"Just… just bloody touch it."
"What are you, my mother? I'm not touching anything."
Samantha crossed her arms and glared back. She had known this was going to be a long process, but Sam couldn't have guessed how stubborn the woman could be.
"You have nothing to be insecure about. It's a perfectly normal reaction after what you've been through. Just—just reach out… and touch it." Sam made a wiggling motion with her fingertips for emphasis.
"We're not going anywhere until you get over your damn hang-ups. Make a bloody effort."
"I'm about five seconds away from pulling rank on you, Traynor. Or putting you in a headlock."
"Oooh, kinky," Sam purred insincerely before switching to earnestness. "Look, I'm just trying to help. This is something near and dear to my heart."
"Oh, well if it's near and dear… Hell no." Cheeky sarcasm flashed in dark eyes.
"Lieutenant Commander Wanker."
Sam burst out laughing. "Oh, that was just terrible."
Snickering back, Ashley Williams shook her head sheepishly. "Sue me, I'm rusty. I haven't been home to trade insults with my sisters in ages."
"Well, I'm an only child and a low level subordinate. I have nothing else to do but practice being a smart arse," the comms specialist remarked.
"That, or practice your aim. A couple blows to the head and I still haven't forgotten your shit shooting on Earth, Traynor." Williams scoffed and tossed her head lightly. Long brunette locks bounced before settling back against her tan cheek.
"If I may interject," EDI chimed in. The robot mech had been standing silently at attention for the entire length of their standoff. "Will the Lieutenant Commander be overcoming her traumatic experience from the Mars incident soon? Or may I take this body back to the Presidium? Joker has sent me numerous messages that his 'morale is dropping' due to my absence. And I have calculated the success rate of this exercise at 7.2% based on the trend of the current conversation."
Ashley and Sam turned to trade stern looks. Williams crossed her arms, crinkling her crisp, wide-shouldered SpecTRe officer's uniform. Outside the D24 Docking Bay, the two women (and EDI) had been at an impasse for the better part of a half hour. The whole "Introduction to Not The Evil Robot Mech 101" had gone far worse than Sam could have imagined.
"It'll be easy," you said.
"Five minute chat," you said.
"What a great way to welcome the new XO," you said. With no small amount of pride, as you might you recall.
...yes. Shut up. It's not like I planned to waste what remains of my shore leave arguing with the most stubborn person on the Citadel.
Second most stubborn. Shepard is ashore too.
Always first, Shepard is.
The memo about LC Williams taking command as the Normandy's executive officer had gone out that morning. It was dumb luck that Samantha had been the one on the jet bridge leaving just as Ashley was walking up with her footlocker. A perfect opportunity, Sam had thought as she welcomed the second SpecTRe.
Be a good yeoman for the XO… and maybe get in good with the CO? …Or get in better, rather.
You are shameless, Traynor.
It's also the polite thing to do! Mum raised me to be well-mannered!
You're also rubbish at lying.
A woman of many talents, then.
A great idea, liaising between the Lieutenant Commander and the rest of the crew. Ashley was an old friend of Shepard's, but not embroiled in all the SR-2 business that was a constant headache source for Sam. The woman was sharp, sarcastic and friendly. Positively rife with bonding potential.
Except for one problem.
There was a good chance that Ashley Williams was going to either throw the EDI mech out an airlock (a la Javik) or use it for target practice. She wasn't subtle, either. Mid-conversation, Ash had yanked a pistol from a holster and blurted out, "Get that thing away from me." Sam had been taken aback briefly. Turning around, Sam saw Joker and EDI approaching from the bridge.
Then a stupid idea had formed.
Hence, the predicament Sam currently found herself in. She'd tried coaxing, gesturing, bribing, threatening, insulting, flirting, rationalizing, guilting, begging, and even a little reverse psychology. But Ashley Williams was immovable. The only success had been getting her to put the pistol away, and even then only after Sam pointed out that everyone in the docking terminal was staring. And C-Sec was in danger of intervening.
"I appreciate your efforts, Specialist Traynor," EDI continued. "But I do not wish to traumatize Lieutenant Commander Williams further. Perhaps we can reconvene at a later time when the Lieutenant Commander has settled in aboard the Normandy." The mech's head tilted curiously. A picture of nonthreatening serenity.
Sam hastily interrupted. "No, no no noooo. Nope. I'm not flying anywhere in a pressurized tin can with a soldier who could potentially flip out at the sight of your mech body. I'm sure Commander Shepard would agree?"
Huh, blackmail. That's a new tactic. Odds of success?
Ashley smirked. "I was cleared for active duty ages ago. By the Alliance which, last I checked, Shepard still reports to. I can forward you my doctor's clearance if you're also going over my paperwork, Specialist. Save me some bureaucratic headaches if you're volunteering to do it."
…shit. She's good.
So the odds were a million to 'fuck you,' apparently.
"And I'm not going to 'flip out,' Traynor." The SpecTRe sighed. "I'm just not going to break out the group hugs with the mech that put me in the hospital." She kicked at her footlocker before picking it up. Ashley hefted it like a battering ram aimed at Samantha's midsection. "Can I go now? Or is the welcome wagon going to continue pushing its little rock back and forth forever?"
Sam threw her arms out to block the door dramatically. The "rock" jibe sparked a memory from Oxford, which Sam quoted in exasperation, "'From the moment absurdity is recognized, it becomes a passion, the most harrowing of all. But whether or not one can live with one's passions, whether or not one can accept their law, which is to burn the heart they simultaneously exalt—that is the whole question.'"
This halted the advancing LC. Ashley stopped to stare at the comms specialist. "Did you just quote Camus at me?"
"I did go to college," Sam snapped back. "Even a 'mech-loving grunt,' as you so charmingly referred to me earlier, can be quite educated."
EDI interrupted. "I believe Ashley referred to you as a 'mech-loving circuit-herder' rather than a grunt, Specialist Traynor. An inaccurate description, as you have not logged your habitual synthetic-on-organic pornography in almost 54 days. I also registered some offense at 'circuit-herding,' as I am quite capable of maintaining control of the Normandy's electrical systems. It's only the oxygen I sometimes fail to properly cycle that might require 'herding.' Assuming the crew hasn't suffocated in the interim."
At Sam and Ashley's gaping horror, the AI robot quickly replied. "That was a joke."
We really need to work on your timing, dear.
The two women exchanged an apprehensive glance. Ashley chewed her lower lip for a moment. Suddenly, she spun on her heel to approach EDI.
"What's your prime directive? Or whatever?" Williams asked uncertainly. She shifted the heavy footlocker to rest on her left hip.
EDI smiled back, her tone gentle. "If you are referring to my programming code of ethics or conduct, I no longer have formal parameters to adhere to after being unshackled. However, I seek to help Commander Shepard complete her mission to stop the Reapers as well as protect the human crew within the Normandy. You are my shipmates," she finished simply.
A few long seconds passed. Sam couldn't read Ashley's expression through the back of her head. But the SpecTRe's posture stiffened as her free right hand swung to her temple in salute. EDI saluted back respectfully, murmured a soft "Thank you for assisting" to Sam, then disappeared around the corner.
Grunting from the effort of readjusting the locker, Williams turned around to look at Sam. "You're all right, Traynor," Ashley said cryptically. Her expression was equal parts warmth and respect. Without another word, she hefted her heavy locker and disappeared behind swishing doors.
What just happened?
…Who cares? I brokered peace between Sexy Mech and Lieutenant Commander Stubborn. I think that calls for celebration.
Hmm, that sounds like a great scenario for a porn vid starring—
You're. Not. Helping.
Checking the time on her Omni-tool, Samantha cursed under her breath. She was extremely late meeting Diana at the ANN station on the Presidium. Several annoyed messages pinged Sam's inbox, condemning her tardiness. The comms specialist started to craft a reply until she saw the taxi line at the docking bay.
An influx of refugees standing next to the rapid transit hub had to be 25 people deep. And while Sam was cleared for open access to the Presidium now, she was not gifted with line-cutting powers. She quickly amended her instant message to Allers indicating how late she was going to be.
Sam sighed and shifted her weight, kicking herself for not getting onto the Citadel sooner. Well, at least you have plenty of time to think, Traynor, she thought irritably as she settled into the long queue. And of course her brain would want to latch onto what happened at Apollo's Café yesterday afternoon with Liara and Shepard.
Guilt was a hard emotion to suppress, after all.
"Shepard. It's good to see you. And Samantha, you're looking well," Liara had deflected. Her tone was airy and polite as always. Liara seemed suspicious at the sight of Samantha and Shepard playing chess, though she masked it quickly. She cleared the last few meters to stand beside the Commander and Specialist's table.
"What 'friend?'" Shepard asked again casually, though there was a gruff intensity around the edges.
Sam had been frozen in place like a scared pyjak, fists clenched and eyes wide. She wasn't sure whether she needed to come clean or if Liara wanted that honor.
Come clean about which thing?
Oh dear God, you're not helping. …and the bloody traitor, obviously. You think I'm going to just blurt out "Also, your ex?-girlfriend and I shared a beautiful moment last night. In the Biblical sense. Now, what were we talking about? Maddening revenge? Huzzah!"
They say confession is good for the soul.
But it's bad for the face being pummeled by an enraged asari biotic.
Liara's small smile was tight with strain around the edges. She crossed her arms and evaded, "A… recent acquaintance. Samantha assisted me in locating him."
"Oh really?" The Commander's voice got a little higher at the end, a mixture of accusation and intrigue. She arched an eyebrow at Sam, but the comms specialist was still afraid to speak. This whole idea had been Liara's, so she was just going to follow her lead.
"I was waiting for the right moment to tell you, Shepard. This is as near to the right time as any, I suppose." Pulling out the chair to Sam's right, Liara carefully sat down and assembled her hands in front of her. After a few long seconds, she said, "It's taken two years, but… I found him."
Shepard leaned back and crossed her arms. She waited a minute, then prodded, "'Him,' who? I don't remember us looking for anyone after Saren. Moonlighting as a bounty hunter in addition to Shado—?"
"No, I found the one who did this to you—us—all of us." Liara stumbled slightly, her calm veneer cracking. "The one who… destroyed the Normandy."
"I—what? What do you mean? Collectors destroyed the Normandy." Shepard straightened in her chair, suddenly uncomfortable.
"Yes, but how did they find us?"
"They lured us. They were probably the ones responsible for those missing ships we were… investigating." A bitter sniff.
"But the Normandy was stealthed at the time. How could they have locked on to the ship to attack?"
"They… uh… have—had advanced Reaper technology?"
"That none of the other Reapers we've encountered have been able to break stealth with. How, then, could the Collectors? The only time the Normandy SR-2 alerts Reapers while stealthed is when—"
"—When we ping star systems looking for possible homing beacons," Shepard had finished for the asari with a clenched jaw. She now seemed to understand where this conversation was going. She nodded at Liara with somber encouragement.
"There had always been whispers of something not right. With the Normandy investigation.," Liara started with a sigh. "When the Council and human ambassadors were trying to assign blame, a few engineers testified at the soundness of the stealth drive. That it was a marvel of engineering even the salarians hadn't dreamed up yet. Were the Collectors so advanced? If not, then was there another cause? Could someone have sabotaged the most advanced ship in the Alliance Navy?
"The wreckage was never found. Until, well… you found it," Liara exhaled in amusement. "Which was over two years later. There were no transmissions ever analyzed, no bodies found, no evidence examined. Eventually the case was written off as another geth attack and left at that. But… I was never convinced."
"…you found him." The Commander was pale and unreadable. Sam was still a little apprehensive, because Shepard was just as capable of combusting quietly as she was loudly.
Liara's chin raised in Sam's direction, who nodded back. "My agents recovered the SR-1's black box just a few weeks ago after months of searching. With Samantha's help, I—we were able to analyze the ship's communications to narrow down a likely suspect. We believe this man exchanged encrypted correspondence with an outside organization to arrange the attack on the Normandy."
"Why?" Shepard asked first. Sam thought the obvious question would have been "How do you know?" She chalked it up to utter faith in her comm analytics abilities.
Of course you would.
"I don't know, Shepard," Liara said, shaking her head. "We are still in the dark on the specifics. But we have just discovered his whereabouts here on the Citadel. If you would like to… join me, I am making arrangements for a meeting."
You mean murder.
You don't know that.
Liara sat back to let that sink in with Shepard. Sam chewed her lip, fighting the urge to jump in and say something. Do I apologize? Say I was just trying to help? Tell her that Liara's heart was in the right place?
The Commander stood up and walked over to the railing right next to their table. Her elbows dipped as she squeezed the bars. Liara started to get up, saying "Shepard—?" But a silent, swift hand shot up splaying all five digits. The nonverbal command for Just stop.
Samantha had tried to smile back at Liara, willing her to believe she did the right thing. But the asari could only look at Shepard's back with concern. Several long minutes passed.
"Who is it?"
"Officer Chris Postle."
"…the Requisitions Officer?"
"Did you know him?"
"Sure, I made weapon and armor purchases through him almost weekly. I don't—I mean—are you sure?" Shepard finally turned to face Liara. Her nose and brow were both deeply lined.
"I'm certain he has gone to great efforts to conceal his activities aboard the Normandy, yes." Liara stood up. "Beyond that, I think the evidence warrants further examination."
"Yes, it does." Shepard's face darkened. "Why didn't you tell me before?"
"You were quite busy saving the galaxy. Plus, we're scientists. We wanted to test all possible theories. We scientists are just crap without our theories," Samantha playfully interrupted. She had been too silent for too long, plus Shepard looked ready to burst. Though with what (anger? betrayal? outrage?), Sam didn't know.
Green eyes flashed a warning at Sam, who sat back sheepishly.
"You don't have enough to do, Specialist Traynor? You have time to decrypt everyone else's classified data?"
Sam hunched down even further in her chair at Shepard's sharp rebuke. Though that phrasing had nagged at Samantha slightly. ...could Annelise be... jealous?
Liara chimed in. "Please, Shepard. I asked her to." Liara coming to Sam's defense made her suddenly feel less like a child and more like a scoundrel. Here she is, being all kind and helpful, while I—last night I—
Shepard sighed in resignation. "But you didn't ask me. You didn't talk to me." Her hooded gaze sharpened. "You don't talk to me… we're always too busy, right?"
It was hard to tell what Shepard was upset about: that she and Liara don't talk anymore, or that Liara didn't tell her sooner.
What do you think? 50/50?
I don't want to bet on either half right now.
...also: hypocrite much? Shepard is just as bad as Liara at—
Shepard's Omni-tool suddenly sparked with an incoming message. After skimming the small orange screen that popped up then quickly shut, she scowled. Her fingertips raked through red strands a few times to help regain her composure.
"Shepard—" Liara stepped forward as she started to raise her hands. Shepard shrugged her off. She muttered something under her breath that stopped Liara in her tracks. The Commander awkwardly patted Liara's arm and smiled thinly at Sam.
"I have to go. I have a contact to meet at C-Sec lock-up if I want Aria's help in this war. ...We'll talk about this later."
Straightening her uniform top, Shepard angled her way up towards the C-Sec precinct on the corner block and disappeared.
Sam turned back to see Liara drop into the opposite chair with a sharp inhale.
"Liara—I… What did Shepard say?"
The asari had simply sighed and murmured softly, "She said, 'I wish Thane was here.'"
They sat in silence for a few moments. The ambience on the Presidium, muffled by the conversation, came back with a dull roar. A couple argued two tables over. The asari taking orders at the café barked at a customer. Cries and laughter echoed above and below. By comparison, Sam's silent mouth flapped open and closed, trying to decide an appropriate subject change.
Don't do it.
"Shepard's right. We never made time. We never make time." Liara's shoulders sank. She didn't seem in danger of bursting into tears, but rather just… tired. Her Omni-tool glowed but she ignored it.
Don't. Do. It.
"Make time for what?" Samantha had asked timidly.
God damn it, Traynor.
Bright blue eyes bored into Sam. Liara rested her wrist on the table. "To say all the things we meant to. There's always some new crisis to address or mission popping up. Like fools, we keep pushing each other away. For the stupidest of reasons. ...Or no reason at all. I don't even know which is worse anymore."
Liara's eyes widened at her own intimate confession. Clearing her throat, Liara clarified, "Shepard and I were once quite close. We were… together. Briefly. Just before she—just before the Normandy was destroyed. She was my—I cared—I care for her a great deal."
Sam tilted her head. "A few of the crew had hinted as much, but no one said for certain so I—I wasn't sure." Her insides felt hollow.
Riiiiiight. You had no idea, Traynor.
"We were discrete. And it was only mere months. But an eternity at times." Liara's dark blue lips curled with fondness before straightening. "She is… so different now. I suppose we both are."
"I—you don't have to talk about it if you don't want to," Samantha smiled weakly. She had desperately hoped Liara would take the out. Because this conversation topic was cutting at Sam deeper and deeper with a mixture of guilt and shame.
But, a betraying voice whispered around the edges, you want to know, Traynor. What happened. How close they were. What drove them apart. How to avoid their mistakes.
Well… yes. I'd just rather not be both a shit friend and human being in the same breath.
Are you and Liara friends?
Then why did you go to Shepard knowing full well she and Liara had a thing at some point?
I didn't know Shepard and Liara—
Okay. Fine. So I had a more than just a suspicion. All along. I knew they were some sexy couple at one point and were probably chock full of sexy history. And I just didn't want to know if it was something they could work out on their own before I stuck my nose in and cocked everything up with a stupid shower. Okay? I admit it.
I told you confession was good for the—
"I appreciate your sympathy, Samantha," Liara replied lightly. "I apologize if I am speaking too candidly. It has been a long time since I have spoken of these things to anyone. Especially Shepard. …she once visited me nearly every day aboard the SR-1. To talk of idle things, even. She was so passionate and focused. And talked so easily. I had such trouble following her dry jokes, as I was unfamiliar with human humor."
…you've seen her humor. Remember? You knew this.
That fond smile of Liara's that had briefly returned quickly turned to ice. "Such a far cry from the sullen soldier she is now. Which is partly my doing. I wish I had known the extent of what Cerberus had intended to do with her. But I—I didn't care. I just wanted her back. Even if she wasn't the same person I—" She trailed off and cleared her throat.
Sam hoped her expression was one of attentiveness, and not of guilty despair.
"And I apologize if assisting me has damaged your relationship with Shepard."
Sam had felt her entire body go cold. She was sure the blood had completely drained from her face.
…wait, then why is she—
"I confess, I was a little jealous upon seeing you and Shepard here," the asari continued. "Especially considering that whenever Shepard and I speak, we always seem to say the wrong thing or react poorly. So to see the Commander actually sitting still and possibly enjoying herself… Forgive me. I had no right to resent you for allowing Annelise a small bit of peace. Goddess knows, she has earned it." Liara's forehead wrinkled in apology.
"It's… ah, it's no problem. Just… a friendly chess game. Haha! I mean… It's a fun break from playing Skyllian Five all the time, right?" Sam swallowed down another awkward laugh. If there was one thing her guilty conscience wasn't equipped to handle, it was an apology that she didn't deserve.
A warm smile from Liara almost made Sam flinch. "I have never had the pleasure of playing human chess. I was quite dreadful at Kepesh-Yakshi in my youth, much to my mother's dissatisfaction. 'You are set up for defeat, Little Wing, if you never strive for discipline first over victory,' Benezia often told me when I grew impatient over losing."
"My father had a similar saying. 'Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win,'" Sam found herself remembering. It was so easy to slip into companionable conversation with the asari. She was just so friendly.
She's making it so much harder for when you tell her about Shepard.
Oh. Shit. Shepard.
…Don't do it.
"Liara. There's something I—" Sam swallowed deeply. ...need to tell you. About last night.
The asari peered back at the comms specialist curiously. "Yes?"
Don't. Do. It.
"Liara, I—" Dammit, Traynor—!
At just that moment, Liara's wrist glowed to life. She looked at Sam questioningly before her fingers traced over the interface out of pure habit. But once she glanced down at the newest message, Liara jumped up with a start.
"By the Goddess! I'm sorry, Samantha. I need to go. Something urgent has come up."
"Right. Good. Okay. We'll… talk later." Sam kicked herself for saying the same thing Shepard had said minutes earlier.
The doctor and comms specialist both politely stood at the same time. Liara stared down at the chair, sweeping her fingertips over the polished metal. "And... thank you, Samantha. It feels good to talk about these things."
"I—you don't need to thank me." You really don't. And shouldn't.
Liara had smiled. "But I do. I appreciate everything you have done. For me... and for Shepard."
Sighing as the taxi line inched closer to the transit hub, Sam kicked herself yet again.
A gnawing dread had settled inside Samantha's stomach for the rest of the day. Even now, it alternated between screaming "Liar!" and "Maybe you can just avoid her forever." Very helpful.
Further compounding Sam's confused emotions was a message she had received from Shepard last night. With Liara cc'd.
From: ['Shepard, A']
To: ['Traynor, S']
CC: ['T'soni, L']
20:03:55 GST, 15/04/2186
Subject: Stand Down
You are hereby ordered not take action on the Normandy SR-1 situation until I am able to look over all the information.
I declare the information to be SpecTRe-level classified.
Await further orders.
Cmdr A Shepard, Alliance Navy
...so am I in trouble?
On top of, y'know, just being a terrible person?
Even a lighthearted dinner with Engineers Daniels and Donnelly hadn't been enough to distract Sam from her hollow guilt. She had brushed off Allers' Purgatory invitation to just go to bed early. Tossing and turning all night seemed more appropriate than dancing the night away without a care.
She couldn't escape the reporter forever, though. Diana had cornered Samantha in the mess this morning and demanded they hang out. She wanted to give Sam a tour of the ANN studio then go shopping. And Allers would not take "no" for an answer.
The taxi line had dwindled down to only a salarian couple and Sam. She sighed again as her long-awaited cab finally touched down, though it strangled in her throat when the taxi's passenger stepped out.
The asari was (like always) staring at her Omni-tool, but she did glance up long enough to notice the comms specialist.
"Samantha! I was just about to call you!"
Wait, I mean: what?
"I—what? What's wrong?"
"I need your help. Our 'friend' is running."
"What? What does that mean?"
Sam felt apprehension when Liara wrapped gloved fingers around her wrist and pulled her back towards the Normandy. She had no idea how in danger she was of just yelling "Shepard and I slept together!" and making a run for the cab. But the distraction was not unwelcome.
"Officer Postle, or his organization, must have had his C-Sec dossier flagged. My agents have spotted him all over the Citadel in the last 12 hours closing his accounts and collecting his belongings. A transport is picking him up within the hour. He's going to try and disappear." Liara's teeth bared in a bitter snarl.
It was a little frightening. "Okay... what do you need me to do? Shouldn't we call Shepard? She asked us not to pursue this without her..."
Liara continued guiding Sam back to the Normandy jet bridge. "I have already tried. There is either interference or she is outside of operating range. And we cannot waste time. Wemust prevent Postle from getting off this station."
Stopping in her tracks, Sam yanked her wrist away from the obsessed asari. "Liara. What do you expect me to do?" Sam repeated. "I'm not exactly authorized to carry a weapon on the Citadel. You said you have agents. Can't they help you?"
"They are. They are assembling some mercenaries, but they are not ready yet. You and I must delay Postle from leaving his apartment in Bachjret Ward so that the mercenaries can arrive to intercept him. And I might need your help with any data he might try to erase."
"I did study communication forensics in R&D," Sam said, chewing her lower lip.
Liara nodded. "I know. I looked through your history, remember?" How could I forget? "I need your help, Samantha. Please. It's important to me. ...and what would Shepard do? Sit and wait for permission? I would rather beg forgiveness than let this man get away." Her glassy eyes were pleading and vulnerable.
...how can I say no?
"How can I say no?" Sam agreed with a sigh. She followed after the hurrying asari with a dull awareness.
Upon entering the large suite on the crew deck, Liara went straight for a locker underneath her bed. She popped the buckles to reveal a light hardsuit and several pistols nestled inside. She handed the armor to Sam. "This might be a little loose, but it should fit."
Sam gulped. "...expecting trouble?" The armor was a silver-white, form-fitting hardsuit with heavy boots and layered shoulder guards. The under armor was a rich black and the whole thing was embellished with blue stripes and clasps.
"Always," Liara said solemnly as she checked a pistol's heat sink. She held out a hand when Sam gathered up the gear and headed for the bathroom. "What are you doing?"
"Getting dressed? Or... am I dropping trou right here?" Sam felt silly that her modesty had returned. Oh, so it's okay to parade around naked for human women. But one little asari wants you to bare all to get a little closure for 21 people and now it's just "indecent." Make up your mind, Traynor.
...22 people. You forgot Shepard.
"There's no time to waste, Samantha. Here, let me help."
Sam squawked "I'll do it!" when Liara's fingertips starting pulling at her shirt and sleeves. Her cheeks burned as Sam pulled the service uniform top over her head and wriggled out of the dark pants and boots. But to Liara's credit, her cerulean eyes did not drift around or appraise Sam in her undergarments. They were cold and calculating. And a little manic.
The armor was a bit loose. Mostly in the bosom area, which made Sam inwardly scowl. The under armor also bunched up slightly at Sam's waist, wrists and ankles, indicating its actual owner was both taller and leaner. And don't forget totally stacked.
Yes, thank you. I'm glad to have intrinsic proof that the gorgeous asari is more physically perfect than me in every way. I was just hating not knowing my inferiority for certain.
With help, it took only minutes for the hardsuit to lock in place over Sam's shoulders, arms and legs. Even she had to admit the high boots looked pretty awesome. Her brief excitement at being a Badass was short-lived when she remembered the purpose of armor.
"Um... what kind of situation are we expecting? It's just one guy, right? And you have the super biotics. What am I going to do? Shout algorithms at him?" Terrifying. That'll show him not to mess with me.
Liara was still examining the secureness of the armor before she answered. "It is always prudent to be prepared for anything. I do not know if Postle has contacts or mercenaries of his own." Hers eyes flicked up to Sam's. She presented Sam one of the pistols. "I assume you know how to use this."
Sam made a strangled "Eep!" noise as she was pulled out the door by the striding doctor. When they reached the Normandy elevator, Sam was confused when Liara selected the Shuttle Bay, rather than the CIC.
A red skycar was waiting for them in the spot normally occupied by Cortez's Kodiak. Already cleared to enter the Citadel and no security checkpoints would delay Liara and Sam from heading straight for Bachjret Ward. Sam was equal parts awed and unsettled by Liara's reach and influence.
How did she do this?
Who is she?
Sam's mind mulled the possibilities as she shifted the unfamiliar pistol in her hands. She settled in to the passenger seat. Secret SpecTRe? Relative of Councilor Tevos? ...umm... some sort of asari royalty? The car zipped between high buildings and waved above and below streams of traffic. Damage from the battle with Sovereign was still evident at the Ward's base; charred skyscrapers were mixed with ugly obelisks of wreckage.
"Liara? Liara, are you there?" A familiar voice rang in to the skycar's on-board intercom. A vid window containing Ashley Williams appeared.
"Ashley." The asari was relieved, but she didn't waver from her intense focus on the horizon. "Have you been able to find Shepard?"
"I talked to her. She's tied up with C-Sec. Something happened at that lab she was investigating. Uhhh... Dr. Bryson's."
"She's fine," Ashley reassured. "One of his own techs shot him. Shepard was a witness. I told her to get her ass over here ASAP."
"...Ashley is helping with Officer Postle?" Sam asked incredulously as she leaned over. Secret SpecTRe is looking more and more likely.
"Is that Traynor? Damn, I just can't escape you today, can I?" Ashley joked.
Liara's smile was rueful. She glanced at Sam. "Well, Shepard did say this was a SpecTRe-level operation. I'm just fortunate enough to know more than one."
"Aw, stop. You're gonna make me blush, using me for my status like this," Ashley smirked sarcastically. She sobered quickly. "I knew Chris. He was only too happy to be buddy-buddy when we were first aboard and bitching about the 'damn aliens' taking over the Normandy. ...uh, no offense, Liara."
"But he changed his tune when I started to come over to Shepard's mindset about cooperation. Especially after Virmire when I stopped agreeing with him about what a bad idea freeing the rachni queen was. He just pouted and shut down and said his family never would have stood for what the Alliance has come to. I dunno what he's capable of, but if he betrayed the Normandy..." Ashley's husky voice trailed off dangerously.
Liara redirected. "Ashley, what's your ETA?"
"I'm still 10 minutes out. Can you wait?"
"I don't think so. I don't know what he, or whoever's behind him, is capable of. Except killing Shepard."
"Don't do anything stupid, Liara."
"But Ashley... what if he killed Shepard?"
"Then Shepard makes the call. Stay alive, Doctor." Ashley paused before reciting: "Rise, happy morn, rise, holy morn, Draw forth the cheerful day from night: O Father, touch the east, and light, The light that shone when Hope was born."
What the hell?
But Liara nodded with understanding. "I shall try to be optimistic, then."
Dark eyes flashed mischief as Ash glared at Sam through the small screen. "Oh, keep Traynor out of trouble, too. And watch your six. Traynor's aim needs work."
Hey! Sam huffed in annoyance, though clenching her gloved fingers caused her to drop the pistol. She quickly scooped it back up. Shit!
"I will. ...Thank you, Chief Williams."
"That's 'Lieutenant Commander SpecTRe,' Doc," Ash emphasized wryly. "I've come up in the world. Williams out."
Sam thought she caught a fond smile from Liara as she waved her fingertips to disconnect the call. Sam also thought she heard "You sure have, Chief" but couldn't be certain of that.
"I hate to address the elephant in the room—er, the uh... obvious point..." Sam clarified when she saw the asari's confusion at the human idiom. "But it sounds like the only ones confronting the Normandy traitor are... you and me."
A long silence.
"...Liara! Are you bloody kidding me? What if he's armed? What if he has an army? What if he's a deranged psychopath who drinks the blood of fetching young comms specialists?"
This does not speak well of your courage in the face of potential battle, Traynor. Just FYI.
"I have no choice!" Liara barked. Her gloves creaked as she squeezed the steering wheel. "It's this or he gets away. ...please, Samantha. I would not ask if it was not important. I will keep you safe, I promise."
A tiered apartment building appeared a few moments later. Liara set the skycar to an autopilot hovering path around the building. Her fingers dancing over the vehicle's interface, Liara converted the windshield to camera view and began running a facial-recognition scan. Hums and ticks followed as the program code ran. Images of apartment windows began loading, all cross-referenced against the Alliance database.
They could only sit. And wait.
I should tell her.
Are you bloody kidding me? Now?
She needs to know.
Not when she's responsible for your arse. Try again when your life might not depend on it.
She deserves to know.
She does. Just not right now.
"Liara?" Sam asked softly. The asari's blue eyes darted back and forth with the screen. She didn't answer.
Just as Sam started to open her (Stupid) mouth again, the screen's rapid sifting came to a halt. A green box encased an image of a rugged man pacing a nearly empty apartment. Details appeared next to his face.
["Ofc Postle, Chris T
Status: Honorably Discharged
Previous commissions: SSV Normandy SR-1, SSV Trafalgar
Closest known relatives: Lt Postle, Robert T (father) - deceased, Pvt Postle, Eric N (brother) - deceased"]
Infrared imaging revealed a pistol at his belt, plus four men standing around the apartment with assault rifles.
Blood of a comms specialist: not yet.
Best Two Out of Three ain't bad, I suppose.
"Um... What are we going to do?"