Saturday, April 30, 2011

Date Night, Part 2

Entry 225

I'm feeling a little anxious today.

The thing is… I've never really been on a date before. I know that Liara and I being together is the most natural thing in the world, but the idea of a date… well it scares the living hell out of me. And to make matters worse, it's not just a date but a double date. Ugh! I could just rip Kasumi's head off!

I think I finally decided on an outfit for the date. It's a sparkly blue dress I got the last time we were on Illium. Then again, that green one might work better. Damnit, now I've got to figure it out again!

Ok, moving on to food. That one shouldn't be too hard. What do people eat on a date? Wait, is this a food date? 1600 seems a little early for dinner. Should we do something first and then eat? God I am freaking out. I've got to talk to someone about this. Oh god, who do I talk to about this?

It's alright Leanna, calm down. I'll talk to Kasumi. She's the one who got me in to this, she can help me out. Not to mention she and Jacob are the only ones on the ship with a successful dating life.

I think Gardner's about to open up the kitchen. I guess I should go down for breakfast. Maybe playing a bit more "Crazy Pyjaks" wouldn't hurt though. I think I'm about to finish it and I heard there's some big boss fight at the end. Could be fun.

It was breakfast in the Mess Hall. Gardner was busy cooking. He'd managed to get one glove on this morning, though it wasn't the one that was touching the food unfortunately.

A few of the crew members were sitting at the larger table, either reading reports or talking between bites of food. The atmosphere on the Normandy had gotten a bit more relaxed since the Shadow Broker incident as there was very little anyone had to do.

Meanwhile, at the smaller table, Garrus and Tali sat, each apparently lost in their own thoughts.

Garrus finally broke through the silence. "Don't you ever get tired of it?"

Tali focused her attention on him. "Get tired of what?"

Garrus held up the tube he was eating out of; an identical one was attached to Tali's suit. "This. Day in, day out, eating the same paste for every meal, doesn't it get boring after a while?"

"I've… never really thought about it. Every meal I've eaten has been some sort of vegetable or protein paste."

"You've never even been curious? Never wanted to try some meat?"

"Of course I've been curious, but that's a major indulgence. For one, it's almost impossible to find someone willing to prepare meat in a way that a quarian could eat it. And even if you do, they make it so expensive that most quarians have to save up for years to afford it."

Garrus leaned forward slightly. "What if I told you that I know of a restaurant, no more than a few hours away by shuttle, that specializes in quarian and turian cooking?"

"That would be great, but there's no way I could afford to eat at a place like that."

"Then let me take you there, my treat."

Tali shook her head. "No way, that's too much money for anyone to be spending on my behalf."

Garrus held up a hand. "It's no big deal. The chef is a friend of mine. He owes me a favor. I'm sure I could get him to give us a discount. Besides, I'd really like to go to this place, but people always look at you funny if you show up alone."

Tali cocked her head to the side. "And they won't look at you funny if you show up with a Quarian?"

Garrus smiled. "Only the close-minded ones."

Tali thought for a moment. "Well…"

Out of nowhere, a fist hit Garrus on the side of the head, followed by someone yelling out, "You ass!"

Garrus grabbed the side of his head that had been struck and turned to face his attacker. "What the hell Shepard? That's my injured side!"

Leanna was standing there, her fists at her side, shaking with what looked like a combination of fear and rage. Tali took one look and began to leave, the tube of past still attached to her suit. Garrus reached out towards her with his free hand, but he was too late to stop her.

Leanna finally stopped seething enough to speak. "Why didn't you tell me there were Thresher Maws in that game?"

Garrus rubbed the spot where she'd hit him. The bandage had come off a week ago, but his exoskeleton hadn't entirely healed yet. It was still soft, which was probably why Shepard had targeted it in the first place. "Thresher Maws… You mean you beat the game?"

"No." The anger seemed to quickly subside as Shepard slumped down in the chair next to Garrus. "I made it all the way to the boss fight, and then that Thresher Maw burst out of the ground and then… I froze up. I just sat there, staring at the display until the time ran out. And when it did, I turned off my Omni-tool and was overcome with the strong desire to come down here… and hit you."

"Did it make you feel better?"

She looked at Garrus. "No. If anything, I feel worse. I shouldn't have gotten mad at you. It's not like you would've known what kind of reaction I would've had to that. Hell, I didn't even know I'd freak out like that."

Garrus continued to rub the side of his head. The pain was subsiding, but not gone. "No, I'm sorry. I should've known better. I knew what happened at Akuze, but I just forgot. It's just that I've never seen you be anything but level-headed when facing down a Thresher Maw."

"Trust me; I'm terrified whenever we have to fight one of them. It's just that, usually when I'm terrified, my instinct is to shoot. Most of the time when we've faced down Maws, we've been in a tank, and the one time we had to fight one on foot, I happened to have a mini-nuke-launcher strapped to my back. But here I was, alone, unarmed and half-naked in my quarters. What was I supposed to do?"

"To be fair, the point of the game was to throw pyjaks at it."

Leanna gave Garrus a punch on the arm, much lighter this time. She smiled. "I'm sorry Garrus. I over reacted and I think I scared Tali off. Is there anything I can do to make it up to you?"

Garrus thought for a minute. "Maybe you could talk to Tali for me. I was trying to invite her out to this restaurant that serves dishes made exclusively with dextro-proteins. Maybe you could get her to say yes?"

"Really? I thought you were going to wait a while before you asked her out."

"It's not a date; not a real one anyway. I just figure she could use some time to blow off some steam. I'm worried about her. I… know what it's like to have family problems."

"Yeah, about that… don't mention what I said to here, about her not being over the loss of her father. I don't want her to know I was talking about this to anyone."

"So you mean you'll do it?"

Leanna gave a smile. "I'll do my best. I'll talk to her first thing after breakfast." She stood and turned to the kitchen, only to see Gardner scratching himself with his ungloved hand. "And now I've lost my appetite."

A few minutes later, Shepard entered the Engineering room. Ken and Gabby were having a hushed conversation while casting occasional glances at Tali. Leanna cleared her throat behind them.

"Guys, give us a minute?"

Gabby spoke first, "I'm gonna go check on the Cargo."

Ken chimed in as well. "Aye, I'll help ya with that."

Without another word, the pair left the room.

Leanna walked over to Tali. She was slumped against the console in front of her and her head was in her hands. She saw the empty protein-past tube on the ground a few feet away. "Tali?" she asked tentatively.

Tali turned her head towards Shepard. "What do you want from me?" She sounded as though she'd been crying, though Leanna was unsure if quarians cried.

Leanna took a single step forward. "I… just wanted to apologize. I didn't mean to scare you off like that."

Tali straightened herself up and turned back to the console. "Fine, you apologized. Is that all?"

"Is everything alright?"

"Everything's fine Shepard."

Leanna took another step. "Ok, I may not act like it sometimes, but I am a woman, and I know that when another woman says that everything's fine, it means that something is decidedly not fine, so spill."

"Fine, you want to know what it is?" Tali turned to face her, placing her hand on her left hip. "It's you."


"Look Shepard, I have deep, strong feelings for you. I told you how I felt, and you said you had to talk to Liara first, and that was fine because I wasn't out of the running yet. Then Liara comes and she won't talk about it, so I encourage her to. Why, because I wanted you to be happy. Sure, part of me wanted her to decide it wouldn't work out and then we could be together, but I just kept telling myself it didn't matter as long as you were happy. But then, when it comes down to it, you two don't even talk it out do you? You just decided to get back together like the last two-and-a-half years never happened. And now, I'm still trying to say it's ok, just as long as you're happy, but it's not! It hurts! And I feel so alone!

"I know that if this were about anyone else, you'd be the first person I went to. You were there for me so many times, when Fist's goons attacked me, when I lost my squad on Haestrom, when my father died… but now it feels like there's no one I can talk to about this. The only person on this ship that I've known as long as you is Garrus, and I don't feel comfortable enough to talk about it with him.

"And then, once I finally get the courage to leave the lower decks and talk to someone, you burst in and punch Garrus as soon as he gets the courage to ask me out! That took a lot of courage, and you have to go all 'jealous girlfriend' on him over someone you already rejected!"

Leanna stood there in stunned silence for a few moments before speaking. "Ok Tali, first of all, I wasn't jealous of you and Garrus. I was upset at him for something he did that I thought he did for different reasons but he just forgot. Anyway, it had nothing to do with you and I'm sorry if I made it seem like that."

"Oh," Tali said in a mixture of relief, embarrassment and a slight bit of disappointment.

"And second, I'm sorry for not being there for you. You're my best friend and you've been there for me just as much as I've been for you. I don't think I could've gotten through the past few months since I was brought back without your help."

Tali quickly closed the distance between them and wrapped her arms around her. "No Leanna, I'm sorry." She pulled back. "I shouldn't have exploded like that. It's not your fault I've been so distant. I guess… I just needed to vent. Look, I'll be ok. You should go; you have that date with Liara tonight."

"You know about that? Oh god, who else knows?"

"The Normandy's a small ship Shepard. Gossip spreads fast."

Leanna shook her head. "I really wish we were busy; then people would have something better to talk about than my personal life." Suddenly, inspiration struck. "You know what? I think I'm going to start instituting some mandatory shore leave, starting with you and Garrus."


"Yep, as the only two on board who require dextro-proteins, I'm grouping you two together. Take the shuttle, go to that restaurant, have some fun together and don't come back for 24 hours. And here, take this." She reached into the pocket on her right leg and pulled out a credit chit. "It's got about 15,000 credits on it. Use as much as you need."

"I… I don't know what to say. Thank you, Leanna."

"Well don't just stand there! Tell Garrus and then start packing!"

"Right!" Tali headed for the door.

"And remember," Leanna called after her, "24 hours. Then I want you back here to tell me everything."

Tali made a gesture resembling a salute as she walked backwards through the door. "Yes Captain!" As she turned, Leanna could see a bit of a spring in her step.

Leanna exited through the other doors, only to run into Ken and Gabby, kissing each other in the space between the doors.

Leanna looked at them and said, "Get a room you two."

A voice cried from below, "And stay out of mine!"

Friday, April 22, 2011

Episode #4 – Date Night, Part 1

Entry 224

I'm restless.

Kelly said I should start each of these log entries by saying how I feel. She said that if I want to be in a better place emotionally, I needed to be honest with myself, which meant being honest with how I feel. So yeah, I'm feeling restless.

It's just that there's nothing going on right now. When I was in the Alliance, I was always on assignment. Even when I was with Cerberus, I had a million things to do beyond my main mission. I feel like I'm sitting on my hands, twiddling my thumbs here.

Wait, that sounds kind of weird. How would you do both?

Ok, it's not like I haven't done anything. Still, I'd hardly call clothes shopping with Kasumi a thrilling experience for either one of us. She didn't like having to pay for it, and I didn't like being escorted out for threatening to shoot that bitch who snaked the pants I wanted. It was just a leg.

Kelly also says I have a bit of an anger problem.

Right now, the only thing I have left to do is to convince the Alliance and the Council that the Reapers are real and they're coming. Doing both those things requires intelligence gathering skills that I don't have. That means it's up to Liara.

It's been nearly two weeks since I've seen her. She said she needed some time to get the Broker's base put back together and figure out what she's doing there before we talk out what we're doing together. Thankfully though, we've at least established that we're together.

I think Tali's taking it a little hard. I saw her in the mess yesterday, and when I asked her how she was and she said she was "happy for me." I'm starting to worry that she might decide to head back to the Migrant Fleet. I don't think I could bear to see her leave.

Anyway, that's my log entry for the day. Kelly said I have to make one each day so I guess I'll be doing another tomorrow. I hate it, but she's got me by the quad. She keeps threatening not to feed my fish if I don't.

Leanna leaned back in her chair, brought her hand up to her face, stroked the bridge of her nose, and sighed. She looked down at the silk pajamas she was wearing. They were a "gift" from Kasumi, though she didn't remember her buying it. She thought about getting dressed.

She tapped the comm. button. "Kelly, any calls?"


"Any messages?"


"Any missions?"

"No Commander Shepard."

"It's a good job, huh?"

There was a pause. "Is everything alright Commander? Do you need company?"

As it wasn't one of her counseling days, she knew exactly what Kelly meant by "company". "Uh, no thanks Kelly, I'm good. I'll be up in the loft if anyone needs anything."

She switched off the comm. Again, she contemplated getting dressed.

Instead, she switched on her omni-tool. She loaded up a game that Garrus had convinced her to buy. In it, she was trying to knock down buildings that varren had made by launching pyjaks at them. The concept made no sense, but damn if it wasn't addicting.

She was in the middle of a particularly challenging level when her stomach growled. There was no escaping it this time; she'd have to get dressed.

After saving her progress, she walked over to her armor locker, which doubled as her wardrobe. She looked through the much more substantial wardrobe she had now. Of course, she wasn't looking for anything too elaborate, just something she'd be comfortable wearing around her crew. In the end, she settled on a simple engineer's uniform that looked a bit like her old Alliance fatigues, only a lighter shade of blue.

Fifteen minutes later, she found herself in the mess hall. At her arrival, she saw Gardner make a mad dash to put on the gloves she'd bought him. Maybe I'll wait a few minutes before ordering anything.

"Would you like a seat Commander?"

She turned to see that Jacob was offering her the chair across from his. She looked at the chair, shrugged and said "Why not."

The chair she sat in was next to Garrus. Across from him was Kasumi, who was deliberately trying to look like she had not just been cuddling with Jacob. She looked at the food in front of Jacob.

"Lunch already? You mean I missed breakfast?"

Garrus smiled, or at least what she'd always assumed was the Turian equivalent of a smile. "Maybe if you got up in time you'd make it to breakfast."

"I was up in time. I've been up for," she checked the ship time on her omni-tool; it was 1130 hours, "four and a half hours."

Jacob chuckled. "You spent four and a half hours in your room?"

Kasumi elbowed him in the ribs, causing him to almost choke on his sandwich.

Leanna lightly smacked Garrus's arm with the back of her hand. "It's your fault anyway."

"How is it my fault?"

"That damn game you made me buy. Ever since I got it, I play it whenever I'm bored, and I'm bored all — the — time."

Jacob had finished his sandwich and was holding Kasumi's hand. "Yeah, I liked the quiet for a little bit, but now…"

Leanna made a gesture to Jacob indicating her agreement. "Right? You know what I'm talking about. In the Alliance, we hardly had downtime. Shore leave only ever lasted what, a week, if that? Most days you spent on a ship you at least had something to do."

Kasumi let go of Jacob's hand to grab Leanna's. "I've got a great idea. Why don't you call up Liara and set up a date."

Leanna regarded her quizzically. "A date?"

Kasumi's smile broadened. "In fact, why don't we make it a double date? You and Liara with me and Jacob."

"Wait, what?"

Jacob turned to her as well. "Yeah, what?"

Kasumi looked at him from under her hood. "Oh come on. This is our one chance to do a couples night. It's not like there's anyone else we can double with, unless of course Ken and Gabby realize what's between them."

"What about Garrus?"

"Garrus is single sweetie."

"Yeah, but maybe he and Tali should hook up. I mean, they've both got that dextro-DNA thing, so they're biologically compatible, and they've known each other for a while. I think they'd be a good fit."

Garrus looked between Jacob and Kasumi, his mandibles quivering expectantly. "You really think she'd go for me?"

Kasumi shared a look with Leanna before speaking. "I don't think now's a good time. She's… um…"

Shepard chimed in, "Still mourning for her father."

"Yeah, that," Kasumi nodded.

Garrus's expression fell. "Yeah, you're right. It's too soon. I guess I didn't think of that." He looked at his half-finished tube of protein paste. "You know, I'm not hungry anymore. I'm gonna go work on some calibrations." They all said goodbye to Garrus as he headed for weapon control.

When he was out of sight, Kasumi turned back to Leanna. "So, double date? Come on, you owe me." She cast her a look that said, because of what I just did for you.

Leanna gave an exasperated sigh. "Fine, I'll call her. I'm not promising anything though. If she doesn't want to, then we're not doing it."

Kasumi smiled. "Trust me, she'll want to."

Leanna sat at her private terminal. She was trying to psych herself up to make a call. She didn't know why she was so nervous, it was Liara. Asking her out should've been the most natural thing in the world. This was different though. She'd never asked Liara on a date before. Hell, she'd never asked anyone on a date before.

After sitting there for fifteen minutes, she finally pressed the call button on the comm. The screen on her terminal went black, with a large white line spanning across it that oscillated with the voice that spoke. "This is the Shadow Broker."

She hated this part. "It's Shepard."

There was a pause before, "Vocal ID recognized. Securing connection."

The line began to expand both upwards and downwards until it took up the whole screen. He now saw a drell, the Broker's base behind him.

"Hi Feron. Is Liara available?"

"Actually, she left strict instructions that she was not to be disturbed…" he paused for a moment, "unless of course, you were to call."

Leanna gave a light smile. "Can you go get her for me?"

"Yes Shepard. One moment."

The screen returned to the white line for a moment. Leanna amused herself by flicking a few pyjaks at some varren. The screen flickered on again.

There was the most beautiful blue face Leanna had seen in quite some time. She looked even better because she was smiling. "Shepard, it is good to see you!"

Leanna smiled back. Every trace of nervousness was forgotten. "Hey there Blue. Long time no see."

"I am truly sorry about not calling you lately. I have just been very busy being the new Shadow Broker."

"Too busy to take a night off, like maybe tomorrow?"

"I do not know Shepard. I am unsure if I can…"

Leanna began to pout. "Please Liara, for me?"

Liara smiled. "Oh, alright. I suppose I could let Feron handle things here for a single evening. You know I can never say no to that face."

Leanna gave a coy smile. "I have no idea what you're talking about. Tomorrow, 1600 hours Normandy time. I'm not sure what that is on your station's time, but I'll send you a timestamp so you can set your clock by it. Deal?"

"I'll see you then Shepard."

As the call ended, Leanna was feeling much better about herself.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Flashback – You're Welcome

Miranda stared at the report she'd just written. It was odd to think she wouldn't be sending it anywhere.

To be perfectly honest, writing the report had been completely meaningless. She'd essentially quit her position with Cerberus and she knew that Shepard hated reading through paperwork. Still, there was something comforting about the act.

The door opened.

"Got a minute Miranda?" Shepard walked in.

Miranda looked at her terminal, then back up at Shepard. "I suppose this can wait. Have a seat."

Shepard sat in the chair on the opposite side of Miranda's desk. For a moment, the two women just looked at each other. Finally, Shepard spoke, "I want to thank you, Miranda."

"Thank me for what?"

"For standing by me. For supporting my decision to blow up the base. I was afraid that you were going to side with the Illusive Man and try to stop me from destroying it. That you didn't, well, it means a lot to me."

"It was a stupid thing to do."

Shepard was taken aback. "Excuse me?"

"Not you. You made the right decision. I didn't. I never should have quit Cerberus."

"You're wishing you had stopped me?"

"Shepard, I'm not like you. I can't just strike out on my own. I've always been working for someone. First it was my father, then Cerberus. I don't know if I can make it without them."

Shepard smirked. "Is that what this is about? Miranda, I've never been on my own. I make it by because I have my friends, my ship and my crew. Sometimes I feel like I only got where I am because better people helped me get here."

"You can't really think that, can you? What about Akuze? You survived while 50 others died."

"49 actually, thank you very much Cerberus. And second, I only survived due to dumb luck and… someone else who sacrificed her life for mine."

"There you go though. Why would someone else sacrifice their life for you they didn't see how important you were?"

Shepard shifted uncomfortably in her chair. "Trust me, that wasn't the reason."

"I've met plenty of people in my lifetime, and not one of them would be willing to sacrifice themselves to save me."

"I would," Shepard stated flatly.

"Very funny Shepard."

"I'm not joking. Miranda, everyone on board this ship is like family to me. I'd risk my life to save any of them, including you."

Miranda was shocked. She'd been called many things in her life; some of them had even been complimentary, but family? Hell, her own father had never called her that. "I… thank you Shepard."

The two women sat in silence for a few moments before Shepard spoke up. "Miranda, I have to ask you something."

"Of course, what is it Shepard?"

"Am I… alright?"

Miranda was nonplussed. "What do you mean by 'alright'?"

"I'm just… worried is all."

"What are you worried about?"

"The Lazarus Project."

Miranda was even more confused. "The Lazarus Project is over. We brought you back."

"Did you?" Shepard stood and began pacing frantically. "I mean, you say I'm fine, and for all I know you're right, but how can I be sure? How can I trust my senses, if my memories are lies?"

Miranda was beginning to comprehend. "You're saying… you're not sure if you're the real Shepard?"

She stopped pacing and slammed her hands on the desk. "Yes!"

"Shepard, I supervised the Lazarus project myself. Even though the technology that brought you back was Wilson's, I was present for everything he did and I understood the science of it, possibly better than Wilson himself. I can assure you, you're the genuine article."

Shepard jabbed her hand at her temple. "But what about my mind? Just because you grew me from the original Shepard's body doesn't mean we have the same mind, does it?"

"Why don't you tell me? Look back on your memories. Do they inspire the same feelings they used to?"

Shepard sat back down, closing her eyes. "I… I think so." Her eyes opened. "But how do I know they're true?"

Miranda grabbed her hand. "Shepard, every cell in your body was dead, that's true, but the way your body was preserved, every cell in your brain was completely intact. We were able to restore nearly every one and the ones we didn't could easily be chalked up to a night of heavy drinking."

"You're sure? I'm… I'm really Shepard? I'm not just some clone with her memories?"

Miranda smiled, "You are one-hundred percent Shepard, through and through."

To her great surprise, this didn't cheer her up at all. Shepard laid her head on her arm and began a dry sob. "Then why don't I feel anything?"

The smile dropped from Miranda's face. "What do you mean?"

Shepard raised her head. Her face was dry but her eyes were red. "Every time I've lost people, it's hurt. When my squad died on Akuze, I was a wreck. When I lost Jenkins on Eden Prime, it hurt. When Kaiden died on Virmire, I was devastated. Now, Zaeed dies in the collector base, and I feel nothing, and now you tell me that's supposed to be normal!"

"I see. You wanted me to tell you that you were a clone, didn't you; that you were somehow not the real Shepard. I'm sorry, but I won't lie to you like that. You're the real deal and you have to accept that and learn to live with these emotions, or lack thereof."

"Miranda, I need help! I need to know why I don't seem to care."

Miranda thought for a moment. "Tell me, how close were you to your squad on Akuze?"

"We were very close. Most of us had joined the alliance together. I'd shared a barrack with half of them during basic training."

Miranda nodded. "And Jenkins?"

"I wouldn't say we were close. I'd only just met the kid a few weeks ago. Still, he seemed like a good kid. I thought he had a lot of potential."

"What about Kaiden?"

"Kaiden was a great friend. He was the first person who managed to bring me out of my shell after I lost my team on Akuze. Losing him was… a tragedy."

"Now, tell me how you felt about Zaeed?"

"He was… not the best person I'd known. His first reaction to everything seemed to be to shoot it or at least punch it. Ninety-five percent of his stories ended everyone but him dying, to the point where I just stopped talking to him… I guess you could say… I didn't like him."

Miranda nodded her head again. "I'm no psychologist, but I think that's the reason you're not upset he's gone."

"But…" Shepard considered her words, "don't you think that sounds a bit… selfish?"

"Everyone's selfish Shepard, it's just to what degree. Zaeed's own selfish desires put him at the forefront of the distraction team. He used himself as a human shield and that got him killed. Maybe a part of you knew that would happen. Maybe a part of you wanted him dead."

Shepard cupped her face in her hands. "I don't want to believe I have that part in me."

Miranda grabbed her hand. "Everyone does Shepard. The trick is, saving it for people who truly deserve it. I don't think Mr. Massani will be missed by anyone, do you?"

Shepard thought for a moment. "No. No, I suppose you're right. I… I think the galaxy's a better place with him being dead, and I… I don't miss him at all." The words seemed alien to her, like she was spitting them out through a second mouth. She rubbed her eyes. "I don't want to have these thoughts anymore."

"Maybe you just need to relax."

Shepard stood. "Yeah, you're right. In fact, I was gonna head to Omega for a drink. Want to come with? It's just me, Kelly and Garrus right now."

Miranda looked at her desk, then back up at Shepard. "I don't think I'd be good company right now. Perhaps another time."

"Ok, then." Shepard headed for the door, stopping just before it opened, "And Miranda, thank you… for everything."

Miranda smiled. "You're welcome Shepard."

As the door closed behind Shepard, Miranda turned to her terminal. She saved and closed the report, then brought up her extranet-mail. She began a new message.

"Dear, Oriana…"

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Hunt, Part 5

Interrogation Room, Continued

Liara's heart was racing. Time seemed to stand still. She turned to face Feron, waiting for the inevitable moment when the electricity with surge through him and burn out his central nervous system.

Nothing happened.

This had not gone unnoticed by Thirty-six, who was now mashing the console button repeatedly.

"What in the—"

Shepard raised her pistol. "Say 'Good Night' Thirty-six."

Liara, for whom time was still moving slowly, could see it all in her mind's eye. The pistol sheared a few atoms off the large metal block it used for ammunition. The shot was enveloped by a mass effect field and propelled forward, to the point that it had nearly reached the speed of sound when it erupted from the barrel of the pistol.

Upon emerging, mass effect field was merged with Shepard's own biotics, causing the shot to increase in velocity, rather than decrease. The shot was now spinning. It was almost beautiful as it crossed the room.

The shot then impacted Thirty-six's exposed head. The shields overloaded like they weren't even there. The mass effect field that enveloped the shot caused it to flatten out, spreading the impact over the majority of the man's forehead.

In that instant, time returned to normal as Thirty-six's head was obliterated. It did not explode like Vasir's, it was simply gone. His headless body fell backwards, collapsing onto the wall.

Liara just stood there, staring at the place where Thirty-six once stood. The only emotion she could convey was shock. "How… how did…?"

Tali ran over to the console, scanning it with her omni-tool. "I managed to disable the console remotely."

"But how did you…?"

Tali held up her arm with the omni-tool on it. "I believe the appropriate expression is 'Duh'."

Liara turned to Shepard, hoping for answers. Leanna tapped her visor. "While Thirty-six's attention was on you, Tali and I worked out the plan to disable his console, making it safe for us to stop him without endangering Feron. We would've let you in on the plan, but we had no way of communicating with you that he wouldn't have spotted."

"Why did you let him… make me choose?"

"Tali had just cracked it by then. I tried to stop you, but you just kept going."

Tali chimed in. "Guys, we've got a problem. Feron's chair is hooked into the Shadow Broker's mainframe. I managed to disable the console, but if we try to take him now the chair will still fry him."

Liara approached the unconscious drell. "Feron, can you hear me?"

He stirred, waking up. "Liara? Is that you?"

She took his hand. "Yes, it is me. I have come to rescue you, just like I said I would."

"You can't Liara. It's too dangerous."

"It is all right. We have already made it here. We just need to free you and make it to safety."

Feron gave a weak chuckle. "You can't take me out of here. The chair is connected to the Broker's information network. The only way to disable the mechanism is to take it out at its source, the Broker's office."

Shepard walked up to Feron's other side. "What can you tell us about the Broker?"

Feron turned his head towards the voice. "Who's that?"

"I'm Commander Leanna Shepard."

He turned back to Liara. His eyes were starting to focus again. "So you did it. You found Shepard. And she's alive too. At least now I know it was all worth it." He turned back to Shepard. "I'm afraid I can't be of much help. There's a VI monitoring my words. If I say the wrong thing, I'll be shocked, and in this state, that might knock me out again."

"Then we'd better hurry." She made her way to the door, Tali following close behind.

"Shepard, wait. About what I said earlier…"

Leanna cut her off. "Like you said Liara, we'll talk about it when this is finished."

The doors to the Shadow Broker's office opened.

Shepard entered, Liara and Tali flanking her. They all drew their weapons and pointed them at the thing they could only assume was the Shadow Broker.

The Broker was probably the most alien intelligent life form Shepard had ever seen. Its face was oddly flat, with horns emerging out of the top and odd fin-like flaps that she could only assume were sensory organs. Its triangular mouth contained rows of very sharp teeth, jutting out at odd angles. Just above the mouth were two sets of four eyes arranged in a type of parallelogram.

He was also very, very big. Bigger than a krogan even.

"I take it you're here for the Drell. A reckless move Commander, even by your standards."

"And I'm supposed to believe blowing up a building on Illium is your idea of subtlety?"

"My methods were extreme, but your actions required it."

"Nothing justifies what you have done!" Liara yelled, "The bombing, Vasir, caging Feron for two years like some sort of animal!"

"It was your hand that caused this Dr. T'Soni. You convinced Feron to betray me and give you the body. Now he serves as an example that disloyalty will not be tolerated."

Shepard spoke up. "What did you intend to gain by turning me over to the Collectors?"

"A great deal actually. Of course, now that you've destroyed them, I no longer need you alive. I can still use the Normandy's IFF to salvage the remains of the Collectors' base."

Liara glared at him. "You sound very confident for someone who is used to hiding. I don't know if you've noticed, but you are outnumbered."

"Perhaps, though I'm surprised you brought the Quarian with you. Her supposed leadership on Haestrom resulted in the deaths of the majority of her team."

Shepard tightened her grip. "You shut up about Tali."

"It's pointless to challenge me. I know your every secret, while you fumble in the dark."

"You think so?" Liara smirked. "You are a Yahg. Your species was quarantined to its homeworld for the massacre of the Council's first contact team. This base's age predates the discovery of your planet, meaning you killed the previous Shadow Broker sixty years ago, and then took over with no one noticing the difference. I would wager you were taken from you planet by a trophy hunter looking for a slave… or perhaps a pet.

"How am I doing so far?"

In one swift movement, the Shadow Broker ripped his desk from the ground and threw it at the three of them.

Shepard had little time to react. She grabbed Liara, moving them both out of the way of the desk. Tali was not so lucky.

Shepard took a moment to steal a glance at Tali. She was unconscious, the Shadow Broker's desk on top of her. Her visor data told her that Tali was still alive.

Liara stood, Shepard rising with her. They both turned their guns on the Shadow Broker. They were in for the fight of their lives.

The cascade of information washed over him. For a moment, he didn't just have information, he was information. It was too much for him though. He could not handle the strain. His skin began to crack as the energy tried to escape. Within seconds, he was vaporized. Gone, without a trace.

Leanna lay on the floor some distance away. The sheer charge of the blast had blacked out her visor. She retracted it as she waited for it to reboot.

Liara approached. Her expression was unreadable, but she offered a hand. Shepard took it and helped herself up.

From the corner of her eye, she saw movement. Tali appeared to be stirring. Leanna walked over to help.

The Lights flickered and died for a moment before the back-up generators kicked in. Shepard knew that would be enough to disable Feron's chair.

As Shepard helped Tali, Liara noticed that the Broker's computers were coming back online. Signals were coming in. Various operatives and agents were asking what had happened.

Liara had been afraid of this. The Shadow Broker was in charge of an empire. If they killed him and then left, there would be a power vacuum. Unless…

Liara steeled herself, like she had done so many times before. She approached the console and brought up the comms, sending out a general message to all of the Shadow Broker's agents and operatives.

"This is the Shadow Broker. The situation is under control. We experienced a power fluctuation while upgrading hardware. It caused a momentary disruption of communications. We are now back online. Resume standard operating procedures. I want a status report on all operations within one solar day. Shadow Broker out."

"Liara? You… how did you?"

Liara turned to see Feron. He looked thinner than she last remembered and he was limping, but he was free.

"Everyone who has ever seen the Shadow Broker is either dead or in this room."

"So you become the new Shadow Broker?"

Shepard chimed in. "What about this strikes you as even a remotely good idea?"

"If we leave this behind, we lose everything he had. His contacts, his trading resources, not to mention the intelligence he's gathered over the decades. We may find the key to defeating the Reapers. With all this, maybe I can finally give you… I can…"

Tali grabbed Feron. "Why don't we get ourselves checked up? Somewhere far, far away from here."

They both walked out the main doors.

Leanna watched them leave, then turned her attention back to Liara. Her face was buried in her hands. Leanna gently touched her shoulder. Liara turned, tears in her eyes.

"It is over. Two years and it is finally…"

Leanna grabbed her and hugged her. Even through the armor, it was comforting to both of them.

"It's all right," Leanna whispered gently.

Liara drew herself back slowly, then suddenly kissed her.

She drew back just as quickly. "I'm sorry. I know it has been two years. We have both changed so much. We need to talk it out and…"

Leanna grabbed her again. "You talk too much T'Soni." She kissed her, drawing her in an embrace they both hoped would never end.

End of Episode #3

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Hunt, Part 4

Interrogation Chamber, Shadow Broker's Base

"That's close enough Dr. T'Soni."

A man stood at a console next to Feron's unconscious body. He was wearing the typical Shadow Broker armor, but no helmet. His hair had the disheveled look of a man under great stress. His normally handsome visage was contorted with a manic smile.

"One false move and I fry this Drell's central nervous system. That goes for all of you," he added, gesturing to Shepard and Tali.

Liara stopped moving, but kept her gun trained on the man. "We're here for Feron. Release him and we'll be on our way."

"I know what you're here for you Blue Bitch–" Leanna had to steel herself to not shoot him at that point, "–and you're not getting it."

"Do you know this man Liara?"

Liara closed her eyes for a moment. "Yes. This is Agent 36, one of the Shadow Broker's top lieutenants," she hesitated for a moment, "and Vasir's lover."

Thirty-six gave a manic chuckle. "You find that out through your info-network? Or was it when you raped her mind?"

"I did what I had to."

"So did I! And now she's where none of you can hurt her again!"

Leanna finally understood. "You did it. You triggered the explosion. You… killed her."

"I would've rather she died than have to live with the indignity of being used in her–" he pointed his pistol at Liara, "–demented little scheme!"

A voice chimed in from the back. "Look who's talking."

"Seriously not helping Tali."

"Sorry Shepard."

Liara took a minute to contemplate the situation. "So, your threatening Feron is not part of the Shadow Broker's orders then. This is all just part of some revenge scheme. You intend to kill me for what I did to Vasir."

"You think me killing you will get me any sort of revenge?" Thirty-six laughed. "No, I intend to make your life meaningless, just like mine became when you forced me to do what I did. I will expose you as the dirty girl you are, and then I will take away the thing that gives your life purpose."

Liara surveyed the room for anything she could biotically manipulate without drawing too much attention. Unfortunately, everything was bolted to the floor. She would have to play along with Thirty-Six's game until she could get a clear shot without endangering Feron.

When Thirty-six next spoke, his voice was suddenly much calmer. "It's interesting what you said earlier. You 'did what you had to.' That's not the first time you used that excuse, is it?"

"I don't want to hear any stories," Shepard had a touch of impatience in her voice. "What Liara's done as an information broker doesn't matter."

"Oh, I think you'll like this story. It's a very good one. It explains how everyone got here. How the Drell wound up in this chair; how she became a broker; it even explains how you're walking around right now!"

Liara shifted uncomfortably. This was not how she wanted Leanna to find out, but there was nothing she could do right now, not without effectively killing Feron anyway.

Thirty-six looked from Shepard to Liara, then back. "Don't tell me she hasn't told you?" He laughed again, this time less manic but much more sinister. "Well, let me tell you the tale."


Thirty-six turned back to Liara. "You shouldn't lie to people you claim to love. I'm sorry little girl, but you don't have much choice in the matter. This story will be told whether you like it or not."

"I do have a choice." Liara lowered her pistol. "Shepard, when Feron was captured, it was because I sacrificed him in order to recover your body."

Leanna's turned her head to Liara, still keeping her gun pointed at Thrity-six. "I thought Cerberus recovered my body?"

"They had your body because I gave it to them."

"Why… why would you do that? You knew what they did to me. You saw what they did to me, through my eyes. How could you give my body to Cerberus?"

"I had to. They said they could bring you back. I know they could have just as easily been lying, but I didn't care. I needed you back."

"Selfishness," Thirty-six chuckled. "You abandoned a comrade and turned your lover over to her worst enemies, just because you couldn't live without her."

"That's not true! That Galaxy needs Shepard. She's the only one who can stop the Reapers!"

"Ah yes, the 'Reapers'–" now Leanna really wanted to kill him, "–that you claim wiped out the Protheans. Tell me, if the Reapers exist, why is it that the Shadow Broker has never found anything to confirm their existence?"

Shepard gripped her pistol tightly. "The evidence is there. Anyone who's seen it and refuses to acknowledge it is either lying or fooling themselves."

Thirty-six laughed again. "No matter. The point remains that what Liara did was selfish, and now she will have to make a new choice, but it's the same as last time!" He cackled manically. "You can save Feron, whom you came so gallantly to rescue, but it comes at a price! You must leave behind Shepard!

"Oh, don't worry. She'll be quite unharmed. Of course, she'll be a prisoner of the Shadow Broker, never allowed to leave the confines of this station. It's safer for the galaxy anyway. They won't have to be bothered by her insane delusions of Galactic Reapers.

"So which will it be? The man you came all this way to rescue? Or the woman you profess to love, but probably hates you for what your selfishness has done to her?"

Liara turned to Thirty-six, a determined look in her eyes. "I choose—"

"Liara, you don't have to do this!"

"It is all right Shepard. I do have to do this. I choose Shepard."

Thirty-six seemed puzzled. His maniac smile faltered. "Really? You'd choose her? Even knowing you two might never have a future together?"

"I've sacrificed too much to get her back. Feron, the last two years, they might as well mean nothing if I hand her over to you. She may hate me for what I've done, but to deprive the galaxy of her is the worst thing I can imagine. Now do what you're going to do and let us get this over with."

Thirty-six's face contorted again, this time with rage. "Then so be it!" He jammed his thumb on the console button.