A/N: So it turns out the military keeps one very busy. So much for having free time and all, but I'm back for now. I still haven't given up on this story, so please bear with me as updates will be slow. Hopefully not as slow as they have been though. ;)

The colonists were all okay. Unconscious thanks to the gas grenades Shepard had been given. It had been too late to save Calista before she was taken but the Commander would not take that. She refused. She would get Cali back in her arms again. She wasn't going to ever let go this time around.

"Fire up the Normandy, Joker." Amelia ordered, feeling the anger in the thickness of her voice. "We're leaving."

"On it, Commander." The pilot answered back immediately. No doubt he sensed her ire.

The others followed behind her, oddly quiet, and tense. Wrex and Garrus had hardly talked to each other throughout the mission but that was something to be expected. Something told her it wasn't just their earlier argument that had caused it; it was hard telling how Garrus thought of Cali but Wrex was a little easier to understand.
Maybe it was because of the genophage and not having any kids of his own, but he was not happy. He had acted like a protective uncle, just as Cali called him, over the little girl. Whenever he was around Cali acted like the kid she was, climbing onto his back and laughing over small things the big reptile said. As hardened as the Krogan was it was easy to see that look in his eyes when he saw the girl.

Whatever the Thorian was it hadn't exactly harmed anyone unless one counted the Cerberus agent bleeding out on the ground. "Check for vitals. If he's alive grab him." After the short run-ins Amelia had had with that yellow symbol it wasn't so hard to recognize it. At first she had thought it had been Black Frontier to take Cali, and no doubt they were still looking for her from what Tela had told her. But Cerberus had gotten here first.

The level of resources that organization seemed to have scared the Commander a little. Just what were they trying to do by experimenting on and killing people right and left? Anything she could come up with in answer to that wasn't good, and served to increase Amelia's apprehension and fear for Cali. The girl was special, and only one of her existed. She was smart and compassionate and helpful even without the visions. With them and the biotic abilities included Cali must be some kind of irresistible quarry to those who would exploit those traits.

The thought made Amelia feel vaguely ill.

"What about the Thorian creature?" Garrus suddenly questioned as they passed through the lower levels. A spike of guilt and hesitance rose in the Commander. She swallowed.

A bad ass marshmallow! Cali's giggling, adorable voice echoed in the back of her mind.

Against her better judgment and everything she knew these colonists had been through, Amelia just couldn't leave Cali waiting. Every extra minute wasted was another minute in the arms and claws of those who would torture her little girl. She had already been through too much, too soon, too often. The colonists were the ones who could wait. Amelia would send in her report and talk to the Council. She could call for someone else to come, or maybe she'd even come back. But later.

Right now the only thing she cared about was getting Cali back. She knew it wasn't fair to the others or the colonists for just up and leaving. The shaky guilt settled in her gut and she almost hesitated on her run up the stairs. Almost.

"It isn't hostile to anyone not looking to destroy it." Amelia answered. "We'll be back later."

There was a silence where she expected to get arguments in return. Maybe they cared about Cali enough to let the matter wait for the moment. Even if that wasn't their main motivation behind going along with Amelia's admittedly hasty reaction, she appreciated it. They couldn't afford to have a broken up crew on different pages even if just for a limited amount of time.

No matter who stood in her way she was going to destroy everything she needed to, to save her little kid.

William almost laughed. Almost. It was just too easy to catch up to that Cerberus ship thanks to the tracking his inside man was doing. After all of this he'd have to extract the guy before he was killed on suspicion of being a rat, or just leave him to die. Either way he had gotten what he wanted- Beta Prime was practically in his hands and the thought made his inside buzz in excitement. The closer he got to finishing this job the closer he came to seeing his daughter again.

It had been expected that a battle broke out the second he and the pirates caught up. Cerberus opened the fight with a canon blast that grazed his ship's shields heavily. If not for his pilot's skills in dodging they may have sustained more damage to their defenses. So maybe the salarian wasn't so bad after all, whatever. At this point everything around him was a means to an end.

The pirates responded in kind and opened up their arsenal on the Cerberus ship. The intensity of the initial blast reminded William that pirates or slavers (or whatever the hell they wanted to be called) weren't built around long battles let alone fights with prepared opponents. They had high rate of fire and plenty of it to spare, but their focus was a blasting wall of rounds and sheers that would cut through their target's defenses and cripple them. Since there was no use in actually destroying target ships slavers focused on tech warfare to render the potential victims helpless.

Granted pirates were a little more offensive, the reasoning still stood that neither type stuck around for very long. William would have to make use of them while they still lasted. "Light them up, pilot." William ordered coolly. He could admit to feeling a little overconfident with his odds.

"Sir, there's a problem with the array! We can't get a lock on them!" his pilot argued back. Irritation spiked in William just as he realized exactly what the salarian was saying to him. There shouldn't have been anything wrong with his ship. It didn't make sense for it to suddenly start falling apart as soon as he finally catches up to Cerberus.

Unless there were rats in his midst. William glared down at the pilot's terminal to see the malfunctions he had detailed. True to his word, red lit up half the screen. So maybe he wasn't the rat but this wasn't right. It didn't make sense. How could anyone have gotten onto his ship without his knowledge?

On the monitor before his chair William could see the pirates and Cerberus trading blows. "The Captain is trying to hail us sir!" the pilot called out with fingers running swiftly across his own screen.

"Ignore it." He answered. "Get those arrays working again."

Just as he finished his sentence there was a rumble deep in the belly of his ship. It was quickly followed by two more. Explosions? William's eyes narrowed into slits, remembering the jerk in the hull when his ship hit the relay before. Had infiltrators been lying in wait all this time?

So Cerberus was a little smarter than he gave them credit for. It wasn't going to stop him. "Sir, the hull has given way!" a lady behind him called. "Two life signs detected leaving!"

William cursed.

"Keep up the counterattack." Miranda ordered quickly, pacing in her place on the bridge. The pirates were quickly losing steam and giving way to her ship's canons. Black Frontier hadn't fired yet thanks to her two agents inside.

"The pirate shields are down." Miranda's pilot returned a minute later, swiping along his screen with all the haste she would expect. It was only a matter of time now.

It was a fortunate thing that she had been sent on this retrieval above anyone else. It had been the first time she was ordered to go after the mysterious little girl, but after losing her those few years before more than once to Black Frontier the Illusive Man obviously didn't want to take any more chances.

While she would have liked to watch pirates and slavers die in the exploding wreckage their ship was quickly becoming she had slightly more pressing things to attend to. Her crew knew what they were doing on the bridge.

It wasn't long before she found the med-bay and strode in. The doctor in there was wearing a mask and obviously in the middle of surgery. Seeing such a small girl lying on the cold metal and deprived of most of her clothes was bad enough. With the burns and the smell and all of the glaringly bright metal moving around that little, vulnerable body, Miranda felt her hands grip tightly together behind her back.

A rumble and a jolt from the ship's canons sounded off in the distance of her mind. "Is something the matter, boss?" the doctor asked suddenly, jerking Miranda back to the present world. She had almost forgotten he was there in the few seconds she had stared upon the little girl. Little Calista.

"How is it coming, doctor?" she answered his questioned with another question, deflecting from his words. She wasn't about to open up to anyone let alone a random doctor she hardly knew. Especially not about an innocent child she wasn't supposed to care about.

"Well, her eye is perhaps the worst part." The doctor began distractedly, not moving his eyes from his work. "The acid ate too much of it to salvage so it will have to be replace. Luckily you kept it from sinking further, so her brain and anything else behind her eye is just fine."

Relief at the news relaxed Miranda a little. She wouldn't have lived it down if she or her team failed to retrieve a child, even one like Calista. Aside from that the girl was important to the Illusive Man's plans. He had concerns about the future that he felt the little girl could help with, given her supposed seer abilities. If she didn't have those, which Miranda believed, then her biotics and Prothean visions could help otherwise.

"The acid from the rest of her body has been extracted and the burns sanitized." The doctor continued slowly. "The subject's blood indicates an interesting ability to heal. If so, that combined with medical care will see those burns gone and any scars invisible. It will simply take some time for her to adjust."

Miranda ignored the feeling of indignation that rose up at the way the doctor spoke of the girl.

She is not a subject.

The thought flitted through her mind too quickly to realize it was really hers until it had already passed. The idea of being protective over an acquisition startled the operative. She knew she shouldn't have spoken to the girl or been so patient with her chances back at the depot, but in cases of similar events before she hadn't cared.

It couldn't be that she cared for this little girl just because they had met once, or even that she was a child. Maybe they added to it, but whatever was causing her to feel this way needed to stop. There was no way she was going to do anything to put the mission in danger, even if it was risky. Having two Spectres after her with Alliance backing and Council interest wouldn't be easy, especially when those two Spectres obviously loved that little angel…

Abruptly Miranda turned away and left the room. She viciously pushed down whatever mutinous feelings were trying to spread in her gut, adamant against getting emotionally involved. Calista was important and could help prepare for the Reapers. That was it. It wasn't as if she'd be experimented on like she had been in Black Frontier. Cerberus was protecting the girl just as much as Commander Shepard was failing to do so.

Right. That was it. Simple.

Miranda huffed slightly in victory, ignoring the image of that big smile on such a small face. She returned to the bridge in time to see the pirates explode. "Our two agents sent onto the Black Frontier ship have returned." Her pilot informed her.

"Good." Miranda straightened, linking her hands loosely behind her. Command posture to inspire confidence, she reminded herself. "Disengage and head for the relay." It was time to get going before the Frontier ship got their bearings back. Until they reached the base she'd be busy identifying the mole that had dug its way onboard.

A/N: Again, I'm sorry it's been so long since I've been around. I AM back now though, so I'll do my best to update at least once or twice a month given free time. I'll also see about making the chapters longer, as I don't like short ones either.