A shout of her name that reverberated through the little ship caused Lily to jerk awake. She shoved her boots back on and stumbled towards the cockpit, stopping only for a second to grab a few ration bars from the galley. She had demolished one before she even fell into the co-pilot's seat.
Nihlus shook his head. "Nothing really. We just entered the system. The second base is on the far side of Mindoir, but so far, they are holding course for the planet itself. What can you tell me about it?"
Lily snorted. "It's just a bunch of small farming communities. Unless they are human, they will stand out down there. The only aliens are the turians stationed at the garrisons. I don't get why they would hit this colony. There really is nothing of value here, well, besides the food they grow."
"How long since you've been back?"
She shook her head. "I haven't returned since I enlisted."
"It's a garden world and people are always finding artifacts from extinct races on them. If they found something rare enough and word leaked out, well, a collector will pay an exorbitant price to get them first, since technically they belong to the government."
"Enough credits to get a merc band willing to attack?"
Nihlus nodded. "One of the smaller files that you copied over mentioned where they would hand over the 'item' to an unnamed individual. My guess is this must be something quite unusual for this person to go to this length and funds to obtain it."
Nihlus's talon tapped on a screen and a projected trajectory of the ship they had chased into this system appeared.
"Looks like they are afraid they might lead us to their second base. Not that it matters; the Intrepid will be taking care of that soon enough."
"Won't the planetary defense system pick up our ships when we descend down to the planet?"
"Yeah, and with our comms out we can expect at least a patrol to greet us."
"Won't there be one for them as well?"
"Doubtful. This big of an operation, I would wager they have an inside person, which means they have the proper codes already. So, we have to make sure we land near enough to them so they can't use that to their advantage."
The ship in front of them didn't drop down in altitude in order to descend down to the planet. It stayed high above the planet, bypassing a direct route until they had circled a large continent below them and then the pirates dipped down and into the atmosphere. Nihlus's fingers worked the console as he issued commands to their vessel.
The little ship shuddered as it began its descent. A topographic map appeared on one side of the overhead display. A red line indicated that the path they were currently on would have them landing on an island off the coast of one of the larger continents. Lily leaned closer, staring at the map as she tried to remember her geography from school.
"It looks like they are heading to New Venice."
Nihlus glanced over at her, his head cocked slightly to one side.
"It's a small island, not suitable for growing anything, but the colony had hopes of turning that island into a resort eventually."
"Ah, and while prepping the ground for building, they must have uncovered something."
An alert flashed on the screen and the computer droned, "Warning. Unknown ships on intercept course."
"There is our escort," Nihlus muttered. He tapped on his omni-tool and swore something that Lily didn't recognize. "They are too far out; I can't contact them with my omni-tool with the ship's communication system down. Guess we do this the hard way."
The three gunships took up positions all around their ship and through their movements it became obvious they wanted them to land. Nihlus could only growl as he watched the computer show the other ship zip off towards the opposite side of the island from where they had been forced down. He brought them down to rest in a sandy alcove. Nihlus headed for the door and gestured for Lily to fall in behind him.
"Keep behind me and your gun down. I'm pretty sure this should be soldiers from the garrison, but I like to be prepared for anything."
He flung the hatch open and found himself facing a squad of turian soldiers. He held his hands open as he stared back at them.
"Nihlus Kryik, Special Tactics and Reconnaissance," he barked out.
"Scan him; verify his identity," a soldier said, gesturing with her rifle towards Nihlus.
One of the soldiers stepped forward but stayed out of arm's reach of Nihlus. His omni-tool lit up as it performed its scan. He glanced down at it before turning to his squad leader.
The soldiers dropped their weapons a little as they relaxed. Nihlus strode towards them.
"While I'm grateful you didn't shoot us down -" he began.
"A patrol notified us that there were two ships heading this way - one with a Spectre on board."
"That ship we were following was from a pirate base that had plans to attack this colony. What's on this island?"
"There is an active archaeological dig not far from here, but that isn't common knowledge."
"Just as I thought. Follow us over there. We don't know how many are on that ship, but the bulk of their attack force should be neutralized by now."
Nihlus returned to the cockpit, Lily only a step behind him. Once more, the little ship lifted off. He worked on the computer and located where the other vessel had gone. The gunships followed in their wake. It didn't take them long to find the site. Heavy machinery littered the area as crews worked to free artifacts from the earth. Below them, there was no sign of the ship that they had chased. Nihlus continued past the site until he spotted the other vessel resting among the dunes along the coast. They landed near it while the gunships descended in a circle around it as well.
Lily followed Nihlus as he crept towards the other ship. Their weapons were out and ready and the soldiers had their weapons aimed at the hatch of the other vehicle as well. Nihlus gestured for Lily to take the right side while he took left. His palm slapped the panel and the hatch slid open. Together they moved inside. Each small area was checked before they finally lowered their weapons.
"They must have headed towards the dig site. Come on, this is probably a last ditch effort to recover whatever it is they are after."
Lily nodded. "And their cut just got a lot bigger."
Nihlus snorted. "Especially if they think the patrol shot us down - then the risk is minimal."
They left the ship and rejoined the soldiers outside. Nihlus approached the squad leader. "Can you have some of your people watching these ships to make sure they don't double back and try and escape?"
"Of course, Spectre."
"Good, have the rest of your people come with us. Let's see if we can root out the rest of this gang once and for all."
She pointed at two of her people. "Toiser and Vauher - guard these ships. Contact me if anyone at all approaches either of them."
At a gesture, the rest of the squad fell in behind the Spectre and the human.
"Where is this site from here?" Nihlus asked.
"Follow me, sir."
She stepped briskly forward, taking the lead as she led them through the scrubby trees that grew at the edge of the beach area. The path narrowed enough that they had to go single file until it finally crested a hill. Below them was the work site. Asari, salarian, turian, and human all mingled about the area. Nihlus groaned.
"So much for picking anyone out the easy way."
They slid and hopped down the loose earth of the hillside until they reached the edge of the work area. A few looked up at the unexpected arrival of a group of soldiers. One asari was going over a datapad, but upon spotting them she put it down and headed in their direction.
"Excuse me, but this area is off limits to the public. We have many sensitive -"
"Nihlus Kryik, Special Tactics and Reconnaissance. And you are?"
"Doctor T'Soni. What is going on?"
"Anyone come through here in the last hour or so, Doctor?"
She gazed around at the people. "I don't see anyone besides the usual workers. If that's all, I need to get back to work cataloguing all the amazing artifacts we have found so far."
"You do have security here?"
"Alert them that there are wanted fugitives in the area and to consider them armed and dangerous."
She nodded quickly. "I will."
Nihlus turned back to the squad leader. "How well do you know the area here?"
She shook her head. "Not well, but I can pull up a map for this sector."
The display from her omni-tool provided a rendering of the island. Nihlus studied it for a moment before pointing out an area.
"There, that would be the most likely place for them to hole up; it looks to be the only source of fresh water on the island."
"Do you want us to stay here and guard the site, sir?" the Sergeant asked.
"I doubt they will come here during the day and we could use the help finding whoever was on that ship. Will there be anyone else on this island besides this crew here?"
She shook her head. "Negative, sir. This island is uninhabited and while the site is active it is off-limits to everyone but authorized personnel."
Nihlus pointed out one avenue towards the water source. "Take your people and cover this area towards that spot. We'll come from this direction. Take them alive if you can, but dead works just as well."
"You heard him, people. Fan out," the squad leader barked out.
Her people spread out from beside her and they made their way into the brush. Nihlus headed in a different direction with Lily off to one side of him. Their speed was slow as they tried to minimize their noise while moving through the heavy brush.
A shot rang out near them and reflex had them ducking behind whatever cover they could find. Lily tried to get a look at where it came from, but the shrubs hid their prey too well. Nihlus gestured with a hand for her to come closer to him. She nodded and slunk towards him, being careful to make as little noise as possible. When she was next to him, he leaned down and whispered in her ear.
"You are smaller than me and not wearing heavy armor. You have the best chance of sneaking about and finding them. I'll try and keep their attention on me. Disable them if you can, kill if you can't. I want this over with."
She nodded her understanding and moved back the way she came while Nihlus deliberately put one heavy booted foot down on a branch near him, cracking it.
"Surrender," he shouted, "and you'll get to live. If I have to hunt you down, well, it will be a death sentence for you."
Another shot rang out, but the heavy brush was as much a hindrance to their shooting as it was to those hunting them. She slipped along the edge of a large tree, still working her way towards where it sounded like the gun had gone off. She didn't know how far she had come, but finally she spotted a green that didn't belong to this area. She eased forward, creeping along on her stomach until she could see them more clearly. A pair of armed salarians were in front of her; one was a vivid green and that was what she had spotted. However, the red of her hair must have been just as easy to spot, as one brought his gun up to point it in her direction. She had her pistol up and fired off several shots. The green one managed to get a few shots off, however the worst they did was cause bark from the trees around her to fly off in all directions. She returned fire and he dropped to the ground, clutching his weapon still. She waited a moment, but when no one moved, she eased her way upward and entered the little copse they had taken shelter in. She quickly picked up their guns and threw them off to one side.
"All clear," she yelled.
Lily listened to the sound of Nihlus crashing through the underbrush as he joined her in the little thicket. He kneeled down and checked the pair. Both were dead. He pulled an OSD out of one pocket and slipped it into his own before standing back up.
"Good job, Lily."
The sound of more brush breaking heralded the arrival of the patrol. They burst through the area, weapons at the ready, but lowered them at the sight of the two downed salarians.
"Sergeant, if you don't mind, would you take care of these bodies?"
"Of course, sir. We'll take care of everything."
Lily fell in behind Nihlus as they made their way back towards the ships. She was a little surprised when he headed for the other ship instead of the one they came on.
"Are we going to take that one to the Citadel?"
Nihlus glanced back at her. "No, I know what is wrong with ours and I can patch the communication system, and the thruster isn't that bad. I know you hit their ship, so rather than spending the time getting a rundown on what is wrong, I think we will just stick to ours. While you were sleeping, I had the computer give me a list of everything needed to fix the communication system. So, I'm hoping I can scavenge the right parts to repair ours."
"Tell me what I can do to help."
They fell into a rhythm, but it still took the better part of the afternoon to gather the components and install them on their ship.
Nihlus replaced the last fried circuit and slammed the metal cover back into place. He input a few more commands and then activated the computer.
"Computer - connect to the Mindoir system. Authorization - Spectre." He typed in his code and waited for the systems to link. "There - try it now."
Lily input the code for her mother's console at home - one of the few she knew by heart. She smoothed down her hair while she waited for her mother to answer. The screen flickered to life and she got a glimpse of her mother's profile.
"Whatever you are selling -"
"Mom, it's me, Lily."
Her mother turned towards the screen then. Her eyes widened when they took in the visage of her only child.
"Lily," she said, her voice barely audible. "I knew those bastards were lying to me!"
Lily shook her head. "I was shot by pirates and my squad only found pools of blood where we were ambushed. My partner wasn't as fortunate."
"Where are you now?"
Lily laughed. "Just leaving Mindoir. I assisted a Spectre in stopping an attack here. We are heading back to the Citadel now."
"A Spectre? What is going on, Lily?"
"It's a long story. I'll message you the whole thing, Mom. I just wanted you to know I was okay."
"Honey, you need to come home. Can't you see it's too dangerous out there?"
"Mom, I'm not going back. As soon as I can, I'll be applying to C-Sec anyway. But until then, this work I'm doing matters. I'm protecting innocent civilians, like you. What would I be there?" she asked, bitterness in her voice that even Nihlus could hear. "Just another colonist stuck out in the middle of nowhere. No, Mom, I'm not going back. I need to go. I love you, Mom."
A long sigh left Hannah's lips. "I love you too. Please try not to get shot again."
Lily disconnected the call with a sigh. Nihlus watched her for a moment.
"Yeah, at least this call will go better. You can connect to an omni-tool, right?"
Nihlus chuckled. "Have a little faith; I am a Spectre, you know."
His fingers flew as he typed in several things before nodding at Lily. She input the code to Garrus's tool. After a minute, it became apparent he wasn't going to answer it. Lily looked over at Nihlus.
"It's not that late on the Citadel, is it?"
"Nope. It's well after work hours, so unless he goes to bed really early -"
"He doesn't. Maybe he has it turned off, since he is at home and expects things to go to his console there, but I don't have that information. Can you connect me to a Titus Vakarian on the Citadel? That's his dad. Maybe he knows how to get hold of him."
Nihlus leaned back and gave Lily an appraising look. "You are seeing the son of one of the stars of C-Sec? Really?" He gave a soft laugh. "Oh, I bet he was just thrilled that his only son is with a human."
Lily sat up straighter in her chair. "He was actually quite civil to me. Can you get hold of him for me or not?"
Nihlus grinned. "I can. I wouldn't miss this for the world."
Lily glared at him while he typed in several more commands into the console. He pushed one last button and leaned back in his seat. Once more, the screen flickered to life and the face of an older turian appeared. His mandibles flicked in and out several times in the span of just a few seconds.
"Mr. Vakarian, I'm sorry to bother you, but I can't get hold of Garrus."
"Miss Shepard, I was given the assumption that you were dead."
"Uh, long story, but I was shot and taken by pirates. Can you tell me how to get hold of Garrus?" Her voice was a little more urgent than the last time.
"I'm not surprised he isn't answering. Call his tool in thirty minutes. I assure you, he will answer then."
The call turned to static as he disconnected the connection. Nihlus glanced over at Lily.
"I'm pleasantly surprised. Though I feel a little sorry for your boyfriend, because his father is about to come down on him."
"Why do you say that?"
"The tones you couldn't hear. I'm guessing that he hasn't handled your loss well and his dad has run out of patience trying to deal with him," Nihlus said with a thoughtful hum.
Lily thought about asking for a time readout while her fingertips tapped against the edge of the seat. Nihlus sighed and pulled up a timer display on the screen. She threw him a grateful smile and watched it slowly click down. She opened her mouth when it finally showed a minute to go, but Nihlus was already working his magic opening the channel again. He nodded when it was ready for her. Her fingers trembled as she typed in the code once more. This time the screen came to life and Garrus appeared.
"Lily." That one word was more breathed than said.
"Garrus." Her eyes narrowed as she took in his sunken eyes and dull skin. "You look like crap. Have you been sick?"
Garrus looked away for a moment before he barked out a rough laugh. "Something like that. What in hell happened? Why did I get a message saying you were dead?" His voice rose as he spoke.
Lily sighed. "Me and my partner were shot. He died, but the pirates took me and patched me up." She grinned at him. "That proved to be a fatal mistake. I got free and ran into Spectre Kryik and we've been busy saving Mindoir."
"Why didn't you at least send a message?" Distress echoed in his subtones such that it made Nihlus wince.
Lily held up her still bandaged wrist. "The bastards cut out my omni-tool implant and, well, the ship we took got hit and we lost the comm systems. We finally got it patched and I called you right after my Mom."
Garrus's shoulders slumped a little. "Are you heading back to the Intrepid?"
"No, we are going to the Citadel. The Spectre has something he has to do there. Uh, Nihlus, you did let Captain Victus know I'm alive and heading there?" Lily asked as she turned towards her companion.
"Hmm, oh, yes. I sent him a message a few moments ago and got a rather testy reply - something about making off with his damned scout and I should take my Spectre authority and put it someplace I don't think it was meant to go," Nihlus said with a little laugh.
Garrus leaned forward, his eyes bright. "When?"
"We should get there sometime late tomorrow," Nihlus said.
A voice behind Garrus had him spinning around to look at his father.
"Good. Now, I expect you to be in my office tomorrow before your shift begins."
Titus leaned closer so now his face could be seen behind Garrus's. "I'm glad you are alright, Miss Shepard. Now I will bid you all a good night."
The display went dark. Nihlus relaxed into his chair even as his eyes closed.
"Might as well get some rest. With any luck, the rest of this trip will be quiet."
Lily climbed to her feet. Every limb suddenly felt heavy as exhaustion finally caught up to her.
"Thanks again, Nihlus. Sure you don't want the cot back there?"
One eye cracked open. "Uh, no thanks. I prefer it up here. It smells better."
Lily collapsed into the bed, grateful for a soft place to close her eyes. Her lips curved upward as she fell asleep to the thought of seeing Garrus tomorrow.
~Thanks once more to Mordinette for all her help and suggestions, I couldn't do this without ya! And another to the readers, I'm happy you guys are enjoying this!~