Chapter Ten

Shepard ducked out through the airlock and back onto the station, boots clanging dully on the metal. Revan, Miranda and Zaeed followed close behind, in loose formation. This time the entryway was free of any welcoming parties. "We're heading down into the lower levels to find Dr Mordin Solus," she briefed them as they walked, mainly for Zaeed and Revan's benefit. "There's a virus on the loose down there, but, as you know, humans – and vorcha, apparently – are immune, so we won't be affected."

"Humans of this galaxy." Revan frowned thoughtfully, though she seemed less bothered by the idea of contracting a deadly virus than Shepard thought she should be. Maybe there's a Force-trick for that too, she thought testily.

"Yours too, according to Dr Chakwas," Shepard reassured her. "I had her run some quick scans on you using the data from the airlock's decontamination cycle. You're built the same as we are, so you'll be immune too." She paused as Revan's frown intensified. "Which is… interesting," she added in agreement with that sentiment.

"Very," Revan murmured, meeting her eyes for a moment. Shepard saw her own worries reflected right back at her. Little coincidences like this… well, they were unlikely to be coincidences.

"What kind of virus selectively affects all but two of the galaxy's species?" Zaeed spoke up dubiously, breaking the spell.

Shepard snorted and turned away, stepping through into Omega's main thoroughfare. "Not any natural kind of virus."

"You think someone created it in a lab?" Revan asked. "What, uh… groups in this galaxy would do something like that?"

"Cerberus might," Shepard told her bluntly.

Revan frowned again, considering, but Miranda spoke up before she could. "The Illusive Man would never sanction—"

Anger flared. "Wouldn't he?" Shepard snapped, cutting her off. "Do I need to remind you about all the innocent colonists he exposed to Element Zero, just to experiment with human biotics? Or the marines he lured to their deaths at Akuze? Or the torture and murder of Admiral Kahoku?" She had the satisfaction of seeing Miranda's self-assuredness flicker ever so slightly.

"Shepard," Revan interjected cautiously, "It sounds like Cerberus has been… unscrupulous in the past, but in this case it doesn't make sense for them to be responsible." Shepard redirected her glare toward Revan, but the smaller woman just squared her shoulders and continued, unaffected. "The timing is wrong. The Illusive Man sent you here to collect two new members for your squad. Non-human members. Why would he release a virus that could very well kill both of them?"

Shepard folded her arms over her chest, but felt her glare weaken. Revan had a point. Dammit, her temper was short today. And she had let it get the better of her in front of the Cerberus representative... again.

"You're right, it doesn't make sense," she agreed grudgingly. "This time." She sighed. "Well, there are a few other groups out there who could benefit by killing off a lot of non-humans, but it would take some digging to find out why they would choose Omega to do it."

"No such thing as a cop on Omega," Zaeed noted. Another good point.

"Could this have something to do with the Collectors?" Revan suggested slowly.

Shepard had automatically exchanged a worried glance with Miranda before she realised what she was doing. Irritated, she looked away.

"The Collectors haven't been seen anywhere near Omega in years," Miranda said doubtfully. "But the Omega Four relay is close by."

"If they want to snatch a bunch of humans from somewhere no one in the galaxy really cares about, a virus that kills everyone but humans is a great way to speed things along," Zaeed offered. "You know, sort the wheat from the chaff. Humans aren't exactly top dogs here. Once all the non-humans are gone, it'll be easy to swoop in and gather them all up."

A chill ran down Shepard's spine. Or maybe… "'You exist because we allow it. You will end because we demand it,'" she quoted quietly.

Zaeed gave her a dubious look. "Christ, Shepard, you're not losing it already, are you? We've got a long way to go yet."

She shook her head, ignoring the jibe, and started walking again. "Sovereign said that to us on Virmire," she explained as they continued on down the main thoroughfare towards the slums. "The goal here might not be complex at all. It could just be the beginnings of the…" she faltered on the word. "The harvest. Which would mean the Collectors are working with the Reapers."

"'Reapers'…" Zaeed muttered in confusion.

Revan sped up so she was walking beside Shepard. "What else did this 'Sovereign' say to you?" she demanded. "Is that the leader of the Reapers?"

Shepard nodded as she palmed the door at the end of the mezzanine open. "Sovereign was the Reaper vanguard I told you about. The one it took two fleets to destroy. He said a lot of things. I'll show you the recording later."

"Sovereign?" Zaeed repeated. "Took two fleets? Ha! You mean the so-called geth ship that attacked the Citadel two years ago, don't you! I knew that was more than a geth attack."

Shepard spotted Miranda rolling her eyes at that. Revan was silent too, seemingly lost in thought, as they continued on to the entrance to the lower apartments. Shepard let them be, focussing on negotiating their way into the quarantine zone. The turian guarding the door seemed only too pleased to let them in once he caught a glimpse of the missile launcher on her back.

She wrinkled her nose at the smell as the hatch closed behind them, seriously contemplating donning her helmet. "What is that?" she murmured, unwilling to raise her voice too high in the claustrophobic, oppressive corridor.

Revan had gone pale. "Burning bodies," she said quietly. "I… don't know how I know that."

Shepard ignored the strangeness of that statement in favour of suppressing the nausea that rose up at the images it conjured.

"Shit," Miranda swore. It was the first time Shepard had heard the normally unflappable woman swear. "It must be worse than Aria thought down here." Even Zaeed had fallen quiet.

But standing around dwelling on it would help no one, least of all the dead. Gritting her teeth, Shepard drew her rifle and tucked it into the crook of her shoulder. "Ignore it. We've got a job to do. Weapons up. Be ready for anything."

Revan ducked back behind cover as a rocket exploded on the pillar behind her, bathing her in a wash of heat. Thanks to the armour Miranda had loaned her, she felt it only on her cheeks.

The armour had been surprisingly comfortable, and useful too. Her movement hadn't been impeded, and this galaxy's shields allowed her to take a few hits without expending the energy to block them. As a result, she had been able to be a little… bolder than before.

She waited, tensed, and another rocket hit, causing the metal pillar to vibrate in its foundations. She whipped around, peering up at the distant balcony and trying to commit its layout to memory. It was lined with vorcha, some wielding rocket launchers, others sniper rifles, and there were a lot of them.

"Revan, get back!" Shepard shouted, her voice coming more through Revan's new in-ear comm than from outside it, despite the commander being no more than five metres away. Revan ducked quickly back into cover. The rockets were coming thick and fast and loud, and to top it off the vorcha were also surprisingly good snipers.

"I can't get an opening," Zaeed grumbled. The mercenary was ten metres away on Revan's other side, crouching behind a low platform that could in the past have supported a decorative statue. Now it was empty and covered with rust.

"Revan, use that Force of yours and pull one or two of them up out of cover. Miranda and I will cover you. Zaeed, take them out," Shepard ordered.

Good, that was exactly what she would have done herself. Revan kept one eye on Shepard, who was watching her, rifle at the ready, and the other eye on the vorcha. As soon as the onslaught of rockets stopped for a brief moment, Revan spun around the pillar again and reached a hand out towards the distant balcony. As Shepard opened fire, Revan drew on the Force, pulling two of the vorcha up into the air. One of them died instantly, a high-powered round from Zaeed's sniper rifle through the middle of his sloping forehead.

Her danger sense flared, and she threw herself back behind the pillar just as a pair of rockets slammed into it, showering her with flakes of rust. A couple of sniper rounds whizzed by right where she had been standing a moment before.

Damn, that had been close. She felt her hold on the remaining vorcha falter as she lost sight of him.

Zaeed picked up on that instantly. "Hold him steady, would you?"

Impatient smartass. She smirked, closing her eyes and feeling the vorcha's limbs through the Force. She froze them in place, so he was suspended like a puppet on strings.

Zaeed snorted, muttering, "That'll do." His sniper rifled boomed once more, and Revan felt the vorcha's life force wink out.

She released her hold on the body, letting it fall unceremoniously to the hard ground below. Vorcha felt… strange in the Force. Sentient, without a doubt, but intelligent? Empathetic? Calculating? She could sense none of these things. She doubted they had anything to do with the Collectors' – or the Reapers' – plans. They weren't animals, by any means, but it was as though they were a step below the other beings in this galaxy on the evolutionary scale. It made it uncomfortably easier to kill them.

"Incoming from below!" Miranda called out from her position to Shepard's right, further along the platform than the rest of them. "Group of six, two krogan!"

Revan craned her neck so she could see what Miranda saw without stepping out from behind her pillar and into the continuing onslaught of rockets. A group of four vorcha and two heavily armoured krogan were approaching from the maintenance room that housed the second ventilation fan for the lower levels of Omega. She swore to herself. If they managed to make it up the ramps the Normandy crew would be in big trouble. The small group by itself wouldn't be difficult to deal with, but the fact that they would need to do so under heavy fire from the balcony above would make it a lot more challenging.

That corridor was under cover, though, and out of line of sight of the vorcha on the balcony. They could use that—

"Revan, Zaeed, get rid of the rest of the vorcha. Quickly. Miranda, you're with me," Shepard ordered. In a matter of moments, Revan could feel the biotic energy building within the commander. She shifted her shoulders back and flew across two ramps to slam into the group of vorcha and krogan, sending the vorcha sprawling to the ground and rocking the krogan back a few steps. Miranda followed, darting down the nearest ramp and neatly vaulting into cover. She opened fire, cutting off the group's route up the ramp.

Revan nodded inwardly. Shepard had a good tactical mind. Going up against two krogan would be dangerous, but the commander was incredibly quick for someone wearing heavy armour, and her biotics provided even more shielding. Revan had been watching her fight as they made their way through the mercenaries and vorcha infesting the slums. The commander would be able to hold her own, and none of them would get past her.

Revan returned her attention to the onslaught of rockets from above. Zaeed had switched to his assault rifle, a battered, older-looking model than Shepard's, and was firing at a balcony wall. She could sense three vorcha hiding behind it, but they were safely out of Zaeed's line of fire.

Time to change that. She made sure her shield indicator was at full strength, then ducked out of cover and raised a hand—

With a boom, that section of the balcony exploded into a ball of fire. The vorcha went flying, tossed up into the air and over the edge to land in piles of tangled limbs on the roof of the corridor below. The half-wall they had been crouching behind cracked and bowed outwards, and with a loud creak of protest, the floor detached and began to list downwards.

Revan blinked. "Nice," she said, and meant it.

"Emergency gas shut-off valves," Zaeed explained, obviously very pleased with himself. "They don't respond well to gunfire."

Revan peered a little closer, and spotted the small, subtly marked emplacements he was talking about. They lined the balcony, and were easy to see when you knew what you were looking for. She grinned to herself, and ducked back behind cover as a round from a sniper rifle dropped her shields to zero. She waited for them to recharge, drawing one of her lightsabers and igniting the violet blade. As soon as her indicator showed full, she stepped out and threw the saber. She grabbed it with the Force and one by one sliced through every emergency shut-off valve she could see.

Everything exploded. As her lightsaber sliced them open, the valves failed catastrophically and the gas held within detonated, bright orange and blue plumes of fire shooting out and up from the balcony and bathing the platform where Revan and Zaeed stood in heat. The vorcha were incinerated, whether they were in cover or not. Unfired rockets detonated, shooting out, up and away from the balcony and helpfully increasing the size of some of the explosions. The entire structure groaned, and the floor beneath Revan's feet vibrated noisily as she called her lightsaber back to her hand. She kept an eye on Shepard and Miranda, the Force humming through her veins, ready just in case she needed to protect them from a wayward rocket or debris. Zaeed was safely ensconced behind his planter.

"Hot damn, leave some for the rest of us," the mercenary said, raising his voice above the noise, unable to hide the glee in his voice.

"Bloody hell, Revan! Don't bring the whole thing down with us underneath it!" Miranda snapped, her SMG a constant stutter in the background.

Revan couldn't help the unabashed grin spreading across her face at the sheer destruction she had caused. Controlled destruction – despite what Miranda said, she had targeted and kept it localised far away from where it could have injured her team; and possibly more importantly, she had kept herself under control too. The dark side had nothing to do with what she had just done.

Maybe… maybe she didn't need it after all?

With that idea fluttering insistently in the back of her mind, she unhooked her second lightsaber and headed off at a jog down to the lower level. Shepard and Miranda were down to the two krogan, the bodies of the four vorcha strewn around the corridor. As she watched, one of them charged Shepard, who braced herself on the spot. Her biotics flared, and Revan wrinkled her nose at their strange feel in the Force. They were oily, and different to anything she had felt before, but they were also somehow refreshing, like the bubbles of a too-sweet effervescent drink tickling her nose.

At the last moment, Shepard ducked aside, half-rolling, and the krogan lumbered past like a boulder plummeting down a hill. The commander spun, shifted her shoulders back and charged him from behind. With the momentum of both charges combined, the krogan slammed straight into a solid pillar with bone-crunching force. Revan winced as she felt his life-force flicker and fade.

The other krogan was lowering his plated forehead, preparing to charge Miranda, who didn't have anywhere near as much room to manoeuvre. "Little help here!" the Cerberus operative called, making ready to dart away herself.

Revan ignited her sabers with a satisfying double snap-hiss and leaped into range, striking high and low in quick succession. The slow-moving krogan managed to raise an arm in time to block high, but her lightsaber just sliced through the thick armour and into the flesh of his arm beneath.

Then stopped, sizzling and sputtering as it dug into armour and skin. Her second saber plunged into the armoured chest-plate near where a human kidney would be located, before also losing momentum and thrumming in place. She grunted in annoyance. Krogan flesh was tough, especially when combined with their particular brand of thick armour.

The krogan roared in her face, looming over her, and she couldn't help an instinctive wince as she let go of her sabers and ducked away from his swinging fists. There was pain in that sound – she had wounded him – but it was muted compared to the sheer, blind rage in his eyes. It reminded her of the enraged kath hounds they had run into on Dantooine in a way, but this krogan was clearly an intelligent, sentient being. Far moreso than the vorcha.

She grit her teeth. He wasn't going to stop if she asked him nicely. She had to kill him, but she wasn't going to enjoy it.

Well, Shepard had used momentum to her advantage; so could she. She reached up and grabbed her sabers again, hitting the activation studs. The blades extinguished, freeing her to dance away backwards. The krogan crouched and prepared to charge again, and she braced herself with the Force. Miranda hit him with her biotics from behind, causing his skin to visibly crawl and his roar to grow louder, but otherwise he just shrugged it off, intent on Revan.

He charged, and Revan allowed herself to sink into the Force. Everything seemed to slow and become crystal clear as she calmed, almost like she was an observer moving pieces on a vibrant dejarik board. She knew exactly where the krogan was going to be before he got there, and exactly the precise angle she would need for the move she was about to try.

Just before he slammed into her she pivoted neatly to one side and ignited her sabers, thrusting them into his path and using a combination of her own strength and the Force to hold them rock-steady. The hem of her tunic fluttered and brushed his thigh-plating as she moved.

The krogan's own strength and speed carried him right through both blades. He stumbled to a halt and fell to the ground, a deep gash along his side, and his head all but severed from his body.

"Well. That'll do," Miranda muttered appreciatively, straightening and dusting herself off.

Revan let out a slow breath, holding onto that elusive Jedi calm for just a moment longer. She had forgotten just how good it felt, how satisfying, when everything fell so neatly into place with the aid of the light side of the Force. It was… somewhat akin to joy. She didn't want to let it go.

Shepard was breathing hard, her face was red and her reddish-brown hair was plastered to the sides of her face with sweat. She was grinning, though. "Damn, Revan, I didn't even see you move!"

Revan couldn't help smiling in reply. "That, Shepard, was the light side."

"Huh. No kidding. You've sure got one hell of a toolbox with that Force of yours."

Revan shrugged amiably. "You seem to have a pretty comprehensive toolbox yourself. That charge you pulled off, straight into the back of that krogan? That was impressive."

Shepard set her hands on her hips and cocked her head to one side as if she was considering Revan's assessment. "It was, wasn't it?" she agreed, and Revan found herself laughing along with her. Zaeed was rolling his eyes at the two of them and Miranda had fixed Shepard with a hard, unreadable stare, but for a moment Revan felt like a giddy teenager again, giggling with a new friend.

Shepard finally shifted her attention back to the bodies strewn across the corridor. "All right, that's the lot of them. Let's get this fan turned on so we can pick Mordin up and get the hell off this rusty old tin can."

It wasn't long before Shepard and Miranda emerged from the small maintenance room, the dull roar of the ventilation fan thrumming behind them. The four of them headed back to Mordin's clinic, the trek feeling noticeably shorter without vorcha and mercenaries in their way.

The salarian scientist looked up from his patient as they all traipsed into his clinic, his big, vaguely reptilian eyes brightening as he spotted them. "Ah, Shepard!" he greeted the commander enthusiastically, wide, leathery mouth stretching into a grin. "Vents back on, seem to be fully functional. Virus so far undetected in airflow. Did a good job!"

"Thanks, Mordin," Shepard responded wryly to the praise. "Does this mean you'll join us?"

Mordin looked down at his patient, who smiled wanly and gave a thumbs-up. Revan recognised his assistant, Daniel. They had pulled him out of some trouble he'd gotten himself into down near the fans. "Yes, Daniel can take over clinic. Mostly capable. If he doesn't take on more than he can handle." Mordin frowned, then nodded. "Will leave the mechs."

Revan already found herself growing to like Mordin. He was smart, strategic, calculating… but genuine too, despite his clandestine past as a part of his species' intelligence corps. "Have you thought any more about our theory?" she asked him. "That the Collectors have something to do with this virus?"

The salarian wrapped a long arm around his waist and propped his elbow on it, resting his chin in his hand. "Maybe. Collectors capable of producing virus. Have appropriate technology. No motive, though. Collectors known as traders – possibly slavers. Nothing for them to gain by killing."

Revan exchanged a glance with Shepard, who responded. "We may have an idea about that motive. I'll explain more on the ship. Ready to go?"

Mordin nodded, and began quickly and efficiently packing a bag. Revan noticed he already had a couple of what she thought were weapon and armour crates ready to go. She smiled to herself. He had known they would succeed before they even left.