While the Normandy was enroute to Bekenstein to help Kasumi recover her dead partner's mysterious graybox, Shepard took advantage of the free time and retreated to her cabin. It was a couple of days' transit from Tuchanka, so she could catch up on the multitude of little things that had a tendency to get pushed to the back burners. Her new evening wear that now hung in the room was much better than the evil dress and heels buried in the deepest corner of the closet. The tux was actually quite stylish and very feminine, and the accessories were a pale green satin that almost perfectly matched Shepard's eyes. The part of the outfit that she most appreciated was the boots. They were obviously high fashion dress boots, yet still low-heeled enough to be functional; which Shepard defined as easy to maneuver and really run in if it became necessary. Kasumi was a miracle worker. How she managed to 'acquire' such an outfit in the short period of time they had been on the Citadel was beyond Shepard, and she didn't want to know. Even still, she had a feeling that if not for Samara's oath to Shepard, the Justicar would most likely have hunted down both her and Kasumi at the end of the mission.
Shepard pulled out a datapad, sunk down onto her couch, and composed a number of two-line messages. The first was just a quick hello to her mom and a request to explain her status to Culver. Shepard figured folks within the Alliance had probably at least heard the rumors, so she felt bad because one of her closest friends may have heard she was alive through a source other than via a personal contact. She also needed Culver to understand that her connection to Cerberus was forced upon her by circumstances that she would remedy at her first opportunity. Last time they had been on the Citadel, Karin visited Dr Chloe Michel at her clinic in the wards and passed a message to Thessia, updating Arlyna and Niria. So, other than members of the old crew Shepard couldn't get to, Culver was the last of the inner circle to be notified that Shepard was actually still alive and kicking... and still Alliance in her heart. Once everyone knew, it would be easy to set up a distribution list and blast info out to everyone at the same time. She then crafted an update for Anderson to give him a heads-up in case the next mission went badly.
I know. Supposed to stay Terminus. Bekenstein bound, harassing crime lord Donovan Hock. Prepping to take fight to Collectors via Omega-4 relay. I'll keep you posted. Keep the faith.
Shepard figured that would get a rise out of the old man; not only because Bekenstein was in the heart of Citadel space, but because any mention of transiting the Omega-4 relay had that effect on just about everyone. Even the terminal assassin who was already dying still took the time to mention it. Shepard had avoided the topic with Liara, but it was hard to imagine the Information Broker didn't know what her plans were. She knew they'd have to talk about it sooner or later, but their reunion had been too delicate to throw another wrench into the works. There would be time for that discussion later, as the actual jump got closer. Not like she could dismiss the need to do it, but Shepard wasn't ready to contemplate the potential outcomes of that trip yet, so shook her head and refocused on her data burst. Of course, she wanted to send a personal note to Liara as well, but she wanted to see if there was anything inbound from her bondmate before she drafted that particular note. She quickly reviewed the draft messages and activated the comm device. Within moments it had completed the burst and shut itself down; she received two new messages. The first was a heartwarming note from her mom and it was a very short, basically saying she was once again keeping in regular touch with Liara and ended with professions of encouragement, love and faith. Liara's memo, on the other hand was a tad more entertaining.
Unexpected visitor/news, Elasa involved. Want you here to finish soul blend. Miss your spirit. Need pic, you in jeans/boots/tank top. Tell Wrex hello. Target no closer, still working it. Love!
Shepard was impressed when she read the hello to Wrex, but wasn't sure whether she should laugh or be creeped out that Liara knew where she was. Liara's network was very good, and Shepard decided to be comforted by her bondmate keeping such close tabs on her, but shuddered as the next thought ran unbidden across her consciousness... that Liara would most likely know very quickly if she was seriously wounded or killed on a mission, unless she just vanished behind the Omega-4 relay, never to be seen again. Then, there would never be any information; the Normandy would just be lost, no explanations. Shepard worried that Liara would never be able to let that go and would attempt to follow them to discover their fate. Once again, Shepard shook her head, angry at herself, and pushed such thoughts to the back of her mind to focus on drafting her response.
Love to finish what we started, soonest. Wrex said hello. Sorry, text only, no pics. Bekenstein bound, for Kasumi. Donovan Hock/compound? I promise to stay safe. Keep the faith. Love.
After booting the device again and sending the burst to Liara, Shepard stood up and stretched before heading out the door to talk to some of the crew. They had a lot going on, and Shepard wanted them to know she hadn't forgotten them. Her first stop was the Bridge for a chat with the pilot. She walked into the middle of a rather heated discussion. "What's going on, Joker?"
Jeff glanced over his shoulder with a frown. "Just having an argument about personalization of my workspace..."
Edi's disembodied voice chimed in, "Cerberus regulations are clear, Mr Moreau. 'Personalization' does not include grease on my Bridge cameras."
Shepard almost laughed, swearing the synthetic voice was doing a very good simulation of being quite annoyed with the flight lieutenant.
Jeff looked at Shepard and did laugh, as he offered something of an explanation. "It's just mad because all its footage of me looks like a dream sequence."
Shepard sighed, knowing she was about to be very unpopular. "Joker. As much as you may disagree, the cockpit is not your personal space, and while Edi has nothing to do with the camera placement, it is her job to monitor them. Digital recorders and black boxes are commonplace in the cockpit, no matter what you're flying, so live with it and quit messing with them."
As Joker started to protest, Shepard cut him off. "That's my final word, Joker. If you want to sit around and watch porn vids, that's fine, but do it in the lounge on your own time. Not in the cockpit when you're sitting in that chair." Shepard knew he was going to complain about how he was the only pilot, so she preempted his argument with her next statement. "And before you say anything about not having time off, consider whether you really want to share fly time with someone else up here besides you...because I can get a secondary pilot easy enough to give you more down time."
Joker's jaw snapped closed on his rejoinder. "Fine, Commander. If that's how you want to play it...but nobody else touches my baby." His face set into a deep scowl.
Shepard rolled her eyes at the pilot. "Oh, Joker. Don't be that way. You know those cameras are as much for your safety as anything else. Especially you, being up here at odd hours like you are. If anything ever happened to you while the rest of the ship was sleeping..."
Joker didn't say anything, but Shepard could tell by the way he squirmed in his seat she had, at the very least, pulled the argument to a draw. She was ok with that and left while they were in relative balance, heading down to the bowels of Engineering. As she rolled around the corner at the bottom of the stairs, Jack was in her normal place, parked on her cot with a pistol beside her and a pile of datapads at her feet. At the sound of footsteps, Jack's head came up and she looked at the commander. "Hey."
"Hey, Jack. Just checking in to see if you've come up with anything yet in the data files." And wondering why you have a live weapon out of the armory, but that's not worth the fight...as long as you don't shoot anyone.
"Nah. Got bored and had to take a break so decided to check out your ship. It's pretty hot... would love to put her through her paces when you're not around."
Shepard's brow furrowed in disapproval. "I doubt Joker would appreciate that, and I'm pretty sure Edi would somehow block you."
Jack got up and walked away, crossing her arms over her chest, either in defiance or a standard protective posture, and leaned against a bulkhead. "Relax. Joy-riding isn't all it's cracked up to be. If I wanted the ship, I'd just take it. Nobody would be able to stop me."
In response to a snort of disbelief from Shepard, Jack continued on and told tales of a number of her exploits, ranging from petty theft to terrorism; her activity ran the gamut, including the theft of a military aircraft. Of course it was a Turian vessel, not Alliance, and not with Joker at the helm and Edi in the core. The discussion did prove one thing to Shepard though; Jack had serious trust issues, but with a number of good reasons. She had pretty much been treated like shit her entire life and almost always ended up on the short end of the deal, left only with revenge to even the score. Jack finished out her sordid résumé with a telling statement. "Everybody wants something. And because of that, everything is fair game."
Shepard vowed to make Jack's time on the Normandy different than anything she had ever experienced. She needed Jack committed, not just to the mission, but to the Normandy and her crew. "Do you ever regret any of the things you've done? Wished you had done something differently?"
Jack scoffed, "There's no reason I should be alive, but I am. You know why? Instinct. It's worked for me so far and I'm not going to change now."
Shepard shook her head and sighed. "Jack. This mission's going to be tough and we're going somewhere no one has ever come back from alive. I don't plan on dying beyond the Omega-4, but for us to get back; we have to work as a team. We have to trust one another. Think you can get there from here?"
Jack pushed herself off the wall and squared herself up to Shepard before answering, surprisingly responsive to the query. "I've never trusted anyone in my life, Shepard, but no one's ever asked me about this shit either. No one ever cared enough to bother, so it's strange to talk about. So fuck you, and thanks for asking."
Without waiting for a response, Jack flopped back down on the cot and returned to the datapads. It wasn't really the answer Shepard was looking for but was more than what she expected, so chose not to challenge it and risk the apparent breakthrough she had just made. It was said in a brusque way, accompanied with a 'fuck you' but she actually got a thank you out of Jack. Shepard figured she'd make a tactical withdrawal while she was ahead. One step at a time, Shepard. One step at a time.
When Shepard got up the next morning, the first thing she did was fire up the data burst transmitter. She immediately got two pings and was curious...she had only expected a message from Liara. She chuckled when she read the first message and realized she should have anticipated that one as well. It was from Anderson, and the way it was phrased it was hard to tell if it was in reference to Bekenstein or the Omega-4 relay; possibly both.
Christ, Shepard. You really like to poke the bear, don't you? Next time, don't tell me. I don't want to know. At least then, if the shit hits the fan I don't have to feign ignorance. Take care!
She also got a reply from Liara that wasn't very reassuring; it made Shepard wish they could go in to Hock's compound under the Spectre flag, guns blazing. But given it was in the same system as the Citadel, she knew it wasn't an option. It was amazing how much fear Liara could impart in two lines of data. At least she didn't try to tell Shepard not to go.
VERY well secured/defended/Heavy mechs/Atlas/gunships/small private army with undercover operatives/top-notch security/Advise double squad w/heavy weapons. Be careful, Love! Please!
Liara was obviously concerned about the mission; the Hock compound was apparently a very dangerous place and Donovan Hock was not known for playing nice. Shepard didn't have the heart to tell her she was starting the mission at a society party, in evening wear and carrying nothing but a small pistol. After receiving news like that, however, Shepard spent most of the day with Kasumi, going back over the plan and the cover the master thief had established for her. They were getting into the compound because Hock was throwing a party and Shepard's cover, a leader of a small but talented Terminus merc band, had gotten an invite. How Kasumi had arranged it all, Shepard didn't want to know, but figured Kas could easily sideline as a document forger and identity changer.
The plan was simple; go to the party, find and break into Hock's vault, locate the graybox and make good their escape. The execution was a bit more complex. As good as Kasumi was, even she wasn't counting on getting in and out without being detected and she believed in being prepared for the worst case scenario. Along that line, Shepard's armor and weapons were smuggled in, contained in the base of a statue that her cover alias gave Hock as a birthday present. Shepard had practically choked when Kasumi told her the 'gift' was a golden statue of Saren. The biggest trick would be getting in and out of the vault. Kasumi was sure Hock had top of the line security, but she wouldn't know exactly what they were facing until she saw it in person, so the break-in itself would be the trickiest part of the whole operation. Kasumi, and therefore Shepard, had to operate on the fly.
Before Shepard left for the day, she had just one more question. Her voice dropped, not quite to a whisper, but definitely solemn. "This isn't just another heist, is it? What's in the graybox that makes it worth all this trouble?"
Kasumi's voice cracked as she spoke, "It holds Keiji's memories. Everything from all the codes and plans he stole to... all the time we spent together. Embedded in those memories is some massive secret he discovered. Keiji never told me what it was, just that it was very important. It's what got him killed. I... I need to know why it was so important, and I can't let Hock win. For Keiji."
They couldn't exactly show up at Hock's place in a Normandy shuttle, so landed at the local space port and rented a skycar. While on the way to the compound, Kasumi admired her own handiwork. "Looking good, Ms Alison Gunn. Hock won't be able to keep his eyes off you. He's rich and he's charismatic. Just don't forget he's also a dangerous weapons dealer and smuggler. Hock is the type to crack open a skull to get what he wants. He killed my partner and literally ripped the graybox from his brain."
Shepard rolled her eyes. "Sounds like a charmer."
Kasumi agreed, "He actually is, but don't let it deceive you. Just don't start talking business with him and you'll be fine. Once we're inside, I'll make my way to the vault and figure out what we need to get in. You get to socialize and case the security, see what we're up against."
Shepard shrugged, "Sounds easy enough. What's the catch? I'm sure you didn't bring me along just as a distraction."
"I have no idea what type of security is on the vault. I'm sure I'll need your help breaking in. I'm just not sure what that help is yet... and I'll certainly need your help getting back out." Kasumi glanced over at the commander. "This isn't going to be a cake walk. He has top of the line security and video surveillance. We'll get caught eventually. We just need it to be after we lay hands on the graybox."
The trip from the port wasn't long, and they rode the rest of the way in silence, and as they arrived at the compound, they were met at the door by the host, Donovan Hock. The man spoke with an enchanting old Irish brogue, "You may pass through, Ms Gunn, you were invited after all, but I'm afraid your ... security guard must remain outside. You understand, I hope."
Knowing they had secure comms and Kasumi had a cloak and could enter at any time, Shepard shrugged and quickly agreed to the terms, "She can stay with the car. No problem. You're the host." She contentedly allowed Hock to lead the way. Once inside, she began to mingle and look around. She quickly counted the security guards, and recognized they were fairly standard Eclipse mercs; nothing special from what she could tell. As she wandered, she located a datapad that contained a message between two security guards, lamenting their inability to sneak away during the party because their boss was on duty, Security Chief Roe. From the tone of the message, Chief Roe was a hard ass and Shepard wasn't looking forward to finding out why. Kasumi was of a different opinion, thinking she could possibly use that information if they could tap into the guard's communications.
In the mean time, Kasumi cloaked and worked her way to the back of the ballroom, where her information indicated the entrance to the vault would be. When she found the entrance, Shepard heard her over the comms. "Very nice. There's more here than I expected." Kasumi chuckled as she continued, "You don't even have to wait to get into the vault to get your weapons and armor. They left the statue right here in the vault anteroom." Kasumi's voice got serious again, very quickly. "Liara was right. This is top of the line stuff. There's a triple layer of security. A voice activated password lock, a kinetic barrier and a DNA scanner."
Shepard found a quiet corner and risked speaking, "Sounds tough. Can you do it?"
"Oh please. Remember who you're talking to. We'll need to get a voice sample, so you'll have to chat up Hock for a bit, and we'll need to figure out his password, so we need to get into the security office. DNA is easy. I just need to get into his private quarters. That should be easy enough."
Shepard was not so confident. "I'm glad you think this is going to be so easy. What about the barrier?"
"That wasn't even worth mentioning. Cut the power. Done. Keiji could get through a system like this in his sleep, and I'm better." Kasumi was all business now. All the casual humor was gone from her voice as she spoke. "There's a stairwell at the back of the ballroom. Come meet me, and I'll set your omnitool to scan for electromagnetic fields. You can trace and kill the power while I get into Hock's quarters and collect DNA."
Neither task was particularly difficult and both were soon complete. Kasumi quickly got back on the comm and she directed Shepard to the security office door and they easily slid in undetected. There was a short hallway before the main office and when they got to the end, the doorway slid open. Shepard and Kasumi quickly realized the security office was occupied by two guards... who were in no way expecting trouble. Shepard pulled on her biotics and did a quick charge, taking one guard down without a struggle, and as she turned to shoot the second guard, Kasumi suddenly uncloaked behind him and took him down as he started to point his pistol at Shepard. It was all done nice and quiet, no shots fired to attract any unwanted attention. Kasumi hacked into the computer, and Shepard immediately started searching loose datapads for clues. Through the computer, Kasumi was able to hack into the comm net, so they would know when security was alerted. In the meantime, Shepard scanned through the datapads and found the password, Peruggia. Kasumi laughed, "Nice. That's the name of the man who stole the Mona Lisa. Hock has a sense of humor. Now all we need is enough of a voiceprint to use portions to recreate the word."
They moved back out into the main hall, and soon Kasumi indicated she was ready to record, whenever the commander was ready to chat up Hock. The man apparently loved the sound of his own voice, and with a couple of simple prods from Shepard, he felt the urge to make a speech about the need for people like them. "Most people only have to worry about the simple luxuries. Why? Because people like me--and you--are doing the terrible things that keep the galaxy spinning. This party is for us. The cleaners. The support structure for the galaxy's gleeful delusions of peace." As he rambled, he drew a crowd; eventually, he glanced around at his audience and threw his arms wide as he finished. "May there always be a market for the things we do." He refocused on Shepard, "Enjoy the party, Ms Gunn. I must continue to mingle with my guests, but it's been a pleasure."
Kasumi was very pleased; it was more than enough for a sufficient voice sample. "That should be everything we need. I just need to manipulate the voice print to string together the password, and we'll be able to get in the vault. Let's head down there."
In no time at all, they were in. Shepard had killed the power to the barrier, Kasumi had collected the necessary DNA, and together they collected the voice print to create Hock's voice saying the password. What they thought was a vault door was actually an access door to an elevator. Kasumi gave it one glance and looked at Shepard. "Break out your armor and weapons and get suited up while I disable the video surveillance in the elevator. I have a feeling things are about to get interesting at the other end of this ride."
When the doors opened at the bottom of the shaft, there was a surprising lack of guards, but the vault itself was impressive. As they stepped out and looked around the room, Kasumi's eyes got wide and Shepard let out a low whistle. There were multiple statues, obviously of great value, along with any number of artifacts from various cultures. They included Earth items Shepard easily recognized, like the head from the Statue of Liberty, Michelangelo's David, and one of the ancient Pharaoh statues. Kasumi opened her omnitool. "This scanner will hone in on the graybox." She let out an audible sigh of relief. "Good. I was afraid Hock secured it separately, somewhere offsite in a safe, but it's actually here. It's not far." As they approached the display with the graybox, sitting alongside their target was THE Kassa Locust...the gun that killed two Presidents. Shepard couldn't resist but to pick it up and see how it fit in her hand. She nodded in approval of its feel and balance, and promptly locked it into an empty hardpoint on her gear rack. Kasumi chuckled, "I'm sure Hock won't mind it we 'borrow' it."
The Locust didn't hold her attention for long though, as her eyes drifted to the item sitting next to it. "Oh my god. There it is!" She quickly opened another application on her omnitool and began scanning and downloading data from the graybox.
Immediately, a large screen turned on at the end of the vault and an image of Donovan Hock appeared. "Don't bother, Ms Goto. It's codelocked. I had a feeling that was you at the door. I knew if it was really you, you'd get through anyway."
Kasumi was smug, "You know me. I don't like to disappoint."
Hock was not to be sidetracked, and got straight to the point. "I need what's in your graybox, Kasumi. You know I'm willing to kill you for it. I'll admit your skills are impressive. You got into my vault like I'd left it open, but you're still going to die, screaming, just like your old friend."
Shepard was done playing nice with this man and drew her pistol, blasting a nearby piece into oblivion. Hock came unglued, screaming in frustration. Shepard just looked at him and in a calm voice simply asked, "Have I got your attention?"
Kasumi chuckled, "Well. That shut him up."
Hock growled out, "Kill them!"
Doors on the end of the room opposite the elevator opened up and troops emerged. As Shepard and Kasumi dived for cover, Kasumi calmly quipped, "This is where your special skills come into play, Shepard. Let's do this."
Shepard glanced up the aisle and almost laughed. Hock had only sent a team of six. Against her and Kasumi, that was child's play. The team was quickly eliminated and Kasumi pulled up the facility blueprints. "There's a landing pad to the east. Let's get out of here."
Shepard nodded agreement and contacted the Normandy, "Joker. Dispatch the shuttle to our location. Now!"
Going out through the doors where the troops just came from, they immediately ran into resistance. The first couple of guards went down easy, but in the distance was a bunch more, supported by an Atlas mech. It was time consuming, but still pretty easy to take down. While Shepard was visible and drew the majority of fire, Kasumi cloaked and operated in their backfield, taking many of them down before they even realized she was there. Anytime they turned to face her, Shepard took advantage and blasted away while they were facing the other direction. The dual-sided attack quickly put the odds in their favor and Kasumi and Shepard cleaned house. They restocked their thermal clips from the dead mercs and pressed on through to the next section of the warehouse.
They were initially confronted by three more guards on a raised platform, but Shepard easily exposed the first with a lift and then pulled on her biotics to 'crash and blast' him. As she blasted the second at close range with her shotgun, Kasumi took the third from behind, using her cloak. More troops started rolling in from a side door and the battle got intense for a moment or two because Shepard's charge had left her exposed. Shepard let instinct take over and her mind took a short detour. Liara would be kicking my ass right about now for jumping into that without looking first... The resultant melee left her slightly wounded, so she had to take a moment to apply medigel and give her shields time to recover.
The room from where the additional troops had emerged was a dead-end; nothing but a mech storage room, so they needed to find another way out. When Shepard figured it out, she thought of Wrex and planted a huge grin on her face; there was a Grizzly parked in the warehouse, and Shepard relished the idea of using 'superior firepower' to simply blow a hole in the wall and make her own exit. As she climbed up on the vehicle, she heard Kasumi whisper to herself, "And I thought I was crazy..."
With a smirk on her face, Shepard pulled the trigger and blasted a huge hole. Hock's voice came over a loudspeaker, "What the hell are you people doing down there? Kill Gunn and bring Goto to me!"
Shepard laughed at the fact that Hock still had no idea who she was. As they jumped through the hole into the next section of warehouse, there were more guards and another heavy mech. Nothing they hadn't already faced, and they continued to work their way to the east exit. As they marched through Hock's troops, he still wasn't admitting defeat and taunted Kasumi. "Don't fight me, Kasumi. You know what happened to your boy toy when he fought back."
Kasumi growled, "You don't talk about Keiji like that! Murderer!"
After they cleaned up the last few mercs in the section, Shepard grabbed her partner by the shoulder. "Kas! Listen to me. He's purposely trying to rile you. Don't let your emotions control you. Take a deep breath and stay focused!"
Kasumi shook her head as if to clear the cobwebs. "Sorry, Shep. You're right. I'm good. Let's keep moving. This next room should be the last before the exit."
Just then, Hock's voice rang out again. "Keep them busy. I'll take care of this myself."
Shepard grinned. Well, I wanted to come in guns blazing and take the man himself down, guess I get to do just that after all. Just glad they all still think I'm Alison Gunn!
As she and Kasumi cleared the last room, they finally found themselves outside on the loading docks. They were immediately confronted by Donovan Hock... in a gunship, with a shitload of mercs to back him up. Shepard lost her grin and shouted out, "Incoming! Get Down!"
The smug bastard was still taunting them. "You could have done this the easy way, Goto. Allow me to show you the hard way."
Shepard growled, "No sweat, Kas. I've been here before, on Omega. We took that gunship down; we can take this one, too!"
They focused first on the mercs so they couldn't be flanked, then started to chisel away at the gunship's shields. The entire time, Hock kept at it, encouraging them to give up. "Lay down your weapons!"
Kasumi and Shepard answered him with weapons' fire and eventually managed to knock the shields out. As soon as they did so, Hock retreated out of sight to let the shields recover, and they used the time to load up on spare thermal clips from the first round of mercs they killed. All too soon, the gunship reappeared and the fight began anew and Hock continued with his diatribe. "What did you tell your friend, Kasumi? You're doing this for love?"
Hock's rants no longer bothered the master thief and she maintained her cool. "The gunship is back with full shields! If I can get to the ship, I can take those shields down for good!"
Shepard had no idea what Kasumi was thinking, but could tell their continued survival was starting to irritate the man. If they could make him angry, perhaps he'd make a mistake and Kasumi would get her opportunity. Wasn't much longer before they could tell Hock was beginning to doubt his own success. "Even if you escape, I'll scour the galaxy for you!"
Kasumi ignored him and kept on talking. "I need a clear path to the gunship. Take out this next group of guards and keep Hock distracted!"
Shepard grunted, "I'm on it!" and concentrated her fire to the mercs on the ground. When the last guard fell, Shepard witnessed what was probably the most acrobatic maneuver she had ever seen.
Kasumi shouted out, "Got a clear shot! Here we go!" She suddenly broke cover at a full sprint and quickly scaled the steam pipes rising out of the loading dock, somehow getting traction where Shepard knew there was nothing to hang onto. Kasumi flipped herself up onto the topmost horizontal pipe, accelerated along its length and leapt from the end, and landed on the gunship. Shepard then saw Kasumi's omnitool light up and some type of electrical discharge struck into the gunship's shield. The shield started to flicker and go unstable, eventually winking out completely. Shepard was dumbfounded as she watched Kasumi throw Hock a flippant salute before she leapt from the gunship, back down to the dock. Very calmly, Kasumi turned to Shepard and spoke, "Shield's down. Let's tear that thing apart." As Kasumi focused on her, Shepard got a taste of what her own stare probably did to her foes. She knew right then, she never wanted to get on the master thief's bad list.
It was the beginning of the end for Hock but his ego didn't let him give up, which was probably a good thing. It guaranteed he didn't live to fight another day, so there would be no scouring of the galaxy as he had threatened, once they escaped his compound. Shortly after the shields fell, the fight ended abruptly with the gunship blowing up in a huge ball of fire, allowing the Normandy shuttle a safe approach.
Back on the Normandy, Shepard was surprised when Kasumi gripped her forearm to get her attention. "Shep...I...I'd like you to come with me. I want you to see what you fought for."
Shepard raised her eyebrows in her surprise. "If that's what you want, Kasumi. I figured you'd want to view whatever's on there in private."
Kas shook her head. "No. Keiji died for whatever is on here, and you helped me get it back. It's important to me to know and I... I'd like to have a friend ... you...with me. Please."
Shepard couldn't deny what almost seemed like a desperate plea, and quietly gestured for Kasumi to lead the way. When they got to the lounge, Kasumi plugged the box in and it began to play. Shepard didn't know what the information was; just that it was bad news for the Alliance if the Council got wind of it. They wouldn't know exactly what was embedded in the memory files unless Kasumi actually ran the decryption. What she did know was that Kasumi and Keiji had been much more than mere partners in crime; they had been very much in love. "Gods, Kas. I'm so sorry. Is there no way to destroy the data and still save the memories?"
Kasumi shook her head sadly. "No. Keiji was a master at encrypting files. The only way to destroy the data would be to run the decryption, and running that would destroy the memories in the process. You can't destroy one without destroying both." Silent tears ran down the thief's face; Kasumi made no attempt to hide them, or to wipe them away.
Shepard turned away, not wanting to view Kasumi's open grief. "You heard him, Kasumi. He wanted you to destroy the information, to protect yourself. He never intended to put you in danger."
Kasumi stared at the graybox. "I know. I just...I can't. It's all I have left of him."
Shepard looked back to the petite Asian woman, who suddenly seeming extremely vulnerable. "Kas. You know what he said is true...that you don't need a neural implant to remember him or who he was." Shepard paused briefly before continuing. "If it's too difficult, I can do it for you."
"No. If it's to be done, it has to be me." Kasumi looked one last time at the image still displayed on the screen. "Gomen nasai, Keiji-san." She typed in the destruct code and she and Shepard watched in silence as the images deconstructed and vanished from the screen for forever. The normally buoyant Kasumi was anything but and Shepard wrapped her in strong arms of comfort, holding her for a long time as she wept.
When she finally emerged from the observation lounge, Shepard headed to the Armory with the sole intent of dropping off her weapons and showing Jacob the new Locust SMG, but when she got there Jacob seemed out of sorts. "Commander. Sorry, I'm a little unfocused. Personal matter. It won't affect my duties."
Shepard frowned. "If you're unfocused, it is affecting your duties, Jacob. Is this about what I saw earlier with Miranda?"
"No, ma'am. That's been resolved. This... I didn't want to waste your time if it turned out to be a wild goose chase, but... I got pinged by a ghost the other night. My father."
Shepard's brow wrinkled in confusion. "What do you mean? A ghost?"
Jacob sighed and leaned on the work table in the middle of the room. "I got an update on the Hugo Gernsback, the ship my father served on. It's been missing for ten years, yet just last week it apparently transmitted an SOS, reporting a crash and requesting rescue. It makes no sense."
Shepard nodded. "So you want to go check it out?" It was more a statement than a question.
"I hadn't talked to my father for three years before he even took that mission. I've buried everything but the body. Just seems like this is the worst possible timing for this to suddenly pop up." Jacob was noticeable bothered by the development. "I'm not convinced it isn't some automated distress signal ticking over. It's been too long."
Shepard read all the body signals Jacob was displaying and answered simply. "But with what we're about to do, you need to know. You want to go see the wreck. I can easily understand your desire to see if it's legit."
Jacob sighed, "Yeah. If the coordinates aren't too far out of our way, I could at least verify the wreck. Who knows, maybe there is actually someone out there." Jacob stood upright and crossed his arms. "I also want to mention that I don't make a habit of looking for random SOS signals. This was passed to my personal log through Cerberus filters."
Shepard just shrugged. "Any idea who from?"
Jacob shook his head as he answered. "No clue. Whoever sent this my way covered their tracks. Someone could be fishing for a favor or thought it would get under my skin. Who knows with that bunch."
"I guess it really doesn't matter." Shepard didn't really have to ponder it very long. "It's something you need to do. We'll make time for it, Jacob. Go ahead and forward the coordinates to Joker and we'll get to it when we can."
"Thanks, Commander. I know it's not an emergency, but I'd like to close off any doubt." Jacob saluted sharply and turned to the weapons bench.
Shepard saluted back and smiled; out of the entire crew, Jacob was the only one who ever saluted her. She left the armory and headed towards Miranda's office. She wanted to give her the mission report for Bekenstein and figure out where they were headed next. As the door closed behind her, Miranda clasped her hands together and bowed her head, not looking at Shepard as she entered. Getting a bad feeling with the lack of eye contact, Shepard opened the discussion. "Miranda? What's going on?"
Miranda didn't say a word; just handed Shepard a datapad. A quick glance through and Shepard's head snapped up, her eyes completely focused on the operative. "He actually came through? Is this what I think it is?" Shepard could scarcely believe it.
Miranda nodded. "Yes, ma'am. It's a positive link to the Shadow Broker. I assume you want to head directly to Illium with this?"
"Absolutely. I never really thought he'd do it. We need to strike while this info is still good. Assuming it is, of course. Liara will have to verify it first." Shepard couldn't wait to see the expression on Liara's face when she turned this over to her. While Shepard reread the data, Miranda directed Joker to lay in a course for Illium. Eventually, Shepard pulled her eyes away from the information and looked at Miranda again, giving her all the pertinent information from their little field trip to Bekenstein, which really wasn't much. From the Cerberus perspective, really the only thing that counted was the addition of the Locust to the inventory, along with the other upgrades and credits they picked up along the way. Once she was done giving the report, she found out the real reason for Miranda's disquiet when she entered the office.
"Shepard. I wasn't going to bring this up, but since we're going to be on Illium anyway..." Miranda looked extremely uncomfortable, so Shepard waited patiently and the silence eventually forced Miranda to continue. "I find myself in the unpleasant position of asking for your help."
Shepard looked at Miranda and responded. "Miranda. Almost every person on the crew has some special mission or task they need to complete before we jump the Omega-4 relay, including me with Liara and the Shadow Broker. You're a part of my crew, so don't feel uncomfortable asking me for help."
Miranda was unusually nervous, fidgeting with her hands as she spoke. "You remember what I told you about my father... building a dynasty?" With a nod from Shepard, she continued. "Well, it wasn't just about me. There was another reason I went to Cerberus for protection." She couldn't handle it anymore and stood up, starting to pace as she spoke. "I have a sister. A twin. I took her with me, but father never gave up. He's still hunting her. I was able to take care of her myself, mostly, but Cerberus helped to keep Oriana safe. Until now. She's living a normal life on Illium, safe and hidden from my father, but that's changed. Somehow, he's finally figured out where she is."
Shepard scowled and crossed her arms. "So he's tracked her down. Has he threatened her?"
Miranda shook her head. "No, and he won't. There will be no warning. He'll just take her." She paused and looked directly at the commander. "He's too close, Shepard. I need to relocate my sister's family before it's too late."
By the time she got the whole story, Shepard was somewhat surprised at the extent of Miranda's involvement in the protection of her sister. Until now, she had never given any indication she even had any siblings. "How long since you've seen her? How much do you know about her?"
Miranda hung her head. "I've monitored her since she was placed with the family, but it's been years. She's my genetic twin. We're identical. But she deserves a normal life. I've managed to provide that for her so far, and I want to see that continue."
"Ok. So what do you need from me? Do you need the Normandy to provide secure transportation or something?" Shepard wasn't exactly sure how she could help.
"No, nothing like that. They have no idea this is happening in the background. Cerberus arranged for Oriana's father to get a tremendous job opportunity he couldn't pass up. We just need to make sure the move goes off without a hitch. That my father doesn't find out and that none of his agents get too close." Miranda could tell by Shepard's questions the commander was going to help, and it relaxed her enough that she smiled. "My contact's name is Lanteia. She'll be waiting for us in the lounge near the Nos Astra docking bay."