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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)BHRamsayFR1864310,83930384133,14716 Jan 1226 Sep 13No

Horizon (3)


AN‭ ‬--‭ ‬Thanks to Reikson and Drakpendragon‭


As‭ ‬Harbinger‭’‬s‭ ‬hand burst into flame,‭ ‬Shepard began to scream.

8
9
8

Shepard started as she opened her eyes.‭

She was sitting‭ ‬before a roaring bonfire.

As she looked across the flames,‭ ‬she saw‭ ‬HER.‭

The First Slayer.

Her painted face,‭ ‬a mask that seemed so different‭…‬ so feral‭…

More primitive‭…‬ and yet,‭ ‬it was all so familiar.‭

She felt a burning pain and looked down at her hands and arms,‭ ‬where‭ ‬strange silvery tattoos were‭ ‬slowly‭ ‬working their way up‭ ‬to‭ ‬her‭ ‬fingers.‭

The tattoos looked strange‭…‬ almost like‭…‬ circuitry.‭

She panicked,‭ ‬flailing her arms‭ ‬about and‭ ‬trying to stop the creeping spread of the odd tattoos.‭

“What‭’‬s happening to me‭?‬!?” she demanded.

‭“‬Strong will,‭ ‬this‭ ‬Ancient Scourge‭…‬” the First Slayer growled.‭ ‬ “Yours must be stronger.‭”‬

The primitive reached a hand through the flames,‭ ‬seemingly feeling no pain.‭

The demand was obvious.

Shepard didn‭’‬t want to,‭ ‬unwilling to be burned by the bonfire.

‭“‬Soul-eater‭…‬ sharing pain‭…”‬ the painted face seemed amused at her reticence.‭ ‬What‭’‬s so funny‭?

“It‭’‬ll be‭…‬ reborn,‭”‬ the figure observes.‭ ‬ “A slave.‭”

“The soul eater‭?‬” Joan whispered.‭ ‬ “Morinth‭…‬ she‭’‬s being indoctrinated,‭ ‬converted.‭”

The First Slayer nodded and gestured‭ ‬again,‭ ‬waiting for Joan‭’‬s hands.‭

“I‭’‬ll be burned‭…‬ it‭’‬ll hurt,‭”‬ Joan whispered,‭ ‬vaguely feeling like a little girl again.

‭“‬The‭ ‬heart and soul of‭ ‬your enemy‭’‬s power is their ability to control,‭”‬ the young woman observes,‭ ‬her lips peeling into a sneer.‭ ‬ “To resist this corruption,‭ ‬you must be stronger.‭”

“Will I be safe from them‭?‬”

She frowns somewhat,‭ ‬as a bespectacled bald man in a shabby and outdated suit‭ ‬suddenly‭ ‬thrust a plate of cheese slices into her field of vision.‭ ‬Shepard barely kept herself from killing him,‭ ‬somehow knowing it wouldn‭’‬t work.‭

Finally,‭ ‬Sineya said,‭ ‬“In time.‭”

Any relief that Shepard might have felt was derailed quickly.‭ ‬ “But understand‭;‬ once they learn that you cannot hear their call,‭ ‬they will come.‭ ‬ No mercy will be the rule.‭”‬

“What about Morinth‭?‬” Joan asked.‭ ‬“Is there a way to save her‭?‬”

“You truly wish to save‭ ‬it‭?”‬ the primitive seemed incredulous‭ ‬as the cheese-man bit into a grilled-cheese sandwich right in front of her.

Great‭; ‬now she was hungry and‭ ‬confused.‭ ‬ “Of course I‭ ‬do,‭ ‬she‭’‬s‭…‬ she my crew.‭”

“It is like the undying,‭”‬ the‭ ‬First Slayer was‭ ‬angry now.‭ ‬ Why‭?‬ “It consumes life as‭ ‬they do.‭ ‬Not worth saving.‭”

“She‭’‬s helping me fight,‭”‬ Joan‭ ‬said quietly.‭ ‬ “That‭’‬s more than I can say about a lot of my so-called allies.‭”

Sineya scowled at Shepard,‭ ‬unhappy with her.‭ ‬“If you would save the soul eater,‭ ‬then you must guide‭ ‬it to that which‭ ‬it seeks.‭”‬

“What‭’‬s she looking for‭?‬”

“Do you not know‭?‬” When she shook her head,‭ ‬the primitive‭ ‬scoffed in irritation.‭ ‬ “Ask‭ ‬yourself,‭ ‬if‭ ‬it means so much to you.‭ ‬ Help‭ ‬it find what‭ ‬it‭’‬s looking for,‭ ‬and‭ ‬it will help you find the victory you seek.‭”‬

Then‭ ‬the First Slayer‭ ‬turned towards a cave‭ ‬that‭ ‬Joan hadn‭’‬t noticed‭ ‬until that moment.‭

Its inky‭ ‬depths held‭ ‬a pair of glowing orbs that‭ ‬seemed to‭ ‬burn with‭ ‬a‭ ‬cold fire.‭

“What‭’‬s in there‭?‬” Joan asked.‭

“A‭ ‬gift‭ ‬that‭ ‬you placed‭ ‬there,‭”‬ the‭ ‬primitive noted blithely.

Still eating his sandwich,‭ ‬the‭ ‬cheese-man added,‭ ‬“The‭ ‬cheese won‭’‬t‭ ‬look for you.‭ ‬ You‭ ‬will‭ ‬look for‭ ‬it.‭”

Shepard drew away from the cave.‭ ‬ “No‭…‬ I don‭’‬t want that‭…‬ not anymore.‭”

“Unimportant,‭”‬ another voice interjected,‭ ‬in a language that she didn‭’‬t know but could still somehow understand.‭ ‬ Quickly turning about,‭ ‬she found herself staring at three African men wearing desert garb in various colors‭; ‬red,‭ ‬tan,‭ ‬and‭ ‬dark-blue.

She had no idea who they were supposed to be,‭ ‬but something about them sparked an instinctive hatred in her.‭ ‬

“As long as it is a part of you,‭”‬ the‭ ‬tan-garbed man said,‭ ‬in the language that she didn‭’‬t have a hope in Hell of identifying but could still understand as though it was English,‭ ‬“…you will always seek it out eventually.‭”

The blue-cloaked‭ ‬man added,‭ ‬“We cannot offer you knowledge‭;‬ only power.‭ ‬Beasts we are,‭ ‬lest beasts we become.‭”‬

Shepard looked down at her arms and saw the tattoos were now creeping past her elbows.

‭“‬The mark of this scourge will‭ ‬soon‭ ‬cover you‭ ‬entirely,‭”‬ the red-garbed man‭ ‬noted.‭ ‬

“If you do not act,‭”‬ the tan-cloaked man added,‭ ‬“…you will be lost to their corruption.‭”

Shepard reached out and‭ ‬felt‭ ‬the First Slayer sliding a hand into hers,‭ ‬as she felt the sizzling of her flesh.‭

“Their will is strong,‭”‬ the blue-cloaked man‭ ‬observed.‭ ‬ “But‭ ‬yours‭ ‬MUST be stronger.‭”‬

With that,‭ ‬the First Slayer‭’‬s grip on Joan‭’‬s hand suddenly became a vise,‭ ‬and‭ ‬she‭ ‬pulled.

She screamed,‭ ‬suddenly‭ ‬IN the flames as it burned away her clothes and hard suit.

Fire licked at her body,‭ ‬searing into her flesh as she‭ ‬belatedly‭ ‬noticed‭ ‬that the‭ ‬circuit-like‭ ‬tattoos‭ ‬had‭ ‬covered her completely and‭ ‬were‭ ‬now reaching‭ ‬for her head.‭ ‬But‭ ‬the flame‭ ‬halted them,‭ ‬forcing it into retreat.‭

“Their will is strong,‭ ‬my child,‭”‬ the First Slayer said finally.‭ ‬Her voice was‭…‬ soft,‭ ‬almost maternal.‭ ‬“…but yours‭ ‬MUST be stronger.‭”‬

As the inferno burned her alive,‭ ‬driving‭ ‬the Reaper‭’‬s corruption‭ ‬from her body,‭ ‬Joan Lisbon Shepard screamed as the pain threatened to destroy her.

8
9
8

Shepard woke and found herself still in the grip of Harbinger,‭ ‬who‭ ‬was still‭ ‬holding Shepard aloft.‭ ‬“Your strength has grown.‭ ‬ But we should not be at odds,‭ ‬Life-Ender.‭”

“You think that stealing humans in the night makes us alike‭? ‬Are you delusional or just insane‭?‬”

You do not yet comprehend our place in the greater design,‭”‬ the possessed Collector sneered.‭ ‬At her blank expression of confusion,‭ ‬its eyes narrowed in an apparent scowl as it added,‭ ‬“Nor your own,‭ ‬it would seem.‭

“You want our people,‭ ‬for reasons that I have yet to discover and honestly couldn‭’‬t care less about,‭”‬ the Spectre snarled,‭ ‬barely able to keep her anger in check.‭ ‬“I‭’‬m going to stop you,‭ ‬no matter what the cost.‭ ‬That seems simple enough for me.‭”

Harbinger pulled her closer,‭ ‬as if examining her.‭ ‬“Your resistance is typical of those tainted by the Great Abominations.‭ ‬Your corruption is proof enough that the cycles and the harvest MUST continue.‭”

Grabbing the Collector‭’‬s wrist with a free hand,‭ ‬Shepard raised her fist and made to stab it with an omni-blade again.‭ ‬But Harbinger reached out and grabbed her arm,‭ ‬holding the weapon at bay quite effortlessly.

‭“‬…and now you stand alone,‭ ‬Shepard.‭”‬ It seemed smug.‭ ‬“How can you hope to defeat us‭?‬

Another blade rammed itself into the Collector‭’‬s chest,‭ ‬as Xander‭’‬s face appeared over its shoulder.‭ ‬“Maybe something us humans like to call cheating‭!‬” the immortal Scooby hissed.‭

This form is redundant.‭”‬ Harbinger growled,‭ ‬letting its Collector form disintegrate.

Shepard dropped to the ground,‭ ‬coughing a few times.

‭“‬Took your sweet time with the rest of those Collectors,‭ ‬Harris,‭”‬ she croaked.‭ ‬“Losing a step in your old age‭?‬”

“Could be,‭”‬ he said snidely,‭ ‬no bite to his words.‭ ‬“I suddenly‭ ‬can‭’‬t remember whose ass I just saved.‭”

“Fine,‭ ‬fine,‭”‬ she shrugged.‭ ‬“I‭’‬ll just add it to your tab.‭ ‬That‭’‬s only‭…‬ what,‭ ‬three you owe me now‭? ‬No,‭ ‬four.‭”

“Oh,‭ ‬I see‭; ‬keeping track now,‭ ‬are we‭?‬” he growled lightly.‭ ‬“In that case,‭ ‬pulling your girlfriend‭’‬s ass out of the fire should be counted a few times over.‭”

“Liara‭?‬” she snorted.‭ ‬“She‭’‬s quite capable of saving her own ass,‭ ‬thank you very much.‭”

Mordin chuckled with delight as he poked and prodded at something behind them,‭ ‬scanning it with his omnitool.‭

“Whatcha got over there,‭ ‬Doc‭?‬” Shepard asked.‭

“Live specimen.‭ ‬Not quite dead yet.‭”

Xander and Shepard‭ ‬turned to look at each other,‭ ‬realization dawning on them even as the injured Collector suddenly burst into flame.‭

I am infinite‭; ‬you are bacteria.‭ ‬ Salarian‭;‬ your fragile genetic structure and insufficient lifespan are unimportant to me.‭”‬ Harbinger thundered as it batted the old Salarian aside.‭

Harbinger charged at Shepard,‭ ‬who dropped to the ground in a roll to the right and came up with her Mattock firing slugs stamped with Bose-Einstein condensate.

Xander rolled left,‭ ‬slapping a thermal clip into his Revenant and blasting high-explosive death at Harbinger.‭ ‬It barely blinked as shot after shot climbed inexorably up its fiery form.‭

Your attacks are as primitive as they are useless,‭”‬ it thundered,‭ ‬firing a fiery Warp at the immortal Scooby and hurling his body back by the force of the explosive impact.‭

Greenish-gold fire exploded as Xander‭’‬s body hit a fusion-power cell and the scorching heat of the blast arced over his armor and flesh.‭

He screamed in helpless pain.‭

Grunt snarled and charged Harbinger,‭ ‬actually crashing into the creature‭’‬s fiery form and throwing it to the ground.‭ ‬Seizing the opportunity,‭ ‬he jammed his Claymore up against its body and fired at point-blank range.‭

The weapon‭’‬s distinctive clanking roar clapped as Harbinger‭’‬s proxy body was torn in half at the waist.‭ ‬It rasped,‭ ‬“I will find you again,‭”‬ as it disintegrated.‭ ‬ But Shepard was already up and moving,‭ ‬gathering Xander up and carrying him in her arms.‭

“Garrus,‭ ‬we need a safe zone‭!‬”

“I saw what looked like a bunker nearby,‭ ‬but they were on us before I could check it out.‭”

“Get us in there‭!‬” Shepard snapped‭

Zaeed moved in beside her and fumbled with a medi-gel injector from his field pack.‭

Without waiting to be asked,‭ ‬he jabbed it into Xander‭’‬s body.‭

“It‭’‬ll kill the pain,‭”‬ the old man grated.‭ ‬“Just‭ ‬‘cuz he‭’‬s a goner don‭’‬t mean he‭’‬d want to spend his last Goddamn minutes screamin‭’‬ his arse off.‭”

The squad ran for the dubious safety of the bunker,‭ ‬which turned out to have its door jammed shut somehow.‭ ‬Mordin,‭ ‬Thane,‭ ‬and Morinth had beaten them there,‭ ‬with Thane standing watch as Mordin continued to examine Morinth‭’‬s unconscious form.

Garrus fiddled with the door‭’‬s lock for a minute before Shepard‭’‬s frustration peaked and she pushed Xander into Zaeed‭’‬s arms for a moment.‭

“Door‭’‬s problem isn‭’‬t just cyber,‭ ‬it‭’‬s also physical.‭”‬ Garrus reported.‭

Shepard nodded,‭ ‬grabbing the door‭’‬s crevices and pulling hard.‭ ‬A loud groan of warping metal could be heard amidst her muffled roar of effort before she seized all of her mystic strength and wrenched the door open,‭ ‬feeling the power of her predecessors flowing easily though her body.‭

The door groaned in‭ ‬protest,‭ ‬but eventually gave into her power and slid open.

She reached back to Zaeed,‭ ‬taking the burden of Xander‭’‬s body from him and carrying him into the shelter.‭

“What the Hell‭’‬s going on,‭ ‬Shepard‭?!?‬” Jack finally exploded.‭ ‬“What was that all about‭?‬!?”

“That was the Collectors,‭ ‬Jack,‭”‬ the Spectre-Slayer snapped.‭ ‬“You knew that the job was dangerous when you signed on.‭ ‬You really think that the Illusive Man sank a few billion creds into this mission just so you could talk smack to mercs and thugs‭? ‬No,‭ ‬this is what we‭’‬re really supposed be fighting.‭ ‬They‭’‬re the real enemy.‭”

Mordin was kneeling down to try and treat Xander,‭ ‬when Shepard caught sight of what he was doing.

‭“‬Doctor,‭ ‬Morinth‭’‬s in greater need,‭”‬ she said quietly.‭ ‬“If you could attend to her,‭ ‬Mister Harris will either be fine or he won‭’‬t‭; ‬either way,‭ ‬Morinth needs your expertise.‭”

“Sorry‭; ‬thought you‭’‬d want me to-‭”

“Xander‭’‬s a friend,‭ ‬but he‭’‬s also a friend who understands that we‭’‬re on a mission,‭”‬ she interrupted him quietly.‭ ‬“That mission needs your genius deployed for an entirely different purpose right this second.‭ ‬I need to know what Harbinger did to Morinth.‭”

“Of course‭; ‬will begin examination,‭”‬ the old scientist‭ ‬nodded.

‭“‬Shepard,‭ ‬are you all right‭?‬” Miranda asked,‭ ‬noticing the Spectre running her fingers through her dreadlocks.

‭“‬I‭’‬ll be fine,‭ ‬I‭’‬m just‭…‬” Shepard groped for an explanation.‭ ‬“I‭’‬m trying to wrap my head around the idea of what we‭’‬re dealing with.‭”

“Mister Harris-‭”

“Oh,‭ ‬now you‭’‬re concerned‭? ‬I know that you‭’‬ve been pissed with him since Haestrom,‭ ‬God only knows why.‭ ‬He saved your life,‭ ‬after all.‭”

“How,‭ ‬though‭? ‬How did he save my life‭? ‬How did Rosenberg wipe out a room filled with enemies with‭ ‬a wave of her hand‭? ‬These people have secrets,‭ ‬Shepard.‭ ‬On a mission like this,‭ ‬secrets are dangerous.‭”

Xander groaned on the floor and Shepard looked down at his prone,‭ ‬sweating form.‭

“He‭’‬s on fire right now.‭”‬ Shepard changed the subject.‭ ‬“Not just‭ ‬on the outside,‭ ‬but inside as well.‭ ‬The fusion gas and that weird biotic energy are burning him up both ways.‭ ‬He‭’‬ll spend the rest of a very short life burning to crisp and feel every second of it.‭”

“I know.‭”‬ Miranda fretted.‭ ‬“Maybe there‭’‬s something we can do‭?‬”

“I know what I can do,‭ ‬but the consequences‭…‬ there are always consequences.‭”

“Look,‭ ‬if it bothers you,‭ ‬I can take care of it.‭ ‬I‭’‬ll make it quick.‭”‬ Zaeed offered gruffly.

‭“‬Haven‭’‬t you heard,‭ ‬Massani‭?‬” Shepard replied grimly,‭ ‬“I‭’‬m the Butcher of Torfan‭; ‬I‭ ‬don‭’‬t have a problem doing what has to be done.‭ ‬For the good of the mission,‭ ‬I have to do this‭…‬”

She dropped to the floor,‭ ‬kneeling by his gasping form.‭ ‬“Xander,‭ ‬listen to me.‭ ‬You‭’‬re hurt badly,‭ ‬but the Collectors are moving.‭ ‬Every minute we sit here,‭ ‬they take someone else,‭ ‬so you know what I have to do,‭ ‬right‭?‬”

Xander looked up at her before nodded quickly.‭ ‬Shepard took her M-6‭ ‬Carnifex in hand and jammed its muzzle tightly against his chest.‭

“I‭’‬ll see you in a little while,‭”‬ she‭ ‬whispered.‭

Jack couldn‭’‬t help it,‭ ‬she flinched and looked away as the gun went off and Xander‭’‬s form slacked in death.

Shepard shook her head and stood up.‭ ‬“Everyone,‭ ‬you‭’‬re about to see something extraordinary.‭ ‬I shouldn‭’‬t have to mention that this is‭ ‬not to be discussed with anyone outside the ground team.‭”‬

“Discuss what‭?‬” Zaeed grumped.‭ ‬“Kid was dying,‭ ‬you did the right thing.‭”‬

“Indeed.‭ ‬Harsh but true.‭”‬ Thane agreed.

‭“‬Wait for it,‭”‬ Garrus muttered,‭ ‬drawing curious glances.

Shepard saw it first.‭ ‬The odd effect of Xander‭’‬s wounds closing at visible speeds,‭ ‬his flesh knitting itself back together,‭ ‬the bruises fading‭…

“What the fuck‭?‬” Jack whispered.‭

“Extraordinary,‭”‬ Mordin observed aloud.‭ ‬“Some form of acute healing factor‭? ‬No,‭ ‬would not function postmortem.‭ ‬Genetic anomaly‭? ‬No,‭ ‬would be attendant physiological markers-‭”

Xander suddenly jackknifed into the air,‭ ‬green smoke and fire‭ ‬spilling from his mouth‭ ‬amidst a roaring gasp‭ ‬as he began coughing violently.

‭“‬You shot me‭?‬” he asked her.‭ ‬As she quirked an eyebrow at him,‭ ‬he absently rubbed his chest.‭ ‬“In the chest‭?‬”

“You always complain about how much you hate waking up with a headache,‭”‬ she shrugged blithely.‭ ‬“If not the head,‭ ‬then it had to be the heart.‭”

Xander shook his head,‭ ‬slowly staggering to his feet before he noticed the amazed looks from those members of the squad who‭’‬d never seen him resurrect himself before.‭

“Weren‭’‬t you dead a minute ago‭?‬” Jack asked.

‭“‬That happens to me from time to time,‭ ‬you‭’‬ll get used to it,‭”‬ he shrugged.

‭“‬Question,‭”‬ Mordin began,‭ ‬always the scientist.‭ ‬“How have you managed to avoid mutagenic side effects-‭”‬

“Excuse me‭?‬” Xander interrupted wryly.

‭“‬Body naturally evolves,‭ ‬damage to body causes evolution to account for damage and thus be able to eventually counteract,‭”‬ the aging savant-scientist explained,‭ ‬his omnitool already active.‭ ‬“Damage skin when working with hands,‭ ‬so skin toughens.‭ ‬Damage eyes when operating in bright light or in shadow‭; ‬eyes will adjust to environment to compensate.‭ ‬Your reaction indicates that you‭’‬ve died of burns before‭; ‬why is your body still not resistant to radiation or thermal extremes‭?‬”

“Short answer‭;‬ I don‭’‬t know,‭”‬ the immortal Scooby shrugged.‭ ‬ “Long answer‭;‬ my body resets itself to a specific point every time I get hurt or killed,‭ ‬but it‭’‬s not complete.‭”

Even Shepard and Garrus turned to stare at him.‭ ‬“I lost my eye a couple of years before I found myself able to resurrect.‭ ‬I grew it back when I got this ability,‭ ‬but a lot of the scars that I picked up in my life beforehand are still there.‭”

Jack slowly approached him,‭ ‬prodding at him with a finger.‭ ‬“That‭’‬s fucked up,‭ ‬Harris.‭ ‬You can do that and you‭’‬re running around playing boyscout to the Queen Bitch of the galaxy‭?‬”

“I‭’‬m touched.‭”‬ Shepard snorted.

Xander just shrugged.‭ ‬“I like what I do.‭”

“But I‭’‬ve seen you take hits before.‭”

“It still hurts,‭ ‬I just heal quickly,‭”‬ he shrugged.‭ ‬“I mean,‭ ‬just because you hit like a girl-‭”

Whatever profundity Xander might have offered was lost as Jack snapped her knee up between Xander‭’‬s legs,‭ ‬making him crumple to the ground with a choked-off groan.‭

Jack looked down at his huddled form and nodded with satisfaction.‭ ‬“Human enough for me.‭ ‬I‭’‬m cool with it.‭”

Zaeed only snorted.‭ ‬“Had that one coming.‭”

Shepard stood over her wincing friend,‭ ‬shaking her head.‭ ‬“Come on,‭ ‬soldier.‭ ‬At least tell me she used some biotics there.‭ ‬Let me at least have a little sympathy for you,‭”‬ she razzed him gently.

‭“‬Nope,‭”‬ Xander wheezed.‭ ‬“No,‭ ‬that was just a simple nutshot,‭ ‬just the way God made it.‭”

“Well,‭ ‬Hell hath no fury and all that,‭”‬ she chuckled.‭ ‬“You of all people should know that.‭”

It fell to Garrus to help Xander back to his feet,‭ ‬and he didn‭’‬t bother trying to hide his snickering,

‭“‬So that‭’‬s how he survived all this time,‭”‬ Simone whispered.‭ ‬ “Immortality.‭”

“Except‭ ‬HE didn‭’‬t steal a body,‭”‬ a strangely-familiar voice said snidely.‭ ‬ “He‭’‬s earned the power‭ ‬that‭ ‬he was given.‭”‬ Twitching,‭ ‬she spun around but saw no one behind her.‭

No,‭ ‬wait‭…‬

There.‭ ‬ In the corner,‭ ‬in the shadows‭…

Was that‭…‬ her cousin‭? ‬ Yes‭…‬ and she was‭ ‬glaring at her.

‭“‬Hey,‭ ‬farm‭ ‬girl,‭ ‬what the‭ ‬fuck are‭ ‬you looking at‭?‬” Jack‭ ‬called out to her.

‭“‬I‭…‬ I thought I saw someone in the shadows.‭”‬ Simone‭ ‬said vaguely.‭ ‬ When‭ ‬she‭ ‬looked‭ ‬again,‭ ‬the young girl was gone.‭

Jack peered into the shadows and then‭ ‬rolled her eyes.‭ ‬ “Great.‭ ‬ Miss Mouthy Farm-Girl‭’‬s cracking up.‭”

“I‭’‬m not cracking up‭!‬” Simone snarled‭ ‬instinctively.

Shepard looked at her speculatively.‭

“I‭’‬m telling you,‭ ‬I‭’‬m fine.‭”‬ Simone insisted,‭ ‬trying to ignore her cousin‭’‬s accusing glare.‭ ‬ It was clear nobody but Simone could see the displaced spirit.‭

The Spectre finally shrugged‭ ‬and turned‭ ‬to‭ ‬the rest of her ground team.‭ ‬“All right,‭ ‬people,‭ ‬show‭’‬s‭ ‬over.‭ ‬Mordin,‭ ‬how‭’‬s Morinth‭?‬”

“Ardat-Yakshi physiology experiencing odd mutations of some kind,‭”‬ the old Salarian reported,‭ ‬his omnitool displaying an image of an Asari body that was flashing red in various areas.‭ ‬“Detecting presence of nanites using her adrenal response to travel through her bloodstream with great speeds.‭ ‬Intended effects of Reaper nanites unknown thus far.‭”

“They‭’‬re trying to make her into an Asari version of a‭ ‬Husk.‭”‬ Shepard speculated.‭

A few more scans,‭ ‬and Mordin nodded.‭ ‬“Supposition supported by available evidence.‭”

“Can Xander help her‭?‬” Miranda asked carefully.‭

“Who,‭ ‬me‭?‬” Xander snorted,‭ ‬having‭ ‬recovered from Jack‭’‬s nutshot.‭ ‬“I‭’‬m no expert in Asari physiology.‭ ‬Hell,‭ ‬I barely understand how human beings work and I‭’‬ve been one for over two-hundred years now.‭”

“But‭…‬ you did something to me on Haestrom,‭”‬ she pointed out,‭ ‬unwilling to reveal that he‭’‬d‭ ‬somehow cured her sterility.

‭“‬Haestrom‭?‬” he rasped.‭ ‬“All I did was slather a little medigel on your insides.‭ ‬Why‭?‬”

The genetically-engineered woman frowned‭ ‬ever-so slightly as she gave Xander another assessing glare,‭ ‬making him shift uneasily.‭ ‬Finally,‭ ‬she saw the truth‭; ‬he didn‭’‬t know what he‭’‬d done for her,‭ ‬and barely understand what had been done‭ ‬TO him.‭

Giving up,‭ ‬she said finally,‭ ‬“It‭’‬s nothing.‭”

“No,‭ ‬it‭’‬s not,‭ ‬Miranda.‭”‬ Shepard interjected.‭ ‬“If something‭’‬s happened to you that might affect the mission,‭ ‬then we need to know about it post-haste.‭”

“Assuming we live long enough to get out of this room‭?‬” Miranda asked dryly.‭ ‬“You can be damn sure that I‭’‬ll explain everything back on the‭ ‬Normandy.‭ ‬But right now,‭ ‬we need to focus on the Collectors.‭”‬

The Spectre nodded.‭ ‬“Fair enough.‭ ‬Simone,‭ ‬does this colony have any defenses‭?‬”

“I‭’‬d settle for a way to call the damn cavalry,‭”‬ Xander groaned,‭ ‬popping his neck.

‭“‬Well,‭ ‬there‭ ‬are the colony defense towers‭…‬”

“Say what‭?‬”

“Yeah,‭ ‬we‭’‬ve got a full GARDIAN suite scattered throughout the colony,‭ ‬plus a few defensive mass-accelerator cannon turrets,‭”‬ the farm-girl Slayer shrugged.‭ ‬“Some Alliance rep named Ashley Williams has been here for a while,‭ ‬trying to install them successfully.‭ ‬I heard her say something about the calibration systems being screwed up,‭ ‬plus there‭’‬s supposedly some nonsense with the power generators.‭”‬

“Garrus‭? ‬Up to calibrating a‭ ‬giant gun‭?‬” Shepard smirked.

The renegade Turian chuckled.‭ ‬“Please,‭ ‬Shepard,‭ ‬I‭’‬m insulted that you think you‭’‬d have to ask.‭”

“But I‭’‬m guessing that the Collectors won‭’‬t sit around while you do your regular thing.‭”‬

“Yeah,‭ ‬but static defenses are a snap compared to calibrating a weapon for the‭ ‬Normandy,‭”‬ he shrugged.‭ ‬“Just get me to that control panel and I should be able to fix the targeting systems.‭”

“What about the power systems‭?‬” Xander asked.

‭“‬Simone,‭ ‬how are they powering the guns anyway‭?‬”

“We built this massive underground generator just to make it work.‭”

“How massive‭?‬” Xander groaned,‭ ‬already dreading her answer.‭

“Huge.‭ ‬When the thing‭’‬s powered up,‭ ‬the noise can be heard all over the colony.‭”

Garrus sighed.‭ ‬“…and I‭’‬m hearing a decided lack of engine noise.‭”

“Great,‭”‬ Xander muttered.‭ ‬“So we‭’‬ll have to do a cold restart,‭ ‬and that means hanging around until the guns have enough power to actually start shooting.‭”

“Our objectives are clear,‭ ‬then,‭”‬ Shepard nodded.‭ ‬“Garrus,‭ ‬Zaeed,‭ ‬Jack,‭ ‬Miranda,‭ ‬Xander,‭ ‬you‭’‬re with me.‭ ‬The rest of you,‭ ‬hold this position until we signal for help.‭ ‬Mordin,‭ ‬do what you can for Morinth.‭”

They all nodded as Shepard turned back to Simone.‭ ‬“Lead the way.‭”

The farm-girl Slayer nodded eagerly,‭ ‬expanding her‭ ‬stolen Collector weapon.‭ ‬“Awesome.‭”‬
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