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
Out of the Woodwork
Victory approached the medium-sized space station that was Grissom Academy. Half a dozen small docking bays were built along its exterior, each capable of accommodating small to medium sized vessels. Fortunately the Victory fit into the latter. Most of the time the port played host to supply ships bringing necessary resources from Elysium to keep the Academy functioning.
Elysium hovered awe-inspiringly below the observation window. It looked like a blue and white marble, like Earth a thousand years ago, before the mega-metropolises.
A few seconds later the Spectre's ship an asari bird of prey - a frigate drifted silently into view. Her pilot was an expert; make no mistake as he settled the ship into a position to allow the automated docking clamps to lock her into place. The fully enclosed platform extended out from the station to connect with the frigate's airlock that would equalize the internal pressures of the ship to the station.
Staring intently out of the window were Kahlee, Hendel and Jiro, all eyes were on the confident figure of a woman. Her shining black and red colossus armor proudly proclaimed her identity. This was the Spectre. She wasn't heavily armed, carrying only a pistol at her side, but then she was a very powerful biotic she didn't need a lot of weapons. The three others at her side were asari, one sapphire, emerald and the other violet. Like the Spectre they were only armed with pistols. That said a lot.
It said that the Spectre wasn't concerned she would be out gunned because when you could control gravitational fields, generate singularities you didn't need an army, and you didn't need a lot of weapons.
Hendel turned to Kahlee as she was the head of the Academy. "Do we confiscate the pistols?"
The woman shook her head. "There for show. Spectres are always heavily armed, she shows up with only a pistol? Why? Because she's on a station filled with children?"
"Maybe, but I think it has more to show she's not limited to firearms." Jiro said staring at the dark haired woman with a keen interest. "How powerful is she?"
"According to the news-vids she repelled several mass-tons of a ship's hull from crushing her to death and she was already drained. It was like when she was first here on Elysium. She had rallied the colonists and security forces to fight but when it looked like they were going to lose they fled into underground bunkers and left Shepard to fight the platoon alone. She used her biotics to a point that should have killed her to fight off the enemy forces. Even then it was said she was as powerful as an asari huntress." Kahlee answered.
"I've seen the news-feeds." Hendel said admiringly. "The way she took down that rogue agent Saren was incredible. She shoved her pistol into his gizzard and continued to fire until her gun nearly exploded in her hand. She's N7-trained special-ops - she would continue to fight even if her body was dead. She wouldn't allow herself to be dead until the mission was over, if it came right down to it. That's hardcore, that is."
"If she's biotic where did she train?" Jiro asked. "She looks to be about the right age to have been at BAaT program at Gagarin Station."
Hendel shook his head. "No she wasn't there. I knew everyone there. I was good friends with a good number of 'em. If she was there I would have known about it, everyone would have known. She would have a lot of attention just like my friend Rhanna. I suspect she had private tutors. I heard a few young biotics were selected for an even more hushed-up trial program than BAaT, which enlisted the aid of the asari to train them. And all of them were females. Apparently males have an unhealthy obsession with asari so they wouldn't take any."
"I always thought that 'secretly-trained-by-asari' to be rumor and urban myth." Jiro sounded a little concerned. But then there are a lot of secret programs going on behind a lot of thick doors. Look at Cerberus after all as a matter of course don't look too closely at Cerberus, the young man thought. It would lead to some very complicated questions he had no desire to answer.
He had to wonder though did the Illusive Man know about the Spectre's secret training? Of course he did, the Man had to know. He had to know just how powerful she was. Wasn't wasn't Shepard responsible for shutting down several research facilities? Hadn't she taken a Cerberus agent into custody on Ontarom for what had happened at Akuze and the thresher maws? And now she was here? 'Don't panic! Don't panic! Excuse yourself and make a call to the Man .that's all I have to do She doesn't know anything. If she did Hendel would have done something by now. No don't do anything. You're being paranoid. Don't do a gods damn thing.'
Hendel drew in a breath, "Alright, let's go down and meet our guests." The large soldier smiled at the prospect of his male counterpart being unnerved at the Spectre's arrival.
"Actually bring her to the reception hall, Hendel. I don't want to appear too eager to meet her. I need your appraisal of her."
"You think she's anything like that turian?" Jiro asked tentatively.
"No. I was told by Councilor Anderson that she was going to arrive; he would have been more guarded if she were like Saren. Besides she used to serve under him before the Normandy became hers. I heard it in his voice, he's proud of her, more than that he respects her."
"Councilor Anderson? Ha! I still think it should have been Udina to have been given that spot. I think he got shafted by the double-dealing Council if you ask me.' Jiro said.
"Yeah, but no one did ask you did they?" Hendel growled. "I doubt she's after dusters, but there is a chance she could say find out about someone who is."
Jiro shot the other man a glance. "We have no proof Grayson is a duster."
"Then you're as blind as you are ."
"Gentlemen!" Kahlee snapped bringing both men to attention. "It's best not to keep the Spectre waiting. They are not known for their patience," she warned thinking again of Saren and the run-ins she had had with the rogue. She still had nightmares of him storming into her father's house and demanding answers for what happened at Sidon.
Now twenty years later another Spectre was here after answers about what happened at Sidon.
Spectres paragon or rogue always made things difficult. Elite agents of the Citadel's covert Special Tactics and Recon branch, Spectres answered directly to the Council itself. Highly trained individuals authorized to act above and outside the law, the Spectres had one special mandate: protect galactic stability at any and all costs.
The Spectre gave a small glance to the heavy red velvet rope snaking back and forth in the bay to usher passengers through customs. Being a Spectre she didn't have to stand in the queue. She passed the ropes, the yellow painted line on the floor and the armed Alliance guards. They started to move forward but stopped.
"I am Captain Shepard, Spectre. Stand-down."
At once the guards obeyed. She out ranked them in both the military and as a Spectre. Even if they had been ordered to oppose her there was no way they would stand up to her. They had seen the vids, they knew she had taken out an asari matriarch, a rogue Spectre and his army of geth and was instrumental in the attack on Saren's warship. Besides you couldn't confiscate biotics.
The first to enter the room was a tall rusty-brown haired male, over six feet tall, a thick neck, chest, and arms with a beard closely cropped and mustache in the same style as Joker's. He like Shepard had a slightly darker skin tone that hinted at a mixed heritage. He was Scandinavian-Spanish, where she was Native-American and English-Scandinavian. He had a military swagger about him, Shepard had come to recognize as full of rules, regulations and care for those under his command. Those under his command were the children. The Spectre approved. That is, until he spoke.
"Hendel Mitra, Chief of Station Security."
Shepard all but rolled her eyes. In her experience station security captains always puffed out their chests trying to prove their power and at the same time ignoring the Spectre's rank. And if they weren't doing it their second in command was. There were times when Shepard wondered if this was why the Spectres had a rough and almost ruthless reputation. They were continuously being challenged over their position and so they shoved back. Hard.
"Samantha Shepard, Council Spectre." She said in a voice that said 'challenge me and I'll make sure you'll have a very very bad day. I really don't want to do it in a station filled with kids but I will.' You could say a lot in a tone of voice or look that was never vocally spoken aloud.
He only nodded which said to her. 'I understand your rank; you won't get any trouble out of me or my people.'
"This is Dr. Liara T'soni and Commander Shiala of Armali and this is Dr. Mal'dicta S'thasa. Take me to Dr. Sanders now, please."
"She's in the reception hall, I'll be happy to escort you." Hendel turned and headed back the way he came.
Well the man was military. He understood that the chain of command was sacrosanct in the Force. Despite the fact Shepard no longer served the military, she was MILITARY. Shepard reasoned this was why she hadn't been faced with the hassle she had encountered on Noveria and the bloody stupid ERCS security teams.
As they made their way to the halls of the academy, Shepard was well aware of many little eyes on her. She knew she had been deliberately taken through the corridors of classrooms. The message said. 'Try anything and these are the faces that will suffer for it. Could you do that? Bring harm to all these innocents?'
Shepard bristled slightly under the assumption that she might have done something that would have endangered the children. "This station seems exceptionally large even for a boarding school just to train a handful of biotics." Shepard said. "And it isn't like Jump Zero, which is also a space port."
"This isn't just a school for biotics. Grissom Academy is also a school for math and science geniuses and music prodigies. For music we are second only to Juilliard back on Earth. Their education is one finest in the Alliance. Here they can reach their full potential." Hendel said proudly. "The parents entrust their education and well being to us."
"The children here are separated from their parents?" Liara asked Hendel horrified. "You were separated from your parents?" she asked this time the question was directed to the Spectre.
"Dr. T'soni not all of us are as fortunate as the asari or those who had private asari tutors." Hendel all but spat in a voice cool and leveled. "Some of us older biotics the L2's were even abandoned by our parents. There is still a lot of terror and prejudice against biotics even from their own families. In the past, parents disowned kids with biotic potential because they feared them. BAaT came forward took the unwanted kids, hooked them up with amps and then turned them over to turian tutors. The L4 kids in the Ascension Program are not isolated, but they need special care and teaching." Hendel turned to look at the four young women. "Asari don't ship their kids off to boarding schools?"
"Not at such a delicate age, no. An asari daughter is trained by specialists yes, but the children remains in the care of her mother or parents. It is her mother that guides her daughter through the first understanding of mind melds. The bond between mother and daughter is strong and the first mind melds are very intense and place the child in a state of vulnerability. The familiar comfort and care of her mother's mind will guide the child into the safe recesses of the mind. She learns to protect her mind, to shield and also open herself. No mother would entrust another to have such an intimate connection to her daughter. No asari would take advantage of a daughter, but the maternal instinct is very strong. When a youngling is ready she will begin training to become a huntress. At that time yes she is sent into boarding academies. " Shiala explained.
"Ah." Hendel said. "Yes, but um humans as you know, don't do mind melds. I know asari can mind meld with anyone but the rest of us can't." he smiled as he now understood the young woman's shock of young kids taken away from their parents. "And even if this is a boarding school, their parents are allowed to visit anytime." There seemed to be something left unsaid, 'Sometimes even when we don't want them to.'
Liara hadn't given much thought about how human biotics were trained; only that they had been. She knew humans like other non-asari suffered headaches, Kaiden had and there were times when Samantha had. The meditations were helping with that. "Do you implement meditations to assist with the headaches?" Liara said maneuvering the topic to less toxic ground. "There are several asari techniques that should help."
"We have consulted the asari in this on occasionally. Dr. Sanders wants to negotiate to have tutors come from Thessia to aid in the teaching. Political red tape and military interests are difficult boundaries to hurdle over." The large man said. "There's been little progress so far."
"Maybe Sanders is just waiting for a certain Spectre to say a word or two in the right ear?" Shepard said off-handedly.
"I wouldn't know about that Captain. My tasks are to ensure the kids don't throw each other into a biotic scuffle and try to teach them something along the way."
"Discipline can be difficult with younglings who possess command over their environment and potentially others." Shiala said. "More than a century I have taught younglings to use their biotics."
Hendel turned to the violet skinned woman. She and Liara both were accustomed to such a gobsmacked expression. Short lived species often found it difficult to reconcile a young face with centuries of living.
"May I ask how you disciplined them?" the man asked.
"Running laps to start." Liara said more or less under her breath that got Shepard to smirk. "Laps and then the harsher forms of disciplinary actions take place."
Hendel raised an eyebrow. "Running laps?"
"Corporal discipline only reveals violence is violence - a lesson of might makes right. That is no lesson to be learned. Asari younglings must learn the consequences of their actions. If they have harmed another with their biotics, a mentor will make a connection between the one harmed and the wrong-doer so the assailant will experience the humiliation and pain of the injured party. Manual labor also works." Shiala smiled oddly, "Being forced to thoroughly clean and polish several intricate statues with a toothbrush tends to make one think twice about inappropriate behavior. Mucking out animal stalls, weed removal, making organic compost, cleaning out fish ponds or other similar tasks is also effective."
Hendel smiled conspiratorially. "Manual labor--the more intricate and smelly the better. This is a space station we don't actually have horses. But there are gardens to be tended. Compounded with restrictions on their vids, games or other private entertainment it could make them think twice about misbehaving. But they will still leave here arrogant snot-nosed punks. Back in my day you got slapped up side the head so hard your ears bled."
"We have been forced in confrontations with several biotics from the BAaT training." Shepard said almost regretfully. "We were forced to neutralize them. Reason or corporal punishment didn't seem be effective."
Hendel turned on her, "I didn't say it was the best way, Spectre. But lectures and lockdowns don't leave a lasting impression."
"Have you attempted a more academic method?" Dr. S'thasa said for the first time.
"What do you mean? What writing lines? Make them write a thousand times 'Biotic pushes are not to be used to shove a person down the steps.'"
"Not exactly," Shiala clarified. "A malcontent will be instructed to write a five hundred word report on rules, regulations and why they believe they are above the laws. They are forced to justify their actions. That report is then given to the malcontent's mother, as well as the head-mistress and they are further forced to read the report aloud to classmates. The reports follow the child through her entire academic career.
"Asari are far-seeing beings Mr. Mitra. The prospect of malcontent-justification reports following them throughout their years in education has its effects. Their inappropriate behavior soon stops. No asari desires to have their futures marred by behavior that is unacceptable. More than one and those reports become a permanent part of their records."
"Those reports could follow them into their careers, could it not?" Hendel seemed to think.
"Yes." Liara said.
"Just think of it if they wanted to enlist." Shepard said. "Those reports would be seen by the commander of Basic Training and follow them in their records wherever they go. If they wanted to go corporate, I don't think the CEO of a company will think well on those reports."
Hendel opened his mouth to say more but they had arrived at the reception room. He ushered the four women into the room. The room itself was tastefully if not utilitarian in design. Soft taupe carpeting, four dark blue sofas and matching armed chairs encircling a low coffee glass-topped table. The table itself had the latest issues of several journals on music, science digests and understanding biotics. Along with the periodicals were brochures on the academy itself, explaining its function, classes offered and the facilities at the disposal of the students and staff.
Shepard noted two other doors on the opposite wall, one no doubt lead to the admitting office the other was possibly the office of Dr. Sanders. The Spectre took note of the woman of almost fifty years old. She had aged gracefully and was indeed beautiful and still would be for years to come.
Next to the sandy blonde woman was a young man of Asian descent with spiky dyed-red hair. It looked like he had just rolled out of bed. He shifted slightly under the scrutiny of the Spectre's stare but tried to force on an expression of calm and bravado. Neither Shepard nor the asari were impressed.
'And here I was concerned the security chief will try to pull some-I'm-bigger-than-you-are-crap.' The Spectre thought to herself.
"Spectre Shepard, I'm Dr. Kahlee Sanders, director of the Grissom Academy and the Ascension Program. And this is Dr. Jiro Toshiwa he is "
"Leaving." The Spectre demanded though her tone was neither crisp nor harsh, it was even and expected to be obeyed.
The young man opened his mouth to speak but Hendel cut him off. "You heard the Spectre, Jiro." He turned to the dark haired warrior. "I'm going to hazard a guess you want me gone too."
The Spectre smiled slightly and nodded. "This meeting must be confidential, Chief." she offered no apologies She didn't have to they were both military. She returned the crisp salute the security chief offered.
The women watched as Hendel manhandled the younger man out of the room before they turned their attention back to each other and the reason for the visit.
"Dr. Sanders let's cut to the chase." Shepard started once the men had left. "Councilor Anderson informed me that when he was a lieutenant he worked with you twenty years ago on the Sidon incident and you had encounters with Saren. He told me of your former CO and colleague Dr. Qian and the illegal experimentation the Alliance undertook with AI technology. I have the reports former Ambassador Goyle gave to the Council but I need more than that. Qian found Sovereign in a state of hibernation. I need to know where. I need to know how he got on board, when you first noticed a change in his demeanor and I need you to look over the notes he made. I need you to add your own interpretations to those we already have."
"I don't know how Dr. Qian got on board. At the time we only knew that he had discovered some kind of alien artifact. Most of us thought it was Prothean, others believed it predated them."
"If he was your mentor how could you not know what he was working on?" Liara asked incredulously.
"He kept us in the dark. He treated us like lab-monkeys, running data he gathered from his tests and experiments. Only Qian knew all of the details about the artifact; where it was, what it was, what it did. He went missing about the same time Sidon was attacked, though I didn't know it at the time. The reports had stated there were no survivors of Sidon and the bodies had been deliberately burned beyond identification."
"He was probably extracted during the attack, which was more than likely a distraction to do just that." Shepard said.
"I wasn't there I " Kahlee said. "I left when I felt something wrong. I can't describe it now any more than I could then. Only that something was wrong with Qian."
"That would be indoctrination." Shiala said evenly.
"Indoctrinated into what?" Kahlee asked. "Does it have something to do with Saren's attack on the Citadel?"
"Very much so," Liara said.
The asari noticed that the Spectre hadn't spoke of Sovereign or the Reapers and they were mindful not to speak of synthetics themselves. "As you remember your former mentor well I want you to look over these transcripts of his notes." Shepard handed Kahlee an OSD.
Sander's hands shook as she took the small data strip. "How how did you get these?"
"They were in the possession of Saren," was all the Spectre offered.
Kahlee slipped the OSD into her Omni tool and began to scan the reports. A puzzled expression washed over her features. "This is his work but the language the phraseology isn't his."
"No. Saren gave the reports to another he was working with, his second in command. She transcribed his work. But the notes are very elusive to where the relic was discovered. They speak of the Perseus Veil and the Terminus Systems but they become vague after that. Saren's agent believed Qian was speaking in code. One only he knew. I think you might know as well. Comments he might have said, particular phrases that might be in the typical hearing mundane or nonsocial could have a double meaning. It is very clear the man was become more and more delusional. And in that delusion I believe he wrote where the relic was discovered."
Kahlee gave a moment to digest all that the Spectre had told her and more importantly what she hadn't said. She hadn't named Saren's XO. That hadn't gone unnoticed. Still recalling the cold-harshness of Saren, Kahlee could see the same cool resolve reflected in the black-haired woman before her. There was a significant difference in that similar gaze: there was a careful kindness - a quiet nobility to the expression.
This was Captain Samantha Shepard. A Living legend just like Kahlee's father Jon Grissom who has the commander of the first mission through the Chiron mass relay in the Sol System. Her father was a hero yes, but his limelight was fading due to the new heroics of Shepard. She was the only reason Elysium was still standing today. Many lives owed their existence and freedom due to her efforts in holding off an entire platoon until reinforcements arrived.
You couldn't walk the streets of Elysium now without coming across a pub or bar that had her name on it, doubtful this young woman even knew. One of the main thoroughfares was named Shepard's Way and another called Samantha Shepard Boulevard. There was even a small recreational area called the Samantha Shepard Park.
The older human studied the readouts on her Omni tool and gave a rather hopeless shrug to Shepard. "I know he was into fishing but even these ramblings about the one that got away. 'It was too bad because it was big enough to satisfy even Jonah's finicky tastes for sushi' makes no sense to me. I don't recall any personal by the name Jonah being at Sidon." She frowned. "I'll have to check my own notes on the place but I don't recall this Four-I: Job-thirty-eight either. But we were segregated; it could be referring to another project some of the other researchers were working on."
"Yes, but unfortunately you are the only one alive from Sidon. The others are dead, the records destroyed. All I have to go on is your memory and any files you had on you when you went AWOL." Shepard said evenly.
Kahlee sucked on a deep breath trying to calm her nerves. She kept looking at the binary coding: Four-I: Job-thirty-eight. The Systems Alliances relied on such coding for nearly everything. Take the vocational codes for instance--the N7's to be precise. The N designates Special Forces. The seven referred to the highest level of proficiencies. It was applied to marines who have graduated from elite training program and show immense skill in the field. "Maybe he inverted the four and the 'I' to hide the vocational amplitude."
"I-Four has nothing to do with AI or VI's. It's not even used in their field." Shepard shook her head.
"Perhaps it refers to a certain client one that would be vocationally considered this I-Four." Liara reasoned.
"What is this vocational classification?" Aleene asked.
"All twenty-six letters of the Western alphabet in the Systems Alliance are used as well as numbers one through seven to indicate proficiency in a certain vocation in the military. And trust me the letters have nothing to do with the vocation. I am an N-Seven. N isn't even in the spelling of Special Forces. The codes make sense to those who made it up. To the rest of us, is simply the MILITARY way of doing things. The Military has always used binary codes for nearly everything. It's tradition.
"I doubt that code is inverted, we simply do not have the key to his coding. He's trying communicate something and I think you know what it is. Think back on the man you knew, you thought you knew and the man rambling on in the margins of his notes. Your specialty was once encryption and security algorithms, Miss Sanders. Look at them again." Kahlee took the command in. Shepard was not bullying or even pulling her Spectre's rank demanding respect. She spoke like any commanding officer and expected to be obeyed. End of story.
Sanders read and reread the notes. She repeatedly came across the words, 'taninim,' 'Four-I', 'lost-lies', 'buggy-eyed-chipmunks squeaking about tanimim lost.' "I think I figured out one of the words. Qian was .a bigot. After the war he didn't trust the Council races. He called salarians buggy-eyed-chipmunks." She looked rather embarrassed to have to admit it. 'Please God don't ask what he called asari!'
"Buggy-eyed-chipmunks?" Shepard lifted a pencil thin eyebrow. "He served in the First Contact war didn't he?"
"I did too, so did Anderson. Not everyone who served in the war came out a bigot." Kahlee said defensively.
"However Qian did emerge from the war as such. Was he part of Terra Firma?" Liara said for Shepard.
"I think so. With all due respect humans weren't the only ones to come out of that war with prejudiced views. Saren hated humans because his brother died in that war."
During the years following the First Contact War there had been more venom in the air. Armistice Day brought it all back. Shepard hated Armistice Day. To her it brought out all the worst in humanity. There was too much politics involved, too many chips handed down from shoulder to shoulder, too much boozing. Terra Firma came out like scurrying beetles from an over turned rock shouting out Earth First! The leaders of that particular Party according to the Spectre were malign idiots who preached that it was humanity's duty to shun all aliens. Terra Firma spoke of 'History', 'Destiny' 'Shanxi' and 'Never Again' and all the others words that got trotted out to put a gloss on slaughter. It was heavy stuff except that there weren't brains involved. During that damned Day it seemed that Hell went for a stroll with its sleeves rolled up. Since the battle over the Citadel, Hell had gone for an extended marathon with the prejudicial.
"Twenty years ago, a batarian named Edan Had'dah had been the one to order the attack on Sidon. At first I thought it might have been a faction in the Alliance. Someone wanting to shut Qian up, to stop him and the AI project. At the time I didn't know what to think. It turned out to be batarians. Like you said they had vaporized the bodies to cover up the kidnapping actually ordered by the project's suppliers on Camala "
"Batarian?" Shepard knew they had been involved with Quin's death and Sidon but now there was context to their involvement. "Four-I." she snorted. "It isn't a security algorithms used in the project but it is encrypted."
"Four eye not Four-I." Sanders picked up the Spectre's thoughts. "I still don't know what Job thirty-eight is. It could very well be the work he was doing with Edan. I was captured and held prisoner. I'd rather not get into the details about it, but they had tried to break me. They wanted me to help Qian. I refused. Fortunately Anderson came before matters could grow worse. Qian wasn't a victim, Spectre, he willingly committed treason, murder and he was completely mad."
"He might not have been as wholly willing as you assume. He was indoctrinated." Liara said in a rather strange saddened voice. Or at least strange to Sanders, but then she never had understood the asari.
"He was controlled and came to believe he was in the right, what he was doing was ordained. He felt as if he had no choice and gave into his despair, his hopelessness over what had been shown to him. Words slipped into his mind and he obeyed, he wouldn't have had a choice." Shiala said. "He was indeed a victim Dr. Sanders, one of indoctrination." If there was further explanation none was forthcoming.
"What is this indoctrination? Did Saren have something to do with it?" Sanders asked. She always wondered if there was some connection between the illegal research Qian was doing at Sidon and Saren's dreadnought.
Shepard countered, "Are you absolutely sure you don't have any recollection of anyone named Jonah on the project or perhaps a personal friend to Qian or a fishing partner?"
"I know there was no one on the project named Jonah, Spectre. There were fifteen security personal, twelve researchers, and six support staff. Not one of them was named Jonah."
"And tanimim, you're going to tell me you don't know who or what that is aren't you?" The Spectre frowned. "It wasn't the code name of the project? Sanders you are of course aware security clearance are not an issue for me. "
"Yes ma'am, I mean no ma'am." Kahlee shifted under the cool iron gaze. She hadn't been this nervous since she stood in front of her gunnery sergeant that first day of boot camp. She knew she was testing the woman's patience and with a Spectre that was a very dangerous activity to become involved with. "I understand your position Spectre, but I can't tell you what I don't know. Qian never used tanimim in reference to another race."
The Spectre rose sharply, "If you should happen to recall anything contact Citadel Council. Councilor Anderson will forward it to me." 'This was a waste of time.' Growled Shepard in her hind-brain, 'She didn't tell us anything that couldn't have been spoken over FTL comm-system.'
'But we didn't know that my love.' Liara's calm steady words filtered into the Spectre's mind. 'She needed to see the notes and she did give us a clue as to Dr. Qian's thought process. If you will she was in many respects a cipher '
Kahlee sucked in a breath when she saw an inexplicable smile slid onto the Spectre's face. "Dr. Sanders would you consent to a mind-meld? You may actually have knowledge that you don't know you have. Out of context Qian's words are nonsense and so you disregard it as such."
The request wasn't a request but a carefully hidden order. Kahlee was quick to pick it out. She nodded her head. "Of course." The older woman watched a silent conversation pass between Dr. T'soni and the Spectre.
"Relax Dr. Sanders. Close your eyes, allow yourself to be open and feel the universe around you. Embrace Eternity!"
Kahlee felt the soft presence of another slip into her mind. At first she resisted, wanting to retreat but felt as if the whole of the galaxy surrounded her.
The images flashed brightly. The Perseus Veil. A great large whale vomiting up a living human male on a beach, his black beard covered in seaweed and fish guts. 'It was too bad because it was big enough to satisfy even Jonah's finicky tastes for sushi.' Damned four-eyes, taking the tanimim like it belongs to them.' In the images there was a balding man about sixty years or more, a batarian man hissing threats. An explosion of orange blood, as a krogan battlemaster fell, shot down by a very young Lieutenant David Anderson. More explosions. A room filled with so much dark that the tiniest amount of light became a sudden super nova, like light house shining in a foggy winter night. More blood, and explosions. The old man dead. 'It was big enough to satisfy even Jonah's finicky tastes for sushi. Damned four-eyes, taking the tanimim like it belongs to them.' And the whale appeared this time vomiting up Saren, Edan and Qian.
Liara pulled away a little dazed from connecting to a human mind. She didn't feel the cerebral gurgling that connecting to her lover had first had done, but she was a little dizzy. Samantha had been the first human she had melded with and she was so powerful Dr. Sanders had a strong mind but nowhere near Samantha's.
"Wow that was intense." Sanders said a little shaken. "Is melding always like that?"
"It affects everyone differently." Shiala said sagely. "It depends upon the minds involved, the species and the information that is being sought or given." The older asari still felt the sharp clearness of Shepard's mind.
Shepard ignored the conversation going on and turned the totality of her attention to her wife. "What did you see, Li?" she asked, placing a hand on the small of the asari's back.
"The most prominent image was an Earth whale vomiting up a bearded human male, explosions and the same whale vomiting up three different males, one human, I believe him to be Qian, a batarian who could only be Edan and the last was Saren. The name of Jonah brought to the hind area of her mind the images of a whale."
Shepard soaked this all in. "As in Jonah and the whale."
The asari looked at the Spectre waiting for an explanation that never came.
"I didn't register it when you asked me, but now that I think about it Qian's comment about the one that got a way and the name Jonah brought the old bible story to mind." Kahlee said.
"I suspect that was a deliberate slip on Qian's part. I further suspect that the word tanimim refers to aquatic mammals." Liara said. "If the whale vomited up Qian, Edan and Saren is the whale somehow a representation of Sovereign? Samantha, I do not follow the connection."
"It goes back to a story in the bible, um one of humanity's religious texts." Shepard started. Her voice shifted into softer tones. "In it there's this story about man named Jonah who shirked his duty and so God does a bit of smiting on the ship Jonah goes AWOL on. The sailors on the ship are a superstitious lot and toss Jonah overboard in hopes to quell the storm, it works. God who still wants Jonah to finish his missions sends this massive whale to swallow the guy whole. The stomach serves like a brig for the three days it takes the whale to reach the port where Jonah was supposed to go and vomits the shirker out on the beach." Shepard shifted. "That's the briefing. Ash can tell the whole thing properly, being religious and all."
"But how can a living body stay alive in the stomach acids of a whale?" Aleene asked. Thessia had its own variety of whales, porpoises and suchlike. One large enough to swallow a body whole wasn't an issue after all the fraxon sharks while not mammals could do so. But to live in the stomach that was not medically possible, never mind the lack of light, oxygen, clean water
"Look I don't know. I think it's one of those moral-parable stories about not shirking your duty. Ask Lieutenant Williams, she's very religious and knows all the stories in the bible and can wade through the double contradicting bits and makes sense of it. Besides I'm leaning more towards Athame these days. That aside the idea of a monstrous whale and Sovereign makes sense. According to Qian the batarians, specifically Edan were instrumental in finding Sovereign near the Perseus Veil "
Kahlee watched as the Spectre and asari had formed a think tank huddle and had forgotten all about her. She didn't understand what they were saying as they were all speaking in the asari native tongue. A thought occurred to Sanders: when Shepard had started speaking the Spectre wasn't fully aware she had done so in Asarian. The others had responded in like, it wasn't snub at Sanders it was simply a natural reaction.
It was Shiala who blinked, "Dis! That's where Sovereign was discovered. It must be."
All eyes were on her.
"Dis?" the Spectre frowned. "How did you come to that conclusion?"
"Twenty years ago on Jartar in the Dis system, a batarian survey team discovered the corpse of a living ship they called Leviathan. They found it at the bottom of a crater. According to them the ship was a billion years old. It 'disappeared' after they left the system but the batarians claimed that it hadn't existed at all. The salarian scientists who had done their own recon and had seen the crater and apparent corpse of the living ship, issued complaints but they were not fully followed through. As there was no true proof the batarians had done anything illegal. Even if they had it would have been a case of claim-jumping and thus on the low end of priorities for the Council."
Shepard's mind raced and labored to piece together the random information spilling out of Shiala and what Sanders had handed them. Twenty years ago a batarian survey team stumbled across what they thought was the corpse of a living ship. Edan must have had a hand in it - the first to be indoctrinated. He knows he's not smart enough to figure this leviathan out this AI. So he talks Qian into helping. They disguise puzzling out the 'corpse' under an illegal AI program. Qian slowly becomes indoctrinated, he becomes obsessed. Somehow they get the 'relic' from Sidon to some hidden locale where Saren and Anderson struck. With Qian dead, Saren discovered the leviathan and the notes. He takes the notes to Benezia
"Why didn't you mention this before?" Shepard asked Shiala. "You were in Sovereign."
"I wasn't privy to Sovereign's mind as he was to mine. Even when I was sacrificed to the Thorian I didn't know Sovereign was one and the same as the leviathan the batarians found in the Dis system, Captain."
"Of course, you're right."
"Spectre?" Kahlee's voice floated into Shepard's ears.
"Yes?" she turned her eyes to the older woman.
"Forgive me but I don't understand Asarian. I take it the mind meld revealed something to you."
Something in the administrator's sentence caught the Spectre's attention. ' don't understand Asarian? When did I slip into Asarian? I don't recall doing that.' Aloud she said. "I apologize, Administrator. Yes, actually we have. You've been of great assistance, thank you. We'll be taking our leave shortly."
For some reason, Sanders felt as if she woke up after a one night stand and the guy she picked up in the bar had left during the night without saying a word: 'Wham-bam thank you ma'am.' She wished she understood what it was they had been speaking about but that was probably the point of switching languages. The switch was so fluid it was probably an unconscious act.
Shepard saw the expression on the older woman's face, "I'm sorry but I can't tell you more. Twenty years ago you were attacked for what you might know. What do you think the enemy forces will do to you for what you do know? It is safer that you remain ignorant of what information we have garnered from your meld with Dr. T'soni. In fact it's better no one knew you shared a meld, ma'am."
Kahlee nodded. She could see the ghost of her old friend Anderson in this young woman. She was a lot like him, Sanders decided. She was decisive, blunt when she spoke, her mind sharp and swift when she thought. She was a Spectre through and through.
"Of course." The administrator nodded. "Incidentally, I wanted to thank you for Elysium. I know you must get that a lot, but it's a bit personal for me. Your actions saved the life of thousands including my father's. For what it's worth, I needed to thank you for that."
Shepard's expression for a moment flashed a bit of a shy grin. "I just did my duty." She said in a tone of voice that said she had said it a thousand times. "I didn't completely do it alone, I had help. People tend to forget that little part."
"But you didn't. Not in the end. The security forces and all the aid you rallied left you alone as they got everyone into the bunkers, and the underground facilities leaving you abandoned to face them off by yourself. You are the only reason Elysium is still standing and why we can have this academy here now. When David said you were coming asking me for aid, I didn't hesitate. Whatever you need from me you have it. Your past actions and David's belief in you were more than enough to make me trust you and your motives whatever they are. "
"Thank you. Your cooperation and discretion is all I require." Shepard said diplomatically.
"Of course, but Spectre, you must realize that news of your arrival back to Elysium isn't something that will go unnoticed. The station may be named for Rear Admiral Jon Grissom but you are the Hero of Elysium. Discretion may not be in your grasp."
"I know, especially if my requisition officer opens his mouth while on the supply run. If I can keep it down to a dull roar I'll call it a good day. The discretion I've asked for isn't for my being here only the purpose of the visit."
Sanders nodded. "Of that you have my guarantee."
Before Shepard left for the corridors that would take her back to her ship she turned to Sanders. "Ma'am a word of caution...call it a gut feeling from a Spectre. Whatever advice your Chief of Security officer gives you, I'd take it, for its face value. He's got a sharp mind and he has protective streak for these kids that spans the universe. I can feel it. You trusted Anderson enough to meet with me despite your interactions with former agent Saren. Trust Hendel Mitra with that same trust you gave my former CO."
Sanders was clearly taken aback by the Spectre's sudden words and endorsement of a man she had only known for less than eight minutes. Nevertheless the warning was not lost on her.
It had been five years since Samantha Shepard had been on Elysium and that was for the dedication of a new park that bore her name. Two years prior in 2176 the batarian-funded pirates and criminals had launch a surprise attack on the human colony of Elysium, later became known as the Skyllian Blitz. The assault was repulsed by the Alliance fleet and the single ardent soul who held off an entire platoon to save the colony.
The four women had decided to walk the less traveled side-streets of Elysium in order to catch up with the Victory's crew on their rare shopping spree, or rather that of Corporal Joss Merkerson who was in charge of the ships stores. A gunship had been left on Grissom station as per the orders of the Spectre while the Victory landed planet-side.
Even taking the less traveled avenues, Shepard soon amassed a small group of kids leaving several shops. She allowed a moment for a few autographs and pictures to be taken. What surprised the young woman was that the posters she had been signing looked an awful lot like the picture Conrad Verner had taken of her back in the Citadel Markets. The guy must have made a mint by selling enlarged versions of the photo on the extranet. The other surprise came in the form of discovering that she, the golden-ground crew, as well as Joker, Saren and geth troopers were now action figures. There were also figurines of batarian pirates and a Lieutenant Shepard who was the savior of Elysium. There were even scale models of the Normandy, Geth drop ships and the M-five Mako.
Liara was amused and purchased the figures of her herself, Samantha as well as Ashley and Tali. The volas shopkeeper gave a full set of the figurines to the Spectre and was more than ecstatic when the famous Spectre-Captain Samantha Shepard autographed a few of the sealed packages of the figures. The purchases and gifts were to be sent via a courier to the docks where the Victory was moored.
Both Shiala and Aleene tried to fade into the background, neither one of them accustomed to the fan fair that Shepard was trying to slip away from rather unsuccessfully. Shepard turned most of the adults away but spoke with the children with the graciousness and compassion of Shi'ara.
Despite the hustle and bustle the shop-owner was more than happy to help the Spectre slip out the backdoor of her shop and into the alleyway. Near one of the refuse bins was a very badly mangled cut out of a batarian pirate. It had obviously been part of a large piece but the cardboard cut-out of Samantha Shepard had been removed by some overly zealous fan.
Shepard stared at the cutout for a moment. So it came all back to the batarians, the Spectre mused. Her thoughts opened only to Liara. 'They joined and funded the attack on Elysium seven years ago and thirteen years before that they funded and sanctioned the attack on Sidon and find Sovereign on some bloody stupid planet and wake the Goddess be damned ship up.'
'We know more than we did before my Love. We know where Sovereign was found and how. We know the work Qian was doing thanks to my mother's interpretations and even Saren's. We are not as you say "fucked".'
Both Aleene and Sheila saw the Spectre visibly wince. They were not privy to the private conversation and thus didn't know how disturbing Shepard found it when she heard Liara use human curses. Had they heard they might be in accord with Shepard, it was just so wrong to hear such words issued from one seemingly so so innocent.
'Li please don't say words like that. Your voice, your innocent beauty is is just wrong. It hurts the ears to hear you say things like that.'
Liara smiled endearingly and further more understandingly as only a wife could. "I apologize." She said aloud as she touched her wife's back. "Perhaps it would be better if I used asari expletives."
"Maybe. I got used to " Shepard's words were cut short by explosion of pavement just beside her.
Instinct took hold of all four of them.
Four women four highly-skilled warriors rolled to separate sides of the street, their bodies surrounded by a sudden faint blue aura. With pistols raised they scanned the darkened horizons for the perpetrators who had shot at them. To the Spectre, her mind thought 'the bastard who shot at Liara will burn, he will burn.'
The Spectre could sense the enemy even when she couldn't see them. Somehow she just knew where they were. She had stopped trying to explain her unique talents long ago. She just used them to the best of her abilities. From her bond with Liara she had come to realize, no understand that this sixth sense was natural to the asari huntresses.
"Keep an eye on the rooftops. If there is one there will be more. Snipers." She murmured needlessly but felt as if it had to be said. She was after all the commanding officer.
A shadow moved against the shadows. One of the assailants attempted to take advantage of the distraction his buddy had caused and took aim at the young blue female. In the sights of his scope he watched in sheer amazement as the green-skinned asari spun around in a round-house maneuver unloading her handgun with almost FTL speed into his skull. At point blank range the rounds from Aleene's pistol sheared off half of the guy's head.
Shepard materialized from behind the dumpster and fell on her first target like a dark wind, and sliced him diagonally from shoulder to hip with a Talon. The man wore a Hahne-Kedar light Mantis hardsuit made up of composite plates stitched together on an interwoven padded underlay to allow for flexibility. The cuirass covering his chest was capable of absorbing several high-powered shots from inside thirty meters, but Shepard's knife sliced through the protective layers and carved a fatal five-centimeter gash through the flesh and bone beneath. The kinetic shields would do nothing against a biotically enhanced force of a blade when they were designed for heavy ballistics and kinetic force of firearms. She didn't hesitate over her kill but moved on to the next target.
The merc literally didn't know what hit him. One moment he was taking aim at one of the asari bitches the next he felt as if something had struck his spine. Hard. He spun on his heels ready to shoot, or pistol-whip whatever creature was behind him. He saw only smoldering fury in the ice-blue eyes. The scream didn't even reach his larynx before he found himself flung into air and his body contorted in the way the All Mighty never intended a human body to twist.
As she had done with the shark, the Spectre had hurled a singularity-throw at her target causing him to twist and turn this way and that like a tormented doll. His hardsuit closing in around him as if a giant fist had closed over an aluminum can and crushed it.
Shepard felt the wave of dark energy wash past her, Liara had cast singularity cone towards the far end of the alleyway. Startled cries went out. A moment later three bodies tumbled and turned and swirled in the air from a warp-throw hurled maliciously at them. Shiala, and Aleene acted quickly, their pistols rapidly fired two shots every four seconds sticking the tumbling targets with exacting precision of a master marksman. There was a horrible wet splat hitting pavement as whatever was left of the bodies, armor and weapons which weren't much after the concentrated volley.
Shepard examined the armor, the bodies and found what she expected to find: nothing. No markings either on their armor or bodies to indicate who they were, who they served or where they came from. Rest assured they hadn't come from Elysium. They didn't bear the look of colonials even from one as prosperous as Elysium. If they had any tattoos they too had been covered up or removed to be later reapplied.
"No ID, display of colors or distinctive marks on armor or weapons. They moved out swiftly and orderly. Pro-mercenaries. " Shepard announced with a voice so unobtrusive and unassuming it was if she had been resigned that being attacked was a ubiquitous event and fact-of-life.
Liara knew differently. Inside her lover was seething in barely contained rage. She could feeling welling up inside. A faint murmur of 'the shot was near Liara it could have killed her they will burn they will burn .' echoed as loudly as any klaxon. The other two asari having never fought along the Spectre were taken slightly aback at the near clinical detachment of human's vocal comment.
"Could it be that Sanders woman?" Aleene asked, "A sleeper agent perhaps?" She doubted the shopkeeper would have anything to do with the sudden attack. The mere presence of the Spectre in the volus's store had drummed up more business in a single hour than she might have made all week.
Shepard shook her head. "No Sanders had nothing to do with this. We were on the station long enough for agents to assemble here. They must have already been here in Elysium and sent a FTL call to their employer asking for orders. The rumor of us being in that shop had to have gained their attention and in convenient location they came stalking us."
"The question remains why would they hunt you?" Liara asked.
Aleene gave the younger asari a carefully measured look and waited for the Spectre to answer. Before that happened however the sounds of sirens and the roar of engines were on top of them.
"Elysium PD! The alleyway is blockaded you have no way to run. Surrender now! We will not hesitate to open fire, we are authorized to use lethal force if necessary." came the booming voice of a man over a police loudspeaker.
"I think you will." Shepard said. "I'm Samantha Shepard of the Special Tactics and Recon force." She walked out with her arms at her sides very slowly and carefully. "We were attacked by these men and we defended ourselves." Shepard took in the detective in charge. He stood near six feet tall and had the same boxy build as most security officers had.
Shepard concentrated her attention on his firearms and the strategic placement of the other officers. Six in visual range, no accounting of how many uniforms were behind them though a good guess was another six. All of them were wearing the standard issue of Onyx light-armored hardsuits complete with the three-quartered visor helmets. Half were carrying assault rifles the others shotguns.
The detective seemed to hesitate for a moment. "We will need to confirm your ID ma'am. If you come with us " He kept his pistol trained on the woman before him.
"No." Shepard said giving the man the most calculating stare he had ever encountered. "You wish to confirm my ID, do it here. And as for that matter I want your own ID, Detective for my own confirmation purposes. Several mercenaries were sent to kill me and my team. Now there's the thought a second team of mercs lies in wait and while doing so pirates the comm-chatter of the police band-radio. The plan: intercept the real police on the notion that they will take us in for questioning all peaceful and quiet like so they can later neutralize us and collect on the contract. After all the police are supposed to be the good guys, the safe guys, who would question known police procedure?" Shepard folded her arms over her chest and stared hard at the detective.
Again the man hesitated. Behind the Spectre three asari huntresses began to glow in an aura of blue light. The yet unnamed detective took a hesitant step back as the Spectre herself began to glow in the same eerie light of dark energy.
"Sir?" one of the junior officers asked, "What are your orders?" He didn't fancy trying to engage in combat with a woman who had stood against an entire platoon of raiders. He had been in school at the time here on Elysium. You had to be daft not to recognize Captain Samantha Shepard. His little sister even went to the high school named after her!
"Yes just what are your orders, Detective I-haven't-identified-myself-to-a-Spectre?" Shepard took a step foreword. Somewhere inside all of her jumbled emotions were being transmuted into anger. Hers was not an expression you wanted to see at the far end of a gun or biotic glow.
Behind the detective there were murmurs coming from the other officers who had recognized her and each of them standing down despite the fact they had not been given the orders to do so.
The detective must have sensed this and lowered his own weapon. "I am Lieutenant Christian Meier of the Elysium Police Department. We got a call about a disturbance in the area, Spectre. It is our duty and obligation to investigate all such events. And might I say you have an evil brain there Spectre to assume you were in a trap."
"It does the job." She said, "It's why I'm still alive." The Spectre sauntered past the police lieutenant and faced the young man who had spoken out. He swallowed hard as he came face to face with the Spectre. His Adam's apple bobbed up and down his neck like a ball on a string when he opened his mouth to speak but found he couldn't form a coherent word. She took the cue and gave the boy one of her most charming smiles and got the response she wanted or at least hoped for. The lad went into an immediate blush, shuffled his feet and tried to smile in return while saluting and dropped his gun in the process.
The lieutenant shot the young man Shepard had smiled at a scornful look for his clumsiness. It was assumed it was for his clumsiness. There are times when a plan isn't suddenly going to work, when you're in the middle of it isn't the time to find this out. The kid had just managed to pick up his rifle but dropped it again under the scrutiny of his CO. There were several chuckles from the crowd now milling around.
He picked it up only to drop it once more. "Secure that weapon lance-constable." The Spectre ordered.
"Ye yes Ma'am." The young man locked his assault rifle back on the slot on his back and saluted one more. The Adam's apple bobbed.
"They're telling the truth." She tossed over her shoulder. "These coppers are not mercs. I believe it's a misunderstanding that rose between us, we should be very much aware of."
At once the three asari made a show of standing down and so the coppers followed suit. The lieutenant's smile gleamed. Liara, Shiala, and Aleene had maneuvered past the crowd and coppers to flank the Spectre. Liara turned ready to cast a lift on the lieutenant as she had with the rose bloom. The problem was the growing population of civilians they were going to make things extremely difficult.
Shepard placed her hand on the man's shoulder and shifted a little away from Meier. "Tell me lance-constable "
"Otto Stover." The kid eagerly supplied.
"Right, lance-constable Otto Stover," Shepard rolled the kid's name on her tongue which got a waxy and bright smile in return. She had him exactly where she wanted and he would spill everything she wanted to hear. "How long has your lieutenant been with you?"
"Only for a few months, Ma'am said he has once with ERCS on Noveria but was sick of the corporate world or so he said. How did you know he wasn't from here?"
"It's a Spectre thing," Shepard commented. It was meant to be an off-handed reply but the kid looked at her with renewed awe. She ignored Stover's expression and pushed past the young man ready to confront the lieutenant but he had disappeared into milling onlookers. In the distance their eyes met and the lieutenant gave a lazy salute and fled into the adjacent street.
'Damn, civilians.' You couldn't engage in mortal combat with a merc in a crowd of innocents. She couldn't blame Liara or the others for hesitating in engaging in a violent act with a crowd filled with children. She would have to. If you don't care about the people in your charge, about hostages you're just a terrorist with a badge. Saren had been a terrorist with a badge. Do things right, not fast. That was the code the Spectre had lived by. The thing with mercs if they were very well-paid they didn't give up on their targets. Wrex never had. Shepard knew she would face to face Lieutenant Christian Meier again.
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