Her ears were ringing. Flashes of pain sent lightning across her head.
Pressing a hand against her forehead, it came away wet, warm and stinging. She opened her eyes, blinking hard to clear her blurry vision.
What the fuck happened?
The air was dusty, the floor debris filled. The last thing she remembered was stepping into the small library hoping to borrow some old 21st century movies. Coughing, she stood up. Her ribs screamed in protest. A wave of dizziness threatened to send her back to the floor. With a hand braced against the wall, she kept her feet.
Alliance training kicked in, she scanned the room. Shelves and shelves of empty vid-boxes all collapsed. Vid-boxes scattered across the floor. She huffed in relief; the library was completely manned by a VI system. There was no other casualties as far as she could tell.
Then, a crunch drew her attention. She cocked her head towards the sound, instincts flaring to take cover. Her throbbing head and aching ribs pushed aside as she moved smoothly behind a broken shelf. Her hand shifted to her hip only to find it empty. “Damn,” she cursed,
Stay on the Citadel, he said. You don’t need to walk around armed.
She swallowed her sigh, trying hard not to roll her eyes. The person who deserved it wasn’t around to see it, anyway. She waited, biotics pulsing just under her skin, ready for offensive manoeuvres.
A telltale booted foot shuffled into view. Then the rest of the body followed. Black armour with blue markings clad the tall figure. Her eyes travelled up the length to find a turian’s face attached to the body. Silver plates and blue colony markings, half covered by a visor over his left eye.
“C-Sec,” the officer called out. “Is anyone hurt?”
Her eyes were locked onto the pistol in his hands. A bone deep mistrust of all security officers made her kept herself hidden. Her ribs protested loudly at being forced stay still.
C-Sec sniffed the air, swinging his head left and right, mandibles flaring. She cursed herself. Of fucking course, the superior sense of smell.
“I smell blood, I know you’re here,” C-Sec said, his dual flanged voice buzzing against her ears.
The pistol’s safety being flicked off was loud in the wake of the dead silence of a ruined library. She ignored it. Her eyes scoured the room for an exit.
Stay out of trouble he said. Trouble comes looking for me!
She sighed, loud and audibly. “I’m coming out,” she said, “Don’t shoot.”
With a hand pressed against her ribs, she stood, her other hand held up in the air. Fuck, this is familiar. Her eyes met the cobalt blue pupil of C-Sec’s. It was floating in a sea of black. The alien nature of it made her shiver. She was sure she looked like a mess but C-Sec didn’t seem impressed. The muzzle of his pistol swung over towards her chest. It was steady, calm and completely in control.
“What happened here?” he asked, his attention split between his visor and her hands.
Her muscles tensed, all her training and instincts screaming. Her eyes couldn’t help that telltale flicker towards the exit behind C-Sec. He shifted to block it. She shook her head, her hand against her ribs now limp at her side. She would betray no show of weakness.
“I don’t know.”
“Bullshit,” he said, “You’re here. You know something.”
She refrained from rolling her eyes at C-Sec, the pistol was a great motivation. “I came in and the place blew apart.”
C-Sec cocked his head at her. “So this is an accident? It just happened?” he drawled, his weight resting on one leg.
“Per definition, this is technically an accident.”
“Spirits, are you kidding me?” C-Sec huffed in exasperation. “An accident?”
“Something unfortunate, happens unexpectedly? Ring a bell, C-Sec?”
That made C-Sec’s mandibles snapped tight against his face. “An explosion this big is not an accident.” He glared at her, baring his teeth slightly.
“Obviously, it's not big enough. I am still standing,” she retorted. “Can I go? I am a fucking victim here.”
She wished she could lean against the wall, the headache was not improving her mood and she didn’t want to spend the effort turning on the charm for C-Sec.
“No.” C-Sec straightened and pulled a pair of omni-cuffs from his belt. “You’re a suspect.”
“Fuck, no.” She backed away, annoyance turning into anger. All she wanted was to borrow a vid and watch it. Relieve some boredom at being confined on the Citadel. It's bad enough that the entire library blew up around her. Now she's getting arrested? Hell no! She wanted to go back to the shitty apartment and sleep the pain and aches away. She wouldn’t even say no to some medigel right now.
“This is not my fault.”
Dropping her hands to her side, she walked towards the exit. Enough was enough. It’s time to end this stupid charade. C-Sec shifted to block her way. “Get out of my way,” she said flatly.
“You’re coming down to the station with me,” C-Sec insisted, his talons flashing out to snap the omni-cuff around her wrist.
Her training took over. A quick side step took her out of position, she twisted and started running towards the exit. Surprise flashed across C-Sec’s plates. Ten steps to freedom. She got three steps in when a boulder slammed into her back. Her forehead connected against the gritty floor. Stars burst behind her eyelids as she bit back a groan.
“Get the fuck off me!” she growled, fighting the urge to blast him to kingdom come.
Red coloured her vision as she fought against his talons attempting to cuff her hands. She blinked to get the blood out of her eyes. The gash at her head must have been split wide open.
C-Sec straddled her back, wrenching her arms backwards. “Don’t make me hurt you,” C-Sec warned as the first of the cuffs snapped around her wrist.
Stay out of trouble? It’s too late for that.
The buzz against her bare skin made her struggle harder. “You’re already hurting me, asshole!”
Then a crash came from deeper inside the library. She bucked and unseat C-Sec off her back. She savoured, the utter slack mandibles surprise as C-Sec fall to the side, for all of three seconds. A shimmering blue Barrier deployed over them both as she held a Shockwave at the ready.
“Spirits,” C-Sec cursed, pulling his pistol from his hip.
She stood up, looking with irritation at the omni-cuff hanging loosely around one wrist. Ear-cringing noise of metal against metal screeched through the place. C-Sec clapped one hand against the side of his head. She took the lead, one hand stretched out protectively before C-Sec.
Her steps, careful and sure. Her omni-blade, deployed and ready. The noise was coming in fits and spurts. There was nothing in sight that was immediately dangerous. With a quick flick of her hand, she dismissed the Barrier. She winced slightly as she wiped the blood from her forehead and cleaned it against the leg of her pants. The sound came again.
It was coming from a large fallen cupboard.
Turning, her eyes found C-Sec’s. She jerked her chin towards the cupboard in question. C-Sec nodded. He aimed his pistol at the cupboard while she lifted the cupboard with her biotics. She wasn’t gentle. The cupboard landed right side up with a crash. The door burst open, and an asari tumbled out.
She watched as C-Sec questioned the historian. The asari had vouched for her, telling C-Sec that she was the fucking innocent patron of the library when it all blew up around them.
“What are you doing inside the cupboard?” she interrupted.
C-Sec frowned at her. “I’m doing the questioning here,” he spoke over the historian. “Shut up, Alliance.”
She chuckled. “Gold star for your impressive deduction, C-Sec.”
The turian clamped his mandibles tight against his face. The historian brushed the dust from her white pristine clothes. She imagined the historian's entire suit must have cost more than what she made in a standard month. Looking at her own civs, she realised it was all dusty grey and smeared with her own blood.
She only had two sets of civs and this one was completely trashed. All she wished was a shower now.
“Can I go now, C-Sec?” Shooting a look at the turian, her anger all gone, what’s left was a throbbing headache that wouldn’t go away.
“No!” the historian blurted.
She shrank a little as two pairs of predatory eyes flashed over to her. The asari paced as she wrung her hands. “I need your help,” she explained. “I was supposed to meet a colleague on the Citadel to hand him a Prothean artefact.”
Neither of them spoke. They waited. C-Sec and her seeing eye to eye for once.
“I realised I was being followed and came inside the library, thinking to lose them.”
“Oh, what an excellent plan,” she blurted and instantly regretted it.
The asari winced, her hand rubbed the back of her neck. She was clearly out of her element. Her hand trembling slightly as she went on. “Well, I saw her,” the historian pointed in her direction. “I saw Alliance when I came in. Then I hid in the cupboard.”
The historian’s words trailed off. It was the dumbest course of action she had ever heard but what could she expect from a civilian, and one as privileged as the asari? “So how is this my business?” she asked, her eyes pinning the historian down.
The headache was made mincing her words impossible. The last remnants of her patience was hammered out of her. The historian took a deep breath. “Well the artefact is gone. The mercs took it. We need to get it back.”
Her purple asari eyes, so earnest, so sincere and so naïve, looked at her. She sighed. “I don’t see how is this my problem. This is C-Sec’s problem.”
“Yes, madam, if you would just come down to the station with me. We will take your statement there.”
“Madam?” The historian repeated, her eyes wide and a little annoyed.
“Got you there, C-Sec,” she chuckled. “Never call a lady madam.”
C-Sec glowered at her. “Fine,” he huffed, throwing his arms in the air. “Let’s just ALL go down to the station. I need to take statements from you.”
He was eyeing her. The omni-cuff still buzzing on one of her wrist. She sighed.
The historian shook her head as she waved her hands between them. “No, no,” she cried frantically. “There is no time! I know which band the mercs belongs to. We need to stop them from leaving the Citadel. Once they do, it will be impossible to recover the artefact. And it is priceless!” The asari’s eyes were wide and imploring, she looked from C-Sec to her and back again.
“Now?” she asked, raising an eyebrow. “You want us to get the artefact back now?”
The historian nodded.
C-Sec shook his head. “No, that’s against protocol. I have to call in for backup and report this to my boss,” he said, tapping at his omni-tool.
“There is no time, please,” the historian. “They might be leaving as we speak!”
C-Sec’s talon was hovering over his omni-tool. His mandibles fluttered in indecision.
She snorted. This was perfect. If she knew all she needed was an explosion to get some excitement back in her life, she’d leapt at the chance instantly.
“Come on, C-Sec,” she said, brushing her clothes as best she could. “What do you say? Help a historian out?”
“Historian?” The asari blinked. "My name is Li-"
“No names,” she cut in, her eyes on both C-Sec and the historian. “No names, leave me out of the report when this is all done.”
C-Sec narrowed his eyes at her. The historian took a step back and waited, sensing she was in no position to ask for more.
She kept her eyes on C-Sec, grinning. “You could take all the credit.”
He finally snapped his mandibles back in place.
“What’s the merc band?”
She eyed C-Sec and the historian. “Are you sure about this?”
C-Sec nodded confidently, his arms folded over his chest. “Of course, there is no doubt. That is the ship.”
She turned and looked at the rather run down looking dingy ship. It didn’t even look space worthy. She shrugged, she was no expert at hacking, preferring to rely on her biotics or gun. She was merely a weapon to be pointed at a problem. She was the hammer for every problem whether the problem was a nail or not.
“So are we clear about the plan?,” C-Sec asked, ready to launch into what sounded like a long lecture.
She rolled her eyes and walked away. C-Sec huffed. She could hear him muttering something about pig-headed Alliance types. She hid her smile. If circumstances were different, she would enjoy sharing a drink with C-Sec. She was half way between the ship and their original position when she turned back. The historian was watching with lips pressed into a thin line, looking for all the world a young woman, the first time wrapped up in intrigue. She gave the historian a small nod, not daring to risk anything more overt. The historian’s lips perked up into a tiny smile.
C-Sec was gone, moving to the secondary position with his sniper rifle. She hoped he really was as good with the sniper rifle as he seemed to think he was. She was walking in there only with her biotics.
The plan was simple. She was bait, decoy, whatever they wanted to call it. The historian being the non-combatant here, would hang back to record everything, just in case. C-Sec would be her backup with his sniper rifle. If things got hairy, he would call in the big boys.
She hunched her shoulders, looking like an overgrown duct rat. The blood and the clothes not at all out of place for her needs. The ship was docked at the seedier part, there weren’t anyone people around. She glanced about furtively, arms pressed into pockets as she leaned against the wall.
The window of departure for the ship was rapidly approaching. There was still no sign of the gang that took the artefact. She was getting antsy. Maybe C-Sec got bad info, maybe the historian was playing them all this time. She shook her head. She hadn’t survived this long without trusting her instincts and they were silent when it came to both of them. She licked her lips, tasting the iron in them.
Then the clomp of multiple boots came. Instead of straightening, she hunched further. Relying on her hearing to warn her, she was patient. With a slight cock of her head, she could see a mixed band of turians and humans dressed in Blue Suns’ colours. A pair was carrying something large and heavy between them in a crate, the other two were carrying heavy packs on their backs. The last one, a turian, supervising. Her eyes narrowed.
I must be crazy.
Taking a deep breath, she detached from the wall and lurched towards the band. “Hey,” she called. “What’s that you got there?”
The band of five stopped. They eyed her lazily, taking her for the red sand addict she was playing. She shook her head inwardly. “Got any red sand?” she stuttered. “I can work for it.”
The turian leader jerked his chin at the human pair carrying the heavy load. They started moving towards the ship. It clicked for her. That must be the artefact then. Keeping her charade up, she lurched towards the pair but was blocked by the others.
“Get lost, human,” he sneered. “There is no red sand here.”
She bit back a smirk and sent a tiny jolt of biotics at the foot of one of the human carrying the artefact. With a quick jerk of her finger, he went sprawling to the floor. That distracted the three blocking her.
With a grin plastered across her face, she drew the pistol holstered at the leader’s hip. They barely had time to react, and she had weaved between them. Her legs took her towards the artefact.
As the human pair were recovering, she Lifted the artefact. The crate took a bit of strength to gain momentum but when it did, it came hurtling towards her. “Fuck, too much,” she cursed.
She side stepped, and the crate slammed into the opposite wall away from the ship. A gasp came from where the historian was hiding. She sniggered. Now that the artefact was semi-secure, it’s time for the fun bit.
“Will you surrender?” she asked sweetly, pistol levelled at the leader’s head.
A mix of fury and consternation twisted the turian’s face. “Get her!” The human pair drew their weapons while the two with heavy packs shrugged off their loads.
“That answers the question.”
She didn’t hesitate. With a quick twist of her hand, she sent a Singularity at the pair. As they got sucked into the air, they fired their pistols haphazardly in a panic.
She couched and got behind some cover. The pistol bucked, dispatching the pair quickly. Then the boom of a sniper rifle rang out. A cry of pain came from the remaining three. She risked a peek and found one of the turian down for the count. Her eyes widened when she realised they were setting up a pair of turrets aimed directly at her.
“Hurry!” the leader hissed.
She’ll be damned if she let them do it. Her Barrier was no match for a pair of turrets and she wasn’t even wearing armour. “Fuck, this day,” she snarled, popping out to fire at the remaining engineer. Her bullets weren’t making past the orange tech shields.
She ducked back behind cover as the engineer fired back. The sniper fire boomed again, another cry of pain. That was her chance. She vaulted over the cover and jumped. Using the butt of her stolen pistol, she smacked the engineer into unconsciousness.
She did a quick count of the howling or unconscious mercs on the floor. There were only four. Where’s the fifth one? Her eyes scanned the docking bay. The historian was emerging of her hiding spot, heading towards the artefact. Her eyes caught the glint of the Citadel’s artificial sun reflecting off armour as C-Sec clambered down towards their position.
Where’s the fifth guy?
Then the Blue Suns’ merc leader peeled off from the shadows as the Historian neared the artefact. He got one arm around her neck, another with a pistol pressed against her skull.
She took two steps towards the historian and the leader whipped the butt of his pistol against the historian’s forehead. The skin broke and blue blood trickled down her head. The historian remained stoically quiet but she could read the fear in the asari’s eyes. She stopped in her tracks, just between the unactivated turrets.
“Drop your pistol!”
“Come on, that will be stupid,” she drawled, resting her weight on one leg. Come on, C-Sec. Hurry up!
“Let her go,” she offered. “I’ll help you with the package.”
The merc narrowed his eyes at her. “Do you think I’m stupid?”
It was stalemate then. Two pistols, one hostage between the two of them. Something's got to give. But she had an ace in the hole if only he would just hurry up and get into position.
The turian merc jerked the historian closer towards the artefact. “Use your biotics,” he barked. “Let’s go.”
Fuck! Called my bluff.
She took a deep breath and dropped her pistol. “All right, all right, you win,” she yelled. She kept her hands behind her head, fingers tapping at her omni-tool furiously by memory.
The merc laughed, satisfied. The historian’s eyes widened, fear now mingling with confusion. She frowned, blue pencil thin brow knitted together. The merc’s mandibles flared in a snarl. His talon tightened around the trigger.
She knew. She fucking knew it. She was counting on it.
With a quick flick of her hand threw a Stasis over merc. Her precision wasn’t good enough to exclude the historian so both of them were caught the field. The merc’s pistol bucked once and pain bloomed across her arm. She hissed and pressed her hand over the wound.
There was no time. With a quick tap of her omni-tool, she activated the turrets. They whirled to life, armed and ready to take down anyone who dared approach the ship. Bending only to pick up her pistol again, she ran towards the merc. C-Sec dropped down from the ladder leading to the rafters, his sniper rifle stowed on his back, pistol back in his hand.
“Hurry, the field is fading,” she barked.
C-Sec didn’t waste time arguing. His long strides ate the distance and was just in time to slam the merc into the ground. She rushed over to the historian and dragged her to safety, pistol aimed at the merc.
“Are you ok?” she asked, keeping her eyes on C-Sec and the merc as they struggled on the floor.
The asari nodded, tears standing in her eyes from the shock and adrenaline. “I’m ok,” the historian said, her blue hand gripping on to her arm.
“What about you? You were shot!”
She took her hand away from the wound. Her shirt was completely ruined with blood from her head and now her arm. “It’s fine, just a graze.”
She led the historian to some nearby crate to rest. A crowd was slowly gathering around the docking bay. Oh fuck…
“Where’s Alliance?” he asked once satisfied the merc was going nowhere.
The historian shrugged. His keen eyes saw the slight trail of blood leading away into the crowd. A promise is a promise.
He winced. There was no doubt about it. That was Executor Pallin. He straightened and marched towards his doom. Shaking his head, he should have known better than to go along with the hare-brained idea of Alliance and the historian. He glanced at the asari to make sure not all his witnesses hadn't disappeared on him.
“Sir,” he greeted.
“Spirits Vakarian!” he shouted. “This isn't your first day on the job. Somehow, you’ve managed the impossible. What in the name of all that’s holy on Palaven will your father say when I call him?”
He winced. His mandibles flapped uselessly against the onslaught. Someone behind him cleared her throat. “Excuse me, Executor Pallin.”
Pallin shot him a look that promised more of the same later. “Yes?” he asked turning his attention to the historian.
“My name is Liara T’Soni. Officer…”
“Vakarian,” he supplied.
“Right, Officer Vakarian has been of great help in retrieving the priceless artefact.”
Pallin’s head snapped with predatory swiftness to him. He held himself still, feeling like the fresh recruit back in boot camp again. “Yes, sir,” he said, "That’s what happened. The explosion at Bachjret Ward-"
“Explosion,” Pallin repeated, his eyes narrowing. "Vakarian-"
“Executor Pallin,” she interrupted. “House T’Soni owes a great debt to Officer Vakarian.”
That managed to quell Pallin’s anger somewhat. He took a step back and allowed the historian, no Liara T’Soni to speak. Idly, he wondered what happened to Alliance. She was hurt but not very badly. Whoever she was, he hoped she was ok.
She winced as she redressed her arm. The medigel still stung when she applied it. Tossing the empty medigel tube onto the table, she leaned back onto the sofa. The news about the retrieval of the artefact kept playing over and over again on the vids. She was thoroughly sick of it by now. Tapping on her omni-tool, she switched over to the vid she manged to borrow. The movie started playing. It was one of her favourite so she settled into the sofa for a good time.
The door opened. She sighed. There was only one other person who had the codes to come in.
“Anderson, that you?” she called.
A shuffle of feet as he stepped into the tiny one-bedroom apartment. "Shepard, you're watching Stardust again?"
"What's wrong? I love it. It's the pure joy for me."
Anderson shook his head. "Shore leave’s over. You’re shipping out tomorrow," he said.
She sat up. “Finally, I thought you’re going to let the Hero of Elysium rot here forever,” she practically spat the title.
Anderson tossed her a bag which she caught with one hand. His eyes narrowed as he took in the bandages on her arm and forehead. “Do I want to know?” he asked.
She shook her head.
“I thought so.”
She unzipped the bag to find a fresh set of uniforms and armour. “So where to?”
“Rio de Janeiro. You’re going to N-school.”