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Working With the Enemy

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Once back on board, Shepard dropped stuff off in her cabin then headed down to talk to Karin about Liara. The doctor had no insights, and agreed that Sha'ira was probably the best bet, since Matriarch Benezia was obviously not an option. Karin saw the pain cross the commander's face when she spoke of Liara's mother and had to say something. "I'm sorry, Commander. I didn't mean to open old wounds, but the mother figures prominently in the development of their young in Asari society. Liara is lacking that influence and, painful to discuss or not, she'll need to find someone to basically act as a surrogate. Given Liara's relationship with Sha'ira, I'm sure the consort will provide her the proper guidance, assuming she doesn't offer to take over the role herself. I think it was an excellent suggestion on your part."

Shepard offered a weak smile in response. "Yeah... I'm just sure there's more to this issue than just sexual urges; I'm sure it has something to do with the change between life stages. I'm curious if our relationship is pushing her into the Matron stage early, and if it has any adverse side effects."

"Well, I can certainly make some discreet inquiries into the matter for you. See if there is any open source information out there." Karin placed a calming hand on Shepard's shoulder. "As you told Liara. We'll figure it out."

"You're right." Shepard stood and smiled at the doctor. "Thanks, Karin. Now. I've got to see Miranda. We're about ready to pull chocks and I have no idea where we're headed!"

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Bursting with news she knew the Councilor was going to cringe at, Aethyta was surprisingly patient while waiting for Tevos to come on the line. She briefly thought about calling Mozia and making it a conference vid but Tevos finally picked up, putting an end to her contemplations.

"Aethyta. A pleasure, as always." Tevos wore a wide smile, leading Aethyta to believe she either just had some excellent sex or finished a negotiation to her great benefit. Aethyta beamed back at the councilor when struck by the sudden thought that those two items were not necessarily mutually exclusive.

Aethyta considered giving her a hard time about it but opted out, given the revelations she was about to lay on the poor Asari. "Yeah. You won't think that after I tell you what I know." She watched Tevos' smile flatten as her lips pursed. "Shepard and the Normandy are going through final preparations to depart, as we speak. She picked up two additional crew here. A Drell assassin and a Justicar."

Tevos could not keep the surprise off her face as she blurted, "What?"

"You heard me. It's worse than the Normandy SR-1. Eclectic is an understatement. She has a Salarian, a convict, a mercenary, the Turian, a Krogan...and now a Drell and a damned Justicar. Who, by the way, swore the Third Oath of Subsumation to Shepard."

"Thank the Goddess for that, else most of the crew would be dead within the week! But to swear to a human!" Tevos shook her head in awe. "I knew when I met her, Shepard was special, but to receive the Oath of a Justicar..."

"Right?" Aethyta growled out the rest, "And that's not all I found out. Her mission? She's planning to go after the Collectors... through the Omega-4 relay."

Tevos' face blanched. "That's... not possible. No one's ever returned!"

"Tell me about it, but I wouldn't count Shepard out. We've done that once before and look what happened. But I'm still glad she's got the Justicar and not my kid on that ship." Aethyta waited for the Councilor to say something but was greeted only by silence. "Tevos?"

"Oh. Yes. Sorry. That's a bit of a... shock, to say the least. We absolutely must keep Liara off that ship. Is Mozia aware?" Tevos furrowed her brow, trying hard to see a way through the issue but finding no immediate answers.

"No, haven't told her yet. All I know is if Shepard dies this time, she better stay dead or I'll kill her myself for hurting my girl again." Aethyta suddenly smiled. "I gotta like her though. She did right by my girl this visit. Liara's all sunshine and rainbows, practically glowing. If she was older I'd swear she was pregnant."

Tevos snapped her head up at that statement. "She's not, is she? She is the last of her line, and we cannot let her risk herself that way. She's too young!"

Thyta barked out a laugh. "Don't worry yourself over that one. I can tell by her crests she hasn't even started the change yet. She couldn't get pregnant right now if she tried. Course, if they keep fuckin' like they obviously are right now, it might prompt the change early." Aethyta laughed again and had a huge grin on her face. "Ha! That's my girl!"

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As the door slid open, Miranda glanced up and smiled. "Ah, Commander. Good to see you back. I take it everything is in order?"

Shepard smiled at her XO, still amazed at the change the three days on Illium had wrought. "Yeah, Miranda. Everything's great. So. Where to next?"

"Grunt is exhibiting excessive aggressiveness and is tearing up the cargo hold while complaining about 'not feeling right.' I've talked to Dr Chakwas and Mordin both, and they both feel it is some type of chemical or hormonal imbalance, but neither one knows enough about juvenile Krogan to treat it. So, based on their recommendation, we're off to Tuchanka before he rips a hole in the hull. Karin figured you could talk to Wrex about it and at least get some ideas, if not get him treated."

Shepard shrugged. "Unless we've gotten something else from TIM, it's as good a destination as any and I look forward to seeing Wrex again, anyhow. Make it so, XO. I'm going to do a ship walk and spend some more time with the new kids. How much time do I have?"

"Tuchanka? Probably three days or so. We'll go through the Wastes and the Serpent Nebula. Any reason to hit up the Citadel?" Miranda raised her eyebrows in query.

"Not at the moment, but I'll let you know if anything comes up between now and then. Thanks, Miranda!" Shepard stood up and headed to the door, but turned back to the operative one last time before departing. "Miranda, I mean it. Thanks. For everything."

Miranda actually blushed a little as she spoke, obviously discomfited by earnest expressions of gratitude. "Of course, Shepard. My pleasure."

Shepard walked out onto the deck and already felt the ship in motion as the doors closed behind her. Her next stop was in Life Support to chat with Thane Krios. As she walked in, she was surprised that Thane sat with his back to the door. Without looking, he asked if she needed anything, to which Shepard replied, "I don't want to interrupt if you are praying or meditating, just say so and I'll return later. Do you have time to talk?"

Thane was very accommodating, "Certainly. We haven't had a chance since I joined."

Shepard coughed. "Um, yeah. My fault. Personal business on Illium. Sorry about that."

Thane turned to face her. "Do not apologize for that, Commander. Life is too short. I wish I had taken more time for such things when it was available to me." He paused only momentarily before continuing. "I told you I am dying. I have a Drell specific disease, Kepral's syndrome. It's not communicable even to other Drell, but it is most definitely fatal. It inhibits my ability to absorb oxygen into my blood and eventually I will suffocate. They are working on a cure, but I doubt my body will still draw breath by the time they find it. I do not begrudge you any time you can spend with your loved ones."

Shepard wasn't quite sure what to say, but felt Thane was not one for empty platitudes and said so before asking if there was anything she or the Normandy crew could do for him. Thane nodded. "You would be correct in assuming I do not care for pity. I have done many evil things in my life and am looking to restore some balance to my existence before I return to the oceans. Your mission, should we be successful, will go a long way toward that end. I appreciate the opportunity to participate. Other than that, providing me a dry room such as this will ease my symptoms and prolong my time by some small amount. There is nothing else I require." Thane turned back away and resumed his contemplative posture.

Shepard took the hint and said her farewells. "Right. I'll let you get back to it. If you need anything, Thane, please don't hesitate to contact me." Answered by silence, Shepard left the room and headed off to find Kasumi.

Initially, she was as good humored and evasive as always, but eventually a more somber mood overtook the enigmatic thief. "Shep, do you know about the task Cerberus promised me help on?" Shepard had to admit she had heard nothing on such an arrangement, but promised her support whether or not Cerberus had agreed to it. "Thanks, but I'm not sure yet how to do what I need. I'm working on a plan, and I'll let you know when I figure it out. Long and short of it is my partner was killed and his graybox was stolen. I want to recover it. I just need some time to nail down the details. I've taken the liberty of getting you some evening wear that will hopefully meet your approval. You'll want to look presentable."

Shepard nodded. "Sounds simple enough. Just let me know, Kasumi. We'll take care of it. As for the evening wear, I'm a tux kinda gal, no gowns... and dress boots, no heels."

Kasumi actually pouted. "I'd say perfect, but it'd be a lie. Guess we need to swing by the Citadel so I can exchange it. Shame. You would have been ravishing in what I selected."

Shepard laughed. "Don't exchange it. I'll tuck it in my closet for an emergency. Let Operative Lawson know what it cost you and she'll reimburse you for it."

At that, Kasumi broke out in a light musical laughter. "Shep, remember who you're talking to. It didn't cost me a thing!"

Shepard's eyes got big, and her mouth opened, but closed again without uttering a single word. She just shook her head, not wanting to know, and walked out of the room with a smile on her face, informing Miranda they needed to swing through the Citadel on the way to Tuchanka. She wove her way down to engineering, and finally managed to locate Jack on the sub-deck below engineering. She had a stack of data pads lying around her feet and looked up at the sound of Shepard's feet hitting the decking.

"Hey. Thanks for letting me see these files." Jack was perched comfortably on a cot, leaning forward with her elbows on her knees, reading through the datapads.

Shepard just shrugged. "My end of the bargain. Tell me about you, Jack."

Jack waived one of the datapads at her, "I'm still finding out about me. Your friends at Cerberus are into some nasty things. I'll find something in here eventually. I just know it."

"Well, they're not exactly my friends. They're just the only ones who are willing to give me what I need to go after the Collectors. As an organization, they're terrorists; as individuals, not all of them are bad and I try to judge each on their own merit." Shepard watched as Jack stood and started to pace like a caged beast.

"Yeah, well, they raised me at a research facility and I'll kill anyone associated with that place. I escaped when I was a kid and been on the run ever since... and they've been chasing me ever since. But soon it's going to be their turn. I'm going to chase them."

Shepard shook her head. "I can't begin to understand what you went through, but make sure the anger doesn't eat you from the inside out. There's more to life than revenge."

Jack glared at her, "I go to sleep with this. I wake up with it. Everyone I kill? I pretend it's someone who worked at that facility."

"Sounds like maybe you catch a lot of innocents in the crossfire. What about killing fascinates you so much?" Shepard wasn't keen on having such a loose cannon on the crew.

Jack stopped pacing and looked directly at the commander, "I figure every time someone dies and it's not me, my chances of survival go up."

Shepard scowled. "Just remember everyone on this crew is here to help keep you alive, at least until the mission is done. After that, everyone goes their own separate way. Don't go looking for a fight with anyone on board, and we won't have any problems."

As she turned and started up the stairs, she heard Jack mumbling to herself, "No promises, girl scout." Shepard chose to ignore it and proceeded to her cabin to draft up some messages.

When she got to her cabin she slipped into her jeans and boots and let out a sigh of relief before digging Mordin's comm device out of hiding. She then grabbed a datapad and started to type.

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Shepard had been gone less than a day when Liara got her first burst transmission. It was as Sam said it would be, short and to the point but it made her want to laugh and cry at the same time.

Liara. Jumped relay, twinge back of head, you gone. Soul lonely without yours, otherwise good. Hope you no worse for wear. Have on jeans and boots. Citadel bound. Miss you. Keep the faith.

Liara pictured Shepard in her jeans and boots and smiled, even as the void she felt in her soul echoed the disconnect from her bondmate. Without thinking, her hand rose to her heart and her fingers traced the outline of the dog tags under her shirt. She typed out a quick message on her omnitool and pressed 'send' as a single tear of lonesomeness slipped unchecked down her cheek.

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Shepard had planned on swinging by the embassies to visit Anderson and Tevos, but as they docked she got a call from Joker; the Consort was requesting an audience. As she prepared to go ashore, she was even more surprised when Kelly Chambers notified her that her guest had arrived. Shepard hustled to the airlock and welcomed Sha'ira to the Normandy. "Sha'ira, this is a bit unexpected... twice over, actually. First that you contacted me at all, and second that you are here and not receiving me at your office."

"Yes, well, I appreciate you making time to see me, Commander. I take it is no inconvenience, and I am not keeping you from any formal duties here at the Citadel?" Sha'ira smiled as only she could and glanced around. "This is a beautiful ship, Commander. I assume there is somewhere we can speak privately."

Shepard smiled in return, noting Sha'ira's last statement was just that, a statement, and not a question. She offered her arm and escorted the Consort to the Port Observation Deck, knowing Kasumi was out roaming. As they entered, the Consort started to speak, but Shepard stopped her with a brief gesture.

"Edi, privacy mode please, until I say otherwise." Upon receiving acknowledgement of her order, Shepard looked to Sha'ira, "You were saying?"

"I received a somewhat cryptic note from a trusted source that demanded immediate action. It told me you would be here and I was to pass on this message... please share with Sha'ira and have her contact me once she knows the details." Sha'ira stopped speaking and merely waited for the commander to react.

Shepard laughed. "That little minx. I assume this is from Liara?" With the Consort's confirmation, Shepard told the basics of the story and then offered to meld to share the true depth of what was happening between them. After the meld, Sha'ira rose and walked to the bar.

Without looking at the commander, Sha'ira leaned on the counter for support. "May we partake of refreshments, Shepard?"

Shepard swung behind the bar and grabbed some Elasa, poured two glasses and handed one to her visitor. "Sorry. I'm a poor hostess; should have offered to begin with. But if you think we need alcohol, I fear our discussion is going to be less... pleasant... than I anticipated."

Sha'ira laughed, "Oh no! I didn't mean to worry you. It's just that this is unprecedented. It hasn't happened in ages, and never with any non-Asari that I know of. Your openness to our ways, particularly your strength of mind and ability to navigate within a meld is a crucial factor, but you still amaze me, Commander."

Shepard scrunched up her face. "Ok, confused human here. What's going on, and what does my openness to melding have to do with any of this?"

Sha'ira shook her head. "Sorry, let me explain in full. It is rare to find both partners open enough to a full melding to experience a true union, even more so when one of the partners is non-Asari, such as you have done with Liara. On top of that you need to have a strong sense of your spiritual self; so much so that you believe in higher planes of existence. Many people claim to have faith, but few truly believe." Sha'ira took a sip of Elasa and looked at Shepard, ensuring she was still following. With a nod from the commander, she continued.

"So, you started with an intellectual rapport and then you developed an emotional bond which eventually grew into a physical relationship. These three steps are frequently completed by couples and essential to any long-term pairing. What makes you and Liara special are the trials you have gone through; first together, then apart, and finally your efforts to get back together again. The strength of the love and trust that pulled you two back together was the final key ingredient. When you both dropped all your pretenses, all your walls, all your barriers and truly opened to each other, you opened the doorway to a greater bond. Your belief is what allowed something magical to begin, an actual blending of auras, a true blending of spirit. If you did not truly believe in a higher purpose and other planes of existence, you never would have even seen Liara's aura, much less been able to touch it or interact with it. There are those who can see auras and there are those who cannot; the door simply would not have opened." Another sip, another nod, and Sha'ira continued her explanation.

"Liara came closer to the truth than she realized when she mentioned a true unity of spirit. She instinctually understood what was happening but did not have the knowledge to put a name to it. When you reach the pinnacle of the blending, you reach a state of union called Inanna. Once there you will be able to communicate without words, without touch; I always assumed this required two Asari because of our natural ability to meld, but you have proven that is not the case. Your souls and spirits can act as one, a whole much greater than the sum of its parts. You have found your perfect soul mate and your stars are rising to that pinnacle of existence." Sha'ira tipped her glass and polished off the remaining Elasa.

Shepard sat in silence for a moment, digesting everything the Consort told her. She had an expression of bewildered awareness when she finally spoke, "When Liara first explained the Asari union to me, she finished by saying it could sometimes be a truly life-changing event. Back then, I said it sounded almost mystical. Little did I know!" Shepard laughed lightly and looked to Sha'ira as she asked her next query, "So, what causes the primal sex urge? It's uncharacteristic for Liara, and she can't seem to control it. That's the part that scares her... the lack of control."

Sha'ira smiled broadly. "That's the easy part. Just as Liara instinctually understood what was happening on the intellectual level, so did her body at the physical level. Her body is merely encouraging her to finish the process. The more spiritual melds you experience, the more cohesive your unity becomes. That's why you experienced greater levels of connection after each joining. First it was just emotion, then thought, then without touch, and then distance... all the way to the relay! Goddess knows how strong you can make it, but knowing you two, you'll push the limits if given enough time." Sha'ira paused and let out a comforting laugh, "The primal urges will taper off naturally once you reach some sort of equilibrium. Based on your imagery from your last encounter, I would say you are very close. It truly is nothing of concern."

Shepard blushed and downed the rest of her Elasa as well. "Thank you, Sha'ira. As always, your wisdom is recognized and your willingness to share it is greatly appreciated."

Sha'ira embraced the commander and whispered suggestively in her ear, "Seeing you is always to my pleasure, Shepard. You shall never be a stranger at my door."

Shepard smiled as they separated and said with a smirk, "You know that's not going to happen any time in the near future."

Sha'ira laughed in return, "Ah, young love. I am Asari. I have time and patience. I can wait." Laughing together, they continued to make small talk as Shepard escorted Sha'ira back to the airlock, arm-in-arm.

As they separated, the Consort leaned in and kissed Shepard chastely on the cheek. "Thank you for your wonderful hospitality, Commander. I will handle this with the utmost discretion; I'll send a quick note to say we've met, and I'll head to Illium and share our discussion in person. I think it's best."

Shepard smiled, "Yes, I agree. Even with everything that has happened, she can still be extremely shy and evasive. It's harder for her to dodge when you are sitting on her couch." The twinkle in Shepard's eye let Sha'ira know she had seen her last trip to Illium in Liara's memories through the meld.

A wink later, Sha'ira was out on the docks. She looked back one last time at the commander, smiling as she said her final farewell. "Goddess be with you, Shepard." With that, she turned and was gone.

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As soon as Shepard reentered the Normandy, Kelly Chambers informed her that Professor Solus was looking for her and said he had urgent news. She immediately swung around and headed for the lab; as was typical, Mordin began speaking the minute Shepard entered. "Shepard. Important news. Know you're busy. Have to deal with the Collectors. Planning attack. Too important to wait. Just received data, still processing, analyzing likely scenarios. Not sure how to begin. Too much intel. You remember our talk? My work on Genophage modification?"

"Yes, you stopped the Krogan adaptation to prevent a population explosion." Shepard remembered being surprised by the Krogan genetic variability.

"Part of a team; scientists, all different types. Blood Pack mercenaries captured former team member, Maelon. Last seen on Tuchanka. Might torture him. Make an example." Mordin dropped his head as he finished. "Recovering Maelon would be a personal favor to me."

"Mordin. Do you think they found out your team updated the Genophage?" Shepard could only imagine how badly things would go for Maelon if that was the case.

The Salarian's head came back up and he looked at Shepard as he answered. "Unclear. No way to determine until we get to Tuchanka."

Shepard nodded, "Don't worry. We're on our way there now to speak to Urdnot Wrex about Grunt's condition. We'll see if we can find Maelon while we're there."

Mordin looked relieved. "Convenient. Appreciate it. My assistant. My student. Want to see him safe. Maelon last seen outside Urdnot territory. Scouts might have seen Blood Pack. We can talk to clan chief."

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As soon as they touched down on Tuchanka and the team emerged from the shuttle, Shepard had to laugh. The Krogan from Ilium had actually brought Ereba to Tuchanka and was standing there extolling on the virtues of his beautiful planet. Shepard coughed and looked down at the ground when she heard Ereba reply, "I guess. It seems a bit dirty, though..."

Shepard continued down the steps toward the entrance to the bunker and the Overcaptain jerked the barrel of his shotgun at Shepard. "Stop right there, alien. You're Shepard... of the Normandy. The clan leader wants to speak with you. Talk to him soon, alien. If we decide you're not welcome, you'll know just before we kill you."

Shepard laughed. "Yeah, in your dreams. Wrex is my Krantt. However unsuccessful you would be, he undoubtedly would still take exception to you trying." Shepard signaled Mordin and Grunt, and they pushed by the Overcaptain as if they didn't have a care in the world. As they moved deeper into the facility, Edi informed them of references to a captured Salarian in the Chief Scout's logs. Shepard just shook her head, not wanting to know how Edi got the information. As they entered the central hub for Clan Urdnot, the group was stopped by a guard, telling them they had to wait to be summoned by the clan leader. He had barely gotten the words out of his mouth before Wrex barreled over, "Shepard! My friend! You look well for dead! I should have known the Void couldn't hold you."

Shepard smiled up at the big Krogan as they gripped forearms in greeting. "Good to see you too, Wrex! Clan Chief. Nice! Sounds like we've got stories to swap over some Ryncol, but later. Got business to take care of first."

After basic preliminaries, the two warriors discussed the dual purposes behind the visit, and Wrex pointed them first to the head scout. Wasn't long and they were talking to the lead mechanic. He gave them one of the clan's Tomkah trucks and told them to be careful with it. They only had one more in reserve, and that was down for maintenance...the last crew returned the truck minus a combustion manifold. The team was then on their way to pay a visit to Clan Weyrloc, holed up in an old hospital. Shepard had been told about the level of devastation on the Krogan homeworld; it was another thing entirely to see it in person. Looking at the wanton destruction along the route, she was surprised it was habitable at all. Once at their destination and out of the truck, the first things they encountered were insectoids called Klixen. They were fire-breathers, so while Mordin was busy slapping them with cryogenics, Shepard was busy throwing warps and Grunt was happy using his shotgun. Since they tended to explode when they died, coating everything next to them with flaming goo, Shepard worked at range and opted out of her usual 'crash and blast' approach.

After the Klixen were varren and then Vorcha, which incendiary ammunition handled very nicely. Grunt was very happy, having an outlet for his raging hormones as he dived into the fray in full melee mode. As they progressed up to the level of the Blood Pack headquarters, they finally ran into their first Krogan warrior. She'd heard it before, but just the enthusiasm with which Mordin yelled, "Incinerate! Burns through any armor!" always made her laugh. There ended up being only two warriors, along with a couple more varren and a couple more Vorcha before they finally got to the final battle field before the hospital entrance. Grunt found it disappointing, with just a few Vorcha for him to stomp through before finding himself at the door of the hospital. Shepard made him wait while she and Mordin pulled a combustion manifold off an upended Tomkah; the mechanic would be pleased when they returned not only their truck, but spare parts for the second one.

Shepard was not pleased when the first thing they found after they entered the hospital was a dead human; especially when Mordin announced he was a victim of experimentation because humans are genetically diverse, making them perfect subjects to test various treatment modalities. Shepard growled, "What the hell were they testing for?"

Mordin did some additional scans before answering, "Modifying hormone levels. Counterattack on glands hit by Genophage. Clever. Conceptually sound"

Shepard grimaced and her eyes narrowed to dangerous slits. "Clever, my ass. Now we've got two reasons to shut this place down." Signaling to the team, they pressed further into the facility. They came to a door and when it opened, they stepped into a large chamber with a ramp to the right that led up to a balcony directly in front of them. A large Krogan stepped up, with others behind him; Shepard couldn't see exactly how many because of the balcony's elevation.

"I am the speaker for Clan Weyrloc. You have shed our blood. By rights, you should be dead already." As the Krogan approached closer to the railing, Shepard saw there were only three of them. The Krogan continued, "But Weyrloc Guld, the Chief of Chiefs, has ordered that you be given leave to flee and spread the message of our coming."

Shepard thought that odd, and just had to ask, "Krogan don't generally let people go. What does Clan Weyrloc have planned?"

The Clanspeaker paced as he delivered his message. "If you walk away now, you can tell your children that you saw Clan Weyrloc before our Blood Pack conquered the stars. You think the Urdnot impressive? They are pitiful. Weyrloc Guld will destroy them! The Salarian will cure the Genophage and Clan Weyrloc will spread across the galaxy in a sea of blood!"

Mordin whispered to the commander, "Appears they discovered Maelon's work. Unfortunate."

Shepard stepped forward and tried to reason with the speaker, "It doesn't have to happen like this. I can understand wanting to cure the Genophage..."

The angry Krogan cut her off, shouting, "No, human! You understand nothing! You have not seen the piles of children that never lived! The Krogan were wronged! We will make it right, and we will have our revenge!"

Shepard refused to give up, trying to continue the argument. "Half the galaxy sees you as victims. You start a war and you'll lose that support!"

The Krogan laughed. "Ha! We have the Blood Pack and we have the Salarian! When our clan numbers in the millions, we will not need support. When we cure the Genophage, Weyrloc Guld will rule all Krogan and form the new Krogan Empire!"

Shepard shook her head. "Why do we always have to do things the hard way? We simply can't let you run rampant across the galaxy!"

The Clanspeaker bellowed his response. "If you lack the wisdom to flee, then you will be the first of billions to be crushed beneath our might! For Weyrloc Guld! Attack!"

The door behind the speaker flew open and Krogan and Vorcha poured out. Grunt immediately broke right, aiming for the ramp up, and Mordin launched an incineration attack. Shepard dived for cover and then launched a warp followed by incineration rounds from her SMG. She worked her way across the cover until she was within charging distance of the ramp and turned into a blue bolt of lightning, quickly catching up to Grunt by smashing into the Krogan he was fighting, finishing him off. Grunt let out a bellow of laughter and moved to his next target with glee. Mordin kept on the move doing what he did best, alternating between cryo blasts and weapons fire, shattering his frozen targets into thousands of pieces. It didn't take them long to clear the room.

As they moved up the ramp and entered the secured portion of the facility, they began to smell chemicals and death. When they entered the first lab they found, Mordin located a terminal and downloaded some information from the first stages of research, commenting on its thoroughness.

Shepard scorned Mordin's tone, "Most people would be so casual about developing a sterility plaque, Mordin."

Mordin shook his head, "Not meant to sterilize, meant to stabilize. And not developing, modifying. Much more difficult working within confines of existing Genophage. A hundred times the complexity. Errors unacceptable. Mistakes could be worse than doing nothing. Goal was to keep Krogan population stable, optimal growth."

Shepard couldn't accept Mordin's arguments. "Still, you're working in shades of gray. You caused stillbirths in the millions. A lot of people consider that murder."

Mordin adamantly denied any accusations of murder. "No. Murdered no one. Altered fertility, prevented fetal development of nervous system. Killed many, Shepard. Many methods. Gunfire, knives, drugs, tech attacks, once with farming equipment, but not with medicine!"

"Look at what happened to Tuchanka as a result of the Genophage, Mordin. You still think you did the right thing?" Shepard didn't think he could so easily shake off the mantle of responsibility for his actions.

Mordin only shrugged, "State of Tuchanka not due to Genophage. Nuclear winter caused by Krogan before Salarians made first contact. Krogan choices. Refused truce during Krogan Rebellions. Expanded after Rachni Wars. Refused to negotiate. Conventional war too risky. Krogan forces too strong. Genophage was only option. Us or them. No apologies for winning. Wouldn't have minded peaceful solution."

Shepard sighed. "Neither of us was there, so we are both subject to our own species' perceptions. But I agree, peaceful would have been nice. Let's get moving."

Across the hall and in another section of the lab, the team came across a dead female Krogan. Mordin picked up a datapad, read it and looked over the corpse. "Sterile Weyrloc female willing to risk experimental procedures. Hoped for cure. Pointless. Pointless waste of life."

Shepard was definitely confused and questioned why Mordin would be disturbed by the effects of the work he so adamantly defended. Mordin was actually shocked by Shepard's assumption. "What? Why? Because of Genophage work? Irrelevant. No, causative! Never experimented on live Krogan. Never killed with medicine! Her death not my work, only reaction to it. Goal was to stabilize population. Never wanted this. Can see it logically... but still unnecessary. Foolish waste of life. Hate to see it."

"Too much talking. Let's move, Shepard!" Grunt was pacing like a caged animal, so Shepard decided continuing the philosophical argument would have to wait and pressed on. They found a lot of empty rooms as they continued to move through the halls, and then they were surprised. They found the Krogan scout sitting in a room with the corpse of another Krogan. When the door opened, the scout looked up in amazement. "You killed the Blood Pack guards."

Shepard looked at him, "The chief scout told us to watch for you. We've taken out the guards, get back to Urdnot."

The obviously sick scout looked at the floor as he answered, "I can't. The Weyrloc did things to me. Drugs. Injections. Said I was sacrificing for the good of all Krogan. Experiments to cure the Genophage. Everything's blurry. Hard to think. Have to stay. This is my fault. I got caught. Wasn't strong enough, not good enough."

Grunt bellowed. "You worthless pyjak! Those experiments are for Weyrloc, not Urdnot. You are a clan traitor!"

The scout struggled, but managed to stand up. "No! They said I was helping Urdnot!"

Grunt laughed. "So you're a stupid pyjak! If you truly want to help your clan, you'll get your worthless hump back to Urdnot and act like a real Krogan!"

The sick scout looked at Grunt. "I am not worthless! I can do it. I'm up and I'm going back to camp!"

Shepard growled at the scout, "Damn right you are! Get back to Urdnot and show them what you're worth! Go!"

After the scout roared and headed out, Shepard looked over at his teammate. "Thanks, Grunt. That was just what he needed!"

Grunt growled, "I wasn't helping. If he didn't get up and move I was going to kill the traitor where he sat."

Shepard and Mordin looked at each other; Mordin shrugged, and Shepard said, "On that note, I think we'd better keep moving!"

As they rolled through the next doorway, they found a large chasm with two bridges crossing it. On the far side were a number of Blood Pack Vorcha troopers and a few Krogan. With Grunt charging in like a maniac and Mordin throwing cryo blasts, there was remarkably little for Shepard to do but clean-up work. It was totally inappropriate, but she laughed to herself when she thought how Liara would encourage her to keep a hormonally charged juvenile Krogan on the crew at all times if it kept her from leading from the front.

They cleared the level, crossed one of the bridges and moved down a ramp on the far side to the next level. A few more Blood Pack Warriors and a couple of Krogan later, the clan leader Weyrloc Guld showed his face. He was a bit tougher to take down; he had both barriers and upgraded armor as compared to the standard warriors, but he was still no match for the Normandy team. Mordin set him up for failure with a cryo blast, after which Shepard charged in and shattered him with a blast from her shotgun. Once Guld was down, they had the run of the facility and quickly found the lab where Maelon was working.

Mordin was shocked and confused when he walked into the room. "Maelon. Alive. Unharmed. No signs of restraint. No evidence of torture. Don't understand."

Maelon's tone was derisive. "For such a smart man, Professor, you always had trouble seeing evidence that disagreed with your preconceptions. How long will it take you to admit that I'm here because I wish to be here?"

Shepard looked at Mordin. "He wasn't kidnapped. He came here voluntarily to cure the Genophage."

Mordin was definitely in denial, "Impossible. Whole team agreed! Project necessary!"

Maelon shifted from derisive to sarcastic, "How was I supposed to disagree with the great Doctor Solus? I was your student! I looked up to you!"

Keeping time with Maelon's shifts, Mordin went from denial to anger and accusation. "Experiments performed here. Live subjects! Prisoners! Torture and executions. Your doing?"

Maelon was not repentant. "Yes! We've already got the blood of millions on our hands, Doctor. If it takes a bit more to put things right, I can deal with that!"

Shepard couldn't believe what she was hearing. "You believe what you did here is justified?"

Maelon grunted in disgust. "We committed cultural genocide! Nothing I do will ever be justified! The experiments are monstrous... because I was taught to be a monster."

Shepard looked at Mordin. She didn't agree with the Genophage, but didn't' believe Mordin capable of anything like this. "Did you ever perform experiments like this?"

Mordin was horrified, "No!" His gaze shifted to his student. "Never taught you this, Maelon."

Maelon ranted on, "So your hands are clean? What does it matter if the ground is stained with the blood of millions! You taught me the end justified the means. I will undo what we did, Professor. The only way I know how."

Shepard shook her head in frustration. "This isn't getting us anywhere, Mordin. Maelon clearly doesn't need rescuing. What do you want to do?"

Mordin's answer was simple. "Have to end this."

Maelon wasn't ready to let it go. "You can't face the truth, can you? Can't admit your brilliant mind led you to commit an atrocity!" Unexpectedly, Maelon pulled a pistol and aimed it at the group.

Grunt growled, "Shepard?" When Maelon looked toward the Krogan, Mordin jumped forward and struck Maelon, taking the pistol from him and pointing it back at the student.

"Unacceptable experiments. Unacceptable goals. Won't change. No choice. Have to kill you."

Shepard exclaimed, "Wait!" She took a step toward the professor, "You don't have to do this, Mordin. You're not a murderer."

Mordin hesitated. "No, not a murderer, but must stop him. Just like Rana Thanoptis."

Shepard winced at the comparison, but it was accurate. "Yes, like Rana, but not like at Okeer's lab; more like Virmire. I gave her a second chance; you should do the same for Maelon. Everyone makes mistakes. Give him a chance to learn from it. If he screws up a second time... well... I won't stop you again."

Mordin hesitated, and then dropped the barrel of the pistol. "Thank you, Shepard. Finished, Maelon. Get out. No Weyrloc left. Project over."

Shepard looked at Maelon. "You heard the professor. Get out before he changes his mind."

Maelon started walking but couldn't resist a parting shot. "The Krogan didn't deserve what we did to them. The Genophage needs to end."

Mordin shook his head. "Not like this." He turned his attention to Shepard. "Maelon's research only loose end. Could destroy it. Still valuable, though."

Shepard's forehead wrinkled in contemplation. "Valuable? If you think it could still be useful, why not hang on to it? Better to have it and not use it than to need it and not have it."

Mordin nodded his head. "Point taken, Shepard. Capturing data, wiping local copy. Still years away from cure, but closer than starting from scratch. Done. Ready to go. Ready to be off Tuchanka. Anywhere else. Maybe somewhere sunny."

Shepard agreed with him, but they still had business to attend to with Grunt.

Mordin glanced at his teammate. "Agreed. Grunt helped me, even if I misunderstood mission parameters. Will stay and help him. Only fair."

Shepard smiled. "Alright. Let's get back to Urdnot."