Thanks to Reikson who did an inspired job on an important scene herein --- enjoy
"Welcome to Rift Station, your one-stop shop for illegal research, immoral experiments and, if we're lucky, one dangerous and genocidal Asari matriarch. Everybody- OOF!" Shepard jabbed a elbow into Xander's belly, effectively ending his jokes. She then shot a meaningful glance at Liara, whose frustration had grown exponentially ever since they'd learned Benezia was close at hand.
"Hey, Doc, I'm sorry," Xander soothed. "I'm sure your mom's fine. She might even have a reasonable explanation for everything she's been up to."
"A reasonable explanation for helping Saren murder and destroy?" Liara snapped, annoyance evident in her voice. "An explanation for allowing his Geth to try and kidnap or kill me? Giving her loyal followers like Shiala to an alien plant, not to mention whatever's going on with these Rachni? That will have to be some explanation, Xander. I'm looking forward to hearing it, almost as much as you appear to be." Liara's response underlined the bitter anger in her voice.
She walked ahead, leaving the others behind. "Ohh-kay, she's in a bad mood," Xander said dryly.
"Ya think?" Shepard hissed and raced ahead to stop the archaeologist from wandering into some danger or other.
"I think it's an improvement," Wrex rumbled. "At least now we know she's taking that Asari bitch seriously."
"I think she might be a little conflicted about having to fight her mom, Wrex." Xander pointed out.
"I was conflicted about dealing with my father until he tried to kill me," the Krogan reminded Xander. "I didn't feel so conflicted after that."
Xander shuddered. He'd always wondered. If the destruction of Sunnydale hadn't ended any reason for him to deal his parents, might he have had a final confrontation with Tony Harris much like the one Wrex had been forced to survive?
The squad found the only working elevator in the place and traveled up several floors. As near as Xander could tell, they were still far from the heart of the vast glacier that housed the Peak 15 facility.
The doors opened and the squad found itself facing a wall of guns pointed at them. It was a comment on how hectic Xander's life had become that he no longer panicked about such things.
"Stand down!" an older balding man in armor shouted as he stepped forward. "Captain Ventralis, head of security."
"Shepard, Joan; Special Tactics and Reconnaissance," Shepard replied. "...and, no, I'm not giving you my gun."
Ventralis laughed. "Someone's met Captain Matsuo. She's kind of a hard-ass, but she does good work."
"She'll have to do it short-handed," Shepard snapped. "Her staff's a lot smaller now."
"Ouch," Ventralis laughed. "Hope that bitch who works for Matsuo was one of the causalities. Hell of a biotic, but cold as ice."
"You mean Stirling? Yeah, she's a lot colder now," Xander snickered. "Good pro-tip; when betting on a fight between biotics, you always put your money on the blue girl."
"I'm sure that, with her skill, she'd have been quite intimidating... when I was a child." Liara gave a cold smile.
"So, Ventralis... can we talk straight?" Shepard asked. "What the hell is going on around here?"
"A bunch of eggheads were screwing around in Lab Pod Gamma. Next thing I know, I got creepy-crawlies all over. My staff was a lot bigger back then."
"I'm looking for an Asari matriarch. You seen her?"
Ventralis nodded. "Yeah, she showed up after the lockdown began. I noticed that she was packing lots of heat and a few of those commandos. Looked like they were heading into hell. I haven't heard a peep since then."
Shepard turned to Liara. "What do you think, Doc?"
"My mother is almost a thousand years old, Shepard," Liara answered. "You don't reach the Matriarch stage without learning how to survive things that would kill most other species."
Ventralis handed Shepard an security access card. "She's in Pod Gamma. Once she's secured, you should activate the the neutron purge system."
Xander perked up at his words. "Wait, you have a neutron purge system in place and you're still sitting around fighting bugs?"
Ventralis snickered. "You've never worked corporate, I see. When the suits drop a few billion creds into a project, the last person you want to be is the guy who fries said project, even if it's your ass if you don't."
Xander gaped at the man. "...who runs this company, Lex Luthor?"
Shepard shook her head. "I've never heard of a Purge System like that, what's it do?" she asked.
"The main reactor's programmed to release a massive radiation burst," Ventralis explained.
Xander nodded, "...All the fun and games of a nuke without all of the inconvenient property damage afterwards. You don't even have to worry about burial; High levels of neutron radiation and organic tissue do not a fun mix make."
Shepard shook her head. "What the hell? Are you people bored? Is that the problem?"
Ventralis just shrugged. "I've seen them working on some scary crap in those labs, stuff that makes me really, really nervous," the Captain muttered. "Why do think we built this place into a glacier? You drop the heat on anything far enough and it will freeze."
Xander snorted, So what? You were hoping anything that can survive high levels of radiation poisoning will keel over cause it's too cold?
Ventralis grimaced, "I keep my head down, my mouth shut and bank my credits." The Captain retorted "BH has always been a little weird ... and that was before we went into business with that Council Spectre. You know what they're like; no offense."
Shepard waved him off. "I'm not like Saren."
"Thank God for that. I've heard that if you piss off a Spectre, they don't just kill you; they kill your friends, your family, and your house pets."
"Don't worry about Saren," Shepard growled. "His life expectancy is getting shorter by the day." She snapped, before stalking away.
"No offense," Ventralis muttered. "...but your boss is kind of scary."
"You wouldn't be the first to say that." Xander sighed. He recalled both Gianna's and Maeko's reactions to Shepard's occasionally-impulsive behavior. "You wouldn't even be the first person to say that TODAY."
The squad descended into Lab Pod Gamma, where they found no Benezia waiting. Instead, they were besieged by Rachni. Wrex's ancestors had hunted them to extinction, and enough war stories survived from that time so that the ancient Battlemaster was invaluable help in dealing with the incredibly aggressive creatures. There was no way that they'd be able to escape the lab without dealing with the aggressive bugs.
Shepard activated the Neutron Purge using the code that Ventralis had provided.
At which point, the lift system shut itself down.
"Well, that's a surprise," Xander said dryly. "We're trapped in a secure hot-lab, surrounded by Rachni, and our only way out isn't working..."
"Ventralis!" Shepard barked into her radio. "What the Hell's going on? The elevator's locked down and we can't get out of the hot lab!"
"Yeah, sorry about this, Shepard." Ventralis' voice said over their radios. "Saren's offering a lot of money for your head; as in retire-to-Thessia-and-stare-at-sexy-blue-ass-for-the-rest-of-my-life kind of money."
"You think Saren or Benezia will let you survive long enough to spend that kind of money? Don't be an idiot!"
"I'm not a fool, Shepard. As soon as I have my money, I'll deal with Benezia and her Commandos. My guys now control all of the access points in and out of that lab. Now I want you to relax, Shepard. Neutron radiation is a pretty quick and painless way to go."
"You'll be seeing me again, Ventralis. Count on it," Shepard snarled.
"Unless you can find a way to rewire the lift system in under a minute, I don't think so." Ventralis laughed before he cut the connection.
Xander ripped the panel off the wall and searched the viper's nest of circuitry, looking for their salvation. "Boss, the system's fried. I could fix it if we had ten or fifteen minutes..."
"...which we don't have." Shepard snapped.
"Then we need a quick and dirty bypass." Xander replied.
"We're going die down here trapped with these beasts?" Liara whined.
"On the upside, " Xander responded, "seeing as we're pretty close to the main reactor, there won't be that much left of any of us."
"Strangely enough Xander I do not find THAT comforting." Liara shot back at him.
"There must be something!" Shepard insisted. "C'mon, you're the miracle worker; the go-to-guy. There has to be some trick, some work-around! Think!"
Xander looked at the internal guts of the system. "Well... there's a way, but you won't like it."
"Do it." Shepard snapped.
"You don't even know what it is!" he squawked in protest.
"It's your idea, which means it'll be dangerous and stupid. But if you do it, we just might get out of this."
"Good point. All right; Wrex, Doc, into the elevator. When this things starts moving, you do not want to be left behind." Xander pointed at the elevator controls. "Boss, that power panel is about to surge big time. When it does, hold that button down no matter what else happens."
"What are you going to do?" Liara asked, shooting a few Rachni who'd gotten too close to the elevator.
"Like the boss-lady said... something dangerous and stupid," he breathed in and out several times, psyching himself up. "This is gonna hurt... see y'all in a few minutes."
Xander reached into the wall panel and the lights in the elevator flickered on, just as he started screaming. He spasmed in place, his whole body rocked by convulsions, and Shepard thought that she could see tiny arcs of electricity dancing between his teeth.
Liara screamed and Wrex reached out to drag him away, but Xander cried out, "NO! ONLY WAY... PRESS IT, PRESS THE BUTTON!" he screamed as thousands of watts continued to flow through his body.
Shepard hammered on the switch and the elevator doors snapped shut and the car began to rise. But Xander would not release the power lead. His death grip on the metal protrusion made it rattle violently in sympathy to the convulsions he was experiencing as raw power arced over his entire body. The elevator ride only took a few minutes, but his agonized screaming would echo in her memories for years to come.
The elevator doors opened and Xander's body rocketed backwards, out of the elevator, landing in a heap on the floor.
Thin wisps of smoke wreathed his body while the faint odor of burning flesh left a sour stench in the air.
Shepard dropped to her knees and instantly tried CPR.
But Xander's heart had stopped.
He was dead.
It seemed almost unreal.
The best male human friend that she'd made in years, and he'd gone; committing suicide to save them, he'd died for her , died for the mission he hadn't even flinched when he'd done it either.
What was she supposed to do?
What was she supposed to think?
How could she tell his blonde friend... Buffy, was it? that her brother-in-law was dead?
Liara's eyes shimmered. "Find peace in the embrace of the goddess," she whispered. She remembered that Xander had been the first of Shepard's crew to accept her. She'd come to respect his bravery and cleverness despite his penchant for annoying jokes and obsession with pop-culture minutiae.
Wrex gave a silent salute to the boy. He'd lived as a human, but died like a krogan; unflinching and doing credit to Shepard, his Battlemaster.
The old Krogan watched Shepard as a hundred emotions flowed through her. Watching a subordinate sacrifice his or her own self for the sake of their Battlemaster was never easy, not even for a Krogan with an ounce of common sense.
Finally, she stood up.
There was still a mission, after all.
Xander was a soldier under her command and entirely expendable if it accomplished the goal.
But somehow, she couldn't make herself walk away.
She couldn't make herself be cold and distant, even now.
Even as his face no longer had that pinched look of death and had relaxed.
Strange. He looked like he was sleeping. Almost as if he might just wake up any second.
Suddenly his body arched upwards and his eyes shot open. Liara shrieked girlishly in fright, while a wide-eyed Shepard pulled out her pistol and pointed it at him. Wrex had already pulled out his shotgun, pointed it at the coughing boy. Xander's mouth was wide open; a loud, desperate gasp ripping out of his body. He gulped, taking in much-needed air in mighty heaves, as his eyes looking around in fear and terror.
Seeing nothing immediately problematic, he slumped back onto the floor. Still on his back, he groaned. "God, I forgot how much I hate dying by electrocution..."
Naturally, that's when he noticed Shepard and the others staring and pointing weapons at him. He blinked. So did they.
Finally, he asked them, "Weren't you supposed to be gone by now?"
"Weren't you supposed to be dead?" Shepard riposted.
Wrex shrugged. "Redundant nervous system. Well, there's a shock. I thought you humans were too brittle for that."
"Humans don't have a redundant nervous system. Usually..." Shepard replied, heavy meaning in her voice when she said that last word.
"I don't got a redundant anything, boss." Xander said calmly.
"Well then, why are you still alive? Some insulation in your hard suit, some kind of hidden biotic ability, a mutation?"
"Nope, nope, and no. I'm pretty much as mommy Harris made me. Except for one minor thing; I'm a fixed point in time and space, an unalterable fact of Creation."
"In layman's terms, Sargent..." Shepard snapped.
"He's an immortal... an actual living immortal." Liara explained in a shocked voice. "I've heard rumors but I never dreamed ..."
Xander grimaced, "Personally I hate that term," he replied, "it implies I'm NEVER EVER going to die."
Wrex chuckled, "You say that like it's a bad thing."
"Imagine eating your favorite meal. now picture eating it for every meal every day - morning, noon and night and even for snacks; and knowing that you aren't ever going to eat anything else for a long, long time...still sound like fun?"
"That's what it's like for you?" Liara asked.
Xander shook his head, "It's not all bad ... I used the extra time to pick up a metric ton of education over the years; Dawn's idea."
"And how did this... happen?" Shepard asked.
"THAT is a long story which, if I explain in detail, will distract you from what you really want to be doing right this second."
"And that is...?" Shepard asked.
"Ventralis thinks that we're dead in that hot lab. Which means that he'll be really surprised when you put a bullet in his head... assuming you meant it when you said he'd be seeing you again."
Shepard nodded. She was good at compartmentalizing and processing, after all. "Fine, we deal with you later. First, let's go find the good captain. Someone needs my boot up his ass."