[Author's Note: There's been a minor update to the very end of this chapter. If you're interested in knowing what happens to the crew of the Normandy next, directions are below. Hope to see you there!]
"That's not much."
Shepard glanced up. She'd been engrossed, staring into the exoskeleton like it was an interesting advertisement. The med bay wasn't as filled as it had been in her more recent experiences, but with the addition of the half dozen or so wounded and unconscious patients from the mission, as well as the metal shell and a batarian body, it still felt crowded. Chakwas was alternating between running scans on the latter and flashing Shepard severe looks. She supposed she deserved at least part of that. She also hoped her new injuries didn't put her beyond repair. It was unlikely be possible.
She turned her gaze to look at Vega, who was leaning against the wall across from her, on the other side of the exam table. He'd been at the debrief with the others, but had insisted on coming with her to hear the prognosis. Which one, he hadn't specified.
Shepard frowned. "Sorry, didn't catch that."
"You think maybe we can trace Harbinger with this?" He repeated.
She shrugged. "I don't know for sure. I doubt we'll get anything but suspicion if we bring this up with Sirta directly, but I wouldn't know how to start with a trace. Hell, we didn't even know this existed until a few minutes ago."
"Yeah, we did." Jacob walked into the room with his omni-tool alight, reading a passage off of the extranet. "Turns out, Sirta was running a prosthesis project a while back. Real advanced stuff. But they got shut down when a terrorist group stole a shipment. Used a couple of crazy supersoldiers to mow down a hospital in '89."
"What does that tell us?" Shepard asked.
"Mostly it just confirms what we already know." He closed the omni-tool. "I'm willing to bet Cerberus robbed that shipment, but if I know them, they already removed any tracers it might've had on it. But, Sirta might still have files on the suit's capabilities. The more you know, right?"
"Can you get those files?"
Jacob nodded his head back to where he'd come from. "Liam contracts out to Sirta, I've already got him on it."
"Great." Shepard held back a sigh and turned around. "Anything, Doctor?"
"The good news is, he's not a person, exactly." Chakwas moved the seals around the batarian's helmet. "I detected quite a few nonexistent systems and modifications. Small things, such as missing hearts, three lungs..."
The helmet came off, and Shepard grimaced. It looked as though Cerberus had used their modified soldiers principle on some batarians. The thing in front of them looked halfway turned into a Cannibal.
"And all of them were like this?" Jacob sounded disgusted. "Where did they even find enough of them?"
"No one blinks if pirates take a ship or two in the Traverse, even in modern times." Chakwas explained. "Especially not the Hegemony. They've got enough to be worrying about as it is."
Shepard felt a twinge of pity for them. She recognized fully the implications of batarian space being conquered so readily. As if their bad press wasn't already enough. She may have fought off their assault on Elysium, but it would be naive to think of them as the only bogeymen of space. Jerks and saints, just like us, She thought.
"This doesn't make up the full part of their crew, either." Vega said. "Vaya told us that Harbinger was ordering around a couple of stooges who sounded like they had some self-control. Maybe they kept around field commanders to put the robots in line."
"Well, whatever the case, we're not going to get many more answers here." Garrus piped up from his cot in the corner. "But it looks like we're in the dark again. At the least, we should make sure we have the full team aboard. How long until we get to the Citadel?"
"Three hours." EDI replied.
"Perfect." Garrus groaned. "Wake me when we dock."
"Shepard, if I could see you outside a moment?" Chakwas' words weren't a question so much as an order.
Shepard nodded, and the other three gave her sympathetic looks. They stepped outside the med bay, and Shepard noted briefly that the door leading into the gunnery station appeared to be locked. She'd wanted to talk to Lokkan about what had happened much like she'd spoken to Jacob and Vega when they'd arrived, but now felt that it would be disrespectful. She could wait until he was ready.
"Doctor, I-" Shepard began.
Chakwas held up a hand. "Don't overconcern yourself, Commander. I know full well you're unabashed at the moment. I can't say that I'm not disappointed, but honestly, this was expected. You're not at your peak, but I can't very well confine you when so much is happening, can I?"
"So that means I can officially return to ground team rotation?' Shepard asked.
"Goodness, no." Chakwas said. "I can't condone that in the slightest as a medical professional. I just won't be very surprised when you ignore it in favor of charging off."
Shepard smiled a bit. "Thanks, Doctor."
"Whatever for?" Chakwas winked and went back into the bay.
Shepard, for her part, elected to return to the CIC and kill time until another crisis arose. When she stepped out of the elevator, she remembered a question she'd needed to ask, but had forgotten up until that point.
"Traynor." She said, alerting the Specialist to her presence.
"Commander." Traynor nodded without taking her eyes completely off of the systems she was monitoring. "Something you need?"
"I'm curious, actually." Shepard paused, wondering how to phrase it. "What are you doing here?"
"There's really no ship I'd rather serve on." Traynor said. "But if you mean how I got here, Kaidan called me, oddly enough. In preparation for this mission, or so I assume."
"And everyone else?"
"Joker was already here, but to the best of my knowledge Adams, Daniels, Donnelly, Cortez and Chakwas all got the same message. There were others, I assume, but we were the only ones who came along."
"Well, I appreciate it. What have you been up to before now?"
"Sadly, not very much. My time planetside has been terribly dull, especially without the constant threat of death." She smiled. "Speaking of, would you like me to patch you to Admiral Norran?"
Shepard was mildly surprised, mostly because she'd almost forgotten why she had been at New Damascus in the first place. But she nodded. "Patch her through."
"Shepard." Norran said formally. "I trust everything went well?"
Shepard tried to keep her throat from tightening. "Not...exactly. The facility was compromised, and we were only able to evacuate a few civilians. The rest...didn't make it."
"I see." Norran's voice was heavy. "Who was responsible? Do you know?"
"Cerberus." Shepard said. "Their ringleader escaped."
"Their...ringleader, yes." Norran sounded wary, then. "Harbinger, correct? Major Alenko mentioned that he'd changed sides."
"I don't think he was ever on ours, Admiral."
"Mm. Do you have any leads?"
Shepard shook her head. "No. But I'll keep you up to date."
"Godspeed, Shepard. This cannot happen again. Norran out."
The arrival of the Normandy on the Citadel was preceded by much waiting around. A group of five was clustered around the viewport, each one attempting their own ways to pass the time. One, a synthetic, had enough raw patience to last several lifetimes, and so stood still. Another, separate enough from the others to remain undisturbed, kept readjusting his hood. The slimmest and largest figured were engaged in quiet conversation, and the last merely looked on, counting the seconds.
It was a relief to all of them, then, when the ship in question finally docked. However, the flood was equally unexpected. Six marines and as many wounded on cots were carried and walked out of the airlock, right past the welcoming party. Behind them was a group that numbered as many as those who were already there.
Tali stepped over, alternating glances between the dozen people in a hurry and Shepard. "Business as usual?" She asked.
Shepard nodded. Behind her, a dark-skinned man and an Alliance marine built like a wall rose their hands in greeting. Tali returned the gesture with a nod of her own. "Let's just say there were difficulties."
Beside her, Kaidan's eyes fixed on the hooded man. He showed no indication of hostility, but Tali had grown up where reading body language was a necessity. The Spectre was wary. Shepard leaned to the side and did a mental head count, then frowned. "Where are Renar and Davisson?"
Shepard's eyebrows rose. "Come again?"
"Davisson's in for Arson, Murder, and resisting arrest." Tali went on quickly. "Renar for murder, too. ...Of an officer."
"What. The hell." Shepard said blankly.
Tali channeled her best 'it gets worse' tone. "The rest of us would have been taken in, too, but I pulled diplomatic immunity and Kerrin works for Wrex. Deshayla and Jeddah managed to get off charges thanks to that, too. Crazz sort of...wasn't there. But we couldn't get the other two released. It looks bad."
Shepard put a hand over her face. "Tali, please tell me that the charges are false."
"Er," Tali hesitated. "Actually, it's completely true. Just not in the right context. Davisson and I wiped out the faculty of a terrorist hideout and then they activated bombs, not us."
"And the resisting arrest?" Shepard asked.
"He tackled a C-Sec officer during our shootout in the diner." Tali went on past Kaidan's exclamation of 'what?!'. "But it probably saved his life."
"Uh-huh." Shepard sighed. "And Renar?"
"From what he told us, he and Crazz took down three big-name criminals and their henchmen, and the dead officer was A as dirty as they come and B not killed by them, but some hidden sniper." Tali explained.
Shepard nodded. "I see." She turned to look at the hooded man at the back of the group. "Crazz?"
He nodded and took a step forward, offering his hand. That she couldn't see his face was slightly unnerving to Shepard, but he seemed cordial enough. "Bob Crazz."
"Commander Shepard." They exchanged a handshake. She allowed herself a small smile. "And yes. I'm dead. I know."
"Well Heaven's Gate doesn't hold a legend for long." He said simply. "Do you suppose freeing them is feasible? I owe Renar for his intervention on my behalf."
"We'll see what we can do." Shepard looked behind her. A sixth part of the entourage, a woman, sidled up behind the girl next to Jacob. "Jacob, I imagine you want to see to their people. You remember where the hospital is?"
Jacob nodded thankfully. "Yeah. C'mon." He motioned for his family to follow, and they disappeared down a corridor.
"I should...probably go, too." Vega said. "Toss in my report, maybe head back to base. But Shepard...thanks. You too, Kaidan."
"Don't mention it, James." Shepard told him. "Stay safe. Everyone else," She turned to address the others. "Feel free to get settled on the Normandy. Tali, Bob, mind coming with me?"
"Not at all." Bob said. Tali shook her head in assent.
"But go over that shootout." Shepard said as the five of them (Jeddah and Kaidan fell into step) made their way to the elevator.
"It's surreal, actually." Tali explained. "We'd all just gotten back and were at the dock, and decided to go to this diner in the wards. We were attacked halfway through lunch by a combination of thugs, assassins, terrorists, and C-Sec. I think...there were twenty-two in all?"
"Hmm." Shepard nodded slowly. "And how many seconds did the fight take?"
"Fifty seven, I was impressed." Tali chuckled. "The thugs in particular were resilient."
"Most of the Citadel Security force ended up unconscious." Bob elaborated. "After they attempted opening fire on us. The last two were quite brave to make arrests. Though, obviously, Renar and Mr. Davisson were semi-willing."
"And you?" Shepard asked.
"I made a tactical withdrawal when the last hostile body hit the floor, as it were."
The elevator stopped on the main floor of C-Sec headquarters. One officer spared them a glance, then a triple-take. She looked familiar.
"Officer Vanno." Shepard said.
"Commander Shepard." Vanno replied smoothly. "I appreciate the delivery." She indicated Bob.
"Not quite." Shepard crossed her arms. "I'd like my people back."
Vanno sighed. "Then you're going to have to step into my office." Her office, a short ways from the wards access corridors, was roughly half the size of Shepard's cabin, and there weren't an overabundance of seats. Fortunately, Jeddah didn't need to sit and Bob elected to lean against a wall.
"Right." Vanno exhaled slowly, apparently gathering her resolve. "Now...what's all this?"
"Evidence, officer." Tali supplied politely. "We have it in hand that the detainees and Crazz are not in fact guilty of the charges you wanted to arrest them...ah, and us...over."
Vanno perked a brow. "You have my attention."
"When Davisson left Dr. Michel's clinic, I hacked into his omni-tool and set it to record ambient conversations to mine. I may have simply forgotten to turn that function off. Everything afterwards is on here." She tapped her left hand. "And here." She held up an OSD, which she handed to Vanno.
"I did something similar with Renar's omni-tool." Bob spoke up. "I may not have an OSD but..." He opened a recording, which broadcasted around the room.
"Yeah, something I can do for you, uh...citizen?"
"Does an officer Jelanis work here?"
"Madak Jelanis, that's me."
"Well, good. I'd like to...report a crime."
"You want to report a crime...to me, specifically?"
"Yes. That is, it's just a little something I need...taken care of."
"And what makes you think I'd know anything about that? I should report you."
"I don't think our mutual friends would like that. Think of it as an opportunity from our...employer."
"Humor me, then. Who is this employer?"
"Say his name, here? I'm not as dumb as you think."
"That remains to be seen. Come with me."
"You idiot. Contacting me inside C-Sec? Don't they teach you rookies anything?"
"Not every situation allows for subtlety. I had to find you right away."
"Don't get smart with me. Nothing's important enough to risk blowing my cover."
"What did you want, anyways?"
"That's easy, 'officer'..."
It shut off. "Cameras will also show that while a confrontation ensued, neither I nor Renar fired a killing shot. That distinction belongs with an unknown assailant." Bob said calmly.
"Interesting." Vanno pondered the information for a time. "This is going to take some consideration..."
"Good." Shepard said. "While C-Sec considers, I'll be taking Renar, Crazz, and Davisson into custody."
Vanno blinked. "You-"
"Actually, we can do that." Kaidan said. "Shepard and I are both Council Spectres. We have rights to take criminals into our own custody."
"And if, while they're with us, it turns out they aren't guilty..." Shepard shrugged.
Vanno pinched the bridge of her nose. "Yeah, sounds about right. My boss is going to eat me alive, though."
"Tell him to talk to me if he wants to bring anything up." Shepard smiled.
"Before you go, I'll need a copy of that." Vanno pointed at Bob. He nodded and pulled out an OSD from one of his pockets. After a few moments, it was ready and passed. Vanno then shrugged. "Cells are just past rapid transit. Block B. I'll call ahead."
Renar woke silently.
His sense of touch was the first part of him to awaken fully. It informed him that he was still prone, draped across a small, uncomfortable cot. His memory caught up quickly. He remembered a shootout, he'd taken a punch from someone...it hadn't done much for his previous injuries. Everything else was a blur. He definitely recalled C-Sec at some point. Just before he'd gone to sleep, his surroundings had been vaguely reminiscent of a cell.
He opened his eyes. Sure enough, he was in holding. There was a door and a window. Not much else. He tried to sit up, and succeeded, for the most part, but he was still hurting. To his right, a silhouette of a man leaning against a wall near the corner. His face turned towards Renar, and became recognizable as Empyreus' friend, Darwin.
"You all right?" Dace asked him.
Renar shook his head. "I'll be fine. Where are the others?"
"Better creds." Dalton chuckled. "Or hitting the road, in the case of your buddy. Worked out better for them than us."
That news shook Renar slightly. Bob had fled? So much for new allies, he supposed. But he decided to air a more obvious concern. "When are we getting out?"
"Either when Shepard gets here or never." Darrin said. "When you knocked off that prick, Jelanis..."
"We didn't kill him." Renar said heatedly.
"Doesn't matter what happened, just what they think." Durwood went on. "They took it pretty seriously."
"What about you?" Renar asked.
Darryl shrugged. "Think I'm in for quantity, not quality. Maybe as long as you, maybe less."
Renar fell back onto the cot. It struck him that while he could infer certain things about his current state of affairs from experience, this particular situation was new to him. Apparently, Dawson had caught on to that fact. "First time in the slammer, huh?"
Renar eyed him carefully. "It isn't yours?"
Decker almost laughed. "Why no. I'm a model citizen, of course."
The rest of their wait was in silence, but Dennis' prediction was spot on. Within twenty minutes, a small crowd walked past the clear window, and they heard the sound of conversation on the other side. The door slid open, and Commander Shepard regarded them dispassionately. "Well," She said. "Don't stand around forever."
"Much obliged, Commander." Derrick stepped out of the cell, grinning. Renar followed after, and was surprised to see Bob among the crew assembled. His hood was back to covering the entirety of his face, but that only served to make him more distinctive.
"Congratulations, kid." He clapped a hand on Renar's shoulder. 'You're technically a free man."
"Technically?" Renar asked.
"Yes, technically." Shepard said. "And we are technically going back to the ship."
"So that you can technically regale us with your exploits." Dexter said.
Renar noticed that no one seemed to be implying or stating that Bob wouldn't accompany them. "We need to have a...brief conversation." He said, motioning Bob down the hall.
Once they were out of hearing distance, he lowered his voice to a murmur. "Does Shepard know?"
"I didn't tell her." Bob said.
"If you don't...and she finds out?" Renar let the question hang a moment. "You didn't seem to have a problem in telling me about it."
"Fair points, but I'm not in a hurry to see her reaction."
"You won't know until you try." Renar folded his arms, not intending to back down.
Bob stared at Renar for some time before speaking. "How badly do you want me with you, exactly?"
"It isn't about me." Renar said, perhaps a little too hastily. "Our mission is of critical importance. And with your abilities, you can settle for more than sitting in Chora's Den."
Bob mulled it over. "This mission...what is it, exactly?"
"For that, you'll have to ask Shepard."
They locked eyes. But Renar was already thinking Game, set, match.
"Hmh." Bob nodded. "All right, kid, you have my interest. But I'll need to ask you a favor...if she decides to shoot first and ask questions later, I need you to cover me."
"You can dodge bullets." Renar pointed out caustically.
"She's Commander Shepard." Bob shot back.
Another locking of eyes, another match of wills.
"...Fine." Renar relented, silently hoping that Shepard was not, in fact, the type to shoot first and ask questions later. They rejoined the group soon after, and Renar waved the Commander over.
"Need something, Lieutenant?" She asked rhetorically.
"Yes." Renar's nervousness was already beginning to show thought, so he rushed. "We should clear the air before moving along..." He motioned behind him.
Without the slightest bit of pretense, Bob dropped his hood. In the half-second that followed, Renar could see every iota of information work its way from her eyes, to her brain, to her hands. He could almost feel her pulse quicken, though the sounds of her breathing were dampened by the sound of her pistol being drawn...but not fired.
"I'm having an off day." She said through gritted teeth. "Explain this one to me."
"He's ex-Cerberus..." Renar began to explain.
"You're not making me feel any better, Renar." She muttered.
"Ex-agent in question would like to speak for himself, Commander." Bob's posture was relaxed, unconcerned. "If I may resort to shorthand, I left to clean up their mistakes. One bad run too many allowed me to see the light, so to speak. If whatever you are doing is even marginally greater a task than minute investigations here, which I hazard a guess is a correct assumption, I want to be a part of it."
"Did you 'see the light' before or after the operation?" Tali, too, had drawn a sidearm.
Bob spared her a glance. "I chose the modifications. My problem comes when others are not given such a choice."
Dmitri, who had no weapon, though not by his own will, cocked his head to one side. "...Wait a minute. Were you on Baak?"
Bob looked mildly surprised. "Yes. The site of my epiphany, as it were. I assume you were my assailants, then?"
"So I gather." Tali said. "You look different when you're not in motion."
"Well since everyone knows him but me..." Shepard looked between Tali and Dominic.
"Well, he didn't try his damndest to kill us, so that's a point." Dolan said. "Cheeky S.O.B., though."
Bob shrugged. "Guilty."
Slowly, Shepard lowered the barrel of his pistol, though Renar noted that she kept it aimed at Bob's kneecap. "God knows we could use more support. But we'll have to keep you under guard."
"I understand." Bob said calmly.
Shepard shook her head. "Tali, Davisson. Escort him back to the ship. Pick up your impounded weapons, too."
Renar realized a little too late that this left him and Shepard alone. She eyed him with a steely gaze of disapproval. "I don't appreciate you springing me on this so suddenly, Lieutenant."
"I..." Renar faltered. "Yes, Commander. It won't-"
"But if he turns out to be as useful as you apparently think he is, we'll end up having a much different conversation." She moved her head to indicate the direction of the docking bay elevator. "I'll see you back on the ship."
As the turian strode off, she opened her omni-tool, which had been silently alerting her to a new message for the past five minutes. It was untraceable, with no address.
I'm sorry that I couldn't talk to you directly, but you're on the bloody Citadel. As soon as possible, get back to the Normandy. Not only have I located another base, but it seems to be host to more Reaper forces than normal...and a Collector. I'll send the coordinates to Joker momentarily. Look forward to seeing you there.
Shepard stood, staring at the words, for an eternal minute. A crackle preceded a voice over her comm unit. "Uhhh, Commander?"
"I got the message, Joker." She turned, and began tracing the path back to her ship. "I'm on the way."
They had a heading.
[EDIT: As of right now, the next part in the saga is officially up on this site. Apparently placing links in-story is a pain in the ass, so just hit up my profile if you're interested.]