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 45
The Show-Me-State of Misery

Lanteia didn't know what she aught to expect when she entered the Eternity Lounge. But when Matriarch Aethyta sent a message her that she had important information concerning one of her more illicit human contacts, it was a summons she could not ignore. The Matriarch was not one to be easily given to over dramatizations; whatever alerted her was to be taken quite seriously.

As an agent for Nos Austria's most Predominant information broker, the young maiden was trained not only to take in her immediate surroundings but also those that occupied it. Her mind cataloged a young quarian female on a date with a turian male, two dark maned human females obviously sisters hovering at the bar. There were also a couple of off-duty huntress commandos obviously on furlough, in addition to some of the bar's regulars. Approaching Aethyta at the bar she noticed one other asari: and this one startled her. She was dressed in deep maroon armor; her forehead was adorned with the jeweled pieces marking her as a servant of the Justicar Code.

Trying to ignore the pit of her stomach from retching up her last meal Lanteia managed to capture Aethyta's attention. "Matriarch, what's going on?"

"Nothing you need to worry about, if you give your cooperation." Aethyta whispered passing the maiden a tall glass of something green. "Drink it, it will settle those nerves."

Lanteia took one more look at the Justicar that disappeared into one of the backrooms. A private meeting then. No law abiding asari had anything to fear from a Justicar. She was here to harvest information that had to be it, if she were there for anything else, Lanteia would already be dead. She took the glass previously offered and gulped down the strong contents. There was no avoiding one's fate; best thing was not to run from it but towards it.

"Which room?"

"Last room on the left." Aethyta took the now empty glass and placed it on the rack to be later slid into the dishwasher. "Look kid, go in there, get it over with, don't provoke her and you'll have nothing to worry about."

'Don't provoke her?' the asari shuddered, why would anyone willingly provoke a Justicar? She'd done some foolish things in her years as a huntress but deliberately antagonizing a Justicar wasn't going to be numbered amongst them.

Last room on the left…Lanteia hit the door chime announcing her presence.


The voice was younger than she imagined it would be. It sounded more like a maiden's and not the tone of a seven hundred year old matron. Bolstering her courage she opened the door, and stopped dead.

A human? A HUMAN!

"What is the meaning of this? What do you want?" she started to go for her weapon but paused she saw the human's hand flare blue, but it was the blue glow in the eyes that once more stopped her in her tracks.

"I am Samantha Shepard of the Special Tactics and Reconnaissance." Shepard presented herself before Lanteia, fully garbed in her imposing blue, white and silver Spectre issue armor. Of course being so very well armed was also quite the statement. A very powerful one. And that little show with the eyes proved she was a powerful human biotic.

"A Spectre? What does a Spectre want with me?" the maiden's tone hinted at a panicked fight or flight response.

Shepard jumped on it almost immediately. "You are known to have consorted with an avowed enemy of Council Space. What I want to know is why an asari willingly aids and abets Cerberus agents."

"I have done nothing of the sort." Lanteia said defensively.

"Don't lie to me. You work with Miranda Lawson, she is a wanted woman. Now, you can either aid us in her apprehension or you will be incarcerated. I will take her into custody regardless. You of course realize the penalty for allying yourself with Cerberus carries a capital punishment."

"I never helped Cerberus!" the woman shook her head.

"Helping Lawson, helps Cerberus. There is no difference." Shepard said keeping her voice as cold and detached as possible.

"She is a…was a friend. I helped her out with a personal problem that had nothing to do with Cerberus. At the time I didn't even know she was apart of them. I've done nothing wrong."

"That personal problem wouldn't happen to concern her sister Oriana would it?"

"You…you know about her?"

Shepard's eyes hardened, "Now you tell me of your connection to Lawson, then you will contact her and inform her that her sister is in danger. The sort of danger that will provoke Lawson into action and come for her. I warn you should you betray me in anyway; it will go very badly for you. When you walked in here you passed many of my crew, in fact save only five patrons the entire night club is filled with those under my command or willing to work with me. This is your only warning, now be a smart girl and do the right thing."

Lanteia's mind flashed to the Justicar who was even now just down the hall she had no way in knowing that Shepard had meant Matriarch Aethyta.

"If…if she, Miranda believed her father was after her sister she'd come for her. But she won't just act on my word, if another told her she would not hesitate."


"An old lover of Miranda's, by the name of Niket. An agent in her father's organization. He and Miranda had a long time relationship; he helped her escape her father, when Miranda was but a teen. From what I understand shots were fired. Miranda's father would think of nothing of killing her, and he would pay nearly anything to get his hands on Oriana."

"Why? What is so special about this girl?"

"Legacy." Lanteia answered. "Miranda's father is obsessed with it."

Shepard thought about the files she had on Lawson and her extensive genetic modification. How she was seemingly perfect in every conceivable way, looks, mind and biotics, she'd even live half again as long as the average human. Two hundred years…. To long married to TIM if you asked the Spectre.

"So Daddy drops loads of credits to create the perfect specimen of humanity and when she runs off he creates another. That doesn't tell me why the kid is here."

Lanteia considered lying to the Spectre, but then Aethyta's warning flooded her mind with wisdom. "Miranda rescued her sister, I…I…helped to with placement of the child into a human family. They were desperate for one of their own but were unable to naturally produce one."

"You mean you traffic in stolen children." Shepard sneered. "But that's SOP from Cerberus. They think nothing of kidnapping, assassinations and freaky Frankensteinian science: in fact they condone it whole heartedly."

"I don't sell children!" Lanteia snapped. "I was helping out a friend. I didn't even facilitate the adoption that was Cerberus. Miranda went to Cerberus, they set everything up. I happen to be friends with the family that took the girl in, and I'm friends with Miranda. More of an acquaintance if you want to get technical."

"So now you admit cooperating with Cerberus."

"No! Not Cerberus. Miranda Lawson, a child and two acquaintances that desperately wanted a child. Spectre, I am telling you the truth. I keep tabs on the kid every now and again. Oriana knows only that she was adopted but not her prehistory with the Lawson legacy or that she even has a genetic twin sister."

"Be that as it may, the facts remain that Lawson is still a fugitive: one you have contacts with and one I want. Involving this man Niket involves too many variables. Simply contact Lawson and I urge you to be convincing."

"Before I do this, may I ask one thing Spectre?"

Shepard gave a slight title to her head indicating to the other she'd humor the inquiry. "Go ahead."

"Why use Oriana at all? The child is not involved with her sister in any way. Like I said she knows nothing of Miranda."

Shepard grinned. "I said you could ask a question, I never said I'd answer it. But I will guarantee you this; no physical harm will come to the kid by me or any in my command."

"If you take the girl by less than covert means Miranda will know that her father was not the one to abduct her…"

"I'm counting on it. You can tell her that Cerberus killed my child, something I will never forgive them for…leave the rest unsaid, allow Lawson to draw her own conclusions."

Miranda was never more glad to leave a place than she was Omega Station. With the success of the Shocktroopers with the bartarians and Aria's reaction to the mysterious event on the lower levels, The Illusive Man had recalled Miranda back to his side.

Lawson couldn't help but wonder if her boss was rethinking his plans of sending a team of his tank-bred troopers after Shepard to test her or was he going alter those plans. Considering the attacks on the colonies in the Terminus Systems she wouldn't be surprised if The Illusive Man did. Yes Shepard was humanity's best hope to push back the Reapers but she wasn't their only one. Wasn't that whole point of the Shocktroopers, the WNISCE and the ELF-HAARP? All they needed was someone to lead them. There were qualities within Shepard that was wholly unique to the Spectre.

Since The Illusive Man's obsession with Shepard, Miranda had devoted tremendous amount of time studying all she could about the woman. How she thought, how she worked, her strategies in battle from basic training, to her time at Arterius academy to the battle over the Citadel. For a time, Miranda felt as if she were living inside this woman's head and knew every aspect of her and yet was no closer to understanding her motivations.

A solider and duty, this Miranda understood, devotion to a belief this too, she understood. Attempting to prove yourself to gain approval to a father, again Miranda could relate to this. But this woman who had less than a stable home life, had schooling of such mediocrity it was practically laughable. So laughable, Miranda openly scorned the thoughts of computer tutorials and being a spaceborn vagabond and yet this woman Shepard had become an icon. Miranda knew only that she had become great only because of her of her tailor made genes; Shepard was great because of whom she was.

There was a small petty part of Miranda that was jealous over the fact that there was a quality in Shepard she would never have, a quality that had others follow Shepard into the very jaws of hell without hesitation or question. And that was what puzzled Miranda the most and had The Illusive Man so obsessed. And if her boss was correct, the Shadow Broker and the Collectors were as equally obsessed with Shepard.

Shepard was the keystone.

But why?

Rubbing her eyes, Lawson looked longingly to the luxury bed with its white silken sheets and black down-filled comforter. She rose from behind her desk and the state-of-the-art computer terminals and sighed contently as she sat upon the bed's cushiony surface. This was going to feel so good, Miranda thought as she fell upon welcoming embrace.

It felt as if she had just crawled beneath the covers when the comms buzzed. Grumbling she sat up send a jolt of biotic power into the intercom and fell back beneath the covers. Three minutes latter there was a frantic knocking at the door to operative's private quarters. Snarling Lawson threw back the covers, snatched the silk robe lying on the back of a chair near the bed and stormed to the door with a vengeance.

"What is it, Chambers?" She snapped.

"Sorry to disturbed you ma'am but communications seem to be down in your quarters. You have a priority message." A young red-headed woman in black and white Cerberus issued BDUs stood before the door. Typically such a greeting would have intimidated anyone else, but Kelly Chambers had long grown accustomed to Operative Lawson's more taciturn personality.

"I find it hard to believe The Illusive Man went through regular ship's channels."

"No, Ma'am it isn't The Illusive Man, it's marked from Illium, personal and confidential and high priority."

Miranda's face paled three shades whiter. "Thank you; patch it through to my terminal."

"Yes Ma'am, already done, I just came to inform you of your call."

"Very well, you're dismissed, yeoman." Lawson didn't even wait for a reply before she hit the panel on the side commanding the door to slid shut on the young woman's face.

Lawson's immediate gut reaction was to think of her baby sister Oriana, some trouble had befallen the girl. After all this time had her father finally discovered where she had hidden her?

No…no if that were so Niket would have told her…he wasn't on Illium. Something do with Shepard?

Intelligence reports indicated the Normandy had left Nos Astra four solar days ago. Shepard was well on her way to parts unknown, either continuing her hunt for the geth and Prothean relics in which to fight the Reapers or she was perusing her quest to annihilate the bounty hunters sent after her by Udina.

The biter-acrid taste of adrenaline and fear filled Miranda's mouth, she knew her gut was right, it was Oriana. Something had happened to her sister. Swallowing any emotion Miranda activated her personal comm-channel to see the blue worried face of Lanteia.

It was Oriana….

"What happened to Oriana?" Lawson demanded of the asari.

*The Spectre Shepard, found her and took her.*

"Shepard?! " Miranda yelped, "How did she even know about Oriana? How could she know about her? You told her!"

*No, she already knew about Oriana. She even knew where to find her. She knew we shared a connection just not what sort of connection. She assumed I was working with Cerberus! She was ready to blow my head off for that alone. She filled the bar with her people: her flagship team and a score of asari commandos. That woman is obsessed with terminating anyone connected to your people. You're a dangerous woman to be connected to and not for the reasons you want. I want nothing more to do with you Miranda Lawson. Not any more. We're done.*

"Lanteia, I understand…"

*No you don't. Shepard… is a very angry, very vengeful and very powerful. I felt a tiny touch of her biotics, just a touch. All she did was flare a smidge of power but it was enough to understand what she can do. Her powers are like those of a Justicar. A Justicar! A human with the biotic power of a Justicar…that prospect is…." Lanteia paused attempting to regain her composure. But you could see it in her face; in her eyes she was terrified of the very idea that a human was capable of phenomenal biotics without ridged Code of the Justicar to hold the storm at bay.

*I've seen that news report, Cerberus sent assassins to murder her bondmate and a baby within the womb just to get a rise out of the Spectre. Well now you have it, and she has your sister. Good luck with that, you're going to need it.* Lanteia cut off communications not allowing Lawson to utter another word.

Miranda fell back against the chair hard, surely Shepard wouldn't hurt Oriana. She couldn't…wouldn't, Shepard was one of the good guys. A paragon of virtue. They had rules… Strict rules…she wouldn't hurt Oriana. She wouldn't.

The Wong/Shepard interview, yes Lawson had seen that newscast too. The words now filtered into her mind, taking residence like a phantom haunting an old house.

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

"Cerberus doesn't waste what it can use. And why not use non-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."

From the Spectre's words, to haunting echoes of words spoke by one Miranda respected the most: The Illusive Man, and though they were not spoke to her but Donnel Udina Miranda had been in the shadows listening as per instruction. At the time, Lawson had applauded and admired the machinations and manipulations of her boss over Shepard, over Udina:

"The weak will always need heroes. Let them have Shepard, let them mourn for her. Those who do not support her… worship her; already despise her for her supposed turning away from the Alliance. Either they will see her as the Spectre so tormented by visions of the end of all organic life, that when her wife is murdered she snapped and they will pity her. Or they will see a woman turned cold by aliens, by an alien wife, they will see only her cruelty, her malice, her vengeance and they will disavow her glory, her honor. Both however will blame the beacons for scrambling her mind, and humanity will rise above the fall of one its greatest lionized yet tyrannical heroes."

The plan had been to turn Shepard into Julius Caeser a heroic iconic leader one moment, a tyrant who needed to be put down the next. Of course her assassination was political and career wise.

"We shape the events around her life, her quest to insure that she does. In turn Cerberus will be the sanctified Senators that put the end to a tyrant that threatened to destroy the glory, honor and life of the Empire. She will be placed on the wrong side of history in the end."

The idea was to push Shepard to the brink so she must turn to Cerberus to complete her mission to defeat the Reapers. But instead of loosing face with the public at large, the Alliance Military and the Council she had become a tragic hero, one the plebs sympathized with and rallied behind. Shepard's rage of the loose of her child and the near assassination of her bondmate had indeed become monstrous.

Miranda starred at the blank computer monitor, Shepard had taken Oriana as bait this much was obvious. The best thing Miranda could do for her sister now was to ignore the trap and carry on with the task The Illusive Man had set her to. A direct confrontation with the Spectre would end Oriana's life. Of this Lawson was positive. Shepard had held her bondmate as their child's life was aborted by a natural reaction too much trauma to T'Soni's body. No doubt the Spectre wanted to return that anguish in kind. Miranda was to witness her sister's demise, to hold her dying body in her arms with no hope of salvation; this was the terrible vengeance of the Spectre.

If the Illusive Man was told of this new development, Miranda knew he would say that personal attachments were a weakness, her sister was expendable, more than that Oriana's capture was exploitable. He would expect Miranda to use this open invitation for confrontation to get to Shepard, to manipulate the Spectre into joining Cerberus.

Cerberus had been all Lawson had been devoted to since she was sixteen and the Illusive Man had saved her from the fate of being her father's slave, now at thirty-five there was no other life imaginable.

Obedience breeds discipline. Discipline breeds unity. Unity breeds Power. Power is life. Life is humanity's survival. Survival is Cerberus. Cerberus breeds obedience.

More and more Shepard's phantom presence had begun to eat away at the maximum that Lawson had lived by for nearly two decades. No it wasn't Shepard, it was The Illusive Man. This thing with the bartarian colony and the shocktroops: even though there was a part of Lawson that understood the necessity of installing horror and terror in enemy forces, to do so to non-military targets….children was hard to assimilate. As was purposely killing a fetus just to force Shepard into become a renegade was another.

The doubts had started on Omega…

Miranda snarled at her own weakness of thoughts of insurrection and disloyalty. Maybe The Illusive Man was correct, one's conscious was like a stone in the shoe, you could not imagine the relief you feel once you got rid of it.

But this was Oriana….Miranda had battled her father's mercenaries, defied the Lawson legacy just to see her twin safe and free. Cerberus had helped to make it happen; now that very organization was the very cause of what may well be her dear sister's demise.

No not Cerberus. Cerberus was her salvation, it always had been. Shepard was true threat. Shepard was one planting seditious thoughts into Miranda's mind, she was the one causing her heart to question her loyalties. And it was Shepard who mad with grief held Oriana.

A tiny part of Lawson's hindbrain whispered as a serpent speaks of sin: 'But who was it caused her to become so mad?'

'Shepard… is a very angry, very vengeful and very powerful…Cerberus sent assassins to murder her bondmate and a baby with in the womb just to get a rise out of the Spectre. Well now you have it, and she now has your sister.'

Miranda, reopened her computer and frantically began to open up programs, she hacked directly the Illium University CCTV, particularly footage of Oriana's sorority house.

Instead of trolling for hours she input Shepard's features into the facial recognition program. Forty-four minutes later, she finally she came up with a positive ID. Timestamp on the footage marked it twelve minutes past 20:00 hours. Shepard appeared in full Spectre regalia. Blue and white armor with the winged insignia of the Special Tactics and Resonance stamped upon her paladins. Not only was she heavily armored but equally armed with an assault gun, and something that looked like a rocket launcher on her back, upon her right hip a Spectre issued heavy pistol. Mustered behind her wasn't her typically flagship ground team but twelve asari commandos armored in their favored black and copper-colored hardsuits.

'Why choose only asari commandos….' Miranda pondered but as soon as the question entered her mind, it was as quickly answered. Illium is an asari world, of course she'd bring in a full asari strike team. A Spectre leading a contingent of asari commandos was less likely to draw in the authorities than a unit of human warriors storming one of Illium's most prestigious universities.

Miranda watched the monitor feed paying back Shepard entering the manner, an hour and half later the Spectre was exiting with Oriana clutching a small suitcase desperately to her chest as it might protect her against the fear coursing through her veins. Her sister was marched into an awaiting troop shuttle; Shepard was the last to board. Before she did however she turned, looked directly at the CCTV camera and gave a mocking two fingered salute, obviously knowing that Miranda was going too hack into the security footage. The Spectre was deliberately taunting Miranda. The smile on the Spectre's, face actually sent a chill down Lawson's typically unshakable spine. Seconds latter the shuttle took off.

The message was clear: 'I have your sister, now what are you going to do about it?'

"The only thing I can do Captain Shepard, walk deliberately into your trap."

Oriana looked at Spectre Shepard; she wasn't nearly as terrifying now as she was when she first met her two hours ago:

Suzy had opened the door the house going off at the mouth as she typically did when she those she considered beneath her class failed to perform as she expected them too, in this case it was the pizza delivery guy.

The Spectre pushed past her blonde sorority sister into the foyer as did the twelve asari Of course Suzy had piped up claiming her pre-law knowledge that Shepard had no right to take anyone into custody without a warrant. Shepard had snapped back that if Suzy actually studied her precious law books she would know that Spectres move with autonomy of the law.

Macey the fan girl that she was couldn't keep her eyes off the Spectre. Of course the mousey girl carried a galaxy-sized crush on the woman ever since she was a lieutenant on Elysium. Apparently Macey's older brother had served with the Shepard during the pirates' attack on the planet. Macey had been just a young child at time, but she grew up worshiping Samantha Shepard. Macey had been gushing her admiration for the Spectre even as Oriana shuddered in fear.

Shepard took a step forward, "I'm sorry Miss Solheim, this must seem quite frightening to you, for that I apologize. But it is necessary that I take you into protective custody. Miss Solheim, you will go with one of my lieutenants and collect a few changes of cloths and any personal effects, though I will have to confiscate any Omni tool you have for the duration, then you will come with me."

"Why? What's going on? I don't understand!" Oriana pleaded, her fear clearly showing itself on her face. "I've done nothing wrong!"

Shepard gave a small reassuring smile. "You are not under arrest, let me make that perfectly clear. But you are being removed to protective custody for your own safety. There are links between you and an underworld-covert agent, more I can not say here." Shepard gave a look to the now twelve gathered sorority girls. "Suffice it to say you are no longer safe here."

"What agent? I don't know anyone like that!" Oriana whimpered. "I swear!"

"They know you Miss Solheim that is what is relevant."

"You're scarring her. All of us." another voice piped up. It was Jordan. Of course it was Jordan. The young salarian was always into something a bit illegal, bootleg VIs, vids, sims, Omni games, she was even a subscriber to the Wizard. "Please can't you tell us more? If this about the thesis guy…Ori only knew the guy through another guy…from a girl from her orchestra, but he isn't with any covert organization."

"Don't be an idiot, Jordan; this is far more serious than your bootleg crap or cheating! Do you really think they send out Spectres to arrest someone for cheating." Suzy said sarcastically.

"She is correct this far more serious than a mere misdemeanors and minor felony charges. Cerberus is the enemy I speak of, a covert rogue black-ops organization that thinks nothing of sacrificing whoever and whatever they feel impedes their ascent to glory and galactic domination. Whether you know it or not you have a tie to one of their top-agents. Enough has been said. Lieutenant Nual escort Miss Solheim to her bedroom, oversee her packing, you have ten minutes." Shepard said with a slight annoyed edge her voice.

"Aye aye." the asari titled her head in a manner of her people's salute. "Miss?" she gestured for the human girl to lead the way to her room.

"Can I at least call my parents?" Oriana pleaded. "If you're taking me into witness protection, shouldn't you take them too?"

"You may call them once we return to my ship. I assure you, your parents' safety is being seen to, they are not in any immediate danger. The same however can not be said for you, you are the target Miss Solheim. In fact your presence here may very well endanger your parents as they could be turned into a barging chip for your surrender to the enemy.

"When they discover you are in the hands of a Spectre, they will make no move against them as it will be a useless gesture. This enemy will not waste resources chasing after unproductive avenues. " Shepard said attempting to sound as diplomatic and reassuring as possible. "We can delay no longer. Gather your things, we leave ASAP." Again the Spectre used the voice of command causing the young woman to immediately jump and obey.

As Oriana left the girl Macey spoke up. "Spectre, we all know about you being the Hero of the Citadel, and my family was there on Elysium when you stopped the raid, and even my cousins owe their lives to you because what you did at Eden Prime. Is…Cerberus working with the geth like that turian Saren did?"

"They are the avowed enemy of the Alliance and Council Space. They are my enemy."

"I remember, now..." Suzy said whispering softly, "from the newscast with Emily Wong…Cerberus agents killed your baby. You said they were working with a whole list of bounty hunters!"

Macey elbowed the blonde in the stomach. "Now whose being the idiot?"

"I'm not being an idiot. These same bounty hunters are they after Ori? Why would they be after Ori? Are they after her for the same reasons they went after your wife and baby? That's why you came for her isn't it? To make sure the same thing doesn't happen to her."

"Wait…wait if they're coming for Ori, wont they come here? We're not safe here are we?" Red said.

The Spectre folded her arms over her chest, "With Miss Solheim gone the bounty hunters have no call to come here."

"Maybe we should call the authorities," Suzy said meekly.

"Now you're back to being the idiot, Spectres are the authorities!" Macey snipped.

"But she only cares about Ori…"

"My care is to my duty." Shepard said chillingly. "Taking Miss Solheim into my protection is that duty. With her gone from here, those that mean to us her will have no cause to come here, I assure you."

Now that Oriana had time to think of it, the Spectre had worded her intent most strangely. Over and over her mind replayed the Spectre's wording. Something in them…it was more than knowing one's prey. More intimate. It was as if she knew with absolute certainty that her parents, her sorority sisters and friends would not be harmed by those that meant to use her. Oriana's grey eyes fell on the Spectre's electric blues. They were so haunted, so distant, so filled with pain. In that instant Oriana knew precisely why her loved ones and friends were safe, Shepard would never harm them. Shepard meant to use Oriana to entrap this Cerberus agent.

As they approached the wavecrest class warship, the young scholar could not help but gasp and the sure eloquent lines of the Normandy. This may not be the same ship that was the battle over the Citadel but she was no less awe inspiring. Oriana always liked the look and inventiveness in asari starships. Then of course they were engineered by a race of people who believed aesthetics and functionality should go hand-in-hand. Oriana also liked the fact that unlike a lot of human and turian ships this was in way a phallus.

The ship docked and with standard docking all were led though a decontamination zone before they were allowed out of the shuttle bay. After dismissing her troopers, Shepard checked in her weapons and armor with such practiced precision it took less than two minutes before attention was turned back to Oriana.

"This is a military vessel not a diplomatic one, I'm sorry but we don't have VIP quarters. However there are quarters available to you within the chapel. This ship carries a multi-species crew and as such they have religious and psychological needs. Our clergy double as our ship's councilors as well as religious guides as such it affords them certain privileges such as private office space and quarters. Father Genativii has agreed to allow you access to his private chambers for your own use." Shepard said leading Oriana towards the chapel.

"I… I thought you might lead me to the brig."

The Spectre cocked her head, "Why ever would I do that? You are not a prisoner; you are in protective custody…witness protection if you will. Of course if you prefer a cell in the brig, I can arrange that."

"No!" the young woman said. "No, that's quite all right, though I never slept in a church before. I'm not exactly religious. I mean I've gone to Mass on Christmas and Easter. Only because Mum makes me go with one of her super guilt trips but that's about it." Oriana shrugged shyly.

Shepard chuckled. "It isn't exactly a church as much as it is a sanctuary. As I said with a crew like this we must cater to a wide variety of religious faiths. The clergy we have on board is of the faiths of Athame headed by Priestess Kerubiel Resh, but she also presides over the asari mainstream religion of Sari. The Buddhist faith headed by Brother Xedrix Nyriss." a small smile. "Some think it strange that turians have taken up Buddhism or even Confucianism, but they have with great passion."

"I know, I have a turian friend back on Illium and she's a Buddhist. I thought it strange at first but considering turians belief patterns it's not all that surprising they follow Buddha or Confucius. So um this Father Genativii what is he?

"Personally he's of the Church of England, but he oversees other Christianity beliefs. And the three of them together overlook all the other faiths of our crewmembers. Nevertheless you should be fairly comfortable here. The quarters are little more than broom closets but they're private. You'll be given free access to the observation lounges, PT room and the mess hall as well as the med-center but I will insist that you will be accompanied by a guard."

"The protective in protective custody." Oriana gibed.

"Just so." Shepard said. "Miss Solheim you are a civilian on a highly classified military ship. This is standard procedure irregardless of your status here." Shepard said.

"You mean as your bait?"

To her credit the Spectre didn't deny it. "Miss Solheim…Oriana this is a discussion we need to have in private. It will not be easy for you to hear, but to understand your role in all of this you must. In fact I can show you. I'll start with the dossier I have on Miranda Lawson. After that if you want to know more it will be your choice."

"Miranda Lawson…is the underworld agent that has ties to me, isn't she?"

"A greater one than you realize. And yes she is the agent of the enemy. And despite how extraordinarily overly-melodramatic it sounds she is in fact the right hand to one of the most evil men to ever walk this galaxy."

"You're not the sort of person prone to over-exaggeration are you?" Oriana said in a very low whisper.

"No, I am not. Nor am I the type of person to over-dramatize a situation." Shepard responded. She led the young woman from the chapel to the lift to finely come to the Loft. Once fully secure the Spectre handed Oriana a data padd containing the Shadow Broker's complied INTEL on Miranda Lawson.

Shepard watched for a moment as the nineteen year old dove into the files of the data padd before she moved to the upper tier of her quarters, went to her desk and from the bottom draw pulled out a dark brown bottle and a single tumbler. She set the glass before Oriana and filled it. She set the bottle of whiskey beside it, knowing the girl would soon need it.

Trembling hands dropped the data padd onto the table as predicted the tumbler was taken and its contents quickly drained as was a second glass, a third and the forth was taken from her and set aside.

"You may wish to hold off on that." Shepard said with gentle admonishment. "If I recall I came before your dinner had been delivered."

"Huh?" Oriana blinked her vision already blurry from the heady strength of the whiskey.

"Your friend who answered the door mistook me for the pizza delivery guy. Too much booze on an empty stomach is a recipe for one mother of a hang-over after you pass out."

"Passing out doesn't seem like a bad idea." Oriana muttered. She picked up the padd once again. "God…I have a twin sister. An actual twin sister." she laughed but was more of a hysterical sound than one of joviality. "You realize how…comic book stereotype this is? I have an actual evil twin sister. She's an evil twin! What's next, a big bad with a jolly pirate nickname?"

"That is closer to the truth than you realize. He calls himself The Illusive Man, and he is overlord of Cerberus."


"No Illusive. More than likely he claimed the name after a fictional figure in a twenty century set of books by Raymond E. Frost called Riftwar."

Oriana thought for a moment, despite the fog in her head from the alcohol her mind clicked on familiarly of the name but not from the source Shepard had stated. It was something she had heard Macey talking about when they watched the Wong/Shepard interview.

"I remember…now! Years ago, there was an anonymous extranet manifesto that warned that an alien attempt at human genocide was inevitable. It was just after the First Contact War. The manifesto called for an army…a…a…Cerberus to guard against invasion through the Charon relay."

"You know your resent history well." Shepard smiled her approval. "Then you also know that it was derided as "survivalist rhetoric written by an illusive man", the manifesto and its anonymous author soon fell off the media radar. Then in 65, brigands stole antimatter from the SSV Geneva, the sole figure arrested named his sponsor Cerberus.

"Throughout the 60s and 70s, alleged Cerberus agents assassinated politicians, sabotaged starships bearing eezo, and conducted nightmarish experiments on nonhumans and humans. Denounced as human-supremacist, Cerberus calls itself human-survivalist. Counterterrorist experts speculate Cerberus may have changed leadership with it recent shift to stockpiling ships, agents, and weapons. I don't. I think all along the leadership has been with one man, who had changed his fortune, but not his overall agenda: the subjugation of all nonhuman sentients. And he will use this looming conflict with the Reapers to do so."

"But how can he or Cerberus have become so powerful? I mean the sort of wealth to buy politicians, covert agents, people in the press, ships…bases, it's astronomical."

"The Illusive Man hides his finances behind shell companies, like Cord-Hislop Aerospace."

"But…but that's the company my parents work for!" Oriana yelped. "They're a major starship industry based on Earth. Their branch here on Illium is small but they get a lot of custom. Dad works in their PR department, Mom's one of the execs. You're telling Cord-Hislop is a part of Cerberus? My parents work for Cerberus?! "

"As do countless innocents who have no clue that it is a Cerberus front company." Shepard said keeping her voice clam. "There are many such companies, and many more companies that Cerberus has legitimate stocks in corporations like Binary Helix and ExoGeni. While not Cerberus, the Illusive Man has major shares in them, and not just finances but agents as well. I've shut down more than a few of their operations during my hunt of Saren and his Reaper master: Sovereign."

"I have to warn Mom and Dad! They'd never side with some like the Illusive Man. They despise the people in the Terra Firma party. My Dad won't even talk to his brother because my uncle voted for that scum bucket Charles Saracino."

"Oriana, think for a moment. Right now your parents are safe because they don't know who they truly work for. We have to keep it that way for a time."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes, Oriana I am." Shepard answered her voice once again soft and reassuring.

The girl nodded. "Tell me about this Miranda. About Cerberus and what you want from me."

"I'll answer those questions but in not in that order. What I need from you, you are already providing. As you puzzled out, I am indeed using you as bait. But I will never place you in harms way."

"But you want this Lawson woman to think the opposite, don't you?"

"She already does."

Oriana frowned at this. "You sent her a message? Already? When?"

"In a manner of speaking a message has been sent." The Spectre grinned. "Lanteia said she monitors your progress, she has since you were a babe-in-arms. Lawson keeps fairly close tabs on you. Stood to reason as soon as Lanteia reported that I had you, Lawson would hack into the security system of the university. I sorta…flipped her off when we left your sorority house."

Oriana just stared at the older woman. Layers upon layers, now Aunty Lan was mixed up in all of this? How? Aunty Lan is asari. No in hell, an asari works for a radical pro-humanist group like Cerberus. But before she could open her mouth Shepard held her hand out to forestall any forthcoming questions.

"Any questions about Lanteia and her connection to Lawson, I will answer later. Suffice to say Lawson now knows who has you and she believes she knows why. But that is only half true. She knows you're bait and will come irregardless, more than likely defying her lord and master TIM, to do so.

"As for your other questions about Lawson, personally I know little more than what is in that dossier I showed you. Now regarding Cerberus, that, I can tell you a great deal more of. But Oriana, it must be your choice. What I tell you, what I show you will change your life and how you see it a great deal. You cannot erase it, you can't delete from your mind and you can't go backwards. What they do isn't pretty, it isn't moral or lawful, and in no way is it ethical. It's visceral, brutal, cunning and sickening."

"Show me."

Shepard gave a very slight bow to the head. It might have been easier to force away the words of warning from her conscious as she deliberately lead this child-woman into the path she wanted, but that opened far too many doors. If you started with small indiscretions of principles, then you'd go to slightly bigger ones, then larger ones, then major…and then you'd forget there was a line between right and wrong as it vanished completely.

Shepard needed the voice in her hindbrain screaming at her that was she was doing was unethical. Oriana believed it her idea to watch the footage of Cerberus, the seed had been sown. Once the girl saw the footage, she would demand an active part in the apprehension of Lawson and the confrontation that was surely to follow. It was all coming together as the Spectre had planed.

She sat near the girl as she watched the playback of Tali's compilation. The quarian had outdone herself. The vid opened with the impaling of one of the settlers on Eden Prime by the geth then it switched to the husks on Chasca. It was voiced over from the logs Shepard and her crew had recovered from ExoGeni.

Private Log of Dr. Gamorle: I don't trust this Cerberus group. They may pay us well, but it this gets out before we've developed an antidote….its just not smart. They won't tell us what they want the samples for or why they wanted them delivered to the Matano System. My records show nothing of interest out there.

Tali made sure to show visceral battles with the husks, including the crew's own chatter.

"By the Goddess…the whole planet is…dead!"

"Cerberus did this. Those cocksuckers! Skipper, tell me we'll make them pay!"

"Cerberus must have passed through the colony just before the colonists transformed. My gods they wanted to see what the dragon teeth would do. They meant for this to happen! Just like on Akuze they deliberately set this up."

Shepard's voice had been the last to speak. Tali had used it to fade into the battle with the thresher maw and the trap set to ensnare Admiral Kahoku's men.

"Shepard, this is Admiral Kahoku. I found out who set that trap for my men, the ones killed by the thresher maw. Damn I hope you get this message. Its group called Cerberus. They are an Alliance black-ops organization. Top Secret. Highest level of security clearance. They vanished a few months ago. Dropped right off the grid. Nobody knew where they went or what they were up to.

"They've gone completely rogue, Shepard!! They're conducting illegal genetic experiments trying to create some sort of super solider. I…I don't have any proof. But I found the coordinates for one of their research worlds. I'm uploading them with this message. They're completely out of control. Somebody needs to stop them. I've done my part, now its up to you. This is….this is probably the last you'll hear from me. Cerberus is after me now. I need to disappear before they find me."

Tali blended scenes of the battles from each of the three research faculties on Binthu in the Yangtze System. Battles with the rachni, thorian creepers and Cerberus agents.

The last was the form Liara's helmet's battle-cam. "By the Goddess...it's Admiral Kahoku!"

Tali had made the scene dark for a few moments them brighten with the white text reading:

Not sure if you will receive this, Doctor, but it is imperative you make your way to the safe location. Your history with our organization has been leaked. Your base in the Newton system is no longer secure. I repeat, make your way to the save location immediately.

It changed then with Shepard's own battle-cam's point of view when the team had confronted Corporal Toombs who held a human male at gunpoint.

"Stay back! I've got no grief with you. All I want is this bastard."

"Please! He's a mad man! Mr. Toombs you're insane. You need help." there was a scientist in a white and red labcoat with his hands out in front of him pleadingly, upon the sleeve of his coat was the black and gold concentric diamonds of the Cerberus insignia.

"It's Corporal! Corporal Toombs! You don't get to lie!"

"You can't prove any of this. This man is delusional. Shoot him!"

Toombs continued ranting, his anger palpable. "They took me! See, they were running tests on the thresher maws. They let those things hit just to watch and study. I woke up in a holding cell. The scientists were delighted I had survived. Now they had someone to run tests on."

"What did they do to you Toombs?" It was Shepard speaking now, her voice as calm as it had been when she had first spoken with Oriana.

"You can't believe Toombs. He doesn't have any proof! I demand a fair trial." the Cerberus Man's voice was pitched near hysteria.

"He was there, the bastard! He knows the truth! They treated me like a lab animal. I only escaped because somebody destroyed Cerberus their big organization. This man deserves to die, Shepard, for everyone else in my unit. Are you with me?"

"Let's make this pubic; he'll answer for his crimes in court." Shepard took a hesitant step forward, her voice gentling.

"Weren't you listening? He was a part of a secret origination. I don't know what Cerberus is, but they will never let their operation become public. This is the only way! Are you helping me or are you killing me?"

"You're better then this Toombs. You're not like them."

"Don't tell me who I am, you weren't there! You got away with a few scratches and a scary reputation. The rest of my unit died and I was tortured for years, Shepard! You can't judge me, you don't have the right!"

"Toombs, if I could have helped out on Akuze, I would have. We were dispatched too late, your unit already fell. We belies there were no survivors. All I can do is help now. Let me. I'm a Spectre, if you do this is murder. I am the law, I can give you justice, but you have to let me."

"Okay. I'm no murder. They can't make me one. Just as long as he goes to trial. Maybe the screaming will stop now. I don't know."

"Those basterds can't hurt you any more. I promise you." Shepard touched her earpiece, coming with the Normandy. "Joker tell the Fifth Fleet we need a ship for pick-up."

The scene ended with Toombs staring morosely at the floor as Williams shoved the scientist out the door. Once more the scene went black this time another vice was heard a recording of Major Elena Flores.

"Sigma twenty three is almost fully operational, the barracks and storage lockers are complete and we've begun stocking the munitions. It is highly unlikely the Alliance will patrol in the nebula. I suspect our only risk will be from the pirates, and who will believe them? It looks like we will have space for two reinforced platoons of Cerberus commandos."

"Again with Cerberus." William's voice cut in "Who the hell are these guys?

The second entry was played: "The package arrived to day ready for field testing. I'm told they've been fundamentally similar to the units being developed in Noveria. They promise this batch will be stable. Something about them being in close proximity to the master control unit

"We've discovered a group of pirates setting up an anchorage in the neighboring system. I think well try deploying them there first.

The last entry was played. They've escaped containment. Clever bastards. We treated them like animals when we should have treated them like P.O.W.s . They're spreading, boarding the supply ships and sending them to random destinations. They will be all over the cluster in a week. General, if you recover this message my advice is screw the rachni. They're too smart. Use one of the other projects. Flores sighing off…for the final time.

"Another batch of experimental rachni gets loose. These things should come with warning labels." Ashley scoffed.

"Yeah, we may look like creepy-looking space spiders but we're sentient, do not remove us from Mommy's side or we will go mad." Shepard's words though seemingly filled with levity had a cold edge to it.

The next scenes were frantic and rushed as Shepard's cam depicted a wild dash through the station, racing for the airlock along side Liara and Williams. The only way to neutralize the threat had been to set off the timer of a bomb near the Flores' computer. They had only two minutes to reach the airlock though masses rachni warriors and cargo that created a labyrinth out of the hold.

Following those Tali had continued the barrage of images: The collection of Prothean mummies on Ilos, the assault on the ship of the Migrant Fleet, a quarian lad whose face plate had been smashed, his face so deformed, and afflicted with illnesses that it was impossible to discern anything more than mass of swollen flesh. A young human girl, obviously a biotic being hunted down by commandos in white and black armor emblazoned with the Cerberus diamonds.

Atrocities after atrocities, so many that not even Shepard knew how Tali had come to them, let alone how she managed to meld them together into this horrific montage. It made her physically ill to watch it along side her captive.

Oriana rose suddenly from the table. "I'm going to be sick!"

"Top of the stairs, straight ahead." Shepard pointed to the ensuite.

A few moments latter a tearful, shaking girl repapered, her face dripping with water she had obviously splashed on it. Gingerly Shepard approached her and led her to the sofa where she sat the younger woman down, and waited in silence.

"You should have told me…warned me! Why!? Why did you show me that?" she wept.

Shepard swallowed down the bile taste stuck in her throat. She could not tell the girl that to be honest she didn't know exactly what was on that vid. She had to own up to it. "I had warned you what you will see, will change everything." the words were softly spoken.

There was a longer moment of silence. Then: "Miranda Lawson my twin sister…she is a part of this? Willingly? She…she condones this?"

"She is the right hand of the Illusive Man, Oriana." Shepard said simply. "They want to create super soldiers, the ultimate human biotic. Cerberus may have even used your sister's genetic tailoring as a template."

Another long moment of silence. "Then why am I not with them? Why was I given to a family. My Mom and Dad love me, they've always made sure I was happy and safe. They made sure I didn't sluff off on my violin lessons or school simply because I got board with it. They are not…not Cerberus."

"No you're parents are not Cerberus. As to why you are with them and not a specimen or asset in their laboratories, I can not fully say. Maybe there is something redeemable in your sister. She took you from your biological father because to him the only thing you were was a legacy and power. To your true parents you are the jewel of their hearts as it should be. Perhaps giving you away was the only good thing Miranda was capable of doing."

"Redeemable? But if she's the right hand of this vile creature that calls himself the Illusive Man…then is there any good left in her? She's Cerberus; she may as well have killed your baby! How can anyone like that be redeemable?"

"Oriana, do not mistake my purpose. I need to capture Lawson, to take her in because she is so very close to the Illusive Man. But you are her redemption or at least she believes it. I need to use that connection. I am sorry it must be this way, but it is the only way I can think of without more lives being destroyed. Will you aid me?"

"If I say no?" a meek whisper.

"Then you will be released back to Illium."

"But that won't ever change what I saw, what I now know."

"No it won't."

More silence.

"I wish you hadn't shown me. I wish I was still ignorant. But I'm not. I know now and if I turn my back on this, I'm just as evil as she is, aren't I?"

"No not evil, that is something I don't think you are capable of, Oriana. But you do have a chance now to do something about the darkness that lurks in humanity. You can help me reclaim some of humanity's true values."

A sigh. "You want to know something? My Dad…he's descended from the Schindler Jews. Bet you didn't know that. He didn't convert to Mom's faith. Makes the holidays wired sometimes. The whole time growing up they said I can choose my own path. Guess that's why I'm not very religious, I don't want to hurt either of their feelings by choosing one faith over the other. But if… way back then Oskar Schindler didn't step up, didn't do the hard thing, the right thing…." the girl paused, taking in great greedy gulps of air to steady her nerves. "I'll do it. I'll help you stop Cerberus!"

Part 46

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