As soon as humanly possible, Shepard had directed Joker to set up communication with the Task Force in Balor System, the call had been routed to Shepard's omni-tool and the Spectre had asked the Commanding Officer to send assistance to the asteroid and the Task Force commander had duly agreed to do that, and a small detachment would arrive the next day. The Normandy would remain on station near Mahavid until relieved.
Shepard had quickly ordered the remaining team members from the Normandy to provide assistance and security at the mining facility. Shepard wanted to keep the workers under control until the Navy Task Force detachment arrived. The Mahavid detachment was going to be rotated in six hour shifts and a new detachment would take up the task of security. The detachment was also going to be augmented by as many Marines and crewmembers as possible drawn both the day and night shifts. Every Alliance Marine and sailor, regardless of military occupational specialty, was first and foremost a rifleman, so the War Room technicians for instance was running security at the facility as manning the War Room was not a essential function for the ship at the moment. Chakwas had arrived as well, ready to provide basic support to as many as possible before the reinforcements arrived, there were 150 people in the facility that needed some sort of care, and they were all psychologically unstable at the moment. The facility's team of doctors and nurses were just as shocked by the events they had learned of as their fellow miners, but they duly went to work to provide aid and counseling to those in need.
EDI had learned from surveillance footage and medical reports that the unconscious man in the medical wing was in a coma after receiving a serious head trauma in the fight earlier in the week against Garneau when the indoctrinated miners had cornered the xenoarcheologist in the mines. The comatose man had been taken care of, but it was impossible to say when, or if, he would wake up. So not only was the T-GES employees forced to face the reality of a lost decade, but that also that one of their co-workers was dead, and the other was in a coma. Suffice to say, spirits and psyches were low.
Shepard had also questioned the head of mining operations about the indoctrinated man who had taken his life and destroyed the artifact, and it appeared he had been a janitor. Shepard could only speculate about Leviathan's intentions with the imposter, but it wasn't impossible that the imposter would have been directed to return with the Normandy to the Citadel and from there try and covertly derail the Alliance's mission to find the Leviathan, the ruse would have worked if Shepard's team hadn't heard the real Garneau's recording about the artifact. But it appeared Leviathan had managed to derail the mission for the moment.
Eventually, Shepard and the team he had brought with him on the mission returned to the Normandy to recuperate, except EDI who obviously didn't need to do that and remained to assist the others. Shepard had instructed everyone not to mention the war, or explain in detail what EDI was, or what species Javik was for that matter. Shepard still felt the workers were too weak to have all that sprung on them without proper counseling. They would learn about the Reapers and the war soon enough.
Obviously the miners had a lot of questions, and were frustrated by the lack of answers but eventually they gave up, resigning themselves to eat, rest and comfort each other.
Shepard stepped out of the bathroom newly showered with a towel around his waist. Miranda had showered earlier and was dressed, sitting at the computer browsing Garneau's omni-tool data she had downloaded. He walked over and wrapped his arms around her and rested his chin on her shoulder. He kissed her cheek and glanced at the monitor.
Miranda smiled, feeling comfortable being wrapped in his embrace.
Shepard asked concerned, thinking back to the mission and Harbinger's attack on her, "Are you alright?"
Miranda leaned her head against Shepard's cheek and said softly, "I am. Some bruises on my back and the ribcage."
"You have to be careful," Shepard implored.
"Now you know how I feel, you dolt," Miranda said snarky. She softened, Shepard had also been hit by fire, and she asked, "How are you?"
"Bruises," Shepard simply said.
Miranda turned her head just a bit and kissed his cheek, "You be careful as well. You hear?"
"I'll do my best," Shepard promised with a glance at her
Miranda nodded and turned to face the monitor and stared at nothing in particular and mumbled disconcerted, "Harbinger…"
"Yeah, this is probably big if it has Collectors running around and possesses them," Shepard said.
"I hate fighting Harbinger, it's just so relentless and then it addresses one on the battlefield which can make anyone falter."
Miranda smiled faintly, "It helps fighting with you."
"Likewise, Ms. Lawson," Shepard said and squeezed her body tenderly. "So, have you learned anything from the omni-tool?"
Miranda nodded and rose up, Shepard released her and straightened himself. Miranda faced Shepard and explained, "The interesting parts regarded the sphere, there are theoretical data on the energies emitted from the sphere which taps into the electrical frequencies within the neurons of the brain. Although Garneau was fairly certain that some sort of link akin to QE particles are established between the subjects and the sphere, a long range signal from which Leviathan can control the subject. He had typed up an e-mail to warn Bryson but as the communications was cut at the facility, he was unable to send it."
Shepard said hopeful. "If we're lucky the thing in the lab might be less powerful because of the size difference. It very likely takes some time before a victim is indoctrinated."
Miranda smiled victoriously, "In fact, we are a bit lucky. The cage for artifacts comes with a suppression field, just like the device holding the piece from Sovereign. Bryson had such a field installed if Reaper artifacts were to be stored there. With the theoretical data Garneau believed that the suppression field could be manipulated to suppress the sphere's energies."
Shepard nodded satisfied, "I'm going to make a few calls, send that data to my omni-tool."
"Okay," Miranda replied and tapped her omni-tool
Shepard gestured to the closet, "I'll get dressed and head to the comm room."
Shepard had ventured up to the comm room and called Hackett to give him a quick brief. As Shepard had spent the journey from the Citadel to Mahavid and finishing up his report on the Clone business, he would have time to write a proper report on the Leviathan so far, but he wanted to give the Admiral a quick verbal report on the situation and had spent several minutes explaining everything to Hackett on the QEC.
When Shepard was done Hackett contemplated somber, "This is troubling, Shepard. This is the first time I've received reports that Harbinger takes control of its creatures to partake in combat. If it is personally involved this is of grave importance and its important that we find Leviathan before the Reapers do."
"Agreed, Admiral," Shepard replied.
"I'm curious how this mining facility managed to stay operational, unsuspicious and off the grid even in a territory such as Aysur."
Shepard nodded, "Yeah, I assume the best explanation is that as long as Leviathan doesn't need its puppets, or as long as there's no threat, they're allowed to go about as normally as possible so they don't draw any attention to themselves. The datapad with Garneau's recording on suggested they had behaved normally upon his arrival but when he had become a threat they became drone-like and eventually cornered and killed him. Just as Hadley acted normally until Bryson and myself became a threat."
Hackett mused, "Reminds me a bit about your report on the thorian. I'll check in with T-GES for any additional info, if they had any issues with Mahavid or suspected anything. I'm just crossing my fingers that T-GES isn't indoctrinated by…whatever Leviathan is. If it's a rogue Reaper that could spell trouble."
"We don't know enough, but yeah, some things point to that."
"What will you do now, Commander?"
"We'll stay on station to watch over the workers and give aid if necessary until the detachment from Balor shows up."
"Yeah, a wise choice. It'll be interesting to see what the government on Arvuna says about a handful of Alliance ships showing up."
"You think they'll attack once they show up on sensors?"
Hackett shook his head, "No, but with their attitude towards the Alliance and the Citadel, they might throw a fit. Besides, the ships the Arvuna Defense Fleet has are 30 years old and are no match for our ships. Still, I've talked with the Task Force commander, who has relayed my orders to the detachment; and they are not to seek out any sort of contact or confrontation with the local defenses." He asked curious, "What about the Normandy? You aren't detected I assume."
"Negative, sir. But we got about two hours left in our vents so we'll find a nice spot to disengage the stealth systems, vent, and lie in wait on the dark side of an asteroid."
"Understood, Shepard. If you can get in and out without being detected that's at least one headache less. The arvunian president would cry covert actions against them if they learned an Alliance stealth ship was around. I don't have the patience with such petty politics during the war now. And I bet Osoba can be without that as well." He shrugged, "Not that it will matter that much, but it's just something we can do without for the moment."
"Yes, sir. Have you found Ann Bryson?"
Hackett shook his head disappointed and bewildered, "No, it's like she's gone under the radar. Wherever she went, she's doing a good job of hiding herself. And it seems the rest of Bryson's team – those under his daughter's leadership – are gone as well, we can't reach them either."
"Maybe they're out on some fact finding mission? We'll take a look at Bryson's lab, see if we find anything."
Hackett asked concerned, "The artifact in Bryson's lab. What will you do about that?"
"It was smaller than the one in the facility, maybe it's less powerful?" Shepard pondered. He shrugged, "Regardless, I'm going to talk with Bailey and have him clear out a two block radius until we get back. Apparently there's a suppression field in the cage which we'll activate, Garneau believed it would block any signal from the sphere if manipulated according to his theoretical data. I don't know the range of the sphere, but I want to keep these residents under surveillance just in case they show strange behavior. I'll push again that nobody approaches the lab and we'll secure it as soon as we return."
Hackett pointed out, "Sounds good, but that field can be activated remotely. It was put in place just in case anymore Reaper artifacts would make it to Bryson. I'll activate it, Shepard. One less thing to worry about."
Shepard smiled relieved, "Thanks, Admiral." He tapped his omni-tool, "Here's Garneau's data so you can adjust the energy field."
"No problem, Commander." Hackett explained, "There are a lot of safety measures in that lab. Not only has the lab multiple power backups, the suppression device around the piece of Sovereign comes with its own internal power supply which will last for a year just in case the lab looses power. The artifact cell works just the same." He continued seriously, "But we've to keep this Leviathan business under wraps, Commander. Those involved in C-SEC has already been issued stern directives to keep quiet. If word come out there's some artifact on the Citadel that can indoctrinate people there could be mass hysteria, the Council wants to avoid that. I'll brief the Council, just worry about the mission, Shepard."
"Good, I have faith in you, son. Hackett out."
Hackett's hologram faded and Shepard terminated the connection.
"EDI, call Bailey, please."
"Yes, Shepard," EDI replied and sent out a request to Bailey's communications VI.
While waiting, Shepard asked curiously, "So how was your first combat experience?"
"Very interesting, Shepard. The ability to manipulate a computer, or partake in combat physically was clearly different from my shipboard experiences. Encountering Harbinger was…disconcerting, I feel it is my duty to proclaim that I'm committed combating the Reapers, they threaten everyone in this galaxy. It is not blind programming which compels me to fight."
"I didn't say I doubted you, EDI."
"Much appreciated, Shepard," EDI replied friendly. A moment later EDI said, "Call accepted, I can connect."
Liara glanced at the wall of monitors displaying the feed she had from Feron. The drell was standing in a communications room aboard a freighter, repurposed by the drell as a command and control center for his operations in the Terminus Systems.
Liara had taken a quick shower after the mission and was back at her computers. She said calmly, "The project is finished, Feron. But…recent developments and encounters have me holding off on the final library. But are the capsules themselves ready?"
Liara's time capsule project had been in motion for some time, she needed to preserve things for the future. She had compiled information on the Reapers, different cultures and blueprints on the Crucible. Feron would be in charge of the seeding operation, Liara wanted to send as many capsules to as many planets as possible throughout the entire Milky Way. Nothing was foolproof, but she had installed a VI with every translation and linguistic program she could find. Hopefully future species would be able to understand the content.
Feron nodded on the screens, "Yeah, we've begun low-level production at the facility. We could produce thousands as long as we receive the raw material for it, Liara. When you feel the library is ready send it to me and I'll do a mass upload of it to the devices."
"Good," Liara said relieved with a faint smile. "I can't tell how long this investigation will take, but I feel the need to hold on to use the time capsules until finished. This could be important." Liara also knew she couldn't hold off indefinitely, who knew how the state of the galaxy would be within a month or two. It was important to leave as many caches as possible for the next cycle, but she also wanted to get as much information as possible into the time capsules. And whatever this Leviathan was, it seemed big.
"Right, I'll wait for your go of course."
"How is the scouting of the Terminus going, Feron?"
The drell chuckled amused, "We eventually made contact with Tazzik yesterday. The look on his face was priceless." Feron continued seriously, "He was not happy that you put me in charge of the scouting, but he and his crew is capable, they're keeping us safe. Most of it can probably be ascribed to the minor Reaper presence in the Terminus. For now at least."
"Good, but if he becomes a problem, remind him who his boss is," Liara replied coldly.
"Don't worry, he's behaving. So are the pirates and mercs, even if they're on the edge."
"So far so good," Liara said relieved. "That Aria is still able to supply the allied forces with eezo, is fortunate, and the minor Reaper presence in the Terminus is a blessing, because when the Reapers destroy eezo industries in Alliane Space or Turian Space we lose important material for ship drive cores."
Feron nodded despondent, "I know, but the black markets are not reliable, Liara. And we're having trouble getting in touch with suppliers. Either they've fled, or they have been killed by the Reapers or anybody else looking for a quick score. And that's even more troubling for supplies to the Crucible Project, it won't be to long until the Alliance will be in trouble when things get worse."
"So, how's the mood amongst your group?"
Feron shrugged, "The other operatives think we should cut our losses, but I just keep asking them; 'when did the odds ever stop the Broker?'"
Liara merely nodded. She had lost a lot of operatives since the war, and she was running out of people. She had blocked all emotions and saw them merely as pawns to be used. It was easier that way. Well, everyone except Feron. Despite everything they had been through during the hunt for Shepard's body he had proven himself loyal and was doing an admirable job.
"Okay, Feron," Liara said friendly. "Report back to me when you have an update."
"Always, Liara." He looked at the asari with concern, "Take it easy, and be careful."
"We all have our parts in this war, we can't turn complacent too often, the Reapers aren't slacking ," Liara simply said and dismissed Feron's concern.
"Right," Feron said disappointed at being dismissed. "Until next time."
Liara regretted her reply and smiled apologetic, "Sorry. I will be careful. You be careful as well, don't take an unnecessary risks."
"I won't," Feron nodded encouraged this time before he shut down the feed.
Liara made a note on her personal datapad to start looking for other venues to secure raw materials for the Crucible. As the Terminus was still not being as contested over as turian and human space there was still time to act and secure other sources. But she knew she had to do that fast as the situation could change at any time.
Still, she was satisfied that Linron had yielded the week before. She had not resigned, but she had ordered Salarian Central Command to pledge forces to the war as they saw fit, and it was good news among a heap of bad news. Liara had morosely received updates during the week of transit that asari forces had pulled back more than half of all their forces protecting elcor space, and this would leave the client race to fend for themselves within a week or two when all asari forces was gone. Of course the elcor was protesting vehemently, but mostly to deaf ears amongst the asari matriarchs. And that made Liara cringe in disgust over her own people's actions, plus there were now reports of Reaper forces on the fringes of asari space, which included elcor space and the Silean Nebula – home of Dekkuna, the elcor homeworld.
Liara put away her datapad and sighed dejected. She needed to cleanse her mind a bit, and she felt the craving for food to replenish her energies after the mission. She had yet eaten, instead she had jumped directly into work after the shower. Liara decided to grab some food and take the time to calm down a bit and grabbed one of her other datapads on the computer table and left her office. Working on her findings on protheans was a sure way for Liara to wind down.
She left for the kitchen and prepared a meal and sat down at the small table in the empty mess hall and started to eat. She had her datapad next to her, she had compiled a long list of potential names for her book about protheans. When the war was over she wanted to write that book, with or without Javik's help, but it would be invaluable with the prothean's insight.
She hated coming up with titles for her own academic work.
Liara spent some time eating and drinking, going over the titles when she heard a turian voice, "T'Soni."
Liara looked up to her left and saw Garrus swagger down the steps.
"Garrus," Liara smiled. "What brings you here?"
"Food, what else?" The turian deadpanned. "What are you up to?"
Garrus passed the kitchen and headed straight for the table.
Liara glanced at her datapad, "Oh, I'm trying to figure out a title for my book."
"Book?" Garrus asked and sat down in front of the asari.
"Yes, when all this is over I want to publish my findings on the protheans. We can learn so much more with the linguistic program Javik gave us, and I asked him last week if he wanted to help me with such a book and he would consider it if we survived."
"You and your protheans, Liara," Garrus quipped.
"I think we can learn from the past, sadly we didn't in time," Liara said morosely. She scrutinized Garrus and asked a bit embarrassed, "Maybe I can run a few suggestions by you?"
"Uhm…protheans and scientific books aren't really my forte," Garrus pointed out sheepishly. "Maybe ask Shep, he's got a cipher in his head. Or Miranda, science is up her alley."
"Well, they aren't here so you've to be my victim," Liara quipped. She teased, "And you got half a brain cell in there somewhere, I'm sure."
Garrus' grimaced offended, "Alright, game on, T'Soni."
"Good," Liara grinned victoriously. She suggested, "The Protheans and Their Legacy?"
Garrus shrugged, "Unless that's a chapter about the Collectors, maybe not."
"Hmm, maybe you're right," Liara contemplated. She made a few notes on her datapad and said appreciatively, "Not a bad idea."
"Hey, I'll be credited as a co-author, right?" Garrus prodded eager.
Liara snickered, "You'll get a mention on the last page."
"Thanks," Garrus said sardonically.
Liara grinned and continued, "The Rise and Fall of the Prothean Empire?"
"Yeah, that's alright. A little long but spot on."
Liara made a note on her datapad and continued cautiously, "The Forgotten Prothean?"
"Uhm, don't know what Javik will say," Garrus pointed out. "He seems a little too proud to be associated with a word like 'forgotten'"
"You could be right," Liara nodded. Maybe it was wise not to annoy him, she could need something more powerful.
Garrus joked, "Maybe 'The Culinary Travels of a Prothean?' He likes to eat primitives after all and prefers salarian livers."
Liara snorted to suppress a giggle, "Shut up. This is serious." She continued evenly, "The Prothean Empire?"
"That works. A strong title to, spot on."
Liara nodded, she liked it to, and Javik might to. She suggested, "Journeys with the Prothean?"
"Sure," Garrus nodded. "I like that, it's an eye catcher considering we have the only prothean." He grinned, "Don't forget his food habits to, just to mess with the jellyfishes a bit."
Liara rolled her eyes at his childish escapades. She started typing feverishly with new ideas and thoughts.
Garrus glanced at Liara, "This really is your grand love, aint it? The protheans."
Liara stopped typing and looked up. She explained a bit flustered, "Well…yes. I'm not a people person. Digging after long lost secrets and discovery have always been my greatest passion. I get flustered and say stupid things around people."
Garrus smiled reassuringly, "Correction, you did. You've come a long way since the shy archeologist we found in a prothean bubble."
"Well, thanks, Garrus," Liara smiled, she did her best not to blush at his kind words.
"And now you charge into battle like a krogan," Garrus chuckled.
Liara narrowed her eyes on Garrus, "Are you making fun of me?"
"Maybe," Garrus teased. His turian grin faded and he contemplated curiously, "I'm more interested how you know you are a quarter krogan? Or were you teasing Wrex?"
Liara explained, "Well, I met my father last week."
"I overheard you mention something about a father to John during our small memorial to Kaidan. But I haven't pried. You haven't said much about this to anyone but John."
"Matriarch Aethyta," Liara explained. "She has been spying on me for the matriarchs on Thessia." Liara cleared her throat, "They've been interested in me since my dealings with Miranda finding John, and my mom's…" Liara trailed off with sad eyes, "well, you know."
"Sorry, didn't mean to bring up bad memories," Garrus apologized sheepishly.
"It's alright," Liara assured and pushed away the thoughts about her mother's fate.
"So you met your father?" Garrus asked.
"Yes, well, her own father was a krogan, so I'm one quarter krogan," Liara said proud this time about her heritage.
"Dangerous combinations." Garrus teased, "Asari looks and krogan bloodthirstiness."
"I'm not bloodthirsty!" Liara declared defiantly.
Garrus chuckled, enjoy pushing her buttons, "But you were gonna rip the skin of some human last year."
Liara sighed weary and shook her head, "I had to make my point come across. And he believed by the way that I would." She glared at Garrus, "Watch it so I don't kick your scaly butt with my biotics."
"Hey, I have a nice butt," Garrus said offended. "Keep away."
"You're quite attractive," Liara flirted. There was a glint in her eyes and she snickered, "For being a turian."
"Of course I'm," Garrus scoffed. "I'm a lady killer."
Liara asked incredulous, "Really? I've never seen these so called 'lady killer'-moments."
"Well, you should have seen the girl I picked up during shore leave."
"And you're full of yourself to, Garrus," Liara retorted teasingly, "so I have to retract my attractive statement. Some humility in a man comes a long way. And you shouldn't brag about conquests."
Garrus chuckled amused, "Ouch, shot me down pretty good. Well played, Doctor T'Soni."
Liara smiled and laughed jovial at their banter. Downtime with her friend was exactly what she needed after the mission.
Being in Shepard's arms in the bed that night just felt so perfectly right, their bodies melded together and his hands caressed their way down Miranda's back to her butt where they settled. Miranda lay on top of him and gazed deep into his eyes with an amorous smile. The delicate horniness radiated through Miranda, her body throbbed and screamed for John. She needed him and had to have him, and soon. Miranda placed her dainty hands on his chest and biceps and caressed his muscles and started to kiss his chest, caressing his nipples, kissing and sucking them into her mouth which drew groans of pleasure from Shepard, she loved that deep intimate moan that just came from him. She kissed her way up his chest to and their lips touched, and Shepard wanted her just as bad. All she could focus on was John and how he felt against her, his musky scent and the erotic play of his wet tongue against hers and how he caressed her butt. They kissed deeply, their tongues were sliding against each other. She loved kissing his mouth and feel that wonderful tongue in her mouth.
They parted with a gasp and she drew air into her mouth with anticipation what she was going to do with him. She could feel the warmth of his muscular chest against her bountiful breasts, she could feel his hands caressing her ass, body, hips, back and all the way up to the nape of her hair where he twirled and played with it. Miranda touched and caressed Shepard's body, relishing in feeling her lover's features.
Their breathing was ragged and uneven.
Their eyes met and she smiled at him. She could feel his arousal pressed to her and she knew he was ready, as was she. Miranda's smile changed to a playful smirk and she straddled his hips and mounted him which made both moan at the wonderful sensation. Miranda slowly began bucking her hips to his, getting faster and faster and Shepard responded with moving rhythmically with her.
Shepard was mesmerized by the beautiful woman, he reached out to fondle and massage her breasts. Miranda leaned forward and invited him to kiss, lick and suck her breasts while his strong hands explored her breasts tenderly and she wrapped her arms around his neck and head. Their pleasurable moaning and groaning filled the bedroom. Minutes later Miranda sat up and bent her back while her hands clenched in her long, dark hair. Their breathing was heavy and Miranda's eyes were closed in ecstasy while her body shivered and her mind could only focus on the sensations Shepard was producing in her. Shepard's hands delicately, and greedily, explored her curvy and slim body.
Miranda let go of her hair and joined Shepard's hands exploring her body, guiding them where she wanted them. She felt needed and appreciated with his strong and loving caress on her body and his eyes taking in every centimeter of her. She felt sexy and desired, she craved John's attention, the closeness, their love and his touch. She needed that structure and friendship.
Miranda was writhing on top of Shepard and they finally climaxed, animalistic sounds were coming from their throats in an orgasmic torrent. Miranda thrusted one last time before she collapsed on top of Shepard, burying her head in his neck. Both wrapped their arms around each other sated as their sweaty bodies shivered while deep breaths and groans filled the room. The blood flowing in their heads were deafening, the thumps pounded against their jaws and throat and temples. The orgasmic surge started to recede and they simply relished in the closeness and savored the afterglow.
Shepard chuckled out of breath and glanced at her, "You're amazing, Miranda."
"I am," Miranda mumbled snarky with closed eyes. She teased, "You have done your duty, good work." She squeezed his body affectionate.
Miranda opened her eyes and crawled of Shepard and collapsed next to him on her stomach with her head turned to the side on a pillow and her arms sprawled across the bed. She took in Shepard's body before she closed her eyes again and she breathed sated with a goofy smile.
Shepard moved away just a bit and was lying next to her and caressed her shivering thighs and planted kisses on one of her buttocks, moving up to the small of her back while Miranda purred delighted to Shepard adoring her body.
Shepard stopped kissing and smiled at her soft skin and said lovingly, "God, Miri, your body is amazing."
Miranda hummed lazily with a smile, "Thanks…"
Shepard's possessive streak showed up, "And to think it's all mine…"
Miranda opened her eyes and taunted with mirth in them, "You think so, don't you? I'm not your possession."
Shepard grinned, "You should think twice before you say that." Shepard continued kissing slowly up her spine while his hands caressed and explored her back.
Miranda's mind was lulled by her lover's seduction, her breathing was heavy but she taunted snarky, "I require the best sex toy for my pleasure, so carry on with your duties without arguing with your Goddess."
Shepard stopped at her shoulder while his hands rested on her butt where he slowly caressed her skin. He chuckled, "But you're lying naked in my bed and have surrendered yourself to my actions…"
"Shut up," Miranda snorted to suppress a giggle and looked over her shoulder into Shepard's eyes.
Shepard planted a kiss on her lips which she reciprocated with a smile.
Shepard snickered and squeezed her butt teasingly, "It's pretty clear you can't handle me. I warned you, this is what happens when you lose your clothes."
Miranda huffed, "Oh, You cheeky bastard!"
Shepard smirked and lied down next to her and reached out to coax her to move closer. They intertwined their legs and snuggled close exchanging kisses, wrapped around each other and dozed off for the night, soon sleeping exhausted.
Miranda found herself standing in a suburb of a city somewhere. To her surprise it looked like Sydney and one of the more luxurious areas. She hadn't been there since a child.
A howling electronic droning in the distance caught her attention. It was all too familiar. She knew what it was, her heart rate surged, her palms turned sweaty and fear gripped her. Gunfire echoed on the streets, people screamed in terror and fled in all directions while Miranda saw all manners of husk creatures flood the area.
It was too late, but Miranda ran down the streets for her life, panting heavily as horrific screams mixed with unnatural hissing and growling was heard everywhere when creatures mauled at the citizens. And that awful electronic noise emitted far above her. She fell over her feet but pushed herself of the ground and saw a young woman being pounced by ghoulish Husks ripping her apart, Miranda was sprayed with blood and gore and stopped in her tracks, frozen in horror.
Something gripped her and yanked her of her feet. Miranda struggled, hitting and screaming at the Husk dragging her away. Miranda tried to use her biotics but was unable to muster the strength. She was hoisted up and saw the sky above; fiery orbs – like meteors – came soaring down and somewhere further away a Reaper Capital Ship marched, firing its weapon wildly.
Miranda was placed inside a vertical pit in a black and jagged machine, clamps shackled Miranda and suddenly sharp objects stabbed at her back with a searing pain, she screamed as the spikes tore right through her skin.
Her mouth filled with blood and tears poured from her eyes and she screamed for John as she felt Reaper nanites surge through her body, the electrical impulses and her own adrenaline sped up the infection and she could hear the disembodied voices in her mind taking over. Calling for her.
Miranda was rapidly dying, in a mix of terror and disbelief. Images of John and Oriana flashed before her eyes before her mind was gone-
-Miranda suddenly awoke in the real world, her eyes widened and she stared out through the ceiling window above the bed; stars far away glimmered peacefully.
Miranda was still wrapped around Shepard, who was sound asleep, hours after their sex. Her head was pillowed on his shoulder.
Miranda was very much alive, but the terror from the nightmare persisted. A very vivid nightmare. She finally understood the affect John's own nightmares had on him, but instead of jolting awake like he, Miranda had been still and hadn't awakened him up. Yet that nightmare had been terrifying and shaken her more than she expected even if Miranda's superior mental fortitude was already processing the nightmare.
She glanced at the peaceful John at her side, she smiled but soon she looked at her lover and friend with despair as grim thoughts went through her mind.
What would he do if I died? Would he miss me? Mourn me? And for how long? Would he find someone else? Would he forget me? I wonder if he truly understands how much he matters to me.
Miranda sighed exasperated before she closed her eyes. She wouldn't bother him with her nightmare, it was of no concern to him.
The next day Shepard had received updates from Hackett and Bailey. C-SEC had evacuated the neighborhood, claiming a potential bomb threat which was actually quite common considering the troubles across the Citadel so the C-SEC order didn't rise to many eyebrows, but there had been a lot of complaints from the residents being forced to leave their homes. Hackett on the other hand had used the data supplied by Shepard and remotely manipulated the suppression field and activated it.
Hackett had also been in touch with T-GES and inquired about Mahavid, but leaving out a lot of details, apparently they had not suspected anything untoward going on at Mahavid, the facility had carried out its mining operations without any issues, and they had always delivered to meet demands. Employees from the asteroid had even left at several times to take vacations and returned later to Mahavid. Shepard had no doubt those employees had been on recon missions across the galaxy for the Leviathan.
Hackett had also learned that Garneau had bribed a mid-level mining executive so he could have full clearance and codes for the Mahavid facility. Garneau, who had a fairly high level Alliance clearance, had supplied this woman with a priority evacuation pass. Garneau had learned that the woman had family on the colony world Charion VI in the Attican Traverse and with this pass she had evacuated these family members on the first transport leaving. The Alliance still wanted this entire situation kept secret and had urged T-GES not to do anything to punish the executive. The Alliance wanted to question her but would not levy any charges at her as that could bring the entire situation into light and turn the executive and her family into martyrs. It was best to settle this without any outside attention. The Alliance would also make sure she hadn't learned anything classified by Garneau and leaked it. A thorough investigation was needed, and if need be the Alliance would move the executive and her family to a secure location so she couldn't leak anything of what little she knew.
The detachment from the Navy Task Force in Balor arrived as advertised. Shepard held a quick council with the Commanding Officer of the handful ships. Shepard informed that Chakwas had given aid to the one needing it the most, but that proper care would be needed, as well as a stable debriefing with psychologists to ease the workers in on the current situation in the galaxy. Beyond that, the workers were still in shock about the lost decade, but they were also agitated about receiving no answers about anything concerning the galaxy from anybody on the Normandy crew deployed to guard the mining facility.
There was a quick turnover as the Normandy detachment left and the Navy forces moved in, bringing with them a proper medical team as well as food.
Once the Kodiak had returned to the Normandy the long journey back to the Citadel began.
After docking at the Alliance Citadel base, Shepard and Miranda, accompanied by EDI, left the Normandy for a skycar heading towards Bryson's Lab. Shepard had decided to bring with them EDI due to her skills, going through Bryson's servers manually would take time and hopefully EDI would speed up the process. Alliance Intelligence had still not been able to track down Ann Bryson, they were in the process of remotely accessing Bryson's servers, but he had installed various custom made safety measures so the process was slow.
Shepard had learned from Bailey that the residents evacuated from the neighborhood were acting normal, and Shepard concluded that if the artifact truly was contained, any connection between org and the residents were cut. Still, Shepard didn't want them to return just yet. Bailey would see to that the residents were kept under surveillance a bit longer, and once they were allowed to return home C-SEC would still keep the residents and the lab under surveillance.
Shepard settled the skycar in the lush courtyard and powered down the systems. The trio exited the car and headed over to the entrance where the systems verified Shepard's identity before allowing access.
The door slid open and they stepped into the studio and stopped in the middle of the room.
Shepard glanced down the hallway to the lab, in the distance he saw the holding cell. A blue tinted field internally surrounded the cage and its items. He turned to his followers.
"The suppression field is in place," Shepard said. "But let's try to do this quickly, just in case."
"Sounds wise," Miranda said.
"Understood, Shepard," EDI replied. "Leviathan seems to use it defensively, it controlled Hadley to protect itself. Leviathan tried to divert us when controlling the impersonator before he attacked us and destroyed Mahavid's artifact. Leviathan wasn't seeking confrontation until threatened."
"You could be right EDI," Shepard said. "But we also don't know anything about what's actually going on, and what Leviathan is and its agenda. And with Ann Bryson out there somewhere, she could be in harm's way with the Reapers chasing after Leviathan."
Miranda nodded, "Let's find her then."
EDI said, "The sphere is our only link, despite the risk we have to pursue the leads we have."
"Indeed, maybe the scientists have found something." Miranda sighed weary as she looked around, "We'll have to find that lead in here somewhere."
EDI had accessed the lab's intranet and servers, and said "I have limited access, it's a very impressive security setup. Only a few computers have extranet connection, and the servers themselves are on the local intranet with no extranet access. There are multiple layers of protective measures and If given time I should be able to breach. But I'm searching through Hadley's final notes. It seems he was doing some research on the sphere and was unable to find any infrared and ultraviolet emissions. Neither any gamma or X-ray radiation was detected. Ha apparently fell asleep at some point during the night and concluded that he was unable to find anything conclusive. The curious part is when he wrote that 'this thing isn't really important.' And then he declared it safe and inert and suggested that it should be kept for reference and 'we all should be near it.' He recommended abandoning hunt for Leviathan." EDI concluded, "Clearly he had been indoctrinated during the night."
Shepard nodded, "Yeah, and then Bryson and I became a threat, and Leviathan had to act."
EDI continued despondent, "It appears several hard drive clusters has been wiped by Hadley before he attacked Bryson. Backups have also been destroyed. Hadley did a thorough job under Leviathan's influence to destroy important information." EDI then said pleasantly surprised, "Although it appears Bryson has received a message on his private terminal upstairs."
"Let's go upstairs and take a look." Shepard said.
"I can access it from here, Shepard," EDI assured.
"Oh, right. Yeah," Shepard said a bit sheepishly, forgetting for a moment that EDI had access to the apartment's intranet.
"Standby." A moment later EDI said, "It appears to be from Ann Bryson, dated last week. I'll play it." EDI's voice changed to a human female, that of Ann Bryson, "We have set up our presence at the dig site in the Pylos Nebula. Project Scarab paid off. Most of the equipment we brought with us are in place and secured. We're now setting up computers. There are definitely some interesting things here, a lot of ancient cave paintings. We'll take samples and try and date them. We also found a sphere which appears very similar to the one Alex found. But I don't think they're of prothean origin anymore, we found the sphere in an area with a lot of cave paintings of a Reaper – maybe Leviathan. I think the sphere is actually Reaper in origin. I recommend that you shield the one Alex sent you, we're staying away from that part of the immediate area which is the best we can do while we start crafting a shielding device. I tried to contact Alex, but couldn't get through to him. The buoy network this close to the Terminus is not reliable and it even took hours to establish connection to you. I'll try and contact you again in the future with updates on our work." The recording stopped and EDI said in her normal voice, "That was everything, Shepard. And it gave us a few clues."
Shepard frowned and mumbled apprehensively, "Another artifact. This does not bode well."
Miranda nodded, "You're right. But at least we now have an approximate location." She faced EDI and asked, "Anything on Pylos Nebula, EDI?"
"It's located in the border regions between the Attican Traverse and the Terminus and contains several systems. Depending on which system Ann Bryson is located in we should have about eight days of travel, maybe an additional day of FTL flight, before we reach our destination."
"Then we have to find whatever system she's gone to," Miranda said.
Shepard chimed in, "Can you find out what ship she left on, EDI?"
"Standby. Yes, records of several ships used by the teams, if we can find which Ann Bryson used we might be able to learn something. Accessing records; MSV Kirkwall matches the data from the Mahavid computers, Garneau arrived with it." EDI said pleased, "Wait. MSV Icarus was used by Ann Bryson and her team."
Shepard smiled pleased, "Good. What can you tell us about the ship?"
"It is an Athabasca class freighter, able to carry a lot of equipment and prefab labs including a large number of passengers. It has enhanced electrostatic discharge cells, thus it is capable of long range FTL flight."
"Right, then Ann Bryson cannot be in the main relay system," Miranda surmised.
"Correct. Otherwise they would have charted a less expensive ship. She made several procurement orders for her crew. And my analysis based on what she purchased and didn't purchase it appears the planet is habitable but arid."
"Any matches in Pylos Nebula?" Miranda asked.
EDI nodded and informed, "Yes, the data indicates that the Zaherin System contains an arid but habitable planet, it's called Namakli. It was once colonized by an asari corporation, the Pyrena Corporation. Asari colonists brought with them socialized vorcha workers but over time there was an economic downturn and the colonization effort ceased. The asari left and the the vorcha population kept growing to a point where they bred to fast then could be educated and they turned violent and uncontrollable. Records show a small colony population of various races at under 10 000 scattered around the planet."
Shepard said, "Let's get there. Perhaps Ann could fill in the gaps we're missing. EDI grab the contact information from her message to her father and let's try and contact her from the Normandy."
"Downloading," EDI replied. "But with civilian comm buoy network at peak capacity and severely damaged, reaching Ann Bryson might be complicated. And disregarding the war, communications in the fringes of the Traverse is not the best developed, so it might not be the easiest to contact her. And there's no Alliance or other military network connected to Pylos Nebula being so far away from civilized space."
"Well, it's worth a shot," Shepard said. He gestured for the door, "Let's go. EDI, tell Joker to prep the ship, I want us undocked with the base as fast as possible on our return."
"Yes, Shepard," EDI replied.
No Stone Unturned is the name of the achievement/trophy unlocked after completing Mahavid.
Thanks to EbabahCussiEnoImreh for; suggestion on remote activation for the suppression field, thoughts on handling the mid-level executive.
Charion VI is a planet from Halo lore.