AN Split Noveria up for easy reading ... and editing enjoy - huge thanks to Reikson whose advice and support continue to make this better and better.
In hindsight, Xander would admit that there was a buttload of foreshadowing that this trip wasn't going to end well. After all, there was trouble less then five minutes after after they'd left the Normandy.
First, there was that real-life Mexican Standoff in the Port Hanshan Docking Bay. Elanus Risk Control Services Officer Maeko Matsuo either did not know or did not care that the Citadel Council had seen fit to bestow its badge of authority on a grunt marine. After all, her second-in-command, Kaira Stirling, had called Shepard's claim of Council Spectre status a 'load of horse crap'.
Port Hanshan had a strict no-weapons policy and Matsuo wasn't about to compromise her tight security for anyone's sake, let alone some random stranger making ridiculous claims, going so far as to demand that the squad surrender their weapons. When Shepard refused, everyone's guns had come up. For several tense moments, Xander thought that he'd been transported into a Sergio Leone cult-classic aching to mutate into a Quentin Tarantino violence-fest. It was only through the quick words and quicker wit of Gianna Parasini, secretary to Port Hanshan's Administrator, that had defused the situation before things got nasty.
Then, there was Rannadril Ghan Swa Fulsoom Karaten Narr Eadi Bel Anoleis; Administrator Anoleis, for short. A Salarian whose passion for corruption knew few equals, he'd kicked off his meeting with Shepard by letting them know that Saren, and Benezia by extension, carried a awful lot of weight on Noveria by virtue of the rogue Spectre investing heavily in Binary-Helix's research.
So, no; they would not be getting any help or cooperation from the Administrator, and could they please get the hell out of his office because he had things far more important to do then entertain a tax-dodging colonial and her team of brainless stormtroopers.
Xander was impressed by Shepard's self-control. She waited all of ten minutes ( the time it took to get to the hotel bar and order a stiff, overpriced drink ) before embroiling the squad in a complex plot to bring down the Administrator. She'd even managed to screw over the whole of Binary Helix in an epic act of subterfuge that was awe-inspiring in both its scope and its simplicity.
Parasini had proved helpful here as well; arresting Anoleis after it was revealed she was actually an Agent with Noveria Internal Affairs who'd been spying on Anoleis for months in the hopes of nailing him for his rampant corruption.
Shepard had even managed to deal with several mercenary elements within the ERCS security staff, including Kaira Stirling. Stirling had already put herself on Shepard's radar over the docking bay incident, but upon learning that she was also Anoleis' paid thug... well, Shepard wasn't a big fan of mercenaries at the best of times, so having Stirling's idiot brigade pull weapons on her? Well, to Shepard's point of view, anyone stupid enough to pull a gun on her just proved that they were too stupid to live; so killing them was just doing God's Good Work.
But it was the bookish Doctor Liara T'soni who'd done the heavy lifting on this one; quite literally. Watching her tear apart Stirling's squad, followed by Stirling herself shortly thereafter, was a sight that Xander would carry to his grave. Well, assuming that he ever reached one.
So by the time the squad was ready to leave Port Hanshan after a Geth ambush and a showdown with a pissed-off Krogan bounty hunter, Matsuo's polite farewell hid a profound and obvious sense of relief at seeing them gone.
During the Mako ride into the Skadi Mountains towards BH's remote research facility of Peak 15, Xander had commented that Shepard had a bit of a vindictive streak.
Shepard snorted. "I didn't hear you complain when that Internal Affairs Agent laid that kiss on you in the hotel bar."
An unintended side-effect of Parasini's need to maintain her cover was that Xander had been drafted to provide her an excuse for meeting with the Commander. to avoid suspicious eyes at one point she had kissed him, and this was no weak-ass peck on the cheek; mouths had opened and tongues had wrestled for dominance. While Xander had no problems in general with being kissed by beautiful women, the smirk on Shepard's face told him that she was never going to let him live it down.
"That kiss meant nothing, it was just window dressing to help establish her undercover identity," was Xander's unconvincing reply.
Shepard nodded sagely. "It meant nothing, huh? Okay. When we get back, let's ask Gunnery Chief Williams if SHE thinks it was nothing." She didn't bother hiding her smirk.
"If you do, can I get a two- or three-hundred meter head start?" Xander pleaded.
"What good would that do you? She could still nail you between the eyes at that distance. I know I could."
"You're a real source of comfort in moments of stress, Boss." Xander groaned. "I just thought you should know that."
"While we're on the subject... Back in the docking bay, you said something... it sounded familiar..." She noticed that Xander's left eye twitched very slightly. "It was a quote from an old Earth actor, Charlton Heston."
"Obviously a human who understands the need to always negotiate from a position of strength." Wrex laughed.
"It was, perhaps, a little more confrontational than we needed to be. At the time, anyway." Liara mused quietly.
"...says the woman who literally painted the walls with an entire merc squad." Xander riposted dryly.
Despite her pride, Liara had the grace to blush just a little, while Shepard leaned closer to her.
"Don't listen to him, Liara. You were amazing back there." The Spectre whispered in the Asari's ear.
At that moment, the Asari archaeologist felt as if that ear had suddenly become the point of contact for every nerve ending in her entire body. To have this woman's attention, Liara was quite sure that she would've happily taken on every mercenary in Council space and beyond. She tried to still the wild beating of her heart while Wrex was still reveling in Xander's discomfort with his... over-excitement during the Port Hanshan confrontation.
"...You can get our guns when you take them from our cold, dead hands," Wrex chuckled. "That is officially my favorite Earth saying."
"I was caught up in the moment," Xander's tone was defensive. "God as my witness, I honestly thought she was going to back down, Boss. You're practically a media celebrity, for God's sake."
"This is why I like hanging around you, Shepard," Wrex mused. "There's no shortage of idiots who need to be killed and who're willing to give you an excuse to do it."
They soon arrived at Peak 15's Central Station, only to find the place overrun with Geth and Rachni. Xander pulled off a bit of technical magic and got the place running again, at least enough so that they could use the tramway to follow Benezia to the Hot Labs at Rift Station. The source of the Rachni infestation, Rift Station was probably where they could finally find a clue about what Saren wanted with an army of relentless killer insects.