Blah blah blah. Hamelin wouldn't lie, she'd stopped listening to Udina's incensed ravings awhile back. Anderson and the other two marines in the room had almost certainly made the same automatic, almost subconscious, checks for escape routes and defensive positions upon entering the room but she wondered if any of the others were playing fantasy assassination like she was. After all the room had a very large balcony, you could see for miles, there must be hundreds of potential sniper spots. A change in the background noise levels provided ample warning and she zoned back into the conversation in time to hear:
"Captain Anderson. I see you brought half your crew." Shepard bristled at the ambassador's tone, she might have multiple plans to defend herself against, and if necessary kill, her mentor but that didn't give some jumped up politician the right to disrespect him. Anderson was worth a hundred Udinas. Hell she'd gladly kill a hundred Udinas. She knew better than to mention it out loud though so she limited her conversation to the topic at hand. "That's enough Shepard, you've done more than enough to jeopardize your candidacy for the Spectres." In her peripheral vision she saw Anderson shut his eyes, coming from him when stood to attention she knew that was pretty much the equivalent of a full blown facepalm. She wouldn't be surprised if he was mentally conducting prayers to the deities of every known species in the galaxy. The gods wouldn't help him if he stayed silent though.
"Remind me why I should care? I don't seem to recall putting myself forward for the position."
"Shepard. We had this conversation remember." Came the captain's soft, collected response. Damn it, you couldn't have just stayed silent could you? That was the second time in as many days that he had pulled her leash like that. It was infuriating! At least he'd kept it suitably vague in front of the subordinates, but still. A sudden panic, no not panic, she never panicked... A wariness, yes that was much more acceptable. A sudden wariness filled her as she wondered how much of her personal history the ambassador knew. It was enough of a concern for her to keep silent until he flounced out the room with Anderson, stupidly leaving the three marines alone in the office. Well at least that proves he doesn't know everything about me.
"And THAT is why I hate politicians."
"You and me both Chief, you and me both." Hamelin tiredly replied, before grinning malevolently as an, admittedly childish but nonetheless brilliant, idea popped into her head. A few quick taps on her omni-tool took care of the cameras (not that it wouldn't be obvious who was responsible, but the justice system's reliance on evidence and the whole 'innocent until proven guilty' principle were truly marvelous keystones of civilization, especially if you wore gloves) and she slid into the chair in front of Udina's private terminal. Seriously you call that a security system? A one legged mouse could hack this! Bloody hell it's even logged in to the email still.
[Captain Hendrickson reported some unusual energy readings during a patrol of the Argos Rho cluster. She had particular concerns about-] BORING! This inbox totally needs some spicing up. Let's see... A subscription for hanar porn or elcor porn? Meh, why not both. Her attempts to come up with a suitably insulting new password were interrupted by a reminder that her squadmates were still new to her command.
"Uhh Commander? Are you sure you should- I mean, err... What ah, are you doing?"
"Hmm? Oh, nothing." That one, very nice. Who knew there were so many pictures of vorcha orgies on the extranet? Aaand set as desktop... "Right I'm bored now. Let's go." Williams and Alenko shared a quick glance of concern before hurrying after her, the biotic massaging his temples.
"He can't say that! He's got no right!" Udina cut in in a rage as Saren insulted humanity in front of the Council and it took all her willpower to remain motionless standing at attention. How the hell did this imbecile become ambassador? I've got more tact and self control than him. A quick flick out the corner of her eye revealed Anderson had shut his eyes again, it was brief but she'd noticed and internally she grinned. Glad I'm not the only one.
The mental grin turned into a scowl after the meeting was over as Anderson and Udina outlined a plan involving her running her ass off around the Citadel in the vague hope of finding something incriminating on Saren. Worse they wanted her to team up with a cop to do so. After being responsible for that little brainwave she had to wonder why she'd bothered saving Williams back on Eden Prime. Oh yeah, I needed something else for people to shoot at that wasn't me. The only good news was that their lead to finding said cop liked to frequent Chora's Den, she was about ready for a drink, well... That and Anderson's face when he heard Harkin's name. The captain liked bent coppers about as much as she liked straight ones. Poor little boy scout. Not for the first time she wondered how he'd managed to remain sane when forced to work with her, 'differences of opinion' didn't come close to describing their respective work ethics. Unfortunately he didn't have any better plans so she took the CRT system down to the lower wards, desperately trying to think of a way to send her fellow marines on a wild goose chase and allow herself a couple of hours freedom to relax and be herself before returning later on with sadly nothing to report.
Her planning was interrupted by gunfire, brain switching instantly into combat mode as a pair of turians tried, and promptly failed, to kill her. Fuckers! Don't you know to never come between a woman and her booze? That's it, this shit is personal now.
She sighed in disappointment as she dropped the torn mandible into a puddle of blue blood. Poor Kernus hadn't known anything other than his target, that collateral damage was of no concern, payment was on delivery and he had no idea who his employer was. Shepard knew there was nothing wrong with her interrogation technique, he genuinely didn't know, standing up she put a single bullet through the remains of the mangled turian's head, turning to face her subordinates. Alenko was pasty faced and wobbly on his feet although whether as a result of the impromptu lesson on turian biology or the discovery he had been the primary target of the assassins she had no idea. Come to think about it the chief looked a little paler than normal as well. Friggin Alliance types, so damn squeamish. Banishing the thought from her mind she finally entered Chora's Den, heading straight to the bar, her unfortunate lackeys still on her heels.
"A million lightyears from where humanity began and we walk into a bar filled with men drooling over half naked women shaking their asses on a stage." Hamelin couldn't help smiling at the chief's observation. If you think this is bad you best stay far away from me if we get any shore leave. This is some presidium leveled civilization compared to my usual haunts.
"You got a preferred gender or species to see half naked? I'm sure I can find a better bar to suit your tastes Williams." She offered and wasn't disappointed by the snort of disgust or the almost chuckle from Alenko. She downed her first drink before the bartender even finished pouring the rest of the round for the others, but before she could get a top up Kaiden interrupted, pointing out a man on the far side of the room as Harkin and she made her way over with a sigh.
"Hey there sweetheart, looking for some fun? Because I got to say that- Hngh!" The slimy greaseball's words cut off suddenly as Shepard leaned forward, heel on the chair, toes of her heavily armoured boot coming to rest just above his crotch, omni-blade extended threateningly on her wrist despite her forearms resting casually on her knee. Alenko shifted uncomfortably in solidarity to the other man's plight but offered no protest, while Williams seemed almost happy at the display.
"Not interested. I just want to know where Garrus Vakarian is."
"Okay, okay, just relax. Garrus you say? You must be one of Anderson's crew, poor bastard's still on his vendetta to bring Saren down huh? I know where Garrus is but first you got to tell me something, did the captain let you in on his big secre- Hngh... Fuck! Bitch!" He cursed vehemently as she pressed down with her foot.
"Stop wasting my time. Where... Is... Garrus?"
"Alright! He was visiting Dr Michel, she's got a med clinic on the other side of the wards!"
"See, that wasn't so hard." She turned to leave, fully prepared for Harkin to launch himself at her back in a sloppy, revenge fueled assault. When he stayed down instead and they reached the exit without incident she couldn't decide whether or not she was disappointed.
"What was he going on about ma'am? The captain's secret? A vendetta against Saren? Do you think we should ask-"
"Pipe down Chief, that lowly piece of pond life don't know shit. That mission's classified well above his pay grade, and yours. Hell, it's even supposed to be above mine."
"Supposed ma'am? You know something don't you?" Alenko inquired, picking up on her words. Damn him, it's always the quiet ones you got to watch out for.
"All you need to know is the captain got shafted. By Saren. By the politicians. Good for nothing bastards. I ain't planning on letting that happen to me." She lead them through the thick crowds of the market, the tight throng suddenly and suspiciously thinning out as they neared the clinic. She knew there was no point asking anyone what was going on, being deaf and blind with occasional bouts of amnesia was practically a prerequisite for survival in these situations and she had neither the time nor money to cure them of their ailments. Not when a simple thermal scan on her visor could produce faster results. The heat signatures behind the wall painted a clear picture of a hostage/interrogation situation and she quickly distributed orders to her crew, pulling out her pistol and hoping the creeping figure on the left was their turian quarry and that he wouldn't prove to be a liability. Then she hit open the door, taking the briefest of moments to confirm reality matched her preconceptions (5 hostiles, 1 civilian, 1 turian in C-sec armour) before targeting the leader. The turian made use of the momentary distraction to pop up in a flanking position and they ended up firing at the same time, both bullets hitting the mark. Williams had also neutralized her target, C-sec rushing to pull the frozen Michel into cover and out of danger. Hamelin had just lined up her second headshot when she was hit from behind by a biotic throw. It barely clipped her but it was enough to mess up her aim and she ducked back down, searching for the biotic. Her eyes landed on Alenko, hunkered down with a thin sheen of sweat across his face, looking more like a battle virgin than the experienced operative both Anderson and his service record had assured her he was. Friendly fire was not something she took lightly but there were far too many witnesses for her to return the favour. Besides both the chief and the turian had taken down another hostile, leaving just one for her to claim.
Shepard kept one eye on the lieutenant at all times as the doctor explained the situation regarding a quarian, the Shadow Broker and Fist. He looked like he was trying to hide quite a bit of pain, possibly another migraine, she didn't really care about his suffering but it made him a liability and when Garrus volunteered his services she jumped at the chance. He may be a cop but as long as I don't do anything too controversial I doubt he'll turn on us. Too much paperwork. Besides the way he's looking at me I reckon he's heard about Elysium and Eden Prime but not any of the rest.
"Vakarian, Williams you're with me. Alenko, stay here and secure the clinic. Make sure the doc's alright, might want to get your head checked out while you're at it." The LT looked like he was going to protest but she didn't give him a chance, sweeping out the clinic with her chosen squad, finally holstering her pistol once the door was shut between her and the L2.
"You know, there's a krogan bounty hunter after Fist as well." The turian informed her and her brain went into overdrive. Bounty hunter's didn't like to lose their prize and if he discovered her team was aiming for the same target he'd do one of two things: push harder to neutralize Fist before they got there, or eliminate the competition. Neither option was preferable. They'd be much better off talking to him and explaining the situation first. Even if it did mean walking into the heart of cop territory to fetch him.
"Shepard, hmm I've heard of you." Something told her the krogan knew far more about her than either of the people currently stood behind her, possibly more than anybody else on the Normandy except Anderson. Then again he did work for the Shadow Broker, it shouldn't be surprising. "Alright, I'll work with you. But fair warning, I'm going to kill Fist." Her compatriots seemed a little put out by his statement but she simply shrugged.
"Fine by me, so long as you wait until after I've got the information I need." He nodded an agreement and fell in behind them as she led the way back to Chora's Den.
"Please I'm telling you, I don't know where the quarian is." This was the point most people would start threatening to do nasty things to him but why waste time? Hamelin casually pointed her gun and pulled the trigger, expression never changing as Fist screamed clutching his knee. Behind her Williams and Vakarian shifted uneasily, but Wrex gave a toothy grin of approval. "The quarian isn't here, said she'd only deal with the shadow broker. I told her I'd set a meeting up."
"Face to face? Impossible. Even I was hired through an agent." The krogan supplied.
"Nobody meets the shadow broker but she didn't know that, she- urggh!" He was talking sure, but he was also wasting time so Shepard simply put her boot on the wound and pressed down, Fist's fingers also being trapped underneath.
"Enough babbling, just tell me the location."
"The alleys! Behind the market place, here in the lower wards!" She removed her foot and he was clearly torn between putting his damaged fingers in his mouth to try and suck away the pain, or leave them round the knee in the pitiful attempt to stem the bleeding.
"Thank you." She turned away and for a brief millisecond he allowed himself to hope, only for her to add: "He's all your's Wrex." The last thing he saw was the scarred red beast pointing a shotgun at him, he heard the blast but not the woman's next words: "Well, what are you two looking at? Let's go, we've got a quarian to save."
"Fist set me up!" Hamelin took a moment simply to observe the quarian as she raved. Keeping mostly to themselves on the flotilla left them as one of the few species she'd never fought or drunk with, and the suits made them difficult to read. The way she held her shotgun however made it clear that while she wasn't looking for a fight, she was certainly still on high alert and not going to be taken by surprise again. The fact that she wasn't cowering at the sight of Wrex, plus had already been shot and undeterred by a polonium round, suggested she wouldn't intimidate easily and while Shepard was certain that given enough time and independence she could make anybody talk... she had a feeling Williams and Vakarian would draw the line this time. They had stayed silent so far as she dealt with assassins and crime bosses but doubted torturing innocent young girls would be tolerated. Especially when they had 'victim' stamped all across their face plate. No, it was time to pull out the hero charm. She came to the decision just before the quarian collected herself enough to ask "Who are you?"
"Commander Shepard, Alliance military." Hamelin gave a polite and respectful nod, no need to overdo it with a salute; she's not an official and you've just saved her ass, you don't need to woo it too. "I'm trying to take down Saren and I believe you might have some data that could help." The quarian was still on edge and Shepard couldn't blame her, she would be after all that had just happened too. She couldn't see her eyes but there was a microscopic movement of the head that suggested she was looking uncertainly at the array of muscle and guns behind her and Shepard decided more introductions were required, pointing to each of them in turn. "Chief Williams, Alliance marines. Officer Vakarian, C-Sec and Urdnot Wrex... let's just call him 3rd party insurance." Best not mention the Shadow Broker at this point.
"Ok, but not here."
"Fair enough, we can go to the human ambassador's office, it should be safe there. Unless you can think of somewhere else you'd rather go?" She was careful to give the girl the illusion of a way out, a semblance of choice so she would feel less pressured and it worked. Nevertheless she wanted to be off the streets as soon as possible. "How about you and me take a cab and the others another, that OK?"
"Uh, ma'am? I think I should come with you." She almost admired the courage it took for Williams to stand up and object to her orders, but she despised the insolence. While she had only intended for the quarian not to feel crowded and threatened, it was clear the chief was remembering the field interrogations carried out in the last few hours, and worried what Shepard might do to the quarian if left alone. It was unnecessary in this instance but impressive, turns out even the most bigoted individual can have empathy for other species when faced with enough brutality towards an innocent.
"You're not making my job easy Shepard. I was warned to expect firefights in the Wards but this? Torture and mutilation? It's unacceptable and- Who's this?" He trailed off as he turned around and caught sight of the mini menagerie standing behind her, eyes focused for some reason not on the massive krogan or the turian cop but the mini quarian.
"Tali'Zorah. She has the evidence you asked me to collect. Evidence that would have disappeared along with her if I'd wasted time asking nicely. Maybe my file didn't make it clear enough for you Ambassador; nobody likes my methods, but they do like my results. I get the job done and that is why the Alliance keeps me around for their most problematic missions." She glared at Alenko who had already been sat in the corner of the office when she walked in, while Tali queued up her omni-tool. He'd stopped sweating now at least but he had winced several times at the volume during Udina's rant, he paled significantly during the second playthrough of the evidence.
"Reapers! That's what I saw in the vision. The protheans being wiped out by the Reapers!" Shepard shifted her eyes over to Anderson, sending with them a silent message she knew he'd pick up on: Shut up the crazy or I will.
"I don't think the Council will be willing to believe us on that front just yet Lieutenant, but we certainly have enough to prove Saren's a traitor. Shepard, I want you and Miss Zorah at the tower for the hearing, everyone else is optional. Dismissed."
"Commander Shepard. Step forward please." Aw fuck! She'd just wanted to destroy Saren's cosy little world, pay him back for trying to kill her, not take his damn place! She'd been hoping for another mentor, more mission's where she could prove she really wasn't what they were after. Surely Udina should have realised she wasn't worth the headache and pulled the plug. As they left the dais at the end of the inauguration ceremony she caught sight of a proud smile on Anderson's face and maneuvered to his side so they could talk without being overheard.
"Seriously? You too? Surely you of all people should realise how much of a bad idea this is."
"What? You've come far since I first met you. I'm sure you'll do us all proud." She gave a small scoff.
"This is why you're supposed to stand on my scarred side Sir, so you don't mistake me for my sainted mother." He shook his head but refused to rise to her bait or let his smile fade. It was true, as she'd grown older the unscarred half of her face had become a spitting image of Lieutenant Hannah Shepard, but he'd never mistaken daughter for mother.
"She'd be proud of you Hamelin, I'm sure of it." Another scoff and he had to remind himself that she truly didn't care about her heritage. She'd seen pictures by now, after Elysium the press had been delighted to make the connection between two generations of the Alliance's golden girls (Hamelin a golden girl, that alone was proof enough of the ineptitude of the press and the old saying 'don't believe everything you read'), but to the best of his knowledge she'd never even looked at the senior Shepard's service record. That despite digging into his (and every other C.O she'd served under since the Villa)'s classified files. "Besides, don't worry I'm sure you'll find some way to twist this to your advantage, you always do."
"And if for no other reason then that right there is exactly why you should be worried Sir."
Author's note: Wow where did all these followers come from? Thanks for the reviews and the patience. Still not going to be a regular update I'm afraid, renegade ideas don't pop into my head very often, but it does help to know people are appreciating it.
CRT = Citadel Rapid Transit, ME1's ingame name for fast travel points.