Friday, March 25, 2011

The Hunt, Part 3

Planet Halagaz, Sowilo System

The Normandy began its stealth run to the planet. Of course, stealth was a relative term. It would still be visible to anyone who just looked out a window. Thankfully though, the Broker's base wasn't a tourist destination.

Liara stood in the Normandy's cockpit, gazing in awe at the planet. She almost didn't notice when Tali came up behind her.

"Did you talk to her?"

Liara broke her attention from the view-port and turned to Tali. "Yes, I did."


"We… we're going to discuss it later."

"You didn't tell her, did you?"

Liara cast her gaze to the floor. "It's not that I didn't want to, it's just… complicated."

"Well you better un-complicate it soon. She's not going to wait on you forever."

Liara lifted her head up just in time to see Shepard walking towards them, now fully suited up.

"You two talking about anything I should be worried about?"

Tali whirled around. "What? No! Why would we be talking about you? Not to say we were talking about you; not to say you thought we were talking about you; I didn't mean we don't want to talk about you—"

"Relax Tali." Leanna held up her hands in a calming gesture. "It was a joke."

"Oh. Of course. A joke. I guess I should have known."

"It's Ok," Leanna smiled. "It's cute when you ramble."

Liara felt a twinge of jealousy at that. While Tali had agreed to hold off her pursuit of Leanna for the time being, she couldn't help but envy the time they'd shared since her resurrection. She wondered if she would ever be able to be that close to her again. Not if you continue to keep her at arm's length, she told herself.

"Shepard," Liara said, perhaps a bit too loudly, "we're approaching Halagaz. There's a large lightning storm that Joker is going to try to maneuver us in to. Once there, we will be able to launch the shuttle undetected and land it on the Broker's base."

"Yeah, go ahead. Just talk about me like I'm not even here."

"Don't be an ass Joker," Leanna yelled to the front of the cockpit.

"I'm just saying, I coulda said the same thing."

Liara thought back to the first time she heard Joker's unusual brand of humor. At the time, she'd found it annoying, now she found it endearing. She realized how much she missed being part of the crew; part of Shepard's crew.

"Are you all right?" Leanna asked as she placed a hand on her shoulder.

Unbidden, memories of the intimate moments they'd spent together flooded her mind. She tried to push them aside and return to the task at hand.

"I am fine." She took a deep but silent breath to compose herself. "We should head to the shuttle."

Without another word, she headed to the elevator, Tali and Shepard close behind.

Agent 36 stood at his new console aboard the Shadow Broker's vessel. He was tasked with coordinating the Broker's security forces is the pending assault. Furthermore, he was to be the last line of defense should the existing forces fail.

He was flanked by two rocket troopers, three soldiers, and an Asari Vanguard whose name he'd never gotten around to learning.

An alert popped up. He pressed the comm. button. "Sector 9, report!"

"We lost a few maintenance drones. Happens all the time in the storm. Should be nothing to worry about."

"I don't want to hear that, not when were under threat of assault. Dispatch a recon team to be sure."

"Affirmative, sir"

A minute later, another alarm went off, this time in Sector 8.

"I'm reading unscheduled capacitor discharge, what's going on?"

"Sir, the recon team is dead. They reported seeing something, but just before they said what, they were electrocuted by one of the capacitors."

Thirty-six swore under his breath. "It's got to be them. They'll be heading up the length of the ship to the secure door. Dispatch Alpha forces in defense pattern Bravo-One-Niner."

"Deploying sir."

Thirty-six checked the security cams. Unfortunately, due to the ships location in the storm, there weren't any mounted on the exterior of the ship. The Broker would rather keep his location undiscovered than heavily protected. In fact, the crew currently guarding the station was nearly ten times the standard amount.

"Sir, Alpha forces are down. Intruders have breached into sector 6."

"Deploy Bravo and Charlie teams, and tell them to mind the capacitors."

I swear Tela, you will not have died in vain, he thought to himself.

The trio reached the main door, mostly unscathed.

Shepard passed her omni-tool over the door. "It's too secure. I can't bypass it. How the hell are we supposed to get in?"

"Stand back," Liara advanced with a small device, "I have a bypass shunt program that can crack it."

She attached the device to the door. It lit up similar to an omni-tool, but with additional displays. It did indeed seem to be hacking the door.

"How long will this take?"

"I do not know," Liara replied. "I have not broken into this particular Shadow Broker base before."

"But are you sure it's working?"

"It is outlawed, even on Illium."

"But you at least tested it, right?"

Tali called out, "Shepard, we've got incoming hostiles!"

"Liara, tell me you tested it!"

"No time to talk!"

Liara unleashed a biotic wave at the attackers.

Thirty-six checked his console. The intruders had already taken out squads Echo, Foxtrot and India, and their shunt program was almost finished with the door.

He jammed the comm. button unnecessarily hard, "Teams Whiskey, Sierra, Tango: deploy in spread formation. Converge on all sides. Don't let them get through that door!"

He cycled through the cameras and stopped at the Drell prisoner. A thought occurred. He pressed the comm. again. "Victor squad, this is Thirty-six. I want you on the door. Tell November squad to take position by the prisoner and have Oscar squad take the mid-point. Move out!"

He switched off the comm. and turned to the men with him. "Zulu squad, I want you to hold this position. No one gets past."

"Yes sir," they said in unison.

He headed for the door. "I have some unfinished business to take care of."

Shepard took out the last goon with a laser-guided pistol shot to the head.

Liara gestured to a nearby door. "That should be where they are keeping Feron."

The door was sealed, but Tali made quick work of the lock. They filed in, Shepard taking point. Feron was there, alive but unconscious. He was strapped to what looked like some sort of interrogation chair.

And he wasn't alone.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Hunt, Part 2

Location Unknown

In a dark room, a man sat at a computer, his finger hovering above a button he'd pressed mere moments ago.

The display in front of him said "Signal Lost, Operative Terminated".

He clenched his eyes and managed to hold back all but a single tear.

A voice sounded out from the terminal. It was deep and distorted, but clear and familiar. "Good work Agent 36. You did what needed to be done."

"I didn't… I can't believe she tried to do that."

"Now you see how dangerous they are. They will stop at nothing to achieve their goal of including falsely accusing me of conspiring with their made up enemy."

Agent 36's face twisted itself in anger. Pounding his fist on the wall, he yelled, "They won't get away with this!"

"There is a transport waiting for you. It will take you to where I need you to be."

"Yes. I will make them pay for their crimes, Shadow Broker."

Liara stepped out of the Normandy's shower and toweled herself dry. She placed the towel in the reclamator, put on the clean outfit she had brought with her and stepped back into the Deck 3 proper.

She passed by several crew members, many of which had in some way defaced the Cerberus logos on their uniforms. As she headed past the mess hall to the med bay, she was stopped when a voice called out from behind her.

Liara turned, "Oh, hello Tali. Are you going to see Shepard too?"

"I already did. Wait, do you mean you haven't?"

"I wanted to get cleaned off first. I had bits of Vasir on me."

There was a pause before Tali spoke again. "She misses you, you know."

Liara was surprised by the turn the conversation had taken. "I don't see what business it is of yours."

"Leanna is my friend. If it affects her, it is my business, and right now she's hurting because of you."

Liara was taken aback. "You care for her, don't you?"

"How could I not? She's saved me, no matter what stupid situation I've gotten myself caught in, and she never asks for anything in return. She's done more for me than anyone back on the flotilla, and that includes my own Father. But she doesn't want me. She wants you. So the question is do you still care for her?"

"Of course I do!"

"Then why don't you tell her!"

"I can't. She doesn't know. She doesn't know what I've done… what I had to do… while she was gone. If I told her, I know she would hate me." Liara bowed her head slightly and shut her eyes.

"You won't know unless you talk to her." She pulled out a datapad from one of the pockets on her suit. "Look, maybe you need this more than I do."

Liara opened her eyes and looked at the datapad. It contained two educational vids: "Understanding Body Language: Human Edition" and "Human Courtship and Mating". She lifted her head back up to look at Tali.

"Of course," Tali's mouthpiece flashed, "If you don't use it, I'll want it back."

Liara managed to return a half-hearted smile before she turned to the med bay.

The doors opened with a hiss as Liara entered.

Dr. Chakwas looked up from her desk. "I'll leave you two alone." She got up and exited through the still open doors.

Liara walked over to the exam table that Leanna was laying on. A blanket was draped over her, covering her to just above her breasts. Her dark red hair, which she normally kept up in a ponytail, was loose and touching her shoulders. Her eyes were closed shut.

"Shepard?" Liara called out tentatively.

Leanna's green eyes fluttered open. She looked over at Liara. "Hey there blue girl."

Liara breathed a sigh of relief. "Goddess Shepard, don't scare me like that!"

Leanna cracked a smile. "Well I wouldn't have if you'd shown up faster." She propped herself up on her elbows.

"I am sorry. It was just that, I was filthy and I wanted to make myself more presentable first."

"I don't mind it when you're filthy," Leanna smirked.

Liara ignored the comment. "Are you hurt?"

"I'm good. Dr. Chakwas gave me a once over, but it seems I put my barrier up in time. My dress is a mess though," she lifted the covers briefly to show Liara she was naked. "I'm just waiting here until Kelly can get it clean."

"Do you know what caused Vasir to… blow up like that?"

"Mordin theorizes it was an ocular flashbang grenade activated remotely."

"Why wasn't this detected when she went in for surgery?"

"According to Mordin, ocular flashbangs are 'difficult to detect, harder to deactivate'. You tie that with a Quantum Entanglement communicator like the Illusive Man uses and it all makes sense. The Shadow Broker killed her when you tried to invade her mind."

Liara hung her head. "I am sorry Shepard. I know that was the wrong thing to do, but it was clear that she was unable to access the memories, and I knew she would not let me into her mind willingly."

"You're right. It was a bad judgment call, not to mention the wrong thing to do ethically. That said, I think she did far worse things herself, and if you managed to get the info you needed I won't be too upset."

Liara gave her a quizzical look. "How could you not be upset? I remember the dressing down you gave Ashley when you heard she planned to shoot Wrex without your authorization!"

"Ashley was a soldier under my command. I had to be tough with her or I wouldn't be a good commander. So did you get the information or not?"

"I…" Liara hesitated, thinking about the question she wanted to ask Leanna but couldn't bring herself to do so. "Yes, I was able to extract the last piece of information from Vasir's head. It's the location in the Hourglass Nebula."

"Good. Did you give the info to Joker?"

"Yes, he's set a course. We should be at the Broker's base in just a few hours. I'm worried though. If he terminated Vasir remotely, he may already know we're coming. He may decide to kill Feron."

Leanna shook her head. "He won't. Right now, Feron's the only leverage he has. If he killed him, nothing would stop us from taking his base out completely. We'll get him out of there alive, I promise."

"I know," Liara replied in a melancholic voice. "You're here to help, like always."

"You say that like it's a bad thing?"

"Do you remember when we first met, on Therum? You saved me from the geth and a Krogan battlemaster, while I simply cowered in fear. And now, here you are, saving me again. And I'm still relying on you for help."

Leanna grabbed her arm. "That's what you do when you care about someone."

Liara pulled away and started pacing. "Once we get there, the Normandy's stealth systems will keep us hidden. We'll be able to sneak onboard and infiltrate his base. We will keep it simple: get in, get Feron, and get out. And kill anyone who gets in the way."

"Liara, will you just sit down for a damn second. We'll be jumping a few thousand light years. We have time to talk."

Liara stopped and turned to face her, but did not sit down. "What's there to talk about?"

"I don't know, how about us?"

"Look, Leanna, I'm glad you're here but…"

"But what? You're worried you might need me to hack some more terminals?"

Liara advanced toward her. "That's not fair. You were dead!"

"I'm not dead anymore," Leanna took her hand a placed it over her heart, "am I?"

Liara tore away and started pacing again. "It's not that easy! I mourned for you for two years. You can't expect me to just forget and pick up where we left off." She stopped in front of the door. "Look, I just can't get into this right now. Can we please just focus on getting Feron back?"

The door opened.

"Fine," Leanna said, resigned, "but when this is over, we're talking it out."

Liara started to say something, but couldn't get the words out. She walked out door and it closed with a hiss.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Episode #3 – The Hunt, Part 1

Normandy SR-2, Starboard Cargo

"You're sure she's stable?"

Miranda turned to Shepard, "Yes. Doctor Chakwas said she was in stable enough conditions to be moved. She's being kept under sedation until you're ready to interrogate her."

"This cell you put up here will hold her physically, but what about her Biotics?"

"While she was being operated on, Mordin installed a biotic dampening chip in her."

Shepard turned to her right, where the Professor was standing. "How's something like that work?"

"Dampening chip blocks body's natural ability to manipulate element zero. Similar to removing implant in human biotics. Subject can no longer consciously use biotic abilities. May still use reflexively, but not enough to cause harm or damage."

"Can it be removed?"

The Professor shook his head, "Chip embedded at base of spine. Removal problematic. Uses 'Dead Man's Switch' instead. Deactivates chip. Allows it to break up on its own."

Leanna contemplated the prisoner. Neither Normandy had been built with the idea of taking prisoners. It was always expected that anyone captured would be detained locally until other, more equipped Alliance or Cerberus forces could take them.

Now, it seemed that Shepard was operating alone. She'd left Cerberus, and the Alliance wouldn't dare hold a Spectre prisoner, regardless of what she'd done or who she was working for. It was up to her to get the information they needed. Well, her and…

"Liara's headed your way Commander," Jacob's voice said over the intercom.

The doors hissed behind Leanna and she turned to see Liara striding confidently in.

"Shepard, I…" Liara froze in mid sentence as the doors closed behind her. Her face contorted into a puzzled look. "What are you wearing?"

Leanna looked down. "Oh, this?" She turned looked back up. "I kind of… threw out all my other outfits." She gestured to the trash compactor on the other side of the room, next to the jail cell they'd constructed. "This was all I had left. You don't like it?"

Liara looked at her thoughtfully. "It's just… strange to see. I've never known you to wear a dress. I thought you had always hated them?"

"Well I didn't buy it for myself. Kasumi got it for me so I could infiltrate this crime lord's party. It's grown on me though, I kind of like it."

Liara opened her mouth to reply, but Miranda cleared her throat, cutting in to the bubble the two had placed themselves in.

"I think Shepard's wardrobe can wait. We have a prisoner to interrogate and we're not getting any closer to the Shadow Broker while she's unconscious."

"Goddess, you're right. We cannot be distracted by this."

Shepard turned back to Liara, "Ok, so how do you want to do this? Good cop, bad cop?"

Liara's puzzled expression returned. "Good cop bad…?"

Shepard smirked slightly, "It's a two person interrogation technique. One of us is aggressive and tries to force the truth out while the other is more comforting trying to get the truth through kindness."

Liara pondered for a moment until comprehension spread across her face. "Ah, I think I understand. I believe Asari officers use a similar tactic, though they call it by a different name. Yes, we should do this 'good cop, bad cop'.

"So which do you want to be, the good cop or the bad cop?"

"I hardly think I could be comforting to Vasir after what she's done. I shall be the 'bad cop'."

Vasir's eyes fluttered open as the stimulant traveled through her system. She was strapped to a chair with her hands behind her back. Liara and Shepard were standing on either side of her.

Liara noticed the tell-tale twitch of attempted biotic usage. "It's not going to work Vasir."

"What's not going to work," she sneered.

"Your biotics. They've been disabled."


"It's true Tela," Shepard said gently. "Go ahead and try if you don't believe us."

Vasir shut her eyes. She gritted her teeth. After about a minute, she opened them. Nothing had happened.

"What the Hell did you do to me?"

Liara gave her a cold look. "The Professor is very good with Biology."

"Tela, listen. It's not permanent. Just tell us what we need to know and we'll disable it and let you go."

"Yeah, right. I talk and the Broker will come after me, and that's assuming you don't hand me over to your little Cerberus buddies."

"You do not have many options Vasir."

Shepard placed a hand on her shoulder. "If you help us, I promise I won't hand you in to Cerberus, and if you need protection, I'll be happy to provide it."

Vasir lowered her head in resignation. "What do you need to know?"

Liara placed a datapad in front of Vasir's face. "Based on the data I've collected, I believe that the Shadow Broker is residing in one of these three systems. Each of these systems has a planet that could serve as the Broker's base of operations. I believe that you have information that could lead us to the right one."

"How the hell would I know that? I've never met the Shadow Broker before, much less been to his base."

Shepard folded her arms. "Surely you must've heard something, anything that could give us a clue. Maybe it was something you didn't even think mattered at the time. If you even know what Mass Relay is used to get there, that would help."

Vasir racked her brain. "I… no, there's nothing. I haven't heard anything."

Liara moved in front of Vasir deliberately. "But the man you called for backup, your contact with the Shadow Broker, he's heard something hasn't he?"

"Maybe, but he's not the one in this cell, is he?"

Liara placed her hands on Vasir's shoulders. "True, but my sources report that you bonded with him on at least two separate occasions. You've shared enough of his memories to know what he knows."

"Liara, what are you…?"

"Get the hell away from me you Bitch!"

In one swift movement, Liara raised her hands to the sides of Vasir's head. "Embrace eternity!" Her eyes turned black.

Shepard had little time to be stunned with Liara's behavior. She heard a high-pitched whine that she recognized all too well. "Liara, get down!"

She tackled Liara and brought her to the floor just before the explosion.