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Mass Effect 4: New Masters, Chapter 14

Chapter 14

     Captain Mark Mastoon sat in his desk chair, gritting his teeth against the pain in his shattered leg.  “Damn Alliance bitch,” he cursed as he looked down at the makeshift splint that the Cerberus leader had whipped together.  “Need to find a doctor on my next trip back to Omega,” he told himself.
     “Mastoon, the ship is destroyed?” asked a dark face with yellow eyes.  The inquiry came from the captain’s private terminal in his quarters aboard the Retribution, an exact duplicate of the Normandy SR-2 frigate.  Mastoon had spent a considerable amount of the funds he had stolen from Cerberus, after escaping during his failed coup, to build it.  Now the Retribution was the flagship for the terrorist organization he had assumed control of after the death of the Illusive Man at Shepard’s hands.  The group had been devastated by the Alliance attack months ago, and with its leader gone, it had been an easy void to fill for the opportunistic Mastoon.  However, with Cerberus funds and resources wrecked, he knew he would have to use the alien races.  He would play one off of the other to weaken them all while humanity, and Cerberus, rebuilt.

     One such alien stared up at him from his terminal’s screen, questioning the captain from an unknown location, hiding in safety while it directed a wide spread military campaign.  
     “Yes, the Kilkenny is no more.  But I still don’t understand what was so important about one random ship orbiting a gas giant.”
     “I do not need to explain my reasons to you, human.  You attack the targets I desire and I provide you with the advanced technology you desire.”
     “I know the deal, collector.  Now tell me where to pick up the next package.”
     “Also, there has been a setback in the Arghos Rho sector that needs your attention.  I will send you the details.”
     “I’ll check it out as soon as I get the location for the next package,” Mastoon said, irritated with the creature.
     “Transmitting data location and the Arghos Rho information now.”
     “These are the medical advances I asked for?”
     “It is.  Do you suddenly doubt me, Mastoon?” the guiding hand of the yahg asked.
     “Nothing sudden about it.  I don’t trust any alien.”
     “So you keep saying, but here you and I are.”
     “Mastoon out,” the Retribution’s captain stated, mashing the communicator’s off button to cut short the conversation.
     Mastoon stood carefully and limped to the elevator, taking it down to the command level where he was approached by his subordinate, Shanklin.  The younger man handed a report to the captain.  Mastoon read over it and a small smile cracked through the pained grimace of his face.
     “Shouldn’t we report that to the collector?” Shanklin asked.
     “Why in the hell would we do that?  He gave us specific orders and we followed them.  This . . . this we’ll keep an eye on and see what comes of it.”
     “Understood, sir,” the man said.
     Mastoon entered new information into the data pad and handed it back.  “We’ll go pick this up and then head to Arghos Rho.  Let’s get moving.”
* * * * 
     
     “Sir?”
     A hand gently nudged his shoulder.  A thick hazy fog blurred his vision as he blinked heavy eye lids.  The old officer lifted his head up from his desk, the interactive surface still displaying positions of yahg forces across the static image of the ubiquitous galaxy map that was standard on every space faring ship.
     “What . . . what is it, Serviceman?”
     There was a pause as Taggart looked down at the report in her hands.  The hesitation in the reliably confident young woman was worrisome to the Alliance leader as his eyes focused on her.  “It’s the Kilkenny . . . Admiral, she’s gone.”
     Hackett sat up, a pounding headache throbbing in his skull.  “What?”
     “Report from one of the Rachni.  The last communication from their . . . person on the cruiser says ‘our brother sang his last song.  The choir of the Kilkenny has been silenced.  It cries silent in our ears, warning of unexpected betrayal’. The transmission ends there.”
     “What about the Kilkenny’s TRB?  What did that data tell us?”
     Taggart eyed the admiral with a concerned expression.  “Sir, without the mass relays, we have no real-time feedback on any ship not equipped with a QEC.  The Termination Report Burst would have no way of reaching us in our lifetime.”
     Hackett shook his head.  “Of course.  You’re right, Natalie.  Just shaking off the sleep.”  He took in his desk with a sweep of his arm.  “Up too late burning the midnight oil, again.”
     “Of course, Admiral,” the young woman said, unconvinced.
     “Dismissed, Taggart.”
     The communication specialist did not leave.
     “Oh for love of . . . there’s more bad news, isn’t there?”
     “Page two, Admiral.”
     Hackett scanned the report from Sur’Kesh that Lieutenant Vega had sent back.  “Fucking hell.  Shepard MIA . . . Kirrahe critically wounded . . .  Allers . . . three more salarians.  Jesus.  Anything else?” he asked looking up pleadingly.
     “No, Admiral Hackett,” Taggart answered quietly, as disheartened by the news as her superior was.
     “Then return to your post, officer . . . and let me know the second you hear anything else out of Sur’Kesh.  Our campaign hinges on taking that planet.”
     “Sir,” Natalie said, then turned and left quietly.
     Hackett looked down to his right and saw the broken shards of glass from the bottle he had dropped after finishing it before passing out at some point in the early morning hours.  He grimaced at the hangover still racking his brain and pulled out his pills as he looked once more to the somber report.  He slammed his fist on the desk.
     “Damn it, David!”
* * * * 
     Jeluna S’Fara sat in a sparse room aboard the Destiny Ascension monitoring communications throughout the coalition fleet gathered around Earth.  The reports were beginning to trickle in and the news those reports brought was sowing doubt and unrest among the fleet captains and too many of the admirals for the Spectre’s comfort.  Shepard had been captured on Sur’Kesh, Admiral Anderson’s cruiser destroyed by an unknown attacker and Jeluna’s own sources told her of Admiral Hackett’s increasing seclusion.  The asari had followed a paper trail of receipts through aliases and third parties moving shipments of addictive pain killers and strong alcoholic beverages that all ended up aboard the admiral’s flagship.
     “Not good,” S’Fara thought to herself.
     Blue lights came alive along the walls of the Destiny Ascension, the typical signal that the dreadnought was about to go through a mass relay.  With only one relay known to be working, it was now assumed as the sign that the mass amplifier was about to be engaged to serve the same function.
     “That is definitely not good,” Jeluna said aloud.  She could already guess what was happening as her fleet tracking software showed all modified asari warships going blue as well.  The Spectre quickly forwarded the report with a brief message to Admiral Hackett, the Normandy AI, EDI, and the only human Spectre she knew was still alive, on board the Eden Prime. 
     “Goddess, I hope Ashley gets this.  Everything may come to rest on her shoulders the way things stand now.”
     The Destiny Ascension headed at full speed towards the Charon relay.
* * * * 
     James waved back the salarian coming up behind him. 
     “Are you sure this plan will work, Lieutenant Vega?” Honwol asked.
     “Keep quiet,” James whispered.  “Yahg,” he added, pointing around the corner of the building.  The salarian nodded in understanding and lowered his gun to one side and pulled a glowing knife from a hidden pocket of his armor.  He tapped a button on his wrist and suddenly vanished.
     “Just give me a moment, Lieutenant,” the salarian requested in a hushed voice.
     The marine held his assault rifle at the ready, his body leaning up against the outer wall of a building on the edge of the salarian capital city of Talat.  A pair of yahg walked down an alley between that building and the next one over, on an apparent patrol.  Their path was about to bring them right past Vega and the surviving members of the team sent to spearhead Sur’Kesh’s retaking who had not been left behind with Chakwas tending to their wounds.  Behind the cloaked Honwol waited Jack, Miranda, Wrex, Javik and Liara, followed by another Sur’Kesh native.
     Vega held up an empty hand, signaling the Shadow Broker’s cloaked operative to wait.  The yahg came closer with the harsh, choppy inflections of their native language echoing between the buildings.  Suddenly, they both stopped in mid-sentence, their heads swiveling, their noses in the air.
     “Shit!” Vega hissed.  He dropped his arm forward and felt a breeze on his face as the invisible salarian rushed around the corner.  Vega watched for a sign, some way of tracking his comrade, but the cloak was complete.  The first yahg was caught only somewhat by surprise, lifting an arm up to try and block the incoming attack.  He was too slow.  The tip of the salarian’s blade was just long enough to reach past the defending arm and reach the monster’s throat.  Dark colored blood leaked downwards and the yahg grabbed at the open wound.     
     The other yahg, recovered from the surprise of the assault, grabbed Honwol without hesitation and flung the small alien through the air.
     “Damn!” Vega yelled, rushing into the alley.  “They can see us cloaked!”  He managed to barely make it, throwing his body in the path of where he thought the salarian was flailing helplessly towards a deadly crash with the sharp end of an exposed and broken piece of conduit from a demolished building nearby. “Liara!  Stop these bastards!” Vega shouted a breath before an unseen body slammed into him.
     “On it!” she replied.  A biotic glow sprang into place, encompassing the two yahg in an inescapable stasis field.  Wrex walked up to them, picked up the salarian’s dropped knife and plunged it deep into their throats and then dragged it downwards until he was sure he had hit something vital.
     “Really?” Vega asked, climbing to his feet and helping the now uncloaked salarian up as well.
     “Hey, do you know where their heart is?  I don’t.  Didn’t take the time to study them during the fighting on Mars.” 
     “Alright, alright,” he conceded.  “Let’s keep moving.  We need to find out where Shepard is being held and break him out.  No telling what they’ve done with him for the last couple days.”
     “The way they broke off the attack after they . . . after they took him,” Miranda said, choking up,”he was clearly their true target.  There must be a reason.”
     Liara put a hand on Miranda’s back.  “He’ll be okay, Miranda.  They probably intended to question him for our battle plans.  But you know the Captain.  He won’t give in.”
     “That’s what worries me.  If you’re useless, they don’t need to keep you around.”
     “We shall rescue Shepard, Miranda Lawson,” Javik assured her.
     “Damn straight,” Vega said.
     “And my enslaved people,” the recovering Honwol reminded the lieutenant, the now ranking Alliance soldier leading the team in Shepard’s absence.
     “Yeah yeah, I know the plan.  I came up with it, remember?”
     “Of course, Lieutenant.  I will lead you to the concentration camp that I scouted out yesterday.  These yahg were part of the garrison at that location.  This chance encounter will improve our odds of success.”
     “Yeah, since it just taught us we don’t have cloaking on our side anymore.”
     “Those eight eyes had to be good for seeing something,” Jack said, joining the conversation.
     “These yahg are most impressive predators,” Javik added.”
     “Impressive or not, that would have been bad to find out at the camp,” James replied.  He patted the salarian on his shoulder.  “Lead the way, Frisbee.”
     Honwol gave Vega an inquisitive look and said,”Frisbee?” 
          
* * * * 
     Ashley stood on the CIC deck of the SSV Eden Prime, waiting to reach the next shut down relay to continue their path to Omega Station to dislodge Cerberus from their new headquarters.  The light on the terminal near the galaxy map began to blink, indicating a new message.  She walked over and pulled up her messages.  There was one from the Spectre Jeluna S’Fara.  Ashley began to read the short comment accompanying the asari fleet movement report.  Before she could get a sick feeling in her stomach over what conclusion her brain was fighting to show to, another message came in from the Turian Spectre Danlar Cidran.  Then there was a third message from Jondum.  Then another.  And another.
     “All the Spectres . . . ” she said.  They were all reporting the same thing from each of the non-human fleets.  “Son of a . . .”
* * * * 
     “. . . bitch!” Hackett finished his thought after reading the Spectre reports coming in from Ashley.  From his ship’s position, orbiting above Earth, Admiral Hackett could see from his window the tiny reflections of light disappear one by one.  “And I thought losing a Spectre and an Admiral was a bad day . . .”
     
* * * *

     Kahlee steered the Kodiak through the silent wreckage of the Kilkenny.  The shuttle sensors scanned for signs of life, but every passing second brought all on board closer to accepting reality.
     “Anything?” Anderson asked earnestly. 
     Kahlee shook her head.
     “God damn it!  Where the hell did they come from?  How did they know we were even here?”
     “I’d like to know when Cerberus built a second Normandy,” Kasumi said.  “Would have been helpful against the collectors and Reapers.”
     “You ever hear about it while you were with them?” Coats asked Jacob.
     Jacob shook his head.  “No.”
     “What about this guy, Mastoon?  Ever run into him when you were part of that group?” Brynn asked.
     “Heard of him?  Yeah.  Never met him, though.  He was gone before I joined up.  They said he was just the latest in a line of overly ambitious fools.  Thought he had outsmarted the Illusive Man and attempted a coup.  He managed to survive the resulting battle, but ended up retreating into the Terminus System and was never heard from again.  Guess we assumed he’d learned his lesson.”
     “Well I’d guess that he maintained some sort of contact within the organization,” Anderson said.  “Someone must have fed him the designs for the SR-2.”
     “Agreed,” Jacob said.
     “This is all interesting,” Nahlyon began,”but it does not help our situation.  We now have only this shuttle which does not have the mass amplifier we need to return to your Earth.”
     “That’s another thing,” Coats said.  “How did this second Normandy get out here at all?  The only ships that have one of those were either retrofitted by our coalition . . . or created by the yahg.”
     “Think this Mastoon might have made a deal with them?” Anderson asked.
     Coats shrugged.  “How else can you explain it?”
     “True,” Anderson said.  “But Nahlyon is right.  We’re stranded unless we figure something out.  Without our Rachni ally on the Kilkenny, we’ve got no way to send out a distress call that will be heard in a thousand years.”

     “What about Feros?  It’s close by,” Jacob suggested.
     “But they would have the same problems.  No real-time communications with the fleet and no mass amps,” Kahlee countered.
     “We could search the ships at Slenthix,” Brynn offered.  “They might have advanced communication systems that could reach back to Admiral Hackett.”
        “Good thinking, Cole,” Anderson acknowledged.  He took a long last look at the wreckage.  “May they rest in peace . . . take us back to the station, Kahlee.  Let’s see if we can send for help.”
        Back on the station, Caretaker greeted the crew at the entrance to the docks.  “You have my condolences, Admiral David Anderson.  The loss of one’s crew and ship is never easy on those left behind, especially on their leader.  It is something I have been witness to on many occasions.  Only the truly worthless are unaffected.  What’s more, my assessment of your situation is very dire. You are stranded on an alien station, hidden to any passing ship and with no sustenance or communications.  The nearby planet of Feros could provide food, but little else.”
     “I don’t suppose there’s any help you can offer us with any of that, is there?” David asked.
     The yellow human-shaped interface paused.  “Considering possibilities,” Caretaker said. “Options exist given available physical presence and materials.”
     “What possibilities are those?” Sooltir asked.
     “Communication, for one.  My systems require repair to components damaged when the last visitor to Station Slenthix attacked upon being locked out of our systems.  While destroying many large structures nearby that were redundant, the truly detrimental loss was to  components of my main communication relay.  Repair to these components would be mutually beneficial.”
     “In what way?” Kahlee asked.
     “I have been out of contact with . . . others for twenty years.  Since your arrival, having accessed data available through your ships, I have learned new information that significantly affects my original purpose.”
     Jacob walked over, crossing his arms.  “Which is?”
     “Monitoring Rialusan activity and providing assistance to their enemies, when possible, without allowing the technology of our station or our ship to be discovered.  Had they captured our stations, our ships, our scientific knowledge, the balance of power in this universe would have been drastically altered in their favor.”
     “In their favor?” Nahlyon exclaimed.  “They’ve destroyed countless species and dominated for millions and millions of years!  How is the ‘balance of power’ not already in the Reapers’ favor?”
     “And who is this ‘we’ you keep referring to?” Brynn asked.
     “I refer to those my people left behind.  I was not the only caretaker left to watch after the evolution of this tiny section of the universe, though I am one of the few left.  The Rialusan were relentless in pursuit of my people, but they are not nearly as advanced as they like to believe.  However, they did adapt to our safety measures, causing us to enact our failsafe policies, a few of which you have seen the results.”
     “The destroyed planets?” Sooltir asked.
     Caretaker nodded.  “Yes.  My fellow AIs were close to being captured and that is unacceptable.  Keeping our people out of danger is our prime concern.  Self destruction is preferable to giving the Rialusan any further advantages or information of our species.”
     “What species created you?” Anderson asked.  “What happened to them?”
     “Further questions of my creators may not be answered at this time.  Please consider repairing my long range communications array as destruction of the Rialusans may result in more available information.”
     Anderson was getting tired of running in what he knew was going to be a circular conversation at this point.  The AI was not going to answer anything useful until its requested repairs were made.  “So what do we need to fix, where is it, and what materials will we need?”
     “I will transfer the information to your omni-tool devices.  You will find the components, locations, and needed parts in the data.  I will know when you have completed the task.  I thank you in advance for your help in this matter, Admiral.  You will find that this action will further your goals as well.  To repair this technology it has been deemed appropriate and safe to transfer knowledge of our communications systems.”
     “I guess that’s something.  What about repairing your physical body?”
     “Further action on that will depend on information gathered after restoration of full communications.”
     Anderson motioned to his crew as he walked away from the yellow Shepard.  “I think I prefer the ones I can shoot,” he thought.  His human and Prothean team gathered around him, awaiting instructions.  “Alright, people, check your omni-tools.
     Anderson brought up his omni-tool display and looked at the needed items.  “Okay, some of this we can pull from the shuttle, but the rest we’ll need to pull from what’s on hand here.  We’ll split into three teams.  Team 1 will go to that mother ship out there.  Team 2 will take the Inusannon ship.  Team 3 will search the station itself.  Keep your eyes open for what we need and anything else we can easily scan or maybe take with us.  We don’t have time to spare covering every square inch while the yahg are tearing us to pieces.  Once we get back to the fleet, we’ll send a research team out to do things properly and we’ll gain untold advances, from the looks of it.  But those will only come if we can make it back to Earth, so that’s the priority.  Let’s go.”
* * * * 
     “Captain Shepard.”
     Shepard’s eyes opened to the sound of his voice.  He felt his bare body lying on a cold metal table.
     “Well this is familiar,” he thought, remembering waking up similarly aboard a Cerberus station with a beautiful brunette looking down on him in brief moments of consciousness after two years of lifeless dark.  He remembered a cold table, but a warm smile, a smile he desperately wished he was seeing right now.  He tried to sit up, but biting metal clamps at his neck, wrists, and ankles stopped him.
     “Prepare yourself, Shepard.  He is coming back.”
     “Who’s coming back, Vendetta?” the captured Spectre asked.
     “The true enemy.  Further study to determine the exact nature of the individual is required.”
     The captain picked up on the implication.  “It’s not the yahg?”
     He was answered only with,”He comes,” and then Vendetta was silent.
     Shepard used his peripheral vision as best he could to take in his surroundings.  The room was small, dark, and had a single small window high in the wall, almost near the ceiling.  A rising sun’s light was just starting to slip over the bottom edge of the window frame.  He could not see the door into the room which stood in the wall at the head of his tabletop prison.
     The door hissed open and Shepard strained to see the newcomer.
     “The great Commander Shepard,” said a voice with an alien tone that Shepard recognized immediately.
     “It’s Captain, now, actually.  I don’t believe I’ve had the pleasure of making your acquaintance.”
     A small cold object touched Shepard’s head and sharp jolts of electricity blasted through his body.  “There is no pleasure to be had, Captain,” his attacker stated flatly.
     Shepard clenched his fists and his jaw, holding in the cry begging to come out.  The surge stopped and his heart pounded furiously.  He fought to bring his body under control through the torture techniques he had to dust off from the recesses of his mind.  “Thought I knew all of your kind in this cycle,” he said, spitting the words out between heavy breaths.
     “My kind, Shepard?  What kind is that?”
     “You think just because you’re out of my sight I can’t tell you’re Prothean?”
     The unseen collector laughed.  “You presume and honor me, Shepard.  If only I were one of that pinnacle of the cosmic imperative, that greatness.”  
     The collector walked around the table, into Shepard’s view.  The marine’s brow furrowed in question.  “You’re . . . a collector?  I thought all of the Reaper ground forces were destroyed by the Crucible.”
     “Only those infused with Reaper technology were killed off.”
     “But collectors were exactly that.  Mordin proved it.”
     “Yes, a very intelligent salarian.  But what if, somehow, the Reaper parts were to be removed?  What would happen then?”
     Shepard looked at the collector harder after that comment.  He did notice slight differences from the other collectors he had wiped out by destroying their base beyond the Omega 4 Relay.  He had initially chalked it up to never spending too much time studying the enemy while gunning them down, but now he saw more similarities with Javik than his former Terminus System foes.  “I’m no medical expert, but my understanding is that most organics die without internal organs.”
     “Your sarcasm is noted, but you’re words are true enough.  I, luckily, was given an alternative to death when I came across a hidden treasure of the galaxy. It is because of that discovery that I stand here before you, now, not quite Prothean, but not exactly the mindless collector, either.”
     “You gonna bore me with your autobiography or are you going to tell me what it is you want from me?” Shepard demanded.  
     “From you?  I have what I want from you, Spectre.”
     “Really, because I don’t remember you questioning me or doing much more than tickling me with your little noisemaker, there.”
     The collector’s reply was another shock from his hand held device.  Shepard’s body arched upwards and shook at a blurring speed, but no outburst made it’s way to his lips.
     “What I want, human, is to see you and your allies crushed under my army.  Then you will be allowed to survive, in small numbers, long enough to witness the rebirth of an empire.  Then you will die.”
     “A yahg empire?  With you in charge?”
     “The yahg are a necessary evil.  A mere tool to be used.  I will usher in the return of the Prothean Empire, but I will not rule it.  I need to simply reignite the embers that were left behind by my former masters.  Advanced, powerful, dominating: all words that describe the Reapers.  Do you want to know what word does not describe them, Captain?”
     “I get the sneaking suspicion you’re going to tell me.”
     “The word is ‘perfect’.  They missed things, intentionally or not, I do not care, and at this point, it no longer matters.  Their failures were my opening.  And my chance finding will be the path to this cycle’s subjugation to a power not seen in fifty thousand years.”
     Shepard made it a point to let the torturer see his eyes rolling.  “Typical. A maniacal enemy with a twist of insanity and an impossible goal not based in reality.  Why do they always have to find me?” he wondered aloud.  
     He almost smiled as another searing flood of pain wracked his body.
     “You do not disappoint, Shepard.  But you also do not comprehend.  You see your limited piece of the puzzle, as you humans say, but I see it all.  You do not see the plan I set in motion and have worked tirelessly on for centuries.  It is now coming to fruition in perfect order.”
     “Infest every planet with yahg.  Good plan.  And then bring back a dead empire with what? Three Protheans, two of which would rather tear each others’ throats out than make up?  You’ve got it all figured out.  It’s genius.  Don’t know why I didn’t see it before.”
     “Your attempts at provoking me with mockery grow tiresome, Shepard.”
     “And you’re putting me to sleep with the master plan, here, jackass.  Why don’t you just keep spilling all of your brilliance on the floor to I can pick up the grand design and how we all play into it, exactly.”
     “You take me for a common fool?  You believe I am revealing too much by accident?  Shepard, what I am giving you are the final words you will ever hear.  I figured you deserved to die knowing that you have been a key component of my victory.”
     “So you had the yahg attack my team, drag me off, and bring me here- instead of just killing me- so that you could tell me that and then kill me?  Really?  You could use a class or two in time management or handling priorities.”
     The collector ignored him.  “By defeating the Reapers, you eliminated the single most difficult obstacle in my way.  You will be written about in the history records of the Protheans to come and you will be remembered as a great figure, despite being on the opposing side.”
     “I’m flattered.  Really, but could you just get this over with?  I haven’t had to put up with this much talking since my second high school girlfriend.”
     The collector raised the device in front of his face and studied it for a moment in thought.  He then looked down at Shepard with an almost sad look on his face.  He lowered the device next to the captain’s head.  
     “As you wi-“
     The wall near Shepard’s feet exploded with a concussive blast that threw debris everywhere and knocked the collector to the ground.  He quickly rolled over, pushed himself up, and ran out of the room, back through the door he had entered from.  It closed behind him and Shepard was left with light pouring through the shattered wall, the rays of the sun creating a myriad of shafts streaking through the settling dust.  
     A figure stepped into the light with a gun shoved forward, scanning for enemies.  Dark, medium length hair whipped over shoulders as the clearly human female searched the area quickly.  Convinced, for the moment, that the premises was safe, she lowered her gun and stepped into a clear line of sight.  The warm smile Shepard had yearned for greeted his eyes.
     “Again, Shepard?  What is it with you and me and you on a table?  Project Lazarus, after the victory on the Citadel, and now this.”
     “I thought women liked a little reliability in their men,” Shepard joked.
     “Uh huh,” Miranda said, shaking her head.  “Let me get you out of those restraints.”
     “You sure?” her incapacitated lover asked with a wink.
     “Really?  How can you think of that at a time like this?” the biotic asked as she found the release button and freed the Normandy’s leader.
     Shepard sat up, ignoring his pain, and pulled Miranda into a kiss.  “I think about it every time I see your beautiful face, Miranda.”
     She smiled and touched his face with her free hand.
     “Damn, Loco, put some clothes on man!  What were they doing to you in here?” Vega said loudly as he suddenly stepped into view.  He held up his hands, an assault rifle smoking in one of them, and said,”Nevermind.  I don’t think I want to know.  Let’s get him out of here, Ice,” he told Miranda.  “Or it’ll be hell to get back out of here.  Even with the yahg chasing after Liara and Javik leading that prisoner uprising.”
     “Ice?” Shepard asked, accepting Miranda’s help getting up from the table.      
     “Yeah, man,” James confirmed. “That woman, under pressure and in the middle of battle- nerves of steel.  Nothing gets to her . . . and she’s always wearing white.”
     “Of course,” Shepard said.  He looked around the room and saw his equipment shoved into a corner, piled haphazardly.  He walked over to his belongings, bent over to pick it up, and heard another friendly voice.
     “I can die a happy girl, now,” Jack said.  “That ass is just as nice as I thought,” she added with a laugh.  
     Shepard stood and turned around with the upper body armor in his hands.  “Ever heard of a little privacy, Jack?” he asked.
     “Sure I have, Shepard.  Never respected it, but I’ve heard of it,” she replied with a wink.
     Vega shot Jack a dirty look, as did Miranda.  Jack ignored Miranda and just waved off James.  “What?  Don’t get all high and mighty with me now.  Just admiring the view.  You think I haven’t noticed you admiring asses other mine, Meat head?”  Jack glanced over at Miranda and then back to Vega and both crew members turned away with red cheeks.  “Exactly.  As long as I’m the one you come to see at night . . . I won’t have to kill you.”
     Shepard laughed weakly and shook his head, still drained from the effects of the torture device.  After a few shaky minutes, with a little help from Miranda, he was back in his black and red armor and checking his guns. 
     “How did you all get here so quickly?  And where exactly is here, anyway?”
     Vega looked from Jack to Miranda and then to Shepard.
     “What?” the captain asked.
     “They brought you straight to Talat, but Loco, how long do you think it’s been since you were captured?”
     The marine got the impression his answer was about to be wrong.  “A day, maybe?  They knocked me out in the fight and I woke up here maybe an hour ago.  It can’t have been that long.”   
     “Try two days, Shepard,” Miranda said.
     “What?”
     “It’s true,” Jack said.  “Took us a while to regroup and then it took more time while Meat head worked this crazy rescue idea into the original plan.”
     Shepard turned to Vega.  “You got me out of this, James?”
     “Ah, it was nothing, Captain.  Plus we gained that extra help along the way.”
     “Really?”
     “Yeah.  But we can talk about it later.  Our resistance forces taking on the yahg need a leader.  You.  So we need to move.”
     “Resistance forces?  The prisoners?”
     Miranda nodded.  “Yes.  One raided barracks later and prisoners become quite a well trained fighting force against a surprised enemy.”
     “I can imagine,” Shepard said.
     “Just glad they didn’t torture the plans out of you sir,” Vega said, half joking.
     “Pretty hard to do that when they never even asked me any questions.”
     “What?” It was Miranda’s turn to question.  “They had you for two days and never asked you anything?”
     Shepard shook his head.  “I just woke up, remember?  Some collector came in and decided to give away his whole plan because he was about to kill me.  Luckily you all showed up just in time.”
     “Collector?” Jack asked.  “Thought they were wiped out with the Reapers.”
     “Yeah, well, this one is different, and I gather that he’s the only one like him, but we can talk about it when there’s a better time.”
     “True, Loco,” Vega said.  “We need to get back to the operations base we set up before the path we cleared closes back up.”
     “Lead the way, Lieutenant,” Shepard told Vega.
     “You got it, Captain.”
     
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About harbinger50

I'm a guy with a job that if I wasn't paid to do it . . . I sure as hell would not be doing it. I imagine that covers probably more people than does not. I have a son who is almost 12 who I see every other weekend. I find that most of my passions are creative, which we all know doesn't exactly pay without a single minded focus and near-exclusion of everything and everyone else. I've never been able to be that self-centered, as easy as you might think that should be... I enjoy writing, playing guitar, shooting films, lifting weights (HATE cardio, but do it anyway) and have various other interests and hobbies that I can never decide to do that focusing on. This site is my attempt at that...

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