I do not own Mass Effect or any affiliated properties. All I own is this story, and any original story elements such as characters or locations that I create in the process of writing it.
- Title: Mass Effect: The Shores of Infinity
- Author: HighTime (on ff.net)/HyghTyme (on LJ)
- Beta-read by: thejadefalcon
- Length: ~16,000 so far
- Rating: T, for violence, language, and some sexuality
- Summary: A Mass Effect novelization with a female Earthborn/War Hero Shepard. Morgan Shepard finds that operating above the law only makes tough choices tougher and morality more complex. Expands on back story, shows a Paragon who's far from perfect. Shep/Alenko
- Please leave any feedback on the discussion page.
Mass Effect: The Shores of InfinityEdit
Chapter One: Paradise LostEdit
Blood on her hands...
“Keep pressure on the hole!”
Someone was yelling and Morgan was staring into the eyes of Beaky, a fifteen year old fellow Red who was rapidly bleeding out through a hole in the side of his chest despite her best efforts. She could feel his heart beating and the rise and fall of his breathing.
This isn’t real.
She could feel it, and she kept pressing down. Kept putting pressure on the bullet hole. It felt like she was pushing his heartbeat down. It felt like she was pushing the life out of him.
This isn’t now.
She was thirteen, her dark brown hair cut roughly to her shoulders, getting in her eyes, her left eye blurring on her as it sometimes did, making the horrible situation even worse. It was her first run with the older gang members, her first real fight. Finch was to her left, yelling at her as he fired his old Devlon piece at one of the Dirks down on the street. Finch was the same age as her but he’d been with the gang since he was born, whereas she’d been a Rat – a young pickpocket and thief without the protection of a gang – until three years ago. Usually that would have earned him a job like this – providing cover fire for the older gang members on a raid against a rival gang – far earlier than her, but Morgan was an exception. Everyone knew she was a good shot. Finch had been angry about that, presumably thinking that she wasn’t ready or simply wanting the glory for himself, but now he was a bit busy shooting, she was a bit busy panicking, and Beaky was a bit busy dying.
I need to wake up.
Morgan Shepard watched Beaky’s eyes roll back into his head, and knew that she wasn’t going to die like him, no matter what she had to do to prevent it.
I need to wake up. This isn’t real.
Shepard opened her eyes, and in a flash she was back on the Normandy, parsecs and parsecs from Earth and its slums. She took a deep breath and relaxed the muscles in her arms, one of which was hanging over the side of her bunk. The shift-change tone sounded. Time to go to work, she thought.
“The Arcturus Prime Relay is in range,” came Joker’s voice over the intercom, as Shepard emerged onto Deck One after hurriedly getting ready and grabbing her gear, hoping no-one noticed that she had overslept. “Initiating transmission sequence.”
She marched towards the cockpit, nodding to Navigator Pressley as she passed through the navigation room. She began internally steeling herself for the transit. Even after eleven years with the Systems Alliance, she still wasn’t used to the unique sensation that Mass Relays caused.
“We are connected. Calculating transit mass and destination. Relay is hot, acquiring approach vector. All stations secure for transit.”
Nihlus, the Spectre representing the Council’s interest in the Normandy, was already in the cockpit. Shepard moved to stand next to him, though she made sure not to get too close.
“The board is green. Approach run has begun. Hitting Relay in three...”
Shepard let out a deep breath and bit down slightly on the inside of her cheek.
“... two ...”
She glanced over at Lieutenant Alenko. The lucky bastard didn’t seem at all tense.
Mass effect was something that you had to feel for yourself. It couldn’t be described, not even one biotic to another. Shepard was a biotic, and she still couldn’t even really wrap her head around the experience. Losing mass is different than a change in weight, which everyone who’s been off their homeworld has experienced. Changes in weight are a result of changes in gravity. Gravity is the attraction between all objects in the universe, and its strength depends on proximity and mass. Mass is an inherent property of matter. A change in mass requires a change in the fabric of reality on a quantum level.
The closest Shepard, who was usually very precise with her words, could come to describing it was to say that it felt really fucking weird.
She let out her breath as they left the mass effect field.
“Thrusters... check. Navigation... check. Internal emissions sink engaged. All systems online. Drift... just under 1500 K,” said Joker.
“Fifteen hundred is good,” said Nihlus, turning to leave. “Your captain will be pleased.”
Shepard watched him go out of the corner of her eye. Having a Spectre aboard was odd enough, but sometimes she could have sworn Nihlus was following her, or even anticipating her movements.
“I hate that guy,” Joker half-muttered, not seeming to care whether the turian was out of earshot or not.
“Nihlus gave you a compliment, so you hate him?” said Lt. Kaidan Alenko, who was running the backup controls for the first jump, probably more out of obligation than because he expected a logical answer. Joker was completely unfathomable at times.
“Remember to zip up your jumpsuit on the way out of the bathroom, that’s good! I just jumped us halfway across the galaxy and hit a target the size of a pinhead, so that’s incredible!”
Definitely unfathomable, Shepard thought.
“Besides,” Joker continued, “Spectres are trouble. I don’t like having one on board. Call me paranoid.”
“You’re paranoid,” said Alenko. “The Council helped fund this project, they have a right to send someone to keep an eye on their investment.”
“Yeah, that is the official story. Only an idiot believes the official story.”
“They don’t send Spectres on shakedown runs,” Shepard added absentmindedly. Honestly, she was surprised Kaidan believed the party line. He was a smart guy, and usually pretty savvy about these things.
“So there’s more going on here than the captain’s letting on,” said Joker.
“Maybe,” said Alenko, “but if so, odds are that the captain’s trusting us to maintain some plausible deniability on the subject.”
Ah, Shepard thought. Kaidan wasn’t sure what was going on, or not going on, but he wasn’t aiming to rock the boat. It explained a lot.
The intercom crackled and Captain Anderson’s voice could be heard, tone slightly annoyed. “Joker! Status report!”
“Just cleared the Mass Relay, Captain,” Joker replied, all business. “Stealth systems engaged, everything looks solid.”
“Good,” said the captain. “Find a comm. buoy and link us into the network. I want mission reports relayed back to Alliance brass before we reach Eden Prime.”
“Aye, aye, Captain,” said Joker. “Better brace yourself, sir. I think Nihlus is headed your way,” he added.
“He’s already here,” said the captain. He didn’t sound too happy with Joker’s attempted warning. “Tell Commander Shepard to meet me in the comm. room for a debriefing.” The comm. clicked off.
“You get that, Commander?” asked Joker.
“He sounds angry. Something must have gone wrong with the mission,” she said, and headed aft.
“Captain always sounds like that when he’s talking to me,” said Joker, sounding almost pleased.
Kaidan scoffed. “Can’t imagine why.” Shepard felt the corners of her mouth lift slightly. She loved listening in on the crew’s bantering, though, as XO, she rarely got a chance to participate. The Executive Officer’s job since the first ships sailed spice routes had always been to say what people didn’t want to hear. She was the designated bad guy for this assignment, and she could live with that.
Captain Anderson wasn’t waiting for her in the comm. room. Nihlus was. He was staring at a database entry, seemingly engrossed. Shepard didn’t buy it. She walked down the ramp to the main level and the Spectre leisurely turned to face her.
“Commander Shepard. I was hoping you’d get here first. It will give us a chance to talk,” he said.
“What about?” asked Shepard. It was bull, and they both knew it. Nihlus had obviously asked Captain Anderson for permission to speak to her alone for a short while for some reason.
“I’m interested in this world we’re going to – Eden Prime,” said Nihlus. “I hear it’s quite beautiful.”
“They say it’s a paradise,” Shepard said. Private Jenkins had called it gorgeous, if she remembered correctly.
“Yes... a paradise. Serene. Tranquil. Safe. Eden Prime has become something of a symbol for your people, hasn’t it? Proof that humanity can not only establish colonies across the galaxy, but also protect them. But how safe is it, really?”
Shepard took a step forward. “Do you know something?” she asked, voice hard.
“Your people are still newcomers, Shepard. The galaxy can be a dangerous place. Is the Alliance truly ready for this?” Shepard suddenly had a feeling they weren’t really talking about Eden Prime.
“I think it’s time we told the commander what’s really going on.” said Captain Anderson, his rich voice and footsteps, sounding metallic on the deck, announcing his arrival.
“This mission is far more than a simple shakedown run,” said Nihlus.
“I figured there was something you weren’t telling us,” said Shepard, allowing a hint of satisfaction to show.
“We’re making a covert pickup on Eden Prime. That’s why we need the stealth systems operational,” the captain said, ignoring her remark.
“What’s the payload, Captain?” she asked.
“A research team on Eden Prime unearthed some kind of beacon,” he said, looking very intensely into her eyes. “It was Prothean.”
Shock rippled through her body, though she did her best not to show it. If this was big enough to merit a covert pickup, then the importance of the discovery was probably... well, really, really big. Shepard struggled to maintain her professional attitude.
“What else can you tell me?” she asked. She believed she was doing impressively well at hiding her shock.
“This is big, Shepard,” Anderson said, confirming her thoughts. “The last time humanity made a discovery like this, it jumped our technology forward two hundred years. But Eden Prime doesn’t have the facilities for something like this. We need to bring it back to the Citadel for proper study.”
“Obviously this goes beyond mere human interests, Commander,” said Nihlus “This discovery could affect every species in Council space.”
“Are we expecting trouble?” asked Shepard, half because of Nihlus’s tone, half because this seemed a little too perfect.
“I’m always expecting trouble,” the turian deadpanned.
“There’s more, Shepard. Nihlus isn’t just here for the beacon,” said Anderson. His voice carried an unusual weight. “He’s also here to evaluate you.”
“Guess that explains why I bump into him every time I turn around,” Shepard said, keeping her tone casual, even light. Something was definitely going on here. From the way the Captain was talking, she suspected that, whatever it was, it was big, interstellar scale big.
“The Alliance has been pushing for this for a long time. Humanity wants a larger role in shaping interstellar policy. We want more say with the Citadel Council. The Spectres represent the Council’s power and authority. If they accept a human into their ranks, it will show how far the Alliance has come,” said Anderson.
“You held off an enemy assault during the Blitz single-handed,” said Nihlus. “You showed not only courage, but incredible skill.”
“‘Single-handed’ is a bit of an overstatement,” Shepard replied, struggling to maintain her mental balance. For fuck’s sake, they’re considering making me a Spectre! she thought. She knew she needed to treat this like any other potential promotion, but it was hard, knowing there were probably fewer than a hundred Spectres in all of Council space, and that none of them were human. Hell, as far as she knew, there had never even been another human considered.
“Perhaps,” said Nihlus. “But there are very few officers I know of who could achieve those kinds of results with untrained civilians, and your own combat skills can hardly be discounted. That’s why I put your name forward as a candidate for the Spectres.”
Shepard turned to the captain. “I assume this is good for the Alliance?” she asked. If there was some political manoeuvring affecting her, she wanted to know.
“Earth needs this, Shepard,” said Captain Anderson. In other words, even if something was going on, they couldn’t afford to pass up this opportunity. “We’re counting on you.”
“I need to see your skills for myself, Commander. Eden Prime will be the first of several missions together,” said Nihlus, bringing the conversation back to more practical matters and more direct speech.
“You’ll be in charge of the ground team. Secure the beacon and get it onto the ship ASAP. Nihlus will accompany you to observe the mission,” Anderson informed her.
“We should be getting close to Ed–” the Captain began, before being interrupted by Joker’s voice over the comm.
“Captain, we’ve got a problem.”
“What’s wrong, Joker?” Anderson asked.
“Transmission from Eden Prime, sir. You better see this.”
“Bring it up on screen.”
A projection flashed into existence in front of the three of them. It was low quality, with a low resolution but plenty of static. There were a lot of rifle shots being fired.
A woman in red and white armor ran towards the camera, yelling at someone to get down. The camera moved wildly and the shots continued. For a moment there was nothing but static, then the face of a marine was visible, probably the man who was holding the camera.
“We are under attack!” the man yelled over the sounds of gunfire. “Taking heavy casualties! I repeat, heavy casualties!” He continued, but the amount of static was increasing, making it more and more difficult to understand him. “We can’t – need evac – They came out of nowhere, we need –!” The man fell to the ground, and the camera with him. It caught an image of two human marines as it fell, and of something else: it was synthetic, and somehow familiar, as though Shepard had seen it in a movie. There was more static, more firing, a shot of crackling blue energy, and then nothing.
“Everything cuts out after that. No comm. traffic at all,” said Joker, pulling Shepard back to herself.
“Reverse and hold at 38.5,” said Anderson. The vid returned to the shot of the synthetic and held. No-one spoke for several seconds. Then Captain Anderson barked out, “Status report!”
Joker replied without hesitation or any of his usual sass. “Seventeen minutes out, Captain. No other Alliance ships in the area.”
“Take us in, Joker. Fast and quiet. This mission just got a lot more complicated,” said the Captain.
“A small strike team can move quickly, without drawing attention. It’s our best chance to secure the beacon,” said Nihlus. Shepard wondered if it was a suggestion or an order. It didn’t really matter.
Anderson turned to her: “Grab your gear and meet us in the cargo hold. Tell Alenko and Jenkins to suit up, Commander. You’re going in.”
“Someone was doing some serious digging here, Captain,” said Joker’s voice, this time over the speakers in the cargo hold, which were slightly tinny.
“Just get us close enough for deployment,” Anderson replied before turning to Shepard. “Your team’s the muscle in this operation, Commander. Go in heavy and head straight for the dig site.”
“What about survivors, Captain?” asked Lieutenant Alenko.
“Helping survivors is a secondary objective. The beacon’s your top priority,” the Captain replied. Shepard grimaced.
“Approaching Drop Point One,” announced Joker. Nihlus, who had been doing a final check of his weapons, headed for the bay doors.
“Nihlus, you coming with us?” asked Jenkins.
“I move faster on my own,” the turian shouted over the roaring wind. Then he was gone, leaping out of the ship before it had landed.
“Nihlus will scout out ahead. He’ll feed you status reports throughout the mission. Otherwise, I want radio silence,” said the captain.
“Ready and able, sir,” said Shepard.
“The mission’s yours now, Shepard! Good luck!” Something in the captain’s eyes made Shepard wonder just what he was talking about.
Joker interrupted her thoughts. “We are approaching Drop Point Two...”
The sky over Eden Prime was as red as blood. Shepard knew it was just the setting sun reflecting off microscopic debris, but she couldn’t help but read too deeply into it. So many turning points in her life had been signaled by the color red: the dingy red wristband that had marked her admittance to the Tenth Street Reds; the red cadet jumpsuit she’d received when she left Earth for the first and last time; her first posting, on the surveyor Rose; the human blood that had been smeared across the walls of Remus City on Elysium; Beaky’s blood. Red had been the harbinger of momentous things, both great and terrible for Morgan Shepard, sometimes both at once. Right now, though, she decided she should just care that it meant that the sun was going down. Every moment wasted was burned daylight.
“Move out,” she barked to Jenkins and Alenko, hand-signaling for them to head northwest and then taking off in the indicated direction at a steady trot. She slowed down when she spotted some sort of floating lifeform ahead of her, bubblegum pink and bulbous, with trailing brown tentacles.
“What the hell are those?” asked Kaidan through the open lower half of his faceplate. He sounded incredulous, as though the existence of the pink things was in violation of every reg in the book. Morgan had to admit, the land-jellyfish or whatever they were, were one of the odder lifeforms she’d seen on a planet this close to Earth norm.
“Gas bags,” said Jenkins. “Don’t worry, they’re harmless.”
“Good,” said Shepard. “Keep moving.”
The clear expanse of exposed ground they’d touched down on soon gave way to a fairly narrow path between two rocky ridges of land. They proceeded cautiously, moving from one outcropping of rock to the next, taking turns on point. They found one body, charred nearly to the bone.
They’d just come down a shallow slope when Shepard heard… something. A low hum, at the edge of her hearing. She waited a moment and the hum subsided. She signaled Jenkins forward, adding the sign for caution. Jenkins shifted his grip on his assault rifle, stepped out from cover with it ready to sight, and was immediately hit by a barrage of fire. He let out a single scream as he fell.
Shepard gritted her teeth, estimated the attack’s point of origin and sprang up from her crouch.
She saw three synthetics, all hovering. Two shots from her pistol and one of them exploded as Morgan ducked back down. That humming she’d heard earlier had to have been their main propulsion, but they were obviously silent when they stopped moving and simply floated. Damn it! she thought.
“Synthetics,” she growled to Kaidan. “Hoverers, two left.”
He nodded. Shepard risked a look over the boulder that was providing them with cover.
“One at twelve o’clock, one at one o’clock,” she said, voice more even. “Push the left one back while I take the one on the right, then take out the left one.”
The lieutenant nodded. Morgan gave the signal, and the two of them stood up. Kaidan gave a slight grunt of effort and the commander felt the shift in reality as her fellow biotic slammed the synthetic on the left far backwards. As Shepard took out the other bot, she felt vaguely shocked at the power behind Alenko’s throw. Then she turned her pistol on his target and fired off another four rounds.
“Go,” she said to Kaidan, jerking her head towards Jenkins. She shifted to the other side of the boulder, keeping her gun pointed in the direction the synthetics had come from.
Alenko knelt down next to Jenkins’s prone body and examined it. He turned to Shepard and shook his head.
“Ripped right through his shields,” the lieutenant said. “There must have been something wrong with his suit. He never had a chance.” He opened Jenkins’s faceplate all the way and closed his eyelids.
Shepard let her arms fall to her sides and walked over to stand beside Kaidan. “We’ll see that he receives a proper service when the mission is complete,” she said, “but I need you to stay focused.”
“Aye, aye, ma’am,” he replied, standing. “Let’s head out.”
They headed uphill.
“Get down!” yelled Alenko. Shepard immediately dropped and rolled behind a convenient piece of debris. She climbed up to a kneeling position and twisted, warping reality around the hovering synthetics and damaging their structural integrity. She and Alenko finished them off with their sidearms. She was standing guard as he applied some medigel to a deep graze on his calf from a stray bullet that broke through weakened shields when Nihlus’s first transmission came through.
“I’ve got some burnt-out buildings here, Shepard,” said the turian’s voice from her helmet’s speakers. “A lot of bodies. I’m going to check it out. I’ll try to catch up with you at the dig site.”
“See you there,” she said into her mic. She flipped off the mic and nodded to Alenko. “Should be through that grove,” she said. “Keep to the high ground.”
They encountered a few more of the floating synthetics, but they were easily dispatched. Shepard realized that the drones were almost stupidly weak, both in terms of shield strength and offensive power, meaning that they were obvious scouts for whoever sent them out. Her shields could easily withstand their fire and Jenkins would have walked away without a scratch if his shields had been working.
Shepard became aware of the sounds of gunfire as they reached the top of a rise just outside the grove of trees. She motioned Alenko forward, towards cover, and then joined him. Holstering her pistol, she pulled her shotgun from the frame pack on her back. Then she eased around the side of the large rock they were crouching behind, looking for any sign of synthetics.
A figure in red and white combat armor, possibly the same person from the video transmission, was running towards them, pursued by two synthetics, the source of the gunfire. The figure, a woman, looked back at her attackers. Her foot caught on a piece of rock embedded in the ground and she fell forward. Shepard cursed mentally and brought her shotgun to bear on one of the synthetics – but the woman had already taken it out, having neatly turned her fall into a roll and fired off two shots with her sidearm. Shepard re-sighted on the second synthetic and blew it out of the air.
The woman simultaneously got to her feet and turned towards Shepard, pistol still held in a firing position. Then the scream came.
Morgan Shepard was a soldier. She wasn’t exactly used to screams, but she was familiar with them. This one sent her right back to Elysium. It wasn’t a combat scream, the last vocalization of someone who had been defeated, like Jenkins’s had been. This was the scream of someone who had never had a chance.
The woman in the red and white armor spun around, eyes so wide that Shepard thought she saw a glimpse of white. Kaidan joined Shepard beside their cover. Shepard stayed where she was for a moment, frozen. Then she came to her senses and pushed the lieutenant back into cover. The two of them cautiously peered over their rock.
Two synthetics, not floaters but bipeds with heads that looked like another limb, had a man in a red cadet’s uniform held over a strange tripod. They seemed to examine the screaming human for a moment, then one of them tapped a control on the ground with its foot and a two-meter high spike telescoped up, impaling the man and cutting off his screams.
The woman with the pistol traded it for an assault rifle and ran forward, seemingly enraged, but not so blinded by anger as to charge the synthetics head on. She took cover behind a tall boulder, lying in wait as the synthetics approached her position. She sighted to her left, probably guessing which side the leader was approaching from based on the strange sound of their joints.
“Our turn,” muttered Shepard.
She broke cover and ran towards the lead synthetic, warping space around it as she went and weakening it for the shotgun shell that followed. Alenko was right behind her, finishing it off with a burst from his pistol. The woman in red and white took the opportunity to swing around the side of her rock that wasn’t under fire and pound into the second synthetic with a burst of fire from her rifle. They all stood still for a few moments, waiting for any unpleasant surprises.
“Stand down,” said Shepard finally. The woman in red turned to her and saluted.
“Gunnery Chief Ashley Williams of the 212. You the one in charge here, ma’am?”
“Are you wounded, Williams?” asked Morgan, letting that answer the question.
“A few scrapes and burns. Nothing serious,” the woman replied. “The others weren’t so lucky.”
Shepard nodded grimly. “Give me a status report, Williams.”
The gunnery chief began pacing back and forth, probably trying to cope with an overload of emotion and adrenalin. “Oh, man… we were patrolling the perimeter when the attack hit. We tried to get off a distress call, but they cut off our communications. I’ve been fighting for my life ever since.”
“Where’s the rest of your squad?” asked Morgan, bracing herself for the response.
“We tried to double back to the beacon,” said Williams, “but we walked into an ambush. I don’t think any of the others… I think I’m the only one left.”
“Any idea what kind of enemy we’re facing?” asked Shepard. Despite her calm exterior, her mind was working furiously. Seventeen minutes from when we got the message to arrival at Eden Prime… maybe ten since then… her whole squad was wiped out in less than thirty minutes.
“I think they’re geth,” the gunnery chief said bluntly.
“The geth haven’t been seen outside the Veil in nearly two hundred years,” said Alenko. “Why are they here now?”
“They must have come for the beacon,” said Williams. “The dig site is close, just over that rise. It might still be there.
Shepard nodded. “You’re coming with us, Williams. We need that beacon.”
“Aye, aye, ma’am,” the other woman said. “It’s time for payback.”
Shepard bit her lip lightly, fighting the urge to say something. She tended to see revenge as counterproductive, but given what had happened here, she didn’t think now was the time to argue over motives. “Move out,” she said.
They headed over the rise Williams had mentioned and down a natural trench, passing more impaled bodies on the way. The bodies were desiccated, nearly mummified. Shepard realized the spikes must be doing more than impaling the bodies. They had to be drawing the moisture out of them. But why? she thought.
They closed in on the dig site cautiously, moving from one piece of cover to the next. They found three more geth, or whatever they were, at the site.
Morgan glanced over at Williams, or rather at her equipment. She motioned to the sniper rifle strapped to the marine’s back, and then towards the synthetics. Ashley nodded. She slipped her assault rifle back into its carrier slot and pulled out the other rifle. Then she sighted on the closest synthetic and looked to Shepard for permission. Morgan nodded and Ashley squeezed the trigger once, sending a single round flying into the geth’s torso, ripping it in half. Shepard and Alenko took out the other two synthetics with shotgun and pistol fire respectively.
Shepard examined the dig site from where she was standing. It appeared to be a fairly cramped space and she wasn’t sure if there would be enough room for her shotgun, so she traded it for her pistol before leading the squad forward.
“This is the dig site. The beacon was right here. It must have been moved,” said Ashley, as Morgan knelt to examine the circle of metallic material, though it felt like stone, that appeared to have been the base for the missing artifact.
“By who? Our side? Or the geth?” asked Kaidan.
“Hard to say. Maybe we’ll know more after we check out the research camp,” replied Ashley.
“You think anyone got out of here alive?” asked Shepard, standing.
Williams grimaced. “If they were lucky. Maybe hiding up in the camp. It’s just at the top of this ridge, up the ramps.”
“Then we make for the camp,” said Shepard.
As they started to make their way up the earthen ramps, Nihlus’s voice came over Shepard’s radio. “Change of plans, Shepard. There’s a small spaceport up ahead. I want to check it out. I’ll wait for you there.”
“Acknowledged,” said Shepard. She turned to Williams. “Chief, I don’t think I’ve mentioned this to you yet; we’ve got a Spectre with us, a turian named Nihlus.”
Ashley whistled. “This whole thing must be bigger than I thought, ma’am. Sounds like everyone is showing up for the party,” she said, with a bitter edge to the last sentence.
“I’ll say,” said Morgan. “In any case, he wants us to meet him at the small spaceport up ahead. Is the camp still on our way?”
“Yes, ma’am. We’ll need to use the monorail to get there. The camp’s right between us and the station,” answered Ashley.
“Good,” said Shepard. “Let’s move out.”
The camp came into sight as they reached the top of the ramp. The geth had clearly been here. They’d left some more impaled bodies to greet anyone who came after them.
“Looks like they got hit hard,” said Williams.
“Could still be here,” said Shepard, checking to make sure that the safety on her pistol remained off. A motion to the left caught her eye. The spikes, and the desiccated bodies – these ones with patches of blue phosphorescence covering their bodies – were descending.
One of the bodies twitched.
“Oh, God!” said Kaidan. “They’re still alive!”
The bodies had reached the ground now, and were pulling themselves off of their spikes, leaving behind small pieces of dried tissue. They began walking towards Shepard’s squad.
“What did the geth do to them?” said Ashley, not believing what she was seeing.
Shepard brought her pistol to bear on the lead… thing. She absolutely refused to say zombie. Husk. That’ll do for now, she thought.
She hesitated. These things had been people once. Even though they looked like something out of an old horror movie, she couldn’t afford to make assumptions.
“Can you hear me?” she yelled. “I need you to stop moving if you can hear me!”
The husks continued their advance.
“Fuck it,” said Shepard. She pulled the trigger.
The fight was over in less than a minute. The husks had charged them and set off some kind of electrical pulse as an attack, but their unarmored bodies were easily blown apart by gunfire. Shepard, who had suffered an electrical burn to the neck and feeling slightly light-headed because of it, was wondering what kind of havoc the husks’ attack would have done to her hair had she not been wearing a helmet. She realized that, if she was thinking things that disjointed from the reality of what was happening, she was probably in shock. Kaidan was patching her up, while Ashley stood guard.
“All done, Commander,” said Kaidan, sealing off the partially used medigel pack. “You should be fine.”
Shepard nodded distantly. “I think I need a minute,” she said.
“Let’s get inside one of those equipment sheds,” said Kaidan. “Better not to be out in the open.”
They headed over to one of the modules, Kaidan walking close to Shepard in case she fell over.
“It’s encrypted,” said Ashley, after examining the lock. “Let’s check the other one.”
“No,” said Shepard taking a seat on a convenient rock. “That could mean someone’s hiding in there. See what you can do with it, Lieutenant.”
“Right. Chief, you watch the comman – ”
“I’m still here, Alenko, and I’ll be fine in a minute. Take care of that lock.”
“Aye, aye, ma’am.”
It took him a couple tries, his fingers fumbling on his omni-tool slightly, obviously shocked by the battle himself, but Alenko got the lock open. Shepard, by then feeling much more stable, led the squad into the shed.
“Humans! Thank the maker!” said a tired female voice. A woman with close-cropped red hair and in the uniform of an Alliance-funded researcher walked forward.
“Hurry! Close the door! Before they come back!” said a frantic male voice from the shadowy back of the shed.
“What are you doing here?” Shepard asked the woman.
“I’m Doctor Warren. I was in charge of this excavation. We hid in these sheds during the attack. They must have come here for the beacon. Luckily, it wasn’t here,” the researcher replied. She seemed to be slightly panicked underneath her calm exterior. “It was moved to the spaceport earlier this morning. Manuel and I stayed behind to pack up the camp. When the attack came, the marines held them off long enough for us to hide. They gave their lives to save us.”
Warren seemed sincerely upset, but Shepard still couldn’t help feeling a short flash of anger. Civilians or not, an entire squad’s lives for those of two people was hardly a fair trade. She managed to keep the anger from her face. Be angry at the geth, she told herself, and proud of the bravery and sacrifice of those soldiers. You would have made the same choice. The fact was that she actually had made the same choice, on multiple occasions, but she had made it out of those situations alive. These marines hadn’t.
Morgan’s thoughts were interrupted by the second voice, which belonged to a middle-aged man with thinning brown hair. “No one is saved!” he said, eyes moving rapidly from one point to another. “The age of humanity is ended! Soon, only ruin and corpses will remain!”
Shepard glanced at the man’s rank badge and turned back to Dr. Warren. “What’s wrong with your assistant?” she asked, leaning against the wall. She was nearly better now, but she needed a little more time to get her heart rate back to normal.
“Manuel has a brilliant mind, but he’s always been a bit… unstable,” said Warren. “Genius and madness are two sides of the same coin.”
“Is it madness to see the future? To see the destruction rushing towards us?” rambled Manuel. “To understand there is no escape, no hope? No,” he said, shuddering, “I am not mad. I’m the only sane one left.”
“I gave him an extra dose of his meds after the attack,” said Warren, sounding worried.
Shepard wasn’t sure that was a good idea, but she had another question. “Did you notice a turian in the area?
Manuel interrupted before his superior could answer. “I saw him. The prophet. Leader of the enemy. He was here, before the attack.”
“That’s impossible,” said Kaidan in a calm, measured tone, one that would hopefully get through to the frantic scientist even if his words wouldn’t. “Nihlus was on the Normandy before the attack. He couldn’t have been here.”
“Could have been another turian,” mused Shepard, straightening up.
“On a human colony?” asked Alenko with a raised eyebrow. “Possible, I guess, but it seems pretty unlikely.”
Ashley nodded. “I’ve seen one or two aliens around the big population centers and spaceports, but out here? I think the doc’s just losing it.”
“She’s right. Manuel’s still a bit… unsettled. We haven’t seen your turian. We’ve been hiding in here since the attack,” said Dr. Warren.
“No offense, but are you sure giving him more of his meds was the best idea?” asked Williams, looking at Manuel, who was now staring intently at a wall, out of the corner of her eye. “Some dosages are limited for a reason…”
“I know, I know! But he was practically screaming, he would have given us away,” said Warren, the stress of what she’d been through in the last few hours finally making its way to her face. “I had to do something.”
“Calm down, Doctor. You’re safe now,” said Shepard. “We’re here, and there’s a Council Spectre waiting for us at the monorail station. Just stay here and you should be fine.”
Warren sat down on a crate and rested her face in her hands. “Thank you, Commander. I’m sorry. It’s just that – “
“I know. You’re not trained for this kind of situation,” said Shepard. “You’re doing your best. We’re going to head out now. Stay safe.
“Good luck, Commander,” said Warren as the squad turned to leave.
“Luck won’t save you,” said Manuel.
Shepard ignored him. “Williams, take us to the spaceport.”
“You can’t stop it,” continued Manuel as they left the shed, surprisingly calm. ”No one can stop it. Night is falling. The darkness of eternity.”
“Hush, Manuel,” said Warren as the door slid closed behind Kaidan. “Go lie down. You’ll feel better once the medication kicks in.”
Saren Arterius paced back and forth, waiting. He knew the Council had sent a Spectre, and that the Systems Alliance had sent in a strike team. It was just a matter of time before the Spectre reached him, and perhaps even the strike team, if they were very lucky.
Saren’s senses had been enhanced of late, and he could hear the scrape of armored boots on the station ramp. He continued pacing, not bothering to turn.
“Saren?” asked a male turian voice. A very familiar male turian voice.
Saren turned. “Nihlus.” Why did it have to be Nihlus? he thought. This is… regrettable.
“This isn’t your mission, Saren,” said Nihlus, lowering the gun that had been aimed at Saren’s torso. There was a slight note of annoyance in his voice.
Afraid I’ll steal your thunder, old friend? Or still insecure about measuring up to your old mentor?
“What are you doing here?” continued Nihlus.
Saren forced his features into a pleasant expression. It wasn’t as hard as he had expected. “The Council thought you could use some help on this one,” he said, putting a hand on his former protégé’s shoulder and giving it a friendly squeeze as he walked behind the younger man. He didn’t turn to face Nihlus’s back. Not yet.
“I wasn’t expecting to find the geth here,” said Nihlus. Saren was impressed. Nihlus’s words implied he had been aware of the geth’s movements to at least some degree. “The situation’s bad.”
It was regrettable that it was Nihlus, but not that it was someone aware of the length of this operation.
“Don’t worry,” said Saren, turning to face his friend’s back and drawing his assault rifle silently and single-handed. “I’ve got it under control.”
A gunshot sounded from the middle-distance. Shepard motioned to Alenko and Williams to cover her as she rounded a bend.
She paused in shock before motioning for them to join her.
“What is that?” asked Kaidan.
Morgan had no idea. It was insectile and somewhat scorpion-like, and mostly matte black in color. Some sort of energy, either red or tinted red by the rapidly setting sun, crackled around it. As she stared, it began to rise into the atmosphere.
“It’s a ship!” said Williams, awed. “Look at the size of it!”
Shepard had come to the same conclusion, but it was difficult to believe. She had never heard of a ship that large. She'd never heard of anything even half that size entering atmo, either.
“Nothing we can do about it,” she said. “Let’s keep moving.”
They continued down the slope ahead of them until they got close enough to the monorail station that they could see there were geth there. Shepard led the team slightly east to a more secure position among some crates. She didn’t spot the spikes until they started descending.
“Fuck,” she muttered. “Damn things must have sensors of some sort.”
Ashley managed to blow the head off of one of the husks before it reached the ground, but there were still two more to deal with, as well as two geth. Shepard knelt behind a crate and poured her fire into one of the rapidly approaching husks. Beside her, Kaidan aimed for the other husk and Ashley was training her assault rifle on the geth.
Morgan gritted her teeth and nearly dropped her pistol as it overheated. She was getting sloppy. Her target, though barely holding together, was practically on top of them. She darted out from behind the crate, shifting her grip on her pistol. She came up on the husk from the side and struck out with the pistol’s butt repeatedly until it fell to the ground, twitching.
Alenko came up beside her, with Williams only a few steps behind him. He seemed to want to say something, but he didn’t.
“Are you alright, Commander?” asked Williams.
“No,” said Shepard simply. “Now let’s go.”
They walked down towards the station, the darkening air eerily still. Shepard switched on the night vision function of her helmet, but she still nearly tripped over something. Something that was very distinctly not a cargo container. Kaidan flipped on his helmet’s light to see what it was.
“Commander,” he said, kneeling down. “It’s Nihlus.”
“A turian?” said Williams. Shepard supposed that would be surprising on a human colony. Had she not mentioned Nihlus’s species before? “You know him?”
“He’s the Spectre who was with us on our ship,” said Kaidan. “Whoever shot him managed to get clo –”
There was a bang from behind the crates they were facing.
“Whoever you are, come out now!” called out Ashley as they all drew their weapons.
“Wait!” a voice called out, and a wide-eyed, slightly scruffy looking man stood up. “Don’t – Don’t shoot! I’m one of you! I’m human!”
“Sneaking up on us like that nearly got you killed!” said Morgan harshly, adrenalin putting her on edge.
“I… I’m sorry. I was hiding from those creatures,” said the man. “My name’s Powell. I saw what happened to that turian. The other one shot him.”
Shepard lowered her gun. “You’re saying Nihlus was murdered by a turian?” she asked. That was hard to believe. What would another turian have been doing here?
“The other one got here first. He was waiting when your friend showed up. Your friend called him Saren,” said Powell. The name sounded very vaguely familiar, but Shepard was at a loss to place it. Powell scratched his head. “I think they knew each other. Your friend seemed to relax. He let his guard down, and Saren killed him. Shot him right in the back. I’m just lucky he didn’t see me behind the crates.”
Shepard thought quickly. There was nothing they could do for Nihlus, and this guy, who couldn’t even hide without making noise, could never have gotten close enough to shoot the Spectre. That meant he was probably telling the truth.
Mourn the dead later, she thought. Finish the mission.
“We were told a Prothean beacon was being brought to the spaceport. What happened to it?” she asked.
“It’s over on the other platform, probably where that guy Saren was headed. He hopped on the cargo train right after he killed your friend.” He leaned on the crate in front of him. “I knew that beacon was trouble. Everything’s gone to hell since we found it. First, that damn mothership showed up, then the attack. They killed everyone. Everyone. If I hadn’t been behind the crates, I’d be dead, too!”
“How come you’re the only one that survived?” asked Shepard. She knew they needed to move on, but she couldn’t help wondering how many people had died unnecessarily. “Why didn’t anyone else try to hide behind the crates?”
“They never had a chance,” said Powell. “I… I was already behind the crates when the attack started.”
“Wait a minute,” said Kaidan. “You were hiding behind the crates before the attack?”
Powell bit his lip nervously. “I… sometimes I need a nap to get through my shift. I sneak off behind the crates to grab forty winks where the supervisor can’t find me.”
“You survived because you’re lazy?” asked Ashley, incredulous and very nearly angry.
“If you hadn’t snuck off for that nap, you’d probably be dead just like all the others,” said Shepard. The fact was that the right actions didn’t always have the most positive results. She’d realized that a long time ago.
Powell nodded. “Yeah, I guess. I don’t really want to think about it. I… I can’t stay here. I need to get away from all this.” He walked towards the far end of the platform, waving vaguely.
“We need to find that beacon before it’s too late,” said Shepard.
As the monorail car approached the spaceport platform, something showed up on Shepard’s Heads-Up Display. Something radioactive. Kaidan was the first to figure it out, spotting the source as the train slowed to a halt.
“Demolition charges! The geth must have planted them!”
“Can you disarm it?” asked Shepard as the squad raced over to the nearest charge.
Kaidan flipped open the controls and began inputting commands. “Yes,” he said, “just keep any geth that show up off me.”
The next two minutes were a blur of gunfire in Shepard’s mind. Kaidan got the last of the four charges disarmed with time to spare, but it was still a near thing. Morgan was limping at the end from a deep wound to her left leg, sealed with the last of their medigel.
“Let’s find the beacon,” she said with a grunt of pain. She was exhausted, mentally and physically.
They headed for the section of the platform nearest the actual spaceport area. There, they found what Shepard assumed was the beacon, as well as two more geth and a husk. Ashley took out the husk with her assault rifle and pistol fire from Shepard and Alenko took care of the geth.
Breathing hard, Shepard pulled off her helmet and let the cold night air brush against her skin. Floodlights lit the area, so there was little danger of an ambush. She approached the beacon, a gleaming metal structure that ended abruptly in a jagged edge about twelve feet above the ground. It was surrounded by a pulsing green aura.
Shepard tapped her communicator, turning away from the artifact. “Normandy, the beacon is secure. Request immediate evac.” She could hear Williams and Alenko talking behind her.
“Aye, aye, Commander,” said Joker’s voice. “We’re coming in to the space port.”
“Roger, Normandy,” replied Morgan. “Standing by.”
She turned around to find Ashley facing her, mouth open to speak. Behind Ashley, Kaidan approached the beacon. Then the aura seemed to reached out and grab him, pulling him towards the beacon. Kaidan was struggling against it, but he had nothing to grab onto for protection.
“Commander, I – ” began Ashley, unaware of the situation. Morgan pushed her aside and ran for her trapped subordinate. She grabbed him around the waist and shoved him out of the way, only to find herself in the beacon’s grip, struggling as uselessly as the lieutenant had.
She heard Kaidan call out her name, her back arched of its own accord, and suddenly all she could see was red and all she could hear was screams.
Chapter Two: Let My Work BeginEdit
Chapter Two: Let My Work Begin: Part I
“Where you going, Ears?” asked a voice behind her. Morgan turned, trying to hide the panic in her eyes.
“Kes,” she said, relieved. It was just Kessler, one of the younger gang members. He didn’t even have a nickname yet. “I’m just heading out for a couple days,” said Morgan, turning back to her duffel bag and continuing to stuff her few possessions into it.
Kessler snorted. “You’re taking that old book of yours,” he said, pointing to a tattered hardback that was poking out from beneath a ratty sweater. “You’re not coming back.”
Morgan sighed, pushing a loose strand of hair behind one of the large ears that had given her gang nickname, once she had earned it by completing her first mission. “Are you going to tell anyone?” she asked.
“No,” said Kessler. “You’re crap at being a Red anyway.”
“Hey!” said Shepard, snapping around to face him. “What the fuck do you mean by that? I’m the best goddamn shot in the sprawl.”
“Yeah, but you hate it,” said Kessler, leaning against the wall of the little room Morgan had claimed as her own. “You hate killing people, even if you enjoy the challenge. You’d be running this city by now if you didn’t. So it’s good that you’re leaving. Just don’t think you can come back.” He left the room, closing the door carefully behind him.
Morgan shook her head. “Crazy kid,” she muttered to herself, because it was easier than thinking through what he’d said.
Kaidan’s voice was the first thing Shepard heard as she dragged herself back to awareness. “Doctor?” he called, “Doctor Chakwas? I think she’s waking up.”
She was on a bed in the med bay, lying on her back. Morgan swung her legs over the side of the bed and sat up.
“You had us worried there, Shepard,” said the ship’s doctor in her distinctive English accent as she walked over. “How are you feeling?”
Shepard decided it was best not to say. “How did I end up here?” she asked. “How long was I out?”
“About fifteen hours,” said Chakwas. “Something happened down there with the beacon, I think.”
“It’s my fault,” said Kaidan from behind her. “I must have triggered some kind of security field when I approached it. You had to push me out of the way.”
It was coming back to her now. It wasn’t exactly how she would have liked to end up with her arms wrapped around Lieutenant Alenko. “You had no way to know what would happen,” she said by way of reassurance. She saw him smile slightly out of the corner of her eye.
“Actually,” said Doctor Chakwas, breaking into what had very nearly been a private moment, “we don’t even know if that’s what set it off. Unfortunately, we’ll never get the chance to find out.”
Kaidan moved to stand next to the doctor. “The beacon exploded,” he explained. “System overload, maybe. The blast knocked you cold. Williams and I had to carry you to the landing zone.”
“I appreciate it,” she said. Kaidan nodded.
“Physically, you’re fine,” said Chakwas, “but I detected some unusual brain activity. Abnormal beta waves. I also noticed an increase in your rapid eye movement. Those are signs typically associated with intense dreaming.” She looked at Shepard, waiting for a response. It was a few moments before she got one.
“I saw – I’m not sure what I saw,” said Morgan. “Death. Destruction. Nothing’s really clear.”
“Hmm... I better add this to my report,” Chakwas said. “It may – Oh, Captain Anderson.”
Shepard stood and turned to face the same direction as Chakwas.
“How’s our XO holding up, Doctor?” asked Captain Anderson as he approached.
“All the readings look normal,” said the doctor. “I’d say the commander’s going to be fine.”
“Glad to hear it.” He turned to face Morgan. “Shepard, I need to speak with you – in private.”
“Aye, aye, Captain,” said Alenko, saluting. “I’ll be in the mess if you need me.” He headed out of the room with the doctor a step behind him.
“Alenko’s report makes it sound like that beacon hit you pretty hard, Commander,” said Anderson once they were alone. “You sure you’re okay?”
“I don’t like soldiers dying under my command,” said Shepard. He’d probably meant physically, but she’d rather not talk about that right now.
“Shepard, Jenkins wasn’t your fault,” said Anderson. “You did a good job.”
Shepard nodded grimly, mentally running through a list of her current concerns. “What about Gunnery Chief Williams? Did we leave her back on Eden Prime?”
“I figured we could use a soldier like her. She’s been reassigned to the Normandy,” said the captain casually.
Shepard had to restrain herself from whistling. She’d known a decorated officer like Captain Anderson would have pull, but to push through that amount of paperwork that quickly was really something. “Williams is a good soldier,” Morgan said to cover her shock. “She deserves it.”
“Lieutenant Alenko agrees with you. That’s why I added her to our crew.”
Morgan nodded and took a deep breath. Enough stalling, she thought. “You said you needed to see me in private, Captain?”
Anderson clasped his hands in front of him and a grim look came over his face. “I won’t lie to you, Shepard. Things look bad. Nihlus is dead. The beacon was destroyed and geth are invading. The Council’s going to want answers.”
“I didn’t do anything wrong, Captain,” said Shepard. She felt terrible about Jenkins, but she didn’t see how she could have prevented his death. She certainly hadn’t taken any actions that she could have known would damage the beacon. “Hopefully, the Council will be able to see that.”
Anderson turned away and took a step towards the wall. “I’ll stand behind you and your report, Shepard. You’re a damned hero in my books. That’s not why I’m here. It’s Saren, that other turian. Saren’s a Spectre, one of the best. A living legend. But if he’s working with the geth, it means he’s gone rogue. A rogue Spectre’s trouble. Saren’s dangerous. And he hates humans.” Even though she couldn’t see his face, Anderson’s tone carried his veiled fear to Shepard, and his determination.
“He didn’t come to Eden Prime because he hates humans,” she said, wondering if there was some history between Saren and Anderson. She wouldn’t have bet on it yet though.
“You’re right,” said Anderson, collecting himself. “Saren has allied himself with the geth. I don’t know how. I don’t know why. But it had something to do with that beacon. You were there just before the beacon self-destructed. Did you see anything? Any clue that might tell us what Saren was after?”
Shepard hesitated, but only for a moment. Even if the captain didn’t agree with her conclusions about what the beacon had shown her, he wouldn’t dismiss them out of hand. “Just before I lost consciousness, I had some kind of vision,” she said.
“A vision? A vision of what?” he asked, turning back towards her and holding back any slight skepticism he might have felt.
Shepard crossed her arms and looked down slightly, concentrating on the memory. “I saw synthetics – geth, maybe – slaughtering people.” She looked back up. “Butchering them.” She knew it hadn’t been a normal dream. The way it was burned into her brain was completely alien to nighttime imaginings. There had been something off, though. Something about the people.
“We need to report this to the Council, Shepard,” said Anderson, bringing her back to the present.
“What are we going to tell them? I had a bad dream?” said Shepard. Anderson might believe her, but she doubted the Council would.
“We don’t know what information was stored in that beacon. Lost Prothean technology? Blueprints for some ancient weapon of mass destruction? Whatever it was, Saren took it.” He took a step toward Shepard. “I know Saren. I know his reputation, his politics. He believes humans are a blight on the galaxy. This attack was an act of war! He has the secrets from the beacon, he has an army of geth at his command, and he won’t stop until he’s wiped humanity from the face of the galaxy!”
Shepard gritted her teeth. “I’ll find some way to take him down,” she said.
Anderson shook his head. “It’s not that easy. He’s a Spectre. He can go anywhere, do almost anything. That’s why we need the Council on our side.”
“We prove Saren’s gone rogue and the Council will revoke his Spectre status,” said Morgan. Anderson nodded.
“I’ll contact the ambassador and see if he can get us an audience with the Council. He’ll want to see us as soon as we reach Citadel. We’ll be there in about a few hours. Make sure you’ve got your report written up by then.”
After she typed up her report in medbay, Morgan went looking for Williams and Alenko. She found them sitting together in silence at one of the mess tables, drinking what passed for coffee aboard Alliance vessels.
“Get three cups of hot water,” she said, glancing in Kaidan’s direction. “I’ve got something better than coffee.”
“What’s that?” asked Kaidan, rising to do as she ordered.
“Tea,” said Morgan. “Real tea. I’ll be back in a minute.”
She made a quick trip to her quarters to grab three bags and headed back to the mess hall.
Ashley whistled at the sight of the tea bags. “That’s quite a splurge.”
Morgan shrugged, sitting down next to Kaidan’s empty seat. “I don’t drink it often, but I think we could all use some right now.”
Alenko, sitting down next to her, nodded grimly as he placed the cups on the table before him.
Ashley pulled a foam mug over in front of her and plopped in the tea bag.
“Don’t drink it yet,” said Morgan. “You have to heat it up again first if you want to do it properly. And trust me, this stuff is worth doing it properly.” Ashley raised an eyebrow, but she headed to the heating unit, an interesting piece of technology that was actually a miniature heat sink linked to the drive, and did as the commander said. Shepard followed her, and Kaidan did too after a moment’s hesitation. Once they all had their tea and, in Ashley’s case, a little sugar, they sat down around the table again.
“Things were pretty rough down there,” said Shepard after a minute or so of silence.
“Yeah,” said Kaidan. “You never get used to seeing dead civilians. Doesn’t seem right. At least Saren didn’t manage to wipe out the colony.”
“Part of me feels guilty,” said Ashley into her mug. “If Jenkins was still alive, I might not be here.”
“Jenkins was a valuable part of this crew, and he’ll be missed. But that doesn’t change the fact that you’re a good soldier, Williams,” Morgan consoled. “You belong on the Normandy.”
“We’re marines,” said Kaidan. “We stick together.”
“Yeah…” said Williams softly.
“Are you okay?” Shepard asked.
Ashley shook her head. “I’ve seen friends die before. Comes with being a marine, but to see my whole unit wiped out… And like the lieutenant said, you never get used to seeing dead civilians. But things would have been a whole lot worse if you hadn’t shown up.”
Shepard smiled. “We couldn’t have done it without you, Williams.”
They sat in companionable silence for a minute or so before Shepard spoke up again. “I wish I could have done something to save Jenkins… It just seems so pointless.”
“I was there,” said Alenko. “You did everything right. It was just bad luck. It’s been a hell of a shakedown cruise. Our first mission ends with one Spectre killing another. The Citadel Council’s not gonna be happy about that. Probably use it to lever more concessions out of the Alliance.”
“You’ve got a good grasp of the situation,” said Shepard. “You a career man?”
He shrugged. “You know how it is for biotics. We’re not restricted, but we sure don’t go undocumented. May as well get a paycheck for it. Besides, my father served. Made him proud when I enlisted. Eventually. But is that why you’re here? Because of your family?”
Morgan snorted into her drink. “I never met my parents. If they wanted to see me, they’d have contacted me after that mess a few years back.”
“Ah, that’s right. The Blitz. I imagine that bought you any post in the fleet,” said Kaidan.
“I’ve never met anyone who was awarded the Star of Terra,” added Ashley, her voice slightly teasing.
“Word is we’re heading for the Citadel, ma’am. Can you tell me why?” said Kaidan, blatantly steering the conversation in a different direction.
“The captain hopes the Ambassador can get an audience with the Council,” said Shepard. “Tell them what Saren’s been up to.”
“Makes sense,” said Kaidan. “They’d probably like to know he’s not working for them anymore.”
Shepard wandered into the cockpit an hour or so later, having edited and proofread her report and sent it to the captain who would, in turn, send it to the ambassador. She’d felt the unmistakable sensation of mass effect a few minutes earlier.
“Good timing, Commander,” said Joker. “I was just about to bring us in to the Citadel. See that taxpayer money at work.”
On the main view screen, Shepard could see the shifting purple-gray clouds of the Serpent Nebula. The outline of the Citadel came into view moments later. Morgan had been to the Citadel once before, as a tourist when she’d taken the one extended leave of her career. The station was just as impressive as she remembered.
They were through most of the nebula now, and the Citadel’s lights were visible, and the surrounding fleet came into view. Footsteps behind Shepard alerted her to the presence of more visitors to the cockpit. She turned to see Kaidan taking his place in the co-pilot’s chair, standard procedure for docking. Williams came up beside her to stare at the view.
“Look at the size of that ship!” she said in awe. Shepard turned back to the window and whistled. She’d only seen one larger ship in her life, and that had been the mysterious “mothership” back on Eden Prime. This one, far from being insectile, was something like a coral outcropping, with two smooth crosspieces joining organically and an enormous main gun, nearly as large as the rest of the ship put together, resembling nothing so much as a mouth.
“The Destiny Ascension. Flagship of the Citadel fleet,” said Kaidan.
“Well, size isn’t everything,” said Joker
“Why so touchy, Joker?” teased Ashley.
“I’m just saying you need firepower, too,” said Joker, slightly defensively.
Shepard smiled slightly. It looked like the gunnery chief would do just fine on the Normandy.
“Look at that monster!” said Ashley. “Its main gun could rip through the barriers on any ship in the Alliance fleet.”
“Good thing it’s on our side, then,” said Kaidan, effectively putting an end to the banter.
Joker opened a channel to Control and began their approach run. “Citadel Control, this is SSV Normandy requesting permission to land.”
“Stand by for clearance, Normandy,” came the voice of the traffic controller over the cockpit’s speakers. Then, a moment later: “Clearance granted. You may begin your approach. Transferring you to an Alliance operator.”
The rest was routine, if not visually stunning, procedure.
Shepard had visited the Presidium briefly on her previous trip to the Citadel, just as most tourists did, but she’d never had access to a view like the one from Ambassador Udina’s office. It wasn’t quite breathtaking, but it was certainly beautiful. She, Captain Anderson, Kaidan and Ashley had had plenty of time to admire it as the ambassador finished what had apparently been a very lengthy holographic conference with the Council. It was not going well.
“This is an outrage!” the ambassador practically yelled. “The Council would step in if the geth attacked a turian colony!”
“The turians don’t found colonies on the borders of the Terminus Systems, Ambassador,” said the salarian councilor, clearly exasperated.
“Humanity was well aware of the risks when you went into the Traverse,” added the asari standing at the center of the Council. Her voice was gentler, but Shepard could tell the same emotions were behind it.
“What about Saren?” said Udina. “You can’t just ignore a rogue Spectre. I demand action!”
Morgan and Kaidan exchanged a look. “Bad move,” mouthed the lieutenant. Shepard nodded.
“You don’t get to make demands of the Council, Ambassador,” said the turian councilor. Shepard nearly winced at his tone. From what she had heard, Udina had probably provoked him, but that didn’t mean she liked hearing her species’ ambassador addressed like that.
“Citadel Security is investigating your charges against Saren. We will discuss the C-Sec findings at the hearing. Not before,” said the asari councilor. “Until then, Ambassador.”
The hologram terminated and Udina’s shoulders slumped slightly. Then he straightened himself out and turned to face Captain Anderson.
“Captain Anderson,” he said. “I see you brought half your crew with you.”
“Just the ground team from Eden Prime,” Anderson said, his voice pleasant. “In case you had any questions.” Shepard turned to face the ambassador.
“I have the mission reports,” he said. “I assume they’re accurate?”
“They are,” replied the captain. “Sounds like you convinced the Council to give us an audience.”
“They were not happy about it,” said Udina, very nearly glaring at Anderson. “Saren’s their top agent. They don’t like him being accused of treason.”
Shepard decided it was time to speak up. “Saren’s a threat to every human colony out there. If they don’t stop him, I will.” She meant it. What the beacon had shown her had given her a sense of dread that she knew she would break any rule to alleviate.
“Settle down, Commander,” said Udina. “You’ve already done more than enough to jeopardize your candidacy for the Spectres. The mission on Eden Prime was a chance to prove you could get the job done. Instead, Nihlus ended up dead and the beacon was destroyed.”
Morgan had the sudden urge to clock someone in the face, but she didn’t think that would be very political of her.
“That’s Saren’s fault, not hers!” said Captain Anderson forcefully.
“Then we better hope the C-Sec investigation turns up evidence to support our accusations. Otherwise, the Council might use this as an excuse to keep you out of the Spectres.”
Shepard decided she disliked Ambassador Udina a lot. At the very least, every human world was in danger, and he was hiding his head in the ground by playing politics.
“Come with me, Captain,” the ambassador continued. “I want to go over a few things. Shepard, you and the others meet us at the Citadel Tower tomorrow at 14:00 sharp. Top level. I’ll make sure you have clearance to get in.” He and Anderson left the room.
“And that’s why I hate politicians,” said Ashley.
“All I’m saying is that this place is a little too perfect,” muttered Ashley. “Like they’re hiding something.”
“Don’t be paranoid,” said Kaidan, taking a last gulp from his fizzing drink.
“It’s creepy!” insisted Ashley. “And those bug things all over the place? What exactly do they do?”
“They’re Keepers,” said Shepard. “They apparently keep the Citadel functioning, though no one knows exactly how.”
The three of them were sitting in the Embassy Lounge, having just had lunch before the hearing began.
“Where’d you find that out?” asked Williams.
Morgan shrugged. “I asked the Citadel virtual intelligence system – Avina, I think it’s called.” She waved to a waiter. “Check, please,” she said when he came over. The waiter, a human with a large, beak-like nose, produced a touchpad and Shepard signed for their meal. It wasn’t cheap, but she could afford to splurge every now and then, especially when she had hazard pay coming in. “We’ve got about an hour left, but if I stay here any longer I’m going to order the entire dessert menu,” she said to her companions. Kaidan chuckled and Ashley rolled her eyes.
“Biotics,” muttered the gunnery chief. The three of them headed for the exit.
“Isn’t that Private Fredricks?” Kaidan wondered aloud.
Shepard glanced over and caught a snatch of conversation: “You don’t have to do it with the Consort. You can just talk to her if you want,” one of the humans sitting around the table said. Shepard didn’t recognize him, so she supposed he was on leave from one of the other Alliance ships docked at the Citadel.
“Is that all you did, Jaz? Just talk?” asked Fredricks. Shepard rolled her eyes and headed over to the table. Macho idiocy or not, the conversation had peaked her interest, if only to find out what made this ‘Consort’ so special as to be rewarded with ‘the’ before her title.
“Fredricks?” she asked.
Fredricks spun around, putting on a face that clearly said he was covering his embarrassment. “What do you – Oh, Commander,” he said, obviously surprised to see her. He threw in a salute for good measure. “Is there something I can do for you?”
“Relax, Private, this isn’t an inspection,” said Kaidan, clearly amused.
“Right, sorry. What can I do for you, Commander?” asked Fredricks.
“Who were you talking about just now?” Morgan asked.
“The, uh, the asari Consort,” answered Fredricks.
“And what can you tell me about the asari Consort?” asked the commander.
“I, ah, well, she’s an asari who works here as, that is, she helps people with… things,” said Fredricks awkwardly.
“Never went to see her, did you, Fredricks?” asked Kaidan, clearly amused.
“I, uh, no,” said Fredricks. A small snigger came from the other two marines he had been talking to at that admission. “I never did. I couldn’t afford it. It costs half a year’s pay just to go in and talk to her.”
“Where can I find her?” asked Shepard. Behind her, Ashley made a quiet noise of shock.
Shepard had an hour to kill, so she let her curiosity overwhelm her. She headed over to the Consort’s offices with Kaidan in tow, having left Ashley, who wasn’t comfortable with their little expedition, to explore the Presidium on her own for an hour.
The receptionist seemed mildly surprised to see two people come in at once. “Welcome,” she said. “I am Nelyna. I don’t recognize you as one of our expected clients today. Would you like me to see when the Consort will be able to meet with you?”
“Can’t I just go in?” said Shepard, testing the waters.
Nelyna gave an amused sound before speaking. “I’m afraid not. You must understand, there are many who seek the Consort’s services. If you wish to leave your name, she’ll make every effort to meet with you.”
“What is the Consort?” asked Shepard. “What does she do?” Shepard was getting the feeling she was dealing with more than a high-class prostitute with a really good gig.
“It is… difficult to explain,” said Nelyna. “She is many things to many people, and something different for each. Some seek her for advice, some for entertainment, others still for pleasure. Most of the time, our clients won’t realize what they were seeking until after she has provided it for them.”
“You make her sound like some sort of oracle,” said Shepard, only half joking. Nelyna seemed somewhat in awe of the Consort, though it was difficult to detect behind her self-possession.
“No, not in the usual sense,” said Nelyna, seemingly amused by Morgan’s comment. “She is merely a woman. A woman with remarkable compassion and a generous spirit.”
“What do you do here, Nelyna?” asked Shepard, who had decided she wasn’t dealing with a simple receptionist.
“I am one of the Consort’s acolytes,” answered the asari. “Many of the people here today will not see the Consort, but they expect to be attended to just the same. It is our job to ensure that they leave contented.”
“But what exactly do you do?”
“Well, each acolyte has her own unique abilities. Some soothe with song, others with conversation. As much as possible we seek to match the needs of our clients to the skills of our acolytes. My specialty is touch. My fingertips can find every tension point in your body… and relieve it.”
“You know,” said Shepard, “that actually sounds really good right about now. How much to try out your services?” She fought down a slight blush as she remembered that Kaidan was standing right beside her.
“Oh, I’m afraid that right now wouldn’t be possible. I can add you to our client list and we should be able to see you in three or four months.”
Kaidan gave a whistle from behind her. “Nobody’s worth that much of a wait,” he said.
“Even if the lieutenant didn’t have a point, I’m only going to be here for another day or so,” said Shepard.
“Well, I can still put you down on our client list just in case you happen to come back,” said the asari.
“That won’t be necessary,” said Morgan.
“Well, I hope that you will return in the future,” said the acolyte. “We always enjoy seeing new clients.” She paused for a moment, then touched her ear mike. “Yes, Sha’ira?” she asked. Shepard nodded to Kaidan and the two of them began to head for the door.
“Ma’am,” Nelyna called after them a moment later, “it appears the Consort has taken notice of you. She’d like to meet with you now.”
“What does she want to see me for?” asked Morgan, scratching the back of her head.
“I don’t know,” said Nelyna. “You’ll have to ask her yourself. Just head upstairs. She will be waiting for you.”
Shepard turned to Kaidan. “You mind waiting a couple minutes?” she asked.
“No problem,” he said.
The Consort’s chamber was surprisingly typical of the Presidium in its décor. Shepard had expected something more exotic. A short flight of steps led down to the main level of the room. Shepard descended and began to walk across the floor towards the asari facing the opposite wall.
“That is close enough, Commander,” said the asari, who was dressed in a formfitting pink dress with abundant skin showing, identical to the one Nelyna wore. “I’ve heard a great many things about you since your arrival here on our Citadel,” she continued, turning.
“What exactly do you do?” asked Shepard. This woman clearly kept tabs on the comings and goings of Alliance personnel, and that bothered her.
“That depends on your needs. I offer advice to some, comfort to others. I have a certain problem that could use your expertise.”
“Tell me about this problem you’re having,” said Shepard. Whatever the nature of Sha’ira’s work, it was clear that she was a powerful woman. What did she want with a soldier?
“I have a friend, Septimus, a retired turian general. I won’t discuss the details, but he wanted me to be more than I could be. We had a falling out,” said the Consort, approaching Morgan. “Now he spends his days in Chora’s Den drinking and spreading lies about me. If you would speak to him as a fellow soldier, I believe he will listen to you and let the matter be.” She reached out her hand and touched Morgan’s cheek. The commander didn’t move back, but she gave the Consort a look that she hoped conveyed her views on personal space very clearly. The Consort didn’t appear to pay much attention to her expression, but did take her hand away after a few moments.
“I won’t make any promises, but I’ll see what I can do. Of course, that’s assuming I’m on the Citadel long enough.”
The Consort smiled slightly. “Of course,” she said. “Thank you, Commander. That is all I can ask. Appeal to his sense of honor. Remind him of his position as a general.” She leaned in close, pressing her cheek against Morgan’s. “If you can convince him to stop spreading lies about me, I would be very grateful.”
“So,” said Kaidan as the two of them made their way back to the Presidium, “what did you think of the Consort?”
Morgan shrugged. “She’s perceptive, charismatic, and she knows people. But she’s still a prostitute.”
“I saw a salarian in there, talking to one of the acolytes.”
“Salarians don’t have sexual feelings. All the fertilizing goes on after they lay their eggs, so there’s no need for it.”
“Didn’t say she was just a prostitute. Just said she was one.”
Ashley was waiting for them at the base of the tower that was topped by the Council Chambers.
“What took you guys?” she asked as the three of them entered the elevator. Shepard got the feeling she was holding back the sort of comment that would have landed her in the brig with most officers.
“The Consort wanted to talk to me,” said Shepard. “Apparently there’s generally a four month waiting list for even seeing one of her assistants, so I decided to see if it was worth it.”
“Was it?” asked Ashley. “And please keep in mind when making that judgment that you left your loyal subordinate without anyone but a very annoying, rather politically biased VI to talk to.”
“Politically biased?” asked Kaidan.
“Apparently us non-Council races are ‘lesser,’” said Ashley. “And it’s conveniently not programmed to respond to questions about flaws in the government system.”
Morgan shook her head. “The first part I could deal with – could just be a bad translation of a turian term, you know how hierarchical they are – but the second part is ridiculous.”
“How would you feel if it was them asking questions about the Alliance?” asked Kaidan.
“Annoyed, most likely,” admitted Ashley.
“Doesn’t make it right,” said Morgan. They rode in silence for a while before Ashley spoke up again.
“The Council isn’t going to ask me any questions, are they?” she said.
“I doubt it,” said Kaidan. “We’ve made our reports. Now we just have to trust Ambassador Udina.”
“No, we don’t, sir,” said Ashley. Shepard held back a chuckle, then quickly straightened her face as the elevator came to a stop and the doors began to open.
The Council Chambers were almost, but not quite, dimly lit. The murmur of fountains set the tone for the conversation between the diplomats standing in the alcoves. In front of the first fountain stood a pair of turians, one of whom, in the uniform of a C-Sec officer, was clearly struggling to keep his voice down.
“Saren’s hiding something!” he said as Shepard, Alenko, and Williams approached. “Give me more time. Stall them!”
“Stall the Council?” said the other turian. “Don’t be ridiculous! Your investigation is over, Garrus.” The second turian left, brushing by Shepard. The first, Garrus, stood still for a moment, collecting himself, before turning to face her.
“Commander Shepard?” he said. “Garrus Vakarian. I was the officer in charge of the C-Sec investigation into Saren.”
Morgan nodded. “Come across anything I should know about?”
“Saren’s a Spectre. Most of his activities are classified. I couldn’t find anything solid. But he’s up to something. Like you humans say, I feel it in my gut.”
“I think the Council’s ready for us, Commander,” said Kaidan, leaning forward.
“I’ve got to go,” said Morgan to the turian.
He nodded to her. “Good luck, Shepard. Maybe they’ll listen to you.”
Captain Anderson was waiting for them at the foot of the final staircase.
“The hearing’s already started,” he said. “Come on.”
They headed up the stairs and found the hearing not only in progress but coming to a conclusion. Shepard got the feeling it was a fairly perfunctory affair.
A large hologram of a turian was hovering off to the side. So this is Saren, Shepard thought.
“The geth attack is a matter of some concern,” the asari councilor was saying. “But there is nothing to indicate Saren was involved in any way.”
“The investigation by Citadel Security turned up no evidence to support your charge of treason,” said the turian councilor. Shepard gritted her teeth. The investigation had taken less than twenty-four hours. Even using the sophisticated VIs that C-Sec employed to help sift through data in record time, that wasn’t much.
“An eyewitness saw him kill Nihlus in cold blood!” shouted Ambassador Udina. Shepard agreed, but his tone wasn’t doing them any good.
“We’ve read the Eden Prime reports, Ambassador,” said the salarian councilor. “The testimony of one traumatized dockworker is hardly compelling proof.”
“I resent these accusations,” said the hologram of Saren. “Nihlus was a fellow Spectre. And a friend.”
Shepard doubted that.
“That just let you catch him off guard!” said Captain Anderson angrily.
“Captain Anderson,” said Saren, mock-pleasantly. “You always seem to be involved when humanity makes false charges against me. And this must be your protégée, Commander Shepard. The one who let the beacon get destroyed.” This guy is really starting to get on my nerves, Morgan thought.
“The mission to Eden Prime was secret,” she said. “The only way you could know about the beacon was if you were there.”
“With Nihlus gone, his files passed on to me,” said Saren. “I read the Eden Prime report. I was unimpressed. But what can you expect from a human?”
“Saren despises humanity,” said Shepard. “Isn’t it obvious that he had motive for attacking Eden Prime?”
“Your species needs to learn its place, Shepard,” said Saren. “You’re not ready to join the Council. You’re not even ready to join the Spectres.”
“He has no right to say that!” piped up Ambassador Udina. “That’s not his decision!”
“Shepard’s admission into the Spectres is not the topic of this meeting,” said the asari councilor.
“This meeting has no purpose,” said Saren. “The humans are wasting your time, Councilor. And mine.”
“You can’t hide behind the Council forever,” growled Shepard.
“There is one outstanding issue,” said Anderson. “Commander Shepard’s vision. It may have been triggered by the beacon.”
“Are we allowing dreams into evidence now?” said Saren. If he’d been human, he would have been raising an eyebrow. “How can I defend my innocence against this kind of testimony?”
“I agree,” said the turian councilor. “Our judgment must be based on facts and evidence, not wild imagining and reckless speculation.”
“Do you have anything else to add, Commander Shepard?” asked the salarian councilor.
“You’ve made your decision,” said Shepard. “I won’t waste my breath.”
The councilors looked at one another, the turian shaking his head at the asari. The asari councilor stepped forward to deliver their judgment.
“The Council has found no evidence of any connection between Saren and the geth. Ambassador, your petition to have him disbarred from the Spectres is denied.”
“I’m glad to see justice was served,” said Saren.
“This meeting is adjourned,” said the asari councilor, and she turned to leave the Council platform.
“It was a mistake bringing you into that hearing, Captain,” seethed Udina once they had left the presence of the Council. “You and Saren have too much history. It made the Council question our motives.”
“I know Saren,” said Anderson. “He’s working with the geth for one reason: to exterminate the entire human race. Every colony we have is at risk. Every world we control is in danger. Even Earth isn’t safe.”
“Tell me about this history between you and Saren,” said Shepard. She needed to know what was going on here.
“I worked with him on a mission a long time ago,” said Captain Anderson, beginning to pace back and forth. “Things went bad. Real bad.”
He turned to face Shepard again. “We shouldn’t talk about this here,” he said, “but I know what he’s like. He has to be stopped.”
“We need to deal with Saren ourselves,” Shepard concluded.
Ambassador Udina tugged at his chin. “As a Spectre, he’s virtually untouchable,” he said. “We need to find some way to expose him.”
Kaidan spoke up, looking at Shepard rather than Udina. “What about Garrus Vakarian, that C-Sec investigator? We saw him arguing with his superior.”
“That’s right!” said Ashley excitedly. “He was asking for more time to finish his report. Seems like he was close to finding something on Saren.”
“I have a contact in C-Sec who can help us track Garrus down,” said Udina. “His name is Harkin.”
“Forget it,” scoffed Captain Anderson. “They suspended Harkin last month. Drinking on the job. I won’t waste my time with that loser.”
“You won’t have to,” said Udina harshly. “I don’t want the Council using your past history with Saren as an excuse to ignore anything we turn up. Shepard will handle this.”
“You can’t just cut Captain Anderson out of this investigation,” said Shepard. She purposely left out the fact that Udina had authority over either of them.
“The ambassador’s right,” said Captain Anderson. Then, quietly, “I need to step aside.” Shepard got the feeling he wasn’t just talking about the investigation.
“I need to take care of some business,” said Udina. “Captain, meet me in my office later.” And with that he walked off. Shepard watched him go, then turned back to Captain Anderson.
“Let’s head down,” said Captain Anderson. It wasn’t an order.
They rode the elevator in silence for a while before Anderson spoke up.
“Harkin’s probably getting drunk at Chora’s Den. It’s a dingy little club in Section G of the Wards.”
“I thought you said not to bother with him,” said Shepard with a raised eyebrow.
“Couldn’t hurt to talk to him,” said Captain Anderson with a shrug. “Just be careful. I wouldn’t call him reliable.”
“You and Saren have a history,” said Morgan, watching the Captain’s face carefully before continuing. “What happened?”
Anderson walked over to the wall of the elevator and put hand to the wall. He didn’t lean against it, but he seemed to be drawing strength from its solidity. For the first time, Shepard realized that he was scared of Saren. Terrified, even.
“About twenty years ago, I was part of a mission in the Skyllian Verge,” he said. “I was working with Saren to find and remove a known terrorist threat. Saren eliminated his target, but a lot of people died along the way. Innocent people. The official records just covered it all up. I saw how he operates. No conscience. No hesitation. He’d kill a thousand innocent civilians to end a war without a second thought.”
“Killing innocents doesn’t end wars,” said Morgan, voice hard. “It causes them.”
Anderson shook his head. “I know how the world works, Commander. Sometimes you’re forced to make unpleasant decisions.” Shepard sensed a warning in what he was saying. She didn’t need it. She knew how the world worked just as well as the captain. “But only if there’s no other way,” he continued, punching out each word. “Saren doesn’t even look for another option. He’s twisted, broken. He likes the violence, the killing. And he knows how to cover his tracks.”
I'd like to thank thejadefalcon for being an awesome beta. More notes to come.