Fight for the Lost

By LuxDragon

Scifi / Action

The Justicar

Location: Crescent Nebula, Tasale System, Illium, Nos Astra, Commercial Spaceport

"I'm just relieved that thing is gone."

"Yeah. I still can't believe we actually helped it… scared the hell out of me when I laid on eyes on that… that creature."

"Why the hell did we help it anyway?"

Samara peered around a corner and listened closely. The three Eclipse Sisters clustered in the narrow hallway continued talking about how they managed to move someone off-world, someone they were terrified to speak of. Someone they wouldn't even dare name.

It was the first lead she received since arriving on Illium.

Perhaps the Goddess still holds me in some regard.

After investigating the scene of the murder of a volus merchant, she returned to her modest hotel room to retrieve her Inferno Armor and her weapons, an M-8 Avenger, an M-27 Scimitar and an M-6 Carnifex Hand Cannon, though she opted to leave behind her M-97 Viper Sniper Rifle. Covert movements were no longer necessary now. Her Code obligated her to locate and bring the murderer to justice. No doubt her quarry would know about her involvement, rendering any further secrecy pointless. After arming herself accordingly, she spent the next hour or so tracking the elusive Eclipse Sisters. To Samara's surprise, they kept themselves unexpectedly well hidden from her eyes.

Until now.

Eventually, she was able to find was one of their warehouses they used to hide their contraband at the spaceport, both imports and exports. Right now, there were rows of chemical containers, each holding some kind of biotic-inducing drug, but it was different from the usual red sand. She crept through the building, searching for any signs as to the specific individual that murdered the volus. The records she came across showed that the victim had a business partner, Pitne For, and they both had dealings with the Eclipse, though no details were given.

Another one I must question.

Further searches revealed that the Eclipse had ways of transporting more than illicit goods off-world; they could transport people as well. Their methods allowed more discreet egresses, something that her target would take full advantage of. This knowledge, combined with what she had just heard indicated that the Ardat-Yakshi had eluded her once again.

Her path was clear. The Eclipse Sisters may have had a hand in murder of Dakni Kur, but it appeared that they may have also helped her prey escape as well.

She gave the Eclipse advanced warning about me. No wonder they secreted themselves.

Their efforts were in vain. She would interrogate each and every one of them to find the whereabouts of the Ardat-Yakshi if she had to. If the Eclipse would seek to stop her, then Dakni Kur's murderer would reveal herself as well. With the evidence she uncovered, there was enough proof to identify that the mercenaries were into complicit activities. Following the Code, they must be brought to justice.

All of them.

She stepped out of the shadows. Her helmet remained clipped to her belt and her weapons still attached to her harness.

The mercs turned in surprise at her sudden appearance. "You…" one of them whispered in shock.

"It's the justicar! Shoot her!"

With a thought and a gesture, Samara erected a Barrier around herself. Coupled with her armor's own shields, their initial volley posed little threat. They persisted in their assault though, taking cover behind whatever they could in the small hallway. She darted forward, unleashing her biotics to create a storm of debris to rain down on the mercs.

They shouted in surprise as the narrow corridor suddenly erupted into anarchy. Crates, panels, conduits and whatever else was loose and laying around attacked the mercs from all sides.

Samara allowed herself to revel in the feeling of battle, a talent she knew she was gifted in. Utilizing her biotics expertly, she continued to rain down flotsam on the trio as she launched her own counterattack. Reaching the closest mercenary, she rammed her knee into her opponent's abdomen. Once she was doubled over, Samara struck with an elbow to the back of her head to bring her to the ground before stomping down on the prone merc's neck, brutally breaking it.

Turning around swiftly, she targeted the next merc with Throw.

All of the materials flying around targeted the lone Eclipse in a hail of deadly projectiles. She feebly tried to defend herself, but a thin panel ripped through her armor and stabbed deep into her leg. A large crate flew through the air and slammed her into the metal walls of the corridor. The impact was hard enough to create a dent in both crate and wall, indicating the merc was injured or dead.

The last asari picked herself off the floor when the debris stopped raining down on her. She thrust out her arm and used Warp in an attempt to combat the justicar with her own biotics.

Samara countered with Warp as well, slamming the unstable energies together to create an explosion and a distraction. She heard merc shout in surprise and closed the distance rapidly.

The merc tried to bring her assault rifle to bear, but was too slow. A solid kick to the chest knocked her flat on her back and involuntarily dropped her weapon. The merc shouted again as she was picked up with Pull and thrown to the other end of the hallway and through the open door. Landing roughly and sliding a few feet, she found herself in the main storage area of the warehouse. Rows and rows of the chemical containers sold to the Eclipse surrounded her. She looked up at the doorway and saw the justicar walking calmly toward her.

"Where is she?" Samara asked coolly, taking slow, measured steps and watching the merc for any further signs of hostilities.

"I… I don't know who you're talking about…" the merc stammered out.

"Do not lie to me," Samara said in a low tone. "Tell me where she is and I will spare your life."

"Please…" the merc pleaded, shuffling backwards at Samara's advance. "Do you have any idea what she'll do to me? !"

"I do," she answered with a slight nod. "This is your final chance. Tell me what I want to know."

The merc backed into a container and cringed. "I don't know where she is," she answered, but hastily added more when Samara started glowing. "But some of the lieutenants might know! I'm just a grunt! I don't know the details!"

"Where do I find them?"

"The back alleys. They have meetings there," she replied quickly. "I answered your questions. Are you going to let me go?"

"As the Code demands," Samara replied. "Leave and never return."

"Thank you! Thank you!" the merc cried out. She scrambled to her feet and started running for the door.

Samara watched her retreating back carefully.

Just before the merc crossed the threshold of the door, she suddenly turned around and used Shockwave.

Samara performed a neat somersault to the side, letting the explosive dark energies pass right by her harmlessly.

The attack eventually reached one of the far shelves, blowing open several containers and allowing a noxious red gas to fill the area.

The merc screamed when she found herself biotically lifted in the air and tossed directly into the cloud.

Samara glanced at one of the chemical containers lining the room and used Pull to lift one into the air before throwing it at the fallen merc.

The container struck her and was broken open on impact, increasing the density of the gas and furthering the potency of the toxins she was inhaling. She began gagging as the gas from the chemical entered her body and into her bloodstream. Dark energy manifested around her as she tapped into her biotics involuntarily, but the drugs kept her from focusing correctly to be any real threat. She staggered to her feet and drunkenly stared at the justicar, before passing out entirely, still breathing in the poisonous fumes.

Samara watched all of this with a dispassionate gaze. "Find peace in the embrace of the Goddess," she intoned. She glanced around the warehouse one last time before she was satisfied that her business finished. Leaving the warehouse quickly, she traveled to her next destination to continue her hunt.

-oOo-

Location: Crescent Nebula, Tasale System, Illium, Nos Astra, Liara's Office

"According to my informants, a volus has been murdered not too long ago. Near the commercial spaceport," Liara said as she looked through the relevant information. "Authorities believe the Eclipse are behind it."

Shepard nodded, though Liara didn't see the gesture since she was still absorbing the reports on her terminal. He picked up the only other unbroken chair in the battle-torn room and set it down from across Liara's table. He settled in and made himself comfortable; in more ways than one. After the last few days of dealing with her, he finally felt at ease in his old friend's presence after her admission of the sacrifices she had made for his sake.

"Ah, Detective Anaya," she suddenly said.

"Friend of yours?"

"We've worked together on occasion," she replied distractedly as she scrolled through the data. "Samara has involved herself with the investigation around an hour ago. I'll send you the location."

"Another spaceport?" Shepard groaned.

Liara shrugged. "It makes sense. Whoever Samara is after must want to leave Illium as soon as possible."

"Alright, is there anything else you can tell me?"

"I'm still getting more information. It'll take me a while to sort through it all to find any relevant intel for you."

"How long?"

She smiled at him apologetically. "More than you'd like. I'm afraid you'll have to do this one blind. Hopefully, you'll be able to recruit Samara with little trouble."

Shepard stood up and smiled back. "With my luck? I'm not betting on it." He nodded at the terminal. "Sounds like Samara is busy with this murder thing. I might have to help her out with it to speed things up."

Liara started typing on her terminal. "Detective Anaya is the one in charge of the case." She suddenly frowned as she read through more reports. "She's also in charge of reining in Samara before a cross-species incident can occur."

"Is that a bad thing? She's a cop, right? Would Samara do anything to her?"

"Samara will comply with Anaya temporarily, I believe." She shrugged. "After that, justicars follow their Code, almost single-mindedly, not the established laws or politics of governments."

Shepard frowned. "She'll attack the police?"

"I can't say that I'm well versed in the Justicar's Code. You'll have to find out yourself."

Shepard groaned again. "Why can't these things be easy?"

"I'll contact Anaya and let her know that you'll be helping her out with this. She'll be able to smooth things over and get you started," Liara offered. "Good luck, Shepard," she genuinely said.

Shepard smiled at her. "Thanks."

-oOo-

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

"Is the Illusive Man crazy?" Jacob asked incredulously.

"He's a lot more than that," Jack waspishly retorted.

"No, not that." Jacob shook his head. "I meant that Cerberus isn't exactly legit. Not to mention Jack and—" He made a vague gesture at Thane before continuing. "So why are we recruiting someone that hunts down…" He trailed off, trying to find the right words.

"People like you?" Tali supplied impishly.

Everyone was gathered outside the Normandy, sitting casually on whatever available: crates, benches, and the like. After his meeting with Liara, Shepard requested that everyone to meet at the hangar, fully equipped and ready to depart. An hour later, when everyone gathered around him, he started briefing them on everything he knew about Samara and the justicars. Needless to say, there were some misgivings on the potential recruit.

"Will her beliefs be a problem for us?" Miranda asked.

"According to Liara, if Samara swears a certain oath, then no. Otherwise, we'll have to let this one go," Shepard answered.

"Lovely," Miranda responded with a shake of her head.

"Alright, alright," Shepard said over everyone's voices. "We don't know anything yet, so let's just try to take this one step at a time." He turned his gaze to Tali. "I need you here with the Normandy."

"What? Me?" Tali asked.

"You need to continue to oversee the armor installation. It shouldn't be hard, since we're almost finished in that regard. More specifically, I want you to continue the safe installation of the cannon. The tests were all well and good, but if we can't mount the cannon and all of its components on the Normandy, then all our efforts are wasted."

"Fine," Tali acknowledged petulantly.

"Any further questions?"

"Do we know anything about the murder itself?" Garrus asked.

Shepard glanced at him. "Nothing yet. Falling back into old habits, 'Detective' Vakarian?"

Garrus snorted, but grinned all the same.

"We're meeting with a Detective Anaya to discuss the details. Liara vouched for her and it appears the good detective is facing pressure to get Samara off of Illium as fast as she can. Chances are pretty good that she's going to be a helpful mood." Shepard nodded to his team. "Any more questions?"

"Threats?" Mordin asked.

"Eclipse Mercs. I don't want to take chances; that's why we're all going. I'll assess the threat and determine how many will go. Some of you might just be on standby. Any more questions?"

A few people shuffled, but no one spoke up.

Shepard studied his squad. Mordin appeared to be deep in thought about something, Garrus and Jacob appeared to be trying to appear as nonchalant as possible, Grunt was grinding his teeth, and Jack looked impatient, but for different reasons. The only people that appeared at ease were Thane, Tali, and Miranda.

Obviously, I'm missing something here.

He knew that Jack wanted to blow the base on Pragia to dust and Grunt was sorting through his krogan hormone rages, but Mordin, Garrus and Jacob obviously had something else on their minds. He knew getting a group this eclectic was bound to have certain problems. But with the thought of almost certain death hanging over their heads, no doubt they were exploring their own mortality and with it, their own issues and perhaps some sort of closure with their lives.

Resolving to ask what was bothering them privately and as soon as possible, Shepard nodded to everyone. They appeared as ready as they could be for the time being at least. "Let's go."

Just before the squad was about to leave though, Joker hobbled up to Shepard. "Hey, are you expecting a present from Admiral Hackett?" he asked seriously.

Shepard looked confused before he remembered his conversation with Hackett and his request. "Yeah, I am. I'll need to talk to you about it later, Joker. It's pretty personal."

Joker looked at the assembled group, noting that they were geared up and ready to go. He turned back to Shepard. "I'm sure it is. Whatever you got to say has to be pretty serious. I mean, it's Admiral Hackett. Of the Alliance. That hates Cerberus." He glanced over his shoulder at the direction of the package. "Oh, yeah, and that container is pretty big too."

"You could always ask EDI for the details," Shepard suggested.

Tali and Joker snorted at the same time.

"Or not," he responded with a shake of his head. "I'll be back in the morning. I'll talk to you then." He turned to his team. "Move out."

-oOo-

Location: Crescent Nebula, Tasale System, Illium, Nos Astra, Commercial Spaceport

"Did you hear? The justicar found one of our warehouses."

"Well, we gotta move this stuff somewhere else. We can't leave it all at the base."

"When's Captain Wasea going to take care of that other volus? He knows where the base is. And after the fucking new girl killed that other volus, he might talk to the cops."

"I don't know. Depends on what the justicar does, I guess."

Samara's vigil had finally paid off. She decided to discreetly watch the alleys the police chose to avoid, judging it the best place to follow any Eclipse mercs. After reporting to Detective Anaya about the location of the warehouse she discovered, Samara spent the next hour or so watching for signs of the mercenaries. As predicted, as soon as the police chatter increased following the news of the captured warehouse, an emergency meeting was called. Several Eclipse mercs were in attendance, though this 'Captain Wasea' was not present. Judging by the elaborate markings on the armor of the one of the mercs, she was fortunate enough to have a higher ranking mercenary in her sights at least. Most likely, this was a smaller crew, with one of Wasea's lieutenants in charge of them.

"Let's go. We'll discuss this inside."

Some of the asari mercs dutifully followed their leader into their hidden storehouse. Others remained outside to stand guard, supported only by a few LOKI mechs. All of them were completely unaware they were being shadowed.

The lieutenant will know where she is. If not, at the very least, where Wasea is.

It was the logical outcome. Work through the chain of command and eventually, she would find someone with all the answers she was seeking.

The guards were at attention, but not truly on alert. They took comfort in the fact that their meeting location was apparently well hidden and had allowed themselves to become slightly lax of their surroundings.

A costly mistake.

Samara crept forward. Her presence would be announced soon enough, but until then, the element of surprise was still hers. An advantage she learned to exploit to the fullest during her centuries of experience as an asari commando, mercenary, and finally, justicar.

The guards never stood a chance.

-oOo-

Dossier: The Justicar

Justicar Samara

-Biotic strength near that of an asari matriarch

-Extensive weapons training

Samara is a justicar, a rare member of an asari monastic group trained in enhanced combat biotics alongside standard weapons. Samara was recently sighted on Illium, outside normal asari space.

-oOo-

Location: Crescent Nebula, Tasale System, Illium, Nos Astra, Commercial Spaceport, En Route to the District Police Station

The Kodiak Shuttle flew high above Nos Astra, cruising at a steady clip toward the spaceport.

Miranda and Shepard were piloting and co-piloting the ship respectively. Considering the relatively short distance between the private hangar of the Normandy and their destination, Shepard deemed that it wasn't necessary to call Hawthorne and Goldstein in just to fly the entire squad for only a few hours. It was a simple matter of going through the skies of Illium; no FTL or atmospheric entries.

"ETA: Five minutes," Shepard called into the intercom.

"So, all we have to do is solve a murder of a volus merchant," Miranda stated. "Then, if Samara swears this oath to us, we're finished?"

"Hopefully," he replied, tapping several commands and transmitting his Spectre clearances to the spaceport to allow their passage through the skies.

"You really think it'll be that easy?"

"Garrus has experience in this type of thing. We should be alright, unless the Eclipse decides to become a problem," Shepard said as they piloted their shuttle near the police station where they were to meet Detective Anaya. "This is it."

"Look. Over there," Miranda said. She was pointing at a volus next to two armed turians. He appeared to be in a hurry and tried to leave the area, but two asari officers blocked his path.

"Let's go see what up," Shepard suggested.

After landing the Kodiak, everyone disembarked from the shuttle just as a purple-hued asari jogged up to the volus. "Where do you think you're going?" she demanded.

The assembled team stood some distance away and watched the proceedings interestedly.

The volus stopped yelling at the asari officers to address the newcomer. "I'm taking my goods to Omega, Detective."

"You not going anywhere, Merchant," the Detective commanded decisively. "Not until I solve this murder."

"I had nothing to do with that!" the volus merchant protested. "It was those mercenary thugs you can't seem to get rid of."

The detective scowled at the reminder. "The victim was your business partner, so I'm not ruling you out." She nodded at the officers nearby. "I'm grounding you. Don't worry though; I'll let you know when to leave."

The volus' re-breather made a rapid gasp. "What about that justicar that just showed up?" he asked nervously. "Everyone says she might go crazy and start killing! I need to leave!"

"She'll only kill the unjust – so I'm sure you have nothing to worry about, Pitne For." She smirked at his nervous hand wringing. "Find me in the station if you want to talk." She looked up that the turians and pointed at them. "You two. Disarm."

The turians fidgeted a bit with their weapons as they stared uncertainly at her.

She glared at them. "Now," she ordered in a voice that brooked no argument.

The two asari officers raised their weapons at the Pitne's bodyguards.

Reluctantly, they collapsed their M-15 Vindicator Battle Rifles and kicked them over to the detective. Their side arms followed right after. Another nearby officer scurried up and retrieved them.

"Wait! What about me?" Pitne For complained.

"Like I said, unless you do anything illegal, you'll be fine, Pitne For. You're merely a person of interest. Once my investigation is over, the weapons will be returned and you'll free to leave." Detective Anaya spun around on her heel and wordlessly dismissed him. She caught sight of Shepard and his group nearby. "Let me guess, you're the Spectre?"

The human in question nodded. "I'm the Spectre."

She sighed impatiently. "Follow me." She walked briskly toward the police station, muttering under breath.

Shepard could her say something about 'justicars' and 'Spectres' and how her job just got worse. He silently endured her disparaging remarks.

They entered the station where Anaya took a quick right turn and settled down behind her desk. She gestured to the only seat across from her.

Shepard declined and opted to remain standing with the rest of his team.

Anaya leaned back in her seat and regarded the group in front of her. "So, Spectre…"

"Shepard. Just Shepard is fine."

"Shepard," she acknowledged neutrally. "I understand you're looking for Justicar Samara."

"That's right. Liara tells me that you can help."

"She doesn't miss a thing," Anaya commented approvingly.

"I understand you talk a little bit."

"We chat on occasion. She tends to have information that helps us a great deal on some of our more difficult investigations. Best of all, she doesn't charge us a single cred. We try not to use her too much, though. Otherwise, she might end up making a lot of enemies, talking to the law and all."

Shepard nodded before getting to the point. "Look, I know your superiors are asking you to get Samara off-world. I need to find her and recruit her for a specific mission. The way I see it, we can help each other. She doesn't cause a diplomatic 'shit-storm' and I don't invoke Spectre rights to tear my way through your district to find her."

Anaya looked intrigued at the prospect. "This mission of yours dangerous?"

"Survival appears unlikely," Mordin chirped in.

"Hmm…" Anaya looked thoughtful. "Justicars usually work alone, but they are drawn to impossible causes."

"We've got that covered," Miranda assured.

"Shepard knows impossible odds. You can believe that," Jacob said seriously.

"Alright, Shepard. If you're getting her out of my district, I'll help anyway I can."

"We understand she's investigating the murder of a volus merchant," Garrus spoke up. "She go through the crime scene?"

Anaya shrugged. "I'm a cop – I'll work with a justicar all I can." She smirked humorlessly. "Besides, she's been looking at crime scenes longer than our two life spans combined. She knows what to do."

"Liara mentioned that Samara would cooperate with you temporarily, but might fight if you try to detain her," Shepard stated. "Care to elaborate?"

"I'm an innocent. So long as I stay out of her way, we have no problems," Anaya explained. "But her Justicar Code won't let her be taken into custody. If I try it, she might have to kill me and anyone else in her way." She leaned forward on her desk. "Thing is, my bosses are still ordering me to detain or get her off-world anyway, hence my problem." She looked Shepard in the eye. "I have no interest in dying for something as stupid as forcing a justicar into custody, so if you can lure her away with some big noble cause before I have to carry out my orders, I'm thrilled to help you."

"Aren't your superiors aware of this, though? The Justicar Code and Samara's reputation?" Shepard pointed out. "They're sending out to certain death for no good reason. You have a right to disobey."

"Wait, hold on a minute," Garrus suddenly said. He turned to the rest of the team. "We can disobey suicidal orders? Why wasn't I told?"

Shepard suppressed his sigh and resisted the urge to turn around and glare at his friend.

"Let's remember that the next time he sets up against impossible odds," Miranda stated thoughtfully.

"Good to know, given number of times we're ordered into hazardous situations," Mordin agreed.

"Ha! That's about twice a day or so." Jack grinned. "At least traveling with him isn't boring."

"It's not nearly enough," Grunt retorted. He smirked at the detective. "A pointless death should be her choice. Like it is for us."

Thane looked flummoxed at the sudden news. The expression looked decidedly out of place on the normally stoic drell. "Hmm… I suppose I have to remind myself that I volunteered. And that I'm already dying."

"This has to be insubordination. And mutiny," Shepard muttered to the group as a whole, though his tone lacked any malice. He was trying to hold onto his cross look without breaking into a smile.

Anaya raised an eyebrow at their behavior.

"Look, I'm not stupid about my orders," Shepard explained, trying to keep his voice from sounding defensive.

"Most of the time," Garrus cheekily added.

"Otherwise, they'd never follow me," he continued, studiously ignoring the comment. "I can't say the same for your bosses."

"I'm not going to argue with you, but I'm a cop and I know my duty," Anaya responded, though she appeared to be fighting a smile as well. "I've been ordered to detain her and I will if I have to." She gave Shepard a pointed look. "Unless I can get her to leave my district first."

"We'll help with the investigation and finish it as quickly as possible," Shepard assured. "Once that's done, we'll talk to Samara and hopefully convince her."

"What can you tell us about the victim?" Garrus asked in a professional tone, all traces of his earlier humor gone.

Anaya stared at him, as if she was looking for something specific.

"Former C-Sec Detective," Garrus supplied. "Garrus Vakarian."

Anaya nodded in understanding. She started typing into her terminal. "A volus merchant was murdered. Not too far from here, in fact." She scowled again. "Obviously, I'm facing pressure to solve that murder as quickly as possible. Somebody gets killed near the police station, it looks bad."

Garrus nodded understandingly.

"Vic's name was Dakni Kur." She turned her head and looked out the nearby window. "You saw me telling off his boss, Pitne For. Another volus is missing in his trade group, but he hasn't reported it yet. A…" She scrolled through the files. "Niftu Cal. Another reason why I don't want Pitne leaving just yet."

"Hoping to keep the pressure up until he talks," Garrus commented knowingly.

"One member of his group was shot, the other missing," Anaya replied. "With his guards disarmed, the only people he can turn to for protection is us. He'll talk."

"Nice," Garrus responded approvingly. He crossed his arms and cocked his head in thought. "What about the crime scene? What can you tell us about the murder itself?"

"Professional, but not best work I've seen," Anaya answered immediately. "We're not dealing with junkies looking for a score."

"You got an idea who it is?"

"I'm thinking the local Eclipse mercenary band. The body was shot with modded rounds. The Eclipse Sister's, in particular, tends to favor that kind of thing."

Garrus looked contemplative. "Professional, but not experienced. We're looking for someone relatively new to the group then."

Anaya smiled at him. "Exactly my thoughts." She snorted. "I'm just glad Samara isn't aware of their 'final test'. Yet anyway."

"Test?" Miranda asked curiously.

"Before you're formally inducted into their little band of psychopaths, you have to kill someone." Anaya shook her head in disgust. "That volus out there might have been someone's entry into their group. Unfortunately, we're rarely given enough evidence to prosecute, though it might not stop the justicar if she ever knew. She'd be obligated to kill each and every member of the Eclipse Sister's if she found out, if she didn't already."

Shepard grimaced. "Great. More Eclipse."

"Yeah. I heard you had a run-in with Enyala and her band of Eclipse a few days ago at the civilian spaceport."

Shepard raised an eyebrow.

"A detective friend of mine in that area filled me in on the details. Look, I don't want to tell you how to do your job, especially since you're 'above the law', and all that, but I'm sure you and Samara are going to be making a mess of things. Can you at least try not to cause too much trouble for me?"

"Anything specific about these particular mercs?" Garrus inquired.

"Worst of the worst. I'm not sure I'd call them mercenaries anymore. Not on Illium anyway. Here, they're more like a crime syndicate." Anaya tapped a few commands into her terminal and turned the holo-monitor around for Garrus to see. "They're professional killers. Sells red sand, trade illegal weapons tech, smuggle people off-world or get them planet-side." She frowned. "We've been after this bunch for a while, but we haven't been able to gather enough evidence yet to pursue them."

Garrus studied the data. "You don't even have a location?"

"We know a few back alley meetings and warehouses. Nothing at all on their main base of operations though," Anaya answered. She turned to Shepard. "Your best shot at finding Samara? She's probably going after the Eclipse Sisters by now. All of them, eventually."

"What about the vic, Dakni Kur?" Garrus asked. "What are your thoughts on him?"

"I think he's dirty. That whole trade group is. Can't prove it yet, though," Anaya answered in frustration. "If that's the case, maybe it was just a deal gone bad."

"You didn't find anything?" Garrus probed.

"We seized a warehouse that belonged to the Eclipse an hour ago. It's loaded with some kind of illegal toxic biotic chemical. Our people are still analyzing it. Pitne's name was on a datapad there, but nothing saying why or what connection he has with the Eclipse." This time Anaya grimaced. "It was actually Samara that provided us with the location of the warehouse," she grudgingly admitted.

"Still too circumstantial then," Garrus muttered.

"That's all I got so far. If you can find more, I'd appreciate it," Anaya said.

Garrus looked up. "Any evidence we uncover might not be admissible. Even if I was still in C-Sec, I'd be out of my jurisdiction," he pointed out.

"Your friend is a Spectre. That should be enough," Anaya replied calmly. "If Samara finds any evidence, we'll accept the judgment of a justicar as well."

"We'll see what we can do," Shepard assured. "You met Samara, right? Any opinions?"

"I looked her up," Anaya replied. "She's been a justicar longer than three of your life spans. Whoever she was before she swore that oath, that person is dead." She leaned back in her chair. "All things considered, she's probably one of the most dedicated people I've ever met. I don't know if all justicars are like that, but I hear that Samara is something of a legend back in asari space."

Jacob was looking out of the window and observing Pitne For pacing around agitatedly. "Seems like this Samara is making everyone a bit on edge," he commented off-handedly.

"Asari admire justicars," Anaya explained. "But we also know that they kill without mercy when they find corruption." She pointed out the window to the city beyond. "Don't know how long you've been here, but you can see that corruption is pretty much everywhere in a city like this."

"Any idea why she came to Illium in the first place?" Shepard asked.

"No clue. I know it's not to investigate the murder of some corrupt volus. She just happened to come across the crime scene and followed her Code."

"We should check out some of these back alleys," Garrus suggested to Shepard. "Since Samara is going after the Eclipse, I'm sure they're calling meetings right now. We might get lucky."

"Finding Samara or the meetings?" Shepard asked.

"Both."

"There are some back alleys we're ordered not to go into unless it's in force." Anaya started typing into her terminal. "As far as our intelligence goes, these places are some of the meeting places for the Eclipse. From there, you might get some idea where their little nest is." She sent the data to Garrus and Shepard.

"Anything else we should be on the lookout for?" Garrus offered as he looked at the information.

"Just the evidence. With Shepard being a Spectre, if you find any evidence, anything at all, I could use it to hammer on the whole lot of them. Trafficking, murder, accessory to murder, conspiracy to commit murder, smuggling, a whole shipload of charges." She sent Garrus a piercing look. "I'm most definitely interested in any information you can get on Captain Wasea."

"She's the one in charge, I take it?" Garrus guessed.

"Yeah. Bitch is a slippery one," Anaya said. "I'd appreciate it if you could do something about her as well."

"And what does that mean?" Jacob asked uncertainly.

"Look, I'm not stupid," Anaya said. "Wasea is not going to give up and let herself get arrested peacefully. She'll fight and with good reason: she's dangerous. Chances are, you'll have to 'defend' yourselves. If that happens, well…" She shrugged. "Wasea made her choice, so whatever happens, happens."

Jack and Grunt grinned. "Like I said, never boring," Jack affirmed.

"Good. I needed something to do," Grunt said in agreement.

Shepard nodded to the detective. "Alright. Thanks for the help. We'll get going."

"Good luck."

-oOo-

The merc gasped as she felt the mass effect fields press harder on her rib cage. She struggled against the justicar's biotics, but her efforts were in vain.

Samara's serene face belied her actions as she pressed the merc against the wall a little harder. Between the metal surface and the mass effect fields, the surviving guard was caught between a rock and a hard place. "How many are inside?" she asked. Her voice was only a whisper, but it carried to the merc easily as if she was standing right next to her.

"Sev… seven!" she croaked out.

"The Ardat-Yakshi. What do you know?" Samara asked firmly.

"I don't know anything!" the merc gasped out. Her breath hitched when Samara increased the pressure on her chest. "I know we got her on a ship! I know we got her off-world!"

"And the destination?"

"I don't know! I don't even know if the captain knows!" she breathed out desperately. "It's an Ardat-Yakshi! We didn't ask questions! We just wanted her off-world!"

"The name of the ship then."

"I don't know!" she repeated. "None of us wanted anything to do with that thing!"

Samara tilted her head.

"But the lieutenant! She might know! Captain Wasea definitely knows!"

Nodding in acceptance, Samara allowed the merc to drop to the ground. She watched impassively as her captive gasped and coughed, trying to get her lungs to function again. "I thank you," she honestly said.

The merc raised her head only see a fist fly at her. Then she knew no more.

-oOo-

"Well, Garrus. Seems like you and that detective had something going on," Jacob commented when they left the station.

"It was a meeting between two professionals, Jacob. Don't read too much into it," Garrus answered evenly. He turned his head toward Pitne For. "I think I want to ask the volus a few questions."

Shepard glanced at his friend and noted there was slight fire in his eyes.

Miranda apparently noticed it too. "Seems our former C-Sec detective really is falling back into old habits," she whispered.

"I think I'll let him take the lead on this one," Shepard whispered back.

Everyone watched as Garrus marched over to the lone volus. "Pitne For?"

The volus stopped paced at and looked up when his name was called. "Who's asking?"

"We're consultants working with the police," Garrus lied easily. "I was wondering if I might ask a few questions."

The volus made a breathing sound of annoyance through his voice module. "I've already got mercs wanting to kill me like they did my partner! I don't need any more trouble." He shook his head and nervously wrung his hands together. "As if that weren't enough, some asari justicar showed up. All the natives are scared of her." He turned his head to the asari officers standing guard nearby. "I've got to get off of this world."

"Then talk to me and I'll see what I can do," Garrus bluffed with a straight face.

Shepard carefully schooled his features to hide his surprise. He hadn't pegged Garrus as someone who could lie so well, since he tended to be very direct and straightforward.

"He must have done some undercover work before," Miranda theorized quietly as they observed the proceedings closely.

"So what makes you think it was mercs?" Garrus inquired casually.

"Dakni Kur was cutting through a back alley last night when someone killed him with a shotgun. I saw his body this morning – they'd used modded rounds. That means Eclipse mercs."

"You could tell just by looking at the body?" Garrus asked in an even tone.

"Oh… well… of course. I'm in dangerous line of work," the volus hedged.

"Right," Garrus responded, indulging the merchant for the time being. "You do any business with them?"

"Of course not. I know how they're regarded on Illium," Pitne answered instantly.

"Really? The police have a datapad confiscated from the Eclipse saying that there was a credit transfer from them to you. Want to revise that statement?" Garrus pressed, easily injecting a lie with the truth.

Shepard couldn't help but admire the technique Garrus was applying to interrogate Pitne. He kept his voice steady and even, subtly applying pressure as the conversation continued and boxing in Pitne with logic and half-truths.

"Um… right. I occasionally do business with them, but in well-lit places with my guards. And only after the credits clear," Pitne answered nervously.

"Is that why those mercs killed your partner? And why you think they're coming after you?" Garrus continued. "Did you con them? Cheat them?"

"I have no idea," Pitne answered quickly. "We're innocent merchants! But they killed him, so they must be after me, too! I have to work the angles and get out of here!

"You know, you don't seem like you're too broken up over your partner's murder," Garrus observed.

"Dakni Kur knew the risks when he took to spacing. Right now, my worry is me." He took a look around as if he was expecting the Eclipse to attack him right then and there. "It's unhealthy to be a volus in the Nos Astra spaceport right now. Especially a volus named Pitne For!"

"That is pretty bad," Garrus readily agreed. "Mercs, justicars, Spectres…"

As predicted, Pitne's head snapped up at the last point. "Spectres?"

"There's a Spectre searching for Samara. Needs her help. Thing is, she won't help unless this whole murder thing is resolved." Garrus knelt down and placed a comforting, but firm hand on the volus' shoulder. "So, level with me. Either you tell me the truth and I get the Spectre and the justicar to stop the mercs for you or I drop your name and see which of the three gets to you first." His head loomed over the stout merchant and his hand steadily increased in pressure. "You've been lying to me. I don't like it."

"He's really good," Shepard praised softly to Miranda.

"I agree," she replied with a nod.

"Your business with the mercs. What. Is. It?" Garrus growled out.

"I haven't been lying! I don't…"

"What about Niftu Cal? He's gone missing. Strangely enough, it's around the same time your other partner died. Did you hire the Eclipse to take them both out? Didn't feel like sharing the profits? Get a bit greedy? Maybe I should haul you into the station right now? Talk to me or this can become very unpleasant," Garrus threatened.

"Okay! Okay! I'll be cooperative, I swear!" The merchant yelled out.

The two bodyguards nearby started forward when they heard their boss shouting, but Grunt and Jack cut them off. Grunt held his Hand Cannon loosely in his hand, while Jack allowed her biotics to flare. Both turians backed off, knowing that they were outmatched and unarmed.

"Talk," Garrus demanded.

"My business… I smuggled a chemical onto Illium."

"A toxic biotic boosting chemical. So that was you," Garrus stated. "Let me guess: you didn't mention that the chemical was dangerous."

Pitne cleared his throat nervously. "Um… yes. So they are quite perturbed and want to, well, kill me."

"And your entire trade group, no doubt. What'd you smuggle in?"

"It's called Minagen X3…"

"Oh, you little…" Garrus growled.

"Oh, dear," Miranda muttered.

"You know what he's talking about?" Shepard asked while Garrus continued tearing into the volus.

"Minagen is a derivative of red sand. It was a drug originally developed by the Alliance to boost biotic powers in their biotics soldiers safely, but without the side effects red sand usually produces," she explained quietly. "The project was a bust. While the drug does boost biotic power, they couldn't filter out the addictive, hallucinogenic, and toxic properties of red sand. Biotics started exhibiting the classic signs of dusters and they immediately shut down all production of Minagen. The designation X3 tells me that there are some people still trying to continue the project, it seems."

"Cerberus?" Shepard suggested bluntly.

Miranda gave him a sharp look. "I wouldn't know."

"So Minagen isn't widely used I take it?"

"It's very, very illegal. Even red sand is more accepted." She brushed a lock of her hair behind her ear before crossing her arms in thought.

"So how do you administer Minagen?" Shepard asked.

"Just breathing in the chemical is enough, but injections were the 'controlled' method."

"Do you know where the Eclipse base is?" Garrus asked harshly.

"Oh, yes." The volus started patting his pouches, trying to find something. "I do have a pass card they issued me to bring my goods in. Well, I had to return that one, but I happened to make a copy." He produced the card and handed over to Garrus. "Here."

Garrus took it and stood up. "What's the layout?"

"It's a series of docking bays where the Eclipse keep their private ships. They're well-armed and they've got mechs," Pitne informed.

"Gunships too?" Jacob spoke up from the side.

"I've seen one or two," Pitne said.

"Thank you for your cooperation," Garrus said disingenuously. He walked back to Shepard and handed him the keycard. "Now we know where the Eclipse base is. Simple."

"Nice work, Garrus. I might have to reconsider getting that payback for setting me up with Conrad," Shepard replied as he took the card.

"So what's our next move?" Miranda asked.

"Samara first," Garrus suggested to Shepard. "She needs to know this and hopefully, we can stop her before she makes a mess of things and causes trouble for Detective Anaya."

"If that's what you think," Shepard answered. "Lead the way."

-oOo-

Samara boldly walked into the meeting, even when the mercenaries raised their weapons toward her. She memorized their positions as she approached the lieutenant and mentally started categorizing which Eclipse would be the greatest threat and how best to subdue them all. Seven was simple, but the lieutenant needed to live to answer her questions, adding a minor complication.

The lieutenant was uneasy at her presence, but hid it well. She stared Samara down as the justicar stopped a few feet away.

"You know who I am," Samara stated evenly. It wasn't a question.

"I know who you are, Justicar," the merc said with more bravery than she felt. The various Eclipse mercs shuffled uneasily. Despite their numbers, they were treading carefully. Fearfully.

"You moved an asari off-world not too long ago. I want the name of the ship and its destination," Samara demanded in a placid tone.

The leader's two closest subordinates flanked her and aimed their assault rifles. "I don't know what you're talking about," she scoffed.

Her protests were unconvincing. "Answer me truthfully and I will leave. Persist in this foolish course of action and I will be forced to extricate the information from you violently."

"Are you threatening me? You're surrounded, Justicar!"

Samara knew that while the lieutenant believed that she had a chance of victory, she would continue her foolish defiance. Actions would sing louder than any words now.

"So be it."

In a sudden flurry of movement, she touched on her biotics and the room exploded into pandemonium. Throw scattered the lieutenant and her two subordinates while a Singularity appeared and captured the other four mercs in its deadly pull.

Samara had always felt her life was rather akin to music. There was always with a sense of cadence to how she approached her trials; one moment, a minuet, the next, a bolero. In battle, allegro proved to be an apt description. Her symphony was beautiful with each section of the orchestra playing in perfect harmony with the other.

While the four were fighting the influence of the Singularity, Samara darted forward, targeting one of the two bodyguards. Pushing her biotics harder, she pulsed brightly with dark energy as she picked up the merc and slammed her against a wall hard enough to hear the spine snap.

The other bodyguard and lieutenant stumbled to their feet, but Warp brought them both to their knees, screaming in pain.

One of the mercs behind Samara screamed in concert as she was finally pulled into the core of the Singularity, where she was subjected to the merciless gravitational forces within. She died seconds afterward.

Two Eclipse Sisters were flying within the accretion disk and orbiting the gravity well helplessly while the third managed to pull free and raised her rifle.

Samara's response was to target the Singularity with Warp as well. The explosion rocked the room, killing all three mercs and leaving only the lieutenant and bodyguard alive.

Dark energy lit the room as the justicar turned her attention to the final two.

-oOo-

"Did you hear that?" Jacob asked.

"I heard it," Jack said. "Screams and explosions. My favorite music."

"We're on the right track," Shepard stated.

"Looks like Samara found the Eclipse meeting first," Garrus guessed.

The group moved quickly towards the source of the disturbances. On the way, they finally passed by visual evidence of Samara's passing. LOKI's and Eclipse mercenaries were scattered along the alleys.

Mordin stopped at one of the mercs and ran his omni-tool over her. "Curious. Alive, but unconscious. Appears relatively unharmed."

"Over here. I think this is it," Garrus said as he stopped at a door. The group stacked up and prepared to enter.

"Ready?" Shepard said to his team.

Various affirmatives floated back as they held their weapons ready.

"Doors are already unlocked," Miranda reported.

"Go."

Garrus and Miranda entered quickly and scanned the room. A flash of movement in a glass-walled office on the second floor caught their attention. "Contact! Second floor!" Garrus shouted.

"First floor is clear!" Miranda shouted.

Everyone entered the room with their weapons raised and aimed at the second floor. They all caught sight of the three dead bodies dressed in Eclipse armor and what appeared to be half of one lying nearby.

A scream tore through the air, followed by an asari crashing through one of the glass walls of the office. Her trajectory was aimed right at them.

Jack thrust out an arm and caught the asari with her biotics before violently tossing her to the other side of the room. The merc slammed into the unyielding wall with an audible crack.

Shepard lowered his rifle and watched as an asari in blood red armor took slow, deliberate steps around the last Eclipse merc and glowing faintly with dark energy. "Stand down!" he ordered.

-oOo-

"Stand down!" the human in black armor shouted to his team.

For this, Samara was thankful. While the Eclipse Sisters proved little trouble, there was something about the new arrivals that gave even her pause. They were a motley band, diverse and different, not only in species, but temperament as well. However, each of them appeared dangerous in their own unique ways. She turned her attention back to the frightened, and now, humbled Eclipse lieutenant.

She was breathing rapidly and holding only her pistol as she stared wide-eyed at the justicar. "Those… those were my best troops…"

"Tell me what I need to know and I will be gone from here," Samara offered serenely. "Where did you send her?"

"You think I'd betray her? She'd hurt me in ways you can't imagine!"

"I am aware of this," Samara said. She walked a slow, steady circuit around the merc. "The name of the ship and the destination. Your life hangs on the answer, lieutenant."

"You can kill me, but one of us will take you down, Justicar!" the merc yelled out defiantly. "You'll never leave Illium alive!" She raised her pistol threateningly.

Samara reacted instantly. She raised her right arm and with it, the lieutenant. A hazy, blue, glow surrounded the merc as she was held aloft by only Samara's will alone. Throwing her arm to the side, the merc screamed as she was cast out through the only other remaining window of the office and toward the first floor.

Her impromptu flight ended with a painful impact against some of the metal crates containing Eclipse contraband.

Moving quickly, Samara utilized a combination of Throw and Pull to jump out of the office and float gracefully to the ground. In her youth, she celebrated the rush to manipulate the world around her with her mind alone. Now, as a hardened warrior, it was a simple tactic to prove to her opponent that she was not to be underestimated.

Judging from the lieutenant's expression, she was suitably intimidated. She scurried back on her hands and feet before bumping her head on the containers again.

Taking two quick steps forward, Samara planted her boot on the merc's neck and stared into her eyes. "What was the name of the ship she left on?"

The merc grabbed Samara's boot in a vain attempt to relieve the pressure and struggled to free herself. "Go… go to hell!" she choked out.

To embrace her courage in the face of death.

Samara reevaluated her opinion of the lieutenant. Despite cutting a swath through her guards with little trouble, she still acted in defiance. Even when she knew she was going to die.

Samara allowed herself to offer a regretful look to the prone woman. "Find peace in the embrace of the Goddess."

With a sudden twist of her leg, she snapped the lieutenant's neck cleanly. Stepping away from the body and offering one last respectful look, she turned her gaze to the new arrivals and studied them. They were not led by any asari, which meant that they were not the local authorities. They were not dressed in the gold and black armor the Eclipse favored, which meant they were not affiliated with them. Their weapons were drawn, but not held in any hostile manner.

She found her curiosity piqued, but she approached the group warily all the same. "My name Samara, a servant of the Justicar Code." She gestured to the bodies around her. "My quarrel is with these Eclipse Sisters, but I see several well-armed people before me."

The human male in black armor walked up to her and introduced himself. "I'm Spectre Agent Shepard."

"Agent Shepard," Samara returned with a respectful nod. She revised her earlier observation. Perhaps the Nos Astra authorities asked a Spectre to detain me instead of their own? "Are we friend or foe?"

"I'm here to ask for your help with a critical mission."

A ghost of a smile touched her lips. "You honor me. But I am in the middle of an investigation."

"We're going after the Collectors. All things considered, my team and I are going up against suicidal odds. To stand a chance, I need the best." He gave her a respectful nod of his own. "That's you."

She stared into his eyes and felt a touch flattered that he would come all this way to request her help. "I sense the truth in what you say and it humbles me. The Collectors are a worthy foe and would relish to test myself against them. But I seek an incredibly dangerous fugitive."

"So I hear."

Her gaze changed to become a touch defensive, but Shepard's eyes remained neutral. It was obvious that he knew more, but how much was the question.

"The Eclipse get whoever you're after off-world?" he asked, pointing at the body of the lieutenant.

She nodded slowly. "Originally, I followed the Code to bring a murderer of a volus merchant to justice. During the course of that investigation, I heard that my original quarry enlisted Eclipse's help. Now, I wish to find the name of the ship and its destination before the trail goes cold."

"I wish you would go with them, Justicar."

-oOo-

Shepard turned to gaze from the composed and almost judgmental eyes of Samara to see Detective Anaya walk in armed, with two more officers flanking her.

Anaya looked around room and shook her head. "Could've been worse," she muttered.

"Detective," Samara greeted serenely. Everyone knew why Anaya was here.

The detective and her subordinates walked up to Samara. The two officers were shuffling nervously. Whether it was out of respect, admiration, or fear was anyone's guess. "I've been ordered to take you into custody if you won't leave," Anaya informed.

Samara nodded. She appeared to have been expecting this before Anaya even spoke. "You risk a great deal by following your orders, Detective. Fortunately, I will not have to resist."

Anaya looked shocked. "Really?"

"My Code obligates me to cooperate with you for one day. After that, I must return to my investigation."

She made a sound of frustration. "I won't be able to release you that soon."

"You won't be able to stop me," Samara replied matter-of-factly, but with a trace of regret.

Miranda frowned as she considered the implications. "You mean after a day, you'll fight your way out of custody?"

"Kills anyone in her way as well," Mordin bluntly added.

"I am afraid so," Samara confirmed.

Grunt snorted in contempt. "Asari are stupid. Your code means you kill her tomorrow instead of today."

"Easy, big guy," Shepard warned him. Turning to Samara he said, "We learned the location of the Eclipse base from the other volus, Pitne For. If we can get the name of that ship, will you join us?"

Samara nodded. "The Code also obligates me to find the murderer of the volus merchant as well. If you are able to complete both objectives, I will join you. Then the Code will be satisfied."

"Just like that?" Garrus asked skeptically. "You sounded like you needed to complete your own investigation pretty badly."

She bowed her head. "If I stay, I will be compelled to kill many innocents to escape incarceration," she answered.

"Like me," Anaya added.

"I may be killed and my quarry would be free to continue murdering. If I come with you and survive your mission, I can resume my investigation," Samara logically explained. "All I require for now is the ship's name to track her to her next hiding place."

Garrus turned to the group. "Makes sense to me."

Mordin nodded. "Logical calculation. Slim odds, but possible." He shrugged. "Better than impossible.

"Slim? Try bad," Jacob corrected. "But… it's still better than killing a bunch of people for no good reason."

"Regardless," Miranda said, raising her voice to be heard over the various comments. "Any chance is better than no chance. That's pretty much the paradigm of our mission anyway," she reasoned.

"Bah!" Grunt said in disgust. "Your 'Code' would force you to kill. What a bunch of crap."

Jack grinned at him. "It does kinda take to fun out of it, doesn't it?"

"Alright, enough," Shepard ordered. "We've got a day, so let's get going."

"Good luck," Anaya said. "And I mean that. After all, it's my ass on the line here. And in more ways than one," she said seriously. She turned to Samara. "We need to get back to station. And, I guess we have to take you with us."

"As you wish, Detective. Officers," Samara complied. She turned to the Spectre and nodded. "Thank you for your assistance in this matter, Shepard."

After they left, Shepard turned to his team. "So… anyone up for assaulting a mercenary base?"

-oOo-

Location: Crescent Nebula, Tasale System, Illium, Nos Astra, Commercial Spaceport, Eclipse Base and Private Hangars

"Is this what I should be expecting during the course of your mission?" Thane asked evenly.

The entire squad, sans Tali, was walking toward the elevator that would take them to the Eclipse base.

"Expect what?" Shepard asked in return.

"You assaulted Dantius Towers just to ask me for help. Now we're assaulting a mercenary base just to secure the help of the justicar," Thane elaborated.

"Oh, right. That." Shepard nodded in understanding. He was checking to see if his armor was fully functioning as a matter-of-course. "Sort of. Truthfully, this day is actually turning out a bit better than most," he honestly admitted as he finished his impromptu prep.

"She's the last one," Miranda added. "After we recruit Samara and finish the retrofits of the Normandy, we're waiting for any intelligence that can give us a target. Or at the very least, a direction."

The troupe reached the elevator where Shepard used Pitne's keycard to call it. The doors opened immediately and they filed in quickly. Miranda tapped the button and the slow moving elevator started its ascension to the private docks where the mercs moved their goods quickly and discreetly. They stood around in silence for a bit and watched the indicator intently.

"At least there's no music," Shepard joked to Miranda, breaking the quiet. She stifled her smile.

Grunt hit the side of the elevator impatiently. "How slow does this peace of crap go?"

"You can tell the asari made this elevator," Garrus said in a sagely tone.

Shepard, Jacob, and Jack chuckled at the joke while Grunt and Mordin looked confused.

"I don't get it," Grunt stated.

"Not following either," Mordin admitted.

"The asari are never in a hurry, cause' they live for a thousand…" Garrus started to explain before shaking his head. "Y'know what? Never mind."

"Thane, may I ask you something?" Miranda inquired after the ensuing silence.

"Certainly."

"You said you wanted to meet Samara. Why?"

Thane bowed his head and fell silent. Garrus looked unusually pensive as he glanced at his fellow marksman.

"Does this have something to do with what you said at the Dantius Towers?" Miranda asked perceptively. "You said you were praying for the 'wicked' and you were referring to yourself. You also mentioned atonement."

"Yes," Thane agreed. He appeared reluctant to speak in front of so many people, but forged on regardless. "I had thought to meet the justicar because she could grant me an honorable death. Another way to atone for my sins, I suppose."

"Death in battle," Grunt commented approvingly. "Good way to go. It's better than however you're dying now."

"If it's not too personal to ask, what are you dying from?" Shepard asked curiously.

"It's called Kepral's Syndrome," Thane simply revealed.

Mordin looked completely intrigued. "Kepral's Syndrome? Never heard of it. Interesting. Disease affecting only drell species? Appears fine. No visible indications of illness or symptoms." He engaged his omni-tool and ran a scan over Thane before the assassin could answer him. "Interesting. Lung functions appear affected. Slight impairment. But why? Need more data."

Thane looked unbothered by Mordin's social bluntness. If anything, he almost looked amused. "My people are native to an arid world, Professor. Most of us now live on Kahje, the hanar homeworld. It's very humid and rains every day."

"Ah," Mordin replied in understanding and typed away into his omni-tool. "Sudden environmental change. Unable to physiologically adapt quickly enough due to extreme planetary and ecological differences. Yes, yes, yes." He ran his omni-tool over Thane again. "Indeed. Physical function of respiratory organs mostly intact, but other areas appears blocked. Moisture, I assume?"

"Indeed. Over time, the tissue loses its ability to absorb oxygen. It becomes harder to breathe. Eventually, we suffocate," Thane explained evenly.

"Damn," Jacob simply said.

"That's a really crappy way to go," Jack agreed.

"Like I said, death in battle is much better," Grunt said. "This is definitely the mission for you."

Mordin nodded as he continued to type into his omni-tool. "Environmental illness, not a natural one. Not contiguous to other drell or other species, correct?"

"My illness is not communicable, even to other drell," Thane affirmed.

"So why live on Kahje still?" Garrus asked.

"Or why not use breathers?" Shepard added.

"After Kepral's Syndrome was diagnosed, we started to use breathers. But for many, like myself, it is already far too late," Thane explained. "But drell have a close relationship with the hanar. We rely on each other. That is why we choose to remain on the hanar homeworld."

"Are steps being taken to cure this problem?" Miranda asked.

"The hanar have funded a genetic engineering program. They should be able to adapt us," Thane said. "The project has only been running for a few years. I don't believe my body will still draw breath by the time it bears fruit." He smiled grimly. "I should be fine for another eight to 12 months. The more time I spend in humid environments, the faster it progresses. I think it's safe to say that by the time my body is incapacitated, we'll be victorious. Or dead." He turned to Shepard. "Either way, I won't be a burden to you."

"Interesting. Should we survive, should look into program. Fascinating," Mordin said.

"I'm sure our scientists would appreciate your expertise, Professor," Thane courteously replied.

"Besides being bit fatalistic, you don't really act like a dying man," Shepard observed.

"You have the advantage there, Shepard. I understand that you've already died." Thane glanced at the indicator and saw they were near their floor. "Perhaps later you can give me some suggestions."

Shepard looked up as well and hefted his shotgun. "Arm up. We're almost there."

"Finally," Grunt rumbled. Everyone put their helmets on and brought their weapons to bear.

Shepard took the last minute or so to observe the drell. He was dressed in a unique set of armor, almost skintight, but padded in key areas. It seemed that he favored his speed and agility over conventional armor, though Shepard guessed that the kinetic barriers on the assassin's armor were nothing to scoff at. He wore a dark coat over the armor to conceal his weaponry, though the bulge easily identified that he brought his M-92 Mantis along.

Thane noticed the scrutiny he was under if the tilt of his helmeted head was any indication.

"Is that armor able to function in zero-g?" Shepard asked.

"It is capable of allowing me to survive in a vacuum, yes," he answered.

"Good," Shepard simply said before turning his attention to the elevator doors.

The doors opened to reveal a couple of LOKIs and Eclipse waiting for the elevator. They looked shocked at their sudden appearance. Unfortunately, that hesitation cost them when Shepard's team opened up with a sudden storm of gunfire.

"You have to admit, there are worse ways to die," Jacob commented once they stopped shooting.

"Indeed," Thane allowed.

Shepard and Miranda stepped out of the lift first and swept the room, but found no further threats.

"Come on! Move it! Let's see who else is in our way!" Grunt shouted impatiently as he stomped off the elevator.

"Are we going to be alright with him coming?" Miranda asked Shepard worriedly.

"You want to leave him alone in the Normandy?" Shepard rhetorically asked. He pointed at the nearby doors. "Let's go. Hopefully, they haven't detected us yet."

The doors suddenly opened, revealing two more LOKI mechs. "Intruders detected," a mechanical voice rang out. Jack shot both mechs immediately.

"You were saying?" she asked cheekily. Footfalls were heard as mercs started pouring into the next room.

"I was saying we should probably fight our way to Captain Wasea," Shepard ordered in resignation.

"What are we waiting for? Let's go!" Grunt yelled out enthusiastically.

The squad approached the door warily, ready for any firefight or explosions. What they weren't expecting was an Eclipse biotic lifting a chemical container and tossing it right at them.

"Eat this!" the asari taunted.

"Incoming!" Jacob shouted.

The group scattered immediately. Everyone managed to get out of the way in time, but the container broke open on impact, releasing a red mist into the air.

"Minagen! Make sure your suits are sealed!" Miranda warned from somewhere in the cloud.

Shepard's eyes roamed his HUD and saw that his Kestrel Armor was fine and fully sealed. Activating his Tactical Cloak, he moved through the cloud and into the private hangar. He quickly started counting the mercs the moment he could see again. "Seven mercs across the gap. Two on the left, five on the right and an open door on the far right. Take'em out!"

Garrus and Thane cleared the cloud and used their sniper rifles to fire on the two mercs on the left.

Shepard brought out his HMWA and took aim at the mercs on the right when his shields were suddenly struck from behind and slightly to the right. He instinctively ducked down and searched for the threat. "Damn it! Danger close! Contact right!"

Grunt cleared the cloud next and rounded the corner where two LOKIs were stomping forward, firing at Shepard's position. He charged forward, his shotgun tearing one easily. Shepard merely held his ground and used his own biotics to pick one of the LOKIs up and toss it over the edge.

"Scratch one!" Garrus reported.

"Target eliminated," Thane called out a second later.

"Die!" Jack shouted out. Two chemical containers were flying across the room and at the doorway where the four other mercs were huddling around.

A thick red cloud appeared around them, and moments later, frantic shouts interspaced with hacking coughs prompted the mercs to abandon their cover. Three asari Eclipse stumbled out, gasping and wheezing, but evidence of their increased biotic power was evident by their aura of dark energy.

Mordin took the opportunity to use Incinerate on the three mercs while they were trying to recover. "Enjoy!"

Two of the mercs died, seconds later after being lit on fire, while a third started running around screaming, only to run into the railing and fall into the empty void below.

"Nice one!" Jack laughed.

"Heavy trooper!" Shepard shouted.

A missile flew out of the chemical cloud and impacted on the wall next to them moments after he shouted his warning.

"That one must have her helmet on," Jacob guessed. He aimed his own missile launcher and waited for the advanced targeting system inside to provide a lock. The moment it beeped, he launched his own missile.

It streaked across the room and exploded inside the cloud, clearing a great deal of it away and revealing another dead merc.

"Nice shot," Shepard praised. "I counted six. There's only one more. Let's go."

Everyone regrouped and moved carefully toward the open door. Their caution was unwarranted when the room beyond was empty of any threats. Instead, they found a stockpile of weapons, some were haphazardly lying on tables and others were already packed into shipping containers.

"Huh," Grunt said, staring at the various weapons around them. "We don't need to let this stuff go to waste, right?" He walked over to one of the tables and picked up an M-15 Vindicator. "I mean, no one's gonna know if a few pieces go missing."

Jacob picked up a few extra grenades and power cells for his missile launcher. "Whatever advantage we can get, right?"

"Nice one here," Grunt commented as he picked up an M-100 Grenade Launcher.

"We need to hurry," Miranda reminded as she, Thane, and Garrus watched the hallway ahead for any sign of reinforcements.

"Fine," Shepard responded. "Gather up everything you can carry. I'm sure Anaya will still have enough evidence to prosecute on weapon's smuggling."

"I hear something," Thane cautioned.

"There's a door on the right," Jack pointed out.

Garrus approached the door carefully. "Locked. I'll get it open," he said.

"You two; hurry it up," Shepard called back to Jacob and Grunt. He flanked the door with the others and waited for Garrus to finish the bypass. He could hear someone whimpering inside.

"Oh, Goddess! Oh, Goddess, don't let them see me. If they do see me, don't let them kill me! What am I doing here? !"

"Got it," Garrus reported.

"Go!"

Garrus and Shepard darted into the room, checking their immediate corners. Miranda and Mordin followed quickly and moved deeper inside.

"Contact!" Mordin called out.

"Don't move!" Miranda ordered. "Step away from the weapon! Do it now!"

"Wait! Stop!" a blue-hued asari pleaded.

"Stand up slowly!" Miranda shouted. She kept her rifle trained on the merc unwaveringly.

"Okay, okay!" The asari stood up with her hands in the air.

"Drop your weapons. Nice and easy," she instructed next when it was apparent that the merc wasn't going to resist.

"Okay. I'm dropping my gun. See?" An SMG clattered on the ground, still in its compact state.

"Room's clear!" Garrus shouted.

"Kick the weapon away," Miranda commanded. The merc did so.

"Please!" the asari begged. "I didn't fire my weapon once. I pretended to because the other Eclipse Sisters were watching, but I really didn't shoot!"

"She's lying," Jack said immediately.

"Hands in the air," Shepard ordered when he saw that she was lowering her arms. She put them back up immediately.

"I'm not one of them! I'm new!" she cried out. "I thought being Elnora the mercenary would be cool… but I didn't know what they were really like!"

"She's wearing the uniform. If she's new, she might be the one that murdered the volus," Garrus said. He kept his Reverent trained on her.

"The Eclipse smuggled someone off-world not too long ago. Tell me everything you know," Shepard ordered.

"The Ardat-Yakshi?" she responded with a quiver.

"Ardat-Yakshi? What does that mean?"

"It's an ancient asari word for something that…" Elnora started before swallowing. "I thought was just a superstition. Until now." She took a deep breath. "It means: 'demon of the night winds'. I didn't think they were real, but the boss said that this scary lady was one."

"What's the name of the ship?"

"I have no idea!" Shepard expanded his HMWP and raised it threateningly. "I don't know! It was a few days ago and like I said, I'm new! They didn't tell me anything!"

"One last question: Do you know who murdered the volus merchant, Dakni Kur?" Shepard asked firmly.

Her eyes widened and darted around. "No… I don't know who did it," she replied. Her voice hitched when she answered.

"She's lying," Garrus said out loud, echoing Jack's earlier words. "I bet if we check around we'll get the evidence we'll need."

If possible, her eyes widened further and her expression decidedly looked more panicked.

Shepard noted all of the tells easily. "Alright, you're under arrest."

"I had nothing to do with that!" she asserted vainly.

"You chose your side, Elnora. And you lost. Get down on your knees, hands behind-"

"Screw that bastard! And screw you!" Both incredibly and perhaps suicidally, she allowed her biotics to flare as she pulled her arm back to attack, despite being completely surrounded and outmatched.

She never got the chance. Everyone immediately opened fire on the lone merc. Almost immediately, her shields failed as they mercilessly tore into her. A second later, her corpse fell limply to the ground.

"What. A. Fucking. Idiot," Jack snorted derisively. She kicked Elnora's boot. "One less merc, at least."

"Indeed. Not very bright," Mordin agreed. "Probably had little chance to survive as a mercenary."

Privately agreeing, Shepard turned away from the body and walked back into the hallway. "Grunt, Jacob. You finished back there?" he called into his radio.

"Almost. Grunt's trying to take a much as he can. And believe me, that's a lot."

"Regroup. We're moving on," Shepard ordered to his team as a whole.

As soon as everyone rejoined him, he took point and led them deeper in the base. More and more Minagen containers lined the hallways as they continued further in.

"How much did Pitne sell them?" Miranda asked incredulously.

"That miserable little bastard…" Garrus muttered angrily.

"What's wrong?" Shepard asked as he continued to navigate through the halls of the Eclipse base.

"I got him to admit to bringing the Minagen, but unless we're planning to stay and testify, Anaya won't have the evidence to convict," Garrus explained in frustration. "I hate red tape."

"We still might find something," Shepard encouraged. "For now, one problem– Shit. LOKIs." He stopped dead in his tracks and jumped back around the corner. Moving more carefully, he peered around the corner to assess the threat. "They're not active, but it might mean more mercs around the corner."

"Looks to be another hangar," Miranda observed when she peeked her head underneath Shepard's to assess the situation as well.

"One of the mercs already demonstrated that it's a long way down and we know that some if not most are biotics. Watch yourself," Shepard warned.

Despite the fact his helmet covered his entire head, Grunt could tell he was looking directly at him. Growling softly at the reminder, he nodded all the same.

"Prepare to Overload the mechs. I'm going to make a quick count. Garrus, on me."

"Understood, Shepard," Miranda acknowledged.

"On your six," Garrus acknowledged.

Shepard used his Tactical Cloak and vanished from sight with Garrus following his example. Creeping forward, they slipped past the mechs to see eight more mercs on alert. "Four on the right side of the hanger. Another four waiting at the door. And they're waiting for us." Shepard took a quick look around. "We got more Minagen crates stacked here too." He readied one of his grenades to take care of the four mercs inside the hanger while Garrus raised his assault rifle. "Let's bring it."

"Deploying Tech Overload," Miranda called out.

Shepard tossed his grenade. The action caused his cloak to fall away. The four mercs turned in surprise to see a human suddenly appear nearby. The three LOKIs were shut down in an explosion of electrical energy while the grenade detonated and killed three mercs instantly. One asari was quick and nimble enough to avoid the explosion and take cover behind a column. She popped out and tried to use her biotics to counterattack, but Garrus was ready and cut her down before she had the chance.

"Move up!" Miranda ordered as Shepard and Garrus started to suppress the other four mercs trying to get through the other doorway.

Eventually, the exchange of gunfire started striking the Minagen containers. Red gas filled both doorways of the hangar, obscuring visibility for both sides and preventing clear shots.

"Check your fire!" Shepard ordered. He rested his HMWA on top of a metal crate and tried to see any sort of movement within the cloud to identify if the mercs had finally entered the room and were attempting to rush them.

"What the hell? !"

"What is that? !"

"I don't…!"

A sudden gurgle cut off the last panicked shout.

"Did anyone see that? !"

"Who's there? !" Another strangled scream.

"What the hell is going on?" Jacob asked.

A sudden flurry of gunshots and screams started echoing from the chemical cloud.

"You think that asari broke out of prison already?" Grunt speculated.

"Samara struck me as a woman of her word. I doubt she's here," Miranda said.

"I have no idea, but this is our chance," Shepard replied quickly. "Hit'em fast and hard while they're still distracted." He tensed up and prepared to give the order when Thane's voice cracked over the radio.

"Threat eliminated."

Shepard stood stock still before shaking himself out of his shock and looking over his squad. Thane was indeed, missing. Blinking in mild confusion, he stood up and proceeded toward the door.

Jack took the liberty of using her biotics to push the bulk of the toxins away, thinning the cloud and allowing everyone to see what had happened.

Thane stood calmly amidst five Eclipse corpses. Each of them died in a unique manner, ranging from one of his throwing knifes, to a broken neck, to precise gunshot placement. He looked up at Shepard's approach. "You miscounted. There were nine in total."

"Yeah… I've been known to be wrong before," Shepard glibly replied. "You're really good."

"We have intruders inside the base! Locate and kill them!" a voice ordered via intercom.

"And that must be Wasea," Garrus guessed.

"Come on. Let's go ruin her night," Shepard joked as he led everyone toward the top of the base.

-oOo-

"Sentry ahead."

"Thane. Drop her."

Thane drew another one of his knives and took careful aim. A flick of his wrist and the asari gasped and gurgled as the knife struck her throat.

"Nice," Garrus praised.

Shepard pushed forward, moving past the dead merc and peered around the corner. "Another damn hangar. Looks like a gunship is taking off from this one though." He held his position and waited for the ship to take off. He bided his time by counting and assessing Eclipse numbers and positions. "We got a really nice sniping perch on the left side. Garrus, Thane, you're up on high."

"Got it." – "Understood."

"The rest of us will charge head on. I don't see any Minagen containers here, so no worries about toxic chemical clouds here." He took one last look around before ducking back. "Best count, around four, but this is a big hangar."

"If a ship just took off, there has to be more working here," Miranda reasoned.

Shepard turned to his marksmen. "We're counting on you two to cover us."

Garrus held up his Viper confidently. "We got this."

"Alright. Let's go." Moving slowly, Shepard exited the hallway and into the hangar proper. One Eclipse Heavy was standing on guard at the walkway where Garrus and Thane were to setup. Turning to Thane, he silently gestured to the lone merc.

Thane slowly crept forward and reached the sentry's position. Reach up, he gripped the merc and snapped her neck quickly and caught the falling body. Gently lowering it to the ground, he brought out his Mantis and waited for the rest of the squad to move forward.

While Garrus crawled up to his designated area with the assassin, Shepard led his team toward the mercs that were stationed inside this hangar. Quietly, he stalked the next merc and used his knife to silently take her down. Unfortunately, the motions drew the attention of the other Eclipse and they instantly started shooting. Leaping into action, Shepard's squad launched their own attack. Two hostiles dropped dead as the snipers went to work on the surprised mercs.

"Eclipse Heavy!" Mordin shouted. "Contact above us!" He leapt behind some steel crates as a missile nearly blew him apart.

"I got her!" Garrus informed. Taking careful aim, the Heavy's helmet rocked back as the sniper round penetrated her shields and armor easily. "Scoped and dropped!"

Reinforcements appeared at the far end of the room. Using Biotic Charge, Shepard crossed the distance and rammed a Vanguard. Her shields protected her from the attack, but the follow-up shots from his shotgun took her out.

Following Shepard, Jack used Charge as well, taking one merc down. Turning swiftly, she used Shockwave to scatter and distract the others before thundering away with her shotgun. She was forced to duck down when another missile streaked by. "Aw, damn it!"

"On your ass!" Grunt shouted. A concussive round impacted against the Heavy. She screamed and fell back, dropping her weapon in the process.

The Eclipse all fell back against the onslaught and soon, the survivors were huddled around one of the larger crates. Occasionally, one would pop out to exchange fire, but sniper fire would end that idea quickly. One Trooper prepped a grenade. "Here's a present for you!"

She tried to toss the grenade, but Miranda thrust out her arm and brought the merc into the air. "Now let's finish you off!" she shouted and thrust her arm downward.

The merc slammed into the ground headfirst and dropped the grenade right next to the other clustered mercs.

"RUN!"

The explosion either killed or pushed all of them out of cover. Any survivors of the blast were easily subdued.

"Hallway ahead looks to be clear," Jacob reported after he did a quick check of the door and a glance at the hallway beyond.

"No further visible targets," Thane reported.

"Regroup," Shepard ordered. "Jacob, Grunt: Secure the next room. Go!"

Both of them complied quickly. Moments later, the both reported the next room empty.

The rest of the squad entered the room and were prepared to move on when Garrus spotted a terminal. He moved closer and read a name out loud. "Elnora."

"Something up, Garrus?" Shepard asked.

"Don't know yet," he replied distractedly. He tapped a few buttons and played the latest audio log Elnora recorded.

"Well, it's official – little baby Elnora is a full-fledged Eclipse merc! I earned my uniform last night when I killed that ridiculous volus," she gushed. "Up close, exploding rounds. Blew the little bastard's suit wide open! Hah! I can't wait to see some real action! Next time I go home, my friends are going to be so jealous!

"Just like we thought," Garrus stated definitively. He used his omni-tool to download the log. "Elnora was the killer. It's a good thing we took her out."

"She's dead," Jacob said bluntly. "Why are you bothering getting the logs?"

"To close the case conclusively. Otherwise, it stays open," he explained. "Done. This should satisfy Anaya. Let's go."

Shepard turned and led his team through the next set of hallways. After several minutes, they found yet another hangar.

"Okay. Now I'm getting pissed off," Jack snarled. "Are we lost? Cause' it sure looks like we're lost."

Grunt shifted the bags on his back and looked around. "Huh. I think we might have a problem," he said casually. He dropped his bundles and traded his shotgun for an assault rifle.

"What?" Shepard turned to look at the open vista of Nos Astra and cursed. "Gunship! Scatter!"

Everyone ran for the nearest available cover as the A-61 Mantis Gunship closed the distance and opened fire with its M350 mass accelerator cannon. Hundreds of bullets started raining all over the hangar as the squad sought protection from the storm.

"Garrus! How did you disable one of these last time? !" Shepard shouted.

"Engine intakes! On top of the wings!" Garrus answered.

"Find a good perch! You too, Thane!" Shepard ordered. "Everyone else! Cover their advance!"

Jacob popped out of cover with his missile launcher ready and fired a few. They struck the gunship and forced it to fly somewhat erratically as the pilot tried to deal with the sudden explosions. The thick armor plating protected it well enough, but it was forced to stop shooting as the ship swayed. Thane took advantage of the momentary pause to make a mad dash to one side of the hangar. Shepard and Garrus merely used their Tactical Cloak to move to the center and other side of the room respectively.

"Keep distracting it! We only need a few well-placed shots to bring this bastard down!" Shepard called out.

Grunt tried his luck with a concussive round, but the gunship easily shrugged it off. It turned its gun toward him and opened fire. Grunt ran and took cover back at the doorway and waited for another chance. Looking down, he spotted the bags loaded with the weapons he 'liberated' and started looking for the grenade launcher.

Two metal crates arced toward the gunship, courteously of Jack's biotics, and struck the cockpit, but lacked the strength to do any real damage. The gunship rotated again and aimed at the ex-convict. Jack ducked behind the railing she took cover behind before and waited for the machinegun fire. Nothing happened.

"Oh, no," Miranda breathed out into the radio. "Run! Inbound missiles!"

"Oh, shit!" Jack stood up and prepared to use Charge to escape the danger area, but her earlier assumption made her act too late. Two missiles were already launched, but Jacob and Grunt had managed to use their heavy weapons to knock the gunship off its flight pattern, diverting the trajectory of the missiles. They struck the underside of the hangar, causing large chucks of it to fall off the building.

"Fuck!" Jack screamed she lost her concentration and balance after the explosion. The part of the hangar she was on started to crumble away. Abandoning her biotics, she started stumbling towards the nearest stable area when the ground beneath her fell away. She screamed as she fell, but stopped when she felt something close around her arm. Gripping onto whatever was holding her tightly, she looked up, and to her everlasting shock, saw Miranda, of all people, leaning halfway over the edge and grasping her tightly.

"Got you!" Miranda glowed with dark energy briefly as she used Pull to easily bring Jack back on to solid ground.

Shepard slid the scope of his HMWSR over his eye as Mordin used Cryo Blast to cover the cockpit with a frozen sheet. Jacob and Grunt paused in their attack after Shepard told them to stand down.

Pushing adrenaline into his veins, he felt the world slow down around him as he took careful aim at the left intake. "On my mark!" he called out to Thane and Garrus. "3… 2… 1… Fire!"

All three snipers pulled the trigger in tandem. Smoke and fire suddenly erupted from the intakes as the Mantis Gunship started flying erratically. Eventually, the damage started to spread to the other areas of the ship as the pilot valiantly tried to regain control. It was fruitless effort. It listed heavily to the side and eventually crashed against a wall on the other side of the hangar, before plummeting toward terra firma, far, far below.

"Yeah!" Garrus victoriously shouted.

Shepard turned around and frantically looked for Jack. The last thing he saw was her falling, but he managed to see Miranda sprinting toward her as well. Looking over, he spotted both Jack and Miranda safe and sound. Breathing an audible sigh of relief, he called out to the rest of his team. "Anyone hurt? Speak up so we can get you treated."

Everyone but the present females answered him. Shepard walked over and observed both carefully. They appeared fine. No visible marks on their armor suggested that they were hurt in any way. He did, however, felt the awkwardness between the two of them. Both women pointedly kept their backs to each other and were obviously trying not to say anything either. Shaking his head in exasperation at their stubbornness, but unwilling to antagonize either one for it, he cleared his throat and nodded at Jack. "You okay?"

"Yeah. Fine." She made a show of brushing her armor clean of dust before looking around. "Damn it. I lost my fucking shotgun." She turned to Grunt and made her way over to him. "Hey! Big guy! You got another shotgun in any of those bags? !"

Thankful that his helmet concealed his smirk, Shepard turned toward Miranda. "Nice job," he said through his voice module so Jack wouldn't hear through the radio. "I'm sure she's thankful as well."

"It's nothing. We need her for the mission," Miranda said, trying to brush off her actions with cold logic.

Shepard noted that she didn't turn to make eye contact as she usually did. Instead, she was looking at anything but him. She wandered over to her to her Pulse Rifle that she dropped when she ran to save Jack and started fidgeting with it when Shepard continued staring at her. He had the distinct feeling that she was embarrassed.

He knew better than to call her on it though. "It was still impressive. Nice too."

"Thank you, Shepard," Miranda replied modestly while still avoiding eye contact.

Walking up to her and giving a rallying pat on the shoulder, he started marched toward the other door in the hangar. "If Wasea is sending gunships to take us out, we have to be getting close. No time to rest, people. Let's show her how pissed off we get when these idiots send gunships to kill us."

Everyone recovered quickly and followed Shepard, leaving the destroyed hangar behind.

The next room was an office or something close to it. Several datapads and terminals were lining the room.

"This must be where they coordinate their shipping routes," Shepard speculated.

"Garrus, over here. Take a look at this," Jacob called out. He held up a datapad.

Garrus took the pad from him and browsed through its contents. "Well, Shepard. When you're right, you're right. This looks like a shipping manifest."

"Pitne For?" Shepard guessed.

"Yep. Wow… That little smuggling bastard sold 2000 units of Minagen X3 to the Eclipse. Along with 600 units of red sand." He put the datapad in a pouch. "Looks like we got him. This'll make Anaya's day. Now all that's left is the name of the ship Samara wants and we can call it a day."

"Shepard. Contact ahead. Not hostile. I think," Mordin said from the opposite doorway.

Moving quickly, he peered around the door and saw what Mordin was pointing at. A volus was standing in front of a vending machine and was swaying side to side as if he had trouble standing on his feet.

Approaching the volus carefully, Shepard stopped a few feet away when he suddenly turned around and drunkenly walked toward him. The volus was apparently oblivious to his surroundings and bumped into Shepard. He staggered backward from the impact.

The squad filed into the hallway and watched him curiously.

"I am a biotic god!" the volus shouted out in greeting. Thin wisps of dark energy surrounded him as he walked up to Shepard again. "I think things – and they happen!" He turned away from the group and walked back toward the vending machine. "Fear me, lesser creatures, for I am biotics made flesh!"

"Oookaaay," Shepard mumbled in confusion. "Look, I don't know what drugs you're on, but stay back and I won't shoot you."

The volus turned around and stabbed a finger at Shepard's direction. "You will regret your scandalous words!" He raised his arm in the air. "I am a great wind that will sweep all before me like a… like a…" He held his pose for a few seconds as he tried to think of what to say. "A great wind. A great biotic wind!" he finished dramatically.

"Wow. No kidding?" Jack deadpanned. "Biotic wind, huh? Scary."

Mordin ran his omni-tool in the volus' direction. "Hmm… actions seem to indication drug induced hallucinogens," he theorized as he continued his scan.

"Yes," the volus agreed. "The asari injecting so many drugs into me was terrifying." He clenched his tiny hands into fists. "But then I began to smell my greatness!"

"I take back what I said," Jack stated in the same deadpan tone. "That sounded scary."

Grunt, Jacob, and Garrus snickered.

The volus seemed drawn toward Jack's voice and started walking over to her. "They may laugh when I fall over, but they don't know what I know in my head." He stopped in front of Jack and pointed at himself. "That I know that I am amazingly powerful." He struck another ridiculous pose. "Fear me!"

"Let me guess," Shepard said. "You're Niftu Cal, part of Pitne For's trade group, right?"

He turned and walked up to Shepard. "When I was mortal, I worked for Pitne. Poor soul is probably terrified that I have not returned."

"No, I don't think he is," Shepard responded.

"He hasn't reported your disappearance," Garrus bluntly said.

"Didn't want to get stuck here," Jack said in a mocking tone.

"Except that asari knew and grounded him anyway. Idiot," Grunt chortled.

"Face it, when the chips are down, even your friends will screw you for an extra cred," Jack finished. She appeared to realize what she just said at that moment because her head involuntarily turned to Miranda before glancing away quickly. Miranda noted this, but thankfully said nothing.

"Bah! I will wreak a just revenge upon his people! But first… the leader of these mercenaries is in the next room," Niftu Cal pointed out. He turned toward the door. "I shall toss Wasea about like a rag doll!"

"Really?" Shepard deadpanned. "You want to fight her?"

"This fellow couldn't dress himself, much less fight," Thane said.

"Forget that. This guy couldn't even tie his bootlaces," Garrus cautioned.

"They're right," Miranda agreed. "Having this incapacitated volus running around our battlefield could compromise us."

"I will tear her apart! My biotics are unstoppable!" Niftu Cal argued.

"Fifteen creds says the little guy doesn't get five steps before the merc explodes him," Jack offered.

"I'd take that bet," Grunt grinned. "She'll let him get 10, 'cause she'd be too busy laughing at him first."

"Not funny guys," Jacob retorted worriedly.

"Wasea will tear you apart. Take a nap – you'll feel better," Shepard said to the volus.

"Are you mad? I'm unstoppable! Feasting on her biotic-rich blood will be the last step of my ascension to godhood!" he said, executing his ridiculous pose again.

"If you say so," Shepard muttered. He gestured toward the door. "Charge," he encouraged in a leaden tone.

"Ha! An ill wind blows upon Wasea, captain of the Eclipse Sisters! After me!" He turned and staggered toward the door. Before he could get two steps though, Shepard rapped his knuckles sharply on the top of his head, causing him to fall face down on the floor.

He slowly crawled back to his feet, mumbling to himself. "But… great wind! Biotic god! I'm… I…" He turned toward Shepard and swayed drunkenly on his feet. "What was I saying? I'm… tired." He stumbled toward the other door. Everyone moved aside to create a path as Niftu struggled to remain on his feet. "You… may be right. Yes, I'm tired… I'll nap. Destroy the universe later…"

"Sleep well, and dream of bulbous women," Thane said when the volus staggered past him.

"Oh… thank you… I think I will…" he said in return as he left.

Jacob chuckled. "Nice."

"And useless," Grunt snorted.

"Well, so much for godhood," Miranda commented.

"Godhood's overrated," Shepard quipped. "Let's go. And be prepared for anything."

-oOo-

The squad entered, weapons raised, in what appeared to be the main warehouse of the hangar. The bulk of the Minagen X3 seemed to be stored haphazardly here. Chemical containers littered the entire room. A purple-hued asari stood on the other side of the warehouse, surrounded by a dozen Eclipse mercs. She, herself, was not wearing the traditional colors and designs of the Eclipse, but she paced amongst them anyway with an air of authority.

Captain Wasea didn't look up when Shepard's team entered or when her own personal guards raised their weapons at their entry. She calmly sipped her drink as she poured over a datapad. "Everything's gone to hell since we smuggled that filthy creature off-world." Knocking back her drink, she placed the glass on the table and regarded the intruders. "First a justicar shows up and now a Spectre."

"We want to know about the Ardat-Yakshi and where you've taken her," Shepard growled. "Tell us now or you get to find out what hell is really like."

Wasea started glowing biotically. "How about I turn your head in to a pulpy mass instead!" She levitated a Minagen container and threw it at Shepard's group.

Jack was ready for it though. The moment Wasea let her biotics flare, she did the same. Thrusting out her arm, she countered the momentum of the container and now it hovered between both groups as Jack and Wasea struggled for dominance.

Taking a chance, Shepard thrust out his arm as well. The combined effort between him and Jack was enough to overcome Wasea's efforts and the container flew right back toward the Eclipse. Another asari leapt into the fray and used her biotics to stop the container before it struck them, halting its momentum much like Jack did, a few feet away.

Garrus broke the biotic impasse by aiming his Revenant and shooting the container open. A red plume of toxic chemicals exploded all over the Eclipse.

"Some of them aren't wearing helmets! Use the gas!" Shepard shouted out. He levitated another canister with his left arm and threw it directly at the mercs. With his right arm, he held up his pistol and shot the container in midair.

The other biotics in the group caught wind of Shepard's intent and started levitating all the Minagen canisters they could see. Jack, Miranda, Jacob, and Thane started throwing canister after canister at the thickening cloud.

Garrus, Mordin, and Grunt started shooting, at both the Minagen and the mercs hidden within the red cloud.

Wet, hacking coughs and screams could be heard as everyone continued their unorthodox attack. Mercs that were wearing helmets managed to run out of the chemical cloud, only to be shot down immediately.

After 10 minutes, all the Minagen containers were broken open and used on the Eclipse. A thick, noxious looking cloud hovered over the area Wasea and her guard used to be in.

Shepard panted lightly with the effort it took to toss as much of the Minagen as he could. He held his pistol steady, waiting for any signs of further movement. He opted to wait 60 seconds before moving in. After 45 seconds, an asari lurched out of the cloud and fell on her face.

Wasea glowed dangerously, though the effect was ruined with her face planted on the floor and her gasping and wheezing.

Everyone held their weapons steady as they watched the captain slowly lumber to her feet.

"You…" she snarled, though there was a definite slur in her voice. "Do you know who I am? !" She took a step towards them, but almost fell with the effort. She managed to brace herself against a large container and glared through unfocused eyes. "I… I am… uh…" Her face scrunched up comically as she tried to remember what she was trying to say.

"A biotic goddess?" Jack suggested in amusement to the squad. Garrus, Grunt, and Jacob chucked.

Wasea clearly heard her if the sudden look of realization was any indication. "Yes! I am a biotic goddess! Tremble before me!"

Jack broke out laughing.

"Or you'll what?" Grunt asked tauntingly. "You gonna be some sort of 'biotic wind'?"

Wasea cocked her head before nodding. "Yes, yes." She finally managed to stand tall without assistance. "I shall blow through you like a great biotic wind!"

Grunt broke out laughing at her next.

"You would laugh at me, but you don't know what I know and I know many things!" she shouted in a drunken haze. "I know I am powerful! I know I… um… I…"

"You're immortal?" Jacob suggested next, unable to help himself.

"Yes! I am immortal! I cannot be killed!" she agreed immediately. "You cannot beat me!"

"If she says she's naked next, I'm tossing credits at her instead of bullets," Garrus joked.

"And I'm naked!"

That did it. Garrus and Jacob burst out laughing as well, unable to point their weapons at the intoxicated asari. Grunt and Jack had fallen to the floor and were trying to breathe while they reveled in their mirth. Thane appeared completely composed, though his arm holding his pistol was shaking slightly. Mordin chuckled appreciatively at the situation, but managed to hold his SMG up. Miranda was trying her best to remain professional, but her attempts to suppress her grin were failing.

Even Shepard was in danger of breaking his focus. He continued to hold his pistol at Wasea and thought about just pulling the trigger to be done with it when the merc suddenly fell to her hands and knees, her aura winking out of existence.

"I am a biotic… goddess… naked," she tried to assert before she vomited on the floor between her hands. After she finished she looked up at them with a blank look before falling face first into her own sick.

Shepard blinked a couple of times before turning to Mordin. "On me." Leaving behind the others that were still laughing uncontrollably, he approached Wasea, weapon still raised. Mordin followed close while Thane and Miranda moved to sides to keep the merc in sight.

"Check her," Shepard ordered. He kept his pistol ready, just in case.

Mordin knelt down, careful to avoid the vomit and ran his omni-tool over the Eclipse Captain. "Dead," he pronounced simply.

"And that's why I insist we wear helmets during missions," Shepard said matter-of-factly. He allowed himself to relax and turned away to observe the Minagen cloud. It was still thick and dangerous looking as it was when Wasea stumbled out of it. "So… any volunteers to go into the toxic cloud of death to get information we're looking for?"

Jack and Grunt were still recovering, but Garrus and Jacob managed to walk up to him. "Yeah… You know, you're in charge, Captain," Jacob reminded as he stared at the red cloud.

"That means you're responsible," Garrus translated. "Samara is counting on you to get that information and all."

"There's no 'I' in team," Shepard retorted.

"We'll be with you," he said encouragingly. He pushed him toward the chemical cloud. "Just in spirit."

"Thanks for nothing," Shepard muttered to the turian. His eyes roamed the HUD inside his helmet and ran a quick diagnostics check. No breaches or leaks. His hardsuit was completely sealed. Sighing the sigh of the damned, he boldly walked into the Minagen cloud and searched for Wasea's desk. He tripped and slipped a few times over the bodies and vomit hidden within, but found the table easily enough. Rooting through the various datapads inside revealed a great deal about Eclipse operations on Illium. While that knowledge would be advantageous to Anaya, he focused his search for anything that could help Samara.

Bingo.

He picked up the datapad and read the contents carefully to ensure no mistakes.

There's a justicar here! Probably looking for the one we sent off on the AML Demeter. I was happy to see her go; she chilled me to the bone. I just hope this justicar doesn't mess up my operations.

Pocketing the datapads and keeping this one separate from the others, Shepard was about to leave when a nasty idea entered his mind.

-oOo-

"Do you think he's alright?" Miranda asked worriedly.

"He's fine," Jacob replied confidently. "It's the Captain. He's tough."

Miranda sighed and watched the Minagen cloud for any signs of movement. It looked like it was finally dispersing, though visibility was still a problem.

Jack and Grunt had finally recovered and were watching the cloud as well.

Garrus was about to say something when the telltale signs of biotics were visible through the cloud. "Uh oh."

Shepard shambled out, glowing with dark energy. He fell into Garrus' arms. "I am a biotic god…" he intoned.

"Shepard! Shepard!" Garrus shouted. He struggled against the sudden weight in his arms and shook Shepard a few times in an attempt to get him back to his senses. "Shepard! Snap out of it!"

"Shit, was his armor breached?" Jacob asked frantically.

"I don't know!" Garrus snapped, still trying to deal with Shepard's thrashing.

Shepard suddenly reached out and plastered his hands all over Garrus' faceplate, obscuring his vision. "BIOTIC GOD!"

"Gack! Come on, Shepard!" Garrus tried to move his head side to side to see, but the Spectre kept moving his hands and slapping his helmet. "Shepard!" Garrus shouted, trying to balance between holding his friend upright, twisting and turning his head to avoid the slapping hands, and stay standing on his own feet. "Someone help me!"

All of a sudden, Shepard's aura faded away and he stood up straight under his own power. "Just kidding. I'm fine." He gave the turian tap on his helmeted head and turned away. Walking back to the entrance, he called out over his shoulder. "Let's go. We got what we came for."

Garrus stood still, staring at Shepard's retreating back before muttering angrily. "Oh, you bastard."

"I wish I could've seen your face!" Shepard yelled back.

"I hate you."

Miranda sighed at their childish behavior. She jogged a bit to catch up to the captain. "You ass…" she muttered, even though she couldn't hide her amused smile this time.

Jacob, Jack and Grunt started laughing again as they walked. "Nice one, Boss Man," Jack praised. She looked around the base exaggeratedly. "This run was pretty good."

"Lots of fun," Grunt agreed.

Thane and Mordin looked around before shrugging to each other and followed at a more sedate pace.

Garrus trailed after everyone, still muttering to himself and contemplating how he was going to get payback.

-oOo-

Location: Crescent Nebula, Tasale System, Illium, Nos Astra, Commercial Spaceport, District Police Station

Garrus, Miranda, and Shepard entered the station. The rest of the squad elected to wait at the Kodiak. It was now early morning on Nos Astra.

"You're back," Detective Anaya greeted by stating the obvious. "Tell me you have something."

"We got something," Shepard assured. He raised his eyebrow at Anaya and, interestingly enough, Samara.

The justicar was sitting cross-legged on top of a counter just behind Detective Anaya's right shoulder. Her eyes were closed and her hands were resting on her knees as she meditated, appearing unaware of Shepard's presence.

He knew better though and guessed that Samara was well aware of her surroundings.

Anaya noticed his confusion and explained. "The word of a justicar is enough. If she says she won't attack, then she won't. Besides, if we tried to put her in shackles or a cell, she'd be forced to 'defend' herself."

"We've got the name of the ship. Your fugitive left here two days ago on the AML Demeter." He held up the datapad.

Samara opened her eyes.

The Spectre resisted the urge to turn away when Samara studied him with her ageless gaze. He felt as he were being judged and measured.

He seemed to have passed her silent test when she offered a gentle smile, something that put him at ease. "Shepard, you impress me. You fulfilled your part of the bargain and I will fulfill mine." She took the datapad from him.

"Thank you," Shepard replied with a nod.

Samara uncrossed her legs and leapt off the counter in one smooth, graceful motion. Turning to face Anaya, she offered a small bow of respect. "I am ready to leave whenever Shepard is prepared to leave, if that will satisfy your superiors, Detective?"

"You're free to go, Justicar. It has been an honor having you in my station," Anaya returned with equal respect. "And it's nice you didn't kill me too," she muttered under her breath, though loud enough for everyone to hear.

"Our shuttle is just over there. We'll take you to the Normandy," Shepard said.

"Understood. But first, I must be sworn to your service, so that I am never forced to choose between your orders and the Code." Samara took a deep, cleansing breath and closed her eyes.

To the surprise of everyone, when she opened them, they were glowing with a white light, nothing at all like the blue or purple of dark energy.

She fell to her knees and bowed before the Spectre. "By the Code, I will serve you, Shepard. Your choices are my choices, your morals are my morals. Your wishes are my Code." After completing her vow, she smoldered with dark energy, far more than any other biotic he'd ever seen. Even Jack. She stood tall again, her eyes still shining brightly.

"I never thought I'd see a justicar swear an oath like that," Anaya breathed out.

"It's the Third Oath of Subsumation," Shepard explained knowledgably.

Samara blinked and her eyes returned to normal. "That is correct," she said. "If you make me do anything extremely dishonorable, I may need to kill you when I am released from my oath."

"Shepard isn't like that," Garrus defended hotly. "He's one of best soldiers I've ever had the honor of serving with."

Shepard grinned and gave the turian a friendly pat on the shoulder. "Thanks." He turned to Samara and smiled. "And I can see that this is a very important act for you, Samara. Thank you."

She smiled back and nodded. "Truly, the life of a justicar can get lonely. I admit, I am looking forward to serving with a company of honorable heroes."

Miranda smiled slightly in amusement. "I'm not sure 'honorable' would describe everyone in our team, but we're dedicated to seeing the mission through at least."

"I understand," Samara replied calmly. "Shall we return to your ship?"

"We have a few things we need to discuss with the detective," Garrus said.

"Good news, I hope?" Anaya asked. Everyone nodded. "Right. Before that though, I want to say thanks for getting Samara out of my district. I can tell my granddaughters about meeting a justicar." She grinned. "And you've just upped my chances of living long enough to have grandkids."

"No problem," Garrus said. He shot a dirty look at Shepard when he said that though.

Shepard merely grinned and said nothing.

"Here's a few things. Proof that the Eclipse was behind the murder of the volus merchant and that Pitne For is a smuggler for them." He handed a stack of datapads over to her. "Also, we managed to recover a lot of intel on Eclipse operations."

"What does he mean by 'we'?" Shepard whispered to Miranda.

"He was with you in spirit," Miranda whispered back.

"Hmm…" Anaya looked over the datapads before nodding in satisfaction. "This will really help us." She looked up and smiled. "Thanks. I have to admit, I wasn't sure about trusting a bunch of strangers," she revealed before looking at Miranda and Shepard. "And no offense, but humans, at that. But you all came through." She turned to look at Garrus. "And you lived up to your reputation, Detective Varkarian."

"You looked me up?" Garrus asked.

"Wouldn't you?" Anaya bantered. She turned to the window and waved at the officers outside.

They marched toward Pitne and his bodyguards and promptly arrested them.

"All of this will be a big help. I can't do much to thank you, but we do have small discretionary bounty fund…"

"Keep it," Garrus said. "How about we just say you owe us one?"

Anaya looked at Garrus shrewdly before nodding. "Alright, I could live with that too."

"If we're done here…" Miranda said.

"We're done," Garrus answered. "Good luck, Detective."

"You too."

-oOo-

*ENCRYPTED*

Recruited Justicar Samara for the team.

Researching all asari references on 'Ardat-Yakshi'. Intelligence may prove valuable.

-oOo-

Author's Notes:

I know Wasea's 'fight' was kinda cheap, but when I played through Samara's recruitment mission, I actually thought it was the easiest out of all of them. The only really danger I conceived was the stupid chemical clouds. What can I say? Not every fight can be epic or every villain a challenge. Especially when you're up against a badass squad like this.

I would like to congratulate reviewer Shadowfall for guessing my thoughts on this chapter. I actually had it planned out sometime ago. Kudos to you.

Credit again goes to fellow Mass Effect author, Ronnie James Dio, for his excellent characterization of Samara in his story, Immortality. He allowed me to use some of his work as inspiration for this chapter.

I decided to use Inferno Armor for Samara because, well, let's face it, she wears red. What can I say? It seemed to work well.

The poll is still up for Overlord on my profile page. Please make your opinion heard.

Please review!

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