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


Chapter 15
Keeping Vigil

The blast mushroomed into the air quaking the ground underfoot.

Liara snapped her head up from where she had been setting up the support struts for one of the habitats; she spun around and could only stare at the black hateful cloud rising in the sky.

Near her Ashley and Aleena both raised their guns as soon as the explosion was heard. The former turned to see the terrified expression on the blue face of the young asari scientist. "I…I'm sure the Skipper wasn't near that…that whatever that was. Might have caused it but she's good at dodging explosions."

This brought the bounty hunter's attention to the younger asari. Her expression unreadable, but her mind calculating: if at such a great distance Liara T'soni could feel the Spectre, no doubt the reverse was true. So just what was their response time between thought and action?

The expression changed upon Liara's face to one of relief. "She is safe as are those with her."

Ashley holstered her weapon. "Well that's good. Very good. So she told you in that bond right? She's safe?"

"She is Ashley."

Aleena holstered her own pistol slowly, her eyes fixed on the horizon where the explosion had come from. No smoke billowed from the labyrinth ruins but this wasn't unsurprising considering the decrepit towers hid much of the sky.

"Yeah well good, she had no business worrying me…er…you like that."

'This is a new development. The XO has feelings for our captain. Deep ones if I read her expression correctly.' Aleena mused.

A grin crossed the archeologist's purple lips as she stepped closer to her friend and whispered in her ear. "She has a message for you. I am to tell the mother-hen there is nothing wrong a pack of medi-gel couldn't handle."

"Mother hen! Mother hen! Phagh!" Ashley stomped away muttering under her breath that she in no way resembled a mother hen or its habits. Mother hen indeed! She's a friend – I was only concerned. As a friend. Nothing wrong with that, nothing at all. "I am not a mother hen."

Aleena said nothing and watched as the young human walk away barking at her crew to broaden their patrols and keep a watchful eye out for enemy movements. Her actions became a repository for words she could not utter aloud.

Liara smiled and returned to placing the stakes of the habitat in the ground. 'Tell me again my love you are not hurt.'

'A little singed nothing serious. Though I think I startled our young asari commandos by a few of the more unorthodox methods we took in neutralizing the geth and their drop ship.'

'Young? Morwen is twice my age and Nual has a decade upon me!'

'Yeah well…Nual must have spent most of her time in the cloisters of the cathedral or the library at the T'soni bastion. She's as green as any newly graduated ensign from basic -still quoting regs and strategies she learned from her instructors.'

'It is true she is more scholar than warrior but her skills are as mine my love, do not doubt her.'

'None hold the skills you possess my heart. Still I don't doubt her skills only her ability to think on a wing and a prayer and take the gamble when all odds are against you.'

'Keep her on your squad and she will learn, just as I have - just as all who serve at your side have so learned.'

'Yes, I suppose she will. We will talk more once I return to base camp. For now we have a window of peace but I don't know how long it will last. There are more geth no doubt lurking and we have unknowns as well. I don't think they are with the Alliance military, or we would have been told if not by the Council and Anderson, then by Hackett. We need to know more about them, of their purpose here and if they pose a threat to the mission. The enemy is moving, Liara. Their masses are forming here on Ilos, the Reapers' eyes are fixed on all organic life. And now we have traitors within the ranks on the Victory. The treachery of Udina, of Terra Firma may run deeper than we know.'

'This evil can not be concealed for long, Samantha.'

'We don't have the strength to fight both the synthetics and this new hidden terror. This peril belongs to all organics; it is not my place to decide how to end it, we all must. The time of segregation of races is over. Where do we look to if we cannot stand united?'

'In ourselves, in the allies we have gathered. Trust in the Council, Samantha they will decide how to end it.'

'The Council is weak, Liara. Their power is fading. Their pride and dignity forgotten their strength all but spent. They would not listen when I warned them of Saren's betrayal, of the geth hordes or worse of the threat of the Reapers. It is because of the Council's unwillingness to listen that Saren and your mother are dead instead of redeemed, why the Reapers come so close to penetrating the vale of Dark Space.

"You were there with me as was Ashley when the strength of the Council failed. You said it yourself before we came here that first time, they took all, stripped all and sent all of us to galactic doom. They should have acted on that day but evil was allowed to endure. The power of their wisdom is broken. There is no strength left in the Council. Their logic, their wisdom is scattered and drifting. My faith in the Council fades Liara. I will not turn from them, or my oath. I gave my word and my word I shall keep until my dying breath.

"I swore, as all Spectres do, to protect the galaxy and protect it I will, but do not ask me to have faith in the Council. They are deaf, blind and do not fully understand what the Reapers will do. The echo of what came before lingers in me. I will heed the orders of the Council and will always follow them but I have no faith in them.'

'The Council and you have a common purpose Samantha, do not forget this. Do not bind yourself to Saren's fate by turning from them completely.'

'The same images flow through my mind that did in his - the end of all organic life. The same weakness haunts me. Saren lost hope, lost faith in the Council because he knew they would not listen. They never LISTEN, they only hear, it's not the same!'

'The time will come and we will face this same evil and we will defeat it. The shadow does not yet hold sway. Not over you… not over me. You are not Saren and I am not my mother. That weakness you speak of came from his exposure to Sovereign's indoctrination long before he touched the Prothean beacons. He had fear and discord coursing through him for he had forsaken all hope not because of the Council but for Sovereign's subtle machinations. He saw no other recourse but to bend to the Reaper's will. You are not bound for that fate unless you make it yourself. As you said we must stand united and take what allies and help comes to us. Does this not also mean the Council?'

'Yes…you're right of course.'

Saren had believed that against the Reapers there could be no victory. In a sense he was right they were bound to one doom unless all organics stood united.

One doom. And yet so many refused to accept this, so many were ignorant of such doom. And for a moment, just a moment Shepard herself had fallen to the oncoming dark of the Reapers tempted to forsake the words of the Council but for the reason of her beloved Liara. Her wisdom brought the Spectre's course back to the light, back to where it belonged to the path of hope.

"That explosion will not go unnoticed by geth or those unknown paramilitary forces." Nual said shaking the Spectre from her thoughts. "If you meant to keep this mission silent then you have failed, Captain. We will no doubt be attacked by one and investigated by the other. Perhaps attacked by them as well."

"Yes that was the whole point." The Spectre said.

"You mean to cause a distraction so our science teams can deploy and carry out their mission parameters while we and the other assault teams take the brunt of any offense." Morwen commented, "A sound strategy."

Shepard smirked. "I have my moments."

The Spectre had indeed devised a strategy of small battles to gain time for the science crews to investigate and unveil all they could in the time they had. While Liara and her teams secretly hunted the data caches of Protheans, the assault teams were being trained in sabotage and guerrilla warfare and to do everything to destabilize the geth and possibly the agents of Cerberus. This was to the Spectre a perfect opportunity to bring together her crew in a single fighting force.

Nual was a prime example, she was raised in the temple of Athame and thus used to sticking to the rules and following the ways of old battles in the writings of long gone matriarchs. The young huntress was now learning that a huntress has to improvise because not everyone plays by the same rule book.

Morwen on the other hand had an innate capacity for patience and perception and audacity, a talent she had learned in all her long years at Benezia's side. A talent she was teaching the other huntresses within the Spectre's crew. As a matron she had developed a wide variety of skills ranging from diplomacy and psychology to military strategy and of course hand-to-hand combat. She had to be ready for anything on her field assignments. Morwen was wise, kind and courageous with a wry sense of humor. The last the matron suspected she would need most of all working along side the human Spectre. No doubt it would sustain her in the dangerous situations to come. The Spectre was at times impetuous and as seen through the asari matron's eyes, reckless. But those traits served her well. Those traits had brought down the traitor Saren and destroyed Sovereign and in the past saved the entire Elysium colony from being wiped out and enslaved.

Aleena aided Liara very little, save for her constant reliable presence. At least she was not as were many of the others, troubled by the mere existence of the ruins. Voices of the scientists, soldiers muttered about the place being an unwelcoming site, that it was haunted, they could hear the voices of dead, secrets were meant to be secret. The ruins of Ilos were vast and intricate beyond imagination, beyond even the matron's experience. To Liara the memories of her prior journey months before were now of little help, but even in the golden glow of the world and despite all windings of the path she knew whither she wished to go, and she did not falter, as long as there was a path that led towards her goal.


That was their ultimate goal: Vigil.

She wished she had the implanted memories of the Protheans as her wife did. She would be able to lead them exactly where they needed to be without any difficulties. Her memory was keen enough to lead her team towards Vigil without leading them astray or into danger. It was well that the scientists had such a guide.

Aleena watched carefully. Young T'soni was completely drawn into the very history of the ruins. No doubt the young maiden would have preferred to be alone or with her partner studying the ruins, but as it was she was saddled with scientists. Frightened scientists who gave the impression that they would have rather been in a geth factory than a fifty thousand year old city.

The overgrowth clung to everything. Thick large green bushes that had a distinct appearance of giant cabbages, vines of unnamed plants roped along the walls, the seated Prothean statues and the floors. It gave the geometric construction of the ruins a wholly organic appearance; it was even more unsettling to most once several habitat shelters were now set up along a sheltered alcove.

Dusting her hands off, Liara looked into the ochre sky of Ilos drawing deep breaths of ancient air. She could feel the history in each lungful. It filled her with a sense of awe, wonder and euphoria. She closed her eyes and opened her mind and her other senses to the world around her. Oh if they could only be here longer than the seven days. Her blue eyes opened staring at the misaligned skyline.

The towers soared overhead resembled those found on Faros, Citadel Station and other places where Liara had found ruins of that ancient civilizations. There were more than a dozen towers some of them intact others nothing but rubble. Idly the young woman wondered if they like the archive corridors leading to Vigil were filled with the crypts of cryogenic capsules of Protheans.

"Where do we start, Dr. T'soni?" Aleena asked watching her keenly. Archeology wasn't her field and she didn't even know where one would even start to look for the much sought after data caches in such a place as Ilos. She supposed it started with digging. Perhaps in that respect archeology was similar to bounty hunting, one had to know where to dig and do so carefully so not to undermine the final objective.

"Vigil. We need to investigate if it is still functional. The VI has a great deal of information that would not be available anywhere else. Previously it had purposely erected a forcefield in the archives to divert our course so it would have a chance to speak with the captain. It had desired to impart knowledge to the Spectre—information that would help us break the Reapers' vicious cycle of galactic extermination. Indeed it had. Hopefully it is still active, even if it is not, whatever information still locked inside its core will aid us."

Having for the moment secured the area Ashley walked forward towards Liara's team, gesturing over her shoulder with her thumb indicating the M36 mako. "It's all set if you're ready, Doc. Just give your word and we'll head for Vigil. The Skipper's given the all clear. She and her squad will try and divert geth attention away from Vigil's locale; she's even given me a new route to that thing far from any geth activity. She sent out Kirrahe's STG team to see what they can find out about those paramilitaries she spotted."

"Excellent Lieutenant, thank you." Liara nodded. "We are ready now."

The passage they had been given by the Spectre's innate knowledge of the city wound steadily downwards. As far as they could judge it went in great mounting curves, and as it sank it grew loftier and wider. These were no openings to the other galleries or turns on either side, and the floor was level and sound without pits or cracks. Evidently they had struck what once had been an important road; and in this way they advanced fifteen miles, measured in a direct line west. Though they must have actually driven twenty miles or more. As the road climbed downwards Liara's spirits rose higher and higher. Her excitement was almost palpable.

They held their course for the next hour before they came across a road familiar to both Liara and Ashley from having been here before though under graver and more pressing times. Before the clock was waxing against them, now time was more lenient in its passing.

"Here! Stop the rover here!" Liara called out to Williams. "This is the avenue our captain spoke of." Her excitement so overwhelming her senses Liara leapt for the ladder leading to the top hatch and had it opened long before Williams pulled the M36-mako to a complete stop.

Even as it stopped, Liara was already out and prowling the avenue for the hidden doorway that lead to Vigil

"Doc, are you out of your head?" Williams growled coming up behind the archeologist. "God you're worse than a kid on Christmas morning, I swear! Jumping out of a moving vehicle, anyone tell you that's a very bad idea? I thought you asari were supposed to be the smart ones."

Aleena frowned at what she might have considered a racial slur until she saw the smile on young T'soni's lips.

"I am sorry to worry you, Ashley. That was not my intent but we are so very close, it is difficult to contain my enthusiasm."

"Tell that to the skipper once you're laid up in med bay." Williams looked to Aleena, "at least we have you near by Dr. S'thasa to patch her up in case anything goes wrong."

"Indeed." The bounty hunter gave a slight smile. "Let us pray to the Goddess that will not be necessary."

Williams guffawed, "Yeah right. Just wait a while. Give the doc here and the skipper some time and they'll put your skills as a healer to the test. No wonder Dr. Chakwas called in for reinforcements, caring for those two became a near full time task, always doing the death defying stunts that would kill any normal person."

"You are not without your own defiance of death in following your course of duty Lieutenant." chided Liara. "Come we have tarried her long enough, Vigil waits just beyond that causeway.

Unlike the gap in the ravine where last they found the Prothean VI this path wound around a narrow bridge, so narrow in fact that only by foot could they pass. It gave the opportunity for the companions to see the ruined Prothean city in the plunging depths below it. It hinted to be a bottomless cavern, though bottom there was but so far down it might not have existed at all. For that depth there were a few that suffered a minor bout of vertigo from staring too long down. Liara was not counted amongst that number, her excitement too close to her heart to allow the sheer plunging depths to afflict her.

The crevasse that pretended to be a door into Vigil's chamber was narrower than the bridge that led Liara and her team to it. So narrow was the gap in the wall that one had to slip in sideways just to get past. Jahleed had a bit of a rough start fearing he might get stuck but a gentle biotic push from Shi'ar sent the spherical volas tumbling and bouncing forward.

"No one tosses a volas, Thessia Clan!" he grumbled once he came to a stop and found his feet albeit dizzily.

"Would you have preferred to remain wedged in that gap? I can arrange that," the asari scientist snapped back.

Jahleed grumbled something unintelligible through his environmental suit's communicator and tottered off on unsteady feet into the antechamber proper.

This was the archive of Vigil. Yet they could go no further than ten paces before being blockaded by a great amber barrier.

"Well that's a good sign that suggests Vigil's still operational." Ashley said staring at the orange-gold energy curtain. "Right?" she directed her question to T'soni but still did not take her eyes off the barrier.

"I presume so." Liara said. One could not mistake the hope in the young asari's voice.

"How did you get it down before?" Shi'ar asked her own eyes studying the glowing curtain.

"Maybe they tossed a Thessia Clan into it." Jahleed muttered grumpily, his pride still wounded for being, to put it indelicately, bounced into room's antechamber. All the women turned to him and frowned. They did not find his comment remotely humorous.

Liara rubbed the brow of her forehead with her fingertips, "As I said before, Vigil placed the barrier curtain up behind and in front of us to funnel us into this chamber and to keep both Saren and the geth at bay. I believe the same can be said now. Vigil was degrading before, thus it may take it time to scan our bio-readings and confirm at least mine and Lt. Williams from our previous encounter and make a comparable match before it will shut down the barrier and allow us to pass.

"In my studies of the Protheans, most systems within their cities were designed to be self-regulating or could be operated with a push of button. Such technology despite being fifty thousand years old reactivates and functions with astounding power and efficiency as was the case on Therum." Liara gave a sheepish look to Ashley who was smirking over the memory of finding the doctor suspended in a stasis bubble behind a very effective barrier curtain. "Vigil on the other hand is a prime example of the prior, as it is self regulating. I do not think it will take long to recognize us and allow us entry into the inner sanctum of the Archives."

Liara's prediction was correct: it did not take long for the curtain to fluctuate and finally fall. "Dr. LiaraT'soni, Gunnery-Chief AshleyWilliams, your return presence along with Spectre-commander SamanthaShepard is proof that you were successful in stopping the one called Sovereign from opening up the Citadel Mass Relay to Dark Space." Vigil's mechanical voice rose in salutation.

"Indeed we were. We are in great gratitude to you and the Protheans for the programs you granted us. It allowed us to take the station's power into our full control. Sovereign was destroyed as was Saren. Yet the threat of the Reapers lingers still. We eliminated their vanguard but the rest remain just beyond that vale, they haunt the borders between Dark Space and ours it will not be long before they find a way through. Vigil - once more we come here for aid in arresting this threat to all organic life. We need the store of knowledge the Protheans left behind to stop the Reapers."

"Dr. LiaraT'soni what aid I can give I will. My systems are sorely compromised, some files corrupted beyond recovery, what remains is I freely give to you and your company for your purpose is that of my makers. I regret most of what you will recover will not be relevant to our tasks."

"You can not know that for certain, Vigil. Organic minds have an immense capacity for leaps of imaginative innovation that sometimes defy logic in leaps and bounds. With the smallest information ideas can be birthed, whole technologies developed. Whatever remains in your core even if its only literature and historical documents will be beyond value!"

"I think he gets the idea, Doc." Williams said touching the asari on her arm. "Slow down a bit and take a breath," she chided good naturedly.

"Dr. LiaraT'soni I will attempt to siphon the data into your OSDs, I fear thought that the sheer amount of collected historical documents might very well create an overload within your devices and crash the system. It will take a positronic computer core to fully integrate the volumes of data caches without compromising the contents."

For a moment all were silent.

"The geth have positronic brains." Jahleed said suddenly. "Perhaps if we acquire one of their processors…"

"One simply does not acquire a geth positronic brain, volus." Shi'ar scoffed. "What do you expect to do, go up to one of them and ask it to hand over its CPU?"

"Tali was able to acquire a CPU from a geth drone, I do not think this is beyond the realm of possibilities. Samantha and Tali can neutralize one of them; remove the comm-system that links the drone to the hive consciousness and adapt its programming to suit our needs." Liara said. "Tali did it once. I see no reason why she can not do so again."

"Will one of the drones be suitable?" Shi'ar asked.

"A Prime might be more so." Jahleed added.

"A Prime? No way. First we don't even know if this crazy idea is going to work. Secondly we have to sell the captain on it and that's going to be hard as it is. She won't like the idea of a prime; those fuckers can dampen biotic amps. Liara, I know you and your sister asari are natural biotics but if you recall, the skipper's powers were cut off when those things were active." Williams pointed out.

"Do not fear this aspect in the geth prime. My programming will over-write its own programming and prime directives." Vigil commented.

"You mean to take it over? What - like body-snatching?"

"More like possession." Aleena said to Williams. "Vigil, if you download your matrix into the geth prime's computer core can you guarantee its autonomy from the collective hive consciousness."

"Affirmative, Dr. Mal'dictaS'thasa."

"Will you be fully interactive as you are now or will you be limited to the geth speech? Because I gotta tell you that isn't so user friendly."

"My interactive programming will be as it is now, only I will have the freedom of movement and no longer be bound to a terminal."

"Tali can hack into a geth's systems, what will prevent someone from doing the same to you once you've downloaded yourself into the geth's brain?" Williams asked pointedly. "We've got a bunch of mercs hunting us, some shadow operative and of course there is Cerberus. All we need is for one of them to get a hold of all of that data."

"I can initiate safety protocols, firewalls that will give access to a select authorization. Not even the geth will be able to bypass those protocols. Duel-lock bio-readings will act as a tertiary pass code. I will become inert should anyone attempt to hack into my CPU memory core, the positronic cortical node or other systems."

"Can't bio-readings be faked by very ingenious if not insidious individuals?" Shi'ar asked pondering the validity of such measures. She knew voice recognition, palm prints; DNA and retina scans all could be forged. Bio-readings were not as secure as one would hope.

"Not if it is a joined mind." Liara said. "From what I gleaned out of Samantha's memories by the Prothean beacons from our numerous Unions, I know that the Protheans had measures of security that required the presence of two with a joined-mind to unlock."

"That is correct Dr. LiaraT'soni, though uncommon joined-mind bilateral locks were not unheard of."

"Such hormonal and chemical readings would be difficult indeed to forge." Aleena said. "It needs an active mind and body of two individuals to activate. However this measure also means that should something happen to either partner the systems will remain locked does it not? There are also chemical and hormonal changes within the body that will occur naturally or due to outside influences that could alter the effectiveness of the pass-code."

"Said changes are pedestrian, as long as the beta brain-waves, heartbeats and bio-chemical readings are consistent this tertiary lock will be effective. This measure may not need to be active only when deemed necessary, at such times I will interact with only those who ignited the bio-reading lock-down. As an added measure I will revert to using my primary linguistics, only those who speak the Prothean's language will comprehend." Vigil explained.

"Given this new information I believe we can convince our captain to capitulate to this novel request." Liara said sounding hopeful. "She tasked us with recovering all the Prothean data we could, and we have. We have more than we could have hoped for, she must acquiesce."

Their plan was working.

Shepard and her team attacked the geth troops from behind. Ahead Major Urwen of the turian second assault unit could be seen far ahead cutting down every geth in their way. Shepard battled their way through the geth working their way towards Urwen's unit from the back. The second unit continued from the front, steadily moving towards Shepard. Eventually they met in the middle, surrounded by the bodies of the geth they had destroyed. None remained.

"Excellent work." Shepard complemented the major once he climbed out of the last remaining M-36 mako.

"It will take some time to re-mass their numbers into an effective force. Our own scouting parties should be enough to cut off stragglers, Captain," the large turian said. "Orders?"

"Continue the patrols…we need to keep our science teams safe. Kirrahe's STG team have yet to report on the paramilitary presence here save to say they seem to be consolidated in the northern courtyard of the upper ruins. They haven't yet acted on our presence here; Kirrahe believes they are unaware of us at the present as the geth is a distraction to them. Once we uncover who they are and their purpose we will act accordingly, until then we concentrate on the geth and the safety of our scientists"

"As you order, Captain." the turian major saluted in his people's fashion by pressing a closed three talon fist over his heart and bowing his head slightly.

Shepard was midway back to her team when she faulted slightly at the unexpected touch of her wife's mind upon her mind.

'Liara? What is it?' at first she thought something was wrong but the sheer excitement wafting into her from Liara was almost palpable.

From the mako's side the others watched expressions flitter across their captain's face.

"She seems troubled." Nual observed. "Her eyes…are distant."

"Dr. T'soni must be talking to her through their bond." Tali said. "It's kinda spooky when they do that. It's like they are aware of everything going on around them but they are in their own world too."

Morwen as with all the other asari on board the Victory knew of the deep connection between the Spectre and archeologist's minds. She and Nual had seen the connection first hand during the echo game but to see it still so strong when Shepard and young T'soni were so distant was something altogether different. It was a powerful bond indeed.

Again the Spectre's expression changed. 'Liara babe you're insane you know that?' The Spectre sent her thoughts after Liara had given her a full briefing on the plan of using a geth prime to house the VI. Liara had also told her of the measures that would be taken to safeguard it.

'Samantha, I know you hesitate but trust in this plan, in me.'

'Li, I do trust you. I trust you with my soul, what I don't trust is the geth.'

'This is a chance we can not allow to pass us by. Your instincts allowed you to trust the rachni queen and free her which could spell doom for our children's children. But you set her free and trusted her oath she would fade into the shadows and teach her young the races of the Citadel are not the enemy.

'You trusted Major Kyle to surrender in his own time. He could have in that hour leeway massed his biotics and assaulted not only us but those of the Fifth fleet sent to take him into custody.

'You trusted me on Therum when I told you I was Benezia's daughter but I was nothing like her. The turian councilor wanted me under very heavy security and a neuro-suppression collar place around my neck so I could not use my biotics. Your entire crew of the Normandy looked at me with suspicion and did not trust me. They wanted me to be locked in that storage room under heavy guard. And again on Virmire when we passed security and we knew her to be on Peak Fifteen. Yet you trusted me without hesitation and it was not because we felt something for one another. You trusted in your instincts and they have not failed you.

'I ask you trust in mine now. I know this will work. Samantha it is an opportunity that may never come to us again. Think of all we can learn! Vigil is more than confident this plan will be a full success. We will have a Prothean VI with us just think of it! Please Samantha give the go-ahead for this.'

'Let me consult Tali.'

'Then you will order it?'

'It is in the distinct realm of possibility, but I'm not saying yes. Not yet. I need Tali's input. You forget all those times I trusted my instinct, I didn't do it blindly. I asked a lot of questions before hand. If anyone knows about the geth it's her at least she knows more than us. She was able to remove the memory core of a geth, if she thinks it's doable, I'll give this plan very serious thought. Liara, I know what this could mean but you have to think if ever the enemy should get a hold of this modified prime it will be end of all things.'

'It will work, Samantha. I know it will.'

'In the meantime I want you to download copies of the data into available ODS as well as your hardsuit's computer as a contingency.'

Tali sat and listened to the plan about capturing and neutralizing a geth prime and downloading Vigil's core into its positronic brain. When the Spectre had first heard it she was skeptical, to hear herself explain it, and Shepard was beginning to believe the viability of it all.

"So is it possible?" the Spectre asked of the quarrian.

"As you know geth memory cores are designed to fry their data banks once disabled and like I said if you are quick, careful and lucky you can extract one. Once you do you can also extract the CPU chip as well. I don't know about completely overwriting the memory core, but theoretically it is possible, yes."

"The Council is going to just love this." Garrus commented sardonically.

"Yeah I know. I can practically hear Councilor Trace condemnation right now." Shepard said. "No doubt he will question my methods yet again and all likelihood my sanity. He wouldn't be far off in that department. I've got to be crazy to even consider doing this. But if it works…if it works the gain is beyond scope. I think we have to try. Tali are you positive a disabled geth no longer transmits or is connected to the collective?"

"Yes, Captain. The other geth will terminate their connection to it, removing the memory core and CPU will also sever all ties. If Vigil can completely rewrite its systems the prime will not be acknowledged even on visual identification by the other geth. Those connections will be completely inert, and they can't be rebooted or reconfigured because those circuits will have been fried. It's a safeguard so enemies can't backdoor the collective's core and install viruses that might otherwise run rampant through the hive connection."

"If we are going to do this, best we find one of them primes." Wrex's baritone voice broke out. "Time to hunt some more geth."

"Couldn't one of the primes we already neutralized work?" Nual asked. "Or are their cores too badly corrupted?"

"Tali?" Shepard said wondering the same thing. Back at the dropship location there were three of the blasted primes already downed, if they could use one of them so much the better.

"Not if you want a functioning memory core to download Vigil in, then no. I suspect it will need one just as it needs the positronic brain."

"Damn. Alright. Garrus contact the other teams tell them to look for a prime but do not destroy it, we need Tali there to recover the memory core. As soon as a team spots one, they are to shadow it, and contact us." The Spectre commanded. "We're going to make this happen."

At the same time Liara and her squad were making their descent into the bowels of the ruins, Captain Kirrahe and his STG team stalked and shadowed the unknown paramilitary group.

Kirrahe had started out where Shepard reported first seeing the airspeeders and groundcars on one of the skyway. Of course said skyway was now a path of mangled metal detritus and charred remains of stone and overgrowth.

Commander Rentola bent down examining the marks scorched into the stone of the plaza. "Human - male, I'd say. Some of them are a little too large to be asari. The treads are not dissimilar to those created by Alliance hardsuits."

"The Spectre said she had not expected to see the Alliance here. There were no reports from their military that such an operation was in motion." Kirrahe said looking at the turned over still smoldering wreck of a six-wheeled rover. "However that does not discount that there could be. The humans are known for their duplicity when it comes to their dealings with militant sciences.

"ExoGeni, Binary Helix and that Cerberus group may be working independently or conjunction with Alliance Military, this knowledge would not come to Captain Shepard. In fact the Alliance military may deliberately be keeping her in the dark, for her loyalty now lies with the Council. They may believe she would carry out her duties as a Spectre and put a halt to whatever it is they are doing in the name of galactic law and they would be right in thinking it so. Shepard has proven as all Spectres before her that she places her duties as Spectre above those of her species."

"ExoGeni was experimenting with that thorian creature; Binary Helix stupidly hatched a rachni queen and started to manipulate the drones." Rentola nodded, "If they are here… it could cause a great deal of problems for humanity's new Councilor and their first Spectre."

"Then we will arm her with the best weapon a warrior or a Spectre can possess - knowledge."

The STG team tracked the retreating trail of the paramilitary back to the northern courtyard of the upper ruins. In the cover of darkness in the lee of a broken tower seven agents of espionage watched, studied and gathered a wealth of knowledge. Using the HUD display in their helmets Kirrahe's squad were able to get a definitive look at the people below. They knew now the number of the enemy: nine scientists, three squads of heavily armed troopers—six within each squad.

"Take a look at the patches on the mercs, what do you see?" the salarian captain asked Rentola who was at her left.

The commander magnified the HUD display. The patches on a mercenary's shoulder revealed a vicious three headed dog.

Cerberus was on Ilos.

"What are those bastards doing here?" Wrex growled after the Spectre repeated the information Kirrahe had passed onto her.

"Something they shouldn't be." Tali said. "We'll have to tell the Council."

"We need to stop them first." Shepard said. "And do so quickly before they do something very stupid."

"What the rachni and creeper cloning wasn't stupid enough?" Wrex grumbled. "It never ceases to surprise me how stupid people can be in the name of science."

"You just said a mouthful, Wrex." Shepard muttered under her breath.

"Would it not be wise to watch and discover just what it is these humans are doing before we shut them down?" Morwen asked watching the group of scientists investigate one of several Prothean cryogenic chambers. "The greater understanding of our enemy, the easier to defeat them."

"Oh we've faced this lot before." Tali said "Best way to hit them is hard and fast, right Captain?"

"It is, but Morwen is right, we need to know exactly what it is they are doing here. When we do move, we will have to be very swift. Expect heavily armed commandos who can sling biotics with the best of them."

"I doubt they have faced an asari commando squad, Spectre." Nual retorted. "They may have power and aggression on their side but not the full extent of asari efficacy or experience. Order the asari teams in Spectre and we will neutralize them far more quickly than they will be able to retaliate."

"Confidence is good Nual, just be mindful not to be overly confident. I walked away from a confrontation with an asari commando squad before." Shepard pointed out. Granted she took one hell of a beating but she still managed to walk away from her battle with Benezia's unit.

"With all due respect, Spectre it was because you were allowed to walk away. Besides Cerberus does not have a T'soni on their side as you had."

"Cerberus is on Ilos." Liara said to her teammates: Dr. Juliana Boyaham, Shi'ar and Jahleed. Shepard had relayed the information via the comm as well as telepathically to her wife.

The other scientific teams had all been given the same troubling information. They acted as predicted with nervousness and accusations that they would not be kept safe. Many of the salarians became more and more suspicious of the humans within their own teams and amongst the crew itself. What right did the humans of Cerberus have to be here on Ilos doing whatever it was they were doing? Would the Spectre do anything against them? There were some who knew that Shepard had kept knowledge of Cerberus from the Shadow Broker and now here in this shadowed tomb of the Protheans that secret organization lingered.

"No doubt the Spectre will pull this mission now that Cerberus is here." Jahleed said, his rebreather clicking and hissing as he spoke. "Not that I mind, this place is all together wrong." He was a firm belief like so many others that some secrets were meant to stay secret. Ilos unnerved him as it had others. Only Liara and Shepard were at peace in the city of the dead.

"She will not." Liara answered confidently. "She will keep them from us so we can perform our duties. Fortunately Vigil is still functional enough to keep itself concealed from both geth and Cerberus. Our teams need to concentrate on our mission."

Exobiology, toxicology, geology and the technology of Protheans were systematically being harvested by Victory's science crews only now their window of seven days had the added difficulty racing against the scientists of Cerberus.

"Do we know what Cerberus is doing here?" Juliana asked the young asari at her side.

"The captain said they seemed to be harvesting the cryogenic capsules."

"For what purpose?" Jahleed asked wringing his hands. "Surely not the simple study of pathology? It has to be more than that."

"Indeed. As much as you and Chorban studied the keepers, I suspect Cerberus will study the remains of the Protheans, perhaps with cloning in mind. It was what they were doing with samples of rachni, creepers and thresher maws. It would not be a far stretch of the imagination to assume this is their plan for the Protheans." Liara explained.

"If that is true we have to stop them." Juliana said. "ExoGeni obviously has their hand in this as well. Dr. T'soni you were there with the thorian, you know what it was capable of. And you know how easily people became indoctrinated to it. If they were able to extract the enzymes the thorian used to control the colony and the creepers and implanted in Prothean clones… it will be disastrous."

"Our mission has not changed." Liara's voice was resolute. "We will perform our duty. We must insure now more than ever Vigil comes with us. Trust in our captain and our assault teams to handle Cerberus. Captain Shepard is relying on us to find whatever information we can to stop the Reapers. They are the greater threat. She will deal with the agents of Cerberus."

"You put a great deal of faith in on one person." Shi'ar said softly.

Liara turned to the asari next to her. She and the Shi'ar were of age and had been in many of the same training courses back in her mother's bastion. Both had been trained by Shiara who was in actuality the aunt of young Shi'ar hence the similarities in their names. It was here the shared history and experiences ended between Liara and Shi'ar. Where Liara went into archeology and anthropology of the Protheans, Shi'ar had delved in to fields of microbiology and oddly enough cybernetics. Odd because one did not generally pair the two fields of sciences up but Shi'ar had furthered her study into nanotechnology, this was why she was drafted in the first place.

"It is not one person but the entirety of the commando squads I have my faith in and so should you. We have work to do and not much time to do it in. Our warriors may be buying time for us with their very lives, this discussion is over."

Ashley didn't take the news of Cerberus being on Ilos any better than anyone else. It would be fair to say she was down right pissed about it. Humanity was working hard to maintain their place newly granted to them by the Council. And in one move Cerberus could take it all away.

When the Council found out about this little excursion no doubt humanity would face heavy repercussions not only from the Council races but others as well. Trade sanctions could easily be placed upon humanity as a whole for the actions of this rogue operative group.

'Idiots.' Williams grumbled 'fucking stupid idiots,'

Part 16

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