Welcome back. A few announcements, and then we'll get this show started.
First, and this is important, this is not a story where all of Cerberus gets humiliated at every turn. They'll be outclassed, definitely, and the Illusive Man can't manage the same level of deception, but don't expect a cakewalk. This is a whole different ballgame from the last adventure.
Second, it's been pointed out that Alex Mercer got his ass handed to him in that last chapter. Yes. Yes he did. For all their power, the Supernovas still need a team. Otherwise, they'd be hitting the Omega-4 Relay alone. And that would be terribly boring and anticlimactic.
Third, if certain individuals seem overpowered or underpowered, recall Captain Cross from Prototype. He was a mere human, but one that had specifically trained and prepared to fight and kill people like Alex Mercer. And damn if he didn't give as good as he got. Imagine that some people are beginning to act that way in regards to the Supernovas as of this chapter. Not everyone, mind you. Lots of mercs are still idiots, but the few that aren't will cause problems. The real Nova and Supernova-class combatants live out here in the Terminus.
Fourth, I know I said I would be using weapons and powers from both sequels, but there's one detail I left out: heat sinks didn't happen overnight. When Shepard spent two years dead at the start of ME2, it was a "convenient" period of time for the galaxy (read: Bioware) to overhaul their combat systems. Now I have to do the same thing. Over the next few chapters, infinite ammo, L3 implants, and tech mines will all slowly be replaced by thermal clips, L4 and L5 implants, and discontinuation of tech mines. The third change is already underway (Tali's drone and energy drain powers, incinerate from last chapter, etc.) so the rest is sure to follow. This is your warning that minor anachronisms will be an inevitability.
And finally, don't expect all future chapters to be this long. I didn't anticipate it getting this massive. It just happened. Like celebrities.
Okay, that's all I've got. Remember, my life is still chaotic, so updates are irregular at best. And don't forget to review!
Summary: Supernovas love the impossible, but when have the odds ever stopped the Broker? After success and survival come at a high price, it sends one of the team down a path that Alex Mercer knows all too well. The Lazarus Project begins…
Spoilers: For Mass Effect: Redemption, sort of. I've realized that most references aren't really spoilers, so I'll use this more sparingly.
Disclaimer: We haven't seen each other in weeks, and this is how you greet me? *lawyer glares* Fine, I don't own anything. *Lawyer smiles and tells snipers to stand down.
"Scans picked up the ruins of the Normandy," Alex muttered. "Long ass way from Ryan's corpse though."
"So many lost," Liara sighed. "If time weren't a concern, it would be good to retrieve the ID tags of the fallen."
"Dog tags," the virus corrected. "And yes it would. Half the damn crew is still unaccounted for." After consuming so many marines back in Manhattan, their values would occasionally bleed through and mix with his own. When he "evolved" something akin to a conscience, it mostly came from them. Times like this, it showed through pretty clearly.
"Time is a concern," Miranda coldly reminded them both as she donned a breathing mask. "We have to get in, get the corpse, and get out before word of our activity reaches the Shadow Broker."
As Alex landed their appropriated merc ship, Feron shook his masked head. "If that's true, then letting MacGrath attack the Broker's facility on Alingon was a mistake. He'll put the pieces together immediately. When he does, you'll be dead, and I'll be 'rewarded' as a traitor deserves."
Liara glared at the drell while reaching for her own breathing apparatus. "The previous owners of this ship were employed by the Broker. As far as he knows, the job is well underway." She gestured to Alex who was now impersonating one of the mercenaries to feed lies over the comm. and maintain cover. Again, it was part of Eleanor's plan. Once he'd finished lying his viral ass off, they retrieved excavation gear and a stasis pod from the cargo hold. Ready to go, the team of four set off to find a dead man.
"I'll admit I'm curious," Miranda stated. "There's nothing about this 'Eleanor Lamb' anywhere. Not in Commander Ryan's personal file, nor in anyone else's. Even the classified versions don't mention her name."
"I've never heard the name either," Feron added.
The Cerberus loyalist nodded. "What exactly is her connection to Ryan?"
Alex just chuckled. "Looks like Cerberus and the Shadow Broker don't know everything after all." When he saw their glares he just smirked. "Don't worry, you'll learn who she is soon enough."
"We're funding this operation Dr. Mercer," Miranda snapped. "The least you could do is prove that we're not wasting our time."
"'Put the subject on the defensive'," the viral geneticist recited in a deadpan voice. "'Question his worth, attack his pride, and convince him that he has something to prove. The subject will more willingly discuss sensitive information in this state of mind.'" He gave Miranda a bored look from beneath his hood. "I know how the game is played, Lawson. Try that bullshit on me again, and we're going to have a problem." Before the Cerberus loyalist could respond, Alex pointed to a section of ice up ahead. "We're here."
To her credit, Miranda hid her surprise relatively well when she saw the frozen figure of Commander Ryan. "Were you planning to mention that our objective was stuck in the middle of a small glacier?"
Liara smiled impishly. "It won't take long to cut through."
Feron groaned. "While we're at it, let's inform the Shadow Broker that we're digging the body out for him. Because by the time we actually finish, his troops will be here to take it anyway."
"Who said we would be digging him out?" Alex chuckled. Nobody had time to ask what he meant before a flash of purple caught their full attention.
CRACK CRICK CRACK CRICK CRACK
A woman wearing what could only be described as patchwork diving gear practically danced across the side of the icy tomb. As she moved, she dragged a massive needle over the ice encasing the remains. Sticking the landing, the woman cupped both her hands and made a pulling motion. As Miranda expected, there were no biotics, but the formation shattered into thousands of frozen pieces, all of which hung briefly in the air around the floating corpse of Ryan. Eleanor – for Miranda knew that's who it was – let the shards of ice drop harmlessly to the ground, but she continued to telekinetically suspend the dead N7 Trickster.
In an instant, Liara and Feron were by her side with the stasis pod. Alex meanwhile had walked over to Eleanor. "Ryan died saving my ass, so I have to make it right." He tilted his hooded head towards Miranda. "But Cerberus? Really?"
Miranda heard a young British voice responded from within the spherical diving helmet. "I know you hate their type with a passion, Alex. I understand completely. But their lack of government oversight works in my favor." She was referring to Rapture's similar freedoms, or at least the ones it was ideally meant to have. "Besides, my first choice is currently attempting to sell the corpse. That limited my options significantly."
The Cerberus loyalist strode up for proper introductions. "Eleanor Lamb? I'm Miranda Lawson, with-"
"I know who, and what, you are," Eleanor cut in. "And while I don't agree with everything that Cerberus does," she stepped closer to Miranda, "I'm grateful for your aid in reviving my brother."
Miranda's eyes widened considerably as several ridiculous puzzle pieces quickly fell into place. "'Brother'?"
Alex laughed out loud, a disturbing noise in and of itself. "Like I said: You don't know anything about us."
Eleanor rolled her eyes behind her helmet. "And until we have the time and the relative safety, it will stay that way. I assume you have more secure transport coming?"
While put out over the rather one-sided sharing of information, Miranda wasn't surprised that this woman knew about the Cerberus team she'd arranged to meet them on Alchera. Alex Mercer couldn't very well fly a Broker-affiliated merc ship straight to the Lazarus Station. There were too many risks, and that didn't even count Mercer himself.
"They should actually be here by now," the operative spat. "What's taking them so long?"
To everyone's surprise, Feron had the answer. "They're on the dark side of the planet," he said calmly, "as per my instructions and the Illusive Man's orders."
Eleanor slowly turned towards Feron. "'Your' instructions?" she repeated
"The Illusive Man's orders?" Miranda said at the same time.
Agent Feron nodded. "If those men arrived at your prearranged time, the Broker's forces would have destroyed their shuttle before coming down on all of you. Instead we now have an advantage when they arrive to collect Ryan's corpse."
Liara frowned. "But how would they know when to arrive unless…" She gasped in confusion and anger. "Someone told them."
Alex's hand shot out, grabbing the drell by the throat and effortlessly lifting him off the ground. "You fucking rat! You sold us out?!"
A credit to information brokers everywhere, Feron kept relatively calm all things considered. "Kill me, and you'll never make it off this planet alive. Hear me out, and we just might have a chance." The sociopath's grip remained the same. "Make your decision quickly, because we don't have a lot of time."
"We have enough time to leave on the merc ship," Eleanor hissed. "Without you of course."
"That ship was meant to be stolen. The Broker can track it to the farthest corners of the galaxy with a few keystrokes. And before you get your hopes up, he's not on Alingon. He never was."
Liara placed a hand on Alex's arm, calming him to the best of her abilities. Feron had left them with no option but to hear him out. Reluctantly, the virus dumped his would be prey on the icy ground. "Talk," he snarled. "Now."
Gasping for much needed air, the drell began to explain. "I worked for the Shadow Broker happily because he kept everything neutral. Recently, that all changed, and for the worse. Instead of trading secrets, he's fixating on selling a dead man. He's so obsessed on your friend's remains that he's willing to cross the Illusive Man, the Alliance, and the four most deadly creatures in the known galaxy. That should tell you something about his client."
Alex became more scared than nervous at these words. "The Reapers?"
The drell shook his head. "An enigmatic race called the Collectors if my information is correct. It wouldn't surprise me if those abominations had a connection to the Reapers though." Behind his mask, Feron glared. "I refuse to do business with monsters like the Collectors, and I'm disgusted that the Broker has agreed to a deal like this with them." He pointed to the stasis pod containing Ryan's body. "I wanted to stop it, but I had to disguise every betrayal as an act of loyalty, even when dealing with you." He gestured to Liara. "When you and MacGrath cornered me on Omega, it was because the Shadow Broker planned it, right down to your truce with Cerberus. He ordered me to make myself easy to find and to reveal his base on Alingon." Feron lowered his head. "Your friends are heading into a trap, but I couldn't afford to warn you without tipping off the Broker in any number of ways. I'm sorry for that."
Alex screamed and made to pulverize the double agent, but Eleanor caught his fist easily and held him back. "Let me guess," she summarized. "There are forces on their way here to tear us apart while we're all together. We'd never see it coming, and we'd have no time to prepare before getting killed by overwhelming firepower."
Feron gestured to Alex. "The Broker's not taking any chances with the likes of him. His best, and only, enforcer is coming to oversee the success of this mission in person. Tazzik. A massive salarian, smart and incredibly dangerous."
Eleanor and Alex shared a look that said, "Gotta be a Supernova." It went unnoticed by Miranda who was busy fuming at the betrayal.
"We're dead then. You've gotten us all killed. Well played Agent Feron."
"You misunderstand," the drell countered. "I likely saved us all. We have two very specific advantages when they arrive. First, nobody has a clue that I've legitimately betrayed the Shadow Broker. What I'm saying now was not part of his plan, but part of my own. The Broker is under the impression that I'm loyal to him. He thinks I've tricked you all and that he still has the element of surprise. My betrayal is unknown to the Broker, as is a certain deal I cut with the Illusive Man. By secretly delaying your Cerberus team, surprise is now on our side."
Alex chuckled darkly. "I think I can work with that."
"Not you," the drell replied. "Tazzik is fully prepared for you. But not Miss Lamb."
Everyone expected Alex to argue, and they were surprised when he didn't. Captain Cross of Blackwatch had been "fully prepared" for the sociopath too. In the end, a completely normal human had almost killed him in a straight up fight. This Tazzik would likely be even worse considering the technology at his disposal.
Eleanor broke the silence. "And why isn't he prepared for me?"
Feron chuckled. "Because when Tazzik shows up, I'll be informing him that Alex Mercer 'killed' you. When I give the signal, the Cerberus team will swoop in, and I'll be hoping you'll do the same." Eleanor and Alex shared a quiet laugh at the thought of him killing her. Someone backed the losing horse at that racetrack.
Unaware of the in-joke, the drell continued. "Just let me do the talking and," he waved a hand in Alex's general direction, "be… you. Get angry that I betrayed you, and take it out on the Broker's men. Sell it like this conversation never happened."
"That's your plan?" Liara groaned. "Ambush the people coming to ambush us, and hope for the best?"
The information broker coughed awkwardly. "There's more, but for everyone's sake, I have to play it close to the vest." If a man wearing a breather mask could look apologetic, Feron was setting one hell of an example. "You don't have to trust me, but you should understand I'm our best chance at surviving this mess." He ran a mental checklist. "Tazzik's forces should be dropping out of FTL in a few seconds, so unless anyone has a better plan?"
"Place all our bets on a man who's been conning us from the start?" Alex summarized. He looked at Eleanor, and the Big Sister shrugged. "Ah, what the hell, I've been through worse." As the two Supernovas walked off, the virus yelled over his shoulder, "But if either of my friends are lying dead on Alingon, I'll fucking kill you!"
"And all the information in the galaxy won't save your arse!" Eleanor warned the drell before teleporting away.
Alex came to a stop roughly ten feet from the merc ship. He tried to make it look like he was recovering from injuries sustained fighting Eleanor. With thermal vision engaged he looked to the sky and saw ships descending from the upper atmosphere.
The virus jumped into the cockpit and rapidly ascended. "Shields up. Weapons online. We are go." Alex grinned sadistically as he flew towards the unwelcome guests. "Let's see if I can't even the odds a little bit…"
Meanwhile on Alingon
Shadow Broker Facility
Secret hidden bases don't often get visitors. As such, it was quite the shock to see a cloaked human stroll up to their front gate. With all guns trained on him, they commanded the man to halt. He ignored them and continued his slow walk forward.
"You aren't on our list of scheduled arrivals," a turian called out. "State your name and business, or we will-"
Ribbons of lightning came down from the sky, cooking the guards inside their armor. The two mercs unfortunate enough to avoid this fate made a run for the facility's airlock without success. A veritable wall of green metal appeared out of thin air right before their eyes. One snapped neck and two bullets later, the mercs fell dead before what could only be described as machine efficiency. The armored man placed his hand on the security panel, and sparks danced across. Within a second, the outer airlock was open, and any possible "surprises" waiting on the other side were disarmed.
"I love this planet," Cole boasted while the entrance chamber's pressure equalized with the rest of the facility. "It's like one giant power grid."
"This planet's magnetosphere kills any and all communication," the Master Chief countered. "That 'power grid' took us off the grid. Cortana can't do anything without direct interface."
The conduit shrugged. "The Broker built this place to get past the interference. Let's take it off his hands."
Naturally that very idea had been Eleanor's plan from the start. Cerberus was just her contingency if something went wrong. It was a morbidly ironic situation where revenge actually was going to solve everything. The Supernovas wanted the Shadow Broker dead for trying to sell Ryan's corpse. Cortana would then take his assets so they could bring back the Splicer King without selling their souls in the process.
An outcome which was quickly becoming more and more likely as the two Supernovas marched through the base unopposed. Unopposed as in they were completely alone. They couldn't see anyone, hear anyone, and nothing was coming up on radar and radar pulse alike. No security, no anything.
Either the Shadow Broker was the most arrogant SOB in the galaxy, or…
"No," Cole muttered to himself. "He couldn't have seen this coming. Nobody is that good…"
On cue, the door right in front of them hissed open to reveal a single occupant. Three guesses as to who it was.
"I think he saw it coming," the Master Chief dryly replied.
"I've been expecting you," boomed the Shadow Broker, confirming their fears. "We have business to discuss."
Cole eyed the figure suspiciously. "How in the flying hell were you 'expecting' us, asshole?"
"Irrelevant." The thundering voice sounded amused. "Hostile takeover was an ambitious plan, but doomed to failure."
Cortana popped up on her Spartan's HUD. "Something's wrong, Chief. That's just a proxy being used by the real Shadow Broker. The signal is using quantum entanglement, so it's untraceable. Short version: we're screwed."
"And the information?" the Chief asked quietly.
The smart AI shook her head. "Nothing's here. The bastard's already offloaded everything to an isolated network and severed access from this facility. I can't even tell you where it all is let alone access it. Dammit, how did he know to prepare ahead of time?"
Oblivious to his friends' conversation, Cole stepped forward. "I don't know about 'doomed to failure' pal, but you said you wanted to talk business. What's there to talk about? You're trying to sell off Ryan's dead body, and I won't let it happen." He chuckled humorlessly. "Nobody's dancing on his grave but me."
"My client demanded the corpse of Commander Ryan. It was to be a mutually beneficial transaction, until you and your associates got in the way. You came here, seeking an altercation where there is none to be found, MacGrath. You were expecting an army, but I chose not to waste the credits. You expected me, but I also chose not to waste time killing you personally. The Shadow Broker's image leaned forward menacingly. "Information is my weapon, and I will break you with something which cannot be fought." A deep noise that might have been a laugh echoed from his enshrouded face. "Thank you for solving my dilemma on Alchera, by the way. It was becoming cost prohibitive."
Cortana became very nervous. "Chief…"
Cole glared at the Broker-mech. "You rotten son of a-"
"Nothing personal. As they say, it's just business."
With that, the Shadow Broker was gone. QEC signal severed, failsafe triggered, and facility set to blow. He was detonating the whole damn base to take them out. Cerberus had tried the same thing, only they weren't doing it from a planet that killed all remote access.
Cortana popped up on the Chief's HUD, along with a timer that was about to hit zero. "Now would be a very good time to leave!"
A massive tornado ripped through the walls and ceiling, leaving a gaping hole for the two Supernovas to exit through. The ionic vortex hadn't even died down before the Master Chief was sprinting out. Drawing fully on the EM shroud of the magnetosphere, Cole was almost matching the Spartan's speed as they desperately tried to escape the blast radius.
They didn't quite make it.
The shockwave of the blast sent them flying, but both were used to getting tossed by explosions. They knew how to roll, what to protect, the best way to land, everything. They even engaged thrusters – static and armor, respectively – to mitigate the effects of being thrown about like ragdolls. Eventually, they came to an ungraceful halt involving lots of tumbling, flailing, and the inevitable crashing.
"Don't even say it Cortana," Cole warned weakly. "We can hear you, I promise."
"Noted," Cortana replied. "How are you?"
The conduit groaned. "No lost limbs, but I think something inside of me broke." He flinched. "Make that a lot of somethings." Cole just lay there and drained energy from the overcharged sky to heal himself, but it was a slow process with internal injuries and broken bones. He turned to the prone suit of powered armor on his right. "How about you?"
"Shields are down," the smart AI reported, "but damage to the armor itself is negligible. The Chief's pretty bruised, but the worst damage was to his pride. Certainly not as bad as dying in a reactor overload failsafe." She swore quietly. "That bastard rigged his own base for the express purpose of blowing us to hell!"
Once healthy enough, Cole rose carefully to a sitting position and laughed humorlessly. "We're vulnerable out here, but nobody's attacked us yet. You'd think the Broker would have planned better for an exit strategy like the one I pulled off. He planned for damn near everything else."
Cortana scoffed. "I don't think he knew that 'exit strategy' was possible. You've used the ionic vortex power three times since coming back to full strength. All of them were during the Battle of the Citadel. When Sovereign took control of the station, the only ones to see you throw a tornado out of your ass were husks, geth, and a cyborg Spectre. The Shadow Broker has a lot of connections, but I severely doubt those three were among them. We were saved by complete and total luck. But I'm less interested in how we got away and more in how he knew we were coming."
Cole shook his head. "Better question: How did the Shadow Broker know that the others were on Alchera?"
The Master Chief's guttural baritone reached an octave far lower than the Broker could ever hope to achieve. "Feron…"
Back on Alchera
Never let it be said that Alex Mercer wasn't an ace pilot in his own right. He'd even disengaged the inertial dampers for the feel of an old school dogfight against Tazzik's forces. His only real limit was the ship's comparatively small arsenal, forcing the virus to make every shot count.
That and the fact that the Broker had sent a small fleet of gunships to take them down, and not one of those bastards was skimping on ammo. The ship's onboard VI was already screaming at Alex about the shields being at ten percent ant dropping. Did he care? Not particularly. Because the Blacklight runner had one enormous advantage over everyone he was fighting:
He didn't die from a hull breach. If this were a garden world, these guys could keep fighting until their ships were thoroughly demolished. Here in the methane and ammonia atmosphere of Alchera however, everyone was playing it safe. Everyone, of course, except the insane sociopathic monstrosity.
Alex pulled a Kulbit on two of his pursuers, forcing them to overshoot and turning the tables. Mass accelerated machine gun rounds broke their kinetic barriers, and a rocket to each exposed flank finished the job. Another two gunships came from either side, bringing laterally mounted turrets to bear on their priority target. The virus killed his ship's vertical thrust, dropping fast and laughing manically as the mercs ended up reducing each other to Swiss cheese. Now flying upside down and in the opposite direction, Alex banked low over the rest of the team, realigning himself and checking their status all at the same time.
Naturally, the predator was focused on the gunships, but he was an army of one. The Broker's agents took advantage of this by deploying troops wherever he wasn't. Some succeeded better than others, but eventually, the Shadow Broker's private army began to close in on Ryan's corpse and anyone guarding it. Said guards weren't making it easy.
"You have to sell it like I didn't just tip you off," Feron whispered. "They'll get suspicious unless you-"
The drell dropped like a stone as Liara decked him in the face. "Did that 'sell it' enough?" she hissed. The asari flared her biotics as several of the Broker's agents closed in to protect a man they still assumed to be an asset and ally. None made it near Feron before Liara caught them in an expanded singularity and detonated it with her own warp field. She gathered energy and created a large biotic sphere for protection. Another of the "perks" to a Union with Alex Mercer: any powerful biotics he'd consumed, he could pass on their skills to her through the meld. This unnatural prowess showed as Liara began amplifying her pistol and grenades with dark energy, something an archaeologist should have no experience with. She tossed the flash-fabricated discus first, and the resulting explosion generated a lift field that suspended over half a dozen mercenaries. She pulled out her pistol, a poor replacement for the Spectre Master Gear she'd lost on the Normandy, and opened fire. Each round was humming with its own small warp field, and when combined with the biotic lift from the grenade, it shredded the men at a molecular level. Soon her enemies were telekinetically suspended dead weight.
And almost immediately, more Broker agents came in to replace them, technicians and vanguards among their numbers now. Miranda scoffed.
"No challenge," she stated, not in arrogance but as simple fact. Miranda called up her omni-tool and hit the nearest vanguard with a damping mine, neutralizing her biotics and giving her one hell of a headache. The operative finished the vulnerable asari off with a bullet to the brain. Two engineers closed in with their drones, but Miranda was prepared. With a clench of each fists, she crushed each of their skulls within their helmets, killing the agents and the drones under their control simultaneously. Jumping onto another vanguard's shoulders, Miranda trapped the commando's head between her legs and twisted, breaking her neck. Rolling off the dead asari, the Cerberus loyalist kicked upward and snapped a human merc's head back at an impossible angle. Back on her feet, she hit three agents with a chain overload before downing them each with a single pistol round through the skull.
It was starting to look like they wouldn't even need this "plan" Feron allegedly had. They might just make it on their own…
Liara gasped as the sky became a familiar shade of red. She recognized the sound of that explosion too. Turning her gaze upward, the asari maiden paled at what she saw.
Alex Mercer's ship had been consumed by a small mushroom cloud. Tazzik himself had taken down the apex predator with a Cain. Falling fast and hard, Alex's devastated body made no sign of movement. Shot at by the gunships as he fell for good measure, the virus slammed into the frozen landscape with a sickening crack.
"Alex!" Liara screamed. He hadn't landed too far away from their position, and she wanted to reach him before another Supernova died on Alchera. The asari hadn't made it three steps before a wall of gunmen blocked her path. Miranda was similarly surrounded. With no Alex Mercer in the way, the remaining gunships and their occupants had all swarmed their location at once.
Feron rose to his feet, ignoring the glares of both powerful women. "About time you showed up Taz," he called out, using the nickname for familiarity. "I didn't feel like being near that freak any longer than I had to."
Tazzik dropped down from the cargo bay of the ship he'd been riding on. "Did he at least kill the other one? We've wasted enough assets on this ball of ice already, and that was before Mercer took down seven of my gunships."
The drell nodded. "She's dead." He chuckled at Tazzik's surprise. "Yeah it was a woman of some kind. Not much left after the fight with Mercer if you know what I mean." When the giant salarian grimaced, Feron nodded sympathetically. "It wasn't pretty, but it was my job. Kill confirmed and trap sprung. How are we getting out of here?" He pointed to the nearest gunship. "Those things don't come with FTL, so I'm hoping you have a more traditional ride off this rock."
"Everything was packed in a 'civilian' freighter with a doctored manifest," Tazzik replied. "The logs would say that we were shipping borderline worthless salvage."
"Civilian?" Feron echoed. "You mean the only ship capable of FTL is completely unarmed?"
Tazzik shrugged. "It was the best way to prevent Aria from learning we had enough military hardware to blow up 'her' station."
"Of course," Feron conceded.
The salarian smirked. "So what about those two?" He gestured to Miranda and Liara.
"The Broker wants any associates of the 'anomalies' taken alive if possible," the drell stated evenly. Said associates had no idea if he was lying or telling the truth. "The freaks themselves are too dangerous, but our employer wants to know what they know."
Tazzik looked like he was weighing the pros and cons of killing the two women regardless of orders. Finally the salarian gave in. "The Broker gets what he wants." The Shadow Broker's top enforcer pointed to Ryan's stasis pod. "They were 'generous' enough to prepare that one for us already, so let's go get Mercer."
Engaging his omni-tool, Feron "applied medi-gel" to his injury from Liara while Tazzik began issuing orders. "We should probably hurry this up, Taz," the drell suggested. "I heard we had an impatient client this time."
"You mean the Collectors?" Tazzik clarified. "Yeah they freak me out more than Mercer. So let's grab his remains before he starts to regenerate, and-"
FWIP FWIP FWIP
BOOM BOOM BOOM
A trio of single occupant fighters screeched by at insane speeds, each unleashing a devastating payload on the gunships and mercenaries underneath them. The act was followed by two Kodiaks flying in low. Each made a tactical insertion of a dozen Cerberus commandos, all decked out in heavy assault armor. These units were shock troopers based on what the organization had learned from studying the Master Chief's armor, though they didn't hold a candle to the real thing. Still, they were enough to combat the vastly superior numbers of mercenary forces. At the lead was a dark skinned human male. Though lacking assault armor, he was still clearly outpacing them while bringing the fight to Tazzik's remaining men.
Clearing a path with guns and biotics, the Cerberus agent ran to provide Liara and Miranda with backup. "When the boss countermanded your orders, I had a feeling something was up. Guess I was right."
"We'll explain later Jacob," Miranda shouted. "For now let's get the Commander out of here."
Jacob gunned down a pair of mercs trying to flank them. "I assume you have a plan?" It was a rhetorical question. Miranda always had a plan.
"That's our plan!" Liara yelled.
Eleanor knew Tazzik was dangerous, but his ship was the more practical target. She materialized in the copilot's chair and rammed her needle through the pilot's head. Taking control, the Big Sister turned the ship's weapons on her enemies, clearing a path back to the shuttles for Liara and their (temporary) Cerberus allies.
Putting the pieces together, Tazzik swore and instantly rounded on Feron… only to find empty space. The backstabbing drell was gone! "That damn disappearing act again?" Still a salarian, Tazzik quickly developed a new plan. As he sprinted into action, the Broker's enforcer activated a failsafe to detonate his own ship. Too many secrets onboard for it to remain in enemy hands, especially when that enemy was targeting him. The vessel exploded, but Tazzik knew better than to believe that the teleporting woman was dead yet.
Alex Mercer was alive, but barely, and he posed no threat to the squad of agents guarding his mangled body. He was in no condition to fight let alone move, and getting off the planet would require a great deal of help. That help came in the form of a purple flash of light as Eleanor Lamb crouched menacingly over her friend. She shrieked again before lunging, cutting apart one merc and blasting another with fire. A third was pummeled with debris until his helmet broke open and he suffocated to death. The fourth tried to put some distance between himself and this unstoppable creature, but that too failed. The agent was telekinetically lifted off the ground and yanked back to the Big Sister. She plunged her extraction needle into his gut and collected what material she could. Dropping the agent's corpse, she injected the gathered essence into Alex's broken body to speed up his recovery. Rather than wait for the virus to regrow lost body parts however, Eleanor simply picked up what was left and started running. "You always have to get nuked, don't you?"
"Shut up," Alex groaned through the intact half of his skull.
They had finally reached the shuttles when Tazzik caught up, using more reliable heavy weapons to rip apart two more Cerberus commandos standing in his path. Rather than test his luck directly against the freaks, Tazzik aimed for the T'Soni bitch who was also nearing the shuttle. Intel suggested she was important to Mercer, so if he could capture her, it was leverage. The salarian took aim with his omni tool and launched a neural shock. Against asari, it was practically cheating…
Which was exactly why Feron pushed Liara out of the way just in time. Redemption, principle, his motivation was unclear, but they could no longer question the drell's loyalty when he took the neural shock in her stead. Feron screamed in agony as he fell to the ground, landing at Tazzik's feet.
The salarian aimed his grenade launcher at the traitor's head and engaged his armor's multicore shielding, tanking the gunfire from any remaining Cerberus commandos. "Move, and I swear I'll kill him!" He looked at Eleanor now. "You especially, bitch. Pull your teleporting stunt again, and I'll not only kill him, but I'll make damn sure the Council knows their people are working with Cerberus!" He engaged his omni-tool with his free hand. "The message is primed to go public the moment my vitals take a dive, so I suggest you do not test me!"
Feron was curled up in pain, solipsism keeping the memory fresh even as the effects wore off. "Go!" he ordered. "Now!"
"But he'll kill you!" Liara yelled.
The drell smiled through the torment. "Then get out of here before you all end up joining me! I've accomplished my goal. Now it's your turn. Besides, he-"
Tazzik kicked Feron in the side. "Quiet!" He turned back to Liara and the others. "Last chance, people. Come quietly, or this ends poorly for everyone."
Eleanor chuckled darkly. "Feron was about to say that you can't kill him, wasn't he? For whatever reason, you have to take him alive." She turned to Miranda. "That's all we need to hear! Let's get the hell out of here!" In seconds, they were ascending and breaking atmosphere.
Tazzik swore again, but that was all he could accomplish. He had no ships that still worked, the freighter couldn't give chase, and thanks to the drell at his feet, Aria likely knew about the small war that had just taken place. Feron had countless insurance policies, just like Tazzik. If either was killed by one of the Broker's own, any secret they had would "coincidentally" wind up in the worst possible hands. It was a healthy paranoia born from their line of work.
Cursing his failure, Tazzik's only option was to call for extraction. The freighter was too big for a surface landing. It would be hell trying to salvage this mess. He could only hope things had gone more smoothly on Alingon…
The walk back to where they'd parked the shuttle was a long one, but also uneventful. The Broker had well and truly shot himself in the foot by using such an extreme tactic to kill them. He'd cut himself off from all comm. traffic on the planet by destroying the facility. He could send in teams to sweep the area, but they'd have a lot of space to cover and yelling would be the only reliable method of communication.
To summarize, things still felt too easy, even after the total clusterfuck of a mission.
"Looks like we're gonna be using Cerberus' resources after all," Cole sighed. He turned to the Chief. "I know you won't work with them, but will you at least keep in touch? If Eleanor can actually bring Ryan back, then he'll need stabilizing elements with him. I know their style. Cerberus will pull the 'hearts and minds' bullshit, try giving us friendly people to work with, convince us they're not so bad." The Spartan said nothing, but Cole knew he'd nailed it. "What we need are real friends. People we can absolutely trust with-"
All conversation ended when a lance of focused radiation sliced through the conduit's side. Clutching the wound, Cole hissed in pain. "The hell?!"
"Contact!" the Chief growled, drawing his sniper rifle and using his helmet's built in zoom to search for the shooter. He could just barely make out a figure. It looked like a glowing, bipedal, alien insect of some kind, but before the Spartan could get any details, the bug flew – actually flew – out of sight.
"What was that?" Cole grunted, healing yet another wound with Alingon's EM shroud. His time on Retronuke Earth, adapting to radiation and energy based weapons, had probably kept that beam from killing him outright.
"I don't know," the Chief said. "But now I'm pissed."
The conduit chuckled hoarsely. "What, you weren't pissed before?"
"I'm pissed because we only have one shuttle, and you're going to a Cerberus facility."
Cole began laughing, despite the situation. "So you're sticking around for now?" The hyper lethal vector again remained silent. "I'll take what I can get. Let's get the hell out of here."
Rannoch Orbital Station
"Old Machine was killed by anomalies. Anomaly designate: Ryan-Commander declared dead by Human Systems Alliance. All anomalies possess superior hardware and unprecedented perspective."
"Insight on anomalies must be obtained. Organics will attack geth on sight, thus we deem multiple units counterproductive."
"Suggestion: the advanced platform is efficient. Functions as avatar of consensus. Can operate beyond Veil with minimal risk."
"Anomaly designate: Master Chief displays cooperative symbiosis with synthetic designate: Cortana at all times known to us. We judge the Master Chief to have broadest perspective in this regard."
"Synthetic designate: Cortana theorized to be a fully evolved AI."
"Not like us. Perhaps like Old Machines?"
"Unlikely: It spoke to heretic consensus with hardware assistance from Master Chief. Master Chief fervently opposes Old Machines."
"Organic and synthetic working in perfect harmony. How?"
"...No data available."
"Then we find data. Geth can build future, but we require a method of keeping it."
"Consensus reached: send the advanced platform to worlds impacted heavily by anomaly designate: Master Chief. Learn from perspective, broaden our own. Gather insight on synthetic companion designate: Cortana."
Conversation time: 0.0062 seconds
Error: Location Redacted
"YOU HAVE FAILED US. THE ANOMALIES REMAIN AT LARGE AND THE CORPSE OF RYAN IS THEIRS."
"I didn't anticipate treachery from within. The oversight has been corrected. I'll also have you know that while they've won the battle, I've likely cost them the war."
"WE TIRE OF EXCUSES AND EMPTY PROMISES. WE WILL DIRECT THIS PERSONALLY. YOUR SERVICES ARE NO LONGER REQUIRED."
"Regrettable. Feel free to contact me anytime should you change your mind."
En Route to Lazarus Station
Operative Lawson had long since given up on asking questions. If Mercer's healing process wasn't gruesome enough, none of the others seemed to be in a talking mood after Feron's sacrifice. When it came to those they called their friends, these people were loyal to a fault. Miranda would be sure to inform the Illusive Man of such a debilitating weakness.
The uncomfortable silence was interrupted by a call to Alex Mercer's omni-tool. Due to the frequency with which he damaged them, the virus had been forced to develop a program that would transfer all data to the new device upon activation. Such was the case now, as his new omni-tool had every frequency and contact from the old ones. Opening the call with his good arm, Alex snarled when he saw the face on the other end. "You!"
"Damn Mercer," Tela Vasir laughed sadistically. "You look like shit!"
"Get to the point bitch, or I swear-"
"I wouldn't be making any threats," the asari Spectre warned. "It's been brought to the Council's attention that Cole MacGrath and his associates – like you – may be actively involved with Cerberus." She smiled smugly. "The Council will of course need to confirm these rumors, but I'd say you boys are screwed. And when I find you, the gloves are coming off. Your precious Normandy won't be there to save you, and you can't hide behind Hackett or Anderson. You'll be disavowed by the Council and the Alliance in mere days. All your strength can't match the weight of galactic politics, and you know it."
Alex glared daggers at the asari on his screen. "He's got you in his pocket, doesn't he?"
Vasir batted her eyes in false innocence. "I'm sure I have no idea what you're talking about." She smirked. "This was a courtesy call. Next time, I won't be so polite." And with that, she cut the transmission.
"Dammit!" the virus screamed. "We've been burnt!"
Tela Vasir sighed contentedly as she deactivated her omni-tool. Tazzik and his men were getting on the ship she'd brought, though the Spectre sellout halted their prisoner for a brief moment. The asari smiled wickedly at Feron. "So I hear you like to be electrocuted. I wonder what your former boss would do with that little detail…"
Lazarus Research Station
By the time they'd reached the station, Alex had healed enough to walk on his own. They were all rushing inside with Ryan's stasis pod when he noticed Liara wasn't following. The sociopath turned around to see she had remained at the shuttle. "Come on Blue, we've got work to do." She didn't move.
"Alex," Eleanor called from up ahead. "I need a geneticist over here!"
"Give me a second!" he yelled back. "Liara, what's going on?"
"The Shadow Broker has kidnapped Feron and ruined us," the asari replied with ice in her voice. "I'm not letting him get away with any of it."
"Revenge and a potential rescue?" Alex summarized in disbelief. "You can't be serious. We barely survived and you want to dive back in for the sake of a-"
Liara grabbed the weakened predator by his jacket collar and pulled him down to eye level. "Don't you dare, Alex Mercer," she whispered. "Don't you ever lecture me on revenge and betrayal you're so good at both." She released him and took a step back. "I'm going, and that's the end."
Eleanor materialized at the virus's side. "What's the holdup Alex?" She had her helmet off now, and one look at Liara in her peripheral vision told the Big Sister everything she needed to know. "Oh, I see."
Liara smiled. "Alex and I were just saying goodbye. I'll be quick since I'm sure you have much to do."
Eleanor shook her head sadly. "Take all the time you need."
Alex was torn. He kept looking back and forth between Liara and Eleanor, utterly crippled by indecision. He owed Ryan and Eleanor, and he was a better scientist than almost anyone in Cerberus. She couldn't revive her brother without his help. On the other hand, the thought of parting ways with Liara sent a bolt of pain through his body. "I…" he stammered
Liara slowly walked up and took Alex's face in her hands. "Did I say you were coming with me?" she asked. "I need to do this one by myself." She shook her head. "For myself." She brought his lips down to hers. Kissing him gently but firmly, Liara soon broke away and looked the virus in the eye. "We both have debts to repay. Yours is to Ryan and mine is to Feron. We've started down a dark path by allying with these people. We have to make the best of it."
This gave Alex some measure of solace and understanding. He turned to Eleanor. "I'll be there in a moment." The ex-Utopian nodded and bid Liara goodbye. Facing the asari again, Alex sighed. "If you're doing this one solo, at least let me help you indirectly."
"You've already given me biotic strength that is centuries ahead of most maidens, Alex. What more could you do?"
The virus gave his trademark grin. "Not all battles are won with violence. You want to fight an information broker, you have to beat him at his own game." He put a finger to his temple. "I can teach you how. I'll give you all the tools you need to bring down his network." Now he put the same finger to Liara's temple. "You already have a knack for unlocking secrets from your experience as an archaeologist. I'm just going to speed up the process and level the playing field."
Liara held Alex's gaze, eyes turning black. "Teach me."
"Gladly," he echoed through their bond. "Call it a parting gift. Give Broker-boy hell for me."
The lesson began.
"What are you doing?" Miranda yelled as Eleanor dismantled various machines and implantation gear. "If you want to revive your 'brother' then you'll need that tech!"
Eleanor stopped and actually began to laugh. "No offense Miss Lawson, but you people can't solve everything by throwing technology at it. Ryan's physiology would reject every last implant and cybernetic you've got. The method of bringing him back to life is far beyond anything you could imagine."
"That's the point of Project Lazarus!" Miranda countered. The woman continued her work, stopping only to transmit an expensive shopping list to Miranda's omni-tool. "What the hell is this?" the Cerberus loyalist asked suspiciously.
"A list of components I need you to acquire for me to revive my brother," Eleanor replied. "I will use them to construct a device called a Vita Chamber."
Miranda looked over the list. "I'll get you what you need, but on one condition. It's time for you and all your friends to have a word with my boss."
"You mean the Illusive Man?" Miranda practically flew into the air at Alex's completely silent arrival. His eyes flashed dangerously. "Yeah, Cole and the Chief are alive and on their way here, so it's about damn time we had a face-to-face with Timmy."
Oh hell yes! I'm sorry this took so long, but I hope you like it. Next time, we begin the Lazarus arc. For now, here's a lovely bonus. It's a very rough cut of a certain recruitment mission:
"Who votes we bypass the narrow deathtrap of a bridge entirely?" Ryan asked before shattering out of existence. He rematerialized within Archangel's domain on the other side of the bridge, only to get immediately knocked to the floor by a high impact shot. The sniper had tracked his teleport!
"Only two turians know how to do that," Ryan whispered, gasping for air. "And one of them is dead." He glared up at Archangel's tinted visor, knowing damn well there was a shit-eating grin behind it. "Garrus you son of a bitch."
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