Location: Krogan DMZ Cluster, Aralakh System, Normandy SR-2, in Orbit Above Tuchanka
Shepard bit back a grunt when Chakwas prodded one of his many injuries during her examination.
He was sitting shirtless in the Medical Bay of the Normandy. Miranda, Garrus, Tali, Jack, and Jacob were in attendance to provide 'moral' support. Normally, Chakwas would've ejected any observers, but he suspected that she hadn't asked them to leave so they could have a bit of fun at his expense. Or teach him a lesson in why he shouldn't engage in any dangerous endeavors or traditions. While he could ask them to leave, the only one he'd ask to stay would be Miranda, which would no doubt raise a few eyebrows and suspicions. Not to mention his pride wouldn't allow him to be so defensive.
Simply put, it was a lose-lose situation all around for him.
Grunt had stayed on Tuchanka to celebrate the success of his Rite with his new clan. Shepard had declined the invitation to join the festivities and opted to return to the Normandy since most of the food that was served was from the meat of the thresher maw they'd just killed and the rest from pyjacks or other assorted road kill. Needless to say, he lost his appetite quickly. In terms of beverages, the only available drink that wasn't radioactive was ryncol. According to Grunt, it "hits aliens like ground glass", something Shepard wasn't keen on trying.
He suppressed the next yelp of pain when Chakwas found another problem area.
She noted his facial expressions carefully and clicked her tongue disapprovingly. "Do you have any idea how much you worry me, Shepard?"
"Is this why you're torturing me before you patch me up?" he grumbled.
Miranda was casually leaning against a table as she watched the proceedings in equal parts concern and amusement. "Honestly. I turn my back for one day and you get into a fight with a thresher maw. What next? Do I blink and suddenly hear that you're engaging a few Geth Armatures by yourself?"
"I believe you've fractured your right shoulder blade. It should heal in an hour or so. This monstrous bruise covering a great deal of your upper torso and right arm should be gone in half an hour," Chakwas finally said. "Let me give you something to speed your recovery, though."
"I can't believe the krogan expected you or anybody to fight a thresher on foot. That's freakin' insane," Jack commented.
"It's not really new to us," Tali said.
Miranda, Jack, and Jacob turned to Tali in surprise.
"Wait, you've fought a thresher maw on foot before?" Jacob asked.
"Well, not me or my team of marines, per se," Tali hastily replied. "I meant two years ago. Our old squad, except Liara, fought one off. Liara joined up with us later."
"Are you serious?" Jack asked skeptically.
"It was around the time when we were waiting for the Alliance or the Council to get us some intelligence on Saren's movements," Garrus explained. "Since we had a bit of time, we went to investigate some missing Alliance marines that disappeared because of a Cerberus – Oh… wait…"
Jacob and Miranda looked like they had no idea what he was talking about. "What happened?" Miranda asked, sitting a bit straighter.
Jack leaned forward too. "Yeah, what did Cerberus do?" she asked with a pointed glare at the two Cerberus operatives.
Garrus turned to Shepard for support.
Shepard sighed. With the cat out of the bag, he knew that none of them would drop the issue, especially Jack. "It was a Cerberus trap. They used an Alliance distress beacon to lure some marines to a thresher nest on Edolus to… study threshers, I guess. I don't know. I never really learned the details."
Jacob turned to Miranda. "I haven't heard of this."
"Nor I. I've heard about the events on Akuze, but this sounds different. It must've been part of another cell." She turned to Shepard. "I'm surprised it wasn't in your reports."
"It's related to Admiral Kohoku's death," Shepard supplied evenly. "What we were doing was more of a favor than anything official, so I never submitted any reports. I'm sure Admiral Kohoku did, but it sounded like he left my name out."
Miranda sighed while Jacob glowered. Jack smiled triumphantly at them, as if everything she knew about Cerberus had been vindicated.
Wisely, Shepard kept the details about other Cerberus experiments about Thresher Maws he'd learned about to himself, namely the events from Akuze like Corporal Toombs and the acid injections or the like. The last thing he needed was to give Jack an excuse to tear her way through the ship and crew. Instead, he cleared his throat and continued. "Anyway, we found the distress beacon and the marines. The men were dead and we deactivated the beacon. Unfortunately, the thresher maw was still there and attacked us. All of us, save Tali, were outside the Mako investigating. Ashley and Garrus made a run for the Mako while Kaidan, Wrex, and I bought them time by fighting that thing on foot."
"I always thought Wrex knew way too much about fighting something like that without any heavy fire support," Garrus said thoughtfully.
"That's what I thought, too," Shepard ruefully agreed.
"So you beat it with the tank?" Jack asked.
"Nope. On foot. Wrex told us the acid sacs in the mouth were the best place to shoot."
"To date, Wrex stubbornly asserts that he was the one to bring down the thresher maw, not Shepard," Tali said. "Back on the Normandy, he was mentioning how it brought back memories of his Rite, but none of us wanted to pry for more details."
"I always thought Shepard was the one that killed it myself," Garrus said. "He was using a sniper rifle with explosive rounds. Wrex was using an assault rifle with incendiary ammo. The chances were in Shepard's favor, especially since the maw fell dead after nearly eating him. Not to mention the fact that Wrex was facing its backside."
"No… I'm pretty sure I killed it since I was the one manning the cannon on the Mako," Tali argued.
"You got, like, three shots on it. Hardly enough," Garrus countered stubbornly. "I saw the muzzle flash from Shepard's rifle just before it died."
"Even he can't be that lucky!" Tali hotly returned before remembering that Shepard was alive and well and sitting close by after supposedly being dead for two years. "Well… maybe he is, but I still think I was the one that got it."
"The giant worm is dead. I don't really care who killed it so long as it didn't eat any of us," Shepard said. "Ow!"
Chakwas withdrew the syringe and raised an eyebrow at him. "I thought you were made of sterner stuff, Shepard," she lightly chastised while rubbing a disinfectant on the injection site.
"I have delicate constitution."
Jack, Garrus, and Jacob laughed at him. Tali was a bit more polite and tried to suppress her giggles. Thankfully, Miranda was much more discrete about her amusement, though her eyes shined with repressed laugher.
"Oh? I don't have that in my notes. When did this occur?" Chakwas asked indulgently.
"The moment I stepped in here, apparently," Shepard muttered as he put on his shirt with a wince.
EDI chimed in before the others could continue 'supporting' him. "Captain, I have a message from Wrex. His chief scout has returned from the field."
"Great," he said, quickly jumping on the distraction to deflect any more teasing.
Before he could issue his orders, EDI pressed on with more news. "Also, killing the thresher maw has produced several breeding requests for Grunt."
"Good for him," Shepard praised.
"And one for you."
There was a moment of stunned silence while everyone processed what she just said before Shepard muttered, "Et tu, EDI?"
He tried to hold onto his cross look when everyone started laughing, but gave in and laughed at the newest bit of absurd news that seemed to always happen to him.
"Just one, Shepard?" Garrus asked with a shake of his head. He stared at him with a painfully fake look of disappointment. "Maybe you should've kept the scars. Krogan love scars."
"Or how 'bout we go the other way? Someone should tell her that Shepard only has a pair. That might be enough of a turn-off," Jacob added jokingly.
Even the man in question couldn't keep his grin off his face. "Alright, alright, alright. Get everyone together and in full battle readiness. Just about everything in Tuchanka wants to kill us-"
"Including whatever plants and bugs that are still alive," Garrus supplied.
"-So if we're going outside of Urdnot territory, I want to be ready for everything," Shepard finished.
"You're not going back down there?" Chakwas asked incredulously.
"Sorry, Doc," he replied as he gathered his armor from the nearby table. "Duty calls."
"Are you sure about this?" Miranda asked. "We can handle it by ourselves if you need rest."
"I promised Mordin I'd give him my help," Shepard said. "Besides, Dr. Chakwas said that I'd be fine in an hour, tops."
The doctor bristled at the liberal interpretation of her diagnosis. "I know I said that, but you should also-"
"Rest. I know, Doc. After." He turned to the others. "Let's go."
Garrus cleared his throat and glanced meaningfully at Chakwas.
"What?" she asked before narrowing her eyes at him and throwing her hands up in the air in exasperation. "Oh, all right. Very well, I wash my hands of you. So help me, if you get injured, I'll have Dr. Solus look after you while I lecture on why you should listen to me more," she warned before turning to Shepard. "After enduring his agonizing complaints and repetitive requests, I'm clearing him for duty."
Garrus looked offended. "I thought it was more of a lively debate."
"I think I'll side with Dr. Chakwas on this," Tali quipped.
Shepard smirked, but refrained from saying anything. "Let's get going," he smoothly cut in before they could argue.
"Shepard? In all seriousness, I'd really like a moment," Chakwas called out before he could leave.
His brow furrowed in confusion, but after noticing the solemn look on her face, he knew it was best to listen to what she had to say. "Gather up the squad and I'll meet you at the Kodiak," he said to Miranda.
"Understood. We'll be ready in 10 minutes," she said before looking at Chakwas with questioning eyes.
"That's more than enough time," Chakwas said.
Miranda looked like she wanted to press for more details, but schooled her features to look like she was concerned as a matter of professional courtesy and nodded. She left with one last lingering look at Shepard.
After everyone was gone, he put his armor back on the table and turned back to face the doctor.
Chakwas tapped a button and turned the windows opaque. "After hearing about your recent business on Tuchanka, I'd like to conduct a full physical," she requested without preamble.
"Something wrong?" he couldn't help but ask.
"I'm not entirely sure," she murmured. "Perhaps you really are worrying me or maybe I'm just being paranoid, but I'd like for you to humor me on this."
"What are you thinking?"
"Your biotics. You're learning at an incredible rate, far more than any other biotic at the Ascension Project at Grissom Academy… at least as far as my research goes. But it's the level of power that you're displaying that I wish to study. After your tale of the events that just transpired groundside, I… I'd like to confirm something."
"You mean holding up a ton of debris from crushing me?" he asked.
"Perhaps it's the difference between L4 and L5 implants or perhaps it's something else. Or perhaps it's just you, but I'd like to be certain all the same," she answered vaguely.
"Maybe I have knack for biotics?" he suggested seriously.
"Maybe," she echoed unconvincingly. "But learning techniques is one thing. That requires a focused and determined mind more than anything else. The strength of your biotics on the other hand…" She trailed off with a sigh and rubbed her forehead in agitation. "I'm thinking we might be seeing a side-effect of the Lazarus Project, which is why I want to check to see if you're all right."
"Okay. You're the doc, Doc. After my business with Tuchanka is finished, we're heading to the Citadel for… um…" he faltered a bit as he quickly searched for a plausible reason. "Supplies. On the way, you can examine me as you much as you like."
"The Citadel? Good, that works. There's someone I'd like to get in contact with, then. I don't want to worry you, but I felt that this was serious enough to remark upon," she said with only a bit of relief.
"If you think so, then I should take it seriously as well," he replied. "I'll be back as soon as I can."
"Very well. Just try to come back for the physical and not because you're bedridden."
He chuckled and picked up his armor again. "Your confidence in my abilities means a lot me, Doc."
Mordin paced furiously in front of the shuttle doors. His mind was going in overdrive with various scenarios. The speed at which his thoughts travelled was usually a gift, but now felt like a curse. The delay in which he received the news about Maelon to the actual rescue felt too long. First the Collector ship, to the shipwrecked crew on Aeia, to waiting for the scout commander… At this point, it seemed everything that could go wrong, did or will.
Mustn't think that. Theories must fit facts; facts should not fit theories.
Even knowing this, he couldn't process the anxiety from his thoughts. He felt personally responsible for everything. On one hand, he was able to accomplish something that would have been lauded as one of the most important medical challenges in recent history. If it was allowed to be reported.
Second to the Lazarus Project probably.
On the other hand, he knew what he did was the right thing to do. If only it didn't come with such a heavy price. With a mind such as his, a guilty conscience was always lurking in his thoughts in his every waking moment. Unlike most emotions, this one stayed with him. It wasn't something he could ignore, accept, or reconcile, despite his efforts to find an 'absolute truth' that could vindicate him. Or damn him.
The moral slope he was on was a slippery one with no clear definition of right and wrong. To a scientist, ambiguous answers are the worst kind of answers.
He stopped pacing and sighed, idly rubbing his crossed scars on his cheek. A constant reminder of what he'd done.
For the greater good.
At least, that's what he told him himself. It usually helped him through most of his guilt. He always considered himself borderline consequentialist, that the 'ends justified the means', but only within his rules of ethics, something he rigidly adhered to. He saw the data, believed in the simulations, and made sure everything would not cause further harm. But, during his follow-up missions to Tuchanka, he always left with the same pain only guilt could inflict on his… soul, for lack of a better term.
Again, he reminded himself that he agreed to accompany Shepard on this mission on as a kind of quest for redemption for what he had done. But if that's the case, did he do the right thing? If he did, why should he be looking for redemption?
No matter how brilliant he was, some answers continued to elude him, adding to his mounting frustration.
"You ever been to Tuchanka, Professor?"
Mordin blinked and turned to address the shuttle pilot, Hawthorne. "Beg your pardon?"
"Course he hasn't. Why would any salarian go down there?" the co-pilot, Goldstein said. "I'm surprised the krogan stay there."
"After hearing that Grunt and the Captain take on a thresher maw on foot, I'm not surprised the krogan like it there," Hawthorne retorted.
"Are you alright, Mordin?" Kasumi asked in concern while pilot and co-pilot bickered.
"Yes, yes. Fine. Just a bit impatient," Mordin replied in his usual quick manner.
"I can get that. You said he was a student of yours? Maelon, was it?" Jacob asked.
Mordin bowed his head. "Yes. Taught him almost everything I knew."
"It's surprising to hear that he was still alive. Salarians and turians don't last long on Tuchanka without some major fire support," Garrus commented thoughtfully. "Any idea why the krogan wanted him?"
Mordin nodded slowly, but didn't elaborate.
Garrus was about to press for more details, but Miranda stopped him, much to the salarian's relief. "His dossier showed that he was involved with classified work with the STG. I'm assuming that it's still classified. Let it go."
Garrus seemed to accept that answer and leaned back in his seat.
Miranda continued staring at the stairways. "What do you suppose Dr. Chakwas wanted?"
"No idea," Jacob said. "But it's Shepard. I'm sure it's fine." He paused when he thought about what he said. "Actually, considering his luck, maybe not."
Miranda leveled a glare at him. "Thanks, Jacob. That makes me feel much better."
"I was kidding," Jacob said with a grin. "The man died. It can't get worse than that, right?"
Tali fidgeted in her seat in agitation as she also watched for Shepard's arrival. "Maybe, but Dr. Chakwas looked a bit serious. Do you think-"
"You're worrying yourself over nothing, Tali," Garrus said.
She sat up straighter and whipped her head at him. "Noth-"
"If it's serious, I'm sure Shepard will tell us. If it's nothing, then let it drop," he continued before the quarian could get any more wound up.
"He's right, Tali. Just relax. You trust him, right?" Kasumi said soothingly. She wrapped an arm around the younger woman and shook her in a friendly manner.
Tali took a deep breath and nodded. "Yes. Of course. You're right."
Mordin's observant eyes still picked up on her nervous hand wringing. He also saw that Miranda looked a bit more worried than what might be warranted for an XO. Even Jack seemed a bit distressed, though she tried to hide it behind her usual belligerent façade.
"Has Dr. Chakwas said anything to you, Mordin?" Tali asked.
In truth, she mentioned a few theories that held merit and perhaps a bit cause for worry, but only in confidence. As a professional, he obviously couldn't betray that confidence and fuel mere speculation. Instead he shrugged. "Don't know anything. No data." Since no tests were run, it was an honest answer.
"Finally!" Jack exclaimed.
Turning his head, he saw Shepard walk down the stairs in full armor and weapons, sans his Blackstorm. Instead, he was packing a ML-77 Missile Launcher like Jacob.
"Sorry about that," Shepard apologized. "Let's go."
"What are our assignments?" Thane asked and finally breaking his silence.
Shepard entered the cabin after Mordin hurried inside. "No idea. Miranda and I will go and talk to Wrex and the scout. From there, I'll let you know."
"What did the doc want?" Jack asked in an off-handed manner.
Shepard glanced at her, causing her to squirm a bit before he answered. "She wanted a physical. That's all."
"That's it?" Tali asked curiously.
"She was worried about me. Kinda like how you are now," he replied teasingly.
Tali huffed and crossed her arms. Kasumi giggled at her.
Miranda studied his face, but said nothing.
"We're to wait with the shuttle, then?" Samara quietly asked as the Kodiak started humming and vibrating in preparation for takeoff.
"For now," Shepard said. "I imagine that I'll be bringing everyone, though."
"Hang on, folks. We're heading back down," Goldstein informed.
"Man, it felt like only we were just down there a few hours ago, didn't it?" Hawthorne joked. "Sunny Tuchanka, eh? Gonna work on your tan this time?"
"Shut up and get us down there in one piece."
Location: Krogan DMZ Cluster, Aralakh System, Tuchanka, En Route to Clan Weyrloc Camp
Mordin held on tightly to his seat as the Tomkah bucked yet again. While he used religion as a tool to find truth or absolution, right now, he was praying for a miracle, or just to survive the trip. It wasn't too much to ask for divine intervention at this point.
The meeting between Shepard, Wrex, and the scout didn't take long. Both the captain and the executive officer returned in short order, informing everyone that they were heading toward the Weyrloc Clan base of operations. According to the chief scout, a salarian was seen there and Clan Weyrloc has powerful ties to the Blood Pack mercenary group. This information coincided with what Kirrahe told Mordin when the STG captain said that Maelon had been captured by the Blood Pack. Latest accounts by the Urdnot Scout Commander said that Maelon was alive, but his condition was unknown since the scout he'd assigned to investigate was also captured during his attempt to find out why the Blood Pack was so interested in Maelon. Wrex had asked Shepard to see if he could rescue the missing scout as well if he was still alive.
Wrex also offered Shepard the use of one of the krogan infantry fighting vehicles, the Tomkah, to get there. It was large, spacious, and definitely had enough room for the entire party and then some. Not surprising since it was made for krogan use. It appeared things were finally looking up.
Mordin knew he should have suspected something was wrong when Shepard adamantly said that he'd drive over Tali's and Garrus' protests.
"Kee'lah!" Tali cried out when the Tomkah when airborne for a moment before slamming into the ground.
"This is something I definitely didn't miss," Garrus said as he held on for dear life.
"Does he always drive like this?" Kasumi asked in alarm. She was double-checking to see if her seat harness was securely fastened around her lithe frame.
"Every time we took out the Mako," Garrus answered in resignation. "Ow! Damn it!" Rubbing his head angrily for moment, he hurriedly tried to put his helmet on through the bucking and jostling of the bumpy ride.
Seeing what he was doing, the others quickly followed his example.
"Those were the missions I hated. Especially that mission when we were on Earth's moon. His driving was atrocious," Tali said while everyone was scrambling to protect their heads from further injury. "Can't Jacob drive?"
Miranda shook her head. "Believe me, it wouldn't help. Right now, I'm having trouble determining who's the worse driver, him or Shepard."
"Ow! Fuck! You mind actually watching what the hell you're hitting? !" Jack screamed at the cockpit. "Bad enough we're going to attack a krogan stronghold, but I'd like to get there in one goddamned piece!"
"Sorry! Not many intact roads left on Tuchanka! We gotta get through all of this rubble!" Shepard called back as he suddenly swerved hard to one side to avoid the remains of a building.
More complaints and shouts ensued from the cabin. Even Thane and Samara had a few choice words to offer.
"Damn! This thing gots some muscle behind her, huh?" Jacob said in glee. He was up in the gunner's seat and manning the cannon while helping navigate the route to the Weyrloc camp. He was the only one that seemed to enjoy the ride.
"Steering is a bit more loose than the Mako, but damn! Running over everything is fun!" Shepard excitedly said.
Mordin prayed harder. He certainly hoped that if there was an all-powerful deity, then someone would answer him.
Thankfully, and it couldn't be over soon enough, the Tomkah stopped under the remains of an overpass. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief when the engine was finally turned off.
"Who's up for walking back?" Garrus suggested. "Because I'm ready to set fire to this thing and call it an electrical accident."
"I can think of a few systems where that might be believable," Tali added.
"Okay, everyone. We're near their base. We're on foot from here," Shepard informed as he stepped into the cabin. He secured his own helmet after seeing everyone had already had theirs on before he opened the doors and hopped out first.
"Thank goodness," Miranda muttered.
"For once, you and me agree on something," Jack grumbled.
Mordin jumped out next and looked around. As expected, nothing changed since he was last here. It was still the same barren, hostile, and unforgiving world it always was. The overpass Shepard stopped the Tomkah under was sufficient to hide the vehicle and evidence of Wrex's assistance in their mission.
"Ah, Tuchanka. Crude, dangerous, and probably radioactive," Miranda commented as she gazed at their surroundings. "Let's get in, do what we need to do, and get out – fast."
Tali looked up from her omni-tool scans and nodded. "I'm with her. The sooner the better. This isn't as bad as Haestrom, but Tuchanka definitely has its own brand of danger."
"So why isn't Grunt with us?" Garrus asked as the party trekked to their destination.
"Politics," Shepard simply answered. "He's with Urdnot now. If I bring him along and attack another clan, it's almost a declaration of war. The other clans might be unhappy as well and Wrex might have a revolt on his hands. We're aliens. Officially, we're not affiliated with anybody, which means we can attack whoever we like-"
"And hell will rain down on us instead of your buddy," Jacob finished.
"I was going to say that we'd be responsible, not Wrex and his clan, but yeah."
"Plausible deniability at its finest," Miranda said. "Lovely."
"Since we're attacking this Clan Weyrloc, I suspect your friend doesn't have any real alliances with them?" Thane asked.
"They're one of the few clans that are against his reforms," Shepard confirmed. "This works in his favor as much as it helps Mordin. We save Maelon and cripple or destroy a major opponent at the same time."
"Win-win," Jack simply said.
"Yep. Anyway, Grunt's learning all the Urdnot traditions. Battle songs, other different rites… I decided that he couldn't be bothered," Shepard finished.
"Did you inquire about their fortifications?" Samara asked.
"It's a hospital," Miranda supplied.
"A hospital?" Tali repeated skeptically. "That's hardly secure."
"A krogan hospital," Miranda corrected. "Evidently, they're built to be hardened, not sterilized."
Mordin nodded in understanding. Hospitals were one of the many places he and his STG team dropped the modified genophage in. "Repurposed krogan hospital. Sturdy. Built to withstand punishment."
"Are you always thinking about stuff like this?" Kasumi teased.
"Not always. Sometimes I sleep," he answered seriously.
"That's unfortunate. Hospitals aren't fun to fight through," Garrus said, shaking his head with emphasize his statement.
Shepard turned his head to look at his turian friend. "And what is to fight through?"
"Gardens, electronic shops... Antique stores too, but only if they're classy," he answered in all seriousness.
Mordin couldn't tell if he was joking or not.
Kasumi giggled. "There are a few places I can think of where you can have a great time then."
"I wanna know where you've been fighting," Jack said to the turian.
"I hear something," Thane suddenly reported from his position at the front.
Mordin switched to his radio immediately. The moment Thane issued his warning, everyone dropped their cheerful moods and readied themselves accordingly. It was a stark contrast to the jovial atmosphere seconds ago.
Shepard moved up to the front with Thane and held up his assault rifle. "I think I hear varren."
Garrus shuffled up next to Shepard. "If they're tamed, there might be armed sentries ahead too."
"Thane, Garrus; go see if they're wild or if we're coming up to a checkpoint. I don't want the Blood Pack to know we're coming yet."
Garrus vanished from sight using his Tactical Cloak. Thane used more traditional methods. He snuck through the shadows and climbed over the debris to get a higher vantage point.
After a few minutes, Garrus reported in. "Four varren, three vorcha. It's a checkpoint alright."
Thane chimed in. "Confirmed. Three sentries and four varren ahead. They're guarding what looks to be a highway. I can see the hospital at the end of the road. There might be several more checkpoints ahead and I don't see a way around."
"More like a chokepoints then," Jacob said.
"Only road in or out. No wonder the scout got captured," Miranda said to Shepard.
"Do you think's he still alive?" Tali asked.
"No idea," Shepard responded. "We'll see what happens. For now…" He poked his head out and tried to get an idea of the battlefield ahead. "Can you two take out the sentries quietly?" he called out to the snipers.
"I'm already in position," Garrus said. "The vorcha are no problem, but I might need help with the varren."
"I have the varren covered," Thane assured.
"Drop'em," Shepard ordered.
Tiny puffs from a suppressed weapon and the thuds of several bodies were the only sounds that broke the silence.
"Done." – "Targets neutralized."
Moving up, everyone saw that Thane had used his knives with unerring accuracy and struck the varren. Two of the vorcha were shot from behind in the back of the head. The last was shot in the forehead, probably trying to turn around.
"Nice work," Shepard praised.
Garrus was standing behind the makeshift barricade and nodded. Thane leapt from perch and landed with nary a sound.
Kasumi was inspected the knives that struck varren with obvious approval. "Very nice. I'm not sure I could do better."
Shepard led the way again. This time his sniper rifle was expanded and ready. "Let's try to take'em out at long range before closing in."
Mordin followed the Spectre, as did everyone else. Despite the levity they displayed minutes ago, they were all business now and acting like a team. Like a real squad, despite the relatively short time they spent together.
Even Kirrahe's STG team that Mordin served with seemed to lack the same dynamic. Then again, he always thought that Kirrahe's head was always stuck up his cloaca whereas Shepard seemed to have a certain energy that seemed irresistible.
Maybe everything will be alright.
The trek through the raised highway was, more or less, uneventful. If you didn't count the string of firefights they breezed through.
Thane's observations were correct. A line of checkpoints were erected on the highway with sentries posted all around. Fortunately, it seemed only about a dozen vorcha had the dubious honor of being glorified guard dogs. Only two krogan were left to supervise them.
Mordin suspected they were either young, inexperienced, or the kind of idiots that pissed off their CO and were ordered to stand guard outside. Needless to say, Shepard and Thane dispatched both at long range, leaving the vorcha without any instructions on how to handle the surprise attack.
Miranda led the rest of the squad and attacked their positions with relative ease. As expected, the vorcha were vicious and fearless, but lacked any real tactics. Even with the advantage of funneling the attack into their defense did little without any help from their krogan commanders. As another bonus, even when they were being picked off one by one, none of the vorcha had the mindset to call for help, allowing their intrusion to continue to go unnoticed for the time being.
"That was easy," Jack said with a bit of disappointment.
"According to the Chief Scout, vorcha are just there to soak up gunfire. In the krogan's eyes, they're barely better than varren," Shepard informed. "Only they can 'use guns and not crap on the floor as often.' His words, not mine. It'll be the krogan inside that'll be the challenge."
"You just had to say it, didn't you?" Jacob said, echoing Jack's pessimistic remark from Horizon.
Mordin ignored their exchange and approached the door to the hospital. "Hmm… locked."
"I'll get it open," Tali offered. She moved up and started fiddling with the holographic display. Everyone moved to flank the door while they waited for her to finish.
She stood up and moved away quickly. The door opened, revealing a ramp going downward. The ramp and hallway after it was completely empty.
Shepard moved forward slowly; his head was turning in every direction.
Mordin suspected that the Spectre was looking for any sort of automated security defenses, but it was a fruitless exercise. He knew from experience that the power grids on Tuchanka were too unstable to maintain any modern security system.
Considering how hostile the environment was, the only security Tuchanka ever seem to need was everything that ever lived on it.
They wandered the hallways for only minute before Shepard suddenly darted toward a figure on the ground.
It was a human. Male. He looked like he'd been trying to escape, but fell dead just short of the exit. Evidence of his time in the Blood Pack's 'care' was painfully evident.
"Mordin, get over here," Shepard called out. "Kasumi, Tali; Secure the area ahead."
The thief and the engineer moved on past the body, weapons up and ready.
Mordin knelt down next to the body and ran his omni-tool over the victim while he made critical observations. "Sores, ligatures showing restraints at wrists and ankles." He paused only to glance at his omni-tool readings. "Tumors." He picked up the right arm and examined it closely. "Track marks for repeated injection sites."
"They experimented on him," Miranda deduced.
"Evidence suggests so," Mordin concurred.
"I don't get it. Is this about the genophage?" Jacob asked. "Why use humans for experimentation?"
Mordin didn't turn away from the omni-tool scans, but he knew the answer. It was one of the more interesting aspects of the human species that always fascinated him. "Humans useful as test subjects. Genetically diverse. Enables exploration of treatment modalities."
"I don't get it. What makes humans more genetically diverse than any other species?" Shepard questioned.
"More variables. Peaks and valleys, mutations, adaptations. Far beyond other sapient life," Mordin explained as he continued to run his scans. "Makes humans useful test subjects. Larger reactions to smaller stimuli."
"We can look much different from each other, but what about asari? They have a wide range of skin tones," Shepard said, apparently trying to wrap his head around the idea of humans being used as bench line for test experiments.
Mordin finally looked up and glanced at Shepard's helmeted face. "No. Ignore superficial appearance. Down to genetic code. Biotic abilities, intelligence levels. Can look at random asari, krogan, make reasonable guess. Humans too variable to judge. Outliers in all species, of course. Geniuses, idiots. But human probability curve offers greater overall variety."
"I never knew this," Miranda confessed. "That's rather fascinating to know."
Shepard shook his head angrily. "Experimenting on humans? And I thought Cerberus was bad enough."
"Gee, thanks," Jacob sarcastically said.
Miranda shook her head and crossed her arms. "My report will mention that."
"It should," Jack retorted. "I'm personally all shocked and shaken that shit like this happened. And for once, you bastards aren't involved."
"Never used humans myself. Disgusting, unethical, sloppy. Used by brute force researchers, not thinkers. No place in proper science." Mordin took a breath as he thought about his statement. "Krogan use of humans unsurprising."
"You never used live-subject testing when you were dealing with that plague Omega?" Garrus asked.
"Or your work with STG?" Shepard added.
Mordin glanced at Shepard again. He knew that he was keeping the details of the genophage modification project a secret from the rest of the team. All they knew was that Maelon was captured and that they were rescuing him. That's it. Anything else could be blamed on the krogan. He was infinitely appreciative about it. "No. Unnecessary. Limited tests to simulations, corpses, cloned tissues samples. Much like counter-measure developed against seeker swarm. No tests on species with members capable of calculus. Simple rule, never broke it."
Miranda knelt down next to Mordin and observed the scans. "It looks like they're trying to modify hormone levels."
Mordin nodded. He always respected her knowledge and scientific expertise. He knew the details of the Lazarus Project were confidential, but he was insanely curious as to how she did it. "Indeed. Counterattack on glands hit by genophage. Clever."
"Will it work?" she queried.
"Conceptually sound. Genophage alters hormone levels. Could repair damage with hormonal counterattack."
Their discussion ended with a boom of a shotgun and several subsequent follow-up shots. Samara, Thane, and Garrus tore down the hallway and around the corner immediately before the others could react.
"Report!" Shepard barked.
The radio cracked with the sounds of gunfire in the background. "Three krogan were patrolling!" Tali answered before pausing to fire her shotgun again. "Kasumi and I got two of them and the last is trying to fight back. I can hear reinforcements coming though. They definitely know we're here now!"
"Let's move," Shepard ordered.
Mordin muttered a quick prayer from one of the human religions he learned about before reaching out and closing unfortunate man's eyes. "Requiescat in Pace." His final respects paid, he got up and followed quickly.
He passed by three dead krogan during his dash through the hallways and saw the squad was taking cover in a doorway. He pressed up against a wall a scooted forward until he joined with Garrus, Thane, Samara, and Tali on one side of the doorway.
Shepard and Garrus were on either side of the opening, occasionally blind firing at the attackers that were shooting at them.
"Hold fire!" an imperious voiced roared.
The krogans stopped shooting soon after, prompting Shepard and Garrus to do the same.
"Come out, offworlders!" the krogan demanded. "I will not ask again!"
"Ha! 'Ask' he says," Jack growled as she held her shotgun ready.
"Orders?" Garrus asked.
"The two of us and Mordin will go and see what he wants. The rest of you prepare to rain hell on them if they try anything suspicious."
To his satisfaction, everyone passed along their acknowledgments to his orders. Assault rifle still ready, Shepard stood up and bravely walked into the room. Garrus and Mordin were slightly back and at his flank.
At least five krogan were standing on a raised walkway with four vorcha to supplement them. All of them had their weapons out and pointed at the trio. "I am the speaker for Clan Weyrloc, offworlders! You have shed our blood. By rights, you should be dead already!" the Clanspeaker shouted down at them. "But Weyrloc Guld, the Chief of Chiefs, has ordered that you be given leave to flee and spread the message of our coming!"
"They're letting us go… Now I've heard everything," Garrus said.
"If I flee, I might trip over the krogan I killed to get here. I think I'll take my chances," Shepard taunted.
"You killed our youngest and weakest, human. They were not worthy of remaining near our glorious work!" the Clanspeaker spat. "Inside, you will find only hardened Blood Pack veterans, tempered by savagery and war and dedicated to one goal!"
Some of the krogan brandished their weapons arrogantly at them following the speaker's words.
"Veterans or fanatics?" Garrus rhetorically asked.
"Certainly most eloquent krogan I've seen," Mordin commented.
"The salarian will cure the genophage and Clan Weyrloc will spread across the galaxy in a sea of blood!"
Mordin sucked in a breath. Appears they discovered our work. Very unfortunate. His mind rapidly considered all the possible angles and ramifications of this outcome.
"If you really care about the future of Clan Weyrloc, you'll hand over the salarian," Shepard demanded. "Now."
"Bah!" the Clanspeaker waved his words off and started pacing zealously. "When we cure the genophage, Weyrloc Guld will rule all krogan! The Krogan Rebellions will become the Krogan Empire!"
"Parley is over," Shepard called into his radio while the krogan continued his passionate tirade. "Get ready."
"The surviving races will frighten their children with tales of what the Blood Pack did to the turians!"
"We're ready," Miranda called back.
"The asari will scream as their Citadel plunges into the sun!"
"Five krogan and four vorcha on an elevated position," Garrus relayed. "Only way up is the stairs directly on the right."
"We will keep the salarians as slaves and eat their eggs as a delicacy!"
"You might wanna take cover, first," Shepard warned before he drew his pistol and fired once at the rusted gas pipe that was underneath the ranting krogan. "You talk too much."
The speaker took a step back before drawing his shotgun and laughed. "See? The human cannot hit a simple target!" The sound of hissing caught his attention and prompted him to look over the railing.
"Yeah, that's gonna hurt," Garrus said as he backed up to the doorway.
Mordin took cover behind a thick column and prayed it was enough to handle the blast. Been praying a lot lately.
Shepard fired again before diving behind another column. The bullet struck the pipe again, creating a spark that ignited a wall of fire on the krogan. The deflagration consumed the walkway, causing the Blood Pack to scream and run as they were lit ablaze.
With the loss of their advantage of the high ground, the rest of the squad ran in and proceed to eliminate the krogan forces. One or two put up a token resistance, mainly by firing wildly at anything that moved, but Shepard's initial attack instantly took away any hope they had to begin with. It all ended when a singularity manifested right between the surviving krogan, drawing them in and mercilessly crushing them.
"It is done," Samara intoned.
"Kasumi, Thane; get up there and see if there are any more coming," Shepard ordered.
"Sure thing, Shep." – "Of course."
Both ran up the stairs and moved on ahead silently.
"Everyone okay?" Shepard asked. Various answers in the affirmative floated back to him.
"Think this Weyrloc Guld knows we're here now?" Miranda asked.
"Maybe not. Krogan aren't known for being subtle. He might assume that we're dead from an explosion his men caused," Jacob pointed out.
"Well, whatever the case, let's move on," Shepard said decisively. "Kasumi? Thane? What's the word?"
"We're coming up to what might be the ICU of the hospital, though it appears to be converted to a laboratory now," answered Thane.
"No one else here and no one seems to be coming," Kasumi added. "Well, no one alive. There's another body here, Shep."
Shepard sighed. "Great. We're on the way."
Mordin walked ahead of the squad, noting the blood stains on the floor as he approached the labs. There was little doubt that he was going to find more evidence of experimentation ahead. Red blood stains, he expected, but there were other colors too. Red most likely meant more humans, but the gray meant krogan.
Experimenting on own kind…
Again, he wasn't surprised, but his disgust was no less deep. He approached the doors and entered.
Thane was at the other end of the hallway, keeping watch for any patrols. He turned his head slightly to acknowledge the salarian's entry before continuing his vigil for further threats.
Moving deeper into the room, Mordin paused when he saw an active console in one of the rooms. He walked to it and started looking over the data. Over the radio, he barely heard Shepard telling the rest of the team to move on ahead and secure the area. He did see the captain's shadow casted on the wall nearby.
"Anything useful?" Shepard asked out loud and away from the ears of the others.
Mordin didn't answer immediately. The level of detail and organization he was reading was very familiar and completely unexpected. "Genetic sequences. Hormone mutagens still steady. Protein chains, live tissue, cloned tissue." He was actually impressed with the gathered data. "Very thorough."
"Maelon's work then?"
Mordin blinked and considered the possibility before nodding in agreement. "Yes. Most likely. Improbable to think krogan researchers are so diligent in keeping records. Good sign: means Maelon's still alive. Bad sign: Weyrloc forcing him to cure genophage." He continued scrolling. "Standard treatment vectors. Avoiding scorched-earth immunosuppressants to alter hormone levels. Good. Hate to see that."
"There is something I think you have to see," Shepard said ominously.
Not liking the feeling to dread running down his spine, Mordin followed closely. In the next room over, the subject of the gathered data lay on the bed. The figure was covered, offering some measure of respect. Judging from the size, it was definitely krogan. Mordin picked up the blanket to see who was underneath before placing the blanket back and picking up the nearby datapad. "Dead krogan. Female. Tumors indicate experimentation. No restraint marks. Volunteer."
"I thought so as well."
"Sterile Weyrloc female willing to risk procedures. Hoped for cure." Mordin sighed as the guilt mounted once again. "Pointless. Pointless waste of life."
"What was pointless? Her volunteering or the krogan experiments?"
"Both," Mordin answered immediately. "Her mistake forgivable. Theirs not." He remembered how Okeer tried his hand at science, genetics, and cloning, and uncharacteristically sneered. "Krogan 'researchers' ruthless. Risking own clan's women for new data. Disgusting. Shortsighted. Wrong."
"I don't think any of us expected the krogan to sit back and let the genophage continue," Shepard noted. "I know this is cold to say, but for all we know, they've could've been doing this kind of thing for centuries. Certainly long before you and I were born."
"True. Still unpleasant to see," Mordin agreed despondently.
"I'm a little surprised though. You seemed so… distant when confronted with death," Shepard observed before gesturing to body on the bed. "Here, you seem a bit disturbed."
Mordin's head shot up. "What? Why? Because of genophage work? Irrelevant." He shook his head. "No, causative. Never experimented on live krogan. Never killed with medicine. Her death not my work," he fiercely defended before seeing the standoffish stance Shepard was presenting. He suddenly realized what the Spectre wanted him to see. "Only reaction to it…" he whispered.
Shepard said nothing.
Mordin paced furiously. "Understand: goal was to stabilize population. Never wanted this. Can see it logically…" He stopped pacing and sighed as he gazed on the figure lying before him. "But still… unnecessary. Foolish waste of life. Hate to see it." He looked back up at his companion. "But I have to."
"Did you come to Tuchanka after your 'work'?" Shepard asked.
"Yearly recon mission," Mordin admitted. "Water, tissue samples. Ensure no mistakes. Superiors offered to carry it on. Refused. Need to see it in person. Need to look. Accept it as necessary. See small picture." He bowed his head. "Remind myself why I run a clinic on Omega." He looked back at the covered krogan woman and thought which religion would suit her best. "Rest, young mother. Find your gods. Find someplace better."
"I didn't expect spirituality from you, Mordin," Shepard admitted.
Truth be told, if someone had told him that he would seek spiritual help a few years ago, Mordin would have thought it a joke. A man of science and facts like him looking for answers in religion and faith was preposterous. But now… "Genophage modification project altered millions of lives. Then saw results. Ego, humility, juxtaposition. Frailty of life. Size of universe."
"So you went looking for answers."
"Explored religions after work completed. Different races. No answers. Many questions."
"Looking to absolve your guilt?"
"Modified genophage great in scope. Scientifically brilliant," Mordin said proudly before frowning as the other side of problem asserted itself. "But ethically difficult. Krogan reaction visceral, tragic. Hard to see big picture behind pile of corpses."
"How do you live with this?"
"Not easy. Sometimes wish I wasn't as intelligent," Mordin confessed. Another emotion he often felt next to guilt was regret. "Choice would have fallen on someone else. Not my problem." It was always a tantalizing thought, but not one he often indulged. 'What ifs' were always pointless to consider.
"Somebody had to do it. Nobody was smart enough," said Shepard.
Mordin nodded. "Fool's wish. Had to be me. Others might have gotten it wrong."
"Or would be unable to live with these kinds of decisions," Shepard pointed out. "But what about you, though? How do you live with it?"
"Wheel of life," Mordin replied. "Popular salarian concept. Similar to human Hinduism in focus on reincarnation. Appealing to see life as endless. Fix mistakes in next life. Learn, adapt, improve." He looked up. "Refuse to believe life ends here. Too… wasteful. Have more to offer. Mistakes to fix. Cannot end here. Could do so much more." An interesting thought popped into his head. "And what of you? What do you believe?"
Shepard tilted his head at the question. "Me?"
The human fell silent for a moment before answering. "I like to believe that this," he said before gesturing to everything around him. "I mean all of this, everything we do, isn't simply some sort of test."
Mordin could see why Shepard could find that appealing. Every choice had a consequence; every choice had meaning, carried weight. That everything he did meant something for better or worse. "Believe life ends here then?"
"What would you have done?"
"About the genophage?"
Again, Mordin nodded.
Shepard sighed. "This… this is something that needs more than one man to decide, Mordin. I don't see the right or wrong answer here." He swallowed and walked closer. "I see this," he said and pointed at the body, "and I wonder if what you did is right. But I think about what that krogan speaker said earlier, and can't help but be glad you did what you did." He sighed again and crossed his arms. "What's done is done. What I do know is that in the face of tragedy, you'll often see the best and worst in people. I see what Clan Weyrloc is doing, and I know they need to be stopped, victims or no. I see Wrex, and I'm glad – I'm proud to see that he not only moved past the genophage, he's helping the krogan race do the same. He's the kind of example that shows the krogan are more than mercs and warlords."
Mordin had yet to personally meet this Urdnot Wrex, but Shepard, Garrus, and Tali all spoke of him fondly. The fact the Urdnot's accepted Grunt and helped them with this mission seemed to suggest that this was a clan that was worth considering. "Yes. What's done is done…"
"Look, this is something, a choice, that isn't easy to see what's right or wrong. Unfortunately, I also know that it's a choice that needed to be made, no matter what," Shepard continued. "Maybe things will be different for the krogan soon, or maybe in a few hundred years, but right now… right now the status quo works. They've lived with the genophage for centuries. They can endure. They're good at that."
Before Mordin could reply, Miranda called them on the radio. "Shepard? Is everything alright back there?"
"We're fine, Miranda. We're done here and on the way."
"Understood. We've located the Urdnot scout, but there seems to be a problem."
"We're coming." Shepard turned back to Mordin. "When I worked with Kirrahe, I was forced to choose to leave one of my men behind. I made a choice to complete the mission and sacrifice someone to do it. It was the right decision, but I still feel guilty about it. You should feel guilty about what you've done. But… for what it's worth, I still think you did the right thing."
"What's the problem?" Shepard asked once he and Mordin walked within sight.
"He's refusing to leave," Miranda answered.
"Not as far as I can tell."
While they were talking, Mordin glanced at the room where he guessed the Urdnot scout was at. Two dead krogan bearing the Weyrloc markings were slumped against the walls nearby.
He and Shepard moved into the solitary cell at the end of the hallway. Jacob and Garrus had their weapons pointed at one lone krogan sitting inside as a precaution.
It was sight Mordin had never seen. This particular krogan looked meek, submissive, and compliant. Certainly a first for him.
Shepard glanced into the cell before turning back to Miranda. "Right. Hostiles?"
"There were two sentries, but Thane and Kasumi handled it. Our intrusion is still unnoticed I believe, but Kasumi reported hearing voices and went to check it out. We're maintaining a defensive posture in the meantime."
Shepard nodded and walked into the cell. Mordin followed closely behind, curious as to what it would take to break a krogan warrior like this.
The scout barely raised his head at them when they entered.
"You alright?" Shepard asked. "You don't look so good."
This time, the krogan looked up, though his eyes were unfocused. "You killed the Weyrloc guards?"
"What did they do to you?" Shepard asked, dodging the question.
"They gave me… things. Injections, mostly. Sometimes gas. Made me sick. Fever, aches. Can't keep food down," the scout coughed out.
Mordin ran his omni-tool over the sick krogan. "Drugs similar to other test subjects. Not likely to yield any results."
"Unless you count death as a result," Shepard pointed out.
"They're fixing the genophage. I'm making a sacrifice… for all krogan," the scout revealed. "Everything's blurry. Hard to think."
"Can you get him on his feet, Mordin? Stims, maybe?" Shepard asked.
Mordin glanced at the krogan. Something definitely seemed off and it wasn't merely the physical problems.
His suspicions was confirmed when the scout shook his head. "You don't understand. I'm not too sick to leave. I have to stay."
"Why the hell do you wanna stay if they're experimenting on you?" Jacob impatiently said.
"They're curing the genophage! They're going to make it all better! They have to keep doing the tests!" the scout feverishly said.
"Caution, Shepard. Patient unstable, susceptible. Brainwashed," Mordin warned via radio to prevent enraging the krogan.
"In all likelihood, you realize that everything they're doing to you will kill you, right?" Shepard asked to squatting scout.
If possible, the scout looked even more downtrodden than he did before. "This is my fault. I got caught. Wasn't strong enough. This is the best I can do." He averted his eyes in shame. "This is all I can do…"
For a moment, Mordin actually felt pity for him.
"I'm not big enough to have a real shot with the females. I'll never have kids of my own. But if I help undo the genophage, then I mattered!"
Shockingly, Shepard scoffed in disgust. "You've got a bruised ego! You got caught and beaten, so you tell yourself that it was for something important!"
"That's not true! I need to stay! They're gonna cure us all!" the krogan shouted back.
Shepard crossed his arms. His stance definitely held an unimpressed or even a condescending feel behind it. "You're not a real krogan. When a real krogan gets knocked down, he gets back up!"
"I did!" the scout protested. "I got back up every time they hit me! So many times…"
Shepard scathingly laughed in response, causing the scout to snarl. "You're lying there right now like a vorcha grubbing in the mud. You going to just lie there, vorcha?"
"Screw you, human!" the scout cursed. A fire was lit in his eyes, something that was absent just moments ago.
It was then, Mordin realized why Shepard was being so caustic. Using anger and pride to appeal to sense. Clever.
It appeared to be working. The krogan looked like he was ready to froth at the mouth. He struggled to his feet to stand tall in front of them. "Nobody says that to me! Nobody keeps me down!"
"Then what hell are you still doing here? Your commander ordered you to get back to camp and report in! Now!" Shepard barked. "Double time!"
The krogan roared and ran past the squad toward the exit. Mordin had to remind himself about how resilient krogan can be.
Jacob chuckled appreciatively. "Nice work. Reminds me of boot camp."
"There's no pep talk like a military pep talk," Garrus said in agreement.
"Shep? Kasumi here. We might have a problem."
"Am I supposed to be surprised?"
"It looks like the Blood Pack is fortifying themselves. I think they know we're still alive and coming."
"Basement. Three floors down from your position. I overheard some of them talking… uh oh. Gotta go."
"Damn. Let's move."
The squad had spread out through the hallways, on guard for any patrolling krogan while waiting for Shepard to arrive. One by one, they regrouped as he moved to a large door. Mordin listened closely, but didn't hear anything out of the ordinary.
"If the Blood Pack are waiting for us, they're being quiet about it," Garrus said.
"That may be cause for worry," Samara commented. "I've never known them to be subtle in their preparations."
"Kasumi, do you read?" Shepard asked. He was still greeted with silence.
"Do you think she's okay?" Tali asked worriedly.
"I'm sure she's fine," Jacob answered confidently.
"She went quiet for a reason," Miranda said. "We should exercise caution."
Shepard and Jacob entered the door first and checked the immediate area before everyone else followed carefully. As Kasumi had said, they were three floors above the basement. The room they were in was expansive. Most likely, it was where the general rooms were for recovering patients. Walkways and stairs lined the walls while bridges covered the empty expanse in the middle. Most of the rooms were converted to sleeping quarters for the Weyrloc Clan. Remnants of the krogan wars were evident here just as much as everywhere else. Rubble blocked some areas, rooms were completely unusable since they were caved in, and several thick wires from the old electrical system dangled from the ceiling.
The nearest set of stairs leading down to the next floor was on the other side of a bridge across the empty void of the room. Shepard led the way again, rifle up and ready.
What disturbed Mordin the most was that Kasumi's warning wasn't readily apparent. He couldn't see any krogan anywhere in the room. However, there was a stillness in the air that felt foreboding, even threatening. Keeping his eyes and ears open, he scanned the room carefully. Seeing nothing above or straight ahead, he walked over to the railing and peered downward. His apprehension was finally justified when he spotted something metallic just underneath the bridge. "Wait."
Shepard stopped immediately and held his position.
"Something attached to bridge. Can't see it clearly from here," Mordin said.
Tali whipped out her omni-tool and started fiddling with it. After a minute, her scan was complete. "It's a bomb. But… there's something else…" She trailed off as she moved her omni-tool away from the bridge and along the ground the squad was standing on. She gasped a moment later.
Her warning coincided with Kasumi's when the thief's frantic voice crackled on the radio.
"There are explosives under us too!" – "It's a trap! Run!"
"Scatter!" Shepard commanded.
The squad immediately obeyed. Some ran for the other end of the walkway, others back through the doorway.
Mordin turned away from the rail and was about to sprint for the door when the world erupted into pandemonium. A deafening boom threatened to split his head from the sheer volume alone. The sudden disorientation from the flash of light and fire tossed his sense of direction into every direction. The feeling of pressure and force pressing on his chest contrasted with the feeling of weightlessness followed by the sudden vertigo as he tumbled through the air. His mind seemed to slow to a crawl as he tried to understand what happened to him, but his thought processes seized and twisted in differing directions. Panicking, he flailed his arms in everywhere to find purchase; to get a physical handle on his situation. His left hand felt something firm and he grasped it with all his might. His teeth jarred with the sudden change in momentum. His stomach lurched when the feeling of falling was arrested in favor of swinging. Gasping, he looked around and finally forced his brain to comprehend what had happened.
The walkway he was standing on a moment ago was gone. Fire, smoke, and falling rock was all the remained on the third floor. Gunfire and more explosions echoed around the room. His ears were ringing, a symptom that he was caught in a high volume, rapidly expanding pressure of air. The explosion had hurled him off the walkway and he fell. Looking up, he estimated that he fell two stories before he was lucky enough to grab onto something to prevent hitting the ground at what he calculated to be approximately 16.38 meters per second. He was clinging to one of the dangling wires of the old hospital's electrical system and was swinging side to side.
All of a sudden the ancient wire's tenuous grip on the ceiling snapped and the salarian found himself falling again. He hit the ground and felt the air rush out of his lungs only fraction of a second before hitting his head. The world dimmed as darkness danced with the light. His head ached, compounded with the ringing in his ears and the frantic shouting from the radio.
"They're coming from the left!"
"We've been separated! Hurry!"
"We're under heavy attack! Need some help!"
Mordin tried to get to his feet, but he could barely feel his body respond. Suddenly, he felt someone grasp his arm and pull him away from the sounds of gunfire. He felt panic rise up again as he struggled against whoever grabbed him. The figure let go of his arm only to hold him down by the shoulders. Dimly, he could hear a familiar human voice.
"Mordin! It's me! You're alright! Stop struggling!"
The darkness receded a bit, allowing him to see a black mask, with only two dimly glowing blue eyeholes. The rest of the figure was in an equally black skintight suit. He instantly recognized it as Kasumi's lightweight, lightly armored, hardsuit.
"I got you. You're alright," she assured.
Nodding slowly, to prevent his head from hurting more, Mordin forced himself to calm down and take stock of injuries. He took a deep breath to force down his fight/flight instincts. His back burned, but the pain didn't feel sharp. Moving a little, nothing felt numb as well. Quite the contrary, everything felt like it hurt. He reasoned that the chances were likely that he didn't break any bones on from his fall. With Kasumi's assistance, he got up slowly and looked around for his Tempest SMG.
Kasumi held it out to him. "It was nearby."
Thanking her, he took it and looked around. Above them, he saw that the squad had been scattered by the surprise attack. They were above, fighting on two different floors. "Must help."
"Uh… I think we might have problems of our own…" Kasumi said. She drew her own Tempest and pointed it downrange.
Mordin looked to see three krogan were running at them. They ran in different direction when the krogan started shooting.
Hiding behind some rubble, Mordin popped out and fired at the first krogan he could see. Unfortunately, the krogan he was shooting at had the most impressive and powerful looking armor of the three. To make matters worse, a Biotic Barrier manifested to enhance the protection the krogan already had. Mordin ducked down when the krogan open fired with his M-300 Claymore Heavy Shotgun.
"Tremble and die, offworld scum! I am Weyrloc Guld, Chief of Chiefs!"
Atypically, Mordin cursed under his breath and looked to see if anyone could help. Kasumi was tangling with Guld's guards and Shepard and the rest of the squad were fighting the Blood Pack and the Weyrloc Clan one or two floors above, leaving him to fight the clan chief alone; who was armed with a heavy shotgun, possessed biotic talent, and equipped with the most advanced armor than any other krogan he'd ever fought.
Not favorable odds.
Large chunks of rock from his cover broke off as the Weyrloc Chief used the superior power of his weapon to keep Mordin down as he approached.
Mordin popped out of cover to fire another burst, but got shot for his trouble. His shields protected him, but in a straight-up firefight, he knew he wasn't going to win.
Which is why he was enormously relieved when a storm of debris unexpectedly buried Guld. The Chief obviously didn't expect it and roared in surprise as he disappeared beneath the flood of rock and metal.
Looking up, Mordin saw Shepard was still on the third floor. His biotic aura was just fading, evidence that he was the one that came to his rescue. He turned away and ran out of sight, though the sounds of gunfire increased in intensity soon after.
Leaving his cover, Mordin prepared to help Kasumi when the rubble shifted.
Guld tore his way free, still very much alive and definitely livid. His Barrier flickered, on the verge of failing, but enough to protect him from Shepard's timely rescue. The enraged krogan, now bereft of his shotgun, choose to charge at the salarian instead.
Mordin brought his SMG to bear and opened fire. The Barrier vanished from the hail of bullets, though Guld's armor held up easily.
The speed at which Guld charged at was astonishing. He crossed the distance and rammed Mordin. Picking the professor up, he continued running past a doorway and down a hallway until he slammed his captive up against a wall.
For the second time, Mordin felt the air rush out of his lungs as his STG armor barely managed to protect his ribs and vital organs from shattering on impact. Gasping, he tried to remember how to breathe as Guld pinned him against the wall. The collision forced him to drop his gun as he instinctively grabbed Guld's arms and tried to wrestle his way free.
"I will not be denied!" Guld roared as he used his forearm to slowly crush Mordin's throat. "Clan Weyrloc will conquer the other krogan clans! We will rise above them! Then we will bring down our wrath on the salarians! The turians! Even the asari! No force will be able to stop us this time!"
Choking, Mordin instinctively thrashed against Guld's vice-like grip to breathe in air. Before the world faded completely, he desperately engaged his omni-tool, activated the combat suite and readied his Incinerate Tech in a span of a heartbeat. He raised his arm and slapped his omni-tool into the eyehole of Guld's helmet. The burst of fire at point blank range was enough to break through and the flames flew into the tiny opening.
Guld screamed as the inferno burned at his face from within. He instantly released Mordin in favor of trying to remove his helmet while simultaneously thrashing and flailing to escape the agony he must have been in.
Mordin fell to the ground limply and tried to take in oxygen. He coughed, sputtered, and gulped in air greedily all at the same time. His vision swam, but he forced his mind to focus. Rolling to his feet unsteadily, he saw that Guld was still alive and engaged his omni-tool again.
Guld had successfully removed his helmet. Most of his face was burned away, revealing the charred muscle, tendons, and bone beneath the skin. He was growling menacingly as his remaining eye turned to glare at the salarian.
Taking a chance, Mordin launched an offensive first this time. He ran right at Guld, his omni-tool ready. Guld took a swing, but Mordin ducked under it and rammed his omni-tool into the krogan's torso. Ice spread out from the point of contact. It grew rapidly, encompassing Guld's upper and lower body. His arms and legs froze and became completely immobile. Within seconds, the chief of Clan Weyrloc was imprisoned in ice with only his head still free.
Mordin stepped back and panted as he watched his handiwork.
Guld screamed again, this time in denial as he tried to free himself. "Damn you!" He tried to break free of the ice that held him. "This is all your fault! The genophage is a curse on the krogan! You! You're responsible for the continued death of millions!"
Mordin solemnly nodded. He didn't dare deny it now. "Yes. I am."
"You're a coward! Hiding behind a plague!"
Mordin shrugged. "Bested you, didn't I?"
"We will not stopped! The krogan will rise up and the galaxy will know our depth of our vengeance!"
"If that's what you believe," Mordin replied slowly. He did not want to speak quickly this time. He needed Guld to understand what he was saying.
Guld writhed against his icy shackles. "And you… you're crimes will be known! This attack will not go unpunished!"
Mordin took his helmet off and glared at the chief. "Much like your 'war', no one will know of this. Regret that my actions caused such a reaction, but if my work stops ruthless, heartless, bloodthirsty warlords like you from killing billions more… then it is something I am willing to live with."
"This is not over!"
"You're right. It's not." Mordin understood what Shepard meant now. What he did. Why he did it. And most importantly, what he needed to understand and the consequences he had to live with; all of them, good and bad. Seeing Guld glow biotically, he pulled out a grenade and attached it to Guld's chest before the ice could melt. "Someday, it might end and your people may be better for it, stronger for it. Perhaps even wiser. But you won't live to see it." Activating the grenade, Mordin ran down the hall and back to the main room.
The moment he passed through the doorway, he took cover and slipped his helmet on. The blast was substantially louder than Guld's scream, but to Mordin's ears, he felt that Guld's cries were infinitely louder. The hallway collapsed as tons of rubble buried the passageway and the unfortunate victim within. It was unlikely Guld survived this time.
Getting up, he observed his surroundings. The sounds of gunfire had finally tapered off. Kasumi was nowhere to be seen, not that he expected anything less considering her talent in stealth. The two Weyrloc guards were dead nearby, though from his current position, he couldn't tell how they died.
He was about to call out to the others via radio when Shepard's voice chimed in first. "Is everyone okay? Sound off!"
"Garrus here. I'm good. Kasumi's here too."
"Jacob here. I'm still breathing."
"I'm okay. Thane is with me. He's fine too," Tali reported.
The sounds of gunfire echoed one last time followed by a flare of dark energy. Before anyone could voice their concern, Miranda reported in. "Miranda here. Jack and I are alright now. Just a few holdouts."
"I took care of them," Jack boasted.
"You mean we…" Miranda started to say before she changed her mind. "Forget it. It's not worth arguing about. Second floor secure."
Mordin breathed a sigh of relief. "Mordin here. I'm unharmed. Bottom floor clear of enemy presence."
"Where's Samara?" Miranda asked when the justicar failed to report in.
"She's with me," Shepard said. "She caught the worst of the initial explosion. Broken leg and a concussion. Mordin, need you on the third floor."
"On the way."
Samara was lucky. The explosives the Weyrloc employed were cheap and hastily placed. Coupled with Kasumi and Tali's warning, most of the squad avoided significant injury.
Mordin mused on his own brand of luck as well considering his fall and subsequent fight with Weyrloc Guld.
Setting the justicar's leg was simple. He applied medi-gel and fashioned a makeshift splint out of anything available. Thankfully, Samara was still conscious and her vitals were strong.
Garrus and Jacob put together a litter to carry her out. Thane volunteered to escort them back to the Tomkah.
Once recovered, the rest of the squad pressed on. There was one locked door at the bottom floor. It was large and reinforced. According to Kasumi, this is where Maelon was being held.
"Mordin and I will go in and get him. The rest of you stay here and make sure no more Blood Pack show up," ordered Shepard.
"Understood," Miranda replied.
"Almost in…" Tali informed as she worked on unlocking the door.
Leaving the team to find defensible positions, Mordin waited until Tali unlocked the door before swiftly entering. It opened to reveal a hallway that led even deeper below.
Without waiting for Shepard, Mordin made his way down the hallways and staircases. After a few silent minutes of navigating the twisting turns and unstable stairs, they arrived at yet another door. This one was unlocked.
Inside, Mordin saw the corpses of both krogan and human lying on several beds. As horrifying as the sight was, it was something he expected. What he didn't expect was to see his former pupil working diligently at the other end of the room. He had hoped that Maelon was alive. Evidence continued to suggest so, but to see it brought a sense of relief… However, it was the smaller details that threw Mordin off. "Maelon. Alive. Unharmed. No signs of restraint. No evidence of torture. Don't understand," he mumbled out loud to himself.
Maelon had yet to turn away from the massive holo-monitor he was working on. At Mordin's voice however, he stiffened and stopped working. "For such a 'smart' man, Professor, you always had trouble seeing evidence that disagreed with your preconceptions."
Mordin was floored. Maelon had never spoken like that to him before. Past the disrespectful tone, there was something else in his voice; Disgust, anger, even loathing.
Maelon turned around and sneered. He appeared to be able to see Mordin's flummoxed expression behind the helmet and took great pleasure in outwitting his former teacher. "How long will it take you to admit that I'm here because I wish to be here?"
"He wasn't kidnapped," Shepard suddenly said. "He came here voluntarily to cure the genophage."
Mordin blinked as the theories finally started fitting the facts. The problem was that the theory was one he'd never even considered. He tore off his helmet to look his pupil in the eye to confirm it.
Maelon's expression said it all.
"Impossible! Whole team agreed! Project necessary!" Mordin shouted in denial.
"And how was I supposed to disagree with the 'great' Doctor Solus?" Maelon retorted. "I was your student! I looked up to you!"
Mordin looked around again. The bodies that surrounded them. The bodies upstairs… "Experiments performed here! Live subjects! Prisoners! Torture and executions! Your doing? !" he asked heatedly and stabbing an accusing finger at him.
"We've already got the blood of millions on our hands, Doctor!" Maelon shouted. "If it takes a bit more to put things right, I can deal with that!"
"Do you honestly thing the experiments you've done here are justified?" Shepard growled.
"We committed cultural genocide! Nothing I do will ever be justified!" Maelon said before pointing at Mordin. "The experiments are monstrous… because I was taught to be a monster!"
"Never taught you this, Maelon," Mordin said in disgusted tone of his own. "Never condoned anything like this."
"So your hands are clean!" Maelon replied mockingly. "What does it matter if the ground is stained with the blood of millions! You taught me that the end justified the means!"
"Taught you to govern actions and consequences with ethics! Certain lines should never be crossed no matter the outcome!" argued Mordin.
"I will undo what we did, Professor. The only way I know how," said Maelon.
"You talk about killing, but the genophage isn't lethal. It only affects fertility rates," Shepard argued.
"Krogan fight over fertile females. They become mercenaries or pirates because they see no other alternative!" Maelon countered. "They would be thriving in a cultural renaissance now had we not decided that this is what they deserved!"
"You can't be serious," Shepard said in total disbelief. "They almost killed themselves in nuclear winter if it wasn't for the salarians. Then, they sacked other planets when the Rachni Wars ended. Billions of lives were lost."
"Agreed," Mordin said. "Your analysis is inaccurate. Krogan population resulted in war. Simulations were clear!"
"You're curing the genophage without regard to the consequences," Shepard accused. "You cure them and what? Let them expand? All those deaths will be on your head. Millions, even billions of lives because of you."
"We justified this atrocity by saying the krogan would cause havoc if their population recovered," Maelon shot back. "But look at the galaxy! Batarian attacks in the Traverse, geth attacks on the Citadel. Is this a more peaceful universe?"
"Your solution equally violent. Weyrloc Guld admitted the first thing his clan would do was wage war. Further conflict unavoidable!" Mordin yelled.
"You wish to play god, Professor," Maelon spat. "We failed. We only made things worse… and I'm going to fix it!"
"With Clan Weyrloc?" Mordin asked scathingly.
"They're the only clan with both the resources and the commitment," Maelon replied. "I approached the Urdnot, but Wrex is too soft. He wasn't willing to do the experiments I needed. It's Urdnot's loss and Weyrloc's gain. Their clan will be the first to recover from the crime we committed."
Unaware of Guld's plans. Most likely would kill Maelon once cure is administered. Mordin looked at his student with a mixture of fury, pity, and most of all, disappointment. It almost looked as if Maelon had stepped across the fine line between genius and madness, and had fully given himself over to the latter.
"We're shutting you down, Maelon," Shepard said with finality.
"Shutting down more than that," Mordin added ominously.
Maelon reached behind pulled out an M-6 Carnifex Hand Cannon and pointed the weapon at them wildly. "You can't face the truth, can you?" he asked with a hint of demented vanity, as if he was better than Mordin now. "Can't admit that your brilliant mind led you to commit an atrocity."
Shepard took a menacing step forward, uncaring of the pistol Maelon held.
The distraught salarian shifted his aim and attention on the human, giving Mordin all the time he need to close the distance and throw his weight into a wicked right hook.
Maelon cried out and dropped the gun. He staggered back from the blow and passed right through the holo-monitor and bumped into the servers behind.
In a flash, Mordin brought his own Hand Cannon to bear and pressed the barrel directly underneath Maelon's jaw. "Unacceptable experiments. Unacceptable goals." He stared right into Maelon's eyes and recognized the feverish gleam of obsession. "Won't change. No choice. Have to kill you."
Just moments before he pulled the trigger, Shepard's shout gave him pause. He turned his head slightly to keep Maelon in his field of vision while acknowledging Shepard's command.
"You're not a murderer, Mordin. Is this what you really want to do?" Shepard asked. "He needs to be brought to justice. We have him now. Killing him in cold blood won't help you."
Mordin considered Shepard's words carefully. He looked to see Maelon's face change from arrogance to cowardice. Shepard was right. This wasn't him. To kill in combat was one thing, but to execute his own student… he wasn't going fall as low as him. "No. Not a murderer." He backed away and holstered his weapon. "Thank you, Shepard."
Maelon let out the breath he was holding and wiped away the sweat that accumulated on his brow.
"Finished, Maelon. No Weyrloc left. Project over," said Mordin.
"What…?" Maelon asked in a whisper. His earlier haughty attitude was gone, replaced by a pitiful expression. He looked like a man whose world was shattered around him. "Wait! Where am I supposed to go, Professor? !"
"Don't care," Mordin quickly replied. He discretely reached into one of his pouches.
"The krogan didn't deserve what we did them, Professor! The genophage needs to end!"
"Not like this."
Maelon snarled and actually spat at Mordin's feet. He turned away, intending to run, but before he could get two steps, Mordin quickly reached out and pressed the syringe into the back of Maelon's neck.
The sedative took effect immediately. Maelon had only enough time to turn around and look at Mordin with an expression of surprise before collapsing on the ground.
"What are you going to do with him?" Shepard asked.
"Kirrahe nearby. He and his team are on standby in Krogan space. Will turn Maelon over to them," Mordin answered as he regarded the unconscious figure on the ground. "Will need to debrief as well. Inform of Maelon's work. Have STG lock his unit and cut access to old data."
"Any chance that he'll leak the story about the modified genophage project?"
"Special Tasks Group good at covering tracks. No proof will remain." Mordin sighed and turned to face the holo-monitor. Despite his personal reservations about how Maelon was researching for a cure, he still found himself impressed with the level of work done single-handedly. All the data, charts, numbers, and information were neatly catalogued. Everything seemed like it was on the right track for a genuine cure. "Apologies, Captain. Misunderstood mission parameters. No kidnapping. My mistake." He paused to take a breath. "Thank you."
"How are you doing?"
"Conflicted. Should kill him. Wanted to. Easier than listening," Mordin confessed. He started looking through Maelon's research. "Perhaps easier for him too. Experiments indicate how far he's fallen. Expected it from krogan. Not one of mine. Don't know if it's his failing… or mine."
"Something to think about when you're discussing the ethics of the genophage, then?"
Mordin nodded solemnly. "Yes. So many variables. Stress responses. Impossible to truly predict. Something to think about indeed."
"So what now?"
"Maelon's research. Only loose end. Could destroy it. Closure, security," Mordin answered before looking at the other side of the argument. "Still valuable, though."
"If you think it could be useful, why not hang on to it?"
"Useful, yes. Dangerous as well. Could cure genophage. But effects on krogan. Effects on galaxy." There no way to predict the outcome. Krogan like Guld proved that the genophage was necessary. But Mordin trusted Shepard, and Shepard trusted Urdnot Wrex. If that was the case, it was krogan like Wrex that didn't deserve the genophage. "Too many variables. Too many variables!"
"Why don't we just keep the data, then? Better to have it and not need it. We can destroy it later if it ever comes down to it," Shepard suggested.
It was a neutral choice, but a simplistically elegant one. Mordin almost slapped his head to try to rid himself of his idiocy. There was no reason to consider curing the krogan now. They're enduring, as they always have. In the future, it was something to think about, but for now, the status quo worked. He had to remind himself of the human expression, Occam's Razor: pluralitas non est ponenda sine necessitate. "Point taken, Shepard. Capturing data, wiping local copy." He looked over the data one last time before destroying everything on Maelon's workstation. "Still years away from cure. But closer than starting from scratch."
"Are we going to leave Maelon here for Kirrahe to collect?"
"No. I'm staying. Will contact Kirrahe for pickup. STG vessel Veshok-16 will collect us. Debrief. Ensure that Maelon is not executed. Imprisoned, but not executed. Will rendezvous with Normandy later." After finishing with the research, Mordin stood up straighter and sighed. "Ready to be off Tuchanka. Anywhere else. Maybe somewhere sunny."
"If you're sure…"
Shepard nodded and left quietly. Using Maelon's computer, he established a secure channel to Kirrahe's ship.
"Professor Solus. We've been waiting for your call," Kirrahe said.
"Mission successful. Maelon retrieved."
"And the secrecy of the project? Has it been compromised?"
"Krogan clan involved has been silenced. Secrecy maintained."
"Very good. We'll arrange pickup for Maelon and medical attention…"
"Maelon here by choice. Not kidnapped. Unharmed."
"Situation complicated. Further work to be done."
Kirrahe looked annoyed at the need for secrecy. "You miserable cloaca. Fine, we're coming in shortly. One hour."
"Threats have been neutralized. Can wait."
"You and Shepard actually wiped out an entire krogan clan?"
Kirrahe almost smiled. "You're still a cloaca, but you're definitely one tough cloaca."
Mordin did smile however. "Sentiments returned."
"Stand by. We're making our approach to Tuchanka now."
Before Kirrahe cut the transmission, Mordin casually asked, "Did you remove cranium from cloaca yet?"
Borrowed a line from House, M.D. I really couldn't resist.
The line "Somebody had to do it. Nobody was smart enough" was from a motivational poster about Mordin by AntiChri5 of the Bioware forums.
Trying to write out the ethical dilemma would certainly the hardest thing I've had to write to date. Even romance was easier. I had to make a fine balance of guilt, but not emo, regret, but not depression. Also, I really disliked the dialogue here in regards to Shepard. It seemed to me that the Paragon/Renegade choices were a little too over the top. Paragon came off as preachy and heavy handed, while Renegade was a step removed from total genocide. I had to see that Shepard wasn't in either camp, but as lost and as indecisive as Mordin because of the lack of information he had.
Because of the difficulty I had writing this, I would really like to hear what you have to say. If it's plausible, I'll modify the chapter and give credit where it's due.
Edit: Added a few things. Credit goes to BiowareFan.