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
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.
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.