Fight for the Lost

By LuxDragon

Scifi / Action

The Prodigal

Location: Crescent Nebula, Tasale System, Illium, Nos Astra, Normandy SR-2

Shepard walked into the hangar to see half of his crew and several Cerberus workers working on the Normandy. They were on top, the sides, and underneath her. Sparks were flying everywhere as everyone started removing the old armor.

Seeing Jacob, Shepard moved behind him and tapped him on the shoulder. "Any problems?"

Jacob turned around and tapped a few more commands into the holopad he was holding. "Did a full sweep and found a few bugs. We did a secondary sweep to see if we missed anything more the first time. I got another team doing a third sweep, just in case."

Shepard nodded as he looked over the work being done on his frigate.

"The armor came in about 10 minutes after you left. We started right away," Jacob said over the noise. "Garrus' people haven't arrived yet, so only the armor is being done for now."

They both had to move when a crane was lifting parts of the old ablative armor dropped its load nearby.

"I let Tali go into Nos Astra. I hope you don't mind," Jacob said.

"I bumped into her. It's fine. She's chatting with a new friend of hers now."

Jacob nodded before shouting at one of the workers to be careful. "By the way, have you seen Miranda?" he asked.

Shepard shook his head in the negative. "What's up?"

"The doc wanted some upgrades for the Med Bay. Since she isn't answering her com, I authorized it. I just thought that I should've cleared it with her first. It's pretty pricey."

Something about that statement tickled Shepard's memory, but the details eluded him for the moment. Looking around, he spotted Grunt and Jack sitting outside in different areas the hangar, rather than in their comfort zones inside the Normandy. Unsurprisingly, they were given a wide berth by various people working around them. "Is it safe to go inside or should we consider booking an entire hotel?" he asked.

"You didn't know?" Jacob asked. When Shepard turned to look at him questioningly, he elaborated. "Miranda has it all set up. We all got a place to stay while we're here. We're removing the ablative armor first, but once we start welding the Silaris Armor on…" Jacob explained.

"We need to weld it on to the superstructure of the Normandy," he finished. "Which will make the ship uninhabitable for the foreseeable future."

Jacob shrugged. "Pretty much, yeah."

"Remind me to thank her later," Shepard said. He looked around again before turning back to Jacob. "Why don't I take over now? You can head out and relax for a bit."

"You sure?" Jacob asked.

Shepard took the holopad from him and gave him a push toward the exit. "Be back later tonight."

"Will do. Thanks, Commander," Jacob said gratefully before leaving.

For the next few hours, the old ablative armor was slowly removed by sections and the Silaris Armor was being sorted and prepped to be welded on to the Normandy. At Shepard's behest, Grunt came out to help with the effort. Jack was still poring over the holopads about her and Cerberus and didn't want to be bothered.

"Are we going to do something that involves killing something?" Grunt grumbled as he carried a crate full of tools.

"Eventually," Shepard answered, hauling a crate of his own, though it was considerably smaller than Grunt's. "For now, I want us to have the best possible chance to survive any more trips we make or any attacks against the Collectors." He placed his load down next to a stack of crates that were lining a wall.

Grunt dropped the crate he was carrying and eyed Shepard curiously. "I heard that turian talking to the quarian about another krogan."

Shepard looked up from his holopad. "Oh, yeah?"

"Wrex or something," Grunt said, trying to remember the name.

"Urdnot Wrex," Shepard affirmed.

"He ever did stupid stuff like this?"

Shepard raised an eyebrow. "Wrex knew how to beat people down with brute force when he needed to, but he also appreciated the value of good tactics. If he thought this would work against his enemies, he'd make sure to prepare accordingly. A solid warrior all-around."

Grunt growled softly and turned his head away.

"Something up?"

Shaking his head, Grunt stomped over to another crate and picked it up. "What did he care about?"

"Who? Wrex?" Shepard asked.

Grunt nodded.

"He cares about a good fight, like you. He cares about…" Shepard paused as he tried to find the right words. "His idea of honor."

Grunt snorted derisively before grabbing another crate.

"He learned to care about the future of the krogans, too," Shepard said at Grunt's back.

The krogan dropped his load on the floor and turned to glare at the human.

"Wrex tried to help your race once. It didn't go so well and he stopped caring. I understand that he decided to try again. Except he's being a lot more aggressive about it," Shepard informed.

"So what was his idea of honor?" Grunt asked in a disinterested voice. The way he paid attention to Shepard said he was very interested though.

Shepard leaned against one of the larger boxes. "He was hired to take out some criminal," he started before cocking his head in thought. "Hmmm. Y'know, I don't even remember the guy's name. It's not important," he decided before continuing. "I took him out first before Wrex did. Wrex was already paid for the job, so he handed the money over. One professional to another." Shepard smiled as another memory resurfaced. "He and I were actually about to kill each once. I helped him out with something important to him beforehand and he recognized that. As you can tell, we both managed to walk away without killing each other."

Grunt growled softly again in frustration.

Shepard shrugged. "You've only been awake and aware a little less than a week. You haven't… experienced enough yet to find something that you might care about. Give it a little time."

Grunt eyed Shepard speculatively before nodding and getting back to work.

Maybe I should consider scheduling a trip to Tuchanka…

"Retrofits are always a pain in the ass," Joker complained.

"Calibrations? Diagnostics? Adjustments? " Shepard listed off when he stepped into ship. Night was falling on Illium and there was a lot more work to be done for the next few days.

"The sitting and the waiting," Joker answered. He turned his chair to face him. "You know what I could go for right now? A hamburger. Not vat-grown. An honest-to-god dead cow. With horseradish…" he said. His eyes glazed over as his imagination ran wild.

Shepard privately admitted to himself that a real hamburger would hit the spot for dinner right about now.

"What the…? Hey!" Joker suddenly exclaimed.

Looking back up, Shepard saw Joker's chair spinning side to side, against his will if his protests were any indication. "Problem?" he asked, hiding his smile.

"It's nothing. I… son of a…" Joker said as his chair rotated 360 degrees. He turned his head to glare at EDI's ever present avatar in the cockpit. "Very funny, EDI. Real original. Stop it."

EDI obliged him and rotated his chair so it was facing Shepard again. "You did insist on manual control, Mr. Moreau," she said.

Shepard could have sworn she said that statement with a touch of humor. Leaving Joker to his grumbling and snickering at his predicament, Shepard turned around and started inspection of the interior of his ship.

The crewmen that weren't on leave were packing their clothes and preparing for their move into the hotel Miranda provided. The crew on leave would come back later to retrieve their things and rendezvous with the rest of them.

Nimbly moving past the organized chaos, Shepard navigated his way through the decks, checking to see that everything was done for the day. Stopping in engineering, he heard Tali speaking with her subordinates, indicating she was back.

"How is it now?" she asked from her position near some pipes when he entered.

"Checking," Gabby said from a terminal.

"Board is still green, ma'am!" Ken called back from the Tantalus Core.

"Diagnostics complete. Couplings are still calibrated," Gabby reported happily.

"That's a relief," Tali said. "One less chore now."

"Everything okay down here?" Shepard asked from the doorway.

"We're fine, Shepard," Tali said as she climbed down from her perch. "Just installing the new FBA couplings."

"You're the best, Commander. With the new couplings, we only have to calibrate every week instead of every day," Ken gratefully said when he walked back to join the rest of the engineering team. He gave Shepard a sly look. "We're thinking about celebrating our newfound free time with some Skyllian-Five Poker. Want to join us?" he asked innocently.

Gabby rolled her eyes. "Come on, Kenneth. The Commander doesn't want to play cards with grease monkeys like us."

Shepard smiled. "Actually, I have a bit of time to kill. Why not?"

Ken grinned. "You in, Boss?" he asked Tali.

"Sure. That sounds fun," she agreed.

"Fantastic! I'll get the cards," Ken enthusiastically said.

"My Skyllian-Five's a bit rusty. You'll be easy on the rookie, right?" Shepard asked, injecting a bit of worry in his tone.

Ken held up his hands in placation and smiled. "Of course, Commander. It's all friendly," he said.

"Yeah, right," Gabby said with a knowing smile as she stared challengingly at Ken.

"Skyllian-Five," Shepard declared as he placed his cards on the table. The various players around him groaned in defeat while he grinned victoriously and scooped up the credit chits to add to his impressive pile.

"What are you? The devil?" Joker grumbled half-heartedly.

Jacob shook his head and threw his cards on the table toward Kelly, who scooped them up and started shuffling the deck. "Maybe I should've just checked in at the hotel and went to dinner at Eternity."

"'Be gentle on the rookie'. I can't believe we fell for that," Ken said in disbelief.

Gabby laughed. "It's so worth losing to see you taken down a notch."

"Getting beat at my own game," Ken griped good-naturedly.

"Lesson learned," Tali said as she waited for Kelly to deal. "Never underestimate Shepard… or the doctor it seems."

It was pretty shocking to see that Chakwas also had a sizeable pile of credits at her elbow.

"I am rather surprised with the good doctor," Ken commented.

Joker snorted. "Are you kidding? She's probably the only one Shepard's afraid of."

Chakwas indulgently smiled while Shepard barked out a laugh.

"Well, I had to pay for medical school somehow, right?" Chakwas enigmatically said.

"Don't even know how I managed to get roped into this…" Jacob said while he leaned on his hand. "The two of you are cleaning us out."

Kelly started passing out the cards. "Where did you learn how to play, Doctor? You're very skilled."

"Oh… years ago. Not long after medical school really," Chakwas replied. "One of my first patients was a very talented player. He received some substantial injuries and was bedridden for some time. Depression slows down the healing process, so I asked him to teach me to cheer him up," she said as she looked at her cards. Despite her friendly tone, her face held a disinterested look at the proceedings, presenting a very solid poker face.

"You know, I almost want to say that Tali is cheating," Joker said. He passed two cards back at Kelly.

"My poker face is pretty good, isn't it?" Tali teased. "Still, it's good to see you haven't changed, Joker."

"Yeah. It's all kinds of awesome now that you're back," Joker said, staring intently at his cards. "I missed having you around. Almost forgot what it felt like to pilot a ship that's well-maintained."

"And what about us?" Gabby asked indignantly.

"Well, we're still flying, so you two have to be doing something right," Joker said, grinning at them.

"Thanks a lot mate," Ken retorted.

Shepard glanced at his cards and laid them face down on the table. He passed only one card back while his face and mannerisms betrayed nothing.

"Commander?"

"What's up, EDI?" Shepard said, looking for the various tells he'd gathered in the hour or so of play they did.

"You have someone calling for you at the Comm. Room," EDI informed.

"Who?"

"Admiral Steven Hackett, Alliance 5th Fleet."

Everyone's eyes widened in surprise at the news.

"I'll take it immediately," Shepard said, hastily standing up.

"As you wish, Commander. Logging you out."

"I'm done," Shepard said. He pushed his pile of credits to the middle of table. "You can divvy up my winnings amongst yourselves."

"Are you sure, Commander?" Ken asked in shock.

"Wouldn't want to deprive you of all your money. How can you enjoy your leave tomorrow morning without it?" Shepard answered easily. "It's fine."

Ken grinned. "You're all right, Shepard."

Gabby smiled too. "Thanks, Commander."

Shepard made his way through the decks of the Normandy and ran as quickly as dignity allowed to the Comm. Room.

Inside, the desk was already lowered into the floor and the holographic projector was showing the image a man in an Alliance Uniform. He was aging, but it didn't detract from his image of nobility. He stood tall and straight, still maintaining discipline despite his waning years. His uniform remained immaculate, adorned with various medals and ribbons throughout his distinguished career.

Shepard had always admired and respected Admiral Hackett, though he was second to the former 'Captain', now Councilor Anderson. He snapped to attention and saluted sharply. "Sir!"

Hackett smiled and gave a solemn salute of his own. "Spectre Agent Shepard," he greeted in his gravelly tone. "At ease. You don't have to stand on ceremony to me."

Shepard nodded and relaxed, noting that Hackett addressed him as 'Spectre' instead of 'Commander'. "Is there something I can do, sir?"

"First off, you don't have call me, 'sir', anymore Shepard. You're a Spectre. Technically, that means you outrank me," Hackett said. "Second, I'm calling to inform you of a few things if you haven't already been made aware. Third, there is something I'd like you to do, but you're more than welcome to decline if you so wish. Consider it a last request from me."

"Understood, s- I mean, Admiral," Shepard acknowledged.

"Well, Shepard, I have to say that you really know how to make a mess of things. Good and bad," Hackett commented. He made a show of looking at Shepard from head to toe. "Reports had you dead, but you still caused problems for us. Back to life? Probably more."

Catching Hackett's smile, Shepard grinned. "My apologies, Admiral."

"There was bit of talk as to what to do with you after you died. It was only resolved recently until we heard reports that you were alive. All of our talks for the last two years: gone. Just like that," he said dramatically. "Then we had to talk about what to do with you while you're still alive."

"'Do', Admiral?" Shepard asked. Had it been anyone else, his suspicions would have been raised, but he remained calm in Hackett's presence.

"We received Chief Williams' report. She confirmed you're working with Cerberus. Since you're a Spectre, there's nothing we can do," Hackett said before frowning. "But there was talk of dishonorable discharge for a while."

Shepard frowned as well.

"Relax, Shepard. Anderson and I backed you. With the support of the Council, the Alliance decided to push forward with our original intent with some small changes."

"And what did you decide?"

"Before? There was talk of whether we should give you a posthumous two-rank promotion for your years of service for the Alliance as well as your actions as a Spectre and your heroism on the Citadel. If it wasn't for you, Saren and his geth, as well as any other outside forces they may have been working with, would have taken control of the central hub of mass relays," he explained with a bit of emphasis on 'outside'.

Shepard smiled. He was glad to have Hackett believing him.

"Some of the politician's argued against the promotion since you were a Spectre and no longer serving Alliance 'interests'. They also stated that you were showing… erratic behavioral patterns near your 'end'. You shouldn't be surprised that Udina was heading up that effort," Hackett explained.

Shepard narrowed his eyes and nodded.

"In recognition of your selfless acts for the Alliance, humanity, and going above and beyond the call of duty, you are awarded a two-rank promotion and an honorable discharge from Alliance service. We hope that you'll continue to look out for both the Alliance and the Council's best interests as a Council Spectre, 'Captain' Shepard," Hackett stated in an official tone before saluting.

Shepard snapped to attention and saluted back. "Thank you, Admiral."

"Now, on to that favor I wished to ask of you," Hackett said. "We've located the final location of the wreckage of the SSV Normandy SR-1."

Shepard paid rapt attention to that news.

"Again, I have to tell you that you don't have to do this if you don't want to. We've listed all missing crewmembers as KIA, but we'd like someone to confirm their deaths, if only to give their families some measure of closure. If you find any remains, we'll retrieve them. Otherwise, tags or any other means of identification will do."

"I'll do it, Admiral."

"Thank you, Shepard. We also constructed a monument to honor the Normandy. We'd like it placed on the ship's final resting place. And we'd like to invite you to place the monument and be the first to walk on the site," Hackett said.

"I understand, Admiral. I'd be honored."

"Do you have a location to where we can send it to?"

"We're in port at Illium. Nos Astra docks. You should be able to find me. I'm registered here as a Spectre," Shepard informed.

"We'll have it sent to you immediately. Thank you for doing this for us, Agent Shepard," Hackett said gratefully. Then he sighed and rubbed his eyes. "I have to ask you. Cerberus. Do you know what you're doing?"

Shepard confidently nodded. "Cerberus doesn't represent either the Alliance or the Council. We can operate in the Terminus without drawing unwanted attention that would be unfavorable for you. It's their resources, their personnel. And… Someone needs to do something. Might as well be me."

Hackett studied Shepard for a few moments before nodding. "If it was just Cerberus, I don't care what humanitarian mission they think they're conducting. They've made several serious attacks on the Alliance in the past. I believe their actions are unforgivable: assassinations, unlawful experiments, insurgency. Personally, I would've gathered my fleet and hunted them down." His stern look marginally relaxed. "But I trust you, Shepard. You've done a lot for us over the years. If you're in charge…" he trailed off, not wanting to say anything more in case there were eavesdroppers on either end of their conversation. "Good luck and God speed on your mission. Those people need someone out there. They're lucky it's you."

"Thank you, Admiral."

Before he closed the link, he gave the Spectre a warm smile. "And Shepard? Glad to have you back."

Miranda threw dignity in the wind as she sprinted into the hangar and through the hallway leading into the airlock of the Normandy. After impatiently enduring the decontamination procedure, she burst into the bridge. "Where's Shepard?" she demanded, directing her inquiry at EDI.

"Captain Shepard is in the Comm. Room, Director Lawson. He just finished his meeting with Admiral Hackett," EDI replied.

Miranda didn't pay any attention to the ancillary information. All she heard was 'Comm. Room' and ran down the length of the ship before EDI even finished talking. Rushing through the Armory, she ran to the doors of the Comm. Room only to nearly collide with the man she was looking for.

Shepard looked shocked at her sudden appearance and apparent haste. "Something wrong?" he asked with concern.

Miranda took a moment to catch her breath and gather her thoughts. She glanced around the Comm. Room, knowing exactly where all the bugs are. "I need to speak with you. Come with me," she said. Grabbing Shepard by the hand, she physically dragged him back through the Armory and into the lift. Once inside, she pressed the button for Deck 3, but when the elevator reached halfway, she hit the emergency stop button to freeze the elevator in place. "We should be able to talk privately here," she stated.

Shepard crossed his arms. "What's going on?"

Sighing, Miranda leaned on the side of the metal box they were in and stared at the floor. "I… uh… I find myself in the unpleasant position of asking for your help. Ironically, you're the only person I think I could trust right now to help me." She looked up and met his eyes. "This is important to me."

She saw that she had Shepard's undivided attention now. "Something happen today?" he asked.

"Do you remember what I told you about my father… building a dynasty?"

Shepard nodded.

"What I didn't tell before, when I spoke to you about my sister, was that I'm also using Cerberus resources to protect her. From him," she revealed. "He's still hunting her. Cerberus has kept her safe, but I just learned that he found out she's living on Illium."

"What happens now?"

"He's too close. I've made preparations to relocate both my sister and her family."

Shepard furrowed his brow. "Does your sister's family know about this? Are they okay with being relocated?"

"They know nothing. They're completely uninvolved. Normal," Miranda assured. "This is one of many contingency plans I've made just in case. They have a legitimate reason to move, without knowing the truth. Cerberus is supplying me with the necessary resources to move them covertly."

"What do you need me to do?"

"My father is extremely… persistent. I don't want to underestimate him or his agents. I want your help to make sure everything goes off without a hitch," Miranda bluntly asked.

"Alright. I'll do whatever I can," Shepard determinedly said.

Miranda allowed herself to relax just a bit. "Thank you. We're meeting a contact of mine, Lanteia. She's waiting for us at a bar called Eternity."

"How do we do this?" Shepard asked.

"We'll secure our armor in their cases and take them along. Our weapons will have to go in some large bags. I don't want to draw attention. If we pass ourselves off as civilians, then we'll be able to move undetected. We'll arm ourselves only when the time is right," Miranda briefed.

"Just the two of us?"

"Just the two of us," she confirmed. "I don't want this to be public knowledge. You're the only one on board that knows about Oriana and I want to keep it that way." Miranda hit the button to release the lift and let it take her to the Crew Deck. Once the doors opened, she stepped out and turned around. She wanted to say thank you, she really did, but she couldn't get the words out. Her sister was still in danger and she was forced to trust a man she'd only worked with for less than a month.

She was relieved for the second time tonight when Shepard offered her a confident smile and a reassuring look before the elevator doors closed.

Thank you.

Location: Crescent Nebula, Tasale System, Illium, Nos Astra, Eternity Bar

"She'll be in one of the private lounges," Miranda whispered to Shepard when they stepped into the bar.

Nightlife was in full swing. The bar was crowded with dancing, drinking, and talking happening in every corner. Weaving through the sea of people as best they could, they blended in as best they could. Both of them were still in civilian clothes, but Miranda was carrying her Cerberus Assault Armor in its case, while Shepard did the same with his N7 Armor. He was also carrying a large duffle bag, loaded with their weaponry. Given the size of the bag, though, he was forced to leave behind some of his usual armaments.

Just as well, Miranda thought as she scanned the room for her contact. We don't need to advertise our presence anyway. "There," she pointed after finally spotting Lanteia. "Come on."

Shepard silently shifted his bundle and followed closely.

Moving around a dancing couple, Miranda stepped inside the lounge and waited for Shepard to do the same before closing the curtains. Turning around, she faced her long-time contact on Illium. She noted that the asari was dressed in the leathers asari commandos preferred, instead of civilian clothes.

"Ms. Lawson," Lanteia greeted.

Miranda nodded back. "Lanteia. Anything to report?"

Lanteia's eyes darted toward Shepard, before she gave a questioning look at Miranda.

"He's with me, Lanteia. Go ahead."

"We've had a complication," she answered.

"What happened? Is Oriana all right?" Miranda asked, before chastising herself.

Of course Oriana is all right. Lanteia would have called me immediately if something happened!

She willed herself to calm down as Lanteia nodded her head.

"She's fine," Lanteia assured. "But you listed a man named Niket as your trusted source?"

Miranda nodded. Niket? What is he doing here?

"He contacted me, warning that your father has sent Eclipse mercenaries to make a sweep," Lanteia warned. "He suggested that the mercs might be watching for you personally. He's offered to escort Oriana's family to the terminal instead."

"What can you tell us about the mercs?" Shepard asked, finally breaking his silence.

"Nothing you probably don't already know," the asari said. "They're Eclipse and they're looking for the family. I could try to alert the authorities, but so far, they've done nothing illegal."

"You made the right decision," Miranda asserted. "We'll handle this ourselves."

Shepard turned toward her. "Who's Niket?"

"A friend. He and I go back a long way…" Miranda said before trailing off in thought.

"Do you want to bring in any of your other Illium contacts, Ms. Lawson?" Lanteia asked.

"No," she answered quickly. "You and Niket are the only two I trust on this."

"You said you had a plan, right? Making changes now could be dangerous," Shepard cautioned. "Are you sure you want to go on like this?"

"Absolutely," Miranda replied without hesitation. "Niket is one of my oldest friends. I trust him with Oriana." She turned back to Lanteia. "We'll follow Niket's suggestion. Secure a car for us. Shepard and I will draw the mercenary's attention. Have Niket escort the family to the shuttle. Give him full access to the family's itinerary, just to be safe."

"Understood, Ms. Lawson," Lanteia acknowledged.

"So the new plan is for us to get shot down by Eclipse while your sister gets to safety?" Shepard asked skeptically.

"Eclipse will be under orders to take Oriana alive. They won't risk anything that could kill us, not until they have her," Miranda stated.

"You're basing that on the assumption that your father hired intelligent mercs," Shepard pointed out.

Miranda rolled her eyes. She was about to criticize him for his poor taste in humor when she saw that he was being serious. "My father has enough money and influence to hire the best he's able to find on Illium. We shouldn't underestimate any of them."

"Then it's not likely that Eclipse will send all their people just to stop you," Shepard reasoned. "Should we give Niket some backup?"

Miranda bit her lip and considered her choices. Eventually, she shook her head. "Niket can take care of himself. Besides any armed backup will draw attention to him and Oriana," she decided.

"Alright," Shepard agreed. "When do we leave?"

"Right now," Miranda said. Nodding to Lanteia, Miranda left the lounge. When Shepard fell into step next to her, she glanced at his profile from the corner of her eye before snapping her gaze straight ahead. "Thank you, Shepard," she said gratefully. "I appreciate this. I hadn't planned on Eclipse…" she trailed off and turned her head to see Shepard's eyes locking onto her own.

"But they never planned on you," Miranda stated confidently.

While Lanteia retrieved a car and the location of the Eclipse leader, Miranda and Shepard changed into their armor and equipped their weapons. Miranda was fortunate enough to still have her Pulse Rifle and M-3 Predator Heavy Pistol. Shepard had to make do with his HMWA Assault Rifle, HMWSG Shotgun, and his HMWP Heavy Pistol. He was forced to leave behind his sniper rifle and Blackstorm in order to remain incognito.

At least we have a compliment of grenades.

Miranda watched as Shepard checked his gear with the same cool and clinical precision she'd seen him fall into when they were about to conduct a mission. Somehow, he was able to maintain his focus throughout their time together and used that discipline to hold their diverse squad together. She envied his ability to stay on task at that moment. She was worried sick over the multitude of variables they had to overcome that she started having doubts about her competency.

Snap out of it! We can't second guess this now!

She was confident that if anything was wrong, she would see it or Shepard point it out. At this juncture, they were committed.

Oriana needs me. I can't fail her now.

She closed her eyes and took a deep breath to calm her nerves. Opening her eyes, she saw Shepard nod approvingly at her actions. Allowing herself a small smile, she found herself relaxing even more in his presence.

It'll be alright. If we're on mission against the Collectors and Reapers, then handling some mercenaries should be easy.

She looked up and saw a red car landing near their position. Standing up, she walked over and waited until Lanteia stepped out.

"The Eclipse are checking local spaceports. Unfortunately for us, the heaviest concentration is near the same spaceport Niket is using to escort the family," Lanteia reported.

Miranda cursed. "Do you know anything more?" she asked.

"They must have found out about where the family is, because the Eclipse captain is en route there now. I'm sorry, Ms. Lawson. I don't have any details on him or her."

"We'll handle it. Thanks, Lanteia," Miranda said. She climbed into the driver's seat and waited for Shepard to follow.

"Good luck, Ms. Lawson," Lanteia said when Shepard sat down in the passenger seat.

Miranda nodded and closed the doors. Piloting the car toward the spaceport, she drove as fast as she dared, recklessly weaving in and out of lanes to reach their destination as quickly as possible.

Location: Crescent Nebula, Tasale System, Illium, Nos Astra, En Route to Illium Cargo Terminal

"Miranda, look," Shepard said. He pointed out the left window.

Miranda dodged another car before she chanced a look. "Damn it!"

Three gunships were flying in tight formation nearby and they were heading for the spaceport. Despite the darkness, Miranda was able to clearly see the emblem of the Eclipse stamped on the side of the gunships.

"What's our move?" Shepard asked.

"We follow them," Miranda decisively answered. She banked hard and flew right behind the gunships. They were ahead of them and gaining distance, but it didn't matter. The mercs still had to disembark and secure their landing zone.

"Figure four per gunship," Shepard said, analyzing the situation.

"That's at least a dozen we have to fight through. But we don't know how many there are at the spaceport already," Miranda said. "Looks like they're heading for the cargo areas. But why?"

"They might be there to create a disturbance," Shepard speculated. "If they cause enough trouble, the spaceport will have to waive off all incoming and outbound flights until the situation is under control."

Miranda cursed herself for not realizing it sooner. "Then they'll have all the time they need to locate Oriana."

All three gunships hovered a few feet off the ground and dropped the troops they were carrying before taking off.

"Put us down behind that container. We'll need the cover," Shepard said as he secured his N7 Breather Helmet.

"Let's hope they really do want to take us alive," Miranda said, trying her hand at humor to calm her nerves.

Shepard snorted. "They just want you alive. They don't care about little old me."

"Poor you," Miranda said before she put the car into a steep dive. She accelerated as fast as she could, targeting the area Shepard pointed out. The car's usual whine increased in pitch as she sped toward the mercenary's position.

The Eclipse raised their weapons at the sound, automatically targeting the car that was flying right at them.

"Down!" Miranda yelled.

The Eclipse didn't hesitate. Bullets struck the car in a torrent of fire power. Miranda and Shepard ducked under the dash as the windshield shattered under the attack. Shepard peeked out as the Eclipse continued to shoot at them. "Missile! Break!"

Throwing caution into the wind, Miranda sat back up and banked the car to the right, successfully dodging the missile shot from one of the mercs. She drove as best as she was able despite the warning alarms that sounded throughout the cabin of the car. As she drove closer, her eyes homed in on one of the mercs in tech armor.

The Eclipse lieutenant managed to see her and started waving his arms at his subordinates. Moments later, the gunfire stopped.

Seeing their chance, Miranda pulled the nose up and landed the car roughly behind some large cargo containers. She gritted her teeth at the screeching noise as their vehicle slid along the ground for several feet before stopping.

"Nice driving," Shepard said.

Miranda gave him a side-long glance, unable to tell if he was being sincere or not. Shrugging it off, she grabbed her helmet and stepped out of the car. Shepard disembarked as well and followed at her right.

"I got this," the Eclipse lieutenant said to his people.

Miranda clipped her helmet to her belt and schooled her face into a neutral look as she approached the lieutenant. "Since you're not firing yet, I trust you know who I am."

"Yeah. They said you were coming. You're the bitch that kidnapped our boss' little girl," the merc bluntly said.

Miranda felt Shepard's gaze on her when the merc said 'little girl', but kept her focus on the enemy. "This doesn't involve you," she said in a dangerous tone. "I suggest you take your men and go while you're still able to walk."

"Think you've got it all lined up, huh? Captain Enyala's already moving in on the kid. She knows about your boyfriend, Niket. He won't be helping you," the merc taunted.

"Accessing Cerberus databases on information regarding Captain Enyala, Director Lawson. Please stand by," EDI said into her radio.

Miranda barely heard her. She was shocked that they knew about Niket as well.

"What do you mean, Niket won't be helping her?" Shepard asked.

The merc waved him off. "Nothing you need to worry about. Nobody's going to get killed unless you do something stupid. You walk away now, the girl goes back to her father and everybody's happy."

"Everybody but my sister and me," Miranda hissed. "Where's this Enyala? I want to speak to her."

The merc smirked at her. "You don't want to talk to the captain. She's not as polite as I am. She's the best commando I've ever seen. I've seen her tear people in half with her biotics. And she's getting paid a lot to stop you."

Asari commando. Bloody perfect.

Miranda heard Shepard talking into the radio, his voice hidden by his helmet. "EDI, cross-reference Enyala with asari commandos. That should narrow the search."

"She gets in my way, she'll never have a chance to spend it," Miranda retorted. "Whatever you're being paid, it's not nearly enough."

"You're not taking anybody. You push this and I'll guarantee you, this will end very badly for you," Shepard threatened.

The lieutenant snorted. "Captain Enyala ordered us to give you one chance to walk away. But this whole time we've been talking, my men have been lining up shots." He stepped close until he was nose-to-nose with Shepard.

Big mistake, Miranda thought. She looked to see Shepard almost imperceptibly tense up as the lieutenant stepped into his strike zone. She snapped her gaze at the merc directly across from her and the crane carrying a fuel canister in the distance.

"When I say the word, we unleash hell on you and the bitch. So I suggest you walk away nicely, unless…"

Shepard lashed out with a rabbit punch to the merc's throat. While he was choking, Shepard grabbed the man and twisted him around to use him as a human shield.

Miranda drew her pistol and executed a Mozambique Drill on the merc in front of her. A double tap to the chest only stunned him since his armor managed to protect him, but a shot through the eye finished him off.

She pointed her pistol at a salarian Engineer a few feet away when Shepard unleashed his biotics and pulled a fuel canister off a crane and caused it to crash down in the middle of the Eclipse positions. Adapting quickly, she engaged her omni-tool and used Overload on the canister before ducking behind a heavy steel crate.

The explosion tore through the Eclipse ranks, killing most and injuring the rest. Fires broke out and engulfed the area they had secured, forcing any survivors to run, limp, or crawl away.

Miranda popped out of cover with her Pulse Rifle and started tearing her way through the salarian's Tech Armor.

The salarian Engineer fired back with his SMG as he tried to run away, but Shepard held his hostage by the throat with one arm while he reached for his pistol with the other and started shooting at the salarian as well.

Between the both of them, the salarian fell dead before he took three steps.

Shepard brought his leg up and slammed his boot into the back of the merc's knee. When he fell to his knees, Shepard used the leverage and twisted sharply. The meaty crack told him that the lieutenant was dead.

Miranda pressed forward. Moving around the flames, she spotted two more mercs limping away as quickly as they could. One turned around and tried to use her missile launcher. Miranda took aim and gunned her down before the merc could even get her bearings. The other merc opened fire with his assault rifle, but the bullets impact harmlessly against Miranda's shields. With the merc's shields drained from the explosion and fires, Miranda had little trouble. After a quick burst, she silenced the other merc and checked the area. She saw a flicker of movement behind another crate. Moving quietly, she spotted another Eclipse facing away from her, fiddling around with a radio. Miranda took the opportunity to sneak up behind her and while she was calling for help.

"This is team 4, we're… urk!"

Miranda reached around the merc head and followed Shepard's earlier example. Letting the body fall with the head twisted in an unnatural position, she heard a short burst of gunfire before silence. Crouching behind the crates, she unclipped her helmet from her waist and put it on, before holding her rifle steady and waited. All she could hear now was the crackle of the fires in the distance.

"Looks to be all clear," Shepard reported.

Miranda sighed as Shepard rounded the corner next to her with his HMWA drawn and held loosely across his body.

"Come on! Need to get to Niket!" Miranda ordered.

Shepard moved toward the cargo elevator and tapped the button to call it.

"… Team 4, do you read?"

Shepard whirled around and brought his rifle up, trying to locate the source of the voice.

"Wait," Miranda said. She walked over and picked up the radio. "I'll patch us in, see if I can get an idea of what we're up against." While she tapped into the Eclipse communications, EDI called her.

"I have information regarding the Eclipse captain, Enyala, Director Lawson."

"Go ahead, EDI," Miranda said while she was syncing the frequency on the radio to her omni-tool.

"According to Cerberus intelligence, Enyala is a noted Vanguard and is well-versed in close-quarters combat. If engaged at long range, however, her biotics are recorded as, 'impressive'. There are notes suggesting that her strongest talents lay in the biotic powers known as Barrier and Charge, though she has been known to use Warp as well."

"Anything else?"

"Unlike the Blue Suns mercenaries you've engaged recently, Jedore and Kuril, Enyala is also reported to be a competent leader. I suggest caution when dealing with her and her squad."

"Got it," Miranda said.

She looked up to see Shepard giving her a questioning look through the clear visor in his helmet. He looked like he wanted to ask something, but thought better of it and maintained his silence.

Miranda sighed. "Shepard… I owe you an explanation…"

Shepard shook his head. "No. You really don't. Not if you don't want to," he said.

"I do," she responded before sighing. "Oriana is my twin, genetically. But our father… grew her when I was a teenager. She was meant to replace me," she explained before frowning. "I couldn't let our father do to her what he did to me. So I rescued her," she said before letting out a small laugh. "She's almost a woman now."

"When you said: 'twin', I made the mistake of assuming the same age as well, not just the same genetics," Shepard admitted. "I probably should've known… how old is she?"

"She'll be 19 this year. She's not a child, despite what that merc said," Miranda answered honestly. "The reason I didn't tell you, it… well it didn't seem relevant at the time, I suppose."

"It still isn't," Shepard assured. "She's your sister. I'm sure you're acting in her best interests."

Miranda nodded. "There are people who'd use her against me. I'm very protective when it comes to Oriana."

The elevator doors opened at that moment. Shepard tilted his head at it, prompting Miranda to step in first.

"Family is like that, or so I'm learning," he replied as he followed her in.

Miranda tapped the button and the elevator ascended toward the cargo processing yard. "I'm sorry I didn't trust you sooner," she found herself saying. "With the steps you're taking to help me, you deserved to know the truth."

"I understand choosing to go your own way," Shepard said carefully. "But you took a child from your father…?" he stated, though it ended with a question. As if he had conflicting opinions about her actions.

She looked into his eyes unflinchingly. "If you knew my father, you would understand. I wasn't the first he made. Only the first he kept." She was awarded with a shocked look in his eyes. "I don't know what happened to the others," she admitted. "Sent away, maybe? Though since my sisters or even brothers carried his genetics, chances are likely he had them all… removed. To ensure any loose ends were tied off."

Shepard narrowed his eyes at the new and horrifying possibilities.

Anticipating his next question, she said, "I don't know how many others there were before me." She paced around the slow moving elevator. "I was brought up with no friends, pushed to meet impossible demands. I wasn't a daughter to him. I was…" she paused before stopping in her tracks and letting her shoulders sag. "I don't know what I was," she whispered. Taking a breath, she faced Shepard, steadfast in her choice. "Oriana has had a normal life. A happy life. I made the right decision," she asserted firmly.

Shepard regarded her with a thoughtful look in his eyes. Eventually, he nodded in acceptance. "If Eclipse knows where Oriana is, they'll be moving in on her soon."

Miranda looked up and saw the indicator flash closer to their destination. "I'm a bit worried by what the merc said."

"About Niket?"

"If they got to him somehow, this is going to be harder than I'd planned," she answered.

"What's the next step?"

"We're cutting through the cargo processing yard. It's the quickest way to Oriana. Be careful though," she warned. "We'll be moving through the conveyor systems. There'll be a lot of movement. Expect ambushes, blind corners, that sort of thing. Just stay sharp," she briefed before remembering something. "Since this is Illium, there'll be a lot of hazardous, but 'legal' materials as well. Check your fire."

"Yes, ma'am," Shepard acknowledged seriously.

Despite the situation, Miranda couldn't help but smirk at him through her transparent faceplate. It was the first time she was able to give him orders face to face since she was assigned to the Normandy and his command, discounting the time he woke up. Maybe it was her imagination, but she could have sworn that Shepard was smiling behind his faceplate as well. Surprisingly, she found herself trusting Shepard as much as she did Niket.

When the elevator doors opened, she and Shepard stepped out carefully, checking the surrounding area for threats.

"We can trust your friend, right?" Shepard said quietly to her when the immediate area was clear.

"Absolutely," Miranda responded. "Niket is one of my oldest friends. I guess you could say he was my only real friend. He's the only person I didn't cut ties with when I left my father."

They moved slowly through the cargo processing yard. It was a large area, filled with moving crates, cranes, and as Miranda predicted, hazardous materials as some of crates indicated with large, hard-to-miss warning labels.

"Is there a chance your father could be using Niket to get to you?" Shepard asked with concern, while they moved past an office.

They both noted that the office was empty, but there was a half full cup of coffee still sitting on the table.

"I'm sure he's tried," Miranda said via radio. "But Niket's one of the few people who understands what my father is really like. I trusted him with my life when I ran from my father, Shepard. He won't betray me now." She stopped and ducked down in the shadow of the building. Shepard copied her movements and scanned the area. "The far side of the conveyor line," Miranda said. "Watch the crates and time your shots."

"Only four," Shepard counted. He turned to Miranda and held up a grenade.

"If they have shields, that might not be enough," she cautioned.

"I can cloak and drop it right on them. While they're disoriented, we can finish them off," Shepard suggested.

"You can probably take out the three on the right with that," Miranda said from her vigil of the squad ahead of them. She set her sights on the Engineer standing far on the left.

"Here I go," Shepard said before vanishing. Miranda could barely make out his distortion as he crept along the shadows and through the walkways around the conveyors and toward the trio of mercs.

The three Eclipse mercs only had time to hear the grenade land in the middle of their group before it exploded. One merc's shields weren't powerful enough to protect him; the shockwave tore through his armor effortlessly. The other two mercs were knocked off their feet and were helpless as they tried to regain their bearings.

A blast from Shepard's shotgun deactivated his cloak, but finished one merc off. While he turned to take out the last prone Eclipse Trooper, the lone Engineer constructed a Combat Drone to cover him and tried to duck behind a railing.

Miranda's Overload destroyed both the drone and his shields. Her follow-up shots from her rifle ended the conflict quickly while Shepard finished off the last.

"This is Enyala! Keep the bitch back! Niket is nearing the transport terminal!"

"We have to hurry!" Miranda called out.

"How do we get there?" Shepard asked as they started running.

"We can cut through a few of these storage areas. We should be able to bypass most of the Eclipse that way. Follow me!" She sprinted around the crates and cut through the storage areas with Shepard hot on her heels. As she rounded another corner to the next area of the processing yard, her eyes widened and she jumped back around the corner before bullets flew right by where she was moments ago. "Bloody mechs!" She popped out of cover and used Overload on the nearest one.

Shepard stepped around her and used Shockwave to scatter the rest. "Go!" he shouted. He started firing downrange at the LOKI's that were attempting stand up.

Miranda moved forward, shooting at the LOKI's whose legs were blown off from Shepard's biotic attack. Stepping cautiously into the open, she managed to catch movement out of the corner of her eye. "Contact right!" She sprinted for the crates and slid behind them as the Eclipse opened fire.

"I don't care how many mechs you lose! Just stall them, damn it!" Enyala ordered.

A burst of fire exploded off Shepard's defilade. "Watch out! One of the Engineers is using Incinerate!"

"How many do you count?" Miranda said. She lifted her rifle up and blind fired at the mercs across the conveyor line.

"At least six, maybe eight! And they're all well-shielded!"

Miranda popped out and shot at an Eclipse Trooper, but his shields held as he returned fire with his own assault rifle. Ducking back down, she looked around her environment as quickly as possible. "Shepard! See that crate next to you?"

He looked around and saw one of the hazardous labeled crates nearby. Crawling over to one of the larger ones, he attached one his grenades to the side and moved back to his position.

"Get ready," Shepard said. Using his biotics, he picked up and the crate and tossed it right at the group of mercs.

The Eclipse shouted and screamed as crate flew right at them. They broke formation and scattered just moments before the crate exploded when it landed in the middle of their positions.

Miranda darted from her cover and moved around conveyor line and to the disoriented and distracted mercs. Seizing her chance, she successfully managed to flank them and lobbed another grenade into their midst before firing away with her rifle.

The mercs quickly rallied and started counterattacking as they tried to get back into cover. The second explosion from the grenade killed and scattered them again while Shepard popped out and used Pull to bring the last few into the air.

Miranda glowed with dark energy as she targeted the floating mercs with Warp. "Night, night!" she taunted. Her attack connected with Shepard's biotics causing the combined unstable energies to violently explode. A missile suddenly flew right past Miranda's head. Reflexively, she turned around and used Overload at the source of the attack before running for cover. "Two more here!"

"On the way!" Shepard acknowledged. He used his assault rifle to suppress them as he ran around the conveyor line to regroup with Miranda.

The Heavy screamed as Overload struck her, but her shields managed to hold up against the tech attack. Miranda followed up with her rifle, ignoring the Trooper in favor of attacking the Heavy. The Trooper tried to protect his comrade, but Shepard continued to fire at him, keeping him in cover.

The Heavy fell back against the onslaught and tried to retreat. Shepard made his way around the conveyors and used Throw to send her flying into a cargo container. She slammed hard enough to create a dent before sliding limply to the ground.

The last Trooper popped his head out of cover to try one last desperate attempt at attacking them, but Miranda kept a steady aim at his position and finished him off easily.

"Divert everyone except my guard from Niket. I'll handle him and the kid personally," Enyala ordered.

Miranda stood up and started following the conveyor lines to the spaceport. "Damn it! I'm not letting them get Oriana!"

"Those mercs must've called for reinforcements when we had the upper hand. Expect stiff resistance now," Shepard warned as he followed her through the twists and turns of the cargo bays.

"EDI, I need you to patch into the security systems and give us an update on Eclipse and their movements," Miranda ordered as she ran through another storage area. "See if you can't control the doors too and cut off their progress. We can't afford to get surrounded."

"Understood, Director Lawson. Stand by," EDI acknowledged.

They ran as quickly as they dared, pausing only to check every corner for signs of the Eclipse.

"Shepard. More mechs!" Miranda warned when she looked around a corner. "We're almost to the elevator."

Shepard peeked around the corner and took a look for himself underneath Miranda's head. The LOKI's were marching away. "They haven't spotted us."

"Shhh…" she hushed. "Listen."

"What the fuck happened?"

They couldn't hear the reply. "Black hell. Come on. Let's move a bit closer. See how many more are out there," Miranda said. She stayed low to the ground and collapsed her rifle for easy movement. Glancing at her side, she saw Shepard do the same, except he pulled out his pistol and attached his silencer.

Staying close to the shadows, they stalked down the hallway the length of the hallway. Thankfully, they reached the end of the conveyor lines. Containers were being stacked in some manner of organized chaos, waiting to be loaded onto ships. Before they could duck behind the nearest container, a merc rounded the corner in front of them.

Acting swiftly, Miranda reached down to her boot, drew her knife and leapt at the merc. Before he could act or even shout, she rammed it into the Trooper's neck, severing his carotid artery while bodily swinging him around until he was on the ground and out of sight of his fellow Eclipse in one smooth motion. The only sound the merc could make was a strangled gurgle which was muffled by his helmet. She paused, listening intently for anything amiss before she dragged the body into the shadows.

Shepard held vigil over the end of the hallway with his pistol until they were out of sight. "Too close," he whispered, even though they were using radios and helmets. No shouts of surprise or sounds of movement were heard, indicating they still held the element of surprise.

"Too close," Miranda agreed. Sheathing her knife, she skulked in between the narrow space between containers and made her way around the perimeter.

"Where are they now?" A salarian complained.

"They said the doors suddenly jammed," an asari replied. "They're trying to get them open, but it's gonna take awhile."

"What the hell are those idiots doing back at HQ? I thought we were in control…"

"Ma'am! Elevator is in lockdown! Captain Enyala's people can't get to us!" an Engineer shouted from across the cargo terminal.

"Damn it! This mission was supposed to be easy," the asari said.

Shepard cursed when he looked through a gap between containers. "We're way outnumbered…" He turned his head side-to-side to see as much as he could. "Must be around 10, maybe more."

"EDI, status?" Miranda asked.

"I have successfully taken over the security network of the spaceport, Director Lawson. It appears that the Eclipse had full control prior to my intrusion. Currently, I have the bulk of their current forces are locked out of your immediate area. They are trying to circumnavigate the spaceport and rendezvous with the rest of their forces," EDI reported.

"How many are we talking?" Shepard asked.

"Approximately 60 in total are currently in the spaceport you are operating in. You are in close proximity with 15 of their remaining forces, plus five LOKI mechs. The rest of the Eclipse that were employed for this mission are attempting to rejoin Captain Enyala now. I estimate that they will not reach her for two more hours. I have taken the liberty of shutting down several elevators to block their progress."

"Good work, EDI. And my sister?" Miranda asked while she observed Eclipse positions.

"All passengers are currently waiting at the terminals. Several Cerberus operatives are covertly guarding your family and have reported no unusual activity in their vicinity. They are warned of the Eclipse threat, however."

"What about Niket? Where is he?"

"I am attempting to locate him, but I can say with certainty that he is not in the terminals."

"He's not with Oriana?" Miranda angrily asked.

"No," EDI simply answered.

"10 to 1. Not the worst odds I've faced," Shepard joked. "But trying to hit them head-on is definitely out of the question."

"Then we'll have to outsmart them, won't we?" Miranda replied.

"Orders, Miranda?" Shepard asked seriously.

Miranda paused. She was about to ask Shepard what to do when he posed his question first. He's following my lead. She knew he was following her the entire time, but those were smaller skirmishes. Numbers either of them could've taken out solo if they had to. But to plan and execute an attack against a superior force… Either he's testing me or he trusts me… The first theory sounded like something she would do. The second made her feel… Shaking those thoughts away, she peeked through a different opening between containers and racked her mind for a solution. "There's a way under the conveyor next to me. You can flank them from there."

Looking around, he spotted the area she was talking about. "I see it."

"Can you do it?" Miranda asked.

Shepard hesitated before answering. "Maybe. I could cloak and make my way there, but it's pretty well-lit out there." He paused before reluctantly admitting, "And these mercs don't look like they're amateurs."

"You think they might see your distortion," Miranda stated.

He shrugged in response.

Miranda weighed her options. Suddenly, an idea popped into her head. "I think I've been around you too long…" she commented thoughtfully as she looked back at the body hidden in the shadows.

Shepard obviously saw the look on her face through her faceplate. "Not necessarily a bad thing. What're you thinking?"

"Something insane."

The sounds of an assault rifle surprised the assembled mercs. Two fell before they could see a visual on the culprit.

"Contact! By the blue containers!" an asari yelled as she scanned her surroundings from cover.

They turned to see a figure in armor, hidden in the shadow of the large container. The only light was created by the muzzle flashes as the shooter continued firing in short bursts.

"Jenson! Take him out!" a salarian yelled to a Heavy.

The Eclipse Heavy took aim with his missile launcher and fired. The missile streaked to its target just as assailant jumped back behind the container.

After the explosion, the mercs all jumped out of cover and started firing on the container, suppressing the shooter while a smaller squad started moving forward.

As they approached, they could distinctly hear a human and male voice scream out in pain.

"Damn it! I'm hit! Miranda! Where the hell are you ? ! Miranda ? !" he yelled out. "Shit!"

The squad ducked down when the stranger blind-fired around the container, but his shots were nowhere near the mark. "Tossing a frag!" a Trooper shouted. He threw the grenade just as the stranger retracted his gun. The grenade bounced just slightly behind the container before exploding.

"Cease fire!" one merc shouted. All of the Eclipse stopped shooting and watched warily for any signs of movement.

Something moved out of the corner and they trained their weapons on it, only to find that it was a black helmet. It rolled and bounced until it hit the boot of an Engineer.

"Check to make sure he's dead," an asari said, standing up from her cover. "The rest of you, find that 'Miranda'. He's not alone."

The squad acknowledged her orders and stalked forward with the LOKI's dutifully following. They peered around the corner and saw a figure on the ground. Most of the body was hidden in the shadows. One merc moved forward and kicked his boot to see if he was dead.

"Hold on," the merc said. "Something's wrong." He bent closer to the body and engaged his omni-tool. Activating its flashlight function, he illuminated the body to see that it was wearing Eclipse armor… and all five of his grenades were strapped to his waist and they were all armed.

"Oh shit."

"EVAC!"

The explosion took the rest of Eclipse by surprise. The remaining mercs turned and saw the five man squad and mechs torn apart by the blast. Another explosion got their attention as three more mercs were killed by a missile. Following the contrails, they turned around and saw a woman in white armor standing over the body of a Heavy and armed with his missile launcher.

She fired again and two more mercs died while the rest scrambled to abandon their current positions and find new cover while firing at their lone attacker.

The distinct glow of biotics alerted them at they were flanked, yet again. The remaining Eclipse saw tiny orbs of dark energy stretch toward them, before exploding violently. Their shields took the brunt of the impact, but the shockwave generated scattered and forced them out of cover, allowing the female to fire several more rockets, easily picking them off one by one.

Only two more Eclipse of the 15 remained. An asari Vanguard and human Trooper finally found cover that was adequate enough to protect them from both attackers. "Deploying Warp field!" she shouted to her compatriot. She stood up and used Warp on the man in black armor. As the biotic attack flew toward him, his biotic aura manifested as he took a step back and vanished before Warp could hit him. Before she knew it, she and the other merc was blown back from the mass effect fields generated when he reappeared from his Biotic Charge.

The asari had only a moment to gain her bearings when another missile was launched right at her.

"I think that does it," Miranda commented. She dropped the launcher and surveyed the area.

Shepard absently nodded as he shakily stood up from his position. After firing his shotgun at point blank on the human merc, the aftereffects of Charge caught up with him. Taking a deep breath, he tried to clear his mind and get his focus back.

"Are you alright?" Miranda asked. Her concern was undisguised as she observed him closely.

"Yeah. Just got to get used to moving like that, I think," he assured.

Miranda shook her head. "Your progress in biotics is remarkable."

"Thanks," he graciously accepted. Taking a deep breath, Shepard looked around. "That was a pretty good plan."

"Things worked out well for us," Miranda modestly replied, before catching herself. She never considered herself arrogant, but she never considered herself humble either. "Come on. The elevator is right there."

"I am unlocking this elevator, Director Lawson. Also, I have located Niket," EDI informed.

"Where is he?" Miranda demanded, while Shepard retrieved his helmet and jogged back to rejoin her.

"He is approaching Captain Enyala at Dock 94."

"No!" Miranda shouted. She and Shepard sprinted toward the elevator when the Eclipse chatter crackled into their radios.

"Niket has reached the terminal. He'll switch the family over to our transport."

Miranda froze in her tracks. Shepard had to side-step quickly to avoid colliding into her, but she didn't pay attention to him. Her eyes were wide with shock and betrayal. "Niket? But… that can't be right…"

"Miranda?" Shepard asked in a concerned tone. He placed a hand on her shoulder.

"No," she said in denial. She shrugged Shepard's hand off and angrily ran walked into the elevator. "Maybe… maybe the captain knows we're listening in and she's feeding misinformation about Niket making a switch."

"Maybe," Shepard echoed in agreement.

She turned and glared at him. His statement sounded hollow in her ears.

He bore her stare stoically and walked over to the switch. After pressing the appropriate button to ascend to Dock 94, he turned back to face her, his expression hidden underneath his helmet.

"Or maybe it means something else," Miranda said. She couldn't help but feel a sliver of doubt creep into her mind. Her words sounded like protests and denials. She shook the feelings away. "Niket wouldn't do that," she stated, almost to herself. Breathing heavily with the torrent of thoughts and emotions running rampant through her, she looked around the elevator wildly. Niket wouldn't betray me, she thought desperately to herself. If he did, then Oriana… I made the call… I made the decision… It'd be all my fault…

Some music was playing above them. The same slow irritating music the asari favored in the elevators at the Presidium at the Citadel. Even the elevator was moving at the same speed. "Damn it! Why won't thing go any faster ? !" Engaging her omni-tool, she shoved Shepard to the side and slammed her hand on the panel, remotely overriding the safety protocols and speeding their journey up.

Shepard continued to gaze at her with that damnable, unreadable expression.

"What?" she snarled, turning her head to glare at him. She was still leaning on the side of the elevator, her omni-tool still on the control panel. "Going to tell me that I made a mistake ? !"

"Did Niket know that you took Oriana from your father?" Shepard asked carefully.

"No. He just found out about that recently. It was too personal to involve someone else," she answered, visibly trying to calm down. She hated losing control. Physically, she was as perfect as a human could get. She distinctly remembered telling Shepard that only her mistakes was what she could call her own. What she didn't care to admit was that since her strengths were 'given' to her by her father, any weaknesses would only be her own as well. She hated being weak.

"He just 'found' out?" Shepard repeated.

"I never really thought about it," she replied. She stood up and turned to face him, but she couldn't meet his eyes. "But maybe… no," she said before shaking her head. She took a deep breath. "He'd have to understand why I did it. He knows what I went through." She looked up and finally met his eyes. "Why are you asking?"

Shepard hesitated and glanced at the indicator.

Miranda frowned and looked at the indicator as well. Despite the increased speed, they still had a ways to go. "Why are you asking?" she repeated forcefully.

He sighed before answering. "The Eclipse swarmed on this spaceport after our meeting with Lanteia. Either she turned on you, or Niket did. And you did tell Lanteia to give Niket the family itinerary. Seems like it's too much of a coincidence to me."

Miranda shook her head again. "He could've turned on me when I ran away. I'm sure my father tried to buy him off. If he didn't do it then, why would he do it now?"

Shepard shrugged. "Money problems, personal problems, and gambling debts are the worst case scenarios. Less pessimistically, maybe his life is threatened or perhaps Oriana is in more danger than we thought and he's trying to protect her. Buy time even." Taking a deep breath of his own, he shook his head. "We won't know anything until we find Niket."

Miranda narrowed her eyes. "And then I'll have a 'word' with this Captain Enyala."

"I'm sure that conversation won't be pleasant," Shepard commented.

Miranda just stared silently at the indicator as it approached Dock 94.

Location: Crescent Nebula, Tasale System, Illium, Nos Astra, Dock 94

The moment the elevators doors opened, Miranda saw Niket pacing next to an asari wearing Eclipse armor. She was casually sitting on a crate, appearing bored with the proceedings.

Seeing Niket appear unharmed and worse, with the Eclipse, Miranda felt herself leave her emotions behind and adopting her 'frosty' exterior. It was the same mental state she always used when dealing with particularly difficult missions and the reason why people found her so unapproachable.

Niket squinted as he tried to see through the darkened faceplate of Miranda's helmet. "Miri," he breathed out.

Miranda took off her helmet and secured it to her belt. She stalked forward and stopped a few feet away from Enyala and Niket. Her face was emotionless as she stared down her childhood 'friend'.

"This should be fun," Enyala smirked. Jumping off the crate, she reached behind and expanded her shotgun and pointed it at the Cerberus Officer and the Spectre.

Miranda and Shepard reacted instantly to the show of force by drawing their pistols and taking aim at Enyala and her guard.

The asari transport officer looked terrified at the proceedings. She turned around and started running.

Enyala twisted her body and was about to shoot the fleeing worker when Shepard fired a single shot at the Eclipse captain's feet. The sound of the gunshot forced her to instantly point her shotgun at him reflexively. Her eyes narrowed as she realized the shot was a dangerous diversion, but it allowed the transport officer to run and hide. "Gutsy move, human."

Miranda found a part of her was thankful that Shepard was able to save the civilian, but another part hardly cared, more focused on Niket's role, Oriana's safety and stopping her father's machinations. Anger smoldered beneath her icy visage, a dichotomy of feelings. "Niket. You sold me out," she angrily accused as she shifted her target from Enyala to Niket.

"It isn't like that, Miri," he defended.

"Don't you dare call me that. What is this?" she rhetorically asked. "You were my friend. You helped me get away from my father."

"Yes! Because you wanted to leave. That was your choice. But if I'd known that you'd stolen a baby…" Niket tried to explain.

"I didn't steal her! I rescued her!" Miranda interrupted, her eyes resembling glaciers.

"From a life of wealth and happiness? You weren't saving her! You were getting back at your father!"

"Happiness? You know how I lived! You know what he'd do! What 'happiness' could you be talking about!" Miranda retorted.

"Whether you agree with Miranda or not, Oriana has been with her family for years now," Shepard argued.

"Her father can still give her a better life," Niket insisted.

"You don't know what he wants for her," Miranda hissed.

"I know that I've been poor, Miri. I didn't much care for it," he angrily said. He cowered when Miranda put a shot at his feet.

"I said: don't call me that. You don't have the right," Miranda dangerously said. "And as of right now, I don't give a damn what you care for. She's my sister, my family, and none of your damn business."

The Eclipse mercs watched the proceedings warily, keeping their weapons up and ready. So long as none of them were in danger, they didn't care what happened to their contact.

"How did Miranda's father turn you?" Shepard calmly asked, a stark contrast to the rage Miranda was feeling.

He stared at the gun in Miranda's hand and gulped. "They told me she'd kidnapped her baby sister all those years ago. They said I could help get her back peacefully. No trauma to the family," he explained. "I told them you'd never do that. That they could go to hell. Then, when I asked you, you told me what you'd done. I called them back that night."

"Why didn't you call me? Let me explain?"

"I deserved to know that you'd kidnapped your sister. I deserved to know you were with Cerberus. But I had to hear it from your father first," Niket said in defense.

"You deserved? You deserved? Since when?" Miranda snarled. Despite her frosty exterior, her anger pulsed almost painfully in her veins. The urge to kill him was almost overpowering.

"How much did were you paid?" Shepard perceptively asked.

"A great deal," he freely admitted.

"You bastard," Miranda furiously said. "I trusted you."

"He knew you felt that way. That's why he bought me," he said. He almost sounded smug about it.

"So you just took his money," she contemptuously accused.

"Don't get holy with me. You took his money for years," he retorted.

"And I threw all of it back in his face. I earned my way. You? You're nothing but a coward, you son of a bitch," she spat out.

"If Niket knows about Oriana, then your father does, too. Relocating her won't work," Shepard warned.

Niket gulped again and looked at his feet. "Miranda's father has no information about Oriana."

Miranda almost sighed with relief, but she still maintained an impassive expression. She held her pistol steady on Niket. Especially when he took a few steps closer.

"I knew you had spy programs in your father's system, so I kept it private. I'm the only one who knows," he stated.

She narrowed her eyes as she came to a decision. For Oriana… "Which means that you're the only loose end." Her finger tightened on the trigger. "This isn't how I wanted it to end, Niket. I'm going to miss you…"

Shepard's left arm lashed out and forced her arm down. Miranda turned her head in surprise. He was still holding his pistol in his right hand and keeping the Eclipse in his field of vision, but the grip on her arm was firm. "Wait. You don't want to do this."

She twisted her arm away. "This has to end here, Shepard. My father will keep trying to find Oriana."

"Maybe Niket can help… talk to your father. Just say you got here first…" he suggested.

Niket looked like he just realized he was about to be summarily executed by his childhood friend. He looked pale and was shaking. "I'll… I'll tell him that you hid her. That I don't know where she is."

Miranda's mind rushed at the possibilities and considered all the angles. Above all else, she thought about Oriana's safety and happiness. "I never want to see you again, Nik…"

The boom of a shotgun interrupted her. "Done," Enyala callously said. "Now if you don't mind, I have a shipment to deliver."

Miranda's eyes widened at the sight of Niket's murder before allowing her rage to consume her. Targeting the asari captain, she utilized Overload and brought down Enyala's shields with her omni-tool on her left hand. With her right, she utilized her biotics and used Pull to lift her into the air. "You'll die for that, bitch!" she screamed before using Throw to toss her clear across the dock.

Shepard wasted no time. While the mercs were distracted, he unleashed Shockwave directly at their positions before tossing all of his grenades at them. He started running for the nearest available cover, firing his pistol wildly while Shockwave bowled them over and his grenades killed or wounded some of them.

Miranda chased down the Eclipse captain. One merc tried to get in her way, but she had already closed the distance. Grabbing the barrel of his rifle and pushing it to the side, she rammed the barrel of her pistol into his throat. When he staggered back, clutching his throat and choking, she rammed the pistol into the eyehole of his helmet and shot him at point blank before continuing her hunt. She poked her head around a corner only to pull back when Enyala fired her shotgun. She unclipped her helmet and slipped it on quickly, before exchanging her pistol for her Pulse Rifle. Ready, she rushed out and returned fire.

"Enyala!"

Shepard realized he was going to have to face Enyala's personal guard alone the moment Miranda sprinted around some crates and out of sight. 7-1. I can handle that… I hope.

It wasn't the worst odds he faced solo, but preparation and planning was usually the key. Now he had no heavy weapon, no sniper rifle, and he used up the element of surprise. The only thing he was thankful for was the fact that he managed to take three out with his grenades, wound a couple more and drain the shields of some of the others. Now all he had to do was keep the Eclipse off Miranda so she could get to work on Enyala.

Judging by the look on her face, maybe I don't have it so bad. Certainly no worse than Enyala.

"How about a little fire ? ! Huh ? !" a salarian yelled out.

Shepard ducked as the Engineer used Incinerate on his cover. The fire exploded around him, but his shields and armor mitigated the damage. How about a little stealth, Shepard thought before he used Tactical Cloak, just before another Engineer created a Combat Drone to try to force him out of cover.

Miranda fired a quick burst from her rifle at Enyala before sprinting for the next piece of defilade.

Enyala's Barrier held against the attack while she returned fire with her shotgun, but the distance rendered the shot useless. "Damn you!" she cursed.

Miranda popped out of cover to fire another burst when Enyala reared her arm back. Recognizing her movements, Miranda fired a few rounds before using Warp as well. She braced herself, knowing there was little she could do to avoid the biotic attack. She grunted and leaned against her cover when she was struck, but her shields held. Barely. Taking a quick glance, she saw Enyala's Barrier was still up, but it was flickering, a sign that it was failing.

Enyala sneered at her. She fired her shotgun again, but rounds didn't even strike the container Miranda was hiding behind. Changing tactics, she planted her foot back and looked like she was about to run right at her.

Oh, bloody hell…

Miranda dropped a grenade at her feet before crossing her arms in front of her chest and head just moments before Enyala disappeared and reappeared right in front of her. Unlike Shepard's attempt, the mass effect fields exploded on impact, sending her flying back and sliding along the ground.

Enyala wasn't better off. While her attack took down Miranda's shields, she inadvertently pushed her opponent out of the danger zone of the grenade. It exploded when the dark energy produced from her Biotic Charge exploded, sending Enyala flying back as well. Her Barrier vanished and her shields were completely drained.

Miranda painfully picked herself off the ground and watched as Enyala did the same. Frantically, she looked around, but couldn't find her rifle anywhere nearby. She looked back to see Enyala staggering to retrieve her shotgun. Reaching for her pistol, she fired off a few rounds while stumbling behind another container.

The asari managed to pick up her shotgun before she lurched from a shot from a pistol round. Her armor protected her, but she yelled in frustration when she saw the shotgun was ruined from the grenade blast. Tossing it aside, she drew her own pistol and started firing back. Ducking behind a railing, she kneeled down and aimed her pistol at Miranda's last position.

Come on, whore. Show yourself.

She spotted a white helmet poking out and didn't hesitate. Firing quickly, she watched as her shot hit the helmet and it fell back behind the container. She grinned victoriously when a pistol fell and clattered on the ground nearby.

Got you, bitch!

Standing up slowly, she approached the container cautiously. If her shot didn't penetrate the helmet, then the human might be unconscious or dazed. Upon reaching the pistol, she kicked it away. Leading with her own pistol, Enyala leapt around the corner, but only saw a helmet on the ground.

Got you, bitch!

Miranda leapt from the top of the container and delivered a kick into Enyala's temple.

She screamed in shock and pain as she stumbled from the attack, dropping her pistol in the process.

Landing in a crouch, Miranda scooped up the pistol and tried to train it on the merc. She was caught off guard when Enyala managed to thrust her arm out and used Throw to blast her back. Miranda lost her grip on the gun as she flew back and hit the container. She looked up to see Enyala rushing for the gun and lurched to her feet quickly. Enyala retrieved her pistol but before she was able to get a shot, Miranda managed to kick the pistol away before launching a second kick into Enyala's jaw.

Eyala fell and landed flat on her back. She flipped to her feet quickly and landed catlike in a crouch, before whipping out a leg and sweeping Miranda's legs from under her.

Miranda used her arms to cushion the fall and rolled her feet quickly. Rising in a fighting stance, she regarded her opponent cautiously. Enyala glared at her with murder in her eyes. Miranda seethed at her expression. The look she gave when she shot Niket was unrepentant and uncaring. What was worse, she looked bored when she did it. "You miserable bitch."

Enyala glanced at the two pistols and like Miranda, decided they were too far to try and pick up. Settling into a fighting stance of her own, she smirked. "You really think you can beat me, human?" she jeered.

"Absolutely," Miranda sneered. "Now that I think about it, I think I want to tear you apart with my bare hands. Much more satisfying."

"You should've shot me while you had the chance…" Enyala taunted before lashing out with a kick. "Cerberus whore!"

Miranda stepped forward to block the kick. Using her momentum, she spun around and backhanded the asari across the face with a closed fist. "I think you'll be wishing that I just shot you by the end of this," she taunted before launching a quick 3-punch combination.

Enyala had twisted her body and rolled with the backhand. She deftly blocked Miranda's follow-up strikes and countered with a jab of her own, landing a hit the cheek. She followed up with a vicious hook to the ribs which doubled her enemy over.

Miranda raised her arms in time to catch Enyala's downward punch aimed at her face. Stepping forward, she brought her knee up and rammed it into the abdomen. Now it was Enyala's turn to double over. Miranda gripped the back of Enyala's head shoved it down while bringing her knee up and breaking the asari's nose. When the head rocked back, she stepped forward and rammed her elbow into Enyala's damaged nose.

Gritting her teeth against the pain in her nose, Enyala spun with the blow and lashed out with a kick that connected firmly against Miranda's chest. Stepping back to get some breathing room, she spat out a mouthful of blood and prepared herself the next assault.

Miranda shuffled back from the kick and settled into a ready stance. She saw Enyala do the same and waited for her to make the next move. Smiling grimly, she didn't disappoint. She launched a feint before aiming a kick at the merc's midsection.

Enyala just managed to see through the feint, but was too slow to react to the kick and fell back. She waited until Miranda stepped closer before counterattacking with a series of swift punches.

Miranda blocked as many as she could, but unfortunately took a few glancing hits she only barely avoided. Enyala continued her furious assault, until she snaked past Miranda's defense and scored a solid hit to ribs. Grunting in pain, she was still giving ground, fighting defensively. When Enyala tried a high kick, Miranda seized her chance. Ducking under the kick, she launched herself forward counterattacked with a snap kick in the chest. Enyala somersaulted back with the kick, stealing much of the power away, but the moment she landed on her feet, Miranda spun around and executed a roundhouse kick, catching Enyala across the jaw.

Enyala hit the floor with a shout of pain. Rolling to her feet, she initiated the next attack with a flurry of punches.

Miranda held her ground this time and caught Enyala's arm after blocking four punches. She twisted the arm sharply, eliciting another scream of pain. She was surprised when Enyala jumped and flipped to the side, freeing her limb and using the momentary advantage to sweep Miranda's legs from under her. She fell down with a grunt and tried to get back to her feet. Enyala stepped forward and kicked at her head. Miranda managed to bring her arms up, but left her midsection open, allowing the follow-up kick to connect. She felt the air rush out of her lungs as she rolled over in pain. Enyala tried another kick, but Miranda thrust out her leg and hit Enyala's knee. When she stumbled, Miranda clumsily got up and tackled her. Mounting the merc, Miranda pinned her down started pummeling her. Her head slammed into the pavement several times, while Miranda continued her brutal assault.

Enyala focused as hard as she could on her biotics and used an unfocused Throw. A sphere of mass effect fields burst from her body, tossing Miranda off. Enyala rolled over and saw an M-3 Predator a short distance away. Gasping in pain, she got up on all fours and scrambled toward it as quickly as she should. Grasping the pistol, she stood up and fired a round.

Miranda didn't flinch when the bullet struck her shields. Darting forward, she used her right arm and grasped Enyala's right wrist, the one still holding the pistol. Using an open palm strike with her other arm, Miranda targeted elbow joint and struck as hard as she could. The sounds of bones breaking, dislocation, and screaming told her that she hit the mark. Stepping forward and lifting the mangled limb to expose Enyala's midsection, Miranda drove her elbow into the asari's ribs while violently pulling the arm at the same time. The combined force of pulling the arm and ramming her elbow into the ribs dislocated the right arm entirely from the shoulder.

Enyala screamed again and flailed her left arm in a last ditch attempt at resistance.

Easily batting the arm away, Miranda stressed her advantage with a biotic blow. Encasing her fist with Warp, she punched Enyala solidly in the chest.

The explosion of dark energy sent Enyala flying back. Moaning, she tried to get back up and groggily turned her eyes to see Miranda taking slow, measured steps toward her. Her biotic aura blazed like fire around her as she stopped only inches away.

Miranda glared fiercely at the fallen merc. Picking her up with Pull the asari groaned when she was levitated in the air. When she reached 12 feet, Miranda pulled her arm down quickly.

Enyala slammed into the ground legs first. The bone-breaking force produced another scream as her legs shattered on impact.

Walking casually to her discarded weapon, Miranda picked up her Predator and turned to face her broken and beaten opponent. "So…" she conversationally started. However, her tone differed greatly from her enraged expression. "Are you wishing that I shot you earlier?"

"Fuck you, who…" Enyala tried to say.

Miranda silenced her, disregarding whatever repartee Enyala wanted to say as her last words. She emptied her entire clip into the body, uncaring of how unprofessional it was. She heaved a shuddering breath, numb to how weak she appeared.

Footsteps distantly entered her consciousness. She turned her empty gun at the source, but found Shepard standing there. His armor was pockmarked with gunshots and singed from fire. Overall, he appeared unharmed. He was holding both his helmet and hers in one hand and his pistol in the other. He was watching her with a sympathetic look. Apparently, he caught himself, because he schooled his features into something more neutral when he caught her gaze. "Are you alright?" he asked.

Miranda was glad he stopped looking at her with pity. It wasn't something she wanted right now. Even if it was something she probably needed. "I'm fine," she whispered. She was tempted to look at Niket's body before stopping herself. It wasn't how she wanted to remember him. His hurtful words, his betrayal, his murder… "Come on," she commanded. "There could be more Eclipse mercs near the shuttle. I want to make sure Oriana and her family gets on safely."

Shepard looked like he wanted to say more, but thought better of it and nodded silently.

After collecting Miranda's Pulse Rifle, they made their way to the elevator. Once safely inside, Shepard tapped the button to take them to the civilian terminal. He turned around and observed Miranda as she leaned her head against the wall of the lift.

She knew he was watching her again. She took another shuddering breath. "I can't believe Niket sold me out. I didn't even see it coming…" she admitted. Tears stung at her eyes, but she stubbornly held them back. Another weakness…

"It doesn't matter how genetically modified you are. How perfect you're supposed to be. You're still human like the rest of us," Shepard gently said.

"But I let it get personal… and I screwed up," Miranda said frustratingly. She kept her back to him. She couldn't face him. "Why didn't you let me kill him? I could have handled that," she vented. "But watching him get gunned down by that asari bitch…"

"I didn't want his death… his murder… on your conscience. On some level, you still cared for him, regardless of his actions," he softly replied.

She nodded morosely. "You're right. And my father used it against me. Even now, he's still finding ways to screw with my life." She scoffed. "It's always been like this. My father gave me everything I ever wanted, but there was always a hook, an angle for his long-term plan." She didn't know why she was confessing everything like this. Turning around, she saw that Shepard wasn't judging her or her actions. He simply stood there patiently, letting her unload her burdens on him. The action was almost foreign to her. She never would have done this with anyone in Cerberus. "I threw away everything he ever gave me when I ran," she said before pausing. "Except Niket," she whispered. "Weakness on my part."

"You can't toss aside everything you care about just to be safe," Shepard pointed out.

"I know," Miranda said. "It's okay. My father hurt me, but he didn't break me." She took a more calming breath and met his eyes. "As much as he tried to turn me into exactly what he wanted… I'm my own person. That isn't going to change," she stated definitively.

"Is there anyone else your father might use against you?" he worriedly asked. "Anyone you need to contact?"

Miranda shook her head. "No. I cut ties with everyone else. Anyone I'm close to now works for Cerberus…" she answered before giving Shepard a meaningful glance. "Or you," she added. "My father's powerful, but he won't cross the Illusive Man."

"Don't forget your sister," he reminded. "You still have Oriana."

"Yes… you're right. I still have something," she said. Turning to face him fully, she wiped away a single tear, but wasn't bothered by it this time. Somehow, she knew Shepard wouldn't mind. He wouldn't perceive it as weakness.

He'd probably encourage it.

"Thank you."

Location: Crescent Nebula, Tasale System, Illium, Nos Astra, Civilian Terminal

Shepard had a devil of a time explaining to the local authorities about the Eclipse. They wanted to know everything they could since it was apparent that the Eclipse Mercenaries were a few steps removed from an organized crime syndicate on Illium. The moment he finished with his debrief, the authorities thanked him and started assisting in the search for any holdouts of the Eclipse. They didn't harass him about his or Miranda's weaponry the moment he identified himself as a Spectre, something he was grateful for. Standing alone near the main elevator, he finished his sweep of the terminal and was waiting for Miranda to rejoin him. Looking around, he found it wasn't hard to identify Oriana or even put together that they were siblings. She almost looked exactly like Miranda, albeit, younger. Certainly, all the hallmarks of their physical appearances matched. Same eye color, hair color, skin tone. There were minor differences besides age, however. Oriana wore her hair shorter, stood less formally. She was at ease with the crowds and the people. She was smiling and laughing with her adoptive parents. Happy. Just like Miranda wanted.

"No sign of the Eclipse," Miranda reported as she quickly walked up to him. "It looks like we're clear."

Shepard nodded, but didn't turn away from his observation of Oriana.

Miranda turned her head as well and regarded her sister. "There she is," she whispered, as if her voice would attract Oriana's attention. "She's safe… with her family."

Shepard glanced at her. The way she said 'family', he was sure he detected a hint of longing. He watched as her face suddenly fell, her expression more downcast.

"Come on. We should go," she suddenly said as she turned away from her sibling.

"She's not on the shuttle yet," Shepard pointed out.

"She's safe now," she responded quickly. There was an unmistakable hint of fear in her voice now.

"If she's safe, then why not talk to her? Say hello?" Shepard suggested.

"No," she said. "I want to do what's right for her. The less she knows about me, the better." She nodded her head at the scene. "She's got a family. A life. I'll just complicate that for her."

It was an excuse. Shepard knew it. They both did. She was afraid that her sister would hate her for her actions regarding their father. Maybe even judge on her involvement with Cerberus.

"She has a family. And you're a part of it. And you're a part of her life, even if she doesn't know it," he carefully said. "She doesn't need any details, but would it really be so bad for her to know she has a sister who loves her?"

Miranda looked thoughtful at his words. Turning back to gaze at Oriana, she had a small smile on her face. "I guess not…"

It was the first smile Shepard had seen since they embarked on this task. In some ways, it was the most genuine smile he'd ever seen her have since they'd met. Privately, he admitted that he found that smile was rather beautiful on her. "Go on… I'll wait here."

Miranda's smile grew a bit more before she closed her eyes and took a breath. She purposefully walked toward her sister, catching her eye as she approached.

Shepard turned away to give the siblings some privacy and leaned on the railing to watch the sunrise. Despite not having slept for almost an entire day, he found himself smiling as well. He resisted the temptation to look over to see how the reunion was going and took a deep breath of his own to combat his exhaustion. Something glinted out of the corner of his eye. Turning to look, he saw a silver locket underneath a nearby bench. He bent down and picked up the trinket. Turning it over in his hands, he studied it before opening the locket to reveal a picture of an asari and a human man. The locket itself didn't hold much monetary value, but it was well cared for regardless. He stared at the pictured for a few more moments before slipping it into a pouch and returned his attention to the rising sun.

"Will I see you again?" Oriana asked.

"I… I don't know. I have the utmost confidence in Shepard's abilities, but it doesn't change how dangerous our mission is," Miranda gently answered.

Oriana turned her head to observe the man in black armor leaning on the railing near the elevator. "He's cute," she commented.

Miranda blinked before involuntarily turning her head in the same direction as her sister. Realizing what she was doing, she snapped her head back. "I wouldn't know," she replied neutrally.

"Really?" Oriana sing-songed. "Do I detect something here?"

"No, because there's nothing to detect," Miranda said as carefully as she could without giving herself away.

Oriana nodded. "I thought so. A captain and his executive officer, huh? Sound rather romantic."

Miranda's eyes widened. "I said there's nothing there!"

Her sister smiled triumphantly. "No, you said you wouldn't know about how cute he is. That would be denial. You also said that there was nothing to perceive," she corrected. "But, by saying 'there's nothing there', you imply that you want something there." She sighed theatrically. "It's very dramatic. All the trademarks of a good romance vid…"

"Oriana!" Miranda squawked. Unbelievable. I can resist interrogations, but against my own sister…

"Oh, I'm just teasing," she soothed.

Miranda shook her head. "Somehow, I doubt that."

Oriana turned to glance at Shepard again. Her humorous demeanor melted away as she turned back to Miranda. "If half of the stuff they say about Commander Shepard is true, you'll be alright. But, promise me that you'll be careful," she said, keeping her voice upbeat, though a bit of concern laced her tone.

"I promise," Miranda replied.

The announcer overhead stated that operations of the spaceport were continuing again. Oriana's flight out was ready.

Miranda stood there awkwardly, unsure of what to do.

Oriana took the initiative and embraced her older sister. "I'm proud of you. Helping out the 'first human Spectre' and all. Saving the colonists. I'm glad someone out there is doing something for those people." She squeezed her sister a little tighter. "I'm glad we got to meet. I just hope we'll have more chances in the future."

Miranda returned the hug. "I know we will," she promised. "Count on it." Stepping away, she gave her sister one last reassuring smile before walking back to Shepard.

Seeing her approach, he stood up and offered a small smile before calling the lift. The doors opened immediately and they stepped in.

Miranda felt the tears build up in her eyes, but made no attempt to stop them. Turning around, she looked up and saw Oriana standing with her parents, smiling, happy and content. Miranda blinked and a few tears made their way down her cheeks. She made no effort to wipe them away. Feeling Shepard's gaze again, she glanced at him before turning back to Oriana and smiled.

She allowed her tears this time. It didn't feel like a weakness, not at this moment. They were a catharsis now. They made her feel… human. As the elevator descended, she turned to look at Shepard and offered him a smile as well.

A few more tears joined the others. To the Cerberus Officer's surprise, the Spectre reached out and wiped them away. She allowed it. It wasn't a weakness or a failing or a vulnerability after all. Having admitted that to herself, she found her tears to be…

Liberating.

Author's Notes:

This was a tough one. Really tough. I'm rather relieved to have finished with it, but now I can't help but wonder how well I did. Like Horizon, anything you see, any problems, or adjustments you think I should make, please speak up. I want this particular chapter to be the best I can make it and any help is much appreciated.

First off, as you may have noticed… I probably went AU with the whole Hackett thing. Since Shepard 'probably' isn't in the Alliance anymore, I thought it wouldn't matter. As for posthumous 2-rank promotions? I picked that off Ace Combat 5. Great game. Great story. The promotion thing is probably not true, but I was always under the impression that people with the rank of 'captain' or higher commands ships anyway. I mean, Shepard is a Spectre, so rank really doesn't matter with him, but… meh. If people have too many problems with it, I'll remove it. The Normandy mission stays though. I'll put that into play later.

About Niket. Before writing this, I thought the guy was a jerk. I personally didn't care when Enyala shot him. "He deserved it," I'd think to myself. When writing this from Miranda's mindset… I really felt bad. I wanted her to truly feel angry at his betrayal, kinda like Garrus with Sidonis. But at the same time, it's a deep cut because it's someone she really knew for years.

About the Enyala scene… What can I say? I thought about how to approach this in several different ways. Eventually, I thought, "What if she murdered my best friend? Threatened to take away my family?" Suddenly, shooting her seemed kinda weak.

Last thing to note. I'm using my profile page to update the status of my fic. In case you're ever curious as to what I'm up to, go ahead and take a look. I'll occasionally post status updates there.

As always, thanks for reading. I appreciate all those that take the time to review.

Edit: Made some huge corrections. Credit to ArrowMk84 & Ddangerdan.

Edit: I changed the beginning of the Miranda/Enyala fight to better start it off. My beta suggested it as did a reviewer. However, my beta was much more kind and forthright with his opinion.

Edit: Small changes made again. Credit to Dragon3ye.

Edit: Another grammatical error corrected. Credit goes to Breakdown Boy

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