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 18
Smoke and Mirrors

For the last ten minutes Shepard had been sitting on the front right tire of the M36 mako, just staring at the geth prime. The scientists were nearing completion of their task. Her only movement was the occasional shifting of her gaze from one tech to the other as she followed the process. One might have thought she was watching her wife, but even as Liara left the company of techs, the Spectre didn't follow her with her gaze instead it was locked onto another asari.

So lost in thought was she that she was taken by surprise when the muscle of her thigh was touched by Liara's long fingered hand. Shepard gasped; her hand flew to her side to her sidearm but halted in mid action at the touch of her wife's familiar presence in her mind.

"I did not intend to give you a start, my love. You are so deep in your mind, I felt compelled to discover what has taken your thoughts."

Shepard turned from Liara's studious gaze back to the team but remained silent. Once more movement came in her direction, this time she did note the shadows crossing in her peripheral vision but remained unmoving from her perch on top of the massive tire. The shadows belonged to Aleena and Williams and Wrex. Liara gave them a nod of acknowledgement but remained just as silent as the Spectre.

"The geth prime," The Spectre said at last. "We can't walk around with it in our company. It will draw too much unwanted attention."

"But it's the only way we can take all of Vigil with us. You think we can just leave him on the ship?" Wrex asked. "That could start tongues wagging that won't be conducive to our mission Shepard. With all due respect to you and your skills T'soni, Vigil will be dead handy in the ruins we're trying to find as an interpreter. "

"We need to disguise our new buddy." Shepard said still staring at the laboring scientists and engineers.

"A disguise?" Aleena frowned.

"Sometimes such things are the only way you can move freely" Shepard did turn her gaze this time, blue eyes boring into the asari's green. "Even a new name…will be in order wouldn't you say, Doctor S'thasa?"

The bounty hunter nodded. "Sometimes one is left with little choice. A disguise can conceal one's identity or perhaps even shield one from that which they have no desire to confront. Sometimes a new identity is the only way left that allows one to walk away from choices made that aught not have been made."

"Sounds like you two are almost having another conversation." Wrex said. He sniffed the air taking in the scent of the three females. The only truly familiar scents were that of Shepard and T'soni. The emerald skinned asari smelled vaguely familiar but didn't trigger any response. No doubt he had run into a sibling of hers at one time or another, which could explain why he had the nagging feeling her voice was equally but distantly familiar. 'Ach, all she-mammals of the same race sound exactly the same.'

The Spectre leapt from the tire, her gaze holding on Aleena and smiled. "What do you think Dr. S'thasa? Do you think we are having another conversation?"

Shark and ray - both.

"You might think that Captain, but I couldn't possibly comment."

The Spectre's smile morphed into a smirk.

"How do you propose to conceal the fact our 'new buddy' is indeed a geth. It is not as simple as making it wear a turian hardsuit." Liara shifted attention back to the original subject.

"Not quite, but close Angel Eyes. I've got an idea." Pleased with herself Shepard trotted off towards the band of technicians.

"Now this I gotta see." Wrex said leaning back on the same tire his captain had been using as a chair.

Liara was beaming as she watched her wife get into a very animated conversation with Shi'ar, which left a very confused Aleena in the wake.

Reading the expression on the emerald skinned asari Williams chirped in. "You learn after serving with her for a time that when she has that look in her eyes, or says she's got an idea - trust it. She had that same look when she bashed Wrex in the forehead and got him to swear that Battle Oath of his."

Liara looked a little ruffled at the memory. "She took a great risk to herself, then. She could have done serious damage to her brain. She is fortunate the nose bleed wasn't indicative of brain damage or even a broken nose."

"But it worked out." Ash said. "Just like whatever it is cooking up in that mind of hers now will work. At least she didn't say it was going to be problematic. She says that and you know you're fracked."

"I ain't never thought to see that coming." Wrex referred to the day Shepard had head-butted him. He lifted his chin challengingly. "Challenged me just like proper leader of a tribe would have. Even if she is a pup and a mammal, I swore to follow her because she earned my respect. Hell she did more for me than anyone in my whole family has ever done. I don't care about the details, she wants something done, I'll do it. If you're smart, Doc, you'd do the same."

"You place great unwavering trust and faith in one soul." Aleena said "And you show great pride in her as well."

"We do." Liara smiled. "As Lt. Williams has said you will learn to trust the words: 'I've got an idea.' Such ideas are generally and habitually unorthodox if not capriciously bohemian but they generate favorable results for the task at hand."

To this Aleena looked over her shoulder to the young human and found the smile returned. Liara unknowingly parroted the words of Gunny Ellison.

"If you will excuse me, I want to know what this idea our captain devised is." Liara followed the steps of her wife had taken.

"You ain't the only one, I gotta see this." Wrex barked softly.

"Dr. Shi'ar, I need for you to find away to integrate nanoprobes into the prime's omni-tool capabilities, especially those that control the holographic matrix. I also want them to meld with the barrier matrix."

"Captain, I said the barriers are not combat-effective, introducing nanoprobes into the matrix will not make it any more effective. The EM surge destroyed all five levels of shielding when they took the brunt of the attack. It was a miracle the surge didn't destroy the more vital components. What is basically left of those systems are wiring and nodules with very basic shield capacity similar to those in hardsuits."

"Perfect." The Spectre was smirking. "No barriers but effective shields, nodules riddled throughout its body, it's perfect. I need a link between those nodules and the omni tool holomatrix."

"That would effectively create a holomatrix throughout its entire body."


"Oh you are clever, Samantha." Liara said "A holographic disguise!"

Shepard turned to her wife and winked. "Got it in one." She turned back to the other asari scientists. "So can it be done?"

Holographic technology was an integral part of life and quite common place from Omni tools, kiosks, viewers, to communications and VI interfaces. To use it for the purpose of concealment wasn't that far fetched. Holograms were used mostly in telecommunications as an alternative to screens. A holocamera of any recorder or receiver would acquire the dimensions, form and movements of an object by means of ray scanning. Projected holographic images are visible from all sides, although matterless. This vision then could be transmitted simultaneously somewhere else, or stored and reproduced on a holoprojector at a later time.

Holograms were initially monochrome with amber, amethyst or cyan hues, as of late however holoprogramers were attempting to add additional layers of color to some holograms but the progress was slow going. At best they were able to mimic duo-colored hardsuits.

For other interactive 'solid' holograms the technology varied slightly like Omni tools and kiosks both were constructed of a polydeutonic alloy. The Omni-tools as well as command panels onboard ships and computers were wholly self-contained holographic projectors, generating the photons and force fields necessary to allow a hologram to physically interact with its environment. The Omni tool's mobile emitter carried an internal power source which could interact with a variety of other technologies to function as an impromptu battery. Both holographic capabilities were integrated into the geth prime's functions.

By this time excitement was very plain on Shi'ar's features. "It's inspired, Captain. Yes, I believe it can be done. However, despite the possibility of the photonic structure having a solid and fully chromatic appearance, there are few races that stand twelve feet tall."

That was true. While most turian males towered over humans, standing on average close to seven or eight feet, (Saren was rather short for a turian standing only a foot taller than Shepard who was five-nine) none were close to twelve. Geth primes were the largest bi-pedal geth unit, towering over the second largest unit the geth juggernauts and destroyers who stood a whopping eleven feet tall.

"While it is easier to make something diminutive in size appear larger it is more difficult to do the reverse. Even in a hardsuit turians do not have the mass that the prime does. A prime's mass is more equal to a krogan."

"An elcor might seem to be an obvious choice. Unfortunately the ship isn't built for their girth. For height a hanar could easily conceal the prime's stature." Liara offered her thoughts. "However hanar and elcor are not bi-pedal. Even with a complex holographic program that might be a little more difficult to effectively implement."

"So we're back to a really tall turian. I don't think we can make that plausible." Shepard frowned.

"No one is going to buy that, Shepard." Wrex cautioned.

"Captain, I might have a solution to that. I've been developing tools for the asari commando units as a whole. I call it a perception filter and it is based on asari biotic abilities. It has a telepathic effect which shifts perception away from the object the filter is cast on the viewer becomes distracted in away." Shi'ar said.

"You know it's there, but you don't want to know it's there." Shepard reasoned. "So people might notice the twelve feet but allow themselves to see only eight?"

"Essentially that is the theory. I've been having some difficulties because particularly intelligent people are immune to the effects of a perception filter. Once one becomes aware of a perception filter or has their attention spiked, it ceases to work."

"You just described the majority of the crew of Victory. How does this help us?" The Spectre folded her arms.

"The full effect is not up to specs, however I believe that creating a chameleon effect to shift perception from twelve feet to eight will. In conjunction with the holo-disguise we will have an overall success."

Without realizing they were doing it the women and the only krogan turned their eyes to Garrus. Alerted by the instinct where one knows they are being stared at, the C-Sec agent looked up to see the three females and Wrex watching him. He took an involuntary step back even as the Spectre took a step forward.

"If we're going to do this, we need something to base map the hologram's surface texture on. We need a turian." Shepard continued to walk up to Garrus so she could lay out her new plan.

To say he was impressed was an understatement, though he was a little nervous at first. "Captain, I don't need to undress for this?"

"Good God no! It's bad enough you put it into my head that a krogan has four testicles, made me wonder if they have two penises. I certainly don't need other unwanted images lurking in my head, thank you very much."

Garrus's shoulders slumped in a sense of relief. He wasn't looking forward to the idea of being in a state of undress in front of a volus and several women. He'd do it of course, for the captain, but he wouldn't like it. "I suppose if you need the hologram to be armored it is best to scan one in such a thing."

"Exactly," Shepard smiled as she addressed Shi'ar. "Doctor, put the prime in Phantom issue armor. The irony of it is hilarious."

The joke was a little more cerebral for others to catch the pun, but yes it did have the merit of being somewhat amusing. After all the holographic disguises, perception filters, the body of a geth prime to house a Prothean AI which had the imprinted personality of Ksad Ishan, the idea of Phantom armor was indeed ironically apt.

"Captain, this will set back the time line of its completion at least another two hours." Shi'ar said.

"Understood," Shepard answered. "Just make it happen."

"Too bad he's the only turian here; you're going to make our geth friend dead ugly, Shi'ar." Wrex gave a parting shot at the C-Sec agent as he left the scientists to their tasks.

Garrus's mandibles flared in annoyance as he watched the lumbering krogan head for one of the makos, no doubt to perform a weapons check rather than obey the orders for rack time.

There were other concerns the Spectre needed to turn her attention toward. During her first watch the other teams had reported in and given her a full Sitrep. Dr. Baynham's Jr. exobiology-toxicology-geology team, which included Abigail Williams, Palon and Leda, had harvested several plant, earth and mineral samples. They took deep core samplings to test the age of the planet when the Protheans were active. The Spectre had reassured Ash that her little sister was safe and well, knowing that the elder Williams would worry.

Doctors Margali, Lehnsherr, Translan, and McCoy: a team of volus engineers, a turian astrophysicist and a human geneticist, were to seek out technologies left by the Protheans, and geth bodies left from the first visit to Ilos.

Doctors Ororo, Remlap, Misters. Schells and Chorban had been ordered by Liara to investigate other found Prothean technologies. Indeed the third team had successfully harvested the repository of information from the security station in the upper ruins.

The last team to report in to Shepard was Captain Kirrahe and the salarian Special Tasks Group. Radio contact was left to the salarian captain when he deemed it safe enough to transmit a signal without drawing attention to himself or the other STGs. Salarian STGs were ideal for the mission of harvesting Intelligence before action was decided. Of course once action was decided their philosophy was much akin to those of Sun Tzu and his art of war. The hyperactive race found it mind-boggling the way humanity and even to some extent the turians had the idea of don't shoot until first shot at. Or warning an enemy of attack such as 'if you don't surrender we will fire.'

Because the salarians were not generally a militant race and not evolved to stand up to a firestorm like krogans, turians and humans, they had employed the fight with wisdom not force alone much like the asari handled warfare: 'politics, weather, terrain, the commander, doctrine.' Each of the factors once had to be deliberate on the basic conditions which decide a war.

Shepard along with all those trained as all N-Sevens were well schooled in Sun Tzu's doctrine of warfare. The Special Ops corps had to know it forward and back, and by rote. It was this aspect of the Spectre that made her appreciate the effectiveness, and efficiency of Kirrahe's STGs and their daunting task of gaining all Intel they could on Cerberus mission on Ilos before any aggressive and preemptive strike was called.

What they found out already compounded what they already knew about the rogue black ops organization. They were keen on collecting DNA to create human super soldiers. Ironic if one thought about the DNA the xenophobic organizations were collecting: thorian creepers and pods, rachni, thresher maws, and now Prothean. Humanity must stand alone, but we're going to rob aliens and their dead of their DNA to create human super soldiers.

History was proof enough of the nefarious deeds Cerberus had immersed itself in. Cerberus had kidnapped Corporal Toombs for a number of years making the military believe he was KIA at the very least MIA because he had venom of thresher maw in his veins. They wanted to know why he survived. Cerberus had tried to recreate the events that led up to Toombs' condition

It was hypothetical but reasonable to assume that agents in both Binary Helix and ExoGeni were working with Cerberus. The proof of this was already there. Shepard had uncovered as much while both on Feros and Novaria while hacking into the corporation's computers. Samples of the rachni, Thoros-B and thorian creepers had been transplanted to Cerberus.

The thorian samples had been sent to a planet in the Vostok system of the Maroon Sea cluster. Upon traveling to Nodacrux the flagship ground squad had discovered several 'colonies' of thorian creepers. They had even discovered a single empty Thorian 'pod', similar to the one Shiala was released from, found in a corner of the ExoGeni facility.

That was something Shepard believed needed to be revisited if not by her then another Spectre. But now was neither the time nor place to think of a thorian pod on another world.

Kirrahe reported over the uniform hardsuit communicator: "The command structure lies in the hands of the scientists, much like the teams we have deployed. This has caused a schism in their ranks however. Their paramilitary chafes under the hand of the scientists, whose only hold on them are constant reminders that someone referred to as 'The Man' or the 'Illusive Man' will not appreciate the task being unfulfilled and the dogs of war best learn their place.' The mercenaries are keen to remind the scientists of the heavy losses they already suffered by the geth and that no doubt Shepard is on her way here.' It appears they have not detected our movements as the geth have been providing adequate diversions for us. There are reports that they had been aware of the drop ship explosion but lack of Alliance presences and the bodies of their own close by the mercenaries have assumed the geth were encroaching on their base camp. They have been in several skirmishes with drones, and hoppers as well as shock troops.

"Of the original number only twenty paramilitary troopers remain, and four of six scientist teams are operational. Each team consists of seven scientists. They are awaiting rendezvous with their own ship in three days, which is why we detected no sign of their presence in orbit or the surrounding moon."

"Unless of course they too have a cloaking device," Shepard said begrudgingly. She prayed to the Heavens that Cerberus wouldn't have that edge. For now it was safe to assume they didn't, at least not here on Ilos. If they had they no doubt would have attacked the Victory or warned their ground team of our presence. Still Shepard wasn't fool enough to take anything for granted. "What are their groundside armaments?"

For a moment Kirrahe sounded as if he was consulting his second in command. "Three anti-aircraft cannons I believe you call them GAGs, and eight heavy Alliance class turrets guard the base camp. They have three heavy assault rovers close to the M28 class makos, and five swoop bikes. All heavily armored and equipped with heavy assault cannons. Captain, I must warn you for our observations we have detected that twelve of the twenty soldiers are biotics. What class we do not know as of yet but considering their average age to be thirty, I would say they are either L2s or L3s or a combination of the two."

"And the scientists?"

"All of them techs and trained with Omni tools. I have seen two of their number use biotics as well. It is possible others are so skilled. However they seem only marginally capable of handling small firearms. We have seen their feeble attempts to defend themselves against a squad of geth troopers. They are not trained for battle Captain as they allowed their fear to dictate their actions. It was only by the effective actions of their military back up they survived the geth troopers."

"Then we will exploit that." Shepard said. "Your Intel proves they not here for us, they are here in spite of us." Shepard said.

"Captain, Cerberus being here is far too convenient, too coincidental. Ambassador Udina has something to do with it. Even if he knows of Ilos he doesn't know where it is. It was never disclosed in the reports accessible to the Alliance. Everything else was sealed under Spectre directives. There was only one other who knew the coordinates of Ilos' location."


"Your former XO Pressly." Kirrahe said echoing the Spectre's thoughts. "He has to have told Udina how to get here. What dangers they would face when they did. Normandy and Victory are the only two ships that have cloaking devices and have Tantalus core drives."

The Normandy was now part the Citadel Fleet. It wasn't a race of time that allowed Cerberus to be here before the Victory. It was simply time. While the crew was on down time between the reception party and the wedding, Cerberus had traveled to Ilos to carry out their nefarious experimentations.

"Udina and Pressly only know the systems of the Normandy but not aboard the Victory. And thus they don't know what we are and are not capable of. We have to work on the presumption that Pressly is compromised. We also work on the presumption they are also in league with the traitor onboard Victory." Shepard commented. "Our immediate threat is the Cerberus agents right here. We're going to use their schism to our advantage. We'll converge at ground zero of the drop ship explosion. We're going to use a little smoke and mirrors and Trojan horses to rout out a three-headed dog."

"You're going to use the geth drop ship as a Trojan horse?" Williams stared at her commanding officer. "Won't they see that coming? And how are you going to get that thing to fly again, it's not like we have a geth pilot."

"We don't need a functioning geth." Shepard said as she looked to her wife who was standing beside the lieutenant.

"You don't mean to use Ksad Ishan?" Liara wasn't fast enough to school the expression of dread from her face.

"Ksad Ishan?" Williams frowned "What - you mean Vigil?"

"As our captain said he needed a new identity I thought Ksad Ishan was appropriate, considering Vigil's interactive programming was based upon the Overseer's personality. And the name is sealed in the Spectre's reports."

"It doesn't sound very turian to me." Williams continued to frown.

"Nevertheless we managed to program Vigil to respond to his new identity." Liara answered swiftly back.

"Can it both of you." Shepard said in her authoritative tone. Both Williams and Liara had the decency to look embarrassed. "We're getting off topic. To answer your question, Liara no I'm not going to use Ksad Ishan, I'm not so sure that would work anyway. From what I've seen of the geth quadrupeds and of the raiders, I think the dropships are geth themselves, at least their Bridge and CIC must be and that part of it is deactivated."

"If that is so then how do you intend to use the dropship to drop in our own strike teams, Captain?" The question came from Morwen.

She, along with Shepard's squad and Liara's team assembled themselves into a horseshoe centered around Tali's Omni tool holographic projection of the Cerberus's encampment which had been transmitted to her via Kirrahe, who had thoroughly scouted the terrain of their enemy.

"Our units will be hidden inside the dropships cargo bay, along with the makos, just like the geth would with their tanks. Maneuvering will be the tricky part," again her eyes fell on Liara. "With biotics using a lift-push, we can negotiate the ship into strike zone. We don't need to do any fancy flying we need only to get the thing into position, here." Shepard pointed to the central part of the enemy encampment. "A squad of asari commandos and myself will be inside the ship, from the flanks I will dispatch two infantry units who will use the chaos to cut them down. Captain Kirrahe managed to get their transponder codes, his team will signal the Cerberus mercs and lull them into thinking they have allies and thus the superior forces. We're also using Shi'ar's holoprogram to give them sensor ghosts so they believe their reinforcements have several makos to back them up. They will leave their six unguarded. This will allow our strike team to take full advantage of their command schism and the chaos inspired by the dropship."

The Spectre fully outlined the offensive armaments, number of biotics and techs as well as the defensive specs. She also hinted that Cerberus's goon squad would no doubt be amped up with possible gene-therapy more than any Alliance soldier. Gene therapy wasn't all that uncommon, most human governments offered free assessment and correction therapies to its citizens, which had nearly eliminated genetic diseases from the human gene pool. Genetics had developed to such an extent that basic genetic flaws could be corrected; indeed Ash had received gene therapy in-utero for her maternal disposition to short-sightedness.

All alliance soldiers were given gene therapy once enlisted to make them more durable, stronger, and faster than the average Alliance citizen, though most genetic therapies took years to come into their full effect. It wasn't an improbability to assume that Cerberus's goon squads were considerably altered. No doubt they would have the stamina of a krogan battlemaster. There were no illusions in anyone's mind that the enemy's soldiers were simply hired thugs as used by your typical crime lord.

"Captain, why use the geth dropship at all, if they number only twenty surely our forces can neutralize them. Why the elaborate deception?" Jahleed asked.

"Because I need their ground team to report they are being once more attacked by the geth. The dropship will instill fear and panic in their numbers. Fear can be an exceptional weapon. They already suffered heavy losses from the synthetics--the appearance of a dropship in their camp before it is obliterated will reinforce the idea that Ilos isn't cost effective to continue their plans for it. If we attacked them outright we lose several advantages. Right now they are in the flux of a power of command schism, their leadership is precarious at best, and I need to use that against them.

"Radioing the ship will also give its location away to Victory. Under stealth mode she can monitor all calls sublight and FTL, we follow the transmission to its source. I need all advantages I can harvest to strike against them. That means using all available assets I have. Operation Trojan horse is our insurance. Once they see the dropship, and transmit they're under attack we jam all radio signals and strike. At that point it is irrelevant if they see us.

"The strike teams will be consisted of Russan's squad and Kirrahe's STGs. Williams as the XO you will take command over ground squad and remain here with the scientists. Once they have completed their task with Vigil/ Ksad Ishan you will rendezvous with the other ground teams at Base Camp. Doctors S'thasa, T'soni, Shi'ar, Huntresses Nual and Morwen you're with me on the dropship."

Both Wrex and Garrus looked at one another. Protests were on their respective mouths and reflected in their eyes. Neither male had a desire to baby-sit a bunch of egg-heads, even Williams chafed under the orders.

Before arguments broke out Shepard stared those she knew would protest the loudest over their orders. Each in turn shifted their gaze aside unable to meet the ice-blue gaze of the Spectre. "You have your orders, dismissed."

While others turned to carry out their duties, Liara lagged behind. Her expression like the warriors before bore the look of one not at all pleased with the current events. "Captain, a word in private if I may?" she said, managing to keep her tone just under cool civility. Others were still too near to be anything other than professional.

Shepard nodded, leading the asari away from the encampment and into one of the mako's holds. As soon as they were out of earshot from any of the others, Liara spun around anger masking her normally serene features.

"I must protest." Liara nearly spat the three words out. "I am not spun glass that needs careful handling. My being pregnant is not indicative of being fragile. I told you before I don't need a protector…"

"Hold it right there!" the Spectre's voice became a low rumble of command, her hand raised to stop the tirade Liara was about to erupt into. "I gave you an order. This isn't about what your wife wants for her beloved and her unborn child. This is about what your captain needs. If it was about what your wife wanted then you would be staying right here with Vigil. However, you are probably the most potent biotic in Council space now that your mother is gone. I need that edge, Dr. T'soni, the mission hinges on your abilities. You are not military but you are a part of my crew, as such if I have to pull rank to implement this order, I will. Now as your captain answer me - can you or can you not follow my orders?"

Liara turned aside, ashamed she had assumed the only reason Samantha wanted her at her side was to protect her. The archeologists hadn't even figured in her control over biotics as a factor. This wasn't about a lack of trust in Liara's abilities to keep herself from harm but quite the opposite. Liara was suddenly reminded of the conversation Samantha had had with her mother all those months ago. Hanna Shepard had asked her daughter if she had to could she order Liara into danger, knowing it may well get her killed. Could she be objective enough not to allow personal attachment to get in the way of a mission? Samantha said yes she could and Liara would follow them without question.

But Liara had questioned the order. She had doubted her wife---her captain, her Spectre. That would not happen again. The Spectre was awaiting her reply. Squaring her shoulders Liara assumed the parade rest stance in the hopes of displaying their more professional relationship over that of their deeply personal one. "I can follow your orders, Captain."

"Good to hear, Dr. T'soni, Dismissed." The Spectre said forcing the walls of command up over the wants, desires and will of the wife within her. The Captain of Victory had done more than to pull rank on her beloved Liara she had pulled it on Samantha Shepard the woman, the wife, the mother for the good of the mission. She knew she should feel guilty about having to do so, but she didn't. The warrior within knew this was the best option for success; she couldn't afford to allow personal feelings into the mix.

Garrus had volunteered to escort the biotic troops back through the labyrinth to dropship's location. After the drop off he'd turn the mako around and head back to the Watcher's Chamber. The turian always thought the geth dropships bore the appearance of a wasp with its wings plucked off and this one has a gaping hole in its hull. It would never be space worthy again. Hell the thing didn't even look capable of air flight. Then again it didn't need to be.

To move a starship by sheer biotics alone seemed insane if not impossible. Garrus looked to his captain in confounded admiration. Shepard had had wild ideas before but this was beyond the scope of anything done so far. Well… there was that shark …

The former C-Sec officer turned to Liara and frowned. "You're really going to move that thing with biotics? It's massive!" it was only a frigate class but still…. The thing was huge!

"What is mass?" Liara said softly. "With the correct application of leverage and counterweight a child could lift several kilos using basic principles of physics. The very idea of impossibility is only a construct of the mind. Size has no relevance for a huntress, for a Spectre trained in biotics. The force - the will of biotics does not recognize big or small, heavy or light, hard or easy, fast or slow. It is a matter of inner strength of inner will.

"I will not fly this alone however, our captain will assist. She knows the mechanics of a starship far better than I. That knowledge will be needed to manipulate the internal systems. We will be a super-capacitor for each other."

"Liara you really don't need Shepard's help to fly that thing do you? The mechanics bit isn't actually necessary is it?"


"Then why?" amber eyes watched the asari for any hint of what she was thinking, but he saw only a schooled expression. One held by instructors and teachers across the galaxy.

"She needs the training and the exercise this will give her. She has grown very powerful but she needs guidance. More now than ever before. I shall center her and guide her but she will be doing much of the work by her own powers." Liara watched as her wife was helping the others ready the dead dropship for the mission. "Our bond will act as the true conduit, only Shiala as our mentor would be able to link with her as I will and she is not here."

This was going to be a test, if the Spectre failed, Liara would be there to insure the mission was a success. The archeologist wasn't about to risk the mission for a training exercise but the training was a necessary element, of the Spectre's ongoing tutorship in the skills of biotics. Yes, she might have mastered them as far as a human could, but she was far more skilled and powerful than any human biotic thus far. Much like the drills with live ammunition back in basic, you passed by living, you failed if you got hit or killed. The Spectre would be a danger to herself and to the crew if she could not fully contain, manage and control her power.

The decrepit ship rattled as it rose into the air, hovering like skeletal husk of something trying very hard to pass as space worthy vessel.

It had begun in the cargo hold.

Eyes closed, their minds focused upon the ship just as they had with the rose weeks ago, Liara and the Spectre stood facing each other, their palms out in front of them. They reached as deep as they had ever reached into the will of their biotics, and then went further still, feeling as though a mighty chasm had opened up under them and their minds as will plunged down into it. The chasm filled. Their minds opened. The physical existence of the dropship slid painlessly inside.

The tips of their fingers and the geth dropship became as one in their minds. Every nut and bolt and plate and wire of the massive machine was contained within that tiny space. It wasn't hard to move an arm, a finger, a single organic cell. They could direct one barely without thinking, so why not the other, too? Instinct was clearer on that point than the workings of their minds. The sensation of containing a vast, thousand-ton machine with the tips of fingers was deeply disorientating. The Spectre felt as though every muscle fiber, every nerve, and bone groaned along with the metal seams and joints of the ship. What it felt both asari and human felt, too, and even a small acceleration had a profound effect on such a large scale.

The ship maintained altitude but it was hard going what with the constant bombardment tearing through the minimal kinetic barriers and turbulence rocking the skeletal frame. It resisted with all the momentum it possessed. Hatches swung open; rivets popped; bulkheads twisted; pipes burst.

The asari commando's had dropped dead three armatures from the cargo hold onto the enemy encampment as if they were depth-charges. Barely operating turrets had targeted the GAGs because such an attack would be expected; it was more for show than force. The firepower was minimal at the best, and the best seemed to be the ships' GARDIAN (General Area Defensive Integration Anti-spacecraft Network) though a hundred percent accurate, it wasn't hundred percent lethal.

A ship's GARDIAN consists of anti-missile anti-fighter laser turrets on the exterior hull. Because these were under computer control, the gunnery control officer needs to do little beyond turn the system on and designate targets as hostile. Since lasers move at light speed, they cannot be dodged by anything moving at non-relativistic speeds. Unless the beam is aimed poorly, it will always hit its target. But powered down as they were they were the only things taking out Cerberus's turrets. It would have to be enough, the ground teams needed to take up the slack.

The ship shuddered once more. This time however the kinetic barriers couldn't hold back a blaze of explosive oranges and reds. The ship growled and squealed in metal torment.

"All hands abandoned ship!" the voice belonged to Morwen. "Captain, T'soni we need to abandon ship! Now!"

Shaken from their meditative state, the Spectre and Prothean expert didn't bother asking questions; asking questions when the ship was burning all around you was a good way to end up very crispy and dead. A wild exodus of five asari and one human flung themselves from the crashing ship and hoped for the best. The ship was really picking up speed now. The thickening atmosphere had a slight braking effect, but nothing could prevent the inevitable. It was going to hit soon.

Sparks danced in front of the Spectre's eyes. The edges of her vision faded to black. Light and dark swirled spun around her, wraith-like. Only twice had she felt this: once on Elysium and once in the Citadel Tower. She felt momentarily faint and wondered if it was possible to dissolve into essence of biotics.

The dropship, now a burning, shrieking meteor, filled the asari and Spectre's entire forward vision. The hull was peeling away in a fiery glow, each one weighing hundreds of tons, exposing the darker skeleton beneath. It looked like a death's-head, a ghastly mask not dissimilar to Saren's husk.

It hit the GAG cannon, exactly as it was supposed to, and the sky turned white. The ground buckled beneath the squads' feet. They pinwheeled, unable to find their balance, as a tsunami of earth, rocky detritus and junk rose up ahead of them and blotted out the already veiled sun. Huge shockwaves rolled, compressing and decompressing the rubble of Ilos. The squad huddled under a fallen pillar taking what scant shelter it offered from the avalanche of dirt, shrapnel of unrecognizable parts of ship and turrets.

"Call in!" Shepard said into her helmet microphone after the tsunami of rubble came to a manageable dull roar.

Five voices responded. For better or worse they had suffered nothing serious in the way of injuries other than bruises. The hardsuits' kinetic barriers and shielding mods had taken the brunt of the impact. Only Nual seemed to have taken more than minor damage, having suffered a dislocated shoulder. Aleene was already on the job.

"How bad is she S'thasa?"

"It won't take long Captain, but first what is your status?" the bounty hunter said in a voice that had dropped all pretence of a subordinate and took up the tone of the medical professional.

"The same as everyone else." The Spectre commented. She shuffled quietly passed the dune the debris had created to reach young Nual. As she passed Liara she touched her wife on the shoulder, clearly intent on giving an 'I-can't-tell-you-how-relieved-I-am-you're-safe-beloved,' touch. But of course she couldn't say so; she was both the CO and Spectre, the wife part of her had no part to play here.

The Spectre knelt before Nual, her teal skin turning paler. She had removed her helmet, needing to feel air on her flesh. Beads of sweat gathered on her forehead and upper lip. She must be feeling sharp stabbing pains in her shoulder. Shepard knew this pain fairly well, what with having suffered a few dislocated shoulders in the line of duty. And having suffered this pain knew exactly what needed to be done.

"Soldier!" Her voice was crisp and commanding making the asari commando stare at her. "You look at me; keep me in your focus. This is going to hurt like a son-of-a-bitch, there is no two ways about it, but you're going to survive it. You keep your eyes on me."

"Yes, Captain." Her voice was stressed like a wire.

Aleene knew this pain too and knew exactly what the Spectre was doing. Distraction was best for this. It would be worse if Nual tensed up. The shoulder needed to be placed back into its socket. The bounty hunter was a talented healer; it had made her a better killer. Forcing a shoulder back into place was a crude method but it was practically the only way. Taking her position behind the younger asari she spoke with the best bedside manner she possessed.

"As our captain said, this will hurt quite a bit. Brace yourself by placing your good arm on the captain's shoulder and keep focused on her. Alright on three." The bounty hunter braced herself and maneuvered into a position that would give her the leverage to pop the socket back into place. "One. Two."


Nual screamed.

She toppled onto the Spectre panting as she fought back a wave of nausea and dizziness. Angrily she turned to the emerald skinned huntress. "What the hell happened to three?"

"I didn't want you to tense up, it would have been worse for you if you had."

"She's right, Nual." The Spectre said in a voice that was both authoritative and comforting. "It was better to be taken by surprise. Pop a medi-gel epi and pain-killers. The day isn't over yet."

The Illusive Man was not having a good day. Only a half an hour ago Paul Grayson called to tell him the project on Grissom Station had been compromised. The Asset had grand mal seizure and his agent had been compromised. Apparently the new medication was too much for The Asset. The Illusive Man had told Grayson they needed to play it out and assume Jiro Toshiwa had not blown Grayson's cover or the fact his daughter was a tool for Cerberus.

The Illusive Man knew Jiro would eventually tell the Alliance of the project, The Asset and perhaps of the Illusive Man himself. However if he could hold out long enough for someone to clean up the mess he needn't worry about Cerberus exacting revenge. If he kept silent, the Illusive Man toyed with an idea to even rescue the good doctor from his cell. Let Toshiwa cling to that hope, however fleeting and false it might be. The man had proved useful in his few short years of service to Cerberus while stationed at Grissom Station tending to The Asset.

The Ascension Project has already revealed much. Yes The Asset had suffered a seizure but it was a breakthrough. It was inevitable something would happen, good or bad. The Illusive Man had given Grayson the mission eleven years ago because Grayson believed wholeheartedly in Cerberus with an almost pious demeanour. He followed his orders without question. The Asset was critical for the long-term survival of humanity.

The accident on Grissom station proved another thing to the Illusive Man, Cerberus had gotten everything it could out of the Academy's Ascension Project. Now it was time to take the child's training back into Cerberus' own hands, under their constant observation and guidance. Yes they would have to move cautiously with their tests; still those tests were those of Cerberus not the Alliance. The child needed expert help. Cerberus understood her condition better than anyone, this is what the Illusive Man had told Grayson, the child's 'father'. Grayson has made himself believe it because he knew the girl, he had come to love and see as his daughter was a ticking biotic time bomb. Her powers were growing.

Strange how it all revolved around two females: one still a child and one now a woman. The Illusive Man pondered.

Before her records were sealed by the Council, the Illusive Man had paid the Shadow Broker a hefty sum to get the medical records of the Hero of the Skyllian Blitz. To say he was surprised that she had continued to use her biotics even when her implant was in cool-down to avoid flare up was a massive understatement. Reading her records the Illusive Man began to understand the power of Shepard and how she came to it.

In-utero exposure to Ee-Zo and a second one in '69, how odd that it coincided with the BAat training being shut down because a Commander Vynnus was killed by one Kaiden Alenko. More coincidentally that Alenko would later serve with Shepard. While Alenko (and The Asset) was implanted at the optimal age of eleven, Shepard hadn't been until she had turned seventeen and thus considered adult enough to make her own medical decisions. She had herself implanted in '71 and became an L3 after officially being detected. Apparently her father was reluctant to allow the implantation, not wanting an official biotic in the family. But her abilities had manifested so greatly that she had gained the attention of the ship's captain and thus could no longer be ignored.

It was a strange coincidence just as Shepard was becoming the then new L3; the Illusive Man was working for the future when he ordered the destruction of an Eldfell-Ashland Energy ship over Yandoa. The colony suffered catastrophic dust-form of element-zero exposures that resulted in birth defects and thirty-seven biotic children being born: one of them was The Asset.

If Samantha Shepard hadn't been exposed to a second dose of Ee-Zo as a teenager, the Illusive Man might never have dreamed of the treatments he ordered The Asset to undergo. Shepard was extremely powerful for a biotic. What she had done both on Elysium and again in the Council Chambers was astonishing. She had surpassed the shut-down cooling of her amplifying implants and continued to use her biotics without killing herself, going mad or turning homicidal, she hadn't even suffered any sort of mentally or physically debilitating side effects. Shepard was beyond the Illusive Man's touch which was why he had insured The Asset had been exposed in-utero just like Shepard. The medications and augmentations as well as the medicines that enhanced her biotics in hopes to recreate what had happened to Shepard when she was fourteen.

There was a click and buzz on his desk alerting the Illusive Man he had a call waiting. "What?!" he barked into the offending intercom.

"Sir, I think this is something you will want to see." The voice of his administrative assistant Duncan Scott came over the Illusive Man's interoffice communications. It carried the note of worry and fear. The sort of fear only messengers held as they approached Caesar thousands of years ago with ill news.

Given that he had just received negative information from Grayson, The Illusive wasn't predisposed to want a second dose. Nevertheless, he had obligations to his agendas and to Cerberus. "Patch it through Scott," he ordered mechanically. The Illusive Man's steely-blue eyes narrowed as he ordered the channel to open. His face an emotionless mask as he watched the grainy static ridden transmission from Ilos:

A geth dropship loomed over the encampment wasting no time in deploying their quadrupled armatures. Shouts barked, over the roar of the firing of assault rifles. From the HUD cam inside one of the agent's helmet, soldiers could be seen running for the GAG.

Ground-air guns were a heady weapon to have when faced with air strikes by geth, alien or even Alliance military skiffs. The geth however knew that, and so made sure that the GAG and its operators were their primary target.

Static overcame the scene more white noise was heard than the orders of the battle. The distinct cry of: 'We're under heavy fire! Request immediate extraction, repeat immediate extraction!'

Explosions sounded.

Then, a voice barely audible over the shell fire all around the soldier, told the Illusive Man the campaign on Ilos was lost. The sergeant whose HUD gave the overlord a point-of-view of the turrets two barrels loaded with two-hundred caliber ammunition fired at full strength into the dropship, at the sergeant's command, tearing through that flying death trap as easily as the ship's own munitions went through Cerberus's people.

Stepping out of the GAG, the soldier whooped and cheered as the dropship went hurtling down—right toward the camp.


The young merc ran as fast as he could, pumping his tired, aching legs with all his strength. After he went to all the trouble of shooting down the dropship it would be incredibly embarrassing to be squashed by the damn thing as it hurtled to the ground in a hulking ball of flames.

"Run! Run! Run! He screamed running crazed directly for his sergeant, the fiery dropship heading toward the ground at a great rate right behind him. Even as the corporal grabbed him, the sergeant himself leaped to the ground, hoping to avoid the wreck.

Whoops of joy were suddenly cut off by ear-splitting screaming static.

"More incoming!" a voice hovered somewhere over the sergeant's flank. "Sarge!" that second voice cried out. "We've got back up! Three squads and one heavy-rover at nine-o'clock! "

The Illusive Man frowned. That didn't make any sense. How had the orbiting vessel managed to drop in reinforcements so quickly? The answer was painfully obvious.

'No you idiots the geth are playing you! That's the enemy out-flanking you!' It was the same shout one hurls at the vid-scene when watching a holofed programs. You yell at the protagonists not to venture into the big-scary –too-dark-cave because the big-nasty-monster was right there lurking in the shadows ready to devour them. The hero blundered in got torn apart, his friend eaten and the monster left to go eat someone else. No amount of yelling at the screen would change the outcome. No amount of shouting at the transmission would change this outcome either.

Garbled words became devoured by static. "… enemy … foothold … lost …" more static. "… don't know how they did it … all hands lost. Made sure … no retreat possible … has taken all."

"Sorry, sir. It cuts out right after that. There are no cleaner transmissions."

There was a second terrible explosion.

The Illusive Man turned off the monitor yet continued to stare at the blank screen. His instinct told him there was more to the geth's brutal attack than he had just witnessed. Something was very, very wrong. His troops had had been outmaneuvered by an enemy that was that was used to flexibility in moving and skillfulness in seizing opportunities to fight. The commander of the enemy forces held a heavy concentration of forces to defeat his people one by one. They had moved with swiftness in a comparatively short time spent in battle. His troops had been utterly annihilated.

Despite the appearances of a geth attack The Illusive Man couldn't help but think of one name.


Part 19

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