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


Chapter 40
The Answering Declaration

"Attention on deck!" Williams barked as soon as the airlock to the Normandy opened revealing Captain Hannah Shepard in her naval dress blues, waiting just beyond the threshold. Just behind Williams was the younger Shepard and at her side, Liara.

Personnel at various workstations rose and snapped a very crisp salute including the resident Spectre. Hannah returned the salute before placing her arms behind her back in a pseudo parade rest as officers of equal rank are wont to do.

"Permission to come aboard, Captain Shepard?"

"Permission granted, Captain Shepard." Sam replied then smiled. "Gods it's good to see you, Mom." Sam came forward and instead of giving her mother a customary handshake took a hug instead.

Hannah read the disquiet in her girl's eyes but always the professional she would postpone her personal questions until privacy was theirs. Instead she turned her attention to Liara and gave the young asari a very motherly hug.

"Perhaps it's best to retire to the privacy of your quarters, Spectre?" Hannah asked keeping a natural professional tone in front of her daughter's crew.

"How about the nickel tour first, unless you're on a time schedule?"

"I have three days furlough." Hannah responded with more warmth in her voice. "I have the time, Kiddo."

Sam grinned at that.

She led her mother along the banks of terminals that comprised the Normandy's operations hub used for scanning planetary surfaces, FTL Comm Link, the NAVMANUAL 1.4.1, the GUARDIAN, and Heat Sink controls.

The Normandy's Command Information Center truly took the elder Shepard's breath away. "Is this still the turian design or is this asari?"

"A little of both actually. The first Normandy's turian CIC was an effective and efficient design despite what some of our admirals think. Since this Normandy is a prototype Spectre ship it incorporates the tech from all the Council races.

"I've seen other Wavecrest class frigates, the Normandy seems different."

Sam smiled in pride for her ship. "It is. The ship was developed by the math-obsessed salarians at the Jaedo Science Academy and manufactured by asari engineers at the Armali Shipyards. In fact it's a mathematical work of art, every single measurement, arc and number is either a prime, powerful, or perfect number."

"How Feng Shui." Hannah said glibly.

"That is not far from the truth." Liara said. "The asari have similar philosophies concerning functionality and spirituality. Both hand-in-hand are believed to lead the way towards enlightenment, innovation, inspiration and invention.

"The salarians at the JSA have incorporated our philosophy for the overall design of the Wavecrest-Normandy class frigates. There are many more innovations that have been implemented to meet the needs of this uniquely diverse crew."

"Of course all such vessels will be restricted to Spectre's only." Shepard added. "It's a way to circumvent the Treaty of Farixen, since the construction of the frigates are a joint effort and used only by Council Spectres and not by their independent militaries. In theory each Spectre will have a mixed crew. We're just the pilot scheme."

On her tour of the original Normandy, Hannah Shepard had been deeply impressed with what she had seen of engineering. She was doubly so now. The weaponry, armaments and engine capabilities were incredibly impressive. Even compared to the Destiny Ascension the Normandy was by far the most advanced warship the Council had constructed.

The Alliance Captain knew her daughter was forbidden to give specifics about her ship, and she would never ask or presume she would be given any more than cursory knowledge. The officer in her accepted it and could not have been more proud that her only child was not only in command of such a vessel but trusted to keep its secrets. Mamma Shepard could never be more proud of her baby girl.

"I believe you've met my chief engineer Tali'Zorah vas Normandy." Sam introduced the young quarian once again to her mother.

"Indeed, I believe she was your Chief's second."

"I was, on the first Normandy." Tali answered.

"It was Chief Adams who requested the change of positions. He said he couldn't even match her skill and intelligence and it was criminal to hold her back of her full potential and I agreed. We would never have defeated Sovereign if it had not been for Tali's skills. She's the best goddamned-Goddess blessed engineer this side of the spiral arms. And there is no one but Tali, I want in my engine room, babysitting those drives. She's Liara's Trusted in the meaning of life-stuff but she's my Trusted for the Normandy. "

On hearing that the girl positively beamed, it seemed she even grew several feet in height. For a quarian there was no greater, grander praise or aspiration than to have the esteem and acclaim of her ship's captain. But to have Samantha Shepard's…

Tali never felt more proud, not even if the Council suddenly said quarians could hold the office of Spectre and given that position would she have been prouder than to be held in such regard of her Captain. She was vas Normandy, no doubts or hesitations about it. She was Tali'Zorah vas Normandy!

"In fact we have had a great many changes in the past few months. Williams resigned as my XO so she could join me on the ground team as my second in command, leaving Matron Shiala to take the XO's position. The CAG once Shiala's now belongs to Russan." Sam explained. "For the time being Huntress Naga'sadow is our primary pilot."

Sam saw the question in her mother's eyes. The younger Shepard quickly interjected with: "Lieutenant Monroe made an error in judgment that solicited a Captain's Mass; he's grounded, for now."

"A Captain's Mass…that's more than a small error in judgment, Sammy."

"He didn't turn on the crew." Sam said. Then in a more authoritative voice she said. "It is Normandy's business Captain Shepard, it stays Normandy's business."

Hannah recognised it. "Understood, Spectre." She gave her daughter a true salute out of pure respect.

"Thank you, Captain." Sam returned the salute in pure military fashion.

And that was the end of it. A captain's word was law on her ship; the elder Shepard believed this was a truism. In fact she believed it so readily she had inculcated such beliefs into her child. You use the law to change the law; you use justice to stop the unjust, you obeyed regulations, and rules…until they stopped you from doing your duty, from up-holding the oaths you took. The bond between the captain and her crewmates was sacrosanct.

The rest of the tour was rather enjoyable if not a bit envy-making on the elder Shepard for all the space; tech and military acquirements the Normandy afforded her child. And she was far more than grateful for it all. A mother is always is mother. And a mother worries for her child - even if she is a hardcore marine: kick-ass Reaper-slaying Spectre. Moms worry for their offspring: it was a fact of life, a universal truth.

"She's one hell of a ship, Sam." Hannah complimented her daughter once they reached the mess hall.

The Spectre grinned. "She is and I've got hell of a crew manning her. They each proved their mettle during the war over the Citadel. In whatever fleet they were serving in."

"And the integration how is that progressing?"

"We've hit a few rough spots, arguments mostly, nothing the grimiest KP duties couldn't handle. Conflicts stemmed mostly from humans and turians. There were a few incidents between a couple of asari and volas. And there were one or two hitches between the salarian and pretty much everyone else. Overall the crew have merged successfully."

"Samantha speaks true, when a mission is on the board the Normandy crew work as one singular unit, covering each other's six. Any arguments stemmed between crewmates ends immediately when our troops hit groundside or take the birds into theater among the stars." Liara said with great pride in her voice. "What we have established here is unique. The Council Fleet protecting the Citadel is indeed integrated, but no single ship has been so until the Normandy."

"We've also adapted a turian way of handling stress by adding a fighting ring in the rec-room. It's all carefully and properly refereed, complete with standard safety gear but it works. Crewmembers who have been pissing each other off, can take out their frustrations in a sparring match. Hell we've even had some friendly sparring matches to blow off steam. It's great for morale."

"I imagine so. Sounds like a pretty constructive way to deal with interpersonal conflicts."

Hannah gauged her child for a moment before she spoke again. "Sam, what you're doing here is incredible. I'm not talking about your mission to stop the Reapers which is phenomenal in of itself. But all of this Sam…a united force. This is such a unique opportunity for you, for humanity.

"It is because of you, that one decision back on the Citadel that gave us our spot on the Council, but we have a place a true place in the galactic community. You are captain of a fully integrated crew on a ship of incredible power. The success of this crew will prove that not only do humans belong on the Council but we are not the upstarts or the powermongers some still whisper that we are. Sam, you are more than humanities' first Spectre, you are our spokesperson - now more than ever."

"Great no pressure." Sam offered her mother a lopsided grin. "I'm trying, Mom." She sighed. "But for every move I make for humanity it seems, humanity has made three strides in the opposite direction. Cerberus, Udina aside there are other elements…in play…" she sighed "Then there are the Reapers. I have to pretend the geth found Reaper technology, repurposed their derelict ships just to make sure the Council doesn't suspend me on the basis of being medically and mentally unfit. But at the very least they recognize a threat that Reaper technology is being used."

"At least there is that." The elder Shepard placed a hand on her daughter's shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze. "But you don't have to do this alone. Even if only one member of the Council believes in you, you have others who do. You've got your crew, your bondmate and me and more than a few admirals in your corner. Steven sings nothing but your praises, and David Anderson is especially fond of you."

"I noticed you did not mention Samantha's father among that list." Liara said softly.

Hannah flinched slightly. "Sam, your dad is proud of you. He just….has other ideas about the Reapers."

"Meaning he doesn't think they're real, that they are some geth construct and I've gone around the bend. Is that it?" Sam muttered darkly.

Hannah sighed. "He is very opinionated. He hasn't openly rebutted anything you've said about the threat of more Reapers coming. He simply believes that everything that has happened to you: the beacons, the Cipher…" dark eyes looked to Liara and held the stare for a moment longer than necessary, conveying the unspoken words about John Shepard's opinion of Liara.

Sam snorted. "Typical. Even after everything we shared with him through the knowledge bond, he still can't get over Liara and I, can he? What does he think; I'm fracked in the head because of some asari 'mumbo-jumbo'?"

Hannah nodded. "That is it precisely" She placed a tender hand on Liara's arm "Look kiddos, what he thinks isn't important. And you shouldn't have to deal with his crap on top of everything else. Leave it alone. I for one love my daughter-in-law." she winked "As for your in-laws, Liara, my opinion is the only one that counts. You just remember that."

"Thank you, Hannah" Liara's lips curled into a smile. "I can say the feeling is quite mutual."

"Enough of this soft-and-gooey stuff." she patted Liara affectionately on the arm one last time, "I'm famished. What on this tub of yours is worth eating, Sammy?"

Liara snickered how alike mother and daughter truly were. She could definitely see where her beloved not only picked up her phraseology and mannerisms but also her outlook on life as well. She enjoyed watching them interact. In a way it reminded her of when her relationship with her mother was still good. Of course she was very much still a child then - still in her third decade. It wasn't until she had hit fifty that things between Benezia and herself had turned very sour.

"Rupert is a damn good mess sergeant. He can throw grub on the plate that is almost five-stars. Happy bellies make happy soldiers." Sam jibed, bringing Liara back from her stray thought.

"Indeed he can turn even the most mundane common foodstuffs into fine cuisine" Liara said.

"Only with proper portions." Sam laughed. "None of that dinky bite size dinners they try and serve at those fancy joints."

"Yes, I've nearly forgotten that you biotics have practically hollow legs. How you keep it from going straight to your hips and thighs I will never know. You must burn a hell of a lot of calories."

"Biotics do have higher metabolisms than those without the talent." Sam shrugged. "It takes a lot of energy to do what we do. It has to be fueled by something."

"Is that why I've never seen an overweight asari?" Hannah asked, shifting her attention to her daughter-in-law.

Sam turned to Liara; she wanted to know this as well. It had never occurred to her before now, but even those asari she had met who opted not to develop their biotic capacities were not even the slightest bit obese.

"That has something to do with it yes. But asari physiology has a much higher metabolism than even the fittest human or turian athlete. A great deal of it stems from our reproductive system as well as our natural biotics.

"Not to say eating an unhealthy diet does not have an affect on us, for it does just as it would with anyone else. It is simply that our bodies process food in a very effective and efficient manner."

"Still must be nice though, eating a deliciously decadent bar of chocolate without worrying it will go straight to the hips." the elder Shepard quibbled, brokering chuckles from the other two women.

Rupert had served them meals of calamari and alligator gumbo something both Liara and Hannah enjoyed, and for the Spectre she enjoyed a bit of smoked squab on a bed of wild rice and portabello mushrooms.

Once dinner was finished Shepard led her mother and bondmate back to the loft. Here the strength of the Spectre waned once she saw the looming basinet tucked away in a corner of their quarters.

Hannah saw her child falter, "Sam…" she started softly as she approached her girl. "Liara…both of you listen to me right now. I know how hard this is." she held up a hand forestalling everything that would have come forth from her child's mouth. "Before I delivered you…. I was on furlough, your father and I celebrated New Years like newlyweds. Four months after that…I miscarried."

Sam stared at her mother incredulously.

"Your father never knew. In fact the only people to know were Caroline Chakwas and David Anderson. The three of us were serving on the same ship at the time. David has always been a solid friend to me, and he's kept this secret for thirty years. Your father never knew about it, for if he did you would not be here. He would have had his vasectomy long before then.

"Kiddo, I wanted a child for so long, when I had that miscarriage…I thought that was my shot. Then I got lucky…I got pregnant with you. It was on my birthday. I know, because nine months later in April …I had you.

"Girls, I know what it is to hope, to look forward a new life and feel it snuffed out. I can not tell you what is it to feel a child so close to you are bound to her spirit, her soul, but I know what it is to lose that hope. To lose a life growing inside of you, Liara, I know this agony. It takes a long time to go away but eventually it does. It lessens…but it never fades completely. And you have your bondmate to see you through it, she mourns just as you do. Don't lose sight of each other in this grief. My John would have been relieved. At the very least you are spared that bitterness, that pain."

Sam stared at her mother. "Dad …never knew?"

"No. Never. I wanted you Sammy. I was desperate for you, like I said if you father ever knew…I would never have had you. Not the you that you are. I would have forced to take drastic measures. Even to go as far was to collect some of his DNA to clone stem cells, and you become a test-tube baby.

"John being the sort of man he is would never have claimed a 'bastard' child as his own. Nor would he have any part in raising you. You would be called Shan not Shepard. Your personality, your whole demeanor would have changed because of those events."

The Spectre stared at her mother, 'not the you of who you are…' She never knew there was a child before her. She knew not only from the words of her own mother, but from the memories of the Prothean vinculum that her mother was desperate for a child but her father ardently opposed the idea. John Shepard never wanted to have a child, Hannah Shepard did. She had her victory but at the cost of the pure happiness of her marriage.

Hannah knew that after she had given birth to her child, her coveted child she had lost her husband, forever. It was a sacrifice she had willingly given. A sacrifice that only now Sam fully understood.

"Don't mistake my bluntness over these facts that your father is still a good man, and I still care for him even if he is…the way he is. I would never have married him otherwise. But our marriage has always been better when we are stationed separately. It is one of the reasons he isn't on board the Orizaba. In fact he's retiring."

"I do not understand why was Samantha's father so adamantly opposed to a having a child." Liara pressed for details, as much for her own sake as for her beloved's.

"Because he had a simple belief. You can not be both a good parent and a good officer. One will suffer for the other. He wasn't willing to sacrifice a career for a child and he thought it terribly unfair for a child to be raised with so little foundation of a home. He isn't the only military person to hold this belief.

"And a part of him is right Sam, it was unfair to you. You never had a stable home life. And your education wasn't the greatest, with shipboard computer tutorials when a live teacher wasn't available. The only steady teacher you had was your biotic mentor. And even that didn't last long."

"I'm not complaining." Sam said. "We did alright. What he did he want you to do after he found out you were pregnant? Retire, that you sacrifice your career?"

Hannah shrugged.

"And where would you have chosen as a home base? Dad's home colony of Mindoir? By now I'd have either been killed by the bartarian slavers that hit it, a slave or severely traumatized had I even survived it when Alliance dropped groundside and stopped it.

"Or would we have settled on maybe the Shan's family colony? A whole planet that is basically a reservation. You talk about my conception shaping my life. Not being a spacer definitely would have.

"I liked ship-life. The hum of the engines, the creaking of bulkheads. It's comforting. And I'm no dummy, so what if the majority of my education came from computers. I still aced my courses; they don't accept dull stones in Arcturus Academy. They don't turn idiots into N-Sevens. Or for that matter Spectres. And for the most part my own kids will be spacers." Sam looked to Liara, sheepishly. "Well…right?"

Liara smiled and touched Sam's face affectionately. "For the first few years of their life, yes. But I want them to know Thessia as well. They should know the feel of the ocean air upon their skin, the touch of the waters, and the smell of the gardens."

Sam nodded. "Babe, that goes without saying. Maybe when they're ready to go to school we can settle there. You know we actually never talked about this."

Hannah chuckled chiding her daughter. "Don't you think perhaps that you should? I'd like to know where my future grandchildren are going to be, when I come to visit." She took pity on the couple, "When it's time you will let me know."

"Mom, actually there is something else we need to talk about." Sam said. "When we have another daughter, you can't be Nana because it's too lose to the asari word for Mom….which is Naneth. And I know you hate Grandma, so how about Yeye ??"

"Yeye?." Hannah grinned, the Salish word for mother's mother--grandmother through the mother's side: anglicized it sounded more like Yeah-yEAhh. "I like that idea. Absolutely. So you're going to teach your daughter, Salish?"

"Yeah, she will know it fluently. After all her Ada knows Asarian fluently so she'll know both Salish and English."

"I think my translator just glitched. Did you just say you said 'Ada'?"

Sam smirked. "Sorry, yeah, our translators turn their word for other parent or siring parent based on the definition into father, but they can't change the shortened version. It's sorta like Mommy---daddy…thingy. Ada.

"I'm not going to be called Daddy, Dad or father. I refuse that term. I don't have the bits for it. And Mommy and Naneth is Liara's. So I'll take Ada, and well that comes with Arda, oh and Mamma." she smiled. "Until my kids are ten or so and they feel that's little too babyish for them."

Hannah nodded understanding; her voice became softer than Sam ever recalled hearing save when she was a toddler. "Then you get a call from them and when they call you Ma, you listen. You just listen. Because that's what they need you the most. You put down the uniform and you do what needs to be done. Like me, you chose the uniform Sam, but when your baby calls out in pain, you choose her over the uniform."

Sam could only offer a smile to her mother, for no words came to mind or mouth. After a beat the Spectre sat heavily upon the sofa. "Mom, there's something else you need to know. I've been diagnosed with borderline Cyan Syndrome."

"What?" Hannah partially fell on the floor but was guided to the couch by Liara. Her tanned skin had taken on the most unhealthy pallor. "Sammy?"

"Ma, it's not bad, not yet. I'm going to Ilium to get the necessary upgrades to my implants. And before you ask yes it has practically everything to do with the Prothean beacons, Cipher and a few other of their gadgets I interfaced with.

"The cipher…changed the way my biotics work, so did the gestalt; I'm more or less on par with young asari maidens. Shiala is training me further as is Liara. Combined with diligent training and with the new upgrades I'll be fine."

"But…your eyes….they haven't changed."

Sam shook her head. "Tricks, courtesy of old school theatrical special effects. It was actually Chakwas's idea. She even developed the way to do it." With her left hand she lifted the lid of her right eye, licked the tip of her right index finger and plucked out a coloured contact lens. "Sometimes the old fashioned ways are the best ways." This time when she looked at her mother, Hannah could not help but gasp.

Sam's iris glowed a biotic cyan blue.

"Mom, don't worry, I'm getting it sorted. It's one of the reason's we're headed to Ilium. I have an appointment with a clinic there that will give me the necessary up-grades."

"Why Ilium, why not here?"

"In two words: The Council. I want as much autonomy as possible. Ilium affords me that secrecy at least for the moment. My ground team knows I need some medical attention but as far as the rest of the crew is concerned they are taking their furlough there while the ship itself is upgraded with new tech, much of it Prothean."

Hannah nodded understanding the line of her child's reasoning. She even knew why Sam went out of the way to conceal her glowing eyes from her crew.

"So Ilium?"

This time it was Liara who spoke. "Though my people do not use amps we are in fact the best at creating and developing biotic amplifiers as we are in their implantation in the body of other biotics. We base the technology upon our own natural physiology, it is perhaps why they are both the most effective, efficient and yes expensive. Ilium is one of the very few asari worlds outside Council jurisdiction.

"We have one of the best contract negotiators onboard dealing with the legality of it all. Trust me when I say, the asari know how to write, bend and twist the legal procedures. The non-disclosure clause in Samantha's medical contract is very finite."

"I see." Hannah sighed rubbing her forehead as if to wipe away the anxiety she was feeling for her child. "But you are going to let me know the outcome." it was an order, not a request.

"Yes ma'am." the younger Shepard answered without sarcasm

"Good. Now then I believe there are other matters we must attend to, no?"

Packing up the baby's belongings. It was something neither young mother was particularly looking forward to.

There were three boxes in the end.

One contained the basinet, one contained items that could be used by Shiala for her daughter. The third held items neither Liara nor Sam were willing to pass on. Fuzzy-footed sleepers Ash had bought the couple in the pattern of N7 armor. Tali had bought a similar set but fashioned after green and white labcoats favored by Liara. A teddy bear again a gift from Ashley decked out in felt N7 armor. A plush varren from Wrex, and a mobile with tiny model ships from Garrus. There was a selection of musical compositions from asari composers, a gift from Shiala, plus a few other personalized odds and ends the mothers themselves bought for their Little Sparrow.

All personal gifts for the baby had been kept and stored. Secura would know them, but in the future another daughter would. They might not have been intended for her but they were for a T'soni-Shepard child.

Three days can provide a great deal of healing to broken spirits. Much of the Spectre's time was divided between spending time with her bondmate, mother and Consort as well as the Council. During several of those meetings, Tela Vasir was present on the pretext the other Spectre had been present during the altercation on the Presidium.

The presence however made Shepard feel scrutinized, as if she were under constant evaluation. There was no doubt in human's mind that Trace Ba'lor had ordered her colleague to appraise whether or not she was mentally fit for duty. Anyone else who had an attempted assassination on their wife and their child dead in the womb would have been given some respite. Shepard on the other hand knew if she didn't step-up and show she was capable of distancing herself from her personal trauma they would pull her from the Order of Special Tactics and Reconnaissance.

On the other hand if she were too detached, showed a too much of a hardened and cold heart they would pull her just as swiftly. It was delicate balancing act upon razor-wire. Any misstep and it ended everything. Even Anderson seemed to be sitting back watching his protégé walk the dangerous path. His motives though just as shaded as the others were not as malevolent. It was as if the latest addition to the Council was proving to the others that Shepard was up for the task.

When she appeared before Council donning the new armor, complete with the emblem of the Spectre's, the reaction was immediate. Ba'lor's mandibles flared in contempt, Velarn blinked several times, a salarian equivalent to a raised eyebrow, Anderson smiled and Tevas only gave the slighted tilt of the head. The most telling however was Vasir. She seemed to be taken aback by the bold proclamation of the humanity's first Spectre. You could see it in the asari's eyes that she had not believed Shepard to embrace her role as Spectre as ardently as she had as an N-7 marine.

"I see that you have finally shed the vestiges of your loyalty to the Alliance military and present yourself in hallmarks of the Spectres." Ba'lor said. How it was he could make even the simplest of statements seem like an off-handed insult never surprised Shepard.

"I am as loyal to my people as you are to yours, Councilor." Shepard sidestepped the baited trap. "And like you have taken up the mantle, duties and obligations expected of me in my role of serving this Council." Listen to the Consort long enough and you pick up a few things about word-play.

This made even Velarn's lips tweak into a slight smile. There were times when his turian counterpart racked even his passive tolerance.

"Indeed." as all the turian councilor said.

"Spectre," Anderson addressed her, "It is my understanding you wish to further your investigations into the attack. We've read the reports from Spectre Vasir, Executer Pallin and those of your own concerning the mercenary bands that were sent after Dr. T'soni. You each affirm that Cerberus is involved. And you further stipulate that Udina is working with them, in fact you have proof of this."

"I do. I also have a lead on one of their top operatives. I intend to capture her, though this coincides with the attack on my bondmate capturing her will give us an opportunity and insight not only on Cerberus but on their head—a person who calls himself the Illusive Man.

"As you have said yourself Councilor Velarn they are the avowed enemy of the Council just as much as the geth are. Their policies are so mired in a pro-human agenda they do not see they are harming the very ones they claim to be protecting. I have seen first hand their atrocities; and Admiral Kahoku died because of them.

"They were on Ilos collecting the bodies of the Protheans. And though we neutralized the group stationed there, there is no guaranteeing they had not already sent samples off to the Illusive Man. As you know they have samples of the rachni, thorian and the Reaper tech recovered by the geth that turns organics into husks.

"It's time to put a muzzle on this hell hound, and I'm starting with the woman Miranda Lawson. Pardon the pun but according to the dossier I gained from the Shadow Broker she is the Illusive Man's top bitch. I've forwarded you each a copy of it. I wouldn't be surprised if Cerberus hadn't funded or at the very least was the motive for her unique …creation. Cerberus wants frontline super soldiers, but they also desire supremacy of human evolution. There is enough evidence to point that Lawson is one of these stepping stones. The Illusive Man's own dynasty.

"He's a charismatic xenophobic despot. He seems to have had a lot in common with Saren. He will make sacrifices, as many sacrifices as are needed to achieve his warped sense of glory and domination. He must be neutralized."

"You desire to abandoned your notions of the Reapers are coming for chasing after Cerberus?" Ba'lor asked. "You'd give up your hunt for your 'white whale' so easily?"

That comment completely shocked Shepard. Of all the human literature to quote, he used Moby Dick? Though if she were truthful to herself, being compared Captain Ahab was just this side of better than being compared to Chicken Little. Of course he'd make the scathing comment for her own jibe at Saren's cost.

"That whale hasn't breached yet, but this one has." Shepard dismissed the insult as trivial. "Cerberus is a very recognizable threat just as the geth are. You've all seen the reports during my hunt for Saren, they dogged his every move, had people on the inside stealing his research and twisted it further. I'm not giving up on the war with the Geth and their Reaper tech, but this must be dealt with."

"We have formed a consensus. You have our permission to purse the hunt for Cerberus." Tevas said. "The Illusive Man is the heart, mind and soul of Cerberus. Eliminate him and the organization will collapse; its cells will become disorganized and incapable of coordinating or cooperating with each other."

Velarn picked up the conversation, "It will be critical to compile an accurate and effective list of targets. After you have this Miranda Lawson in custody you will coordinate with Spectre Vasir and Captain Kirrahe of the STG to hit these targets."

"It will be a joint-species military action. It is highly speculative that any of the bases you will find and paint as targets may not be within Council space but in the Terminus Systems. Spectres are able to act without impunity and on their own accord. The Council will not avow any such action." Ba'lor trailed the salarian.

"Typically attacking a facility in the Terminus Systems means a Council review and grounds for military discharge. But Spectres are not bound by the rules and Cerberus doesn't follow them anyway. Engaging Cerberus will not be easy, if not properly executed the facilities will warn the others and they will shut done. At that point gaining a foothold against the Illusive Man will not be possible." Anderson finished. "Since this is your investigation, Shepard you will be in command of it."

The expression upon Vasir's face in hearing the declaration was one of contempt quickly concealed behind a mask of acceptance of the inevitable. It wasn't that she didn't dislike the human, but to her Shepard was still very much a rookie. You didn't give a job like this to someone who in the galactic arena was still wet behind the ears. Still if and more than like when Shepard failed, Tela was going to be there to take over and officiate as needed. Perhaps this was the agenda of the Council—a back up plan ready to be implemented if the great Hero of the Citadel failed.

"As the Council orders," Vasir finally said. "So shall it be done."

The asari turned to her human counterpart. "Spectre Shepard, perhaps we should reconvene on the Normandy to overview the agenda of our operation."

Sam shook her head, ever so slightly. 'Oh no you don't. I'm not turning this into a pissing contest to establish whose top bitch on my own ship.' she thought to herself. Aloud she said as cordially as possible. "That won't be necessary. You already possess all the Intel, we have at this juncture. Once I have anything more I'll forward it to you, Spectre Vasir. However I'd like to say I look forward to working along side you."

The asari's only outward sign of agitation was a curt nod of the head. "Until then, Shepard."

Emily Wong had long looked forward to this day. An exclusive with the Hero of the Citadel: first human Spectre. Though Shepard had a few interviews with that tabloid hack Khalisah Al-Jilani it wasn't what one would call an exclusive and by no means in-depth conversation.

"I have to say this is a far sight better than being ambushed in the promenade of C-Sec." Shepard said looking around the set of Citadel Newsnet.

It had a fairly relaxed yet formal look to it, with Wong's wrap around chrome and durasteel desk offset by the dark hunter green velveteen sofa on which guests could comfortably sit. To Shepard it had the feel of an evening entertainment show versus a newsroom. Of course the set was reserved for interviews and not the typical broadcast news.

"I'm Emily Wong with Citadel Newsnet and I'm here with Spectre Samantha Shepard, formerly a Captain of the Alliance Military. Hailed hero of the Battle over the Citadel, Savior of Elysium and Eden Prime as well as humanities first Spectre.

"Spectre Shepard, may I say it is an honor and privilege to have you here." Emily bowed her head in a traditional greeting.

"Thank you, Miss Wong." Shepard responded cordially. "I'm glad we could finally do this. I know it's been a long time coming. I believe I promised you this a year ago."

Emily smiled. "You've been busy; its understandable taking time out I can imagine is a highly prized commodity. As I understand it you've been hunting the last remnants of the geth army, as well as terrorist organizations and criminal overlords. That's quite the resume."

"Just doing my job." Shepard said. "The geth have reproduced ancient Reaper technology, the same technology that whipped out the Protheans. Twenty years ago a derelict Reaper ship was discovered by a salarian science team and then stolen away by bartarian pirates. This same ship was later seized by Saren when he raided the pirate's base. He christened the ship: Sovereign.

"In its recovery he discovered Sovereign's AI technology was not wholly dormant. He made contact with the geth, formed an alliance with them. There were other discoveries the rogue Spectre uncovered, such as indoctrination. Surviving STG members from Virmire can attest to this as can former disciples of Matriarch Benezia."

"Yes, as I understand it you went to great lengths to acquit her of treason." Wong stated. "Not only her but her disciples as well."

"They were indoctrinated. Victims of ancient Reaper technology. They had no will of their own." Shepard said. "They can not be held accountable for being coerced into unwilling actions. Saren used the indoctrination to brainwash his victims."

"There are some that say that Reapers technology turned on Saren and it was why he turned on the Council, the Citadel and perhaps even the motive behind his attack on Eden Prime." Wong played the devils' advocate. "What are your thoughts on this, Spectre? If this is so should he also not be acquitted, post-mortem?"

"It is only supposition to his actions on Eden Prime. It is no secret that he harbored resentment towards humans for his brother's death in the First Contact War. However, if you are asking me if he was indoctrinated near the end…I truly believe he was." Shepard knew she was treading on very thin ice now, if she admitted to what she knew to be true. The Council and the Alliance both would disavow anything she said as madness and delusional paranoia.

"It is entirely possible the geth connected to the ancient AI and sought dominance just as they had done to their quarian masters three hundred years ago. Irregardless the geth have this technology now, and they are making steady and progressive use of it. Sovereign was only a vanguard for what is to come."

"Are the geth retro-engineering more of their ships to become as Sovereign?" Fear crept into Wong's voice.

Shepard nodded. "Scouting reports indicate this is so." she carefully maneuvered. "It is our prime objective to see this does not happen. It was why I was given the captaincy of a new ship and the crew that I have.

"The Council fleet and its allies will protect Council space; there is no danger of an immediate attack on the Citadel itself. However the outlying colonies are not going to be so fortunate. It is why I and the crew of the Normandy are sent on the mission to stop the incursion before it fully escalates into a war we can not win. We must act preemptively if we are to succeed at all."

"And is this what you believe, Spectre Shepard?" Wong pressed, "That we will win?"

Shepard paused for a moment. How to convey that she didn't think it was hopeless without sounding prosaically and naively optimistic? Then it occurred to her to quote the words that were in what was essentially the N7 bible.

"Victory can be created. For even if the enemy is numerous, we can prevent them from engaging. If they do not know our military situation we can always make them urgently attend to their own preparations, so that they have no leisure to plan to fight our forces.

"The enemy must not know where I intend to give battle. If the enemy doesn't know then he must prepare in a great many and thus those I will engage in one place will be few. Abating to asari guerilla tactics in theater will assure the enemy will never know where or even how we will hit them."

"And if the enemy does know?"

"In war espionage has always been an issue to contend with even if we use it ourselves. Therefore we must be ever vigilant, which is why you can appreciate I will not discuss how I intend to engage the enemy."

"The old saw that lose lips sink ships." Wong nodded her head. "It is as applicable now as it was when it was first coined. I understand the necessity of confidentiality, even if say some of my counterparts in other news agencies do not."

"Sensationalistic reporting isn't news it's gossip." Shepard said flatly.

"Indeed not." the reporter agreed. "I was going to ask you about how it feels to captain the first fully integrated inter-species crew, and what you are allowed to tell us about the new Normandy and even the decision to change her name from Victory to the new designation.

"But in light of recent terrorist events upon the Presidium and truly unfortunate results, is there any light you can shed as to why such an atrocity occurred?

Grim faced the Spectre nodded. "Unfortunately duty sometimes bleeds into the personal life. Terrorist organizations like Cerberus don't like the message you're sending such as interoperation with other species and they send bounty hunters after your family to assassinate them."

"Are you saying the attack on the Presidium was one message?"

"In any given government there are those who desire their so called heroes to be nothing but puppets." Shepard drew in heavy sigh. "When these individuals do not capitulate with those elements' demands they strike in what they believe to be the paragon's weakest point."

"The assassination attempt on your bondmate." Wong said softy. "Spectre, I wish to convey for myself and on behalf of everyone here at Citadel News our deepest condolences for you and your wife's recent loss."

Again a mask of dignity and diplomacy was all Shepard allowed to be seen. But there was something in her eyes that betrayed the deep seated sense of loss and regret.

"It is widely known that Cerberus is pro-human anti-alien organization. Why would they branch out into the private sector of mercenary groups, especially ones controlled by the turians of the Terminus Systems?"

"The Talons, were not the only ones to be hired. The prisoners that were interrogated admitted upwards to five organizations as well as independents. The Mournful Blades, Blood Pact, the Eclipse are a few so names. Then there are independents such as the krogan Inamorda, a LT Christen Meier of the Elysium PD, a bartarian calling himself Dezanti and a human known as Zaeed Massani. There was an asari called Aleena but I've dealt with her, she will no longer be hunting." Shepard gave a shark's smile.

Wong was taken aback. She knew several of the names the Spectre called out. As for the mercenary group to have such a hive of friends, the Spectre must have seriously angered someone. Her mind whirled at the implications.

"Many of these people are not human, why would an organization such as Cerberus hire them?"

"Cerberus doesn't waste what it can use." Shepard intoned. "And why not use none-humans to hunt down the first human Spectre? This way the light of accusations seems improbable at best at worst ludicrous.

"I am now well aware of who is hunting and why. I intend to bring the battle to them, lest more innocence suffer such as the death of my unborn daughter will not happen again. I have no intention of acting impetuously however as they desired to provoke in me a more renegade reaction. I shall bring the full force of my office and authority down around their ears. In knowing who they are, I know where to find them, and I will come for them."

There it was, war declared on inter-galactic television.

Part 41

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