Let me just start by saying how sorry I am for not updating in years. The month of September was so shitty, I either didn't have time, or wasn't feeling up to writing. I hope you understand, and thanks for your patience. We'll just say it was an unofficial break. But now I'm back, and ready to get started. Hope you enjoy this one! Thanks!
Shepard paced inside the clinic where Mordin's eyes were glued to a medical display.
"Environmental systems engaged. Airborne viral levels dropping. Patients improving. Vorcha retreating..."
The salarian turned away from the console to approach the center of the room, and steal a glance at Shepard.
"Well done, Shepard. Thank you.", he added gratefully.
From behind Mordin, his pensive assistant, Daniel, quietly expressed his appreciation. "A-and... thank you from me, as well. Those batarians would have killed me. For a second there, I thought you were going to shoot them even after they let me go."
Shepard couldn't help but grin at Daniel. "I'm a man of my word. I promised to let them go."
Mordin's cold interjection earned him a surprised look from Daniel.
"Merciful of you. Risky. Would have killed them myself."
Daniel approached Mordin from behind, his brow furrowed in consternation. "Professor, how can you say that? You're a doctor. You believe in helping people!"
The salarian scientist shrugged his shoulders. "Lots of ways to help people. Sometimes heal patients. Sometimes execute dangerous people. Either way helps. Go check on the patients. Lots of work to do. Think about what I said."
Daniel shook his head crossly, and stormed off in the other direction.
Mordin smiled, despite his and his assistant's sour disagreement. "Good kid. Bit naive. He'll learn. Letting him take over the clinic. Should be able to handle it now that vorcha are gone."
"Speaking of which, now that the plague is cured, are you ready to help stop the Collectors?"Shepard questioned him."The tech lab on the Normandy is being prepared for your occupation."
"Yes.", Mordin chirped, raising a brow. "Unexpected to be working with Cerberus. Many surprises. Just need to finish up here at the clinic. Won't take long. Meet you at your ship." The mile-a-minute speaking salarian paused for a moment, breathing in deeply through his nose.
"Looking forward to it."
Shepard nodded slightly, feeling that he may grow to like the hyperactive scientist. "I'll meet you aboard the ship."
As Mordin nodded his assent, Shepard turned on his heel to exit the clinic, but caught a tiny green blinking light emanating from his wrist.
He had a message. He must have received it during combat, since there was no such signal or tune that played to signify the arrival of the message.
Opening his omnitool to discover who the message was from, his face lit up in recognition.
Scrolling through the contents of his inbox, he found the new message and opened it.
Tali: Two years, and you're finally on the front page of Galactic News again. How have you been?
Shepard could only imagine what kind of exaggerated reports littered every front page of Galactic News. Everyone and their mothers must have heard the announcement of his reappearance by now.
Ignoring his chance to witness his widespread fame, Shepard immediately typed a message back.
You: Not any better than you, I'd wager. I have a couple hours free. Talk to me.
Shepard disengaged his omnitool, unsure of whether Tali would message him back or not. He was unsure if she were still angry or upset.
He hoped for the best as he led Miranda and Jacob out of the clinic, and to their next objective, the elusive Archangel.
He shifted uneasily in his seat, twitching his fingers together, back and forth, making constant glances at the datapad he'd laid on the bench next to him.
His breath shuddered at the thought of his head in someone's crosshair. Being the designated informant of an assassin was risky business. Especially on Kar'Shan.
Countless sets of four, beady eyes would cast their menacing gazes on Jerrith, who would break eye contact immediately. All he could do was sit still, stare at his feet and wait. It was such an agonizing thing for a salarian to pass the time sitting down, doing nothing. He wasn't even in his olden years yet.
Some would say he was close, but he believed he had time, but not much.
To his relief, he caught sight of something out of place. A shadow of a hand beckoned to him from a dark corner inside the building. Grappling the data pad in a tight grip within his fingers, he hobbled over to where the assassin had waved to him.
"You've gotta stop picking these populated places for sensitive stuff like this.", Jerrith chastised. "I'm not into this 'hiding-in-plain-sight' persona you've adopted recently."
A gruff, granular voice answered from the shadows. "An exchange of information in an inconspicuous area would be too predictable. There is always someone listening, watching."
Jerrith rolled his eyes at the response he nearly always received. "Yeah, yeah, employer confidentiality. I get it."
He handed the assassin the datapad, Nassanna Dantius' dossier slightly illuminating his face.
"Nassanna Dantius. Undesirable business habits, mistreatment of workers, malcontent employees, you name it, she's done it. She pisses a lot of people off, and anyone who blabs about it ends up with a bullet in the head. Thousands of people want her dead, and they all settled on you."
The assassin remained silent, continuing to review his mission parameters.
Jerrith leaned in, trying to catch the slightest hint of emotion from the assassin.
"Can you do it?"
A few seconds passed in silence before the assassin deactivated the datapad and dropped his hand to his side.
"Yes.", he finally answered. "I will return to Illium when my business on Kar'Shan has been concluded. Thank you for relaying this information."
The salarian blinked at him, surprised at his explanation. Usually, he was so cryptic in his conversations, usually saying 'yes', or 'no'. Never a full, detailed answer.
"This will be my last job.", the assassin confided. "You will not see me anymore after this."
Again, Jerrith couldn't help but blink at him. "W-what? Why? Are you retiring?"
From where he stood, Jerrith could see him hesitate before nodding his head. "Yes."
"I will expect you to relay this to my employers, as well. I must leave soon."
Jerrith nodded his head emphatically. "Y-yes, of course."
A webbed hand found the salarian's shoulder, clenching it firmly. "Thank you for your assistance, Jerrith. I shall hope that Kalihira will guide you home when your time has come."
Jerrith didn't know what to say. To him, this assassin was just another mercenary. He'd never expected such a spirituality.
He heard a slight commotion before him, eliciting his gaze to return to the assassin. But he wasn't there. He was gone, like a breath in the wind.
He furrowed his brow. That signaled that he would need to leave soon, as well. One could never risk being in one place for too long.
Jerrith turned on his heel, heading off in the opposite direction. Wherever the assassin was going, he wished him luck...
He didn't even know his name.
Tali: Really? What kind of doctor does that?
You: I don't know. Whoever he is, he knows what he's doing. I'm guessing he's former STG. He's definitely secretive, but friendly. I've been told he can be trusted... if I don't screw with him.
Tali: You've been told? I hope you can imagine what I feel about this.
You: He can't be that bad. He was practically handing out vaccines on Omega.
Tali: True, but what if there is something underneath that benevolent attitude? Are you absolutely sure you can trust him?
You: Not quite yet, but it's nothing I haven't dealt with before.
Tali: Just be careful.
You: I will.
An awkward pause. Shepard racked his brain for another subject, but to no avail.
Tali: Who are you going to recruit now?
You: Someone with the peculiar moniker "Archangel". No idea who he is. I guess I'll find out, huh?
Tali: Seriously. Be careful.
You: You worry too much. Haven't I always found my way out of impossible situations?
Tali: Just don't underestimate anyone. I don't want to lose you again.
You: I get it. I'll stay focused.
Tali: Thank you. I'm afraid I'll have to be going now. I need to catch up on sleep before father schedules another "Admiral training session"
You: Sweet dreams.
Tali: Getting there.
The chat disconnected shortly after, prompting Shepard to disengage his own omnitool and divert his attention out the shuttle window. The buildings and towers jutting out from above were expertly dodge and maneuvered around by the batarian pilot, who took no interest in making small talk with Shepard or anyone else in the shuttle. Jacob's eyes darted from side to side nervously, while Miranda and Mordin reserved a calm and quiet posture.
Somehow, Shepard admired Mordin's collected disposition. If there was one thing Shepard could deduce from the brief time he'd know the salarian, he was quiescent, but also aloof and somewhat mysterious.
He was going to engage him in conversation, but the shuttle pilot cut him off.
The spot the pilot landed in was no less dingy than any other part of Omega, poorly lit, and leading to an ominous, darker corridor.
If there was one thing Shepard didn't expect, it was that even the dark underbelly of the galaxy had its own dark underbelly.
Summoning a rough idea about what could have transpired in these disheveled hallways elicited a lingering revulsion of the place. Somewhere, in these dilapidated passages was Archangel, fighting for his life with no way out. There was little hope for the mercenary, yet Shepard and his team may just be the break Archangel needs to slip away; hopefully, onto the Normandy.
Facing Shepard with a seemingly angry glare, the batarian crossed his arms. "It's about time they sent me someone who looks like they can actually fight. They tell you what we're up against?"
Seeing the merit in prodding for as much information as he can get, Shepard replied. "The recruiter was a little vague."
"We wouldn't get many hires if everyone knew the truth" the batarian divulged, revealing the tips of sharp teeth with a small sneer.
"Right..." Shepard muttered, nodding slightly. "Sending freelancers to certain doom with the offer of good pay. And on Omega, no one's the wiser."
"Piss and moan about it all you want." the batarian retaliated bitterly. "This is the mercenary's rule of Omega in practice. Send in the weaker links first, then bring out the big guns. Whittle your target down to their very last tidbit of energy, then overwhelm them with crushing force... It's effective, not ethical. No one on this rock cares about ethical."
"I figured that out when I first set foot in Afterlife." Shepard snorted, unimpressed. "Anyway, where is this 'Archangel' located?"
"Archangel's holed up in a building at the end of the boulevard over there. He's got superior position, and the only way in is over a very exposed bridge. It's a killing ground."
Another wicked grin creased the batarian's ugly face. "But he's getting tired, making mistakes. We'll have him soon enough."
"I'm guessing that this is where that 'mercenary's rule' plan comes into play?", Shepard declared skeptically.
"Not exactly.", the batarian affirmed confidently. "If for whatever reason, we can't break through his front line, a small team is waiting to infiltrate his hideout. We just need to draw his fire so they can move in."
"By 'we' you mean us.", Shepard answered for the pilot.
"Exactly. You'll be on a distraction team. Head straight over the bridge and keep Archangel busy so the infiltration team can sneak in behind him.
From his left, Shepard could see Jacob furrow his brow in disbelief. "Sounds like a suicide mission to me."
The batarian shrugged his shoulders nonchalantly. "Pretty much. But you look like you can handle it. Head up to the boulevard and get to the third barricade. Talk to Sergeant Cathka. He'll tell you when to go in."
"Got it.", Shepard said, allowing the batarian to return to the skycar. As he took a seat inside, he stole one last glance at Shepard.
"Watch yourself on the boulevard. Archangel's killed dozens out there already."
As the skycar coasted away, a single voice expressed its apprehension.
"Getting in, easy enough. Getting out..." After a sharp inhale through the nose, a brief pause. "Problematic."
Shepard turned to face Mordin.
"One step at a time. For now, let's go find Cathka."
The batarian clicked a small command on his helmet display, the dark tint obstructing his clear view vanishing to reveal four sets of eyes.
"Eh. You must be the group Salkie mentioned. You're just in time. The infiltration team is about to give us the signal. Archangel won't know what hit him."
Cathka stepped away from the gunship he was repairing to grab a cigarette on the table behind him. Shepard noticed a live momentum dampener close to where the cigarette had been lain.
Eyeing it closely before redirecting his attention to the tobacco smoke Cathka had just blown in his face, Shepard waved the malodorous smoke away.
"Are you leading the assault?"
Cathka bellowed a loud, genuine chuckle at Shepard's inquiry. "Ha! Tarak doesn't pay me to fight. I just plan the attacks and fix the damn gunship. You freelancers get the privilege of-"
A boisterous alarm resounded from the terminal to Cathka's left, drawing his attention to the urgent message that was splayed across the screen.
"Check. Bravo team- go, go, go!"
Prompted by Cathka's order, the freelancers closest to Shepard and his team snatched up their weapons and jogged to the front barricade where other freelancers were already congregating.
Out of the corner of Shepard's eye, he could see Cathka disengage the terminal with a mischievous grin on his face.
"Archangel's got quite a surprise waiting for him. But, that means no more waiting for me."
The tint in Cathka's visor returned as he grabbed his blowtorch and continued his work on the gunship.
"Gotta get her back to a hundred percent before Tarak decides he needs her again."
A thought raced in Shepard's mind. If Cathka finished repairing the gunship, that would mean trying to make an escape would prove to be all too difficult. If Cathka brought that gunship back up to fighting capability, there was no way Shepard could get Archangel out alive, let alone he and his squad, as well.
He'd have to do something about the gunship; quick.
Then he remembered the live momentum dampener on the table. The electric charge would produce as much as a 120-volt charge if it came into direct contact with something. Either Cathka would die, or he'd never walk again.
But Archangel was too high a priority. Shepard couldn't risk it.
As it channeled electricity between its two prongs, Shepard gingerly clutched it by the handle, approaching Cathka with a cautious stroll. Catching sight of Shepard, Cathka turned to him, as if confused as to why he was still here.
"You're working too hard."
Cathka spontaneously convulsed violently, screaming as the electric shock fried him from the inside. Shepard fled the side of Cathka's writhing body, Mordin, Jacob, and Miranda following close behind.
"Doesn't look like Archangel's got much time.", Jacob mentioned, trying to ignore the batarian's singed corpse.
"Let's not wait around too long.", Miranda suggested from behind him.
Popping his knuckles in anticipation, Shepard smiled. "Come on. Let's give these guys a surprise of our own."
He couldn't believe what he was seeing. He wasn't sure if they were mercs, freelancers, or soldiers. They blasted their way through the back lines of the other freelancers, and any that tried to fire back were gunned down before they could pull the trigger. But then he found something familiar adorning one their armor sets. The human elite soldier division number 'N7' was imprinted proudly on the chest of the gunman in front. He seemed to be their leader.
Whoever they were, he didn't have the privilege of turning down a potential ally. He'd decided he'd try to cover the team while they fought their way up to him.
As he scoped in, he strafed his aim to the human leader's face. What he saw both shocked and elated him. The man whom had relentlessly and mercilessly hunted down the rogue Spectre Saren two years ago was there, in the flesh. To see him firing his assault rifle was like staring into a glimpse of the past, of the old days, when Shepard was more than just a ghost of inspiration to millions of people. But he wasn't a ghost anymore.
He blinked repeatedly, trying to convince himself that it was someone else, a hallucination before he finally gave up and was killed by a mercenary. But his vision remained true.
He forced himself to forget it for now, and resume his fire. He'd find out soon enough whether Shepard was back from the dead or not.
A pneumatic hiss of the door revealed the crouching marksman, aiming to take the last life on the bridge before him.
Shepard lowered his weapon, cautiously calling his name before he drew closer. "Archangel?"
Archangel silently pleaded for one more second with a rise of a single finger. Within a short moment, he pulled the trigger, a gurgling groan from below ringing out almost immediately after.
Noting that the last threat had fallen, Archangel let the stock of his rifle fall to the ground, using it as leverage to push himself to his feet.
Only then did Shepard notice that the marksman was a turian. That explains how he'd managed to survive so long. Turians had an inclination for being the best shots.
Archangel strolled casually to the center of the room, removing his helmet and resting it on the ottoman directly across from Shepard.
Shepard beamed from ear to ear as a familiar face emerged from beneath the helmet, and an even more familiar voice utter his name.
The turian perched himself on the arm of the ottoman, locking Shepard in a gaze of disbelief.
"Shepard... I thought you were dead."
Shepard threw his arms out to his sides. "Garrus! What are you doing here?"
Garrus did not return Shepard's elation. If anything, he seemed more depressed than usual. "Just keeping my skills sharp. A little target practice."
Shepard held him with a concerned glare. "You okay?"
Garrus shrugged. "Been better, but it sure is good to see a friendly face. Killing mercs is hard work, especially on my own."
Deciding that another time may be more appropriate than now to demand answers, Shepard changed the subject. "So how did you end up all the way out here, on Omega?"
Garrus shook his head, as if still bitter about the situation. "I got fed up with all the bureaucratic crap on the Citadel. Figured I could do more good on my own. At least it's not hard to find criminals here. All I have to do is point my gun and shoot."
"Sounds like your kind of playground, Garrus."
At that, Shepard could see a crack of tiny smile. "My thoughts exactly."
"Well, we got here. But I don't think getting out will be as easy."
Garrus slid himself off from the arm of the chair, and to his feet. "No, it won't. That bridge has saved my life... funneling all those witless idiots into scope."
Garrus averted his watch to the bridge, continuing. "But it works both ways. They'll slaughter us if we try to get out that way."
Miranda piped up from behind Shepard. "So we just sit here and wait for them to take us out?"
Garrus shook his head. "It's not all that bad.", he muttered sarcastically.
"And.. with the four of you... I suggest we hold this location, wait for a crack in their defenses, and take our chances."
Garrus watched Shepard for approval. "It's not a perfect plan, but it's a plan."
Shepard nodded. This could work. If Garrus was able to hold off for this long by himself, they could definitely open a hole for themselves to escape through.
"If we fight as a team, we'll hold them off."
"You're right.", Garrus responded. "Their numbers won't help them in here, anyway."
Again, he shot a glance to the bridge. "Let's see what they're up to."
He raised his rifle to peer through the scope.
"Hmm", Garrus hummed as he acknowledged the gravity of the situation. "Looks like they know their infiltration team failed."
Garrus handed the rifle to Shepard, on his left. "Take a look. Scouts. Eclipse, I think."
Mechs dropped down onto the bridge from the barricade, unsheathing their machine pistols as they did.
"That looks like a lot more than scouts.", Shepard alluded as he returned the rifle to its owner.
"Indeed...", Garrus pondered. "We better get ready."
The turian primed his firearm, an audible click resounding from inside the chamber. "I'll stay up here. I can do a lot of damage from this vantage point."
"And you... you can do what you do best."
Shepard nodded, grabbing his assault rifle by the stock and allowing it to expand in his hands.
"Just like old times, Shepard."
A grin spread across his face.
"Just like old times."
Kaidan wiped away the sweat from his brow. Out of all the things he could be doing on Horizon, he's picking tomatoes and digging up onions.
Despite the distrust almost every resident of Horizon has expressed to him and Ashley almost every chance they got, the two Alliance soldiers were earning their keep around here rather quickly.
They weren't afraid of hard work. Especially work that didn't involve risking your life and lugging a heavy gun around everywhere you go.
It was a strange, yet enjoyable change of pace from regular Alliance commissions.
Their initial reason for being on Horizon was to repair the defense turret, which has been inoperable for quite some time. There was also the 'improving Alliance relations with human colonies' part, as well. But that was on more of a need-to-know basis.
There were still a select few colonists on Horizon that still didn't trust Kaidan and Ashley. People like Delan. Stubborn people. But the others were okay. Reasonable people. People like Ashley and himself.
It was hot today. It was always hot on Horizon. Even at night, trying to enjoy the silence was overshadowed by the irritating heat. Kaidan preferred to enjoy nights inside, with the air conditioner on high power.
He wiped more sweat from his face. At least the breeze felt nice.
As he bent down to resume his labor, a voice from across the colony called his name. Diverting his attention to the direction of the voice, he saw Ashley making a steady jog toward him.
Seeing the distraught look on her face, he furrowed his brow in concern. He hadn't seen that look for a while.
Coming within close earshot, Ashley panted between words as she activated her omnitool.
"You're... not gonna... believe this..."
Kaidan dropped his tools on the ground. "Why? What happened? Is something wrong?"
"Just tell me what you think... of this..."
Kaidan turned himself so that he could see the display of Ashley's omnitool.
It was a page of Galactic News, with a familiar name slapped onto nearly seven different columns. 'Shepard'. But one large column caught Kaidan's attention. It displayed a picture of...
Kaidan's jaw dropped at the sight of the picture. The news article displayed an unedited photo of Commander Shepard making his way through the Afterlife club on Omega, two unknown individuals trailing closely behind him.
Despite a couple of strange, glowing scars cutting through Shepard's visage, there was no denying the uncanny resemblance.
Having finally caught her breath, Ashley pleaded with Kaidan, refusing to believe her eyes.
"Please tell me that isn't who I think it is."
Kaidan shut his eyes closed, shaking his head. "It is. Looks just like him. I really can't believe it myself, either."
"B- but how is it even possible?", Ashley demanded. "They only found bits and pieces of the Normandy. There's no way he could have survived that. No way... And look at this."
She pointed to another picture, showing a front view of the two humans following Shepard. "Look at their outfits. See that symbol?"
Kaidan slanted his eyes at the white and gold emblem. "Cerberus.", he spat malevolently.
"Right." Ashley returned, just as bitter. "I've even caught Alliance transmissions talking about it. They seem to be totally convinced that he's working for Cerberus now."
Kaidan exhaled heavily. "None of this makes any sense."
Sparing no time to agree with him, Ashley blurted out Kaidan's worst fear.
"Do you think Tali knows?"
A silence hung above them like a ghost for nearly a minute.
Clearing his head, Kaidan squeezed her arm gingerly. "Let's just see how this all plays out. If it's something serious, we're going to hear more of it. If it gets to be that way, we'll contact her about it. Granted, she doesn't already know."
Ashley nodded as she deactivated the omnitool.
Kaidan gripped her tighter. "Don't lose sleep over this. We've still got work to do."