this! She will do it just for fun!
"Let's go," she finally said, struggling to get back on her shaky legs. Feron let out a groan but did his best to follow her towards a nearby hatch.
Now standing they could see the yard where their ship had landed. They hadn't had time to admire their handiwork during the descent but now they had a moment to take it in.
The ship had been programmed to wait a couple of seconds after it dropped them off. Then it unceremoniously broke through the wires above the landing zone. It didn't take long for the base's security to arrive and now fifteen armed guards – mostly Batarians and Turians but Liara also saw one Krogan and two Salarians – surrounded the empty ship, waiting for something to happen.
Feron, more skilled in hacking than Liara, was examining the door for alarms and booby traps. He did find a standard alarm circuit that would alert the base as soon as it was opened. Bypassing it was child's play and soon they were inside.
The secure rooms weren't on the topmost floor but something else caught their attention. A single Batarian guard was standing in front of a heavily fortified door. Trapping him in a stasis field Liara ensured that he would not scream or run off. Feron grabbed him into a choke hold and soon he fell unconscious. Quickly scanning through the guard's omni-tool he found the access codes to the door and opened it, dragging the guard inside, Liara following quickly.
As soon as the door was closed again Liara shot the unconscious guard in the head. Feron recoiled. "Why did you do that?" he asked in shock.
"He saw us Feron," she answered dispassionately. " If possible I would like to remain anonymous. Granted, that hope might be foolish thanks to you, but there is no sense giving up before knowing. Besides he might wake up while we are still here. It's not a good idea to leave merely incapacitated enemies behind you."
Feron was still in shock at the casual display of lethal force against a helpless enemy. He had been in this situation before – this was the Terminus after all – even done it himself on occasion, but he still struggled to reconcile the image of the pleasant Asari he had talked to at the Afterlife to this ruthless killer. He had already seen how cold she could be but this was a new level!
"Hmm, this appears to be a data node, containing a sizeable amount of the Broker's information. This could help me greatly in my work," Liara's voice cut into his musings. She was typing on a nearby console, bringing up one chart after the other. "No sense letting it go to waste."
"Uh, Captain... We just received a massive data burst from Liara," Joker's voice came over the intercom. The Normandy had finally arrived at its destination and Shepard was busy preparing her gear. In less than half an hour they would be on Alingon.
"What's in it Lieutenant," she asked while reassembling her sniper rifle.
"Can't say Ma'am, standard procedure is not to open large data packages without the CO's or XO's consent," he apologized.
"Well you have it now. Get on with it," she really had no time for this right now.
After a few seconds she heard Joker whistle appreciatively. "Jackpot! Captain it's an information cache curtsey to the Shadow Broker."
You rock girl! Angie allowed herself a grin. Not only did the message mean her lover was still alive and kicking but she also managed what nobody had done before – infiltrate the Broker's network. Now they only had to make a clean getaway. "That's good Lieutenant," she commented. "Send the data to a secure server via QEC. Might take a while but that should throw them off for some time.
"And Joker... Why is it that my pilot brings this to my attention and not – say - the comm officer?"
"Is it because you want to portray yourself in a good light to make up for your last blunder?"
"Is it working?" he answered cheekily, finally regaining his usual attitude.
"Carry on Lieutenant Moreau," she said with a smile he couldn't see. Why can't I stay mad at the cheeky bastard? Oh that's right, because without him it would be dull. Not that I will ever let him know that.
"Um Captain?" Joker radioed her again after only a few moments. "You are not gonna like this..."
"I really hate that part when the shooting starts," Feron groaned as he ducked behind cover. Not soon after they had left the server room an alarm started blaring, followed by the stomping of boots. Now they were pinned down by four guards.
Across the hallway, Liara took an opportunity and hurled a Singularity towards their enemies, trapping two of them. She ducked back into cover just in time as the remaining two opened fire on her. Mentally picturing the path to the floating sphere of dark energy she released another Mass Effect field, this time a Warp. Her aim proved true, evidenced by the sonic boom that followed the explosion the two interfering fields created.
Stealing a quick glance she confirmed that the two trapped mercenaries were dead or incapacitated. Another was laying prone on the floor, moaning and struggling to get up. Two quick shots from her heavy pistol put him down. The remaining adversary proved his intelligence and quickly retreated.
The rest was brief and fairly routine for Liara but Feron seemed about ready to break down. It was obvious that he was no fighter. Still he tried hard to be useful, laying cover fire and distracting guards so Liara could pick them off with either her biotics, her pistol, or a combination thereof.
As if to reward her for her prowess a special someone waited in front of the cells.
"Bato," she growled after a quick glance around the corner. Instead of her usual careful tactics this time she decided on something a little bit more reckless but much more satisfying. Erecting an additional biotic barrier layered above her kinetic shields she turned the corner and immediately began shooting at the Batarian's two companions, dropping them in short order. Just as her barrier was about to fail the last of the duo fell, leaving Bato the only one left standing. With a flick of her wrist she encased him in a stasis field.
Liara took her time as she sauntered up to the disgusting four-eyed beast, letting him stew in some of the fear he had wanted for her to feel. Deciding on a more personal approach she let her right hand glow in ominous biotic-blue. Shepard had come up with this particular technique. The laws that governed Biotics weren't fully understood yet as they seemed both less and more than what was covered by the standard Mass Effect Field Theory. Right at this moment however Liara did not care how it worked. What was important was that her hand became hard as diamond and she could throw a punch that rivalled a Krogan Battlemaster's Charge – only much more concentrated.
"Hello Bato. Remember me? As I recall you promised to 'break me'. Well, funny how things turn out sometimes." she told him, just as she draw her still glowing hand back. The punch shattered his armour and caved in his ribcage. The trauma squashed his heart and lungs, immediately sending him into shock. After convulsing for a few seconds he stilled, clearly dead.
Not sparing the mercenary a second glance Liara busied herself with opening the cell he had guarded. Feron meanwhile was playing lookout, looking a bit queasy.
Inside Meolin was sitting on the single cot. As Liara opened the door he was looking up at her.
"If you want the data on my omni, you will have to release me," he told her. It was impossible to tell if he was stalling or not. Everyone in the information business knew that it was only a matter of time before a captive would cave in and spill his secrets. Therefore holders of important information used greyboxes to seal away the information. The beauty of that device was that it was next to impossible to unlock them during torture as it required a fair amount of concentration and mental discipline, something that torture was designed to break. It was by no means a perfect method as they could be decrypted, but it would take far longer than to break a person through torture – or by invading their mind, Liara guessed.
"That can be arranged," she answered after a few seconds consideration. That got the Salarian's attention. For the first time he saw the Asari standing before him, not only looked at her.
"You are Liara T'Soni. Your people murdered my brother!" he cried indignantly.
"If that is what you want to believe... However I'm also the one that can offer you freedom, not that it is worth much with the Broker interested in you. But if you make your decision quick I can also give you protection," she replied stoically, hoping that the rational Salarian nature would take over. For a minute the emotion warred on Meolin's face but in the end reluctant acceptance won out.
"Fine. I see your point. Lead the way," he told her in disgust. "They put my omni in the storage room over there."
Just as they were about to head for the courtyard, Liara's communicator sprang to static filled life.
"N...mand... to ...oni... C... in... lease..." the voice was garbled and barely discernible but Liara would recognize it anywhere.
"Shepard! Thank the Goddess!"
"You called the cavalry? You didn't think I would leave you hanging, would you?" the line was much clearer now, only slightly distorted. Shepard's words were light but her tone was strained. "Listen, as much as I would like to catch up with you, we are in a pinch. Something is following us and I don't believe it's friendly, so this is going to be a quick grab and run. We are five minutes out, so what's your situation? Anything I should worry about?"
"There are three of us, a Salarian, a Drell and myself," Liara began to report. "We are headed for the cargo yard where we... ahem... parked... our ship as a distraction. There were maybe twenty guards outside but at some point we raised an alarm inside. We eliminated nine guards we encountered in the main building, but I don't know if they came from outside or not. There are no active defences I am aware of that could hurt the Normandy."
"All right, sit tight and wait for our signal. We will cover your escape."
A few tense minutes of waiting just inside the partly opened doors of the main building followed. Feron used his omni-tool to spy out the situation outside, Liara relaying the new intel to the Normandy. The forces outside still guarded the silent freighter but a few kept an eye on the doors they were behind as well. They were not yet convinced if this was not a double ruse where a small infiltration team was the real distraction.
Suddenly a noise even louder than the deafening gale heralded the arrival of the Normandy. Before someone could react several red laser beams cut the cables that would have been in her way. The ship could have just broken through, but Joker was very protective of the paint job. He let his baby float just above ground so that they could make a quit exit. The Normandy flanked the encamped guards, leaving them open for attack. The GARDIAN lasers made short work of five of their number.
"Go Liara, we'll cover you!" Shepard commanded over the radio, just as the rear hatch opened, revealing the Captain, Garrus, Tali and Kaidan laying down suppression fire on the mercenaries that had managed to reach cover.
Feron went first, followed by Meolin and Liara. The Salarian was the least protected, as he had no armour, only a liberated kinetic shield module clipped to his belt. Liara wanted to keep an eye on him to help him in case of an emergency.
A sudden roar to her left startled her. She hadn't paid enough attention, focused as she was on the Salarian before her, and now the Krogan was charging her. She had just enough time to realize that it was not a Krogan at all but a grotesquely large Salarian!
Her eyes widened in fear as she recognized him as Tazzik, one of the Broker's most trusted enforcers. In the next moment the air was driven out of her lungs as Liara was pushed against a container. Distantly she heard Angie cry out for her.
Tazzik tried to choke her as Liara struggled, throwing feeble Biotic punches at her assailant. Just as her vision darkened, the pressure on her throat vanished and Liara slumped to the ground. After taking a couple of desperate gulps of air she managed to get back on her feet, still in a daze and seeing spots. Another angry roar snapped her back to focus on the situation at hand.
Feron had jumped on the Salarian's back, pawing at his face. Apparently he hit one of the Salarian's eyes, seeing as Tazzik's right hand covered one of them, while with his left he was trying to dislodge the Drell. Just in that moment the Salarian got a hold of Feron and dislodged him in short order. He held him up by the neck for a moment, letting him struggle against his grip. With a grunt he threw the Drell towards the still pinned down mercenaries where he came to rest in a heap.
Just as he was turning around to focus on Liara once more he was thrown himself by a very powerful Biotic Throw. Shepard, who by now had joined Liara, had not wasted her chance to hit the Salarian alone. She immediately grabbed Liara's arm and dragged her towards the Normandy.
"Feron... we have to save him!" Liara finally remembered halfway to the ship.
"There is no time!" Angie told her, gesticulating towards the air. Just in that moment a huge shape appeared in the mists. It had to be a ship at least the size of a cruiser but it looked more like an asteroid. The ominous red glow didn't help in the slightest. Liara gaped at it for a second than ceased all resistance, letting herself be dragged to the Normandy.
As soon as they were on board, the doors still closing, Joker took off, followed by a few quick swerve. Shepard immediately set off towards the CIC, forgoing the hideously slow elevator in favour for the maintenance ladders.
"Status report!" she shouted as she ran.
"Don't know what that thing is, Captain but it packs one hell of a punch! Now if you don't mind I'm concentrating on not getting hit!" Joker was shouting, close to panic. Joker's never been this tense before. Who are they?
Just as she arrived at her command post, the swerving subsided.
"I think we are clear now Captain," a much more collected Joker radioed her. "This baby is still the most nimble lady in the galaxy. At least with me twirling her bits." There were a few guffaws at his innuendo. Deciding to forgo proper decorum in favour of raising the spirit, she decided to join the banter. What the hell. We deserve some fun.
"And what would you know about twirling a lady's bits, Mister Moreau?" Shepard asked with a smirk and a raised eyebrow.
"Why, I will have you know, I did the most extensive study to date, on comparative bit twirling. If you want an excerpt of my research data, I can recommend 'Venia'..." he broke off. "Too much?"
"Just a bit Joker," she told him, not really upset. "We'll have to scrap the medal as a disciplinary measure."
"Oh no! Woe is me! I don't get to stand for hours and listen to speeches and crap. Whatever shall I do!"
"So let me get this straight," Angie said, mirth in her voice, as they were laying in the Captain's bed. "Some idiots tried to scam you on your way to Omega, knowing that you were a Biotic and probably way out of their league. You stomped them and stole their ride. Then Aria invites you into her booth, giving you advice which she never does for free. Later you seduce..."
"I did not seduce Feron!" Liara huffed indignantly, straining a bit against Shepard's embrace.
"...seduce your informant who wanted to betray you, causing him to second guess himself. Then you ignore Aria's advice and get captured by some two-bit thugs," Liara managed to look contrite at that statement but Angie continued mercilessly. "You put the fear of God into the leader and made him piss himself..."
"He did not piss himself!"
"...almost piss himself even though you were captured and bound. You escaped and apparently Aria helped you out again, without even asking for something in return."
"We would have escaped even without her help," Liara mumbled, resigned that she would not get off the hook.
"You invented Biotic flight in a dirty alleyway on Omega of all places, just to storm a building minimizing collateral damage. After finding your target gone you finally do the smart thing and contacted me," Angie said with a smile and a kiss, taking away some of the sting. "But instead of waiting for me you barge into an unknown situation without any backup..."
"Feron was with me," she tried to interject.
"... any competent backup," Shepard allowed. "And to top it all you barge in flying with your new-found powers, doing something like a HALO jump during a storm of at least scale ten if not higher. With someone riding piggyback. You not only manage to survive but also infiltrate one of the Shadow Broker's bases without anyone immediately noticing. Then you managed to steal some very important data and rescue your target with a minimum of fuss.
"You don't do normal, Liebling, do you?" she finished with a chuckle.
"Well, that makes two of us, don't you think?" Liara said with a smile, snuggling closer to her lover. "Besides all would have been for nothing if you hadn't come for me."
"You know I will always come for you Liara, if you only let me," Angie answered, suddenly serious. "I know I can't wrap you in cotton and leave you somewhere safe – and frankly I don't want to. I don't believe I can save the Galaxy without you by my side. I can't save it for the Humans, the Turians, the Asari, and all the others. It's just to big! But I can save it for you. With you.
"I want to be by your side no matter what we get into. I know we can't face everything together. But please, don't take such high risks without me. You know I would drop anything in a heartbeat for you. Just let me know and I will be there for you."
"I... Yes, I promise," Liara relented. "But this goes both ways. I don't want you to take on high risks without me either. I want... have to be with you, damn the danger. Without you I... I wouldn't know what to do. I would rather die."
"Hush, don't say that, Liebling. Neither of us is going to die anytime soon."
As Liara was drowsing off, Angie was still thinking. Time. It all comes down to time. We need time to prepare, time to wake up the Galaxy. I hope we will be given enough, but I fear we won't. And even if we survive by some miracle... I can give her a hundred years but after that? What will happen to Liara when I'm gone?