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 48
Professors, Plagues and Plans

Liara was sorely tempted to tell her bondmate she didn't need a protector. She was going to be fine here in the loft with Tali and Garrus. But after the attack on the Citadel, her beloved Spectre was more than hesitant to leave Liara without a full guard if she wasn't there in person to watch over her.

This would not do. Not in the face of forthcoming battle, not in the war that lingered heavily in the air like the rot on a corpse. That uncertainty, that hesitancy could cost Samantha her own life, the battlefield and the war.

'We both have much to do, beloved. We are secure. Samantha…the grave is a fine and safe place. If we live, we bleed. If we live, we heal, we fight, we survive. If we live, we love. Now…you must live, and you must allow me to live. It is I that should be dreading where you are going, not you where I am staying. I am safe here, you on the other hand are going into a plague zone, and though it may not kill humans, there are Blue Suns, vorcha and victims who have guns and vendetta. You are not safe from their wrath or their bullets. The vorcha are notoriously difficult to neutralize. Their regen-rate is more swift than even the krogan. I am not pleased I will not be at your side to protect you.'

There was silence on the other end of the bond for several heartbeats. Then softly: 'I…. You're right. I trust you Liara. I trust my team. Be useless to tell you not to worry wouldn't it?'

A small smile crept upon Liara's lips. 'Absolutely futile. But as you said I trust my team. They will not let you fall. At least not here, you're far too stubborn. I imagine bleeding out you would pull your mangled body up from the mire and continue to fight the Reapers to your last breath until you knew they were stopped. So I console myself that you will not perish in a death-zone riddled with hot-headed-mercs, trigger happy vorcha and the plague that kills all but your race and those scavengers. Not to mention you intend to confront a man that has been compared to the worst of your history's gun slinging outlaws and try to make him convert.'

'I'll watch my six.'

'Try not to get it shot. I do so enjoy running my hands along the curves and making you purr.' She couldn't see it of course but Liara knew her Samantha's ears had turned bright red. She allowed her mind to fill with images her nipping the curve of ear before nipping the lobe as she ran her fingers empowered with a low-yield biotic pulse along the lines of Samantha's buttocks

'Oh you are an evil, evil woman!'

Liara laughed boisterously causing both Garrus and Tali to turn in her direction.

"Must be nice to be able to do that." Garrus said almost wistfully. "No need for radios, just tap into the mind of your lover and have conversations…" he smirked, "Even mind-sex. Think of the possibilities."

"As apposed to online sex or comm-sex?" Tali teased.

"Of course! Much more private. No one can overhear you."

"So… you had a lot of on-line sex then Vakarian?"

"What?" he cleared his throat, "Ah…no…not…not…well…um what about you?"

Tali shifted her weight to one foot coquettishly, with one hand on her hip she tilted her head and looked as coyly as she could under the mask. "And if I had, why would I tell you?"

He swallowed a bit and looked away before Tali caught the embarrassed flinch of his mandibles. "Ah…no reason. A lady doesn't kiss and tell right?"

Tali sauntered up and placed her hand on the turian's arm and whispered. "Oh on-line sex talk isn't about kissing and telling it's about…." here she dropped her voice to a husky sultry whisper. "It is imagining the touch of your lover as you hear their voice over your headset." She trailed her longest finger along his chest. "Why if said in just the correct tone, anything can be…stimulating. Even talking about the coupling sections of a drivecore can be…provocative, or how about calibrating the main guns on the Normandy?"

Garrus swallowed once more. She laughed and turned away, her voice now normal and conversational.

"Am I making things a little uncomfortable? We can always talk about weapons. Guns for example. You can tell a lot about a person by the sort of gun they carry."

"Huh?" there was still a fog clouding in Garrus's mind he couldn't quite think around. "What about them? You know I carry a sniper rifle, you're the one that likes things at short range."

"And you prefer to keep everything at a distance." it sounded almost like an accusation.

"Exactly. Wait. What?" they were still talking about sex weren't they?


Yes they were. Oh women are evil, Garrus decided. Spectre, Prothean Expert, boom-stick toting marine or a saucy-lovely and very sexy engineer, they were all evil.

"You like things up close and personal. Always the shotgun for you isn't it?" he stepped up to her, his hand fingering the hood of her helmet. 'If she wants to play dirty, I can do that.' He made sound deep in his throat he knew turian women responded very favourably to, he wondered just how well it would work on a quarian.

Again her voice dropped low, almost an equal purr. "I guess it depends on who it is."

"Good thing Shepard's a married woman or I might have had some competition." his hand slipped from her hood to her waist.

Tali laughed. "Are you talking about me or you?"

"Good point."

"You know I could just be using you to relieve some tension. Reach and flexibility training…" Tali flipped her hand in the air with a bit of a risqué flourish. She allowed her fingers to trace the blue tattooed lines along his left mandible that caused more of the butterfly-in-the-stomach-making thrumming sound from his throat.

"I'm okay with that." he uttered softly.

"Ahem." Liara cleared her throat causing both Tali and Garrus to jump having quite forgotten they were not alone.

"We were just…um…Ah…I think one of my mandibles got caught on her helmet and…"

"It might have caused a rupture. So…so I asked him to check…" Tali quickly finished the lie.

"Be…because you know of infection…risks. Didn't want to jeopardize the mission…."



Liara chuckled. "I'm very happy for you two. Truly. I know Samantha is too."

"Thanks, Liara." Tali relaxed.

"Guess you know how it is. It helps to have something to come back to." there was note to Garrus's voice that hadn't been there an hour earlier. One of hope perhaps.

"What do you mean to come back to?" Tali toyed. "I already told you this is just a fling, Vakarian. I'm using you for your body."

"You're so mean." he uttered back playfully and more than a little flirtatiously. He leaned in close. "As I said. I'm okay with that."

"Not to throw a bucket of cold water on you both, but we do have a mission to prepare for. It would not be advisable to disappoint our captain who is depending on us." Liara diverted the attention away from a more smouldering topic to one (though debatably) of greater importance. The Maiden could not begrudge nor chastise the two their bizarre moment of intimacy when she had just had her own with her bondmate, but there were things that needed to be done. And swiftly.

"Don't worry, T'Soni. We're all professionals here, we're not about to let Shepard down." Garrus said his voice now back to its normal tenor. "By the time she gets back here, everything will be well in hand and well fortified."

Zaeed Massani didn't think twice when an emerald skinned asari sidled up to the bar and ordered a Serrice ice brandy - dirty. She sipped it slowly, gave a cursory look to him then drew her attention back to the drink in her hand, ignoring him completely.

Massani didn't give her a second glance. But when the old scar faced krogan--a battlemaster no less, stepped up a on the other side of him, he knew he was in a trap. Of all the stupid bloody foolishness. He never let his guard down, especially in this pit of villainy and double-dealing crime lords. He was fucked, Zaeed knew this was going to get messy, real messy. He took a step back and found the muzzle of a pistol clashing with his lower spine. At the flank of the krogan stood a dark-haired human woman, a marine by the looks of her. In her hand she held the butt of an M-3 Predator.

He wasn't just fucked, he was royally fucked. But he'd been in worse situations than this. He'd just have to think bloody fast and smart. Shit and he liked Afterlife, but when this was over, Aria would not welcome him back.

"Easy, we're just going to have a nice friendly chat." the gun behind him said. A woman then, another asari or another human? He felt his sniper and assault rifles being removed from the locks on his hardsuit by the woman behind him. More than that however Zaeed felt the faintly familiar tingle of biotic energy even through his armour. Gun-Behind was making a very clear point. She didn't need her pistol to do damage.

"I take great exception to people going after my bondmate. You were seen at the conclave of bounty hunters answering the call of one Donnel Udina."

"Doesn't mean I took the job." Massani didn't dare turn around. So the woman behind him was Shepard. She had all but declared war on the galaxy's nest of bounty hunters. He kept his eyes steady upon marine, the krogan and emerald asari. He recognized the krogan now as Urdnot Wrex. The human had to be Shepard's second in command… Williams he thought ere names was. But the asari…she sure as hell wasn't T'Soni that much Massani was certain. Still there was a familiarity to her, he couldn't quite place. He saw his rifles being casually tossed to Urdnot, who secured both on his hard suits weapon's rack.

"Your reputation precedes you, Massani. You are known to be feared as a ruthless and relentless hunter, a veteran mercenary. So why not take up the bounty? Other bounty hunters as equally ruthless, relentless and tenacious took up the contract. Why not you?" Shepard questioned.

"Didn't like the reasons." Massani answered glibly. "First human Spectre married an asari, was the only reason Udina wanted you both put down. Sounded like bull-shit. More than that, it was pretty fucking petty."

"You trying to sell that shit, Massani? I don't see anyone here buying it." Wrex said.

"Maybe I saw the competition, didn't care for it."

"You could have pressed a few of them into a crew. You've done that before. More than a few times." Emerald said.

"You are?"

"You saw me at Udina's little party. Only I was my natural violet. And I don't wear yellow and black armor."

"Huntress Aleena." he snorted, "Should have guessed you'd show up. So that's what Shepard meant when she said she took care of you. You've been conscripted."

"Same as you." Wrex leaned in, his face close to Zaeed's. Close enough to deliver one hell of a wallop if the krogan was in half of a mind to headbutt him.

"So that's how it's going to be?" Massani growled.

"Yes." Shepard said coming around face him. "It is."

"Join up or die? You know they say the press ganged become resentful. You sure you want to play it this way, Shepard?"

"You're not so stupid as to ask me the question that once you're on my ship what's to stop you from claiming that bounty. You know you'd never make it off alive. But I'm giving you an option, here. Be smart and listen." Shepard was calm, her voice neutral as if she was contemplating what to have for dinner.

"Why use force when we have something you want. You see we happen to have an information broker onboard." Aleena spoke smoothly. "And she dug up Intel on Vito Santiago, the man you've been hunting for the past twenty years. You sign up with Shepard, you get Santiago's locale, the backup to confront him and the past two decades of your life back."

"How much that worth to you?" Wrex pressed, still close enough to Zaeed to headbutt him if needs be.

"And on the off chance I say no? You walk out of here and I don't?" the old man took two steps back, defiantly reclaiming some of his personal space.

"Something like that." Wrex answered. "You think I'm going to let you walk out of here with an open bounty as big as the one that is on Shepard and T'Soni's heads? I know how you work Massani. You're just waiting for the competition to weed itself down, do most of the work for you. Too big a bounty for you to let go. It's twice your bringing them in alive fee."

"Unless there is something bigger on the table," Aleena finished, "you didn't walk away from that anymore than I did. And you're not walking away from a chance to get Santiago. "

"Yeah and what did Shepard offer you, Aleena? Your life?"

"A spot on her crew. There's one hell of a storm coming, Zaeed. All our lives are not worth shit, if we do not do something first."

"Join up to hunt the geth? That's your big god-damn storm?" the old codger snorted in contempt. "Don't make me laugh."

"No. The Reapers, though for now it's the Collectors. That's the target. They've been harvesting whole human colonies without a shot being fired. But because it's happening out here in the Terminus Systems the Council and the Alliance can't or won't step in. I can. As a Council Spectre, I'm not bound by laws or boundaries. I will do what I must.

"I'll make this deal with you Zaeed Massani. Join my crew and I'll do what I can for you. Don't and you walk out of here and you keep walking. We meet up again, there will be an incident."

Zaeed saw deep conviction in the lass's eyes. Her stance, the weight she carried was far deeper and more engrained than her scant few years had given her. She was what a mere thirty years old if that, and yet it was if she not him was the aging war-dog. "Vito Santiago? This better be on the up and up Shepard."

The Spectre only tilted her head in the slightest of aristocratic nods.

"Fine, you got yourself a new crewmate. Where do I store my gear?"

"I'll have a yeomen pick it up and store it in one of the cargo bays." Shepard answered. She looked at Wrex then back to Massani. "There is a private space though not overly large should you want it."

The aging bounty hunter looked at the krogan. "Hell I can bunker down in one of the cargo decks. Slept in worse areas. Give me a cot and I'm good. Just to let you know Kid, I don't do the coffins. And I'm going to need my guns back."

It took a nod from Shepard for Wrex to relinquish the weapons back to Zaeed, who calmly and methodically replaced them back onto their locking mechanisms on his hard suit. "The way you said you're going to send some of your people to retrieve and stow my gear, it sounds like you're not finished here."

"No we're not." Shepard said. "I need to recruit another person. Dr. Mordin Solus. He's running a clinic in the Gozu district."

"The quarantine zone? Going to press gang him too?" Zaeed scowled.

"No. But I'm going to offer him a chance at something he will not want to pass up. You want this Santiago guy. You're a man of blood and bullets, easy to figure out what motivates you, Zaeed. Solus on the other hand is a man of science. I need only appeal to his enthusiastic curiosity, his tenacious drive for discovery and meeting impossible challenges." Shepard answered dryly.

"And what motivates a woman like you Shepard?"

Without missing a step Shepard responded to the old bounty hunter as if the question was self-evident. "The oaths I took. I uphold the vows that came with the N-Seven uniform. As a Spectre I took an oath to protect and serve - to be a guardian. As for my bondmate…even as she protests she does not need a protector, I will do so.

"I am no more difficult to figure out than you are Massani. I have one driving goal and that is to stop the Reapers. I will drag the whole galactic community kicking and screaming into a full universal alliance in order to do so. And I will stop the Collectors from taking any more colonies."

"I generally make it a rule not to get involved the dedicated crusading types. Cuts life expectancy short." Zaeed's gruff voice took on an almost jovial tone. "But seeing how you're going to give me Santiago, it'd be a bit hypocritical to stand by that rule."

"What the hell did that guy do to you?" Williams said following the party towards the market district.

"Bitter history and payback. Once we get closer to him, I'll tell you. Right now seeing how we're going into a plague zone, it's not exactly relevant."

"All you bounty hunters like this?" The question was given to Wrex by Shepard.

"For the most part. Keeps you alive."

"And its part of our charm to be tight lipped assholes." Aleena smirked. "Makes others want to figure out 'the old scarred soul' underneath the gruff exterior."

"Worked on you Shepard." Wrex barked out a laugh, which caused a reactionary shoulder check by Shepard.

"Oh shut up."

"Or maybe you're just attracted to men with scars eh?" he laughed. "I know why you like your sweet piece of blue tail. Can't blame you there, T'Soni is…hot. But you haven't had a true tumble until you've had a krogan and felt his quad swell."

"Ehch!" The spectre rolled her eyes.

"Oh that's just all kinds of wrong." Ash commented on the side.

The krogan's deep baritone laugh caused many a head to turn, and Zaeed's eyebrow to rise. It was evidently clear the two had a deep and trusting friendship.

"I just like knowing the type of people I'm working with. It's good to know if I can leave my six to them or make them take point. Why do you think that until we had a few ground missions under us that I had you and Garrus taking point? He's a hot-head and you're…"

"Krogan." Wrex grinned.

"I wasn't going to say…" The Spectre returned the grin. "But you did shoot an unarmed man."

"Fist had it coming."

Williams looked as if she were going to say something but the look on her CO's face silenced the marine before a syllable was uttered.

"Not going to get in that argument again." Shepard said.

"Only because you know I'd win because I'm right. That code of honor of yours Shepard will one day bite you in the ass."

"This is why she has people like us around." Aleena looked directly at Zaeed. "I have no quarrel shooting an opponent or one asleep in his bunk."

"I know your reputation Aleena." The old hunter acknowledged the threat for what it was. "So, considering you're green and your eyes are too, what's your new call sign? Doubt you'd keep your huntress name give all the trouble you went to to hide your true features."

"Dr. Mal'dicta S'thasa MD, specializing in combat medicine. I'm Normandy's premiere field medic under the ship's chief medical officer."

"Hell of a good cover, given your preferred style of killing."

"Was. But Shepard has a very keen eye and a sharper mind for things. Before you know it the ray's turned into a shark and you're dead in the water."

"I'll keep that in mind."

"Not to borrow a line but if you forget, we'll remind you by shipping your sorry ass out the nearest airlock." Williams threatened. She made it quite clear she didn't trust this guy as far as she could throw him.

Shepard frowned. Now wasn't the time to ask but she was curious now more than ever at the reference of the two oceanic animals and why Aleena was intent on making them.

"Samantha, try to remember your biotics have defensive properties. Keep your barriers up!" Liara paced back and forth, unconsciously highlighting Shepard's battles in the Kokomo Plaza. She felt the sting of shots against armor that was not hers. She felt the sympathetic vibrating pull of her biotics coursing through every nerve-ending.

Tali and Garrus looked at each other nervously. The room was vibrating, pulsing in dark energy. Books, end tables, lamps, sofas, shook and rose in spiraling cyan micro cyclones. A lamp spiraled end over end nearly striking Garrus in the left temple, he managed to duck, but only just.

"Oh Crap!" he gasped.

"Keelah! She's lost control."

Another lamp whizzed by striking the wall and shattering.

"It isn't her, it's Shepard." Garrus was now lying on the ground along with Tali. "It's that bond. Shepard is using all the strength of her powers; I think Liara is sending her more."

"Ya think?" Tali shot sarcastically. "By the way Vakarian, I didn't think turians knew how to duck."

"We don't. I've learned from Shepard sometimes you have to improvise."

"You adapted! I didn't think turians knew how to do that either." there was a smile behind the words.

An end table whizzed past, the two on the floor and out the balcony overlooking the bridge.

"Sometimes Tali you can be a real bosh'tet."

The young woman giggled. The room was still vibrating with biotic overflow but at least there were no more flying objects for the moment. "Okay so who's going to talk Miss Prothean Expert down?"

"You're her trusted." the turian prompted

"And what if those biotic missiles should hit me and cause a suit rupture?"

"Oh don't play the meek quarian with me vas Normandy, I know better."


"We have to do something, T'Soni's worrying over Shepard will tear this place apart before Cerberus or the mercs even reach us."

"Agreed. But who?"

Garrus looked at the pacing asari, still muttering mostly to herself. Powerful dark energy coiled around her.

"You remember that game Ash and Joker played when they had to tell Shepard about the shipment of her Serrice Ice Brandy gone missing?"

"Rock, paper, scissors, I think it was called." Tali cocked her head, "okay, you remember how it's played?"

Garrus nodded his head. He held his fist out, meeting Tali's own.

"One." Garrus said.

"Two." Tali answered.

"Three." They said together.

Garrus's hand remained as a fist, but Tali held up one finger.

"Dynamite. It blows up rock. I win." the smug quarian, smirked behind her mask.

"Wait? What? There is no dynamite!"

"Sure there is. It's in the DLC content."

"The what? That doesn't even make sense! You made it up. It's a hand game, not a video game. It's called rock, paper scissors not rock, paper scissors, dynamite. You just can't add new rules to it.

"Sure I can."

"Who says?"


"No she didn't." Garrus argued. "She always says just because you can break the rules doesn't mean you should."

"But she changes the rules when she needs to. And I just did, you now have to talk to Liara." Tali rose to her feet before her friend, and then lowered her hand to help him up. "I'd do it now while there's a lull in the storm."

"You know when I said you were mean before?"

Tali nodded. "You also said you were okay with that."

"I'm amending that comment."

"Phft. Stop acting like a whinging bartarian over the fact you lost."

"Oh and she goes straight for the pride!" Garrus mockingly clutched his chest where his heart was. "You're just lucky I find the way you cross your arms and sway your hips cute my little quarian." his mandibles flapped slightly as he gathered his nerves and stepped up to the agitated asari. "The only possible woman I'd do this for is Shepard."

"Who wouldn't? Now go." Tali pushed.

"Something on your mind Liara? Or is it someone?" He gestured to the room "Or you just want to trash the place? Because if this is your idea of redecorating I have to say, it isn't working for me."

Liara looked up, drew in a breath of air and resumed her pacing completely ignoring the jibe. "I should have insisted on going with her."

"You know that wouldn't have done any good." Tali shook her head. Now that Liara was distracted the pulsating energy field dissipated. "Shepard is very stubborn and protective. She would not have permitted you to go into the plague zone. You saw how I practically begged her to be allowed to be even here in the Kima district."

"You are not her bondmate." Liara said almost snapping. "I should be at her side!"

"And be at risk of the sickness that kills asari?" Garrus scoffed. "Liara, we'll all be at her side if we could, but she'd not allow it."

"She took Aleena." there was some resentment in the T'Soni's voice. "She's willing to risk her in the quarantine zone. If she wanted an asari at her side she should have taken me."

Tali laid a tentative hand upon Liara's shoulder. "Aleena is more expendable than you are. Think about it for a moment. It's not about taking another biotic into the zone or an asari. Aleena is a commando but she is also a battle medic. And maybe it's about having another bounty hunter covering your flank with an unknown element like this Massani guy."

Liara thought about the tactics Shepard generally employed. It had often times the far-sight of a matriarch. There was a ploy here, Liara knew that. Ray and shark that was what Shepard was, Aleena was correct. And this was the ray's movement.

"She takes Aleena because she is asari, but more than that she is Aleena, matron huntress, conquered by the mighty Commander…Captain…Shepard. Massani will see Samantha's immanent dominion over her even ordering her into almost certain death, and she obeys."

"A powerful message." Garrus nodded. He suspected already this was Shepard's motive. He half suspected this was the bounty hunters' reasons as well. "One, Massani can't miss."

There was a cold hardness to Liara's ever expressive sapphire eyes. "That human male had better prove his worth."

"I doubt Wrex or Aleena would have suggested the human if they didn't believe his skills would be of use to Shepard." said Garrus.

"She is entrenched, caught between Blue Sun and vorcha war parties. She has enough dangers surrounding her, she need not add another." Liara resumed her pacing.

Getting to the professor's clinic had been a test of resolve, and endurance. No different from any other day really. Of course they could have done without the smell of burning corpses. Even if it was a viable way to contain the contagion from spreading further.

They had crossed paths with plague victims, alive and dead, looters and terrified humans bunkering down in their homes, hoping the Blue Suns wouldn't kill them. It took a bit of persuasion but the looters had been stopped, and the terrified humans convinced to go to the clinic but it was done.

The near continuous onslaught of Blood Pack: vorcha, varren and krogan shock troops, combined with the Blue Suns were exhilarating. Throwing biotic lifts, throws, shockwaves, reave, and slams, singularities, warp ammo and with a very heavy handed reminder from Liara barriers was a test of Shepard's endurance.

The Spectre had to admit albeit shamefully she tended to rely heavily on the shields of her hardsuit rather than her own biotic barriers. It was a habit Shiala and Liara were hell bent on rectifying. It was a failing perhaps in her marine training. It was only during the N7 program that Shepard was trained to use her skills as a biotic adept. Before then however she had gone through the ranks trained as a vanguard never using her biotics to the fullness of her potential.

Not until recently that is. With the brush of Cyan Syndrome, the gestalt and the Prothean devices, Shepard needed a new more powerful implant, one that could stabilize the dark energy nodules littering her nervous systems. She became perhaps the first human L5 biotic. Being a Spectre allowed her a certain freedom she hadn't had in the Alliance. She was allowed to be purely biotic that just happened to be a crack -shot with small arms.

Of course Shepard hadn't been the only biotic in the Corps to be treated with some reservations. The Alliance military did the same with Kaiden Alenko. He was trained as a sentinel to use tech-skills along side his biotic abilities. It always seemed that the Alliance wanted more of their biotics than just their dark energy abilities. It was as if being a biotic simply wasn't not enough, biotics were not as reliable as an omni tool or guns, (despite the asari commandos proving this belief wrong). Shepard reveled in her new freedoms.

At times there was the occasional telepathic thwat on the head, to do things like remember to pull her barriers up. Shepard knew her bondmate was frantic with worry, especially after that last hit from a vorcha's rocket launcher that completely knocked her hardsuit's shields out and put Shepard on her ass. You'd think she was turian for not ducking swiftly enough. The only reason's the shields held against the near direct hit from a rocket blast was due to the Prothean upgrades and quarian ingenuity on the hardsuit. And the only reason Shepard was still alive and not having her face half-blown off was due to Liara's shout at her to pull her barriers up. And just in time.

Despite the hard run through the slums the ground team made it to the clinic with relatively little injury. The clinic was not unlike many others Shepard had seen in more impoverished settlements. It was utilitarian - the last place you'd want to go to, but to some it was the only place. Mordin obviously tried to make it as sterile and sound as possible, there only so much you could to with desolate and dilapidated surroundings. It was the place of the forgotten. The place carried the indescribable stench common to all hospitals, strong antiseptic, unwashed bodies, sweat, the dying and ill but this also carried the unique scent of axle grease. The latter no doubt coming from the mechs stationed at the rear of the clinic.

Amongst the bodies of turian and bartarian were human medics trying to ease their pains and woes. If asked they would have all said they owed their lives to Mordin. Apparently the professor was either loved or hated, but one thing he was amongst all parties was respected and a bit feared.

In the back of the clinic a distinct salarian voice was easily discerned amongst drone of others. "Use malanarin. Almost as good. Plenty on hand. Causes cramping in bartarians. Supplement with butemerol."

"Malanarin and butemerol. Got it." one of the lab techs. A young human male by the sound of it.

Rounding the corner the members of Shepard's squad saw the doctor in question, who was indeed talking with a human assistant. The salarian seemed to be multi-tasking within his own mind.

"Cenozine is the catalyst. Bonds to generic markers. Hard to find. Expensive to mass produce. Why not use helacore? Too unstable. Inconsistent results. Demozane better option. No. No. No. Demozane toxic to humans. Not an option. Not an option."

"Professor Mordin Solus?" Shepard took a step forward watching the man who had engendered fear in so many, very carefully and with a great deal more curiosity.

The strange salarian walked up without saying a word, waved his hand encased in a medical omni tool before uttering a single sound. "Humm. Three humans, clean. Asari and krogan no overt signs of plague. Clean. Smart to wear hardsuit helmets, with fully independent respirator. Don't recognize you from area." he turned and walked back to the makeshift desk on top of which were several computers. "Too well armed to be refugees. Not mercenary uniform. Quarantine still in effect. Here for something else. Vorcha? Crew to clean them out? Unlikely? Vorcha a symptom not a cause." he turned back to Shepard and her group. The plague? Investigation possible use of a bio-weapon? No too-many guns not enough data equipment. Soldiers, not scientists. Yes. Yes. Hired guns, maybe? Looking for someone? Yes! But who? Someone valuable, someone with secrets. Someone like me."

He's becoming twitchy: 'Pop. Pop. Pop.' the words of human civilian cowering in his apartment filtered not only into Shepard's mind but Ash's as well. Williams wasn't a quick draw but she had a steady aim, she wasn't about to let the guy get the drop on Shepard.

"Relax Mordin, I'm Spectre Shepard. I came here to find you. I'm here on a critical mission, and I need your help." The human interrupted the rambling scientist. 'Before he gives himself an aneurism.' her hindbrain whispered. Of course she had to wonder how he hadn't suffered one already.

"Mission? What mission? No.No. No. Clinic understaffed. Plague spreading too fast. Who sent you? Spectre? The Council?" He turned away from them to his computer monitors.

"Actually one of your former students recommended you. Chorban? And Aria T'lok told me where to find you." Shepard attempted to placate the man's worried questioning.

Williams and Aleena both shared a measured look, if they took but a moment to look at the others they would have seen the same expression upon a krogan's craggy face and even upon the scarred features of Zaeed.

"Why? Relative to humans? Plague doesn't affect humans. Armor and weapons. Might have thought you were Cerberus..." he turned back to Shepard and her team, his large eyes blinking repeatedly.

"Did they do this?" Shepard crossed her arms over her chest, as she rested her weight on her left foot.

"No". It was a surpassingly very simple answer from the salarian whose speech pattern was thus far fragmented sentences or gerunds.

"How do you know?" Williams piped up

"No covert operatives remaining within area. Was one. Female. Gone now. Plague happened after she left. Suspected Cerberus. But recent data does not fit supposition. Why are you here? Chorban. Remember him. Always pushing accepted theories. Heard he developed keeper scanning device. Good. Information collected very valuable. Suspect the Council would not agree. He sent you to me? Your mission beyond his scope."

"Collectors are kidnapping entire human populations. Were going to find out why and stop them." Shepard explained.

"Collectors? Interesting. Plague hitting these slums is engineered. Collectors one of few groups capable with technology to design it. Our goals maybe similar." he walked away from Shepard and returned to the computer terminal. "But must stop plague first. Already have cure. Must disperse it at environmental control center. Vorcha guarding it. Need to kill them."

"Why can't anyone just say sure, I'll help no strings attached?" Shepard sighed grumpily.

"No deed is done without one in return. Rule of galaxy."

"I'll go in and deal with the vorcha, will you then join my team?" she pressed the issue.

"Yes. Will be free then."

All of a sudden the fans cut out with in the clinic.

Aleena looked up. "That sounded troubling."

"Vorcha have shut down environmental systems. Trying to kill everyone. Need to get power back on before district suffocates. Here take cure. Also bounce in good faith. Weapon taken from dead Blue Suns may come in handy against vorcha. One more thing. Daniel. One of my assistance. Went into vorcha territory looking for victims. Hasn't come back." Mordin sucked in a deep breath claiming much needed oxygen.

"If I see him, I'll do what I can to help." Shepard said.

"Thank you. Told him not to go. But he's smart. Bright future. I hope."

"Any idea where I can find him?" the Spectre cocked her head.

"No. Heard of infected bartarians behind vorcha lines. Daniel went to help. Warned him not to go. Too dangerous. Patients needed him here. Snuck out anyway."

"Speaking of infected bartarians. I found a one of them near the entrance to the neighborhood. Can you send someone to help him?" The Spectre's voice became slightly soft. So much so it actually managed to startle Ashley.

Williams was far more willing to allow the blighted man to die, he was probably a slaver anyway. Better for him to die than live and go back to snatching innocents and slamming control chips in to their brains. And yet she admired her commander for keeping her word, it also worried her. Wrex was correct; it wasn't going to be an enemy's bullet that put down the Saviour of the Citadel but her own sense of honor.

"Hum… Risky. Blue Suns, vorcha still battling. District not safe. Will see what I can do."

"You've been experiencing attacks on the clinic?" Shepard asked despite knowing he had killed mercs in defense of clinic. She wasn't asking to have him confirm the fact she already had but to gain a measure of him.

"Nothing major. Blue Suns came for humans. Made threats. Killed them before things escalated."

"For a doctor you're awfully calm about taking out a bunch of mercs." Again Shepard's tone changed. She was measuring the man before her.

Aleena smirked behind her helmet; Shepard was doing to Solus what she had done to her back on Ilos. "Wasn't always a doctor. Some work with Special Tasks Group. Can handle myself." Mordin pulled out his pistol and looked at with casual curiosity. "Advantage of being salarian. Turians, krogan, vorcha all obvious threats. Never see me coming." He smiled. One he shared with Shepard.

"Professor? What can you tell me about this plague?" Shepard pressed for details.

"Advanced design. Suspected Collectors before you mentioned them. Purpose seems experimental. Destroys respiratory systems with harmful genetic mutations. Makes sense to avoid humans. Unnecessary to force mutations on human genetic structure for sake of variance."

"Unnecessary mutations? What are you talking about?" puzzlement clearly reflected in the Spectre's blue eyes.

"Possible goal of virus. Tests on viable mutations in various species. Horrific. But feasible for Collectors. Humans known to have diverse genetic background. Wider range than other sapient races. Makes sense as a control group."

"A control group." Zaeed sorted. "What about the bloody vorcha?"

"Immune to diseases. Not viable for tests. Humans only option for tests."

"What do you know about the vorcha?" Shepard asked. They had her curious beyond their regen capabilities and piranha teeth. In truth Shepard had little contact with the species beyond a few scrapes with merc bands.

The answer came at a muzzle velocity snarl. "Cowardly! Opportunistic scavengers! Not tactical or aggressive. Scale of attack unusual for them." Mordin shook his head. "Suspected vorcha working for Collectors. Dispersing plague, collecting data. No proof, but theory fits evidence."

"Now we have an even greater reason to fight the Collectors." Williams growled.

"You want to kill the Collectors?" Mordin gave the Spectre a studious and apprising look.

"I don't like bullies. I don't care what race, what region of space or what their intelligence is. My job is to protect, to be the guardian." Shepard grinned. "The job title comes with the name."


"No. Shepard." The human woman grinned. "Even if the spelling isn't the same." She turned to her companions. "Come on we have a ventilation system to get back on line, and a plague to stop."

"Yes. Good. Release cure. Will be here when you return."

As they left Aleena looked behind her and saw the salarian looking up the word shepherd on the extranet. She had to admit she had done it herself after she signed on to the Spectre's ship. Of course goggling the human's name had come up with several key-words one of them was the guardian of sheep. An almost laughable occupation, until the asari dove deeper into meaning the word. Some of it had very religious significance, while others proved that a shepherd was no meek keeper of wooly mammals. In their ancient days they fought off great predators of Earth to safeguard their wards: lions, ravenous packs of wolves, wild dogs, hyenas, and leopards. They were the threats and they were pushed back to keep the flock safe.

A shepherd braved great terrestrial dangers to find a single lost lamb. Was that what they were, the crew of the Normandy, Shepard's flock? And the strays they were picking up, were they the lost lambs? Reapers, Collectors, Cerberus, bounty hunters and mercs. They were the predators, they were pushed back to keep the flock safe. Shepard…a protector, a guardian. The job description was in the name…

Three clicks out and they ran into an ambush. They were immediately assailed by a wall of sound; animalistic snarls of vorcha and varren, the unrelenting staccato of weapons fire, metallic moans of steel as it was bent by biotics.

"Get to cover!" Shepard bellowed. She rolled on her shoulder taking a refuge behind a large crate that was part of a makeshift barricade on her left. Aleena was just behind her at her left flank. Wrex and Zaeed found safety behind the barricade stacked crates to the right and above them. Williams took the top left.

Gauging by the Blue Sun corpses the deceptively secure barricade wouldn't offer Shepard's team any more sanctuary it had the turians. There was little room for maneuverability; the pit was a murder hole.

"Hey Wrex, Zaeed, Williams ready to do some skeet shooting?" There was a playful smile on the Spectre's lips.

"I like the way you think, Shepard. Let's have some fun." Wrex laughed.

"Boom-stick ready and waiting, Skipper."

Both males loaded their rifles with incinerator rounds, waiting for the kill shots. Ash opted for cryo-rounds. Burn them to a cinder or freeze them solid. Either way the enemy was most certainly dead. The concept of the attack plan was easy; the women used biotic pulls forcing enemies into the air neutralizing them thus allowing Wrex and the two humans easy targets.

"Aleena pull those bastards out of their cover." Shepard ordered.

"Roger that, Spectre." The huntress confirmed.

Aleena and Shepard stretched out their arms; their bodies took on the familiar glow of biotics. Because they were standing so close together, the combination of human and asari 'lifted' five vorcha into the air, 'pulling' them towards them. A breath later their bodies exploded in a mass of orange mist. What was left was nothing but burning chunks of burnt meat still spiraling in the air by the mass field.

Shepard drew dark energy in, routed it though her new customized L5 amplifiers and gave it direction. The reave struck a charging varren's nervous system. It collapsed to the ground whining in its agony before it died.

Aleena's shockwave slammed into two more vorcha striking them like a sledge hammer. Even their regen-capabilities were not fast enough repair the damage swiftly enough to save them from shots fired in to their thick plated skulls.

What happened next came as a complete surprise to the vorcha, as Shepard surrounded her body with a barrier then triggered a 'charge'. The Spectre rushed straight at him, within the space of three steps her body became a cyan blur. Fueled with additional strength coursing though her body as she hit one of the skulking males and sent the thug flying. The vorcha smashed into a cement pillar with such force and momentum it became stuck in a 'stone angel' left by imprinted by its body.

Shepard assayed the area quickly; she spotted Aleena but neither men nor Williams were no longer near the barricade. "Call in."

*Wrex here.* the deep bass of the battlemaster crackled over the radio which was quickly followed by a confirmation from Zaeed. Both men popped up from small alcoves at opposite ends of the complex.

*Five by Five, Shepard.* Williams reported in.

"Damn fine maneuvering." the old bounty hunter complemented once he rejoined Shepard's side. "Always liked working along side biotic powerhouses."

Aleena smirked "You just like us doing all the heavy 'lifting' while you just splatter what's left."

"Too right."

"Cut the chatter," Shepard ordered. "We've cleared this section, we're not done yet. We still have to get to those environmental controls, double time it people."

"I have a question." Tali asked the others of her squad who were now all seated within the common room of the apartment. "What's to stop Lawson from pulling a Shepard on us?"

"What do you mean?" Liara frowned. "They are nothing alike. If Lawson was anything like Samantha was she'd never have joined an organization that instigates torture, monstrous experiments and xenocide."

"No, not like that. I mean the way Shepard thinks. Shepard wouldn't go directly into a trap, she'd go around it. Hell she'd march right up to the lair of her enemy and kick down his door and shoot the bosh'tet right in the face. And there'd be a couple of explosions along the way.

"Miranda Lawson is supposed to be some kind of ultimate model of humanity, superior genes, looks, biotics and everything. Right? Why do we think Lawson will come right in to a trap she doesn't even know where it is? Isn't she more likely to go where the Normandy is docked and pound on the outer hatch and give herself up in trade for her sister's release?"

"Tali has a point. It's precisely what Shepard would do if someone were to take you Liara." Garrus said. "She'd go directly to the source, to where her enemy felt the safest. So why wouldn't Lawson?"

"Especially if she studied Shepard's records, her battles and methodology." Liara followed the line of reasoning. "Unless we make this a more desirable target."

Garrus scratched the back of his neck. "Shepard would never agree to bring the kid into a hot combat zone. Hell she won't even let the girl step a foot on Omega."

"All Lawson has to believe is that the girl is here." Liara said. "It is what we intended to do in the first place."

"We have to make this place more interesting to get Lawson's attention." Garrus nodded. "It won't be easy but we're going to have to get the notice of the three top merc bands on Omega and piss them off."

"You're talking about the Blood Pack, Blue Suns and Eclipse." Liara gasped. "You want to get into a war with them? That's insane!"

"Yes, which is why it will work. It always does for Shepard. The more insane it is the better it works, because no one thinks someone is crazy enough make the attempt much less pull it off." Garrus said confidently. "Lawson will rush here to save a sister she thinks is endangered because the mercs. Mercs I might remind everyone who sent to hunt down you and Shepard because of Cerberus and Udina."

"Okay." Liara said softly. "That can work, but the Blue Suns already know Shepard is in the quarantine zone. She's been fighting them as well as hordes of vorcha. There is no reason for them to think she is here in the Kima District."

Tali wrung her hands nervously, "But Shepard isn't the true target, Liara. You are. They simply have to know your location."

To Be Continued

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