DISCLAIMER: Bioware owns the concept of Mass Effect and all of its characters. This fanfic is for entertainment and no profit what-so-ever.
AUTHORS NOTES: I've gotten some extensive aid from a reader who has an excellent grasp on real-world science and physics and has helped me understand the real-world applications of a gravity leveler, which is a far cry from the cinema-effects of the same device used in Ultraviolet which I have borrowed. I have taken extreme liberties with real-world science but then so do many sci-fi writers, after all explosions as seen in Star Wars / Star Trek / BSG/ Star Gate/ Mass Effect can not truly happen in the vacuum of space. Oh yes and due to the events of ME2 obviously this is very much an AU. However some elements / scenes / characters of ME2 will make it into here so I guess there will be some spoilers.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Rising From the Ashes
By Elizabeth Carter


Chapter 35
Primal Instinct

This was no cop. As Samantha would say she could feel it in her gut. Something was off, way off. Then it hit her; his stance, his words, his entire demeanour was not of the police but of a stalker…the enemy. This was a turian bounty hunter just like those on Elysium dressed up as a member of the security force to seamlessly blend in with the populace. After all even if you knew they were there police tended to be unseen after a fashion. It was a perfect camouflage.

Pure primal instinct took over.

Without a hardsuit and kinetic barriers to offer protection internal damage from a gunshot would be lethal and even if she did survive her daughter would surely die. This flashed in her mind in a fraction of a second. Liara was unarmored but not without protection. She flung up a barrier around her body with nearly all the strength she could summon, sparing little for offensive attacks.

The turian raised his Striker hand cannon aimed at Liara's head but before he could pull the trigger he was swept off his feet with rapidly shifting mass effect fields that enveloped his body. Like Samantha had with the shark Liara caused the dark energy to shift warping the very fabric of the time-space continuum, the powerful warp singularity twisted with opposing forces shredding the bounty hunter's flesh causing him to scream out in pain. Just like the firaxon shark every cell in his body ruptured causing him to haemorrhage, his internal organs liquefied. Liara's reserves were taxed keeping up the barrier, striking out she had to flee.

Battle hardened coupled with a mother's rage, Liara spun on her heel to assess the ground she saw five more uniformed men descending the walkways into the park proper. She could not take them all not without putting Secura at risk, she needed to find cover fast. Had she not been pregnant defeating them would not have been an issue.

Sprinting away from the dead turian she made for the lake's edge. She took three swift settling breaths before exhaling, oxygenating her blood before she dove into the water. Like all marine mammals asari were capable of holding their breath for incredible long periods of time upwards of ten minutes. She'd need that time to find sanctuary. Like an Olympian swimmer Liara pushed her body to swim faster and deeper, she needed to create as much distance between herself and the bounty hunters.

"The bitch got Xioafang!" one of the turians cried out spraying the surface of the water with rapid fire from his assault rifle. Small fountains of spray erupted where each bullet struck. "Go around! Go around! The squid-head has taken to the water. Don't lose her!"

"I can't see her. Where the hell is she?" another turian snapped.

"She went deep," said the first. Assault rifle practically useless he slapped it back onto the weapons rack strapped to his back and withdrew his sniper rifle, flicked a switch near the scope activating its infrared capabilities, aimed low and pulled the trigger.

Sam could feel her heart fluttering erratically. Worry took her mind, seizing it, commanding her actions. She could feel Liara's rage, the surge of adrenaline fuelling her body from a battle she might easily have won if not for the pregnancy. "Come on you fucking thing move faster!" the Spectre slammed her Omni tool into the control panel of the elevator commanding the gearbox to disengage the safety parameters to move faster.

'Liara! Liara! Where the hell are you?' she sent frantic for an answer. 'Are you hurt? Are you both okay?'

Several moments passed before an answer came.

Sam felt the pit of her stomach drop. "LIARA!" She felt as if her body as if it had been slammed into bulkhead by a concussion grenade.

'I'm in the lake, making my way to the Consort's quarters they can't see me this deep under the water for now. I'm out of range though it is close. Samantha, five bounty hunters in C-Sec armour most are turian but I saw one human male with them. There are probably more. I killed one of them by the embassy park entrance.'

'You didn't answer my question. Are you hurt?'

'I am…fine.'

'I…I can't come to you, they will follow me to you…they…they will count on it.'

'I know.'

Shepard cursed again as the doors to the lift had opened up onto the Presidium proper she could just make out the ruined plinth of where the small scale mass relay had once been. It had been removed after the attack on the Citadel and placed in some highly secure bunker in an undisclosed location, no doubt for study on how to reproduce the technology. This at least had been Prothean made (though no one but the Council knew or rather more accurately acknowledged that the Reapers had been responsible for the construction of the Mass Relays and the Citadel).

Shepard instinctively searched the lake's undisturbed surface for any sign of Liara but she found nothing, no hint of the asari. She knew her beloved was heading for Sha'ira's but she couldn't tell were Liara was at the very moment. That meant the hunters didn't know either. She half expected alarms and pandemonium throughout the Presidium but there was so much foot traffic where she was there was no outward clue anything was amiss.

The Spectre needed to contain the situation; she had to waylay those mother-fuckers that had gone after her beloved Liara. She needed to think clearly. She needed help. Going on automatic pilot her hand activated the ear piece of her suit's radio: "Williams, S'thasa, Garrus. Call in!"

A moment later she heard Williams respond. 'Skipper, I read you what's going on?' the lieutenant could not have mistaken the edge to the Spectre's voice.

A beat later: 'S'thasa here. So is Shiala'

'Garrus.' the turian responded a half a second after the asari.

"Bounty hunters have attacked Liara; they are in C-Sec uniforms. Repeat they are in C-Sec uniforms. She's five by five for the moment. Williams, S'thasa, Shiala get to Sha'ira's on the double. Cover Liara. Do not use lethal force. Garrus get to Pallin tell him what's really going on."

She switched off the radio trusting in her people to do as ordered. Clear thought was becoming quickly consumed by rage. She couldn't allow it full access into her mind, to cloud her judgement. She knew Liara was safe ... for the moment. She could not give into the seething rage encircling her heart, urging her to vengeance. There were too many innocents in the way. She was a servant of justice, sworn to protect and defend the galaxy. If people she was sworn to protect came to harm because of her actions she was no better than a terrorist with a badge. No better than Saren. This battle had to be fought on a different ground.

She had to find a way to clear the area without causing a panic. The Spectre's gaze fell on Avina the fully interactive avatar of the Citadel. The VI could if needed order an area wide evacuation. She swiftly approached it.

"Avina, activate the Special Tactics and Reconnaissance emergency response code under the order of Agent Samantha Shepard. There is a possible terrorist attack on the Presidium order a fire evacuation immediately. Notify Emergency First Response teams of the threat that the enemy agents are dressed as C-Sec officers."

"Agent Shepard, Spectre authorization accepted. Evacuation of local area commencing." the avatar said. Shepard knew giving the order would alert any other Spectre on the Citadel to the upcoming confrontation as well.

The Spectre sprinted towards the location where Liara said she had encountered the assassin; pushing past people as she did. All around her the luminous purple avatars were telling people to evacuate the district. Many civilians obeyed swiftly many more lingered morbidly waiting to see the actual smoke perhaps even a few bodies before they complied with the mandate. Even if they all had not all left there were fewer of them to come between the Spectre and her prey.

Shepard had gone into the Council Chambers dressed in her heavy armour but armed only with her sidearm and her biotics. She never thought she'd be facing a squad of troopers bent on snuffing out the life of her wife and unborn daughter.

"What the hell is going on?" A human male C-Sec officer demanded rushing up to her.

Shepard's answer was to fling a stasis field around him, disarming him of his stunner baton and slammed it into his gut, dropping him. She made quick work of disarming him, depriving him of his radio and taking his unity belt filled with crowd-controlling low yield concussion, flash and adhesive grenades as well as zip-ties and adjustable wrist binders. She locked the man's ankles together with one of the zip-ties then placed his binders around his wrists which she then looped a second zip-tie and connected it to the one binding his ankles in a frontal hog-tie.

He was coming to when Shepard was back on her feet. "I don't know if you're the real deal or the mother-fucker trying to kill my bondmate. I hope for your sake you're the former." she left the rest unsaid allowing fear to write the 'or else' bit.

She hurried across the bridge leading away from the downed man and Avina towards C-Sec Academy HQ. She vaulted the wall separating the thoroughfare and the park proper gaining strange looks from the civilians milling about making their way for the exits out of the Presidium. They must have assumed she was in pursuit of the fire hazard along with the First Response teams.

Pain slammed into her lancing through her body. By force of sheer willpower Liara did not cry out in pain and drown herself or break the surface. She hadn't been hit by the spray of bullets but by a ricocheted stone from the lake's bottom. It had caught her in the thigh making each stroke more and more difficult. She had blocked most of the pain receptors in her nervous system allowing her to ignore the ache for a short time, but she knew Samantha had felt some of it. She knew also Samantha bottled her rage as not to endanger the hundreds of innocent lives the enemy were using as shields. She pushed her body to swim as close to the bottom of the lake as she could. Liara had swum north of her goal instead of going straight across to her dame's. She couldn't risk leading the enemy to her retreat. It was bad enough they were probably already tracking the small trail of blood.

Fighting both the effects of her injury and attempting to keep her blood and major organs oxygenating was taxing the young asari's reserves. She was losing the battle. Liara dug deep into herself using her biotics to propel her through the water. It was something her mother had once taught her as a youngling while swimming in the ocean surrounding the family bastion. Using most of her upper body strength Liara torqued a sharp forty-five degree turn when she thought it safe enough to head for Shi'ara's. Something was happening on the surface. She knew the familiar flood of adrenalin pumping through Samantha's heart as if it were her own. Her bondmate was in the thick of battle.

Shepard scuttled down to the lawn, tossing adhesive and concussion grenades at anyone in a C-Sec uniform. Those that she could she bound their hands and feet, unwilling to risk them as an enemy or misguided ally to rise up and shoot her in the back. For the moment she had the drop on her targets but it was not to last long once word had gotten out either amongst the bounty hunters or C-Sec or both that a Spectre was targeting anyone in a police uniform. They were all using lethal force. It forced Shepard to take refuge behind a formation of piled rocks and a small thicket of trees.

Executor Pallin's computer flashed the hazard warning. Tapping into the emergency response system he connected to the Citadel's VI.

"Avina give me SitRap." he barked.

"Spectre Agent Shepard issued a fire hazard warning to remove civilian population from the immediate area. She has issued the warning to all C-Sec and Spectre personnel be alerted to a terrorist threat." came the lyrical artificial voice.

He slammed his hand down on the desk. "Son of a bitch!" Opening a concealed compartment on his desk, Pallin withdrew a heavy pistol. He rushed from his office at the first notice of an incident in the park entrance near the embassy. He was never one to delegate a high security risk so close to the embassies he needed to be hands on.

Serving thirty years in C-Sec, his eyes were trained to pick out hot spots, he searched for his people. Some he spotted overseeing the evacuation others…

….bound and unconscious. At a time like this? What the hell? What was the Spectre playing at? Had he waited in his office only a minute later he would have discovered the answer to his question. Garrus had arrived to find an empty chamber.

Pallin spotted his quarry dug in behind some stones and trees. "Shepard, have you lost your mind?" If she issued the terrorists alert why the hell was she targeting his people? Spectres. You can never trust them. They should all be spaced.

"Pallin, get down! Your forces have been infiltrated." she snapped.

The turian was going to argue when shots rang out near the stones further pinning Shepard in place. Pallin hit his hardsuit's radio. "Executor Pallin here, stand down all units stand down. I have Shepard."

A shot was fired at his head.

Pallin fell behind the barricade of the wall of the walkway. Another hit stuck the stones spraying masonry everywhere. "I said stand down!"

'Sir it isn't us!' someone an asari by the sound of it answered over the radio.

"I told you the truth, Pallin." Shepard hissed.

Another shot struck closer to the turian. He rolled over the wall landed with a woof of air from his lungs onto the green carpet of grass and stomach crawled to where Shepard was bunkered down.

"What the hell is going on, Spectre?" he demanded.

"I told you your people have been infiltrated. Bounty hunters. Their target is my wife Liara T'soni…."

"To get to you." he said accusingly.

"Obviously." She took a breath and looked to the man now at her side waiting for the enemy fire to let up. "I don't know what merc group they belong to. I only know they have C-Sec uniforms."

"That's why I found my people unconscious and bound." Pallin said understanding her tactics. She wasn't about to risk killing an officer just to kill the enemy. Giving his people one hell of a headache he could forgive if it saved their lives. It also explained why Avina was issuing the fire alarm, Shepard was trying to evacuate as many people as possible to minimise the possibilities of casualties. Once more a solid plan.

Pallin risked a look over the rock pile which would not hold out against the barrage of bullets for much longer. He spotted one of the shooters near a small thicket of five cherry trees close to the Emporium. Lifting his sniper rifle he peeked through the scope and snarled. What struck him was the face markings, his mandibles flared in rage. He didn't even hesitate when he pulled the trigger hitting the man square in the chest. The other turian fell a heartbeat later.

"Here take a look." he handed Shepard his rifle.

She looked through the scope and saw the jack-o-lantern facial tattooing on the dead man and frowned. They matched the ones belonging to the turian assassins Saren had sent after her and Tali a little more than year ago. "You know what clan he's from I take it."

"Not a clan, that's the tattoo of a mercenary company. The Talons to be exact. So you were telling the truth." Pallin said.

"I do that quite often, yet you turians always seem surprised when I do so."

Pallin snorted almost jovially, "Not a turian/human thing Shepard, it's a cop/Spectre thing. We just don't trust you Spectres much."

"Then what's Bal'or's excuse?"

"He's good at his job."

This time Shepard snorted and it did not have a joking air about it.

"Even if he is an ass," Pallin added.

Shepard smirked. "You know I may actually be starting to like you, Pallin."

Pallin activated his radio once more telling his officers it was the Talons masquerading as C-Sec. He further explained rather quickly why the first human Spectre had attacked as she had and they were to free anyone she had restrained if they were not bearing the Talon markings.

Ricocheting spitfire near the rock made both Shepard and Pallin slip further into the earth. Behind them water ahead of them the wall of the walkway and above them a bridge leading to the Consort's chambers. Shepard glanced up spotting the shooter. He had the advantage of height. If they broke cover they were as good as dead. Two others had flanked them from the south at the Embassies' promenade just over the executor's shoulder and a third behind Shepard. They were effectively pinned down.

"I know they are there." he said without the Spectre pointing it out.

"The third's got me in his sights if I move." Shepard concluded. She looked over her shoulder scanning the terrain for any movement. There were still some civilian stragglers but for the most part the area was evacuated. But still civilians were in the crossfire. If either the Spectre or Pallin shot at anything that moved a lot of innocents would die.

"I hate situations like this." grumbled Shepard.

"Being pinned down? I thought you'd be used to that Spectre."

"No not that." Shepard shook her head. "I meant civilian shields."

"Indeed." Pallin looked to the young human and for the first time saw something other than human or Spectre. "Your bondmate still lives, Shepard."

"I know." she said softly trying to conceal the dread she felt for her beloved and unborn daughter being targets.

"Here take this." he handed her what looked to be a small disk.

"You have a stealth generator?" Shepard was agog. "I didn't think they were standard issue. And I sure as hell didn't think you'd go for anything like this."

"I once was told in order to protect the innocent sometimes rules had to be bent. Stealth-gens are not strictly prohibited, only discouraged. I'll cause a distraction you take them out."

"Roger that. Going dark" answered Shepard. She attached the device to the utility belt she had earlier confiscated and activated it. Originally stealth-gens were invented by the salarians for use by the STGs but now other Special Ops corps of both human and asari and even a few Spectres who desired the more clandestine approach than one of bravado, reputation and even fear made ready use of them. Not to mention their high popularity with the thieving community. Some of the best thieves though not the most famous used them with unsurprising regularity. To Shepard they were simply practical and right about now perfect.

She lay low in grass just out of the direct line of sight from the Talon mercs, activated the stealth-gen and began to negotiate her way to her first target. Their attention was drawn away by Pallin's promised distraction. Several concussion grenades went off all at once in the opposite direction she had darted off in.

Just as she was coming up behind the turians who had been trying to target her her radio crackled to life in familiar reverberating tones: 'Captain…'

Shit it was Garrus. She had completely forgotten about him! The noise was enough to alert the bounty hunter. He spun around taking an immediate pot shot in the Spectre's general direction out of sheer instinct. Out playing the odds hitting something he couldn't see he actually managed to wing her. Fortunately her hardsuit's kinetic barriers held and the bullet bounced off harmlessly.

Pistol already raised she hit her target in the head at point blank range, even his suit's shields were not enough to stop the inevitable, without his helmet he was even more vulnerable. His head exploded in fine blue mist.

"Garrus…" she hissed as she ducked behind a pillar for cover now that her position had been compromised. "SitRep."

'Captain, Pallin wasn't in his office though I did run into some of my old squad mates and gave them a heads up. They said Pallin was on the ground looking…'

"We met up. Coordinate with other C-Sec officers on the civilian evacuation. I need radio silence." She all but snapped.

'Copy that.' and as ordered he cut off communications.

Unaccustomed to wearing a stealth-gen, Shepard was still ducked behind one of the pillars trying to find a firing solution on the bounty hunters. She couldn't hear what they were saying but she could guess they were calling in reinforcements.

Pure instinct drove her. Exhilarating energy filled her, surrounding her body in brilliant cyan. She didn't even think about it as she stormed the bounty hunter. Her body propelled by biotics she leapt the six meter distance between her and her prey and slammed into the turian with a full on biotic tackle. They tumbled to the ground, rolled thrice with Shepard coming out on top. But she didn't have the advantage the turian had superior reach despite her superior flexibility. He grabbed a handful of her black hair yanked her head back trying to get her off of him.

She gave a sharp yelp as she felt her body torque backwards. Going with the momentum, she grabbed hold of his hand keeping it in position effectively trapping it there on top of her head. Long years of marine martial arts kicked in, her body moved on muscle memory alone. With her free hand she slammed her fist into his mandibles. The biotic blow cracked his jaw with a rewarding wet bone crunching pop. Blue blood spurted out of his mouth covering the front of Shepard's armour and face.

Liara rose to the surface finding that she was five meters off from her target. Sighing she turned and headed back for Sha'ira's.

"THERE!" It was Williams. She pointed to the ripples of water disturbance and the blue head cresting the surface. "Liara here!" She waded into the water followed closely by Shiala. Both wrapped their arms around the wounded asari, half carrying half dragging her out of the lake. Only when they got her out of the water did they notice all the blood.

"By the Goddess, you were hit." Shiala gasped. Even as she spoke purple blood dribbled down her leg pooling at Liara's feet.

Liara grunted. The pain was testing the limits of her reserves. The loss of blood, blocking the bond, stilling her pain; all of it was hitting her hard. "Not bullet wounds ….debris from the cement bottom of the lake."

"Come we need to secure her." Aleena said her eyes never leaving the promenade of the presidium. "Williams, Shi'ara secure T'soni. I'll take point." the huntress took position at the door. Her body flaring in the glow of biotics her assault rifle pulled ready to lock on to any target.

"Belay that!" Williams said. "You need to go with her, Aleena. You're an assassin but you're also a medic. Liara needs you; I'll take position. Get your asses in there now!" She pulled her own assault rifle.

"Liara…?" Shiala managed before the younger asari toppled into her arms.

"Give her to me." Aleena said swooping in taking Liara's weight. Positioning her into a fireman's carry the bounty hunter swiftly rushed into the Consort's chambers with Shiala tailing.

Given the evacuation alarm they fully expected the chambers to be emptied but Sha'ira greeted them as soon as they walked through the door. When she saw her daughter slung over the back of another huntress she gasped.

"Quickly bring her into my private chambers." She turned escorting the trio into the back client rooms. She fluidly moved towards the wall near the bar opposite the pleasure pod and pushed a concealed panel near a painting of Thessia from orbit. Disengaging the lock caused the wall supporting the painting to recede and slide away revealing her private rooms.

No one had the time to take in the tastefully opulent décor: the golden silk linens on the ebony four poster bed, or the deep green plush carpeting under their feet. Nor did they see the rest of the room their entire focus was on the young woman in the arms of one who once was to be her assassin.

"Here, lay her on the bed." Shi'ara gave a look to her daughter seeing how pale she was. Schooled in masking her true emotions and thoughts the Consort's blue eyes betrayed the concern she felt soul deep. "I have medi-gel supplies and a small first aid station…"

Aleena nodded and did as told laying Liara down as gingerly as possible upon the soft mattress. She gave a small gasp of pain, her eyes fluttering open. But she didn't seem to be looking at anything.

"Saamm…" Liara's voice was so weary, so desperate it hurt the soul to hear it.

"She'll be here, Liara." Shiala said gently taking the maiden's hand squeezing it. "You taxed your body. You must concentrate on yourself Little Wing. Sparrow needs her mother to be strong."

Aleena stooped down to her left boot and withdrew a small dagger concealed within. She went to work swiftly cutting through the sodden layers of material, a far easier way to strip Liara than it was to peel them off of her. Aleena handed the dagger over to Shiala almost absentmindedly, concentrating all her attention on investigating Liara's wounds. She saw the younger asari's right leg was riddled with small pockmarks of shrapnel wounds as well as a larger laceration which was more directly the cause of all the blood loss. It would have been cleaner if Liara had been shot with a bullet.

Shi'ara came back in carrying a small red medical case with a white cross embossed on its side. In a fluid movement the Consort opened it, withdrew medi-gel epis assuming the role of a nurse handing them to Aleena without being asked to do so.

The medi-gel was injected causing the wound to seal quickly staunching the flow of blood, stabilizing Liara though it did little to stop her from shivering.

"I need to get her to the Normandy. She's going into shock and there are other concerns." Aleena said cleansing the wound sites and bandaging them. "She's lost a great deal of blood, not life threatening but I have concerns. I've done what I can for her here."

"The child?" Shiala questioned. "Is she in danger?" She looked down at the trembling maiden the concern in her eyes ever evident, as it was still lingering in the eyes of the Consort.

"Yes," was all Aleena offered wrapping Liara snugly in the down-filled comforter.

Liara's whole world seemed to swirl around her making her nauseous. "Samantha…"

"Be at peace, she will be here." Shi'ara said reassuringly yet firmly. She sat down upon the bed her hand stroking the round soft cheek of her child. She pressed her forehead to Liara's, her voice a soothing whisper. "You must focus your energy Liara. Focus your mind, go deep into yourself. Connect to your child's soul. Keep your pain, your fear from her my daughter and give them to me."

Liara stared up at her sire parent. Blue eyes to blue eyes. "Okay." she uttered in her softest voice.

"Take slow deep breaths. Reach out and grasp the threads that bind us one to another, let go of your physical shell. We are all connected, united in a single glorious whole. Embrace Eternity!" Shi'ara recited the oh so familiar words of melding.

Four blue eyes became black.

Shi'ara gasped when she felt the flood of pain, exhaustion and fear flow into her. The fear struck the Consort the hardest, it wasn't Liara's fear for herself but for Samantha, for what might happen to her, and for what she might do knowing Liara and their child were in danger. Through the connection of the bond the Consort felt the Spectre's rage, the surge of adrenaline and her own fear for Liara and Secura. Underlining the powerful emotions was a strange serenity. Shi'ara had touched the essence of the Spectre's battle-mind. It was clear thought, meticulous and contrariwise impulsive and spontaneous, adaptive and exploitative.

The Matriarch drew it all into herself strengthening Liara's mental shields to protect both Shepard and Secura from what young mother was experiencing. She withdrew from the meld as gently as possible as if laying a sleeping child down upon a bed without waking them. It had been centuries since the matriarch felt a draining sensation when touching another mind even playing the role as the assertive one. Linking with Liara she felt the bond holding her daughter and the Spectre together. She was amazed how phenomenally powerful it was. She highly doubted they even understood the depth of it. The maidens had only touched the cusp of its true potential, what that potential was only the Goddess knew.

There was a blue flash as the reflexive system of kinetic barrier fields reacted to the impact shot of a shotgun blast the Spectre took to the chest, deflecting , most of the rounds harmlessly away. A few tore through the shields only to ricochet off the ablative plates of her hardsuit or became embedded in the thick padding underlay. Her biotic barrier stopped the rest.

The force of the blast knocked her off her feet but she rolled backwards over her shoulder recovering swiftly. Drawing back her fist as if to give the turian a solid right hook (nevermind the fact she was four meters away) Shepard sent a powerful biotic shockwave into him. A second later she sent a second dark energy pulse into him this time throwing the male several yards away up over the bridge and down into the park nearly two storeys below her position. He landed with a metallic dull meaty thump.

"Shit I lost my shields." she said to no one. Another hit and only the ablative plating of her armour and biotic barriers would protect her. Not only that her thermoclip was nearly out and she had used all the grenades. It necessitated the Spectre to rely solely on her biotics for both offensive and defensive countermeasures.

How many was that now? Hadn't Liara said there were five turians and one human? Though she had admitted that perhaps there were more of them. It was unrealistic to suppose that Liara had accounted for all of them in her flight for safety. The Spectre had lost count. She knew Pallin had downed two of the bastards including the one who tried to cap her just after she had biotically slammed his partner into the ground. She had seen a salarian C-Sec officer take down another, Garrus had three she took out four…and there were still the sounds of shots being fired. Damn it how many more of them were there?

Shepard shifted her position scanning the local area so far no one tried to put a bullet in her head. She tapped her suit's radio three times signalling Garrus it was okay to break radio silence.

"Garrus what's your status?"

'Bunkered down east of your position, Shepard. I saw Pallin's people take in three prisoners and they downed four more. Captain it seems there is a whole damn platoon out here. How T'soni escaped…I don't know. They could have easily had her.'

Shepard closed her eyes. This didn't make any sense. If there were that many out there they should have easily had Liara, just like Garrus speculated. Unless…unless they let her go. Why let her go? It was more than just bait to call the Spectre out… "I know. Something's off. Way off. I need answers, I'm coming in…"

'Wait! My visor's tracking movement near you. Three bogies. Shit Shepard…they're closing in on your position. Get out of there! Shepard do you copy get the hell out of there!'

The Spectre unaccustomed to using the stealth generator it hadn't occurred to her to activate once more after the last conflict. Instead she shifted from her poor cover on the bridge making a dash for the Emporium when it hit her square in the chest—a flash bang. It flung her back so hard the wind was kicked out of her lungs. White light flared before her cloaking everything, blinding her. For a moment she was completely stunned, her ears ringing making her a very easy target.

Over a decade of combat training took over in the Spectre's mind. Rolling onto her belly she shimmied her way on elbows and shifting the weight of her hips one side to the other. Her eyes were watering badly trying to focus but she was still blinded, all she made out were blobs of various shades of white. Shaking her head she tried to clear the ringing from her ears, mostly she made out garbled static from her radio. It was dangerous but she cut the channel if only to clear out some of the white noise in her head.

"You're done Spectre!" a turian voice called out. "You're finished."

"Keep talking varren shit for brains." Shepard snapped back deliberately trying to goad the bounty hunter at the same time enhancing her biotic barrier around her body.

Just as she knew he would the hunter fired at her. Most of the bullets hit around her, her barrier and armour took the rest.

More fire came from the left flank.

Two shooters.

She couldn't pinpoint their locations, too much commotion, too much background noise and she couldn't see.

Then the sounds stopped in the voice of memory flooded her mind.

Concentrate on the single sound that matters, shut all else out, all thoughts, all distractions, concentrate only on the target, on your goal. Use finesse, stealth; bind the raw power coursing in you into a subtle strike. Sometimes the smallest cut can cause greater damage than the mightiest of blows.

The echo game! One of the training exorcises for young asari commandos to sharpen their biotic skills. Dried beans were thrown at large kodo drums while the blindfolded huntress was to strike the same drum with a light biotic pulse wave. Each successful hit meant more beans and more drums were added and continued to add up until either the bowl was emptied or the huntress missed a target. It was not an easy game to master or even attempt. But it was extremely useful to learn control not only over biotics but over one's self. It taught the huntress how to remove all distractions and concentrate on the target. In order to keep up with the echoes on the drums one had to flip, twist, jump and leap from one martial form to the next moving fluidly as water

Liara had shown her how it was done, and then it was Shepard's turn. Liara had emptied the bowl and had not missed a single drum or succession of echoes. Sam had only reached twenty-five beans but it was still an impressive display, especially for a late-trained human.

Blinded by the flash bang, Shepard pulled on that lesson, ignoring all background noises concentrating on the only thing that was important, the sound of her enemies' movements - where the gunfire was coming from.

Her body glowing with biotic power Shepard rose up assuming the near same position Liara had those months ago an aikido/viper-style battle stance: her right arm stretched out before her, her hand forming a knife's edge. Her left arm was bent and raised to the level of her jaw parallel to her chest and again the hand was in a knife's edge though palm side up. All her weight was placed on her bent left leg while her right was nearly parallel with her right arm albeit at a slight angle.

It left her open for attack but her biotic barrier would last long enough for her countermeasure. Just as she predicted the Talons shifted their positions, the Spectre zeroed in on the metallic sounds of armor and guns.

"Get her! Shoot her! Shoot her!" snarled the Turian who had mocked her earlier.

Shepard slung a biotic pulse after the sound. She couldn't see the effect of her attack but she heard it. Her mark was true just as it was with her second attempt of the game. However instead of gently striking a drumhead she poured all her strength into the attack. She heard a scream and a thud.

The Spectre flipped into a butterfly spin avoiding the majority of the spitfire blasts of enemy rifles. Once again a few bullets hit their mark, she cried out as she was hit, her barrier strength was decreasing and her armor was taking too much damage to cope for long. She flung a singularity sphere at the target. She only just made out the location of her enemy - confident the mass effect pull of a singularly flung towards the sound would take him out. She heard two screams as dark energy pulled apart the two remaining Talons.

Falling to her knees drawing in greedy gulps of air, Shepard studied herself. She felt the white-hot points of pain where some of the rounds had made it through every layer of her armour connecting with the flexible but vulnerable mesh underneath.

Fortunately her hardsuit's onboard computer registered her medical distress and injected medi-gel into various areas of her body. In addition the new cybernetic implants and bio-synthetic fusion therapy she underwent under Dr. Chakwas's care after the attack on the Citadel caused her body to regenerate nearly as swiftly as that of a krogan or vorcha.

Sounds came from behind her she tucked into a right backwards shoulder roll and flung a shockwave at her assailants she heard two turian male voices and one human-ish female cry out in shock pain and anger. She rose up on her feet, her body shimmering prepared to attack again. She heard the sounds of where they landed. It would not be too difficult to pinpoint them, even if she was still blinded.

"Shepard! Stand down. Friendly fire!" It was Garrus.

"Shit Garrus! I'm sorry."

"By the spirits Shepard didn't you see it was us?" the second turian was obviously Executor Pallin.

"Actually no. Took a flashbang to the chest, I can't see a damn thing."

"Then how in the hell did you target those snipers?" the Executor pressed.

"A question I am also interested in." the female stated.

"Echo game." Shepard said matter-of-factly.

"Wait you learned the echo game?" the still unidentified female sounded unconvinced as well as astonished.

"Still learning actually. Matron Shiala is my mentor." She turned slightly too where the female was standing. If she knew of the echo game she was probably not human but rather an asari. "And you are?"

"My apologies Spectre. I am Spectre Tela Vasir. The warning of the terrorist attack you issued alerted me to what was happening down here on the Presidium. I was on site as soon as I was able. It seems however my assistance was hardly needed for our Order's most famous agent."

"I didn't do it alone. Executor Pallin, C-Sec officers and my crewmates gave me backup." she rubbed her eyes, irritably. They continued to water but it only seemed to worsen the condition. "Damn it…"

"Let me see." Tela said her voice more warm than it was a moment ago.

Shepard felt her chin being grasped by gloved hands and lifted up. "Minor damage but it will heal. Do not rub them or you will aggravate the condition. Tell me Spectre what do you see if anything?"

"Mostly grey blobby silhouettes against white."

"If you know the echo game then you know how to truly harness your biotics. Use it to see." Tela commented almost nonchalantly.

"Use biotics to see…How?"

"Tell me when you were blindfolded during the game you heard the sounds of the first few beans hitting the drumheads yes?" at Shepard's nod Tela continued. "When the number of beans and ricochets increased you 'saw' the soundwaves and struck with biotics. It was the same when you attacked your enemies only moments ago. It was how you were able to strike the source of the sound of battle rather than where the bullets hit. Tell me what did you see?"

"I don't know I wasn't trying to see anything." Shepard shrugged. "I sorta felt where they were."

"Good, that is a start. Now do it once more. Close your mind to all outside distractions and focus on what is before you."

Shepard closed her eyes and did as she was bade, blocking out all noise and distractions. She focused on what was before her summoning the inner strength of her biotics. If she felt where the Talons were and saw soundwaves, she imagined seeing the auras of those before her. It was worth a shot anyway.

Opening her eyes once more she gasped. Before her she saw the blue-white silhouettes of both Garrus and Pallin and the slightly purple hue of Tela Vasir. As she suspected she was an asari. Around her the Presidium appeared as grey featureless contours. But she could make out the details of the bridge, the Emporium behind her, even the white silhouette of a keeper.

"Whoa!" the human Spectre exclaimed. "That's incredible."

"Impressive." Tela said. "I wasn't positive a human could do such a thing. In my experience only asari have ever been capable to use biotics to see when blinded, even temporarily as you have been. Even with the most powerful amps others have never managed such a feat, they must rely on prosthetics to recover their eyesight."

"Shepard always has a few surprises up her sleeve." Garrus answered for his captain.

"So I see." the asari commented dryly. What intrigued her most that the human Spectre's eyes including the sclera were solidly blue not unlike the solid white asari eyes while in deep meditation or the solid black of melds and Joinings. 'This human is far, far more than she seems. This is….fascinating. Just what the hell is Shepard? She is less than asari but far more than human.'

"While this has been fascinating," Pallin almost echoed the asari Spectre's thoughts, "we have prisoners ready for interrogation. Spectres, if you will follow me."

"Actually Garrus will go in my stead. I needed to see to…." Shepard gave a look to her counterpart then back the turians. "I need to see the terrorists' intended victim. I need to see to Liara."

"Your bondmate can wait, Spectre. Your concern should be with the mercenaries. They are your priority." Pallin's voice took on a commanding tone. Shepard heard the underlining disapproval of setting personal affairs above those of what he considered duty.

"Liara T'soni is my priority, Executor! Garrus is perfectly capable of interrogation. Besides I am not the only Spectre present. Garrus tell Spectre Vasir every thing that is relevant to the case."

"Yes ma'am." the former C-Sec offer gave his captain the taloned salute of a turian soldier. "I won't let you down."

Shepard turned to her colleague. "Spectre thank you for your aid and …' she gestured to her eyes. "For this. You're more than welcome aboard the Normandy; I'll answer any questions you may have right now I need to go."

"Of course. I shall inform you what I learn. And as for your eyes I should not worry, the effects of the flashbang will wear off soon enough. However be mindful not to rely on biotic vision for too long Spectre, it can have some drawbacks. What they entail for a non asari I can not say. As I said I wasn't entirely certain a human could even do such a thing."

Shepard turned and sped down the thoroughfare towards the Consort's chambers. All three watched her go with varying degree of thoughts and emotions.

"She is very…tenacious." Tela said once she had passed.

"You have no idea," Garrus almost smirked as much as his avian face allowed.

"Humph. Unprofessional is what she is. No officer should place personal affairs above their duty." Pallin snorted.

"Right. Executor if assassins went after your mate you're telling me you wouldn't be concerned for her?" Garrus practically growled.

"Of course I would be concerned. I am not heartless but I never place duty secondary even to my family."

"Yes… isn't that why you're on wife number three?" the younger turian shot back. "Or is it four. I forget."

"Five and it's none of your concern, Vakarian. Come then if you are to interrogate in Shepard's stead we better get to it. No doubt you wish to be present for this as well Spectre Vasir or do you have some lackey to work in your stead as well?"

Garrus snarled but held his tongue. He was no lackey but there was no point in pissing about it. Garrus knew the truth of whom and what he was. He was a trusted crewmate of Shepard's that was enough for him.

"I have never used another in my stead, Executor. I have never needed to."

"So you're a true Spectre then."

The asari smiled ever so slightly.

"Captain Shepard is a real Spectre!" Garrus snarled he could take personal insults but hand them out to his …hero and that was a dire mistake. "If it wasn't for her actions Saren, Sovereign and the geth would have overrun this place killing you and wife number five and everyone else including the Council! She deserves your respect and a lot more than that! And so do you Spectre Vasir. Everyone on the Citadel owes her."

"She had my respect Vakarian up until she sent you do to her work for her." Pallin shot back.

"She's a goddamn hero and if she wants me to jump I ask how high. If she wants me to kiss a krogan on the cheek I'll ask which cheek. She wants me to interrogate in her stead then I will do as she orders without question and no hesitation. She doesn't need to be set to task by you or anyone, even another Spectre!"

"I am sure the Executor meant no true disrespect for Spectre Shepard nor her accomplishments and what she has done for the Citadel. However personal affairs can muddy the judgement of an officer be they Spectre or C-Sec or in the military. It can become very shaky ground to tread." Tela said sounding a little more cold than diplomatic. "But….I can understand her reasons to see to her bondmate. If I were stood before those who attempted to kill the one I cared for I might actually snap their necks without asking a single question. Distancing herself from her bondmate's would be killers, is a solid tactical move on her part."

Shepard wasted no more time. Danger dealt with she needed to be at Liara's side with a desperation she had never knew existed. She opened herself fully to the bond but felt only a soft flutter between her and her beloved. She knew Liara was keeping her own connection muted.

"Skipper!" None other but Ashley called her thus.

Sam turned to heralding and witnessed her Trusted in her true colours: a brilliant white-blue. The hue of valiance? Both the turians were blue, Vasir was more purple than blue and Ash had more white around the edges of her aura. She didn't know what it meant was very much Ashley Williams. Loyalty or love perhaps?

"Skipper, Liara's inside being treated. She…oh my God your eyes! What…what happened?"

"Nothing… don't worry about it."

"To hell with that Sam! What the fuck happened to you?" Ash demanded of her friend.

"An asari Spectre showed me how to see using biotics."

"To see? Why."

Shepard quickly retold the events leading up to her having to use her talents as a biotic to not only to take out her enemies as if playing the echo game but also in how to see.

"What did Vasir mean it had consequences?" Ash demanded.

"I don't know and right now I don't care. Liara. I need to be with her." The Spectre made to move past Williams but was stopped when the younger woman grabbed her around the arm.

"I'm your Trusted, so you will listen Sam. Go to her but stop using the biotics to see. If she sees you like that…" Ash shook her head. "She'll be worried. And she can't afford that right now. Skipper she's been wounded. Not bad but she's lost blood, enough for Aleena to be concerned for little Sparrow. The last thing your wife needs right now is to be worried about you and losing yourself to CS. So go in there blind if you have to but don't….not like that."

The Spectre closed her eyes. When she opened them again they were their normal clear blue of an azure sky. She blinked a few times but resisted the deep urge to rub them. "Ugh." came a grumble. "It's like using night-vision on your visor and someone flares a flashlight in your face."

"Can you make anything out?" Ash stared at her Skipper. Shepard's' pupils were highly dilated but there didn't seem to be any lasting damage. Having taken a flash bang near the face a few times herself, Williams knew what hell it was to lose your sight for a few scary hours. With bio-synthetic enhancements it may not take that long for the Skipper, God willing or so Williams prayed.

"Yeah bit. Instead of grey blobs against a great white blur I see white blobs against grey. I'd say things are clearing up."

"Sorta like the day after first day of shore leave." Williams jibbed. "Or after you cracked your skull headbutting Wrex."

"A little something like that yeah." despite the worry for her bondmate, Shepard couldn't help but smile at the jest. "I can see well enough to make my way to Liara."

Part 36

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