DISCLAIMER: Bioware owns the concept of Mass Effect and all of its characters. This fanfic is for entertainment and no profit what-so-ever.
AUTHORS NOTES: It seemed that Shepard would have been a bit more banged up than seen at the epilogue of the Paragon: saving the Council ending. I drew out the drama a bit more. Inspired by the Sam-bashing in SG1 episodes this pays homage to that as well.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Rising From the Ashes
By Elizabeth Carter
Sowing the Seeds
Rose petals fell around three seated figures in a plume of biological confetti.
"Captain, this is not a race or a contest." Shiala admonished as she brushed red fragments of flower petals from her crest. "Direct and control your powers. Narrow your field of focus with pin point delicacy. I know you are capable on your own as is Liara, but the two of you must work in conjunction with each other."
"I think the problem is not cooperation as much as an influx of power at hand." Shepard said. "When we're linked it feels the energy coursing though me us is unleashed."
"Precisely why it is necessary to build up your control, Captain." The older woman said. "And why we need these exercises. We will try it again." The violet-skinned asari placed a new rose between Liara and Shepard who were both sitting lotus style on the floor of the Captain's quarters.
"Perhaps if you thought of this exercise as if you were in the field of battle and taking a sniper shot." Liara suggested. "You are a marksman after all."
Samantha smirked, "Good idea Love, but Ash is the sniper not me. But I get the analogy. Close careful shot of a pistol versus the wide spray of assault rifles, got it. Like I said my problem isn't a lack of focus its more like my biotics have more 'firepower' now than before."
Liara was facing the same problem, since the gestalt when she had used her body to live for her lover, her own biotics had gained in force and magnitude. Going back to rudimentary training exercises seemed to be a wise choice on Shiala's part. The younger woman recalled having to lift a flower by biotics and make it hover in the air while simultaneously plucking each petal off when she was five years old. It was a very elementary exercise but still very useful and at this point valid.
Samantha stretched out her hands one with the palm up the other facing down and Liara mirrored this so their palms were pressing against each other. Liara used a pin-point lift to suspend the rose. Shepard fixed her gaze on one of the petals. It started to vibrate as it had before then her gaze narrowed and the rose started to turn in a gentle circle. A petal tore away neatly and fluttered to the carpet. Liara focused her own gaze and pulled another petal off. The idea of using a 'scope' to narrow the flux of biotic-power evidently had served its purpose for soon there was a pile of rose petals on the floor.
Shepard leaned over and kissed Liara as to celebrate their success at which point the stem of the still hovering rose blew apart. "That wasn't me this time." The Spectre said defensively to her mentor.
Liara looked away bashfully for a moment, and then smiled playfully, "I was distracted. Sorry."
"Yes well we can't have that happen every time. You can't lose your control just because you're aroused." Shiala chided. "We will do this again. This time you will be distracted. By all means kiss, BUT concentrate on the rose and try not to make anything else blow up!" the older woman crossed her arms over her chest glowering so sternly at her pupils, Shepard believed she was back in grade-school expecting to get a caning for her inappropriate mischievous behavior. Liara half expected to be assigned to run laps for her loss of control. It wouldn't have been the first time Shiala demanded it of her students. Liara along with the rest of the younglings in her level had run plenty of laps around the bastion's gardens for not fulfilling expectations due to being easily distracted. Apparently once a master-teacher always a master-teacher, it never left the voice or the eyes.
Another rose lay between the lovers as they started the exercises for the twelfth time.
Learning to control the unquantifiable energies of their gestalt-enhanced biotics wasn't the only concern on the CCS Victory. Forced maddened affability seemed to ease its way throughout the ship. Shepard knew that cohesion was a must. There was the deceptive calm of a volcano waiting to explode within the hundred warriors forced to coexist in an alien environment. Even with fifteen decks the frigate was still a small enough ship to make if feel crowded if nerves were allowed to seethe and fret like a dog on the leash.
The remaining fifty crewmembers might not be hardened warriors but even the scientists were forming cliques, not into species necessarily but rather branches and specialties. Science and Academics versus Military an age long battle that waged war long before anyone on the ship was born and would continue to battle long after they were all dead and forgotten.
Unlike the Normandy, the Spectre wasn't confined to the bridge to open ship-wide communications. Even the security station was separated from the helm, which meant Joker couldn't flick the cameras on and 'spy' on the crew as he had on their old ship. For that Shepard was grateful, she never felt comfortable with the pilot's indiscriminate ability to flick on the security cameras and get an eye-full of things he had no business watching, or for that matter hear. Some things were supposed to remain confidential but that wasn't possible if all it took was for someone to flick a switch and see and hear everything. Victory's CIC was like the Normandy, which meant it was of turian design, but it had asari controls which meant that all security was under the Captain's command or the XO's.
Joker almost jumped out of his chair when he heard the distinctive voice of his captain over his personal headset. He had been accustomed to opening a ship-wide channel for her or patching communications through that he had forgotten he no longer had control over it.
"This is for all you new people. This is my boat and we are a single team, you lose your politics at the airlock. We are all here for one reason. Find a way to stop the Reapers. This is not an Alliance vessel nor is it under asari, turrian or salarian military jurisdiction the Victory is a Council ship a Spectre ship. Understand that. Bureaucratic and political games have no place on this ship. Every single one of you was carefully chosen and hand picked, you all swore an oath to the Council to serve as a single unit. I have no tolerance for bigotry, alienation or any other of that type of crap. As you've noticed I speak very bluntly and to the point.
"Our primary mission, our quest is to discover a way to stop the Reapers. We must protect all organic life from the oblivion that will surely come if the Reapers are allowed a foothold in our universe. Sovereign was only one ship and the devastation wreaked by that enemy nearly destroyed the Citadel and would have opened the floodgate from Dark Space. We know of indoctrination due largely to the sacrifice of Matriarch Benezia and her disciples. We know the geth follow the Reapers as gods, and we know how to destroy them. We can not fail, we must not. You are all here to insure we are victorious."
Shepard closed the channel feeling marginally better for having spoken her piece. In her heart it might be naiveté but she was a firm believer that everyone she had chosen had the motive to see past species diversity and work as a collective whole.
"Well said my love." Liara praised. "Hopefully your words will not be simple words but practice."
"I sure as hell hope so, Li or this is going to be a very long mission." The Spectre gave her wife measured look. "I plan on having a departmental heads meeting soon, to see how well everyone is fitting in. No problems I hope with in Victory's scientific community?"
Liara's expression became almost strained not pensive per say but concerned. "There seems to be some issues regarding the scientists' interactions with the military heads. There isn't exactly a schism in the works but it could lead there if parameters are not laid out, Captain." Liara had used her wife's rank rather than the familiar name as they were on duty and in a more public setting. She believed if she was openly familiar with Shepard, the Spectre might lose the tenuous hold of the change-wavering calm that drifted down amongst the crew. The young Prothean expert had noticed that whenever she and Samantha were together others tended to think themselves as trespassers.
"It won't be the first time there was a difference of opinion in philosophies between scientists and soldiers, just look at you and Ash. The thing of it is we need each other. We will play to each other's strengths. The asari commandos do guerilla warfare and assassination far better than any other race. Turians and humans and especially krogan can stand up hard against a firestorm. And no one does espionage better than a salarian. We need hackers, scientists and techs to disable, uncover and reclaim equipment, gear and computers as well as AIs, and they need us to cover their six and neutralize the enemy. It is only a matter of course to make everyone realize it."
When in command-mode, Shepard had a certainty about her that you could bend steel around. She walked around as if she had the deeds to the galaxy. It was if she could see what was real and you couldn't. On countless occasions the Spectre's bold actions had allowed them to prevail against seemingly impossible odds. But just as often it had been Liara's circumspection that had pulled them back from the brink. Whether foresight was something innate in Liara or the result of her continuing fascination with the Protheans, or with the unifying biotics - the asarian long view - Liara couldn't say. What she could say was that she had learned to trust Samantha's instincts. The Spectre's instincts held the firm belief that the crew would cooperate because she hadn't given them any other choice. She had bereft the crew of their independent natures of politics and race and forced them into a single functioning Unit. They were the Organics.
Liara watched as the mask of command fell over her lover. She watched in awe as this passed, even the crew members seemed to see the change despite the fact they might not have actually witnessed it. Shepard had a reputation for being cunning but it seemed now that the Spectre had overcome cunning a thousand years ago, had sped past devious, had left artful far behind and had in a round-about-route come to straightforward.
The captain moved up to the navigational galaxy map studying it for a long moment. There were nine clusters where Prothean data disks and caches had been discovered including the Local cluster. Ten systems and eleven planets well not all of them had been planets; a few had been asteroids to be fair. Two systems - two planets had had Prothean beacons. Some of those planets had Prothean ruins upon them. Pyramids, ancient temples and one with a hovering sphere and one without, though one was clearly there once upon a time. It was as if someone had done a fly-by and snatched the sphere from where it was supposed to be and buggered off without a clue as to where they had fled.
The Spectre rubbed her face with her hands and let out a breath of air. Finding a way to end the Reapers was presumably far easier said than done. Gut instinct took over the captain telling her the way to the Reapers were by those who where first wiped out by them. That left the Protheans. The obvious locations were Ilos, the other was Faros. Both had ruined Prothean buildings on it. It was difficult to say what was still hiding untouched on Faros and what the corporations had either stolen, reused, or relocated. ExoGeni had a way of doing that.
Ilos. It was obvious choice. Even if Vigil wasn't actually there any more there were resources to harvest. The geth had a foothold to be sure but with the firepower of Victory they could be neutralized. The Protheans had been utterly destroyed by the Reapers but Sovereign had been utterly destroyed by the united might of the military forces of Citadel space.
Taking an untrained or rather more accurately an untested team behind enemy lines wasn't the most prudent of decisions. They were far from untested as individuals but none of them had ever worked together. In the Spectre's opinion that was heading for disaster. However this mission would force cohesion at a much faster rate and that was a recipe for success.
Normandy's crew had been tried and tested against the geth, they had experience in fighting it. The others might have fought against them in fighters or aboard their own warships but not on the ground. Even if they had come across independent geth incursions the individual units had not worked together. There was no time for it; the enemy wasn't going to wait for them to get into a full fighting unit of warriors. They weren't impotent soldiers simply unaccustomed to each other. Ilos would force them to work as one. So Ilos it was.
From the files sent to her by the Council, one of the first places that might be advantageous to visit was Elysium.
How very strange it came all the way back to Elysium. Shepard scrubbed her face once again with her hands. How she hated Elysium. Oh not for exactly what happened there during the Skillian Blitz, but she couldn't set foot on the damned place without getting accosted by the fan-club. Trying to be gracious as an Officer and a Gentle-lady, Shepard spoke to her worshipers and smiled at the children who wanted to have their pictures taken with her and get her autograph. She had become an icon of heroism, and she simply allowed it, because truth-be-told it was far easier that way.
The reason Anderson spoke of Elysium was for a scientist named Kahlee Sanders. She had left the Systems Alliance Military for the Ascension Project, the new biotic program that had overtaken BAaT Training. Sanders had, according to Anderson, been a part of the initial contact with Saren and the investigation into the massacre at Sidon as well as the disappearance and murder of man named Dr. Shu Quian. Who incidentally was instrumental in the Alliance's dalliance into AI. Quian had undeniably dabbled with Sovereign. In fact he had been involved in uncovering the sleeping Reaper. The Batarians and Saren had taken it further. Or rather Saren had. Armed with the knowledge twenty years ago the turrian Spectre had sought out the only person he believed who could help him decipher the doctor's notes and that was Matriarch Benezia. All this information had been in custody of the Council long before the war broke out, however they didn't know exactly what they were sitting on until it was too late. Only now had the Council given the Spectre all the information Quian had gathered.
So not Ilos just yet .Elysium first or more particularly Grissom Station.
The Spectre wasn't sure what Sanders knew or what she hadn't already told the Alliance Systems Military. Of course the military hadn't believed Shepard any more than the Council had about the coming of the Reapers. The Council and the Military Brass had both believed the Reapers were nothing more than creation by Saren to bend the geth to his will. The Military believed Shepard was slowly losing her mind due to the beacons. Now they were all scrambling for her to do something to save them because she already knew how to fight them.
Reapers. What did she really know? What did any of them truly know? For reasons unknown, the Reapers culled the intelligent races of the galaxy, taking with them all technology and resources and leaving no evidence of their conquestonly desolate, barren ruins of those who came before. The Reapers were inevitably coming. Was this limited to the Milky Way or were other galaxies included? Shepard gave a brief thought of the other galaxies - no way to save them if the Reapers came for them.
The Reaper were far more patient than even the asari matriarchs. They would lie in a state of hibernation beyond in Dark Space until they felt their prey was at a point when they could be culled. Their trap was simple. A sentient species would develop FTL drive, but limited by the speed. The Reapers had left a network of relays capable of instant transport across the galaxy; the Reapers virtually ensured that it would be used. Placing the impressive Citadel at the hub of the rely network, the Reapers ensured that it would become the center of galactic civilization.
Sovereign had implied that the presence of the mass relays would lead the sentient species down a predetermined route with regards to weapons and armour technology both based on element zero technology. It was probable that this reduced the possibility of organic life discovering alternative, more advanced technology and progressing down a different path. Once the sentient races had established themselves on the Citadel with the aid of the keepersthe vanguard would send a signal to the organically created slaves to open the station's hidden mass relay.
A link between Citadel and Dark Space opened and a flood of Reapers would appear. They would start killing the leaders of the assembled species before branching out and obliterating all spacefaring life around them. The Reapers first entered the galaxy at the point that they have ensured will be the center of galactic politics, information and finance, they are able to decapitate any resistance almost before the prevailing civilizations has any idea what hit it. Control of the relay networks was of course the Citadel and gave them the ability to track down every settled planet and attack them, either strip-mining the words of resources or enslaving populations with indoctrination and turning them into sleeper agents. Once the Reapers had harvested the galaxy, they wiped every trace of their existence from record and retreat back into dark space.
Shepard had the scans from the Klendagon in the Hawking Eta cluster hinted that this has been going on for at least thirty-seven years. The problem with the Reapers was the whole indoctrination bit. Any organic exposed to a Reaper came to believe the synthetic AI were correct in their goals and will do anything to serve them. Gradually the mind was eroded until the individual became a mindless slave, unless they can prove their value.
Shepard looked up from the galaxy map, her eyes traveling to the asari crewmembers. The asari had immense mental strength. Matriarch Benezia resisted indoctrination but was only able to do so for a short time and only forestalled the inevitable. Benezia had deliberately allowed herself to be killed by the Spectre and Liara rather than risk falling under the power again. Even Saren had managed to pull away from the indoctrination and killed himself to prevent doing any further damage to the galaxy. Indoctrination was permanent.
But then there was Shiala.
Shiala had been freed.
She had been freed because of the Thorian. Indoctrination battled indoctrination. When the Thorian was destroyed Shiala was completely freed. Was that a key? But anyone studying the Thorian became indoctrinated. Breathing in the spores was a hell of a lot easier in exposure than being forced aboard a Reaper ship. No the Thorian was out. Besides there seemed to be only one and the Spectre had killed it.
Still they had the data ExoGeni had on the Thorian. They had more than data they had the minds responsible for the research. In the squad of scientist Dr. Lizbeth Baynham formally of ExoGeni's exobiology department had been recruited by Shepard on Liara's recommendation. The young woman knew of the Thorian's unique indoctrination tendencies, perhaps not as much as Shiala but she was still a valuable mind to have on the team. Her mother Dr. Juliana Baynham had also accompanied her daughter, aboard the Victory. The senior Baynham was an expert in retro-engineering and would be a valuable asset in uncovering Prothean technical secrets as well as perhaps those of the Reapers.
Other experts in the field of AI and VI technology was misters Jahleed the volas scientist who along with his salarian partner Chorban had developed medical devices to scan the keepers. Something that had never been done before. All their data on the insectiod creatures would be of extreme use in uncovering the secrets of the Reapers. Shepard had even press-gained the inventive salarian hacker Schells who once tried talking Shepard into cheating for him in Flux's gambling den. Shepard needed military cohesion but she also needed those who thought outside the box. The scrawny male was no good in a fight but he was a very good technician which made Schells an asset.
Another scientist had been recruited was a salarian toxicologist named who once worked at Peak 15 on Novaria. But after the incident with the Rachni Queen he wanted nothing more to do with Binary Helix and gladly joined up with Shepard. Palon wasn't the only one to have joined the CCS Victory from Noveria. The turian mechanic Lilihierax who continued to go by the name of Lee had eagerly joined the Spectre. He hated the corporate world with a passion. He hated polishing gizzard even more. Adams had accepted him and named him chief deck officer in charge of maintaining the makos as well as the fliers as the man was clearly qualified to work on all manner of military heavy vehicles. Tali was of course second in command of the whole engineering department.
The other face the Spectre took note in was the new addition to the medical team. Dr. Mal'dicta S'thasa. The asari was not only a very capable surgeon with extensive knowledge of anatomy both of her own species and of the others aboard the ship including quarian and volas, she was a fully trained commando and had fought in several skirmishes and battles and wars. The matron was an accomplished biotics on top of it all which made her a perfect field medic.
Shepard prowled her ship like a dog on the guard. They had an eight hour wait between berths from the Citadel to Grissom Station. She knew her wife was meeting with the scientists and would be wrapped up in dissecting the Prothean data disks previously gathered by the Normandy. The Spectre left them to it, trusting them to their work.
And then there was the politics. Shepard had never gained a handle on politics. She was too honest, too forthright for politics. It was full of traps for honest souls. So she had requested a liaison for 'POLITICS'. But not a diplomat. Diplomats were never ever to be trusted. And so she had sent to the Armali Council for a representative. It might have come to a surprise the name she put forth and further more the affirmative to the request. Mallene Calis.
There was a time when Shepard was in Port Hanshan in the Hotel Mezzanine that Mallene had tried to get Shepard to commit to espionage via a bribe. She had told the man from Binary Helix about the attempt to crack their data base and then turned around and told Mallene what she had done. When asked why she had done so, Shepard simply said it was against the law and she had attempted to bribe her. BH was now on the watch for her and that was more severe than a slap-on-the-wrist-fine. Mallene didn't seem at all angry about being turned in. In fact she seemed to respect the Spectre's choice. Shepard had proven to the asari she was no dull-stone after all. When she asked for a political liaison who wasn't a diplomat she got Mallene. She was named Corporate Political Liaison Officer and the title worked.
It seemed to her the crew had sectioned themselves off in departments rather than species. Well that wasn't completely honest; the soldiers had indeed separated themselves off according to their species. But then they would, their tactics were different. However they would need to train together if they were ever going to be successful. Sniper shots and guerrilla tactics from the asari to force the enemy to flee into a human-turian ambush and while distracted espionage crews of salarians would hack into the enemy computers and snatch away much needed information Shepard demanded they all train together to better efficacy. She also demanded those of the scientific crew capable of fighting to train with them. She also was insistent that her 'favored' groundside crew take every opportunity to train with the new squads.
There were three cavernous chambers that were the training rooms, on the same deck were the weapons lockers. Here Williams had called her home, no not home but her sanctuary As the XO she was now to be stationed at the CIC, but Williams had always found peace in weapons workshops.
Shepard padded up silently behind her 2IC, she had intended to startle Ash by asking her what she thought she was doing away from the CIC. She paused in mid-step hearing the words coming over the computer. "...consider the offer very carefully " Ash had sensed the presence of another behind her and quickly snapped off her computer.
"Skipper! I didn't know you were there." She swallowed hard. "I've finished with the daily department reports. I just took a bit of time for personal mail." Williams gave an unsteady grin. "My other sisters want to know how Abby's getting on, from their big sister's point of view." She gave the Spectre the steady, honest gaze of a born soldier.
Shepard held it, lie for lie.
Shepard's expression didn't change, but she felt herself turn into a small ball of rage behind it. Look at the eyes--look at the eyes liar. Liar! The question was why was Ashley lying to her? The Spectre's look became thunderous causing Ash to turn away. "By all means, Lieutenant if there are dull moments between missions catching up on private messages isn't against regulations." There was a gleam in her eyes that was an open declaration of war. They both knew who had the upper hand.
Williams bit her lip. The woman edged around so that the workbench was between her and the Spectre. She looked at her as a sentient soul looked at a very fierce dog on a very thin leash. Her face contorted in a series of twisted expressions as she experimented with replies.
"You have something to add, Lieutenant?"
"Er, no .ma'am." Her face was gray which the Spectre's stare could do.
"Very well, carry on then." Her voice said with snow on it.
Williams watched her commanding officer leave with footsteps that made no sound at all but she could feel the vibrations of each crashing step after crashing step. The younger woman shuddered. She had been caught out, and yet Shepard smiled at her! The Captain knew .she knew she had been lied to and said nothing, pretended not to know she had been lied to. Ash's hands had become fists though she didn't know when it had happened she only knew they had been fists because now they were smarting for having hit the surface of the work-bench. She flexed the fingers a few times, at least they weren't broken.
She opened the message again. It was such a small thing, the request from the sender. Such a small price a small thing for the promise for greater things. For something she had wanted all her life, it was right there at her fingertips. She looked up to the door where the Spectre had vanished and winced for feeling the temptation to answer the offer with an affirmative. Without looking to the terminal she shut it down and attempted in vanity to lose herself in the tediousness of modifying the new colossus armor. "Damn it." She cursed. She picked up the tools then a trembling hand dropped them. "Damn it! God damn it!"
The Spectre railed against the lie, against the blatant dishonesty of the lie. The friend justified the lie; it wasn't what she thought it was there was a reasonable explanation. The officer fumed against the lie, against the blatant infraction of regulations. The Spectre won. And the Spectre would wait for the reasonable explanation that surely must exist. It had to. It just had to. The alternative was unbelievable but .not unthinkable. Because it had already been thought even if it had been a silent thought. The Spectre wouldn't allow herself to speak the word even in a whisper. The unbelievable word though thinkable wasn't speakable.
The three in her agreed to think not of the 'T' word. This wasn't treason this was .was fraternization with a fellow officer. Yes that had to be why Ashley lied. Williams was having an affair with another on board the ship and obviously someone of lower rank or higher rank. Considering she was the XO of the ship that was pretty much everyone. That's against regulations. Of course it could be a civilian. Secret love affair. That's fine. Nothing to worry about. Not a thing. Nothing whatsoever in any way. Everything was absolutely nothing to worry about in any way. She ran a hand around the back of her neck. Right.
She moved to the ship's stores to inform Corporal Merkerson (formally of the Normandy as her requisition's officer) to take a shuttle down to Elysium to accept shipments of mods, armaments, weapons.
"Already anticipated that Captain, I'm all over it." He gave a watery smile "Any chance of new licenses?" his voice rose in pitch in the hopes of possibility of getting his hands on extremely rare asari mods. Oh the Spectre had acquired the very rare Armali Council licenses but there were others from the asari he coveted. Some only the very powerful could get their hands on.
"I doubt it, besides it's a human colony they won't have Spectre quality goods at any rate. The only place for that is the Citadel. Still they'll have access to good equipment. Get what you can if there is any difficulties send a com to me and I'll assist in sorting it out. I doubt you will have at any rate, word that a Spectre ship has arrived and the merchants will be scrambling to sell you their wares." Shepard flashed an easy smile at the disbelieving corporal. "Sometimes it's good to pull rank. But this also means it goes into the ship's profits and not your own as it is the Council who is fitting the bill for the most part. Any separate deals you are still allowed to make but not on the Council's dime. Got it?"
"Aye-aye ma'am." Merkerson said with a smile that all accountants possess when the fiscal year comes up. A look Shepard interpreted as calculating. Of course Merkerson would be attempting to figure out an angle to where he could make a profit. But then there wasn't a requisition officer in the Fleet who didn't try to make a profit. If there was, Shepard wouldn't have trusted him for being so very honest. You could trust a slightly dishonest requisition officer to be dishonest and somehow cheat you, it was to be expected. You caught them out, they apologized for trying to make a credit or two on your dime and took something off the next order and the process started all over again. You couldn't trust a fully honest requisition officer because you never knew what angles they had or where they were coming from.
"I been working on a deal to get a few new licenses myself but I thought you might be able to get them faster."
"This isn't a trading vessel Corporal." The Spectre reminded him. "The way I see it we don't need any more licenses, we get what we need as it is with what we have."
The corporal opened his mouth to argue the finer points of trade negation but stopped short. Captain Samantha Shepard was a shrewd calculating warrior and galactic hero but a merchant she wasn't and therefore she would never see the finer points of the Markets. As long as her ship was well stocked, gear top notch she was content to settle for what she had.
"Aye aye ma'am." He said again
A bleep alerted Aleene that her private extranet account had new messages. In fact she received several official bursts every fifteen minutes. Piggybacking personal messages onto the official busts was one on of the perks of her position.
Aleene frowned, recognizing the sender's address. It wasn't exactly a surprise, but she wasn't happy to see the file. Because it meant others had this intel as well. For a second the bounty hunter toyed with the idea of ignoring it. But that was foolish. Besides she had a headway against her competitors and she wasn't going to lose it. Not now. She had her mark and she wasn't going to lose it.
It wouldn't be the first time she had taken out or tried to neutralize a competitor. Take Wrex for example. She had spent days aboard a salarian space station trying to kill Wrex and avoid being inhumed by the krogan at the same time all because she was the named contract. Before that they had tried to kill each other over the same contract over some turian. So if she wanted keep her mark safe she would have to protect her. Or rather them. But how do you secretly protect an overprotective Spectre protecting her wife?
That wasn't going to be easy. But that wasn't half the problem. Half the problem was getting close and gaining trust. She had to make herself invaluable to the Spectre on a personal level. That meant getting close to the ground crew. A novice might try and get close to Liara but the Spectre would suspect that. Getting close to the favored ground crew now that check and mate.
Opening the e-mail she wasn't surprised to find the Spectre's new locale was given. And where the human Spectre was there would be Liara T'soni.
So, the traitor on the ship was giving information away like sweets. Hum that was going to make things difficult in the protection line. Aleene would have to uncover who was the loose lipped betrayer if she wanted to keep her mark to herself. Goddess damn it to the Progenitor's gullet! Why in the Abyss did things have to become so complicated? Protecting the mark was going to be difficult enough without trying to fish out who was the slimy back stabbing squid of traitor so she could inhume the motherless spawn before they made it impossible to protect Liara. Her face turned into that universal default expression of all bounty hunters everywhere that said this: 'You are all ready dead only my patience stands in the way.'
"Aw, Dr. S'thasa," Chakwas' refined British accent floated through the med bay as she addressed the emerald skinned asari. "I was hoping to consult you on the physiology of Joined-minds."
Aleene turned and flashed a true smile of interest. "I noticed you didn't say asari Joined-minds. May I be so presumptuous to believe this might be about Captain Shepard and Dr. T'soni?"
The human nodded. "I must admit I'm not fully versed in telepathic connections but it is vital that I become so."
Aw there it was! The way in. Medicine. As Doctor Mal'dicta S'thasa, Aleene had managed to infiltrate the Spectre's ship but not the Spectre's company. Now she had a way into the lives of her targets - a way to protect them from being inhumed by rivals so she could have the privilege of collecting herself.
"I'll be happy to. But I must admit this deep connection between the Spectre and Dr. T'soni is something beyond my practical experience. But I am knowledgeable about Joined Minds having been Joined myself."
"You're Joined?" Chakwas asked softly. She was clearly keenly interested in the answer.
"Not anymore. It was a long time ago and a time best left in the past."
Chakwas nodded and understood the silent request Mal'dicta wasn't going to share further. "I understand." She gave a small smile. "So about the data ."
Coffee was only a way of stealing time that by rights belonged to your slightly older self. Liara had two cups. Which made her feel quite asari and made her feel capable of handling long hours with even longer questions.
She much preferred to work alone; she had never been good at teamwork, that is to say academic team work. You couldn't travel with the Spectre and not become good with martial teamwork. Now she had thirty scientists under her command. The young woman muttered a litany of prayers to Athame that she wouldn't make a fool of herself as soon as she opened her mouth.
Liara was in her element with digs, computers, data chips and remote places, but a room filled with scientists wasn't something was she familiar with. Well that wasn't exactly true she had been to symposiums but that wasn't in command capacity. Touching Samantha's mind Liara know how to take command of those who didn't want be controlled because they felt they would be the one to have that control. The first thing was to establish the line in the sand that said, I'm the commander, you're my squad and you will obey. If you don't like it's to damn bad, because by being here you agreed to be a follower and you will follow me.
"We have a duty before us," she started briskly. Making sure all eyes were now on her rather in little huddles of chittering, gossiping individuals. "On your arrival you were given OSD copies of the Prothean data, as well as how and where they were found. I've also asked you to compare them to any and all other data you might have come across to uncover anything that spoke of the Reapers, indoctrination, cycles of extinction or technology the Protheans themselves uncovered. Thoughts?"
"I found it was fascinating to discover that the planets and asteroids the disks were discovered were classified levels one and two hazards in pressures, toxins and frozen temperatures. Others were carbonaceous, and had high concentrations of heavy and light metals." Abby Williams said. "Outside technology I've found the Protheans geological surveys very fascinating. They had a way to mine for minerals and metals that didn't completely destroy the environment around them. They turned their mines into colonies afterwards. Take the space station Omega for instance. The whole place was once mining station; once they cleared it out they made it a home."
"What does that have to do with anything?" asked Chorban asked in the typical salarian speed and impatience that comes with having to deal with anyone who didn't speak as rapidly as they did. Of course salarians never respected humans thinking them dull and stupid because of how slow they were. One wonders what the salarians think of the elcor.
"Well the beacons were found on lush worlds like Eden Prime and Virmire." Dr. Williams continued. "I don't know if it is relative or not but it seems important. The pyramids were found on worlds rich with minerals but tended to have a toxicity hazarded for most sentients and the disks were found on the most inhospitable of places. Were these places like that fifty thousands years ago or did the Reapers make them like that? So if they were made like that it means that the Protheans are more like us. Er no offence to the volas crewmembers. But if those places were always like that then it means the Protheans either lived like the quarians in environmental suits or they were adaptive and could readily survive any environment. You said Vigil had expected that someone would come along and open them up just like the Captain and have it figured it out that intergalactic culling will happen. So it's possible they put data disks and beacons on variety of worlds with different environments hoping they will be uncovered by whomever who could survive on those planets or asteroids."
Liara paused to consider this. She had found ruins on worlds that were volcanic, frozen, toxic and fairly dead worlds. She had even been to Sharing and her sixty moons. They all showed Prothean developments. In the same system as Faros, the planet Ogl had an Earth like atmosphere. And Quana had Prothean mining infrastructure. But unlike Faros the Quanaian necropolis was intact but devoid of anything valuable having been long since raided.
Liara had never found anything. But then what was she looking for? If they could go back there, they might find something like on Ilos. It was a long shot so long Liara would have to press Shepard to go. What if anything would they find there - a pyramid, the orbs, a beacon nothing?
It was so easy to feel as if you were given a puzzle with both sides painted, no corners or edges or the picture on the box but you were expected to put it together just to save all sentient life. How did you put a puzzle like that together? Where do you start?
Everyone seemed to be considering this, what if any relevance was there to the environment and the relics of the Protheans? Was it a shotgun way of getting information out or was it something else. Ilos was important, surly but so was Quana. They had to go to the silent necropolises. It was important.
"Thank you, Dr. Williams that is a theory worth pursuing and we will."
The young woman beamed in the praise of a scientist she had always admired, because in her view the asari archeologist was simply brilliant. She was a geologist yes, but Abby had an amateur's fascination for archeology. And considering that the Protheans mined minerals and metals then built colonies fell into her field via the back door.
"While this has interesting," the distinct click-hiss of environmental suit's com-system, "I am more interested in Vigil. You said it is a Prothean AI that is still functioning?"
"It was losing continuity when we left Ilos. Whether or not it is still functioning is unknown and as it is unknown it is a waste of time attempting to plan accordingly. However, I would shape a plan around the fact the AI is not functioning. Still Ilos holds a multitude of secrets that need to be uncovered. There are databanks and armature controls "
"Armature controls!" this came as a bark from one Mr. Chorban. "You didn't say anything about that!" his voice carried the unmistakable notes that he thought he was owed an explanation.
Liara narrowed her eyes. 'So this is command, is it?' Samantha had once said sometimes it's necessary to puff your chest, stare hard and lower your voice to the point that it vibrated even the elcor base tones. "MISTER Chorban, if I was in your place I would recall my position lest I lose sight of it. May I be so bold as to ask what is your rank amongst the crew?"
This seemed to confuse the salarian. "My my rank?"
"I thought it was a relative elementary question. Perhaps I should speak more slowly so that you understand." Liara said pulling on her inner Benezia. She knew she had insulted the scientists. Telling a salarian you would speak slowly was like telling him he was a dull stone.
"Oh. Yes of course, forgive me." There was a bit of ice in Liara's voice that Benezia would have used when addressing anyone she considered beneath her, even if they didn't understand that they were beneath her. How thick was the iceberg Saran had to climb without knowing he was climbing it? "You don't necessarily have a rank do you? That is to say you don't even have the position to head the AI/ VI department. Perhaps you believed the lack of rank allows you to assume one and one that places you as Head of the Sciences. I can understand this given your former affiliations. No matter I shall happily clarify this simple matter, MISTER Chorban if necessary."
Benezia would have been proud. Liara actually felt Samantha beaming in pride.
Shiala was stricken just how much Liara sounded like Benezia for a moment it was as if she was the presence of her former mistress.
Chorban visibly shuddered. "No I I .forgive me Dr. T'soni. I was caught up in the idea of a Prothean AI."
"Of course you were." Liara allowed the slippery thin excuse to pass. "As for the armature controls we gained control over them and were able to make the armatures to fight for us. This is no small thanks the Spectre's talents. We made the geth fight for us. Against other geth. Against Saren. Against Sovereign. Mind that next time you pose questions, please it will waylay these rather embarrassing moments."
"Yes ma'am," the salarian turned his head a side clearly humiliated, "of course ma'am." He swallowed very very hard.
Liara chanced a look to all the other figures in the lab. All of them were stricken slightly pale. Of all of them the palest was Shiala. It had to be the inner Benezia. That was the answer to a spoken question. The inner Benezia raised her head and took full command.
"Why why is a Spectre coming here?" asked Jiro one of the head scientists of the Ascension Project to the Project leader.
Kahlee Sanders shook her head. "I don't know. And apparently they don't have to say. She's only said I was to meet her and it was confidential."
"Do you think she's investigating the training here?" the man continued to ask, his nerviness almost tangible.
It should have bothered Sanders that her part-time boyfriend was growing anxious about the prospect of a Spectre coming to the station. But then anyone would be anxious about the prospect of a Spectre coming anywhere in their vicinity on official duty.
Hendel who was the station's head of security harrumphed. He hadn't overlooked the antsy behavior of the scientist. Why would the man be nervous about a Spectre, if he hadn't done anything wrong? Nevermind the fact anytime a Spectre came along they were either after trouble or it came in their wake.
"She wouldn't say only that she was coming here on a matter of the utmost security." Kahlee repeated. She wasn't keen on Spectres. After all the last one she had encountered was twenty years ago and that was Saren. Facing the Spectre who had hunted down and was instrumental in neutralizing the turian Spectre was more than a little nerve-wracking. It was said Shepard was a very powerful biotic and was married to the daughter of the most powerful biotic in Citadel space. Nerve-wracking didn't begin to cover the emotions Kahlee Sanders was feeling.
Why was a Spectre coming?
Return to Mass Effects Fiction
Return to Main Page