Jacob and I saw the women and what few men could be coaxed out of hiding into the shuttle the transport had sent. All of them were crying and some seemed as much afraid as relieved. I imagine nine years of chemically-induced forgetfulness would make any new and strange experience a little scary.
The woman who’d given me the datapad wrung my hand awkwardly, not quite able to shake it normally but knowing some such gesture was appropriate. It gave me hope that they could recover. “You brought us the sky,” she said, “just like he promised.”
I nodded solemnly at her. “I will remember,” she said insistently. Then she turned and shuffled up the ramp. She lifted her hand briefly before disappearing inside and I realized I didn’t even know if she knew her own name any more than I did.
When they’d all been loaded Jacob and I climbed into the Normandy’s shuttle. No sooner had it touched down in the bay than Yeoman Chambers was on my omni-tool to inform me that TIM was stewing on the line, waiting for both of us. As far as I was concerned he could sit on it until I was damned good and ready. Jacob seemed in no more of a hurry than I. We put away our weapons in the armory and headed off to our separate quarters to change.
On my way back down, the elevator opened onto the CIC to show me a re-catsuited Jacob and a leering Kelly, the former looking distinctly uncomfortable. He appeared to be having second thoughts about letting his ex-girlfriend dress him. The yeoman’s inability to raise her eyes above his low-slung belt that gave away that she’d been watching footage of the shuttle bay incident.
“Kelly,” I said, trying to distract her, “I…uh…forgot to feed my fish this morning. Can you run up and do that for me? I’ll have EDI let you in.” She turned to me, looking so eager that I considered hiding behind the previous object of her lust. “Just the once,” I added and made a mental note to make it excruciatingly clear to EDI that under no circumstances was Chambers allowed to take the elevator to the upper level on which my quarters were situated.
I suppressed a shudder and led Jacob into the projection room and greeted TIM about as politely as I could manage. “What?”
He launched into a bit of a tirade about my wasting precious time and resources, which we both knew was a load of crap while he kept me dangling without a single lead on the Collectors to follow. Then he got to his real beef. “That information was classified. How did you get it?”
“Wouldn’t you like to know?” I asked. Jacob felt a bit more helpful than I. Perhaps it was guilt over his father’s actions that led him to revert to playing the good boy.
“The details came in an anonymous message,” he said. At least he hadn’t added “sir”. “I don’t know who sent them.”
To my utter shock, Miranda walked in from behind us. I hadn’t even heard the door open. “I did,” she said, striking a defiant post slightly ruined by the fact that her outfit appeared to have shrunken in the wash enough to become uncomfortably snug in the nether regions. She quickly abandoned the stance and stood at something approximating parade rest. “It seemed like fulfilling a promise,” she continued, making heavy eye contact with Jacob.
He looked about as bewildered as I felt and Miranda rolled her eyes dramatically before turning back to face TIM, shifting uncomfortably from her super-wedgie. “You and Jacob can go,” the illusory image told me. “Miranda and I need to have a talk about how to use a dictionary when words like classified and confidential confuse you.”
I swallowed my unkind snicker, at least until I was back in the elevator. As it whisked me back up to my quarters I let go, only recovering long enough to ask EDI if she’d been tampering with the laundry equipment in Miranda’s quarters. “Shall I approximate whistling innocently Shepard or would you prefer a flat denial?” it asked me. I had to crawl across the hall and through my door.
Once I recovered from my fit of hysterics I crawled into bed and slept like a log for six straight hours. When I woke my reserves were so depleted that I could barely pull on my clothes. I staggered to the elevator and straight from it to the mess in search of sustenance and that life-giving fluid that Gardner kept hot and fresh, just for me.
Half a waffle, buried in shocking-pink fruit of some sort, and a large quantity of coffee later, I opened my eyes enough to see Samara sitting placidly across the table from me. “Good morning, my Justicar-y friend! Can I help you or are you just here for the caffeine?”
The wide blue plains of her face didn’t change an iota. Hell, they never did except to express slight bemusement or mild disapproval on occasion. “I would like to speak to you in private when you have finished,” she said. Then she rose in that stately way of hers and glided around the corner toward the observation deck where she habitually meditated.
How that woman could maintain so much dignity with her ridiculously over-sized boobs hanging out the front of a bright red catsuit that made Miranda’s newly-shrunken one look roomy I will never understand. And yet she exuded not sex appeal but cold calculation and utter serenity.
I wolfed my waffle, refilled my enormous mug, and took myself off down the corridor. When the door had closed behind me Samara turned to show a miniscule crease between her brows. For her that was equivalent to pacing and wringing her hands.
“The time has come for me to tell you of the mission on which you found me, Shepard,” she said formally. She proceeded to tell me she hunted a monster, one that seduced and slaughtered out of genetic drive and the sheer joy of dominating her prey. The dispassionate tone let her sneak in the kicker without tipping me off: “The ardat-yakshi is my daughter. It is my duty to stop her.”
Were gaping a professional sport I could have been drafted to a championship team in that moment. Samara looked at me, eyes half-lidded as she patiently waited for me to recover. I shook off my astonishment and backed up the conversation a few steps.
“So Asari occasionally give birth to gorgeous creatures that exist only to eat the souls of anyone they can lure into their clutches and every once in a while one of them escapes from the monastery where they all live to hunt and kill across the galaxy until a Justicar stops them. Is that about it?” She nodded. “And the one you’re hunting is your daughter.”
“The dishonor is mine,” she said, bowing her head slightly. “I have tracked Morinth to Omega but I must request more from you than merely transportation.”
Ah, here it comes, I thought. “What do you need?”
“Ardat-yakshi are powerful, devious creatures,” she said. “Were I to confront Morinth directly she would endanger anyone nearby. I need you to lure her somewhere isolated so as to minimize collateral damage.”
I squinted distrustfully. “You want me to pretend to be seduced by her so that I can haul her into a back alley and you can knock her out for return to the monastery?”
“Not precisely,” Samara responded, “but in essence, yes.” Seeing my displeasure at this concept she tried clumsily to butter me up. “I do not feel any of the others could withstand the draw of an ardat-yakshi long enough to steer her to a private location.”
The practice I’d had turning gently down the entire crew of my ship was going to come in handy after all. And, hell, it wasn’t like I had anything else with which to occupy my time. “I might as well keep in practice at this saving lives thing,” I said. “I have a feeling I’ll be doing it a lot more. Besides, it never hurts to check for new stock at the weapon and armor vendors.”
Thus I found myself grubbing for gossip in the back alleys of the sleaziest slum in that half of the galaxy. Aria might lord it over the station but for my money she could damned well have the nasty place. Between the stench and the rotting structural panels I kept my breather helmet on the whole time.
It didn’t hurt that it kept people from recognizing me, for the most part, though the Cerberus logo on the stupid thing made it a lot tougher to get anything from Batarians and other aliens. It turned out the people we wanted were Human, anyway.
If there’s anything that feels worse than exploiting the grief of a lonely woman I don’t know what it is, but that’s what Samara and I did. We found the mother of Morinth’s most recent victim and let her believe we were “the authorities” so that we could dig through the girl’s things. We didn’t lie, exactly. Samara won’t. But we didn’t tell the whole truth, either.
At least the deception yielded results: we got a pretty good picture of the kid’s seduction and a bunch of things that Morinth had told her that she liked. Thank goodness for gushing teen diaries.
Our quarry spent her time at the VIP lounge of Aria’s club. Gaining entry was easy enough so I cruised the place, generally acting like a badass and slouching disdainfully while trying to look arty and deep. Apparently it worked because about half an hour into the act an Asari who looked exactly like her mother invited me to join her in a dim corner.
Asari have never really done it for me and Morinth was no exception. I trotted out the names and pseudo-intellectual bullshit that we’d read in the girl’s diary. While we pretended fascination with one another, my thoughts mostly focused on that poor kid and the sort of monster who would turn her hopes, pathetic enough on this craptastic armpit of the galaxy, against her. I was rather looking forward to Samara getting rough with her before we hauled her daughter off to a monastery.
Finally Morinth invited me back to her place to do drugs, I assumed code for “suck you soul out through your eyeballs”. That seemed like about as private a place as we were likely to find on Omega so I followed her out the door and along a winding path that led us to one of the least-scummy parts of the station. Whatever else she was getting from her victims she seemed to be enjoying their credits.
The trouble began once we’d out-cooled one another into the grey and black main room of the apartment. We sat on her couch, knees touching, as she stared into my eyes. One would have thought, after that freaky thing Liara had done to me to look inside my head at the Prothean data, I’d know better than to make eye contact but I couldn’t seem to stop. Then I realized she was making me say things, untrue things, stupid things. I said them anyway.
While most of my brain was screaming at my body to kick her in the face, the one rational corner wondered where the bloody hell Samara had gone. This Asari had a terrible power over even me, an N7, the first human Spectre, and an utterly willful woman. I’d agreed to be the bait but it was looking more and more like I would end up the meal.
I’d like to say that my life flashed before my eyes but mostly I focused on being furious. The more I struggled, mentally, the more she looked like a cat watching the mouse try to pull itself out of her claws. Eventually all I wanted was to be far, far away with my Viper. Let’s see her try that eye contact crap through a scope while my finger was on the trigger, I thought. And then I didn’t think anything.