Summary: In the aftermath of the Reaper War, Garrus in confronted with a conspiracy from his past. Full author commentary linked at the end.
Garrus Vakarian had seen how bad things could become, and this allowed him to fully appreciate how good things were.
Pelara was not a developed world but it was comfortable in its own way. Broad valleys gave way to craggy mountains which were topped with light dustings of snow. The planet’s sole settlement, a refugee outpost established over a year ago, was located in a pleasantly cool region courtesy of the fjords and abundant rainfall. It had taken a lot of ingenuity and hard work on the part of the refugees, but they were surviving. After everything that had happened, eking out an isolated existence on a quiet backwater was a gift.
The war against the reapers had been hard won, costing millions of lives. The destruction of the Reapers had signaled the end of the conflict, but the Mass Relays which enabled galactic society to function had been severely damaged. Whilst repairs were being enacted on the great machines, only a privileged few were permitted to make use of the them.
Attempting to access a relay without authorisation was risking lifetime imprisonment. Attempting to access a relay that wasn’t fully repaired was a death wish. Garrus had heard gossip about a Batarian crew who were desperate to rejoin a colony of Hegemony outcasts. They had made for the Harsa relay and were indeed transported across hundreds of lightyears – in hundreds of different pieces.
This meant that Garrus, his crew and the other stranded ships on Pelara were in the same boat as countless others around the galaxy: they were to wait. Wait for the relays to be rebuilt. Wait for their governments to coalesce once more. Wait for the briefest announcements from the Council, carried to them by crackling transmissions from across the stars.
This waiting had gone on for weeks, then months, until a year and a half had gone by and Garrus found himself living a quasi-retirement in a small lodge away from the primary settlement. In the beginning, he, too, had been involved with creating a hodge-podge town of sorts for the multiple tribes on Pelara but grief, and its silent companion, fatigue, had eventually compelled him away from the crowd.
He had built for himself a small cabin within a rocky inlet on the eastern side of the mountain. High above the town in his cabin he found solitude and bitterness in the isolation. Garrus descended a few times every two months to collect his rations, check on the rest of the crew and indulge in his sole consolation: a glass of Turian whiskey, kept dutifully locked away by Liara along with a bottle of Thessia red.
It had become a ritual for the two of them, whereby they would each have a glass of their respective planet’s alcohol, trading small talk as if they were back on the Citadel. Liara never asked Garrus to return to the Normandy camp and he never asked Liara about her time as the Shadow Broker, and what secrets she had learned. Liara and Garrus had an unspoken truce: they did not ask questions they did not want the answers to.
Life could have gone on in this way indefinitely, were it not for the simple fact that there were some things that a man just couldn’t run from.
Garrus had just bade Liara a pleasant goodbye, and was on his way back up the cliffs with a satchel of cured meats and nutritional supplements. The wind was strong this evening and unusually bitter, and Garrus wistfully thought of the tropical island he always thought he would occupy when he retired. Right about now he was supposed to be tanned, rested, and lying side-by-side with – with someone.
Coming up to the plateau, Garrus stopped abruptly in his ascent. The door of the cabin, constructed from the remnants of an unsalvageable shuttlecraft, was open. Garrus knew he had left it closed. Days and nights as a C-Sec agent, a vigilante and then a soldier, had left his senses razor sharp. His instincts were honed to a razor’s edge.
Garrus stood there for a few moments, uncertain and wary. No one else in the tight-knit community below would dare break into Garrus Vakarian’s home, so who, exactly, was now rifling, loudly, through his home?
His internal query was answered a few seconds later by three individuals who emerged from the cabin, heavily armored and with faces as hard as the chipped grey rocks of the cliffs. Two were Batarians, joined by an Asari in Commando gear, all with angry, almost frantic expressions on their faces.
“Well, check again!” The Asari barked to the Batarians following behind her. She was a very dark shade of violet with a constellation of green markings on her cheeks and chin. “This is Archangel’s house. He has to have it. He’s either hidden it or has had someone else –“
She stopped short on noticing Garrus standing in the small clearing, scrutinising the trio coolly.
“I’m Garrus Vakarian and that’s my house you’re breaking into, but I suppose you already knew that,” Garrus began conversationally.
The Asari immediately raised a fist, which began to emanate a glowing sphere of biotic energy. There was something to her swagger and the way she was tilting her head at him which was strangely familiar but he could not place her face.
“Well, well, well,” The Asari smiled, the angry expression melting away from her face to something eager and savage. “Here you are at last. Garrus Vakarian, in the flesh. Nice to meet you, Archangel.”
“Charmed,” He replied drily, hand lazily drifting to the pistol clipped to his belt.
The Asari saw the small movement and smiled wider, the leer of a predator on a hunt. “Tut, tut, Archangel. This isn’t the time for violence. We’re just here to ask you a few questions. Well, one, exactly. Where is it?”
“Talk, Turian!” One of the Batarians growled and the Asari shushed him.
“Urbo, you’re being rude and I hate rude people. I’m sure Mr. Vakarian knows what we want and will give it to us promptly.” She chuckled. “After all: he knows that this time Commander Shepard isn’t here to help him.”
Garrus’ brows knit at the mention of the Commander. “I can deal with mercenaries on my own. Just watch.”
“Yes, I’m sure you can, “ The Asari remarked mildly. “But can you shoot me with that pistol you’re reaching for before I hit you with this biotic blast?” She held up her fist a little higher, barely shaking with the effort it was taking to maintain the expanding sphere of energy steadily swirling around it. Whoever this Asari was, she was certainly no novitiate commando, but a trained huntress, perhaps centuries old. Maybe she was even a Matriarch, which meant that danger was even more present.
Garrus didn’t flinch. “Maybe not, but if you had wanted to hit me with that blast you would have done it already.”
She smiled at him as the Batarian duo behind her shifted slightly, still practically snarling at him.
“You’re right,” The Asari commando replied. “I’m Dasia Shiallis, these are my associates. We’ve been dispatched on behalf of our employer to retrieve something rather valuable. Something which we have cause to believe is in Archangel’s possession. Your possession.”
Garrus strafed a single step to the left, chancing to close his fingers more tightly around the handgrip of his pistol. Snow had begun to fall, landing ever so lightly on his crest, the collar of his carapace. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Dasia chuckled, shaking her head in bemused fashion. Her eyes were as blue as his own, as blue as Liara’s, but with none of the warmth. They looked upon him as flatly as if he were an insect. He didn’t think Dasia was the type to lose any sleep about gunning down a man in such a lonely place.
“Don’t play dumb; it’s not becoming of you, Officer Vakarian,” Dasia said. “We know all about you. We know about your time in C-Sec, we know about your time on Omega and we know what you did as Archangel. You might be telling everyone that you were just another bleeding-heart vigilante but you and I both know that’s not true. Now’s the time to confess. You have my word that you’ll be spared.”
Garrus only frowned at her.
“Where is it?” Dasia continued.
“I don’t know -”
“Where is it?” Dasia asked again, smiling wider. The Batarians raised their own weapons: not guns, but batons of a sort which crackled with electricity. Their many eyes wished him nothing good.
Garrus shook his head. “Sorry. I don’t know what you’re talking about. I guess you wasted the trip out here. How did you get out here by the way? I didn’t think that the relays were open to thugs.”
“Where is it?” One of the Batarians shouted furiously, shaking his baton threateningly and blinking snow out of his eyes.
“No idea,” Garrus laughed, sliding his pistol ever so slightly out of its holster. “What is it, exactly, you’re looking for? Maybe I can help…”
“Where is it?” Dasia asked calmly. “Last chance.”
“Okay, you know what?” Garrus shrugged. “You got me. I think it’s back in my apartment on the Citadel. But since the Citadel is gone I don’t think you’ll have much -”
Dasia released the ball of biotic energy coiled around her fist at the same time as Garrus pulled his pistol up and fired one shot, ducking and stepping to the side as he did so. Both shots found their mark: the bullet found its home square in the forehead of one of the Batarian mercs, splitting his head open like a melon and spraying his compatriot with blood and gore. The remaining Batarian swore in fury at the same time as Dasia’s biotic discharge exploded.
The force of the explosion knocked Garrus off of his feet and he somersaulted back down to the ground to land painfully on his back, the air knocked out of his lungs. He shuffled backwards, aiming the gun up only to have his wrist roughly pushed back down to the snowy earth by the remaining Batarian’s large boot. Involuntarily, Garrus’ fingers released the pistol and slid from his hand. The Batarian spat in his face and now Garrus did flinch, turning his head and shutting his eyes as the globule of foul-smelling saliva hit his scarred cheek.
“You Turian fuck,” The merc growled. “That was my brother you just killed! I’m going to finish you nice and slow.”
“This is all very unfortunate,” Dasia said mildly, sauntering up to the pair and conjuring up another biotic volley, gazing down at Garrus with a bland smile. “You’ve killed Drack. That’s no way to negotiate. And now Urbo is thinking up all kinds of ways to hurt you, and that’s not a good thing at all. I’ve seen him make a death last weeks.” She brushed imaginary lint from her shoulder. “It doesn’t have to be this way, Vakarian. Just tell me where it is and we’ll both be on our way.”
“I’m not going anywhere,” Urbo sneered. “I’m going to kill him.”
“You’ll go if I say we’re going,” Dasia said pleasantly, but there was such a coldness in her eyes that Garrus could see that even the wrathful Urbo knew who was really in charge. “And we will be going if Mr. Vakarian sees reason and tells us what we want to know.”
“I don’t know,” Garrus shouted angrily.
Dasia sighed and rolled her eyes. “I really hate dealing with stubborn people. So tiresome. You remind me of my last bondmate. Even to the very last, he was still fighting me at every turn.”
Garrus kicked upwards with both feet suddenly, knocking Urbo in the face and rolling into his knees, knocking the Batarian to the ground. Garrus sprung quickly up again so that he could run into a combat roll which took him safely away from the impact zone of Dasia’s biotic attack. He dashed towards her and swung his fist in for a practiced upper-hand which caught her square on the chin. She grunted in pain from the strike but maintained her balance, twirling around him to catch him on the side of the neck with a quick chop of her hand. For his part, Garrus winced only for a moment, tasting blood in his mouth from the unexpected attack. He backhanded her and she caught his hand and drew him closer, backhanding him right back.
Garrus staggered then and Dasia pressed her advantage, drawing energy up into herself and sending it out in a rolling shockwave which had him off of his feet once again. This time, there was no respite. Urbo, whom had recovered in the interim, was instantly upon him.
The mercenary held aloft his electrified baton and brought it down with punishing force upon Garrus’ head. The blow itself had Garrus seeing stars but the electricity hurt all the more. It seemed to rush up and down his spine like barbed wire, freezing his limbs so that he couldn’t even raise his arms to defend himself from the onslaught. Urbo hit him once again and Garrus gasped in agony. Blue blood from his split forehead trickled down the bridge of his nose and across the planes of his mouth.
“Urbo!” Dasia screamed, slapping her Batarian comrade across the face. “You idiot! How can he tell us where it is if you’ve beaten him to death?”
“He killed my brother!” He roared back at her.
“Who cares?” Dasia sneered at him. “More money for us.”
Garrus opened his eyes blearily as his two attackers argued, spotting his pistol laying abandoned a small distance away. He crawled towards it, unnoticed by the pair who were still squaring off against each other.
“I don’t answer to you,” Urbo said, jabbing a meaty finger into Dasia’s chest. “And I don’t care about the money. I’m here only for Archangel. Do you know what he did to my team on Omega? We did nothing to him but he killed us anyway. So, to hell with the job. I just want him dead.”
“I don’t do requests,” Garrus said, and both Dasia and Urbo turned their heads at the same time to see the blood-stained Garrus, one eye already swollen shut, aiming at them with pistol in hand. Which one would he kill? The Asari bitch, or the Batarian prick? In that moment, Garrus was a god.
As with his brother, Urbo went down like a ton of bricks, the bullet passing cleanly through the jugular. The Batarian clutched at the bloody wound, wide-eyed and gurgling, as he fell to his knees and finally collapsed onto his side, dead.
Dasia gaped at the sight in a kind of delighted surprise, not even having the decency to look scared as Garrus turned the gun to aim at her head instead.
“Ooh,” Dasia said appreciatively. “You are rather good, aren’t you? Finally, someone whose skills match their reputation. And you took care of those two morons. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” Garrus spat at her, shaking his head slightly to clear the blood away from where it was pooling over his eyelid.
Dasia held up her hands. “Now, hold on now, Officer Vakarian. Archangel. If you shoot me now there won’t be an end to this. My employer is very keen on learning what you know and they are prepared to pay a very high price to ensure they get to you before anyone else finds out. Oh, yes, don’t look so surprised. While you’ve been enjoying your isolation here on Pelara, the Galaxy has been rebuilding itself. You should know better than anyone: you can’t stop crime. Even after a war like with the reapers.”
“I still don’t see why I shouldn’t blow your head off. You’re a bloody menace,” Garrus frowned at her. He felt dizzy and hurt and he wondered whether it would be safer to make the trek down to the settlement for medical care or try to patch himself up.
Then again, if he went to the settlement, there would be questions asked, questions he’d rather not answer until – well, questions he’d rather not answer, period. It was too complicated, too incriminating and way too dangerous.
“I’m sure you want to know who sent me,” Dasia said. “I know that you know why I’m here…Even if you’re going to keep playing dumb. Keeping your cards close to your chest, hmm? I can respect that. But if you kill me, you’ll never find the ones who sent me. And the assassins will keep on coming. I don’t think you’d like that. I’m sure you’ll kill quite a few but eventually you’ll fuck up.” Dasia smiled triumphantly.
“I’m quite a courteous woman. Honourable. It’s why my employers like me so much. But if you kill me they might decide to do away with the niceties. Imagine if some unscrupulous people were sent to the door of your friends – perhaps the Quarian?” Dasia tilted her head at him, pinning him to the spot with a knowing gaze. “Or, even worse: imagine if my employers made public all the things you did on Omega. The whole truth, not the sanitized version you’ve been peddling. No, no. I don’t think you’d like that.”
Garrus’ gun hand was now shaking dangerously from pain and the cold wind blowing insistently against his back.
“If you spare my life, I’ll take you to my ship. It has authorisation codes for the nearby relay. I’ll take you to the Citadel. Newly rebuilt and oh-so young and fresh. You can settle the score, get a little payback…and I’ll be on my way,” Dasia finished. She had a seductive voice with a breathy quality many men would have found attractive. Her charms extended to her sensual face and the petite, feminine physique which showed to full advantage under her commando leathers.
These days, though, when it came to attraction and sex, Garrus’ thoughts were a one-way street which led to warm brown eyes, a reassuring grin and an irrepressible charm. Thinking about Shepard hurt too much, so Garrus forced her phantom from his mind and got slowly to his feet. He swayed precariously for a moment but kept the gun up, pointing squarely at Dasia’s face.
“Don’t screw around. Back up,” Garrus said warningly, and Dasia smiled wider, obediently walking backwards.
“Keep going. Don’t do anything stupid,” Garrus snarled, backing them up to the door of his ransacked cabin and over the threshold.
Inside was a very modest assortment of rooms, open plan but for the bedroom and ensuite bathroom. The ‘living’ room was just a small sofa, marginally more comfortable than the floor, which sat beside a plain ottoman and in front of a computer with a busted screen. Garrus grimaced to see his open bedroom door and the mayhem which had occurred inside as a result of the recent home invasion – sheets pulled from the mattress, wardrobe toppled and his weapons and armor rack thrown to the ground.
“Back up,” Garrus instructed again and Dasia did so, coming to a stop beside the ottoman. “Stop.”
“Open the lid,” Garrus told her and she smiled, doing what he asked. Inside the little cubby beneath the cushion was an assortment of DIY-gear, including a length of carbon-fiber rope and a medical supply kit. “Take out the rope. And put your hands behind your back.”
He came around behind her, taking the rope from her fingers and twining it more roughly than strictly necessary around her wrists, the better to stop her from activating her biotics. He wound the rope up her forearms, pinning her arms in place. It wasn’t quite as good as his old C-Sec handcuffs, but it would do the job for the trek back down to the settlement.
“Oh, my,” Dasia cooed in her breathy way, nudging his occupied hands not-accidentally against her backside, arching her back slightly. “Do you do this with all your lovers?”
“Shut up,” Garrus said, limping around to take a length of gauze from his medical supply kit and tearing it free with a quick snap of his sharp teeth. Dasia looked coquettishly up at him through her eyelashes as he tied the fabric across her plump mouth, tying it smartly just underneath her head crest.
“I think I like you better this way. Speechless in my presence,” Garrus said sarcastically, pushing her backwards and into the bedroom with its capsized contents.
He made her stand there gazing at him with her cool blue eyes, still flat and dangerous for all her flirting, as he collected a few things. He attached a Viper sniper rifle and matching assault rifle to the magnetic strips on the back of his bodysuit, snapping some thermal clips to his belt. Garrus then took some medigel and loaded it into his omni-tool. Passing it over himself, he sighed in relief as some of his injuries healed, although nothing could be done about the blood still caked on his face for the moment.
Taking a deep breath, Garrus smirked at the waiting Dasia and pushed her back out of the room once more, spinning her around so that she was in front with his gun to the back of her head.
“We’re walking back to the settlement. You can point us in the direction of your ship from there. You know the drill: don’t try anything or I pull this trigger. And then I’ll just have to find my way to your employer myself,” Garrus barked.
Dasia mumbled something in-between the gag and he shoved her forward as they began their descent. The snow was falling more thickly now and he had to dig his booted feet into the ground with every step lest he slip and fall. He didn’t trust the Asari at all to keep her word, which was why he was going back to Liara’s house. There was no one else in the settlement whom he trusted more at this point and no one else he’d rather have watching his back, other than Shepard (and he cursed himself again for thinking about her, the mere mention of her name conjuring up a pain in his heart no amount of medi-gel could fix).
Liara lived in the middle of the settlement, closed to the downed Normandy. Most of the ships belonging to the refugees were the centers of their respective camps, being vestibules of resources, power sources and weapons. The cold wintery gusts had encouraged almost everyone to go back into their homes or to the town’s only bar. Even if the streets hadn’t been empty, no one would have batted an eye at the legendary Garrus Vakarian strong-arming a bound Asari through the night whilst heavily armed. In lieu of proper law enforcement on Pelara, it had fallen to soldiers like Garrus to keep the peace.
Garrus pushed Dasia into the entryway of Liara’s house, palming the entry lock to the abode. Liara’s voice crackled over the intercom, still smooth and alert even after all the booze.
“Garrus? Did you forget something?”
“Open the door, Liara, we have a big problem,” Garrus replied, eyeing Dasia carefully. She was still smiling eerily, even with the gag, leaning casually against the opposite wall. A gust of wind blew through the little space, howling through the night.
When Liara opened the door she was clad only in a silken robe and looked as if she’d just stepped out of a sonic shower. Her eyes widened when she took in the sight of Garrus and his hostage but merely stepped back to allow Garrus and Dasia through.
“Get in,” Garrus barked to Dasia, manhandling her over to the corner of the room and forcing her to her knees. “Sit down, face the wall, don’t move. Don’t move!”
“Garrus…?” Liara asked cautiously, brows raised. “Why is there a tied up woman in the corner of my living room?”
“Do you have any handcuffs in here?” Garrus asked brusquely.
Liara frowned at him but hurried away to one of the storage rooms for a moment, coming back with a pair of trusty C-Sec-issue cuffs, banged up but as welcome a sight as any. Garrus unclasped them and placed them around Dasia’s wrists so that they were snug against the rope already holding her in place. “Try and get out of that one.”
In contrast to Garrus’ cabin in the cliffs, Liara’s home was much more spacious and as elegant as conditions on Pelara would allow. There was a small bookcase against one wall housing real, honest-to-spirits books with paper pages, a few bottles of wine on the kitchen counter and a large mural against one wall depicting a festive autumn scene. It had been painted by one of the children in the community, a Salarian girl, one of Liara’s new proteges.
“You’re covered in blood,” Liara remarked, coming forward to gingerly touch the side of Garrus’ face.
“I’m fine,” Garrus assured her, staggering shakily over to the couch and collapsing into it heavily. In his peripheral vision he watched Dasia as she remained steadfastly kneeling in the corner, humming to herself nonchalantly.
“What happened?” Liara came to sit beside him with a glass of water. He ignored the proffered glass and instead reached for the bottle of universal chirality whiskey still on the end table beside them. She quickly pushed the bottle out of the way with the back of her hand and firmly placed the water glass into his path.
“Drink,” Liara said firmly and Garrus did so, gulping down the cool, clean liquid with three large gulps.
“I was attacked,” Garrus said quietly, putting the glass down.
“I don’t recognise her,” Liara said, turning her head to examine the captive Dasia in the corner.
“No,” Garrus replied. “But she recognised me. She and her friends said they were looking for Archangel. Said they’d been dispatched to…To kill me.”
Liara’s face registered deep concern and she placed a hand on his shoulder. “Garrus…”
“I’m okay. Her friends, not so much,” Garrus said grimly.
“I didn’t realise the Skepsis relay had been repaired,” Liara mused. “If that’s the case, we’ll soon be rescued.”
“I wouldn’t bet on it any time soon,” Garrus said. “No one gives a damn about us anymore.”
Liara frowned at him. “That’s not true, Garrus.”
“Regardless,”Garrus said, cutting off her rebuke. “This Asari – Dasia Shiallis – says that she has a working ship which is authorised for relay use. Probably with an IFF.”
“It makes sense that the Council would want to place more restrictions on the rebuilt relays. An IFF would certainly do its part in restricting relay use until the mass relay network can be fully restored,” Liara said thoughtfully. “Dasia Shiallis, hmm. I know the name.”
“Is she with Eclipse?”
“She’s a freelancer. I think I might have used her in the past myself when I was an information broker on Illium,” Liara explained, staring hard at the other Asari. “Did she give any reason as to why she and the other mercenaries were here?”
“I told you; they wanted to kill me. Another group of thugs with a grudge against Archangel.”
Liara turned back to him with something mysterious shining through her eyes, although her face still looked placidly concerned. “Are you quite sure that was all she mentioned? That seems like an awful lot of trouble to go through to settle an old score.”
“I killed a lot of mercs on Omega,” Garrus said wryly and Liara gazed back at him for a long moment.
“Yes…Yes, I suppose you did. Well. I certainly don’t know what we should do with her. We could interrogate her to see if she knows anything further.”
“No,” Garrus shook his head vigorously. “I want to use her ship and get back to civilisation. I want to find the people who ordered the hit and deal with it myself.”
Liara winced. “Garrus, that’s dangerous. You’re just one person and you’re not authorised for relay use yet. These mercs most certainly were using fraudulent IFF codes. Most likely a member of whatever peacekeeping forces are active these days will show up in a few hours and handle the situation. If you were to use the relay you could just be walking into a trap or getting yourself into more trouble. The best thing you can do is call this woman’s bluff and stay here.”
Garrus laughed. “Stay here? Stay here and wait for help to show up? Stay here and wait while even more thugs come pouring through the relay aiming for my head?”
“They won’t. Peacekeeping forces -”
“Will do absolutely nothing, since they weren’t able to stop her and those Batarians using it in the first place!” Garrus said more roughly than he would have preferred. “Liara: no one is coming to help us. We’re low-priority. Us! We’re the crew of the Normandy. Shepard’s crew.” Garrus laughed again, more bitterly this time. “And if we can be forgotten for an entire year I don’t see how a few mercs coming to finish off Archangel is going to attract the Council’s notice. If the Council even exists anymore. Because, keep in mind, Liara, we’ve received almost no communication from outside. For all you know someone like Aria T’Loak is in charge. We’re screwed, and you know it.”
Liara closed her eyes and buried her face in her hands. “Garrus, I can’t listen to this. I’ve spent an entire year listening to this – hours and hours of it. Please. No more.”
“I’m going to use the merc’s ship to get back,” Garrus said resolutely, slightly ashamed to see the effect his own disconsolate state had on others. “The only question I have now is: are you coming with me? There’s no one else here I’d trust with something so delicate. We can come back and get the others later.”
Liara sighed shakily, delicate face still buried in her small blue hands. When she looked up at him exasperation had made the planes of her youthful face look impossibly old. “Why even ask me that? Of course I’m coming with you. I can’t let you go by yourself. Just let me get some of my things together.”
Dasia Shiallis’ ship was of Asari make and design, roughly diamond-shaped and with a curved main gun between its two primary engines. Although not terribly large, the interior was plusher than anything Garrus had experienced in over a year, and it was obviously a new model. It still had the new-ship smell of virgin batteries and factory-clean tiling. Clearly, what was left of civilisation had the time to build new starships – but not to re-integrate hundreds of stranded colonists. At that thought, Garrus’ stomach turned with something approximating fury.
‘After everything we’ve done for them, in the end, we don’t matter,’ Garrus thought to himself.
For her part, Liara also seemed impressed by the ship, which was far in excess of what might be expected to be in the possession of a simple mercenary. The computers onboard were also state-of-the-art, for their interfaces were unfamiliar to both Liara and Garrus and were clearly of hybrid Council-Geth design. Apparently, they’d gotten some of the A.I’s working again in the wake of the mysterious energy pulse which had emanated from the relays over a year ago.
Even the way the ship felt as a passenger was different and Garrus suspected that was because the drive core was a recent invention. It would have had to have been, given that it was integrated with an IFF, but it was unlike the smooth gliding and low hum to which he had become accustomed on ships using mass effect technology. The engine was emitting an almost-silent staccato noise and the motion of the ship felt less smooth but more robust.
The computers were so unfamiliar that Dasia had needed the gag removed. She was sitting on one of the seats along the wall issuing commands to Liara who was in the pilot’s seat. Glyph, Liara’s pet drone, was also aboard, corroborating Dasia’s instructions and simultaneously analyzing the new operating system.
Garrus merely sat quietly on the seat opposite and looked out the port-side window and the sight of Pelara’s surface shrinking from view as they left orbit. After so long planetside he had no idea how to feel as the planet disappeared from view and was overtaken by the void of space.
He glanced over once again at Dasia, who was still muttering instructions to Liara. A big part of him wanted to ask Dasia whether Commander Shepard had been KIA after all in the great war, but an even larger part couldn’t bring himself even to ask the question.
When the Normandy had first found its way to Pelara, Garrus had been quite sure that Shepard would come for him. When the days turned into weeks and those weeks became months Garrus could only conclude one thing: that Commander Jane Shepard had died. There was no other way she would stay away from either him or the Normandy’s remaining crew. He didn’t buy the idea that she was unable to get to them because of Council restrictions. If anyone would have been able to secure permission to use the relays it would have been Shepard, savior of the galaxy.
More than enough sleepless nights and hours of hopeless longing had been spent over Shepard since he had met her and he didn’t like the person he had become in the wake of her death: embittered, spiteful and unfocused.
Liara swiveling in her pilot’s chair, with its long, graceful back, pulled him out of his introspection. She was back in the uniform she wore during her tenure as the Shadow Broker: a snug doctor’s coat with blue paneling, with armored panels sewn into the fabric. White pants in a similar style completed the outfit, along with a pair of heavy boots which were impossibly unscratched by all the hard use they had seen. Dasia’s assistance had required that the gag be removed and the other Asari smiled up again at him from her position kneeling on the floor behind the co-pilot’s seat.
“Excited to see the Citadel again?” Dasia asked conversationally. Garrus didn’t know what to make of Dasia’s perpetual chipper attitude, and whether it was an affectation meant to disturb others or whether she was just plain crazy.
“I’m excited to meet your employer,” Garrus said, looking hard at her. Had he been wearing his custom, Kuwashii-style visor he would have been able to detect her heart-rate, run through his personal logs of known criminals and mercenary bosses, but the visor had finally given up the ghost a few weeks into their stay on Pelara. He trusted his marksmanship enough to find its target without the help but it still felt strange to be without it when his armor was on.
Dasia’s smile faded somewhat. “You be careful what you wish for now. They’re not as convivial as me. That’s why you should have told me -”
“Shut up,” Garrus barked sharply. “Just shut up. I don’t want to hear you talk.”
Liara’s eyes narrowed at the exchange. “Should have told her what, Garrus?”
Garrus got smoothly to his feet and jerked the fabric around Dasia’s neck back around her mouth harshly, grasping her by the shoulder and practically throwing her into one of the bulkhead seats.
“I don’t know what she’s on about,” Garrus replied harshly, buckling the compliant Dasia into the seat and taking his own seat beside her. “She’s out of her mind; ignore her.”
Liara exhaled slowly, scrutinising him, and then pointed out of the bow window in front of her and the mass relay which had just come into view. “See the relay? It’s been altered. They must be adapting them. Perhaps we will be building our own relays in due course.”
Garrus leaned away from his ship so his gaze could follow in the direction of Liara’s finger. Sure enough, the relay looked significantly different to anything he had ever seen before. The outer frame was much the same, albeit with red strips of lighting instead of blue. Radically changed, on the other hand, was the core. No longer a shimmering ball of blue light held suspended between two gyrometric rings, instead the core looked like an enormous red star. The pointed, crystal-like object, at least several kilometres long, was embedded within the frame and appeared to be generating energy from within itself, emitting a solemn red glow. The entire relay crackled with occasional ripples of red energy akin to that he had witnessed at the close of the Reaper War.
“How do we use this?” Liara mused. Garrus could practically see her scholar’s mind racing as her eyes covetously took in the curious new device.
The relay answered her question for her as the star at its apex suddenly grew all the brighter and a beam of red light affixed itself onto the ship. Liara jerked backwards in her seat and Garrus cursed under his breath.
“I’m not so sure about this technology being red,” Garrus remarked. “When I see red beams I just think of Reapers.”
Liara chuckled uneasily as the red light passed them over one more time. “I know what you mean. I think we’re being scanned for an IFF.”
“Let’s hope you were telling the truth,” Garrus said balefully to the bound Asari beside him, who only looked back serenely.
The star stopped scanning them then, or seemed to, and before their eyes, began to pulse with red energy, sending bolts of crimson lightning up and down the relay’s arms.
“Liara…” Garrus muttered, as his companion began guiding the ship into the growing red storm before them.
“Dasia said we use it as we would any other relay. It will pull us where we need to go according to the coordinates in our computer,” Liara explained unsteadily.
“Liara,” Garrus said more urgently as a spoke of lighting appeared to reach out and grab their vessel, shaking it rather violently.
“Dasia doesn’t seem nervous,” Liara said, gloved fingers clutching the white armrest tightly. “So we have nothing to worry about. It’s just unfamiliar tech.”
“Liara!” Garrus cried, closing his eyes as a flood of red light suddenly filled the cabin, shaking the vessel violently. They were being pulled into the centre of the lightning storm. They seemed to be spinning on axis and dragged upwards at the same time. The ship’s engine began to emit a high-pitched wail.
“Garrus!” Liara screamed, throwing her arms over her face.
In an instant, the light disappeared and the ship was suddenly belched out into the darkness of space, gliding smoothly away from calming storm. The engine ceased to wail and resumed its regular staccato song.
“We’re…We’re back,” Liara said breathlessly. “In the Serpent Nebula.”
Garrus hurriedly unbuckled himself, coming to lean on the back of Liara’s chair and inspect the view for himself. She was quite right; the nebula was just as spectacular as he remembered, littered with the hustle and bustle of ships coming in from every direction. The citadel itself looked completely different. It was now an enormous sphere, as white and luminous as one of Palaven’s moons, ringed by dozens of glittering spires.
“They’ve rebuilt the Citadel,” Liara said in amazement. “It’s even bigger than it was before.”
“They could do all that but they couldn’t come and rescue us?” Garrus demanded, more to himself really.
“They could not have retrieved us without securing safe living conditions for us,” Liara said gently. “Leaving people like us where we are helps to make the rebuilding process faster. You know that.”
“Really,” Garrus scoffed. “If it was all about our safety and well-being, you’d think there’d be more communication coming from the Council. Seems to me they’ve all just left people like us to rot while they enjoy the spoils of war.”
Liara sighed but said nothing further as she guided the ship in the direction of one of the spires, surreptitiously following another freighter which had pulled into view in front of them.
“Do you think we’ll get any trouble from customs?”
“What, two illegal Normandy crewmembers with a trussed up Asari merc? No, I don’t think so,” Garrus said darkly, watching as the fantastical structure loomed up from the pink and purple clouds of the nebula. From this distance he could see thousands of tiny little windows, balconies and skyscrapers peppering the sides of the spire. The central sphere itself was as smooth as stone, and it practically glowed upon its celestial canvas.
“Are we likely to run into trouble with customs?” Garrus asked Liara, who was still fussing with the controls as she guided the ship into one of the empty ports.
“Dasia said the ship was registered for an official scouting mission,” Liara said, looking at him out of the corner of her eye. “The people who sent her after you aren’t simple mercenaries. This is bigger than that.”
“Yes,” Garrus said simply. “I really pissed some people off in my Omega days.”
Liara turned her head to affix him with her cool blue gaze. “Was that all? You know…You can tell me anything. I can’t help you if I don’t know the facts.”
Garrus moved away from the chair and took his seat once more as the ship was cleared for entry and glided into one of the entry docking bays. “I already told you everything, Liara. Are you calling me a liar?”
“Never,” Liara said indignantly. “I’ve never thought that way about you.”
“Then why do you keep asking me to tell you the same story?”
Liara inhaled heavily, her shoulders bowed. “Not the same story. I’m asking you to tell me the whole story. I know this is more than simple revenge. When I was Shadow Broker I was wrapped up in my own pain. It almost got me and a friend killed. It took Shepard for me to realise that I needed the support of others.”
“Liara,” Garrus said suddenly, brow furrowing in displeasure.
“Now that we’re back we can try and find Shepard. Maybe she will find us?” Liara continued hopfully. “She will help us.”
“Are you afraid that she is dead,” Liara asked him astutely, standing gracefully from her seat. “Or are you afraid of what she’ll say about all this if she isn’t?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Garrus demanded.
“Her respect meant everything to you, as I recall,” Liara said bluntly, brushing past him to the pod bay doors.
Garrus stood irritably. He did not often quarrel with Liara but when he did her words usually found their mark more readily than his found theirs.
“I don’t want to talk about this, Liara,” Garrus said sternly.
Behind them, Dasia just kept smiling on in her unnerving way, watching the exchange play out with the curiosity of a scientist watching bacteria multiply on a petri dish. Garrus stopped short of the doors to haul her up to her feet. Liara tutted.
“We can’t walk out there with her tied up like that,” Liara said.
“Not ideal for being discreet,” Garrus agreed ruefully, tugging the gag from the Asari’s mouth.
Dasia licked her lips, flexing her jaw. “Not ideal at all, Mr. Vakarian. I believe our deal is concluded, anyway. I think I’ll just let you go your way and I’ll go mine.”
“Not a chance, Dasia,” Garrus countered. “You’re a criminal. I think I’ll keep you close by so you don’t have a chance to scurry back to your employers. There’s an old Human saying, you know: keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”
Dasia laughed. “And me being the enemy in question..!”
Meanwhile, Liara had gone over to one of the overhead compartments lining the port side of the ship and taken out two cloaks, one brown and one black. She threw the black one to Garrus who caught it one-handed without looking, still frowning at Dasia.
“Put that on,” Liara said. “If we’re going to go in under the radar then we should try this.”
“They’ll still be able to identify us with the scanners and the cameras, Liara,” Garrus reminded her, still taking a step back to shrug into the cloak and flip the hood over his fringe.
“Yes, but it will buy us a little bit of time. I still have my sources. At least, I think I do. I can erase some of our presence from the system at first,” Liara said, slipping into her own cloak and inspecting her visage in the glossy panelling of the walls. “We’ll travel like refugees.” She held aloft her arm and input a few commands into her Omni-Tool, lifting Garrus’ arm to do the same to his.
“What are you doing?” He asked her.
“Installing a proxy so we can’t be tracked or contacted,” Liara said. “No messages, no surveillance. We’ll be ghosts on the system.”
“Great idea,” Dasia smiled. “I’m sure no one will notice. No one at all.”
Liara had been right in her estimation that the new Citadel would be overwhelmed with travellers: the docking bays no longer led directly to the wards but to wide corridors emblazoned with advertisements, kiosks and amenities. All corridors eventually seemed to lead to an enormous immigration checkpoint on the far end of the station.
Garrus, Liara and Dasia trudged amongst the throng, a multitude of weary travellers from all corners of the galaxy. There were Salarians, Hanar, Elcor, as well as the Citadel races. Some gazed around in awe at the new surroundings. Others, who looked like diplomats and service personnel, strode purposefully through the crowd as if they were experts. And then there those who looked decidedly worse for wear, stumbling past the insistent merchants with the air of lost children.
Garrus caught the eye of a small Turian girl who was staring straight ahead with a distant expression as her anxious, shabbily-dressed parents tried to keep pace and carry their shabby luggage all at the same time.
“Why are there no injured people?” Garrus asked out of the blue as he pushed past the enormous fists of an ambling Elcor and fell back into step beside Liara. One of his hands was still wrapped firmly around Dasia’s shoulder, but if the other Asari was thinking of running away, her body language gave no indication of it.
“What?” Liara asked absently, enormous blue eyes taking in the incredible scene of hundreds of travellers, refugees, soldiers and citizens making their way through the port.
“You would think that given everything that’s happened there’d be a lot more sick and injured making there way through,” Garrus mused.
Liara’s brows momentarily lifted as she glanced about them. “Yes, that is strange. Then again, we never had any sicknesses on Pelara, either.”
“Also strange, now that you think about it.”
Ahead, Garrus could see that the crowd was thinning as the corridor gave way to an immigrations room longer than any he had seen in his life, with counters for almost every category of person he could think of. There were of course the counters for different races, but there were also counters for military staff, for contractors, for refugees, for merchants, for diplomats and for everything in-between.
Before that point, however, were a series of bathrooms innocuously labelled and without much thoroughfare.
“Let’s make our getaway,” Garrus muttered to Liara, nudging her shoulder and nodding his head in the direction of the toilets.
“What exactly is the plan? Go crawling around the ducts?” Liara asked dubiously.
He grasped both her and Dasia around their elbows, steering them inconspicuously in the direction of the unisex bathroom and pushing them both inside. To his relief, the room was empty. It smelled of cleaning fluid and urine, with walls lined with cubicles and trough urinals. One of the sink faucets was dripping.
“Now what?” Liara demanded as they got inside, whirling around and pushing her hood back.
“Let me think,” Garrus told her, eyes flitting about the room in search of ducts, emergency exits and windows.
“I say we just show ourselves at immigration and explain the entire thing,” Liara said. “I don’t understand why you want to keep us hidden.”
“Because I don’t want whoever is after me to know that I’m here,” Garrus replied, still scanning the room.
“They probably already know!” Liara argued, hands on her hips.
“I’m not so much interested in hearing you two bicker all night long,” Dasia said airily. “It’s been a real pleasure but I’m afraid I’ll have to love you and leave you.”
Garrus had time to pinch his mandibles at her before crackles of blue energy alighted on her violet skin, accumulating faster than either he or Liara had time to react against. He backed up quickly, pulling Liara by the forearm as he ducked into one of the cubicles, pulling the door shut as the room imploded in a hail of metal, glass and water. Doors were ripped from their hinges, sinks were yanked from their fastenings and the floor seemed to crumble beneath their very feet.
Liara screamed and Garrus shifted his body more fully over hers, throwing up an arm and clenching his eyes shut as debris peppered the both of them. The sound of the explosion was matched by the alarms now ringing throughout the building, screams from outside and Dasia’s mocking laughter. He opened his eyes tentatively, kicking the collapsed cubicle off of his shoulder just in time to see the cavernous space where the adjacent wall had been and Dasia, still glowing with biotics, delicately leap off the edge and into the abyss.
The fire extinguisher systems kicked in, spraying both he and Liara with high-pressure, frigid water.
“You didn’t say she was such a powerful biotic,” Liara said through the spray of water, disentangling herself from her Turian friend.
“She’s an Asari Commando, I figured it came with the territory!” Garrus shouted back over the sudden noise, picking himself up off the floor and running over to where the wall had once been. Below were the glassy sides of the building, gently sloping down to an array of streets below. A vast city stretched before them, marked by skyscrapers and residential lots all twinkling under an artificial night sky. A floating billboard at that moment bobbed past, the Asari model winking at them in front of an artful arrangement of topical fungal creams.
“Are you tired of foot odour? It could be fungus! Try Jana’s new line of topical creams and never feel embarrassed to take your shoes off again!” The advertisement blared out as it flew past.
Liara rushed up behind him, looking down with him at the sloping sides of the building and the busy streets below. Already, Garrus could hear the familiar sounds of C-Sec sirens as they closed in on the area. Some things changed and some things always stayed the same.
“Now what?” Liara cried. “So much for discretion!”
“Do you think your biotics can slow our fall?” Garrus asked her urgently.
“I’d really rather not,” Liara said matter-of-factly.
He reached out to take her hand in his own, nodding at her reassuringly. “Ready?”
“No!” She yelled at him.
“Jump!” He cried, doing just that and pulling Liara with him.
His feet hit the glass first and he pitched backwards to land hard on his rear end, still grasping onto Liara’s gloved hand as she landed with a thud beside him. She was yelling, he was yelling, as they slid forward down the side of the building and began to pick up speed. Down they went, rushing across the windows beneath them as the wind rushed up across their faces. Garrus, wide-eyed and amazed at himself, looked about him as the world sped by in a blur of colour and sound, the buildings and roads of the street below coming closer and closer with every second.
Before he even had to squeeze her fingers, Liara had begun to glow with biotic energy. It expanded from her like a bubble, lifting both of them into the air so that their descent was slowed significantly. The building fell away from them and Liara kept them suspended in the bubble, gently pulling him down to the ground.
They glided into a darkened alley a few blocks from the immigration building, lit only by a narrow street-lamp at the far end. Wordlessly, they darted deeper into the darkness, finding their way through the alley and into an intersection of even narrower side streets. Garrus hoped that whoever saw them pass by took them for the obvious: a Turian and an Asari skulking about the darkness in search of seduction and a place to be alone.
He stopped Liara short when they came to an empty doorway at the back of a small restaurant, which sounded like it was enjoying quite a bit of late-night business, dragging her into the shadows. His heart was still pounding with adrenaline as they both listened for the sounds of approaching footsteps, C-Sec sirens or search drones. After a few minutes, he exhaled slowly, mollified for the present that they had not been spotted.
“That was good back there,” Garrus congratulated her with a Turian smile, mandibles splayed and teeth bared.
“Oh, well, I do my best,” Liara smiled back. “Does it compare with Dasia?”
“I don’t know if that woman is stupid or just insane,” Garrus replied.
“Do you think she’s close by? Do you think we were followed?”
“I think we should get the hell out of here,” Garrus said.
Liara pulled up her omni-tool and the portable version of Glyph she had stored inside of it. As Garrus watched, the tool conjured up a series of holographic 3D maps displaying the approximate layout of the city.
“Can you download that into my omni-tool?” Garrus asked her. “I think we should split up.”
Liara looked up at him in genuine confusion. “Why?”
“I need you to see if you can contact a source here and do some background checking on Dasia’s ship, her weapons and traffic into and out of the Citadel.”
“What will you do?”
“I’m going to go to C-Sec headquarters and see if any of my old contacts are there. If not, it’ll still be a useful place to find information on who the big crime bosses are these days. I could get a lead that way,” Garrus replied.
Liara didn’t look particularly happy with the idea and opened her mouth to argue.
“Customs will be looking for an Asari and a Turian together,” Garrus reminded her quickly. “And this way we have more chances of picking up clues.”
Liara shook her head, still unconvinced, but asked: “And when and where will I meet you?”
Garrus peered at the 3D readout still hovering in shades of orange above her forearm. He scrolled through it with a flick of his finger and then jabbed randomly at the first motel which he saw.
“Let’s meet here in, say, five hours. If you need more time you can give me a call.”
Liara withdrew her arm, the Omni-Tool flickering off. In the dim lighting of the alley her eyes seemed even more luminous; cerulean orbs full of anxiety and, Garrus could see, a bit of disappointment. He figured that Liara, when they went their separate ways, would probably do a bit of background checking on him as well as the ship to corroborate what he’d said about not knowing anything. Garrus was no information broker but he knew how to hide his tracks. There was no information on this plot for Liara to find.
“I don’t like it, Garrus,” Liara said, already moving away from him to examine the numerous streams of traffic flying overhead and to the possibility of a taxi nearby.
“I know, I don’t like it either,” Garrus said. “But I think we’ll be able to cover more ground this way. And you’ll be perfectly safe as long as you stay public.”
Liara threw him an exasperated smile as she retreated further down the alley. “I’m not afraid for my safety, Garrus; I was the Shadow Broker, remember? It’s you I’m worried about.”
And with that, Garrus was finally alone in the darkness with only the rowdy noises coming from the restaurant for company. He didn’t like keeping things from Liara but realising that his time as Archangel hadn’t been forgotten or forgiven had sent him into a tailspin.
Garrus had done things in his time on Omega that he had been proud of, that had forged him into the man he was today. A man his father could look straight in the eye with respect. He’d also made mistakes, been selfish and stupid, and lied with every breath he could muster. The only solace he had was that, so far, not many people were aware of the secrets he was carrying, and he was going to do his damnedest to keep it that way.
He slid away from the wall, walking further from the direction they had originally come from and Liara had headed towards. There were several forks in the alley and Garrus picked left and then left again at random, finally stepping out onto a brightly-lit street lined with an array of dance clubs. The one to his immediate right was a bar of some sort and groups of rowdy customers were chatting and drinking merrily. A tattooed Drell was crooning his way through a Turian love ballad on the bandstand close to the main entrance and was surrounded by a flock of adoring-looking Turian females.
Garrus pulled the hood of his cloak up and walked down the length of the street, passing one vibrantly-lit club after another, each guarded by thickly-armed bouncers and each bellowing out interchangeably frenetic dance music.
The road was heavy with traffic congestion and when Garrus saw a cab bearing the distinctive blue colour of a brand he was familiar with, he held out his arm and flagged it down. The car came to a stop close to the end of the street and Garrus ducked inside, pulling the door closed behind him.
“Do you know where C-Sec headquarters are?” He asked the driver, a grizzled Turian male with yellow facial markings Garrus couldn’t place.
The other Turian shrugged enigmatically. “There are two main C-Sec buildings on this spire, pal, but it’ll cost you. They’re on opposite ends of this level.”
“Where’s the closest C-Sec beat, then?”
“Probably on the new Zakera Ward. That’s about twenty minutes away.”
“That’s fine,” Garrus said. “Take me there, instead.”
Wordlessly, the Turian driver guided the cab away from the street and further up into the skylanes, the engine thrumming as the vehicle merged into one of the busier lines of traffic.
“This your first time on the new citadel?” The driver asked conversationally, carefully steering past a speed indicator sign.
“Yeah,” Garrus replied. “I used to live here before the war, but it’s all changed now.”
“Completely rebuilt,” The driver agreed. “It’s nothing like how it was before. There are a lot more residential and commercial spaces now.”
Garrus looked out of the window at the city flying by below; he could see architectural examples from many different cultures, from the elegant towers of the Asari to the more functional buildings which bore the insignias of Hierarchy corporations. The old Citadel bore the hallmarks of the race which had originally constructed it (the Reapers, and that thought still made him shudder) and the inhabitants had only adjusted it to fit them. Now, Garrus could see that the new Citadel had been custom designed to exactly fit the tastes and needs of the galactic community.
“Does each spire have a city upon it?” Garrus asked.
“Yep, although this is the first and main one. It’s where most refugee ships dock – not that I’m assuming anything, mind you. The other cities are smaller and the dome is where the big boys and girls play. It’s barely inhabited up there still. It’ll take ages to fill this place up.”
Garrus felt a question pertaining to Commander Shepard find its way into his throat and his shut his mouth audibly, unwilling to give voice to a query which could turn his life upside down again. Instead, he asked: “Is there much crime on the Citadel these days?”
The driver grunted, pulling away from the rest of the cars and putting the vehicle into a descent which integrated it into one of the slower transit lanes below. “A bit, unfortunately. There’s no stopping crime. You’d think the bastards would let up a little bit, considerin’ the war and all, but, no, they see an opportunity and go for it. C-Sec and the military presence here keep ’em quiet for the most part but outside of here it’s a mess. The Council’s been inducting more Spectres than ever just to use them as a stop-gap peacekeeping force.”
Garrus bristled at the mention of the Spectres, that organisation to which he could have once belonged, but didn’t pursue the matter further. The driver eyed his pensive-looking passenger in the mirror and said, “I’m Fantar, by the way.”
“Merixus,” Garrus lied smoothly.
“Will you be staying here long?” Fantar asked.
“I’m only here on business,” Garrus replied and Fantar caught his eye in the rear-view mirror.
“What kind of business you in?” Fantar asked curiously. ‘Why are you going to C-Sec?’ hung in the air, unspoken.
“I’m a bail bondsman,” Garrus said vaguely and Fantar nodded approvingly.
“Ah. Well. You’ll probably get a lot of work here then. I suppose you’re after someone who skipped out on the law, huh?”
“That’s a way to put it, but, really, I can’t say too much more than that,” Garrus said.
Fantar lifted one hand off the wheel dismissively. “Say no more, say no more. I know how it is. Here’s your stop by the way,” He said, maneuvering the car back down to the ground and to blocky building panelled with bright strips of blue and yellow, with an wide entrance consisting of tall white steps. The surrounding suburb was empty apart from a few late-night workers inspecting contents of a temperature control sensor on a panel across the street. One of the workers turned their head and Garrus startled to see that it was, in fact, a Geth, amusingly dressed in a yellow maintenance worker’s jumpsuit.
Garrus chuckled to himself as Fantar turned in his seat, saw what had caught his passenger’s interest and nodded again. “Oh, yeah. Them. The flashlight heads. Damned useful, if you ask me. They’re all over the place these days. Do a lot of the technical stuff around here. We owe them the new relays, that’s for sure.”
“How much do I owe you?” Garrus asked and Fantar held out a credit chit reader. Garrus opened up his omni-tool and transferred over the requisite credits, relieved when the transaction was approved without preamble.
“Looks like the Volus are back in business these days, too,” Garrus said appreciatively, in reference to the Volus’ mastery of all things finance in the galactic community. It was they who had carefully tailored the banking system on the Citadel and other free-trade zones.
“Unfortunately,” Fantar said under his breath as Garrus exited the vehicle. “You need a ride back? I can wait.”
“That’s okay,” Garrus told him. “I think I can find my way.”
“Enjoy your stay, then, Merixus. Pleasure meeting you,” Fantar said cheerfully. “Maybe I’ll see you again sometime.”
“Maybe,” Garrus said convivially, stepping away from the car. “You have a good night.”
Garrus watched as the car took off into the skies once more, veering into a side street and disappearing from view. Satisfied that no one was around to see him, Garrus quickly turned on his heel and jogged up the front steps to the C-Sec building. At his approach, the frosted glass doors shushed open and the bored-looking Asari and Salarian duo manning the spotlessly clean front desk raised their eyes to take him in.
“Can we help you, sir?” The Asari asked, perking up a touch at the sight of the mysterious and handsome-looking Turian stranger.
“I’m starting a new job in a few days and I need a criminal background check,” Garrus lied once again. “Are you able to call up citizen records from here?”
The Asari pointed airily over to the set of terminals lining the adjacent wall, unused and obviously brand-new.
“You can do it yourself using the terminals, you just need to have your Hierarchy citizen number and some photo identification. The terminal will take a photo of you when you file for the record. Usually you’ll be able to get your results within 48 hours.”
“Oh! Easy,” Garrus said with an easy smile and the Asari smiled back a little shyly. He saw her eyes as they flitted over his scars and rested for a little too long on the long length of his legs. The Salarian beside her rolled his eyes and returned to his datapad.
Garrus ducked into one of the terminal booths, purposefully choosing one partially obscured from view by an absurdly leafy potplant, so large that its leaves rested on his shoulder as he logged into the system. The interface was almost completely identical to what it had been during his C-Sec days and its weaknesses were as evident as ever. Throwing a glance over his shoulder to check whether he was being watched, Garrus surreptitiously opened up his Omni-Tool once again and ran a hacking program Liara had installed on it when he and Shepard had done some work for her on Illium, scanning terminals for malware. He’d kept the program ever since and made tweaks to it as time wore on.
The program had a variety of interesting functions, but Garrus typically used it as a way to create new user accounts on a server with admin privileges. The program used randomized credentials and location coordinates when it created accounts so that he could never be traced when hacking into a database. Sure enough, after waiting for a few moments for the bot to make its way onto the system, Garrus found himself looking at the QPRIME program, the program used by C-Sec officers when they ran record checks, added offenses to a criminal’s history and logged evidence. It was the same program Garrus had used himself in his years on the right side of the law and it hadn’t changed at all. Still as unintuitive looking as ever.
Garrus opened the search tool and changed the settings so that it would check for citizens. And then he typed in the term ‘SIDONIS. LANTAR‘ and let the program run.
In the months subsequent to hunting down his treacherous 21C and being talked out of blowing the coward’s head off by an impassioned Shepard, Garrus had kept close tabs on his former friend. Sidonis had tried to hand himself in to C-Sec as penance for getting the Archangel team killed on Omega, but as the crime had taken place in the terminus systems, C-Sec had no jurisdiction to detain him.
After that, Sidonis had apparently committed himself to doing community service on the Citadel. The last time Garrus had seen him had been during the war. Sidonis had been serving as a volunteer counselor to the many bereaved refugees streaming in from around the galaxy, but he hadn’t noticed Garrus watching him.
Garrus recalled how disappointed he had felt watching Sidonis comfort a heartbroken Batarian woman. It proved that Shepard had, once again, been proven right. Sidonis really had changed for the better and Garrus was secretly upset about it even though he couldn’t quite articulate why. He’d learned a lot from Shepard, it was true, but would there ever come a time where she wasn’t leading him around by the nose to show him his mistakes? Could he be right just the once?
As Garrus suspected, Sidonis had evacuated the Citadel when it was used to power the crucible device which had ended the war, but, like all registered Citadel staff in range, had been recalled when the Citadel was re-built. According to the records, Sidonis lived in something called ‘Natanus Ward’ and was on the secretarial team for the Embassies.
Garrus sent the information to his Omni-Tool and then logged out of the bogus account, striding purposefully past the desk (the Asari gave him a hopeful wave as he went) and back outside. The temperature was even chillier now and Garrus turned his head to see the Geth maintenance workers squawking at each other, pointing in what could have been irritation at the temperature sensor which was now sparking ominously.
The reason for looking up Sidonis wasn’t so that they could re-connect. Garrus and Sidonis were the last remaining members of the team Garrus had put together to stop crime on Omega. Sidonis had been there when the Meera research vessel mission had come across Garrus’ radar and they’d all gone blindly off to save the day.
A mission they’d all thought would be like any other.
A mission that had changed everything.
A mission he hadn’t spoken of since.
As Garrus pulled the cloak tighter around himself and frowned wordlessly up at the artificially black sky, he hoped that this was only a hiccup and his secrets would stay that way for a long time yet.
Sidonis’ apartment was in a quiet suburb. He’d obviously been able to purchase it at a low cost because its value had been lowered as a result of the ongoing construction going on around it. The residential areas were obviously being built up as more and more refugees were re-integrated into society, and thus Sidonis was now living in a humble complex bordered by purple palm trees from Kahje.
Bordering the carefully manicured little gardens were a semi-circle of half-finished high-rise developments and a gargantuan-looking shopping complex. An absurdly large billboard announcing the development of the residences and shopping district sat proudly across the street. It featured a glossily suggestive picture of two female models, one Human and one Turian, naked from the waist up and wrapped in each others arms. How the picture related in the slightest to the developing community was anyone’s guess, but Garrus appreciated the view all the same.
The apartment was mercifully only on the third floor and security was non-existent to the extend that Garrus could just walk through the gates and into the parking lot without swiping a single I.D card. The balconies which lined the outer walls of each unit were all identical and prettily decorated with suspended pot plants and orange flowers. Most of the lights inside the units were on, the residents relaxing, eating or socialising. The sounds of their vids were muffled from where Garrus was standing in the darkness outside. Sidonis’ apartment wasn’t illuminated and the vertical blinds were drawn tightly shut.
Glancing left and right, Garrus jogged up so that he was directly underneath the apartment and carefully stepped onto the railing of one of the ground floor units. He stood slowly and, reaching overhead, curled his fingers just underneath the balcony of the second-floor unit above. Pulling himself up slowly with a grunt of effort, he swung one of his legs up so his left foot could also find purchase on the little ledge between the balcony and the sheer sides of the wall. Garrus again shimmied upwards, feeling his legs and arms twinge at the sudden exertion. It had been a year of eating little and training not at all, and his muscles registered their surprise at abruptly being put to use once again.
He repeated the exercise for a third time and then jumped over the ledge quietly. He extracted a small filament wire from the inside of his breastplate, and went over to examine the balcony door. It had no security system that he could see, which was a surprise given how paranoid Sidonis had been before and after betraying the team. Even more of a surprise however was the fact that as Garrus prepared to use the wire to break in the door simply slid slightly open at his touch.
Flicking a mandible outward curiously, Garrus pushed the door open the rest of the way gingerly, poking his head into the darkened living room. He bent down to the sidetable beside the outline of the couch and flicked on the lamp, illuminating the room in soft shades of yellow.
The apartment was small and innocuous. The living room was modest, with only a small couch for seating and a vidscreen on the opposite wall. The open-plan kitchen spanned the length of the opposite wall and was clean and tidy. A small group of dextro-amino spices had been placed neatly in a homey rack by the cooking stove. A cheery digital calendar was above the shoe closet. Quietly, Garrus reached into his belt and removed his pistol, taking the safety off.
Garrus cautiously moved further into the house, opening one of the doors directly opposite him to reveal a standard linen closet, empty apart from a tidily folded white blanket. Shutting the closet again, Garrus flicked his mandibles again and wandered into the next room, a narrow bedroom, passing the tiny bathroom as he went.
The bedroom was not quite as clean as the living room: the bed was unmade and the sheets were tangled up, cool to the touch. The closet beside the desk was open, along with its drawers, empty of any contents. Beside the bed was a shabby wooden bed and an old computer, still in stand-by mode. An icon in the lower right corner of the screen indicated that there were unopened messages in Sidonis’ mail account.
Garrus switched the gun to the opposite hand and leaned over the computer, tapping at the screen to activate it and then opening the unread message.
Are you planning on coming in to work sometime this week, or should I just assume that you’ve quit? I get that you’re not happy here, but that’s no excuse to just walk without telling people about it. Shelley is getting married in a few days and Dasz has come down with food poisoning. We’re having the busiest month since our department opened up and now you’re just going to bail on us when we need you the most?
I know you’ve had some rough times but I thought we understood each other. Even if you’re not interested in working at the Embassy anymore you could at least give me a call and let me know how you are.
Garrus frowned at the message and then took one last look around the bedroom, drawing open the shades so the light from outside filtered in more readily. On the desk beside the computer was a datapad, powered off, which Garrus neatly swiped from the desk and tucked into the confines of his coat.
“Where did you go, Sidonis?” Garrus asked aloud. “Were they after you, too?”
It didn’t seem that Sidonis had left in a hurry but he was obviously gone if the lack of his personal effects and the message were any indication. Of course there was always the possibility that Sidonis had just done what he always did best and abandoned those who were relying on him…But that seemed way too coincidental. No, something had tipped Sidonis off and he’d made himself scarce, Garrus figured. The thugs hadn’t found their way to the apartment yet but they still could at any point. He ought to leave as well.
Garrus pushed away from the window, intending to do just that, when a reflection on the window in front of him made his eyes widen. Lightning fast he spun and fired the gun still in his hand. It splintered the door frame above the merc’s head, a Human male with very dark skin and hair. To his credit, the Human didn’t flinch and merely shot back, the bullet going wide and putting a neat hole in the bed instead.
Garrus grabbed the computer, yanked it free of its stand and threw it with all of his might at the man, who raised his arms instinctually to avoid the blow. Garrus took advantage of the moment and fired his gun again, this time hitting the target precisely around the waist. The man’s shields were up, so the shots didn’t kill him, only staggered him so that he fell backwards into the hall adjoining the living room and hallway.
Garrus leapt over the bed and sprinted into the hallway, using his shoulder as a battering ram to knock the Human over. They both went down hard into the floor and the man jerked his head up into Garrus’ forehead. With a grunt of pain, Garrus reared backwards and punched the Human on the side of the head, hard enough that the man’s mouth instantly filled with bright red blood.
“Who sent you?” Garrus asked calmly, digging his knees into the man’s flank.
The man glared up at him coldly, twisting one arm free from underneath Garrus’ knees to box him on the side of his neck. Garrus slipped over onto his side and the man scrambled up, hands fumbling on the carpet for the gun he had dropped during the fall.
“Looking for this?” Garrus smiled, now holding two pistols which he was aiming squarely at the merc’s head. “You’re not going to be the first thug I’ve killed tonight. You’re probably not going to be the last. But I’m willing to let you walk away from here if you tell me who’s after me.”
“Serena T’Vau sent me,” The man grinned mockingly at him. “And I’m not going anywhere without you. I don’t get my full fee otherwise.”
Garrus stared at him icily. “Serena T’Vau is dead. I killed her.”
“Not all of her,” The man replied cryptically and then paused, smiling wider. “Archangel.”
The man feinted to the right but Garrus wasn’t fooled; he shot a little to the left of the man and succeeded in blowing half of his Human nose away. The man gave a roar, more of a scream, really, of anger and disbelief, hands going to clutch at his bloodied, mangled face.
“That must have hurt,” Garrus said dully, getting to his feet. “If your employer really wants me they could at least send more competent operatives.”
“You son of a bitch!” The man howled at him, collapsing onto the carpet, blood filtering through his fingertips and mixing with the tears streaming from his eyes. “You Turian asshole!”
Garrus opened his mouth to respond with a pithy statement when something which felt like a truck plowed into his side, knocking him into the air until his head caught on the torn-up door frame of the bedroom. The exposed splinters scraped his mandibles, ripping the skin off into bloody blue pulp. It hurt like hell, as did the awkward landing which saw him hit the ground right onto his hip.
He blearily looked up to see a Krogan, battle-scarred and covered with streaks of red and gold paint, advancing upon him. The Krogan was huffing in excitement, its reptilian eyes looking at him the way a vicious predator might look upon its next meal.
Garrus shuffled backwards, back hitting the bed, and raised his hands, unloading a full clip into the advancing Krogan. The alien didn’t miss a beat, charging forward and closing the distance easily. With a single swipe of his enormous arm, the guns were pulled from Garrus’ hands, breaking a few of the Turian’s fingers in the process. Garrus cried out in pain, kicking out with his legs and getting an agonisingly painful stomp to his kneecap in the process. The Krogan bowled him over, titanic hands closing about Garrus’ throat.
“That was almost a career ending move for my friend David back there,” The Krogan hissed at him with a cruel leer. Garrus choked, eyes bulging, ruined fingers desperately scrabbling for purchase on the hands squeezing ever-tighter around the column of his throat. “Good thing I’m around to watch his back.”
Garrus’ eyes began to roll back in his head from the pressure, his legs kicking uselessly as he tried to wrench himself away from the iron grip stealing the life from him. He…had to…get free!
“No one’s watching your back now, Archangel,” The Krogan was saying, laughing quietly. “But I won’t kill you, yet. They want you alive. Turns out that you know where the big bucks are – and believe me when I tell you, they’ll make you talk. I’ve seen the little interrogation room they’ve set up for you. A thing of beauty, Turian. A thing of -”
The glass of the window shattered into a million pieces, the high-pitched sound ringing into the night like a bell. The Krogan strangling him to death jerked suddenly, hands loosening a fraction, eyes widening. Garrus coughed, gasped, lungs burning. The Krogan shuddered and Garrus pushed him away, the merc slumping to his side, dead. There was a neat hole in the side of the Krogan’s head, bloody and still-smoking from a sniper’s round.
Garrus shakily got to his feet with the aid of the bedframe, wincing at the pain in his knee from where the Krogan had injured him. He looked through the empty window-pane to see who had made the shot, but there was none to see. The trajectory of the bullet indicated that the sniper was probably sitting in one of the half-finished skyscrapers across the street, but the view outside was so dark Garrus couldn’t see any of his distant saviour. Down the hall, Garrus could hear David swearing in agitation, throwing open the front door and fleeing the scene.
“Yeah,” Garrus croaked to no one. “You had better run!”
Liara’s eyes widened when she took in the sight of Garrus as he limped into the motel drop-off area, with his mandibles bloodied and bruising evident on the underside of his jaw.
“What happened?” Liara asked, beautiful face aghast as she rushed towards him.
“Did you get us a room?” Garrus asked instead of answering.
Liara wordlessly held up a room swipe key, cerulean orbs scanning him up and down with a scientist’s analytical gaze.
“This was a bad idea,” Liara muttered to him, placing one of his arms over her shoulders and leading him slowly to a room on the far side of the complex behind a row of garden boxes. He leaned heavily on her as she guided him to the door, bracing himself on the wall as Liara hurriedly opened up the room and ushered him inside.
The furniture in the room was simple and plain, but mercifully empty of mercs. Garrus sat heavily on the nearest bed, feeling it sag under his weight as Liara closed the door and, without asking, drew the shades over all the windows. He watched as she poured a glass of water and shot of Turian whiskey from the mini-bar, bringing both to him as he eased further up the bed.
“Drink,” She ordered him, putting the glasses on the end-table next to him and kneeling beside him on the bed to pull his boot off.
“I know you want to ask me what happened but I don’t want to talk about it,” Garrus said, taking a swig of whiskey and feeling the liquor burn pleasantly in his throat on the way down.
Liara folded up the fabric of his body suit, exposing the heavy bruising and swelling on his knee. Her eyes widened again at the sight but she said nothing, merely taking out a healing salve from the inside of her coat and spreading the cooling gel over the injury delicately.
“I did some research, like you asked me to,” Liara murmured as she continued tending to Garrus’ swollen knee. “The ship is registered to a company, not an individual. Haliat Stellar. It’s a supplementary to Haliat Armory. They produce scaled-back replicas of prototype ships for the commercial market. Nothing too suspicious; it’s Turian-hierarchy sanctioned and there’s a big market for it nowadays given that so much of the Reaper-based tech is now illegal.”
“I don’t know much about Haliat Stellar,” Garrus said. A shame not to tell the whole truth to Liara but, well…It was complicated. In any case, she didn’t notice the lie. He downed the rest of the whiskey with an appreciative sound, eyes drifting shut under the weight of fatigue, pain and Liara’s tender ministrations.
“And I took the liberty of looking up your family,” Liara said casually and Garrus opened his eyes. She rolled down the leg of his bodysuit and looked up at him unabashed. “I knew you wouldn’t have thought to do so yourself. They’re safe, Garrus.”
Garrus released a breath he hadn’t realised he was holding, closing his eyes again to avoid meeting Liara’s perceptive stare.
“They’re on Taetrus,” Liara went on. “Your father works with colony security and your sister is overseeing some of the shipyard construction which is happening there. They’ve not been recalled to Palaven yet – Taetrus is authorised for transmissions in but not out. So. If you were wondering why they never sent you a message…There’s the answer. I’m sure they’re missing you, though.”
Garrus’ eyes were still shut in an attempt to stop the moisture building up behind his eyelids from leaking out at the corners. He didn’t cry often but when he did it always became full-blown sobs, so he’d tried hard since his vulnerable teenage years to repress the urge. Kind as always, Liara put away her salve and returned to the kitchenette on the pretext of refilling his whiskey glass.
“I didn’t check about…Shepard…by the way,” She said tonelessly. Garrus now had one of his hands pressed against his eyes, completely overwhelmed by the events of the last few hours. “I thought it was something we should do together when we’re all ready for it.”
He heard rather than saw Liara return to his side and place another shot of whiskey on the bedside table. He blindly reached for it and poured the entirety of it down his throat.
“I’m going to go have a shower. I suggest you get some rest. We can continue the investigation tomorrow,” Liara said and Garrus nodded, unable to stop a pleading gulp from escaping his throat. A treacherous tear rolled its way down his cheek which he hoped to the Spirits Liara didn’t see.
Garrus wiped the wetness from his cheek with a small sniff, turning onto his side, eyelids heavy. He didn’t want to sleep. He wanted to hit the streets again and go after the mercs. Dasia. David. Serena T’Vau.
Garrus remembered the Asari woman vividly. A pirate. A dancer. A con-woman. She was one of many criminals Garrus came across during his time in the Terminus systems, but she ran a black-market smuggling ring. She was nothing compared to the slavers, killers and pimps who he went after. Somehow, though, she’d ended up in Garrus’ sights all the same.
David had said that the Asari was the money man, so to speak. The problem was, though, that Garrus had killed her years ago. He thought of how she had looked in those final moments: T’Vau at the helm of her stolen ship, strewn over the main console. Dead. He’d never told anyone about that mission, not even Shepard. The details of that day were not something he was eager to revisit.
Garrus lay there for some time, listening to the sounds of Liara showering and dressing. He pretended to be asleep as Liara padded into the room and climbed into her own bed, switching off the light. He waited until he heard the deep-breathing of Liara sleeping and then gingerly climbed out of the bed, creeping to the door. There was no way he was going to sleep, not in his current state of mind.
The streets were heady with life as Garrus walked blindly down first one street and then the other. He seemed to be heading in the direction of the districts which were now completely rebuilt. The giddy multitudes, riding high on escaping death, now surrounded him in a cheerful crowd. He was currently walking down a brightly-lit pavillion. An enormous, gaudy-looking department store and string of dextro restaurants was on one side, another row of luxury apartment blocks on the other. A holographic sign blinked on and off high above advertising the new units for rent.
A group of about five, a mix of Asari, Turians and one lone Human, pushed their way through the glass doors of the apartment building behind him. They leaned on each others arms and laughed raucously as they strolled past. They nodded their heads congenially at him as they went. Garrus stared after them, feeling strangely isolated and out-of-sorts by the encounter, by the street, by everything.
He’d fought for peace but now he felt weirdly out of place in this brand-new Galaxy. He didn’t know how people could laugh and drink and go back to work when his own life had completely capsized. Hell, it hadn’t even been two years yet since the Reaper slaughter and yet here everyone was, carrying on with things as if all the anguish and burning and torture and death hadn’t even happened.
The thought was overwhelming, the feelings of loneliness too much to bear, and, his heart pounding with anxiety, he hurried across the street into the first bar that caught his eye. It was nameless and bright, its sound system pumping out a generic dance song which helped drown out the raging quiet.
Garrus fumbled in his pocket for a credit chit and approached one of the bartenders, a Turian female with green speckles on her wide nose.
“What’ll it be?” She asked him politely, leaning over the smooth counter-top. She was good enough only to give his bruises a cursory glance. Garrus squeezed his way through the crowd and gestured almost absently at a familiar brand of liquor on display behind her, brandishing his credit chit as he did so.
“One glass, coming right up,” The bartender nodded smartly.
“No,” Garrus corrected her. “I’ll just take the bottle.”
Her amber eyes widened slightly, once again taking in his disheveled appearance and sad mien. “It’s 700 credits.” At the mention of the price, a pair of Asari to his right peered over at him speculatively.
“What else am I supposed to spend it on?” Garrus asked rhetorically.
The bartender chuckled, turning around to pluck the bottle from the shelf and presenting it with a flourish to Garrus. She tapped one talon on the sculpted green glass of the bottle, drawing his attention to the gold filigree embossed there displaying the vintage and maker.
Garrus was hardly a connoisseur of alcohol but he grunted and nodded and took the bottle and his now very depleted credit chit. He waved away the offered balloon glass and shuffled over to the first empty booth he could find, one at the far back of the complex by the bathrooms. He slid into the seat, looking around him furtively.
His mind raced over the events of the past few hours, trying to put it together. Dasia’s ship was of Haliat Armory make. He was familiar with Haliat, not just by name but by association. The same mission which had ended in the death of Serena T’Vau had also involved a Haliat research vessel. Serena T’Vau was a pirate, and the Haliat ship had been the target. It had seemed simple enough at the time, and had ended with T’Vau dead, the Haliat ship returned to its owners and Garrus in a position he never wanted to be in.
Garrus unwrapped the gold foil from around the neck of the bottle, ripping apart the cerulean ribbon tying it in place. With his teeth he uncorked the bottle, ignoring the scandalized looks from the Salarian social gathering at a table nearby. The losses he’d experienced had coarsened him considerably, and he didn’t care what anyone thought of him anymore.
He didn’t care about anything, sometimes. Garrus took a big long drink, feeling a pleasant warmth down his throat. The buzz in his head instantly grew louder and he knew tomorrow’s hangover was going to be one for the ages. He smacked his jaws together. This was some good stuff, fragrant and sweet.
His reflection in the glass of the bottle was startling. His face was swollen and he looked a decade older than his actual age. Garrus turned the bottle slowly in his hands, watching his face blur. Who knew where he’d end up ten years from now? Veterans often fell through the cracks – even ones who’d helped save the galaxy. He’d seen plenty of old Turians, former war heroes, drink themselves to death. Maybe Garrus Vakarian would go the same way.
Garrus frowned at the bottle and then took another long drink, closing his eyes to savor the relief it gave him. When he opened his eyes again the music track in the club changed and the lights adjusted accordingly. Now the floor of the club was lit up in neon hues of pink and violet. Square panels of colour switched on and off along the ceiling in time to the beat of the music. Garrus watched couples and hopeful singles spill into the beams of light to dance. As he observed them his gaze alighted on a familiar face on the opposite side of the club.
Dasia was sitting in a booth similar to his own, drinking something bubbly from a long-stemmed glass. She was looking directly at him and smiling in as hateful a way as he could imagine. Her eyes briefly flicked to the right and Garrus moved quickly. He grasped the bottle more firmly in his hands, and, without looking behind him, swung his upper body around so that the hand holding the liquor went straight into the face of the unknown Turian behind him. The glass shattered on impact, leaving Garrus holding only the upper-half of the bottle. The Turian assassin behind him recovered quickly from the blow, bringing down his own arm at Garrus. Garrus rolled under the table, ungainly from all the liquor, narrowly avoiding being stuck in the neck by what looked like a very long needle.
He crawled out from under the table and through the shimmying legs of a dancing pair of Drell close by (they squealed in consternation as he did so), standing up when he was by a table. The assassin was right behind him and Garrus blocked another blow with his forearm. The force of the impact still sent him reeling into a table with a crash. His hands gripped one of the vacant chairs and he swung it as hard as he could, throwing it at the assassin.
The other Turian, a dark-skinned and bare-faced fellow with an emotionless expression, merely ducked out of the way and sent Garrus flying backwards with a well-aimed kick. Garrus hit the floor hard, so hard the wind was knocked out of him, and his head spun from pain, confusion and too much booze. Around him, the club goers had begun to scream in panic, others were yelling in anticipation of a good fight. The assassin was suddenly upon him, trying to drive the hypodermic needle, and accompanying syringe of dangerous-looking red liquid, deep into Garrus’ neck. Cursing to himself, Garrus ground his jaws together and tried to keep the needle at bay, gripping the other male’s forearms tightly.
With a yell of effort, Garrus kicked the assassin away from him with a boot to the stomach. The assassin lurched backwards, still gripping the needle. Garrus reached for his belt, felt the smooth surface of his pistol, and then lifted the gun in one smooth movement. There was a single loud bang and his would-be-killer slumped to the ground, dead, one smoking hole in the center of his forehead.
Around him erupted pandemonium. The ones who were panicked fled for the exits. The ones whom had merely wanted to see some violence stared at the scene in horror, dragged away by their friends.
“Hey, you!” The Turian bartender called out to him furiously, fumbling with a sidearm she’d evidently kept under the counter. “Don’t move!”
But she wasn’t trained like he was, wasn’t fearless like he was, and he was already away, darting through the throng and becoming one with the crowd as they streamed out into the streets in terror. He slid away from them, sidling alongside the building and ducking into the shadows between. An alleyway was here, one which opened up into several even smaller ones. The darkness and twisting pathways ahead suggested a good getaway strategy. Garrus was more concerned about Liara – it occurred to him that if they had found him they could have very well found her, too. This quickened his steps into a light jog.
He came to the end of the alley and thought he heard something behind him. Whirling about with his gun up, he glared into the dark, eyes straining to see movement. There was a crackling sound, the feeling of a wind rushing up the back of his neck and abruptly he was flying forward, tumbling over in mid-air and landing hard on his back on the concrete. The pistol fell from his hand and skittered to a stop metres away.
“Dasia,” Garrus sneered at her as she loomed up from the shadows, still smiling, her hands glowing with biotic energy.
“Archangel,” She smiled wider, her hand darting down quickly. A sharp pain and Garrus’ eyes caught the sight of a needle as it penetrated the vulnerable skin of his throat. The dangerous-red-liquid, the whatever-the-fuck, disappeared from the syringe and filled his blood with something heavy.
“You…You…” Garrus groaned, eyes fluttering unwillingly shut.
“You’ve really lost your touch, huh, Archangel?” Dasia’s voice rang out mockingly, dreamlike, as he spiraled into oblivion.
Someone was laughing. It sounded muffled and warped, but even on the precipice between consciousness and being asleep, Garrus heard the malice in the laughter. He swallowed. His mouth and throat were dry, tasted foul, and his saliva hurt on the way down.
Garrus opened his eyes cautiously, blinking in the face of the bright light overhead, which buzzed threateningly from within an unadorned fixture in the ceiling. His eyes squinted shut and he learned forward in the chair, just for a moment, and felt resistance around his wrists and arms. He opened his eyes, looked to his hands, and saw sturdy cuffs around his wrists and his ankles. They pinned him in place on the cold metal chair he was sitting on.
“He’s coming to,” The laughing voice said, and Garrus glared up at Dasia as she sauntered around from behind him. She gave him a brief slap on the back of his head, underneath his fringe. It wasn’t hard enough to hurt him but it was a warning strike. It told him, ‘shut up and do what you’re told – or else.’
“Do you make a habit of kidnapping men?” Garrus asked her in a croaking voice, eyes darting around the room. It was featureless and bare, lit only by the light above.
“Only the ones who have something I want,” Dasia grinned at him, pulling over another chair which was leaning against the opposite wall. It scraped loudly on the concrete floor as she dragged it before him and sat down. One of her booted legs was propped up on the lip of Garrus’ chair so that her pointed shoe, metal-tipped, rested lightly in between his thighs.
Dasia smiled at him, her animated expression made all the more menacing by the harsh lighting. Her bright eyes seemed to glow in the dark. “I think we should talk, handsome.”
“I’ve got nothing to say to you,” Garrus grunted, one of his hands twisting in its cuff. His thumb and forefinger traced the lines of the cuff, feeling out the shape with his fingertips.
“Oh, sure,” Dasia teased him, leaning back in her chair. The action pressed her shoe more insistently against his thigh, causing it to slide further up. “I think we’ve got a lot to offer each other, don’t you think?”
“I’m spoken for,” Garrus smiled mirthlessly at her.
“Oh? But she’s not here,” Dasia smiled back. “I don’t think she appreciates you very much. You wouldn’t have to worry about that with me. I can be so, so nice…I just need you to tell me where it is.”
Garrus laughed, throwing his head back in amusement. His thumb found its way to a supple curve of metal which gave way to a smaller section, this one ridged. He recognized the cuff design because it was the same model that had been used in his C-Sec days, a common design widely distributed by Turian Hierarchy manufacturers.
“I don’t know where it is,” Garrus insisted. “I don’t even know what you’re talking about”
Dasia sighed, leaned forward again and pressed her boot slightly against Garrus’ crotch. His ankles were pinned around the legs of the chair by two sets of cuffs so he couldn’t use his legs to ward her off. He shifted in place against the pressure but held her gaze coolly.
“Sorry, Dasia,” Garrus murmured to her. “You’re not really my type.”
Now Dasia’s shoe was pressing more firmly into his crotch, the pressure of her heel unpleasantly hard against his testicles. He let out a hiss of air between his jaws but still he held her gaze. His fingers were working overtime, trying to get one of his talons through his gloves and into the tiny hole which marked the intersection between the two main components of the handcuffs.
She moved quickly, punching him hard in the side of the head, the scarred side, hard enough to almost knock him backwards. He tasted blood in his mouth again. She hit him again on the other side, buffeting his head around.
“Now, now,” A voice rang out from the shadows. “We don’t want to damage him too badly. We still need him to talk. Besides,” The figure in the shadows stepped out into the light, revealing a tall and lean Turian, about as old as Garrus’ father. “This is the great Garrus Vakarian, Archangel. We owe him our lives – that deserves some respect.”
“So you’re the one holding this psycho’s leash?” Garrus asked him dryly.
The flinty old Turian came closer, close enough so that Garrus could smell the man’s expensive cologne and see the meticulous tailoring on his suit. “No, young man, I don’t hold anyone’s leash. Dasia is a business partner. She believes that you’re not suitable to join our association but I don’t agree. That’s why I’ve had you brought here.”
“How kind,” Garrus said sarcastically. Dasia retracted her boot some but still kept her leg propped up on the chair. “Who are you again, and why should I care?”
“My name is Talis Fer, Officer Vakarian.”
Garrus smirked up at him. “You’re one of the executives at Haliat Armory.”
Talis blinked at him, his expression surprised but pleased. “Ah, so you’ve heard of me!”
“I’ve heard of a lot of criminals, your name is on that list,” Garrus shot back and Talis’ pleased expression faded.
“I’m hardly a criminal.”
“Don’t you funnel money into Facinus?” Garrus asked him nastily.
“Facinus,” Talis began evenly. “Was a mistake. Their methods were far too brutal for my taste. Terrorism doesn’t interest me at all. What I’m interested in is order, discipline…The elevation of our kind.” He jabbed a finger into Garrus’ chest. “I simply want Turians to take their rightful place as leaders of the Galaxy. Now that this galaxy is in such disarray, Turian methods are what is needed in order to establish long-term peace. That’s why I was so interested in what Dasia had to tell me about your…knowledge.”
“My knowledge,” Garrus said flatly.
“Stop playing dumb,” Dasia sighed, crossing her arms. “The research vessel you intercepted back in your Archangel days.”
“The vessel commissioned by my very organisation,” Talis offered helpfully. “Haliat.”
“What about it? Pirates had raided it and slaughtered the crew. They put into port on Omega – my team was waiting for them. They all got what they deserved,” Garrus replied.
Dasia gave him a dangerous look but Talis nodded and said, “Oh, no doubt of it. But the research team had found something quite remarkable on their travels, isn’t that correct? When you took over the ship in your turn, you would have been privy to the details of that discovery.”
“Sorry,” Garrus replied firmly. “I never saw anything. We killed the pirates. We killed their leader, Serena T’vau. That’s all I know. We set the ship for autopilot away from Omega and back to Haliat. That’s all I know. Since you’re the big guy at Haliat you would have access to everything on and in that ship – including whatever it is you think the Asari crew had found.”
Talis Fer shook his head, looking at Garrus with a calculating gaze. “No, no, no. No more lies, Officer Vakarian. You see, I have it on Dasia’s authority that you tampered with the ship’s manifest and logs, to hide the truth about the crew’s research. I suspect that you stole something very important that day, Officer. I think you stole it for yourself and your team, but, you see, it doesn’t belong to you. It belongs to me, and to Dasia. Now that your crime has caught up with you, you’re going to be a good Turian and tell the truth.”
Garrus stared at him and then bared his teeth in a rictus smile. He was beyond even sarcasm at this point. Talis nodded at him in anticipation, leaning over the chair eagerly.
“I’ll never tell you where it is,” Garrus declared firmly. “It’s not for scum like you.”
Talis simply looked back at him and hummed low in his throat, moving away from the chair slightly. There was a little pause and then his hand shot out, hitting Garrus once again on the jaw.
Garrus laughed, shaking his head. “You don’t hit hard, even for a bureaucrat.”
“You’re an idiot,” Talis remarked nastily.
“I don’t care what you people do to me,” Garrus shrugged. “I’ve already been through hell, what do I care what comes next? You’re going to have to kill me and you’ll never find it.”
Dasia kicked out at him suddenly, her boot connecting with the sensitive juncture between his legs. The kick took the wind from his stomach and he crumpled up into himself, wheezing.
“No good,” Garrus choked out, eyes clenched shut. “I still don’t feel like telling you where it is.”
Talis grabbed Garrus’ fringe with a rough hand, yanking his head back.
“Look at that,” Talis commanded, pointing with his free hand at something to Garrus’ right, something he hadn’t noticed before. Sitting there against the adjacent wall was a long, slim table, spartan in design and covered with a variety of metal implements. They came in a variety of shapes but all glinted dangerously in the dark and all looked sharp and ready to inflict pain.
“You ought to fire your decorator,” Garrus quipped and Talis jerked his head back painfully.
Dasia got up from the chair in one smooth motion, looking for all the world as if she was totally bored. She stalked her way over to the table, hips swaying suggestively with every step. Delicately she selected one of the torture devices from the table, something which looked like a spiked pair of pliers, sharpened to a fine tip.
“That for gardening?” Garrus asked. His heart was pounding in fear at the sight of the sinister device but the alternative of giving Talis and Dasia what they wanted would be infinitely worse.
Dasia held the pliers up to the light, inspecting them, and then threw him a smile. She didn’t come for him. She took a few steps towards the door instead.
“I could use these on you but I have a feeling it’ll take some time to break you. And by the time I do manage to get you willing, there might not be enough of you left to speak.”
Garrus watched her curiously.
“But I don’t have to use these on you, do I?” Dasia smiled wider. “I could always just take a stroll over to your friend’s cell. In fact, I think I hear her right now.”
She swung open the heavy metal door and the sounds from the dank-looking corridor behind it filtered into the chamber. Garrus sat up straight as he heard a woman’s voice, Liara’s voice, wail in pain and terror several rooms away.
“I’ll kill you!” Garrus promised savagely. His fingers had been halted in their task by Talis’ presence behind him, but he was so, so very close, to picking the lock of the cuffs.
Dasia gave a flippant little wave of her hand. “Your friend is quite the powerful biotic. She’s truly her mother’s daughter, isn’t she? My team had a hell of a time trying to capture her. Good thing that’s she rusty, just like you.” She patted her stomach mockingly. “You’re both going a bit soft. Losing the edge. Makes my job a lot easier. Now,” She snapped the pliers warningly in the air. “I want an answer in the next ten seconds or I’ll pay Liara a visit with these.”
“I don’t know,” Garrus insisted urgently, straining against his bonds.
“Ten,” Dasia sighed.
“I don’t know!”
“I – don’t – know!” Garrus insisted.
“Five,” Dasia smirked at him, dragging out the word.
Garrus shook his head at her, face awash with horror, and Dasia shrugged and made to exit the room.
“Nodacrux!” Garrus screamed. “It’s on Nodacrux!”
Dasia stepped back into the room, an excited gleam in her eyes. “Nodacrux. Hmm. I’ve not heard of it.”
Talis Fer tapped his fingers against the back of the chair and stepped back slightly. “I know of it. It’s Alliance territory, now. In the Vostok system, is that right?”
Garrus slumped in his chair, defeated. As terrible as keeping the secret inside all this time had been, it now paled next to the implications of allowing people like Dasia Shiallis and Talis Fer into the mystery.
“Where exactly on Nodacrux is the artifact?” Dasia asked and Garrus chuckled wearily, staring at his knees.
“I don’t know,” Garrus replied, still laughing quietly to himself, and Dasia let out an irritated growl.
“Not this shit again,” She snapped.
Garrus looked up at her, expression defeated. “…I can tell you one thing.”
Dasia nodded expectantly, leaning closer.
“I picked my cuffs,” Garrus finished, holding up his freed hands. Behind him, he heard Talis gasp in alarm and take another step back. Dasia wasn’t so quick this time and Garrus reached out to wrap his hands around his neck, using his feet to knock them both over. He fell forward on top of her with a crash, his legs still bound to the chair.
He squeezed tighter around Dasia’s throat and she croaked, eyes bulging in their sockets. One of her hands, the one still holding the pliers, came up and Garrus caught it, partially releasing her neck. He was stronger physically than she was and in a moment the pliers were in his hands. In the next, he’d thrown them behind him, hitting Talis square in the forehead so hard that the older Turian collapsed in a heap. The gun Talis was planning to shoot Garrus with fell to the ground also, and Garrus made the gamble. He released Dasia, scrambled backwards, grabbed the gun and pointed it at Dasia at the same time as she had started to glow with biotic energy.
Garrus recognised the stance she was in. Shepard always used biotic charges to close gaps on the field or simply knock down opponents, and it looked like Dasia had the same idea. Everything seemed to happen then in slow motion. Dasia’s form blurred before his very eyes as she appeared to explode with blue fire, propelling herself towards him. Garrus rolled to his right, missing the charge by degrees, so close the smell of ozone filled his nostrils.
Dasia flew past Garrus, over the still-dazed Talis and proceeded to crash right through the opposite wall in a small explosion of concrete and debris. Garrus gaped briefly at the sight. Shepard’s charges had been formidable but he’d never seen her attempt to charge through walls, let alone ones created of pure concrete.
Garrus carefully aimed the pistol at his bound legs, blowing the cuffs from first the left foot and then the right. Wasting no time, Garrus scrambled to his feet and careened out of the room, surprising two Human guards who were peering around the door in amazement at Dasia’s impressive biotic display. They turned to Garrus, raised their weapons and were each rewarded with a clean headshot as Garrus bolted past them down the corridor.
The door on the far end was closed, with only a small window at eye-level height revealing what lay within the room. One glance at the view was all the motivation Garrus needed to shoot the lock clean off at the same time as he shoulder-charged through.
Liara was sitting in a similar predicament as he had been in, except that her bindings looked as if they were the sort of prevent biotics from gathering mass effect fields. Around her were three Asari mercs in yellow and slate grey armor. Liara’s bruised face and cut lip gave a pretty clear indication of what had been going on, and Garrus got to work.
The tallest of the three mercs, a heavy-jawed Asari with dark eyes, stepped to her left and raised her weapon. The other two strafed around, each raising a palm filled with blue energy.
“Garrus!” Liara screamed, and he rolled to the left, avoiding the bullet meant for the space between his eyes but not quite avoiding the second biotic push that sent him bowling into Liara’s chair, knocking both of them over.
“Get me out of these things,” Liara said urgently, blue eyes widening at the sight of the three mercs rounding on them.
Garrus had two options: shoot the cuffs off of Liara and take whatever was coming his way from the mercs, or attempt to shoot one in the head and hope the other two missed their targets.
“Hold still,” Garrus said quickly, blowing off Liara’s cuffs and releasing her hands. He ducked down low, instinctively shutting his eyes against the bullets or biotic pulses that were surely coming his way, too fast for him to fend off with a gunshot of his own. Instead of being shot or thrown against a wall, however, he opened his eyes to see Liara had immediately generated a shimmering biotic field. She was laying on her side, still cuffed to the chair, her hands outstretched to the sky. The barrier warped and groaned against the pulses and bullets being thrown at it on the other side of the small space but it held.
Witha grunt of effort, she closed her palm into a fist and brought it into her chest, dissipating the force field. Garrus knew this maneuver and had readied his pistol before Liara pushed her fist out again and send a powerful warp field in the direction of the three aggressors. Garrus had a headshot for each of them, their deaths secured within seconds.
“Who are these people,” Liara panted as Garrus scooted over to free her legs and help her up. He walked over to the three dead Asari and liberated them of their gear – a pistol for Liara, a few thermal clips for both of them and a small combat knife which he tucked into his belt.
“I don’t know,” Garrus replied, throwing her the pisol which she caught without fumbling.
“Why don’t I believe you,” Liara sighed.
“They’re bad guys,” Garrus said with a shrug. “They want something they definitely shouldn’t have.”
“How are we going to get out of this?” Liara asked him, copying his movements and pressing herself against the wall beside the door. Garrus was peering out into the hallway, senses keening for traces of other mercs coming for them.
“We can make it,” He assured her. “We just have to deal with this smart.”
“Do you know where we are?” Liara hissed at him.
Garrus looked up at the ceiling and then at her. “Looks like a merc stronghold to me.”
“No, I don’t mean that. We’re on Eingana. There’s nothing but forest for miles around, we won’t be able to just run out of here; how would we survive?”
Garrus’ brow knit in confusion. “Eingana? We’re not on the Citadel anymore?”
Liara shook her head at him. “No. You’ve been knocked out for hours. They smuggled us off of the Citadel. No one knows we’re here.”
“That’s not good.”
“No,” Liara replied, face sweaty with pain and fear.
Garrus thought about it for a moment. “If we’re in an isolated spot then these guys must have shuttles of some kind. We’ll get to the roof. Probably there is a landing pad there. We’ll take one and get the hell out of here.”
“And if there isn’t one?”
“We’ll make it,” Garrus insisted for a third time.
Liara sighed in exasperation but shook her limbs loose, her body rippling with biotics, one arm gripping her pistol.
“Just like old times, Liara,” Garrus said to her.
“I suppose this does beat fighting Reapers,” Liara admitted. He didn’t know how to read her expression.
They burst from the room and into the corridor. Dasia had called them ‘rusty’, and maybe they were, but countless battles together against Geth, Reapers and criminal legions had honed their instincts and allowed them to perfectly anticipate each other. There were other pirates in the facility, streaming from other rooms and sections, and Garrus took a breath, aimed his pistol and went to that calm place inside of him. It allowed him to sense Liara without always looking at her, allowed him to take the kill shots while her biotics lifted the mercs, threw them around like rag dolls or just propelled them into the air for him to pick off. Yes, even though it had been a while since either of them had been in a real fight, there was just no comparison between the vetarans and these few dozen mercs.
Eventually the waves being thrown at them thinned out and Garrus and Liara found themselves on the upper levels of the facility. Outside, the air was pressure-cooker hot, so humid that it was almost like a physical weight upon them. The strong wind, which should have brought some relief, merely blew more heat towards them, as well as almost hurling them from the rooftop and into the night.
Garrus blinked his eyes, adjusting to the darkness outside versus the brightly-lit facility. Eingana’s moon, Barraiya, shone large and luminous over an endless forest which surrounded them.
“I thought this planet was too dangerous to colonize,” Garrus shouted at her.
“I thought so too,” Liara shouted back at him. “Let’s get out of here!”
He grabbed ahold of her arm and pulled her along the roof. There were no shuttles here, but there was an enormously long bridge which connected to a taller tower on the other side of a deep ravine. On this tower Garrus could see the unmistakeable shapes of unoccupied shuttles and therefore their route to an escape.
“Across the bridge!” Liara cried, clinging to Garrus as they gingerly stepped onto the bridge and ducked their heads to avoid being tossed over as another gust of wind whipped past them. The railing of the bridge only came up to Garrus’ waist and as they cautiously walked across, buffeted by strong winds, he peered down below at the ravine below. It must have been more than 100ft deep, so far down that it was as if the bridge had been placed over a gaping black hole.
“No mercs on that side!” Liara said to him, steadying him as he lost his footing against another surge of wind.
“Do you hear that…?” Garrus called to her over the howl, catching the sounds of something familiar, something that made his heart stop in his chest.
An enormous gunship rose up ahead and to their right, looming up out of the darkness like a creature from hell. Garrus stared at it and was thrown back years ago, when he’d been pinned in Omega by the Blue Suns. Shepard had saved his life then, but he doubted very much she was going to appear and perform the same trick a second time. It looked a bit like the Mantis gunship which had almost claimed his life, but far larger and deadlier in appearance. Garrus stared at it and liked his odds even less than he had when Tarak had opened fire at him years ago.
“Vakarian,” Dasia screamed in triumph over the intercom. Garrus gritted his teeth. He could see her through the front window, Talis Fer sitting beside her. He had to suppress a smile to see that the other Turian was holding an ice pack to his bruised forehead.
“Thanks again for the tip,” Dasia continued. “Unfortunately I’ve decided your assistance is no longer required.”
“Oh, Goddess -” Liara began. “I can’t…!”
Garrus moved so that he was shielding her, eyes wide, heart pounding. The gunship whirred, its main armament spinning. Liara pushed against him throwing up an arm to create another barrier, but Garrus knew in his heart it would be futile. She wasn’t going to be able to keep it up for long and they had no way of fighting back.
From behind him, over his head, sailed something moving too fast for him to discern. It plonked neatly into the side of the Mantis, whereupon it exploded in a ball of flame which lit up the entire area. The gunship veered to the right and was once again struck by another small missile, this one hitting its right engine.
“Fuck!” Dasia swore, fighting to control the Mantis as its alarm systems blared out into the night. Garrus laughed wildly, watching the smoke billow from the damaged ship.
Liara threw up a barrier, turning her head in the direction that the missile’s had come from. Garrus saw her face go two shades paler as she sucked in a loud breath. Her eyes had instantly welled with tears, one of them spelling over long lashes and sliding down her cheek.
“Who…” Garrus began, following the direction of Liara’s gaze.
Behind them on the far side of the bridge was Commander Shepard. She was wielding an ML-77 launcher, looking up at the aflame gunship with one of her trademark determined expressions, her mouth upturned on one side in a satisfied little smirk.
Garrus watched as Shepard fired off another missile. This time Dasia avoided being struck, turning the gunship hard so that the missile flew over the wing and detonated metres behind them. Shepard jogged quickly up the bridge, impossibly unfazed by the winds still howling over them, and came to a stop within Liara’s biotic field.
“Shepard!” Liara wept, prevented from reaching out by the barrier she was holding up. Shepard crossed the distance, clapping her friend on the shoulder and giving her an affectionate shake.
“Liara,” Shepard smiled very wide. She looked from both Garrus to Liara with a happy grin, as if they were having the reunion at a nice restaurant as opposed to fighting for their lives in the middle of the night.
“Garrus,” Shepard nodded at him, eyes softening as they landed on him.
Garrus’ heart was thudding and he felt as if his knees would buckle under the weight of the emotions he was feeling. He’d often dreamed about this moment, fantasised that somehow Shepard had survived after all, and imagined the pure joy he would feel. But as he catalogued her looking calmly back at him it wasn’t precisely joy he felt. Instead he felt dazed, relieved – and angry. So very angry.
Shepard unclipped an assault rifle from her back and handed it to him. He took it wordlessly.
“Okay, guys,” Shepard said, still smiling, clearly overjoyed to see them and not noticing the way Garrus had taken a step back. “Let’s get to this shuttle. Liara, do you think you can hold that barrier and walk?”
Liara nodded breathlessly, lower lip quivering.
“I’m going to take them out. If you can give me some cover, Garrus,” She threw him another bright grin which he didn’t return, “Then they’ve got no chance.”
Liara pushed her hands outward, stretching her fingertips, and began to move across. Shepard lingered and eventually passed through the edges of the barrier . The gunship was still hovering close-by and Shepard opened fire upon it again with the missile launcher, strafing to the right to avoid the hail of bullets Dasia unleashed with a howl of rage. Garrus watched in horror at the scene but Shepard was unflappable. He watched as she strafed easily left and right, avoiding the bullets with almost supernatural ease.
“Next time, Shepard!” Dasia promised. “We’ve already got we needed here, anyway. You can keep him!”
The gunship, still smoking on one side, screeched high into the air, zooming off into the darkness. Shepard watched it go and then ran back up the bridge to where Garrus was now helping Liara into the empty shuttle craft.
Shepard ushered them both inside, stepping into the cabin herself after a cursory look to see if anyone was following them.
“Do you think they’ll be coming back around?” Liara asked, clearly exhausted and looking just as overwhelmed as Garrus felt. He shifted around to one of the cabin seats and strapped himself in, looking away from the scene.
“I don’t think so,” Shepard said. She chuckled. “They’d have to be crazy to think they can tangle with the three of us together. No, I’ll bet they’ve gone to lick their wounds.”
“Shepard,” Liara repeated.
“Woah, woah!” Shepard said, and Garrus turned sharply to see Liara sway on her feet, eyes fluttering shut. She reached out to grab the Asari by the waist, holding the smaller woman up as Liara fainted away with a sigh.
Shepard looked up at Garrus in alarm and then back down at Liara. She moved one of her hands away from Liara’s back and Garrus saw Shepard’s hands come away slick with blood.
“She’s hurt,” Shepard said urgently. Effortlessly, she lifted the Asari into her arms and placed her on the back row of seats. “She must have gotten shot as you guys escaped.”
Garrus hadn’t noticed Liara’s injury and merely watched in a daze as Shepard administered medi-gel, feeling unstuck and out of his own body. The sight of Liara hurt bothered him, of course, but Shepard’s presence froze his heart. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. He was supposed to feel happy but instead he just felt damn tired and sick of it all.
“I think she’ll be okay for now,” Shepard said, finishing up by spraying bio-foam into the open wound on Liara’s side, placing a gentle hand on Liara’s forehead. “I’ll see what else I can do when we get back to the safe-house.”
Garrus said nothing and merely watched as the Human rose from the unconscious Asari and confidently strode over to the pilot’s controls. Shepard looked the same as ever and perhaps that was why Garrus felt so strangely revolted now. He was sure that he and Liara both wore the events of the past on their faces – but not Shepard. She was dressed in the familiar dark armor she always wore, and as usual was attractive in a compelling, brutal way: angular-featured, with a strong jaw and kind dark eyes. He watched as she sat at the controls and guided the shuttle up and away from the facility.
“Eingana’s changed since the Reaper war,” Shepard said to him conversationally, attention straight ahead as the shuttle flew over the vast sea of trees below. Garrus simply sat there and turned his attention to the view out of the window. “There has been some terraforming here, a new colony. Haliat has a number of factories on the outskirts of the planetary capital.”
Garrus narrowed his eyes. Shepard had mentioned Haliat – how much did she know of the situation? Had she heard the interrogation? But still he said nothing as Shepard continued piloting the shuttle. A palpable silence settled between them as the trees below gave way to residential lots and the beginnings of a city, brightly-lit below them. Garrus peered out of the window, curious at the sight. The architecture was only vaguely familiar, and had the strange cylindrical preoccupation characteristic of Drell settlements he’d seen on the extranet.
“I’ve got a safehouse just over there,” Shepard called back to him. “I hurried here as fast as I could so it may not be the most luxurious place in the world, but…It’s secure. And it’ll give us a chance to rest before Miranda picks us up.”
Garrus wanted to know how long Shepard had been working with Miranda again, how Miranda would be picking them up and for how long Shepard had apparently been following them, but still he remained quiet.
When the shuttle landed, on the outskirts of a manufacturing district barely cleared of Eingana’s spiralling plant life, the sky was starting to lighten into a dark cerulean, signalling the dawn of a new day. He felt utterly exhausted and was glad when Shepard didn’t ask him to help Liara. She simply gathered the Asari gently in her arms and nodded with her head in the direction of a shabby looking apartment building close by. Garrus followed Shepard cautiously inside.
“Watch your step,” Shepard advised, ascending a flight of concrete stairs. “Luckily, none of these apartments are occupied. It’s still under construction for now.”
She came to a stop in front of a third-floor apartment and braced one leg against the wall, manoeuvring Liara partially atop her knee so she could fumble with a card key and open the door. Garrus hadn’t been expecting much from the interior but to his surprise it was comfortably air-conditioned inside and simply but nicely furnished.
The room they were in was about as large as Shepard’s quarters had been on the Normandy SR2. On one side of the room was a shelf filled with bric-a-brac and a small bar built into the wall. On the other side was a low couch, armless, onto which Shepard deposited the still-unconscious Liara. Garrus wandered over to the bar and inspected the rows of liquor on the wall, wondering if Shepard would object to him pouring another drink. It probably wouldn’t do him any good – scratch that, it definitely wouldn’t do any good, as a headache was now throbbing away around the circumference of his right eye. He pinched the bridge of his nose and turned to watch Shepard as she went about her tasks.
She was presently taking off Liara’s boots one by one and neatly placing them by the foot of the couch, where a first-aid kit was now waiting. Garrus watched as Shepard peeled Liara’s jacket away and partially lifted her shirt to expose the wound there, plugged up with biofoam. Inside the kit was more medigel and disinfectant; Shepard applied both and then carefully placed a bandage over the top to prevent moisture and other particulates from getting into the injury. She stood up, walked to one of the closets, and selected a thick green blanket. She placed it over Liara’s sleeping form and even tucked it around the Asari’s bare feet. Finally, Shepard gently lifted Liara’s head and placed a small pillow underneath it.
Shepard turned and gave him a small smile. “She’ll be okay, I think. Probably just exhausted.” Her eyes scanned him up and down. “You look as if you could do with a rest yourself.”
He slid off of the barstool he was perched upon and warily followed her as she lead him down a short hallway leading to a single door. She held it open for him politely.
Garrus stepped into the room, taking in the bed and the small cabinet opposite. Metal containers were here and there in the room, their contents unknown to him. There were no windows, the only colour in the room coming from a painting hanging above the bed. A large mirror on one wall gave the illusion that the room was bigger than it really was.
“It’s not much but it’ll do until Miranda can get the Tempest II to us,” Shepard said quietly as she followed after him and gently shut the door. “ETA is in seven hours. You should eat. Get some rest. Here,” she said, striding past Garrus and opening up the little glass refrigerator under the counter. She took out a nondescript paper bag, but the contents did not pique Garrus’ interest.
“I got your favourite,” Shepard smiled at him, holding out the bag. “I thought you could do with some cheering up so I may have put something sweet in the fridge for dessert as well.”
She held the bag out to him with a grin which dimmed somewhat as Garrus said nothing, merely stared at her unmoving.
“Not hungry? How about I just leave this here?” Shepard suggested, returning the bag where it was. “It’ll keep for awhile, I think.”
She smiled wide once again, spreading her arms and coming a little closer. “Garrus.”
Unconsciously, he took a step backwards, out of her reach and her arms dropped. He still wasn’t a big expert on Human facial expressions but he knew enough to register the quirk of one of her eyebrows and the furrow between her nose as confusion.
There was a little pause.
“Garrus,” Shepard started again, face smoothing into something calmer, more akin to how she usually looked when on the field. “You haven’t said a word to me since you first saw me again.”
Garrus flexed one mandible. “Why aren’t you dead?” He asked bluntly.
Shepard exhaled slowly, eyes watchful. “Okay. Okay, yeah, that’s fair. Well,” She spread her arms and briefly looked down at herself. “I suppose I got lucky.”
“How long exactly,” Garrus began slowly, moving to the bed to put more distance between them, “Were you recovering?”
“How injured were you after the battle?” Garrus pressed irritably, not liking her guileless expression and composed body language, as if nothing mattered – as if he didn’t matter. “You look like you’re in good shape. How long did it take you to heal?”
She did something alien again, gave what could have been an embarrassed chuckle, ran a hand through her tousled hair. “Ah. Garrus, I…I didn’t need a long recovery time.”
He narrowed his eyes at her.
“After the Crucible did its work the entire structure fell to Earth. I woke up in the rubble,” Shepard said, eyes a little distant as she recalled those memories. “And then I walked back to London.”
Shepard shrugged, smiled. “I was banged up a bit, but considering everything that had happened to me you could say I was fit as a fiddle.”
Garrus didn’t know what a fiddle was and stared at her. “You mean to tell me that you survived the destruction of the Crucible?”
She looked at him with a neutral expression on her alien face.
“Are you a clone?” Garrus hissed and she blinked at him in surprise.
He stared at her.
“No, Garrus,” She insisted. “It’s me, honest! Ask me something only the real Shepard would know. A clone wouldn’t have my memories.”
He didn’t say anything, so Shepard supplied an answer anyway.
“Remember when we went to the top of the Presidium and shot bottles?” She grinned at him. “One of the happiest days of my life, Garrus. What I said then – I meant it.” Her grin faded when she saw his implacable look and she sighed. “This isn’t quite how I expected things to go – I’m sorry.”
“How did you think I’d react?” Garrus bit out.
Shepard smiled weakly at him. “I think a ‘hello’ and a few kisses would do. That’s how the vids go, right?”
Garrus took another step away from her. He felt hot and uncomfortable in his suit. “It’s been almost two years…!”
“I’ve thought about you every day, Garrus,” Shepard said, still standing quietly beside the counter. Her dark eyes were watching him with a careful, cautious expression.
“Have you?” Garrus laughed bitterly. “I don’t recall receiving any messages from you. I do recall being left to rot on Pelara while everyone else got to go on with their lives. How long were you going to leave me there, Commander?”
“I wanted to write to you,” Shepard said earnestly. “I must have started a thousand messages. But the relay to your system was heavily damaged and no one could get to you. It took months for me to figure out where the Normandy had ended up, and, even then, the comm buoy network was so screwed no one was authorized to tell you much more than to sit tight.”
She sighed heavily, rubbed her forehead with her knuckles and then threw a brilliant smile his way. Her omnivores teeth were very white and even. “When I heard you and the others were alive, I just – Well. It made everything worth it. I would have picked you up that day but the Council wouldn’t have it.”
Garrus frowned at her. “So you just went along with them and left me there?”
Shepard tilted her head at him again, raising another dark eyebrow. Her strong-boned face seemed all the more alien to him in the dim lighting of the room. Taking in her striking looks didn’t give him the pleasure it used to; it felt like he was in the room with a ghost.
“What would you have preferred me to do? Take a ship I didn’t have and fly through a relay that wasn’t repaired?”
“Do you think I’m stupid, Shepard? The relay was repaired months ago, so don’t give me that crap,” Garrus snapped at her venomously and Shepard blinked at him in surprise. Truthfully, he felt surprised with himself, too. Not once in all their history both platonic and romantic had they ever spoken harshly to each other.
“I know,” Shepard said slowly, her voice low and placating. “And I wanted to come for you then. But things are pretty strict right now. Only high-ranking personnel and refugees in ‘dire peril’, as they say, are allowed to use the relays for the time being. For everyone else, if they’re safe where they are, the orders are to leave them there. We had enough data on Pelara to know you guys were doing fine – better than most, actually, so -”
“So, you just left me there!” Garrus yelled at her, mandibles splaying wide in pure rage. “Why couldn’t you have just come sooner? I seem to recall you had no problem breaking the Council’s rules when we went to Ilos through the Mu Relay!”
Shepard’s dark eyes were beseeching but her face was calm. “We had no choice back then, Garrus. On this occasion the needs of the many outweigh the needs of a few. My personal feelings don’t have a place in that kind of – ruthless calculus. For the past two years I’ve been doing nothing but trying to keep the peace for the Council.” She crossed her arms. “I know it seems that everything is fixed now and that you’ve just been left behind but it’s not like that. There’s pocket fighting everywhere and so many dead or M.I.A. The Council needs all the help it can get right now. It doesn’t need me disobeying orders and dropping missions to go and rescue people who don’t need immediate help. Aside from perhaps doing more harm than good, it wouldn’t be fair to everyone else.”
Garrus growled something unintelligible, strode over to the mirror and punched it with the side of his fist. There was a shattering sound as the mirror fractured, cracks radiating from the indent of his fist. Shepard looked from him to the broken mirror without much emotion.
“Why,” He shouted at her, uncaring whether he woke up Liara, “do you always have to be so damn fair!”
“I’m a solider, Garrus,” Shepard replied. No judgment or arrogance in the statement, just a simple fact. Shepard’s calm didn’t defuse him, however. It just made him angrier and it showed in his face.
“I really didn’t expect this reaction from you,” Shepard went on. “I had thought that you would have been happy to see me. I know I’m happy to see you.”
“Why the hell would I be happy to see you?” Garrus spat.
“Because you missed me?” Shepard said wryly. She paused for a few moments, a peculiar habit of hers, as if she were turning over the possible responses in her mind. “I can see why you’re upset with me. I know it isn’t easy being kept isolated while the world keeps turning without you. When I was in that prison on Earth because of what happened with the Batarians…I felt the same.”
Garrus frowned at her, recalling that while she’d been held in the detention she’d received no messages or visits from him. There had been no contact allowed according to the laws of her people. Garrus knew that made his present anger somewhat hypocritical, and he could see in Shepard’s kind brown eyes that she knew it as well. Instead of mollifying him, it made him even angrier.
“When you were in jail I wasn’t mourning your death and you weren’t mourning mine. It’s completely different,” He argued instead.
“You were the first thing I thought of when I woke up after the Crucible fired,” Shepard said, chancing a step towards him with hands outstretched. “You’re the first thing I think of when I wake up. You’re my last thought when I go to sleep.”
“Liar,” Garrus sneered so nastily it startled him. Where had this rage come from? And why was he blaming Shepard for the way the galaxy was and not anyone else?
Shepard didn’t look hurt by the accusation. If anything her lips were quirked in the hint of an exasperated smile. “You know that’s not true. I love you. It’s the truth.”
Garrus looked back at her, reflecting on the first and last time they had said those words to each other, just before she had disappeared into the crucible.
“Liar,” Garrus said again half-heartedly, partially disarmed by the words. They softened him but he didn’t feel like being disarmed when he felt so justified in being angry.
“It’s unfair to call me that,” Shepard said, a little more sternly this time. “You know and I know you haven’t been completely honest with me about your time as Archangel.”
“You going to ask me where it is?” Garrus asked her angrily.
Shepard shook her head, mouth quirking upwards as it always did when she was confident. “I don’t need to. Sidonis already told me.”
Garrus startled at that, his mandibles flaring open in shock.
“Oh, yes. I became aware of mercs being sent out looking for the two of you,” Shepard continued, looking at him with an expression as close to smug as she ever got. “I suspected that it was someone from your Archangel days looking for a bit of payback and I took Sidonis into protective custody and questioned him directly about why someone would be looking for him. When I realised that someone had made an unauthorised jump to Pelara, I knew what had happened.”
She nodded to herself, walking over to the bed and taking a seat. Reluctantly, Garrus sat down beside her.
“Of course,” She smiled brightly at him and it made his stomach flip. “You’d already left and gone to the Citadel and made an entrance in your inimitable way.” Shepard laughed. “I tracked you to Sidonis’ apartment – that was me who shot the Krogan, by the way, you’re welcome – and finally all the way here. I’ve been following you for hours.”
Garrus scowled at her and waved his arm. “Why didn’t you send me a message on my Omni-Tool? Or send something to Liara?”
Shepard raised an eyebrow at him again. “Garrus, the two of you put proxies on your Omni-Tools so you couldn’t be contacted.”
A muscle twitched in Garrus’ jaw.
“What did you want me to do, Garrus?” Shepard asked, brow furrowing in annoyance and mouth pursing. She was a patient woman, but her magnanimity wasn’t infinite. “I couldn’t have gone to C-Sec to have them hunt you down. I agree with you on one point: what you know should be kept discreet, even from the Council. Hell – Especially from the Council.” She crossed her arms. “Sidonis told me about what the research on Nodacrux pertained to but I was hoping you could tell me yourself, since he said you knew more than anyone else.”
Garrus folded his arms over his chest and looked away from her then, unhappy, tired and hurt in more ways than one.
“On Nodacrux,” Garrus began, studying Shepard’s reaction. “The crew of the Meera – the research vessel I rescued on Omega – discovered the remains of an ancient race.”
Shepard smiled at him. “I think we all know a thing or two about the remnants of ancient races.”
“Miles underground Nodacrux, the researchers found remnants of a city. An enormous cache of cut diamonds, more diamonds than had ever been discovered in one place before. And a device, unlike anything the Galaxy has ever seen.”
Shepard looked up at him expectantly. “Sidonis told me about the diamonds and the device but he didn’t know what the device would be used for. Did the crew ever find out?”
“And…?” Shepard pressed.
Garrus exhaled and held her gaze. “Shepard, underneath Nodacrux is a machine that can be used to alter time.”
Shepard blinked at him.
“Run that by me again, Garrus. Time travel?”
“I don’t know,” Garrus muttered, rubbing his forehead. “The Asari research was incomplete, but, yes, their experiments indicated that the machine had capabilities that were…temporal in nature.”
“Damn,” Shepard said quietly, looking distantly off past Garrus’ shoulder, as if she were calculating things in her head very quickly. “If that’s true then this is one hell of a dangerous machine. You were right to keep it a secret, I think.” She rubbed her chin with thumb and forefinger. “What happened to the people who built it?”
“No idea,” Garrus said. “Maybe they used the device to leap forward in time to escape the Reapers.”
“Or, they went back to try and get rid of the Reapers,” Shepard suggested. “Maybe the Reapers had nothing to do with it at all. Or, hell, perhaps using the machine somehow caused the creation of the Reapers?”
“We’ll never know,” Garrus replied with a shrug. “And we shouldn’t.”
“Hmm,” Shepard said, still thinking. “If someone used a time machine, do you think it would change this timeline or would another alternate one be created?”
“Shepard, please!” Garrus sighed. “It doesn’t matter. All I care about is keeping it away from people like Dasia and Talis Fer, who will undoubtedly use it to machinate for their own purposes. We can’t let people like that get their hands on something that can essentially re-write reality the way they want it.”
“Garrus – did you…have…any intentions for the device,” Shepard asked him carefully. “I can think of more than a few applications for such technology.”
“I didn’t want the machine,” Garrus admitted reluctantly. “I was more interested in the credits I could get from the gems. My mother was dying of Corpalis Syndrome and my family couldn’t afford to put her in the medical trials. I figured the diamonds were a way in, and they were, but…I didn’t know about the device until we visited the cache.”
“Did the others take a share?” Shepard queried.
“They all did. We took some of the diamonds and sold them on the black market. We were careful. Mostly they just put their money into trust for their families and the rest we put back into the team,” Garrus said balefully, looking hard at a speck on the wall. “But I forbade them from ever going back. The device was our secret. I never imagined anyone else would find out about it.”
Shepard nodded slowly.
“Dasia Shiallis is Serena T’Vau’s daughter,” Shepard said and Garrus startled, mandibles splaying. “The pirate who took over the Meera research ship – Dasia is her daughter. It’s probably how Dasia knew about all this. She didn’t know the specifics, didn’t know where it was, but knew it was valuable.”
“Plus the fact I killed her mother was also probably an incentive,” Garrus said darkly.
Shepard winced. “We’ve all killed somebody’s mother, Garrus. We’re killers, aren’t we?”
“We need to go right now, Shepard,” Garrus said urgently, affixing her with his bright blue eyes. “We have to get there before they do.”
“They’re not going to get there before we do.”
“We need to go right now!” Garrus repeated loudly.
“They’re not going to get there before we do,” Shepard insisted firmly. “They don’t know the exact location of the temple. We do. And what I did to their facility,” She smiled, “will have sent their forces into disarray. They know a Spectre is after them now and they’ll be on edge. They’ll be taking a step back and we should do the same.”
“I can’t,” Garrus said through gritted teeth and Shepard shook her head implacably.
“Nothing can be done until Miranda brings down the Tempest II,” She explained. “I promise I won’t let anything bad happen to you.”
Garrus threw her a resentful glare. “Like a year on Pelara?”
Shepard frowned slightly at him. “That isn’t fair, Vakarian.”
“No, it’s not,” Garrus agreed coldly.
For a moment the two just looked at each other, the scant inches between them an insurmountable distance.
“I don’t want to talk anymore,” Garrus said suddenly and Shepard took a deep, steadying breath, moving to stand.
“Okay. We’ll talk about this later,” Shepard said, tone professional. He couldn’t read the expression in her dark eyes and but he noted the rueful way her eyes flitted over the bed. “I’ll let you rest.” She pointed once again to the counter and the bag of food she’d acquired for him. “You should eat something. The bathroom is that way. And I’ve got a new armor for you on the Tempest. Tomorrow we’ll go on the hunt – and we’ll do it together.”
She turned on her heel, back ramrod straight as she opened the door to where Liara was still passed out on the couch. She paused for a moment, one hand holding the door ajar as she stood on the threshold. “Sleep well,” Shepard said. “I love you.”
Garrus watched the door close behind her. He suddenly felt even more lost and tired than ever before. Why was everything so hard?
Garrus awoke groggily, limbs sore as he reluctantly hauled himself out of bed. He was still filthy from last night and the day before that. He decided to avail himself of the shower, finding it spartan but clean. There were soaps on the counter, as well as a brush Turians used to clean around their carapace plates. He tried them out, enjoying the feeling of hot water on his back and watching the grime and dried blood swirl down the drain.
As much as he would have liked to have stayed in the shower and avoided speaking to Shepard, eventually he had no choice but to switch the water off and step onto the soft bath mat laid out on the cool tiles. Damn – he had no clean clothes and didn’t relish the idea of putting on the ripped and torn bodysuit and armor set he’d been sporting for months past its prime.
He dried himself off, considering his options, and avoiding his reflection in the bathroom sink mirror. To his surprise, when he cautiously stepped back into the bedroom he saw a neatly folded set of Turian casual clothes laying there. Shepard must have come in while he was showering and left them for him.
He picked them up and held them out. They looked as if they would fit and the fabric felt expensive in his hands. He wondered if they were standard-issue for Alliance safehouses or whether Shepard had purchased them herself. Did the concept of money even register to Shepard? This was a woman for whom shore leave meant leaving her post for a few measly hours.
Garrus pondered that as he got dressed. He couldn’t recall Shepard ever talking about vacations or life before the military, or even her family. She had briefly mentioned a mother in the Alliance, but aside from that, Garrus struggled to recollect even basic details of Shepard’s life outside of her military career.
Garrus finished dressing and warily opened the bedroom door, padding down the hallway to the main living area. Liara was sitting on the couch, dressed in the Asari equivalent of casual wear, a cup of something steaming resting between her hands. Shepard was dozing in the armchair opposite, relaxing in a sunbeam coming from the adjacent window. She was still in full armor, long legs sprawled over the carpet, arms hanging over each side of the chair.
Liara looked up at him and smiled. “Garrus. How are you feeling?”
“Worried,” Garrus replied.
“You shouldn’t be. Shepard’s here now. I can hardly believe it!” Liara gushed softly.
“Believe it,” Garrus grumbled, coming to sit beside her on the couch and flopping down heavily.
Liara tilted her head at him. “What’s wrong, Garrus?”
“Just about everything,” Garrus muttered grimly, frowning at the sleeping Spectre across from him.
“I know you’re upset about Dasia, but we can fix this. I know there are things about your Archangel days that you don’t like to talk about – and believe me, I know more than you think. I was the Shadow Broker, you know. But you can trust us, and when you’re comfortable telling -”
“It’s not that,” Garrus cut her off curtly. “It’s Shepard.”
Liara looked at him in dismay. “I would have thought you’d be happy to see her.”
“I’m not. I thought I would be but having her around just raises more questions. Don’t you think it’s a bit of a stab in the back that she never showed up before this? For all we know she was going to leave us to rot on that planet forever,” Garrus said, looking at Liara with a cold expression.
“Garrus, I don’t think she would have…”
“Then why show up now and not months ago? You can’t tell me it’s just because the relay wasn’t repaired.”
“But that was exactly it! It’s unreasonable to expect that -”
“That Shepard would take a chance for the sake of her team? For the people who had her back through thick and thin? For the people who made sure the Galaxy didn’t fall to the Reapers?” Garrus said bitterly. “No, you’re right. That would be too much to expect.”
Liara only looked at him with an anguished expression, clearly searching for the right words. At that moment, there was a loud humming noise outside, the unmistakable ululation of mass effect engines winding down. Liara got to her feet quickly and peered out of the window warily. She brightened up seconds later when it became apparent that the ship Shepard had spoken of was finally touching down nearby. Garrus didn’t feel like being interested in Shepard’s fancy new ship, anymore than he was interested in hearing about her heroics post-Reaper War, but he found himself reluctantly sneaking a peek at the shining starship as it landed in a clearing close by.
To his aggravation it looked very much like the Normandy, save for the fact that its back fins tapered out in a more aquatic shape and it had two smaller protrusions near its nose. The ship’s name was emblazoned on its side in silver and red lettering: the Tempest II. Liara said something excitedly that Garrus didn’t quite catch, and he sat sullenly in his chair as she bustled about packing up the rest of their things. Shepard continued to sit in her chair, apparently in a deep sleep. Garrus watched her moodily, wishing she would wake up so he could give her a hard time again, ask her tough questions – anything to have an outlet for this horrible rage still pooling in his stomach.
There were footsteps outside and the door swung open, sending sunlight and plumes of dust into the room. Garrus raised his hand to cover his eyes from the bright light, and the figure standing in the threshold stepped more fully inside, closing the door behind her.
Miranda looked about the same as ever – nearly as tall as Shepard, but slimmer, more delicate. She was clad in the familiar white jumpsuit she’d worn in her time with Cerberus, but the Cerberus logo which had adorned it was gone and her boots were shorter and more practical looking. She tossed her thick mane of shiny black hair and gave him a cool smile and a nod.
“Garrus. You’ve looked better.”
For Miranda, this was as effusive as her running towards him and hugging him.
“Miranda!” Liara said joyously, pulling the taller woman into a gentle embrace. Miranda returned it, politely patting Liara on the back.
“Good to see you, Miranda,” Garrus said sincerely.
“Good to see you two as well,” Miranda smiled more broadly.
“I notice you’ve brought a new ship with you. You always did get the best toys,” Garrus grinned at her.
“Always,” Miranda agreed. “Now – where’s that runaway Commander of ours?”
To Garrus’ perturbation, Shepard opened her eyes and stood from the chair gracefully. She may have been resting in the chair but she certainly hadn’t been sleeping, which meant that she’d heard every single one of his words to Liara. He didn’t know whether he was happy about that or upset.
“Thanks for coming so quickly, Miranda,” Shepard said with a wide, easy grin.
“It wouldn’t have been necessary to split up in the first place if you hadn’t run off on your own,” Miranda pointed out ruefully, her mouth twisting into a knowing smirk.
“It was about whatever would get me there faster, you know that,” Shepard replied.
“I could have gotten you there faster than that transport you took,” Miranda sniffed dismissively. “You just panicked.”
“Well,” Shepard smiled at Garrus. “I’m allowed to, from time to time, when I have someone to panic about.”
“When do we move out?” Garrus asked gruffly, turning away from her to address Miranda instead. “Dasia is out there with Talis Fer and probably halfway to Nodacrux by now.”
“We’ve still got the advantage,” Miranda replied. “They don’t have the same access to the relay network as we do and they still don’t know exactly where this…thing…is located. Or even the specifics of what it is. Since you do, maybe it’s time to enlighten us?”
Liara looked curiously from Miranda, who had raised an eyebrow at Garrus expectantly, to Garus who had suddenly gone quiet and was staring back at her with a blank look on his face. Shepard shook her head.
“It’s a long story, about what Garrus found on Nodacrux. In the end, what’s down there isn’t that important. What matters is that we’re all together in this and that we stop Dasia and Talis Fer before they can cause bigger problems than they already have,” Shepard said firmly.
Miranda frowned at her. “And Garrus is going to tell us the full story…?”
“When he’s ready,” Shepard finished, in a polite tone of voice that still carried the air of authority that would allowed no argument. “Garrus is right; let’s get out of here right away. We’ve got criminals to catch.”
The Tempest II, for all of its apparent similarity to the Normandy on the outside was completely different to its predecessor on the inside. The bridge was no longer located in the center of the ship as in the Normandy’s Turian-inspired design and the instead placed in the bow of the ship on a raised platform. Storage, battery and engineering were on the lower decks, with the barracks and science labs accessible on the second floor.
Many of the elevators had been done away with in favour of ladders. Garrus found the layout haphazard compared to the Normandy and was disoriented by the plethora of new technology aboard. It looked like he had a lot of catching up to do in order to get back up to speed after so long out of the game.
He was currently sitting in the ready room, which seemed to him more like a lounge than something intended for tactical use. Long chairs surrounded the computer terminal in a circular fashion, the terminal which displayed the galaxy map and a small console for receiving mission correspondences.
Miranda and Shepard were examining it and murmuring to each other as they plotted the most efficient course for Nodacrux and came up with a plan of attack. Liara, still injured from the previous night, had retired for the journey to the medical bay where was promptly put into the care of the taciturn Krogan female serving as the Tempest II’s doctor.
“Why do they call this the Tempest II?” Garrus asked aloud, suddenly curious.
Shepard looked up from her datapad. “Because it’s the second one not not the first,” She grinned at him.
“I’ve never seen a ship like this before,” Garrus said, looking around him.
“And you probably won’t again,” Miranda replied. “The first Tempest was part of the Andromeda Initiative. The Tempest II is a very close fascimile meant for the same trip, but it was never completed it time. When the Reaper War hit this was one of the resources which fell into Alliance hands, but it never saw combat at the time.”
“The Andromeda Initiative? It actually happened?” Garrus asked surprised. “So those people who fled are -”
“Still missing,” Shepard answered. “They’re traveling too fast for us to catch and they’ve gone too far already by this point. Maybe some of the arks will make it.”
“Or, maybe they won’t make it in one piece and they’ll all end up facing a slow death in about 700 years time,” Miranda offered grimly.
“Let’s hope for the best,” Shepard said neutrally.
“Let’s not,” Miranda said flippantly. “There was a war coming and instead of staying to fight they chose to run away and play the role of alien invader in another galaxy. Do you know the kind of tech they developed for the project could have really helped us in the Reaper War, but the Initiative’s leaders declined to share any of their advances with us.”
“We don’t know that they all chose to run from the Reaper’s specifically,” Shepard argued. “And even if they did I can’t really blame them. Most people’s knees buckle when a gun is pointed at their head.”
“The worst part about all those people fleeing the Galaxy would be the kids dragged along for the ride,” Garrus mused. “They never had a choice. I can’t imagine what kind of upbringing they’ll get or what kind of life awaits them.”
“Maybe in 700 years we’ll find out,” Shepard smiled.
“You planning on being alive in 700 years?” Garrus teased.
“You did suggest at one point I do what Javik did and seal myself away in a freezer until someone needs their ass kicked,” Shepard laughed.
“There,” Miranda said suddenly, pointing at the galaxy map. The holographic displayed a terrain map of Nodacrux, along with a glowing indicator placed over a wide, barren fjord. “There’s an energy signature here which corresponds to the specs Sidonis gave to us.”
“Strange that the Reapers didn’t find this,” Shepard mused. Garrus merely crossed his arms, looking at the holo readout unhappily. The data displayed there was familiar to him and it didn’t please him a bit to see it once again.
“Actually, Shepard, it’s quite ingenious. See how the signature is coming from within this fjord? That’s no accident,” Miranda explained. “There’s a huge deposit of aluminium over the entire area. That would interfere with most scanners not specifically looking for the place.”
Shepard nodded, brow knitting as she thought about it. “Good thing they weren’t specifically looking for it then.”
Miranda leaned a shapely hip against the edge of the pedestal and crossed her arms, looking from Shepard to Garrus with an expectant look. Her questioning eyebrow was raised again, a tapered dark line reaching for the truth. Garrus had grown used to this unusual Human expression from her and said nothing.
“Are you two going to let me know what we’re dealing with in there?”
Shepard looked at the implacable Garrus and then shrugged. “I’m not exactly sure myself. But it’s bad.”
Miranda frowned at her. “Bad.”
“Real bad,” Shepard confirmed and Miranda sighed.
“I’m going to go suit up,” Garrus announced, getting to his feet and leaving the two Humans with their schematics. “The sooner we get this done, the better.”
Nodacrux was lush, green and deadly. The oxygen-rich air carried with it visible tufts of pollen, necessitating the use of helmets for Garrus, Shepard and even Miranda, who usually just opted to wear breather masks.
“Look at the size of that ship,” Shepard said, voice crackling through the squad radio. She craned her helmeted head closer to the front windshield to better take in the enormous mining ship that was squatting, like some great creature, in the middle of the canyon the Mako was edging around.
Garrus didn’t like the ship, bristling as the looming structure came closer into view. It featured a towering, tapered spire at its center, with five ‘legs’ at its base, pinning the drilling ship in place. This area was familiar to him; he’d visited Nodacrux with Shepard years ago when they’d been on the hunt for Saren Arterius. At that time, its only notable traits were its mineral deposits and ExoGeni base. He couldn’t have known at the time that Nodacrux was home to such riches as a temporal device, nor that he would eventually be tempted to keep such a treasure for himself. Or, that he would, soon enough, be called upon to answer for the secrecy.
“And there’s the mercs,” Miranda said, pointing out of the side window as a prefab base came into view, replete with seven small buildings and a mass effect barrier that was doing its part to keep pollen out of the area. It covered the entire area in a sphere of shimmering blue and gold.
“Garrus,” Shepard asked him, attention still fixating on the rolling green terrain. “Is the entrance to the temple here?”
“Yeah, I think so,” Garrus replied. “One of those buildings has probably been built over the entrance. It had a kind of gravity lift that pulled you down or lifted you up depending on where you were. That’s the way in.”
“Got it,” Shepard replied as the Mako went over a particularly large tree root. For the moment the vehicle was still obscured by the foliage of the surrounding trees, but that wasn’t going to last long. Eventually the mercs milling about in the campsite below would spot them and start shooting. Garrus primed his Widow sniper rifle, a newer model that had been waiting patiently in his quarters aboard the Tempest II, and took a deep, steadying breath. This was just another battle, he reminded himself. Once he finished things with Dasia and Talis Fer, that would be the end of it. It had to be.
“Everyone ready?” Shepard asked, bringing the vehicle to a slow stop by the edges of the grassy precipice.
“Ready,” Miranda replied coolly, climbing into the back and stepping over Garrus’ legs to man the Mako’s turret.
“Let’s do it,” Garrus said gruffly.
Shepard accelerated the Mako quickly and it began its roaring descent down the rocky hill, bouncing high into the air just as the Eclipse and Blue Suns mercenaries below noticed the assault vehicle and lifted their weapons in response.
The Mako landed hard on the ground and bounced twice on impact – the first allowed it to sail through the fluttering golden barrier. The second saw the vehicle land squarely on top of the first hapless merc unlucky enough to be standing nearby.
Shepard continued gunning the engine, swerving hard to the left to avoid a whistling missile from a turret on a makeshift dais. Miranda began firing the Mako’s guns, cutting a bloody path through the mercs even as their opposing gunfire peppered the Mako’s armor.
“Watch the turrets, Shepard!” Miranda yelled as another missile sailed past them, blowing up a pile of crates in a frenzied explosion of burnt equipment and dirt.
Commander Shepard grunted in response, activating the Mako’s hydraulics again to bounce the vehicle over a group of Eclipse sisters. One of them thrust out her hand, glowing blue with biotic power. The pushing mass effect field she sent their way rolled the Mako over in mid-air, sending Garrus flying forward to hit one side of the truck and then the other.
“Damn it,” he cursed as Shepard apologised, fought to right the vehicle and ended up driving the Mako into the wall of one of the structures. Miranda was still firing the turret wildly as Shepard drove the Mako inside, tables, chairs, bunks and other living furniture breaking into pieces as the Mako tore through. They burst through the opposite wall with a tremendous crash, careening into a turrent and crushing it like tissue paper.
Garrus struggled over to one of the notches in the Mako which allowed for small-arms fire and unwound it, jamming the barrel of his sniper rifle through the hole. He peered through the scope, aiming made for difficult by the fact that Shepard’s insane driving was sending them whizzing around the camp without concern for collateral damage.
In his scope, Garrus spotted a party of Blue Suns mercs rallying to get a small gunship off of the ground. He took aim and what could have been the pilot and in a single shot turned the man’s head into pulp.
“Scratch one!” He crowed, quickly putting in another thermal clip and taking down the man’s adjutant, a Turian, who took the shot in the chest and fell back, not moving.
Shepard steered the Mako hard to the right and again took them through one of the camp buildings. The cheap material used to construct the camp was no match for a speeding ATV, but this time, the building was barren of living materials. Instead, in contained a cowering group of technicians who scattered in all directions (a reasonable response, Garrus admitted) as the Mako came through. It also contained various computers, sensors and the cavernous, black entryway to the gravity lift. It looked just like any other hole in the ground, save for the ornately carved lid which Garrus saw had been roughly removed and discarded completely.
“There! There!” Garrus shouted. “There’s the entrance!”
“I saw it,” Shepard yelled back as the Mako cleared the other side of the building and immediately ran over two fleeing mercs. Miranda swung the turret about and took out five others with a clean swathe of bullets.
“Nice one,” Shepard said admiringly, pulling the Mako about and stopping behind another pile of crates. “Garrus, you’re with me!” She ordered, bringing up her shotgun and sliding out the driver’s side door. Miranda stayed in the turret, firing an the incoming group of mercs who were advancing on the stopped vehicle.
“Coming?” Garrus asked her as he began clambering out of his seat. He could already hear Shepard firing her shotgun, the loud retort of the weapon echoing in the valley.
“I’ll stay here and guard your back,” Miranda replied off-handedly, finger still firmly on the trigger.
Garrus followed Shepard out and roadie-ran to her position behind a stack of overturned coolant barrels. One minute she was there beside him as he got a bead on a Blue Suns captain leading the remaining mercs in a counter-attack, and the next she had ignited with biotic energy and was flying forward like a torpedo, her charging attack scattering the group and completely downing two Asari Eclipse mercs with a loud bang.
“Is that – is that Commander Shepard?” Garrus heard one of the mercs scream in horror, backing away from Shepard as she began destroying their team with her bare hands – knocking two back with her shotgun, kicking a third away with a powerful kick.
“How are we supposed to kill her?” The same frightened merc yelled.
In the next second, he was dead from a clean headshot, courtesy of Garrus’ perfect shot. “You’re not!” Garrus yelled across the field in triumph.
Garrus, Shepard and Miranda continued their bloody campaign, firing round after round, Shepard charging across the valley like a Human bullet. Eventually, only a terrified group of scientists and a handful of mercs, cowed and disarmed, remained.
Miranda cuffed them and had them kneel with heads facing the Mako, hands behind their heads. She stood, almost bored, nearby with her Locus SMG at the ready. Garrus walked past her, giving her a nod, and Shepard, close behind, left two extra thermal clips on the roof of the Mako.
“You gonna be okay here on your own?” Shepard asked her.
“Go,” Miranda insisted. “I can handle these ones. You just worry about stopping our friends Dasia and Talis.”
Garrus appreciated the gesture, particularly as it meant that there was now one less person who was going to see the device. He wondered whether Shepard had encouraged Miranda before the mission began to hang back but decided it wasn’t worth inquiring about now.
The gravity lift, in the wreckage of the building nearby, blew cold, clean air upwards in a perfect circle. Garrus watched as Shepard leaned her head over the hole and then jerked it back in surprise. He could only see her eyes through the transparent synth-glass of her helmet, but he could see that they were wide with shock.
“How does it…?”
“Block sound like that? I don’t know,” Garrus replied. “It’s like you’re stepping into another world. You’ll know when you get down there.”
“How do we get down there?”
“Just step into the dark,” Garrus advised her. “You won’t fall, but it won’t feel…normal.”
“Great,” Shepard grunted. “Wish me luck, then.”
Fearlessly, as he’d long come to expect from her, she stepped over the threshold and into the hole. Rather than falling into the abyss, it was more like she was suddenly grasped by a powerful force. For a moment, she floated above the darkness, suspended by something indescribable and then with an eerie, whistling noise, was pulled into the trench. It was so purely black in the hole Garrus could not make her out as he also stepped out onto the lift and was similarly pulled down into the void. Pulled down into hell, Garrus mused, as the darkness rushed around him.
At last, he was set down upon the stone floor of the temple, shiny and veined with dark marble. Garrus felt like he was watching things from outside of his own body, felt ghostlike and numb. He couldn’t feel his hands and when he turned his head to look at Shepard the movement felt like he was weighted down by water. This unusual sensation was not particularly comfortable but as he had experienced it a few times before, he was equipped to shrug it off. Shepard on the other hand stumbled forward, cursed in a slurred voice and fell onto the glimmering floor.
“Shepard,” He muttered, hurrying to her side and grasping her bicep firmly. He tugged her to her feet where she swayed unsteadily, reaching for him like a drowning woman.
“Garrus!” She said urgently, clinging to him tighter.
“It goes away after a while, what you’re feeling,” Garrus said, allowing the Human to hold him. “It’s always hardest the first time.”
“This isn’t my first time,” Shepard replied, shaking her head. Her eyes were dark and focused. “When I first woke up after – dying. It felt like this.”
Garrus didn’t know what to say to that, so he just kept on holding her until Shepard slowly released him, shaking out her shoulders.
“Come on,” She said firmly with a curt nod. “I don’t know what Dasia and Talis have gotten into down here. We may not have much time.”
Garrus laughed darkly, taking the lead in the unnatural black space. “That’s where you’re wrong, Shepard. Down here, all you have is time.”
Cautiously, they proceeded down the only path available to them, a wide, arching corridor. It was illuminated by a spectacular ceiling that on first glance appeared to be a vivid holoscreen of the cosmos. That was until you took a better look and realised that it wasn’t a holoscreen but, impossibly, the real deal.
Garrus peered up at it as they walked the path. A dark shape floated by the sea of stars above, and then came further into view, looking down at the two of them with a single yellow eye. Shepard, to his left, had been looking up as well, and startled at the sight. She paused for a brief moment, making to raise her shotgun.
“That won’t do any good, Shepard,” Garrus said to her.
“Don’t look up,” Garrus advised her, quickening his pace. Shepard followed, keeping her eyes fixed firmly ahead and not on the disturbing view of space above.
Garrus heard the main chamber before they even entered the place. The device which sat in the middle of the enormous room emitted a constant song, melodic and beautiful. It seemed to be playing in his head which ruined some of its loveliness. Yet its siren-call was powerful enough to pull him inexorably forward until he was standing just before the alien machine and the source of all his present woes.
It was spherical and iridescent like a soap bubble, suspended in place by a series of enormous, circular frames. Around the device were tall stone pillars which cast long shadows. Garrus almost didn’t notice Dasia and Talis Fer aiming weapons at them. Garrus inwardly cursed himself for failing to account for the machine’s unusual effects on the mind, and gave Shepard a quick shove. She, also, was standing in awe before the machine.
“Well, well, well, if it isn’t Archangel and the great Commander Shepard herself,” Dasia sneered. “I was wondering when you’d both show up again.”
“Better stand down now, Dasia, until you really piss me off,” Shepard said confidently, bringing up her weapon and pacing slowly to the right. Dasia followed, the two women starting to circle each other. Talis merely sneered at Garrus, both Turians holding up their weapons and staring each other down.
“You don’t know what this machine is, how it works or even how to use it,” Garrus said, addressing both of his enemies.
“Oh, I know what this machine is,” Dasia smiled. “It’s a machine to control time. As for how it works and how to use it – once I kill you both there will be plenty of time to figure that out.” She laughed. “All the time in the world and more. Nothing will be out of my reach.”
“Our reach,” Talis Fer corrected her, still staring at Garrus.
“What’s your angle in all this, Talis?” Shepard asked him, eyes flicking in his direction. “You’re a successful businessman. You survived the Reaper war. You’ve got a clean slate now. Whatever you did, you can put it behind you.”
“What makes you think I’m in this for a reset?” Talis said mockingly. “How much do you think someone else would be willing to pay for the ability to change the past? Or see the future? With this kind of technology Haliat will be unstoppable and the power of the Gods will be in my hands.” He nodded his head at the machine, his gun still trained on Garrus. “Don’t tell me that you’d do nothing different if you could go back and do it all again, Shepard. Some slip-up, some fatal error. With this machine you could undo it and do it right. For a price, of course.”
“That’s ridiculous,” Shepard said incredulously, shaking her head. “What if someone goes back and just kills you! What if they go back and end up killing everything else by accident! You’re dealing with more than you can handle, more than can be controlled.”
“She’s right, Talis,” Garrus said. He suspected that negotiating with Dasia was a lost cause, but Talis Fer, he was more of an unknown quantity. “Think about this device, about who might have built it and when. Where are those people now? The fact they’re not around to speak for themselves isn’t a good sign.”
Talis Fer frowned at him. “I’m willing to take the chance. You see, Shepard, you might think that you never made a slip-up worth changing, don’t have anything in your past you’d like to forget. But, you see, my family once lived on Invictus. And -”
Dasia’s gunshots rang out, the bullets pinging off of the walls, ricocheting around the smooth walls and floor. Shepard backed up, shields taking the brunt of the attack, but there was nowhere in the room to take cover. She launched herself forward as her shields dropped, the charge slamming Dasia into the opposite wall.
Garrus lifted his weapon and Talis feinted right and then rolled to the left, the bullet going wide. Dasia had ignited herself with biotic energy just as Shepard had and the two of them proceeded to charge after each other like shooting stars, the smell of ozone thick in the air.
The other Turian was older, and Garrus had assumed he was just another snobby corporationist. But the man rushed Garrus, surprising him enough that the sniper rifle was knocked from Garrus’ hands. The attack also made Talis lose his own gun, the pistol skidding away on the obsidian floor. Garrus raised up his forearms to avoid being punched in the jaw, warding off Talis’ follow up blows in a similar fashion. The kick to the back of the knee caught him and Garrus fell to the ground. Talis grabbed Garrus’ head fringe, throwing the younger Turian back to the ground.
Garrus rolled to the right, avoiding one axe kick and then another, startled by the ferocity of the other Turian’s assault.
“You stupid bastard,” Talis Fer snarled at him as Garrus crab-walked backwards to get away. “You of all people should want to make the Galaxy better, not leave it the shithole it is now. You think we won the Reaper war? You honestly think that things are going to get better now that our fleets are decimated and the Hierarchy is in disarray? You think-”
His last words were cut off as Garrus swung out his leg and knocked Talis to the ground. Talis reached around, hands stretching towards his abandoned pistol. Garrus rushed forward, wrestling with the other Turian. A fight ensued between the two of them, the prize being the pistol being pulled this way and that. Distantly, Garrus was aware of Shepard and Dasia continuing their own battle above and around them, plumes of blue fire streaking past.
“Give it up, Talis,” Garrus hissed, pulling the gun free from Talis’ hands. He backed up, aiming the pistol squarely at Talis’ head and getting to his feet. Talis stopped moving, eyes moving from the barrel pointed at him and Garrus’ steely expression.
“Get up,” Garrus ordered angrily and Talis slowly held up his hands, warily doing as he was told.
“Now what?” Talis laughed. “Will you just murder me in cold-blood, then, Archangel? You’re just as much of a brute as you ever were.”
“You don’t know me,” Garrus replied. “You can live. You can go to jail for a long time,though.”
“I’ll just tell everyone about this place – you wouldn’t like that, would you?” Talis retorted. “I’ve got no intention of going to prison, Vakarian. If it’s the end of the line, it’s the end of the line. Kill me and get it over with.”
“I’m not killing you,” Garrus said.
“But I will,” Dasia chimed in from somewhere to his right. Talis’ head whipped to the side as the shot rang true, blue blood spattering the side of his face. Garrus didn’t have time to see Talis’ body hit the floor as Dasia began firing at him instead, a warped smile on her face.
Garrus backed up again, skirting around the hovering machine in order to put distance between him and Talis. He was now close to where he and Talis had originally started brawling.
“That how you treat your friends, Dasia?” Garrus jeered.
“What does it matter?” Dasia shouted back. “When I go back and save Mother, Talis will be alive again. So will you, of course, but only briefly. When I go back – you’ll be the first I kill.”
“You’re not going back,” Garrus yelled, casting his eyes about for Shepard. He couldn’t see her and he felt a cold feeling in his stomach. Surely Dasia was no match for Shepard?
Instead of coming up with a coherent response, Dasia charged towards him with an enraged scream, slamming into him with such force he was knocked backwards to roll three times over the ground. He landed flat on his back, winded, as Dasia hovered over him, hitting him over and over. She wasn’t punching him; she was maniacally slapping him wherever she could with an open hand, practically frothing at the mouth in her insanity. Garrus blocked the blows with his forearm, drew up his leg and kicked her away. The Asari went skidding across the floor – right beside Garrus’ abandoned sniper rifle.
At the same time, Garrus finally caught sight of Shepard. She was high above, her back to the two of them, on one of the circular frames that were powering the machine. They crackled with a strange energy and Garrus couldn’t fathom how she was able to stand upon them without being shocked to death or at least hurt. As he watched, Shepard brought up one of her fists and slammed it into the frame. Such a blow should have just broken her own hand, but, instead, there was an audible crack and the whine of something beginning to break.
“You bitch!” Dasia howled, attention fully on the Human commander above. Her hands reached for the sniper rifle, aiming for Shepard as the Commander brought her hand up for another blow. Garrus found himself striding forward. Dasia’s finger tightened around the trigger and Garrus grabbed the back of her head firmly, yanking her backward. The shot, meant for Shepard’s back, missed by a small margin. Garrus twisted his hands, cleanly snapping Dasia’s neck. He let the Asari go and she slumped to the ground, dead.
He stared at the dead Asari, not able to articulate how he felt. Killing Dasia’s mother had been necessary – she’d been a pirate and a killer. But Dasia, now there was someone he might have saved. As usual, he’d just screwed things up. He looked up at the machine, the time-altering device, and thought to himself that, actually, he did understand all too well the temptation to just go back and re-write everything that had gone wrong in his life.
“Shepard!” He called upwards. “What are you doing?”
Without answering, she lifted her hands again and punched the frames, over and over again, until, with an ominous hissing sound, they began to crack in half. Almost instantly, waves of energy rolled up and down the teardrop-shaped jewel, the glowing material inside of it glowing brighter and darkening by turns.
Shepard leapt from the buckling frame. The height should have hurt her, without a charge to break the fall, but she landed cleanly beside him without injury. Garrus could only stare at her in complete shock as she grabbed his hand in her own and broke into a run, pulling him behind her.
“Let’s move!” She yelled as the device began to implode, causing cracks to cascade up the walls and along the ceiling. They raced down the corridor and back into the lift, twisting and turning together as they were forced upwards. Abruptly, the power which was pulling them upwards failed, and for the tiniest moment, they hovered together in the darkness. In the next moment, they had begun to fall back to the ground, to their deaths.
Garrus didn’t have time to scream in terror, for Shepard’s hand was once again around his own. She’d never done a biotic charge holding him, or anyone else, to his recollection, and Garrus had certainly never experienced the sensation for himself. In an instant the world was rushing around him, the air was being sucked out of his lungs and it felt like there was an incredible pressure around him, squeezing him so tight it was just shy of painful. Shepard flew upwards with him in tow, charging with such force they almost crashed head-first into the roof of the building protecting the life.
They landed in an untidy heap on the floor, tangled together by arms and legs. Garrus got to his feet first, pulling Shepard up and now leading her out of the building to where the Mako was waiting. Miranda was already waiting anxiously behind the wheel, and Garrus and Shepard climbed into the back which was already crushed with the prisoners they had detained.
“Go, go, go!” Shepard yelled, barely fully inside the cabin as Miranda hit the accelerator and gunned the ATV forward and out of the canyon, the wheels bouncing in response to the deep rumbles coming from deep underneath the earth. The ground began to quake, a series of large explosions cascading somewhere underground and nearby.
The prisoners looked from one to the other in confusion and horror and two wailed loudly as Miranda drove the Mako up a steep incline, never once letting up on the accelerator. The ATV’s engines whined as it struggled to clear the severe angle of approach, but, as Garrus watched with bated breath, the vehicle finally cleared the lip of the precipice and began to mow through the trees.
“Keep going, Miranda!” He yelled out. “We need as much distance as possible!”
Miranda didn’t reply, only veered the Mako to avoid a large boulder, continuing to take the vehicle far from the pulsing shockwaves rippling from the base. As they drove, another explosion, the biggest yet, rang out from behind them. The sound was deafening and blew out all of the Mako’s windows. The shockwave which followed caused the vehicle to roll, over and over again. From the camp came a growing sphere of light, increasing in size. All at once, it dissipated in another deafening explosion, and for a moment, all the world went white as the ground crashed and thundered.
The Mako rolled to a creaking stop, all the occupants staring from one to another in shock and amazement that they still lived. Miranda had the steering wheel in a vice-like grip. Shepard moved first, gingerly patting the other woman on the shoulder and saying something soothing to her that Garrus couldn’t catch. Slowly, Miranda let go of the wheel but her wide blue eyes were still fixed to the distant horizon.
Shepard climbed out of the Mako and Garrus scrambled after her, the two soldiers coming to stand a few paces away. The canyon, and the campsite contained within, was no more. Through the plumes of smoke, dust and fire was not a canyon anymore but an abyss. It was as if a God had descended from on high and simply gouged out the earth with its hands, leaving enormous scars in the land in the wake of such an act.
“What happened?” Garrus said aloud. “Did – did it go back in time?”
Shepard shrugged. “I don’t know.”
“You don’t know!”
Shepard shrugged again, holding up her hands. “It’s gone, whatever it was. Does it matter where it went?”
“Or when?” Garrus pressed. There was a long pause. “How did you do that?”
“You know. You basically tore it apart with your bare hands,” Garrus said, looking at her sidelong.
“Ah. That. Well. That’s a long story.”
“I’ve got the time.”
Garrus couldn’t see Shepard’s expression fully but he thought she was smiling. “Yes, I suppose you do. Liara, can you hear me?”
“Loud and clear, Commander,” Garrus heard Liara’s voice crackle over the comms.
“Bring down the shuttle. We’re done here.”
Hours later saw Garrus tucked away in the small quarters he was allocated on the Tempest II. It was much nicer than the accommodations he had been afforded on the Normandy or Normandy SR-2, which in the second instance had just been a small cot in the main battery. This room was quite spacious, had its own bathroom and a large window dominating one wall.
The shutters for it were open so that he could watch the stars as the ship made its way back to the Citadel to drop off its cargo of mercs. He didn’t know where he was going to go once they got there. Although there was no doubt that Liara would stay with Shepard and follow wherever the Commander led, his own future was less certain.
He didn’t know what kind of place he had on the Tempest II or whether he even cared to continue following Shepard’s lead. There were so many jobs that needed doing and he wanted to play his part. Another part of him simply wanted to retire and happily walk into obscurity. And another part wanted to stay on the Tempest II and continue the journey, wherever it led.
But then again, that journey put him in proximity with Shepard. He wasn’t exactly sure how he felt about her anymore. There was respect there, of course, attraction and compulsion, but she’d hurt him, or at least his pride. He didn’t like that he’d come second and he didn’t think he would have made the same choices had he been in her position.
Garrus’ attention was drawn to the datapad in his hands where he had presently been scrolling through various news outlets, reading with hungry eyes information about the war, about the Hierarchy and Palaven. He’d tracked down more information on his family and discovered that his father, Castis, and sister, Solana were alive and back on Palaven after finding refuge on a Hierarchy ship in the last stages of the war. He’d been in the process of drafting up a message to them, not even sure how to begin, when the door locking mechanism glowed green and chimed softly.
As was Commander Shepard’s right, nothing was closed to her on the ship, but Garrus did feel a slight twinge of annoyance when the door shushed open to reveal her standing cautiously just outside the threshold.
“Can I come in?”
Garrus nodded, putting aside the datapad. He moved so that she could sit down beside him on the sofa but instead she walked into the centre of the room, looked at him, looked out of the window and then back to him. She inhaled and began to pace back and forth.
Garrus watched her curiously. He’d never known her to be nervous before and it seemed strange now to see it.
“I’ve been thinking about what you said,” Shepard said, still pacing. Garrus nodded once again, leaning forward so that his arms were resting in a relaxed position atop his thighs.
“You see, it’s…it’s…” Shepard frowned to herself, stopped pacing and looked once again out of the observatory window. She moved to stand in front of it, crossing her arms. “I didn’t think of what I did to you and the rest of the Normandy crew as an abandonment.”
“Shepard, I think -”
“Let me finish,” She cut him off. “You were right to question it. I understand how you must have felt. Or, at least, I want to try. I suppose I was really only focused on the mission, nothing else. It didn’t occur to me that you would have felt left behind. I thought you were better off where you were than joining the rest of us in the muck. You have no idea how horrible it was in the immediate aftermath of the Reapers, the extent of the destruction. I figured that on Pelara you wouldn’t have to witness it.”
She sighed, still looking hard at the glittering stars as they whizzed by, a deep frown on her mouth.
“Shepard,” Garrus said cautiously.
Uncrossing her arms, Shepard turned to him, leaning against the glass. “I’ve always buried myself in work,” She began carefully. “It’s just something that I do. Always have done.” She laughed quietly. “I do what my mother did and what my father did. There’s the mission and nothing else. Sometimes I used to wonder whether…”
Garrus’ gave her what he hoped was a reassuring look. “You don’t need to explain yourself to me. I’m sorry for what I said earlier, Shepard.”
“I do need to explain,” Shepard replied. “And I want to. Sometimes I used to wonder who I was outside of the uniform,” She shrugged, gave him a wry smile. “And I honestly felt as though I didn’t have an answer for that. Don’t get me wrong. I love being a solider. I know I was born to do it. But when I assembled the Normandy crew, though, something changed. I realised that I hadn’t left a lot of room in my life for the things that make life worth living in the first place.”
She shook her head, eyes cutting down to the ground. “You all became my friends. Meant the world to me. And when I…died…”
Garrus shifted in his seat, emotion rising in his throat.
“When I died, the last thing I thought was, ‘I never told Garrus how I felt about him.’”
“Shepard…” Garrus said, suddenly overcome. He pressed a hand to his eyes, turned away.
“Why did I leave you on Pelara…” Shepard frowned to herself, eyes distant and considering. “I don’t know, Garrus. It’s true the Council didn’t prioritise the Pelaran refugees. You were considered safe were you were. But, yeah. You’re right. I could have brought you back with me as soon as I could have. I wish I had, now.”
“Were you…” Garrus searched for the words, removing the hand he had pressed to his face. “Working to forget? I remember the war seemed to hit you very hard. You practically worked yourself to death.”
Shepard didn’t say anything, eyes dark and searching.
“That’s what you do, isn’t it,” Garrus said, a statement, not a question. “Working is your coping mechanism.” He sized her up. She was still avoiding his gaze. “The things you saw on the Crucible really affected you, didn’t they? So you threw yourself into things to deal with it.”
Her eyes closed, in relief or shame he couldn’t tell.
“Everyone needs help sometimes, Shepard,” Garrus told her, looking her up and down.
She stared at him, the hard planes of her face illuminated by the glow of the window. “We’ll be at the Citadel in a few hours. You’re free to do anything you want to do. I’ll be here for you no matter what you decide. Here – this is yours,” She said, reaching to hand him another datapad.
“That’s loaded with everything you need to get set up on the Citadel,” Shepard said, voice back in Commander-mode. “There’s a credit chit number on there – your account was frozen at the beginning of the war but I made them transfer every cent over to a fresh one. I picked out a rental apartment for you. You can stay there until you get back on your feet. I also included the names and numbers for officials working in the Turian Veteran Affairs office. Just say what you want or where you want to go and you’ll get it.”
Garrus silently took the datapad with a nod. She nodded back to him and left the room.
The Citadel was as bustling as it had been the last time he had visited. This time around was an improvement since there were no more insane Asari after him (that he was aware of) and Garrus actually had some understanding of where he was going.
He hired a cab to take him to the address listed on the datapad Shepard had provided. The cab soon after dropped him off at a brand new high-rise. Shepard had said that she had transferred his own money into a new account to pay for the first month of rent, but Garrus suspected that the transfer was only necessary because she wanted to pad out his salary with her own credits.
There was no way, hero of Palaven or not, he would have been able to afford a place like this on his own. The building was bordered by expansive grounds and surrounded by an artificial lake decorated with ornate fountains. The lobby was enormous, featuring marble floors, elegant white couches and golden chandeliers. Three Asari, all with violet skin and alarmingly white teeth, looked after the reception table and didn’t seem surprised to see the armored Turian walk in.
His apartment was located on one of the top floors – less of an apartment than a suite, really. It was fully furnished in every sense – his favourite foods loaded in the pantry and cooling rack, fresh pairs of clothes waiting in the bedroom closet. There was an enormous bed, a state-of-the-art entertainment unit and, to his great appreciation, various hidden weapons compartments scattered around the different rooms.
For the past four years and maybe more than that, Garrus had made his bed almost exclusively on a hard cot, military issue. The luxurious bed in his new apartment was too soft for his liking, or at least the adrenaline pumping in his veins was too fresh. Unable to sleep, Garrus wandered out into the living area and dozed for long minutes in the armchair facing the window, watching the city below. He’d set the apartment lights for a night cycle so the window simulated the appearance of a city at night, complete with twinkling lights.
After some time napping in the chair, he found himself standing up, bathing and getting dressed in plain civilian clothes. It felt strange to be out of his armor but not in a bad way. Somehow it was liberating removing it, like he was leaving old hurts behind. He left the apartment, descending the elevator and walking through the lobby and back out into the street.
It was a short cab ride back to the docking area where the Tempest II still waited, undergoing standard cleaning and repairs in the Alliance zone. He was allowed through without question, feeling a strange sense of relief when he stepped back inside the empty ship. Well, not completely empty. Miranda, Liara and the rest of the crew, whom Garrus still had not formally met, were all still in the Citadel proper. Only the Tempest’s new Commander remained.
He found her in the most natural of places, her own quarters. Unlocked, they opened for him with a gentle hiss.
Commander Shepard stood in the center of the room, fully-armored in a shining new set he’d never seen before, examining a row of seven other armors resting patiently in glowing cabinets built into one of the walls. She turned her head to watch him enter, something unspoken passing between them as he quietly approached.
“I was planning on visiting the Armax arena here,” Shepard explained with a smile, turning back to scrutinise the armor sets on the wall. “But I’m having a bit of difficulty choosing the one I want to use today.”
Garrus looked her up and down, finally drinking in the sight of her. “What kind of simulation do you plan on running?”
Shepard was the only Human he’d ever been with, hell, the only alien he’d ever been with, period. When they’d first met he’d cottoned on to the fact that the alien was considered attractive by many, and not just Humans. In the time that he’d known Shepard she’d often been the recipient of admiring messages and hopeful looks from an endless queue of Humans, Asari, Drell, even other Turians (and the occasional Krogan). It was only after their relationship had evolved, however that he’d fully appreciated her allure. She was tall, powerfully-built and had a way of looking at him, talking to him, that made him feel primal.
“Not sure yet,” Shepard replied, interrupting his concupiscent thoughts. “I was thinking Geth, but, well. They’re our allies now. I think that’s a little tasteless. Cerberus is always an uncontroversial target, I suppose.”
Garrus hummed, still eyeing her up and down.
“Do you think your armor would be useful against Cerberus?” He asked her, circling around to inspect the back of her breastplate, with its curved plates and metallic sheen. Like most of her armors it was colored in her trademark red and black. He ran a finger over the Council insignia stamped upon one pauldron.
“Maybe. It’s meant to be helpful with biotics,” Shepard said, crossing her arms. He reached out a hand to touch the back of her armor and she didn’t resist, not even when he unclasped one of the plates covering the chassis, dropping it onto the workbench nearby with a thud.
“Tell me more about it,” Garrus murmured, working on another section of the breastplate with deft fingers.
“It’s heavy armor. It has energized plating. That helps reduce blunt force impact,” Shepard replied, turning her head slightly to better see what Garrus was doing. Obediently, she turned around at his gentle pull and allowed him to detach the front of her armor. Underneath it she wore a bodysuit, black and tight. He slid a finger down the front, from where the hollow on her throat was to the bottom of her sternum.
Abruptly, he clasped his hands around her biceps and pulled her in close to brush their mouths together in the dark. Shepard didn’t resist, making a pleased, throaty sound.
“I see,” Garrus whispered. “Tell me more about it.”
“The material has changed. The fibers shift in response to a VI. Helps to prevent injuries by stabbing weapons,” Shepard replied huskily, a smile quirking the edges of her mouth. “Do you like it when I talk to you about weapons and armor, Officer Vakarian.”
With a careless movement, Garrus unzipped the front of his shirt and tugged it over his head, throwing it blindly behind him. The air was pleasantly cool on his exposed skin. “Maybe I could use your advice on what armor to wear. You seem to know your stuff.”
“Maybe. A little.”
“Too modest,” Garrus almost whispered, hands now urgent and greedy. He pulled off the gauntlets, the elbow pads and the knuckle guards. “Tell me more,” he ordered, spinning her around again so he could work on the weighted belt around her hips.
“About Turian armor? A good VI is a must, since you people never seem to know how to duck. At least with a VI you’ll have a detailed analysis of enemy movements in your area,” Shepard said steadily.
Her belt fell to the floor with a loud clang and he dragged his hands down her back as he slid to the floor, now focused on the complicated arrangement of buckles and clips that held her leg armor in place.
“Since you like to fight things from a distance, you might want to invest in a set which has some stealth systems. Radar jamming, even active camouflage. Those things could be devastating when combined with a sharpshooter of your calibre,” Shepard muttered.
She was clad only in the bodysuit now, and Garrus walked backwards with her to the bed, His hand swung out and used the switch on the wall to dim the lights to an even darker, more intimate level.
Impatiently, he wriggled out of his pants and shoes, banishing them behind him.
Military cots were always too hard. The bed in his new apartment was too soft. But Shepard’s bed felt just right, as did the Human female pressed up against him.
“I missed you,” He breathed into his Human lover’s neck, inhaling her distinctive scent.
“Me too,” Shepard said.
“Don’t leave again,” Garrus urged her.
“Never,” Shepard assured him, pressing her mouth into the hollow of his throat.
His fingers searched and found the discreet zippers along the back and sides of her bodysuit, peeling her out of it.
“Ah, Spirits,” Garrus moaned, eyes closed, head spinning with desire. Shepard’s roaming hands and her skillful ministrations were most distracting, as were the soft sounds she was starting to make.
“You’ll have to tell me all about Pelara,” Shepard whispered hoarsely, shifting beneath him in a way which left them both breathless.
“Beautiful lakes. Strong winds,” Garrus murmured back, enjoying the way his body felt under her hands.
“Stormy weather?” Shepard asked.
“It -” Garrus groaned, stopped, tried again. “It snows.”
“Interesting…” Shepard muttered, eyelids fluttering shut.
“Mmm…” Garrus exhaled with a pleasured sigh.
And then there were no more words.
Author’s note: So ends my personal conclusion to Mass Effect 3. Full author’s commentary here. If you enjoyed this story, please leave a comment.