Monday, January 31, 2011

Hide and Seek, Part 3

Illium, Location Unknown

As the skycar sped off to its destination, Shepard reflected on the events that had led her here.

She looked at the Asari in the driver's seat, the same woman who had been standing in the doorway of Liara's office. She'd introduced herself as Tela Vasir, a Spectre. She said she was a fan of Shepard's. "I should get you to sign my chest plate," she'd said. Still, there were a few things about her that made Leanna long for Conrad.

Turned out, Vasir had been assigned to investigate Liara's disappearance.

"Why would the Council send a Spectre to find Liara?" She'd asked.

"Don't know," Vasir replied. "I imagine it had something to do with her connection to you. Could also be because she's a prominent Information Broker. Doesn't matter to me either way, I just go with the assignment."

This raised the first red flag in Leanna's mind. Either Vasir was lying, or she'd been picked as a Spectre because of her ability to follow orders. Both made her seem a little dangerous.

Vasir continued to explain that there'd been an attack on Liara's apartment. An assassin attempted to kill her. She suggested heading for Liara's apartment for some trace of where she'd gone. As the chip she'd found in the empty Volus suit wasn't doing anything on its own, she agreed.

Leanna closed her eyes and tried to remember what she'd seen there.

Obviously, the first thing she noticed was the bullet holes in the glass, four of them. She checked to see where the slugs had impacted. From there, she determined the trajectory of the shots, making it out to a building that she could see, but was too far away to get a good look in the windows, even with the scope on Garrus's Sniper Rifle. Whoever fired this, they were using a scope more advanced than any hardware she had access to.

"Where are the Police?" she remembered asking. "Wouldn't the security sensors on the glass have alerted them?"

"It did. I cleared them out when I got here though. Didn't want them messing up the evidence."

This was the second red flag. Using Spectre status to take charge of an investigation is one thing, but cutting the local cops out completely, that was just arrogance. It reminded her of Saren.

There was no blood anywhere, which meant that Liara was unharmed, physically at least. Leanna raised her determination to find any clue as to where she might have gone next.

The apartment was Loft style, which meant no internal doors. A number of artifacts from previous dig sights were scattered throughout. There was a painting of Ilos outside the kitchen. In the living room, Leanna found a piece of her old N7 armor.

How did she get this? Leanna had wondered.

Beneath the stairs leading to the loft bed was an alcove that Liara had made into an office. She'd placed a framed copy of her Doctorate from the University of Serrice on the wall. Leanna traced her name with a gloved finger. There was also a large computer on the opposite wall.

"I checked before I found you," Vasir said without being asked. "There's a lot of information on it, but nothing to indicate where she might have gone."

"I'll keep looking."

Leanna followed the stairs up to the bedroom. The rest of the apartment might as well have been in another room as all she could see of it was the window the shots had come through. Knowing her privacy, Leanna took a minute to sit on the bed.

She pressed the sheet to her face; it still smelled like Liara. She thought back to the last time they'd been truly together. How hopeful she'd been, not just about defeating the Reapers, but about her future with Liara. It seemed like another life ago. I guess it was…

She opened her eyes and caught sight of a picture. It was the Normandy. She reached for it, and as soon as she picked it up it changed. She recognized the new picture too. It was a picture of a Prothean dig site Liara had once shown her.

Digging deep into her memory, she managed to recall the artifact Liara had kept that was associated with that particular dig. She hadn't seen it with her own eyes, but had during one of their bondings. She ran downstairs and stood in front of an unassuming artifact and touched the pedestal it sat upon.

A tray slid out from beneath it. On the tray was a simple data-disk. She brought it over to Liara's computer and inserted it into the data-slot.

"Damn," Vasir said as a staticky image showed up on the display, "it's encrypted."

"Wait a second." Leanna pulled out the chip she'd gotten earlier and attached it to the computer. The image cleared up immediately.

It turned out to be a recording of a conversation between Liara and Salarian name Sekat. Sekat was apparently providing Liara with important information. Wouldn't be a stretch to think it's about the Shadow Broker. She would be meeting him at Baria Frontiers in the Dracon Trade Center.

Leanna opened her eyes as the skycar touched down in front of the Dracon Trade Center. She, Tali, Garrus, and Vasir stepped out.

All at once the ground shook. Looking up, the four could see several balls of flame erupting out of the upper floors of the building.

"Oh God no," Shepard gasped in horror before screaming, "Liara!"

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Hide and Seek, Part 2

Illium, Nos Astra

The Airlock doors slid open as Leanna set foot on Illium yet again. The calm atmosphere of the dock seemed to mock her. It was as if no one cared that Liara was missing.

"Commander," Miranda's voice transmitted in Leanna's earpiece, "Illium records indicate that Liara's office has been rented out to a Volus named Jal Fia for the past three days."

"Why didn't we know this before we came here?"

"Because Liara still owns the office, Jal Fia is just renting it from her."

"Then he should know how to get in contact with her."

"She actually, and yes, I'd start there first."

"Got it."

Leanna, Garrus and Tali made their way through the crowded trading floor, past the sales kiosks, and up the oh-so-familiar stairs that led to Liara's former office. Leanna pressed the buzzer and the doors slid open immediately.

Behind the desk sat the unassuming Jal Fia. She looked up from a datapad she had lain on her desk to say, "Greetings Earth-clan. How may I help you?"

To say Leanna was shocked would have been an understatement. Here she was thinking she'd get her first glimpse of a female Volus only to find that she'd probably seen hundreds and hadn't even noticed. There was no difference in any feature she could see between Jal Fia and all the other Volus she'd seen over the years.

Thankfully, Leanna managed to compose herself quickly. She entered the room slowly but deliberately until the doors shut behind her. "I'm looking for Information."

Jal Fia cocked her head slightly. Leanna was reminded of a small dog she'd once seen back on Earth. "I'm sorry, but this office is no longer an information broker." She turned back to her datapad.

Leanna walked the rest of the way up to the desk. "Maybe you didn't hear me," she said as she grabbed the datapad off the desk. "I'm looking for Information."

The Volus looked up at Leanna again and repeated, in the same tone of voice, "I'm sorry, but this office is no longer an information broker," then turned back to the empty desk.

Leanna furrowed her brow, "What the hell's going on here?"

"Shepard," Garrus said behind her. "Look at the datapad."

Leanna turned to the datapad in her hand. It was off.

Tali activated her Omni-tool and waved it over the Volus. "Empty. This is just a moving suit with a VI in it. A cheap one at that, I think we've already seen the extent of its capabilities."

"What about this datapad?" she handed it to Tali.

Tali tried turning it on, but nothing happened. She waved her Omni-tool over it. "The power's working, but it seems to be locked off."

"Well how do you unlock it?"

"Checking," she continued to scan. "The internal microphone seems to be on. I think it's voice locked."

"Liara," Leanna thought quickly. "She must have set this up to get me a message. She knew I'd come. It must be keyed to my voice."

Garrus gave her a doubtful look, "You've been talking non-stop since you got in here. Shouldn't it have turned on by now?"

"It must be like Hock's vault," Shepard thought out loud, "It needs you to say a certain word or phrase in order to unlock."

"Even if you're right," Tali handed the datapad back, "you don't even know what the password is. It could be anything!"

"Not anything," Leanna cracked a smile. "Could you not listen guys? It's a little embarrassing."

Leanna walked to the far corner of the office and whispered to the datapad. At once, the display activated and an image of Liara appeared on it.

"Shepard, if you're watching this, then I've gone into hiding. I couldn't risk tell you this over open channels, but I'm very close to finding the Shadow Broker. I just need a few more bits of information and I'll have him.

"I think the Shadow Broker is on to me as well though. After I dispatched his agent, I caught traces of someone following me. I think he may have sent an assassin.

"There's a datachip in the Volus's suit that's keyed to your DNA. It should be able to help you find me, or at least get you closer. Be seeing you Shepard."

"What are we waiting for?" Shepard whirled around to see an Asari standing at the now open doors, "Let's go save her."