Fight for the Lost

By LuxDragon

Scifi / Action

Stealing Memory

Location: Serpent Nebula, Normandy SR-2, En Route to Boltzmann System, Bekenstein

Shepard reentered his cabin from his private bathroom, a little bit of steam wafting in his wake. Padding over to his closet with only a towel to preserve his modesty, he spotted Miranda sitting up on his bed. She was clad in one of his shirts and little else.

Naturally, she made wearing his clothes look undeniably sexy.

She was sitting cross-legged and studying a datapad, but looked up and smiled when he exited the bathroom. Her smile changed to a smirk when she noticed that he was staring.

His eyes first roamed her shapely legs, tracing the lean muscle to the hem of the shirt she'd taken. Unfortunately, the size of his shirt allowed her to cover her intimate regions sufficiently.

Pity.

Despite how loose the shirt was, the curvature of her breasts could still be seen. His eyes lingered there only for a moment before continuing the pleasant journey up. The collar had slipped and fallen a little past her left shoulder, exposing more of her pale skin. Past her enticing neck, her face had a amused expression that was framed by her dark locks. Instead of its usual flowing style, her hair was untamed and slightly mussed.

All in all, she had a captivating morning look that immediately brought a wave of ardor.

"Good morning to you too, John," Miranda teased. A lazy smile donned her lips.

Smirking back at her, he changed course and headed straight for the bed instead. Seeing what his intentions were, she dropped the datapad and tried to jump off the other side. Dropping his towel, he reached out and managed to grasp her arm and pulled her back down.

The moment they hit the bed, she wrapped her legs around his torso and flipped them both around until she was straddling him. As he lied on his back, he became acutely aware that she wasn't wearing any undergarments beneath her pilfered shirt.

"And what are you going to do now?" she whispered. She started to slowly grinded herself against his erection, creating an erotic friction that caused him to exhale sharply. "Well?"

He responded by gripping her hands and pulling hard. She fell forward with a gasp and found herself trapped in his arms, flush against his bare chest. Rolling over until he was on top, he held her down using his body, keeping his face close enough to hers that he could feel every breath she took. "How 'bout we skip breakfast?"

"Are you sure? I have doubts you have the energy to keep up with me."

"I'll have to dispel those doubts, won't I?"

"If you're up to the chall—"

Shepard silenced her with kiss, slowly deepening it when she moaned in approval.

"Always," he whispered.

~o~O~o~

"I was looking over our schedule earlier, before your slightly rude, but very pleasant interruption," Miranda said as she finished drying herself off. "I noticed that we're testing the new main gun today."

"There's an asteroid field here in Boltzmann. Bekenstein is on the other side of the system, so I'm sure we can fire a few rounds without worries," Shepard replied. He took the towel and handed Miranda her clothes from yesterday.

She quickly got dressed and checked the time. "It's almost lunch, already," she noted with surprise.

"You'd better go before people start talking," Shepard said. He had already finished changing. "I need to oversee those tests right now."

They allowed themselves one quick kiss before she made her way to the door. Just as she was about to open it, the door chimed and Kelly's voice was heard.

"Captain? You've scheduled the testing of the Thanix Cannon now. Your presence is requested at the CIC," she called.

Miranda turned around and darted into the bathroom. Shepard waited until she was hidden before opening the door. "Kelly. Thanks for the reminder. I had to over some last minute details about tonight."

"Of course, Captain. I must say, it sounds very exciting. I mean; a real live heist!"

Shepard led the yeoman back into the elevator and pressed the button for Deck 2. "At least one of us is excited."

"I'm sure you'll be fine. By the way, have you seen Executive Lawson? EDI wouldn't tell me where she is. I have her copy of the event report ready for her."

"Did you check her office?" Shepard said, hoping to deflect the question.

"First place I checked," Kelly replied.

"Hangar? She usually works out in the morning."

Kelly looked thoughtful. "No, not yet. I suppose I'll try there. Strange that EDI wouldn't tell me where she is."

"Maybe she doesn't want to be bothered right now?" he suggested.

Kelly sighed. "Maybe I should wait for her on the Crew Deck."

"Probably the best idea," Shepard agreed.

The elevator finally arrived at the CIC. Shepard walked up to the galaxy map and saw that their position was right at the asteroid field. "Garrus, you up?"

"Been waiting for you, Shepard," Garrus replied. "You oversleep?"

"Been busy prepping for tonight. Tali?"

"We're online and ready, Shepard," Tali said. "At your word."

"Let's get this started, then. Anything worthwhile to blow up out there, Joker?"

"Got us in position of this sweet looking rock that's just begging us to blow up," Joker said in anticipation.

The hologram changed from the galaxy map to the asteroid chosen. "Alright. Jacob? You at fire control?"

"Target coordinates locked. Fire when ready, Captain," Jacob reported.

"Fire."

The moment the command left his lips, a bright blue contrail was seen. In an eye-blink, the asteroid exploded, leaving behind a fine mist.

"Confirm target status," Shepard ordered.

"Target destroyed," Jacob reported.

"Tantalus Core and fusion plant is okay. I'm not seeing any abnormalities yet," Tali reported happily.

"Main gun is okay. Cycling... 15 seconds. 10 seconds. 5 seconds. 4. 3. 2. 1. Main gun ready," Garrus reported.

"Not bad for a first shot," Shepard stated, pleased with the initial results of Thanix Cannon. "Let's find another unfortunate rock to blow up."

The next couple of hours progressed smoothly. The Normandy flew in and out of the asteroid belt, destroying any floating rocks that were suitable targets. The tests were for a variety of functions: accuracy, power, fire rate, mass effect core and fusion plant stresses, adjustments in maneuverability while firing, measuring heat buildup, etc.

So far, everything performed as advertised, making the Normandy SR-2 the first frigate to successfully utilize the Thanix Magnetic-Hydrodynamic Cannon.

The crew clapped and cheered when Shepard finally ended the exercise.

"Okay, everyone. Well done," Shepard praised. "Looks like we're a match for the Collectors now."

"Can't wait to face them," Joker crowed. "We'll teach those bastards why trying to kill us was a bad idea!"

Another round of cheers and shouts followed after his proclamation.

"Alright, Joker. Set our course to Bekenstein. I got a party to attend."

"Aye, aye. Setting course for Bekenstein."

"Um… We have a problem," Garrus said.

Shepard hung his head and sighed. "I knew it."

"The cannon isn't retracting. It's stuck."

"Tali?"

"Wasn't under my supervision. I took care of all the internal components and connections to the Tantalus Core and fusion plant," Tali protested. "Garrus, weren't you in charge of the installation of the main body of the cannon?"

"Yeah. So what?" Garrus childishly retorted.

"Nothing," Tali sang smugly.

"You know, I'm actually glad it happened," Shepard said thoughtfully.

"We can't retract the cannon, making it stick out like a sore thumb. We can't do maintenance and having an open bay door might compromise our stealth capabilities and our ability for atmospheric reentry. How can you be glad?" Garrus asked skeptically.

"A flawless test always worries me. Having small problems now means avoiding bigger problems later," Shepard explained optimistically. "Get to work and figure it out. If we need to dock, let me know."

"I'll run diagnostics and see if it's a program failure," Tali offered.

"I guess I'll crawl into the maintenance shafts and see if it's a physical problem," Garrus grumbled. "Tali, can you send one of your people to help me?"

"I got a galaxy to save! Fix the damn problem yourself!"

Shepard gaped when he heard his voice over the radio. "Wait—What?"

"Shepard?" Garrus asked hesitantly.

"What? No! I didn't say—Tali!" Shepard barked. Several of the crewmen turned away and stifled their laughter as best as they could.

"Get moving! Somebody needs my boot up his ass!" the VI shouted followed by Tali, Ken, Gabby, and Garrus' roaring laughter.

"Aye, aye, Captain! Boot up the ass! Got it!" Joker called out. The bridge and CIC with filled with barely suppressed mirth after that.

"This isn't funny, Joker!" Shepard shot back. "You too, Tali!"

"I delete data like you on the way to real errors!"

"You gotta be kidding me…" Shepard muttered. He cut off the radio before Tali could continue. As annoyed as he was, he still couldn't stop the smile that broke out on his face and laughed lightly to himself, allowing the crewmen to finally give into their amusement as they returned to their duties.

There was a giggle right behind him. "We're not going to be late, I hope?"

Shepard turned around to see Kasumi grinning back up at him. "We'll be there on time."

"Good," Kasumi said. She sounded relieved. "There's usually nothing wrong with being fashionably late, but in this case, timing is everything. Thanks for your help."

He chuckled. "Yeah. Just so long as you know that things tend to… I don't know, explode, around me. And it's not really my fault. Well, usually…"

"Which is why I'm coming," Miranda said as she exited the elevator and walked into the CIC. "If our infiltration is successful, then we won't have any problems. We enjoy the party, steal the graybox, wine and dine a little afterwards to avoid suspicion, and leave. Little trouble and fewer 'explosions', as you put it."

"And if we're caught?" Shepard asked.

"If we're caught, then we'll be needing your talents to escape, won't we?"

"You're both the brains and I'm the muscle, huh?" Shepard summed up wryly.

"If you wish to put it crudely, then by all means," Miranda cheekily replied.

"Works for me," Kasumi said with an amused shrug. "If things go pear-shaped, I have Spectre Agent Shepard at my back. Can't ask for better backup than that."

"Well, until then, I'm Solomon Gunn. What about you two? Who're you going as?" Shepard asked. He made his way to the elevator, intent on getting a late lunch. Both women followed.

"Ariel Solheim," said Miranda.

Shepard turned to her with an arched eyebrow. "Really?"

'Ariel Solheim' nodded. "I've used that ID a few times undercover."

"So what did you base that name off of? Uranus' satellites or Shakespeare's Tempest?" Shepard asked curiously. "And yes, I've read a little Shakespeare. Try not to faint."

Far from being surprised, Miranda smiled appreciatively. "I'll keep the shock at a minimum. If you had read and understood Mordin's published works on Genetic Consequence: Resequencing Methods to Prevent Tissue Cloning, then I'd consider fainting," she replied with a teasing glint in her eyes.

Shepard grinned at her before turning to Kasumi. "And your cover?"

"Mitsuo Koga," she said. "I'll be your assistant/date. For the purposes of our cover, I'm the one that will manage all your new contacts and friends you'll make during the party. Miranda is your primary date. She'll be distracting or helping me break into places guests aren't meant to be in if we need any extra intel. Other than that, she'll be hanging on your arm and keeping an eye out."

Shepard nodded and stepped off the elevator when it reached the Crew Deck. He took two steps before stopping in tracks, nearly causing both women to collide into his back. Kasumi's chosen name had suddenly clicked together in his mind. Sighing, he regarded the bubbly woman in exasperation. "You really are too clever for your own good. I'm not entirely sure that's a good thing, either."

Miranda looked confused for a moment at his sudden statement. She tilted her head in thought before rolling her eyes when the pieces fell in place. "Mitsuo Koga, Kasumi Goto. Let's hope that Hock isn't familiar with anagrams."

'Mitsuo Koga' shrugged. "I like it."

"And my bad feeling continues to get worse," Shepard muttered.

"Spoilsport."

~o~O~o~

Location: Widow Nebula, Boltzmann System, Bekenstein, Spaceport

Kasumi nimbly avoided the crowds and blazed a path toward the exit once she left the shuttle and entered the busy terminal.

"So where are we going?" Shepard asked, following closely in her wake.

"Check into our hotel first. Shower, clean-up, and change. From there, we'll drive to Hock's mansion," Kasumi informed. She hefted her bag filled with her stuff and hailed a taxi. "Hope you don't mind, but I booked just the one suite for all of us."

Shepard shot her an incredulous look.

"Well, you can't be sure that Hock isn't watching, right?" she asked innocently.

"You really think he'd keep tabs on all his guests?" Shepard asked in a deadpan voice.

"Relax, I'm just kidding, Shep. Well, not about the suite. It really is just the one, but only for the night and we're only going to be staying a couple of hours," Kasumi said. "Long enough to prepare for the party. We get in and get out. Fast."

"I can't say I'm comfortable with this," Miranda said as they got into the taxi.

"Oh, I'm sure Shep will be the perfect gentleman. He won't peek while we get ready," Kasumi wickedly remarked.

Miranda shot her a cross look, though there was a slight blush on her cheeks. Shepard coughed and looked out the window to avoid eye contact.

"What I meant was: We're almost going in blind. Even with all our prep there's too many unknown variables," Miranda clarified.

"I know, but it couldn't be helped. Usually, I do weeks of prep before a job. I had less than a few days, and then I had to help with your last few missions and well…" Kasumi sighed. "Still, I'm nothing if not adaptable."

"What do you mean?" Miranda asked.

"That statue has more than our armaments. It's also carrying a full surveillance suite. I left instructions to the shipping company to have it delivered to Hock at a specific time. We have to arrive at that time," Kasumi explained.

"Won't they scan the statue, though?" Shepard asked.

"The bugs aren't activated yet. And there's a scrambler inside to prevent Hock's people from detecting our gear. One of Keiji's toys. I can guarantee it works," Kasumi said confidently.

"And the bugs?" Miranda asked.

"Once the statue is delivered, I'll activate the bugs remotely. After that, the statue will transmit audio and visual information in bursts, to avoid any last minute sweeps. If Hock actually puts it inside his vault, we'll have an idea of what kind of security he's using. That's why it's important we arrive on time."

"And if he doesn't put the statue in the vault?" Shepard asked worriedly. "What if he likes it and puts it in the middle of a room or as a lawn ornament or something?"

"It's a party, Shep. He won't do any decorating now," Kasumi assured. "But I won't deny that we have to rely a little on chance here."

"Well, it's not the best plan, but I've done more with less," Miranda said. She leaned back in her seat and stared out of the window in thought.

Kasumi smiled, but this time her heart wasn't in it. She loved taking risks and going after the big prizes, but this had the potential to wrong very quickly if they weren't careful and the stakes were too high to allow any mistakes.

I just need to get to his graybox. I can worry about whatever happens after.

Still, the idea that Hock might live after all this galled her. To let him get away with murder…

She pushed those thoughts away. First and foremost, she was a thief, not an assassin. It didn't matter how well-versed she was in her family's art or how badly she wanted Hock to pay for what he done, the graybox was infinitely more important.

Maybe that's why I have Shepard here.

It was a truth she didn't want to admit. If Hock was willing to kill Keiji for his graybox, it was a sure bet that he'd hunt her relentlessly after she stole it back. Either kill the man or go into hiding. While she entertained both ideas at one point, she knew that if Shepard and Hock ever got into an 'altercation'… There was little doubt in her mind who would come out on top. She'd heard one or two stories about Shepard from Liara and a dozens more from the extranet. If a fraction of those stories were true, then Kasumi had little to worry about in the event of any attempted reprisals.

If we get caught.

Graybox technology was among the most complicated, dangerous and intrinsically encrypted hardware to be used since it involves wrapping the very essence of the human mind with the neural implants. Hock would never be able to access the data within, but if this was a trap designed to lure her into stealing it…

It pays to be prepared.

Unbeknownst to the other occupants inside the taxi, the smile Kasumi displayed was anything but playful or nice.

~o~O~o~

Location: Location: Widow Nebula, Boltzmann System, Bekenstein, Hock's Mansion

Kasumi checked her makeup one last time on her compact. Going as a geisha wasn't the easiest disguise considering the time and effort needed to apply everything, but it served to hide her face all the same and would keep her anonymity intact against Hock and any surveillance in the area. However, since a kimono would be too cumbersome for a fast-paced heist, she chose to go against the traditional grain and wear a dark blue, floral patterned, cheongsam instead.

The Tennekont skycar that she requested was waiting outside the hotel. She signed off for it and sat behind the controls. Shepard and Miranda, both equally dressed to kill, so to speak, entered the rear and settled themselves in. They seemed to play their roles well. Miranda, in particular, held herself confident and aloof, the kind of high class woman you admired and hated all at the same time. Kasumi had expected her to have experience with this kind of thing, but it was Shepard that was surprising. He appeared to be relaxed and at ease next to his 'date'. In fact, he seemed to be making himself comfortable at her side.

If she didn't know any better, she would've thought that they were actually seeing each other.

This could be fun…

The skycar took off and made a course for Hock's mansion.

"Stop fidgeting," Miranda scolded.

Shepard pulled at his collar one last time before letting his hand drop. "Sorry. Still not used to wearing this."

"You look great," Kasumi said.

"Really?"

"Yeah. You should wear this stuff more often."

With his ego stroked, Shepard leaned back in his seat and settled down. Kasumi caught him eyeing his 'date' from time to time though.

Miranda was wearing a white dress which hugged her in all the right places and definitely served to enhance all her assets. The dress was bare shoulder and low-cut that showed off her flawless skin and cleavage. It tied around the neck, exposing her back and arms. The hem of the dress did reach her ankles, though the slit up the side allowed easy view of her toned leg. Whatever she was wearing, it was definitely designer. A few expensive earrings, bracelets, and necklace completed the ensemble. Needless to say, Kasumi really couldn't blame Shep for being slightly distracted. "Admiring your date, Mr. Gunn?" she teased.

"Just slipping into my new persona," Shepard replied glibly. "Have to stay in character after all."

"Right."

"This night might get interesting," Miranda mused.

"That's what I'm going for," Kasumi said. Their destination was in sight. As she brought the skycar in to land, the golden glint of the statue she sent was seen unloading nearby.

So far, so good.

Landing the car in front of the valet, she opened the door and stepped out. She reached into her purse and put on a pair of sunglasses, keeping her eyes open and watching the statue unload with a slight trepidation.

Shepard stepped out next and held a hand out to Miranda, assisting her as any gentleman would. She exited the car gracefully and made a show of looking around. If she was as trained as Kasumi suspected, she was probably casing out the security. Number of guards, cameras, and of course, any sign for Hock himself.

A merc was scanning the statue of Saren, all very standard security procedure. The scrambler she installed would mask the bugs, armor, weapons, and explosives hidden inside from detection.

I hope.

Looping her arm around Shepard's left while Miranda held on to his right, they made their way to the party. As they approached the house, the security guard called out to Shepard. "Just one moment, sir. There seems to be an issue with the statue."

Uh oh.

At that moment, the host himself walked out to greet his guests. "Is there a problem here?" Hock asked in a thick South African accent.

"No, Mr. Hock. Just doing a scan," the merc answered. He looked down at his omni-tool in confusion.

Hock turned to Shepard and regarded him neutrally. "I don't believe we've met. Donovan Hock."

"Solomon Gunn," Shepard replied. He held his hand out to shake, but Hock merely stared stonily at him, prompting to Shepard to drop his arm. "I've heard a lot about you, Mr. Hock."

"And I have heard a lot about you," Hock parroted. "You've been very busy lately, if the extranet is to be believed."

"It isn't. They haven't even reported half of what I've done," Shepard said confidently.

Hock cracked a smile at the show of bravado.

"This is my escort, Ariel Solheim," Shepard introduced with a nod of his head at Miranda before tilting his head at Kasumi. "And my assistant Mitsuo Koga."

Unlike Hock's icy greeting to Shepard, he treated them with a much more politely. Though in Kasumi's eyes, his expression seemed sinister or just plain creepy. Hock took Miranda's hand and planted a kiss before doing the same to her. She had to resist the urge to 'accidently' break the man's neck.

"Charmed," Hock said.

Through sheer will, Kasumi manufactured a smile and casually adjusted her sunglasses, imperceptibly tapping the hidden switch with her left hand as she stared into Hock's eyes. She made a mental note to swipe some of Dr. Chakwas' disinfectant solutions to clean her right hand later.

"You have a lovely home, Mr. Hock," Miranda said courteously.

Hock turned away from her and smiled at Miranda. "Donovan, please," he requested.

"Donovan," she acquiesced with a nod.

"Sir? The scanners aren't picking anything up," the merc said.

Hock turned away and studied the statue with an appreciative look on his face. "Hmm… I don't think our guests would come all the way here from Illium just to cause trouble. Do you?"

It really wasn't a question so the merc nodded obediently and continued to unload to the statue.

"Please accept my apologies, Mr. Gunn," Hock said. "I hope you and your companions enjoy the party."

"Thank you, Donovan," Miranda said courteously while Shepard just nodded.

Hock smiled at her, somewhat lecherously, before walking back into his home.

"I can see why you would despise the man," Miranda said once they were alone. "Less than minute in his presence and I want to shoot him."

"Maybe we'll squeeze that in," Kasumi said. She took off her sunglasses and carefully placed them in her purse. A golden ring surrounded her wrist for just a moment as she sent the codes to activate the surveillance programs within the statue.

Here we go…

Some part of her hoped that everything will go off without a hitch, but that was the professional thief in her. The other part hoped that the heist will get botched in some way or that it really was a trap, giving her a legitimate reason to kill Hock when he tried to come after them. She rarely killed, and in those instances, it was in self-defense. Her brief recruitment into Shepard's squad was the most she ever did in her lifetime. Even then, anyone she killed on those missions wasn't really personal or acted against her conscience. This time, for the first time since she began training in her family's practice, their art, she wanted a man dead in the worst way possible. She almost felt like she needed to do it. His greed, his ambitions, his miserable business… it was all based on making people suffer. The things he probably did to Keiji before killing him…

I'll be damned if I let this bastard make me run and hide.

Regardless of whatever happened, both scenarios depended on getting the graybox first. That was key. Only after could she wonder about anything else. "We need to find the entrance and case the security. We'll figure out the next step then."

Miranda and Shepard tacitly agreed. Shepard took both ladies by the arms and led them through the doors.

Inside, there were dozens of people, but the mansion was large enough that it didn't feel crowded.

"Let's split up," Shepard suggested quietly.

"Good idea. Call when you find the entrance to the vault," Kasumi whispered.

Separating from the others, she kept her eyes open and studied the layout of the mansion. The entrance to the security room on the east wing and Hock's private bedroom were of particular notice. Interestingly enough, Hock himself was nowhere to be seen.

"How did you ever contain that situation on Aleph?"

"Oh, that? A quick application of force, a little pressure, and bam! Done."

"Thank goodness. I thought those rabble would dog you for years."

Kasumi continued to stroll among the people, entertaining herself by categorizing which ones she might want to steal from at a later date. As part of her cover, she chatted up the most likely marks as well, extolling her employer's exploits. That was pretty easy since she just reiterated some of Shepard lesser known missions. The hard part was resisting the urge to steal any loose jewelry since she was already working a delicate heist. After about 20 minutes, she finally had a handle on the layout of Hock's mansion. She started searching for Shepard and Miranda. Her fellow female was still out of sight, but her 'date/boss' was speaking to Hock.

Hock was engrossed in whatever Shepard had to say and appeared to have grown to respect him. Shepard's eyes were glancing at the three Eclipse guards stationed around the main foyer, and for some reason, the two guests that were standing near Hock…

Oh, wow. He is good.

After studying both men a bit more, she noticed the slight bulge underneath their coats, indicating that they were armed. While hardly noteworthy considering the company of people Hock invited, it was the way they were standing that got her attention. Attentive, not the least bit distracted despite the scantily clad women around them or the free flowing drinks… Hock's personal bodyguards, both of whom were undercover, most likely.

Appreciating Shepard's keen eye, she skirted away from them. Walking the perimeter of the room and taking care to stay in the blind spots of the cameras, she plastered on a fake smile to the various people mulling about and sought out Miranda next.

"Some say Commander Shepard is still alive. Really!"

"Oh, please. It's just wishful thinking, at best."

"Looks like your intel was wrong, Mitsuo. The entrance to Hock's vault is in his personal bedroom," Miranda reported.

Chikusho.

"Are you sure?" Kasumi whispered, keeping her distance away from any eavesdroppers.

"Hock's personal bodyguards might be well trained, but the rank-and-file guards here can be quite talkative if you bat your eyes and flirt a little," Miranda replied evenly.

Shepard had finally disengaged from Hock and walked away. "There's a guard next to Hock's bedroom. Gonna have to get him to move," he said, once he was out of earshot. "Unless you and Kasumi can charm your way in."

"I might have a trick or two," Miranda said. "And what about you?"

"I think I have a way in. Maybe."

"Maybe isn't a good word here, Mr. Gunn," Kasumi hissed.

"Let me worry about that. Anything on the vault?"

"I don't want to check my omni-tool in the middle of a room filled with cameras," Kasumi whispered. "Ariel, I'll meet you near Hock's bedroom door."

"Bedroom wing actually. West side. I'll be waiting."

As quickly as she dared, Kasumi waded through the people until she finally spotted her. Miranda was checking her appearance in a compact mirror of her own.

"So how do we get in?" Kasumi asked once she was close enough.

"Hock is right over there. Let me chat him up a bit. Stay here and wait." Closing the compact and putting into it her purse, she took a breath, flipped her hair, and strode toward her target, seizing a glass of wine from one of the caterers along the way.

Kasumi watched with great interest as Miranda sauntered over to Hock, approaching him from behind. She placed a hand on his back, getting his attention and favoring him with a mysterious smile. It was the kind of smile that either promised many things or none at all, leaving everything to the man's imagination.

Kasumi found herself slightly jealous of Miranda's ability to manipulate Hock the way she did. In what seemed like no time at all, they were talking and laughing as if they knew each other for years. Certainly even more impressive than Shepard's earlier rapport with him.

Looking around, she couldn't find Shepard anywhere. He'd seemed to have vanished among the party-goers. She hoped that whatever he had planned didn't involve any explosions.

Her search was interrupted when Hock began talking about how important he was and what he did for the galaxy, acting like he was doing everyone a favor or something. His grandstanding got the attention of the other guests as he raised his glass in a toast.

"This party is for us. The cleaners. The support structure for the galaxy's gleeful delusions of peace. May there always be a market for the things we do!"

As everyone applauded his impromptu speech, Kasumi had to fight hard to keep the scowl off her face. As it stood, she couldn't even raise her hands to clap along. She was having trouble resisting the urge to pick up any sharp objects to stab him with.

Somehow, Miranda kept up her act though. She clapped along with the rest of the guests, tapped her wine glass against Hock's teasingly, and still kept smiling her enigmatic smile through it all. After taking a sip, she leaned in to whisper something in Hock's ear, causing him to smile as well, though his expression caused Kasumi to force down her gag reflex.

After a few more minutes, Miranda finally left Hock's side sauntered back to her. She looped her arm around hers and led the way to Hock's bedroom wing. "Try to smile at the guard at least, Mitsuo. We need to get in," Miranda murmured from the corner of her mouth.

"I sneak. I don't do parties. Too much danger for my face to be seen," Kasumi quietly replied. Still, she took a deep breath of her own and imitated Miranda's smile as they approached the lone guard.

Miranda glanced back at Hock one last time before turning to the guard. Kasumi turned around as well and noted that Hock wasn't looking in their direction. He had his back to them as he chatted up with some of the other guests.

"Is this Donovan's private room?" Miranda asked.

"Yes, ma'am. I'm sorry, but they're off-limits to guests without security clearance," the guard stated.

"But I have permission," she said. "Didn't you see us talking?"

"Oh… well… he didn't say anything to me…" the guard said in confusion.

"That's because he too busy entertaining his guests," Miranda said with a slight edge in her voice now. "Why would he bother informing you of everything he does? Does he answer to you?"

"Well, no…"

"Perhaps you'd like to interrupt him now? Just walk right over and ask?"

"I—"

"Your job is to guard this door. So guard it," Miranda continued impatiently. "But we're Donovan's personal guests, so stand aside unless you wish for me to call Donovan over. And I promise, I won't have anything nice to say about you."

"Yes, ma'am! Sorry, ma'am!" the guard said quickly. "I'll open the door for you!"

"So you can be a gentleman after all," Miranda said imperiously.

"I'm very sorry for the mix-up, ma'am. I, uh, I thought you were somebody else," he said lamely.

She arched an eyebrow at him. "Oh, really?"

"Enjoy the party, ma'am!" he quickly said.

"Oh, I will," Miranda purred.

The guard gulped at the sultry tone Miranda's voice had taken. He stood ramrod straight when she placed her index finger on his cheek and slowly drew it down his jawline until she held the digit on the underside of his chin.

"Shall we?" she said to Kasumi, though her eyes remained fixed on the hapless guard, using her finger alone to keep his head locked in position.

This time Kasumi managed a real smile, generated from sheer amusement. "Let's."

The moment Miranda pulled her finger away, the guard finally drew a shuddering breath.

They walked through the door without a second look.

~o~O~o~

"Okay, that was impressive," Kasumi praised.

"Thank you," Miranda replied. "I'm a bit surprised at you though. The party was your idea, wasn't it?"

"Keiji was the one that went to these kind of things. He'd case the security, relay the information back to me and I'd do all the legwork," Kasumi said. "I don't go because I don't want anyone to know what I look like. Give up your face and you lose the element of secrecy."

They continued down the hall and toward Hock's bedroom where the entrance to the vault was supposed to be.

"How did you get Hock to give you permission to come here anyway? Any… personal favors?" Kasumi asked, insanely curious as to how the Cerberus operative did it.

"No. I just talked to him," Miranda said before she turned toward her with an arched eyebrow. "And who said I got us permission to come here?"

Kasumi turned to her in surprise. "We don't have permission?"

"The guard saw us talking. What we were talking about wasn't terribly important and certainly had nothing to do with Hock or his bedroom," Miranda said, though she fairly spat out the last few words in disgust. "Contrary to what you may think or assume, I don't ever sleep with or even offer to sleep with men to get what I want. I may… allude to it or even skirt around the idea and let my targets draw the wrong conclusions, but I have never offered. Methods like that are reserved for the unintelligent, the unimaginative or the desperate. I am none of those things."

Kasumi exaggerated a sigh of relief. "Thank goodness. If you actually promised to sleep with Hock just to get in here… I may never forgive myself."

Miranda put her hand on her chest theatrically. "Well, Miss Koga, I happen to have standards."

Both women shared a giggle after that.

Kasumi gave Miranda a side-long glance. "You know, when I first saw you, I didn't think you were the kind of person that smiles. Genuinely smile, I mean."

Miranda turned to her in surprise. "Really?" she asked. She looked like she was completely unaware she was doing so.

"Or joke even," Kasumi added. She opened the door and stepped inside Hock's bedroom.

Miranda looked a bit flustered. "Well… of course I do. Only on occasion though," she said.

"Uh huh," Kasumi said, humoring her.

"We're undercover. The best operatives are the ones that know how to breathe, think, and live their roles," Miranda said defensively.

"Uh huh."

Miranda sighed irritably. "Don't we have a job to do?"

The grounds for teasing were ripe, so much that Kasumi almost couldn't resist, but with Keiji's graybox so near, she relented. "Right. Let me check where the statue is and what it recorded."

Miranda observed the extravagant room they were in and walked around a bit. "How does Shepard intend to get here?"

"No idea," Kasumi muttered as she checked the footage. "Maybe he'll start a fight or set somebody on fire…"

"What do you have?" Miranda asked.

"The statue is in the vault… Hock brought it and a few other things down there from the underground entrance. Gifts from other people probably," Kasumi answered. "Hold on… backtracking… Got it."

"You know what kind of vault it is?"

"ZX-700 series it looks like. Password protected voice lock, DNA, fingerprint, and eye-dent scanner, all topped off with a kinetic barrier. Chances are likely that there's similar security on this side too," Kasumi said. "Everything a vault needs to be impenetrable. Almost, anyway."

"Okay… DNA and fingerprint samples can be found in here," Miranda said as she looked around the bedroom. "What about the others?"

"Peruggia."

"Statue recorded his voice and password," Kasumi said smugly as she checked the data.

"Peruggia… that sounds familiar," Miranda said thoughtfully.

"Vincenzo Peruggia, the man that stole the Mona Lisa in 1911," Kasumi said knowledgably.

Miranda nodded slowly. "Ah, yes. I remember. He was just an employee of the Louvre, wasn't he?"

"And yet he managed to do what was considered the greatest art theft of the 20th century. She was missing for over two years. And all he did was hide her under a smock past some lazy guards and lied to the police. They actually bought his story, too. After that, he smuggled her to Italy and stashed her in a trunk. Talk about lucky," Kasumi said; half in annoyance, half in admiration.

Miranda rolled her eyes and got back to the matter at hand. "The eye-dent scanner?"

Kasumi pulled out her sunglasses. "Another one of Keiji's gadgets. Records retinal patterns and reproduces them for occasions like this. Luckily, Hock fancies himself a gentleman, so he got close enough for me to get a complete retinal scan."

"I thought you said you didn't know about the security in the vault?"

"I didn't," Kasumi admitted with a shrug. "But biometric security is all the rage, especially for private vaults that only one person ever really has access to. I like to be prepared on my heists."

"Alright. What about the kinetic barrier?"

"Once we unlock everything, the barrier should fall away on its own. It's only there to prevent brute force tactics to break into the vault," Kasumi assured. "If not, I'll try to overload it or something."

"So how do you plan on—" Miranda's question was interrupted when the door suddenly opened.

Shepard casually walked in, dusting off his coat. Both women looked at him in surprise. "What?" he asked.

"How did you get in here?" Miranda asked.

"Jumped from the balcony," Shepard answered plainly. He pointed at the balcony across the way. "Right over there. Had to take care of a couple of perimeter guards, but they won't be missed."

Kasumi whistled. "I didn't even hear them."

Shepard shrugged, but didn't elaborate.

"And how did you get into the building?" Miranda probed.

"Used my omni-tool to cut the glass and walked right in. Easy and quiet," Shepard said. He looked around and whistled. "Nice place. So… where's the vault?"

Kasumi took a critical look around the room. "Look for clues that show recent foot traffic or anything that looks out of place. I'll get the DNA and fingerprint samples."

While Miranda and Shepard scanned for the entrance, Kasumi busied herself with anything that Hock touched. A wine glass had the necessary fingerprints, but beyond that, whoever Hock hired to clean his room was thorough. "Damn."

"What's up?" Shepard asked.

"DNA samples are in short supply. The housekeepers are pretty good."

"Try the bathroom," Shepard suggested as he poked around Hock's table. "Even the cleaners have to watch what they clean in there or Hock could choke on some cleanser or something."

Kasumi almost felt like slapping herself, but managed to resist the impulse. Shepard was right; she did tend to overthink things. While Hock's bathroom was cleaned, the sink and shower still had a plethora of DNA samples for her to synthesize.

She wasn't going anywhere near the toilet.

"Aha!" Shepard suddenly said, back in the main room.

"Did you find something?" Miranda asked.

"A credit chit," he said proudly.

"Are you really that hard up for money?" she asked in exasperation.

Kasumi giggled and finished creating a working DNA sample.

"Found it," Miranda announced. Kasumi walked back into the main bedroom.

"The fireplace? Seriously?" Shepard asked skeptically.

Miranda typed on her omni-tool for moment. Seconds later, the fireplace and mantle slid away. "How unoriginal and boring can you be to put a hidden passageway here?"

"He's a weapons smuggler and a murderer. I doubt he has much in the way of brains," Kasumi said. She walked into the passageway carefully and looked around before jerking back. "Hold on. Couple of cameras."

A sweep of her omni-tool and the cameras were recording a looped feed. She walked into the room and started working on the locks one at a time.

"How long?" Shepard asked.

"Open sesame," Kasumi answered. On cue, the barrier disappeared, revealing the elevator that descended to the vault below. "Hold on, let me check for cameras."

"Is it me or is this too easy?" Shepard muttered.

"Trap?" Miranda asked knowingly.

"Trap," Shepard repeated definitively.

After disabling the camera in the elevator, Kasumi turned back to her companions with a cheeky smile. "Are you sure? Maybe we're really good or Hock is really stupid. Or both."

Shepard held up a datapad he found during his search. "It says here that Hock has had no luck at all in decrypting your partner's graybox and he probably never will. Was he the only one that could decrypt it?"

Kasumi shook her head. "Nope. I can too. Eventually."

"Too?" Shepard repeated.

"Eventually?" Miranda asked.

"It's wrapped up in his memories. And there's almost a lifetime memories to sort through," Kasumi said, answering Miranda's question first before turning to Shepard. "And if Hock did his homework, he'll know I can probably decrypt the information hidden there. You were right. Since I'm the only one that could access Keiji's graybox…" she playfully admitted.

Shepard and Miranda stared at her, clearly not amused.

"Trap," Kasumi agreed with a sly smile.

~o~O~o~

"This is why you asked for Shepard's help, isn't it? Because he could call on resources to protect you. Or even take care of Hock himself," Miranda said as she took off her dress and put on her Cerberus Assault Armor. Behind the statue of Saren, Shepard was equipping his Kestrel Armor as well. Periodically, both women would glance at him to ensure he wasn't peeping.

Kasumi had said it was alright for them to peek because they were female and that he should be flattered, earning a mild glare from him.

She didn't refute Miranda's claim as she slipped into her armor as well. While it was capable of withstanding the vacuum of space and certain harsh environments, calling her armor a hardsuit would be a misnomer. It had a hardened weave with some ceramic plating within to provide protection for all the critical areas, but the real protection lay with the kinetic barriers and the specialized Tactical Cloak built-in. At Keiji's request, the addition of Tech Armor was installed, but only as a backup, since the glowing shields would negate her cloak. Her gauntlets and greaves were probably the most heavily armored out of her entire suit, though the idea was to lend power to her physical attacks, rather than defense.

Compared to Miranda and Shepard's armor, hers was more like a bodysuit. Despite the lack of protection, it suited her well since she favored speed and agility anyway; a byproduct of her upbringing.

"So why didn't you ask for him to help you assault Hock's mansion instead?" Miranda asked. "Why steal the graybox like this? Why not just target Hock and take him out and get the graybox after? And don't feed us that excuse about Hock escaping. He'd stay because he needed you."

"I'm not like Thane," Kasumi said. She finished putting on her gear in no time at all and stood up. "I'm not an assassin."

"You certainly have all the skills and equipment necessary."

"Yeah, but it's a choice not to," Kasumi said. "Stealing has an element of danger, thrill, challenge, and reward. Assassins just kill whoever they're paid to kill and move on to the next victim. Not really the way I want to live my life. No matter how badly I want to kill Hock, I just don't have that kind of… instinct? Or maybe I don't have the taste for it or something."

"You sound like you know quite a bit about assassins," Miranda stated.

"Let's just say my childhood was different from most," Kasumi vaguely replied.

"Ninpo?" Miranda probed. She started slipping into her greaves.

Kasumi just shrugged and answered her with silence.

"The wakizashi and kunai are a bit telling," Miranda commented without looking up. "Not the mention the speed and agility you displayed."

"My family mixes tradition and modern techniques to keep up with the times," Kasumi said, fingering her weapons and taking a small comfort in their presence. She looked over at the statue to see that Shepard was still equipping his gear and still out of earshot of their conversation. "I practiced my family's art, but don't necessarily follow in their footsteps."

"Is that where your Tactical Cloak comes in?" Miranda asked. "It appears much more advanced than any other variation I know of. I've never seen tech like that before, even among Cerberus. You're able to move so fast and strike without the limitations of traditional Tactical Cloaks."

It was a well-known fact that the ability to use Tactical Cloak in current armors was a bit fickle. The user had to move methodically and avoid making sudden moves that would stress the system, meaning running or attacking was not an option. The field generated also consumed a lot of power and heat, preventing it being used constantly or for long durations. Kasumi's cloak had either reduced or overcame those limitations.

"My grandfather's personal invention. He was a genius," Kasumi whispered, idly remembering the time she spent with her grandparents. She shook her head and focused at the task at hand. "Are you finished yet?"

Miranda nodded and stood up. Slipping her helmet on, she surveyed the room they were in. "I was expecting an armory or something," she said, finally dropping their earlier topic.

Kasumi was grateful for her tact. "I know. It looks more like a museum, doesn't it?"

"You had no idea what Hock kept down here?"

"Nope," Kasumi said. "Believe me, if I knew… I mean, look over there." She pointed at the far end of the vault, opposite to the loading entrance. "Lady Liberty's head. To think that Hock had it and I never knew… Damn you, Hock!"

"All done?" Shepard asked.

"We're ready," Miranda called out.

Shepard joined them, fully kitted out and ready as well. "So what now? How're we going to find it?"

Kasumi tapped into her own graybox. Her interface visor appeared just underneath her modified Recon Hood and began homing into Keiji's graybox. "I can find it. Just give me a moment…"

She started walking through the vault, locking on the signals produced from Keiji's graybox. As much as she wanted to retrieve it though, she couldn't help but pause and marvel at some of the pieces Hock had acquired and found herself diverted from time to time. All of the important, valuable, and rarest pieces were placed neatly in its own pedestal, lining the room and giving it a showroom feel.

Unfortunately, all of the pieces were also far too large to steal and the pedestals probably had anti-theft measures built-in.

So much for adding insult to injury.

She knew it would be petty to kick Hock while he's down, but damn if it wouldn't feel good too.

"Michelangelo's David! Just… wow!" Kasumi breathed in reverence. It was a beautiful renaissance piece, on par with Da Vinci's Mona Lisa that she had. "Think we can steal this too?"

"He's seen better days," Shepard commented, glancing at the missing 'limbs'.

"And look over here!" Kasumi gushed as she ran to the next piece. "This might be the most expensive piece here! Turian art is rare outside of Palavan."

"This is art?" Shepard asked skeptically.

"I usually support creativity, but this…" Miranda said as she looked at the oddly shaped sculpture.

"Well, it's rare for good reason then," Kasumi quipped. She looked around and saw another statue. "Wow. Creepy… what is that?"

"Prothean statue," Shepard said. When Kasumi and Miranda turned to him in surprise, he elaborated, "I saw that kind of stuff on Ilos."

"Oh! Look over here!" Kasumi cried out and ran up to an Egyptian statue. "I could still get money from something like this, even outside the Alliance. Asari go nuts for this sort of thing." She glanced around and ran toward the next display. "And this… this looks like quarian script! This has got be old… I mean, when was the last time the quarians wrote on stone?"

"Um… Kasumi?" Shepard said, getting her to refocus.

"Huh? Oh! Sorry," Kasumi apologized, slightly abashed. "Just so many things here… Lemme take a picture of this for Tali. Maybe I could come back and steal this for her later…"

"Take a look at this," Miranda called out.

Kasumi whipped out her omni-tool and took a quick picture of the tablet before sprinting toward Miranda, Shepard following closely behind.

"What is it?" Kasumi asked excitedly.

"Here," Miranda said. She pointed at a glass covered case.

"That's a Kassa Locust," Shepard said when he looked at the contents inside. "So what? I've never been a big fan of these things. Hitmen and assassins love this gun though."

Kasumi tilted her head in wonder. "Why would Hock keep a Locust inside a glass case… unless…"

Miranda turned to her. "You don't think…?"

"This can't be it…" Shepard said disbelievingly.

"Oh wow… the Kassa Locust," Kasumi whispered. "The gun that killed two Presidents. How the hell did Hock get this?"

She was so enamored with the collection around her that she almost missed her display flashing, indicating that the graybox was close by. "Whoops. Hold on, I think I… here it is!"

Within a glass case of its own, Keiji's graybox lay tantalizingly close.

"The case might be booby-trapped," Miranda cautioned. "How are we getting it out?"

"We don't need to," Kasumi said tensely as she stared at the last remaining article of her former lover. "I just want his memories and wipe the graybox clean. Let me establish the uplink…"

"Data-mining?" Shepard asked.

She absently nodded as she typed in the proper commands to open the partition in her graybox to hold Keiji's memories. She had it made specifically for this. "Retrieving," she reported in a whisper.

"Don't bother, Miss Goto."

All three thieves whipped their heads toward the source of the disembodied voice.

"It's codelocked," Hock said. A holographic projection of his head dominated the entire far wall of the vault near the other exit. His image reached from floor to ceiling, allowing him to stare down at them triumphantly.

Kasumi quickly checked the uplink and saw that the data transfer was still going strong. Whatever codes Hock used to try to lock her out was obviously lacking or he didn't know what he was talking about. Regardless, her blood boiled at the sight of him.

"I had a feeling that you'd try to take my property during the party," Hock said.

"I don't like to disappoint," Kasumi replied, her voice sounding oddly cold. "And it seems like your 'property' is now mine."

"Well, then. That means I need what's in your graybox, Kasumi. You know I'm willing to kill you for it," Hock threatened.

"Big difference between willing and able, Hock. Much like everything in your life, I think you're found wanting. That would explain why you felt the need to overcompensate with this giant light show," Kasumi sneered. "You kill me and the data will remain encrypted forever, baka. Graybox technology doesn't work with brute force."

Far from getting angry, Hock looked entirely amused at her defiance. "I'll admit your skills are impressive. You got into my vault like I'd left it open. But you're going to tell me everything I want to know. Screaming if you have to, just like your—"

Whatever Hock wanted to say was interrupted by the sound of a gunshot followed by the sounds of broken crockery.

"No!"

"Have I got your attention?" Shepard asked, bored of Hock's posturing.

Whatever Shepard just destroyed, Kasumi had no idea. For all she knew, it could've been the most expensive and rarest item in the room. Watching Hock sputter and gape, though, it was totally worth the price. She hoped that Shepard would shoot something else, so that Hock would die from an aneurism next. "Hah! That shut him up."

Hock glared and tried to retort, but all he managed to make was a furious growl.

Her visor flashed, showing that the download was complete. Keiji's memories were stored in her graybox now. "Got it!"

"You-you-you…!" Hock screamed.

"How much do you two think this stuff is worth?" Shepard asked conversationally. "And how much do you think he paid for it?" He aimed his pistol at an ugly statue of some ogre-looking thing and shot it.

"Stop that at once!" Hock demanded, his eyes bulging at the sight of his collection getting destroyed.

Damn. Still alive.

"This looks a bit valuable," Miranda commented thoughtfully. She aimed her pistol at a spikey-looking artifact and shot a couple of rounds at it as well.

"Wow. Guess you shouldn't have left the graybox in your vault, huh?" Kasumi said vindictively to Hock. "Gonna send anyone to stop us? I'd love to have a firefight here. See how many of these things we can destroy, y'know?"

"Damn you!"

She walked over to where the Locust was kept and shot the display case with her Tempest. Picking through the glass shards, she hefted the weapon and nodded approvingly. "Lighter than I expected. Very nice piece."

Hock was clenching his teeth so tightly, she was surprised that she couldn't hear the molars grinding. "Let's see if you like this, then!"

His image vanished. Soon, the sounds of hissing could be heard followed by the alarm.

Miranda engaged her omni-tool and ran a general scan. "Looks like he's sucking out all the oxygen. Either he's looking to kill us, or less fatalistically, render us unconscious."

Shepard walked back to the statue of Saren and pulled out the demo charges. "Let's get out of here then."

"Right with you," Kasumi said. She took half of the explosives and started rigging them on one side of the giant vault door, while Shepard worked on the other.

"Jacob, Garrus. Time to crash the party," Shepard called into his radio.

The sounds of static was heard and nothing else.

"Garrus, Jacob. We need backup," Shepard said. "Is anyone receiving?"

"No good. I think Hock is jamming our communications," Miranda said.

Kasumi looked at her in alarm. "So no cavalry?"

"Probably. They won't do anything unless they have evidence we're in trouble or we stay incommunicado for too long. I think we might be on our own," Miranda answered gravely.

Kasumi looked at her for a moment longer before hanging her head. "Well, shit."

~o~O~o~

"Kill them!" Hock commanded via intercom.

Kasumi jumped over some of the twisted metal that used to be the vault door and scanned the area. "Come on! We're going to have company soon!"

Shepard and Miranda clambered through the hole they made and looked around. "Hock's merchandise," Miranda observed.

Rows and rows of weapons, vehicles, and other ordinance lined the hallways and rooms. The tunnels ahead twisted and turned in differing directions. Depending on how far the hangar was, the area ahead could very well be a labyrinth.

Without any other avenues available though, they started making their way to the rendezvous point at the hangar. After they took a few steps another explosion echoed. This time, it came from the vault.

Both women were startled at the sudden sound, but Shepard kept on walking, appearing completely obvious.

"What was that?" Kasumi asked.

"The grenade I attached to that statue of Saren," Shepard answered. "So I might be a bit petty. Sue me."

"I think I'll chalk that explosion as your fault," Kasumi said dryly.

"Quiet!" Miranda hissed. Ahead were two archways. She was sidled up against the right and peered down the hallway. "Heavy mech and mercs coming!"

Heavy mech. Bringing out the big guns for little ol' me. Flattering.

They took cover immediately. Seconds later, a mass accelerator cannon and missiles started impacting against the walls.

"Looks like you're up, Shep!"

"Great," Shepard deadpanned. "Kasumi, Miranda. Take care of the mercs. I can handle the mech," he ordered.

Miranda poked her rifle around the corner and blind-fired as the mercs closed in on their position. "By yourself? Are you sure?"

Another missile struck the stone, causing it to fracture and crumble.

"60% sure," Shepard admitted dryly. "Go!"

Trusting that his claim wasn't just all talk, Kasumi took a quick look around and spotted a couple of mercs that weren't wearing helmets. Instead, they relied on Tech Armor for protection.

Their loss.

She drew two of her kunai and with a flick of her wrist, downed both men easily. Since kinetic barriers responded to a set incoming velocity, mostly bullets, slower objects like knives worked very well. Unless the intended target wore full armor, then it was just a little more difficult, but not impossible.

Miranda followed up with a burst from her Pulse Rifle, pushing forward and suppressing the mercs from the other archway while Shepard tangled with the YMIR.

Drawing out her new Locust, Kasumi aimed downrange and fired a burst of her own. To her surprise, the merc she targeted went down with an anguished scream. The gun in her hands barely recoiled and the sound was almost unnaturally quiet.

Wow. I can see why assassins like this thing.

She and Miranda continued their counter assault, unleashing tech or biotics respectively, but the mercs put up a furious resistance.

"Up you go!" Miranda growled out. One trooper flew up into the air only to crash back down on another merc.

Kasumi followed up with a grenade and took both out.

The last few soon fell against their aggressive attack.

"Shepard?" Miranda called out.

Another explosion rocked the hallway followed by a hulking mass of metal as it crashed against the wall and crumpled to the ground.

Shepard ran up to them, the faint glow of biotics fading away. "Had a chat with Samara and upped my lessons a bit. I think I did pretty well."

"They're out of the vault!" Hock shouted. "Seal them in! Don't let them escape."

The far doors at the end of the closed, preventing escape through the vehicle tunnels.

"Damn it!" Kasumi cursed.

Miranda walked up and struck the door with the butt of her rifle. "Sounds thick. I don't think we have the ordinance to break through."

"We'll have to find another way," Kasumi said.

"Up there," Shepard pointed out. "Let's hope that door leads out of here. Kasumi, can you open it?"

"I'll pretend you didn't ask that," Kasumi joked as she began her bypass. In almost no time at all, the door opened at her command.

The next hallway showed rows and rows of YMIR mechs. Thankfully, they were deactivated, stacked in shelves, and had no cranes to pull them out. If they were used, they would've been in very serious trouble.

"I don't think I can handle that many…" Shepard stated, voicing her thoughts.

"Probably for Hock's clients," Miranda said.

"Well, so long as they're—Down!"

Without questioning him, Kasumi ducked behind one of the shelves, using the armor of the YMIR mech to absorb the gunfire from the Eclipse. They had popped out from the flatbed of a truck and started firing, hoping to catch them off guard.

Miranda staggered when a few shots struck her, but her shields held as she dove behind a crate. "Damn it!"

"Looks to be about six of them!" Shepard said. "They're spreading out! Watch your flanks!"

Kasumi popped out and fired a burst, but the merc's superior position allowed them to suppress her. Ducking back down, she fiddled with her omni-tool and prepared to cloak when a black canister landed next to her. "Kuso!"

The flashbang went off, robbing her of her sense of awareness. Her eyes burned and her ears were barely protected by her helmet. She staggered out of cover, trying to shake the effects off.

"—ook out!" Miranda shouted.

The next thing she knew, she was tackled and brought to the ground hard. She reared back and tried to punch her assailant, but he caught her arm and redirected the blow.

Or rather 'she' redirected the blow. "Stop it! It's me!"

Kasumi blinked the tears out of her eyes as the weight lifted off of her and started shooting at the mercs. "Thanks," she mumbled.

"Don't mention it," Miranda tensely replied as she tried to get a better shot.

"I got an idea," Shepard called out. "Cover me!" This time he fiddled with his omni-tool and cloaked.

Kasumi scrambled back to her feet and shook the last of her disorientation away. Picking up her Locust, she joined Miranda and fired blindly at the mercs, tossing a grenade as she did so. Unfortunately, the awkward angle forced her to toss too high and too far, making the grenade detonate behind the mercs and out of range. "Whatever you're up to Shep, make it quick!"

"A few more seconds," Shepard whispered.

"Now would be preferable!" Miranda retorted as she threw another grenade to buy the necessary time. Her toss was too shallow and bounced off the truck, exploding harmlessly.

"I got it! Let's see if they like this!"

The turret mounted on an M29 Grizzly IFV suddenly rotated and pointed directly at the truck. Two booms happened in rapid succession; One from the cannon, the other from the truck.

"Well, that did it," Kasumi said as she stood up.

"What the hell are you people doing down there? !" Hock yelled.

"The explosion blew the wall down. I can see another room," Miranda reported. She approached the hole warily and glanced inside. "Looks clear."

Shepard and Kasumi hopped through the hole and looked around. It was a service tunnel used to transport the weapons and goods through Hock's underground storage facility. Paved roads and parked trucks confirmed this.

They walked cautiously down the road, keeping close to the middle and checking any blind spots.

"Hold it," Shepard ordered.

"What is it?" Kasumi asked tensely.

"I think I hear another heavy mech."

"Kuso…"

Just then, a truck roared around a corner a few dozen meters ahead of their position. It started speeding down to road hoping to run them over.

"Overload that thing!" Shepard shouted.

Miranda and Kasumi whipped out their omni-tools and blasted the truck. The driver lost control and it began swerving side-to-side, colliding with the walls and barreling down the road.

Right at them.

"Fall back!" Shepard ordered.

They turned around and ran for their lives, sticking close to the wall and sought out shelter as the truck, filled with screaming mercenaries, started weaving wildly. It soon bucked hard to the side, flipping over and rolling down the tunnel. The mercs that were riding in the back were all tossed out or crushed underneath the massive vehicle.

"It's still coming!" Miranda shouted.

Shepard stopped and turned around, facing the rolling truck as it bounced toward him. His biotic aura flared brightly as he thrust out both arms.

The truck's rolling soon slowed before stopping. The momentum still allowed it to skid along the floor accompanied by the sound screeching metals.

"Shepard!" Miranda called out.

One last flare of dark energy and the truck crumpled in place, stopping a couple of meters in front of him.

"Okay. I'm officially impressed," Kasumi said.

"Not bad, huh?" Shepard asked, panting lightly from the exertion. "Come on, we should—" Whatever he wanted to say was cut off when he gasped in pain and clutched his right arm tightly.

"Shep?" Kasumi asked in concern. She could hear him breathing heavily in the radio, though it was interspersed with sharp pants.

Suddenly, he disabled his radio and used his voice module instead as he let out a scream and fell to his knees, still clutching his right arm tightly.

"John!" Miranda cried out as she ran up and ran her omni-tool over him. "Hold on!"

"Fuck!" Shepard shouted, stillusing his voice module to avoid screaming into the radio. "It feels like my goddamned arm is on fire!"

"It must be your eezo nodules. Damn it!" Miranda said. She injected a dose of medi-gel to help dull the pain. "Come on. That mech will start stomping toward us soon."

"What's going on? What's happening to him?" Kasumi asked frantically.

"Later," Miranda tersely replied as she picked Shepard up by his left arm and hauled him to his feet. "No more biotics from you. Consider that an order."

Shepard coughed out a laugh in lieu of screaming again. "Yes, ma'am."

"We'll have to handle that heavy the old fashioned way," Miranda said. "Can you still fight?"

"N7 training includes learning to shoot with—"

"Either hand," Miranda finished as she checked to make sure he wouldn't collapse again. "I know."

Heavy mechanical footfalls could be heard now.

"Except I don't think I can use anything bigger than a pistol right now," Shepard groaned out. He held his arm close to his chest and tried to keep it from moving.

"Kill Gunn, but I want Goto alive!" Hock commanded.

"I got an idea," Kasumi said. She turned around and continued to go back down the tunnel from where they entered. Going through the hole, she spotted the M29 Grizzly IFV Shepard operated earlier and clambered inside. Activating the systems took a bit of doing, but her extensive tech expertise paid off once again. The IFV roared to life. "You two better get out of the way!" she warned cheerfully.

The Grizzly lurched forward and plowed through the wall, making the hole a much bigger. She turned hard, but the length of the IFV made it difficult to make it through the relatively short width of the road. She ignored the high-pitched scraping caused from the nose of the Grizzly ripping along the wall and pushed the vehicle hard until it was in line with the pavement. Slamming the pedal all the way down, the Grizzly drove forward toward the wreckage of the truck and plowed into it.

"The mech is 10 meters ahead of you," Miranda reported. "Floor it!"

Not long after Miranda's call, the truck Kasumi was ramming was riddled with bullets and rockets.

"Not good enough!" Kasumi taunted. The IFV pushed the wreckage into the YMIR and ran it down. "Yeah! I can see why Shep likes this!"

"There are still mercs ahead. Use the turret!" Shepard bit out.

Kasumi hit the brakes and reversed the Grizzly until she got some distance on the remains of the truck and YMIR. Hopping back, she slid into the gunner's seat and aimed the turret at the twisted pile of metal. "Boom!"

The cannon blew away the debris, creating a hail of shrapnel that tore through the mercs in a storm of metal shards.

Rotating the turret back and forth, she continued her onslaught and until Miranda called her. "Okay, Kasumi! You got them for now!"

"Great, let me get out—"

"Wait. Open the rear hatch. And target the far door. We'll use the Grizzly to get to the hangar and deal with any more heavy mechs," Miranda ordered.

Kasumi grinned. "Great idea! Hold on… Oh! Here it is. Opening."

Shepard and Miranda boarded the IFV. Shepard slumped down in the nearest chair, experimentally moving his arm and hissing in pain.

"Move. I'll drive," Miranda said.

Kasumi pouted, though the mask covered her expression. "But I thought I was doing good…"

"Shepard can't man the cannon. You can do that," Miranda replied as she slid into the cockpit and started driving down the road.

Kasumi grinned in response and clambered into the gunner's seat. She turned toward the Spectre. "You okay, Shep?"

"I'll live. Sorry about this," he replied angrily.

She knew he was just being angry at himself for slowing them down. "Well you did stop a few tons of metal from crushing us. That's worth something."

"Thanks."

"Blast door ahead!" Miranda called out. "Kasumi!"

"Consider it open! Fire in the hole!"

The door held firm after the first shot, but after a liberal amount of force, finally yielded to her efforts.

"Looks like we might be able to get out of here, now," Miranda optimistically said.

"Damn you! What am I paying you for? ! Do I have to do everything myself? !" Hock shouted.

I hope you do.

"Whoa-whoa-whoa! Incoming rocket!" Shepard shouted as he pointed frantically at the contrails coming at them.

Miranda slammed on the brakes. The missile struck the Grizzly, but the kinetic barriers protected them. "Damn. Warehouse. There's no way we can drive through this. Everyone out!"

"I'll use the cannon and get who I can," Shepard said. He rotated his arm one last time and appeared to have recovered from his earlier disability.

Kasumi and Miranda jumped out the back and split up, moving through different sides of the warehouse.

The mercs soon scattered when the Grizzly's main cannon and machine guns started firing down its field of view. They moved to sides and started flanking the IFV.

"Looks like they're wising up," Shepard reported. "I'm going out and try to snipe as many as I can!"

One Eclipse continued firing missiles at the IFV, far in the back of the room.

"I got the heavy!" said Kasumi. "Going dark!"

She activated her cloak and sprinted down the length of the warehouse, keeping out of the way of the crossfire. Under normal conditions, her footfalls were barely perceptible, but in a room filled with gunfire, she was practically a phantom.

Miranda was tangling with an asari biotic-user and an Eclipse Engineer, but her progress was hindered by the Combat Drone that relentlessly attacked her. Shepard perched himself on top of the Grizzly and used his sniper rifle to pick off any mercs that that threatened her, eventually tagging the drone as well. The kinetic barriers of the IFV provided more than enough protection for him. An engineer used Overload to try to break down his defense, but lacked the power since the kinetic shields from the IFV easily trumped personal shields.

The heavy was still pounding away at the shields around the Grizzly, hoping to expose Shepard to her comrades. Silently stalking up behind her, Kasumi drew her wakizashi impaled her, right in the back, through the heart, and out the chest. Death was instantaneous.

Now at the back of the room, she ghosted through the Eclipse ranks, drawing both of her wakizashi and cutting the opposition down. Thanks to the advancements in cloaking tech by her grandfather, her physical movements didn't disable her cloak. Only a distortion and a quick flash of energy arcs were ever seen every time she slashed at the mercs or tossed out the last of her grenades.

"We need reinforcements! They're coming through!" an asari vanguard shouted. She screamed when Miranda used Warp to disable her Barrier before Shepard's explosive round destroyed her armor and vital organs.

One last merc turned around and sprinted for the door in the corner.

Kasumi allowed her cloak to fade away as she drew a kunai and threw it. The blade embedded itself neatly in his back between his shoulder blades. He fell with a strangled gurgle, just short of the door.

"All clear!" Shepard reported from the Grizzly as he swept the room with his sniper scope.

"Clear," Kasumi added as she searched the far end of the warehouse.

"Clear," Miranda echoed as she stood up from the boxes she took cover behind and walked the perimeter of the warehouse on her side.

Shepard whistled. "Damn," he said as he glanced down at the merc Kasumi downed. "How'd that get through his armor?"

"Mono-molecular edged. Laser and acid etched to cut through armor like butter. It helps when your opponent often wears hardsuits after all," Kasumi explained. "My wakizashi is even sharper thanks to a specialized forge using mass effect fields."

"Your family really knows their stuff," Miranda commented.

Kasumi walked up to the door and put her head against it. "I can hear wind outside this door."

"Hopefully it's the hangar, then," Shepard said.

Kasumi fiddled with the door a moment and bypassed the lock. A gust of wind hit the three of them as they finally exited the underground weapons depot. Evening had finally fallen in earnest, with only a faint orange over at the horizon at the sea.

"Let's collapse the doorway to discourage any pursuers," Miranda suggested.

Kasumi pulled out the last demo charge and set it against the door. "Let's go!"

All of them took cover behind some leftover crates that were either supposed to go inside, or prepped for export. As planned, the explosive brought down the surrounding walls and buried the door.

"Normandy, do you copy?" Shepard called. "We need extraction. Normandy?"

Miranda cursed. "We're still being jammed."

"We'll need to get off Hock's property. Try to reestablish communication then," Kasumi said.

Before they could proceed with their new course of action, the hum of an A-61 Mantis Gunship pierced the sky. The perching birds took flight at the sudden disturbance.

"I think caving in the door was a bad idea," Kasumi said.

The Mantis flew up into their line of sight. It was encased in a kinetic shield, flying low and taking an aggressive flight pattern. The mass accelerator cannons rotated and pointed in their direction.

"Incoming! Move!" Shepard shouted.

All three of the scattered for any available cover when the cannons revved up and started shooting. Hundreds of bullets razed the ground where they standing on moments before.

"You could have done this the easy way, Goto! Allow me to show you the hard way!"

"Shit! I've never seen a Mantis like that before," Shepard groused.

"Must be specially modified. That kinetic barrier might be our biggest problem," Miranda said. "Black hell! Incoming missiles!"

All three of them ran again, running and gunning at the gunship as they did so. The missiles just missed Miranda as the explosion rocked her off her feet. She managed to roll with the impact and slide behind another crate. "Any ideas? !"

"Don't fight me, Kasumi. You know what happened to your boy toy when he fought back," Hock jeered.

"You don't talk about Keiji like that! Murderer!" Kasumi screamed back.

"We need to disable its shields! Overload? !" Shepard said.

"Won't work on something that big!" Miranda said. She had to duck down when Hock fired his cannons at her.

"What did you tell your friends, Kasumi? You're doing this for love?"

Shepard fired another shot from his HMWSR, but the explosive rounds weren't enough to make a dent. For his trouble, Hock launched another missile at him, forcing another retreat.

"We can't hold out like this!" Shepard shouted over the explosion he narrowly dodged.

Kasumi quickly looked around, trying to see if there was anything they could use to beat the gunship. She had the ability to disable the shields, but that required her to be within inches of the gunship. "Hold on! I see a crane! If the both of you distract that thing and draw it close, I might be able to take out the shields!"

"What are you planning? !" Miranda asked frantically.

"There isn't time to explain! Just do it!" Kasumi shouted.

"Even if you escape, I'll scour the galaxy for you!"

Shepard and Miranda sprinted from their defilade and into the open, firing wildly at the gunship. Hock twisted the ship around and begun shooting at them.

Kasumi gritted her teeth and ran for the controls, cloaking as she did so to avoid detection. "A little more! He's still too far!"

"This isn't easy!" Shepard roared back. He barely managed to get behind cover and crawled on his belly when Hock's guns tracked his movements and ripped right through the crate he was hiding behind.

Miranda jumped out of cover, shot at Hock for a moment to get his attention, then strafed toward the crane.

Hock responded by launching a salvo of missiles.

"Oh, damn," Miranda said and ran as fast as her legs could take her.

The missiles exploded just behind her, but the force was powerful enough to lift her into the air and collide with a large crate. She slid down the surface and hit the ground limply.

"Miranda!" Shepard shouted.

"I… I'm… I'm… o… o-ok-kay…" Miranda gasped out. She coughed and moved an arm to try to push to her feet, but lacked the strength to do so.

"Stay down!" Shepard ordered. "I got him!"

Shepard popped out of cover next, his rifle bucking with recoil as he drew Hock toward the crane.

As worried as Kasumi was for Miranda, she held her position, noting that her cloak was draining quickly. She watched with bated breath as Shepard ran, bullets striking all around him. Hock maneuvered the Mantis to get a better shot and put him right in position.

Kasumi manipulated the controls, swinging the arm over and using its magnetic claw to latch onto the gunship. "Got him! Just like fishing!"

Shepard cloaked and vanished from sight as the gunship's next series of shots were wild and well off the mark. He reappeared next to Miranda and carried her out of the line of fire.

Seizing her chance, Kasumi sprinted toward the nearby pipes, activating her Tech Armor for additional protection in preparation for the stunt she was about to pull. She started flooding synthetic adrenaline into her system, allowing her to push her body beyond its limits. Even with Hock trying to track her and shooting, he couldn't get a shot.

He either underestimated her true abilities or he never had a clue to begin with.

She leapt into the air and landed on one of the pipes nearby. Skipping from one pipe to the next was as easy as walking up some stairs. She jumped up to the next set of pipes, gaining more height and hovering precariously over the cliff side and the ocean far below. Kicking off one surface to another she jumped one last time and landed in a couch on the highest length of pipe.

Hock jerked and pulled at the cable holding his gunship in place as he tried to raise the nose of the Mantis to shoot her down. However, his ability to fly was severely hindered by the crane.

She held her position, waiting for the one opportune moment.

She fondly remembered the woods she trained at when she was a child. She remembered the determination she had and her attempts to keep up with her grandfather. She had always tried to emulate the incredible speed, agility, and strength he displayed despite his advanced years.

There was a game he had made up just for her. He would place a red flag in his waistband, the bright color contrasting with the black he wore. Then, he would dare her to chase him and seize the flag, forcing her to use every bit of her cunning and agility to best him.

It always came down to timing.

The Mantis flew up slowly, nearly coming level with her. Sprinting down the pipe as if it was flat ground rather than a few inches wide, she leapt off the precipice, and hovering the air for just moment before landing perfectly on the cockpit of the gunship.

Hock tried to shake her off, but she drew her one of her wakizashi and drove it into the hull to make an anchor.

Gripping her short sword tightly, she engaged her omni-tool and uploaded a virus directly into the onboard computer of the Mantis.

The effects were immediate. Hock momentarily lost control. The ship lost altitude, its guns firing randomly all over the place, and most importantly, the shields crackled and vanished.

The sudden drop made her lose her footing, but she managed to hang on and flip back up onto the cockpit window again.

She could hear the alarm blaring inside. She could see Hock's enraged expression. She could feel a vindictive pleasure at besting him.

Pulling out her pistol, she aimed at the cockpit and fired a trio of shots. The window held up against her gun though since it lacked the power to breach it. Knowing that her SMGs would probably fare little better, she gave him a mocking salute, withdrew her wakizashi, and jumped.

She embraced the feeling of weightlessness for a few glorious moments before twisting at the apex of her leap and landed on her feet and hands with nary a sound.

And right next to Shepard and Miranda too.

Grandpa would've been proud of that.

"Shields down! Let's tear that thing apart!" Kasumi crowed.

Shepard nodded and aimed his HMWSR again. Propping it against the crate, he took careful aim. Hock's flying was still erratic, but the gunship wasn't far. Shepard's first shot impacted against one of the engine intakes. Smoke and fire billowed out from the damaged area.

"Just one more…" Shepard muttered.

At that moment, a salvo of missiles streaked across the sky and blew up the cockpit. The Mantis fell straight into ocean.

"Hey, guys! Need a lift?"

"Jacob?" Kasumi cried out. She looked up to see the Kodiak flying in. The door was open, showing Jacob waving at them with his ML-77 Missile Launcher.

"Looks like we got here just in time," Jacob said as the Kodiak began to descend.

Shepard helped Miranda to her feet and walked toward the landing pad where shuttle was touching down. "We had it under control. Where have you been?"

"EDI told us that she lost contact with you guys. We figured that Hock threw up a comm jammer and came in to help out. Problem is, there were some anti-aircraft guns that made it hard to fly in. We joined up with Garrus' team to take out the power and draw out the mercs at the same time. We just managed to get airborne a few moments ago," Jacob briefed.

Shepard nodded as he and Thane both assisted Miranda into the shuttle and placed her into a seat. She sighed and tried to ignore the pain as she settled in. "Thank you."

"How was the party?" Jacob asked.

"Hock wasn't a very good host," Kasumi said. "At the very least, I managed to snag a door prize."

"The graybox?"

She nodded and sat down herself.

"What about Garrus and his team?" Shepard asked.

"We're going in to get them now," Jacob said. "I had to leave Grunt with them since mercs were closing in and shutting down power to the defenses needed a little time."

Shepard nodded and sighed. "Let's go get them."

Kasumi leaned back in her seat. "After all we've been though, that should be the easy part."

As the Kodiak took off, Kasumi did a quick check of her graybox and the data she just acquired. She was a bit shocked to find a message to her from Keiji, hidden within. As much as she wanted to see what it was, she couldn't ignore the danger she placed the others in just so they could help her out.

I'll find out soon enough.

~o~O~o~

Author's Notes:

Miranda's original surname was actually supposed to be Solheim, which is Norwegian. Lawson was used to match Yvonne Strahovski's Australian accent, but as it turns out, Yvonne is English-Polish bilingual. Both Norway and Poland are located in Northern Europe, with Sweden and the Baltic Sea in between. Anyway, I needed a cover name for Miranda and I thought of this. Ariel was pretty easy to conceive. Miranda and Ariel are both moons orbiting Uranus and both are characters in Shakespeare's Tempest.

Once again, credit for the inspiration for the changes in this loyalty mission goes to Havoc-Legionnaire. Thanks!

I'll be honest. I hated this mission for several reasons, the most being that the plan sucked. Soft party music masks the gunshots in the security room? Dead bodies and no one finds them? Cut the power to the barrier and the house isn't affected? The entrance to the vault was in plain freaking sight? I really had to change how the mission had to go.

This mission also became an interesting character study. Some could argue that Kasumi was hardly a 'master thief' considering we get caught or she stood in front of a camera to disable it. (Not to mention the crappy way the whole mission was done in)

I'm thinking she was of two minds. Being completely stealthy or just assaulting the mansion and get Hock. Again, to me, what was a simple mission evolved into something much more complicated, even before I put Miranda in.

Anyway, had to re-plan how the heist was going to go down. Watching a few movies helped. But man, balancing Kasumi's irreverent attitude and her personal feelings was complicated. It's like trying to describe the mindset of someone who smiles all the time, but has nothing to smile about at all.

Also, her 'armor' is pretty much based of Miranda's new appearance in Appearance Pack 2, except more ninja I guess.

Credit to BiowareFan for coming up with the VI prank. I hadn't even thought about it until he suggested it.

Credit for Miranda's dress goes to bluewickedbehemoth Deviantart. I could've gone the whole black dress thing, but I saw his fanart in deviantart. com and went with that instead. Check it out.

Another Firefly/Serenity reference here. See if you can find it.

Oh, yeah. 700+ reviews! Yay!

Also, it's been a little more than a year since I first began. I really didn't think I could do this for that long…

Review!lV

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