The question caught the asari by surprise, and bought Sharon an extra second. The huntress pulled the trigger, but Sharon was already behind her. She grabbed the pistol and flung it aside.

"Damn it!" the huntress cursed. Sharon threw a punch, but Arine was quick and grabbed her arm. She threw Sharon, and Sharon collided with the wall of a prefab. The collision dazed her, and she barely managed to duck away from a punch that was aimed at her lower back. She countered with a roundhouse kick, but missed. Arine ducked under her and bowled into her legs, knocking her to the ground.

"What the hell are..." Sharon tried to get out a question, but Arine tried to claw at her eyes, and Sharon just managed to turn her head in time. Her assailant's nails caught her upper cheek. She was certain it left a mark, but better it be on her cheek and not on her eyeball. She brought her knee up into Arine's stomach and pushed her off.

Sharon scrambled to her feet, but Arine was already back on hers, and she was preparing to make another rush. Sharon's back was to a prefab wall. Against all likelihood, she managed to kick off the wall and over Arine's head. Her landing was not smooth, though, and Arine tackled her from behind.

"You're a hell of a fighter, human, but I got at least fifty more years o' trainin' than you," Arine said as she brought her knee down on the small of Sharon's back.

Pain filled Sharon's world, but somehow she managed to turn over under Arine and delivered a headbutt that left her opponent just dazed enough for her to escape her grasp. As Arine staggered, Sharon delivered two punches, one to her face and the other to her stomach. Her advantage did not last; Arine delivered a sweep kick that sent her back down. Something told her that Arine was about to deliver a kick to the head. She quickly delivered a kick directly to Arine's shin.

"AAAAAUUUGGHHHH!" Arine went down, clutching her shin in pain. But just as Sharon was about to make another move, the huntress got her hands around her throat and slammed her into a nearby wall. "Who hired you?!" she demanded.

"I..." Sharon was struggling to breathe. "Her... mother..." she croaked.

"What was that?"

They were interrupted by the sound of a throat clearing. They both turned and saw Skinner pointing a gun at Arine, a bored and vaguely annoyed look on his face. "As much as I loathe Commander Sharon, I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you to stand down, Operative Leoptos."

Arine was so startled that she dropped Sharon. "How'd you know my name?"

"I went around asking the others here who would be so protective of Operative Dantius that they might try and kill two Alliance soldiers who'd been sent with explicit orders to bring her to safety. Everyone named you."

"You were sent to help Siani?"

"Yes," Sharon said, finally managing to stand up. "I'm Cmdr. Emmanuelle Sharon. This is Cmdr. James Skinner."

"And I'm Arine Leoptos. But you know that already. Why are you looking for Siani?"

"Her mother was concerned for her safety, and hired us to bring her home."

"Couldn't be. Siani told me her parents were dead. And anyway, she's Imerian."

"Imerian?" Sharon asked.

"One of the poorest colonies in asari space," Skinner responded.

"Aye. Even if her mother's alive, she wouldn't have the credits to hire a rescue team."

"She lied to you, then. Her real name is Siani T'Nair, and she's from Illium."

"T'Nair? From Illium?" Leoptos stared at them, half-bewildered. "The T'Nair family is rich and powerful. And public. Siani's a mouse who hides behind a computer screen."

"That seems like a terrific way for the scion of a powerful family to keep a low profile," Skinner said.

Arine looked away for a moment, and said nothing. Finally, she turned back to them. "We need to talk, then. And not here. It's too open."

They went back into the prefab, and Sharon and Arine flopped down on the two couches in the corner. Skinner pulled up a chair.

"Sorry about trying to kill you," Arine murmured

"No autopsy, no foul," Sharon said. "Now what did you have to tell us?"

Arine looked about nervously, as if expecting that someone might be listening in."This mission's been a bloody disaster. We were told it'd just be a simple intervention, protectin' some idiot protestors who decided to pick a fight with the Hegemony. But the batarian presence on this planet's almost three times the size we were expectin'. We're outnumbered, and we can't seem to get a message back to HQ.

"But it's more than just a bad signal. These protestors, the Esan Liberation, have been actin' up ever since we got here. They're all panicked and seem like they're in way over their heads."

"That's not so unusual," Skinner said. "Most protestors, in my experience, are clueless."

"But I don't think these protestors even know what they're protestin' against. I mean, Esan was an asari colony that was annexed back in 1913. Zak'kon was taken nearly four hundred years ago..."

"You think they're actors." Sharon said.

"At the very least, they ain't what they seem."

Skinner massaged his temples. "I need to lie down." He crawled off to the bathtub in the prefab's bathroom.

"What's wrong with him?" Arine asked.

"He's an L2. His biotic implants are giving him problems."

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