So… yeah. I'm not dead. Just overwhelmed. So much is keeping me busy these days that this story took back seat. It's not everything that was supposed to be there, but it can hopefully last you until I get time to write more.

BEFORE YOU READ THE CHAPTER PLEASE READ THE FIRST THREE NOTES AT MINIMUM. THEY ARE VERY IMPORTANT:

First: This isn't all that great a chapter for a lot of reasons. Like I said, I was overwhelmed. Too many crises in too short a time span. Then a family tragedy, then school stuff, the list goes on. All that aside, there's simply no room for big action sequences yet. I understand that you people loved the escalation I pulled off in the final arc of Supernovas. Each chapter better than the last, and all that good stuff. Well I'll get there again eventually, I promise, but it'll take a little while. At the current moment in the story, there's a high demand for plot progress and a low supply of ass to kick. If things go smoothly, that will change soon enough. I just require your patience while my life gets back under control.

Second important note: There was a massive mistake in the previous chapter during the scene when Alex, Ryan, and Joker are about to abandon ship. I have corrected it. Read that scene again PLEASE, because it will make much more sense as to why Alex was just standing there. Again, I must ask that you read the last moments of the Normandy evacuation again or you'll get pretty confused in this chapter and those that follow.

Okay, you've likely seen elements of this chapter in any good ME2 story. The whole "Shepard is dead" routine that follows other people. But remember people: these guys aren't Shepard. I'd also like to mention that it's going to be a while into the chapter before the action kicks back in. I do have to fill in events for roughly two years of relatively boring in-universe material. It will take a bit of time, but this chapter makes serious headway in my opinion.

The author I mentioned last time, Jyggalag, has provided me with a handful of OCs for this saga. Jolem Kril (aka Alik Salanis) was one of them. Most won't be seen until the third installment, but one or two will actually be showing up in the next couple of arcs. Thanks for all the assistance.

Also, a thank you to JIMMYJAMSTER728 for assistance in a very crucial scene. Thank you my friend. You saved me a lot of frustration.

And now I would ask that you leave canon at the door. You can pick it up after your feature presentation. On behalf of my nonexistent entertainment industry, I would like to extend a reminder that reviews are welcome and encouraged. Thank you, and enjoy the story.

Summary: Blood runs thicker, but Ryan was from Rapture. And he wasn't the most dangerous thing to come out of the undersea city either…

Spoilers: Bioshock big time. Fallout, KotOR, SWTOR, and others get minor references.

Disclaimer: I don't own the media shown in my story. Hell, if certain people in my life had their way, I wouldn't even own my story.


Never Found the Body

New Solara

Station of Remorse

Elizabeth walked into the room with Booker DeWitt close behind. This was a place where Uniques and Supernovas looked back on their worst moments and find some measure of peace. From the sobs wracking Eleanor Lamb's body, it was clear that peace was the furthest thing from her mind. Elizabeth pulled her Rapture-born "sister" into a comforting hug.

"Oh, El," the Infinity Mistress sighed. "I'm so sorry."

"Why, Liz?" Eleanor whimpered. "Why is it always our family?" She pulled away from the embrace and began pacing back and forth. My mother's scheming took Father from me, and when I finally brought him back, she killed him again!" She pointed at Booker, "You drowned your father to obliterate millions of unstable timelines." The former Pinkerton coughed awkwardly, but it went unnoticed. The Big Sister fell to her knees. "And now our foster brother Ryan is gone." She glared at Elizabeth. "Why didn't you warn me?"

Elizabeth shook her head. "It wouldn't have changed anything. You know that."

"I had a right to know he was about to die!" Eleanor screamed.

"Yeah?" Booker challenged. "What would you have done then? Gone to Shepard's territory and raised him from the dead? He was a Supernova killed on the job. It sucks, and it's rare, but it sometimes happens. When it does, we've just got to move on with our lives."

"Raising the dead, huh?" echoed a new voice. Everyone turned to see Commander Shepard standing before them. The Unique was grinning broadly, as if enjoying a joke nobody else knew about. "Not a bad idea Mister Dewitt."

Elizabeth smirked, watching countless of doors in the probability universe open up wide. "I see where this is going, literally."

Booker looked at his interdimensional daughter with a groan. "Do I want to know?"

Elizabeth gave him a sympathetic pat on the shoulder. "I won't make your brain suffer through this one." She turned to Shepard with a knowing smile. "You know, you technically violated the terms of the job? You gave Eleanor, a Supernova, permission to enter your territory with knowledge of its future."

Shepard grinned again. "No I didn't. I just said that bringing Ryan back from the dead wasn't a bad idea." The Commander shrugged. "It's an opinion. No more, no less."

Eleanor donned her helmet. "And because I carry Father's ADAM and essence, I'm fairly 'Unique' in my own right.

"Exactly," Shepard responded. "You can even open your own flume, and I wouldn't be able to stop you." The N7 Champion began to casually walk away. "I think I'll go back to the Station of Nostalgia. I have a suspicion that things will soon become very interesting on my territory."

"Bloody right!" Eleanor shouted, wasting no time opening a flume and diving in.

As the swirling vortex closed, taking the Big Sister to Shepard's territory, the deadly Leviathan Space, Elizabeth sighed. "Oh it will get interesting Shepard. For better or worse, it will definitely be interesting."


Migrant Fleet

Neema

Eight Days after Normandy Destruction

Tali'Zorah vas Neema nar Rayya was hard at work, as was her style. As the change to her name suggested, she wasn't serving on the Rayya anymore. Between her splendid Pilgrimage gift and her hand in the destruction of countless geth at the Battle of the Citadel, Admiral Han'Gerrel Vas Neema, a war hawk and good friend of her father, took Tali straight under his wing. The young quarian must have spent the first two weeks aboard the Neema recounting the entire adventure. They all wanted to know about the "Man Who Couldn't Die" or the "Super Spectres" or, her personal favorite, "what was inside that giant suit of green armor?"

Her father didn't want to know. He complimented her on a worthy gift, but words like "proud" or "love" or "daughter" never entered the picture. The mighty Rael'Zorah did comment on how foolish it was to stay after acquiring the data. Said she had no business risking her life in a battle between rogue Spectres and some "monsters" that were even worse.

Of course, she countered with the threat of the Reapers. While her father didn't put any weight into the "theories of homicidal madmen" as he said, Tali knew him well enough to recognize the look in his eyes. The one that always promised some ambitious undertaking.

Tali shook her head. Rael didn't matter now. Her Pilgrimage was everything she could have dreamed of and more. She'd gone to amazing places, met all kinds of interesting (and crazy) people, seen the galaxy, saved the galaxy…

And she'd become an acolyte to a group that protected the multiverse. Tali smiled sadly. She'd left that particular bit out of the retelling of her adventures, just as Cole and Ryan had asked. It was difficult. If there truly were other worlds out there, it didn't seem fair that her people couldn't have one. Still, whether it was out of fear or loyalty, the secrets of Halla and Solara never passed Tali's lips after she returned to the Fleet.

An alert signal on her omni-tool shook the mechanic out of her reverie. Flicking the glowing orange display open, Tali was met with Garrus' bandaged face. "Garrus?" she cried, eyes wide open. "How did you-"

"It wasn't easy," the turian interrupted, anticipating her question. "The Master Chief's 'friend' has been searching for your frequency for days now."

She glared at the holographic image. "She hacked the Migrant Fleet's communications system?! Do you have any idea-"

Garrus interrupted again. "You haven't heard, have you?" Something about his eyes and voice was beginning to scare Tali at this point. "Of course you haven't. Not with your people isolated from the rest of the galaxy."

"Heard what?" Now she was really unnerved.

The sniper's mandibles sank low. "The Alliance just went public with it yesterday. Check the extranet."

Tali pushed the comm. screen to the side and opened up a second display window. She accessed the Alliance News Net and almost instantly, the quarian let out a strangled cry.

"Systems Alliance SSV Normandy Destroyed. Commanding Officer and Executive Officer both confirmed among the deceased. Perpetrators unknown and at large"

"Commander Jack 'Rapture' Ryan Goes Down with the Ship"

"Alliance Loses Spectre and Stealth Frigate to the Terminus Systems"

Page after page, every article had practically the same headlines. Their ship – their home – was gone. And Ryan was dead. Ryan was dead.

Another detail she had explicitly neglected to mention to her father. "Commander" Ryan, the Supernova of Rapture Earth, had all but swept Tali off her feet. In hindsight, it was an infatuation, a crush born from his uncanny ability to read her like an open book. Underneath his gaze, Tali's mask could hide nothing, something that frightened her, sometimes infuriated her, but always drew her closer to the Splicer King.

"Keelah, no!" Tali choked out.

"I'm sorry Tali," Garrus murmured. She'd almost forgotten he was there. "Spirits, I'm so sorry."

Tali dropped down onto a nearby crate, shocked by the revelation as it hit her full force. She had lost him, a man – of sorts – who she had admired a great deal. Her kind were pilgrims and thieves in the eyes of the galaxy, but never in Ryan's eyes. Not once did he look at the quarian girl like the others. Maybe it was his own origins, or maybe it was his past life, but whatever the reason, he didn't judge her like most of the galaxy others.

Ryan was always there to protect Tali, both slander and bullets. There were times he acted as her knight, albeit a borderline insane one. Now he was gone, and there was no one left to keep her safe…

"No," Tali thought. "I don't need saving." She got to her feet and looked at her hands, remembering all that she done with them during her time with Ryan. Fighting against geth, defending the galaxy from a madman and his Reaper master. Always coming out stronger from each fight, she had done so much in that time. Ryan taught her how to fight, how to survive and he showed her a great deal about what the universe was really like.

But now he was dead, and that meant no more rescues. Tali needed to toughen up for herself. For him, for the other Supernovas, for the Migrant Fleet, her father, and for everyone in this damned galaxy. But most of all, Tali would get stronger for herself. She would be ready for the Reapers when they came, not hiding like before. The change wouldn't happen tomorrow, maybe not the day after. But someday…

Tali looked back at Garrus with a ferocity in her eyes that even her mask couldn't hide. She was determined now to press forward. She would mourn for Ryan, but she would not despair. He had taught her that much.

"Tell me everything," Tali demanded.


Alchera

Normandy Crash Site

Fourteen Days after Normandy Destruction

The dozen Blue Suns mercenaries slowly but surely traversed the icy surface of Alchera. This was probably the easiest job they'd ever get, and it was going to make them bloody rich. The Shadow Broker had hired them all to recover the corpse of the infamous Commander Ryan from the Normandy's crash site. They didn't know what anyone wanted with the freak's dead body, but they didn't care. They were motivated by money and the desire to mock the remains of the legendary Torfan Tactician, who had been a thorn in their sides since day one.

"Aket, you copy?" one of the greener mercs radioed in.

Aket, the captain of this group, rolled his four eyes. "What is it human?"

"I saw something move."

Aket sighed. He didn't have time for this. "I'm not holding your hand, so if you see it again, just shoot it." Stupid humans.

The rest of the journey was uneventful, and they reached the corpse with no trouble. There was only one problem. It was encased in ice, and any parts of the body that hadn't been wrecked in the crash were perfectly preserved.

Aket yelled in frustration. "Get the gunship down here. We brought digging equipment, right? We'll just have to carve the bastard out of the ice."

Twenty minutes later, their gunship arrived loaded with excavation gear. Aket barked orders and the other Suns approached the frozen corpse with their tools. The closest one was inches from digging into the ice when the ground began to quake and a sharp noise split the sky.

EEEEEEEIIIIIIIIIIIIAH

The sound came from almost everywhere at once, so nobody knew where to aim. Naturally, they formed a defensive ring around their location, covering all directions at the cost of focusing on a single one.

The human merc from earlier was flipping out. "Shit! I told you. I told you I heard something. I told you and you didn't believe me!" Aket was about to shoot him, but he never got the chance. The ice beneath the human's feet split wide open swallowing the poor bastard, along with two more veteran Blue Suns on the squad.

Aket backed away from the crevice and screamed to the gunship. "Take off, dammit! We need a view from the sky now!"

THUNK! THUNK!

Two more of his men were now dead, both with massive shards of the surrounding ice lodged in their abdomens. Whatever this was, it played for keeps. The pilot alerted them to movement on the right, which then was replaced with a sighting on the left, then sixty yards back… then nothing anywhere.

"Are you on red sand up there?" One of the turian mercs yelled. "Either you saw movement or you didn't, but nothing vanishes into thin- aahhg!"

The merc never got to finish, as he was interrupted by a deadly ball of fire. In Alchera's atmosphere of methane and ammonia, fire was nobody's friend. The same fate awaited three more of the Blue Suns, each miniature inferno coming from a completely different angle. Were they surrounded? Something about this reminded Aket of the rumors of Commander Ryan. But that was impossible! Ryan was right over there, frozen in ice!

Aket signaled for the gunship to get the three surviving mercenaries an evac. This wasn't worth dying over. Their ride had barely descended twenty meters when a lithe figure dressed in a strange exo-suit materialized right on top of it. Aket saw a sinister rod on their aggressor's left arm shatter the gunship's front window, killing the pilot. Now out of control, the craft spiraled down into the remnants of his squad.

BOOM

Squad dead, Aket pulled out his pistol and pointed it at the frozen remains of Commander Ryan. "You're protecting this guy's corpse, ain't you?" he shouted, shifting his gaze around constantly because he just couldn't see the hostile anywhere. "Well, what'll you do now? Let me live, or I swear I'll pull the trigger!"

For thirty seconds, nothing happened, so Aket tried again. "I can't make a deal with someone who won't talk. I'm here for Ryan, but I ain't dying over a corpse. Tell me what's so important about the broken body of some human hero!"

Aket caught a flash of purple in his peripheral vision, but it wasn't enough to save him. The gun was ripped from his hand, and he was lifted off the ground. He thought that the purple flash had been biotics, but when he looked at the source of all his current problems he didn't see the telltale glow. Instead he saw something much worse.

Standing before him with its right hand outstretched was a slender figure that vaguely resembled a human. But the exo-suit it was wearing was unlike anything he had ever seen before. It alternated between white fabric and grey metal. Up and down the legs were countless straps and belts. For what purpose, Aket couldn't begin to imagine. There were hooks along the back of the right arm. Attached to the left arm was that sinister rod, only at this range, it looked more like a giant needle. The worst part about this… thing's outfit was the helmet.

Instead of staring at a mask, Aket met the unforgiving gaze of a spherical grey helmet with a single red light shining from inside.

A woman's voice resonated from within that crazy helmet. "I'm not here for the corpse of a hero. I'm here for the corpse of my foster brother!"

That was the thing Aket heard before she raised the giant needle and rammed it through his head.

While Rapture had turned both of them into brutal fighters, Eleanor Lamb was always the more patient one. She had orchestrated the rebirth of her father, Subject Delta, and that was all from the confines of Persephone. This would be a slightly greater challenge, but no less important. She had kept a silent vigil since arriving on Shepard's territory, and now it was time to act.

Standing over the leader's dead body, Eleanor took his omni-tool for herself. She would have time to update the rest of her gear later. These Blue Suns were only the first group sent for Ryan's corpse, but they certainly weren't the last. She had to come up with a plan quickly.

And she knew just the men to call on for a little help.


Thessia

Armali

T'Soni Estate

Twenty Days after Normandy Destruction

"Poisoning Commander Ryan's otherwise brilliant strategic mind with lies of sentient starships, it wasn't long before the second human Spectre, Cole MacGrath was swayed by Dr. Mercer as well, followed soon after by the rest of the Normandy's crew. Everyone who served on the prototype stealth ship continues to believe Dr. Mercer's myths of Reapers even now, despite his known diagnosis as a sociopath and lack of hard evidence. With the death of Commander Ryan, Dr. Mercer's current mental state is unknown, but-"

The news broadcast suddenly stopped, and Liara cringed as a shattering sound made Alex's "current mental state" quite obvious. She sighed and walked into Benezia's old study where the virus had set up shop. "I may have inherited this place from my mother under morbid circumstances, but that doesn't give you the right to tear it apart."

Alex clasped his hands over his head and growled. "It's just so fucking pathetic. Even I have more respect for the dead than those assholes."

The asari could only nod. Held just a few days ago, Ryan's funeral had been a complete joke. The Council hadn't even waited for the ceremony to end before throwing the entire crew to the proverbial wolves. They didn't care that they were potentially dooming the galaxy. All that mattered was taking this golden opportunity to restore their beloved status quo. And the result was far worse than Virmire.

As the only man still alive with a Prothean vision in his head, Alex Mercer was everything the Council needed to demolish the Supernovas' efforts. Politicians could easily declare Reaper "rumors" to be insane when the loudest advocate was genuinely psychotic. They said that Alex had been swept up in Saren's charismatic lies, and in turn, the sociopath had "corrupted" Ryan and Cole. In other words, it was a complete whitewash. Hackett and Anderson didn't even see it coming. They had no forewarning and no means of preventing the damage from getting worse. Nothing could be done as the Normandy team was simply ripped apart at the seams.

Joker lost his wings, and everyone else was placed under scrutiny. Garrus had contacted Tali with the bad news, but nobody had heard from the C-Sec agent since. They could only assume that, like Ashley, he was throwing himself into work to avoid thinking about it. Personal cases aside, this was a disaster. Cole and Cortana did what they could, but the writing was on the wall. Whether it was denial, arrogance, or both, the Council didn't believe in the Reaper threat, and they certainly weren't going to prepare for a war of survival.

As much as Alex wanted to rip the Councilors apart, he knew that a fit of rage was exactly what they wanted. It would only prove to the galaxy how "unstable" he was. So the virus did what he always did when faced with something that couldn't be fought:

He hid. Liara went above and beyond the call of duty by allowing him to stay in her home, but only on the condition that Alex disguise himself in public. While she cared a great deal for the Blacklight runner, it was not a sentiment shared by her people's e-democracy.

But the shared residence wasn't about settling down. Liara wasn't the type to do so and Alex sure as hell wasn't either. Their undefined relationship aside, the asari knew that Alex needed a clear head before trying to take on whatever had killed his friend. Due to their meld, Liara could understand better than most how terrible the death of Ryan had been. He was their friend, but he was also a Supernova. The Splicer King had died in a world where he wasn't supposed to even exist.

Naturally that all changed yesterday, after the Supernovas were contacted by the one and only Eleanor Lamb. The Big Sister had a plan, and it was a good one. Now Alex and Liara were preparing to leave. They were supposed to meet Cole on Omega.

The Chief didn't like the plan at all, but he'd promised to deliver when the time came. And when he made a promise…

Well they had to hope he kept it for Ryan's sake.


Omega Station

Afterlife

Twenty-Five Days after Normandy Destruction

Every holographic light in the club went out as their electricity was siphoned into the palm of a single man. Plunging Aria T'Loak's domain into relative darkness and silence, Cole MacGrath strode in like he was the one who really owned the place. The Pirate Queen sighed in irritation. "Well aren't you one for drama? That pretty little Spectre badge of yours doesn't mean a thing out here though."

As if to emphasize the point, a few of Aria's enforcers closed in on the electric man. The patrons all figured that the Storm of Elysium was done for. They were quickly proven wrong as Cole brought his amp down on one merc in an overhead swing, reached over with his free hand, and nailed a second with two successive bolts of lightning. Another two of Aria's men opened fire from what they thought was a safe distance. The conduit threw up his frost shield and closed the gap in less than a second, holding his amp in a reverse grip. Spinning between the gunmen, Cole trapped the salarian merc by the neck between the weapon's two prongs while grabbing the batarian by the face. He knocked them both unconscious with a strong electric current and calmly returned his amp to its holster.

Nobody else even tried to get in Cole's way as he walked up to the leather couch that served as the "throne" for Omega's queen. Still sitting down, Aria's image of total control never faltered. The conduit just glared. "Why are the Blue Suns after Ryan's corpse?"

Aria feigned hurt. "What, no small talk?"

"Save it, T'Loak," Cole said, rolling his eyes. "The sooner I get answers, the sooner I go away." He walked over to her personal stock of alcohol and poured himself a drink. Downing the shot, the conduit tossed the glass away and glared as his body lit up with electricity. "I'm asking 'nicely' because Alex Mercer has some small measure of respect for you. So let's just cut the crap before this gets really ugly."

For a moment, the Pirate Queen remained defiant. Finally, she rolled her eyes and gave in. A fight with the "human" standing in front of her would only end poorly. Even if by some miracle she won, it would leave her too weak to keep a firm grasp on Omega. Best to just give the little hero what he wanted. "Their contract is with the Shadow Broker," she confessed. "What you do with that knowledge is your problem."

Cole smirked. "That wasn't so hard, was it?" He started to walk away when Aria snarled. She always had to get the last word.

"You may have the power to run this place," she scoffed, "but you lack the balls."

"This is coming from the asari in charge of Omega?" the Electro-Spectre countered, never breaking his stride.

Aria flared her biotics angrily. "I am Omega!" She calmed down and smirked at Cole. "I've seen your type before, Sparky. A place like this will crush you."

"That's where you're dead wrong!" Cole MacGrath yelled over his shoulder as he walked out the door. His next words left Aria T'Loak rattled for quite some time:

"This is the kind of place that made me."


Meanwhile on (Error: Location Redacted)

"These delays must not continue. We requested the corpse of the anomaly, yet you fail to deliver."

"The meddler on Alchera is a temporary setback at worst. You came to me for that which no one else can do, and I will not disappoint. However, the surviving 'anomalies' insist on disrupting this operation. Double my fee, and I'll send you their corpses as well."

"Additional finances can be arranged should you succeed."

"Then we have a deal. Expect results within a solar week."


Deep Space

Lazarus Research Station

Twenty-Six Days after Normandy Destruction

Doctor Wilson of the Lazarus Cell paled at what he'd just heard. "You can't be serious, Lawson. That's insane."

Operative Miranda Lawson had already returned to her reports. "I'm dead serious, and more importantly, you know I'm right. It may be a long shot, but it's also our only shot."

"They'll fucking kill us!" the medical officer whined. "You've seen the footage. We all have. When it comes to Cerberus, those freaks slaughter first and ask questions never."

"Exactly," Miranda responded in an almost chiding manner. "Those 'freaks' were all friends of Commander Ryan. Then Ryan dies, and something just as terrifying shows up out of nowhere to protect his corpse? It doesn't take a genius to figure out they're connected, and Ryan is the common thread."

"Yeah, maybe," Wilson grunted. "It also doesn't take a genius to figure out that this plan is-"

Miranda rose from her seat and slammed her hand on the desk. If looks could kill, Wilson would be worse off than Ryan at the moment. "I didn't ask for your opinion, Wilson, and I don't need your approval. When I actually want someone to waste my time, you'll be the first to know. Until then, get the hell out of my office."

Swearing under his breath, Wilson stormed out the door. A possible alliance between Cerberus and the freaks? His real boss wasn't gonna like this…


Omega Station

One Month after Normandy Destruction

The contact was waiting for her already. His expression was unreadable beneath the brown hood and cloak, yet his anxiety was almost tangible. "Where are your associates?" he asked, clearly checking for any possible hiding spots.

Liara eyed him with more than a little suspicion. "Close enough to make sure nothing goes wrong."

Agent Feron removed his hood and sighed. "I have perfect memory, Miss T'Soni. I'd imagine that makes me something of a… delicacy to Alex Mercer. I came alone as a gesture of good faith in hopes that I can leave with my life."

"Tell us what we want to know," Liara demanded impassively, "and you'll leave with much more than just your life." They were paying seventy thousand credits for this information.

"I still don't understand why you-"

"Don't play games," Liara interrupted. "We know you work for the Shadow Broker. He's after our friend's corpse, and we're going to stop him. You can help us willingly for a vast sum of credits, or we can extract the necessary facts without your consent. It's your choice."

The information broker shook his head. "I'm dead either way, so why bother with intimidation?"

This actually gave Liara pause. She hadn't thought about that. "You knew coming here was a death sentence well in advance, so why bother?" He never got the chance to answer before an Australian voice did it for him.

"Probably because he got smart and finally took our offer." Miranda strode up to the alien duo and placed a hand on her hip. She was flanked by two more Cerberus operatives.

If a drell could roll their eyes, Feron was doing it right now. "I never 'took your offer' Lawson. I'm actually still insulted that you think I'll just sell out to the highest bidder."

Miranda smiled arrogantly. "Whatever your reasons, my boss wants to talk with you."

She was about to say more, but a wolf whistle cut her off. "Well, I guess that's one way Cerberus can drive up recruiting." She turned around to see one very amused Cole MacGrath. "Took you people long enough to come out of hiding." Miranda thought she'd remained stoic, but apparently something had slipped through judging by the look on his face. "You really think I was crashing around the Terminus Systems for my health?"

There wasn't even a moment's hesitation or confusion. The enhanced brilliance that was Miranda Lawson quickly processed the interruption and adjusted her plans accordingly. "Well, here I am. What exactly do you want, Mister MacGrath?"

Liara quietly bowed out of the conversation and motioned for Feron to do the same. Cole now had what Alex called "the Kessler gleam" in his eyes. He was channeling his ruthless future self for the manipulative edge. And he knew he'd need it against this woman. Using the "gift" the Beast had given to his radar pulse, Cole could see she'd had thorough genetic modification. Time to pull out all the stops.

"I 'want' to rip you all apart," Cole spat. He began pacing back and forth. "I want to let Alex Mercer loose to hunt down every agent and asset you have across the galaxy one by one. I want to tear down your network until there's nothing left. That's what I want." He ceased his rant and turned back to Miranda. Lucky for you, 'want' and 'need' are two very different things."

It wasn't a bluff, and even if it was, she didn't plan on calling it. Miranda knew he was serious. The reports on Binthu indicated that dismantling Cerberus was easily within their power. And now Cole MacGrath was offering a ceasefire. She had suspicions, but now she needed solid facts.

"Can I assume that the difference between the two involves a dead Spectre lying somewhere on Alchera?"

Cole smirked. "And that dead Spectre's guard dog. She's the only reason we're dealing Cerberus at all." Message sent: they were still enemies, but they shared a common goal for now.

"Are you saying you can't handle her?" Miranda shot back. Underlying question: was this woman a liability or an asset?

This made the conduit chuckle. "Nobody can handle Eleanor, but that's a different story. See, with the proper resources, your resources to be exact, she can bring Ryan back from the dead."

Miranda didn't even flinch at this revelation. "Done. She'll have whatever she needs if it gets Commander Ryan back in the fight." No hesitation. If this Eleanor person could truly raise the dead, then Cerberus needed her yesterday.

Feron coughed awkwardly, interrupting the rapid fire back and forth. "While we're discussing the impossible, I might as well hand over the information you paid me for." He hesitated a moment longer before giving in. "The planet Alingon emits a natural electromagnetic shroud that makes communication impossible. The Shadow Broker created a facility there that can penetrate the interference, and he uses it for special business like this."

Electricity danced between Cole's fingertips. "Not for much longer." He regarded the drell with suspicion. "Why the change of heart? Again?"

"I just watched you threaten to tear down all of Cerberus if they didn't help you," Feron countered. "If you want the Broker, then I'm not about to get in the way."

"You're going after the Shadow Broker?" Miranda asked. She wasn't confused as much as impressed with their vision.

Not wanting for Cole and Miranda to go another round, Liara cut in this time. "Cole will be keeping the Broker occupied with an assault on his compound. That would buy us time to extract Ryan and Eleanor without any more incidents." She turned and glared at Feron. "And not that we don't trust you, but you're coming along so we can keep an eye on you. Avoid any… unnecessary trouble."

Miranda nodded, satisfied with how things currently stood. "Brilliant. I can have a team meet us there." Then another thought occurred to the Lazarus Cell director. "I assume he will be leading the operation on Alchera?"


Omega Station

Lower Levels

Silent as death itself, Alex dropped down and pulled a "kill and replace" on one of the Broker's newest hired guns. The memories washed over him, but no new information. Now with the element of surprise, "Max" returned to the mercenaries' camp. They thought its location was secret, but Aria still knew. So when Cole "asked" for the coordinates, she obliged. Now came the fun part.

"Alright," a krogan yelled. "We ship out in five minutes, so get ready to-aarrgh!"

The krogan was cut off as a fist burst through his chest from behind, carrying his primary heart with it. Crushing the organ in its grip, the fist retreated, and the dying krogan fell down to reveal the one and only Animal of Akuze standing behind him. Peeking out from beneath his hood, Alex smirked. "Who's next?"

Predictably, they opened fire, but the virus was already on the move. He leapt into the air and came down on a turian, surfing the body before flipping backwards, tossing the corpse into three other mercs. As the fell down, Alex landed on his feet and punched the ground. Black groundspikes shot up where the mercs had toppled over, skewering them, but leaving the sociopath vulnerable while the biomass retracted.

Seeing an opportunity, the remaining gunmen pressed the attack. Their bullets didn't do shit, but one lucky tech actually thought to hit the virus with an incineration blast. That one hurt. A lot. As large swathes of his flesh turned to ash, Alex finally yanked his fist out of the floor and glared. "Oh that's gonna cost you!"

"The fire just pissed him off!"

"Spirits, why can't we kill this thing?!"

Alex Mercer had a vast arsenal of weapons, but among the most dangerous was fear. No matter what they did, he simply wasn't going to die. The concept was demoralizing, causing more damage than anything his claws could do. Of course when he brought out those claws, he made it clear that they could still do plenty.

Soon only the leader of the group remained. He was wearing tech armor, something that actually required effort to penetrate. Switching to blade, Alex jumped up, intent on splitting the man in half…

Only to be blasted back when the leader detonated his tech armor in the predator's face. Alex was in the process of rolling back to his feet when blinding pain shot through his head. A neural shock. The virus slumped to the ground as the merc leader reengaged his tech armor and ran in close. He shot Alex in the head at point blank, again and again, with incendiary rounds, giving his foe no time to heal. This guy was fighting smart.

ZING!

But not smart enough. Looking down, he saw a syringe shaped claw jammed into his leg. Indescribable pain washed over the man as a burnt and blasted Alex rose slowly to his feet. Not even looking at the merc leader, the Blacklight Virus just walked over to the ship that the mercs had been using as transport. Meanwhile, biomass was rolling up inside the poor bastard he'd infected. Black tendrils exploded through his skin and latched onto the tech armor from within. Crushing the merc leader inside his own defenses, the diamond hard segments of yellow light turned a dark red as the man inside was completely liquefied.

Alex sighed as his injuries healed more slowly than usual. Bad guys out here were tough and full of surprises. He'd been off his game since Ryan had died, and that needed to change fast. When the regeneration was complete, he commandeered the mercs' ship and flew it out towards a prearranged rendezvous point.

Liara, Feron, and that Cerberus woman should be waiting for him by now. With the gear on this ship, they could fly straight to Alchera for Ryan and Eleanor. Set things right.


Omega Station

Docks

Cole practically dove into the copilot chair. "Thanks for helping me with this. You know I can't fly ships worth a damn." It was true. After his first job for Revan, the conduit earned a reputation as a horrible pilot. Land vehicles he could handle, but something spaceworthy? Not a chance.

The Master Chief looked away from the controls. "Exactly, I'm helping you. Not Cerberus. Not ever." The Spartan was loyal enough that he'd even put in a request for formal leave before helping to fight the Shadow Broker. That request had "conveniently" bypassed the chain of command and ended up on Hackett's desk for approval. ONI pulled this kind of shit all the time with the UNSC, and now Cortana was doing it with the Alliance.

"Well we don't have much of a choice," Cole reminded the super soldier. "Eleanor needs massive funds and resources to build a vita-chamber for Ryan, and no sane government would ever commit that much for one man." He frowned. "And I'm not helping Cerberus either. I'm threatening them."

Cortana materialized on the shuttle's controls. "No, you're offering a temporary ceasefire. You know how the saying goes, Cole."

The conduit sighed. "Supernova unofficial rule number four: 'If you wanna cheat death, you gotta deal with the Devil.'"

"Not me," was all the Master Chief said in response.

The smart AI pointed to a small crate on the floor behind Cole. "Your package is in there."

Cole opened up the case and took out its contents. A replacement for his lost Vermaak faceplate.

And a white cloak almost identical to Kessler's. If the conduit truly did have to play the part of a ruthless bastard, he sure as hell wasn't doing it as himself.

Donning the robe he nodded to Cortana. "Punch it."

As she set a course for Alingon, Cortana grinned up at the Chief. "You know, you'd look good in a cloak too. Something in brown, draped over the armor, maybe a hood?"

Behind his helmet, the Spartan's chagrin was clear. "Not in a million years."

With that, the race for Ryan's corpse began in earnest.


Yes, I went there at the end. And I'm very proud of it.

If you hate this chapter, please don't worry. I had to get it out of the way so that the real adventure could begin in earnest. Next chapter, we can finally get back to my usual brand of ass kicking and name taking.

Also, if you think that Feron's role has been all messed up, then fear not. I've got it all under control, I promise.

Finally, I am attending the funeral of my grandfather this weekend. During that time, reviews are welcome, but I lack the time and emotional strength for long conversations about the direction my story is headed. You can bombard me with that kind of stuff on Monday if necessary. Until then, I must ask, as always…

Read, Review, and Enjoy!

Oh, and a bonus:


"Perhaps later," Mordin immediately replied. "Trying to determine how scale-itch got onto Normandy. Sexually-transmitted disease. Only carried by varren." He inhaled sharply. "Implications unpleasant."

Alex blinked. Then he blinked again. Finally the sociopath stormed out of the lab he shared with Dr. Solus and into the CIC.

"Dammit Chambers!"