"Creator Tali'Zorah?"

In a split-second Tali scrambled up, adrenaline flooding her veins and reaching for a weapon that wasn't there. She had been absorbed into her own little world, so lost in the confusion and pain of betrayal that she hadn't even heard the metallic footsteps of the geth. Now it stood there for some reason, just watching her with that single glowing optic. The effect was eerie in the dim red light of the lower deck, making the metallic plates of its body seem almost black. The last thing she wanted to see on this entire ship had come looking for her.

All she wanted was to be left alone. The file the Shadow Broker had sent was small, but more than enough to make her feel a level of pain she hadn't experienced since the Alarei. A short video with average resolution, no audio. But the sight of Liara leaning in and pressing her lips against Shepard's, his fingers tightening ever so slightly on her shoulders before the video stopped, leaving the image hanging frozen there to torment her, was like being at her trial all over again. But this time the man that had stood up to save her was the source of her pain.

"Go away, Legion," Tali responded sullenly.


"Then why are you here?"

"We have completed assisting EDI with the calibrations to the Normandy's stealth systems for infiltration of the Shadow Broker's location. Daniels-Engineer instructed that all modifications should be verified by Creator Tali'Zorah before implementation," it explained.

She sighed. "Fine. Just do it and go away."


The young quarian balled her fists in frustration. "Why won't you just leave when you're told, you stupid geth?"

There was a brief moment when she considered activating her omni-tool and threatening to overload the machine if it didn't leave. When Shepard had brought the inactive machine on board she had been livid that he could be so callous as to consider having a geth aboard the Normandy. Forcing her to interact with the geth platform, bringing her on the mission to geth installation and making her make the final call on whether to destroy or reprogram the heretics... all of it had forced her to face her own demons and misconceptions about the quarian's rebellious creations. In the end while she might not be friends with Legion, they at least had come to some sort of understand. It's obstinate refusal to leave her alone now, though, was both confusing and infuriating.

"Tone and physical cues indicate Creator Tali'Zorah is in distress. Consensus dictates not to abandon member of collective in distress if assistance can be rendered," Legion said.

"Collective?" she asked, voice cracking as she tried to blink the tears from her eyes.

"Shepard-Commander, ship crew, ground team, are all part of Normandy collective. Operational status of Normandy collective is highest priority."

The odd realization that a machine, a geth no less, was essentially saying that it was worried about her well-being was almost enough to snap her out of her fugue. Finally she just shook her head. "I'm fine, Legion. There are some problems you can't fix."

The geth bobbed it's head in mimicry of the human gesture it had picked up since coming aboard the Normandy. "Affirmative. We will notify Shepard-Commander. Previous data indicates an eighteen percent operational efficiency increase when Creator Tali'Zorah interacts with Shepard-Commander."

"No!" Tali almost yelled before lowering her voice. "You can't say anything to Shepard."

"We do not understand," Legion said quizzically. "Previous data indicates that interaction with a mate typically results in calming effect for the distressed partner."

The word 'mate', clinical as it was, still made Tali feel like she'd been punched in the stomach. Shepard had promised he'd always come back to her. That he was hers. But mate implied children. Could that be part of it? Something that she could never give him and Liara could? She sank back down to the floor, not even looking at the synthetic near her.

"It... it doesn't always work that way, Legion. It's not something you can understand. Sometimes it just makes it worse when you realize you're alone."

Legion seem to contemplate her for a moment before speaking. "Current conflict with Shadow Broker and Creator Tali'Zorah's statements indicate material has been viewed that is designed to target organic emotional instability and cause disruption in unit cohesion. Any data acquired in this context should be considered extremely unreliable."

"I'm not stupid," she replied bitterly. "I can tell fakes from an unaltered images."

"We have a query."

Tali sighed. "If I answer will you go away?"

"Affirmative," Legion agreed.

She waved a hand for the synthetic to proceed, assuming that by now it would have picked up enough on organic body language to figure things out for itself. In that moment the quarian wanted nothing more to be left alone. Not interrogated by something she'd just as soon of shot less than a month ago.

"What is the format and quantity of evidence regarding the misconduct of Shepard-Commander?"

"What? It... it was a video file without audio. I checked and it hasn't be altered," she said, a little confused by the question.

"Current records indicate twenty eight total logged instances of behavior defined as 'altruistic' or 'cooperative' by organic standards between Shepard-Commander and Creator Tali'Zorah," Legion said in its usual level tone. "In addition there are five incidents logged since we have integrated with the Normandy collective wherein Shepard-Commander has been observed acting in an overtly protective or self-sacrificing manner towards Creator Tali'Zorah."

"I... I guess... I mean, you're correct. But what does-" she responded slowly.

Legion unexpectedly cut her off when it continued. "Shepard-Commander's actions are extensively logged. Consensus achieved that the actions of Shepard-Commander indicate extreme prioritization of Creator Tali'Zorah outside standard maintenance of unit cohesion. Single example of contrary evidence insufficient to nullify consensus."

Without further elaboration the geth platform turned on its heel and exited the corridor, likely heading back to main engineering to perform the tasks it had originally come down to acquire authorization for. Whatever the strange machine's way of thinking it appeared that it had decided that it had succeeded in the necessary task of 'assisting' one of its collective. For her part Tali merely stared after it pensively. She was almost certain that she had just been upbraided by the geth for doubting Shepard's loyalty in spite of the evidence that still sat with almost physical weight on her omni-tool. But Legion couldn't understand. It was part of a collective mind... did it even really fathom betrayal?

"Dammit, Shepard..." she whispered to the darkness. Her omni-tool beeped once more. Another message from the same sender.

You have my sympathies, Ms. Zorah. Let us discuss a deal that will help you overcome this difficult time.

- The Shadow Broker

"We Joker informs me that we will be within range within minutes, Commander. This is fortunate. I believe your pacing would begin to damage the deck plating soon," Samara said.

He looked up and gave a forced smile. "If I didn't know any better I'd think you were trying to make a joke."

The graceful asari shrugged. "Your own manner is often that of the confident and jovial soldier, I thought an attempt at offering a counter to your current melancholy to be appropriate."

"It's appreciated," Shepard replied. "I'm just worried. I haven't gotten any update from Miranda's team since we arrived in system. I don't like being left in the dark, not knowing where my people are."

Liara's information had been dead on. Once they knew what they were looking for it had become possible to pinpoint the location of the Broker's massive ship, buried in the electrically charged atmosphere of an uninhabited planet, pacing one of the massive storms that swept across the world's surface. He had to admit that it was an ingenious if staggeringly costly method of concealment. If they hadn't had the astrological data retrieved on Ilium and the ship data the chances of locating the vessel even with through scans would have been next to nil. Now they were almost in range to finally put an end to this shadow war.

Almost absently the spectre brushed his fingertips across his weapons. Pistol at one hip, sub-machine gun on the other. Expecting the closer confines of ship-board combat, even if it was a large ship, an assault shotgun occupied the place normally reserved for his sniper rifle. The goal was rather simple, neutralize the threat that the Broker presented one way or the other. If Feron, the drell that had helped Liara secure him for Cerberus was truly still alive they would do their best to extract him. They were ready. Or at least they would be once the rest of his team arrived.

"Locked and loaded here, Boss," Garrus said, apparently noticing his gaze drifting towards the elevator. "Where's Tali?"

Shepard frowned. "I don't know."

Before he could press his omni-tool to contact her, though, the elevator doors opened and the quarian made her appearance. She was seating a pistol into place at her hip as she approached, making a straight line for the shuttle.

"Sorry I'm late."

"What, still worried Donnelly is going to burn the place down while you're gone?" Garrus quipped.

"No," she said flatly.

He frowned once more and stepped closer, only to be interrupted by Joker's voice echoing over the comms. "Alright, Commander. We're entering the atmosphere, time to haul ass. We might be invisible to sensors but someone is bound to look out a window eventually. Ya know, since everyone isn't a joyless robot that considers windows a structural weakness."

"Geth do not currently have a consensus on the organic concept of joy. Thus we cannot we lacking it until we have made further determination," Legion said.

"Just keep telling yourself that, Mr. Roboto," the pilot shot back.

"Can it!" Shepard said, cutting off the exchange. "Load up, people."

The team quickly embarked the shuttle, taking their seats and strapping in, already anticipating the turbulence they were likely to experience as soon as they cleared the Normandy's mass effect field. Tali had slipped past him without a word and he made a mental note to talk to her later. Maybe there had been an incident in engineer, especially since tempers were running so high thanks to the Broker's misinformation campaign. It would have to wait, though.

"Alright, you all know the plan. Tali, Liara, Legion. You're with me, we're going to have to break into the ship the hard way. Garrus: beta team is yours, button down at the shuttle until I give the signal that we've got access and then take Grunt and Jack, pressure them from the main docking area," Shepard told them, even as he was guiding the shuttle out of the Normandy's bay. "Samara, Zaeed, you've got guard duty. Make sure that if everything goes sideways we've got a shuttle to evac to. Everyone clear?"

A chorus of affirmative responses echoed in the cabin. Without further elaboration pushed the shuttle forward, the controls bucking under his hands the moment they exited the safety of the Normandy. The Broker's ship was just ahead, a wedge shaped vessel with a broad shield of heavy panels protecting its rear like the hilt of a sword. Just behind it was the massive rolling wall of yellow-gray clouds, great arcs of lightning jumping between them, a hungry storm constantly snapping at the ship's heels.

Joker had brought them in almost dangerously close, making it only a brief hop to the other ship. He settled the shuttle heavily on the ship's bow and engaged the magnetic grapples, securing it in place before slamming the door controls.

"Here we go! Stay down and hang on tight!"

The moment the door opened the howl of the wind could be heard and felt. Each member of the team made their way onto the ship's deck, doing as instructed and staying low to avoid being pulled off the hull by the gusts.

"This is fucking nuts, Shepard. Just thought you should know that," Zaeed yelled.

He laughed. "Come on, after the Collectors what's one ship in the middle of a planetary hurricane?"

"One goddamn ship too many!"

The mercenary braced his back against the Kodiak's hull and tucked his rifle into his shoulder, giving Shepard a thumbs up. Samara took position on the other side and signalled her own readiness.

Shepard returned the merc's gesture. "Okay, Garrus wait for my signal! Let's go knock on the Broker's door!"

His smaller squad followed quickly, straining against the wind. Any other ship's mass effect field would have been large enough to completely negate the problem, but of course the Broker was worried about detection so it kept the minimum necessary to provide the ship with the lift it needed to stay airborne. They managed to make it over the sloped bow of the vessel and down onto one of the lower side catwalks, the wind still making a terrible racket but not threatening to dislodge them.

"Think the Broker knows we're here yet?" he asked Liara.

"I don't know, it's possible the Normandy's stealth-"

Before she could finish the sentence a side door opened and a man in familiar black armor stepped out, leveling a rifle in their general direction. A burst of fire struck the spectre's shields, forcing him back even as he drew his pistol to return fire.

"Nevermind! Got my answer!"

"Engaging hostiles, Shepard-Commander." The geth's statement was punctuated by the crack of its heavy rifle, the shot taking the next mercenary full in the chest and knocking him over the railing. As soon as the wind caught him he was gone, yanked away like a feather in a tornado.

"I don't like this at all," Tali muttered.

"Makes two of us, head for the door. Sooner we're off the hull of this damn thing the better," he ordered, snapping off a few rounds and pressing forward.

Unfortunately as soon as they made progress the enemy retreated, sealing the door behind them. Rather than mull over the lost opportunity he motioned the squad to follow. The emergency entrance closer to the ship's rear was the only one that the schematics showed as accessible from the outside. He could only imagine the security measures the Broker would have in place, but that was why he brought his two best techs. One could read machines like he could read a book, the other... well the other was a machine. It didn't get much better than that.

One more attempted ambush that ended as poorly as the first for their attackers and they had managed to traverse most of the distance along the ship's starboard side. Between Legion's unerringly accurate rifle and Liara's biotics the Broker's mercenary army had little going for them on the ship's exposed surface. Keeping his pistol in hand the spectre hauled himself up the side of the ship, towards the small valley at the rear of the ship where the emergency entrance was located.

"Looks like this is it. Legion, Tali: get us in. Liara and I will make sure you don't have any problems," Shepard ordered. "As soon as you're in his system I'm sure the Broker is going to object."

The quarian nodded curtly and turned on her heel, Legion right behind, but he didn't take time to dwell on it. With no real access behind them it meant that enemies would have to approach from either side. Not a perfect position to defend but there were definitely worse places. Bracing his back against one of the upraised support struts that were part of the heavy rear shield Shepard extended his submachine gun and waited. He didn't have to wait long. As soon as the two techs accessed the control panel there was a response and a second later the first armored soldier came into view.

"Keep them busy! We're not here for a kill count, just to cover Tali and Legion," he barked at Liara.

"I'm aware of the mission, Shepard!" she shot back, throwing out a concentrated ball of dark energy that slammed into the first enemy that came into range.

Then there was no time for talking. Their enemy knew that neither of their positions were particularly good and made the most of it, trying to overwhelm them with one big push. Unfortunately for them after fighting the Collectors who quiet literally seemed to act as a hive mind, even a well-trained group of professional soldiers didn't quite compare. The spectre laid down a volley of fire that dropped not the first, but the second, soldier of the charge from his side, while the other charged on. Suddenly realizing his support had already fallen he tried to back pedal, only to be slammed into the ship's hull by a biotic shove.

Their push broken a few of the mercenaries tried to fall back before making another aborted surge. Self preservation apparently was something they practiced. Liara was shaking her head across from him.

"What?" he asked.

"They'd be far more effective if they'd just all attack at once."

He rolled his eyes. "Please don't give the mercenaries ideas, Liara."

The asari smirked at him but didn't get a chance to reply, instead Legion's metallic tone cutting her off. "We have overridden the door controls, Shepard-Commander."

"Good, can you open the door for Garrus as well?"

"Testing..." the geth said.

"It's already done. Tell him to move," Tali finished for him.

He nodded, tapping his omni-tool and opening a channel to the turian. "Garrus, copy?"

"Right here, Boss."

"Door's open, make some noise."

"Thought you'd never ask."

Shepard felt a slight tremor in the deck-plating even through the buffeting of the storm. Seems that Grunt had taken the lead with the grenade launcher. The krogan had become very fond of the weapon since the Collector base, calling it 'large, aggressive, and unsuited to anything but killing. Just like me'. If nothing else it meant that any security the Broker had would have its attention divided. If anything was difficult to ignore it was a krogan with a high explosive weapon.

Turning his attention back to the situation at hand me gestured sharply to the emergency hatch and backed towards it himself, keeping his eye on the approaches. "Legion, down. Then Tali and Liara, I'll lock it down behind us."

The geth didn't bother replying, simply stowing the long rifle on its back and producing a snub-nosed Vindicator assault rifle. Tali hauled open the hatch and the synthetic leapt straight down, landing with a resounding clank. A moment of silence followed but Legion spoke.

"Negative contact, Shepard-Commander. Proceed."

Tali and Liara quickly made their way down the ladder, with him holding the hatch open before he followed. The Broker's soldiers apparently hadn't rallied enough to make another push or made it to whatever location the hatch provided access too and he wasn't about to look a gift horse in the mouth. Shutting the hatch behind him he dropped to the floor where Tali was standing with her arms crossed.

"I need to get back up there if you want to seal it."

"I'll do it myself."

"You're not that good of a tech, Shepard-" the quarian began.

He responded by flaring his biotics and pushing upwards, a pulse of energy impacted the hatch and there was a sound of rending metal. Looking up the metal around the hatch was bent and warped into an unnatural shape. It would take explosives or a significant amount of time with a torch to gain entrance with the level of damage to the structure.

Liara chuckled. "Well, that's another way to do it."

"You can't override metal. I don't want any surprises, let's get this job done," he said.

"This way," the asari said.

Shepard pulled the shotgun from his back and thumbed the safety off. They were in. The Broker had been playing games for far too long. It was time to teach him that sometimes when you played the game, you lost. Badly.


A drell is strapped into a chair, convulsing from an electric shock even as Shepard watched. He hadn't encountered that many drell but the man looked in bad shape, numerous bruisers and wounds on his body, eyes unfocused, wrists raw from where he had jerked against the restraints. At the sound of Liara's voice he seemed to come around though, croaking out a few strained words.

"L-Liara. No... don't touch... it. Trap."

"It's alright, Feron. We're here to help you," the asari said, moving closer.

The drell shook his head. "Broker... run..."

"He's delirious. But I'm not sure we can unhook him from... whatever the hell this thing is," Shepard said. "We need to deal with the Broker if we're going to get him out of here."

"Shepard-Commander. We believe that this torture device is rigged to produce an electrical current of sufficient amperage to be fatal to any organic life-form in contact with it if the occupant is removed before property security codes are entered," Legion added. "Creator Tali'Zorah or this platform could override controls but would require time investment exceeding mission parameters."

"Then one of you can stay behind and lock down the doors while you do it. If you get enemy attention radio me or Garrus for assistance."

"Legion can do it. He's better at solo operations," Tali said quickly.

The spectre nodded. "Agreed. Legion, keep working on it. We'll deal with the Broker."

He saw Liara spare a long glance back at the captive drell, for a moment looking like the frightened researcher that he had encountered years ago held captive in a Prothean stasis field. Then her features hardened as she turned towards the door.

"Yes. Let's do just that. The data shows the Broker's private suites are one level down."

"Then we're going one level down. I'll take point, you two make sure nobody gets any bright ideas to follow," he said, slapping the door control and heading for the elevator.

"Hold on... I'm bypassing it, the controls are locked..." Tali muttered.

A second later the door slid open and they stepped inside. The ride down to the next level was uneventful and despite his suspicions they were not met by a small army of the Broker's personal soldiers. Instead the elevator merely opened to a short corridor, terminating at a set of double doors. He gestured towards the doorway and looked to Liara who nodded emphatically. Shepard stowed the shotgun at his back, pulling the pistol from the holster at his hip instead to have a hand free just in case.

"Ready?" he asked quietly, looking between the two.

"I've been ready for two years," Liara replied coldly.

He looked to Tali and clucked his tongue. "Tali? Now's not the time to lose focus."

"I... I'm ready, John. It's time for this to end."

The spectre gave her a wry smile. "That it is."

Raising the pistol he opened the door and stepped through, Tali and Liara following close behind. The room they entered was large and dimly lit, roughly circular with a truly massive desk occupying its center. At that desk there sat a large bulk, causing him to raise his brow in surprise. The Shadow Broker? He was enormous. Bigger than even a krogan unless his eyes were playing tricks on him. When the Broker spoke the effect was only strengthened by the deep reverberations of his voice.

"You came for the drell."

"I came for you. Feron I consider a bonus," he replied, watching the large form carefully.

"Reckless, Commander. Even for you."

"And the bombing on Illium was subtle? Not to mention the private army of black armored soldiers."

The Broker shrugged. "Excessive, but necessary."

"No it wasn't!" Liara snapped suddenly. "Neither was caging Feron here for two years like an animal!"

If the Broker was fazed by the outburst, his tone didn't show it, deep and level. It sounded like a mountain speaking from the depths of the earth. "Dr. T'soni. Your interference caused all of this. Feron betrayed me when he handed you Shepard's body. He is simply paying the price for his error in judgement."

"The error was when you thought working for the Collector's was a good idea," Shepard said. "Look how well that turned out. This ends here and now."

Liara nodded, her own pistol trained on the bulky form. "You won't be hurting anyone else. Maybe if you had been smart we would have just walked out of here with Feron."

There was a hint of dry amusement in the Broker's tone. "You won't be walking out of anywhere, T'soni. Neither will your companions. It's pointless to challenge me. I know your every secret, while you fumble in the dark."

He managed to resist the urge to fire when the Broker stood to his full height, the faint blue lighting from the rooms overhead lights brightening slightly to shed illumination at last on the Broker's form. The revelation only left him more perplexed and worried him as he took in the bizarre sight before him. Whatever the Broker was, it was no race he had ever seen. Standing taller than even a krogan he was almost the size of a YMIR combat mech, broad and thick. Most noticeably was his equally large head, set with numerous eyes over a mouth that looked like an inverted Y. With each breath his mouth opened slightly, dozens of jagged teeth lining every inch of his maw. His ferocious appearance was only added to by the set of curved horns jutting from his head.

Liara took a step back, but her voice was unwavering, even carrying a faint hint of satisfaction. "Is that right? You're a yahg. A pre-spaceflight species quarantined to their homeworld for massacring the Citadel first contact teams. This base is older than your species contact with the rest of the galaxy, meaning that you likely killed the original Shadowbroker sixty years ago and took over."

Reading a completely unknown species' facial ques wasn't a simple matter but if the way the Broker's mandibles seemed to grind together, it looked like Liara's information was correct. He saw the yahg's taloned hands grip the edge of his desk tightly while she spoke.

"My guess would be that you were taken by a trophy hunter as a slave... or a pet. How am I doing?"

"Your attempt to provoke me is admirable, but futile," the Broker replied, though if the deep rumbling growl that had preceded the statement was any indication it hadn't been quite as futile as claimed. "I have spent decades building an empire and playing games with entire governments. One band of mercenaries and soldiers is only an annoyance. Would you like to know what happened to your friends and allies, Commander?"

Another half inch of the door frame disappeared in a burst of automatic fire, rounds chewing into the unfortunate building with relentless determination. Commercial storefronts and storage buildings were never meant to weather a combat situation and it showed. The edges of every window and door were irregular lines, tiny bits of glass covering everything, and the smell of blood filled the air.

"Don't they ever run out of ammo?" Jacob asked.

Miranda's smile was humorless. "No, but we certainly are. I've only got two thermal clips left."

"Ditto," Kasumi chirped, still sounding far too cheerful considering the circumstances.

"Single reload plus five additional..." Mordin began, before raising his head and snapped off two quick shots at one of the approaching mercenaries. "Three additional rounds remaining in current capacity."

Miranda sighed. He muscles ached and she could feel her hair sticking sweat dampened skin. Even her head was starting to pound from the constant use of her biotics with each probing attack by the Broker's private soldiers. Jacob was likely feeling the same fatigue and the other two didn't look much better. It was only a minor miracle that none of them had actually been hit yet, just covered with minor nicks and bruises from diving behind their rapidly failing cover.

"Never really pictured it like this," the thief said.

"How did you picture it?"

Kasumi's response had finally lost some of the usual cheer. "Less violent."

"There's still time, Kasumi," Miranda said.

"Please, stealth or not they're putting enough bullets into this place I'd still probably get clipped trying to get out. And it doesn't matter. I'm not leaving you. Any of you," she insisted.


She noticed an odd little smile on Mordin's lips as he nodded. "Hold the line."


Any response she was going to make was interrupt by Jacob's barked command. They covered their heads as their small sanctuary suddenly shook, a roar of pressure and sound buffeting them. She and Jacob had been throwing up biotic barriers as quickly as they could, but the mercenaries continued to test their reaction time by firing concussion grenades at their entrenched position. A fact that only made it clearer than the Broker had also paid off any local law enforcement, gun fire was one thing ignore, explosions quite another.

Jacob wiped a film of plaster dust from his face and sighed, sweat making it mostly an effort in smearing. He met her eyes and smiled sadly. "They're getting ready for one last push. Probably figured out that we're getting dry here."

"So what do we do? Just sit here until they come?" Kasumi asked.

She shook her head but Mordin finished the thought before she could.


The thief wrinkled her nose, barely visible beneath the hood she wore. "And our chances of success?"

Mordin shrugged. "Probability astronomical. But better than waiting. When one accepts the inevitability of a negative outcome to a situation, the only logical course of action is try despite it."

"I think the human term is 'go out guns blazing', doctor," Jacob said.

"Hm. Indeed."

The four exchanged a long look in the momentary silence following the blast. She wasn't sure what to say, maybe it was nothing. They had all went on one suicide mission together already, faced the prospect of death more times than anyone could count. To say there were no regrets was a cliche. Everyone had regrets. Miranda regretted the path that had put them in this position to start with. But none of them regretted getting involved.

Catching her eye, Miranda saw the thief's lips curl in a small smile. "But we in it shall be remembered-"

"We few, we happy few, we band of brothers," Miranda finished. "If Shepard were here I'm sure he'd have something inspiring to say. But he's not. All I can say is something I have never become accustom too... thank you. It isn't enough, but it's all I have."

"It's all we need," Jacob replied. "Now why don't we show these joker's why you don't mess with the crew of the Normandy?"

She gave him a grateful nod, doing a fast, silent countdown. Two seconds. One second. Move. Calling up the last of her strength the biotic threw up her barriers and gathered a tight ball of power in her fist, intent on introducing that concentrated power to the first enemy she saw. They were apparently just in time to meet the last push by the Broker's soldiers, seeing what had to be two dozen of the black armored troopers charging forward with weapons raised. Miranda gritted her teeth and unleashed the warp at the first in her line of fire, even as the mercenary leveled his rifle at her.

The dense packet of dark energy hadn't even struck the soldier when he suddenly jerked like a puppet with its strings being yanked, a loud boom echoing through the street at the same time. What had been a full charge suddenly skidded to a halt as the Broker's agents tried to get their bearings. Before the first man had hit the ground a thunderous roar filled her ears immediately followed by a veritable storm of fire coming from both directions of the street and catching the advancing soldiers in the middle.

"What the hell?" Jacob yelled, looking around.

What had been a charge into death quickly turned into a full rout, half of the enemy soldiers cut down before they could even return fire. She wasn't sure if they'd just been saved or found themselves in an every worse situation, but Miranda had learned to never let an opportunity pass, emptying one of her remaining magazines into the enemy. One of the black armored soldiers turned into the fire in a brave, if stupid, gesture, only to go flying back as he took a shot full to the chest.

The four of them found themselves standing almost back to back, guns raised, when they caught sight of the other side of the conflict: a powerfully built krogan stalking into view. His armor was pitted and scarred, but oddly familiar. A mercenary? Her eyes widened slightly when they stepped out into the street and saw not just one krogan but a dozen, half on either end of the street and each holding a smoking gun.

Miranda did her best to instill her voice with authority. "Who are you?"

The krogan smiled toothily. "Torsk. Urdnot Wrex sends his regards. Care to get off this rock?"

"What's going to happen to us?" Lia asked.

"Nothing. Just remain calm. Everything will be fine," Kolyat assured her.

"Calm? We're being held captive by a bunch of mercenaries!"

"Look, they didn't shoot either of us before, did they?"

Lia sighed, tone one of grudging admittance. "No."

"Then they won't now. They need me to lure my father in. They need you to keep me in line. So we're safe," he said.

"For now," she muttered.

It had been sometime since the tense confrontation with the leader of the mercenary company. For a brief moment she had been certain that he would pull the trigger and she'd have to watch Kolyat die in the seconds before she followed. But surprisingly the man had lowered the gun, herding them both into one corner of the mostly abandoned section of the Citadel they had staked out as their ambush site.

"But when you're dad comes..."

"I'll think of something."

She nodded, trying to believe what he said. All she could think of was the guns all around her. Of never going back to the Fleet. Would anyone ever even know? Ancestors, her mother... what would her mother think if she just never came back, never messaged her again? Lia felt her breaths coming quickly and tried to calm herself when she felt a hand on her shoulder.

The voice that emerged from her helmet was barely a whisper. "I don't want to die."

"I promise you, I will find a way. My father will not walk blindly into a trap. And I won't let them hurt you," Kolyat said. "I was the idiot that stumbled us into this, I'll do whatever I can to get us out."

She smiled beneath her visor. It was weak, and it wasn't as if anyone could see it, but it was there. If nothing else he sounded confident, though she knew there was really little he could do. They were both unarmed now and the men that held them were clearly profession soldiers, all black, uniform armor and big guns.

"Wait, did you hear that?" the drell whispered.

"Hear what?"

"Quiet. Get behind me, if anything happens you drop to the floor and stay there until its over... if you see an opening you run, understood?"

Lia nodded.

She heard it then. A faint tapping sound overhead. Apparently one of the mercenaries did too, touching the side of his helmet and hefting his rifle, peering upwards. The leader stalked down the stairs towards them both, holding his rifle in one hand and motioning them closer with the other.

"Come on... show time!"

With no other recourse they followed, the merc leading them up the stairs and onto the catwalk above. Lia bit her lip and glanced around, feeling exposed in the open space. Their captors were clearly on edge, moving slowly and watching everything as best they could. Best, of course, wasn't always good enough. She heard a sound of surprise, followed by a loud clatter, and then silence.

"Dammit, keep it together people! Report!" the leader barked.

"I don't know, Echo Five just went silent!"

The mercenaries guns were all pointed in the direction of their missing member... which meant they didn't see the half dozen C-Sec agents in full riot gear and armed with submachine guns emerge from the access duct below them until it was too late. Two of the black armored soldiers turned their guns towards the newcomers, only to be cut down in a hail of fire before they could get a shot off.

She tried to back away when the mercenary reached for her, Kolyat pulling her back, but it was an unnecessary gesture. A hand landed on his shoulder, spinning him around, and there was the thick, heavy sound of flesh meeting flesh, the soldier finding himself on his back looking up at another human, blood running from his nose. He tried to reach for the rifle nearby only to find a booted foot on his wrist.

"What the fuck?"

Bailey stepped down until the man cried out in pain, gun falling from his numbed fingers. "Captain Armando Bailey, C-Sec. Seems you boys have some unlicensed weapons here. I think I'd call that a threat to Citadel security."

"God dammit... nobody was supposed know... we were here."

"Funny thing about that, I got an anonymous tip that there might be some dangerous individuals in violation of numerous Citadel ordinances down here."

The soldier looked confused. "A tip? You came... down here on a tip?"

"It was a really good tip."

"Whatever. Doesn't matter, arrest us. We'll be out in a day. We've got friends in high places, C-sec," the merc said, grinning through bloodied teeth.

"You're probably right. Which actually works out well because this is all actually out of my jurisdiction. My boys and I were just doing some... training exercises," Bailey said with an unpleasant smirk, the men around him echoing the statement, and then glanced to his right. "That's why I brought him along."

The man barely had time to object when Thane Krios stepped out of the shadows, leveled a pistol at his head, and fired.

The static was telling. Liara allowed herself a cruel smile as the Shadow Broker tossed the communications device aside and snarled, looking between her and Shepard. His aura of unconcerned arrogance had begun to slip, only chipped away farther as Shepard spoke.

"About that... you might have the most extensive information network in known space and almost limitless resources," the spectre said. "But I have something better. Friends. Friends that go out of their way when I ask and just so happen to have really big guns."

She wasn't sure if a yahg could sneer, but it was the impression she got when the Broker spoke. "You're quite assured, Commander. One might even call you arrogant. But no one is unreachable, as you've proven by so bluntly forcing your way onto my vessel. But the weakest link are always those closest to you."

"Your lies and tricks are over. You can't save yourself with them anymore," Liara hissed.

"T'Soni. I find your imagination... lacking. I have not spent sixty years as the Shadow Broker without learning to plan for any contingency. And I have also learned that everyone has their price."

"Let me guess, this is where you offer one of my crew wealth beyond their dreams to betray me?" Shepard asked sardonically.

"In other cases, possibly, but your crew is a special case, Shepard," the Broker said, giving a shrug of its massive shoulders. "I tested each of them. Made offers to a few that I thought might be agreeable to my terms. I was most impressive by Mr. Massani. For a mercenary he was rather emphatic in turning down my proposal. It seems you can inspire loyalty in even the most jaded."

"Guess that leaves you up the creek without a paddle then."

The Broker's laugh, if it could be called that, sounded like someone grinding large stones together. "One might assume. But as I said, it is always those closest that are the weakest links. And you did so helpfully provide the leverage I needed all on your own. Even with the Collectors gone, I expect I will find someone that will pay handsomely for your body, Shepard."

She glanced over at Shepard in confusion, unable to figure out what game he was playing. Reaching into his desk the yahg produced a large pistol and a small datapad. Pressing a key a small holographic screen appeared over his desk. Before Shepard could respond the Broker continued.

"An interesting fact, Commander. Did you know that every system, even military grade hardware, as a unique identifier code that allows access to its systems? These codes are almost impossible to crack and typically useless even if one manages as in combat all possible paths of traffic are closed to prevent hacking. But if someone was kind of enough to provide those codes and leave a command that unsecured one of those pieces of equipment... it becomes as simple as pressing a button to control that technology."

"What the hell are you talking about?" Shepard demanded.

Another rumbling laugh. "I'm talking about this."

The hologram on the screen changed to a simple illustration of a humanoid silhouette ringed by a field, with an inset of a small circular item. A personal field generator she realized. A green indicator light showed its power status, one that flicked and died as she watched. There was a faint crackle in the air, the sound of a kinetic barrier failing. Liara blinked, trying to understand exactly what had just happened.

"Thank for your assistance, Ms. Zorah."

In her surprise she didn't have time to react when the Broker raised the pistol with amazing speed and pointed it at the spectre. And fired.

There was a flash of blue and Shepard staggered back raising his own but stopping as he looked down in surprise. The heavy round had struck him full in the chest but hadn't even penetrated his armor, kinetic barriers taking the majority of the shot's force. For all the shock on spectre's face, the Broker seemed to have double, giving a roar of outrage and jerking his head towards the quarian that was standing to the side of them.


"Two years ago Shepard saved me from your agents, traitors or not. One thing you seem to have never understood is that there's more to life than an exchange of money and favors," the quarian said coldly.

"We had an agreement. You saw the proof I provided!" the yahg snarled.

The engineer's voice cracked but she didn't falter. "I saw... but I also realized that it didn't change the fact that I still loved him, no matter how much it hurt. It just changed what I had to do. I'm sorry, John. I wish..."

Those last words directed at the confused human, he was trying to divide his attention between the visibly angered Broker and Tali, apparently unsure of just how to react. The Broker had no such hesitation. With a roar that sounded like an enraged thresher maw he grabbed something else from his desk and threw it. Liara had only a brief second to throw up her barriers before the blast hit her, knocking her off her feet with its force.

It also brought a horrified revelation to the fore when she saw Tali lifted from her feet and knocked aside, slamming hard into floor and peppered with shrapnel. No flare of blue energy sprung to life to cushion the blast or deflect the debris. To complete her deception she had to provide the Broker with the code for the shield emitters... but it had been her own, not Shepard's, that had been disabled. A strangled cry from her right told her that the spectre had realized the same thing.


"John!" Liara yelled, grabbing his arm. "The Broker! You can't help her, not now, but the Broker will try to escape if we let him."

He locked eyes with her, a mixture of a thousand emotions dancing behind them. "Tali. Take care of Tali."

"I will. I'll call the others. We can't let him get away, not now."

Something changed in that instant. The fear and pain vanished from his face, and she watched his body flare with biotic energy as everything was replaced by something cold and angry. "He won't."

Even as Liara ran to the side of the fallen quarian she saw Shepard lash out, a pair of warps slamming into the heavy doors at either side of the room, twisting them shut like they'd been squeezed by an enormous hand. The Broker turned to face him then, bellowing like a beast and charging forward. The impact as the two forces met was like a secondary explosion echoing through the room. He hadn't even draw a weapon, did he really mean to face the Broker in hand to hand combat?

Shaking her head the asari activated her omni-tool. "Garrus!"

"Liara? What's happening?"

"No time. Tali is hurt, I don't know how badly. We need help, now!"

The turian cursed, something the translator couldn't even quite manage. "They've been slowing us down, trying to keep us boxed in."

"Just hurry."

"Don't worry. No more slowing down," Garrus said, and she heard him barking orders. "Grunt! I want everything between me and Shepard dead. Do you understand me?"

She closed the line, dropping to her knees next to Tali and gingerly touching her shoulder. At first there was no response, then a low moan. Her medical training told her that moving the girl was dangerous... but something else told her that it might not matter either way. Trusting her instincts she rolled the quarian over slightly until her shoulders rested across the Liara's knees. She sucked in a breath.

"Oh spirits, Tali."

Her veil was torn and singed in places and she saw half a dozen small punctures with trickles of blood running from them. She could only hope that the suit had automatically sealed around those locations. The worst, though was the shattered visor that normally protected the quarian's face from both damage and the dangers of outside air.

"L-Liara..." she croaked, breath coming fast.

"It's okay, Tali. Just don't move."

"Sh... shep... John..."

"He's... dealing with the Broker," Liara said, looking up.

Dealing with was something of an understatement. The yahg was a massive, powerful being designed for killing by the world on which it had been bred. But Shepard was something different. He'd been honed into a weapon and then improved upon by Cerberus, and it showed. The Broker swung a massive fist only to catch thing air, the spectre bringing both clasped fists down on his head in a bone jarring blow, made all the more brutal by the biotic push behind it. Even as the Broker staggered back he pressed for wrapping biotic energy around his fist and delivering another blow that made the sound of a breaking bones echo across the room. A roar of pain filled the room, another hasty swing found no connection, another fared little better, only forced Shepard to leap backwards.

Tali spoke, drawing her attention away. What she'd been watching wasn't a fight. It was an execution. It had been a forgone conclusion from the second it began, the only question was how long it would take for Shepard to finish it once and for all.

"Take care... him... happy."

"What are you talking about? He's yours, Tali. Why did you even do this? You could have told him. Or me... we could have found another way," Liara said. "Come on, look at me, stay with us."

The shattered face plate let the asari see Tali's face for the first time, likely the first time anyone had seen it since she was a child other than Shepard. In the moment, even with the scrapes and pain, she could see what had drawn Shepard to her despite the visor hiding her features so well.

"Couldn't risk... it. It's okay. Saw. Saw the picture... from Illium... just make him... happy," Tali gasped, trying to draw in breaths that came harder.

Liara silently prayed for Garrus to hurry, there was too much foreign contamination and she could already see the young quarian's pupils dilating and complexion paling as her body went to war with itself, allergic reactions triggering one after another and threatening to choke her. The asari shook her head and felt a tear trickle down her cheek as she realized what she meant, cursing herself for not having thought of it sooner. Of course they had been watched. One kiss. One stupid kiss.

"What did he show you, what did he tell you? I wish you would have just said something..."

"Saw... two of you... kiss. Always told him... he needed... something... someone else."

"But he didn't, he only wanted you," Liara said. "The Broker only showed you what he wanted you to see."

It took everything she had to resist touching the younger woman's cheek, not wanting to make things any worse than they were. Very calmly she raised her wrist and activated her omni-tool, opening her personal files. Her omni-tool recorded constantly, always on the off chance it could be useful later. She had never imagined it would be for something like this.

Shepard's voice sprang from her recording program, calm and deep.

We... this can't happen, Liara. I'll always care about you but Tali isn't some fling or moment of weakness. I'm in love with her. I need her like I've never needed anything in my life.

She saw Tali's eyes widen, noted that they were actually blue, deep blue, the asari noted. Liara nodded. "It was always you, Tali. He made it clear it will always be you."

The engineer blinked away tears, trying to speak, and Liara leaned closer, feeling one of Tali's three fingered hands gripping her own desperately. The asari nodded after every strained word, squeezing back.

"Tell him... sorry... that I love..."

"He knows."