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: I've gotten some extensive aid from a reader who has an excellent grasp on real-world science and physics and has helped me understand the real-world applications of a gravity leveler, which is a far cry from the cinema-effects of the same device used in Ultraviolet which I have borrowed. I have taken extreme liberties with real-world science but then so do many sci-fi writers, after all explosions as seen in Star Wars / Star Trek / BSG/ Star Gate/ Mass Effect can not truly happen in the vacuum of space. Oh yes and due to the events of ME2 obviously this is very much an AU. However some elements / scenes / characters of ME2 will make it into here so I guess there will be some spoilers.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Rising From the Ashes
By Elizabeth Carter
When she slept the memories of others snuck into her deep dreams as a thief, cloaked by shadow and night.
In those memories Shepard beheld the galaxy in the glory of the Prothean expansion a millennia before they were wiped out. Their worlds overgrown with abundant life and vitality and she knew the worlds left behind were nothing more than corpses, the galaxy a husk of what it had been before the culling of the Reapers.
After disarming and occupying the planet, the reapers believed they were more than halfway toward their goal. By utilizing a percentage of Protheans to cultivate and harvest bio-resources, reaper experiments could be carried out by the collectors uninterrupted. The great hive at the central core which became known as the Omega Four relay became the site of the great work.
Light and shadow cast reflections and silhouette distorting the figure casting it. But it was clear enough to reveal t'was no human that cast it. Without confirmation, without a second glance there was no doubt it was Regent Izu-Chuan. She had seen, had heard, had known the creatures that hunted in the reapers' name. They had collected onto them the essence of the people and wrought their ruin. She saw the collectors placing captives into cocoons. She saw bodies ripped, torn and flayed as the teeth of dragons gnashed them into remnants of what they were converting them into husks.
The memories only deepened the Spectre's resolve. Even now the galaxy was being bled dry by the megalocorporations' solicit parasitic influences. Operations like Cerberus, and Virmire would sacrifice much to preserve their power and petty ambitions heedless of the profound cost.
Shepard bolted from her sleep and from her bed, her breath hot, heavy and leaden in her lungs. Liara was there at her side instantly, holding her closely to her breast as she always had after the nightmares came. Liara placed her hand over Samantha's heart causing her own eight-chambered organ to slow to its rhythm. Her spirit ever-linked with her love opened the bond between them, their nerves systems merged, blue light of dark mater flashed dimly like distant starlight.
'Be still my love. Take knowledge from the nightmares and memories but let their haunting go from your spirit.'
"Liara." Samantha uttered the name so very softly. "I think we're in very big trouble."
"Surely that fate has not changed since the beginning of our mission to stop Saran." Liara said with some levity she had learned while in the past year in the company of her bondmate and the other humans. She had learned to value the tension breaking power of an ill-placed dark humour.
She felt Samantha's smile before she saw it. "Fate---no it hasn't changed the quantity however I think we've maxed out." the Spectre retorted.
Liara offered a beleaguered smile. "It is unfortunate the Universe doesn't play by the same rules."
"There are ways around that, you know"
"Is there indeed?"
"Learn the software and cheat."
"Somehow I had the distinct impression you were going to say something like that."
"How well you know me my love." Sam placed a kiss on the bridge of her wife's nose. She shifted from the bed, scrounged around on the floor for her boxers and tee-shirt before moving silently towards the sitting area of their quarters and shuffled into her floor length black silk robe. One of her few impractical vices, the feel of silk next to naked flesh.
"What are you doing, melethril"
"As well as you know me, I know you Angel Eyes," came the answer. The Spectre always enjoyed the sound of the asari language which was why she had made sure her translator no longer interpreted for her. In fact she hadn't since her recovering after the battle of the Citadel.
Liara giggled. "I was going to try to sweet talk you into going to the galley for me." She snaked a long delicate blue finger along the swell of Samantha's now covered left breast. "It seems your daughter is making her mother crave some of those lovely pickled jalapeños."
Sam rubbed the sleep from her eyes. "Right, jalapeños, anything else?"
"Something sweet. Fruit perhaps."
Sam nodded and headed for the elevator alcove acting as the dutiful wife. Stretching the kinks out of her shoulders and neck she waited for the lift to make its slow decent to the third level crew deck.
Padding barefoot into the galley the Spectre discovered someone else on a looting mission. Aleena was rummaging in the storage units no doubt on behalf of Shiala. She was about to reach for her prize a familiar looking jar of pickled peppers when it rushed past her grasp, sailed across the mess hall and into Shepard's waiting hands.
Aleena spun round-fast ready to confront the biotic thief. "I had claim on those!" the huntress grumbled indignantly not caring if she was being insubordinate.
"Let me guess, Shiala craved something very hot and spicy and sent you to fetch it for her?"
"Yes to both. And this is the last jar of jalapeños." Aleena had her hand balled into fists resting upon her hips.
Shepard smirked cockily holding up the jar was if it was the grandest treasure to be found in the galaxy. "Captain's bondmate outranks assassin's girlfriend."
"Assassin's girlfriend also happens to be the captain's mentor." Aleena shifted, her arms now folded over her chest, her scowl deepening.
"Ah damn, that's right." Shepard frowned. "How about we split it fifty-fifty?"
"Sounds fair enough, however make sure the juice is also split equally." Aleena's scowl turned into a shudder. "Shiala likes to sip it like tea." She scouted the kitchen area for a container to take her half of the bounty back to lover. She found pint glass which she held up for Shepard to see before she set it on the counter in front of her.
Sheppard scrunched up her nose in a grimace. "So does Liara. Tell me is this normal for asari pregnancies, craving things like jalapeños, green calishite and pepper cheeses and other hot foods?" She began splitting up the picked peppers and juice.
"I was under the impression human women also have strange cravings during their pregnancies." The assassin busied herself by scrounging the large bay refrigerators for fruits and discovered a mixing bowl filled with berries of various types. She put them on the same counter as before then turned back to the fridge to retrieve the cheeses the Spectre had previously mentioned.
Shepard handed her a knife and two small plates as she used a ladle to scoop out several portions of berries into two soup bowls. "Yeah we do. My mother tells me when she was pregnant with me she ate a lot of melons and peanutbutter-banana sandwiches. She also tended to eat a lot of heavily smoked flavoured meats. Not necessarily strange, but strange for her. She hated peanutbutter before and despises it now."
"My own mother admits to craving calamari, sushi and wasabi rolls as well as kelp pancakes. Come to think of it my mother's cravings are not all that odd, only odd for her as well. You see she is as she says not on speaking terms with fish. She hates fish."
"What? Just because our home planet is world of oceans and islands doesn't mean we all like to eat seafood. Very stereotyping of you, tsk tsk and here I thought you enlightened alien with being bonded to one of us and all." Aleena tried to sound affronted despite the fact she was more amused. "Shall I further that stereotype and say Mother was a promiscuous exotic dancer?"
"I would never have presumed as much." Shepard said honestly as she snuck one of the jalapeños from Liara's share and happily munched on the very hot pepper. She offered another to the bounty hunter who quickly shook her head, her nose wrinkling in distaste. "So kelp pancakes?" Sam made a face best described as being very ill. She plucked the offered pepper back into the jar.
"Actually kelp isn't that bad. Red kelp found in the oceans of Thessia have long been a food source for my people. It has a sweet taste to it. In fact there are several recipes in the ship's databanks; I believe Rupert has made several salads that contain it. If you ate it without knowing it, you probably enjoyed it." Aleena said.
"Humm true enough," the Spectre shrugged indifferently licking her fingers clean of spicy brine. "We'll be on the Citadel tomorrow; I'll make sure to put in a stock order for jalapeños."
"A wiser idea would be to have two stock orders delivered directly to the loft and the XO's quarters. Saves time." Aleena suggested placing the last of her finds on a serving tray just as Sam was doing with hers so they might easily carry it back to their lovers.
"Excellent idea. I'll do just that." Shepard nodded in consent. Though Sheila and Williams had not changed their private quarters given their new positions, their destinations of their quarters had. Fortunately it had been mentioned in the ships logs as well or Ash might be quite surprised to discover a shipment of jalapeño peppers intended for Shiala delivered at her doorstep.
"On a side note Shepard?"
"My mother was a cooperate lawyer as well as the CEO of a major cooperation."
"You know I would never have guessed that."
Aleena shrugged. "My elder sister took after in a way. She is very good at aggressive negotiations and making sure things go her way and by her own reckoning a CEO of a major organization in the Terminus Systems."
"And your career choices?"
The bounty hunter smiled smugly. "Came to be very useful to my sister from time to time. Sometimes however there are other choices that are better than killing."
Shepard was silent for a moment before she spoke with a quite strength. "Like becoming a parent?"
"That is one of the choices yes. Another is actually doing what is right for once. I owe you Shepard. You've given me both." a coy smile. "Even if you are a jalapeño thief."
The Spectre chuckled. "We all have our foibles."
Having never seen Samantha phase out as she had when in the Device it was rather disconcerting for Liara to witness. Partially because she felt a distance between her and her bondmate as if separated by a great void and yet contrariwise Samantha's spirit still felt very closenestled in her heart as fondly as the memory of a favored dream.
Liara pondered the strange relationship her beloved Spectre had forged with the beings of light. She couldn't help but wonder at the words written by Matriarch Dilinga all those millennia ago. How she discovered the entities came from dark energy itself. How had the matriarch phrased it 'they come from it - from the ebbing flow of the summoning power.' Eons ago something on Klencory awakened in a massive exposure of element zero at its core. The whole planet was rich with the rare element, so abundant Shol had used his mines to finance his expedition to find the beings of light that were right under his nose the whole time. Leave it to Samantha to discover the truth by stumbling right into it, just as she had with the secretes of the Protheans.
A part of the young archeologist sympathized with Shol. After discovering how her rescuer from Therum had uncovered the truth of the Prothean's extinction Liara felt cheated. More than that, it felt as if the past fifty years had been wasted. Rage filled her for a short time before young T'soni allowed reason to settle in her mind. Samantha hadn't purposely usurped the secretes of the Protheans away from her any more than she had the truth of the beings of light from the volus billionaire. The Spectre simply seemed to have a natural talent for uncovering that which was lost.
Liara resented agreeing with Vigil's assessment when it once asked Samantha if she was a pawn, savior, redeemer or destroyer, or if in fact did she even know what role she played in galactic events. Vigil had once accused the Spectre of wandering the galaxy blithely unlocking secrets that have been sealed and forbidden for several millennia. Some of those secretes included the beings of light and now the alleged connection between the secretive race known only as the collectors and the Reapers.
The young asari hated to admit especially to herself that if it had not been for the vinculum's holographic playback she had doubted there was even such an alliance between the insectiod race and the sentient starships. But she had seen the evidence for herself as had everyone else on the ground team. There was no denying there was some sort of connection between the cycle of Prothean extinction and the collectors.
Had this connection been known to Saren? Was this why he had so ardently believed he and those that pledged fealty to the Reapers would be sparred? It seemed a logical conclusion. Sovereign must have shown Saren similar recordings to those recovered from the vinculum. Compound that with indoctrination and you generate very willing subservient minion more than willing to do his master's bidding. Perhaps even desperate to do so.
Liara found herself deconstructing ideas and theory after theory on the matter. There must be more to the collectors harvesting warm bodies as a resource than what the memories revealed. But what? Perhaps it was as Samantha had theorized the collectors were akin to the keepers on the Citadel--bio-synthetic constructs engineered by the Reapers for a specific task. Even their name hinted of their Repaper construction. Not imaginative or meaningful as much as it was descriptive. The keepers were the custodians of the Citadel. They 'kept' it in order. The collectors, collected rare individuals of various species for some still unknown reason.
Those who had created the bio-synthetic beings of light must have known something similar to the collectors as well. Despite the effectiveness of their sentient weapon they too had been wiped out. If those that had created the beings of light as well as the Protheans despite all their knowledge and inventiveness were eradicated what hope was there now that this new cycle of mass genocide could be survived?
Liara scolded herself for giving into momentary laps of hopelessness. They would find away. Already they had stopped a Reaper from taking over the Citadel, a major foothold staging ground for their nefarious genocidal campaign. If the allied races of Citadel Space and even those of the Terminus Systems could uncover another such stronghold it would go a long way in defeating the Reapers unslought. Liara shifted her gaze to the one woman that was their irremovable center. Samantha Shepard was an icon, a symbol. Liara knew this deep in her heart that without this one woman it would all fall apart. The young Spectre was the force---the flux that united them all. Samantha will find a way to stop the new cycle of extinction. Liara trusted this. She would find it because the Spectre did not hunt for survival of her own species but all sentients. She campaigned to any to have ears to listen they unite and band together.
Liara became struck with the memory of the poem Samantha had quoted during the awards ceremony so many moths ago. 'Souls driven to madness,---when the souls of the oppressed fight in the troubled air that rages.' The words had echoed deep within Liara at the time as they did now. She recalled the words 'whirlwind of fury comes from the
Throne of God, when the frowns of his countenance, drive the nations together.' How now that seemed so very true. The memories within the vinculum, the beacons and the cipher only cemented it. With each new memory, each find of ancient technology the idea that Sin was indeed clapping its broad wings over the battle, singing in rejoice over the flood of Death.
The memories of the Regent so vivid it was a wonder Samantha reached any measure of sleep at all. Her nightmares came every night now. She saw souls torn to everlasting fire and with the images of the seekers, the collectors became the very fiends of Hell and they did rejoice upon the slain. The Regent argued against the deaf ears of the Prothean Assembly. As it was now-- the Council stopped up their ears to the words of a single Spectre and her crew. And still Samantha struggled to unit them, unite them all. She would see the recovered technology of the Protheans, of those more ancient than they shared so survival was given unto all sentients. Liara promised herself to be at her beloved bondmate's side every step of the way.
Sam moaned from stiffness as she uncrossed her legs which had fallen asleep and in the midst of the pines and needles feeling as blood flowed back into them after being crossed for more than three hours. Rubbing her thighs to help circulate the blood she slowly rose to her feet with the help of her beloved wife's outstretched hand. The strength of the pull landed the Spectre nicely into the asari's arms where she planted a quick kiss on the lilac lips.
"I was half expecting Joker to bud in." Sam snickered as she quickly planted another kiss on those light purple lips.
Liara softly chuckled. "Yes he does have the worst timing. A part of me still thinks he is spying on us and waits just for the 'wrong' moment to bud in." Blue fingers feathered a lock of black hair away from the Spectre's eyes. "I was beginning to become concerned, Samantha. You were so very very still and your heart rate and breathing slowed well below that of when you are sleeping."
"Yeah Ash said something similar on Klencory. But don't worry it's all apart of the deep meditation. I've seen you do the same you know."
"Yes " Liara frowned "But you are not asari, hibernating trances are not common for humans "
"No. But neither are they impossible. My grandmother Secura did it quite often when she was doing her religious thing. She'd slip deep into a meditative trance that lasted for days or so I'm told. Of course it could all have been an exaggeration. Don't worry, I'm fine." Sam brushed away her wife's concerns. "I told you before I'm not some frail thing to be coddled. It wasn't a Prothean artifact and it wasn't intrusive. I'm fine Li. Really."
Liara wasn't satisfied until she looked deep into her bondmate's blue eyes and found the sclera relatively white. They still had a hint of cyan as before but thank the Goddess it had not progressed. "Very well. What is the verdict with Weareth'Bol?" the archeologist changed the subject rather than get into another argument with Samantha.
"They understand what is needed of them when they meet with the Council. They'll meet with them just they had when they helped us find the crypts rather than the avatar in the Device. Basically I told them the truth that of the four only one possesses the glow as the rest are dim. Being that the Council members are all 'queens' it was more desirable they meet in congress."
"I think you enjoy hearing some of the members of the Council being called dim."
Shepard's body shifted into a 'who-me' shrug as she held her thumb and forefinger together pinching the air. Liara returned a humoring smile. There were times when the Council seemed jejune in response when dealing with the threat of the Reapers. Samantha's small tithing of joy she garnished when hearing the word dim given to the Council was a relatively harmless retaliation for all the frustration they gave her.
Navigating through the cargo deck absently watching as engineers and marines both collected much of the tech recovered from Ilos and Quana to be repurposed and backwards-engineered for the fleets of Citadel space to better protect themselves against the Reapers threat.
Heading the operation was Tali'Zorah Vos -Victory, expertly directing the troopers as an experienced commander on the battlefield. "You seemed to have rubbed off on our young quarian." Liara smiled. "She has taken after you very well."
Sam only smiled proudly. Tali carefully inspected each create before she gave the approval for it to be shipped off Victory. Her Omni tool activated, her three fingered hand typed in commands into the holographic interface so quickly they became blur. At one point she paused, her body language clearly depicting her displeasure.
Sam watched a moment out of curiosity. Something was troubling Tali there was no mistaking it. It was if she had been given an order she completely disagreed with and yet reluctantly obeyed. It was this curiosity that moved the Spectre to investigate.
"Something vexes you?" the Spectre said approaching the younger woman.
"In a word, yes." Tali was a little short in answering.
Shepard looked at crate that had generated the engineer's wrath then back to woman. "Those are the vehicular and personal GL's aren't they?"
"So what's the problem?"
"The name." Tali said as if it explained everything.
"The name?" Shepard folded her arms over her chest.
"It's wrong, Captain. Its function is not as the name implies. I know fundamentally we agreed on gravity leveler or GL but it it's an elementary name at best. We can't in good consciences hand them over to the Council with that name. It needs to be changed. Essentially, it's a device to alter gravity's vector inside a small volume without altering the acceleration gravity imparts."
"Yes. And so calling it a gravity leveler is a mistake? Care to explain?"
"A gravity leveler is something entirely different to what we have. Ok, assume we have an object with a GL standing on a clear docking bay on the surface of a planet. Assume someone sets the GL such that it alters the gravity field one millimeter out from the surface of the object it's operating on, such that the gravity field's "down" is now directly in front of the object: i.e. between the object and the "target", tangential to the surface of the earth. Now the object "falls" one millimeter into the new gravity field, moving 'forward'.
"Now the gravity field is... still... one millimeter in front of it. So it keeps falling, and falling, and falling, much like the pijak with a carrot on at the end of a stick, where the stick is tied to the object. The back of your head can't catch your nose while you're alive and not mutilated and under normal physics no matter how fast you run. Now have someone remotely, perhaps or use a AI inside the object have the gravity field be 'up' for the object... it falls up one millimeter, then one millimeter more, and so on... at, in a one-G field in a vacuum, if we ignore frictionatmosphere after ten seconds, it's going at a speed of ninety-eight meters per second. After hundred seconds, nine-hundred and eighty meters per second. This generates a C-fractional bombardment."
"Tail get to the point! Talk in 'Captain Dummy' for a moment" Shepard didn't even try to hide her growing irritation. She followed technobabble for so long before it numbed her. She was more solider than tech-geek though she was no slouch when it came to technical understanding by any means but she did have her limits.
"A C- fractional bombardment refers specifically to accelerating an object up to a significant fraction of the speed of light. Do this with a reasonably large object and you have a planet-cracker." Tali finished quickly. "That is a gravity leveler, Captain. The Council will assume this is what we discovered. And we haven't. What we have is more akin to a grav-lock. And even that has its difficulties. As we've noted that anyone using it has had their aim thrown off. Everyone using them assumed a battle position as if using meg-locks on hardsuits."
"Which are generally only activated during zero-g," Shepard nodded. "Z-G certified doesn't prep you for GL use in practicality."
"Likewise, for sniper or other long-range battles, one of these somewhere in the middle will cause anyone not compensating for the differing gravity to miss for at least the first round as the bullets flying through the altered gravity area will gain a new vector change not anticipated." Tail explained. "Our field tests prove that good spotting allows for correction on subsequent rounds, of course, as long as the GL isn't changing the vector randomly and quickly."
"Which would be wise, though it only applies to vectors roughly perpendicular to the line of flight - left, right, up, down to get maximum defense." Shepard said following the line of thought laid out before her. She sighed rubbing the back of her neck trying top push away an unsetting headache "You know Tali, you could have mentioned this discrepancy in the name early. Everyone who's been training with them have come to know them as GLs. It's a little late now, top switch the names."
Since the first test, Shepard wasn't at all convinced the GLs had any practically purpose other than functioning as meg-locks on hardsuits on surfaces that were not magnetic.
In the first exercise those that participated responded to it as if in Z-G training. Subsequent training thereafter had the marines and commandos toggling the leveler to 'down', and bounce back and forth among all six 'floors'. It wasn't surprising that the asari commandos were more adept at using the device as they had similar experiences with their own biotics and using lift and pulls in conjunction made them nearly impossible to hit. Of course taking in the factor the GLs were invented with biotic soldiers in mind it wasn't difficult to fathom why the asari were more effective.
Still all those in the GL training had learned to use the leveler to fall 'up' soon enough to slow their 'descent' to a controllable fall, then to fall 'down' again onto whatever surface they wanted if they desired to stay on it for awhile. The ground-troops partiality those without biotics learned that they were essentially using the equivalent to a biotic lift without a time limit. They also found the device was particularly nasty outdoors. The idea being an activated device with an adhesive agent flung at an enemy target put them out of commission. Even if the target wasn't sentient enough to get rid of the device and fall they'd end up too high in the atmosphere, freezing and suffocating as well as irradiated. They'd end up drifting in space, repelled from all objects with gravity fields.
One of the marines had jokingly said they should try and using a vehicular GL on a thresher maw, to see how bit those mothers where. the idea was quickly deep-sixed by Shepard and the squad leaders unless of course the marine wanted to do the job himself. The solider had quickly backed down.
"Not necessarily. GLs can stay the definition is what must be changed. Grav-locks rather than gravity levelers. They do not level gravity as so much as lock it in a micro-fractional bubble. It neither creates nor alters the actual acceleration of gravity; merely redirects it without loss." Tali earnestly said.
"I don't understand what the big fuss was over." Shepard commented.
Tali wrung her hands. "I can get a little obsessively compulsive when it comes to tech and engineering, Captain." the quarian admitted as if it were some sort of defection in her mental capacity.
"If that's what makes you so damn good at what you do, then I still don't see a problem. Besides from what I hear all the best engineers and inventors had the same 'flaw.'" Shepard put a hand on Tali's thin shoulder. "So this C-fractional bombardment thing--this planet cracker can it be made into a warhead say a Reaper cracker?"
Tali gave a pause for a moment of thought. "Theoretically yes."
"This ship isn't designed to be weapons and research platform captain. We don't have the full means at our disposal."
Shepard tapped the quarian's omni tool. "But you have the means to design the schematics for such a thing, yes?"
Tali nodded once more. "I'll see what I can come up with. With all we found of the Prothean tech it might very well be possible. Much like the mass effect technology used in firearms such a thing can be used and mounted on a warhead."
"Then design it Tali. We'll get the Council to make it. And if they will not we will find somebody who will, even if that means sighing contracts on Illium. Though I'm fairly sure Anderson and or Hackett will be amenable to its construction. I want you to give the planes to the Fleet as well." Shepard paused for a moment more before she spoke again. "Tali how amenable do you believe the Admiralty will be to allying the Flotilla to the Citadel fleet against the Reapers?"
Tali took a step back, hesitant to answer right away. "I I wouldn't like to say." She said honestly. "It is difficult to say. Since our forced exile had the hands of the geth, quarians have never been welcomed for long in any one system. It draws resentment in my people to still face the punishment of our forebears' mistakes. If the Admiralty Board and Conclave can be made to see the truth in the threat they might. Solid proof must be given to them. I know many of the captains want information on the Reapers. Most believe what has been told by the Citadel that Sovereign was of geth construction. Others in the Conclave theorized it was installed with an advanced AI that was able to override the geth's rudimentary intelligence systems.
"The galaxy already blames us for the geth and their war on sentients. The Reapers will be blamed on us too, simply for the fact what the rumors coming out of the Citadel are saying: Sovereign is an advanced geth dreadnought. It's just another reason for the galaxy to hate us. Some of the Admiralty and especially the Conclave I can tell you might get it into their minds to make it serve them just as Saren did. They'll want to use it to take back our homeworld and colonies. They don't do this out of malevolence but out of desperation. Shepard our Fleet has ships as I told you that date back to the uprising. Many are falling apart faster than we can repair or replace them. It makes the people and more importantly our leaders desperate.
"They don't grasp the truth of what Sovereign truly was. Others realize the magnitude of waking another Reaper will mean. Sovereign nearly destroyed the Citadel and practically took out half its fleet. They will want to avoid waking anymore dormant Reapers out there lurking in unexplored space. They know it is something that needs to be avoided at all costs. My father believes me, he believes you. He is a voice of reason but he isn't the only voice.
"Convincing the Migrant Fleet to stand against the Reapers will not be an easy task but not completely impossible. Sharring all this tech will help smooth negotiations, at any rate and perhaps it is best we go and speak with them show them the truth and the dangers of the Reapers."
"I'm willing to give it a shot." Shepard said. "I want you to start laying the ground work Tali. You've just become the unofficial ambassador of the Migrant Fleet and Victory. Set up a conference after our 'downtime' on Illium. As a good will gesture for these negotiations give them some examples of the Ilos discoveries and tell them we are more than willing to share more to keep the lines of communication open. Tali your people have the largest fleet in the galaxy: fifty thousand ships that's one hell of a force. If the quarian join forces with Citadel armada we truly stand a chance against the Reapers."
Liara placed a hand on the young woman's arm. "Perhaps one might suggest that this union may well go to change the view and reception of the quarians in the eyes of the galaxy, a reception that perhaps might open doors to lines of trade and commerce. Not only that but aid in finding to take back the territory behind the Perseus Vail. Or at the very least worlds that can be inhabited by the quarians. Did you not say that your people have fraternized with the idea of colonizing a new home world?"
"Will all due respect, Liara that is a lot of ifs." Tali said.
"Nevertheless it is still a possibility." Shepard answered. "Then again such things are possible. Thirty years ago humanity was the newcomers. In a way we still very much are still the new kids on the block and yet we now have a Spectre and a seat in the Council."
"Yes. But humanity hasn't had the stigma of three hundred years of battle against malevolent AIs. So many people me included want what everyone else takes for granted. You still have a homeworld Shepard and so do you Liara even if you rarely set foot on them, they are still there. You can kiss your beloved. A kiss can kill me. If I take off my helmet in my home I die! I envy you, sometimes so much I curse the Pilgrimage for it has shown me what I can never have! I have never smelled a flower without the filtration systems in my suit. I have never touched its petals with my naked hand.
"No, I won't tempt my people with the dreams of help to recover what we lost. Even that little hope seems a cruelty. I will play the ambassador and give the Fleet the gifts of Ilos but not empty promises. If they draw their own conclusions let them but I won't plant the seeds of such bitter hope."
Shepard moved turning the young woman to her touching the hooded-helmeted head with a gentle hand. "Tali "
"I won't let you down, Shepard. You're right. If we have any chance of standing against the Reapers we will need the Flotilla. And maybe in standing against that threat my people will regain our honor in the eyes of the galaxy."
Obedience breeds discipline. Discipline breeds unity. Unity breeds Power. Power is life. Life is Humanity's survival. Survival is Cerberus. Cerberus breeds Obedience.
It was the inscription above the threshold of every door in every barrack of Cerberus's commando units. They were indoctrinated in this maxim since the first day of their enlistment. It was a belief held by the lower echelons. High ranking operatives had only to look at the concentric diamonds of Cerberus's emblem and hear words in their minds.
Weak minds did not question the aphorism, stronger minds slightly disturbed by the words who might have questioned were told to think of Shanxi, of the continued dominance of the Council races. They were told to look too the sacrifices of Battle over the Citadel and soon theses stronger minds stopped questioning as resentment took a greater more powerful hold over their consciences. Some followed out of fear of retaliation if they discontinued their pledge of service. They had no desire to disappear. Some followed out of the benefits so generously given to them denied by an ungrateful Alliance. Those who were able to withstand the pressures of antipathy, fear or greed followed out of the compulsory need to repay a great dept owed to the Illusive Man. All such minds had free will.
This free will was abhorrent in the clones, just as individualism was. The Illusive Man wanted troopers as disposable as malfunctioning assault riffle. This had been the motive for non-sentient alien troopers. However just like all alien life they were less than the true magnificent of humanity. It had been a mistake to rely on anyone else but humanity. Even cloned the troopers were far superior specimens than any other construct to date. Saren relied on cloned krogan troopers, The Illusive Man upped the anti and used his own species, they would not fall so quickly in their tests as Saren's krogans had.
The words of obedience became an integral makeup in the tank-breed Shocktroopers. Along with all the ELF-HAARP imprints of rudimentary motor control, speech, combat skills, defensive and offensive battle strategy, this maxim became a fundamental aspect of their minds. It was one of the reasons they were superior to Saren's troopers. It was the reason they were worthy of testing Shepard. Worthy of withstanding minions of the Reapers which would no doubt be aliens just as Saren and that asari witch had been.
Shepard had as intel reported spoken to Sovereign and managed to withstand its indoctrination. It only served to prove to Cerberus how superior humanity was to the aliens. The Illusive Man studied the rows tanks of the twelve commandos like a very proud father. They were the vanguard of an army bred for war, to preserve humanity. They only needed a commander to see it done.
Victory's berth was private just as the Normandy's had been. Shepard waited for her crew to join her, her eyes trailing the eloquent sleek lines of her ship. A wavecrest class was beautiful. It always reminded her of a stingray- pterodactyl hybrid. Its wings out stretched like both species, the bridge tapered like the Jurassic trysail, it was actually to be truthful quite a beautiful ship. A part of her missed the old familiar contours of the Normandy. But it was more than that. Shepard had missed its name. Victory had been a name chosen by the Council in honor of her victory over Saran in the battle over the Citadel. The designation however never set well with the young Spectre. Victory seemed self-possessed and boastful. Of course it was designed by those whose dreadnought flagship was called the Destiny Ascension.
In her mind frigates were named after famous battles in history not some esoteric concept. Apparently the asari thought otherwise. Shepard snorted in half amassment. They very well couldn't call the ship Citadel now could they? Shepard chided herself for being nostalgic. She was a spacer accustomed to life on ships you couldn't get attached to a name, especially when you changed the ship you called home every other tour. It never bothered her in the past to call a new ship home. It was silly and possessive. Still
The Alliance would never have allowed her to keep the ship that saw her and her valiant crew through the war, not unless she resigned her Spectre status. She could not serve two masters. Fundamentally Shepard was a military woman; she understood the stance the Alliance took. The Normandy had cost billions in military funding despite the joint effort with the council. She was the prototype as was the victory. Both would serve as blueprints to create new ships for the others Spectres. Even now her bothers and sisters in the Spectre branch were slowly receiving their own frigates. The turians no doubt would favor the Normandy class; while the asari the Victory model. What the salarians might choose was in the galaxy's grab-bag.
Shepard turned to see what was taking her crew so long in assembling was quickly answered when she saw the Williams sisters, Aleena, and Tali with their heads together. Liara was no where to be seen nor was Wrex and Garrus. When she approached it was Tali that bumped Ash causing the lieutenant to turn her attention to ask why she was so jostled when she lay eyes on the Spectre. She quickly became silent.
"You know mutiny or conspiracy to commit mutiny is court-martialed offence." Shepard teased as she joined the small gang of women.
"Not mutiny, Captain." Abby said quickly. "Some of us non-married folk are looking to get together latter, Dr. S'thasa had some good joints to check out. The last time I was here I only went to Flux and she suggested a place on the Zukara Ward. Tali, I and Ash are going to go check it out. We'd ask you and Doc S'thasa out with your gals but its single girls night only. Sorry."
Shepard looked to Ash who only shrugged sheepishly.
"According to Abby going with married couples puts a damper on trying to 'get tanked and laid.'" Tali confessed.
"Tali! God! You don't admit things like that to your captain." Abby screeched. "Shit you're as bad as Sara always telling Mom what we planned to do. You're going to get us into trouble."
Shepard chucked. "What you don't believe I let my hair down when on leave? After a night out at the bar the only difference between being single and being married is I am guaranteed 'action'."
The others starred open mouthed at her confession.
"Liara may not be able to get tanked but that doesn't mean I can't have a bit of fun." the Spectre flashed a very toothy grin. "Williams, I'm sure you are familiar with regs concerning recreation sex? Make sure the others follow safety protocols if it ever gets that far. The last thing I want is Chakwas ridding my ass for unsafe medical practices."
"Aye, aye Skipper."
Liara who was carrying a small silver case emerged out of the airlock and became a distraction for the Spectre, who then left for her beloved's side leaving the four women on their own. Once she had parted each in turn let out a breath of relived air.
"That was too damn close." Abby said.
"You're getting better at that." Tali commented. "Making up excuses. I think Shepard actually bought it."
"At lest this one had the merit of truth in it." Ash said elbowing her sister in the ribs playfully. "Chakwas will stop by later and help out but says despite the fact she wants to stay she's hooking up with an old friend on the Orizaba which just berthed two days before we got here. Anyway if everything goes according to plan the shower will happen tonight."
"I'll get Shelia to the hotel under the pretext we have luxury suits there. In fact we do, it makes things easier." came Aleena.
"Pampering your girl, eh?" Abby asked.
"Would you not do so" the asari said, "if you care for some one so deeply?" Despite the truth behind the words, they troubled the bounty hunter. She had not known Shiala that long and yet now, the woman had become very dear to her.
Aleena secretly frowned at herself though gave no outward display of it. At one time she as a cold-hearted merc, she prided herself on her ability to distance herself from the weaker emotions. Since the murder of their mother at the hands of a Dantius, her sister Aria had trained and raised her well. Aria, shown her how to take power, wield it and keep it, how to even shape fear into a finely honed weapon. And for a time those lessons had served her well both as a commando and a mercenary and exceedingly well as a bounty hunter.
Now with a new life about to enter hers, Aleena had begun to see a different light in the galaxy of worlds and realities. She was looking forward to becoming Arda. Her sister would have scoffed at her for entertaining such frivolous fantasies once more. The bounty hunter could almost hear Aria's disproving comment: 'Have you not learned the first time around sister? Are you so willing to be wounded once more? I did not raise you to be masochistic. What you are, what you do makes your loved ones a target, you know this. When this inevitably blows up in your face, when your enemies take those you love yet again, I won't be there to put you back together as I did last time.'
Aleena shook Aria's phantom words of cautioning from her mind. It didn't have to play out like that. Despite being the target of bounty hunters, Shepard and T'soni were making it work. They were happy. Aleena had entered her matron stage in life. The maternal calling was setting in on her. How Aria ignored it, Aleena never knew. Surely she must have felt it by now. Aria was thirty years her elder. Of course she could have had a secrete daughter tucked away somewhere where her numerous enemies and even some of her sycophants couldn't use the child as leverage. If Aria had indeed had a child, Aleena never heard of her before, not that her relationship with her sister was so very open that she would. The assassin highly doubted there was any child Aria simply ignored the calling both in taking a long term mate and children. The bounty hunter had not taken Shiala as bondmate; it was something she was going to rectify perhaps tonight after the impromptu-surprise baby-shower for her lover and the Shepard-T'sonis. Let Aria play queen, Aleena wanted something far more quantifiable. She wanted what the Spectre and Prothean archeologist had.
Wrex and Garrus the last of the flagship team finally emerged from the airlock, tailing them was Shiala. It was to her the bounty hunter looked to, her quantifiable countenance her sister's ideals be damned to the Progenitor. Damn the past too.
The ship's newly appointed XO stepped in line with the assassin, their hands softly touching each other briefly before they fell quickly joined with the others. Shiala nudged her in the shoulder gesturing with a tilt of her head to the head of their column: to Shepard and Liara. They too had shared a small touch of affection, which conveyed so much more. No doubt the two young lovers were sharing thoughts and emotions through their unique bond.
Normally it only took only a few minutes to pass through costumes, since the attack however security had been significantly heightened. Only three were allowed to pass through the first security door at a time. DNA scanners were now standard procedure. They were so sensitive they could pick up any illegal modifications either cybernetic or genetic. If they weren't who they said they were the scanners would send out a silent coded alarm. Six well armed C-Sec operatives moved into positions at either exit as well as the operative inciting the scan not to mention the automated systems.
"All this security seems extremely tight. Did you hear that turian back there trying to board a shuttled with some sort of blade and here we are armed to the teeth and they're not stopping us." Ash commented a bit stymied at the protocols in play. "I'm surprised we got through with the Device with so little troubles. I'm a little more than surprised those scanners didn't pick up life-signs, only ee-zo."
"I suppose it's because we're military or apart of a military operation." Shepard said. "And I'm a Spectre."
"Yes but in that argument so was Saren." Liara pointed out. "However his status was revoked and while recognized by the upper echelons of the Citadel population the broader citizens of Council space were ignorant of the fact. A fact he took advantage of. With the effort to rebuild C-Sec must be extremely cautious with whom they allow to pass through."
"That makes since. It would be all too easy for enemy operatives to slip in the reconstruction efforts and carry out acts of terrorism." Shepard surmised.
They waited in the debarkation area waiting for the rest of the party to join them. Shiala and Aleena with Abby in tow came through but after two minutes there was no show of the rest of the ground-team. Shepard frowned at this delay. With purpose in her step the Spectre strode up to one of the human C-Sec officers. A tall male with a buzz-cut so closely shaven it was impossible to detect just what hair color he had, his brown eyes glowered in contempt at the marine before him.
"Where is the rest of my team?"
"Step back ma'am this is C-Sec procedures. If you do not step back behind the red line you will be arrested.
Shepard took a bold step forward which caused two of the other officers to pull their sidearms. Shepard snorted. "Try to arrest a Spectre. Unless you two want to find yourselves thrown back in a biotic singularity I suggest you holster your pistols boys." Blue eyes narrowed, her lips curled into a feral snarl. "Now where are my guys?"
"Shit. I don't need this." the man sputtered raising his hands in the air "They're being detained."
"Why?" A growled demand as Shepard slammed the man against the bulkhead with her own body.
"Protocol says detain any possible geth insurgents."
"Geth insurgents?" Shepard scoffed. "They are not geth agents! The flashlight heads kinda give it away," she tapped the side of her head for emphasis. "Now let's pretend you have working gray matter in-between your ears and let my people go. Or I pop you right here and free them myself. Your choice but as for me I just polished this armor I rather not get it bloody before I go before the Council so I hope you do the right thing."
"I'd do what the Spectre wants, Simmons." the other agent said having quickly obeyed the short-tempered Spectre by holstering his weapon.
"Damn it. I knew I should have called in sick." Simmons grumbled. He tried to move for the holographic interface but was still held by Shepard making it very difficult for him to carry out her wishes. "Um Spectre if you want me to comply you have to let me go."
"My pardon," Shepard said cordially and let go her prisoner.
Moments latter Tali, Garrus and Wrex tromped frustratingly towards their leader even as they were re-strapping on their weapons to their backs and hips.
"I want the name of the little varren shit who thought it was a good idea to stuff me in a tiny cell with the turian." Wrex barked.
"You put them in a cell?" Shepard rounded on the one called Simmons.
"They said I was to be held for thirty-six hours, Captain!" Tali complained.
"All do respect Spectre a quarian, a krogan and a former turian C-Sec officer are of questionable reputations. Especially the quarrian. They made the geth." The one that had previously advised Simmons to listen said as if his words excused everything.
"Tali'Zorah Vos Victory is one of the heroes of the Citadel! She destroyed more geth than you'll ever see in your lifetime, and she'd seen more battle you ever will. In fact she holds a Star of Tara and you accuse her of being a geth insurgent?" Shepard hissed. "Urdnought Wrex and Garrus Varkarian also hold the Star! They all stood against Saren, his geth and Sovereign. What have you ever done other than detain innocents and search old ladies handbags and confiscate their knitting needles?" Shepard's voice became fridged.
"Look I was just doing my job. I was only folioing orders!" protested Simmons. "Sine the war with the geth it's SOP to hold any quarian for questioning."
Wrex loomed before the young Simmons making the officer retreat swiftly unfortunately for him he stumbled against the bulkhead, rather hard. No doubt the young officer would be feeling the goose-egg on the back of his scull for days to come. "Your lucky day human." he snapped showing his mouth of razor sharp crocodilian teeth. "If I had it my way I'd paint these pretty gray walls with your entrails for you insolence. But the Spectre doesn't approve of those kinds of things. Me this place could use a good paint job." the krogan snorted in contempt just as he had nearly a year and a half ago when C-Sec ran him in for threatening Fist's hired goon squad.
"Wrex, I think he gets the point. Ground troops move out." Shepard reigned in her rouge battlemaster before things got out of hand. "I will make a point to tell the heads of C-Sec the crew of Victory will not be detained as they are all serving a Council Spectre."
As they were heading for the rapid transport hub, it was Liara who turned to her wife and asked. "Earlier you said the heightened security was a good thing, but you seemed to contradict yourself with that little confrontation."
"I still think heightened security is a good thing but not when they do racial profiling to get it done." Shepard said clearly still upset. "Look who they let through with no hassle: three humans and three asari. Who did they detain? A quarian, turian and krogan. Look quarians get a bad rap everywhere and Tali believe me it's undeserved but the 'Verse doesn't know you or you people as I've come to learn. Most still view them as the progenitors of the geth but that doesn't mean you deserve to profiled solely on that basis alone. Either do you Wrex. If they keep doing this shit 'the more humans in C-Sec thing' is going to turn around and bite us in the ass."
She looked over her shoulder to the security station and shook her head sadly. 'Yep that is not going to win us many friends.'
Others shared the sentiment. Those that viewed the humans as the of the vorcha of Council space such actions would only cement such views. Turians were not the only ones to view humans with suspicion. Many an asari felt the same way as did plenty of salarians.
"Liara, Williams come with me to the embassy. The rest of you do recon on the on the rest of the Wards. I want to find out what the true reception is of the Reaper attack. What are we not hearing, seeing? What is being diluted, filtered and covered up. Don't try to be too obvious about it." Shepard ordered.
"Trust us we'll get done." Tali vowed. "And we'll be discrete. One way I'm sure is to ask Aviva."
"Screw that." Wrex snorted. "You want dirt go to a bar, the seeder the better. You can always find someone willing to sell Intel under the right pressure."
"Shepard did order discreet, or is that something that escaped your mind, krogan?" Garrus asked snidely.
"You ask your way, I ask mine." came a barked answer.
"Just see it done." Shepard ordered. "If you can't be discreet then try not to get arrested." She gave a pointed look to Wrex.
Shepard entered Anderson's inner office leaning her ground team behind including Shiala; the others have already taken their leave to whatever task that better suited them than politics. The Councilor looked so out of place out of uniform, he seemed as if another wore his skin as a finely tailored suite that adorned the body.
The Spectre looked to the corner of the chambers to see the administeral robes draped over what looked like a tailor's dummy. No doubt worn with the same enthusiasm as one wore the mess-dress uniform.
Both Shepard joined Anderson and leaned as he was over the ballasted of his office overlooking one of the bridges that crossed the pristine fishless lake.
"Repairs seemed to be going well." Shepard commented dryly for lack of anything else to say presently.
"Due to months of round-the-clock labor and ceaseless toil of both the restoration crews and the keepers. Many of the Wards have yet to see true repairs as they had not earned the priority status as the center of the Citadel. One ugly bulkhead put up by hands of repair-crews and the next day they would find it seamless by the keepers. How they manage such a feat is still a mystery." Anderson said. "They estimate somewhere between five to seven years before this place is back to the state it was before the war."
"What did they do with all the wreckage of Sovereign?"
"What the keepers didn't depose, unsanctioned salvaging all across the wards took care of the majority of it. What little the Council could account for unfortunately proved or disproved the fact Sovereign was a Reaper ship."
Shepard shot him an incredulous look. "Oh come on Councilor, even small chuck of metal can forensically reveal the metal isn't consistent with geth technology."
Anderson had the good since to look chagrined. "Captain. . . you have to be aware the Council. . . are questioning the origins of Sovereign. They seem to want to believe it is geth tech. I don't want you to be blindsided when it comes up in your meeting with them. They're going to try to whitewash all of it."
Shepard frowned. "But Councilor Lei'cree joined my mind as did four other matriarchs in order for me to perform the Great Hunt! She touched some of the memories with Sovereign. The Council sanctioned my mission to find ways to neutralize the Reapers!"
"Yes they did." Anderson gave an apprising look to his protégée. He needed to defuse her anger before she met with his counterparts. She was already on the defensive, she would go on the attack almost immediately if Trace or the other three immediately confronted her about the Reapers and the geth. "From all the reports you and the crew of Victory have been very busy. Rediscovering old civilizations, lost cashes of knowledge and making alliances." He smiled proudly at that "and making a few people a little unhappy: Cerberus, Udina and an eccentric billionaire."
"The first two deserve it and the third brought it on himself. Shol should have heeded my orders. He didn't. His men died when he ordered them to attack mine." Shepard countered.
"From a military stand point I understand, but the rest of the Council aren't soldiers Shepard. However they are accustomed to the actions of their Spectres not universally well appreciated. They can distance themselves if they need to disavow any actions taken by Order." Anderson smiled at Shepard. "Of course making first-contact with a long thought extinct race went a long way in your favor."
"A lot better than Saren's had." Shepard added. "The beings of light have been prepped for their first inaugural visit with the Council. Though I must warn you don't take their references to being dim badly. To them it merely means those without biotics. Apparently through their perception those with biotics have a perpetual glow about them like they can see the dark-energy within us. It was one of the reasons Shol couldn't communicate with them."
"Yes I seem to recall that in your mission report. " Anderson nodded. "So how will we speak with them if they can only perceive biotics?"
"That's the avatar within the Device. I brought Weareth'Bol's hive. They will form into their swarm; they did it before on the surface on Klencory. They were able to interact with non-biotics, like Lieutenant Williams."
"I see. Is there anything else I should know, Captain Shepard?"
"Off hand no. Though when you address Weareth'Bol make sure it is in the plural. It isn't a single enmity but billions."
"Did you say billions?!" Anderson was astonished.
"Yes sir. Their true forms are microorganisms. In fact they are more akin to particles of dust in sunbeams sir. And I am not to sure some of those dust partials in shafts of light are not indeed beings of light."
"That .that is a disturbing thought."
"Yes sir." Shepard nodded agreeing full-heartedly.
Reuniting with Ash and Liara in the forayer of the human embassy, Anderson took the lead in escorting the three through the pandemonium of light and sound of Presidium.
Despite all the construction chaos rousing in the five arms of the wards, the innermost core held a soft serenity to it as if it had never been touched by the scares of Sovereign's war. Simulated sunlight shown brightly and tranquil upon the central lake its beauty nearly at odds with the pace of the humans' footsteps.
It took good fifteen minutes to navigate from embassy row, along the winding walkways, across the bridge to the base of the tower. If security had been heightened at costumes it was significantly so at the tower. Where there had been two guards there was now a full squad of six including two mechs.
"Two heavy mechs guard the elevator exit incase you're wondering." Anderson supplied. "As well as four more C-Sec officers all of which are biotics."
"Sensible precautions," Liara said. "We've noticed such at customs. However they do seem to be targeting certain races."
Anderson didn't have an answer to that. It wasn't the first complaint of the new measures of C-Sec was taking he had heard. Many of the complaints came from the krogans, the few quarians passing through tied hard to keep a low profile but it rarely worked. It was because of young Tali's Pilgrimage a year ago the Councilor had an idea why many young quarians came to the Citadel alone. They were on rights of passage to claim the right to be called crewmember.
"In line with the new security measures I'm afraid that you Lieutenant Williams and Dr. T'soni will be required to surrender your firearms and Omni tools. Only C-Sec officers and Spectres are allowed to carry arms and tech. They will be returned to you once you leave the Tower." He said instead. "Of course they can't confiscate biotics which is why all officers stationed are required to biotics themselves. Using mechs with bio-dampeners opens the doors to too many political ramifications."
Of course the only race not needing biotic-amps were the asari. There would be an outcry from all other races for subjection. Not that the outcry at customs was any less but some things could be apologized or rationalized away.
Once they cleared security for a second time, Anderson lead them not up the several flights of broad stairwells but to a small alcove where again they passed through a tertiary security checkpoint.
A curious look from the others Anderson gave an explanation. "You're not meeting them through the typical interface. With the introduction of the ambassador of the beings of light it was prudent to meet them in person." Anderson explained. He had slipped on his official robes before leaving his offices at the embassy, before he looked out of place, here in the right context the aging former captain truly looked the part of Councilor. He was the de-facto most important voice of humanity even as Shepard was its symbol.
"Don't you have to join your counterparts?" Liara asked. She knew from her early days with her mother how subtle nuances of diplomacy affected and even effected those around you. Her mother always had Shiala the figure of her military might just off her right hand. It gave appearance Benezia wasn't afraid to confront obstacles, opposition or issues on her own. It also gave the appearance if might was needed it was directly at hand, quite literally. To Benezia's left were her highest and most honored acolytes: those who followed not the commando-templar path of the priesthood but the more cerebral aspects of it. It was a show of status of who Benezia was with in the Order, that she was the voice of faith and reason.
If Anderson was reluctant to stand amongst the three on the dieses he would always be estranged, never to be accepted as an equal. If he sent his ambassadorial assistant to important diplomatic functions he'd would never gain the respect of the other Councilors or in-fact the other diplomats. Again such lessons came not only from observing her mother and listening to her but such tactics were also learned from Shiala as well as Shepard.
"They will expect it yes." he turned his attention to the Spectre. "I may be up flanking them Shepard but I got your six. Remember that." He put a hand on her shoulder giving it a gentle almost fatherly squeeze before departing down another corridor presumably leading to the others on the Council.
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