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Zeppo Effect: Fight for the Lost

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This story is No. 2 in the series "Zeppo Effect". You may wish to read the series introduction and the preceeding stories first.

Summary: The Galaxy's Greatest Hero is back from the dead with a small army of the deadliest operatives in the galaxy to take on all comers. They say it's a suicide mission, that it’s certain death. THEY keep forgetting that Shepard has a Zeppo in her corner.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Games > Sci-Fi > Mass Effect Trilogy(Recent Donor)BHRamsayFR1864310,83929385131,56816 Jan 1226 Sep 13No

Dossier: Engineer (1)

AN: Happy Holidays --- sorry for my long absence but I had an Xmas gig and it took up quite a bit of my time. Thanks as always to Drakependragon and Reikson for sticking with me

888


The‭ ‬Normandy slid through space in the throes of FTL travel.‭

Haestrom was only a few hours away and Joker had gunned the ship though the Tasale relay even as the ground team was still stowing equipment and armor.‭

The Observation‭ ‬Lounge was technically a public access area,‭ ‬but only the bravest of‭ ‬Normandy's crew would go there,‭ ‬even while Morinth was away on missions.‭ ‬When she was actually residing there,‭ ‬the Ardat-Yakshi was usually left to amuse herself on her own.‭

Morinth was doing something that she‭’‬d once vowed to never do‭; ‬meditating.

Her mother would be amused‭; ‬assuming that the humorless bitch didn‭’‬t try to kill her first.‭

Morinth sat on the floor,‭ ‬cradling a small ball of pulsing biotic force in her hands as she‭’‬d been taught to do so long ago.‭ ‬Not too big,‭ ‬not too small,‭ ‬she concentrated on maintaining the integrity of the ball‭’‬s dark energy field.

Given her level of concentration,‭ ‬it vexed her that she could still hear the soft four-beat rhythm playing endlessly at the edge of her hearing.

How could she have ridden around on this ship for so long and not noticed it‭?

Of course,‭ ‬the answer was simple‭; ‬she hadn‭’‬t seen it because the drumming had been easy to overlook,‭ ‬just like everything else about Xander Harris.

Ultimately,‭ ‬he didn‭’‬t stand out.

He was too easy to ignore‭; ‬a trait he seemed to rely on.‭

The door to the observation lounge chimed as it hissed open,‭ ‬and the ball in her hands wavered,‭ ‬making her scowl.‭ ‬Her mother wouldn‭’‬t have lost control and Morinth‭’‬s inability to match that level of control rankled her something fierce.

The door slid open and the small form of Liara T‭’‬Soni stepped into the shadowy room.

‭“‬I see you were meditating,‭”‬ the archaeologist-turned-information broker murmured in observation.‭ “‬I apologize for disturbing you.‭”‬

Morinth waited for her to speak again or to step out of the room.‭ ‬When she did neither,‭ ‬the Ardat-Yakshi snorted.‭

“You apologize for disturbing me yet you linger still.‭”

“I thought to thank you for your service‭ ‬today,‭”‬ Liara shrugged.‭ “‬I know that Joining as you do,‭ ‬especially with someone like Vasir,‭ ‬it couldn‭’‬t have been pleasant.‭”

“I require neither your thanks nor your permission,‭ ‬Doctor,‭”‬ Morinth said icily.‭ “‬I‭’‬ve earned my place aboard this ship and I serve at Shepard‭’‬s whims,‭ ‬not yours.‭”

Liara blinked.‭ “‬Have I offended you in some way‭?”

“Have you offended me‭? ‬Listen to yourself‭; ‬perfumed and primped,‭”‬ the renegade sneered.‭ “‬The stench of your class and status clings to you like a parasite,‭ ‬T‭’‬Soni.‭ ‬I have no idea how a simpering princess like you ever caught Shepard‭’‬s eye.‭”

The former archaeologist blinked once before rolling her eyes.

‭“‬I see,‭”‬ she sighed.

‭“‬See what,‭ ‬princess‭?”‬ Morinth snorted.‭

“You‭’‬re not the first to see my family name and my‭ ‬mother and assume that you know me,‭ ‬that you know what I‭’‬m like,‭ ‬that you know what I‭’‬m about,‭”‬ Liara crossed her arms and leaned back on her left foot,‭ ‬a confrontational stance that she‭’‬d picked up from watching Shepard interact with people that pissed her off.

‭“‬Your mother was a powerful and influential Matriarch,‭”‬ Morinth scoffed,‭ ‬biotic fire coiling around her fingertips as she rolled the dark energy will-o-wisps across her hands.‭ “‬You‭’‬d have to leave Asari-controlled space just to try and find a corner of the galaxy where they have‭ ‬not heard of her.‭ ‬Then her association with Saren led to a high-profile death‭…”‬

Liara quirked a brow ridge but decided against enlightening the Ardat-Yakshi to the truth.‭ ‬Her mother Benezia was alive‭; ‬Shepard had spared her life after their battle on Noveria and she was still out there somewhere,‭ ‬supposedly guarding the Rachni Queen.

But she also knew her mother too well to‭ ‬not assume that she was up to other things as well.

After all,‭ ‬there were advantages when the whole galaxy thought you were dead.

Instead,‭ ‬she walked to the room‭’‬s window and stared out into the void beyond the waves of light rapidly shifting from blue to red in her field of vision.‭

“When I attended Serrice University,‭ ‬I was constantly assailed by sycophants,‭”‬ she began,‭ ‬not sparing a glance at the deadly creature sitting behind her.‭ “‬They either sought an introduction to my mother in hopes of riding her dress train to some future success,‭ ‬or were acolytes of one of my mother‭’‬s detractors.‭ ‬They‭'‬d pick fights with me in the hopes of currying favor with her political enemies.‭”

Turning back to Morinth,‭ ‬she added,‭ “‬Say what you wish about me,‭ ‬I‭’‬ve heard it all,‭ ‬and from some that I regard as being far more important than some fugitive Ardat-Yakshi.‭”

“I might just be some fugitive,‭”‬ the renegade sneered,‭ “…‬but at least Shepard didn‭’‬t find me obsessing over shadows and fog when she was looking for allies.‭”

“if ship scuttlebutt is accurate in any way,‭ ‬then I‭’‬m not the only obsessed Asari aboard,‭”‬ the information broker said coldly.‭ “…‬and I suspect that the only reason you cling to Shepard is because you hope that she‭’‬ll protect you from the Justicars.‭”

Morinth‭’‬s eyes narrowed.‭ “‬Mind your tongue,‭ ‬Doctor.‭ ‬I‭’‬m not some easily-charmed primate.‭”‬

“The Eclipse Sisters that you dealt with on Illium tell interesting stories about you,‭ ‬Morinth,‭”‬ the former archaeologist replied quite easily,‭ ‬her lips widening into a brittle sneer.‭ “‬They were some of the most hardened killers and psychopaths that I‭’‬ve dealt‭ ‬with in my life,‭ ‬and even‭ ‬they were disturbed by your‭…‬ appetites.‭”

“Weak-minded idiots‭?”‬ Morinth scoffed.‭ “‬Their kind,‭ ‬always easily frightened by what they don't understand.‭”

“Has it ever dawned on you that what you want,‭ ‬you and Shepard,‭ ‬can never be‭?‬” Liara mused aloud,‭ ‬her smile poisonous.‭ “‬You‭’‬d only kill her,‭ ‬and that‭’‬s assuming she let things go that far.‭”

“My lovers‭…‬ most of them are willing,‭”‬ Morinth shrugged.‭ “‬Some even welcomed it when it came.‭ ‬And why not‭? ‬They experience pleasure that someone like you cannot even begin to imagine.‭”

“…along with complete neuropathic disruption.‭ ‬I gather that the recovery rate for non-Asari is vanishingly small.‭”

“Shepard‭’‬s stronger than anyone I‭’‬ve ever met.‭ ‬She survived her ship disintegrating around her,‭ ‬she has strength beyond anyone I've ever met‭…‬ who‭’‬s to say that she couldn‭’‬t survive‭…”‬ Morinth trailed off,‭ ‬grimacing.‭

Liara quirked a brow ridge.‭ “‬What I find truly sad is that,‭ ‬even after four hundred years of killing people across the galaxy almost nonstop,‭ ‬I honestly think that you believe that Shepard might survive your predations.‭”

“What do you care‭? ‬Once you have your precious Drell back,‭ ‬you can do as you please.‭”

A sudden surge of anger made Liara‭’‬s biotics swell into being.‭ “‬I don‭’‬t‭ ‬appreciate your insults,‭ ‬n‭’‬lei,‭”‬ she hissed.‭ “‬Feron is dead.‭ ‬He sacrificed himself to save me‭…‬ and Shepard.‭”

Morinth smirked thinly.‭ “‬Well,‭ ‬he may have sacrificed himself,‭ ‬but I can assure that he isn‭’‬t dead.‭ ‬That Salarian took your Drell friend back‭ ‬to the Broker,‭ ‬where he remains a prisoner.‭"

Liara turned back to Morinth in a blur.‭ “‬A prisoner‭? ‬Feron‭’‬s alive‭?”‬ Her mind was whirling at the news.‭ ‬She hadn‭’‬t even dreamed of getting her Drell comrade-in-arms back alive.‭

“Indeed.‭ ‬Along with that‭ ‬human girl Rosenberg.‭"

Morinth's words drew her up short.‭ “‬Wait,‭ ‬Willow‭’‬s imprisoned‭?”‬ Liara mumbled,‭ ‬as doubt and uncertainly chased each other across her mind.

‭“‬Ahh,‭ ‬Doctor,‭ ‬did I shatter some preconceived notion you had‭?”‬ the rogue Ardat-Yakshi asked dryly.‭ “‬Did you perhaps imagine Rosenberg as a dangerous predator lurking in the shadows,‭ ‬ready to entrap the foolish and innocent‭?”‬

“I‭…‬ I‭’‬ll admit that there may be more to Willow Rosenberg than I first imagined,‭ ‬but I'll need more than‭ ‬your word before I believe she's not responsible for the Broker‭’‬s sins.‭"

“The Shadow Broker,‭ ‬... the one that Tazzik and Vasir served,‭ ‬seeks to take Rosenberg's power for his own,‭”‬ Morinth answered.‭ “‬Vasir was there when the Broker betrayed Rosenberg.‭”‬

“What about Feron‭?”

“Feron pays the price for his loyalty to you‭…‬ and this Willow,‭”‬ Morinth shrugged.

‭“‬What of Rosenberg‭?”

“Her accommodations are considerably less pleasant then Feron's,‭ ‬although I get the sense that‭’‬s as much about the Broker‭’‬s fear of her wrath as it is about his lust after her considerable power.‭"

“How do you know this‭?”‬

“Vasir,‭”‬ the renegade shrugged,‭ ‬tapping the side of her head with a finger.‭ “‬She was one of the few that were ever allowed direct access to the Broker.‭ ‬What she knows‭…”

“…you now know,‭”‬ Liara realizing,‭ ‬turning about and striding for the door that hissed open at her approach.

‭“‬Enjoy your Drell and your vengeance,‭”‬ Morinth sneered after her.‭ “‬I‭’‬m sure that at least one of them will keep you warm at night.‭”

Liara was all set‭ ‬to unleash some bitter riposte before she noticed something.‭

Morinth was absently drumming a finger against her knee in a simple rhythm of four that she repeated over and over again.‭ ‬The implications of that act made Liara smile coldly.

Morinth tracked T‭’‬Soni's gaze and saw her finger drumming.‭ ‬Curling her hand tightly,‭ ‬she made a fist to try and make it stop.

‭“‬You‭’‬re hearing it,‭ ‬aren‭’‬t you‭?”‬ Liara taunted.‭ “‬The music‭; ‬it's like a tune that you know you've heard,‭ ‬but can‭’‬t quite remember,‭ ‬and you don‭’‬t know why.‭”‬

“Leave me be,‭ ‬T‭’‬Soni,‭”‬ Morinth hissed.‭ “‬There‭’‬s nothing you have that I cannot take for myself.‭”‬

Liara ignored the challenge.‭ “‬Whatever you know,‭ ‬whatever you might‭ ‬think‭ ‬that you know,‭ ‬Morinth‭…‬ do not,‭ ‬as the humans say,‭ ‬bite off more‭ ‬than you can chew.‭”

Morinth also heard the meaning behind her rival‭’‬s words.‭ “‬You‭’‬ve heard the music from the boy before‭? ‬How‭? ‬Shepard‭…‬?”

“They‭’‬re unaware,‭ ‬or at least Shepard is.‭ ‬I‭’‬ve begun to think that Xander‭’‬s more aware then he lets on,‭ ‬especially after his relationship with Aria T‭’‬Loak.‭”

“I‭’‬d heard the rumors,‭ ‬and not just about what the two of them got up to before he went on the run,‭”‬ Morinth murmured.‭ “‬They say that Aria became so powerful that even the strongest Matriarchs wouldn‭’‬t have been able to stand against her.‭ ‬Was that the boy‭?”

Liara nodded.‭ “‬Morinth,‭ ‬there‭’‬s a reason that Xander Harris and his team were allowed to harass Omega‭’‬s Terminus Systems syndicates for the last two years.‭”‬ Then her gaze hardened,‭ ‬and her voice sharpened with warning.‭ “‬So think long and hard before you throw away everything you have,‭ ‬especially for the promise of something that you couldn‭’‬t possibly understand or even control,‭ ‬let alone possess.‭”

“Why not go to your precious Commander‭?”‬ the renegade sneered.‭ “‬Why not have her kick me off the ship if you think I‭’‬m so dangerous‭?”

“I might have done so two years ago,‭ ‬but I‭’‬ve embraced ruthless self-interest since then,‭”‬ the information broker said coldly,‭ ‬crossing her arms again.‭ “‬You serve a function on this ship,‭ ‬and Shepard will need all the help she can get against the Collectors.‭ ‬Ultimately,‭ ‬she will need that same help against the Reapers.‭ ‬If she sees a value in your presence,‭ ‬then I can endure it.‭”

“How magnanimous of you,‭”‬ Morinth said dryly.

‭“‬Not really,‭”‬ Liara shrugged.‭ “‬If you fight for Shepard and her crew,‭ ‬I get what I want.‭ ‬If you betray her trust and she kills you,‭ ‬I‭ ‬still get what I want.‭ ‬Either way,‭ ‬I win.‭”‬

Morinth smirked.‭ “‬Well‭…‬ NOW you actually sound like a worthy adversary.‭ ‬The‭ ‬game might yet be all the more enjoyable.‭”

“This is no game,‭ ‬ir‭’‬en,‭”‬ Liara snarled.

‭“‬Yes,‭ ‬it is,‭ ‬T‭’‬Soni,‭”‬ the renegade shrugged.‭ “‬Now that I know that you play to win,‭ ‬I intend to enjoy every last gambit.‭”

***

The shuttle shook as Jacob guided it down through Haestrom's atmosphere.

Shepard's communicator buzzed.‭ “‬What is it,‭ ‬Liara‭?”‬ she asked.‭ “‬How're you doing on overwatch‭?”‬

“You can't fool me,‭ ‬Joan,‭ ‬overwatch is just your way of keeping me out of the fighting,‭”‬ her lover chided.‭ "‬As if anything could happen to me with you around.‭"

Xander grimaced.‭ ‬ “No tempting of fate,‭ ‬Doc,‭ ‬please‭?‬”

Shepard ignored‭ ‬him.‭ ‬ “Overwatch is important,‭ ‬Liara.‭ ‬ Besides,‭ ‬the last time I dragged you‭ ‬to a planet with ancient ruins infested with Geth,‭ ‬you almost got that cute blue ass of yours shot off.‭”‬

“That was Ilos,‭ ‬what are the chances something like that could ever happen again‭?”‬

Xander threw up his hands in frustration.‭ “‬Again,‭ ‬you tempt fate‭!‬” he‭ ‬snapped.‭ ‬ “Fate‭…‬ she‭’‬s not good with the tempting.‭ ‬ Tempting annoys her,‭ ‬and Fate‭…‬ she can be a vicious bitch when she's pissed off.‭”

Shepard waved him to silence,‭ ‬much to his irritation.‭ ‬ “So,‭ ‬you're saying that you have no interest in a former Quarian colony world covered in architecture dating back to the height of the Quarian Colonial Period‭ ‬and hasn't been touched in over three hundred years‭?”‬ she teased.‭

Liara thought about lying,‭ ‬but knew that Shepard would hear it in her voice.‭ ‬ “Fine,‭ ‬you win,‭”‬ the former archaeologist grumbled.‭ ‬ “But if you think that I'm going to let this go,‭ ‬then you have another think coming.‭”‬

“Heh,‭ ‬you two already sound married,‭”‬ Xander chuckled.

‭“‬I have weapons,‭ ‬Xander,‭”‬ Shepard reminded him.‭

“Yeah,‭ ‬yeah,‭ ‬I got it.‭ ‬Kids these days,‭ ‬no respect at all‭…”‬ the immortal Scooby groused.

‭“‬All right,‭ ‬people,‭ ‬game faces‭!”‬ Shepard snapped.‭ ‬ “Lawson,‭ ‬the good news,‭ ‬please.‭”

“The radiation from Haestrom's sun will fry your shields,‭”‬ Miranda reminded everyone for the umpteenth time.

‭“‬Meaning‭; ‬stay in cover,‭”‬ Xander recited.‭ ‬ “If your shields drop out in the open,‭ ‬get to cover immediately.‭”

“What if they drop while a Geth Prime's trying to run your sweet ass down during a firefight‭?”‬ Garrus snorted.

‭“‬Then we kiss our sweet asses goodbye,‭”‬ Xander‭ ‬scoffed dryly.

‭“‬So we fight from the shade,‭”‬ Grunt rumbled.‭ “‬But no hiding.‭”

“We really need this much firepower just to rescue little Miss Suit Rat‭?”‬ Zaeed asked.

‭“‬We're splitting into two teams,‭ ‬Mister Massani,‭”‬ Shepard snarled.‭ “…‬and if you call‭ ‬Tali‭ ‬a‭ ‬suit‭ ‬rat again,‭ ‬Zaeed,‭ ‬you and I are going to have a very serious problem.‭”

Zaeed scowled but nodded in understanding,‭ ‬even as Xander thumped her on the shoulder in reproach.‭ ‬They hissed at each other in a quick argument before Shepard rolled her eyes and nodded in agreement,‭ ‬which Xander apparently took as a victory and turned back to his Revenant for one last quick inspection.

Shepard turned to eye Zaeed briefly before nodding at Miranda.‭ ‬ “Lawson,‭ ‬continue.‭”

“Team One will attract the Geth's attention and make as much noise as they can,‭”‬ the genetically-engineered woman nodded.‭ “‬Mister Massani,‭ ‬you'll be joining Grunt,‭ ‬Garrus,‭ ‬Morinth,‭ ‬and Jacob.‭ ‬Shepard's leading the way.‭”

The boys nodded,‭ ‬as Garrus high-fived Shepard.‭ “‬I'm never going to let Tali live this down,‭”‬ the rogue Turian chuckled.‭ ‬ “Rescuing her from a bunch of Geth.‭”

“Yeah,‭ ‬yeah,‭ ‬just remember one thing,‭ ‬Vakarian,‭ ‬we have to survive them,‭ ‬too,‭”‬ Shepard groused good-naturedly,‭ ‬thumping her Turian friend on the back.

Miranda cleared her throat meaningfully.‭ “‬The rest of us will make our way through the ruins,‭ ‬towards the facility that Tali'Zorah seems to be trapped in.‭ ‬We'll be responsible for extracting her.‭”

“What‭?‬!?” Jack sputtered.‭ ‬ “Shepard gets to run and gun and I get stuck creeping around and trying to keep the cheerleader from breaking a nail‭? ‬ That sucks on ice‭!”‬ the convict snarled.

‭“‬I know you're just dying to get your kill on and everything,‭ ‬Jack,‭”‬ the Spectre-Slayer sighed,‭ ‬rolling her eyes,‭ “…‬but if you could try and keep your squad mates alive down there,‭ ‬then that would really help us out a lot in the long run.‭”

“Ma'am,‭ ‬what about the other Quarians‭?”‬ Jacob wanted to know.

‭“‬Our priority is Tali'Zorah,‭ ‬Mister Taylor,‭”‬ Shepard shrugged.‭ “‬Extracting her from that war zone is my primary concern.‭ ‬Everything else is secondary to that.‭”

“Understood,‭ ‬ma'am,‭”‬ the former Corsair grunted,‭ ‬giving her a mutinous glare.

Shepard examined him for a moment and then grimaced slightly.‭ ‬ “We'll be on the ground in a few,‭ ‬so try and stay in radio contact.‭”

She then turned to Miranda and added,‭ “‬You forgot the best part about all this,‭ ‬Lawson.‭”

“Best part‭?”‬ Garrus sighed.‭ ‬ “You mean there's more‭?”

Miranda nodded.‭ ‬ “The original signal that the Illusive Man found and decoded was tight-beamed to a Cerberus listening post near the Perseus Veil.‭”

“Meaning‭…‬ someone wants us down there,‭”‬ Shepard summarized.

‭“‬Wait,‭ ‬I thought Cerberus and the Quarians weren't exactly BFF's,‭”‬ Xander interjected,‭ ‬now confused.‭

“They aren't,‭”‬ Shepard nodded.‭ ‬ “TIMMY says that the original message had a Geth signature,‭ ‬although why the Geth would want us crashing their little party escapes me.‭”

Xander just shook his head.‭ ‬ “Who can know the weird ways of the artificial mind‭? ‬That's why I like dealing with the flesh-and-blood variety.‭ ‬At least,‭ ‬with people,‭ ‬you know where you stand.‭ ‬Machines are all about freaky mechanical logic‭; ‬so unnerving.‭”‬

What he didn't mention was the fact that he had his suspicions about who exactly had sent that signal in the first place.‭ ‬If he was right,‭ ‬then Shepard might just have secured another ally,‭

Tali would freak,‭ ‬but on the upside‭…‬ maybe things would work out.‭ ‬ Maybe they'd all be able to work together for the greater good.

Xander snorted‭ ‬at his own optimism and muttered,‭ "‬…and maybe monkeys‭’‬ll fly out of my ass.‭”‬

Miranda glared at Xander balefully before turning back to Shepard.‭ “‬He seriously helped you stop Saren‭?”‬ she asked,‭ ‬incredulous.

‭“‬You can't analyze him or predict him,‭ ‬and you never see him coming,‭”‬ the Spectre-Slayer shrugged.‭ ‬ “Harris is pretty crazy,‭ ‬Lawson.‭ ‬ Sometimes,‭ ‬crazy's the best way to go.‭”

Miranda snorted.‭ ‬ “I'll take your word for it.‭”

“I'm really feeling the love over here,‭”‬ Xander grumbled.

‭“‬Anything happens to my XO and you'll be feeling more than that,‭ ‬Harris,‭”‬ Shepard snapped,‭ ‬the smile in her eyes betrayed the grim set of her face.

‭“‬I really don't think I need a babysitter,‭ ‬Shepard,‭”‬ the genetically-engineered woman grumbled as she yanked back the slide of her M-9‭ ‬Tempest.

‭“‬You're better off with me than with Jackie-boy,‭”‬ the immortal Scooby shrugged,‭ ‬not looking up from his M-5‭ ‬Phalanx as he activated its newly-installed Heavy Disruptor Ammo mod.

The shuttle settled on the ground with a bump and the team deployed.

Garrus noted Haestrom's fierce sun was already affecting their equipment.‭ “‬Shields taking damage,‭ ‬all right,‭”‬ he called out somewhat unnecessarily.

‭“‬How in the Hell are we supposed to stay out of the bloody sunlight‭?”‬ Zaeed griped as they all ran for a small enclosure nearby.

Shepard checked the door.‭ “‬Someone sealed this‭…‬ Kasumi,‭ ‬can you do anything‭?”

"Hacking a three-hundred year-old door lock‭? ‬Give me a real challenge,‭ ‬why don't you‭?”‬ the hooded thief grinned,‭ ‬collapsing her M-12‭ ‬Locust as she got to work.

She knelt at the door,‭ ‬rewiring ancient components as the door snapped open with a loud hiss.

Kasumi cleared the door before nodding to Zaeed and Garrus.‭ ‬ The two of them moved ahead,‭ ‬searching the shadows for any trouble.

‭“‬Clear‭!”‬ Garrus announced quickly.

Hearing something behind him,‭ ‬Zaeed spun about,‭ ‬his M-8‭ ‬Avenger up and ready.‭ ‬ Then he frowned as he noticed an injured Quarian sitting on the floor.

‭“‬Got wounded over here,‭”‬ he called out gruffly,‭ ‬and booted feet thumped towards his location.

Shepard,‭ ‬first on the scene,‭ ‬squatted and checked the quietly-moaning Quarian.

‭“‬Looks like plasma burns from a Geth pulse rifle.‭”

Xander knelt and retrieved a weapon lying discarded on the floor.‭ ‬He frowned thoughtfully,‭ ‬staring at the weapon closely as it expanded in his hands.‭ ‬ “If I didn't know‭ ‬better,‭ ‬I'd say that we're looking at upgraded weaponry,‭”‬ he observed aloud.

‭“‬Can you make it work‭?”‬ Shepard asked.

‭“‬Shouldn't be too hard,‭ ‬Tali and I got one working last time,‭”‬ he shrugged.‭ ‬ “This one shouldn't be that much more complicated.‭”

“Just make it fast,‭”‬ she snapped before turning back.

‭“‬You've got‭…‬ got to‭…‬ get to Tali'Zorah,‭”‬ the young Marine hissed through his pain.

‭“‬Relax,‭ ‬soldier,‭ ‬who are you‭?”‬ Shepard asked.‭ “‬What are you even doing here‭?”

“Quarian Migrant Fleet Marine‭…‬ Vitir'Nolas‭…‬ my‭ ‬team was assigned to escort Tali'Zorah.‭”

“…into the middle of Geth Space‭?”‬ Shepard snorted.‭ “‬What idiot authorized that op‭?”

The Quarian snorted,‭ ‬his laughter quickly turning to pained coughs.‭ ‬ “Biggest idiots around,‭ ‬of course‭; ‬the Admiralty Board,‭”‬ he said ruefully.‭ ‬ “We were fine at first.‭ ‬ Then the Geth dropped on us,‭ ‬and then they just kept on coming.‭ ‬ Now‭…‬ I'd be happy to just stay alive.‭”

“He took some bad hits,‭”‬ Garrus murmured as his omnitool's medical diagnostic suite spat some data back at him.‭ ‬ “I'd get him someplace safe‭; ‬the sooner,‭ ‬the better.‭”

Massani looked around the room and whistled at the bullet holes scattered amongst scorch marks.‭ ‬ “Kid didn't do that badly,‭”‬ the old mercenary rasped.‭ ‬ “Nailed a few flashlight heads before they got him.‭”

“Wasn't me‭…”‬ Vitir hissed.‭ ‬ “Got sealed in here.‭ ‬ Geth banging on the door‭…‬ they finally got in‭…‬ and then‭…‬ then someone took them out‭…‬ all of them.‭”

Thane knelt down,‭ ‬examining the dead Geth for himself.‭ ‬ “Interesting‭…”‬ he rumbled in his frog-like voice.‭ ‬ “Each shot is perfect,‭ ‬all of them.‭ ‬ I'm humble enough to say that whoever did this is as‭ ‬much an expert as myself.‭”

Garrus looked over the Drell's shoulder,‭ ‬noticing the perfect center-mass shots on each of the Geth bodies.‭ ‬This wasn't a case of tight grouping‭; ‬his visor's VI was telling him that each sniper shot had hit the exact same spot.‭ ‬ “He's right,‭ ‬Shepard.‭ ‬ Each shot was a fatal dead-center hit.‭”

“Makes sense to me,‭”‬ Shepard shrugged.‭ ‬ “If the Quarians sent in a Marine squad,‭ ‬I'd assume that at least one was a capable sniper.‭”

“Maybe,‭”‬ Vitir grimaced behind his mask.‭ ‬ “But‭…‬ I don't know‭…‬ I was already injured‭…‬ delirious from the pain and antibiotics‭…‬ maybe I was seeing things,‭ ‬but‭…‬ I could've sworn‭…”‬ he trailed off a bit,‭ ‬coughing,‭ ‬before adding,‭ “‬I caught a glimpse of the‭ ‬shooter‭…‬ it looked like‭…‬ like another Geth.‭”

Garrus just shook his head,‭ ‬writing the young Quarian off as delirious.‭ “‬Geth firing on each other makes no sense at all.‭”

Xander,‭ ‬on the other hand,‭ ‬wasn't as convinced.‭ ‬ “Maybe the Marine squad managed to hack a Geth,‭”‬ he postulated.‭ ‬ “Assuming that the hack didn't blow the damn thing up,‭ ‬they'll sometimes turn on allied units.‭”

Shepard nodded.‭ ‬ “Tali pulled that trick a few times,‭”‬ she‭ ‬observed.‭ ‬ “Vitir,‭ ‬I'm leaving you with some more medi-gel.‭ ‬ When you're strong enough,‭ ‬head up the ramp outside to the shuttle and take cover inside.‭”

“Understood,‭”‬ he grimaced.‭ “‬Are you going after the rest of them‭?”

“I came here to save Tali,‭ ‬but if that means extracting your whole squad‭…‬ well,‭ ‬that's what we'll have to do,‭”‬ she replied grimly.

‭“‬Understood‭…‬ Tali'Zorah's lucky to have such a good friend.‭”

“Gotcha,‭ ‬ya little bastard‭!”‬ Xander yelled suddenly,‭ ‬startling everyone there as the Geth pulse rifle in his hands lit up with a newly-installed Inferno Rounds ammo mod.

‭“‬I take that outburst to mean that you've successfully got that pulse rifle working,‭”‬ Shepard observed,‭ ‬grinning at her best friend.

‭“‬Works even better than the one we gave to Tali,‭”‬ he shrugged,‭ ‬tossing the‭ ‬weapon to her.‭ ‬Testing the weight and looking down its sights,‭ ‬she smiled in satisfaction as she tossed it back to him.

‭“‬Make sure that Jacob gets the specs so we can duplicate them.‭”

“You'll let me know when the Geth make a decent sniper rifle‭?”‬ Garrus pleaded.

‭“‬What,‭ ‬and drag you away from your precious M-92‭ ‬Mantis‭?”‬ Xander snickered,‭ ‬tossing‭ ‬his Revenant to Morinth.‭ ‬She caught‭ ‬the modified assault rifle easily,‭ ‬glaring at him as he laughed her off.

Shepard just shook her head.‭ “‬Okay,‭ ‬here's where we split up,‭ ‬people.‭ ‬Miranda,‭ ‬take your team into the ruins.‭ ‬The rest of you,‭ ‬we're taking the high road.‭”

***

Geth interaction platform‭ ‬2A93‭ ‬peered through the scope of its sniper rifle,‭ ‬watching with interest as Shepard-Commander's specialist taskforce separated into two teams and headed further into the ruins.

Its top-most brow plates flexed as it opened its communications arrays.‭ ‬Accessing‭ ‬the local heretic communications network,‭ ‬it noted that Shepard-Commander,‭ Harris‬Xander,‭ ‬and the rest of the‭ ‬Normandy task force had‭ ‬yet to encounter a noticeable concentration of heretic forces.

The heretics were too occupied with hunting down the local Creator‭ ‬taskforce and were still largely unaware of the intruders.

The odds of Shepard-Commander and‭ ‬HarrisXander reaching the Creators in time,‭ ‬were too random to determine mathematically.‭

Consensus‭ ‬reached.

Establishing communication with Shepard-Commander‭ ‬may have been the priority task,‭ ‬but‭ ‬established scenarios indicated‭ ‬that‭ ‬HarrisXander would‭ ‬require more immediate assistance.‭
Trailing‭ ‬HarrisXander‭ ‬would‭ ‬most‭ ‬likely‭ ‬turn out‭ ‬be the optimal course of action towards achieving mission goals.
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