"That's them, all right." Feron ducked back behind the pillar, bracing himself against one of the rusted metal pipes. "Looks like we even got here before the heavy muscle. I only see a few Blue Suns down there."
Liara peeked cautiously over the edge of the railing. Although the warehouse wasn't well-lit, she could see down to the lower floor. Feron was right. There were only a few armed guards, and they did not seem to be paying close attention to their work. They lounged between the old fashioned transport shuttles, talking and lazily examining their weapons. A determined smile pulled at the edges of her mouth. "It look as though Aria was being honest with us," she whispered. "Who would have guessed?"
"Aria is honest when it suits her, and I did tell you she knows her station inside and out. She's called the Queen of Omega for a reason."
Before Liara could tell Feron exactly what she thought of Aria T'Loak, the loud rumble of an engine echoed through the room. The doors at the far side of the warehouse opened, and a large, sleek ship eased in for a landing. Feron remained hidden behind his pillar, but Liara continued staring over the railing. All of the mercs picked up their weapons and straightened their soldiers. "Looks like we've got company," she whispered as the noise of the engines died away. "Shadow Broker agents?"
A ramp extended from the bottom of a ship, and several large, armed soldiers began filing out. They looked far more professional than the Blue Suns, and Feron's expression darkened when he saw them. "Worse. See the big one at the front?"
Liara stole another glance over the railing. There was one soldier who stood out from the others, wearing plated armor and clutching a large assault rifle in his hands. He did not have a helmet, and her eyes widened in surprise when she made out his species. "A salarian? You don't see many of them in heavy combat roles…"
"That's Tazzik. He's the Broker's one and only hit man, for the rare occasions he wants something… or someone… taken care of. The mercs are just hired muscle. Taz, he's here for results."
Tazzik stepped forward, and with the sound of the engines gone, Liara could just make out the echo of his voice from the floor below. "Identification looks right. Is this everything you found?"
"Yep," one of the Blue Suns grunted. "Surprised there was that much - human body must be able to take some real punishment."
Liara's heart stopped. There, positioned directly between Tazzik and the ship, was a glowing metal box. Even though it was closed, she knew what was inside. "Shepard…"
Dead. Shepard was dead. She had known that already - no one could survive the vacuum of space without oxygen - but seeing the proof before her was entirely different. All that was left of her lover was crammed into that horrible box. She narrowed her eyes in determination. Whether Cerberus could breathe life back into Shepard's body or not, there was no way in the galaxy that she would allow the Shadow Broker's agents to take it from her. She would not lose Shepard a second time.
"That's her," she whispered, jumping to her feet. "It's Shepard! We have to get down there." Biotics rushed along her skin, gathering around her in a buzzing cloud of light and energy. She pulled it into her palms, preparing to leap over the edge of the railing.
"Wait! What are you doing?" Feron tugged at her arm, dragging her back behind the pillar. She fought against his grip, preparing to blast him back against the wall, but he continued hissing frantically in her ear. "It's too risky. They outnumber us at least three to one down there!" Liara shot him a glare. She had faced far worse odds than that during her time on the SR-1. This would be easy in comparison. But before she could pull away, Feron said something else that made her freeze. "They could haul that box on the ship and fly away before you fought your way close enough."
Liara let her biotics flicker out and yanked herself free of Feron's grip. "I've crossed the galaxy for this, Feron. Shepard is down there. Either you help me get to that box, or I make sure there isn't enough left of you to fit inside it."
"Fine… Just - just let me think!" She felt a strange sense of satisfaction at the fear she saw glinting in Feron's dark eyes. Hopefully, it would be enough to keep him from betraying her again. At last, he pointed further down along the catwalk. "Check out those old defense turrets up there. I think the guns are still functional. If I can make my way over, I can cover you and disable Tazzik's ship. He won't be going anywhere."
Liara stared back down at their targets. Tazzik and a large, muscular krogan in Blue Suns armor were hauling the glowing box toward the ship. They only had another minute, maybe less. "Do it," she said. "They're starting to move Shepard. I need to get closer!" She only waited long enough to make sure that Feron was heading for the turret before sprinting in the opposite direction, running down the stairs to the first floor as quickly and quietly as she could.
Luck was with her. The mercs were too focused on Tazzik and the box to notice as she slipped behind a stack of shipping crates. She kept head low, gritting her teeth to keep from breathing too loudly. She nearly bit through her lip as one of the Suns carrying the box dropped his end to the floor with a loud thud. The giant salarian - Tazzik - glowered in displeasure and lifted the barrel of his rifle.
"What's the problem?" the krogan complained. "Not like she's gonna get even more damaged."
"No, but you might, I'll take it from here." He motioned to the Shadow Broker agents flanking him on either side, and they swooped in to pick up the box. Liara allowed her biotics to surge to the surface again, gathering all the power she could in her fists and waiting. Feron still hadn't activated the turrets. If he didn't do it soon, she would have to take her chances on her own. "I've got someplace to be," Tazzik continued. "Let's get going before something goes-"
A loud boom shook the foundations of the warehouse, and bright light exploded before Liara's eyes. She barely had time to throw up a shield before the crates around her disintegrated in a flash of fiery red. The noise was deafening without her helmet, but she ignored the ringing in her skull and darted out through the smoldering wreckage. The Blue Suns mercs began shouting, firing wildly up at the catwalk. With their backs turned, they were easy targets. She sent them flying through the air, throwing them back with every ounce of rage in her body. Tazzik and the Shadow Broker agents whirled around in surprise, and she pulled her arms back, preparing to send another warp screaming toward them. "Nobody move! That cargo is mine!"
For a moment, it looked as though the Shadow Broker agents would stop. They froze half-way up the ramp, but when Tazzik gave a jerk of his head, they continued hurrying onto the ship. Liara leapt forward. The first Shadow Broker agent to step between her and the ship ended up on the floor with his neck twisted at an unnatural angle. She battered back another with a powerful warp before he even had the chance to aim his weapon. The rest were sucked up into the air, dangling helplessly above the wreckage on the floor as she sprinted toward the box.
But in her hurry, Liara had not been watching Tazzik. He began firing in her direction, not even bothering to duck behind the crates for cover. She turned toward him, preparing to knock the weapon from his hands, but he had already lowered it and started reaching into his belt. "I knew there was a reason I worked alone," he grunted, drawing his arm back for a throw.
Before she could react, something hard barrelled into her side. All of the breath left her body as she was dragged to the ground. The scream of the ship's engines flared to life over the noise of the explosion, and wind rushed over her head. Through the flame and smoke, she could just make out the faint glow of the ship's lights as it began to fly away. "No!" she shouted, but her voice was lost in the noise. "Get off me! I've got to find Shepard!"
Shepard… Shepard was gone. She was left with only the sound of her own heartbeat in her ears. The abrupt silence was unbearable. Even though she knew it was useless, she clambered to her feet, scrambling over the shattered remains of the shipping crates and dragging herself toward the warehouse doors. They were already sealed shut.
"Liara, no!" a voice called behind her. Feron was still sprawled on the ground, trying to push himself into a sitting position.
She whirled around, narrowing her eyes and feeding the humming energy of her biotics with her rage. "How… how could be so… incompetent, Feron? You let him get away with Shepard! You're still working for the Broker, aren't you?" He did not answer. "Aren't you?"
"I never stopped working for him, so far as he knows, but I didn't shoot you on purpose! I don't want Shepard's body going to the collectors, but I told you this is complicated."
"I don't believe you," she snarled, raising her glowing fists.
Feron clawed his way backwards, still panting with fear. "You don't have to believe me, just listen. Now, you can blast me, or we can go after Taz. My ship is nearby. We can follow him before he gets away with Shepard!"
Shepard. The angry fog inside her head faded. Shepard was always her first priority. Whether Feron was a traitor did not matter. He had a ship, and a ship was what she needed if she was going to have any chance of catching up with that box. She reached down and gripped his arm, hauling him roughly onto his feet. "You'd better be right this time, Feron. If you can't help me find Shepard, I'm done with you, and you're done for."
. . .
"Liara, are you sure this is what you want me to be doing right now?"
The sound of Shepard's voice coming in over the comm channel made Liara look up from the datapad she had been holding. If she was being honest with herself, she couldn't remember a single word she had read. Even the promising lead that Shepard and Nyxeris had given her was not enough to capture her attention. A small smile pulled at her lips, and she set the datapad aside. Thoughts of the previous night had interrupted her work long before Shepard had tried to contact her. "Yes, Shepard," she said, leaning back in her chair. "We have to find the Observer. I wish I could spend more time with you, but this is more important."
"You could have come with me, you know," Shepard said. Her words took on a teasing lilt, but Liara could sense the sadness behind them. "It would have been just like the old days. Morning sex, breakfast, a dangerous mission before lunch..."
Liara turned her chair, staring through the glass wall of her office. A steady line of traffic curved around the building, and she could see several people walking in the market below. Was Shepard one of them? Her skin still tingled at the memory of Shepard's touch, and she saw Shepard's face each time she closed her eyes. "I wish I could," she murmured. "But we both know I would be too easily recognized. If the Shadow Broker suspects that I'm anywhere close to discovering the Observer's identity..."
"I know. Hold on." The connection remained silent for several moments, and Liara held her breath. "Nothing," Shepard sighed a moment later. "This vorcha doesn't look promising. I'll have to keep looking."
Liara swallowed, trying to conceal her disappointment. "It's all right, Shepard. There is still one more terminal to go."
"Stay on the line with me until then?" Shepard asked. "I… missed hearing your voice. You know, after I woke up."
A twinge of guilt tugged at Liara's heart, and she turned away from the window. She still had not told Shepard about the recovery of her body, or her decision to hand it over to Cerberus. She had been tempted to reveal the truth that morning, when Shepard woke her with kisses and a wonderful smelling plate of food, but she hadn't been strong enough to shatter the illusion of normalcy. She resisted the impulse once again and rested her forearms on top of her desk. "Of course I'll stay, Shepard." Silence stretched out between them. "I'm just not sure what to say."
"Well, you could always tell me more about why you hate the Shadow Broker so much…" Liara pressed her lips together and ignored the question. "Or more about why you and Miranda seem to know each other…" The line of her shoulders tensed. She remained quiet. "Okay, I get the message. Why don't I tell you about the new crew?"
Liara let out a sigh of relief. She already knew about the SR2's crew thanks to Miranda's sparse reports and her own her diligent research, but she was grateful for a safe topic of conversation. "All right. Do you think they are up to the task of facing the Collectors?"
Shepard laughed. "Well… sort of. I don't know where Cerberus managed to scrounge some of these guys up from, but let me tell you, they're almost as crazy as the old gang. There's Grunt, a huge krogan with a serious attitude problem. We found him floating in a tank on Korlus, and he started causing problems as soon as we let him out. Then there's Kasumi. She's a thief, and you don't see her half the time. She's got this invisibility mod, and she's always prowling around the ship, listening in on other people's conversations…"
Liara began to relax as she listened to Shepard talk about her new crew. The excitement was back in her voice, and she almost sounded the same as she had two years ago during their more lighthearted adventures. She let her mind drift back and closed her eyes. Her memories of the SR1 were not all bad. There had been moments of love, laughter, and exhilaration mixed in with the fear and grief. Once again, she was tempted to abandon her quest for revenge and join Shepard on the Normandy. It would be just as Shepard said. Just like the old days…
Only things were different now. Shepard had a new crew, and a new mission to complete. She had debts to repay. And no matter how much she wished she could, turning back time was impossible.
Shepard interrupted her thoughts, drawing her out of her silence. "I'm at the last terminal. Stand by."
There was a long pause, and a shiver rolled down Liara's spine. Her impatience quickly got the better of her. "Shepard? Did you get any information on the Observer?"
"All five of the suspects are male. The Observer is female. Something's not right… who gave you this lead?"
"My assistant, Nyxeris. She got the information. Nyxeris... gave me the information…" The realization hit her all at once. Nyxeris had betrayed her. Just like Feron. Just like Cerberus. All this time, her assistant had been feeding information to the Shadow Broker. How could she have missed it? She narrowed her eyes and stood up from her desk, feeling the subtle twitch of energy around her fingers as she called her biotics to the surface of her skin. "Nyxeris? Could I see you in here for a moment?"
"Liara, I'm coming back to your office. Don't -"
Liara did not wait for Shepard to finish. "I'll talk to you later, Shepard," she whispered as she ended the connection.
A moment later, Nyxeris appeared in the doorway. She looked the same as usual, alert and attentive, with a polite smile on her face. Nothing about her read 'Shadow Broker agent'... which was probably the reason she had been chosen for this assignment in the first place. "Ma'am? Is there anything I can help you with?"
"Actually, there is. Tell me, Nyxeris - who do you work for?"
Only the slight widening of Nyxeris's eyes revealed her apprehension. "Who do I work for? You, of course, Miss T'Soni. Are you... unsatisfied with my services?"
"No… but I'm afraid your real boss will be." Nyxeris froze as she stepped out from behind the desk, revealing her glowing fists. "Tell me, how long have you been working for the Shadow Broker? Were you in his employment all along, or did he manage to buy you off after I hired you?" Nyxeris did not bother offering an excuse. She dodged backwards, trying to duck out through the open doorway. Liara did not let her travel more than a few steps. She tugged Nyxeris back with a powerful surge, dragging her across the carpet.
Once Nyxeris realized she could not escape, she let her own biotics erupt, whirling around and sending a burst of blue light screaming toward her head. Liara threw up her hands, folding her arms tight against her chest. Her barrier solidified just in time. Nyxeris's biotics collided with her own in a brilliant flash. Glass shattered behind her, and the office walls shook with the force of the explosion.
Nyxeris snarled in frustration, gathering more crackling light around her fist, but Liara was faster. She ducked behind the desk, avoiding the series of warps that flew out through the shattered wall. Her forehead tightened in concentration. Nyxeris clearly meant to kill her. She would only have one chance to overpower her attacker. She jumped back to her feet and whipped her arms forward, launching a singularity field above Nyxeris's head. Purple light ripped through the fabric of the air, and Nyxeris stumbled back, trying to shield herself from the field's pull. She managed to keep her feet on the ground, but the effort stole her concentration.
The opening only lasted a split second, but it was all Liara needed. She leapt over the desk and sent her own warp barreling toward the center of Nyxeris's barrier. There was a moment of utter stillness, and then its surface rippled and bent, flickering out of existence. Nyxeris stared at her in shock, and Liara did not give her time to recover. She folded her hand around her former assistant's throat and lifted her into the air. "For what it's worth, I would have paid you double the Broker's fee. Good help is hard to find."
Nyxeris writhed in her grip, but it was too late. Liara sent her flying out through the open window with one final blast, only watching long enough to make sure she hit the ground several stories below. The twisted angle of her body made it clear that she would not get back up again. She closed her eyes and turned away, hardening her heart against the regret that already threatened to creep in around the edges. It had been foolish of her to trust Nyxeris. Dealing with Feron should have taught her better.
She picked her way carefully over the broken glass, heading out of her office and stopping beside Nyxeris's desk. Hopefully, she would be able to find something useful before the Shadow Broker found out that the Observer had been compromised. On the way, she activated her Omnitool, scanning her contacts for a familiar face. "Hello? Faz? I'm afraid there's been an incident at my office today. I'm going to need a clean-up crew here as soon as possible..."