29: Blindsided

Miranda stood at the dais of the CIC, her eyes moving rapidly against the maps and camera feeds that EDI had brought up of Omega. To her right stood Specialist Traynor, her own eyes looking at half the screens that popped up, looking to find something, anything about what had happened in the last few minutes.

The genetically perfect woman had stood there just minutes ago, talking with her Captain, waiting for his squad to return to the ship and provide the necessary plans for the foreseeable future.

It all seemed so simple, which should have been her first guess that something was wrong, things are rarely normal in this line of work and particularly around Shepard.

A playful line of dialogue here, a coy response there, and then...nothing. John Shepard maintained his marine training consistently while in armor and would never attempt to tease his lover that way. It was her job in their relationship to do that. At first she allowed herself to think it was some feedback that came from a station of this size, random occurrences that all combined to make the feed break up. It was rare but did happen. When a standard check of the system didn't reestablish connection, followed by his suit's tracker disappearing from the display of personnel disembarked from the ship, something was wrong.

Slamming her fingers onto her omnitool with a greater ferocity than was the norm, she was multitasking and trying to open up the back-channel access to Shepard's omnitool. Nothing. That increased the odds this was professionally done, as a jammer that powerful to account for the various forms of communication would be high level tech, most notably asari or salarian in design. Millions of communications being done by the second, yet in the marketplace just meters from the Normandy it was a complete dead zone.

A part of her secretly admired what had just occurred. Whoever hacked into Omega's feeds was able to splice multiple loops previously in the day so as to make the constant stream of people look much more natural, finding the smallest gaps in the replays with which to switch over to another recording.

The other part of her was genuinely concerned that this was someone who would be able to provide a challenge for John. This person (or persons) had years of experience, the kind of attention to detail that reminded her of Thane. Or herself.

"Where is he, dammit?" She grumbled, eyes darting around as she simultaneously typed away, giving up on the omnitool angle and looking to get into her own back channels from her time on the station, seeing if any of her contacts survived the war and Cerberus' occupation. "And where are Zaeed and Liara?"

"EDI keeps trying to raise their signals, both via comm chatter and their armor's tracking system, but nothing is any different than it was minutes ago."

We already know that, why are you repeating yourself? Miranda kept her opinion within her mind at what she considered unnecessary dialogue coming from the young specialist's lips.

As Traynor finished speaking the elevator opened, with Garrus, James and Javik stepping out, armored up and ready to exit the airlock, the human sprinting forward to take the lead.

"Good to go, XO. Just tell us what we need to do."

"Isn't it obvious? Find your bloody Captain!" Miranda's order was harsher than she had meant to convey, but she felt that entire question was a waste of time, time she spent looking away from the screens in front of her.

Joker's voice was heard both on the intercom as well as echoing down the hall at the helm of the ship, "XO, EDI's reading activity right outside the airlock. A tracker appears to have returned."

"Just one?"

"Yes ma-"

Joker's confirmation was interrupted as the airlock slid open, with Liara out of breath and her normally pristine white suit tattered and frayed. She had been struggling to take in air but her eyes said it all.

"Freckles, girl, what happened?" James holstered his shotgun as he went to place her arm around his shoulder to use him as support, noting the gash on the outside of her left leg. Taking her down to Chakwas at this moment would be unwise, so he effortlessly lifted her into one of the co-pilot chairs.

Miranda's face turned even paler than her normal complexion for just a brief second as she stepped down from the dais to meet the Shadow Broker on an even level.

"Blue Suns," Liara blurted out, coughing as she tried to breathe and speak at the same time, "they ambushed us, scrambled our comm units, and there was a firefight. He sent me to go get help..." her eyes locked fully on the woman who brought him back to life. Liara did her best to keep her face emotion-free but to all present they noticed the small moisture that began to show on the edges of her sparkling blue eyes.


7 Minutes Earlier

"EDI, have the others returned to the Normandy?" Shepard asked through his earpiece as he and his squad made their way back through the streets of Omega to their dock.

"All crew are accounted for with the exception of you, Zaeed, and Liara," the recently rescued AI responded, keeping the informal tones the squad has requested. "Would you like me to patch you through to Miranda?"

"Um..." The rather blunt nature of the question took him surprisingly off guard. "Please."

A moment of silence was on the other side of the channel until a soft spoken Australian accent hit the Captain's ear. "John."

"Miri."

He was surprised by how simple her greeting was, causing him to simply mirror it in kind in order to get the words our of his mouth. As her name left his lips he winced internally at how it made their conversation sound, since he could detect a little bit of regret and embarrassment in her voice. He hated this emotional standoff.

"We're on our way back, we've got the all clear from Aria for the time being, and some channels for EDI to monitor for any quarian activity."

A light chuckle came from her lips as she heard the information which brought a slight look of confusion on her Captain's face that she was unable to witness. "John, EDI could access those channels with little effort."

"Miranda is correct, Shepard," the Normandy AI chimed in, monitoring (or rather eavesdropping) the conversation.

Trying to save face at the simple realization, the Spectre quickly elaborated "It was a gesture of goodwill from Aria, and I didn't expect EDI to be completely up and running so I didn't want to bother her."

"I was fully operational four hours ago, I believe you would remember this reconnection of Normandy capabilities from assaulting the Collector base."

"...EDI?"

"Yes, Shepard?"

"Log out."

"Logging out, Captain."

The three made their way through the narrow hallway that led to the connecting marketplace for the Normandy's dock. Like an anthill various docks in this section of Omega led to an open area platform that doubled as a free-for-all with all the various buyers and sellers looking to gather first dibs on materials of merchant ships or getting the first credits from arriving shuttles filled with potential new customers.

Despite the small width of the hallway there were merchants and beggars occupying various sides of the hall, requiring traffic to shuffle to the left or right as they declined to purchase wares or donate spare credit chits. Liara took point while Zaeed, already enjoying the bottle of whiskey Aria provided, made sure no one snuck up on his Captain.

As Shepard nodded slightly to the few humans he saw passing him and recognized his face, he continued his conversation with Miranda. "Did Garrus apologize?"

"Yes. It was heartfelt too, at least for Garrus, so go easy on him."

"I won."

"Of course you did."

"I'm serious, three more punches connected plus I had no armor on."

"Why are you keeping count? That wasn't part of your silly target games."

"...It could be used as a tiebreaker someday."

A very audible scoff could be heard, along with the not yet visible accompanying eyeroll.

"Tali's still stable?"

"She's doing just fine, Chakwas said she'll come out of it in a few hours and moved her to the AI core to continue to recover for another forty eight hours. Garrus even bought her some disk filled with old romantic films that she always fawns over to keep her company."

It seemed Miranda was more than willing to open up now, and Shepard used the opportunity to his advantage.

"She made me watch Fleet & Flotilla once. Please don't tell me you suddenly developed a liking for it because I really can't sit through that film again."

"Of course not. Outside of humanity only the asari know how to make decent films, everything else is hackneyed drivel with no production values. And don't you dare say Blasto!"

"Did I tell you I met that hanar once?"

"No. Why would you-"

"Long story, involves Javik," he decided to take the conversation home as he shook the waiting hand of what appeared to be a turian veteran of the reaper war, the alien walking to him with a prosthetic metal leg, still trying to adjust to the replacement appendage. "I could tell it to you over dinner tonight, if I could get back access to my cabin..."

A silence he expected in their continuing dance of conversation and flirtation arrived over the channel.

"...you ass."

That was all the confirmation Shepard needed, smiling on his end and almost feeling Miranda's smile as well.

"We're almost back, even have some rare Bekenstein scotch if you're up for it."

"Mmmmm," the seductive musing hum was instantly capable of making him lose his thoughts, "sounds intriguing..."

Silence fell over the comm again, only this lasted longer than he thought a pondering of enjoying new alcohol would provide.

"To sweeten the deal, a complimentary back rub too?"

Nothing.

This is Omega, could be something messing with the signal here, an eezo spike below, or...

As he waited for a response he quickly pulled Liara to the side to avoid two turians in black armor chasing a ragged clothed human, who in his hands carried a few pilfered devices, one of which fell just a few meters in front of the annoyed asari.

"Goddess, this is why I preferred Illium. There it was all contractual theft," she grumbled as she knelt down to pick up the fallen thermal coupling.

Shepard's mind was putting the event together, processing it and discovering his mind was blaring that internal warning that kept him alive all these years. He replayed the scene in his head again; as the human ran by something seemed off. A man running from two turians wouldn't have such a neutral look to his face, especially with his arms full of various electronics. He remembered his own experiences in the slums of Earth. Your mind is usually focused on keeping the objects close to your body and escaping and looking like a scared rat.

He then factored in the recent silence on the radio. Miranda would never break off like that. Her teases had always been much more...suggestive than a simple thought of the mind.

"Those turians looked like more than standard security cops, poor bastard's gonna lose his arms if I know how they operate."

Zaeed drank from the bottle once again, causing Shepard to look closer as the container left the mercenary's lips. He took the liquor from the older human's hand.

"Careful, wicked kick on the finish."

When Shepard didn't partake in the whiskey Zaeed watched his Captain tilt the half drunk bottle on it's side, not enough to spill the contents, but enough for the two to silently see the underside of the bottle.

Underneath the concave bottom sat a simple tracker, unable to be noticed from above thanks to the dark hue of the alcohol inside and refraction of the glass.

The two soldiers looked to each other, knowing what had just happened.

"It's-"

"A-"

"Trap." Liara said in a somewhat shocked and raised voice, looking at the inside of the coupling. "This has some sort of jammer inside."

The few civilians who were around were confused by the shouting. They saw thieves being chased all the time, but anything beyond the white noise of market chatter rarely drew their attention, even if it came from a companion of the exhaled Captain Shepard.

The two turians that had run past the squad were seen returning their way, the human they had chased was activating his omnitool to unleash a ball of fire towards the three, damn the people in the way.

Instinctively Liara dropped the device and threw up a barrier along the hall, watching as the searing ball of heat disappeared, the surrounding civilians now in a growing panic about the situation.

"Everyone get down!" Shepard shouted, many obliging the order in the immediate vicinity as he pulled out his Carnifex and fired two shots, Zaeed doing the same to cause the three enemies to hide behind makeshift stalls.

Accuracy wasn't important at this moment, it was a matter of keeping the enemy pinned down as they attempted to reach the Normandy or some area that wasn't as confining as the space they currently occupied.

"Move!" The Captain barked, his squad responded, pushing the few standing civilians to the side as they ran down the hallway. If the squad stayed put they risked putting the civilians in jeopardy.

Zaeed turned back and fired two more shots from his own pistol as Shepard ran at full speed, increasing the distance between his other companions, seeing up ahead reinforcements of the three enemies behind them. This double pair of humans and batarians offered a familiar sight on their blue armor: white circles and detail covering the shoulders and chest of the stark blue plating.

Blue Suns? Aria should have them under her control!

That was all the thought Shepard could put into what he saw at the moment, still not sure what he planned on doing with his increased momentum. At this point all he knew was that he was the sole focus of their fire and no one else. The two batarians carried with them their standard Vindicator rifles, firing a few rounds that bounced off his shields.

The screams and cries of the civilians were lost momentarily as a low pitched hum passed by Shepard's ear, the purple hue that the man saw out of his eye confirming the biotic singularity Liara had thrown ahead to be of assistance.

Its effect took hold as Shepard neared the enemies, dropping his shoulder as he disposed the lone floating human with a weighty tackle. The fight was now up close, and the rifles and shotguns the enemy had were a liability. While one of the soldiers was taken out of the fight thanks to the full weight and force of an N7 marine using physics to his advantage, the other three had been able to resist the biotic pull.

One batarian foolishly tried to end the fight by firing his Claymore at such a close range, the one-shot shotgun missing it's mark and finding only the hallway wall as its target.

After stunning the shotgun wielding enemy with a hard elbow to the face, Shepard's omniblade activated and stabbed the other batarian in the squad, pushing the critically injured alien off his blade and then kicking him into the wall that had just received the Claymore round.

As soon as the soldier was kicked into the wall, slumping to the ground in gasped breathing, Liara had continued to run past the fighting, knowing full well any attempt to fight in such a closed space would not benefit Shepard or herself. She was, however, able to contribute to the situation by firing her Predator a few times into that initially tackled mercenary, making sure he would not rejoin the fight.

The other human was caught between deciding whether to aim at the asari or the human to the side of him who had since engaged with his other batarian ally, the same fool who tried to fire the shogun seconds earlier, but his target would be neither.

"Fucking twat!" would be the last words that human heard as Zaeed had finally caught up, his own omniblade connecting with the Legionnaire's neck. Age kept the old mercenary from being unable to deliver the same hand speed as his Captain, but it was still more than enough to pierce their shields.

All that remained was the one soldier Shepard had engaged. Quick slams to the armored chest stunned the enemy as he was unable to consciously realize his need to drop his claymore, the weight being nothing but a burden as he was unable to swing the weapon even as a club.

A jab to the face, followed by a haymaker, and ultimately two more shots from Zaeed's pistol brought the alien down, never having a chance with how quickly the tide turned since the three recognized the trap.

Shepard and Zaeed knew they still had enemies following them, evident by the returning ball of flames that had sadly connected with an innocent bystander. His screams during his incineration brought with it more cries and panic from the nearby inhabitants of this ward.

The two returned to their run, ejecting clips and reloading along the way. Liara had arrived at the turn of the hallway, leading into the open marketplace just before the Normandy's docking bay.

The asari was greeted with irritated faces of arriving species and merchants begging her to come look at their wares. In the distance, however, she saw that beyond the people who pushed past her parked position were six more Blue Suns mercs. All turian but one, an older man with graying hair who looked directly at the young asari as he patted what would be his second-in-command on the shoulder.

Gunfire erupted, cutting down any who was in the way, followed by screams and then silence as the people fell to the ground. Creating another barrier and raising her pistol, Liara fired the rest of her clip at the enemies, following up with a biotic throw that was absorbed by a Legionnaire's omni-shield.

One thing that was sadly apparent following the Reaper War was that the open-door policy that all species had involving the distribution of weapon and technology. In a pure fight for the survival of the galaxy patents and schematics were as easily accessed as extranet searches for the latest hovercars or holovid.

Since the end of the war many races attempted to shut the door they had opened, but it was a moot point as the information took no break in finding it's way into the black market. Shields that were once used by the famed N7 marines in order to protect squadmates as they disabled indoctrination devices were now being used by common thugs with far less noble intentions.

Liara's aim wasn't the most accurate aboard the Normandy either, and the distance she currently had between the mercenaries showed that fact, only one of the soldiers taking a hit, their shields absorbing the Predator round with ease.

Returning the favor from before, Shepard fired his beloved Mattock as he stepped forward in front of Liara. The uncanny accuracy the man exhibited against the roadblock of enemies bought much needed time as he found new cover. He noticed the black haired man from their mission on Zorya, and hoped this time Zaeed would temper his emotions better.

The Captain's eyes looked down as he hid behind a fallen crate. Its owner must have been among the fallen that were at his feet, a sense of anger rising that these people who had survived extinction were taken down due to what would easily become one of many assassination attempts on his life.

"EDI?! Joker?! Miranda?!" Liara shouted, looking to regain contact with the ship as Shepard continued to fire rounds from behind cover, her other human ally letting loose a barrage of fire from his modified Revenant as he slowly walked into cover behind another fallen crate. Compared to his companions, he clearly enjoyed these types of confrontations.

"Got the fireball fucker but the other two are still making their way up here!"

Having reloaded another clip Shepard again took aim.

Pak. Pak. Pak. Pak.

The sounds of the semi-automatic weapon had become an almost comforting sound to Liara, knowing that only on the rare occasions did Shepard not find his mark when using the rifle. This sound was the only reassurance she had as she was unable to reconnect to anyone aboard the Normandy.

"Still jammed, John!"

"Nothing new!"

"Stop being so calm!" Liara said in an almost feigned sense of desperation as she fired her pistol once again.

From inside the marketplace a familiar voice for the two humans barked out to draw attention and ire from his old colleague, "Clock's ticking, Captain! You need someone with two eyes to actually kill me!"

"Vido! You motherfucking mutt!" Zaeed screamed as his mind immediately put together the originator of the voice. Any sense of cover was lost as the man rose to his feet, stepping forward and angrily screaming as his Revenant fired from the hip. Just like before the older mercenary had no control over his bloodlust when it came to getting revenge on the man who left him for dead.

This was precisely what Vido anticipated with his taunt, and a barrage of fire came their way, Zaeed taking a few rounds as he refused to find cover until Liara was forced to use her biotics to provide another barrier as the older human recognized a need to return to cover, but not before activating a medigel packet through his suit.

Before Shepard could say anything as he returned to cover he saw the two turians from the initial attack arriving at the bend in the hallway. Three more shots were fired as the Spectre's back slid down the crate in order to clear his legs out of the line of fire. One of the turians fell, talon still holding down the trigger as his Vindicator emptied it's clip in its common three round burst, causing his ally to stop his advance to avoid the fire.

"I've got nothing more to live for, Vido, and I will walk through this gunfire to rip your bloody eyes out!" Zaeed shouted as he injected another packet of medigel through his armor to allow him to attempt one more push.

"Zaeed, stay with me for just one more minute!" Shepard didn't know if the man would listen. At this point he didn't care. He reached in front of him and touched Liara on the shoulder to get her attention as she provided cover fire.

"Look down and to your left."

She did what she was told to do as she finished firing, and knew right away what was being proposed.

"I don't like vents, Shepard!"

"Use it to get back to the Normandy as fast as you can, we'll draw their fire for you."

"That's suicide!"

"We've survived it before."

"Come with me," She said in an almost quiet plea amidst the backdrop of gunfire.

"I don't think I could fit. Besides, we're all easy targets if we cram into the shaft."

"But-"

"Once you crawl in, keep going, don't stop for anything, no matter how it sounds," Shepard ignored his friend's objection as he plucked a grenade from his belt. "Liara, trust me, we'll meet up in a bit."

There was no sense arguing with him as he made up his mind. The plan made the most rudimentary of sense. Whatever jammers Vido was using wouldn't be able to interfere with EDI's outside cameras and sensors at the Normandy dock, meaning there was next to no chance any additional forces would be waiting for Liara once she passed this imposed bottleneck.

"With me, Zaeed?!"

"She zigs, we zag, ain't that the story of my goddamn life?"

"Let's see if we can keep your story going for a few more chapters, grandpa." Despite the firefight there was a serene feeling surrounding Shepard and Zaeed's banter, the senior officer hopping over the crate in order to be next to Liara as he ripped open the vent cover to hasten her escape.

"Liara. Go. Now."

The asari gave one last look, nodding her head slightly as she made her way into the vent. Ever since Mars she hated the things, surviving being shot by sheer luck and ineptitude of the indoctrinated Cerberus soldiers who had chased her.

She crawled through the metal tunnel as fast as she could as the sounds of the gunfire echoed behind her along with the sounds of Zaeed's maniacal laugh. Banking right she traveled up a steep incline until she found herself having to stand in order to climb up the vent. Thankfully her use of biotics allowed her body to maintain a near weightless feeling, increasing the speed she was able to climb and move forward.

The gunfire slowly dwindled in sound the further Liara went into the vent shaft, now hearing the murmuring and sounds of frightened civilians who were out of any line of fire. All this changed with a rather loud explosion, followed by another nearly the same size. The vibrations caused the Shadow Broker to pause in her pursuit of an exit. Despite Shepard's orders, she desperately wanted to turn back, thinking she could help. Perhaps he was seriously injured, about to be executed by a man who had so effectively fallen off any of her informants radars. She could save him again, maybe this time it would be different...

She stuck with Shepard's initial plan, moving forward until she found herself finding the shuffling of feet just meters away. This had to be the spot, and a toss of her biotics broke the grating away and into the feet of passers by, scared and shaken by the feeling that they were now going to be in the crossfire that was further down in the market place.

As they watched an asari, pistol drawn, slide out of the vent shaft they gave her adequate distance. A few who sat during the whole day to sell their wares noticed she was the same asari that was with Shepard earlier in the day, their quiet mumbles to those next to them were to let her pass.

She wasted no time examining the crowd that gathered but saw no blue armor in her place, and continued to run down the place, pushing those who refused to get out of her way. For a brief second she considered turning back towards the mercenaries, possibly ambushing them. Then again, what if Shepard and Zaeed had escaped? She would only be opening herself to another onslaught of gunfire and becoming a possible hostage. No, she followed her Captain's orders and continued toward her ship.

Liara finally arrived at the docking bay that housed the famed frigate, and her mind was weaving all the information together. When they docked hours earlier Joker had made mention of how out of the way the Normandy was compared to the previous year.

Shepard had dismissed this new dock due to the influx of ships docking following the war. It was an optimistic view, but it all made sense. The furthest dock, one of the more narrow hallways limiting escapes, all that needed to be known was whether Aria was complicit in this situation.

The whiskey, did she know?

As the decontamination process ended Liara entered the Normandy, seeing the natural response of a panicked crew unable to locate their Captain and his allies.


"Liara, here." Miranda placed a swatch of medigel along her torn calf, an injury that must have occurred as she made her way through the vents. The asari had just finished giving her account of what had happened as she sat in the seat behind Joker.

"Blue Suns, I thought they were still under Aria's control." Joker said as he heard his friend's story.

"Mercenaries can't be trusted, the same with that woman," Liara sighed as she hid her face in her hands. "After everything Shepard did for her!" she angrily said.

"You got that right," Joker said as he looked to connect with the ground team that had gone to inspect the area.

"Whatever jammer Vido put in place is still active, XO. Garrus and the others haven't been able to check in yet."

"While I am unable to break the jam in communication, I have been able to override the security cam feed," EDI added, a screen showing the marketplace filled with bodies and smoldering crates and debris.

On the recovered feed was the squad of Garrus, James, and Javik, checking for any survivors as a crowd of people gathered around them, some helping to move the bodies to the side of the street.

As Garrus kept his head looking up at the various levels and neon lights that covered the area, Javik placed his hand on the ground, a sight that a few recognized as the prothean using his latent ability to relive the situation that unfolded minutes before.

"Outside of Dragon's Teeth and well, everything involved with the reapers, that is one of the creepiest things I've seen," Joker quipped as the others watched the screen.

As Javik performed his skill, the screen showed Garrus looking directly at the camera that EDI was displaying. He stood there looking across the bustling open space as he processed the information, his face then turned as he looked for another camera which EDI opened up in a companion screen.

Stepping to this new found camera Garrus then wandered down the hallway that was the initial location for the attack. Phaeston in one hand, he pointed with his other at the remnants of flamethrowers that littered the ground, holding up two fingers to point out the quantity of the weapons.

Joker continued his commentary, "You think he knows we have a live feed now?"

"No doubt," Miranda said as she watched the turian look up for another camera as his C-Sec skills were trying to piece together exactly where such a powerful jammer would be located.

"That must have been the explosions I heard," Liara quietly said.

Walking away from the marketplace he noticed the thermal coupling-turned jammer Liara had deduced seconds before the attack. He shot the device with his rifle. His mandibles showed movement but there was still no sound from Garrus or the others.

"Two jammers, this really was a professional job..." Miranda muttered as her eyes narrowed at the revelation.

"The other jammer's by the light fixture just after the turn. That's where I would've placed it."

Kasumi had arrived at the deck, her foot no longer covered in a protective cast that allowed for her silent steps to return, catching many of the individuals off guard. Unfortunately for Joker, his jump at the new voice was seen by everyone in attendance. Momentarily he turned to his robotic companion with a pleading look as though he expected her to announce the master thief's presence.

Arms crossed, Miranda nodded at the thief's statement. It was a good choice, but she had her own way of outsmarting the constant surveillance. "I would think lower to the ground, possibly underneath the floor. The constant traffic hides the person planting the device."

"Ah, but you see this cut off between camera angles?" Kasumi stepped forward as silent as ever as she pointed at the screens to make her point. "A person walking with normal traffic just tosses it up while they walk with the crowd out of the marketplace, that's what we're looking at for someone to place such a high level jammer in such a short amount of time."

Mimicking the toss for Miranda and Liara she continued, "They're one-off devices, STG origin, the best on the market with absolute blackouts, so don't feel bad, EDI. Trouble is, once activated they work for about thirty minutes, max, before they run out of power. Tamper proof and made to ignite when the charge reaches zero." A shrug of her shoulders belayed one more additional point, "Well, that and the fact they cost almost as much as those Black Widows we use. Per pop."

Just as Kasumi finished discussing her trade and the devices used, Garrus appeared to call over James. He pointed to the second camera, although in reality the location was just to the side. James held up his shotgun with one arm as he pulled the trigger. The camera shook and was followed by the echoing of a loud bang letting everyone know they found the jammer.

"Sorry about that everyone, kept my comm channel open, you know, just in case." James said apologetically as the thermal clip was ejected from his weapon.

"Miranda, I've got traces of blood here but most of the stuff was burned in the explosions. We also had thirty dead civilians here, about a dozen more injured.

"John would leave something for a trail."

"Not if he was still being attacked when he and Zaeed escaped."

"I am detecting the tracker for Shepard and Mr. Massani in the marketplace, dock L-40."

"Garrus-"

"On it. Lead me to it, EDI."

"This is Javik. It appears the Captain and Zaeed engaged in fighting as Liara went through the ventilation shaft. Enemies with flamethrowers attacked from behind, pushing the two into the marketplace. Grenades dropped, created an explosion that engulfed the entrance here," Javik used his hands to encompass the area.

"I was only able to see the heat from the blast after that." Ignoring the stares of the merchants who were enamored with seeing the last of the alien race as he walked towards the dock his companion had just entered. "The Captain's enemies exited through this dock and departed, this is what my abilities have been able to recall."

"Whatever was docked there was probably under an alias."

"It appears, Jeff, that it was a Kowloon Class vehicle, the MSV Upstanding. Docking data shows it arrived three days ago. Going though available footage now."

"I can save her some time, it's not here now." Garrus said bluntly as he entered the dock. Another camera screen appeared in the increasingly crowded cockpit.

"Records show it should still be docked."

"EDI, this is Omega. Bribes to the right people can solve everything. All I see here are Shepard and Zaeed's chestplates resting against some crates in some kind of a taunt. This is where our trackers end."

"Goddess," Liara quietly said at the nonchalant revelation.

"I'm sorry Liara. But this is where the trail ends unless EDI can work her magic."

"Unfortunately, camera feeds show a looping pattern similar to what was found earlier. I can, however, confirm that this was the same freighter that records show for the MSV Upstanding and not another vessel."

A silence fell across the cockpit as the group looked to one another in a scene that mirrored the sobering reality the crew faced during the war. The rather flippant attitude the squad had used slowly receded. It seemed fitting at the time, there was always a trail to follow, and there still was time to find their Captain.

Joker's chair slowly turned to face the group as he lifted his hat from his head, rubbing his forehead slightly. His face did not show the concern that covered Liara's at the moment, but it showed a doubt about what to do next as he slowly exhaled.

His eyes connected with Miranda's as he looked for guidance. She was always a hardass, gladly playing bad cop even as her Ice Queen persona thawed over the course of her time on the ship, but she knew Shepard better than anyone else and he trusted her instincts, especially in finding the things she cherished. "Orders, XO?"

"John's not dead. Keep that in the forefront of your minds, all of you. No matter the intent, the man is worth just as much alive as he is dead, especially coming from mercenaries."

Finishing her important opening statement she quickly pinched her nose as she composed herself and took control of the role as the Normandy's commanding officer. "Garrus, retrieve the armor and return to the ship with the others, you have five minutes. Have Javik do...whatever he does to anyone who says they witnessed the firefight. If they resist, have James restrain them by any means necessary."

"Understood."

Liara raised an eyebrow at the rather ruthless tactic Miranda was suggesting. This demeanor she long thought gone reappeared, reminding her of the day she handed over the remains of Shepard to the Cerberus operative nearly three years ago.

"EDI, they couldn't have jammed everything on Omega, that would be too apparent. There's something else at stake here. Compare every known image of Santiago with Omega's cameras in the last ten hours. Also check every extranet report regarding Bekenstein and its former inhabitants and run those through any known Blue Suns activity in the last six months."

The orders were quick and demanding.

"It will take time, Miranda."

"Process faster."

"Additional processing power will deter from maintaining other functions of the ship."

"Then let it be. We have a crew who performed fine without you. Kasumi and Liara will help out as well," Miranda ordered as she stared at the two, both putting aside the sudden change in the human's attitude as they returned to their quarters to begin the data mining. "Joker, when the others arrive you depart. Immediately."

"Yes, ma'am."

With a turn of her heel Miranda walked to the CIC. In these moments she missed the sound of her previous outfit's heels clicking away below her feet. The sound that brought with it the innate fear that the crew felt as she made her way past them, recognizing that at the very least they needed to look busy as she made her way through the ship.

Arriving a few steps in front of the elevator Miranda saw Traynor waiting for orders, the specialist clearly listened in on the whole situation.

"Traynor, check every known relay jump in the last ten minutes. I don't care who jumped, I don't care what type of ship. I need that information on screen in five minutes."

"Y-yes, Miss Lawson!" Immediately she began to look at her screens, plucking information into a tab of information as fast as she could.

Stepping up to the dais once again Miranda pressed the button for the intercom across all levels of the ship. "Crew of the Normandy, this is your Executive Officer. At the present time our Captain and Mr. Massani appear to have been kidnapped by the Blue Suns mercenary group."

Pressing a button to override the sleep pods and their inhabitants on deck 3, which included Ashley and Ken, she pressed forward with her speech, "You are now all on duty, any schedules are temporarily suspended. Chakwas has stimpacks available for those who do not feel they are at their optimum levels. Any crew function that EDI currently occupies will be taken over manually where possible by the end of this announcement. Those who do not comply with my orders will find themselves dishonorably discharged from the alliance and this ship." Those last words were a bluff, but it didn't matter; those who heard the words would be hard pressed to prove otherwise.

Taking a breath, Miranda took a second to remove the coldness her voice had possessed in the past minute. "Captain Shepard sacrificed everything for you, I expect you to afford him the same opportunity in the coming hours. We will make sure he is safely returned, and your due diligence will increase the speed at which this happens. Now get to work."