Thanks to Reikson for the help and advice and support, to the reviewers and PM's your good wishes and comments are helping me keep this work on track ... I will eventually return to the oneshot format but Virmire is such a goldmine of narrative opportunity I just couldn't half-ass it ...plus a certain character needed some screen time.
Shepard climbed from the Mako. In front of her was a large camp, with a ship standing off to the side and covered in some kind of heavy cloth. The camp was filled with Salarians, and one of the them marched up to Shepard.
"Captain Kirrahe, Salarian Special Tasks Group."
"Joan Shepard, Special Tactics and Reconnaissance. We got your message. Most of it, anyway. What's the situation?"
"You and your men have just landed in the middle of a hot zone. Every AA gun within ten miles knows you're here and will blast you out of the sky if you try and escape."
Shepard cursed, "What are we supposed to do now?"
Kirahee puffed in annoyance. "We sit tight and wait for the troops. I assume that the rest of the Council's forces are in high orbit?"
Xander snickered, but it was Kaidan who answered.
"Sorry, Captain, but WE are your reinforcements." Alenko explained.
"What? You're ALL they sent? I requested a fleet!" The Salarian gasped.
"Your transmission came in on a mission-critical channel but was little more then static." Shepard explained. "Since they already have me searching for Saren, they figured it was best to send me to find out what was going on."
"Hey, at least you know that when they're sitting around doing nothing, it doesn't just piss US off." Xander muttered.
Kaidan tried being diplomatic. "It's a balancing act, it has to be. You can't expect the Council to just drop everything on our say-so."
"Why not?!?" Xander ranted. "Why give someone the authority of a Spectre if you're just going to ignore them until it's too late to do anything about it?!?"
"We don't even know what Saren is doing here and you want to unleash hell on the planet?!?" Kaidan barked back.
"He's building an army of Krogan warriors." Captain Kirrahe announced. His words were like a bomb, silencing everyone.
"Great. Krogan mercenaries," Xander sighed. "How is a guy on the run for his life affording the cost of Krogan Mercs?"
"...By promising them a cure for the genophage." the Salarian replied.
A deathly silence fell. "I'm sorry, what did you say?" Shepard asked quietly.
"Saren's claiming to have a cure for the Genophage. It's lured many to his banner. At this point, he has a veritable horde of Krogan warriors."
"Well, now we know where all the Krogan we're picking up came from." Shepard sighed,
"I sent several of my men to obtain a sample of the cure. None of them made it back, but the last transmission I got indicate that it's some kind of injection."
"A cure for the Genophage." Wrex rumbled. "How is that even possible?"
"It took the original team almost a year of study to invent the original virus, not to mention the debate about making it in the first place... How Saren managed to find a cure in such a short time..." The captain trailed off, lost in thought.
"Wasn't Binary-Helix working on a cure? There was something about it in the news, I'm sure." Kaidan muttered.
"They failed," Kirahee said. "Trust me, the Genophage wasn't easy to make. Its complexity would take years to understand, never mind curing it. I don't know how the Turian managed it."
"What does it matter?" Wrex snarled. "What matters is that there's a cure. As long as we're here, let's take it."
Kirrahe shook his head. "If that cure leaves this planet, the Krogan will become unstoppable ... Again. I won't make the same mistake."
"We are not a mistake, Salarian!" Wrex roared in Kirrahe's face before stomping off.
Xander snorted. "Oh, great! We got an army of pissed off Krogan between us and a genocidal whack-job! ...And Admiral Ackbar here decides to piss off the only one willing to work WITH us! Great strategic thinking there, you-..."
"Harris!" Shepard's shout cut him off from saying something crass.
"Sorry, got carried away." Xander mumbled.
"Carry yourself back." Shepard snarled.
"Is the Krogan going to be a problem, Spectre?"
"Not your problem. I'll take care of it." Shepard spun on her heel, eating up the distance between herself and Wrex with huge strides.
Kaidan couldn't hear their words, but their body language spoke loudly enough for those with eyes to see them.
The cold set of Shepard's face said that she was being hard-nosed about things. The base and the cure had to be destroyed. Wrex could either get with the program or face the consequences.
Wrex's back stiffened, his fists clenching. He wouldn't back down, not this time. It was his people's future at stake.
They pulled weapons on each other.
Ashley started to expand her shotgun, but Xander laid a hand on her shoulder. "Let them work it out, Ash. She's got this, you know her."
"He's pulled a gun on her."
"Remember your sister Sarah? Same thing here."
"Wrex isn't a schoolyard bully and wannabe-rapist. he's a pissed off Krogan and This is a military operation."
"It is the same, you let Sarah handle the jackass who tried to attack her on her own terms and it worked out. Let Shepard take care of this her way."
"We let her handle Lord Darius her way." Ashley reminded Xander, "You do recall how that worked out right?"
The Alliance had pulled Shepard in to handle what Admiral Hackett maintained was a simple trade negotiation, Shepard had brought Xander along to as she put it, "keep me from doing something I'll regret having to explain in an After-Action Report."
In that respect he had failed spectacularly. Lord Darius and his men were no more and Shepard had razed the base to the ground for good measure.
"HER way usually consists of a bullet to the brain," The Gunnery Chief snapped, "or threatening someone WITH a bullet to the brain."
"...And as negotiating tactics go, you'll notice it's been damn effective." Xander pointed out.
They watched as Shepard stepped in close. The wind carried not a hint of her whispers, but you could see the moment that Wrex's body shuddered and his gun dropped.
"I'll be damned. Xander's right." Kaidan whispered.
"It happens from time to time, Alenko. You'll get used to it." Xander said, smirking.
"Yeah, like the coming of Halley's Comet." Ashley snickered.
Xander looked at her. "Ah, jokes at my expense. Well, now I know it's love." he sighed.
Kirrahe's plan was simple. A frontal assault on Saren's base that drew away his main force, leaving a small hole through which a small strike team could slip through...hopefully unnoticed.
Xander made his displeasure known right away. "So the plan is for you guys to stand out there, getting mauled by Saren's army, while we stealth our way into the base and hope that all his troops will be so focused on killing you that they ignore the nuclear device we're shoving up their cloaca? That has to be the stupidest idea that I've ever heard IN MY LIFE."
"...And that's saying something." Shepard sniggered.
Kaidan didn't know what was more disturbing; her laughter, or the glare that Xander shot her way.
"I don't know what the joke is, but I don't think I want to know." He sighed.
"If you have another way to get a twenty kiloton jury-rigged explosive past massive static defenses AND an army of fanatic Krogan and Geth, then... Please, human. Feel free to enlighten us." Kirrahe sneered.
"Just because I don't have a better plan doesn't mean there isn't one." Xander snapped back.
"Since it's the best plan we have right now, we go with it." Shepard said, her voice putting an end to Xander's argument with Kirrahe.
Then she turned to the Salarian Captain. "That being said, however, my Tech Sergeant makes a valid point; your plan seems to be a tad high-risk."
"There's always the possibility of failure; neither team might make it, or we both could die. Which is why my next request is especially difficult; I'll need one of your men to help me coordinate the attack."
"You expect me to commit one of MY men to your command." Shepard snorted at Kirrahe's request.
"They would be leading one of the three teams that will hit the facility. Should anything happen to me, they would take operational command of the frontal assault."
"Commander, it really is the most efficient way to make sure all the teams are operating past peak. I volunteer." Kaidan offered.
"Not so fast, L-T." Ashley piped up."The Commander's gonna need you to arm the nuke. I'll take this one."
"With all due respect, Gunnery Chief, it's not your place to decide." Kaidan reminded her.
"Why is it that when someone says '...with all due respect,' they really mean 'kiss my ass'?" Ashley shot back.
"Please. This needs a professional touch. I have operational and logistical experience with small-unit tactics." Harris said.
Shepard shook her head. "Sergeant, I think the Captain would prefer to work with someone who's opinion of his tactical skill wasn't aired infront of his troops, so that opts you out. Gunnery Chief, you're up. You know what I expect from you and I know you won't let me down."
"Alenko, you're with me and Harris. Between the two of you, any technical hurdles should be easy to handle."
Shepard turned to the rest of the team. "Wrex, Garrus... you're on the shadow team as well, Liara too."
"We'll handle it, Shepard." the rogue Turian nodded.
"Tali, you're with the Salarians. Help them uncouple the drive core. Whatever bang it has now, I want it more powerful by the time we're ready to deploy."
Tali nodded. "Understood, Commander."
"How good is she, Spectre?" Kirrahe asked. like practically every one else in the galaxy Kirrahe saw Quarian and assumed untrustworthy vagrant.
Shepard heard the tone in the Salarian's voice and narrowed her eyes in annoyance "Captain, Tali'Zorah here can craft drive-core parts from what's in your pockets right now. So I'm pretty sure that she can do wonders with your bomb."